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Commentary Let Her Lead Theology

How Should We Apply 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Today?

In light of my commentary, I want to reflect briefly on how we might apply 1 Timothy 2:11-15 today. I’ll mention two big-picture principles, though I’m sure we could mention more. Then I want to do a thought experiment with you.

Prioritize Learning Christian Doctrine

False teaching was the big obstacle for the church in Ephesus. As it spread, the result was that people were being deceived. In the case of our passage, a woman or many women were deceived into believing they could dominate a man/all men (in my interpretation). False doctrine led to wicked behavior.

Paul’s short-range solution was simply to say no teaching or domineering. His long-range solution was to command that this woman/women learn with a teachable heart. He actually mentions the long-range solution first. The implication is that once someone demonstrates knowledge, humility, and self-control, they’d be eligible to teach.

The broad, abstract principle for us is that in order to combat false teaching, in any form, and avoid deception we must train and equip people in the church to know the truth. The concrete expression in Ephesus was to let this woman learn but, in the meantime, not teach because of her domineering manner.

The concrete expression in our churches may be very different.

Additionally, we must not put people in positions of leadership who are easily deceived due to lack of training, whether they are male or female. Someone who has not been educated is more susceptible to false teaching.

Formal education isn’t the point; knowledge is. In order to detect false teaching and avoid deception, you need to know the difference between truth and falsehood.

So, let’s teach people the Scriptures!

Prioritize a Humble Posture

Learning is not all. It must come with a humble posture, in full submission to God. That was Paul’s concern. Also, remember the call to “continue in love, faith, and self-control” in verse 15. Whether the person is new to learning or actively leading, the fruit of the Spirit, not authentein, is what should characterize them.

This is what we’d want for any student, male or female, who studies any discipline, right? How much more in theology?

We need men and women who are ready and willing to learn, not to push their way to the top of the church org chart, but to serve and lay down their life for others.

Competence is important, but competence in the hands of someone without character is a dumpster fire.

Anyone who has been a leader for a while knows this because we remember what we were like when we were young leaders! I’ll be the first to admit it was ugly.

We should remember though that 1 Timothy 2 says nothing about leadership! We read that into the passage, and we’re influenced by our English translations of authentein.

But the question remains: What about domineering leaders?

In Ephesus, the problem was that someone who did not have legitimate authority was trying to seize it. In the United States today, we have people (mostly men, by the way) who have been given legitimate authority in the church and are abusing it.

Simply, some of our churches (it’s hard to know how many) have bullies for leaders.

You know the famous names and churches. Perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself. The problem is that it gets defended and justified with spiritual-sounding lines like,

  • “You’re being insubordinate to pastoral authority.”
  • “You’re causing division in the body.”
  • “You shouldn’t talk about your pastor’s attitude or behavior. Even if you think it’s abusive. That’s gossip!”
  • “His heart is in the right place.”
  • “Well, we need to give him grace.”

And on and on.

These “leaders” are authentein-ing their way through ministry. To authentein is to be full of yourself (remember the prefix “autos” in the last post?). Yet Jesus emptied himself. He didn’t come to lord it over. He became a servant who washed feet. And he calls us to do the same.

So, let’s prioritize character before calling, gifts, or ministry fruit when training someone or entrusting them with any level of leadership.

A Thought Experiment

If you’re a complementarian, I want to invite you to a brief thought experiment. It may not change your view, but I hope it makes you question your assumptions.

Experiment #1. Let’s assume that my interpretation is correct in that Paul is not talking about exercising positive, legitimate authority. Let’s assume authentein means domineering or seizing of authority, making it illegitimate. It’s not something anyone, male or female, should do or have, right?

So then consider: what if a man in your church was doing what Paul describes in 1 Timothy 2?

How would you handle it or expect the leaders to handle it?

I hope that little reversal helps you see that the problem here is not one’s gender but one’s heart. It’s why Paul calls for stillness (twice), submission, and love, faith, and self-control.

Isn’t the heart, not the appearance, what God looks at? Isn’t that what biblical application is all about?

I’ll grant that you may be stuck on Paul’s mention of Adam and Eve in verses 13-14. That may be why it’s so hard to not think gender is the central issue. But consider he may be 1) clarifying orthodoxy, or 2) clarifying that Eve was not Adam’s boss but his partner.

Experiment #2. What if the church in Ephesus was actually walking together in love, faith, and self-control. What if Timothy fought against false teaching but it wasn’t destroying the church from within? What if that woman wasn’t authentein-ing but living in humility and doing what Paul told the church to do in Colossians 3:12-17?

Then Paul would have never written those words. If that were the case, we would not have one explicit passage in the entire New Testament that restricts women from teaching men.

The overseer qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 may mean that only men can be elders/overseers. (I have my doubts on that, too, and I’ll try to show that in the next post.) But that text does not preclude women or non-elders or anyone else from teaching in the church. Many complementarian churches today will allow males who are non-elders or not even members of the church (e.g. a guest speaker for the weekend) to preach in a worship service.

Why not allow women to do this, too? Well, 1 Timothy 2:12, complementarians argue.

But without 1 Timothy 2:12, there is no support in the entire Bible for keeping a woman from teaching a man.

Well-known blogger (and complementarian) Tim Challies writes, “What the Bible teaches in one place it cannot refute in another.”[1]

We do see evidence of women teaching and leading in other parts of Scripture, Old and New Testament. (Check out the many posts I’ve written on this here.)

Paul tells the churches in Corinth and Colossae that they will teach one another. He expects it. And he doesn’t parse gender lines in those letters. Why? It’s likely because he wasn’t making a universal rule in 1 Timothy.

It begs the question, can we really use this one verse to nullify all those other instances?

This is the reason why Bill Mounce, a complementarian scholar, says that “the context thus limits the universal application [of 1 Timothy 2:12] to some extent.”[2]

I’m not trying to undermine the authority of 1 Timothy 2:12. Instead, I’m trying to show (quite outrageously, I admit) that to build an entire theology and practice on one verse despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary is probably not a good idea.

Summing It Up

I hope these thought experiments help you see that Paul’s solution was specific to a problem in Ephesus while Timothy was there, not something every church in every culture in every generation deals with.

We’d do well to focus on the two principles I mentioned above and work out, in our own contexts, how to concretely express them.


Notes

[1] Tim Challies, “The Five Tests of False Doctrine,” 2/6/2017.

[2] Mounce is quoted in Michael F. Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012). I found the quote here.

Categories
Theology

Another Sola?

During the Reformation, there were five “solae” (sola is Latin for “alone”) that attempted to sum up the doctrine of salvation. To the reformers, salvation is:

by Grace alone
through Faith alone
in Christ alone
as revealed in Scripture alone
for the Glory of God alone

This is right and good. But is it enough?

Several years ago, a mentor posed the question to me: “I wonder how history would have changed had the reformers included another sola: for love alone.”

There should be another. After all, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

Think about it. How might church history, or even world history, be different if the reformers had been absolutely focused on ensuring their theology so transformed people it made them into the best lovers of God and neighbor the world had ever seen?

Reformed theology is a beautiful thing. I’ve benefited from it so much. But as I continue to grow older, I’m not so naïve to believe it alone (see what I did there?) has all the goods. Love, like we see it in the life of Jesus, simply was not emphasized by the reformers or their pupils as it should have been.

Reformed theology has too often trained many of its students, including me, to embrace and practice a faith that seeks to be right rather than get it right. Being right is nice when you’re having a debate with your buddy. Getting it right? Love is getting it (aka “life”) right.

And that’s the exact thing Jesus told us really matters to God. I want that to matter for you and me.

We need good theology. Obviously! But let’s be honest: knowing good theology without real, true, Spirit-empowered love makes us, as someone once put it, good for nothing.

Categories
Theology

This I Believe: The Triune God

Over the next couple weeks,  I will post a series of snippets from a personal confessional statement I wrote a while back for a seminary class. Each day, I will post one article from my personal statement. There’s nothing spectacular or earth shattering about my beliefs. If you are an evangelical, there’s not one thing I will say that will make your jaw drop. Indeed, this confessional statement is remarkable because it is, to be sure, quite unremarkable. It is simple a retelling of the old gospel and the historic doctrines of our faith. If anything, I hope your jaw drops out of delight in our glorious God.

Those who know me or read this blog know that I align myself with the historic Christian faith as articulated first in Scripture, and then in the historic Creeds (Apostles’NiceneChalcedon, and Athanasian) and various evangelical confessions of faith. On matters of doctrine, I embrace the maxim, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.” In other words, while I believe that all doctrine is important, I do not believe that unity on all points of doctrine is not necessary for salvation. I hope you will notice that this conviction is ingrained into my statement.

Of course, no confessional statement should be divorced from God’s people, for we are God’s house, a diverse unity. God is creating a people for himself, not a bunch of lone ranger Christians. Therefore, “we believe” is more essential than “I believe.” In light of this, doctrinal statements should always be vitally connected to the universal and local church. At the same time, I think it is wise for individual Christians to be able to winsomely articulate, “This is what I believe,” while consciously remembering that simply having a personal statement of faith does not constitute an individual as a church!

The following modern statements have highly influenced me (and in some cases, I have simply adopted or slightly modified their wording): the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), the Baptist General Conference Affirmation of Faith, the Evangelical Free Church of America Statement of Faith, and The Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement.


The Triune God
I believe that there is one living and true God, eternally existing in three persons who dwell together in perfecting loving unity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I believe these are equal in every divine perfection, and that they execute distinct but harmonious offices in the work of creation, providence and redemption. God is spirit, immortal, invisible, holy, loving, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, everywhere-present, unchangeable, and sovereign. God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for himself and to make all things new for his own glory.

Gen. 1:1,26; Matt. 28:19; John 1:1, 3; 4:24; Rom. 1:19, 20; Eph. 4:5, 6

Categories
Life Theology

Why is it important to understand the difference between justification and sanctification?

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:5-8)

Justification involves God forgiving sin. Some would argue that it does not, but without the forgiveness of sin, we cannot be made right with God.

In Paul’s magnificent treatment of this doctrine in Romans 4, he points to David as proof that justification is by faith alone, when he wrote in Psalm 32, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”  Forgiveness happens when one person says to another, “I won’t count this against you. I choose to forgive, rather than condemn.”

Justification and forgiveness change the way one person is viewed by another.  When God justifies a person, he makes a legal declaration about them. He makes them right in relationship to himself.  But this does not change people in a practical way.  There is no change in our thinking, behavior, or attitude.  Justification is not sanctification, for when God sanctifies a person, he actively does something in them.

You might think, James, why are you writing this? What’s the big deal? Why do I need to know the difference? After all, as long as you read the Bible and love Jesus, you don’t need to know these theological definitions, right?

Wrong.

If you think justification and sanctification are the same thing, then the very foundation of  your standing with God will shake beneath you.  You will despair of God’s love after that lonely late night affair with pornography.  You will doubt that God is for you when you yet again blown up at your children for running around the house.  You will wonder if God will ignore your prayers after you have neglected sharing the gospel with your neighbor. You will wonder if God will abandon his commitment to you after you have spoken harshly to your spouse.

If, to you, justification and sanctification are the same, you will always wrestle with whether you are enough for God. The truth is, you and I will never be enough. But Jesus is. So praise be to God that because of Christ “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).

Categories
Theology

The Rob Bell Saga

If you follow blogs and Twitter (and you probably do since you are on this blog), then you are probably not unaware of what is going on with Rob Bell.  If you are unaware, then you either 1) fasted Twitter the past week or 2) are in denial of what your tweeting eyes see.

Full disclosure: I used to like Rob Bell’s teaching. Then I read Velvet Elvis. I made no secret here what I thought about Bell after reading that book.  He has been particularly ambiguous over the past few years with key biblical doctrines.

This past Saturday, Rob Bell blew up the Internet, specifically, Twitter, with the release of some promo material, including a video, for his new book Love Wins which will go on sale this month.  In the promos, Bell appears to align himself with universalism — the belief that everyone goes to heaven.  He was mentioned so much on Twitter that he was “trending,” which means that even tweeters in Egypt were hearing about Rob Bell.  Who had the biggest beef with Bell? It was the Reformed theologians and bloggers, of course. They were (in my opinion) being discerning, honest, biblical, and faithful to the gospel.

Here’s a timeline of some things that went down:

  • HarperCollins (Bell’s publisher) releases a blurb about his new book and a video promo featuring Bell.  (You can watch the video below.)
  • Justin Taylor blogs his thoughts about the promo material and Bell.
  • John Piper tweets, “Farewell Rob Bell. http://dsr.gd/fZqmd8.”
  • Josh Harris tweets, “There’s nothing loving about preaching a false gospel. This breaks my heart. Praying for Rob Bell. http://bit.ly/gsE4Gl.”
  • Harris follows up his tweet with a blog about why he hopes he’s wrong, including thoughts from Denny Burke, dean of Southern Seminary.
  • Kevin DeYoung presents eight reasons why believing in God’s wrath and hell is important.
  • Tony Jones writes that the Reformed bloggers have been waiting to pounce on Bell.
  • Kevin DeYoung shares two more thoughts on the brouhaha.
  • Beliefnet blogger, Jason Boyett, questions the tweetings of Piper and Taylor
  • Albert Mohler weighs in on Rob Bell’s suggestive theology.
  • CNN writes an article about all of this, interviewing Taylor.

Stay tuned. I’ll do my very best to continue to link to helpful posts and tweets. And when the time is right, I will share some of my own thoughts, though I can’t possibly top DeYoung’s and Burke’s.

Bell’s promo video: