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    « Book by Divine Appointment | Main | Like to Write? :: An Interview With Jeff Goins »

    Women in Ministry and Reformed Hermeneutics

    In his book Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition, James K. A. Smith strikes up an imaginary dialogue with someone who has recently adopted the Reformed outlook, providing wisdom, insight, and direction that he wishes he himself had during his college years, as he first entered the Reformed tradition.  In a postscript to one of the letters, Smith touches on the topic of women in ministry.  Most Reformed leaders that I'm aware of differ from Smith's position, prerfering the complementarian viewpoint.

    James K. A. Smith writes:

    My position on women in office (and marriage) is no secret to you (given our Sunday school discussions about complementarian vs. egalitarian understandings of marriage).  What you might find surprising, or perhaps disconcerting, is that it was a Reformed hermeneutic that led me to that position.  The narrative dynamic of Creation-Fall-Redemption is the lens through which I think about these gender-related issues.  The C-F-R dynamic, you'll recall, begins with a good creation, is attentive to all the ways that the fall has cursed creation (both human and nonhuman), and understands God's redemption as the salvation of "all things" (Col. 1:20).  In other words, the effect of salvation is to roll back the effects of the curse (Gen. 3); so in the words of our Christian hymn, Christ's redemption reaches "far as the curse is found."  The curse isn't just personal; it isn't just about individual sin.  The curse of the fall affects all of creation (the serpent, the ground, fauna, our work); even our systems and institutions are accursed.  So the good news of redemption has to reach into those spheres as well.

    I found this interesting.  The logic employed by Smith from within the Reformed tradition matches well with my own, though I am not Reformed.  The work of restoration that has been actualized by the cross of Christ and the unfolding of the work of "new creation", in my reading, extends to marriage and ministry, opening the way for egalitarianism.

    What is your position on women in ministry?  How have you come to those conclusions?  Whatever your conviction, I think it is important that the biblical, historical, and theological evidence should be carefully weighted and considered.  All opinions are welcome here, though if you're in need of guidance on how to best state your conviction, visit my comment policy.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    Since I grew up UMC, I encountered women in ministry at a young age and I never knew it was an 'issue' until some of my friends in high school, who attended other churches, told me it was. I don't have a fully articulated, reasoned out, biblically based argument for my position, but I am for women in ministry. I think that even in college I was blind to the struggle so many women have with this issue. When I came to Duke Divinity this topic was, admittedly, the last theological topic on my mind. However, as I went through the year I heard stories from some of my closest friends who get up every morning and wonder whether they are doing the right thing. They are passionate about the call they feel on their life and they are eager to serve, but their own denominations either do not encourage, or strongly discourage, women in ministry. So, they have to ask questions in terms I've never been forced to, "Should I change denominations or just wait and hope mine changes? Should I even be here (seminary)?" I think the picture is further muddied because many professors and students are pro-Women in ministry here so there is a little bit of a bubble of support even as the denominations keep their same line.

    The priesthood of all believers was a significant aspect of the new post-Reformation Protestant reality and I think we should all reconsider what that means in our own lives, churches, denominations, and also the Church universal. I think reflecting on issues such as this is a necessary exercise for those of us who seek to faithfully follow Christ. We may not end up changing our position, but if we do not take time to challenge our own beliefs and view them once again through the lens of Christ then it becomes easy to continue in our own ways rather than being conformed to the image of Christ. Thanks for the question.

    June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

    Thanks Josh. I'd love to hear more some time about your experiences at Duke. My experiences in conservative circles have included strong opposition to the egalitarian position, sound (and some not so sound) expositions of the complementarian position, quiet support of women in ministry, and even some women quietly receiving theological training in conservative circles, confident of their calling, pursuing what they believe God has called them to do despite those advocating their roles in ministry should be limited.

    I've also had experience in more liberal circles, where overwhelming support has been shown for women in ministry, but when asked the biblical and theological basis for their position, there was little to be said. Appeals to conscience were common.

    My hope is that whatever someone's convictions on the controversial issues, that those convictions would be arrived at after good debate, dialogue, and theological reflection. Even after such reflection, those convictions could end up being wrong. I admit that I could be wrong, even though I am supportive of women in ministry, and advocate mutual submission in marriage, and common submission before Christ between a Spirit-filled man and woman.

    Thanks again for the comment!

    June 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterBen Simpson

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