What the Bible really says about Men and Women


Claire Smith makes a compelling case for recognising a biblical order for complementary relationships between men and women in the church.
In God’s Good Design: what the Bible really says about Men and Women, she expounds all the key passages: Part 1 considers 1 Timothy 2 (I do not permit a woman to teach), 1 Corinthians 11 (every women who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head) and 1 Corinthians 14 (the women should keep silent in the churches); Part Two takes us through the remaining passages, namely Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Genesis 1-3 and Proverbs 31. There is also a chapter on domestic abuse.
In each case the exposition is clear and logical. Other positions are mentioned in sufficient detail to know that the author has engaged with them, but not in such detail that the reader is drowned by the footnotes. Where I have read more deeply into passages and issues, I recognise the views she represents, and I think she is fair to those she disagrees with.
The force of these passages is hard to evade for two reasons:
  • the first is that Smith demonstrates that the order in male-female relationships is found in creation before the fall. (Egalitarian evangelicals would argue that the difference in role is a result of the fall).
  • The second is that Paul’s arguments for order within relationships and within church are not culturally relative. They are drawn from culture but from creation and from theology. We cannot therefore dismiss them. There is a right caution about letting speculative reconstructions control our interpretation, and recurrent reference to the overuse of Galatians 3.28 as a controlling text.
Some clear principles about the role of women in the public gathering of the church emerge from the passages in Part 1. The reader is still left with quite a bit of work in order to relate this to current church practice. If women are to participate in the church by their prayers and their prophecies, but not in the weighing of prophecy, what does that mean for evangelical church practice? Smith cites  the example of one  church which in which prophecy was given in a meeting, and then weighed by the elders. This seems close to the practice Paul is advocating in his churches, but alien to what happens in most churches today. Should we govern our meetings in this way? Or how do we relate the teaching on prayer, prophecy but not weighing to the actual practice of the church? Should women read, pray, lead music, or even lead the whole service? Is a mid-week meeting any different to a Sunday meeting? We still need to work these things out, but I accept that we will get nowhere unless we are clear on the principles from the text. And this is where God’s good design is a great help.
The second selection of passages relate more obviously  to home and family life. Submission as described in these Bible texts is to be voluntary , conscious and individual. In other words, wives are responsible for their own submission, and not for making their husbands lead; and husbands are responsible for their own leadership and not for making their wives submit. There is nothing that I could see about secular relationships (i.e. can a Christian man have a female boss, or can a Christian woman lead male employees). Where the pattern of headship is abused and becomes domination and control, this is wrong: but the abuse of the pattern does not invalidate the design.
Good solid stuff and a reference work for these passages too.

God’s Good Design: What the Bible really says about men and women


1. The fine dust of feminism
Part I: Within the Church
2. Finding peace and quiet: 1 Timothy 2
3. Head to head: 1 Corinthians 11
4. The right to remain silent: 1 Corinthians 14
Part II: Within the home
5. The divine marriage: Ephesians 5
6. Won without a word: 1 Peter 3
7. The original man and woman: Genesis 1-3
8. The ultimate distortion
9. The ideal wife: Proverbs 31
10. But does it work?
Appendix: Resources used in preparing this book

Claire Smith
ISBN 9781921896392            Pages 248               Matthias Media


Review of The Gender Agenda: discovering God’s plan for church leadership by Lis Goddard & Clare Hendy


Lis Goddard and Clare Hendry are both ordained women in the Church of England; they are friends and evangelicals who differ on their understanding of what the Bible says about the role of women in the ministry of the local church. Goddard is an egalitarian, Hendry a complementarian of roughly Stott-like convictions (ie the senior pastor should be a man but teams can and should be mixed; she preaches but accepts that not all complementarians would agree).

The Gender Agenda is a discussion conducted by email between these two women about the biblical texts and how they understand them. There are usually a couple of exchanges on each text which raise the main issues and outline the views on either side. Some striking points about the debate are:

  • The tone of the discussion is remarkable – at least as far as this debate is concerned. It makes one realise how rarely debates are conducted between people who are friends in any real sense. There is warmth and chattiness, which feels trivial at first. But eventually one comes to believe that they really are interested in and concerned for one another. The difference it makes is that they are trying to listen to each other, and find appropriate ways to express either their surprise or their disagreement.  I have commented previously and here on the futility and sterility of a debate in which neither side listens to the other. I would love to see a debate on that issue between two people who genuinely respect each other!
  • The differences between the two sides are sometimes surprising. They begin with a different view of Genesis: Hendry reads the text as teaching that there was a right difference in role at the creation; and that the fall/entry of sin distorted this into a wrong difference in role (aka patriarchy). Goddard sees an egalitarian creation, with role differences as a consequence of the fall. This has implications for the church’s responsibility to model and teach redeemed relationships, to reverse the impact of the fall. There are differences along the way with many other texts, with both sides showing briefly how they are read in their understandings. It’s a good primer to some of the basic issues and texts. There is a glossary at the end for some of the more technical terms
  • What remains striking is the size of the gap between them. These friends are evangelicals, and yet the differences are signficant on this issue. We assume that on others they are close enough. As a mark of this difference, see the joint statement by the councils of Reform and AWESOME (to which Goddard and Hendry belong), after several joint meetings to explore their differences.

Review of two more books on debating Darwin and the Bible


Debating Darwin: Two Debates Is Darwinism True, and Does It Matter? by Graeme Finlay, Stephen Lloyd, Stephen Pattemore and David Swift
Milton Keynes: Paternoster 2009         pb    200 pp*      ISBN: 978-1842276198        £8.99  *listed in catalogues as 144 pages

Think God, Think Science: Conversations on Life, the Universe and Faith by Michael Pfundner and Ernest Lucas
Milton Keynes: Paternoster    2008         pb    144 pp
ISBN 978-1842276099        £9.49

The debate between Christians concerning the scientific and biblical accounts of our origins is not as mature as toshould be. The key issues have been around for over a century, advances in scientific knowledge notwithstanding; books, publications and web pages continue to pour out from both sides; research continues apace. And yet the debate cannot be termed mature: positions are entrenched and polarised, the arguments on both sides are ill-tempered and manipulative, Christians are divided and the Gospel is neither served nor adorned by their conduct. It is in this febrile atmosphere that we are asked to consider two contributions convened by staff of the Bible Society.

The first, Debating Darwin, promises to be a standard knock-about between the two sides, and it does not disappoint. It’s all here: death or no death; creation or atheism, Genesis as history or as myth, an incomprehensible scientific paper on genetics, tables and diagrams, and dozens of footnotes. There are no new arguments on either side as far as I can see, which does not excuse the authors who appear unable to listen to each other. Lloyd spends the majority of his thirty-page chapter discussing three central doctrines for the non-Darwinian case, namely Adam, the flood and pain. Finlay and Pattermore’s response gives them one page, one paragraph and one sentence respectively. A debate in which opponents talk past each other like is most unsatisfactory. At times the authors also appear to get carried away by the heat of the debate and make rash statements. Lloyd appears undaunted by the logic of his rejection of neo-Darwinism requiring him single-handedly to rewrite science “by constructing a wide-ranging model that takes account of as much of the available data as possible…It is a project that is enormously exciting, innovative, enriching to science.” (25). Yet he fails to explain why no better model has so far even threatened the consensus of the scientific community that evolution is the best model yet for the evidence available. And on the other side, Finlay seems unfazed by a lack of evidence when he says “It would be perverse to deny that major phyla (sponges, molluscs, worms) arose by natural evolutionary means simply because the events occurred so long ago that the unambiguous genetic markers [ie the evidence] of evolutionary relationships have been obliterated” (165, my insertion). I could go on about accusations of Gnosticism, and suspicions of open theism, but they would add little to the review. While the expositions of the views on either side are as clear as many other similar treatments, the debate fails entirely to meet in the middle. I am still waiting for the ‘debate’ book that does not leave me  angry, sad, confused and equally unhappy with both sides.

David Wilkinson’s foreword to Think God Think Science seems to promise different sort of volume. It is a kind of survey-with-an-agenda of three questions caught in the crossfire between some scientists and some Christians. The whole book (not a long book) is presented as an overheard conversation between Pfundner (the enquirer) and Lucas (the sage, who has written on science and christian faith and teaches Biblical Studies at Bristol Baptist College in the UK). It is of course an interview in which Pfundner coaxes Lucas along some well-worn paths, gently raising questions and objections on behalf of others. He begins by asking whether the Christian faith has been so marginalised by scientific advance and the rise of rationalism today as to be out of the picture. Are faith and science really that far apart? Four chapters then cover the major areas of apparent conflict. In ‘The Issue’, Lucas takes the reader through a potted history of the debates between scientists and the church, taking in Galileo and Darwin/Huxley. What they are seen to oppose is not the church as such, but something it stood for: in Galileo’s case, Aristotelian philosophy; in Huxley’s, authority in education; and in recent creationism, liberal Christianity. In ‘The Sky’ he meanders over creation and the Big Bang, Adam and the image of God and other topics. ‘The Cell’ focuses on Darwin, design and other Creation issues. Finally, ‘The Faith’ looks at the impact of Biblical studies in the twentieth century in trying to undermine biblical Christian faith (Bultmann and so on).  In each case Lucas shows there is coherent path beset on one side by rationalists and on the other by literalist Christians. I found each of these to be good surveys of the field, and helpful for introducing some of the major names and currents, and showing how they reflect changing culture and differing approaches to the Bible and science. There were some frustrations: there was nothing to engage with at points of disagreement (because it is a survey); and it is sometimes too generous to significantly heterodox opponents. But here at least is an opportunity to listen to one, largely conservative, evolutionary theist tell story as he sees it. Whether or not we agree with it.

Book Review Submitted for publication in Churchman

The Creation and Evolution Debate – a path to sanity?


We cannot ignore the debate about how to relate the Bible’s account of human origins with the current consensus of mainstream science. However we rightly want to avoid the acrimony that too often marks the discussion, not least between evangelical Christians.

I met over a couple of days with a group of ministers to think some more on this issue. We based our discussion around Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? and the response Should Christians Embrace Evolution? edited by Norman C Nevin. The authors on both sides are evangelical Christians, but they differ on the extent to which Christians can embrace the findings of evolutionary science.

Denis Alexander does not think that that evolutionary science and the Bible are at odds. He outlines 5 possible models which I found to be a helpful sketch map of the ground (see Chapter 9, and evaluation in the chapters that follow).

Model A. There is no connection between the Bible and science; Genesis is a myth (234) and the Fall is the story of everyman (254)

Model B There was a gradual growing spiritual awareness from first hominids 200,000 years ago in Africa which eventually became human in God’s image. Gen 1-3 is a mythical retelling

Model C God chose a pair of neolithic farmers some 6,000-8,000 years ago (241) to endue them with his Image, (Stott’s Homo Divinus). Adam is representative of all humanity which somehow came to share as God’s image bearers. Adam represents humanity in a sort of federal way as far as image bearing and as far as the Fall are concerned.

Model D Old earth with periodic miraculous creative interventions. Adam and Eve were created ‘out of dust’ and are discontinuous with the rest of creation.

Model E Young earth creation about 10,000 years ago with literal six days of creative activity.

We did not resolve the discussion into a single solution. Instead I note these reflections on the issue itself, and propose some ideas for Redeeming the debate in Church.

Reflections on the Issue Creation vs Evolution

  1. If we are debating among evangelical Christians, we can agree on some non-negotiables straight away. Based on the gospel presented in the New Testament (NT) and the passages in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 about Adam-Christ, we must insist on an historical fall, and a representative Adam. This rules out Models A and B above.
  2. There are other issues that are non-negotiable on one side but not on the other that we need to examine in the light of the scriptures. For instance the meaning and significance of death, the place of miracles in creation, what it means that God pronounced the creation ‘good’ (can it be good and yet involve death or suffering?). What we decide on these issues is a function of our whole systematic theology, even in they seem to us so obvious as not to need justifying.
  3. No apparent solution is entirely free of problems. However we relate science and the Bible, it will be messy somewhere.  Models A and B are unacceptably messy on the Bible, the Fall and Sin. Models D and E are messy because of their rejection of some or all of evolutionary science. (Messy in the sense that more questions are raised by the solution). And Model C has a number of loose ends. This calls for humility on all sides.
  4. We need to distinguish between a weakness and a fatal flaw. The absence of an historical fall is (in my view) a fatal flaw. But a question about how the image of God is borne and shared under Model C may be a weakness.
  5. We also need to distinguish between strong assertions and tentative proposals. For instance I found that Wayne Grudem’s list of 8 positions held by theistic evolutionists (in his foreword to the Nevin volume of essays) obliterates this distinction (as well as inaccurately representing Alexander’s position in Do we have to choose).
  6. The Bible challenges the place that reason has in our thinking and in our culture. We need to be ready to examine our cultural assumptions under Scripture. But this does not mean we must reject all science!

Redeeming the debate within churches

This part of the debate is conducted among Christians, and often within churches. Here are some thoughts on how to conduct ourselves in person and in print (and online).

  1. We need to listen to each other. That is, we really need to listen to what the other person is saying, rather than on what I hear them say. I am really surprised at how many people whose academic training (e.g. a degree) should equip them to understand another’s point of view don’t do so in this debate,
  2. We need to know whether we disagree with what someone is saying, or whether we disagree with what we think follows from that. For instance, you may think that a position inevitably leads to Gnosticism or Atheism, but you must not call this an Gnostic or an Atheist unless that is what they are saying. But you can say that you think their position leads to G/A and invite a response.
  3. While the debate touches on some primary issues (sin, salvation), it does not turn on them. This is not a primary level debate, although the issues are not secondary
  4. Because no solution is error-free, we need space to struggle towards a better answer.
  5. We must watch our language and tone. Whether the opponent is arguing a Christian position or a non-Christian one, there is no excuse for some of the language and polemics used by some Christians.
  6. Everyone needs a dose of humility. I might be wrong; and they might be right about some things. And we might both be wrong. We long for the time when we will see everything clearly.