I have been staying away from posting on Twitter for the last two weeks+, and I plan on keeping it that way; but I have also kept my account open in order to stream my blog posts through for greater exposure. So, I still scan the feeds of Twitter, and these last few days have been on fire. John MacArthur (or JMac) has been at the center of the fire’s storm. It has to do with some recent comments he has made, at a conference he was participating at, with reference to the Southern Baptist bible teacher, Beth Moore. She has been causing a stir herself on Twitter lately. It seems, to me, that she has come to be more controversial in the wake of the #metoo movement, and how that impacted the SBC in general (think of the controversy surrounding the now ousted Paige Patterson). She has become outspoken in favor of a woman’s capacity to be a pastor, and then she has also been speaking to the issues surrounding so called ‘wokeness,’ and its relationship to social justice and racism. She has received no small amount of pushback from many of the “complementarians” within the SBC, and without; one of those pushing back at her, is none other than JMac&co. At this conference, JMac was involved in a panel discussion that was being hosted by Wretched Radio’s, Todd Friel. Friel was doing a word association exercise with the panelists; when he said the name “Beth Moore,” JMac’s response was “Go home!” He expanded on what he meant by that by appealing to the classical reference of so-called complementarians that: women should not hold the office of pastor, elder, bishop in the local or universal church. Naturally this was going to cause the expected reaction from the progressive Christians who are on the other extreme of things; and it did, all over the Twitterverse.
I grew up as a conservative evangelical Christian, like many of you (like Beth Moore in fact). Many of my ilk have become progressive, or at least lean heavily in that direction; mostly, in my estimation, in an over-correction away from what they perceive to be the hyper-Fundamentalist upbringing they experienced. It is clear that the Fundamentalist sub-culture is rife with all sorts of unhealthy and folkloric sorts of doctrines that have been elevated to the level of preambles of the Christian faith. Ironically, progressives haven’t really left the Fundamentalist mode, it’s just that they have found different cultural referents to be Fundamentalist about. That said, my question is this: what is the biblically exegetical case for a woman to hold the office of pastor or bishop? This is a loaded question because it asks the potential interlocutor to be self-aware and honest enough to lay out what their broader biblical hermeneutic entails. Typically, if in the affirmative for ‘female pastors,’ the exegete must adopt the ‘cultural hermeneutic,’ and relegate the New Testament’s ostensible teaching on women pastors, or their inability to hold such office, to the sitz im laben of the Graeco-Roman Second Temple Judaic context within which the NT was authored. In other words, it requires that this sort of interpreter maintain that what the Apostle Paul taught, for example, in regard to the inability for females to hold pastoral authority over males, was that Paul only wrote this from within his pre-critical patriarchal context. If this is the case, so these adherents might argue, Paul’s teaching was only pertinent and particular to his own context thus alleviating the 21st century Christian from having to slavishly follow in these sorts of patriarchal footsteps. They would need to marginalize Paul’s particular teaching by periodizing it, and in so doing take the ‘principles’ of pastoral leadership that Paul was proposing, but not take his prima facie male referent as normative or globally binding for all Christians of all times. I think this represents a fair representation of the sort of hermeneutic that those in favor of female pastorship must advocate for and from.
In my view, to appeal to the ‘cultural hermeneutic’ in this way, in the way that opens the door for female pastors, puts its proponent on a slippery slope. In other words, and the proof of this is in many of the flavors of pudding out there, these proponents have now opened the door for LGBTQI+ lifestyles as viable and coherent with the New Testament teaching as well. If Paul’s (or any NT author’s) teaching on anything was so culturally bounded, it follows that his ostensible teaching (and against) homosexuality is equally marginal and not pertinent to us ‘more advanced’ and critical exegetes of the 21st century. The hermeneutic required for being in the affirmative for female pastors, is the same hermeneutic the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer exegete can appeal to as well; and progressives like the late Rachel Held Evans, and the current Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey, Jeffrey Chu et al all understand this and take it to heart. The people I don’t get are those who maintain that female pastors are a viable option, while at the same time rejecting the viability for the ‘Christian’ homosexual interpretation of Holy Scripture. To me these folks are either really confused, very naïve, or disingenuous.
As far as JMac’s comments directed at Beth Moore, I mean if you have followed him for any amount of time you will realize that this is just the normal drivel that comes from that side of the aisle. I don’t disagree with him in regard to female pastors, but his tone and his legalism in regard to many other significant theological issues are genuinely troubling indeed; and I have gone on record with his two ‘unders,’ Phil Johnson and Mike Riccardi, the other panelists on stage with JMac, over the years (you can google search that record). I actually think, though, that Beth Moore is just as much of an attention hound as is JMac in his own way; I have never been a fan of hers. Even so, there is still a serious exegetical discussion to be had in regard to the hermeneutic that gives us female pastors, or doesn’t. In spite of JMac’s usual antics, he does raise the need, once again, for a real discussion to take place in regard to female pastors; a discussion that actually gets past appeal to ‘my peoples,’ and one that is grounded in a critical exegesis of the New Testament teaching.