I recommend to you the work of John Polkinghorne, the noted Christian apologist and Cambridge physicist. Working in the area of particle physics, Polkinghorne notes that the physical world does not always behave the way scholars and scientists expect. Because the world is so strange and mysterious, a critical analysis of any field will always require a healthy skepticism of the assumptions made by any scholarly tradition. Polkinghorne calls this “bottom up thinking”—an inductive approach to research.
Bottom up thinking greatly helps us in our work as egalitarians, too. Why? Bottom up thinking encourages us to really look at data (biblical or historical) in assessing the statements made by the experts in any field. For example, scholars and church leaders have, throughout history, assumed that women are less morally pure, less rational, and less capable of spiritual leadership than men. From Augustine to Aquinas to John Knox, many Christian scholars and leaders have made bold statements on the inferiority of women. Women have been believed to be more susceptible to sin and error because Eve was the first to eat the forbidden fruit! The problem is, the biblical and historical data conflicts with these assumptions! Women, like men, have throughout history offered the highest level of moral and spiritual leadership and rescue!
History shows and the Bible reveals that women, like men, are just as capable of sin. And women, like men, are just as receptive to Christ’s redemption and renewal. For this reason, Christian women have and continue to give moral, rational, and spiritual leadership throughout church history as missionaries, apostles, leaders, teachers, Bible scholars, and administrators. History thus shows that women not always behaved according to the devaluations made of them by the “experts.” This incongruence between the data and the assumptions made of women prompted Christians in the 1800s to reassess biblical passages on gender, authority, and ministry, giving shape to early egalitarian theology.
Bottom up thinking also helps us battle prejudices with respect to ethnicity. As with gender, history has provided us with new ways of assessing assumptions made about people of color. As we approach Black History Month this February, and as we remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday this week, consider reading a book by Curtiss DeYoung. CBE is proud to recommend many of his fine books.