Monday, June 14, 2010

More of Cole's Considerations

(Commentary on the CBE Melbourne Conference seems a bit light on, although this fellow has blogged most of it.)

This post critiques Cole's next two considerations from his paper 'Women Teaching Men the Bible:What's the Problem?'  Cole has argued so far that authority comes from God and his word.  This is true, however more controversially he has argued that the connection Paul makes between a husband's leadership and Christ's role in the Trinity, is an incorrect interpretation.  What's happening here is a clash between two views of the Trinity. In the next two considerations Cole moves from a fairly harmless consideration to a rather strange and dangerous one.

Consideration 3: Women Teaching Men and Good Church Order

Cole argues "third, then, I am not persuaded that a woman preaching to a mixed congregation somehow threatens good church order."  Cole stresses that Christ is the head of the church. "Some can so stress male leadership of the congregation and denomination it is as though our Lord is on leave and is not effectively the head of the church, which is his body."  In itself this is a harmless observation, Egalitarians need to heed this advice just as much as the complementarian to whom the advice is intended for.  Cole then adds "we need to avoid reading our family structures into a first century text."  This is a fairly weak addendum because the converse can be true as well, we need to avoid reading our modern family structures back into the text.

Consideration 4: The Invention of the Printing Press

Cole, in a somewhat strange line of argument, says that our debate about gender roles and church leadership should be informed by the fact that at the time the Ephesian Christians read their letter from Paul, the canon had not been completed. "Let me call this mistake then a canonical theology mistake of failing to note the flow of redemptive history and its accompanying revelation and the canonization of that revelation."  It's strange because Cole doesn't clearly explain why an incomplete canon is a problem and it's dangerous because Cole creates distance between us and the text.  It self evident that the canonization was an unfolding history of recognition but how on earth does that change our modern obedience to Scripture?  Now Cole may not intend the consequences that flow from this consideration but he certainly leaves space for them. (While the church-recognised canon came later, the God-inspired canon occurred as it was written, is Cole casting doubt on this?) Also, why create any more distance between us and the text, we're already aware of its antiquity and complexity, let alone be bothered being obedient. Dangerously his approach opens the door to extra-biblical information being required for the interpretation of Scripture. Is a text too controversial or not comfortable enough? Find some extra-biblical information to make your case!  I appreciate arguments for Egalitarianism made from Scripture, but am skeptical of ones that require some sort of modification to the text before we get started.


Jon said...

Hmm yes, now we're getting to the heart of the matter, with these two points. I think there are other ways of putting this question than Cole's, and they really come down to questions about the bible, more than about gender. Firstly, is the Bible, written in the first century, intended to be applied literally to us in the 21st? A lot has changed - women are educated, birth control is readily available, etc etc, so how can 1st century standards be seen as normative?

The second question, which I think is the biggie, is about the nature of inspiration. Does the inspiration of the Bible mean that it is a law book, from which we should take a set of rules about life? Or is it a book which reveals God, from whose nature and actions we should therefore derive our way of life? I personally lean towards the second, and back it up with various parts of the bible where Jesus and the apostles critique a law-based approach in very strong terms. What is the delineation of gener roles, if not a set of laws?

Anonymous said...

You seem to be struggling with your complementarian argument here Luke. Lack of evidence. And of course, an unwillingness to take into account interpretation of scripture other than your own. And an un-Anglican ignoring of tradition and reason in favour of literalistic interpretation of scripture. Unconvincing at best. Misogynistic at worst.

Luke said...

Hi Jon,

I understand the way you've put that much better then Cole did, I don't agree, but see the flow of argument much more clearly!

Obviously it should be a reliable book if it's to have any significance. It's possible to carefully parse the text, read the culture and appreciate the various viewpoints in play without having to abandon a doctrine of inerrancy/inspiration. Otherwise the comfortable bits are just as problematic as the controversial bits.

Cole didn't demonstrate why 21st standards should apply over and above 1st century standards. I don't necessarily agree that 1st century standards should trump ours but sheer progress is only a half argument.

Hi Anonymous,

You obviously feel strongly enough about the topic to post but not strongly enough to be identified. Sadly I've had to turn on registration which means extra hassle in posting, but then at least we can have some sort of discussion.

I encourage you if your a Christian to submit to Scripture as the final authority and regardless of your religious background refrain from ad-hominem arguments.

Jon said...

Yes, I agree that later is not necessarily better. I don't think you could call nuclear weapons "progress". It's more a case of doing what's loving in the situation you're in, given "all will know you are my disciples if you love one another" and various like references. In a society where women are as educated as men, and can occupy leadership positions in every other sphere of life, you need a very strong argument to exclude them from church leadership. What is the loving thing to do here?

The problem with the idea of "inerrancy" is that it is so imprecise. In what sense can we expect the Bible to be inerrant? For instance (to quote a simple example) in what sense is the Book of Jonah inerrant? We know scientifically that no-one could survive for three days in a fish's stomach and that no fish is large enough to swallow a person whole. There is no historical evidence of a dramatic change in Assyrian behaviour or lifestyle at any point in their history, and we know that they were in fact destroyed. Yet that doesn't stop us from reading and learning from that book - not because it is inerrant (whatever that means) but because it teaches us something about God's mercy and the way it contrasts with our own hard-heartedness. It is actually most likely a work of fiction, and therefore clearly not "true" in a literal sense, but very true in the moral it teaches.

The NT, Paul and Jesus frequently quote Old Testament verses out of context - not because they were bad exegetes, but because the people of their time had a different standard and process for reading scripture. Is it OK for us to do the same? This could alert us to the fact that our way of reading and understanding itself brings us to certain conclusions which the apostles would not have reached in reading the same text.

I'm sorry, I'm straying from the subject which I know is frustrating, so I'll stop now.

Luke said...

Three great lines of thought,

Your right the complementarian viewpoint is fairly counter-cultural. For popular-culture, it's very counter-cultural, in reality my hunch is that it plays out a little differently. Being counter-cultural is a factor but not a clincher because it's not necessarily always a bad thing.

Please don't hear when I say Inerrancy, blatant disregard for genre! If while working the text I found Jonah to be best understood as fiction I'd run with it, although the argument would have to Scriptural. If I may be critical of your position, "errancy" is also very difficult to hold. Even your 'cherished texts' are under suspicion, what makes them any less error-prone than another? Furthermore what you think about the nature revelation starts to affect what you think about God. That he would ask to be trusted yet produce an untrustworthy text? (Puddleglum should have said "I'm going to find Narnia even if it takes all my life be because ultimately it's worth the search.")

I'm still coming to grips with the New Testament use of the Old Testament. But good topic to raise.