I admire great theologians from the past. Their greatness lies, in part at least, because they spoke words which still, across many centuries, have the power to inspire, challenge, and enlighten us. Augustine of Hippo, for example, illuminates both exegesis of Scripture and the thornier problems of philosophy. Tertullian stands as a man for our time with his intensely intelligent development of theology in a new language (Latin), in the face of immense challenges from the philosophers and hyper-spirituals of his day. Luther set in train a reflection on Romans which to this day has not exhausted the mysteries of that book, possibly the greatest book of theology ever written. Calvin, well, he was a master of theology, the systematizer of the Reformation, who in these early years of the twenty-first century is inspiring a great movement known as 'the New Calvinism'.
None were infallible. Some parts of Augustine's famous work, The City of God, just seem odd to me. Luther was just terrible about 'the Jews'. Tertullian was a bit odd about the relationship of philosophy and theology: what has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Quite a lot really; and Tertullian with his philosophical approach to theology (like Paul with his Hellenistic rhetorical skills) underlines that! Calvin: where to start? Just about every Calvin aficionado has to defend Calvin from the charge of joylessness, and severity.
Here is another reason to distance ourselves from the faults of these great men:
remember our history - a post by Jody Stowell
he [satan] had a deceitful conversation with the woman - no doubt starting with the inferior of the human pair so as to arrive at the whole by stages, supposing that the man would not be so easily gullible, and could not be trapped by a false move on his part, but only if he yielded to another's mistake.
and do you not know that you are each an eve? the sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. you are the devil's gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. you destroyed so easily God's image, man. on account of your desert - that is, death - even the son of God had to die.
therefore satan, seeing that adam was the more excellent creature, did not dare attack him; for he was afraid that this attempt would fail. and i believe that if he had attacked adam first, adam would have gained the victory. he would have crushed the serpent with his foot and said: hold your tongue! the lord has commanded otherwise.
woman is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading all to perdition. it is necessary that women recognise this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. this is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame.
Back to PRC: A challenge to modern exegetes of 1 Timothy 2:13-14: do you agree or disagree with the line of these four exegetes, that women are less excellent creatures than men?
In my understanding of current 'complementarian' v 'egalitarian' debates (referring to the general thrust of these around the blogosphere, not to any particular comments made on this blog in recent days), there is a very strong agreement between 'complementarians' and 'egalitarians' that men and women are ontologically equal and the dispute is whether men and women are role differentiated (women may not teach, exercise authority over a man) or not.
But this was not always so. The New Calvinists, for example, who are complementarian, follow a theological master who ranks women below men (as per the quote above).
From where does the change in recognition of the true status of women come? If from Scripture, where does that reading of Scripture come from compared to the reading more or less shared across many centuries by Tertullian to Calvin?
My suggestion is that "culture" - in this case the culture of vote-giving, education-providing, career-affirming 20th and 21st century Westernism - has changed the way we all read Scripture, at least reading Scripture so that we do not draw the conclusions these great theologians drew.
Perhaps if we understood better the role - the universal, pervasive role - of culture in reading the Bible, we could work better towards a common Christian understanding of women in ministry!
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