Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: Encountering God in Tyrannical Texts

Encountering God in Tyrannical Texts: Reflections on Paul, Women, and the Authority of ScriptureEncountering God in Tyrannical Texts: Reflections on Paul, Women, and the Authority of Scripture by Frances Taylor Gench
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book packages three different, but related topics into one. The first is the subject of the authority of scripture and what that looks like in practice. The first two chapters deal with its ins and outs using two passages as case studies. The second subject is what to do with the so-called "tyrannical" texts that minimize and subjugate women. Five of the six chapters deal with examples of such "tyrannical" texts. (The sixth chapter discusses a non-tyrannical passage, Romans 16, which discusses women in church leadership, but also discusses how the church has sought to erase their memories.) The third subject is the controversy regarding Pauline authorship of some of these tyrannical texts, and whether authorship should be a consideration in scriptural authority.

The question of what to do with troubling texts has vexed Christian readers of the Bible throughout its history. In the present day one of its manifestations is in regards to what the Bible "really says" about women and, more importantly, women in church leadership. For traditionalists, "the Bible is clear" that women are not to hold teaching positions and perhaps even remain silent in church. For progressives this is at odds with the overall trajectory of God's plan of restoration and at odds with Jesus' example and Paul's teaching, particularly of Galatians 3:28. Progressives are tempted to minimize troublesome teachings, try to explain it away, or even throw it out altogether.

Frances Gench shows her readers another set of options. The first chapter discusses 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and then suggests five recommendations for reading and handling tyrannical texts. The intent is to take seriously the canonical authority (as opposed to authority based on presumed authorship) of the biblical text.

For me the fourth recommendation - Learn from the dangers as well as the insights - was a revelation. This recommendation acknowledges that biblical authors are human, even when inspired, that they are writing within their various contexts and with various motivations - some which may not be altogether pure or praiseworthy. This recommendation allows for errors and even bad theology to have been recorded in the pages of the Bible. What it does is allows us to wrestle with the problems and see where the authors and the communities they were writing to went off track so that we can learn from their mistakes. For me, this was the book's most important contribution.

Gench provides exegesis and discusses various interpretations of some of the common tyrannical texts employed against women. She frequently disagrees with even some commonly supplied progressive interpretations and provides alternatives that she suggests are more faithful to keeping to the text and its authority.

For progressive Christians, this book can provide a way to reconcile a Bible that is less than perfect with divinely inspired authority of said writing. It is a progressive apologetic to a way of interpreting and using scripture that remains faithful to its intent and to two millennia of church history.

This book is also a fine resource for exploring biblical feminism and gender roles in the family, church, and society.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sermon: Peacemaker

broken fence in snow

Abstract: Walls, fences, and boundaries focus what divides and separates one group of people from another. We think that stronger, better, and more robust fences will keep peace and harmony, but they don’t and they can’t. Peace is only achieved in the person of Jesus Christ, who came and destroyed all these things that we use to prop up and try to secure ourselves. Peace is only achieved when hostility and hatred are themselves killed. The Christians’ focus is not to be on what divides and separates, not on maintaining separations the world considers necessary, but on Christ who is the only thing that can bring true and lasting peace. The Church that Christ is building does not have walls, because there is no group to be kept out. Christians have been given the message of the gospel of peace and reconciliation, to be peacemakers, by keeping walls and fences that Christ destroyed, destroyed.

Lectionary: Year B, Proper 11
Sermon Text: Ephesians 2:11-22
Theme: Don’t build or mend walls and fences that Christ Jesus has destroyed.

Listen to sermon (23 minutes)

I preceded the sermon with the following, related readings: Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 3:9b-11, 16-17; Colossians 1:20.

I also used in this sermon the poem, Mending Wall, by Robert Frost that contains the proverbial phrase, “Good fences make good neighbors.” What may be surprising is that the poem communicates a message that is quite the opposite from the popular use and understanding of this phrase.

This evening I looked again at the bulletin cover that was chosen, and was astonished that the cover text read “He is our peace” which is how Ephesians 2:14 begins and was the central text in my mind while preparing this sermon. I was so concentrated on the service that I didn’t really see the cover this morning.

Photo: Copyright: vicsa / 123RF Stock Photo