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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Modes of Communication IV

So often when I conclude a segment of study I find myself confronted with a new set of questions. In this short series on communication, I come away with the desire to reflect on this particular concept,

    The teaching relationship of an author to a reader is much more like the one-to-one kind of teaching that Priscilla and Aquila did when they explained the way of God more accurately to Apollos in Acts 18:26. In fact, with a book the element of direct personal interaction is almost entirely absent.
I am trying to formulate a way of considering whether oral communication is more 'direct' than written, and how this interacts with notions of authority. I would have expected that a written teaching would be invested with more authority than an orally presented teaching. I hope to think further about the role of the spoken versus the written word throughout the Bible and what the implications are for how we handle the text. Readings and reflections on the Hebrew word dabar, and the Greek word logos, will provide a foundation for my thinking.

I am also glad that links have been provided to writings by W. Grudem which provide some insight into his thinking on gender, since he took the initiative to draft the Guidelines for Translation of Gender Related Language in Scripture. These guidelines reflect his presuppositions, that there are differences between men and women, not only

    in the gifts that God gives them, but in the roles that he assigns them. (TNIV and the GNBC, page 255)

    Feminism replaces biblical honor with a misguided attempt to wipe out the differences in people with respect to prominence, order, leadership, and representation. (page 257)
It is clear that Grudem believes in differences between men and women in prominence, order, leadership and representation, and he along with Sproul, Dobson, Piper and a few others participated in the drafting of the Colorado Springs Guidelines with the express purpose of influencing English language Bible translations to reflect this viewpoint.

On a certain level what is most interesting for me is the interaction perceived by Grudem between the axis of 'directive (spoken) communication' through to 'non-directive (written) communication'; and his belief that the Bible teaches that men should have more prominence and representation than women. He infers from this that men may have a written and spoken public ministry, and women may only have a written public ministry.

Grudem writes that when reading

    a Bible commentary written by a woman for example it is as if the author were talking privately to me explaining her interpretation of the Bible. ... Reading a book by a woman author is much like having a private conversaton with a woman author.
So, in fact, Grudem equates writing with the private domain, rather than the public. One difficulty with this is that men who write Bible commentaries generally have tenured positions teaching theology, and he denies women this privilege. For men theological writing may be an extension of the spoken, a result of classwork or sermons, or a public conversation; for women theological writing must either be a primary product, the outcome of a private conversation, or of a conversation with women only.

Books by W. Grudem:
The Gender Neutral Bible Controversy (My page numbers are from the TNIV and the GNBC)
Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood


At Sat Jul 29, 03:32:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne, for myself, I cannot see a qualitative difference between teaching orally or through writing. Perhaps the forum makes a difference. Let me illustrate. When my wife and I were preparing our wedding service, we asked the pastor of our church if it would be all right for us to include hymns during the service. We needed to ask because the church we attended at that time, pastored by him, did not sing any hymns from a hymnbook. They only sang a unique genre of spiritual songs. I will identify the group no further than that for the sake of this illustration. Our pastor said it was no problem for us to include hymns since our wedding service was not a "worship service." We, however, included the hymns precisely because we wanted to worship through them.

In any case, it may be that some can decide that certain forums and/or media are not "teaching" or not part of a "teaching church service." If they are not part of a teaching service, then such forums would be open to full participation by women.

Interestingly, Dr. Grudem was willing to serve on the doctoral committee for Sarah Sumner, the first female student to enter and graduate from the theology department of a seminary where Dr. Grudem was teaching. I don't think he would approve of the fact that she now serves as a teaching pastor of a church. But he must have found some way to allow himself to participate, in good conscience, in helping Sarah gain an advanced degree in a field of biblical study in which she is gifted.

If it is true that the forum or medium (or mode) of communication is considered to determine whether or not a woman can teach men (or whether or not such communication is categorized as "teaching"), then perhaps we need to focus more on what would have caused Paul to mention restrictions on women's participation in some kinds of assemblies in his letters about two local congregations. Perhaps there was some deeper principle that was being violated in those local assemblies than simply that women were speaking, perhaps, as some have suggested it was an issue or disorderliness in the services or a particular kind of false teaching that some women (e.g. in Ephesus) had followed.

I wish so much that we could go back in time to ask Paul to clarify whether he was addressing a unique local problem or if he really did intend to be making statements that were to be elevated to be normative and timeless for gender behavior in all churches.

Sometimes I wonder about how much focus is placed on this one issue, when we choose to decide that other commandments in the Bible are not normative. For instance, many choose not to have worship and rest on Saturday, even though the Hebrew Bible commanded it. We don't think twice about wearing clothing which contains two different kinds of material even though it is prohibited by the Hebrew Bible. Many Christians do not follow Paul's command to greet one another with a holy kiss.

How do we decide which commands in the Bible are so imnportant that we can castigate our sisters and brothers in the faith (or Bible versions they produce) if they do not follow a certain set of commands which we have decided are normative? Yet we do not castigate them (or ourselves) for not following other biblical commands.

There are so many things that cause me to step back and wonder how we determine at any period of history what are the litmus tests of true spirituality. I want to be truly spiritual, as God defines it. I find it difficult to follow the shifting mores of people who sincerely but not uniformly follow different commands.

At Sun Jul 30, 07:51:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

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At Sun Jul 30, 09:30:00 AM, Blogger believer333 said...

The church general today spends far too much time and energy criticising and seeking to control what others are doing, and far too little time in personal holiness and attempting to draw close to the presence of God.

As for Bible translations, we have lost our purity. Where is the integrity that says I know I'm not perfect so I'm not going to impute my beliefs into the translation, instead I'm going to stick to the purest translation of the words even if I think it worries my doctrinal stand? Unfortunately, even our history shows that few translations have been done with high integrity.

The Source New Testament by Dr. A. Nyland is an excellent no bells work of translation of the N.T. I'd like to see a similar work of the O.T.

At Sun Jul 30, 09:39:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Wayne, these are very good comments and important questions to answer. Partly I can answer this by saying that such questions become relevant when a particular issue in the Bible rubs against a current cultural practice. For example, the gender debate is no debate at all in many parts of Africa. Subordination is simply assumed within the home and the church. So, there's not a lot of hand-wringing about such situations. It is only because some in the American church still see feminism as a threat to the church that they are reacting in this way.

If food were sacrificed to idols in our culture, for example, perhaps we would have to invoke Paul's teaching on this subject. As it is, we are left with Fee's "indirect applications."

Peter at Speaker of Truth has been talking about Fee's "How to read the Bible for all it's worth." And he has some good comments there.

At Sun Jul 30, 09:56:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon, it is clear that orthodox Jews still "care about the old rules", or believe that God requires them to obey them. And some Christians do, notably Seventh Day Adventists. But, while I don't want to castigate those who do obey these rules, it is clear that Jesus and the apostles did not consider all of them to be behavioural norms for Christians. Thus for example Jesus explicitly "declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:19). Of course there is controversy about exactly which rules should be considered normative. But I don't particularly appreciate the way you seemed to imply that there is something wrong about not "still car[ing] about the old rules."

Lingamish, thanks for the link to my series. Fee and Stuart's book is an excellent one, and I gave some kind of summary of just one chapter of it. But I wonder if there are in fact some cultural contexts in Africa where food sacrificed to idols is in fact a live issue? I suspect it is in some Asian cultures. Indeed I could understand some Christians having reservations about "halal" meat sacrifices according to Islamic law, as I understand that when done properly that includes some kind of religious (although not of course idolatrous) ceremony.

At Sun Jul 30, 11:46:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

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At Sun Jul 30, 01:41:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

But a strong case can be made that Jesus and his contemporaries did regard themselves as obligated.

I agree.

At Sun Jul 30, 01:43:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon, I agree with you that we can't be sure what Jesus' actual teaching was on this matter. But we have it on the authority of the apostles (including the whole Council in Acts 15) and of the New Testament that Christians should not be obligated. So for those of us who take the Bible as the authority for our lives the matter is settled. Of course if there are people who claim to follow some speculatively reconstructed religion of Jesus but not Paul, perhaps condemning Paul for leading the church astray in Acts 15, matters might not be so clear. But the Paul had a few things to say about such Judaizers, e.g. Galatians 5:12, which if translated clearly would not be repeatable in polite company.

At Sun Jul 30, 05:40:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

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At Tue Aug 01, 04:27:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist said...

I appreciate this blog very much and read it most days. I don't consider myself qualified to contribute substantially to the conversations that follow most of the entries.

There is a question that is troubling me, and I hope it's all right to just go ahead and ask it.

What does Wayne Grudem do with a commentary by an author whose name does not reveal his or her gender (as in, the author uses first and middle initials only)? Unless I've misunderstood what he meant by distinguishing women authors from men authors, he appears to give a different weight to an author's writing depending on the gender of that author. So, what if he can't tell female from male?

Again, I could be mistaken about this. But if I'm not, I find it rather ridiculous, as well as rather disrespecful of both the author and of the God who gave the author specific gifts of scriptural interpretation.

At Tue Aug 01, 04:35:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

In the 19th century it was very common to find initials only in the front of books. However, today there is usually a picture on the dust cover!

I should think life would be a minefield if you had to rate knowledge generated by woman as differently authoritative from knowledge generated by men. But I assume that Wayne Grudem, like the rest of humanity, says a great many things that he does not practice strictly. We can all keep him company in that respect.

At Wed Aug 02, 02:43:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon, you may call me Peter. Of course you need to distinguish me clearly from the apostle I was named after. But then perhaps you were calling me "Mr Kirk" just to make a point about my name.

And what may I call you? Do I even know if you are male or female, something so important to those like Grudem? I wish you would give me a chance to make points about your name, but instead I am able only to quote: "being anonymous is no better than being a gossip. Why should anyone listen to what you have to say about a subject when you don’t even have the courage to own it?" - a quotation backed from Proverbs 11:13, 16:28 and 26:20.

I accept that my views are not universally held. However, I do consider that all Christians who claim to accept as normative the teachings of the New Testament have to accept the apostolic decree of Acts 15:20, or at least give a very good reason why they don't. And this decree implies that all kinds of foods are permissible at least if killed in an appropriate context.

At Sat Aug 05, 07:25:00 PM, Blogger SingingOwl said...

Reading a book is like a personal converation. Oral teaching is a no-no, however? What if a woman writes something and then reads it out loud? What if I make my oral sermons and teaching very friendly, very personal? What if, as I sometimes do, the woman preacher or teacher allows the listeners to interact and ask questions? Then is it informal enough to be acceptable to God? What if...I can't do it. May I say, with all due respect to Grudem, that this kind of reasoning seems totally unworthy of consideration by reasonable people? To me, truthfully, it seems plain old silly. Like a foolish child's game that changes the rules to fit what the kid in charge wants to do.


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