Tag Archives: Bible

Thinking out loud about Women, Preaching, the Bible and 1 Timothy 2

As a woman who teaches and preaches the Bible, 1 Timothy 2:12 is a verse in the New Testament that I regularly get asked about. I’ve talked about it many times, but have been a bit reluctant to commit pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Why? Because I love the Bible and want to take it seriously and interpret it faithfully and part of that means reading it as a whole rather than focusing on a single verse out of its wider context.

Because more has been written about that one verse than most others put together and there may not be anything new to say.

Because my thoughts are nuanced and have developed over time and may continue to do so, whereas the written word is ‘frozen’ in time and can therefore be misinterpreted as ‘final’ and ‘complete’.

Because I haven’t wanted to be judged and put in a box based on my thoughts on one single topic.

Because people might think that I am just trying to justify myself.

I could go on.

But in the end, I’ve realised that not saying something can lead to people making just as many assumptions and misinterpretations.

That some people have been told there is only one way to interpret that verse and thus assume my practice must therefore indicate that I don’t believe the Bible.

That nuance and wrestling shouldn’t preclude written conversation.

That the affirmation and encouragement of women to use their God-given gifts for the benefit of the church and the world is just too important to worry about what those who disagree with me will say or think.

Perhaps for some similar reasons, the movement of churches I am part of is holding a symposium in a couple of weeks to articulate our biblical and theological perspective on why we support and encourage both women and men into pastoral ministry.

And so in the lead up to that, I have finally put pen to paper (okay, fingers to keyboard) and written a paper I’ve called “Women, Preaching, the Bible and 1 Timothy 2.” It’s a lot longer than a normal blog post, because how else do you give broad context and provide nuance? It’s built on the work of others but also contains my own personal thoughts. It’s been reviewed by some peers I respect and trust but no doubt contains thoughts others will disagree with.

So for those who have previously asked or those who are interested, you can read or download it here: http://sabaptist.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Women-preaching-and-the-Bible-Cousins.pdf

And if you want to skip to my conclusion, it is simply this:

In the end, we are dealing with a complex matrix of biblical, theological, historical, and cultural issues when talking about women, preaching, and the Bible. We need to put our discussion into this wider context rather than assume that there is a ‘proof text’ that settles the question. I believe that the Scriptures affirm the calling on women and men to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to respond to both the call of God and the need of the world for faithful proclamation of the gospel. I believe we can wrestle with the texts that have been used to limit this calling in ways that are hermeneutically consistent and evangelically faithful and come to more generous conclusions. Let us preach the Word of God that Jesus might be known. And let us raise up the next generation of Marys, Phoebes, Junias, and Priscillas to play their part in the flourishing of the church, the witness of the kingdom, and the demonstration of the new creation yet to come.

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Today would be a good day to be at La Sagrada Família

If you haven’t visited Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, you might have difficulty believing all of these photos are of the exact same building. I’ve been back from my latest holiday just on a month, and the place I have spent more time trying to describe to people than any other would have to be this remarkable church. I’d love to have a few more hours to spend there today.

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With an ambitious design by Antoni Gaudí, construction on this spectacular church began in 1882. Current estimates are that it will be completed by 2026, although that still seems to be a massive task. Barcelona is a beautiful city for many other reasons, but I think it would be worth visiting just for this one building alone.

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What did I love about Sagrada Família?

On the outside, the church tells biblical stories. The Nativity façade, the only side Gaudí saw completed in his lifetime, uses lifelike figures to present all aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah – the familiar and the unfamiliar, the triumphant and the tragic.

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The details are incredible.

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On the other side, the Passion façade follows Gaudí’s plans but with the style of a completely different sculptor.

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The story of the betrayal, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus the Saviour unfolds through figures with square-cut faces and yet amazing depths of emotion.

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The third façade, supposedly the “largest and the most striking” has not even been begun yet, but will tell the story of the risen and triumphant Jesus the King.

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The building is fascinating and complex and intricate on the outside.

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There are extra, unexpected details and symbols everywhere you can see.

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And then you walk inside …

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The interior took my breath away.

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The light.

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The colours.

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The sense of space. This is a place for prayer and reflection, to marvel at the God of creation in all His magnitude.

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A place to slow down, to wonder, to worship.

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What did I learn from Sagrada Família?

I teach a subject called “Understanding the Biblical Narrative” and in my PhD I looked at ideas of orality and embodiment in understanding the Bible. For me, this church brings some of that to life. The biblical story can be seen, felt, even interacted with, in a completely different way to reading words on a page.

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The world has changed an awful lot since 1882, and I wonder if the architects and funders of this project had known how accessible the Bible would become whether they would have embarked on this project. But I’m so glad they did.

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“Reading” the story in this way takes time, and oral storytelling to go along with it, and imagination, and engagement. Despite the overwhelming accessibility of the printed and digital text, things we can so often lose.

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The contrast between the outside and inside of the church, for me, took me to a whole other place. It is one thing to know the stories, to ponder their meaning, to enter into their emotions.

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It is yet another to be brought to a place of stillness, silence, speechlessness.

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This is not a church of my tradition, and in some ways it is more a tourist attraction than a house of prayer. And yet … sitting in the pews, taking time to tune out the voices bustling around (listening to this podcast helped me focus), for me this became a place of prayer and worship.

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To be sure, I have experienced the same wonder and worship in nature, in community, alone in my room.  I don’t need a place like this to spend time with God, but it sure is a genuine delight to be provided with one every now and then.

What does hospitality look like in speech and in action?

A few years ago I had a disagreement with a politician about words. He was using a phrase that had been understood in the popular media at the time as a kind of ‘slogan’ with a particular emphasis. I assumed that was what he meant by using this phrase; he assured me that he had a more nuanced perspective to communicate. The key to our disagreement was that he then said it was my responsibility to listen and understand what he intended to communicate, and my problem if I didn’t get what he meant. Conversely, I suggested that it was his responsibility to understand how I would hear what he was saying and to use words to ensure that I would receive his intention. In the end we had to agree to disagree, but it is a conversation I have often thought about since.

Does the onus lie on the speaker or the hearer to make sure communication is clearly understood?

And what does that have to do with hospitality?

Missiology 101 tells me that as someone who has a good message to proclaim, the onus is on me to make sure that my words are being heard and understood by those I am seeking to communicate with, rather than expecting or assuming that they will know what I intend. We call it “contextualisation,” that is, making sure our message is communicated in a way that makes sense to those who are receiving it. To me, this is a form of hospitality. I invite someone into the conversation in a way that is welcoming when I focus not so much on what I want to say, but on what they will hear and receive.

I think hospitality is often misunderstood. The mental picture many people have is of inviting someone into their home. Which is a lovely, welcoming thing to do. However, there is an important caveat. In many ways, our home is our “turf.” It is the place where we feel most comfortable, and where we do things our way. If we invite someone in to that, but expect and assume that they will “fit in” with us, are we truly being welcoming? Or is hospitality about making the other person feel comfortable, choosing to accommodate ourselves to their way of doing things, making sure they feel at home?

True hospitality is the attitude of making someone else feel at home rather than simply being in our home.

What would it look like to live that kind of hospitality in speech and in action?

My church has recently started partnering with a Christian community who speak a different language to us, many of whom are refugees and have left everything they have known behind. I see their joy in their eyes as they come into a place where they can speak their own language, and eat food that is familiar to them, and feel comfortable knowing that they understand what is expected of them. I imagine that in nearly every other aspect of their lives this is not the case. Everywhere they go they are expected to fit in with us, speak like us, do things our way. And yes, that is part of the process of learning to live in a new culture. But what if instead of the church being just one more place where they are the outsiders who are expected to find ways to fit in, what if we as followers of Jesus chose to be the ones who learned their language, ate their food, did things their way? What if we went out of our way to be the ones who were uncomfortable so that they might feel at home?

That’s a challenge. That will be more difficult. That’s the kind of hospitality that is costly as we sacrifice our own comfort and ease for the sake of the other. That’s the kind of hospitality of a church whose early leaders chose to become like outsiders in order to share their hope with those on the outside. That’s the kind of hospitality of a church whose head is a God who condescended to become a human being in order to demonstrate his great love for humanity.