Women in Ministry (Part One)

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, Part 4 Introduction, Women in Church Ministries Today and Chapter 11, The Bible and Women 

We now come to the last third of the book in which McKnight uses the issue of women’s roles in ministry as a case study for his principles.  I get the sense that this part is the real reason for the book.  I guess that would have been fine provided he emphasized explaining his interpretive method, not his conclusions about women in ministry.  I am afraid he does not.

The introduction to Part 4 as an autobiographical section in which McKnight traces out his own history with the topic of women in church ministries today.  He chronicles his fundamentalist upbringing which taught women were to assume no leadership or speaking roles at all, his undergraduate education that caused him to question that unquestionable conclusion, that pivotal moment when he realized that if he were learning from the writings of the esteemed female New Testament scholar Morna Hooker he might as well be learning from her public teaching as well.  He talks with great candidness about his reticence and uncertainty to advocate for equality (or “mutuality,” as he prefers to call it) while teaching at the male-centered Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  Finally, McKnight arrived at North Park University where he now teaches and where he felt he could teach what he believes the Bible teaches on the topic.  This chapter is a nicely humanizing reminder that we do not relate to issues in separation from our own personal experiences.

Next, McKnight tells the story of the best preaching student he ever taught: Cheryl Hatch, a young lady who out-shone her male counterparts but who would never go on to preach because her denomination did not allow it even though she clearly had both the gifting and passion for preaching ministry.  McKnight is clear that he thinks this is a shame, and makes clear from the beginning of this new section that he thinks “the direction of the Bible itself encourages us to think of facing the future by expanding the church ministries of women” (p.154).

Let’s remember two main tenets McKnight has argued strongly in the first part of the book. One, the Bible is anchored in a particular culture and time.  The Bible is not timeless and both the culture of the Bible and the culture of the people interpreting and applying the Bible needs to be accounted for.  In short, we must peel back the cultural layer to get to the timeless truth of the Bible.  We are certainly not called to blindly adopt the culture of the time the Bible was written.  Two, the Bible tells a timeless, universal Story of oneness–otherness–oneness again.  This is the true metanarrative that God is working out through history and across culture.  This is the mission for life that God’s people are called to live in congruence with and advance.  This is the most important message and truth to understand, believe, integrate into one’s life, and spread to others.  Therefore, the issue of women in ministry needs to be shaped by these two tenets.  But, interestingly these two tenets come together in the end.  God does have a “culture” in mind.  It is the New Creation in which all otherness is reversed and the world and relationships return to oneness.  This is the Story.  And the New Creation “culture” is coming to undo all the cultures of the Bible and our present world that are tainted by sin.

In this last section of The Blue Parakeet we will watch McKnight run the issue of women in ministry through these tenets.  It is a bit fuzzy to me that he is doing that because as I feared he is most concerned with making a case for the full inclusion of women in all church ministries (not that I am opposed to that position, only that this book is supposed to be about method not church politics).  McKnight often says in these first chapters of this section “that was then, but this is now” as a way to say that we have to remember that the seeming bias against women in the Bible is because of the culture in which it was written.  He begins to hint that even within the encultured Bible we do begin to see “exceptions” to male-dominance, suggesting there is a more important Story being told than simply the historical one.

McKnight finishes setting the stage for a discussion of women in ministry by sketching out the three most prevalent positions on the topic:

Hard Patriarchy — this believes that both the “biblical context and its teachings are more or less both God’s original and permanent design” (p.159).  Men are leaders and women are to play submissive, supportive roles like wife and mother first and foremost in the world.  Peace will be created by playing these roles.  Thus, June Cleaver is the ideal woman.

Soft Patriarchy — this view holds that “biblical context is cultural but the principles are permanent” (p.160).  Men are still viewed as the God-ordained leaders in the family, church, and culture.  The primary role of a woman is wife and mother, but she is free to work outside of the home.  In this way, Claire Huxtable or Jill Taylor are ideals.

Mutuality — this is the view that McKnight prefers, saying “I believe that both of the above views, to one degree or another, are stuck in the fall of humankind” (p.160).  This view hold that both the “biblical context is cultural and that even the biblical teachings reflect that culture” (p.161).  Most important, is that both genders be working by the Spirit to revive the oneness of men and women by seeing no gender role differences because of our new creation in Christ (Galatians 3:28).  So women are free to discern whatever it is that God is calling them to in ministry and to freely exercise that in the church, even teaching, preaching and leadership positions.  Thus, Hilary Clinton or Sarah Palin (a strange combination, to be sure!) are getting it right.