Formation

Why I Needed Women Seminary Professors: A Response to John Piper

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The Shortcomings & Inconsistencies of My Theological Formation

Perhaps if I had learned from a woman seminary professor, I would have had an even better seminary education, and would today be an even better pastor.

I attended a conservative seminary in the late 80s and was taught, as I had been in childhood, that women could not preach or serve as pastors. For some reason they were allowed to testify in church and teach Sunday School, but women could not preach or even stand on the platform where the pulpit rested.

As I became increasingly connected to the world of American evangelicalism, even prior to my seminary years, I continued to be taught that women could not serve as church leaders (neither “deacons” nor what some Christians referred to as “elders”).

The understanding of 1 Tim 2:11-12 given to me in childhood and in seminary restricted the role of women.

This restriction was exercised inconsistently, however. I learned that despite the injunction that women “be silent” (1 Tim 2:12), many evangelicals permitted women to teach as long as a man was present who could be identified as that woman’s authority. Evangelicals apparently found a loophole of sorts, even though 1 Timothy has no such “except when men are present” qualification to the injunction.

I regret that it took me years to appreciate the authoritative voice of godly women. My hope is to do all I can with the rest of my life to obey the full testimony of Scripture and to receive what God has to teach me through the gifting of both women and men.

Beyond Rebuttals

Dr. John Piper’s recent comments, where he asserts that women should not be seminary professors, have drawn much heat—but not much light. There is nothing new in his assertions; it is standard complementarian fair. For complementarians, Paul’s instructions regarding women are viewed as a universal prohibition to be obeyed by the church in all times and in all places. Alternatively, there are numerous treatments of 1 Timothy that suggest the silence of women, along with the prohibition against women teaching or having authority over men, are notions unique to Timothy’s pastoral context. (For more, see this resource from The Evangelical Covenant Church: Called and Gifted, pp. 12-15, which expounds on particular Scripture passages; and pp. 21-23 for a bibliography, and also Discovering Biblical Equality).

In my experience, many who understand 1 Tim 2:10-11 to be a universal prohibition restricting women are not particularly interested in rebuttals. So I offer no rebuttal here.

I simply offer four pastoral concerns and observations after my three decades of ministry. My concerns relate to the problem of silencing women in providing seminary education.

After three decades of ministry as a male pastor, here are four ways I've learned we miss out when women don't get to teach. - @revdrdre Click To Tweet

Four Ways Male Pastors Miss Out When Women Don’t Get to Teach

  1. Women professors provide examples of dynamic faith

    Let’s not forget that Paul celebrates the faith of Timothy’s mother, Eunice, along with that of his grandmother, Lois (2 Tim 1:5). This is to say that despite Dr. Piper’s assertion that the issue is not one of competence but of providing a model for future pastors, Lois and Eunice served as examples of faith to Pastor Timothy. Some of my seminary professors didn’t just pass on information; the better ones shared their lives (1 Thess 2:8).Since educated women have generally had a difficult journey, the sharing of their faith in the context of their teaching could only be inspiring for all students.

  2. Women professors can help to teach God’s word more accurately

    In Acts 18:26 we read how Priscilla and Aquila taught “the Way of God” to the eloquent Apollos “more accurately.” I realize that Priscilla fits under the complementarian exception of allowing a woman to teach as long as she’s with a man. But the scenario in Acts 18 is straightforward: a woman helped to teach a man who was to become a leader in God’s church in Corinth.

    I see this in my own life as well. For example, my commentary on 1 Peter was recently released and one of the sources I consulted was a larger work by Dr. Karen Jobes. While I drew my own conclusions following my exegesis, it is still true to say that a woman professor helped teach me the word of God more accurately.

    A woman seminary professor helped teach me the Word of God more accurately. - @revdrdre Click To Tweet

  3. Women professors can give wisdom for pastoral duties 

    As is true with most pastors, over the years I’ve ministered to women. Along the way I made some mistakes in how I communicated concerns to some women and often relied upon my wife—who was not a seminary graduate—to help me navigate that terrain. While my wife’s help was invaluable, I believe that the wisdom of a woman seminary professor would have helped me to be even better prepared to minister to women in my church. I gained insights from my wife and other women along the way, but seminary professors are typically skilled at providing information in a more systematic and not just anecdotal or idiosyncratic way.

  4. Woman professors can help male students be more humble

    Remember the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5? He was the commander of the army of the king of Aram who suffered from leprosy. It was an Israeli slave girl who served Naaman’s wife that said the soldier should see the prophet Elisha. Elisha told Naaman to wash himself seven times in the Jordan River. You might recall that Naaman took offense at that command, figuring that he could have been cured by the wave of a hand, or by washing in a better river than the Jordan. It was Naaman’s servants who convinced him to wash in the Jordan and of course, when he did, Naaman was healed. Part of the lesson for Naaman was to learn humility. God’s healing work came not just through the prophet Elisha, but also through the promptings of slaves: an Israeli girl and Naaman’s personal servants—and also through the humble Jordan River.

    When men, who hold a privileged position in the world, humble themselves to receive teaching from women, they are learning to be like Christ, whose humility we celebrate (Phil 2:6-8). And my experience as a seminary student—and also as a seminary professor—is that a good many men in seminary could benefit from lessons in humility.

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