What the Bible really says about men and women (1)
This book is on my desk along with a bunch of others related to women in leadership. It is just published by Matthias Media and is strongly linked the world of Sydney evangelicalism, esp Moore College etc. The author is a PhD graduate.
Claire Smith covers the usual territory of texts. Rather than go through them all, I’ll do a couple of posts on her interpretation of one of them – 1 Timothy 2:11-15 – and compare and contrast it with Howard Marshall’s interpretation in Mark Husbands and Timothy Larsen (eds), Women, Ministry and the Gospel: exploring new paradigms.
The cover has a range of endorsements, the best known people being Don Carson and Peter Jensen. I totally agree with Don Carson on the difficulty of saying anything new or fresh on an issue that has been ‘thrashed out in countless ways’ but am then at a total loss how he sees this book as being ‘a breath of fresh air’. Yes, Claire Smith writes with a clear style and I’m sure she is a godly committed disciple of Jesus, but she doesn’t say anything new at all.
Let me say upfront that I not only disagree with this book but I dislike it as well. Below are 4 reasons why. I believe in the importance of civil debate so, just to be clear, I’m not attacking Claire Smith’s integrity or character or sincerity, I’m questioning assertions and assumptions she makes in a published work that is out there to be read and discussed.
The first thing I dislike is the title. After all these years of debate by scholars on both the ‘complementarian’ / ‘creation order’ hierarchy / male leadership side and the ‘egalitarian’ / mutualist / men & women in leadership side, it takes some chutzpah to publish a book with that that little word ‘really’ in the title.
All I can say is ‘Really?’ Is this is the definitive statement that will settle the issues once and for all? Forget about scholars like F F Bruce, Howard Marshall, Gordon Fee, Linda Belleville, Sarah Sumner, Kevin Giles, Tom Wright, John Stott (supporting women’s ordination), John Stackhouse, Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight and so on and so on – this book ‘really’ has the right answers.
A second thing I don’t like are some of the endorsements. Jonathan Fletcher, a vicar in London, says this
“There is a strong correlation between a healthy, growing church and the recognition of distinctive ministries for men and women. Where women usurp men’s proper authority and are not themselves given their own unique and vital ministry, churches frequently decline.’
Wow. I’d love to know where the evidence is for that rather wild assertion. Notice whose fault it is – rebellious women who haven’t been ‘given’ proper roles by men. And I’d also be interested to know what is this ‘unique and vital ministry’ only women can do? For the whole problem with ‘complementarianism’ is that it is not complementary. There is no ‘unique’ ministry only women are called to and men are not. It is men who have the ‘unique role’ of preaching and ‘exercising authority’.
A third dislike is special pleading that her view is obviously the ‘plain reading’ of the text. In an endorsement Kathleen Nielson says Claire Smith ‘aims not to advance an argument but to listen well to God’s word about men and women and their relationships with each other.’ The author herself says the same thing.
“.. this book is not focused on arguing one side or the others of an issue – like women’s ordination or women’s ministry or the best model for modern marriages … the main focus is the Bible passages that should determine these issues.”
To state that this book is not arguing one side of an issue should be the cause of a good belly-laugh but I didn’t feel like laughing. Later she acknowledges that all of us come to the text not as neutral readers, we all ‘have cultural blind spots and sensitivities that influence our reading.’ But despite this, Smith seems to assume that since she comes to the text ‘simply’ wanting to let the passages ‘speak for themselves’ then her exegesis will ‘really’ be what the Bible says.
I can only label this self-deception, but she should know better than to make claims like this. She is a scholar who knows the material well. At least robust books like Blomberg and Beck Two Views of Women in Ministry are transparent in debating the issues in a respectful dialogue without one side trying to claim the moral high ground that the Bible is on their side before even getting to the text.
Smith’s obvious implication is that other readers who come to different conclusions must not be letting the Bible speak clearly – presumably due to feminist bias (she speaks of this in the opening chapter). There is more than a whiff of arrogance here – does she really think that other evangelical Christians are not coming to the text with equal sincerity and seriousness as she is?
This leads to the fourth dislike. She talks about the background noise of feminism that makes it hard to hear what God’s word is saying about men and women. And then she adds,
“To complicate things even further, sometimes this noise comes from Christian brothers and sisters who at other times have been beloved and reliable teachers and shepherds in their sermons and books. But now they tell us that these words of Scripture cannot be taken literally, or that they no longer apply today, or that the evangelistic turn-off of these texts is baggage the church cannot afford to carry and that being missional means moving with the times and fitting in with our culture.”
Those who do not agree with Smith have become ‘unreliable teachers and shepherds’. She needs to give specific examples rather than unsubstantiated generalisations. This is why I want to compare and contrast her interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 with Howard Marshall. He (to take one specific example) is not saying anything like what she accuses her opponents of saying. This is simply grievous stereotyping of fellow Christians – both in terms of content and motive.
So, not a good first impression in the preface and opening chapter.
(Civil) comments, as ever, welcome.