My good friend Jim Hamilton and I working on an article for the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and we have sent out a survey as a part of our research. I have been somewhat surprised by the results and what those results reveal about evangelical opinions concerning women in ministry. The task that Jim and I have is to set out the state of the gender debate among younger evangelicals.
Our work is still not finished, but we have identified four positions on the spectrum of evangelical opinion. We believe that the fundamental issue that differentiates opinions on this question is whether or not a principle of male headship obtains with respect to ministry roles. Thus we distinguish four positions: (1) hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice, (2) hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice, (3) no hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice, and (4) no hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice. As a preview to our article, I will briefly explain each of these and give an example from those responders who gave us permission to quote their survey answers.
1. Hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice. This is the traditional complementarian position. Evangelicals who hold to this position affirm male headship in principle and in their ministry practices. Ray Van Neste is an example of one who falls into this category. He answered “no” to the following questions: “Would you allow a woman to serve as an elder/pastor?” and “Would you allow a woman to preach from the pulpit with men present?”
2. Hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice. Typically, Complementarians in this category oppose women’s ordination but allow women to lead men in various ways within the ministries of the church. Mark Driscoll falls into this category. In response to our survey, Driscoll sent us his church’s position statement on women in ministry, which says:
“At Mars Hill we seek to encourage women to use the abilities that God has given them to their fullest extent in anything from teaching a class to leading a community group, overseeing a ministry, leading as a deacon, speaking in church, leading worship, serving communion, entering into full-time paid ministry as a member of the staff, and receiving formal theological education â€“ or basically every opportunity in our church but the office of elder/pastor.”
3. No hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice. Those who fall into this category are egalitarian in principle, but nevertheless still have qualms (“maybe a gut instinct”) about ordaining females as pastors. No one who answered our survey who falls into this category gave us permission to quote them on the record.
4. No hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice. Those who take the view that gender is not relevant to the question of who can do what in ministry argue for it in a number of ways. One common way is to dissent from a complementarian reading of 1 Timothy 2:12. Wade Burleson’s response to survey questions fall into this latter category.
Question: Would you allow a woman to serve as an elder/pastor?
Burleson: How do I ‘allow’ anything like that in the church? It is the church’s decision, not mine. I would definitely cooperate with churches that made this decision, but I’m not sure my church would ever call a woman elder.
Question: Would you allow a woman to preach from the pulpit with men present?
Burleson: Without hesitation
Question: If yes, could you give a 3-5 line rationale for allowing what Paul prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12â€“15?
Burleson: Paul prohibits Timothy from allowing a woman, recently converted from the pagan cults from teaching in the assembly. . . To prohibit a woman, at all times and in all places teaching men would violate other passages of Scripture where those very things were done by women.
The spectrum of opinion is broad, even among evangelicals. For more on this issue, look for Jim and my article coming out this fall in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.