McKnight offers an extended example of how to apply these principles in practice by working through the passages on the role of women. I’ll not cover those chapters in any detail, as they follow the outline of my own Buried Talents series posted here earlier this year. Buried Talents is much more detailed, but the logic is much the same.
Now, although I think McKnight reaches the right conclusion (evangelical egalitarianism), and his analysis is sound, I don’t know that he ties his conclusions to his principles as well as I’d like. It would be entirely possible to agree with all that McKnight says and yet struggle to apply the principles in other contexts.
And so, I’m going to try to simplify the analysis — and those who are interested in the details should refer to the book or to Buried Talents.
Principle: Whatever is true must fit within the true Story as a natural part of its plot. It shouldn’t be an exception to the Story.
As McKnight noted in an earlier chapter, the Story begins with the creation of man (The Adam) and the separation of man into two persons living in community, mutuality, and oneness, such as enjoyed by the Trinity. Sin entered the world and caused people to seek dominion over each other — even husbands and wives.
In other words, as I’ve argued in more detail elsewhere, the Curse of Genesis 3 is a curse, not a command or a prescription. Indeed, it’s the very thing Jesus came to reverse by creating true Oneness.
If that’s the case, then the declaration of Genesis 3 that the husband will rule (not “lead”) his wife is something to be reversed, not obeyed.
Principle: Christian freedom must sometimes be sacrificed for the sake of the gospel.
(1 Cor 9:20-23) To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
This passage tells us that Paul often surrendered his freedom in Christ in order to be effective in the culture in which he preached. Freedom is not the goal; the gospel is. In other words, it’s about the mission.
Therefore, there were times when Paul had to instruct women to act in ways that the local culture required, for the sake of the gospel, even though the gospel would normally give freedom to act otherwise.
Thus, in 1 Cor 11, women were commanded to wear coverings on their hair because, at that time and place, to do otherwise would bring shame on their husbands and the church — not because God has a thing about hair coverings that only started when the gospel reached Corinth.
You see, reading of the New Testament as a constitution ignores the timing and place of the command. It’s just another command to be obeyed. But reading the Bible as Story helps us see that it made no sense at all for God to begin commanding head coverings when 1 Corinthians was written — 55 AD or so — and at no time before.
Just so, God allowed Deborah to be a leader of Israel, settling disputes as a judge and issuing commands to the male military leaders. Why decide many hundreds of years later that women can’t have authority over men? And if women can’t have authority, why not command it in the Law of Moses?
Just so, if our God is the same God as Israel’s God, and if the covenant community of Israel is somehow a pattern for the community God wants us to have, why put a woman in the lead? And why call female prophets? And why declare that the generous giving of the Spirit of prophecy to women would be a sign of the Messianic age?
The Story makes sense if the women were surrendering their freedom in submission to the gospel, to avoid bringing a bad name to the church. But the Story doesn’t make sense if God just suddenly decided that women can’t have authority anymore — while claiming to be bringing us freedom (Gal 5:1).
Principle: The Story is about the good news found in Jesus.
Some read the Bible as though God’s covenants have no relationship to each other. Each is a separate body of laws, and so there’s a separate story for each dispensation. But Paul, for example, repeatedly tells us that the gospel is all about God’s covenant with Abraham — indeed, about God honoring that covenant, not some entirely new, distinct, separate covenant.
(Gal 3:6-14) Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. …
14 [Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
The gospel is about the mission to extend God’s Kingdom on earth, to prepare the earth for the return of its King. It’s about justification by faith. It’s about the Spirit. It’s not about arbitrary commands that don’t further the mission.
McKnight quotes from a conversation he had with F. F. Bruce, the great conservative, evangelical scholar and author of countless commentaries: “I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters in torah.” Exactly! To think the epistles are all about legislating a new Law of Moses Jesus is to entirely miss the point, indeed, to ignore the Story.
Principle: Read the Bible with (not through) tradition
I have to admit that this conclusion about women is not very traditional. Even modern scholars are divided. Still, we read them, listen to them, and engage their arguments.
I’ve read as many books against my view as for it. I have Goebel Music’s Behold the Pattern right next to Cecil Hooks’ Free in Christ on my bookshelf (literally. Sometimes I wonder if they fight when I’m not looking). Thanks to having read both sides, I not only know why I believe as I do, I know why I disagree with others.
Now, it’s a lot of work to read both sides, you know. Not everyone has the time or patience for such work. I don’t think all Christians should do this. But those who presume to teach should — and the larger your audience, the more important the homework becomes.
(James 3:1) Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
Principle: God reveals himself through more than the Bible. He also reveals himself through his Creation.
And God’s most wondrous, beautiful, and delightful creation is woman. What do we learn of God when we observe women (I strongly recommend this as homework).
Well, I find that women are different from men, from the inside out. They think and feel and relate differently.
And I find that the better I understand women, the more I see blind spots in my own male makeup. They see and understand things I’m incapable of getting on my own. The man without the woman is, as God said in Genesis 2, “not good.” We men need women.
And I find that some women are very capable leaders. And many are great pastorally (as shepherds). I really don’t like visiting the hospital or going to wakes without my wife. She does it much, much better than I do.
And some women are extraordinary teachers of adults, with deep spiritual insights. I find in my teaching that I learn more from the women students than the men — because I already see things as a man. I need help to see the female view of the world, and they provide insights I’d never reach on my own.
And so I conclude from God’s self-revelation through women that they are sometimes gifted by God for leadership and pastoral care. And I find that they are indeed suitable complements — making up what’s lacking in us men.