Rob Bell and Egalitarianism

I have gone to a mostly egalitarian seminary for the last few years.  Do not ask me to explain the “mostly” that is a topic better left out of the blog world.

In the spectrum of biggest hot bottom issues to be found at seminary campuses these days, it is the issue of women as elders that might rank number one.  Some like to phrase the issue as “women in leadership” but outside a few backwood churches like Pastor Anderson’s, not many churches are against women in leadership, the real issue is women as elders.  I can remember the issue coming up in classes throughout my time in seminary and the whole entire vibe of the class would become tense and dicey.  I would venture to guess the issue has become what the authority of scripture was for the last generation of seminary students.

The issue of women as elders has divided churches and both sides of the argument have sinned in the process.  So where do we go from here?  Well if I had that answer I would write a book and get rich!  But part of being biblical is also the way we go about living out our biblical truths.  No matter how right either side feels they are on this side we must proceed with humility and charity for those we disagree with.

I came across this article written on the Resurgence about how Mars Hill Bible Church, where Rob Bell pastors, reached their decision on women as elders.  The article is a fasinating insider’s account (at least one side of it) about the what the process of deciding on women as elders at Mars Hill Bible Church.  If this article is true I think it can serve as a lesson to all of us on how to do better.

Rob Bell and Mars Hill Bible Church decided to embrace women as elders largely due to the work of William Webb in his book, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.  In it Webb argues that the ethics and values of scriptures were not fully unveiled but were meant as a point in a redemptive trajectory toward higher and ultimate ethics.  If this is going over your head the big idea is that the ethics and teachings of the Bible are evolving and getting better.  Kind of like Atari leading on a trajectory toward Xbox.

And yes I know there are other routes to get to an egalitarian understanding of the scriptures, I am not arguing that here.  My point is that as churches go through this process we must guard our hearts and fight recklessly for unity.  As the article highlights, things get messy at churches when they debate the issue of women as elders.  No matter the side of the debate you come down on, and I would encourage all of you to study vigorously and search the scriptures on this topic, we must fight recklessly for unity.



7 Responses

  1. Alright, Ryan. As a complemenarian Seminary student, how have you fought “recklessly” (terribly poor choice in words by the way – kind of like “random” acts of kindness, anyways) for unity.

    Personally, I am up for unity as long as your high on Jesus and the center of all things Christian. If not, then I will recklessly argue with you.

  2. I chose the word reckless because I think we should go so far in the pursuit of love and charity that it may even feel like we are laying aside our own agenda of beliefs. That our desire to break bread and minister across this theological chasm is done with the type of faith that believes we can find common ground even when it seems like there is none. Let me offer a few practical examples of what I mean.

    1. Minister with those who you disagree with. The degree to which you do so will vary, as I am not saying those with complementarian values should throw away their convictions, but they should even find relationships with those in other churches or para-churches to still link arms with for a common cause.

    2. Have friendships with those who are on the other side of the argument. Get to know them and understand how they view gender, theology, God and the Church. If there is one thing I have learned in the last few years it is that theology is often best done with a foundation of friendship. All theology is homework of the heart that brings out intense passions and feelings. The way forward on this issue will begin not just with better exegetical work (after all how that work with the mainliners) but with a willingness to love and listen.

    Some of my closest friends at seminary are egalitarians, but because they now that I love and respect them I think I can even be heard on this issue when it comes up in conversation. I have had much more success in being an influencer and having my theological views respected, but by building friendships.

    The point of the whole post was more about the methodology of how we live out our theological convictions. NOT who is right or wrong. All of us will encounter adversity when it comes to key theological issues the question is how will we deal with it.

    Last, what does unity as long as your “high on Jesus” mean? I am sure Mormons, Unitarians, would say they are “high” on Jesus. And even if a church has a strong robust view of Jesus what if that view of Jesus does not seem to permeate into any other area or belief? Seems overly simplistic to just say that we need to be high on Jesus. And if someone is not, then you really will recklessly argue with them? Oh wait I forgot who my blog partner was…

  3. Ryan

    Who gets to decide which issue is worth being reckless over for the sake of ‘unity.’ I mean—do we get unified with those who do not hold to a bodily resurrection? What about those who do not belief in the inspiration of Scripture? How about the virgin birth? Which issues do we “unite” on and lay aside theological distinctives for?

    Is egalitarian/complimentarian issue something that puts the gospel at stake and who gets to decide that?


  4. Mike not sure I understand exactly what you are asking here so forgive me if I am totally off in my reply.

    There are issues such as the Trinity, bodily resurrection, and inspiration of scripture that there is an overwhelming agreement on in evangelicalism. Not really sure of any scholar out there who would deny any of these and consider themselves evangelical.

    Then there are other issues such as women as elders in which there are bible believing, trinity affirming, bodily resurrection embracing folks who disagree. Does this mean we should not have strong convictions on areas where there is disagreement amongst Bible loving evangelicals? Of course not, my whole post was to highlight exactly how we go about those disagreements.

    As far as who gets to decide, well we are Protestant Mike, so we do not have a man behind the curtain or an overarching council to decide all these matters. Why do you think there are so many Protestant denominations, we love to break off and fracture when we disagree. Sometimes this is a good thing and needed, other times it is premature and hasty.

  5. Ryan, I’m about to RECKLESSLY argue with you to make you see the redeeming qualities of American Idol. So watch out. I may not know much about theology…but I sure as hell know a lot about American Idol.

    this is sara, in case there is any confusion.

  6. These comments have gotten recklessly out of hand. By the way, I have been so hopped up on caffeine and hermeneutics lately that I don’t remember why I commented the way I did.

    Now if I can just find a Gnostic heretic who has over realized the types of Christ in the O.T. and created erroneous principles while jacking up his preaching outline only to find out his literary genre doesn’t even match I will fight him to the death with a spork.

    I am supposed to take a final tonight.

  7. Our church, in process of becoming a legal entity (rather difficult due to the Spanish love of bureaucracy ) and part of that process is appointing a board of elders. One of the elders is Daphne she is also a co-pastor. We only had one couple leave (quietly and they we’re thinking of moving on anyways) Over all no one complained. Benefits of being a small church I guess

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