When my former Wheaton College professor, Dr Alan Johnson, asked me to tell my personal story of how my mind was changed about women in leadership I hesitated at first. I did not want to take any emphasis away from missional-ecumenism by turning toward a new “hot button” issue that would give people more reasons to not deal with my big idea about the church and her mission. Contrary to the opinion of some I do not relish new controversies. But I do feel compelled to be honest about how I’ve thought through an issue when the right time comes to tell my story. After some prayer I sensed that this was the right time and context in which to tell this part of my story in 2010.
In late October the new book How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals (Zondervan) was released. Dr. Johnson is the general editor of this lovely book. Dallas Willard writes a magnificent foreword. Included in the book are twenty-one stories by contributors such as Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Bill andLynne Hybels, I. Howard Marshall, John and Nancy Ortberg, Cornelius Plantinga, Walter and Olive Liefield, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. and Stanley Gundry. Because the editor decided to list the chapters by the last name of the author my own chapter, “Lessons My Mother Taught Me Without Trying,” is first. I assure you that it is far from the best.
What makes this book quite unique is not the subject matter. There are dozens of great books on this issue. The best are written by careful biblical scholars who directly address the text of the Scripture itself. I have read dozens of these books in my journey to understand better how to read Scripture and apply it. This book does deal with some of these same texts but it is all done in story form. Each of us tells how we made the journey from complimentarianism (so-called) to egalitarianism (so-called). I say “so-called” because I find these terms need much better definition if they are to be used with care. In some ways the use of terminology here reminds me of the pro-life debate. Are defenders of abortion on demand “pro-choice” or “pro-death?” Are those who want to end most, or all, abortions, “pro-life” or “anti-abortion?” Or, maybe pro-lifers are those who oppose the freedom of choice if you really want to score points in the market place of popular opinion. This debate rages and few listen well. In a much smaller way the same is true of the debate about the role of women in leadership. We do not try to listen many times because we have decided that we have a label that fits and thus we have finished thinking about the matter.
This book is a readable collection of essays in which personal experience replaces rigid and abstract argumentation. Nicholas Wolterstorff calls it an “Altogether . . . moving and inspiring set of stories.” Evangelical biblical scholar Walter Kaiser says, “[It is] a most interesting and important collection of evangelical writers.” Richard Mouw says, “Wonderful testimonies to the ways in which so many of us have come to better understand God’s plan for distributing the gifts of leadership to women and men alike.”
My own story is, as noted above, about the influence of my mother, a gifted Bible teacher. In the end she shaped my thinking without me even realizing how powerfully she did until I was in my 30s. I am not sure mom ever knew how my mind had changed on this subject, though I did discuss it with her and ask her questions along the way. In the end I began to see how she had been kept from using her gift as fully as she should have been because of the stance of my church took against women teaching men. (I believe jealousy played a huge role in this too since she was a far better Bible teacher than any of the male pastors I heard growing up in the church!)
Lest someone who disagrees with me on this issue suggests that experience is always trumped by careful exegesis of the Bible I readily agree, but with one exception. No one reads their Bible without their own experience and no can interpret the Scripture without the influence of people and arguments. You do not read Scripture in a vacuum nor do you apply it without listening to the church and the culture. Every missionary understands this. In this sense I began to see that it was time to tell my own story and that telling it could foster the deepening of my passion for missional-ecumenism.