Tim Keller and Women’s Ordination

While blog-procrastinating, I found out that Tim Keller had written a paper on the role of women in the home and the church. Click here to find the paper (scroll down the page).

Keller’s position reminds me of John Frame’s … which is exactly what I believe. I really find it to be the view most faithful to Scripture. Ironically, Mark Driscoll, who you’d think would have the most extreme views on the subject imaginable, holds to the same position as Frame and Keller. ‘Soft complementarianism’ can be a useful term for this – if you find the term ‘complementarianism’ helpful.

Here’s an excellent section of Keller’s paper (which it looks like he wrote with his wife) where he examines objections to his position:

Evangelical feminists have for years recognized the difficulty of denying Paul’s prelusions to women and yet maintaining a high view of Biblical authority. There are two ways they have argued:

1. First, they say we must distinguish between absolute norms and circumstantial advice, instruction given only to some churches at some time. Paul’s advice about women and authority has only to do with particular churches at that time.

The serious problem with this view is that everything Paul wrote he wrote to specific situations. All his writings were letters, not theological essays. When we hear Paul say, “In Christ there is no Jew and Greek, no male and female,” he has written it to Galatians who are embroiled in a particular problem. When he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” in I Timothy, he is speaking to a man (Timothy) whose job it was to plant churches and set up an organizational structure. 1 Timothy is all about how to appoint elders and deacons, how churches are to function. If anything, I Timothy 2:12 could be said to be a general principle in a book of general principles about how churches are to be operated!

But our point here is that even 1 Timothy is a particular letter to a particular situation. Everything Paul teaches is to a specific situation. To distinguish between “timeless” and “temporary” is to set up a “canon within a canon”, and one based on your own opinion. In fact, if the ordination of women is a “justice issue”, then surely to preclude women from speaking or having authority in even one church would be horribly wrong. This leads us to the second approach.

2. The second way for evangelical feminists to respond to Paul is to frankly admit he was in error.

This is the position of virtually all folks who favor women’s ordination to all offices.
Feminist interpreters continually point out that there are ambiguities and difficulties in the passages on women. What does it mean that “because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (I Corinthians 11:11)? Or “women will be saved through childbearing” (I Timothy 2:15)? By bringing up these difficulties, it is often implied that “these are difficult passages and who knows what they really mean?” But actually, Paul’s basic points are extremely clear. Hardly anyone doubts that Paul meant to exclude women from ruling office. So, the real question is: how do we regard his view?

The basic answer of evangelical feminists is: he was wrong. Usually, this kind of blunt statement is avoided in print, but it is everywhere assumed. One of the first evangelicals who wrote in favor of women’s ordination was the most frank:

Because these two perspectives—the Jewish and the Christian-are incompatible, there is no satisfying way to harmonize the Pauline argument for female subordination [which Jewett considers “Jewish”] with the larger Christian vision of which the great apostle himself was the primary architect. (P.Jewett, Man as Male and Female, p.113)

In other words, Paul’s teaching on women cannot be avoided. It is there. But it is wrong, contradicting the rest of the Bible. We are, then, really back to the same thing-a “canon within a canon”, set up arbitrarily, determining which parts of Scripture are “higher, and purer” and which parts are backward, retrogressive. If Scripture alone is our final authority, where we get a standard for judging Scripture?

Virginia Mollenkott, an evangelical feminist, gives great insight into how it was necessary to change a view of Scripture to accommodate women’s ordination. In an interview with The Other Side magazine (TOS) she tells how she was speaking at a conference with Paul Jewett and others on women in the church.

Mollenkott: Anyway, the night before Jewett spoke, some of us had a long and painful private meeting. We were discussing whether he dared say his thing on the Pauline self- contradictions. We decided he didn’t dare to because it would jeopardize the job of the person who had set up the conference. So Jewett retreated into what is the safe thing to do: that is, talk about Jesus’ behavior…
TOS: If we interpret the Old Testament by the New, we have some sort of criterion for the Old Testament. But how do we tell in Paul? If his teaching about women is merely cultural, then maybe what he says about justification is, too….
Mollenkott: It seems to me that at this point we have to rely on good, careful scholarly exegesis. We have to place passages in context… We have to pay attention to word choice, literary form…
TOS: But…your approach will help us find out what a passage means, but so far you haven’t said much that I can see which helps me pick out what passages are true. In literature it is one process to determine what something means and quite another to determine if it’s true…Now how can I tell which are records of errors and which are normative?
Mollenkott: When we find a passage, a spirit which runs all the way through the Bible-at that point I know which one is for all time and which one for the hardness of our hearts. Another guideline is the analogy of what Jesus said and did. If something doesn’t fit the life and teaching of Jesus, again I know which is for all time…
TOS: I am gradually moving toward your position…But if l wind up where you are, l am seriously considering resigning from The Other Side. Our stance has been to call America and the church back to the Bible. It seems to me that calling people to that is one very important thing which accepting your position makes hand to do. Maybe I should just clear out and go work for some less evangelical magazine…
Mollenkott: I don’t think you should do that….I think before long many, many evangelicals will come along toward a more scholarly approach to Scripture…Let the rest have their iron maiden of a definition of inspiration which they use to oppress other people. Let them declare themselves as fundamentalists. Let’s the rest of us get on with the job”. The Other Side. May/June 1976

This interview does show that it requires a shift in one’s view of Scripture to work around Paul’s limitations on women’s authority in the church. Moltenkott says that we can choose the normative from relative passages on two criterion:

1) If a teaching is repeated more often in the Bible, an apparently contradictory one can be rejected if it appears less often, or

2) if a teaching contradicts the life and teaching of Jesus, it can be rejected.

These criterion do not work, if you hope to find Biblical support for the ordination of women! Consider the first criterion. In the Old Testament, God is the “husband” of Israel, who is the “wife”. In the New Testament, Christ is the “husband” of the church as we are the “bride” of Christ. When God wishes to express his loving authority over us he depicts us as feminine and himself as masculine. This is a repeated, broad-based Biblical theme, throughout. All believers are “feminine” toward God, for we give ourselves in surrender to him. See Romans 7:1-6. By putting ourselves in his arms, he bears his fruit into the world through our bodies.

And consider the second criterion: Jesus’ life and ministry. Not one of his apostles was female. Feminists are quick to point out that he was adapting to his culture. But now they are doing the same thing to Jesus that they did with Paul. What really is the standard, now, by which we judge Jesus? If women’s ordination is a real justice issue, can we excuse our Lord on the basis of cultural pressure? Was he the type of person to succumb to popular opinion?

We feel that there is a deep inconsistency in the phrase “evangelical feminism”. The feminists who are consistent recognize the Bible as a sexist book throughout. They reject it. The feminists who try to hold to complete Biblical authority have, really, an impossible balancing act to conduct.