This post is part of our on-going series about Male Feminist Theology.
Yesterday I wrote about my fears of hypocrisy when it comes to Church and Theology in relation to Women and their experience in the world. I talked about how some people see the Bible as a product of patriarchal culture, and therefore is simply wrong when it comes to women. Others (like myself) try and argue that the Bible is itself in favor of women exercising full authority and presence in the Church and Theological consideration.
But when I do this, is it just another form of fundamentalism to doggedly refuse to let go of my belief that the Bible “has” to be right in this area? Here are a few things that have at least helped me sleep at night and move forward in this pursuit of a Male Feminist Theology.
Firstly, we’re all biased readers. We all do this, no matter what “side” we’re on.
Even if you happen to be “right” about what the Bible says, you did not come to that correct conclusion from a “neutral, objective” reading of the Scriptures. Maybe I’ve let outside forces shape how I treat the Bible, but plenty of conservative complementarians (and liberal progressives!) have let lots of outside ideas and cultural factors affect how they approach the text.
Being willing to admit you’re not an “objective” reader of the Bible is no admission of “defeat”; it’s the first step to reading the Bible with humility and maturity.
Second, theology is about a cycle of anchoring and openness, not dogmatism.
If you look at the early church in Acts, much of their theological understandings and practices came out of non-biblical sources, namely the teaching of Jesus coming through the Apostles and the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst. When it came to their biggest debate, the primary source of authority was not Scripture, but rather how they experienced the Holy Spirit working in their community.
Therefore, I think theology is done by feeling free to see God in fresh new ways. We absolutely anchor and submit ourselves to the Scriptures, Church Community, and the Holy Spirit, but then we stay open to where that leads us. Our influences will be diverse and varied, and that’s okay.
Just because I can’t figure out the chicken-and-egg conundrum about the relationships between the Bible and my views on Women, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Thirdly, different people arriving at the same truth in different ways is biblical.
The New Testament writers didn’t read the Old Testament and then come to their theological conclusions about Jesus and Christianity. Immersing themselves in Christ’s presence and community led them to certain conclusions, and then they went back to Scripture to see where these new conclusions fit into what God had done among his people.
There are legitimate times when life and the world lead us back to Scriptures to see them in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise. We don’t just simplistically read Scripture and then regurgitate it in our lives. The Scriptures need to metabolized into real human existence in order to get their full spiritual nourishment.
This is absolutely the way the earliest church leaders (and theologians) did it. They used the same verse to support different ideas and used different verses to support the same single idea. There was no simple one-to-one correlation between the text on a page and the theological truth it held. The Apostle Paul is famous for how much he “massaged” individual Old Testament texts to fit the bigger truth he saw in Jesus. (I’ve advocated for a similar reading in the stories of violence in the Old Testament.)
A Way Forward?
A friend of mine, after reading yesterday’s post, reminded me of a way that Wesleyans do theology, called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It’s a fancy term that simply says there are four tools in our tool belt to do theology Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.
I’d argue that this is descriptive of how all people do theology always. Evangelicals may say they only use the Bible, and Catholics may talk a good game about tradition, but all Christians do theology by being influenced by each of those four sources of truth.
This phrasing is helpful because it makes explicit what is too often assumed and implicit in our theology. Further, it allows us to tend to our theology so we can make sure we are not holding these four aspects out of proper proportion. And lastly, it gives dignity to all the tools God has given his people to think theologically in the world. To say that the Bible is the only source of theology diminishes the dignity of Creation, the Holy Spirit, and the integrity of the Church–and overinflates your ability to “objectively” read the Bible.
There are a lot of ways of treating the Bible that get us to truth. This takes deep thought (reason?) and trusting in the Holy Spirit (experience?) in and among the people of God (tradition?). All four of those stay in conversation and check one another to keep theology vibrant and real.
When it comes to this whole Feminist Theology/Women in the Church topic, there will be many readers of the Bible that treat it as a lot less “spiritual” than I do, and simply say that Paul is wrong. I will continue to fight and argue that the fullest theological truth is one that supports the full dignity and authority of women in Christ’s Church. Heck, there will be others that don’t even care what the Bible says: they think that women should be able to do everything whether the Bible says so or not.
We will all continue discussing, arguing, and debating the specifics of how we get there and the implications of those methods. But in the meantime, we should rejoice that we are able to join with one voice in solidarity with our sisters, and continue to fight for their full inclusion, authority, dignity, presence, and voice in our communities of faith.
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