Monthly Archives: September 2012

Doing theology in worship

In this evenings service we went pretty deep into John 4, the woman at the well. I tacked it in three sections.

First, recognising that this is a popular and influential passage for many people I asked the congregation to share how the passage had influenced them and how they experienced it.

Secondly, we looked at some of the issues raised in Sandra Schneider's excellent book "The Revelatory Text" which helps with understanding the 5 husbands as well as challenging views of this first evangelist and the only person that John records fully theologically engaging with Jesus (for example contrast to Nicodemus). On the way we looked at the typology of the narrative in terms of Bride and Bridegroom as well as the key importance of Jesus describing himself as "I Am".

Thirdly, I explored the relevance for us today of the way this showed Jesus at work. How Jesus worked around even the newly forming structures/roles and went to people (the woman in this case) with no power or authority. How Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit still uses ordinary people to bring real change as they discover him as living water and share with their communities.

At the end of the service people wanted to carry on discussing and were asking for to do more "deeper" theology :-)

The company we keep

Andrew Wilson of Newfrontiers recently wrote "I believe in women in ministry, the equality of men and women…" yet less than a week earlier he wrote Complementarianism and the Gospel in which he recomended a video to watch and some articles to read.

I am amazed that Andrew thinks that it is at all helpful to his argument to appeal to John Piper ("It's well worth a look").

John Piper has taught that a wife should endure verbal abuse for a season and that she should endure being smacked at least once (just a reminder that you can watch him saying this on youtube). [update see the comment below from Jon Bryon who corrects my paraphrase of John Piper's comments]

When I challenge Newfrontiers on Male Headship I am continually told that I am being unfair, that in fact they believe women and men are equal. They say that restricting the role of elders to only men and requiring women to submit to the leadership of their husband does not create or imply inequality. They tell me abuse is always wrong and they would never accept it. They tell me that gender roles are not about power and they do not make women vulnerable.

If that is true then why suggest that John Piper, who teaches women to accept abuse, is "well worth a look" (no warnings about his teaching). If Andrew had a teenage daughter would he want her listening to a preacher telling her to endure abuse (verbal for a season, physical at least once)?

Why isn't Andrew making it clear that Newfrontiers do not accept John Piper's teaching on abuse?

Newfrontiers are connecting themselves with people who hold extreme views and they are not saying these are wrong.

In the same post Andrew writes:

In his inimitable way Doug Wilson has pushed back against Trueman (I’d love to see those two slugging it out in the flesh!)  and from a slightly more friendly angle Denny Burk has waded in too. 

What do these people write that Andrew does not condemn?

From How Important is Complementarianism? A Response to Carl Trueman | Denny Burk.

"The rejection of biblical gender roles has dire implications for evangelical theololgy. The hermeneutics of egalitarianism are a blemish leading to theological cancer."

Oh well at least those of us who believe in equality are probably no worse at spelling "theology"!

Oh and by the way as someone whose parents both died of real cancer an expression like this is always going to be particularly welcome!

Elsewhere in the article:

"it is the potentialities of egalitarianism that make it so deadly, not its expression in any particular evangelical."

"This is not to say that every egalitarian will eventually become a heretic. Roger Nicole remained a convinced egalitarian and an evangelical stalwart all the way to the end. We can think of other individuals for whom egalitarianism has not and likely will never lead to an erosion of their fundamental evangelical commitments. Nevertheless, the issue at hand is not whether or not we can find orthodox evangelicals who are also egalitarian. The question at hand is whether or not egalitarian doctrine itself tends toward the erosion of fundamental evangelical commitments such as inerrancy, the doctrine of God, and penal substitutionary atonement. Is the egalitarian blemish benign or potentially malignant?"

Of course those quotes are from the "slightly more friendly angle" (note the assumption that the only alternative to an evangelical is a heretic and the very tight defintion of an evangelical, compare to the Evangelical Alliance).

The alternative is:

"The true gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus) calls us to a life of repentance and faith, and it is not possible to work together with men "in the gospel" when they are refusing to call people to repent of the principal corruption of our day, which is that of sexual confusion. This confusion includes homosexuality, porn, fornication, divorce, women's ordination, and so on. This is the front line of the battle, and if I decline to strike hands with a man who is confused at this point, I am not saying that he is going to Hell. I am only saying that if he cannot detect a strategic moment in history like this, then he ought not to be a general. Keep him on our side, but him back in the Red Cross tent and ask him to wind some bandages."

Lovely!

When Andrew Wilson says he believes in equality you need to consider the people he wants Newfrontiers to learn from. People who say that women should endure abuse; that women's ordination is to be ranked with porn and fornication; and that egaliarianism is a deadly cancer leading, most but not quite every person, to becoming a heretic.

According to Google a lot of sites think you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.

If it walks like a Duck and quacks like a Duck then it is equal to a Duck

The post begins with Andrew Wilson saying he believes in the equality of men and women. I have challenged that saying that I do not believe there is equality when some roles in the Church are only open to men (Elders for one in Newfrontiers, sometimes it seems also preachers) and when all wives are told to submit to their husbands leadership.
I have had numerous men and one woman from Newfrontiers all telling me that I am wrong and that women are equal to me within Newfrontiers and restrictions on being an elder and needing to submit to your husband do not change this.
If you talk equality and we see equality in action then maybe it is fair to say you believe in equality. We have read the words, now how about the behaviour.
On that blog post is this comment:

By A voice on 07/09/2012 at 08:56
As a woman within a newfrontiers church, but not brought up with the same DNA, and having been a part of a number of different Christian streams I have to be honest and say that I do not feel free to be all that God has called me to be within my newfrontiers church. I find blogs like this unhelpful as they make me feel even more uneasy about being in a newfrontiers church. Sometimes I wish the men would concentrate on discussing what the big says about there role and being a “prohistami” man, and leave us ladies to be free to be all that God has called us to be. I read this thread last night and it disturbed my peace. This morning my bible reading was judges 3 about Deborah and Jael. Thankyou Jesus!

The most recent comment on the blog is now more than 24 hours later:

By Adam Voke on 08/09/2012 at 10:28

In that time I think 7 people from Newfrontiers have commented on the post. Not one of them has responded to "A voice". In that time I have referred to the comment by "A voice" 3 times and asked Newfrontiers why they have ignored the woman who wrote it, they have responded to other points I have made but ignored "A voice".

Maybe someone can explain how ignoring a comment on the Newfrontiers theology blog (called "What You Think Matters"), from a woman who goes to a Newfrontiers Church, demonstrates that Newfrontiers considers men and women to be equal.

Using the Bible on issues such as equality part 1

I have been engaging with the Newfrontiers Church again on the issue of equality. See The Pink Pamphlet: Soul Survivor’s Position on Women in Leadership | Theology Matters | Newfrontiers UK.

I suspect that my approach to the issue is probably as frustrating to Newfrontiers people. I get repeated requests from them to jump straight into biblical exegesis. However, I feel that is unhelpful and for several reasons.

Firstly, there is the problem of the hermeneutic circle.

Simplistically that recognises that there is no independent starting point when we approach Scripture. We come to Scripture and have interpret it from where we are now and that influences how we understand Scripture – if you like we are not and cannot be bias free. However, we would hope and expect that engaging with Scripture will change us and our views somewhat so that next time we come to Scripture we do so from a slightly different viewpoint.

This process has no end (hence Hermeneutic Circle). 

When Newfrontiers and I approach the Bible on a issue such as equality we do so from very different positions and with very different experiences. These change the way we then understand what we read just as all that we have read of Scripture in the past has already changed who we are as we approach this time.

In a situation where we know our views differ so greatly and where neither Newfrontiers nor I can come to Scripture bias free it seems to me that it is best to spend some effort exploring the issues before approaching Scripture so that when we do so we can have a little more understanding of these biases and where we are each coming from.

Secondly, (and of course this is related to the first) I am deeply unhappy with approaching Scripture looking for verses and interpretations of verses to support a particular point. At it's worst these becomes a proof text battle where each side hits the other over the head with individual "clobber" verses and in the process the Bible is reduced to a club rather than the word of God. I find this irreverent and ineffective. Sadly, it is very hard to avoid this in discussions such as this where Andrew Wilson has already responded using a verse based approach to a paper written elsewhere.

Thirdly, I much prefer a wider view and approach to Scripture. As I read Scripture I want to be explicitly reflecting on how this relates to my whole model (understanding) of God. Too often you can work at the detail level and then when you look up suddenly realise that what you have ended up with is in conflict with your understanding of who God is and how God works. Sadly, very often people do not evaluate their conclusions in this way and sometimes this leads them to make some very odd claims.

Related to this is my great concern about taking verses from Scripture out of context. The phrase "a text without a context is a pretext" is rightly a popular one. Yet the danger is that if you that start with individual verses the context becomes a bolt on and molds to your purposes. At that point the pretext is shaping the context.

Fourthly, I am unashamedly a follower of Jesus. That aligns me with what some describe as a "red letter Christian". In other words when I am reflecting on Scripture I give more weight, more priority to the words of Jesus than anything else. It does not mean I restrict the Bible to only the words of Jesus but it does mean that everything is tested against the teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I again find this puts me into conflict with the Newfrontiers approach which tends to put more focus on the writing of Paul.

So what is my approach?

The most important individual tool for me in using the Bible is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. That means I explore an issue using 4 sources which in priority order are

  • Scripture
  • Tradition
  • Reason
  • Experience

So the highest authority is given to Scripture but my understanding is explored by relating it to all the others. A key element of this approach that was assumed in the past but with our society needs to be handled explicitly is that this process is not individualistic but done as and in community. My understanding needs to be mediated by the Christian Community that I am a part of (and the more that is connected into wider Christian Communities the better).

In a way the Wesleyan Quadrilateral fits well with my understanding of the Hermeneutic Circle. Using the elements of tradition, reason and experience allows me to explore in a deliberate way what affects the way I approach Scripture. Far better to be be aware of these than ignore them.

However, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is not the only approach I take to Scripture. It can easily be too intellectual and so it is important to me to balance this with other ways of approaching Scripture such as through worship or meditation.

Hopefully this first post sets the scene for why I appear to Newfrontiers to be slow to use Scripture when I want to challenge a their views on gender and equality.