Sunday, 18 November 2012

Complementarians - are they on the run?

I first came into contact with Rachel Held Evans and her blog when I joined twitter a couple of years ago. I instantly felt like I had found a fellow pilgrim. I have personally rallied behind the call of woman making their way in Christian ministry and being all they can be in what can be seen to be a predominately male environment.
I read her first book ‘Evolving in Monkey town’, where she writes honestly about her faith and her struggle with doubt. The title of the book is in reference to where she was raised in Dayton ‘Ohio, the infamous town where the ‘Scope monkey trials’ were held.

I have watched her write in defence of women and speak out against those who write or preach in a misogynistic way. She is clear that she is not a theologian and yet her thought through answers given carefully and kindly to those who oppose what she has said or spoke against makes me feel proud to be a woman she truly is ‘Eshet Chayil, a woman of valour'.

 I feel that her writing has managed to stir up the reformed patriachalists and they are running scared of her influence which I know must come at a cost for Rachel.

I was privileged to get an advance copy of  her new book and asked to write a review 
Rachel states that ‘I've long been frustrated by the inconsistencies with which “biblical womanhood” is taught and applied in my evangelical Christian community. So I set out to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year to show that no woman, no matter how devout, is actually practising biblical womanhood all the way. My hope is that the book will generate some laughs, as well as a fresh, honest dialogue about biblical interpretation.’

I personally found that she delivered in what the book was intended to achieve, I for one found it thoroughly enjoyable and informative and challenging.  It was my first attempt at writing a review and I after reading all the others feel that I did not do it justice. One of these great blogs was in response to a negative review found on The Gospel Coalition website. Kathy Keller writer of said blog is the wife of Pastor Tim Keller who in my mind is the friendly face of Calvinism.

Morgan writes, ‘Kathy Keller runs in the direction of supposing she understands what motivates RHE when she says, however, that is not the book you wrote. Instead, you began your project by ignoring (actually, by pretending you did not know about) the most basic rules of hermeneutics and biblical interpretation that have been agreed upon for centuries’.

How does Kathy know Rachel ‘pretends’ anything? We all bring our personal interpretations and views to reading the Bible.
Rachel sets out to create a narrative that through story and ideas she introduces us to women of the Bible, women she meets in various communities. She practices a characteristic each month highlighting the difficulties of maintaining the life of a so called ‘biblical woman’ at all times. She clearly shows that she is setting out on this journey to highlight rules and regulations that were laid out for women in the Old Testament that she undertakes with a ‘tongue in cheek’ humour that made me laugh out loud.

She again takes Rachel to task over this by rushing headlong into questioning her biblical interpretation; ‘making the decision to ignore the tectonic shift that occurred when Jesus came, you have led your readers not into a better understanding of biblical interpretation, but into a worse one. Christians don’t arbitrarily ignore the Levitical code—they see it as wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus’. This to me is a lesson in missing the point, the gospel coalition with their patriarchal views espouse biblical womanhood. Rachel is asking when we hear this term what do we hear and understand by it?

Rachel undertakes these laws for a small period of time, she only perches on the roof for just over one hour and she states that only a few people saw her sat there, one very disinterested postal worker who maybe is used to seeing strange things. Of course she knows that the city gate would have had elders sat there and not just a huge sign saying welcome to Dayton. To me these things were meant to read and be understood in the context of the whole book.

Then Kathy shares that; yet you cite accounts of historical events such as Genesis 16, 30, and 35 and remark, “If you were a slave or concubine, you were expected to be sexually available to your master,” as if the Bible condones this behaviour p48. The passages that Rachel sites are very difficult to read and clearly give rise to questions. She says ‘none of this information is easy to swallow. In light of passages like these I have come to regard with some suspicion those that claim that the Bible never troubles them. I can only assume that they haven’t actually read it’. p 51 

A disingenuous statement like this saddens me when Rachel clearly says that we cannot look to interpret present day marriage and relationships within a biblical understanding and context.
She lists on this page bible verses that clearly lay out these practices. We clearly know that was not what God would want of his creation to treat each other that way, but unfortunately for women that was more often than not their lot in life.

My biggest surprise was when Kathy says, ‘Rachel, I can and do agree with much of what you say in your book regarding the ways in which either poor biblical interpretation or patriarchal customs have sinfully oppressed women’. Really you agree that poor biblical interpretation is used to oppress women, we could make an egalitarian out of you yet.

She goes on to say ‘I would join you in exposing churches, books, teachers, and leaders who have imposed a human agenda on the Bible. However, you have become what you claim to despise; you have imposed your own agenda on Scripture in order to advance your own goals. In doing so, you have further muddied the waters of biblical interpretation instead of bringing any clarity to the task.’ Here is where I need to land my absolute frustration with this review.

I hope that Kathy will look to her own reformed group to start exposing some of the nonsense that I have seen written and spoken about. Doug Wilson and his group ‘Vision forum’ p51 of book shows that they have prescribed this biblical view of ‘26 principles ‘The tenets of Biblical patriarchy’, that control what the life of a woman looks like from child to when they marry and pass from being under their fathers control to their husbands. I think this clearly smacks of imposing a human agenda on the bible. Then we have Wayne Grudem with his list of 83 ministry things that women can do, if that’s not imposing a human agenda on the Bible I really don’t know what is, just gobsmacked!!

We are left with no doubt that Kathy feels and she states that, 'There is a third rule of interpretation that is widely agreed upon: look for the author’s intended meaning within a text’s historical context. Again, in order to inject the book with humour, you ignore this principle.'
Morgan points out in her blog 'she must have come to this book with arms folded.'  I absolutely agree Kathy did not want to find the beauty and narrative in this book she only wanted to make sure the constituency she serves would not be reading this book.

Mark Driscoll’s a firm favourite of the complemetarian camps recent teaching on the book of Esther another furore that Rachel wonderfully highlighted and answered with her wonderful teaching on Esther. Now if you listen to Mark you will see that Mark has no thought about teaching and imposing another narrative over this story. He likens Esther and her story to be on the set of ‘The Bachelor’ waiting for her night with the King Xerxes by spending a year in the beauty parlour and in his world Esther was not taken by force, she chose to be there.
Mark plays his teaching for laughs explaining about Xerxes 6mth long party and his ‘listening to young men’, who he says should never be listened too. If anyone could be accused of breaking this rule of interpretation then I would like to give that to Mark Driscoll with bells on!

My final thoughts for Kathy Keller and the gospel coalition is a view that I am beginning to think is the reason they have come out strongly (some it seems without even reading the book) against this book and sadly it seems to me against Rachel personally.
For all those women who express complementarian views there are many who if presented with clear thought through views (I feel clearly shown in this book and in the many great blogs including Rachel’s) what will happen to their comfortable worlds where women live submissively, stay at home, bring up the children and know their place in church leadership thanks to Wayne Grudem.
Has Rachel and those women with a voice got them on the run?

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