Better Late than Never…

When I arrived at Regent College in 1998, I looked forward to a lot of good things. One of them was to move on from the debates of the previous decades among evangelical Christians regarding gender in home, church, and society. Regent had already declared itself fully in support of gender equality, training women alongside men in each of its programs and affirming the appropriateness of all vocations for any individual per God’s call on his or her life. I looked forward to applying gender lenses, questions, and interests to theological study in what I hoped would be ever more sophisticated ways among evangelicals—for we had a lot of ground to make up in that regard.

Well, gender equality was Regent’s official stance and general modus operandi. But in its commendable concern to be open to diversity among evangelicals on secondary issues of the faith, Regent also had decided not to make the espousal of Biblical feminism, sometimes called “egalitarianism,” a requirement of each faculty member. So Regent’s faculty included those who did not personally agree with its official position regarding gender, a fact that surfaced from time to time in classrooms and conversations…to the consternation of students who thought that they could take that position for granted among those training them for pastoral work, among other callings.

To this day, I’m not sure we at Regent have been quite able to eat our cake and have it, too. Allowing disagreement regarding gender just isn’t of the same sort as allowing disagreement regarding, say, modes of baptism, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, ecclesiastical polity, or other important, but secondary, matters.

Over my first few years at Regent, however, I encountered another, related, problem. Regent was admitting students who clearly were utterly unaware of the arguments for Biblical gender equality, and some of them didn’t even know that Regent was institutionally committed to that stance. So I was finding that I was having to introduce many, many students to arguments that were years, even decades, old…and was spending time slogging through the most elementary discussions of “headship,” “silence,” “authority,” and the like.

I like teaching, and I like thinking about gender, so I didn’t find this remedial work burdensome so much as I found it regrettable. I had anticipated significantly more advanced discussion—which, to be sure, I did enjoy sometimes with this colleague or that thesis student—but I was spending most of my teaching time on the question rehearsing the ABC’s of the debate.

FFcover Because this phenomenon of a whole Christian generation arising without anyone even suggesting to them that there existed such a literature defending Biblical feminism showed up far beyond Regent’s walls, I undertook to write a small book defending Biblical feminism in a somewhat new way to this new audience. Finally Feminist was published by Baker Academic late in 2005, and it seems to have done some good among individuals and churches across North America and beyond.

Alas, however, a decade later the situation remains the same for many, many young (and not-so-young) Christians. They manifest no serious exposure to solid arguments for Biblical gender equality and have never witnessed or participated in a single solid discussion of the issue.

So this fall, IVP will bring out a revised and expanded version of this book, entitled Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism. I hope you’ll consider reading it.

Partners in ChristIn the meanwhile, however, I will be joining with a pretty good line-up of speakers and workshop leaders to educate about, and promote, gender equality among Christians at the annual conference of the Christians for Biblical Equality in Los Angeles. Co-sponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary, a school that does insist that each faculty member agree with its express position on this issue, the conference will feature the following speakers, among others:

  • Pastor Eugene Cho, founder of One Day’s Wages, “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty”; founder of the Q Café, a community café; and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle;
  • Pastor Ken Fong, senior pastor at EvergreenLA, the “first English-only multi-Asian American, multiethnic, multigenerational church” and executive director of the Asian American Initiative of Fuller Theological Seminary, where he is assistant professor of Asian American Church Studies;
  • Pastor Adelita Garza, church planter and lead pastor of Puente de Vida/Bridge of Life Church in Santa Paula, CA, and president of the Police Clergy Council and president of the Light of the City Ministry; and
  • Professor Anne Zaki, assistant professor of Practical Theology at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, and the resource development specialist for the Middle East for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

So if you are wrestling with these questions, or if you are just now becoming aware that there are issues to consider (!), please join us for an intense, compact, and possibly life-changing conference: 23-25 July 2015, near LAX.

Then perhaps you, too, can move on to other things….


5 Responses to “Better Late than Never…”

  1. Andy Horvath

    Thank you for your thoughts, John. As a Regent MDiv student from 1997-2000, I appreciated the diversity among faculty on this contentious issue instead of excluding them. Unlike some other “hot” issues in evangelicalism, I respect scholars on both sides of this issue and find it uniquely difficult to come down squarely on one side or the other.

    I contrast Regent’s openness to diversity with that of a very egalitarian university (first female president in the CCCU) on whose staff I served for some time, where complementarians did not get a fair hearing and where that viewpoint was trivialized, if even acknowledged. Students there probably needed an introduction to the thinking behind both positions on gender. I hope places like Fuller can do justice to both even if they require faculty to be egalitarian.

  2. BigB

    You know that your topic is important at this moment, in that the first woman president may be about to be elected. I wonder if some of you would value ‘this particular and perhaps ultimate’ expression of egalitarianism above the expense of further alienating a large part of the middle East from the West?

  3. Judy White

    Glad to hear about your book coming out, hope it will be available in Europe – much needed. Thanks, Judy

  4. April French

    I hope the conference is going well. I’d like to attend a CBE conference some day.

    • BigB

      I agree women’s rights are important and yes for the most part they have been oppressed. On the other hand I also hope that even after women attend these conferences they will still walk through a door held open for them, it seems we are so extreme about things sometimes we don’t really get the merit of good societal customs and traditions we were handed down. I’m sure some people will ‘argue’ these customs are part of the machinery of oppression but then where does it end? Why do most women keep their hair still long? Why do women still wear dresses or skirts? Or a harder question, Why do Men compromise the majority of general infantry in the armed forces? Do you honestly think this will change? Have you really thought about what blurring certain roles of gender identity towards complete neutrality would look like? I think some have not at least to the seriousness needed for a discussion like this.


Comments are closed.