Just in case it needs reiterating- the views represented on my blog and in this post are my own – I am not speaking on behalf of any organisation that I work for.
If you know me a little or if you have read this blog before you know I love Tim Keller. He is one of my favourite authors and preachers. His gracious tone makes him one of a very small number of people I know of who have the capacity to take on the role of Global elder statesman in the mold of John Stott and Billy Graham (in his prime). I have had the opportunity to tell him this in person. I also had the opportunity to ask him directly about one area where I found his position puzzling. It was on the role of women. Tim was one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition whose name suggests that it is a gathering of Christians around the gospel. Indeed on the Gospel Coalition website it says “We are a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.”
Included in the Gospel Coalition’s founding documents are very clear statements around the distinctive roles of men and women in church and home:
God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.
Now ofcourse groupings such as these have the right to include and exclude any one they like from their membership. What saddened me was that Tim Keller speaks very highly of the work of Intervarsity and IFES and in fact I have heard him talk about the fact that his theological and apologetic formation happening through such groups. IFES has always taken a clear distinguishing line between first and second order issues and never sought to make views on gender roles an issue that would exclude others from fellowship or ministry. So as one of the founders of GC I was surprised that Keller would include this in his list of entry requirements.
When I had the privilege to spend some time with Keller I asked him if he thought views on the role of women were part of the gospel, he said they weren’t but that they were very important. I came across this video recently on the GC website where along with Don Carson and John Piper he goes a lot further. To say I found this video discouraging is an understatement:
Very recently I commended Keller on some fantastic rules of engagement he had produced on how to deal with views that he didn’t agree with. Particularly:
- Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not hold.
- Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form.
1. Having a non-complementarian view of gender roles means you have a “loose approach to scripture.” (Keller)
2. Trajectories (John Piper)
Piper’s line of reasoning here is that to take a different view on gender roles will lead to changes in view on homosexuality. This seems to contradict Keller’s rule “never attribute to your opponent a view they do not hold” or even more explicitly never “attribute to antagonist no opinion that he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.” It is true that some egalitarians have argued that the church should change its views on the role of women and our views on the practice of homosexual sexual intercourse. But it is also true that some have argued that male headship in the home is license for domestic violence against women. Neither of these views are “necessary consequences” and so Keller is wise to argue that you shouldn’t assume the worst when engaging in conversation. But this is precisely what Piper does. As an egalitarian I believe that leadership roles are available to men and women in the church, this does not lead me to change my views on homosexual sex.
Perhaps there is a contextual issue at stake here. Perhaps things are different in the US? Two examples from the UK. The first UK denominations to ordain women were the Salvation Army (c.1870 ) and the Baptist Union of Great Britain (c.1920); neither are liberal today. (Thanks to Steve Holmes for this information). Perhaps a wider contextual awareness may help. But the bigger point is – just because some egalitarians change their minds on homosexuality -doesn’t necessitate that all will. For example just as many complementarians end up becoming AngloCatholic doesn’t mean all will.
3. Egalitarians apparently dont know the difference between men and women – we have nothing to say to 8 year old children on the issue of gender (cf John Piper).
This is a straw man/woman (!) argument. To argue that men and women both have the opportunity to lead in the church does not mean that all egalitarians see no differences between gender. It is true that we may not agree with some of gender differences that some complementarians attribute to men and women – mainly because we think that those differences owe more to culture than biblical exegesis. I have heard a number of complimentarians argue that all women want to be “rescued” and lead by strong men. But this leaves little room for biblical women role models such as Esther, Deborah or Priscilla.
4. Gender is an issue of this time ( baptists and paedobaptists used to argue but this is not the issue that is addressing our culture) (Carson)
5. Confusion on Gender is part of what is at the heart of what is wrong with our culture (Carson)
6. Lack of courage (Piper) “If you arent willing to stand against the tide on this issue you will cave on other issues – gospel issues.”
This doesn’t seem to be portraying egalitarians in their strongest terms. It also contradicts Keller’s fifth rule of engagement “Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing theology–because only God sees the heart.” Writing off egalitarians as cowards is hardly a theological critique. I would like to understand why Piper and Keller who participated fully at the Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization seem so completely unaware of its commitment on the issue of unity across views on gender roles:
We recognize that there are different views sincerely held by those who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Some interpret apostolic teaching to imply that women should not teach or preach, or that they may do so but not in sole authority over men. Others interpret the spiritual equality of women, the exercise of the edifying gift of prophecy by women in the New Testament church, and their hosting of churches in their homes, as implying that the spiritual gifts of leading and teaching may be received and exercised in ministry by both women and men. We call upon those on different sides of the argument to:
7. We are not listening to what scripture says on its own terms “it is not listening to what God says” to take a contrary view on this is “not to tremble at God’s word” (Carson)