Towards the end of last semester as I was immersed in studying Greek, I came across the names of a couple of female New Testament scholars. Naturally my curiousity got the better of me. My preliminary quest turned up a platform on gender issues amid other publications. I must say I was disappointed. I then sought to find a female NT scholar whose research and speciality did not involve gender issues. Why did it bother me so much that women scholars utilized their platform for gender issues? As a women with academic and leadership interests, it seems like I would have been pleased to see such efforts. But I wasn’t.
To be clear, what I am referring to ranges from women’s role in leadership in a complementarian paradigm to full blown support for egalitarianism and everywhere in between. I am referring to research that specifically addresses to what extent a woman can exercise authority over a man, if at all, and participate in ministry leadership.
So what’s my beef with gender issues? I know I might get into a bit of hot water with the ladies for this one. Maybe it’s just me and this is only an opinion, but I think it undermines the legitimacy of female scholarship, particularly in fields where issues are secondary. I am not saying that Biblical theology of women, and particularly women in leadership should not be explored, but there is something about effort being exerted to promote a cause that can be perceived as self-beneficial. And especially where the sword of gender issues is optional and research efforts can be focused on other topics. It might be subtly or not so subtly saying, ‘I’m here and demand that you take me serious.’
I am NOT saying that is the motive behind such a platform but I can’t help but wonder if that is the ultimate impact. I can’t help but wonder if the perception of self-promotion can be self-defeating, and perhaps undermine the premise that such scholarship aims to promote.
Yes, somebody has to research them. To be honest, I appreciate the men that take up the cause for gender issues. I think far too many men, particularly in more conservative evangelical circles, are prone to lethargic study and easy dismissal of understanding a woman’s place in leadership. After all, why should they be concerned? But for the ones who do, I think it does give a little more credibility to the issue because it is no longer perceived as a woman trying to insert herself where some believe, she should not be inserted. Again, I am not saying that those who take up the cause with their research interest and literary publication are doing this, but perception can say a lot.
Why do I have concerns? While I maintain an active complementarian perspective regarding male headship in the home and church, I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that it is not as neatly packaged as the more conservative platforms would espouse. I don’t believe I will ever accept the abolition of an authoritative order, aka, egalitarianism. But I do believe there is ample room, in present day context, for women to legitimately hold leadership roles more than some segments within conservative evangelic circles are willing to accept. I say this not in support of my own ambition, but as a student of Scriptures that seeks to honestly digest what the whole counsel of Scripture would say on a topic. This also involves evaluating what is contextualized versus commanded.
Yet, there have been solid lines drawn in the sand. For those that hold to #1-4 in Michael’s chart (here), I think there is the expectation that women will rebel and possibly construed as outward defiance against God’s authority. A smart, capable, degreed and well-read woman taking up the cause against restrictive views most likely support this expectation. Moreover, for the stricter conservative branches of evangelicals with low incentive to investigate issues further, I can’t help but wonder if the cause of scholarship in the area of gender issues would not be construed as further motivation for strengthening those lines.
Regardless of one’s position in the complementarian/egalitarian debate, perhaps the best support for the legitimacy of female leadership is demonstrating scholarship in a variety of disciplines within theological study. Rather than concentrating research on why women can hold leadership positions or to what extent women can hold leadership position, perhaps the greatest proof would be in the pudding of demonstrated capability and meaningful contributions in all areas in the body of Christ. I know this can mean various things depending on ones position, (whether a woman can pastor, for example) but the argument of the position is not really the point here nor is this post in support of one position vs. the other. The point is that if there is a place for women in leadership, it might be better to demonstrate leadership in that area rather than proving why you should.
So getting back to my search, I came across Dr. Karen Jobes, a professor of New Testament study at Wheaton College. No gender studies, only research involving the LXX and New Testament exegesis. And her commentary on 1 Peter is bar none, where she also gives props to her husband for modeling Ephesians 5. I do not know much more about Dr. Jobes than is written here but am eager to learn more. I would like to believe there are others like her, who quietly work out their giftings for expedient contribution to the body of Christ amongst the din of gender promoters. I am likely to take Dr. Jobes a little more serious because of it.