Everyone starts somewhere. Pure objectivity is impossible, even in matters of faith--maybe even especially in matters of faith. Unfortunately, like a fish trying to examine the water in which he swims, often one is unable to spell out in detail all of the presuppositions and embedded beliefs that informs one's theological conclusions. But, before I begin to tackle some major issues regarding women, the Bible, and the Kingdom, I think it is important that I am as honest as I can be about my starting point. This isn't exhaustive, by any means, but I hope this will give you a better idea where I am coming from.
The Ultra-Short Version of My Background
I am a Caucasian, middle-class woman living in the midwest. Until I was a teenager, I was raised in a nominally Christian home on the east coast. Following my parents' divorce, I lived in the Bible belt of central Texas. I made my profession of faith through baptism when I was in high school at a mid-sized, contemporary, Southern Baptist church.
It was at this point in my life that "women's issues" first arose as something with which I would have to grapple. The way that certain verses of the New Testament were interpreted to exclude women from leadership confused and troubled me. But, having no viable alternative, I resigned myself to accept "the way things are" and figure out how God was going to fit me--an opinionated, driven, young woman--into the "perfect woman" mold that supposedly existed in the Bible.
I went off to Bible college and later got married, desiring to fit myself into the conservative picture of manhood and womanhood. I thought I had achieved a "perfect fit" for a while. But, time and experience challenged my point of view and I found viable alternatives to the conservative version of Bible interpretation--viable alternatives that did not entail heresy or apostasy (as I had been led to believe). It was only about two years ago that I began to claim for myself that my views had changed.
I did not shift positions without reading widely and deeply and consulting trusted friends. I've consulted most of the major evangelical works on both sides of the issue (and even some who claim to be in the middle). I've interacted by email with several evangelical complementarians and not a few egalitarians clarifying points and addressing confusions. In the end, I've found the traditional answers about women in the Bible and the Kingdom to be unsatisfying on every level: biblically, theologically, and practically.
My Thoughts on Jesus and the Bible
When God rescued the Hebrew people from Egypt, he formed them into a nation related to God through covenant and revealed God’s self to them as Yahweh. As their relationship with Yahweh developed, select people of Israel chronicled and reflected upon the history of God’s workings with humanity, starting from Creation and ending at the dissolution of Israel as a nation. These reflections, in the form of treasured stories, prophetic messages, collected poetry, and ancient wisdom, were eventually compiled and confirmed to be the God-inspired, sacred scripture for the descendents of the Hebrews, later called Jews.
Jesus of Nazareth, confirmed by God and proclaimed to be Lord and Christ, is the fulfillment of the hopes of the Hebrew scripture and the faithful interpreter of God’s history with Israel. As the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God’s self to human beings. As the book of Hebrews reminds: God has spoken in various ways and in various situations in the past, but God has finally spoken through a Son (Heb 1:1, 2). In this sense, the Son of God is the ultimate Word of God—both the faithful revelator of the God’s nature and the focus of all divine revelation.
As the early followers of Jesus proclaimed him and his message, some were compelled to compose records of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection for the edification and instruction of the churches. As other early leaders, including the Apostle Paul, interacted with the newly formed assemblies of Christ-followers, they wrote a number of letters containing discussions of ethics, theology, church practice, and other matters. These occasional documents were treasured, copied, and distributed throughout the early churches as authoritative sources for understanding the Way of Christ. Later, along with the Apocalypse of John, these letters and Gospel narratives were collected and affirmed to be God-inspired sacred scripture for followers of Jesus.
Together, the Hebrew scripture and the Christian scripture make up the written Word of God, the Bible. Inasmuch as the Bible testifies to and is interpreted by the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, it is the ultimate source of authority and nourishment for those living in the reign of God.
Progressive Revelation and Interpretation
God revealed himself and his rule to various people in various times and ways. He did not reveal all of himself to any one person, nor did any one person fully understand the plan of God for the reconciliation of the world. In this sense, there is a progress to God's revelation. This means that some aspects of God and his will are not revealed fully until later scripture. For example, the expectation of a Messiah does not arise until rather late in Israel's history and the understanding of the Messiah performing a sacrificial or atoning work does not arise until after Jesus's death and resurrection.
This does not negate the fact that scripture is coherent, but it does challenge the notion that the Bible speaks in a single voice and with a single tone on every matter. For example, consider the way in which the mass killings of Joshua compare with the teachings of Jesus about violence in the Gospels. This means that the texts of scripture are not "flat." We must respect the Bible enough to take the time to discern, as well as we can, the context of a particular passage of scripture, the "situation in life" in which it was penned, the relevant cultural and historical elements that come to bear on the text, and the interaction of the text with other corresponding texts in the Bible.
The Primacy of God's Mission
The mission of God comes first in everything. In this commitment, we have the example of the Apostle Paul, who understood that, depending upon the culture with which he engaged, he needed to alter his way of life to gain a hearing for the Good News. With the Jews, he became as a Jew. With the Gentiles, he became as a Gentile. Also, Paul's theological and ethical teachings and practices were based upon the need to eliminate any hindrance to the reception of the Good News. Thus, he exhorted slaves to remain as they are and followers of Jesus to submit to governing authorities--all for the purpose of creating space for the Christian message among the peoples of the Roman Empire. These truths help us both to better understand the writings of the New Testament and better apply them to various situations around the world today.
I know that there are plenty more embedded beliefs and presuppositions that come to bear on my understanding of women in the reign of God. But, I hope that this post has covered some of the more important ones. I aim to post on the Creation account in a few days. Stay tuned.