Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles :: Kathy Keller

I've read a lot of blog posts both for and against separate gender roles within the church, and this sorta makes me an expert, except not.

This year, I decided enough is enough. Rather then just sit around feeling everything, I was going to do some actual research and dig into this topic a bit. (No knock against blogs, it's just that I've found books allow more time for an argument to be developed and adequately defended - on either side of any given issue.)

This is my first Keller book. I'd always heard great things about both Kathy & her husband's writing, so I was excited to read it.

First, I want to emphasize that the questions this book answered for me it may not answer for others. The topic of gender roles within the church is such a deeply personal one, particularly (in my opinion) for women and even more particularly (and even more in my opinion) for women who feel called to vocational ministry.

The point is, Keller just happened to address some of the very questions that I had been asking in the way that I needed them answered. She may or may not do the same for you.

Second, the reason I didn't choose to start my "digging in" with a book that has an egalitarian leaning is because I already have an emotional bias that way. It felt a little too *convenient* for me to start with something that I knew I'd want to hear.

So, onto the actual review:

I appreciated Keller's story, she has been on either side of the argument at different points in her life. I'll use her own words:

"The question is not academic for me. I wrestled deeply and personally with this issue as a woman who was once preparing to be ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (USA). Everywhere I have ministered since then, I have felt like a woman without a country. In some places I have been looked upon with suspicion as a 'raving feminist' because I encourage women to teach and lead, and I do so myself. In New York I have been called 'self hating' and worse because I continue to believe that God gave us a good gift when he created complementary gender roles for men and women."

I appreciated how Keller organized the book. She separated it into two sections: hermeneutical imperatives and personal journeys. This appealed to me because it seemed she recognized that answers in one area may not yield answers or clarity in the other.

I'm going to give a couple of the most nagging questions I've had regarding this issue and how Keller answered them. In no way will this represent everything she said, just what impacted me the most.

Question One: I see women that seem to be gifted in extremely similar ways to male counterparts who are pastors... so why can't they be pastors? 

"In one unforgettable lecture, Elisabeth Elliot ... taught me to distinguish between gifts and the roles in which those gifts might be used. She announced to her class of both men and women that she had better gifts for being a pastor than most of the men in the class, possibly the entire seminary. She knew the Bible in multiple languages, had vast experience in expositing it, had the maturity bought through suffering to speak with compassion to others, and on and on. 'However,' she said, 'God has not called me, as a woman, to exercise those gifts in a pastoral role. I am called to use them, but why should they only be valuable if used in one particular role, the ordained ministry?'"

Question Two: I've read that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 should be interpreted to only apply to the church in Paul's day. So, what do we do with that? 

"More tenacious has been the explanation that 1 Timothy was written solely to the church in Ephesus, where a thriving cult of Diana had long existed. Women accustomed to goddesses and priestesses came into the church with an inflated view of their status; as a result they caused problems among the congregation. Paul's words in 1 Timothy were written only for that particular situation, and they do not apply to us today.

...[however] everything that Paul (or any other biblical author) wrote was to a specific group of people with a specific situation in view. Nothing in Scripture is addressed to 'the church throughout the centuries, in whatever time, place, or cultural situation you find yourself.' In compiling the canon, it was a presupposition that God's truth was applicable to the church throughout history because God himself is immutable, omniscient, and omnipotent - thus capable of revealing himself at the proper time and through the agents he had prepared to carry his words."

I won't keep quoting, but it's worth mentioning that Keller - based on other Scripture - doesn't think Paul is saying women can't speak at all. In fact, she seems to think that women teaching isn't an issue - rather women teaching with the authority that is had only by elders. She defined this authority as having two trademarks, so to speak: "the final judgment of truth versus heresy, and the power of discipline, that is, the power to remove from the church body anyone who taught in defiance of the approved apostolic oral tradition."

Question Three: But it all seems so unfair. To put it bluntly, it's hard not to hear, "your desire to be in this ministry role is wrong not because of a lack of character, ministry skills, or doctrinal understanding, but because you're a woman." What do I do with that?  

"The shameful fact is that in many churches the Scriptures have been interpreted so as to prevent women from exercising many, if not most, of the gifts of leadership and teaching, exhortation, encouragement, and so on, that the Holy Spirit has given to them. Not only does this disenfranchise half the church; it amputates the body of Christ.

An amputated body is a wounded body, and many women have been crushed by being told that their gifts, gifts given by the Holy Spirit, are not allowed, not wanted, even nonexistent or imaginary. No wonder the discussion is so often opened with the words, 'This is a justice issue!'

I have heard this cry from women with whom I'm having a quiet discussion, and from women who are weeping. I've heard it in small groups and had it shouted to me in large ones. While I understand the frustration from which this sentiment is born, it has nevertheless been my task, at some point in our conversation, to explain that, no, it is not primarily a justice issue, but first it is a theological issue. What did God say? Why do we have to obey it? How can we do it? .... life takes on meaning and matures when you conform to God's will, not when you get to do what you want to do."

You know, I didn't agree with every word she wrote, but every word Keller wrote made me think, and that is what I'm looking for as I dig into this topic. I'd recommend the book to anyone who is wanting some insight into the complimentarian view of gender roles within the church.

It's a hard pill to swallow, but I had to admit that, like all humans, women who wrestle with their roles within the church may want things that God didn't intend them to have. This was a profound - if obvious - revelation for me. Maybe I just assumed because my desires had to do with serving the church, they could not be wrong.


I'm not saying that this book resolved the issue for me completely, but it did help me realize that everyone (man and woman) will probably come to a point in their life where we must trust the goodness of God in the face of both unanswered questions and questions whose answers we don't particularly like.

Above all, humility must be had. We must be willing to be wrong before we can defend what is right.

I'd love to hear your thoughts/questions about the book, and any recommendations for other books about this topic. :)

1 comment:

  1. I am currently writing a position paper on Gender roles in church (just finished the egalitarian position). IMO another good book is Women in Ministry: Four Views and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.