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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Inbox: Cultural Shenanigans

The role of women in the church is one of those topics that I’ve spent little time examining in this forum for various personal reasons.

But you may remember that despite my general enthusiasm expressed a few weeks back for Frank Viola’s “reimagination” of the church in all its various aspects, I found myself unable to get on board with all his views in the area of church authority and decision-making, and also expressed concerns about what I suspected might be Viola’s view of the role of women in the church (though in the pages of Reimagining Church, he never quite spells it out).

Other than that, I love much of what he has to say.

As it turns out, Viola DOES spell out his view of the woman’s role here and, as I feared, the results are quite disappointing. Because this is a song I’ve heard before over and over again, and Mr. Viola has nothing new to add to its refrain.

The “it was only cultural” argument has been around at least since I was a teen, and it’s just as lame today as it was then. Michael Marlowe effectively disposes of the cultural argument here as it relates to the woman’s headcovering. Essentially he argues (as I have done previously in this space) that first century Corinth, along with all other Gentile cities of the day, was a hodge-podge of cultures and that there existed no monolithic societal norms that would have required Paul to formulate a short-term fix for the churches, one some Christians hope might leave them free to ignore his instructions on the subject today.

More importantly, Marlowe adds:
“A further difficulty with all the ‘cultural accommodation’ explanations for Paul’s headcovering rule is that Paul himself offers no explanations for it along those lines. He gives other reasons.”
This is a powerful and exceedingly relevant point. For me it ends the discussion.

The silence of women in the churches is, of course, a separate issue, but Frank Viola’s arguments against observing it today are similar, as are the logical and biblical rejoinders to them.

Despite my reluctance to plunge into this subject, I may at some future point do a post or two explaining where and why I disagree with Mr. Viola’s methodology. Particularly irksome to me is his assertion that:
“The so-called ‘limiting passages’ are incredibly difficult to interpret. Given their obscurity, no one can be dogmatic as to what Paul really meant when he penned them.”
It seems to me that until feminism made its way into Christian theology, these passages were generally thought understandable if you were willing to give them more than a cursory glance. Now, with increasing cultural pressure and numerous emotional and personal incentives to dismiss them, it is hardly surprising that so many Christians find them “incredibly difficult”.

I often find obedience incredibly difficult too, but perhaps that’s just me.

Still, since I’m a guy, and open to the charge of bias on this subject, perhaps we should have a woman’s opinion. My sister emails her (unsolicited) reaction to Mr. Viola’s redacted chapter:
“Frankly, I disagree with him. I think he’s using cultural and emotional arguments to dismiss teachings which aren’t nearly as obscure or confusing as he makes them sound. If a right understanding of Paul’s letters to Timothy really depends on an intimate knowledge of the particular form of female-centered gnostic heresy tempting the Ephesian church, it seems remarkably short-sighted of the Holy Spirit not to have made that heresy plain in the epistles themselves! Viola’s interpretation seems to reduce Paul’s correspondence with Timothy to a series of apostolic in-jokes which only historical scholars can possibly begin to understand, and that brings us back to the idea that God reveals more of His truth to highly educated and literate people than he does to the poor and uneducated, on which I call shenanigans.”
Shenanigans indeed.

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