Monday, February 7, 2011

How I changed my mind about women in leadership

A friend of mine, Alan Johnson, recently sent me a book that he edited: How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals (Zondervan, 2010). Alan is a gifted New Testament scholar who began his teaching career as a strong advocate of women’s submission to male-only leadership. Winsomely and very honestly he tells the story of how he changed his mind as a NT scholar and Christian leader. He has collected 26 other extraordinary stories from men and women who like himself began with robust views on submissive women’s roles and later changed their mind.

It’s a challenging read that opens up this divisive issue in a disarmingly fresh way. Sometimes the subject of women in leadership is treated as the litmus test as to whether a person truly accepts the authority of Scripture or not. Anyone who appears to fudge what seems so fundamental and obvious based on certain Scriptures (especially 1 Tim. 2:11) is considered biblically suspect.

Because these are honest stories from people who have wrestled at depth with this critical issue I consider it a great privilege to listen to them. So many positives tumble out:
  • Serious biblical scholarship which emphasizes the difference between biblical authority and biblical interpretation, encouraging the placing of the difficult texts in the wider context of understanding what the New Testament says as a whole (and especially the ministries of Jesus and Paul).
  • Grace under pressure. Time after time these thoughtful, biblically committed friends tell their story with palpable longing that their change of stance on this issue will not break relationships with others.
  • Pain and Distress. Yes, there is some of this too. You would expect it! I think the most strident voice belongs to Tony Campolo who complains about the injustice of one gender being submitted to another.
  • Courage. I still have a few stories to read but I have been struck by the courage of these leaders to speak out. However, though I haven’t estimated the average age of the contributors I guess it is over 50 (!) and perhaps it is easier for well-established people to speak out in this way.

As someone who teaches in a seminary that is committed to prepare women for Christian leadership I know what it is to be told I am biblically unsound, and to be deemed unacceptable in certain places because of this one issue. I hope that those of us who continue to wrestle with this divisive matter will find this powerful book pushes us into fresh thinking and greater fellowship. Thank you Alan for working so hard to help us.

1 comment:

wsuriano said...

This is a good read. For those of us who don't believe God gifts people and then tells them not to use those gifts, this book is actually quite comforting in telling the stories of believers who have wrestled with this issue and resolved it while remaining both true to Scripture and, almost universally, perfectly civil, despite the cost of bucking the conventional, evangelical position. Dare I say that this book should be read particularly by males in leadership. Compliment Alan next time you see him.