Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part V: Living it Out (Practical Applications)
Chapter 29 – Toward Reconciliation: Healing the Schism. Alice P. Mathews.
Mathews begins this final essay in the book by pointing us to Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” The hierarchical view and the egalitarian views are paradigms. They are cohesive frameworks that tie the disparate pieces of scripture together for us. They are oriented around different themes. Some start with Galatians 3:28 and others with 1 Timothy 2:12. Furthermore, there are no “objective investigators” as our. We each come from a context with values and concerns and our perceptions are deeply influenced by those concerns.
Mathews argues that we cannot simply ignore differences. We have to be truthful with each other. Using language that intentionally obscures rather than clarifies is unhelpful in this effort. For instance, those who believe in hierarchical gender relations have taken to calling themselves “complementarian” in order to soften the appearance the hierarchical nature of their position. The attempt is to pass off hierarchy as one aspect of complementary roles when in fact it is the central defining feature. Similarly, those who speak of no hierarchy are accused of erasing gender differences and of believing there are no complimentary differences between the sexes.
Another way of trivializing differences is “significations” like an unqualified labeling of someone as “feminist” (sometimes as Mathews writes “in the tone and temper of an expletive.) “It trivializes an issue by ignoring the actual content of the argument and removing the other person from inclusion in the conversation.” (500) Our commitment to truth demands that we speak what is true and that we use language honestly.
Mathews believes that we must commit to three things if we are to make progress toward reconciliation:
First, we all must continue to explore honestly the competing paradigms, using the tools of biblical theology, logic and courtesy. (501-502) All paradigms have anomalies. Paradigms only change when one paradigm is perceived as unable to resolve significant anomalies and another paradigm is better able to explain those anomalies. Thus, we must continue to engage each other’s paradigms if we are to find truth.
Second, we are obliged to explain the competing paradigms at many levels. (502) We must resist the temptation to over simplify. “Proponents of either paradigm must understand both paradigms inside and out and know the anomalies pressing against the sides of each paradigm box.” (503)
Third, while the first two steps are being carried out, we must acknowledge the chasm between paradigms and embrace as fellow believers those on the other side of the chasm. (503) This, of course, is probably the hardest of all when the division is over such deeply personal issues.
Mathews closes out her essay with observations about the difference between “bounded-set” and “centered-set.” Bounded set thinking is focused on establishing boundaries the neatly define who is in and who is out. Centered set thinking is focused on what is at the center and maintaining/strengthening the relationship to the center. Mathews argues for taking a centered set approach to being the church and incorporating a health dose of humility into our claims to have the truth.
Alice P. Mathews receive her M.A. from Michigan State University and Ph.D. from the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver. She is the Lois W. Bennett Distinguished Associate Professor of Educational Ministries and Women’s Ministries at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In addition, she is a regular participant in the daily radio program Discover the Word (RBC Ministries). She is the author of A Woman God Use, A Woman Jesus Can Teach, Preaching That Speaks to Women and Marriage Made in Eden. Alice and her husband, Randall, served in Europe for seventeen years as missionaries with Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society. They have four children and six grandsons.
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