“I’m okay with a woman sharing, but not preaching,” I said.
“Why?” the woman responded.
With that pithy question, I was forced to take a hard look at a theological position I had long held. I confess that I had extra incentive to take her question seriously; the sister-in-Christ with whom I was speaking had gone out on several dates with me, and I was hoping that would continue. But despite my mixed motives, I did honestly feel the need to wrestle with her question.
“Why?” was not something I had ever really asked myself about my complementarian view of women’s roles in the church. In truth, my conviction—that 1 Timothy 2:12 taught that women should not preach to a mixed-gender crowd of adults—was not very well thought-through, and I knew it. Instead, it was something I had simply absorbed, without much question, from Bible teachers I had heard and college fellowship leaders I had known.
But now I (and the aforementioned sister-in-Christ) were beginning Master of Theology (ThM) students at Dallas Seminary. There was no better time to re-examine the things I believed, especially about issues that were frequent sources of controversy within the broader Christian community.
It should be noted that despite its reputation as a conservative, complementarian school, Dallas Seminary actually gives complete freedom to its professors to teach their convictions on the role of women in the church. To my knowledge, the school takes no official position. I was blessed by both complementarian and egalitarian profs, and it was very helpful to hear well-reasoned points on both sides of the debate from godly men and women. I sensed no tension between the two camps, and some professors went out of the way in their classes to underscore that the gospel was not threatened by those who held the opposing view. The irenic tone of discussion was exemplary.
Most chapel speakers were men, but one day, Anne Graham Lotz was the speaker. Anne is one of Billy Graham’s daughters, and she’s a well-known teacher and author in her own right. My preaching prof that semester told our class more than once that many folks actually consider Ms. Lotz the most gifted of all the Graham family from a preaching standpoint. I don’t know where my prof stood on the issue of women’s roles, but the respect he held for a woman preacher was instructive to me.
Perhaps the one thing that most turned my complementarianism into egalitarianism was the exegetical and hermeneutical process that Dallas Seminary drilled into us ThM students. We all began with an introductory class on Bible study methods and then spent two and a half years studying Koine Greek and two years studying biblical Hebrew. We practiced our observational and interpretive skills through seven Bible exposition classes and six systematic theology classes.
As my four years at Dallas neared an end, I had nearly changed my view 180 degrees. When I began seminary, I believed that egalitarians had to do a lot of hermeneutical gymnastics to support their positions. By the time I graduated, I felt the exact opposite.
Then after I graduated, I came across William Webb’s book on a redemptive-movement hermeneutic as applied to women’s roles, and my egalitarian conviction was sealed. It was the same sister-in-Christ that I mentioned earlier who lent me her copy of the book. By this time, she was not just my spiritual sister but also my new wife.
It seems so clear to me now how a consistent, grammatical-historical hermeneutic strongly points toward an egalitarian view of the role of women in the church. That’s not to say that complementarians don’t have some good arguments on their side, because they do. But the best arguments, I am convinced, lie with the egalitarian position.
I took great delight as a pastor in arranging for the first woman ever to preach in English in my ethnic Chinese church. (She preached on three successive Sundays after my wife and I welcomed our second daughter into the world.) These days, I’m a layperson, but I try to make a point of thanking and encouraging the women who preach in the egalitarian church which my family now attends.
For me, women preaching is an example of the power of the gospel to transform relationships and to tear down oppressive hierarchies like religious patriarchalism. Truly, the gospel is the power of God to set us free!