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Entries in Book Reflections (7)


Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: Book thoughts

I finished Michelle Lee-Barnewall's book Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian last night. Someone asked me if I was going to review it, and I intended to, but then the books for my Augustine course arrived on Tuesday, and my concentration for this book is beginning to wane. It's time to focus on school. Here are a few quick thoughts.

Lee-Barnewall's book re-evaluates the terms complementarian and egalitarian. She doesn't do so in an attempt to provide solutions. In fact, at the end of the book, she comes right out and says she doesn't propose any solutions. What she does do, though, is ask the reader to re-consider those terms. At the heart of this book, she is asking readers to contemplate the reality that their presuppositions may colour how they perceive issues of male and female roles in the church. She does so by suggesting that instead of making the issue about rights and equality, we look at principles like unity, love, and the kingdom guidelines.

Lee-Barnewall proposes that equality and rights may not be the best way to think. Rather, the unity of the Body of Christ and the principles of kingdom living are more valuable. I appreciated this comment at the end:

A focus on rights and equality can easily lead to an individualistic pursuit of self-interest and result in a perspective that is preoccupied with autonomy and personal benefit over seeing the self in relationship with others. The insistence on rights can be harmful if it causes someone to overlook or make secondary concerns for the impact of one's actions on others. This self-focus contrasts Christ's overriding concern for others, and we must ask whether our striving for equality highlights individual gain rather than a willingness to suffer loss for someone else.

It was definitely something that has me thinking. And that is the reason why I would recommend this book: to make you think. Knowing why we believe something is important.

Lee-Barnewall has done her homework. Her inclusion of the historial development of attitudes toward women in evangelicalism was worth the price of the book alone (although it being focused entirely on America means I'm wondering if the experience in Canada was exactly the same). Her handling of Genesis 2-3 and Ephesians 5 is excellent. The back of the book says she is an associate professor of biblical and theological studies. I knew there was a good reason for women to attend seminary to study those things.


"I cannot be silent."

I recently finished reading Michael Haykin's little book Patrick of Ireland. He actually refers to it as a "book-length essay," and that really is what it is. It won't take you long to read this book, but it is a great introduction to the life of Patrick.

It is difficult to write about Patrick because of lack of source material. Haykin focuses on what  can be discerned from Patrick's two surviving writings, the Confession and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. The Confession is available online for free, and an interested person could start there to hear about Patrick from his own lips.

Haykin recounts the conversion of Patrick and the subsequent impact it had on his own life and the life of Ireland. We learn that Patrick was a committed Trinitarian, that he was a man of God's Word, a man of prayer, and a man reliant on the Spirit of God. Much of the Confession is full of Scriptural references. Haykin speculates that while Patrick was likely not a well-read man, his education having been interrupted when he was taken as a slave, but he was extremely well-versed in Scripture. This was at a time before the Latin Vulgate, but he did have the Old Latin manuscripts to look at, and he took advantage of them.

Haykin highlights Patrick's gratitude at his conversion. It was what compelled him to return to Ireland with the gospel after he had successfully returned to Britain:

I cannot be silent -- nor, indeed, is it expedient -- about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord has designed to bestow on me 'in the land of my captivity'; for this is what we can give back to God after having been chastened and having come to know him, to exalt and praise his wonders before every nation that is under the whole heaven.

Patrick was, above all, a man of mission, and this was not a typical in the 5th Century Roman church. Patrick took seriously that call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He believed that Ireland was the end of the world. And why would he not? On the western coast of Ireland, looking out into the Atlantic, it would have been an easy to conclusion to draw. He was simply obeying what Scripture told him.

Haykin comments on Patrick's evangelistic zeal:

His zeal for missions and the salvation of the lost is not only inspiring, but deeply convicting. Also, he is into missions for all of the right reasons: the concern for their salvation; the duty he owes to God's call on his own life; and the obedience of the Scriptural mandate to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

If you know little about Patrick, but want to learn, this is the volume to begin with. It's a quick read, but it reveals the man that was Patrick, avoiding the extrapolated versions of him. Haykin includes a good selection of other volumes for those interested in digging deeper. I was pleased to see that Who Was St. Patrick? by A.E. Thompson is on the list. That is my favourite biography of Patrick.

This book is part of a larger series, edited by Haykin. I'm looking forward to starting a volume about Basil of Caesera.


Women in the Church: know your pre-suppositions

I've been reading a book called Women in the Church: An Analysis of I Timothy 2:9-15. It is edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner. It is a collection of essays evaluating the teaching of that passage.

The first chapter deals with the context of ancient Ephesus, and the question of whether or not it was a "feminist" culture. The second chapter examines the Greek word authentein, authority, and its use in other places in the New Testament and extra-biblical literature. 

The third chapter, written by Köstenberger, deals with the syntactical issues of the verse, specifically the pairing of the infinitives "to have authority" and "to teach." This is a very detailed chapter. Köstenberger spends a great deal of time showing how the construction is used in numerous places in the bible and outside the bible. He also interacts with some of the evaluation of the first edition of this book. He examines the reactions of both complementarians and egalitarians. If you're interested in language and its use, you'll find this chapter fascinating.

Köstenberger comments about the evaluation of Judith Hartenstein, an egalitarian, who agreed with his exegesis of the passage, but not his theology (she doesn't believe Paul wrote I Timothy). He comments that often, presuppositions colour the exegesis:

... Hartenstein's candor makes explicit what may often be an unacknowledged factor in feminist or egalitarian interpretations of I Timothy 2:12, namely, presuppositions that in fact override the actual exegesis of the passage. Whether or not this is acknowledged by egalitarian or feminist interpreters, their choice of which exegetical arguments to embrace may be (and often seems to be) motivated by their prior commitment to egalitarianism. How refreshing it is when this is openly acknowledged, as in the case of Hartenstein's review.

I'm wondering if egalitarians would level the same allegation toward complementarians in their exegesis. We all have presuppositions; better to be up front about that. I think significant amounts of disagreement arise because of our differing presuppsotions.


His purposes or mine?

I'm in the middle of Bryan Chapell's Praying Backwards.

Chapell talks about praying in Jesus' name. In fact, he begins with it, hence the title of the book. Before we pray, we ought to think about what it means to pray in Jesus' name.

Praying in Jesus' name means examining our motives:

To do anything in the Lord's name means to do it for his purposes. When we pray in Jesus' name, we are petitioning God to bring glory to Jesus and we are asking for his will to be done in everthing so that he will be honored above all. Prayers in Jesus' name are enveloped with concern that he be represented, blessed, and glorified. By appealing to Jesus' name, we surrender our prayers to his purposes. This means that, while we should present many kinds of petitions to God, a preayer offered in Jesus' name ultimately requests his desires.

 ... to do it for his purposes...

I thought about that a while as I went for a walk yesterday. How often do I pray with my purposes in mind? As if merely having those desires means that God will (or must) fulfill them. So often, we think that the ability to have something or do something means we have the right; I have an ability, so I must use it. Maybe yes, or maybe no.

As I think about the motives of my prayers, I am also challenged to examine the motives for my desires. Why do I desire this or that thing? Is it because it is that which will bring the most glory to Christ, or to me?  Do I desire it because it will bring glory to God, or will it make my life easier? What if what brings God the most glory is to deny me something? That is certainly a possibility in God's economy.

The thing about reading books on prayer is that ultimately, they may challenge us to evaluate more than just our prayers.


Sometimes, feeling stupid is good

I finished Kevin Vanhoozer's book Is There a Meaning in This Text? I made a note in the beginning of the book when I began it: late November 2012. Yes, it took me a while. That is because not only did I read slowly, but it was not an easy read. There were mornings when I read and concluded at the end of my time: Kim, you really are stupid. Sometimes, feeling stupid is good.

This book is one of the best books I have ever read. As the title suggests, it is a book which deals with a very big question. Some might think it is an unneccessary question, but it is very necessary because postmodern literary approaches influence how we read Scripture.  To put it simply, postmodern literary theory does not teach that there is an objective meaning; the meaning lies within the judgment of the reader. 

Vanhoozer spends the first part examining what the postmodern theorists say and how it affects the reading of Scripture, and then in the second half he presents his position. As I read, I was led to think of things I had perhaps not thought of before: what is meaning? what is understanding? what is knowledge? what is communication? how do we understand? what is the role of my context in reading? what is the difference between reading Scripture and other texts?  

I've been reading for forty-three years; I've never really thought about some of these issues. When we ask "what does this mean?" we could be asking many different things. I think it's good to ask ourselves these questions at times. I learned a lot about my own misunderstanding of what meaning and knowledge are.

One thing I really liked about this book was Vanhoozer's regular call for humility. Reading any text requires humility. We are not capable of absolute knowledge as human beings. We won't get the most out of any book, especially Scripture, with an attitude devoid of humility. We do not stand over the text; we stand underneath it.

This was one of my favourite passages:

To follow the Word is to grow in understanding. Growth demands endurance, the prime requirement of the test of time. Understanding God's word is a vocation: a call to mission and discipleship. To follow this Word may become a matter of death; it certainly is a matter of life and living.

I love that: understanding God's word is a vocation.

This book also had lots of "footnote finds," and my Amazon wish list grew substantially.