January 28, 2010

Women Telling the Story

 Without dispute, women’s voices in the local church have incredible significance, as these voices give way to a greater understanding of how women think and experience God and the Christian life. Any dispute generally has to do with the realm where these voices are heard, but for certain both men and women have much to learn about each other and how God is at work through these stories and experiences.

In her recent post, Tracey Bianchi wrote about the significance of women’s voices as teachers in the local church.
"…a woman proclaiming God’s Word with hands that smell like marinated artichokes can hit the heart of another woman in a way men cannot…women have stories to tell about life and God, just as our male partners on the journey do. The chance to preach from their perspectives is honoring God’s call to the community of Christ."
Though I am not committed to Tracey’s ultimate conclusions in terms of how this plays out in the pulpit, her position is clearly grounded in an authentic love for the community of believers and for God. And I embrace her core argument that there is tremendous value for men learning more about how women experience the Christian life. In further agreement, we as women teachers can reach women in ways men simply cannot—because of our shared experiences.

To what degree are women in your church equipped, encouraged, and positioned to proclaim God’s Word to one another? Local churches need mature, believing women to mentor one on one—that’s a given—but also to teach in corporate settings. And yes, I mean the women in the local church and not the special speakers who, by default, do a bulk of this kind of teaching. It is necessary to add that these teaching gifts must be modeled to women by women in the local church so that recognition of these gifts in future leaders is not overshadowed by the notion of unattainable celebrity status.

But this is where we need to be very clear about the nature of corporate educational opportunities in women’s ministry. It’s not so much that Christ will be proclaimed from a woman’s perspective or point of view, because the Word of God contains objective and unchanging truths as well as timeless stories that ultimately bring us to the foot of the Cross—regardless of gender. We can think of this as a redeemed human point of view, not so much a gender-influenced perspective. Yet there is still something about the notion of a “woman’s perspective” that deserves consideration.

Dorothy Sayers, theologian and female-extraordinaire, deals with the question of the “woman’s point of view” in her book Are Women Human? While she recognizes that women often share a great deal common experience that she calls “special knowledge,” she poignantly asks …what in thunder is the women’s perspective on the devaluation of the franc or the abolition of the Danzig Corridor? You may be wondering what the Danzig Corridor is, something that a basic Google search can resolve, but I think you get the point, and we must be clear about this.

When Christ is proclaimed, we aren’t really proclaiming Christ from a woman’s perspective any more than we can explain America’s economic crisis from a woman’s perspective, though we can explain its effect in the experience and perspective of being a woman. What we are really doing is teaching how to apply the theological truths we gather from Scripture to our lives as women. We are reflecting on how we live out our faith, even giving consideration to how we once lived as children of wrath…as women.

How we actually understand the meaning of Scripture is not going to differ from how men understand it, and in fact many of our experiences—because we are human—will correlate. Of course, we bring life experience and a worldview framework to our interpretation of Scripture. But if we are doing what we are suppose to be doing, we are utilizing a historical-grammatical biblical hermeneutic that helps us to avoid interpreting through the lens of our own experiences and discover as much is possible the intended meaning of the writers. Great care needs to be taken so as to avoid a feminist hermeneutic that begins with the authority of the feminine experience instead of the authority of Scripture.

When women invite other women to the person of Christ through the message of Scripture, our experience as women permits us to communicate what it means to lead a God-centered life through the joys, trials, and tribulations that are associated with being a woman. We ought not underestimate the value of this as we consider whether or not women’s ministry plays an important role in the local church.

Cross-posted at Gifted for Leadership