A Woman Bishop, m'lady? That'd be a Bishop, then, dear!

Highlights from the move today to present the measure on women bishops to the Queen -
The purpose of the Measure is to enable the Church of England, for the first time, to open all three orders of ministry—deacons, priests and bishops—without reference to gender.

Women priests now make up over a quarter of parish clergy and around half of priests in training. There are already 23 women archdeacons and six women deans. As a debate last year in Westminster Hall testified, over the past 20 years many women have given outstanding leadership to the Church of England and to our communities as vicars, archdeacons and cathedral deans.

... the Church will now be able to choose from the other half of the population for its most senior positions, which, all things being equal, must strengthen our hand? 
I am pleased that the decision has been reached to have no second-class category in the Church of England as far as women are concerned.

...this is a measure that has been welcomed by many other faith groups as well.

At General Synod, the Measure enjoyed overwhelming majorities at final approval in the three Houses of Synod, with 95% in the House of Bishops, 87% in the House of Clergy and 77% in the House of Laity—majorities that I suspect any party or combination of parties in this House would give their eye-teeth for. At the heart of the work and discussions on the new Measure was the ambition to do everything possible to maintain unity in the Church of England.  

“One of the most moving parts of this process has been listening to those who have been willing to go along with something that they feel passionately and deeply is not the right thing for the church to do…I say again that the Church of England is deeply committed to the flourishing of all those who are part of its life in the grace of God. It is not our intention that any particular group should wither on the vine.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 187.]

As the Archbishop of Canterbury observed a little while ago on “Newsnight”, “the biggest change in the last 20 months has been the way we treat each other and the way we are learning to treat people we disagree with.”

This Measures thus comes before us this evening with the overwhelming endorsement of every diocese in England and the overwhelming endorsement of every part of General Synod following a process of listening and reconciliation.

In a short and very moving speech, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, a Cross Bencher, explained that he had been brought up in the Catholic Church, but that what really mattered was love: “what is important is the degree of love… I enormously welcome women bishops…It is correct that we should also show great love to those who find this difficult.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 181.]

If we pass the Measure today, it will enable the Church to proceed to finalise matters at the General Synod next month. That potentially means that from 17 November, each diocesan bishop vacancy considered by the Crown Nominations Commission and each suffragan bishop vacancy considered by the relevant diocesan bishop will be open to women as to men.

One consequence of the Measure is that it will be possible for women to become Lords Spiritual and to sit in the House of Lords. At present, diocesan bishops are appointed to the House of Lords on the basis of seniority, so getting women bishops into the House of Lords could take some time if the normal system of seniority were simply left to take its course. However, I am glad to be able to report to the House that there has been consultation with all the main parties on the possibility of introducing a short, simple Government Bill to accelerate the arrival of the first woman bishop in the House of Lords, and I hope that such a Bill will be able to be taken through during this Session.

I want to put in an early bid. The Bishop of Hull is leaving his post and moving on, and, as Hull is a pioneering city—remember William Wilberforce and Amy Johnson—I believe that the bishopric of Hull would be an ideal starting place for the first woman bishop in the House of Lords.
The Bishop of Oxford is retiring shortly. There are many excellent women in senior posts in the Church, and I have absolutely no doubt that the first women bishops—and, indeed, all those women who are made bishops—will be excellent candidates. 

Perhaps it began with those women we read about in the New Testament: Phoebe, the deacon; Priscilla, the teacher; and Lydia, whose house became a home for the Church. Perhaps it began with the Genesis story, which is open to different interpretations.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them…God saw everything that he had made and indeed it was very good.”

Let me now deal with the details of the Measure. Clause 2 makes it clear that bishops are not public office holders under the Equality Act 2010. It is a necessary provision, enabling the Church to provide for those who, as a result of theological conviction, do not wish to receive episcopal oversight from a woman.... I do not think that it is necessary at all. It is the one element of the Measure that I think is unfortunate: I think it unfortunate that, at a time when we are advancing equality, we have to amend the Equality Act to carve out a chunk of the Church of England.

Will the new conservative evangelical headship bishop minister beyond the parishes that specifically request his ministry?

During the debate many people were swayed by the citing of a number of female Cornish saints and the great contribution they made to the early development of Christianity. That was a timely reminder of the significant role that women have played in the Church over many centuries. 

there is a fantastic opportunity for a woman to become a bishop very soon in my constituency, as our current bishop, Bishop Michael, retires in only a month’s time, after 10 years’ outstanding service? Does she agree that that great opportunity should not be missed?

I can think of an excellent candidate who is sitting with us this evening and whom all of us would thoroughly recommend to be one of the earliest adopted new bishops.

Let us see today as that great moment of celebration—of women celebrating their vocation and making our lives all the richer for it.

If Jesus brought anything into our world, it is justice and righteousness. We should have picked that up, and should have forced this change through far earlier.

“We love the Church of England, and want it to be the best it can.” With this Measure, it can be better.

There have been few moments in the House of Commons that have given me this much pleasure.

I also pay tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I always said that I thought that it would take somebody coming from his tradition within the Church of England to drag it into the modern age, and I am in danger of being proved right. He has shown real leadership and determination and organisational skills, political skills with a small p, which are essential in that job to get anything done. The majority that was achieved in the Synod last time took my breath away given what had happened the time before.

In too many areas women are still under-represented in British society. In the Church of England, the stained glass ceiling, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has termed it, was enshrined in law. Today we have the opportunity to ensure that that is no longer the case.

I want to pay tribute to all the women and men who over many years have campaigned on this issue: to bring the full extent of women’s ministry into the Church of England so that they can rightly take their places as deacons, priests and now bishops, and hopefully as archbishops.

I am delighted that we are finally here today—it has taken a very, very long time. I hope that Ministers will be able to give some indication of when legislation will be brought before this House so that matters can be expedited to ensure that we have a woman bishop in the House of Lords as soon as possible.

This is a historic moment that we should note, because it gives the Church a real chance to look more like the society that it seeks to serve. A Church with women in office at the highest levels of authority will better reflect British society today. 

God, this has been a long time coming, hasn’t it?  

Question put and agreed to.


That the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure (HC 621), passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which it was laid before Parliament.

See here


Influential Women

Influential Women

I have now finished Wendy Virgo's 'Influential women'. This book grabbed my attention because of the blurb on its front cover, which explains: 'From the New Testament to today - how women can build up (or undermine) their local church.'

On Amazon it is described with the following title, which is not actually to be found on either the front or back of the book:

'Influential Women: From the New Testament to Today - How Women Can Build Up or Undermine Their Local Church: How Women Can Bless - or Ruin - Their Local Church - Wendy Virgo'
I was puzzled as to why the idea of women undermining the church was put in parenthesis. I realise why now. Women will be attracted to this book initially as they seek to learn how they might build up the church. What they soon realise it that this book's aims are subtle, hence the parenthesis but then liberated from such punctuation inhibitors later. The book's aims will squarely smack you between the chops and if you are undecided about what you think God's will might be for women in the Church, you will be taught that if your callings are to eldership, the pastorate or leadership of a mixed congregation, then according to Wendy Virgo you are entertaining a 'Jezebelic spirit'.

When I started this book, I skimmed a little. It is a bit pedestrian. It is light-hearted and entertaining. It is imaginative. She adds details to the biblical portrayals of Priscilla, Tabitha, Lois and Eunice, Euodia and Syntyche. The blurb on the back describes how 'Some were saints, full of good works; some were frankly poisonous and did considerable harm. What can we learn?'

So what did I learn?

Well, at first I wondered whether learning was the point. And I think that this is part of the book's weakness. We tell entertaining stories to teach each other but somehow Virgo doesn't quite pull it off. Three quarters of the read was entertaining and interesting, of a kind. Virgo adds colour and detail from her imagination, which fleshes out the holes in the original stories, as she surmises about how old these women were, how they entertained themselves, what they thought about...

However, the last third of the book, is of a different tone altogether. Here, we are to swallow her bitter pill, concur with the 'theology' of her complementarian mindset, prayerfully seek forgiveness for our 'jezebelic spirits', if we have entertained 'aspirations' for which we were not built.

Virgo morphs from imaginative fancy grounded in truths but padded out for our delight to, well, attempts to correct and admonish the wayward thinking that is a product of our time and the influence of the devil.

The book ends prematurely. It is as if we are left with nowhere to go. If we are left weeping, she has already been there as she struggled to tame her own rebellious heart! We are presented, before this premature end, with descriptions of her ultimately 'influential women': Eve and Mary.

Eve failed her husband and failed God. It was her independent spirit which has ruined us!

Mary obeyed God, was willing to be his servant in bearing Jesus.

The theology here is well-worn and centuries old, we are either the rebel or the virgin and there are no shades in between.

It's all that simple!

The argument is crass and unconvincing in its application to women. Never is there any discussion of Mary's counter-cultural predicament, what her relationship must have been like with Joseph in this marriage which did little to conform to the norms. Never is there any discussion of any other way of looking at the fall and what God planned for man and woman before it.

Headship and hierarchy are the holy words in this book and we are left in no doubt as to the sort of woman who will ruin her local church - Eve-like, if she is unable to gain the power she quests, she will result to using her sexuality to unsettle the men there. My goodness! Local church - watch out!!

This book does not inspire a healthy vision for either men or women, in the local church.

Entertaining until the end when Virgo's parenthetical aims emerged. 3 out of 10.


Men to farm the land whilst women spread the gospel

This post is a little tongue in cheek, really.

My attention was caught by a post by Elesha Coffman, guest writer over at the Her.meneutics page of Christianity Today. She writes satirically about how 
if we play certain hermeneutical games with the word of God then surely men are are called to be farmers!

The more serious point I want to make is that this is relevant when some evangelicals are reasserting their beliefs regarding gender distinctions for men and for women. A basis of faith for one Church of England group now asserts that men are to be given certain appointed roles in the church and not women. This is the theology of complementarianism. Many Christians subscribe to this, including me. Women and men are indeed equal but different. Biologically, and often by attributes, whether conditioned by nature or nurture, or a combination of both, it is hard to tell, we are different. However, in the church, where we are all one in Christ Jesus, and Paul's teaching about marriage and women's education is so radical for his time, this is not so. The Holy Spirit gifts people to lead in the church, who then just so happen to be men and women. There is no ceiling or distinction on ministry because of gender.

In fact, if we look at the scriptures, they explain perfectly why Jesus chose men to witness his resurrection to the world. The amazing thing, is that he chose women to witness his resurrection to the church. If anything, then, it could be women championing complementarianism, who advise men to be evangelists to the world, whilst women might argue it is their job to preach the gospel in the churches where Christians have gathered. 

How can I say this? 

Well, because quite simply in the culture of Jesus' day only men were considered credible witnesses. So a witness to the world would be far more effective from a man. Hence the male disciples following Christ. But Jesus considers the church to be different to the world and he asks those same Christian men to accept the word and witness of the women from the empty tomb. 

Angels gave the gospel first of all to women. But in their spreading it first to men, the men failed to believe. Mary, Joanna, Suzanna and many other women accompanied Jesus and were his disciples too, even financing his ministry out of their own resources. 

St Paul is certainly an egalitarian. His 'Let a woman learn', in the epistle to Timothy, echoes Jesus' own affirmation of another Mary who sat at Jesus' feet to learn (Luke 10:42). It was on my own engagement with this story of Mary in Mary and Martha that I first considered serving God more formally in the church.  

Paul and Jesus were advocates of education and education without gender barrier. Kenneth Bailey describes how as the Mary of Mary and Martha is 'seated where the men would have traditonally sat in that story, at the rabbi's feet,' something radical is happening regarding 'the traditional cultural separation between men and women,' which has been broken1. Tom Wright describes how you would sit like this at the feet of your master 'in order to be a teacher, a rabbi yourself.'2

The Mary, Joanna and Suzanna who accompany Jesus are also doing so against the backdrop of those same cultural conventions.

Could it be that, yes, Jesus did deliberately choose 12 men to witness his resurrection to the world? 

But could it also be that Jesus deliberately assigned women to be the first witnesses of the resurrection to the church? 

“Go quickly, tell His disciples, He has risen from the dead” 
(Matthew 28:7-8),

...and not only do angels commission women but Jesus himself: “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren...”

In the book of John, the Mary who financially supports Jesus, sees the resurrected Christ and is commissioned with these words: “go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”

But the men would not believe the gospel given by the testimony of women and Luke goes on to tell us how 'these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe....' (24:11)

On the road to Emmaus, for this, in part, these disciples are to discover that they are 'slow of heart.' 

These disciples were acting like the world in their failure to receive the testimony of women.
It is not to surprise us, then, that groups of Evangelical Christians are still finding this hard to accept and even reasserting gender demarcations as they react to the news that women can now be consecrated in the Church of England. Female witness to the resurrection has always been a witness that has struggled. That it was slow to be received then should have prepared us better to understand why it has been slow to have been received now, indeed, how in some circles it is still being vehemently resisted. 

The command has always been for women to testify to the resurrection. The testimony of women to the power of the resurrection was designed by God to be the first witness to the church. 

It came from angels. 
It came from the Lord Jesus Himself. 
The Church of England has at last caught up. 

Long ago Jesus removed the stigma of women as unreliable witnesses and prepared his own disciples to receive women accepting their gifting through the commissioning of the Holy Spirit. 

It is definitely good news that the Church of England has now opened up all three orders to both genders and we just now need to pray for a generous patience as some of our evangelical brothers and sisters catch up. 

What is so good about God is that this formal recognition now of a truth established long ago will only help to make the gospel more credible to a culture for whom such gender distinctions make little sense. Let's present a radical Jesus and a radical Paul to people everywhere so that the good news equips everyone to live out their call. Let's practise an intentional and generous waiting for that very testimony to be received by everyone.

1BAILEY, K.E., Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. Cultural Studies in the Gospels, p.193-194.

2WRIGHT, N.T., Women's Service in the Church, p.4


Beyond fissiparousness

These have been interesting years within evangelicalism. The tendency toward fissiparousness is abating and the tendency now is towards facilitated conversation and generous listening. My conclusion here is that together we can learn better how to serve the church and submit to her teaching and I reassert that Christianity is about servant-hood and not authority.

Too many times in the women Bishops debate issues of 'authority' have been the focus. About servanthood, all Christians are agreed but advocates of women bishops must better stress this aspect of Christian distinctiveness as they explain from the scriptures that women and men should serve the Body of Christ in the episcopal office because of their spiritual gifts and in submission to God, the church and one another.

Such submission does not differ in accordance with your gender!

Texts important to evangelicals in the women bishops debate are 1 Corinthians 11:3-12 and 14:34-38; Ephesians 5:21-33 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15. It is certain that different interpretations of Genesis 1-3 shape interpretation.

A short appraisal

I Tim 2 11-15
With women being given 'oversight of the Church, speaking in the name of God and expounding the gospel of salvation,'1 at first glance here the teaching of Paul appears to have been contavened. Paul's words compound for many conservative evanglicals their interpretation of Genesis in which Eve is to submit to Adam. Elaine Storkey, a voice for many open evangelicals like myself, describes how 'our translations deprive us of the full impact of what Paul says.'2 It is interesting to consider the NIV footnote which explains that the reference to 'women' (1 Tim 2:15) should be translated as 'she'. Paul' is not prohibiting women in ordained ministries, just one particular woman from teaching falsely (didasko) because, like women of her day, she lacks appropriate education. Paul is being counter-cultural with his 'Let her learn'. It is only because she has been bullying her husband and teaching false doctrine that she should be rebuked. The word authenthein has the sense of a usurping of authority3 in the Greek and whatever their gender, Christians should not lord it over each other. Despite error and because of faith, this woman is assured the same mercy Paul received, who was himself the 'the worst of sinners' (1 Timothy 1:16). 'She' (this wife) is assured salvation as they (the married couple) continue 'in faith, love and holiness with propriety' because she is saved (sozo), not through her own bearing of children, but through the teknogonia (noun: childbearing), the ultimate childbearing, the birth of Christ, which has come about through Eve's descendants.

Paul's 'Let a woman learn', in the epistle to Timothy, echoes Jesus' own affirmation of Mary when she sat at his feet to learn (Luke 10:42). Kenneth Bailey describes how Mary is 'seated with the men and...the traditional cultural separation between men and women no longer applies.'4. Tom Wright describes how you would do this 'in order to be a teacher, a rabbi yourself.'5

Ephesians 5:21-33
Many conservative evangelicals are proponents of male headship. That 'Christ is the head of the church' is read in Ephesians as indicative of Christ's authority and that 'the husband is the head of the wife' confers on men authority over women in the church. The meaning of the word 'head' here (kephale) is understood to mean 'authority over.' Grudem and Piper argue that because Paul calls 'the husband “the head” of the wife...this section can not be teaching only mutual submission...'6

Open evangelicals on the other hand and Gilbert Bilezikian, Gordon D. Fee and Catherine Clerk Kroeger conclude that kephale means 'source.' People thought that the body grew out of the head, its source. Head was not a metaphor for rule or authority because the ruling organ was thought to be the heart. Bilezikian explains how mutual submission, not headship, is being described in Ephesians 5:21-33. Verse 21 is the context within which the rest of the advice should be understood. The husband and the wife are to be mutually submitted to each other. Paul overstated the husband's submission to the wife to counteract the authority men had over their wives in the first century. Bilezikian highlights the 'succinct, formula-like definition that goes to the heart of the matter: “Christ is the head of the church”. Paul adds this explanation: “He is himself the saviour of the body.” If Paul had meant to imply authority, this explanation would have been rendered, “He is himself Lord of the body”...''7 Christ is the life-giver. The sense of kephale as source or origin rests in an interpretation of Genesis where Adam is the source of Eve and his being made first does not make her subordinate. Eve is a 'helpmeet', accurately translated from the Hebrew word ezer to mean 'rescuer'. Ezer is attributed to God and out of its 19 uses, 15 are about God bringing help to needy people.

It is also important to understand correctly the word 'submit' (hupotasso) which denotes voluntarily asserting the needs of another person above your own. This is a call to all Christians. It should not be confused with being subordinate. It is about being active, not passive and the English translation fails to capture this.

1 Corinthians 11:3
At first glance it seems as though man is under Christ's authority, woman is under man's authority and Christ is under God's authority. Open evanglicals, on the other hand, deny that Paul presents a hierarchical sequence of relationships here because he doesn't arrange his sentences to denote this. Instead, God is the source of the incarnate Christ, Christ the source of humankind and man the source of woman because she was made from his rib. Paul's 'the woman is the glory of man,' captures Adam's joy at how perfectly Eve completes him: 'bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh' .

1 Corinthians 11:4-12
Regarding male and female appearance Piper and Grudem advocate that women are to conform to their pattern at creation and be distinct from men. Because woman is the glory of man, and created for him, she wore the veil as a reminder of the fact that she was under his authority. If she failed to do this 'she brought shame both on herself [head] and...the man [her head].'8 The verses are cited to support male headship and a prohibition of women in episcopal oversight. Modern commentaries including the Sacra Pagina on First Corinthians and open evanglicals believe instead that Paul is citing the Corinthian Judaizers' legalistic arguments in order to correct them. There is that natural change of tone at verse 11. Paul, after repeating their Judaic thinking back to them, gives his answer: that 'in the Lord', this is not to be the case. He exhorts the Corinthians to look to nature. God has seen to it that the women are covered, by their long hair (verse 15) rendering any veil unnecessary.

1 Corinthians 14:34-38
Similarly, in chapter 14, Paul quotes the Corinthians' false practice in verses 34 and 35 and then corrects their thinking. They considered it appropriate to silence the women to alleviate the disordered nature of their worship gatherings. This is not a suitable recourse and their appeal to the law does not fool Paul who knew his scriptures. There is nothing in Mosaic law requiring the silencing of women. The correction begins at verse 36 and was originally introduced with an exclamation like 'What?!' but this has been lost in copying. The change in tone signals the correction with Paul shocked that this church dares to think itself more spiritual than any other and create its own rules, when the guidance that he has for their church supersedes anything that they might glean from the law because it is 'of the Lord'. He warns them that if they fail to recognise this, they too will be unrecognised.

Proverbs 18:17 describes how 'The first to present their case seems right-- till another cross-examines them.' It is still difficult for evangelicals to come to any kind of consensus. Personally, I wonder whether at the very core of the debate is a confusion over the concept of submission. Christians can not deny that Christianity is about submission: submission to the Godhead, the gospel and the Church. In Grudem and Rainey's 'Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood', they describe that the 'Biblical View of Submission ...requires her to submit to him..., while no passage indicates that a husband should be subordinate to his wife.'9 It is in the casual exchange of the word submit for subordinate that significant problems lie. These two words are not synonymous because the former is theological and about 'dying to self', the latter is worldly, denoting inferiority. Where a woman's Christian submission is also subordinationism to men, she has thus far been denied the role of oversight in the Church by many conservative evangelicals. I feel the need to reassert that Christianity is about servanthood and not authority to counteract this. About servanthood, all Christians are agreed but advocates of women bishops must better stress this aspect of Christian distinctiveness as they explain from the scriptures that women and men should serve the Body of Christ in the episcopal office because of their spiritual gifts and in submission to God, the church and one another. Such submission does not differ in accordance with your gender!
ASHLEY R., 'Can a Woman Have Authority Over a Man?', in HARRIS, H. & SHAW, J.,The Call
for Women Bishops, London, 2004

BAILEY, KENNETH.E., Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. Cultural Studies in the Gospels, London, SPCK, 2008

BELIZIKIAN, G., Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible says about a woman's place in church and family, 3rd edition, U.S.A, Grand Rapids, 2006

BLUM, G.G., 'The Office of Woman in the New Testament' in BRUCE, M & DUFFIELD, G. E.,
(ed.s), Priesthood & the Ministry of Women, Berkshire: Marcham Books, 1976

GROOTHUIS, R. M., The Bible and Gender equality

GRUDEM, W. & RAINEY, D. (ed.s) Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood, Illinois, Crossway Books, 2002

MARSHALL, I.H., 'Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage', in Discovering Biblical Equality,
ed.s) R. W. Pierce and R M Groothuis: IVP, 2005

PIPER, J. & GRUDEM, W., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, A Response to Evangelical feminism, USA, Crossway Books, 2006

STORKEY, E., Created or Constructed. The Great Gender Debate, Cumbria, Pasternoster Press, 2000

WRIGHT, N.T., Women's Service in the Church, The Biblical Basis, A conference paper for the
Symposium, ‘Men, Women and the Church’ St John’s College, Durham, September 4, 2004

Scripture quotations are from the NIV.

2 STORKEY, E., Created or Constructed. The Great Gender Debate, p.82
3 GROOTHUIS, R. M., The Bible and Gender Equality, P.6
4 BAILEY, K.E., Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. Cultural Studies in the Gospels, p.193-194.
5 WRIGHT, N.T., Women's Service in the Church, p.4
6 PIPER, J. & GRUDEM, W., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, A Response to Evangelical feminism, p.168,
7 BELIZIKIAN, G., Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible says about a woman's place in church and family p121
8 PIPER,. & GRUDEM, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, A Response to Evangelical feminism, p.132
9 GRUDEM W & Rainey D (ed.s) Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood, p.203-4

ReNew...ing our understanding of the Trinity (ESS)

N and N 11.08.2000

Debates over the Trinity involve complex metaphysical theses and the scrutiny of biblical texts. Church members often find it difficult to see how this doctrine relates to faith and practice. 

For me it is key - Trinitarian relations give us a model for relating to one another as communities, putting the other first. Tim Keller in his book 'Center Church' says this:

God is triune, 'other-orientated' and therefore love, friendship, and community are intrinsic to him and at the heart of all reality. A triune God created us (John 1:1 – 4). He already knew love in himself – a community but then replicates – makes more communities – us and asks us to become like him, learn from him. He created us to share in his love and to share in service to the world. The persons of the Trinity love and serve one another — they are “other-oriented” - we are to be too to fulfil our God-given identities because we were made in his image. 

The early church debated this doctrine of the Trinity for centuries.

Orthodoxy was at stake in councils like Nicaea and Chalcedon.

Today, the debate over whether the Son submits eternally to the Father has arisen again in terms of its application to marriage and women bishops. There are numerous books on this topic and an absolute flurry of scholarly exchange.

I've just been wondering what it was I committed myself to, on my Wedding day, in the year 2000. This was before I'd even really considered the Christian gender wrangles and my brain was uncomplicated by these things. Anyway, I found the vicar's brochure of the service performed on that beautiful sunny day St John's, Hagley Hall, Hagley, to discover what this Mrs N had agreed to with her Mr N and it was the following:

N, will you take N to be your wife?
Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

I will.

N, will you take N to be your husband? Will you love him, comfort him, honour and protect him, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

I will.

So, we both committed to the same things - so I did know what I was doing back then despite my brain being less complicated and so very in love it might have agreed to anything...

I didn't say obey. If I had done - it would have been a good excuse to have our marriage blessed again with the words: Will you love him, comfort him, honour and mutually submit to him, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live? (bit of a mouth-full isn't it?)

So that saves us some money!

John Richardson once responded to a post I wrote about complementarianism and the curse, and how we weed our gardens and have our pain relief during child-birth but are expected to just live under male headship and not seek to improve our lot. John informed me how in the early days of the discovery of anaesthesia it had been denied to some women on Christian grounds. Amazing!

As you know, Bilezikian (Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible has to say about a Woman's place in Church and Family) is one of my recommended reads. Not to be left out on the coffee table in case guests think its title purports to 'other things!' He is very helpful in his debunking of ESS (the Eternal Subordination of the Son - the trinitarian controversy of our time).

I also own a copy of 'Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.' If you engage with complementarianism, you need to read the stuff. Grudem is having an argument with Bilezikian in the back of the book. Grudem states that Authority and submission are divine concepts and goes on to explain what he means, saying these concepts are 'rooted in the eternal submission of the Son to the Father and of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son.' (p.463) What?! Yep, it's there - look it up! So this is ESS.

Blog 'Under much grace' writes about ESS, explaining it in the following way: 

"Rather than attributing Christ’s emptying of every aspect of His fully realized deity as a function of the kenosis described in Philippians chapter 2, this theory maintains that Christ never fully realized the authority of God the Father. Jesus becomes something of a “special purpose God” who ranks in hierarchy between His superior Father and above the Holy Spirit. Though all the Divine Persons possess the same nature and attributes, they do not share equal attributes in terms of authority of which role seems to play out as a function of that authority."

George Knight III, in his highly influential book “New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women,” published in 1977, formulated an entirely new set of theological arguments in support of the permanent subordination of women... In developing his novel case, Knight also argued that this God-given permanent subordination of women in role and authority in the church and home was supported and illustrated by the Trinity. For him, the Son is eternally subordinated in role and authority to the Father, despite the fact that the Father and Son are fully divine. He thus speaks of a “chain of subordination” and of an eternal subordination of the Son that has “certain ontological aspects.” This new teaching on the Trinity came to full fruition in 1994 with the publication of Wayne Grudem’s "Systematic Theology: An 
Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.”...

For Grudem, the Son’s role subordination, like that of women, is not a matter of who does certain things, as we might expect on seeing the word 'role', but rather the matter of who commands and who obeys...

... Bruce Ware (an American theologian) ...claims that historic orthodoxy teaches that Son of God is “equal in being, eternally subordinate in role.” The Trinity is a “functional hierarchy.” There is an “eternal relationship of authority and obedience grounded in the eternal immanent inter-Trinitarian relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” If God is rightly called “Father,” then Ware holds the divine Father must be set over the divine Son, for human fathers always have authority over their sons. It is contemporary theologians, he argues, who speak of a coequal Trinity who have broken with historic orthodoxy!

Bruce Ware has preached for Resurgence Ministries (Mars Hill) where Mark Driscoll has just stepped down. He attempts a deconstruction of trinitarian relations and there is some good stuff on the theology of 'being sent' and on Jesus's obedience to the Father in Christ's incarnation. The future-orientation of everything being put in subject to the Son is explored. Where it begins to get worrying is where God is ordered in such a way that our best earthly reflection of this is 'marriage.' The equality of essence and the distinctions between the genders are to be played out in the church and the home, is his thesis. There is a split between essence and function, almost a dualistic split between what we Do and who we ARE. There is a problem here. Jesus is ontologically sent and sacrificing of self. There doesn't seem to be a split between ontology and function. 

What happens is the creation of a straw man, which on the surface seems persuasive. Bruce is able to appeal to the reader/hearer. We are taken in by his apology on the behalf of all men for not understanding his clear teaching, for their purported abuse of their wives because they have only understood their own superiority without understanding actually the equality of their wives, inside, of which, of course, there is her functional subordination (but only her functional subordination). In other words if these men in his audience have misunderstood and framed their wives in terms of ontological inferiority, they are to apologise. This is clever. We are bound to think - ahhh! That's good. Repentance. Right relations re-established etc. But no - do not be taken in - this is just a way by which the 'functional subordination' can then be pressed. Bruce then explores the curse. 'Helpmeet' constitutes wife and mother. 'Kephale' is left unexplored in terms of its application to God the rescuer. 

Before the end of Ware's thesis, and so quickly, we are in the realm of the man having 'God-like authority.' God elevates the Son and so, persuasive again, the man is to elevate the woman under his charge. Other-serving authority. Retain authority says Ware but in a God-like way. Build up those under your charge - the woman. He then explores God-like submission - submitting with joy and gladness - Christ submits to the will of his Father, the woman should submit to the man. 

He talks about how uncomfortable this word 'submit' makes us feel. But there is a reason for this. In its practical outworkings, it becomes inferiority. When I was doing research on the theology behind women bishops, I looked at Grudem and Rainey’s ‘Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood’. They describe how the ‘Biblical View of Submission …requires her to submit to him…, while no passage indicates that a husband should be subordinate to his wife.’ I think that in the casual exchange of the word submit for subordinate, significant problems lie. These two words are not synonymous because the former is theological and about ‘dying to self’, the latter is worldly, denoting inferiority. I have no problem with the idea of Christian submission but I am a suspicious about the idea of Christ’s subordination - something doesn’t add up because of what becomes its logical extension.

This is what it become: John Piper has a list of jobs that are suitable for women and some that really are not - I find this difficult and I don't think it's because I'm post-modern. Piper says that a female boss with a male secretary is compromising the humanity of them both. This is then the logical extension of this kind of dangerous thinking. There is this proposal that this kind of thesis is to be extended over the home and the church and it is problematic enough there but really the whole earth belongs to God, why bring in more dualisms?  

There was a very interesting live debate (http://hrht-revisingreform.blogspot.com/2008/10/considering-theological-reasons.html) over in America where ESS was being debated and Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem were putting forward their case for subordinationism. 

How persuasive do you find it, really? 

Ware finishes his sermon by describing the woman as the helper of the man - she facilitates his mission in God. She is to assist and complement the man to fulfil his God-given purpose. One of the ways she might do this is through hospitality, opening up the home and providing meals. I will leave you with that thought. 

In questions to Ware afterwards, a woman talks about the potential of the idolatry that can come about when a woman makes her husband her Lord rather than Christ. This is, it would seem, the common consequence for women living out complementarian teaching. This woman finds it difficult to find her self-identity in her husband's definition of her - she wants to be rooted and grounded in Christ. Ware encourages her to help him to become what God has called him to be and to grow in her endeavour to support and respect him. Through parents to children, God provides and through husbands to wives, God provides says Ware. Ware takes images of obedience in terms of slaves and children in Ephesians and makes no distinction - the relations for wives and husbands is then the same as that for children and parents - this is not so - see Bilezikian on Ephesians 5 here. 

What we are left with then is some very muddled thinking that is doing significant pastoral damage. Pastors like Mark Driscoll who have admitted their thinking has gone astray are evidence of this. 

As theologians and scholars continue to debate trinitarian and human relations and many present theses for why they can no longer continue as Anglicans in a church that will now consecrate women, watch for the increeping of this new approach to that key doctrine of the Trinity. 

How do you configure your concept of the trinity?


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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.