How the Doctrine of the Image of God Changed My Life

Growing up in a Presbyterian family, it was always assumed that theology was important for me to know. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad doing extended Bible lessons on Sunday afternoons and my mom teaching Bible stories and children’s catechism using flannelgraph during the week. There was one lesson in particular that we repeated several times about being made in God’s image. The doctrine of the image of God—in Latin Imago Dei—originates in Genesis 1:27, which states that God made humans, male and female, in His image—His likeness.

Starting in first grade, I had the privilege of attending a Christian school where I lived in Davao, Philippines. Each year we studied the Bible, worldview, apologetics, or theology. My teachers, like my parents, assumed that it was the most natural thing in the world for me to learn about my faith—that biblical knowledge and good theology was important for all people. I generally was quite interested in my Bible classes, sometimes doing research on my own and enjoying in-class debates and projects.

When I got to college in South Carolina, the strong foundation built by parents, teachers, and my own study served me well in my pursuit of degrees in Bible and early childhood education. In one of my classes on education, we spoke of our future students as being image-bearers and the implications that had. Students had an intellect, were capable of learning, were relational, and had immeasurable potential. We ourselves, as image-bearers, were to reflect God’s character and steward our responsibilities by treating our students well, even when they posed educational or behavioral challenges.

However, after I finished college, instead of becoming a teacher, I became mostly-housebound due to chronic illness. My intense physical suffering was concurrent with a growing awareness of some of the great evil believed and practiced within the Christian community and the immense damage this caused; together, these two things shook my faith, making it difficult to listen to sermons, read my Bible, or participate in corporate prayer.

By this time, I was living in Mississippi and starting to learn about the realities of racism. As part of this, I listened to a few episodes of a podcast called Pass the Mic. Though mostly engaging topics related to race relations in the United States, biblical anthropology and emotionally-healthy spirituality were frequent topics as well. I remember crying as I realized there were indeed Christians teaching that lament over evil and pain was an important part of the Christian life, things don’t always turn out to have a happy ending, and it’s okay to take trauma seriously.

In one podcast, Mr. Jemar Tisby asserted that aside from beliefs about God and salvation, believing in the image of God is the most important doctrine in Christianity and that its implications were enormous and far-reaching. I couldn’t stop thinking about this for weeks! Now, years later, it continues to have a profound impact on my thinking and life.

But what does it mean for humans to be made in the image of God? Much has been written on the topic, but here is a summary. Humans are like God in some limited ways, including being rational beings, having moral agency, and being relational. Humans are also God’s viceroys on Earth, here to steward the natural world for God’s glory. Likewise, though all of God’s creation is precious and valuable, humans have a special place of honor and value; only they bear God’s image.

In Psalm 8, King David hyperbolically writes of humans as being made “a little lower than God,” describing them as being crowned with glory and majesty, made to rule over all of God’s works:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:3-5)

(I’ll briefly note that in Hebrews 2, we learn that this Psalm is also prophetic, pointing to Christ as the ultimate human to whom God subjected all things and crowned with glory and honor. This “image of Christ” in salvation is an important doctrinal development upon the image of God doctrine of creation.)

To summarize, being made in the image of God means 1) that humans are like God in some ways, 2) that humans are to act to fulfill God’s purposes on Earth, 3) and that humans have immense and intrinsic worth. This doctrine makes a huge impact on the Christian understanding of anthropology—the study of man.

One caveat: as humans, we are image-bearers, but we are not just image bears. We are also sinners, both in our nature and in our behavior. This has marred, though not erased, God’s image in us. Some humans, in addition to being image-bearers and sinners, are also saints; this is how the New Testament writers describe all those who are in Christ by faith. Saints, by the power of new life through the Spirit, are empowered to grow in Christlikeness, progressively growing in reflecting God’s original design for image-bearers. As Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son.” (See also Colossians 3:10.)

Meditating on the doctrine of the image of God has shaped many of my beliefs, convictions, passions, and behaviors over the past few years. For example, it gave theological validation for calling out and grieving the profound evil of race-based chattel slavery, rape, and murder. Furthermore, it buttressed my calls for justice to be done in the face of evil done to image-bearers (because evil done to those who bear God’s image is very serious). However, in my pursuit of justice, believing in the image of God also undercut thoughts of revenge, because even humans who perpetrate great evil deserve to have their humanity respected.

This doctrine impacted me in other ways too. It gave words to my concerns about how some New Calvinists emphasize the sinfulness of humans almost to the exclusion of acknowledging the image of God in humans. It gave me joy in seeing how much humans can achieve. Simultaneously, it assured me that though my health struggles limited my productivity, my value as a human was not diminished. It encouraged me to have an accurate view of myself, one that was neither too high nor too low.

It gave me the clarity to say that one of the reasons pornography and abortion are wrong is that they both exploit image bearers for the sake of another’s sexual gratification. It made me more compassionate towards animals, feeling responsible to care for them as I am able. It made me passionate in proclaiming that more important than people respecting a leader’s authority are leaders respecting other’s humanity. It meant that all human life has value, even if young, old, or disabled. It gave me a framework for learning from, honoring the accomplishments of, and seeing the good in those who hold differing beliefs than I do. It renewed my belief that the Christian’s roles in work, society, and culture are good because they reflect aspects of who God is and how he works in the universe. It provided a litmus test for myself as I sought to think of each person first as an image-bearer, whatever else they might also be.

I continue to suffer from health struggles and to grieve over many things, but most days, I feel more at peace with myself, with God, with his church, and in society. Correctly understanding doctrines such as the image of God has made a practical difference in my life. It has provided a foundation and guidebook for navigating the complexities, evils, joys, and sorrows of life. It is often a weary and weighty task, yet I am immensely thankful for God’s truth as an anchor for my soul.

I am grateful that he has revealed his truth to us in his word. I am grateful for the people throughout my life who have taught me good theology. And I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit, who continues to apply God’s truth to my life, forming my mind, heart, and actions to be further in accordance with his will.

So let us press on to know and serve the Lord and to equip others to better know and serve him. And let us rejoice in the honor of being made in God’s likeness, taking seriously his call upon our lives, and treating others as the valuable masterpieces that they are.

(Special thanks to Joshua Torrey for helping me edit this article and for sharing a portion of it on the Torrey Gazette.)

When “Biblical Gender Roles” Aren’t So Biblical: An Evangelical Woman Reviews “Beyond Authority and Submission” by Rachel Green Miller

Some Christians ask, “Is it appropriate for men to read Bible commentaries written by women?” Or “Are women allowed to be police officers?” Others suggest that women are more easily deceived than men, and therefore cannot be trusted. Still others suggest that the fundamental difference between the sexes is authority and submission. For many people, these are the things conjured by the term “complementarian”.

About a year ago, I remember having a conversation with myself about gender roles. I’ve heard enough bizarre teaching and seen enough horrific behavior in my years as an evangelical to have gotten burned out on the topic of gender roles.

But last year I started wondering what the truth really is after we cut through all the distortions and cultural layers. It was in this context that I said to myself, “I’m not sure what I believe about gender roles, but it’ll probably end up being what Rachel Miller and Aimee Byrd believe.”

Thus, when Rachel Green Miller put out a tweet asking for volunteers for her book launch team, I, in faith and with some trepidation, volunteered.

Rachel Green Miller is a theological conservative, a member in good standing at a Presbyterian church, the former editor of The Aquila Report, and a prolific blogger. All of her work is highly researched and clearly communicated, and she possesses the uncanny ability to see and trace connections between ideas and people. I know her primarily from her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation, and from Twitter. I gravitated towards her work immediately, feeling that she was both discerning enough and conservative enough for me to feel safe with and trust her thought processes. She has been immensely helpful for me in moving from being a “cynical evangelical” to a “discerning evangelical,” and for that I am immensely grateful.

For a more “official” introduction, here’s her bio taken from the P&R Publishing website:

Rachel Green Miller is a researcher and popular blogger who is passionate about elevating the dignity of women, improving the cultural conversation about gender relations, and defending orthodox Christianity. A member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, she lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Matt, and their three sons.

In Beyond Authority and Submission, Miller overviews the history of gender roles and the nature of men and women before looking to how these concepts apply in marriage, the church, and society. She summarizes the message of her book in this way:

“…as theologically conservative Christians, we must acknowledge where extrabiblical and unbiblical ideas about women and men have permeated, weakened, and confused our teachings. We need to move beyond a focus on authority and submission in order to incorporate equally important biblical themes in our discussions, such as unity, interdependence, and service. As we do, we will strengthen our vital relationship as co-laborers in Christ.”

In this book review, I will share highlights from each section and then give my response and recommendation.

Summary

Miller begins her book by clarifying that she is not comfortable identifying as egalitarian, complementarian, feminist, or patriarchalist. She does, however, believe that God created men and women to be equal and interdependent; that marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life; that husbands are called to servant headship and wives are called to voluntary submission; and that ordained church leadership is restricted to qualified men.

She does, however, disagree with many voices in complementarianism, such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Voddie Baucham, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Doug Wilson, and Mark Driscoll. Throughout her book, she provides dozens direct quotes from these organizations and individuals to back up her claims about what complementarians believe and practice.

History

In Greco-Roman times, women were viewed as inferior to men, had few legal rights, and were thought to operate in the “private sphere” whereas the “public sphere” belonged to to men. In Victorian times, women were treated as children, were expected to endure abuse by their husbands, and had no legal recourse if their husbands were unfaithful.

Things begin to change with first-wave feminism, which emphasized votes, education, and employment opportunities for women and chastity for men. Second-wave feminism pushed for allowing divorce in cases of abuse. Some feminists of this time bought into the sexual revolution as well as promoting abortion, whereas other feminists saw industries such as abortion and pornography as exploitative of women. Third-wave feminism is largely joined to the abortion and LGBT movements, with some exceptions, as well as being one of the drivers behind and the #MeToo movement, which helps men and women speak up against sexual violence.

From a historical Christian perspective, feminism is a mixed bag—doing much good as well as sometimes supporting immorality. As evangelicals grew in their concerns regarding feminism, they rightly spoke up for biblical truth, but unfortunately often “corrected” by doubling down on ideas borrowed from Greco-Romans and Victorians rather than Scripture; this has resulted in concerning teachings and practices in evangelicalism today.

The Nature of Men and Women

For many complementarians, the fundamental difference between men and women is authority and submission. A tandem belief is that women are more easily deceived and have a core desire to usurp male authority. Together, these beliefs set men and women up to be at enmity with one another.

Miller describes the typical complementarian belief that women are to be “submissive, gentle, quiet, responsive, soft, life-giving, and helping” while men are to be characterized by “strength, authority, and theological discernment and as being initiating, providing, and protecting.” She suggests that these stereotypes come not from Scripture but from culture. In fact, in looking at Scripture,there are positive examples of women leading and initiating (Deborah), providing (Lydia), protecting (Miriam and Abigail), demonstrating strength (Jael), and having theological discernment (Lois and Eunice, Priscilla). Likewise, there are biblical examples of men helping (Barnabas), being gentle and quiet (see the instructions in Paul’s letters to both men and women), giving life (Adam), responding to other’s leadership (Barak and Apollos), and being soft and tender-hearted (David and Paul).

Not only are the complementarian stereotypes not biblical; they can also cause harm and unnecessary pressure. Women who have strong muscles or leadership qualities may feel condemned in their femininity. Men who are short, like poetry, or have emotional intelligence may feel inadequate in their masculinity. However, these stereotypes are merely cultural. There is much freedom within the biblical definitions of maleness and femaleness for uniqueness, and we do well not to add cultural rules to biblical ones.

Marriage

When authority and submission are the main lenses through which complementarians view marriage, the man is seen to be the ruler (prophet, priest, and king) of the house while the woman’s role is to run the home in practical matters. Miller, on the other hand, believes that from a biblical perspective, companionship is at the heart of marriage, along with interdependence, unity, and service. Within this context, she affirms men are to be servant heads and women are called to voluntary submission.

When marriage goes wrong, the question of divorce is raised. There are three main views held by evangelicals. The first is the “Permanence View”, which is that no marriage is ever to be broken by divorce. The second is the “Adultery-Desertion View”, which is that divorce is permitted only in cases of adultery and desertion. The third view is the “Serious Sin View”, which allows for divorce in cases of serious sin such as all kinds of abuse. Miller advocates for the third, asserting that serious sin breaks the marriage covenant; divorce, when chosen, merely makes the broken covenant legal while freeing the aggrieved party from a broken situation. She writes:

Because we hold a high view of marriage, we need to acknowledge that some sins are so heinous that they destroy a marriage. Hard-hearted sinners who break their marriage vows shouldn’t be allowed to make a mockery of marriage through their actions. Marriage is important, but it’s not meant to be preserved at all costs.

Church

When it comes to church, some complementarians believe that men should be the priority, that women are theologically inferior, that men mediate between God and women, and that the church should have a masculine culture. All men are to lead in some capacity, and women may participate in hospitality and childcare.

Miller affirms that women have direct access to God and that only qualified men should be ordained (and therefore preach, administer church discipline, and administer the sacraments) while pointing out that in the Bible, women are shown as singing, praying, prophesying, evangelizing, learning theology, and serving. Miller suggests that women should generally be able to do anything that an unordained man can do.

Miller’s final topic in this section is abuse. Domestic abuse exists in all circles and is justified by people of all belief systems, but there is a particular kind of man who finds cover in hyper-complementarian churches. It’s imperative that we are honest about this, that we condemn both the abuse and the wrong teachings used to justify it, and that we prioritize the lives and safety of the women at risk. The world is watching, and the name of Christ is often slandered because of how churches respond to abuse victims.

Society

When it comes to men’s and women’s roles in society, some complementarians teach that men are to initiate and form while women are to complete and fill. They suggest that godly societies and persons will prefer male leadership in business and government and that female co-workers are dangerous. (Miller, as usual, provides ample documentation that these views are actually widely taught.)

Miller, on the other hand, points to Genesis in saying that work is a shared calling for both men and women. Education, also, is rightly given to all people. There is much freedom as to how men and women work and function in society, to be guided by wisdom, situation, needs, and preferences. Miller also points out that Scripture dignifies both business leaders and employees.

My Response

As I read this book, I found myself often and involuntarily saying either “yes!” or “ew!” as I was struck by Miller’s insights or horrified by quotes from others. What I read put words to my concerns and beliefs. Miller provided data and quotes backing up my intuitions regarding the problems in much of complementarianism. She connected the dots and showed where things came from.

I loved the biblical examples of men and women performing different kinds of tasks and displaying different types of character qualities! I felt a sense of relief and assurance that it’s okay not to fit societal stereotypes. I found myself wishing that various friends and acquaintances of mine who have struggled unnecessarily in the past could feel the same relief.

I love how Miller points to Jesus as the ultimate example of both authority and submission and urges both men and women to look to him as their model for both!

I really appreciated Miller’s balanced approach to feminism. It was fascinating to read a good summary of each of the different “waves” and then to realize that I’m probably a 60 to 66% feminist.

I love the emphasis Miller put on companionship in marriage. Over the years, I’ve been unsure and uncomfortable when I’ve heard people talk about marriage being primarily about either hierarchy or holiness. I think that in the biblical text, particularly the beginning of Genesis, companionship is at the heart of marriage.

In recent years, I have researched the topic of different Christian views on divorce. Hearing Miller list the three main views gave categories for me to better understand. The “Serious Sin View” lines up well with the PCA’s position on divorce, which is that unrepentant serious sin is a form of abandonment and therefore biblical cause for divorce. This is my position as well, and it was helpful to have Miller’s reasoning to further strengthen my position.

I’m very thankful that Miller touched on the topic of abuse in the church. This is something close to my heart, and I think there is opportunity for Christians both to repent of how they have dealt with abuse in the past and then to set an example for the watching world of what it looks like to treat with dignity and truth those who have been victimized by all kinds of abuse.

In general, reading Beyond Authority and Submission has made me less afraid of the topic of gender roles and more confident in my faith, the Bible, and in the wisdom that I have developed over the years. I feel affirmed in my belief that the Bible is safe for women when properly understood and practiced.

My Recommendation

In summary, Miller engages insightfully with topics vital to the health the church, the dignity of all image bearers, and the witness of the church before the watching world. I recommend this book for those interested in the connection between history and current Evangelical teachings, for those who want a robust interaction with Biblical truth, and for those who are developing their own theology of gender roles. This book is good for both church leaders as well as lay people, both men and women.

I will note that this book is from a primarily Western and Caucasian perspective, meaning that it looks at the history of the West and specific teachings prevalent in white evangelicalism in the United States today. Other cultures may be able to relate to varying degrees, but I want to acknowledge that Miller’s critiques may or may not be true of other cultures. (She never claims that they are, but for those reading in a different cultural context, I just want them to be aware.) For example, Kyle James Howard, a seminary student and biblical counselor, has written about the teachings and practices regarding gender roles in the African American church and how they differ from teachings and practices in many white churches.

Miller’s writing itself is clear and concise, well-organized and easy to follow. The concepts are fascinating, the historical overview is helpful, and the many quotes shared back up her claims regarding prevalent teachings in evangelicalism. She is committed to historical and credal understanding of the Christian faith and she has the endorsements of people such as Carl Truman, Aimee Byrd, Jacob Denhollander, Wendy Alsup, and Liam Goligher.

In conclusion, thank you, Rachel, for writing such an insightful and helpful book! I give it five out of five stars, and I highly recommend it. I found it personally refreshing, clarifying, and helpful. I believe it is an invaluable resource for the church as we wrestle with what it means to be biblically male and female in our homes, our churches, and our societies.

You can purchase it from Amazon here or P&R Publishing here.

I’ll leave you with a superb summary quote and call to action from Rachel Green Miller herself:

Too often we find ourselves fighting each other face-to-face instead of fighting side-by-side as we were meant to. From the beginning, when Eve was made to be a helper for Adam, they were meant to work together for God’s glory and for His kingdom. As believing men and women, we have been united together in Christ. Instead of being distracted by what could divide us, we should focus on what unites us. We are the body—the church. Through the work of the Spirit, we are knit together and our true goal has been restored: women and men united and interdependent, serving together as co-laborers, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

Dynamic? Yes. Pastor? No

DYNAMIC_YES!PASTORS_NO..jpg

While I can appreciate Logan taking up the topic of women in ministry, I found his arguments to be lacking. Do understand, he is my friend and we write together frequently. He told me what he was going to do and as the new Lead Contributor I would not be accused of censoring my friends. The beauty of Late Night Theology is that we all come from different backgrounds and there is room to peacefully disagree. I’m not saying this for his sake (he knew I was going to respond) but rather for yours, dear reader. Don’t think that disagreements mean that everything’s splitting up; this is just an exercise. A good sparring match does the body good.

But I cannot agree with him here. We could not be more different.

Logan contends that women should be allowed to the pastorate for three reasons.

  1. There were dynamic female leaders in Scripture
  2. There were dynamic female leaders in Church History.
  3. We can raise up dynamic leaders in the church today.

These are all interesting points and I’ll say this much: He’s not wrong on the premise. Yes, all three of these are true. Yes there have been dynamic female leaders in the Scriptures. Yes Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Christ, Junia, Deborah, the Psalm 31 woman, Esther, Sarah, and Rahab all were faithful dynamic women in the Scriptures. To say otherwise is to ignore what Scriptures says. This is why I don’t understand those who would say that Scripture oppresses women. It does not treat these women as if they are “lesser”. To say so is to flat deny what Scripture plainly says.

And yes, there have been dynamic women in Church History. Katherine von Bora, Idelette Calvin, Fanny J Crosby and so much more were bulwarks in their own theological right. To say otherwise would deny the historical reality that we know to be true.

And of course, we can raise up dynamic female leaders today. Yes there should female theologians. Yes there should be female thinkers and doers. Yes women are fully capable to lead and serve the Church in grandiose and dynamic ways. To say otherwise is to treat our sisters as incapable. I cannot stand when pompous seminarians and Bible majors talk down to women in their classes. Most of my theology classes at CBC had women in them. Yes, they were brilliant. Yes they had a different view on niche, open handed discussions. Different isn’t bad. One of my first sermons as a Presbyterian, I asked a woman in the congregation what she thought about a certain line. She helped me clarify a point in my sermon. If we don’t listen to women in our churches we are ignoring possibly half of our congregations.

But

Those dynamic women in Scripture weren’t pastors or preachers. Yes they were helpful, dynamic, and led in serving the Church. That doesn’t make them pastors and doesn’t justify doing so. Scripture doesn’t give us that room. To ignore what Paul writes in Timothy is foolish. What else will we choose to ignore? Or will we let culture be our guide? Away with this! Reformed theology hangs on the doctrine of the authority of Scripture.

1 Corinthians 12:14–25

[14] For the body does not consist of one member but of many. [15] If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [16] And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [17] If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? [18] But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. [19] If all were a single member, where would the body be? [20] As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

[21] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [22] On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, [23] and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, [24] which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, [25] that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (ESV)”

We cannot say that we don’t need women in the church. That is foolish. But there is a liberty to serve. If a woman wants to serve the Church, she should be praised. But one does not need a title in order to serve. The title does not make the work more or less important. The pastor is not more important to the body as those who serve in the nursery.

So yes we should raise up dynamic female leaders. Yes we should encourage their giftings. Absolutely, we should encourage them to wrestle with the same theological truths. But we should not ignore the Scripture’s prohibition of women pastors just to give women a place to lead

The Liberal Streak I Didn’t Know I Had

The Liberal StreakI Didn't Know I Had.jpg
If this picture of a woman standing at lectern reading the Scriptures triggers you, then you’re gonna have a bad time, son.

[Disclaimer: I am not speaking for the blog as a whole, nor am I speaking for the other contributors. Of all of the other LNT contributors, I am a lone wolf here.]

Let me start off by saying that I’m conservative to the right of Genghis Kahn on a lot of issues. I was raised as a pew running, tongue-talking, Holy Ghost baptized, KJV Onlyist Pentecostal. Even for a couple of years after I left the theological background of my raising it was hard for me to give up the KJV, and I’m still conservative on the classical issues. I believe marriage is to be between one man and one woman. I believe women who have an abortion to avoid responsibility are committing murder. I believe those who are theologically and socially liberal have an agenda and that agenda has no place in the pulpit. If you name a hot button issue within the realm of Christendom there’s a good chance that I’ll land on the right side of it. (Take that however you want to!)

However,  I was raised with two great aunts to who stood in the pulpit and proclaimed the Gospel. They boldly proclaimed that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. They urged people to run to Jesus and be washed in the blood of the Lamb for the forgiveness of their sins. I’m told stories of my great-grandmother who faithfully pastored two independent Pentecostal congregations through the 70s and 80s.

It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I had heard of people who didn’t believe that women should be pastors, and even then it wasn’t until I was an adult that I actually met one of these unicorns, and I found that the idea of women in pastoral ministry is actually a liberal issue.

Today, I am no longer Pentecostal. I am a proud Calvinist, but I am a pastor in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church – one of the few conservative-leaning denominations that ordain women to the pastorate, and I proudly stand on the liberal side with this issue, and here’s why…

1. There Were Dynamic Female Leaders in the Bible

I could go back to the Old Testament and mention Deborah the judge and Hildah the prophetess, and I could even talk about the Anna the prophetess mentioned Luke 2:36-38 who gave thanks to God for Jesus, but I think I want to start in a slightly more uncomfortable place for my complimentarian brethren.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
– Romans 16:7, NIV

The first hurdle is to figure out whether or not Junia was a man or a woman. The Greek name, jIounivan, is in fact feminine so it is to be translated Junia rather Junias as the NIV 1984 and other translations have rendered it.

The second hurdle is to try to decipher what “outstanding among the apostles” means. While there is major controversy surrounding the actual meaning, one thing is clear – the patristics were confident that this woman was, in fact, an apostle.* Although, maybe not in the classical sense, but she was called and sent of the church.

Then, we come to Priscilla and Aquila. This husband and wife team discipled Apollos according to Acts 18. However, there’s something that we notice with Priscilla and Aquila that is different from the traditional way of addressing couples even in our modern day with the man’s name being mentioned first almost all of the time. It’s more often that you hear, “Let’s invite Joe and Mary over for dinner” rather than “Let’s invite Mary and Joe over for dinner.” Notice this observation made by Eddie Hyatt.

In Paul’s greeting to Priscilla and Aquilla in Romans 16:3-5, he greets them and the church that is in their house. Interestingly, he puts Priscilla’s name first in the greeting. This is telling for, in doing so, he violated the normal, conventional way of presenting a couple in the ancient world. The proper way would have been to mention Aquilla first, but Paul goes against accepted convention and mentions Priscilla first (Hyatt, Paul, Women and Church, 28-29).

That Paul would purposely mention Priscilla first is a powerful statement of her status and influence and of Paul’s estimation of her. Many New Testament scholars see this as evidence that she was the out-front one in the relationship and the pastor of the church in their home. R.C.H. Lenski, for example, said, “She by nature was more gifted and able than her husband, also spiritually fully developed, due to having Paul in her home for 18 months in Corinth.”

2. There Were Dynamic Female Leaders in Church History

I’m not going to spend as much time on this point because we could be here for a while, but I will point out a couple of examples the first being Hilda of Whitby.

The great-niece of King Edwin of Northumbria, she was baptized at 13 when the king and his household converted to Christianity in 627 A.D. 20 years later, at the age of 33 she answered the call on her life to become a nun. Under the direction of Aidan of Lindisfarne, she established a number of monasteries her last being Whitby.

The monastery at Whitby was what was known as a double house meaning that not only were there women who were becoming nuns, but there were there becoming monks. The implication of this is while they attended mass and had a priest of their own, Hilda oversaw the spiritual environment of that monastery. Whether we want to admit it or not, as an abbess she pretty much functioned as a pastor overseeing the spiritual care of both men and women.**

The second example I would like for us to take note of is that of Rev. Louisa Woosley. Unless you’re Cumberland Presbyterian, you probably don’t recognize that name, but during her 45 years of evangelistic ministry within the denomination, she saw about 100,000 conversions across 20 states. In 1891, she published the book, “Shall Woman Preach?” where she presents with all theological boldness and clarity a resounding ‘yes’ as an answer to question that the title presents.

3. We Can Raise Up Dynamic Female Leaders in the Church Today

Before I go on any further, let me just say that in a way, I get it. It’s hard to see that women should have a place in the pulpit when it seems all the only female pastors getting any exposure are those preaching false prosperity gospel (Paula White) or those preaching a gospel of social justice. The PCUSA, the UMC, and the Episcopalian Church are all shelling out naval-gazing humanists for pastors so it’s hard to see any hope for there to be room for Bible believing women in the pulpit, but the Assemblies of God are training up young women qualified to take the pulpit who aren’t afraid to stand up against those who have “an appearance of godliness but deny the power thereof,” and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church needs to get on the ball if we’re going to stand in the fight against an age of secularism that seeks to invade our churches.

I believe that if we will, we can raise up female leaders who will fearlessly exposit the truths of God’s Word, and in so doing they will proclaim the radical holiness and marvelous grace of our glorious God.

I will stand with women and I, as Brady Boyd says, “let her lead.

P.S. Even after reading this, you may not agree with me, and that’s okay, but at least I didn’t call evangelical women worthless like Robert Truelove did.

______________________________

*Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7 In this paper, the authors conclude, that Junia was not an apostle in spite of the fact that patristic testimony suggests that she was.

**Hilda of Whitby, Abbess and Peacemaker

From a “Worthless” Evangelical Woman: A Response to Robert Truelove

From a _Worthless_ Evangelical Woman

Within the past week, Robert Truelove has posted two articles, the first of which is entitled “Why Most Evangelical Women are Worthless.” (He wrote a follow-up article called “Why Most Evangelical Men are Worthless” and my Late Night Theology colleague has responded to that article here.) Well here I am, a potentially-worthless Evangelical woman, sharing my reflections on his article.

Pastor Truelove begins by calling out the problem of women who feel unfulfilled and empty. They then turn to women’s ministries for answers. The answer given by women’s ministries is to become MORE involved in women’s ministry (and perhaps even start one’s own women’s ministry). He explains why he thinks this is a faulty answer: 

“A Christian woman should be taught to find her calling first and foremost IN HER HOME. The domestic duties of the home are her sphere of Christian leadership, for she is to be a ‘keeper of the home’. Her first ministry is to her husband and children as she loves and serves them as a Christian wife and mother. This is WHO the Christian woman ought to be!…When a Christian woman seeks to ‘find herself’ outside of the home, it is not piety but rebellion. Such women make poor wives and mothers.”

In other words, if women would faithfully fulfill their duties in the home rather than looking outside the home for joy, they would naturally come into contentment and fulfillment.

I have three issues with this article. First, is the title. I think it is extremely problematic to refer to any human as “worthless.” Even though Robert here is referring to a woman being worthless as regards to her natural function, I think we must be very careful about language that could seem to attack the doctrine of Imago Dei. When people begin to believe that others are worthless or worth less, we get things like slavery, rape, and murder. So no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to women (or any person or group of people!) as worthless, even for the sake of a clickbait title.

My second issue is that Pastor Truelove’s conception of gender roles seems more cultural than biblical. He envisions a household where the woman takes care of the children and the cleaning and the cooking, the husband works to provide for the family, and the wife is not involved in either ministry or the workforce. The problem is, I don’t see this model mandated by Scripture. In fact, there are both Old Testament and New Testament examples of women who were involved in ministry AND the workforce. In the Old Testament we have the Proverbs 31 woman and in the New Testament we have Lydia. The Bible seems to allow for more flexibility than Pastor Truelove in how families provide for themselves and in the ways that they are involved in ministry. To me, it seems much more appropriate for each couple to decide what works best for them (for their personalities, needs, and cultural context) with regards to both providing for their family and taking care of their household.

My final critique has to do with the concept of fulfillment. That anyone would try to find fulfillment in either working in the home, in ministry, or in vocation is problematic. Every Christian’s sense of deepest fulfillment and contentment needs to be rooted in Christ, and even that will be imperfect until Heaven. A person feeling unfulfilled COULD be a result of shirking their duties, but it could be evidence that they are not yet glorified! I realize that Pastor Truelove likely did not mean that a woman should find her ultimate satisfaction in keeping her household, but I think it’s an important clarification to make! (I think it would even be appropriate to remind women NOT to find ultimate satisfaction in their duties at home or at work or in ministry.) But even if we’re talking about a lesser fulfillment, I think that both men and women can find fulfillment in a whole host of things including marriage, family, friendships, work, service, nature, and rest.

In conclusion, I affirm the dignity and worth of men and women. I recognize that the strict gender roles emulated by Robert Truelove are highly encultured and largely not biblically prescribed. And finally, I wish to urge the finding of joy in many aspects of life, while knowing that ultimate joy is found only in Christ. ❤️

~Hannah

Check out some of my other articles here:

Why Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel are Different Manifestations of the Same Thing

Why “Be Strong” or “Buck Up” is the Wrong Response to Suffering…

Grace for the Worthless: An Open Letter to Robert Truelove

Gracefortheworthless

Dear Robert,

Holy crap. I get trying to come out strong with your new blog; but wow. Two articles in two days about how Evangelical women and Evangelical men are “worthless”. Now, I’ve read both of them (multiple times) and my first reaction was stunned silence. Seriously, I just sat back in my chair and chuckled. Not because what you said was funny (cause it’s not). But because laughter is my  go to response when I’m both frustrated and confused. I know that a chuckle isn’t the best response, but it’s my natural one. Ask my wife.

On second thought, don’t do that. You’ve said enough about why she’s terrible as it is.

Now, we can talk about why clickbaity titles are pretty cliche. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but come on. Let’s ignore the fact that it’s just a petty way to get readers. It’s just lazy. But I’ll just give you that one for free. Shock value is so good for building a brand. It’s edgy, it’s masculine. Hell, next you’ll move to Seattle, sport a faux hawk, and start preaching in Tapout shirts and vests.

But let’s deal with your content about why  men are worthless. Best as I can tell, you’re premise is this: men are worthless because they don’t lead and love their wives well. Here’s the thing: I don’t disagree with your frustration. I get it. There is an epidemic of a lack of male leadership in the church. Yes, by and large men fill the offices and hold the titles. But you and I both know that the title doesn’t make the man. So yes, I agree, there’s a lack of male leadership. And leadership is hard. There is a fine line between passivity and domestic despotism; blessed is the man who can tightrope it.

But then you lose me. Because you blame this failure of men at the feet of women and Feminism. You said

“Every time men try to put their heads out there and lead, it gets whacked off. Too many evangelical women with strong Feminist leanings lament the lack of strong men while living out a worldview that emasculates men.”

and also

“It’s very telling that when a man does actually speak out against feminism, most of the responses from other evangelical men are nothing more than virtue signaling for Feminism. Too many men are infected with Pansyism. The guys have joined the girls, but fellas, the dress doesn’t fit nor flatter you.”

So let’s talk about this. I’m assuming that you’re talking about Third Wave, hyper, xym/xyr, shaved head, fishmouth, campus feminism. And yeah, they’re batty. You don’t have to tell me twice, that’s some crazy stuff. Postmodernism has never been more alive and well in the culture.

But the Church isn’t the culture. And look, maybe I’m misunderstanding. Maybe when you say most Evangelicals, you’re talking about Mainline liberal denominations. But you didn’t say that. In an attempt to be clever, you weren’t clear.

Because what you’re describing, I don’t see. You’ve said, “‘submission’ has come to mean the husband should merely lead the discussion but the wife has veto power over any decision.” I asked my wife when that’s ever happened in our short time being married. We couldn’t think of any. Now she’s pushed back on things. She’s by no means a doormat. If I wanted a doormat I’d buy one. If I wanted to just have someone who always obeyed my commands without any hesitation, I’d just get a dog.

You’ve said “Feminism lives out in the church in various ways.” Now you don’t list those ways. You just say that it happens. If you’re going to make the claim you have to prove it. But I think you’re just building a straw(wo)man out of “Evangelical Feminism”. I get it, it’s the in thing to do if you’re a white American male. Cause honestly I too hear the rhetoric and go “man I don’t think I’m as awful as they say I am”.

But I don’t think we can lay the fault at the feet of Feminism, rush off and form an Evangelical version of the Proud Boys. Yeah maybe it’s a symptom. It’s not the disease. Becaus this isn’t a new issue.

We’ve been doing this since the Fall. It’s not feminism’s fault men don’t lead well; it’s Adam’s. Sin came in the world through one man (Rom 5:12) and from that point forward, we’ve not been leading well. Now you may take this and run with it and say, “Yes but Feminism is the result of the Fall and that’s totally what I meant to get across” but that’s not what you said. Again, you were clever; but you weren’t clear.

So sure you’ve not taken it so far as To suggest that I should put my boot on my wife’s neck physically or even emotionally. But by calling us worthless, and holding up this legalistic approach to marriage, you’ve certainly asked me to do it spiritually. Because if, according to you, I am to find any worth as a Christian, then my home better be immaculate. My wife better do what I say the first time. Because Feminism has ravaged my home and the Church.

But Robert, I think I’m going to pass on that. Rather, I’m going to love my wife by trying to find SnoCaps for her. I’m going to love my wife by taking on some chores when she’s had a rough day. I’m going to love my wife by pointing her to Jesus as best I can. By leading not to despotism, but to grace.

And if I’m honest, I’m going to fail. Like every husband that’s come before me, I’m going to fail. And when I do, it won’t be becuse I’m worthless. It will be because as much as I am a saint, I still am a sinner. But the way to press forward isn’t by wrenching my stones away from Feminism and demanding obedience, but by looking to Christ; the true and better Husband.

Sure Robert, that’s probably what you meant to say. You probably meant all of what I just said. You just didn’t say it. You were being clever; not clear. But when we put extra law and an impossible standard up for where our worth is, we fail. When we put the blame on Feminism, instead of looking at the sin in our own hearts, we fail. When we fail to rest in Christ, we most certainly fail.

So Robert, I’m going to just tell you. I’m not going to kill my wife and my marriage on the altar of “masculinity”. I won’t lead perfectly. But, Christ died for me and my failure to lead- there’s grace for that. I’m not worthless, but I wish I could say the same about your article.

To the rest of you: if you’d like to hear Hannah’s push back about Women Being Worthless click here