John Starke|6:00 AM CT

Reviewing 'Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry' from Keller, Bird, and Dickson

Theological conclusions depend more on our biography than most of us admit. We'd like to think we reached our views through an unbiased approach to the biblical text, but self-reflection reveals many complications. The best writers and thinkers understand this influence and use history, community, and prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit for correction.

Thankfully, the three authors (John Dickson, Kathy Keller, and Michael Bird) in Zondervan's recently released three-book series, Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry, all recognize and confess this dynamic in their own positions. You won't have to fear while reading these books that emotions and grievances will trump biblical arguments.

John Dickson, senior research fellow in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and Michael Bird, lecturer in theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Brisbane, Australia, have moved from a complementarian view of women in ministry and preaching toward an egalitarian view—though neither would call himself an "egalitarian." Dickson doesn't argue for women's ordination but merely the ability to fulfill a preaching ministry in the local church. Bird argues for women's ordination but hesitates to allow women to hold senior roles like bishop or senior pastor. Interestingly, Bird maintains a complementarian view of headship in the home. As he puts it, authority in the home is based on gender, whereas in the church it's based on calling.

However, Kathy Keller, wife to Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, has moved from an egalitarian position to a complementarian one. Keller sought ordination in the PCUSA before questioning and then abandoning her egalitarian views. Interestingly, she is the only one of the three comfortable with being labeled a "complementarian" or "egalitarian"—though her views of what kinds of activity women are permitted to do in the church may make more restrictive complementarians nervous. As she states, whatever a non-ordained man can do in the church, a woman can also do.

It's worth noting at the outset that each approach has been deeply affected by the author's context: Keller, in a highly educated and secular environment; Dickson and Bird, in a seminary and academic one. I'll address each contribution in turn.

The Gender Issue Is Primarily a Theological—Not Justice—Issue (Kathy Keller)

In Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry, Keller approaches the textual questions of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 not as a critical scholar, but as a theologically trained practitioner up-to-date on both cultural and scholarly debates. She focuses on the inadequacy of William Webb's redemptive-movement proposal and lucidly argues for a classical complementarian understanding of these texts, answering objections those in her environment commonly face.

If you're looking for a fresh approach to a complementarian understanding of Scripture, you won't find it. However, the strength of her book lies in the section addressing the question, "If Paul does indeed prescribe a complementarian understanding of authority in the local church, why?" In other words, she's responding to the voice that cries, "Gender issues are justice issues! And if the Bible does forbid female ordination and preaching, then isn't the Bible unjust?"

Keller provides a winsome framework for approaching these objections. She begins by showing that, no, Scripture's teaching concerning gender is not primarily a justice issue; it's a theological one. "Justice, in the end, is whatever God decrees," she writes. "So whether or not you are able to see justice in divinely created gender roles depends largely on how much trust you have in God's character."

Here we see Keller isn't talking primarily to the seminary student at Gordon-Conwell, where she and her husband studied, but the grad student at Columbia University who volunteers on the weekends at Habitat for Humanity.

"If trust must be earned," Keller observes, "hasn't God unequivocally earned our trust with the bark on the raw wounds, the thorns pressed into the brow, your name on the cracked lips?" And if God can be trusted, then "gender roles, with all of God's gifts to human beings, are to be rejoiced in and enjoyed, not endured and resented."

A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Michael Bird)

In Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry, Michael Bird's case for equality in ministry is not as equal as egalitarians would like. For one, Bird holds to male headship in the home. And although he believes the Bible allows for women's ordination and preaching in the local church, he stops short of supporting women in senior roles of bishop or senior pastor.

His arguments concern the following:

Phoebe, Junia, and Households

If Romans was Paul's magnum opus, so to speak, then why not entrust delivering and reading his letter to one of his male fellow-laborers? Why Phoebe instead? She must have been "a woman of great abilities and good character in Paul's mind," Bird concludes. Also, if there were questions about the "righteousness of God" or the identity of the "wretched man" halfway through his letter, "then who do you think would be the first person that [the recipients] would ask?" Bird wonders.

Also Junia, being "outstanding among the apostles" and another letter carrier for Paul, could possibly have fielded questions as well. So she raises the same speculative questions surrounding Phoebe. But these questions are just that: speculative. Did Phoebe and Junia "teach" Paul's letters? Well, we could speculate. But, then again, if given the time we could speculate a whole host of alternatives.

Bird continues the speculation. He argues that, at least in Corinth, "church leadership and household leadership went and hand in hand," since "Paul never mentions elders in his Corinthian letters." Therefore, "the de facto church leaders were the recognized household heads." And since at least one household in Corinth belonged to a woman, Chloe, we have our example of a woman in an elder role.

However, if you must repeatedly use phrases like, "I am admittedly inferring this" or "This is admittedly speculative," it begins to detract from the rhetorical thrust of your argument.

Contextual Norms and Biblical Norms

Bird proceeds to look at the two major texts: 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

He argues 1 Corinthians 14 likely refers to Paul's concern about how wives relate to their husbands during public worship. Or perhaps, even, women in Corinth tended to interrupt or question authority.

If women speak up too much in a service, Bird argues, the church may be in danger of "being mistaken for one of the secret and orgiastic mystery cults that had reputations for feminine excesses."

Again, with 1 Timothy 2—"I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man"—Bird argues Paul had a situational concern with the Ephesian church, where dominating women propounded false doctrine and aggressively assumed the mantle of authority in the church. The prohibition against teaching, then, is not a biblical norm but a prohibition against the authoritative teaching of aggressive women in the Ephesian church.

Bird's conclusion depends on syntactical decisions concerning the words "teaching" and "authority" in the Greek text. However, there's a striking absence of any interaction with the flood of complementarian arguments against his conclusions. Most glaring, he makes no mention of Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner's Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Two essays in particular, Köstenberger on "A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12" and Henry Scott Baldwin's "A Difficult Word: Aθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," challenge Bird's syntactical arguments. Moreover, S. M. Baugh's "A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century" undermines Bird's speculations about feminine mystery cults in first-century Ephesus.

But let's assume for a moment Paul only had contextual concerns with the Corinthian and Ephesian churches and did not set biblical norms. If that's the case, why doesn't he mention men lured by this heresy? Were there none? Were only women lured by this heresy? If women were not the only ones lured, why prohibit only women? And if only some women were enticed, then why silence all women?

On Bird's reading, how can we avoid judging Paul guilty of sexism or capitulating to merely cultural norms? Neither conclusion seems to be in step with the rest of the Pauline corpus, nor the gospel. (Note: see also chapter 6 of D. A. Carson's Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14.)

Finally, on what basis does Bird see women as apostles but not senior pastors? And how do we explain the seeming inconsistency that authority in the home should be based on gender and authority in the church be based on calling?

A Case for Women Preachers (John Dickson)

In Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons, John Dickson says we should rethink whether Paul had our modern understanding of sermon-giving in mind when he forbade women to teach in 1 Timothy 2. He argues that modern evangelicals have inappropriately universalized the biblical word "teaching" to refer to "all kinds of Bible-based talks in the church."

Dickson suggests that "teaching" has a more particular meaning in the NT, which Paul did indeed forbid women to do. However, he avers, our modern understanding of sermon is closer to the biblical word "exhort" or even "prophesy," which Paul did not forbid women to do.

So what does "teaching" mean in the NT? Here's Dickson's definition:

Historical and exegetical considerations combined make clear that "teaching" for Paul means preserving and laying down the fixed traditions of and about Jesus as handed on by the apostles. Teaching is not explaining a Bible text, nor is it applying God's truth to congregational life; it is making sure that the apostolic words and rulings are well known and maintained.

Dickson is adamant throughout: "teaching" cannot mean "preaching" in the way we understand it today, nor can it be any particular kind of biblical exposition—whether explaining or applying. It merely means preserving and laying down apostolic tradition.

So what is the modern-day equivalent of this "teaching" office? Since the apostolic tradition has already been laid down, technically speaking, it doesn't continue in the same form. For another example of something biblical that doesn't exist in the modern church, Dickson gives the example of the "widows roll/roster" in 1 Timothy 5. "But no one today frets about the absence of this ministry in our church structures," he writes. "We happily acknowledge that the thing Paul is mandating here—care for the elderly and vulnerable—has been absorbed into the various social services of the church." The "teaching" office is greatly improved on today, Dickson says, "whenever the New Testament is reproduced and read out." In other words, the "teaching" office no longer exists in the local church (and never included preaching in the first place).

What, then, should we say?

First, it's difficult to see how "teaching" cannot include "explaining or applying" since that almost entirely empties the word of any meaning. What do we mean by "teaching" if we mean something other than "explaining and applying"? Peter Bolt gives a better explanation:

It would be more accurate [contra Dickson] to say that the "handing over" and "receiving" of tradition gave the content that was then taught. Thus the relationship between "laying down and transmitting tradition" and that of "teaching" is not one of equivalence, but the first enables the second by providing the teachers with their body of knowledge.

Second, let's assume for a moment Dickson is right, that "teaching" is laying down and preserving the apostolic tradition. We need to reach some conclusions about how to identify that apostolic tradition. Surely, that tradition would derive from Jesus' teaching on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Therefore, the apostles laid down and preserved what Jesus taught, since he promised the Spirit would come and remind them of everything he said (John 14:26; 16:13-15).

However, if Jesus' teaching on the Emmaus road is apostolic tradition, then we have something different from Dickson's definition of teaching, since what Jesus taught was fundamentally expositional and explanatory.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27, emphasis mine).

Then he opened their minds [explained] to understand the Scriptures, saying to them, "Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead" (Luke 24:46, emphasis mine).

If you take away exposition, interpretation, explanation, and, I would argue, application, you take away the very apostolic tradition Jesus handed down. And what is the apostolic tradition but showing how Christ fulfills all of Moses and the Prophets?

Third, and building off the previous point, when the elders in Acts 6 were compelled to appoint deacons so they could fulfill their ministry of the Word, what else was their ministry but explaining (teaching!) Christ as the fulfillment of all God's promises—the apostolic tradition? Moreover, the apostolic letters themselves are expositions and interpretations of the OT promises, complete with exhortations and applications. Many interpreters even believe the letter to the Hebrews was a sermon. This makes it very difficult to distinguish "teaching"—not only in 1 Timothy 2 but throughout the NT—from sermons and public expositions.

Dickson's case is further undermined by the Pastoral Epistles themselves, as Paul exhorts Timothy and Titus about right "teaching" and the necessity of appointing elders who "teach" correctly. But in Titus 1:9, for example, this charge involves the need to promote sound teaching and refute false teaching—a duty obviously demanding explanation and application of the apostolic message. How could the false teachers be refuted without explanation and application?

Finally, immediately following Paul's prohibition of women teaching, the apostle moved to unfold the qualifications for elders. The only qualification having anything to do with gifting or even skill is aptness to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). In other words, the apostle showed us not only who's forbidden to teach, but also who's permitted. Every other qualification listed is expected of any genuine Christian. But if there's no meaningful modern equivalent to the teaching office, we've lost the one qualification that would set apart a man as an elder from any other godly man in the church.

All of these arguments and more could be developed against Dickson's project.

We constantly need to test our theological conclusions against Scripture, despite how much our biography and cultural setting define us. Bird and Dickson encourage us to consider their proposals by coming back to Scripture, and for that I'm thankful. However, I don't find their arguments compelling, and their conclusions depend too much on speculation to convince us to deviate from the plain meaning of the biblical text.

John Starke is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can follow him on Twitter.

Categories: Reviews
  • Christian Lawyer

    **"Justice, in the end, is whatever God decrees," she writes.**

    That's one of the most dangerous assertions I've heard in a long time. Pretty sure that's what the white Southern Christians said to MLK to justify their continuing misinterpretation of the Bible as calling for racial segregation, because who were they to question (what they believed to be) God's idea of racial justice. It just shuts down the conversation, because Keller's view of what God means by justice can never be disproven, even if it contradicts other parts of God's word.

    • Tom

      Great comment Christian Lawyer! Also, I find it interesting that the Gospel Coalition is promoting Mrs Keller (a woman) teaching men - the very thing they oppose. How does that work? I suppose teaching is that which only takes place behind a pulpit in a church building.

      • Christian Lawyer

        Thanks, Tom. I grew up in a moderately evangelical, moderately conservative congregation of a mainline denomination (UMC) a little before the word "complementarian" was coined. There is no part of the gospel I was taught that could have envisioned Jesus doing anything other than weeping at the idea of an extended debate on the precise locations (if any) of where a woman was permitted to proclaim the good news, whether anything she said could be taken as establishing authority on the subject, the perceived linguistic distinctions between teaching, preaching, exposition, explanation, and interpretation, or the 83 things Wayne Grudem believes women can do in church.

    • JohnM

      Christian Lawyer,
      Note that you yourself did not fault the segregationist for using scripture as a reference, but rather for their "continuing misinterpretation". Remember too that abolitionisst and civil rights advocates appealed to scripture in support of their cause. So in rebuttal your task is to show where you think Keller is misinterpreting rather than simply objecting to her view of what God's justice means. Dismissing her assertion as dangerous frankly just shuts down the conversation :)

      • Christian Lawyer


        I wasn't talking about the substance of her (mis)interpretation of scripture concerning gender roles, so it doesn't seem worthwhile to repeat here the well-known arguments against complementarianism, although I will if you want to discuss that. Rather, I was simply addressing her proclamation about how one can know what justice is. I find that proclamation dangerous regardless of whether or not I agree with her on complementarianism.

        Of course I'm not suggesting it's somehow invalid to appeal to scripture. But the abolitionists and civil rights leaders expressly located their views on racial justice in the Bible's broader justice teaching to demonstrate it was the segregationists' views on race that contradicted other key scriptural teachings.

        Keller's proclamation, in response to objections asserting that complementarianism is unjust toward women, seems to say she doesn't have to explain why the gender roles she advocates are just. We should just trust whatever (she says) God decrees about justice, even if it seems completely inconsistent with everything else we know about God. Her position can never be disproven or even debated. It's a (only slightly) more sophisticated version of the fundamentalist's "God said it. I believe it. That's settled." Or, like when parents answer a child's question about a directive with "because I said so." It just shuts down the conversation.

        Even worse, she says: "So whether or not you are able to see justice in divinely created gender roles depends largely on how much trust you have in God's character." So, if I think her teaching on gender roles is unjust, it's not because I'm simply wrong. It's because I don't have enough trust in God. That approach is another huge red flag for potential. Treating disagreement or questions as proof of disbelief is how cults (and fundamentalists of all religions) shame people into suppressing their doubts.

        I was taught to critically examine new teaching through the Wesleyan quadrilateral (scripture, reason, tradition, experience) to try to determine whether it was worthy and that the combination of these factors would help keep one from going too far astray. (Yes, I know it's imperfect.) But Keller's proclamation has none of the safeguards of the quadrilateral, which makes it ripe for abuse.

        Also, just so you know I am not objecting to Keller's pronouncement about justice solely because I also disagree with the substance of her teachings on gender roles, let me share that I had the experience of being a member of a UMC church when a very liberal pastor was sent to us. I mostly agreed with her politically and theologically, but she preached basically the same thing as Keller, that we should just trust what (she said) God says about social justice. When others in the congregation would ask questions, she would shut them down with "because that's what God says, trust me, there is *no* other side to this issue." Ultimately, she grew a little cult of personality and drove out all who asked even the most basic questions about her teaching. I see Keller's proclamation as putting her close to the start of that same path and that's why I think it's dangerous.

        • JohnM

          Christian Lawyer,

          Thanks. That's better. The longer explanation I mean. I do think it was called for here. I'm not sure Keller is doing quite what your UMC pastor was doing, and I don't think she's scary, but to be fair to both her statement and your take on it I haven't read the book.

          Though I'm not UMC or otherwise Wesleyan I hold the Wesleyan qadrilateral approach in high regard myself. It makes sense to me. However, a few things I would point out about it: 1. It is not above critique 2. It is not the only possible approach to Christian doctrine and practice 3. There's always the question of how much relative weight one gives to different sides of the quadrilateral 4. Different people may apply the approach to a particular question and reach different conclusions.

          • Christian Lawyer


            Thanks for your response. I agree Keller isn't quite (or perhaps quite yet) in the same league with what that UMC pastor was doing and I agree she's not scary, only that her teaching has great potential to turn down the road to abuse. I also agree about the limitations of the Wesleyan quadrilateral. As I said, it's not perfect, but unlike Keller's proclamation, it recognizes the potential for human error in our understanding of God's word and so builds in ways to try to ensure that our interpretation fits into a coherent whole. That definitely doesn't mean any of us always gets it right.

        • mel

          Dangerous? Take a deep breath, the sky isn't falling and the world isn't about to end.
          Keller is saying that justice is in God's character and word, not your emotions.

          • Christian Lawyer

            Mel -

            I see you still don't understand the "chicken little" charge. Calling something dangerous is, not at all, by itself, saying the sky is falling and the world is about to end. Otherwise, every parent talking to every child would fall into the chicken little category.

            I agree justice is in God's character. But Keller is saying that she can teach that justice, when applied to gender roles, doesn't have to be consistent with everything else we know about God and God's character concerning justice. If a teacher's only answer to the charge that the teacher's rules are unjust is to claim that God's justice is whatever (the teacher says) God says it is, that's essentially conceding that her teaching does *not* fit into the rest of what we know about God and God's view of justice. So, when someone teaches something that is inconsistent with everything else scripture teaches about God's character, I think it's more likely that the teacher has fallen into human error (has allowed culture to blind her to the truth) than that God's justice somehow doesn't apply to all people everywhere. Which is especially rich considering that the "rules" she teaches say that women aren't supposed to be teaching at all.

  • Jason

    Thank you for your analysis. I have a question about prophesying though. Why is this gifting so side-shelved today, especially when this is a gifting Paul encourages the church to desire and allows women to practice? So it's like well teaching is not for women, but prophecy is, but we don't really do that here. Side-note, I don't quite know what NT prophecy is, but it's definitely not OT, "thus says the LORD." Also is teaching different than proclaiming the Gospel? I think a sermon is an opportunity to preach the Gospel, and that obviously involves teaching the Bible, but it's much more too. Would Paul say women should not proclaim the Gospel? I think he would say they should proclaim the Gospel. If that then is the only place they're allowed to do so, outside the assembly of the church? Would that be only a time for teaching and not proclamation and prophecy? Is a biblical norm on this teaching even possible, especially if we are side-lining the biblical teaching on prophecy or more so not even considering it?

    -A confused seminarian who loves the ministry of women

  • david carlson

    so your telling us the teaching by the women is better than the mens....

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com Hannah Anderson

    Question about Dickinson's definition of "teaching" and the author's response:

    Doesn't Dickinson's understanding of teaching include not only the process of explaining Scripture (as you dealt with) but also the authority to determine what constituted legitimate doctrine? Wasn't it the combination of presenting truth (public speaking) AND the ability to legitimize that truth (through the office of ordination)that made it authoritative--not that the explanation itself made it authoritative? (The example of deacon's teaching is also puzzling to me because even some comp churches allow for women deacons.)

    I agree with you that Dickinson's explanation of "teaching" being limited to the early church is problematic. But I wonder if we don't end up minimizing the office of ordination by expanding "teaching" to include anything that happens behind a pulpit or on a podcast. And I suppose given Keller's take that "whatever a non-ordained man can do in the church, a woman can also do," there does seem to be a bit of inconsistency when many churches will allow men to speak to a mixed group regardless of whether or not he is ordained while a woman cannot.

    I'm not trying to be difficult--just trying to tease out the nuance of the argument.

  • Jer

    Sadly, John Starke doesn't critically engage in Keller's arguments, but assumes them as true. This is a poor review and shows his bias. There is much more that could be said against Keller's view.

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  • http://www.bibletrutth9.com Alin

    God is good!

  • Mat

    If I read Dickson right, teaching CAN (and indeed must) encompass some manner of explaining and applying the scriptures as it is done in the service of passing on the authoritative apostolic teaching. If that is true, Jesus' teaching on the Road to Emmaus need not deviate from this understanding of teaching. Indeed, in order to pass along apostolic teaching, explanation and application in the early Christian community would be REQUIRED. The reviewer doesn't engage with the argument Dickson presents with early Christians' need of such authoritative teachers before the New Testament was formalized.

  • http://theoldadam.com/ theoldadam

    We are one in Christ. "In Christ, neither male nor female..."

    It's a matter of the gifts.

    Some women have the gift. Some men have it.

    God's Word is not hindered by someone's genitalia. But unfaithfulness to His Word.

    • Akash Charles

      Exactly how is complementarianism hindering the word of God being spread-One can make a case that christianity was spreading faster when complementarianism was the norm as opposed to the current climate!

      also heaps of women missionaries have prayed and prayed for a Male pastor to lead the church - and God has answered their prayers as well

      • Christian Lawyer

        **Exactly how is complementarianism hindering the word of God being spread**

        Would you join a church that denied what you understood to be your God-given gifts and talents? Not only is complementarianism hindering bringing women into the church, it's also driving out women who are already here.

        • Adam Hawkins

          Great new article (on TGC actually) questions whether we have understood "gifts" correctly. In short it argues that gifts are actually an office, not a some sort of ability that we must discover.

          • Steve Hanson

            Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

            I suppose that formulating an argument like this would be necessary to support a complementarian view of Scripture.

        • Dan Lemagie

          It seems to me that the truth of complementarianism is not the thing which is the cause of women either leaving or not attending churches but rather that it is thier sinful flesh which rebels against the clear commands of Scripture. Women are not completely forbade from teaching throughout thier Christian life, they are simply forbade within certain milieus in order that order may be maintained. God is a God of order and He has ordained that the precious institution of His church be run in such a way as to maintain that order within it. Once we depart from that we begin to run into this type of chaos and we are once again reminded of why it is that God has clearly ordained the order of authority in His church. The principles used by Paul to illustrate this truth are, like the God who revealed them to us, eternal and unchanging, transcending time, space and culture. Once we begin to allow the clear truth of God's word to be influenced by the current cultural climate we introduce the danger of compromising the truth in order to satisfy the itching ears of the people. We must fear God above man, and, I would also assert (with reverance)we must love God before man. Only then can we properly love and minister to those around us in truth and with God's blessing.

  • Keturah

    (Keller) "begins by showing that, no, Scripture's teaching concerning gender is not primarily a justice issue; it's a theological one." This is what is true. In 1 Tim 2, Paul is assigning a reason (gar) for silence and subjection. And it is theological. In fact, it is historical redemptive: Creation, Fall, Curse, Promise of Salvation.

    Creation: Adam created first,

    Fall: Eve transgressed first,

    Curse: Pain of childbirth. If we are still under the curse, what of the woman who dies in childbirth? Will she be lost?

    Promise: No, for even though we operate in a universe still groaning, she will be saved. If there is faith in the promised Son who reversed the curse, crush the head of the Serpent.

    There is nothing here of social customs that change over time or place. The reason for the teaching and authority restrictions are tied up in the in the historical/redemptive plan of God. Paul is quoting Genesis 1-3.

  • Martin

    Upon reading Kathy Keller's book, I was quite shocked that she so easily detaches 'justice' from 'theology' and favors hermeneutics (a man-made construct) as the determinant of gender roles over justice. When reading the Bible, one cannot help but 'trip over and over and over' God's invocations and instructions for justice in both OT and NT. It is one of the most (if not the most) consistent and most frequent theme of Scriptures. Don't forget the sheep and goats story when it comes to the battle between theology and justice.

    When it comes to 'comp or egal' as the way to live out my life as a follower of Jesus; I read Scripture, listen to the positions, take note of my intuitive side (spiritual sensitivity) as a husband, brother of three sisters and father of a daughter, as well as sons. And I can tell you, justice has a loud voice.

    Kathy Keller dismisses the role of justice in determining gender roles in the church by stating that it "displaces Scriptural teaching", is a result of "subcultural traditions" and "post-modern individualism". This is just a too convenient over-generalization which severely lacks validity and is a wrong assessment of egalitarian reasoning.

    • JM

      Great review! Thought-provoking analysis of the role of justice. Thank you...

  • Winnie

    I am extremely disappointed that men who would allow women to preach actually think that it is okay to consign them to submission in the home. At least 10 % of women will be violated, beaten and deprived of basic human rights by their partner. Preaching submission of the wife transfers the distress of physical violence into the realm of the spiritual and leads to overwhelming trauma resulting from the belief that God and church leaders approve of the violence the woman experiences.

    It is one thing to be raped by a stranger, but when this happens in the home under aegis of submission, the trauma is incredible.

    The abused women I know were married to construction workers, elders, ministers, professional men, and seminary professors. Therapy is expensive and long term.

    Kathy Keller actually knows that this teaching is traumatizing and she still doesn't resist it. She wrote,

    “My first encounter with the ideas of [male] headship and [female] submission, was both intellectually and morally traumatic.”

    For her, she had to break her good china to get her husband's attention, but she persisted, demanding enough to get by. But some women don't achieve survival as she does. Some women just live a life not worth living.

    Please, somebody tell me, how does this kind of callousness happen?

  • Sue


    You know already that the primary evidence on which Baldwin's study was based does not exist. The Philodemus fragment does not contain an example of authenteo meaning "those in authority." This was a misrepresentation of the evidence. Schreiner, however, does not account for this, but Kostenberger, on Justin Taylor's blog a couple of years ago, was quite up front about the fact that the lexical evidence, once cited in Baldwin and his own preceding work, does not exist.

    There is therefore no lexical evidence that authenteo can have a positive connotation and mean "to lead in church." There is absolutely NO lexical evidence for this. None. And, in fact, you have been made aware of this fact some time ago.

    I have consulted with many scholars on this, and none of them can cite evidence that authenteo, could refer to one human being having authority over another in a positive way. This evidence absolutely belongs to the realm of urban legend. There is none.

    Women deserve something better. Women deserve to be treated in a truthful way by their Christian brothers. Why do men betray women in this way? It breaks my heart that men do not think that women deserve honest research and exegesis. Why are your hearts so hard and closed to simple facts?

    I do hope that you will allow this comment to stand, and that you will attempt to find evidence for your views, or admit that there is none. Thanks so much.

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  • http://www.publicchristianity.org John Dickson

    The most awkward rejoinders are those you write to your friends and theological kin; doubly so when you feel you have to point out to them that they have not correctly described the argument of your book or, where they have, how they seem to have overlooked the parts that anticipate and answer the criticisms they raise.

    John S. has written a sincere and polite review of my recent Hearing her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons. It’s what I would expect. As a sometime contributor to the Coalition blog, I have always found John to be thoughtful and a gentleman. TGC guidelines prevent him from publishing this response, but he has assured me privately that holding different views on this question does not exclude someone from the TGC family. Indeed, he added, “we would be more than thrilled to receive any other proposals for articles.” This is a model of evangelical disagreement. Long may it continue!

    John rightly explains that my argument involves pointing out that while Paul clearly forbids women to ‘teach’ men, he nowhere excludes them from other speaking ministries, such as ‘exhorting’ or ‘prophesying’. He is also correct that I think a contemporary Bible exposition is closer to Pauline exhorting than teaching.

    However, when John begins to explain what I mean by teaching, he drifts into a rigid, if not exaggerated, account of my views. At first glance, it seems he relies only on my own words. He quotes me as saying:

    “Historical and exegetical considerations combined make clear that "teaching" for Paul means preserving and laying down the fixed traditions of and about Jesus as handed on by the apostles. Teaching is not explaining a Bible text, nor is it applying God's truth to congregational life; it is making sure that the apostolic words and rulings are well known and maintained.
    So far, so good. Then, without warning, John interprets this passage to mean that ‘teaching’ for me “merely means preserving and laying down apostolic tradition” and that it “cannot include explaining and applying.” The logical problem is clear. There is a world of difference between saying that teaching is not explanation and applying God’s truth and saying that it excludes these activities. Imagine I said “football is not running up and down a green pitch” and then you accused me of saying that football excludes the activity of running up and down a green pitch.
    The important point, which I tried to made clear throughout the book, is that the constitutive element of teaching in the Pastoral Epistles is laying down the apostolic deposit. I make clear throughout the book that the work of ancient teachers will no doubt have included explanations, appeals and applications but that these dimensions were not the constitutive aspect of the teaching activity. Passing on the apostolic words was the defining core of the role: “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). This has to be so, for, as I make clear in the book, there was no New Testament in this period (AD 60s). Congregations could not turn to the Gospels and read for themselves what the apostles said about Jesus. They had to rely on those who memorized and repeated the apostolic deposit (just as Jewish teachers were entrusted with recalling the rulings of the authoritative rabbis later complied in the Mishnah). I happily concede that teaching would have included explanations and appeals, just as I am sure that prophesying and exhorting relied upon and made reference to the apostolic teaching. But this doesn’t turn ‘teaching’ into prophesying/exhorting any more than it transforms ‘prophesying/exhorting’ into teaching. Paul says these three activities are ‘different’ (Romans 12:8). My book tries to probe how they are different and underlines that Paul forbade women to engage in only one of them in the mixed congregation. To offer one of a number of quotations from the book that make this point:
    I would not dispute that ancient teachers were involved in something like exposition (of the Old Testament as well as the memorised or written apostolic traditions). I can well imagine that their teaching—i.e., their transmission of the apostolic deposit—was frequently augmented with explanations and exhortations on the basis of the traditions. However, that should not distract us from observing that the constitutive purpose of teaching, as distinct from explanation, prophesying, exhorting, and preaching, was, as I hope I have demonstrated already, to pass on the memories, rulings, and insights of the apostles. Put another way, just because ancient “teaching” could combine with (or even morph into) “exhortation” does not mean that exhortation is teaching. We have seen that Paul distinguishes between these two activities, and he only forbids one of them to women.”

    Having inaccurately described my understanding of ‘teaching’, John goes on to offer some non sequiturs. Part of his review shows how ‘exposition’ of the Old Testament text was already part of the apostolic teaching. This apparently undermines my contention that teaching—passing on the apostolic tradition—is not defined by Bible exposition. John writes:

    “Surely, that tradition would derive from Jesus' teaching on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Therefore, the apostles laid down and preserved what Jesus taught, since he promised the Spirit would come and remind them of everything he said (John 14:26; 16:13-15). However, if Jesus' teaching on the Emmaus road is apostolic tradition, then we have something different from Dickson's definition of teaching, since what Jesus taught was fundamentally expositional and explanatory. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).”

    I repeatedly make the same point in my book, sometimes clearly anticipating John’s criticism. “I am not denying,” I write in one place, “that ‘teaching’ is related to the Old Testament Scriptures. I have already said that the apostolic traditions often explained how Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.” I add, however, that “this does not make teaching the same thing as exposition of Scripture.” That is the point I would ask John to dwell on. Of course the apostolic tradition is replete with demonstrations from Old Testament Scripture of how Jesus fulfills the promises to Israel. But this does not change my argument at all (it is part of my argument). Only by overlooking this element of my case can John make his observation seem like a valid criticism.

    He seeks to strengthen his case by pointing to the apostolic letters and, in particular, to the letter to the Hebrews. He writes:

    “Many interpreters even believe the letter to the Hebrews was a sermon. This makes it very difficult to distinguish "teaching"—not only in 1 Timothy 2 but throughout the NT—from sermons and public expositions.”

    I, too, think Hebrews was probably a sermon (or two), but it is interesting to observe what the author himself calls what he is doing in the letter. He does not think of it as ‘teaching’ but ‘exhortation’. Early in the letter, he complains, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food" (Heb 5:12). Clearly, ‘teaching’ here refers to the basic doctrines of the apostolic testimony. He is mildly shaming them for not being able to move beyond 'teaching' to the things he really wants to talk to them, things which he does in fact go on to speak about in the following paragraph: "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation" (6:1). It is clear here that ‘teaching’ is the foundational activity of rehearsing the apostolic deposit (the very thing the author wants to move beyond).

    So, what does the author himself call the wonderful elaborations, expositions and applications of the Old Testament found throughout the letter? Heb 13:22 has the answer: “Bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written briefly.” ‘Word of exhortation’ is exactly the same expression used of the speech Paul was invited to give after the synagogue Scripture readings in Acts 13:15. It is part of the reason I believe our contemporary sermon would be classified by Paul principally as ‘exhortation’ rather than ‘teaching’. There is surely teaching in exhortation, just as there is exhortation in teaching, but the two are not identical and Paul forbids women to do only one of them in the mixed congregation.

    Some of John’s other criticisms depend on similar misunderstandings. For example, reflecting on the call of Tit 1:9 to promote good teaching and refute false teaching, he asks, “How could the false teachers be refuted without explanation and application?” I would say, very easily: through the correct laying down of the apostolic deposit. Good teaching simultaneously promotes good teaching and refutes bad teaching. But more simply, and to repeat what I have already said, I am not denying that explanation and application accompanied teaching. I am simply insisting that, in a period when there was no New Testament to expound, ‘teaching’ was constituted by the repeated laying down of what the apostles said concerning Jesus and the new covenant.

    Finally, John points to the ongoing role of elder-teachers in 1 Tim 3 and elsewhere as proof that ‘teaching’ cannot be an activity with “no meaningful modern equivalent”. I need to push back a little here. What I say in the book is that “no one today performs a role exactly equivalent to that of the ancient teacher.” I repeatedly indicate that while ‘teaching’ has been transposed into the New Testament itself, there are ongoing parallels in the ministry of the modern church. Bible reading is one. When the New Testament is read out loud in church, the apostolic deposit is being rehearsed word-perfectly (even if the reader is not charged with the same authority or ability as a repository of apostolic tradition).

    Another way ‘teaching’ continues in the modern church will surprise those who have read John’s review but not my book. Some sermons will function as conscious mandating – laying down – of the apostolic doctrine. In the conclusion of the book, I indicate that some readers may “conclude that no one “teaches” any more” and so “all sermons are open to suitable men and women.” But this isn’t my view. I deliberately offered this as the second of three possible responses to my argument. The third response is described last because I wanted to emphasise it:

    “Some may conclude that, although the modern sermon cannot be wholly equated with what Paul calls “teaching” in 1 Timothy 2:12, some sermons today may be close enough analogies to the careful transmission of the apostolic deposit that they should only be given by qualified men.”

    I admit that I struggle to think of particular examples of such ‘teaching’ sermons (an earlier edition of the book I presented some examples but I began to feel I was being too prescriptive and legalistic). Moreover, as I go on:

    “sermons are seen on a spectrum: some are more like prophesying and exhorting and aim to urge obedience to Scripture or encourage confidence in God’s truth; others function more as a focused mandating of apostolic doctrine. Those who arrive at this conclusion will probably also find themselves wondering how the biblical principle of male responsibility might determine the relative frequency of men and women in the preaching roster.”

    This third response is the final reflection of the book because it is where I am up to at this moment. It is therefore simply inaccurate to suggest that I have removed all meaningful modern equivalents of New Testament teaching. Within a Reformed context, I am simply arguing that while ‘teaching elders’ ought to be qualified men, sermons need not be restricted to men, for not all sermons can be identified with Pauline teaching. They are just as easily associated (I think more so, for the reasons outlined in the book) with what Paul calls ‘exhorting’ and even, as the Puritans called them, ‘prophesying’.

    I am thankful for the polite tone of John Starke’s review and for the invitation to continue offering pieces for The Gospel Coalition blog, but I cannot help feeling that the clearest response to his criticisms would be found in a rereading of the book itself.

    Many thanks,

    John Dickson

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