Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Case Against Boyd

Some time back, I ran across an essay by Greg Boyd entitled, "The Case for Women in Ministry". For all Boyd's fame in avante-guarde Evangelical circles, I have to admit I wasn't impressed. While Boyd's argument is, at times, emotionally compelling, it lacks theological and philosophical rigour (and that is being charitable). Since Boyd seems to be one of those trend makers, I am particularly thankful that, for the sake of this review, I had the feedback of wise friends who are connected with a church, and a theology and history that are older than the last ten minutes and less reactionary than the latest atempt to be "relevant".

Boyd begins the essay by relating the experience of one of his Bethel students, Kathy. His once bright, insightful and passionate student became increasingly quiet and lacking in confidence because she began to envision herself as a preacher or professor and, as Boyd relates, she believed these activities were forbidden to women. After relating this story, the question Boyd wishes to addres is this: Were the visions and longings that Kathy was experiencing from the devil, or from God?

Posing the question in this way, Boyd presents us with a false dichotomy. One could be forgiven for hearing echos of Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" asking, "Could it be . . .SATAN?!" But those aren't the only options. In the venerable words of the BCP, our enemy is three-fold, "The World, the Flesh and the Devil". Kathy may very well be tempted by her own desires, or the enticement of the world, or even the Devil - but it is not an either/or proposition. Since Boyd is not an Anglican and may be unfamiliar with the language of the BCP, perhaps he would do well to remember the words of James:

James 1:13-15

13Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.

15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is
accomplished, it brings forth death.

Boyd then concludes the paragraph (that starts with the false dichotomy) this way, "God's ideal will is for people to exercise whatever gifting they have in the body of Christ and in society regardless of their gender." Oh well, then, I guess he's got me there. At this point, our question has to be - How? I am not aware that anyone has ever disputed that men and women are both to use their gifts to the glory of God. That has never been the question. The proper question is, "how?". A gift doesn't necessary come with an attached call. Nor does one's subjective sense of a "call" come with an entitlement to be used or empoyed where one feels called. The Bible forbids the office of elder to a divorced man -- but what if he says he is called? And further, what if he manifestly has the gifts that would otherwise make him fit for the office? The answer is that he is wrong about the call and that he should use his gifts in another way - and perhaps there will be a season of quiet for him. Some gifts are given to be used in a certain way only for a season.

Just as the Scriptures forbid the office of elder to divorced men, so they forbid the same office to women (however that office may be construed in a particular eccelsial community). I'll not rehearse the prooftext battles in which both sides of this divide have engaged, except to note two of Boyd's most eggregious misuses of Scripture. In his rehearsal of these texts and related scriptural matters, Boyd brings up the supposed slavery parallel while neglecting the one salient fact - sex is a created difference, race is not. He then goes on to supposedly discuss I Timothy 2:11 in context without once ever giving us the context! On simply cannot discuss that verse (or any other verse, for that matter) without reference to the surrounding verses. In this case, the following verses explain the context, use and meaning of the verse in question.

There is much more that could be said about this essay, but I will conclude with three quick points. First, Boyd writes that part of his refutation against the case for restricting women from authoritative office in the church will show, "that very few churches are consistent in the way they apply these verses." This is a manifestly absurd argument. If it were legitimate, we might as well give up the whole of the Gospel for which church, which denomination, which single one of us has EVER applied ANY doctrine consistently? Second, Boyd makes the claim out of whole cloth that patronesses were also presbyters. Arguing from the absence of evidence is no argument, especially in light of the historic practice of the church, which is quite to the contrary of Boyd's supposition. Lastly, he makes the claim that the early Christians did not make a clear distinction between prophets and preachers and that some considered prophecy to be the highest gift. While it is true that "some" did consider prophecy the highest gift, others considered that to be speaking in tongues. Neither has ever been the mind of the Church, nor has it been the mind of God as Paul's writings make quite clear (see I Corinthians 12-14).

It is sad that, in an image- and fad-driven Evangelical world, Boyd's poor reasoning and apparent historical illiteracy will continue to capture the untrained and unformed.

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