This weekend (June 11-14), Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) are having their annual international conference in Melbourne. One of the speakers will be Graham Cole, a former principal of Ridley and now a colleague of Don Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, America. A recent paper of his 'Women Teaching Men the Bible: What's the Problem' is often cited as a good example of thoughtful reasoning for the Egalitarian viewpoint.
While I'm a stay-at-home-dad (Hooray for paternity leave!) with the conference going on I thought now would be a good time to put down a few responses to Cole's paper. Note however I give these as my own opinions, which don't necessarily reflect those of my Parish or Diocese. Nor do I mean any disrespect for people who hold a different view. My main thesis is that this paper of Cole's is not the theological silver bullet it's presented to be, some of what he says is valid but the paper doesn't make a water-tight case for the Egalitarian viewpoint. But always, as iron sharpens iron, we glean the truth of Scripture together, in love and with respect.
Cole briefly outlines how he encountered the issue of gender roles and the debate about women in church leadership. (I, like Cole, have a background in the Brethren Church and a connection to the Anglican Church, we even have mutual friends.) Cole says his paper gives only "seven lines of consideration for holding this view and point[s] out that full argumentation in support (theological and exegetical) would belong more properly in an academic theological journal. And by 'consideration' I mean things to bear in mind in making a decision about a particular matter." It could be described as an extended blog series! But just to be clear, every Christian issue can be spoken about superficially and also with great depth, this debate about gender roles and church leadership is no exception.
Consideration 1: Authority comes from God and his Word
"First, authority comes from God and his Word and not in part from the sex of the preacher." I wholeheartedly agree with this and Cole's next couple of sentences about being a Berean! ( examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11)
Consideration 2: 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Trinitarian Taxis (Order)
This is where Cole begins to become unstuck. "Second, I am not persuaded that a woman preaching to a mixed congregation somehow overturns our view of the essential Trinity and with it good church order." Cole is eager to distinguish between the economic and essential Trinity, he argues 1 Corinthians 11:3 (the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.) should be understood in a messianic context, with no apparent insight into the Godhead.
This is problematic for two reasons. It presupposes an erroneous view of the Trinity and unnecessarily widens the gap between God's activity in the world and God's eternal nature. The persons of the Trinity are equal in essence, but distinct in their roles. (For example the Father is not subordinate to the Son.) Cole on the other hand seeks to weaken this construction by unnecessarily widening the gap between the activity of God and God's eternal nature. However if we belabor this difference, we're left with two Trinities, or at least a Trinity in God's activity as reported through Scripture and another mysterious being in the sky we can know next to nothing about.
Clearly the apostle Paul connects his discussion of relational ethics with the Godhead at the beginning of chapter 11 of One Corinthians. Taken with what else we know about the Trinity, from Scripture, it is evident, submission and authority relationships exist within the Trinity. The "messianic vocation of Jesus" cannot be disconnected from his place and role in the Godhead.
Stay tuned for the other five considerations.