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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Are we asking the right questions?

Written by: on April 4, 2019

Cherry-picking is what we used to do.

At one time Two Views on Women in Ministry would have kindled my interest and passion. I was the first man to enroll in the first Women in Leadership course at my seminary when such topics were controversial in 1989, and when my evangelical institution was pioneering new ways of considering traditional texts which relegated women to the margins of leadership in the church. I subscribed to Priscilla Papers, and joined Christians for Biblical Equality as it emerged as a young organization in those days. I heard Dr. Roberta Hestenes and other incredible women preach – that in and of itself should have settled any doubts. The issue even brought my wife and I together in mutual submission and grace – we were in team ministry together.

As I grazed through this week’s reading, familiar arguments and Biblical citations were presented, with interpretations on both sides of the aisle from four respected scholars. I highly respect the editors of this volume and ones like it that offer friendly yet critical point and counterpoint, giving all sides an equal platform. It’s modelling a better way to discern than the typical one-sided screeds found in social media threads. And yet, at the same time, I found myself frustrated with all the expert back-and-forth. What was going on in me?

Craig Keener alludes to the problem while introducing his defense of an egalitarian theology: “Most Christians do not realize how much our backgrounds and traditions affect the ways we read the Bible.”[1] Our own lenses will influence how we read sacred texts. And in this volume, we have four scholars who present their arguments based on decades of research and humble investigation. I know within our cohort we will have a diversity of views on this topic as well. There will be sufficient fuel for both sides to maintain their positions, and I doubt anyone will change their minds.

I found myself provocatively asking: Are we even asking the right questions here? For, as we’ve been learning in this cohort, the weakness of modernist hermeneutics is that they correspond to a culture and context in which we no longer live. Our Western culture has moved beyond stark and easy answers influenced by failed Enlightenment approaches to scripture.

Brad Jerzak, a new friend with whom I spent a memorable evening two weeks ago, raises our eyes to lock our gaze with Christ Himself. He states, “The solution to cherry-picking is the anchor of the Cross. Returning to the question of unavoidable personal bias, we overcome them by adopting a Christ-centered template for interpretation. We note our own temperament and wishes, but then turn to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. He becomes the measure of our hermeneutic through his life, teachings and most especially his death and resurrection. The apex of the Gospels seems to come at the cross, which becomes the corrective and clarifying lens for our skewed vision, not only for the whole of Scripture but even when reading Christ’s own teachings.”[2]

If we return to the bruised but living Christ – not our own individual interpretations of Biblical texts – will we not find direction? If I may be so bold: does it really matter what the response is on this question? If we fail to meet with Jesus, and neglect “loving God and loving neighbour” – his revision to the ancient Jewish code – does it really matter where we land on either side of this question? I can have an accurate interpretation, but if I fail to love as He does, is it not as dung? And if I have an inaccurate interpretation, if I love with His companionship in the journey, isn’t that more important and viewed graciously by God?

As I write I’m sitting in the lounge at El Dorado airport in Bogotá, returning home after an unexpected yet fruitful trip to la patria, my adopted homeland. My former ministry colleagues needed a pastoral care visit, and thankfully, I was able to carve out time and spend a few days to encourage them face-to-face. After 25 years of faithful ministry, they were unceremoniously ejected from their pastoral leadership in an aggressive power grab from a clique in the church they had built from scratch. You can imagine the hurt, betrayal, desperation, and crisis they and their young adult children are living.

The reason I mention this is that the junta had its reasons for the ejection; some of them might have even been biblical. But the way they proceeded was so full of anger, self-righteousness, and arrogance, that even if they were being biblical to the letter, they were not living out the spirit of the Word. Paul cautions us that even if we sing with tongues of angels yet have not love, we are but clanging cymbals.

We can apply the same principle to the debate about women in leadership. Where is the love of Christ infused into these decisions that exclude half the body from serving Him fully? In another article, Jerzak recalls the ancient church father Origen: “Origen put it this way: if you don’t see [that the Bible is the epic story of God’s love], then the whole book is Old Testament, and if you do, the whole book is New Testament. And so rather than tossing out the Old Testament because it often doesn’t look very Christlike, he said that we must think of the whole Bible as a Christian book, or not at all.”[3]

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[1] Craig S. Keener, “Women in Ministry: Another Egalitarian Perspective”, in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2005), 205.

[2] Brad Jerzak, Brad Jerzak’s Blog, “Q: How do we avoid cherry-picking the Bible for a God of love of our own wishes”, accessed 4 April 2019, https://bradjersak.com/q-how-do-we-avoid-cherry-picking-the-bible-for-a-god-of-love-of-our-own-wishes-brad-jersak/.

[3] Brad Jerzak, Christianity Without the Religion website, “Under Reconstruction: Crazy Characters, Unreliable Narrators, and the Divine Architect”, accessed 4 April 2019, https://www.ptm.org/under-reconstruction-crazy-characters.

About the Author

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Mark Petersen

Mark Petersen is the CEO of Stronger Philanthropy, a Canadian firm specializing in maximizing family philanthropy. He leads a diverse group of visionary individuals, foundations and organizations to collaborate in leveraging wealth for charitable impact.

8 responses to “Are we asking the right questions?”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mark,

    Phenomenal question of yours, “If I may be so bold: does it really matter what the response is on this question?”

    I so much agree, without love we are just a clanging symbol. Thanks for your love of others, it is readily apparent to all!

  2. mm Mike says:

    Mark,
    You provide a very good example of “virtue signaling” in your introduction, as described by Dr. Clark a couple of weeks ago.
    Being frustrated about this debate is good, I have hope in you. However, due to the open and accessible social nature of these blogs, meaning anyone can see them, but only we can enter them or comment on them, means we should consider what we say, because it is not screened nor protected by GFU.
    Thanks for acknowledging claims against Biblical accuracy from Jerzak, likewise and unfortunately I see many examples of people using Scripture to promote their agenda on both sides of this debate.
    Spiritual frustration is real, and sometimes we experience it when we can’t make sense of where the latest argument is coming from. Confusion, distraction, and division are key indicators to know when Satan is involved. Please put on and keep on Christ as your armor of God.
    Stand firm,
    Mike

  3. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Mark, thank you for taking us to the cross. Laying down our rights and opinions to be untied in Christ offers much more to furthering the gospel than taking up arms for one side or the other.

    Also, I love how you open with being the first to take a Women in Leadership course. I laughed out loud because I appreciate your willingness to be the anomaly. It has obviously served you well, as in your marriage, and possibly caused pain at times. Maybe you are leading the way for evangelicals to move closer to Catholicism… 🙂

  4. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this poetical and beautiful post, Mark! I see that we both used a common quote, which made me happy because it meant that we were thinking along similar lines. I loved hearing your thoughts back your younger self, and also, the ways you applied the letter/spirit idea to women in ministry as well as to your colleagues and friends in Colombia. Stand firm…

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Mark,

    Dr. Roberta Hestenes became President of Eastern while I was there. Her teaching and preaching helped me come to some conclusions on this subject as well. I think our text from a few weeks ago echoes your concern that we may in fact not even be asking the correct questions or if we are that we are only listening for the answers we want to hear.

    The hermeneutical shift that has taken place is difficult for many to accept. I understand but I do not think this gives us the right to ‘dig in’ lest we lose the battle. It is deeply regrettable that so much hurt comes from the institution that Jesus established to bring healing.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    You really nailed it on this one. You put words to my frustration around this topic and book and other such matters. It really doesn’t matter how well articulated the arguments are. It almost seems as if the better the argument, the further dug in are the heels, with what seeps through the pages might be an unconscious quest for power, or the desire to win an argument, or any number of other things, including the desire for truth. But even Paul (let alone Jesus) says that love is the greatest virtue. I think you pointing to the cross is the best way forward.

  7. Shawn Hart says:

    Great post Mark! It is obvious that as I read through the post this week, that even in spite of the powder keg that this topic always seems to be, many…if not all…of us are starting to realize that sometimes there is still a greater battle before us; how do we treat another person. If the second greatest command in scripture is to Love our Neighbor as ourselves, then why is this topic always filled with so much hate and contempt. If I sell my soul to win the debate…I still lost my soul.

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    great post Mark. Yes I would really love to not have to talk about this anymore.

    Ive discovered one of my greatest joys in ministry has been working with women who are coming from complementarian backgrounds and helping them grow in their ministry roles and leadership.

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