Podcast: On Women Preaching

Mere FidelityIn the latest Mere Fidelity Andrew Wilson, Matt Lee Anderson, and I take up Andrew’s recent interactions with John Piper and Tom Schreiner on the question of whether women should preach. Lots of interesting discussion ensues.

John Piper’s piece that initially sparked the discussion is here. Andrew’s response was addressed in a post by Tom Schreiner. Finally, Andrew responded to Schreiner.

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Bible, Controversies, Liturgical Theology, NT, NT Theology, Podcasts, Sex and Sexuality, Society, The Church, Theological, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Podcast: On Women Preaching

  1. mnpetersen37 says:

    The concern I’d have with Andrew’s position is that the location in the liturgy may dictate what sort of speech is engaged in there, so that saying “this isn’t Teaching, but teaching” may amount to hanging a sign on a desk that says “this is not a desk”.

    • Very much agree. Or, conversely, the common practice of ‘teaching’ rather than ‘Teaching’ may debase the currency of preaching within the liturgy more generally. The distinction between the two tends to operate more at a theoretical level than at a practically embedded one.

  2. quinnjones2 says:

    Is there a difference between ‘preaching’ and ‘teaching’? I tend to think that there is. For instance in our church we have formal sermons in some services, usually in services where we also have Holy Communion, whereas in other services, usually all-age services, the teaching is similar in some ways to an interactive lesson in a school classroom, with lots of visual aids, pair-work, small-group work, and ‘feed-back’ time ( a sort of mini-plenary), followed by a short talk by the leader. At our sister church, this style is called ‘Cafe Church.’ I like both styles, but I wouldn’t describe Cafe Church as preaching – but I’m still reflecting on it all!

    • Terms such as ‘teaching’ and ‘preaching’ may not be especially illuminating here because they can carry multiple senses and the precise senses that they should carry are often at issue within these debates. Also at issue is the place different sorts of speech should have within the gathered assembly of the church.

      Another important difference between Andrew and me is the way that we seem to use the word ‘authorizing’. He seems to use it more in the sense of ‘signing off on’ or ‘giving permission’. By contrast, I use it more in the sense of ‘vesting authority’. The sermon, as I understand it, is not just something that should just be OKed by the eldership, but ought to be a positive expression of their authority. The question then becomes that of whether the eldership can vest their authority in such a manner and, if they can, in whom they can do so. The distinctive thing about the sermon, understood in this manner, is not some particular feature of its style, but the party whose action it represents.

      I think that there are many other sorts of speech in the Church that need not be a positive expression of pastoral authority, but which can be more general teaching and sharing under their broader supervision or with their permission. For instance, the position I have outlined is not opposed to a woman teaching theology to seminary students. Or to a woman giving a lecture or exhortation about the Bible or Christian living to a general audience. Or to a woman sharing within the context of the Eucharistic assembly. However, I would place a higher emphasis upon the need for and appropriate prominence of speech representing the pastoral authority of the Church’s leadership within the context of the weekly assembly than Andrew would.

    • William Fehringer says:

      I’d like to know more about how didasko and authenteo function together in the passage. I know didasko is a fairly generic word for teaching and authenteo is a rare word for authority that seems to be very strong. My LSJ lists a second meaning for the term as “to murder”, which , if it reflects something of the underlying meaning of the term, suggests to me the word means an authority over ultimate things, or an unlawful authority. I also wonder if there is a hendiadys there, two words to explain one concept.

      • Given the reams of literature on this, this is a huge discussion if there ever was one! Fortunately, the sort of position that I am putting forward doesn’t rest as heavily on 1 Timothy 2 as many complementarian positions do, but develops out of a more general account of pastoral leadership.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I’m glad you replied to this, Alastair! William, I have now set myself a bit of homework, because I’ve never even heard of ‘didasko’ and ‘authenteo’, though I could hazard a guess. Interesting!
        Regarding styles and authority, Alastair: because of a glitch on the rota, we had one service last year with no leader present at all! This was done in the ‘Cafe Church’ style I mentioned earlier and led by three women, and we all thought it went well. A few mentioned ‘When two or three are gathered together in my Name…’ It does seem to fit in with what you wrote about women as teachers, Alastair. I need to do a lot more homework and thinking about this whole subject, but I just remembered that service and I thought I’d mention it.

      • Andrew says:

        In Matt 18:20 (“two or three gathered in my name”), the immediate context is binding and loosing and passing judgement on the unrepentant brother.

        In 1 Cor 14:34-35, the immediate context is ordering and evaluating prophecy within the meeting. Curiously, the specific admonition is that women not ask questions in church (instead to ask husbands at home), not that they do not prophesy. Contrast 1 Cor 11:5; if the prophesy is in the church, then 1 Cor 14 isn’t a blanket ban admonition against all speech but against a particular type of speech (or a particular context).

        In 1 Tim 2, each sex gets a specific contrast. Men: pray, not quarrel. Women: do not dress for show, but with modesty, good deeds, and submissiveness. To me, it has the vibe of: men, do not fight for dominance; women, don’t try to manipulate your way into dominance either.

        It’s interesting that in both situations where Paul admonishes women to be silent in churches there are already power plays among the men. I don’t think the lesson is that women only need be silent when there’s disorder, but rather that disorder among the men will encourage it among their women also.

  3. Caned Crusader says:

    Alastair, how do you see women “doing theology” in the church? Why is a woman teaching me in a theology class less authoritative or important than my pastor preaching a sermon? And, on a more practical level, how would I justify to a woman (beyond merely quoting Scripture) the position that she is permitted to study and teach academic theology, but never to speak in a liturgical gathering before a mixed assembly?

    • First, my position is not that women can never speak in a liturgical gathering before a mixed assembly. Rather, my position is that there are forms of speech that represent the authoritative pastoral leadership of the Church in such contexts and that women cannot exercise those particular forms of speech. This does not exclude them from other forms of speech. The point about speech here is really a point about Church leadership and those who can represent the persons holding such offices.

      The difference between a women teaching you in a theology class and your pastor might be akin to the difference between the way that we ought to relate to what our parents tell us and the way that we relate to other persons telling us the same sorts of things. Your pastor represents and exercises an authority in relation to you as one particularly charged with overseeing your spiritual well-being and representing Christ’s authority to you that other Bible teachers cannot.

  4. quinnjones2 says:

    I think this had better be my final comment on teaching! Having earned my living for many years both as a schoolteacher and teaching adults, I obviously have a perspective on what teaching is. Until Andrew distinguished between ‘teaching’ and ‘Teaching’ on the podcast, I had never encountered such a distinction. I don’t actually understand the distinction that Andrew is making, though I have attempted to, so I’m now settling for it as ‘one of life’s mysteries’. The thought ‘splitting hairs’ did cross my mind, but I decided that this thought was unbecoming🙂

    • Oh, don’t worry, Matt and I both expressed that concern to Andrew in pretty much those terms. Andrew is a delightful person to disagree with, because it is easy to be direct with him without him taking the slightest offence.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        🙂. Thank you!
        This is now a response to your comment above about a pastor being ‘particularly charged with overseeing your spiritual well-being and representing Christ’s authority to you.’ The word that keeps coming into my mind is ‘accountability’. The pastor is accountable to God, to all members of his/her* flock, and also to the church hierarchy. I think that this accountability applies to the pastor’s office, but that it must inevitably also flow into his/her sermons.
        * I put ‘his/her’ because we do have some women pastors and I am still formulating my thoughts about this.

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