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Published Date: March 23, 2016

Published Date: March 23, 2016

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The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Apologetics and Egalitarianism

When I came to speak on apologetics, suddenly all the men were interested. I could see them leaning forward in the pews, engaged far more than they had been when the music was playing and hymns were sung. Apologetics engages with the male mind, and brings men into church. Women, though, just don’t seem very interested in the topic. They are more emotional and so don’t enjoy the reasoning involved in apologetics as much (paraphrase of a speaker I heard during my time studying for an MA in Christian apologetics).

At the speaker’s words, my eyes wandered to the other students in the classroom. There was a group of women sitting together near the front. These women were enrolled in an accredited master’s degree program in apologetics. I was dumbfounded. How could the speaker say women weren’t interested in apologetics with contrary evidence sitting right in front of him?

Apologetics has been part of Christianity since its birth. Basically, apologetics is defense of the faith. It involves both defending Christianity from objections and putting forward arguments for the truth of Christianity.

Unfortunately, the complaint about disinterest in apologetics issued by the speaker is one I have heard often. And, it is not just levied against women. Often, it is a complaint against egalitarians more generally. It is the result of a number of unspoken assumptions.

Regarding women, it is assumed that women’s absence from the field of apologetics is the result of the overall “nature” or makeup of women. Per the speaker’s statement, women are more interested in emotion than reasoning. 

Regarding egalitarians, the complaint is part of an ongoing dismissal of egalitarian theology and theologians. It is assumed that egalitarians are weak on biblical authority and interpretation, and so would be uninterested in a field that defends the truth and authority of the Bible.

Egalitarians, critics argue, clearly have to reject the authority of Scripture. Why then, would they defend the faith?

These assumptions about women and egalitarians provide the perfect background for a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a student in apologetics, I experienced outright hostility when I revealed that my wife was studying to be a pastor. As I participate in circles of apologists, I see posts that suggest egalitarians are a mission fieldpeople who clearly reject the Bible and so must be converted to a view that honors the Bible and subordinates women.

Imagine being one of the few women sitting in the classroom during the speaker’s lecture. Would the outright suggestion that women are less suited for apologetics make the field more appealing to you? I doubt it.

That which is happening in apologetics circles is symptomatic of what’s happening in the broader church: women and egalitarians are being silenced, thus removing the evangelical power of these groups. 

I recently saw a poll in an apologetics group I frequent asking if group members were egalitarian or complementarian. The overwhelming majority of respondents were complementarian. It was a 4-1 difference, with the same number of people being undecided as there were total egalitarians. A number of people hadn’t even heard of the debate before, but sided with complementarianism after complementarians shared articles on the topic.

Remember: these Christians are actively involved in defending the Christian faith. Some suggested elsewhere that the reason there were so few egalitarians comparatively is because egalitarianism undermines Christianity.

What does all of this suggest?

It means egalitarians still have a lot of work to do. However, this is something we already knew. But the foregoing suggests a few avenues to approach this work.

We need to raise awareness of egalitarianism so that people do not automatically embrace complementarianism as the default position.

Second, we need to keep writing and sharing posts that show that egalitarianism is biblically sound and, indeed, presents a superior reading of the Bible. 

Third, we need to confront false perceptions about women and egalitarians in apologetics. When people say women are too emotional for apologetics, we can cite women who have contributed to apologetics and related fields, women like Ada Habershon and Katharine Bushnell. We should also note that emotions are part of humanity and something that both men and women ought to be concerned with.

Fourth, and perhaps most obviously, it means that egalitarians need to be involved in apologetics. We cannot get so caught up in one topic that we fail to involve ourselves in defense of the faith, something that all Christians are called to do (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Fifth, we need to support those women and egalitarians who are actively involved in apologetics, noting their contributions and calling attention to them. We ought also to add these persons to our prayers, providing spiritual support for the task of defending the faith.

As for what happened with the speaker who inspired this article?

I raised my hand and pointed out the women scholars in the classroom listening to him state that women aren’t really interested in apologetics. He backtracked and ultimately changed the topic, but it led to some conversations after the class. Those conversations are exactly what we need to be engaging in—pointing to the real contributions of egalitarians and women to fields of biblical studies, apologetics, and beyond.