Women and The Blue Parakeet (1)

Following some recent discussion on this blog, I’d like to discuss women in ministry for a few posts.

First a couple of personal comments: I’ve long been a believer in ‘mutuality’ – someone who believes that the Bible teaches full mutuality between men and women in Christ – equality in salvation; equality in giftedness of the Spirit; mutuality in ministry; and mutual partnership in marriage.

[It’s worth noting here that titles tend to be pretty loaded in this debate. Who wants to be called a patriarchicalist, hierarchicalist, ‘old fashioned’ or maybe even a traditionalist? – hence the softer word, ‘complementarian’.  And who (within evangelicalism) want to be labelled ‘liberal’? Even ‘progressive‘ is a word laden with implications, either negative or positive depending who you are talking to. Even the word ‘egalitarian’ smacks of ‘competing rights’ being bargained over.]

Second, where I work, it’s safe to say that both students and faculty hold a variety of views. These get aired on an ad hoc basis in class, in conversation or occasionally through a more structured debate. IBI as such does not hold ‘a position’, in a sense that, like other non-denominational and evangelical Bible Colleges it’s not our job to adjudicate on matters of difference like this. We want students to understand the issues, engage with the Bible and theology, and be able to do so with others with whom they disagree in a Christian way.

Third, there is a temptation in any broad based evangelical organisation and in church life, to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and not disturb the status quo for fear of causing division or hurt. Or, with women in ministry, if it does not really affect you (i.e you are a man) then it’s easier to stay quiet. While this is understandable for both practical and pastoral reasons, it’s not very helpful. The issues don’t go away and it smacks of a lack of conviction that healthy, informed and civil debate is a good thing. And, as several women have said on this blog, this is an issue that needs men who believe in ‘egalitarianism’ to speak up.

So I’m going to lay out an egalitarian / mutualist position on women in ministry via engaging with Scot McKnight’s recent book The Blue Parakeet which is a book on reading and interpreting the Bible. For make no mistake, this ultimately is an issue all about how we understand and apply a number of key biblical texts and theological themes.

Here’s Scot’s take on where the church has got it wrong on women:

In essence I think that the church has gotton off track, misread some passages in the Bible, ignored others, and then fossilized that reading of the Bible …’

Basically Scot sees two forms of partriarchy being defended from the texts. And, rather than try to explain away patriarchical material within Scripture, he is quite candid about saying quite a bit of the biblical material is shaped by a patriarchal context.

Hard Patriarchy

This tends to equate the biblical patriarchal context with God’s eternal design. Within marriage the woman must glorify God, love others, submit to her husband in all things, submit to church leaders (male) in all things, and should not be in leadership in wider society (for men are leaders, women are not). This is all based on divine order and fixed gender roles. Such arrangements lead to peace and order; one (male) leads, the other (female) submits.

My comment here – this can take different forms. As I said the other day, one woman I know grew up in a church where was not allowed to speak at any ‘church meeting’ – even a mixed gender youth group! That’s stone-hard patriarchy.

Soft Patriarchy

This accepts a certain amount of cultural context to the Bible’s teaching about women and men, but insists the principles are permanent. For example, fixed biblical gender roles have to be applied to contemporary society. She can do more than the hard patriarchy view – such as working outside the home. But her primary role is of submissive wife and mother (if there are children). She can minister actively in church, but leadership roles of pastoring or teaching men are closed to her. This is the standard sort of ‘complementarian’ interpretation.


McKnight proposes that both represent a misreading of Scripture in that they seek to impose the culture and context of biblical teaching rather than letting the overall biblical narrative shape the application. That’s what he means by ‘fossilized’.

Instead, he argues that a ‘mutuality’ interpretation is shaped by the gospel narrative that is all about redemption and healing of the brokenness introduced at the fall. And that includes gender relationships. In Christ men and women are ‘made one’ again, in marriage but also within the the community of faith (church). There they are to live out that oneness in the power and enabling of the Spirit who gifts men and women to teach and lead (as well as other things).

Rather than fossilizing patriarchy, the gospel transcends it.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

2 thoughts on “Women and The Blue Parakeet (1)

  1. Not wanting to rain on the parade or anything, but I think this section of the book was the piece I felt most let down by – a feeling shared by the breakfast bible study group who read our way through it over a series of months. I think McKnight bottled it here. It’s is a well worn debate within the circles. If he had really wanted to bring his principles into widespread conversation he should have devoted the last section to applying it to the debate on sexual orientation. I thought that’s where the book was leading, but it was utterly ignored.


    That’s not to say that this post is though!!

  2. Had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with Scot over the week he was with us in IBI in June. I recall (partly) a conversation about this – I think he had several issues to ‘rethink’ in light of his reading ‘with tradition’. Can’t recall exactly what they were. In the end it was decided to go with one (women) rather than produce a very different bigger book.

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