Friday, October 14, 2011

Women Can't Be Pastors

I cringe to think of how many daughters of God who have been moved and gifted by the Spirit to be leaders in Christ's church have been told that they can't because the Bible forbids it. This Sunday we are going to take on the two passages from Paul's letters (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15) that have been used to justify this denial. I never thought I would be excited to preach on these texts, but I am thoroughly excited because I have discovered, after several years of study and reflection, that the traditional interpretations simply cannot stand up to close scrutiny. Paul actually held up gender equality as central to the gospel of Jesus, and Paul's letters bear witness to the fact that Paul worked alongside of and endorsed women leaders in the churches he started. So what's the deal with these "killer passages"? That's the question we'll be investigating in depth on Sunday.

If you want to go further in your thinking about this, there's a great organization called “Christians for Biblical Equality,” and you can read articles from their contributing scholars at:

An extremely helpful article from a Middle Eastern New Testament scholar named Kenneth Bailey, who I often rely on for cultural background information, can be found at:

Some books, in order of most accessible to most scholarly and in-depth:

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible 

Craig Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul

Philip Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Bible

I recently finished this new book by Timothy Beal about how the Bible came together and about the cultural status that it currently enjoys. This would be a great read for anyone who wants to get to know the Bible better, especially if you want a "behind the scenes" look at the history of the Bible and how the Bible is currently being marketed and sold. 
Beal begins by considering the Bible as a "cultural icon" of religious certitude, similar to the American flag as a cultural icon of patriotism. The Bible is held in highest esteem by Christians, but many Christians see the Bible more as a symbol of religious authority than as an actual collection of texts to be read. Mark Twain once wrote that a classic is a book that everyone admires but no one reads. By this definition, the Bible is certainly a classic! The average home has nine Bibles. In 2008, Bible sales totaled $823.5 million. In 2005, there were 6,134 different Bibles you could buy. But therein lies a paradox, for Biblical illiteracy remains staggeringly high. More and more people are buying Bibles while at the same time less and less people are reading them. Beal suspects this might be due to a disconnect between expectations about what one thinks is in the Bible and the experience of actually reading the Bible and discovering its content. In other words, people keep buying more and more Bibles because they are discontent with the ones they have. There is an elusive search for the Bible that "makes sense" and is easy to read. Beal proposes that the current boom in Bible sales is directly related to certain assumptions and expectations that we are taught to have about the Bible that immediately get challenged when you actually open it to read it, such as that the Bible should be clear and immediately and directly applicable to our lives. Only a few pages into the Bible you discover it's not this simple. 
Beal then reconstructs how we got our Bible from a historical perspective. He points out that for the first 300 years of the church there was no fixed "Bible" as we know it. Many of the texts now in the New Testament were, of course, widely circulated and treated as sacred much earlier, but a fixed list of 27 "books" comes much later in the 4th century. 
I can imagine some Christians taking offense at Beal's treatment and analysis of the Bible. Although he is a Christian, he treats the Bible as a thoroughly human document. But it seems to me that a high view of the Bible must take into account what the Bible actually is. We do not give God any compliments by making claims about the Bible that cannot hold up under a close reading of the actual texts. The Bible isn't a divine textbook. It isn't a perfect encyclopedia of theological knowledge. It isn't an owner's manual for life. It isn't a collection of stories just about moral and spiritual heroes that we should try to model. It is a diverse collection of very ancient and sometimes strange texts written by people and communities that struggled just as much as you or me to make sense of God and what God is up to in our midst. It is a unique and irreplaceable collection of texts that witness to the history of God's revelation through Israel, Christ, and then the church, and as such is foundational for Christian identity and life. It is meant to be our indispensable conversation partner as we seek to follow the Risen Christ in the world that God made and God loves. But it is not a perfect answer book dropped out of heaven. God has given us something much more exciting, frustrating, confusing, humbling and inspiring than that.