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Each view—egalitarian (equal ministry opportunity for both genders) and complementarian (ministry roles differentiated by gender)—is represented by two contributors. This revised edition of the book brings the exchange of ideas and perspectives into the traditional Counterpoints format. Each author states his or her case and is then critiqued by the other contributors.
The fair-minded, interactive Counterpoints forum allows you to compare and contrast the two different positions, and to form your own opinion concerning the practical and often deeply personal issue of women in ministry.
The Counterpoints series provides a forum for comparison and critique of different views on issues important to Christians. Counterpoints books address two categories: Church Life and Bible and Theology. Complete your library with other books in the Counterpoints series.
One of the continuing hotbeds of debate in evangelical circles today is the nature and scope of leadership roles open to women in the church. Can a woman preach God's word? Can she serve communion, baptize, or lead in worship? Can she marry and bury? Can she serve as the lead or solo pastor? Can she teach an adult Bible class? Can she serve as a bishop, elder, or deacon? Can she put "Reverend" or "Doctor" before her name?
These are the questions with which numerous churches in the last fifty years have struggled and over which some have divided. In large part this has been due to the absence of any middle ground. The issues and terms have been defined so as to force a choice either wholly for or wholly against women in leadership. The interpretive approach of traditionalists, in particular, has been notably selective. The focus has been on one or two highly debated passages (first and foremost, 1 Tim. 2:11-15), with little acknowledgment of the roles of women in Scripture as a whole.
What about today? Has any middle ground been reached? What currently separates the traditionalist and egalitarian? As recently as two decades ago the polarity was vast. It was not uncommon to hear evangelicals talking about a woman's flawed, self-deceived nature or her secondary creation in God's image, which ruled out any leadership role for her in the church. Now there are very few who would go this far, and most who thought this way in the past have changed their minds.
What accounts for the change? It is not that a biblical consensus has emerged, for traditionalists still claim that theirs is the "Christ-honoring, Bible-believing perspective" and that the egalitarian's perspective is the "liberal, culturally acceptable view." The primary impetus is actually social in nature. The feminist movement and economic pressures have catapulted women into the workplace, where they have shown themselves to be equally talented, wise, and levelheaded-so that whereas twenty-five years ago only young adult males were challenged with the slogan "Uncle Sam wants you," today women and men alike are encouraged to "be all that you can be."
To a great extent evangelicals have followed suit. There is now general agreement that women possess exactly the same spiritual gifts men do and are to be encouraged to develop and exercise these gifts to their fullest potential. In effect, women are urged to "be all that they can be spiritually." Acase in point is a recent catalog statement from one of America's largest and most conservative evangelical seminaries: "As members of the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and leaders in the church of our Lord, we recognize that God has given his gifts to both men and women in the body of Christ," and "It is our goal that each woman be encouraged and receive the training she needs to be fully prepared for future ministry."
So the issue that divides traditionalists (now self-identified as "complementarians") and egalitarians today is not that of women in ministry per se (i.e., women exercising their spiritual gifts). It is rather women in leadership, for while a consensus has emerged regarding women and spiritual gifting, a great divide has emerged on the issue of women in leadership-especially women leading men.
What accounts for the great divide? The patriarchal structures that were in place in the American workplace thirty years ago have been replaced by an ethic of gender equality-in theory, if not always in practice. Here, however, evangelicals have not generally followed suit. While mainline denominations have embraced gender equality, evangelical churches by and large have not. It is the rare evangelical church that has a woman in its pulpit on Sunday morning, a woman as lead pastor, a female chairperson or chief elder of its council, or a female teacher of its adult Bible classes. It is also the uncommon evangelical denomination that ordains women, installs women in key administrative positions, or appoints women to governing boards.
The reason for this state of affairs is not hard to pinpoint: the relationship of male and female continues to be perceived in hierarchical ways. God created men to lead; God created women to follow. It is this that fundamentally differentiates a traditionalist from an egalitarian today.
This distinction has become highly politicized. Councils are formed, supporters are sought, newsletters are generated, speaker bureaus are created, business meetings are held, and funds are solicited. For example, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) was formed and the Danvers Statement formulated in 1987 in reaction to the egalitarian view espoused by participants at the "Evangelical Colloquium on Women and the Bible" held on October 9-11, 1984, in Oak Brook, Illinois. Moreover, there is little room for dialogue on the issue. Only the publications that fully follow the party line are referenced. Bible translations are judged by the presence or absence of gender-inclusive language. Books are either wholly in or wholly out. And organizations, denominations, and churches are either entirely affirmed (e.g., Southern Baptist Convention, Presbyterian Church in America, Bethlehem Baptist Church) or completely rejected (e.g., InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), Fuller Seminary, Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.], United Methodist Church, Willow Creek Community Church).
Invariably the debate between egalitarians and traditionalists comes down to four basic questions:
Does the Bible teach a hierarchical structuring of male and female relationships? Do we find women in leadership positions in the Bible? Do women in the Bible assume the same leadership roles as men? Does the Bible limit women from filling certain leadership roles?
Excerpted from Two Views on Women in Ministry-Revised Edition Copyright © 2005 by James R. Beck. Excerpted by permission.
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