For those who visit this blog somewhat regularly, you will probably have noticed that I have been posting a longer, detailed series on the role of women. To see all 12 articles, you can click on the Categories drop down menu on the right side bar of the blog and scroll down to women. That should lead you to the links to all articles.
But, in this article, I want to take a short detour before heading back into my regularly scheduled postings on this ever-debated topic.
For those who have been following along closely, what might have noticed that I have tried to both 1) deal with specific passages in the Scripture and 2) consider what theologians call trajectory theology.
The first needs no explanation, but the second does. What is trajectory theology? It is basically a hermeneutical approach to understanding Scripture, but with the recognition that certain details, commands and teachings of Scripture were not to be binding on God’s people for all time’s sake.
Now, some might hold up a hand very quickly and charge me with a dangerous practise. And such could be the case. Thankfully I am not a lone ranger Christian, I believe in relational accountability, and hold the Scripture as being the primary place for formation of our beliefs and practises of the faith.
But one book that might be helpful in understanding the practise of trajectory hermeneutics is Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (you can also visit his blog here). McKnight is one of the leading authorities of today on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. And he is evangelical through and through.
In his book, The Blue Parakeet, he has some interesting words right from the beginning in his introductory chapter:
Throughout this process of conversion and reading the Bible, I made discoveries that created a question that disturbed me and still does. Many of my fine Christian friends, pastors, and teachers routinely made the claim that they were Bible-believing Christians, and they were committed to the whole Bible and that – and this was one of the favorite lines – “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!” They were saying two things and I add my response (which expresses my disturbance):
One: We believe everything the Bible says, therefore…
Two: We practice whatever the Bible says.
Why say “hogwash,” a tasty, salty word I learned from my father? Because I was reading the same Bible they were reading, and I observed that, in fact – emphasize that word “fact” – whatever they were claiming was not in “fact” what they were doing (Nor was I.) What I discovered is that we all pick and choose. I must confess this discovery did not discourage me as much as it disturbed me, and then it made me intensely curious (and it is why I wrote this book). The discoveries and disturbances converged onto one big question:
How, then, are we to live out the Bible today?
Whether or not we want to admit it, we, as Christians of all types, undertake this practise. Some do it from a more negative perspective to deconstruct the text completely and make it worth nothing in their lives. But, the normal, Bible-believing, evangelical does this just as much.
I will give you some examples:
If you really want to obey the Sabbath, in accordance with the original teaching of the Mosaic Law, then one must observe such from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. The Sabbath is not Sunday. Now Christians began to gather together on Sunday’s, recognising it as the Lord’s day because our Lord Jesus arose on the third day, a Sunday. But, strictly speaking, the Sabbath is Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Still, within the new covenant, I believe it has become clear that Christ himself is the true Sabbath rest of God into which the people of God are to enter. I share more here.
How many people practice this today? Now some, like the Primitive Baptists, see it as something that must be literally carried out in this age. And while I have washed people’s feet before as an act of service, and I have received such a beautiful expression of serving as well, I don’t believe this is a binding command for all time. In Jesus’ teaching in John 13, I believe it ultimately refers to the act of serving and laying down one’s life for another.
Obviously there are varying opinions on this one, some seeing it still as a ‘command’ of God today. But, suffice it to say, I do not believe 10% is the God-ordained amount one must drop in the offering basket on a Sunday morning. Now, I think it is a good place to start in our regular and faithful giving into the local church body and its work. But I would argue that the new covenant (or the whole of Scripture) makes clear that all belongs to God, and so it might just be that we are called to give above that 10%. Actually, I would challenge all followers of Christ to be stretched in this on a regular basis. Yet, if someone gave 6%, I don’t think God is necessarily peeved at that person, especially noting the varying cultural norms throughout history and current nations, i.e., come live in Belgium and you will find out through the lovely tax system here. Not to mention that the tithe was set up within a social-theocratic nation. The body of Christ is not such.
How many of us obey the last words of Leviticus 19:19 – nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material? Why not? Or how many women obey the words of Paul embedded within the highly debated passage of 1 Timothy 2:8-15?
9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Tim 2:9-10)
In the end, I believe Paul is asking women to dress modestly, as women who profess godliness. There is no binding command for all-time in this passage with regards to braided hair, gold, pearls and costly attire.
And you know, I could go on and on with slavery, head coverings, eating food that has been strangled (see Acts 15:29), etc. Even if one doesn’t agree with my every thought on these aforementioned topics, we all do this with some regard. Even though I am a continuationist that believes all gifts of the Spirit are for today, a cessationist would easily argue that such is not for today. They have biblical and theological reasons to justify such. I am not trying to argue for or against continuationism or cessationism in this article. I am simply noting it is another case in which we bring in trajectory hermeneutics to the text.
I have taken the time to look at these things because I believe it relates into the discussion surrounding the role of women. As I said at the beginning, on the topic of women, I look to both 1) deal with specific passages in the Scripture and 2) deal with what theologians call trajectory theology.
Now, it might seem like I want to ‘have my cake and eat it too’, as we say in America. So, the charge could come to me that, I deal with the passage in Scripture, but if it doesn’t fit my theology, then I revert to trajectory theology.
Well, this could be the case of me moulding the text into my framework rather than allowing God to mould me by the text of Scripture. But I believe the first thing we must always do is deal with the text that is right in front of us. What does it say within its context? And that is what I have done for the major part with my articles.
But I believe we are also to ask some questions like these:
- What does this mean in light of the full reality of Christ and the new covenant?
- Is this a particular command within a particular historical and cultural framework?
We can get scared of the second question, but we need to ask it. And whether or not we ask it, we still practice trajectory hermeneutics in many ways as we approach the Scripture. I am not just talking about with Old Testament passages, but also with New Testament passages – clothing to wear, what kind of food to eat, slavery, head coverings, possibly spiritual gifts, etc.
And there is nothing inherently wrong with this practise.
Now, as I have already noted, it can be used dangerously, all to set aside the text as having no authority in the life of the believer. A case and point I believe is found with the practise of same-sex relations. Well, from the start, I think Christians have not always had a great testimony in interacting with those who identify themselves as gay. Some of the stories you read are appalling. But, nonetheless, I do not believe trajectory hermeneutics applies to same-sex behaviour. I believe both Scripture (special revelation from God) and nature (general revelation from God) attest to God’s plan for male and female sexual intimacy amongst married people, rather than sexual intimacy and marriage amongst same-sex partners.
So, the question comes – Well, why do you choose to bypass trajectory hermeneutics with same-sex relationships but not for women in leadership?
There is no easy, packaged answer, though we always desire such. I will still get challenged and labelled as wanting to set aside the authoritative teaching of Scripture because of my view on women. But in my study of the role of women, I have come to a clear conscience and conclusion that 1) the text doesn’t hinder women from leadership roles as much as we think it does and 2) where it possibly does, these words were given within a social, cultural and historical framework of which women had little standing and rights, and thus they are not to be recognised as binding upon the body of Christ for all time.
In the end, I don’t suppose all will agree with me. That is each person’s prerogative before God and the Scripture. But what I do suggest is that when complementarians engage with egalitarians, that they not regularly pull out the card that says egalitarians are more of the progressive-liberal type cutting out portions of God’s authoritative word for their own agenda. In all reality, we all practice trajectory hermeneutics. And the church will continue to grapple with such a hermeneutical principle as it studies and wrestles with the awesome, God-breathed, faithful text of the Scripture, the primary place for the church to form their beliefs and practises of the faith.