How Men Changed Their Mind about Women in Ministry, by Scot McKnight

Ongoing Series: Culture Making Bloggers you should know

Scot McKnight, award-winning author and blogger

Scot McKnight’s award-winning blog, Jesus Creed, has become a highly influential interchange of ideas regarding the future of faith in America. Scot is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois) and a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham, and is the author of more than thirty books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, Fasting: The Ancient Practices, The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus. to increase in readership. He and his wife, Kristen, live in Libertyville, Illinois. They have two adult children and one grandchild.

When discussing servant leadership and faith today, few issues are as important as the leadership relationships between men and women. Husbands are commanded to lay down their lives for their wives “as Christ loved the Church,” yet highly authoritarian relationships are still all too common in couples of faith.  Still more, deep conflicts over the role of women in ministry continue to plague the church. It is a critical topic for the future of faith in the global village and one that Sue and I are very passionate about.

No matter which side of the issue you are on, Scot McKnight is a great source for nuanced conversation. Here he discusses Alan Johnson’s book on men who changed their minds on the issue of women in ministry leadership.


How They Changed Their Mind about Women in Leadership

Alan Johnson, well-known and much-loved professor at Wheaton, has edited a collection of stories of well-known evangelicals who have in their own ways changed when it comes to women in ministry. His book has a great title: How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. Every person who is either “for” or “against” increased roles of women in leadership needs to read these stories. Before I get to the names and the stories, I want to sketch Dallas Willard’s introduction.

First a question: Who wants to tell a story about change? What were the “factors” that led you to shift your mind on women in ministry? What do you think of Dallas Willard’s three points?

Dallas Willard, in fact, didn’t change his mind because he always believed in the legitimacy of women in leadership in the church. He grew up in churches where both men and women taught — though the preaching pastors were male. Dallas thinks the passages used by the complementarians are not “principles” but expressions of the principle that all Christians should be all things to all people. (I don’t entirely agree with that term the term “complementarian” is accurate for those who use it since I think most everyone would want men and women to work together for the gospel in a complementarian way. More importantly, that term today means “hierachicalist in role.”)

Willard makes three points:

1. Those gifted by God for any ministry should serve in the capacity of that gift and churches (“human arrangements”) should facilitate their service. There is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that gifts are distributed along gender lines. Go ahead and read the gift passages — says 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5, 1 Pet 4 — and show how gifts are connected to gender.

2. It is misleading to deal with this issue along the lines of rights and equality alone. When it comes to talents and gifts people aren’t “equal” and it’s not about “rights” but about gifts and our obligations.

3. Excluding women leaves women generally with the impression that there is something wrong with them. They may be mistaken in that but Willard makes the important observation that if God excludes them there must be some very good reason — God doesn’t just flip coins. And the so-called complementarians can’t find clear passages where such things are clearly taught.

And I would add my own two cents here. A fundamental principle in Bible interpretation is that we can’t read the “restrictive” passages in the New Testament in ways that fundamentally deny what the NT shows that women are already doing. I wrote about this in The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.

Now back to How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals by Alan Johnson. Those who tell their stories are John Armstrong, Ruth Haley Barton, Gil Bilezikian, Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Tony Campolo, Robert and Alice Fryling, Stan Gundry, Bill and Lynne Hybels, Alan Johnson, Walt and Olive Liefeld, I. Howard Marshall, Alice Mathews, Roger Nicole, John and Nancy Ortberg, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Carol and James Plueddemann, Minette Drumwright Pratt, Ron Sider, John Stackhouse Jr., John Bernard Taylor and Bonnie Wurzbacher.

In his own introduction, Johnson maps some common themes that he has found in the stories evangelical leaders tell in how they changed their mind. Are these themes the ones you have experienced or hear about? What else would you add? If you could do one thing to help hierarchicalists or complementarians find a larger role for women in ministries, what would it be?

Themes about what precipitated change, and I don’t see an order here — rather, what I see in these stories a confluence of dialectical factors:
1. The influence of a strong, gifted woman in one’s life.

2. The impression of the stories of those who changed their minds on this very issue.

3. A more careful reexamining of the whole of Scripture in light of its historical, cultural and broader theological context.

4. The experience of working side-by-side with gifted, dedicated, and called women leaders, teachers, and preachers.

5. The realization that there is a view where head, heart, and Scripture can come together and honestly confront the difficulties of applying a restrictive position consistently.

Women tell their stories and their stories show some common themes too:

1. They were shadows of males.

2. They were “submissive” in order to attract a husband.

3. They functioned as a supplement to make males complete.

4. They became depressed and struggled over rejection of their callings and gifts of the Spirit.

5. They received encouragement from respected evangelical males who wanted their gifts and callings to find full expression and for them to be completely themselves.”

What do you think about the two sides in this issue. Does the story of their change in position add to the discussion?

See more at Scot’s award-winning blog, Jesus Creed.