Encouraging Women to Attend This Year’s ETS Conference Part 3: Why ETS and Not Another Conference

This is part of the ongoing project by me and Leslie Keeney to encourage more women to attend this year’s ETS conference. You can see our previous posts  here, illness here, prostate here, unhealthy and here.

As people hear about my plans to go to ETS this November, they almost all ask the same question, “Why ETS? Why not another conference?”

I have been to SBL. But it is very much about biblical studies, biblical languages, text criticism and the like. I am more theology-oriented so I found that there was a lot of SBL that was outside of my area of interest. I could go to AAR, but it tends to be too broad and too big. I could maybe one day go to the Karl Barth conference at Princeton, but I am not nearly Barthian enough, and it feels too niche. I should probably one day attend the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association, I just haven’t had the opportunity yet. (And weirdly enough it’s often cheaper to fly to ETS than it is to fly to the CETA meeting. I guess that’s the downside to living in Canada).

At ETS I am spoiled for choices, and more often than not, there are more sessions that I want to attend than I have time for.

The second question/statement I get quite a bit is, “I don’t know how you can sign their doctrinal statement.” Sometimes this is said innocently. Sometimes it’s said a little bit smugly, as if the person is really saying, “I’m too good and too smart to sign the doctrinal statement and you are beneath me for signing it.” Sometimes it’s said with genuine curiosity.

The doctrinal statement is signed every year when the annual dues are paid. It says:

The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.

For most people who question this statement, they stumble on the “inerrant”. “Inerrancy” has become a hot topic in evangelicalism. Does the Bible have authority? What does this authority look like? Is Scripture without error? And if it is, how so? And this doctrinal statement, does not actually define “inerrant”. The ETS website points people to the Chicago Statement (1978) for more information. Some people have said that this doctrinal statement is too exclusive. Others point out that more and more of the signing members of ETS are those who hold to a very conservative understanding of inerrancy. Some people are fairly neutral on this statement, saying that because it specifies that Scripture is inerrant in the autographs, and we don’t have those original autographs, that it is a non-issue. We can and should wrestle with the textual variants and not be afraid of weighing the implications of the different textual issues.

Other people point out that though leading evangelicals sign the doctrinal statement, their theology does not seem to affirm the statement that they sign. Suzanne McCarthy, for example, is blogging through the Trinity sentence of the doctrinal statement, specifically the statement that the three persons of the Trinity are “equal in power and glory”. Suzanne doesn’t understand how those scholars who hold to eternal subordination of the Son can sign the doctrinal statement.

I personally like that the doctrinal statement is short and not over-involved. There is room to debate and discuss the “hows” of the doctrinal statement through the annual meetings and paper presentations. I was there when Clark Pinnock was brought up on charges of failing to uphold the doctrinal statement of inerrancy. But as was mentioned over and over at the meeting when the vote was taken, interpretations are not inerrant. There can be different interpretations of Scripture that may be less “right” than others, this does not necessarily mean that the person who holds the specific interpretation does not hold to the trustworthiness of Scripture.

Whatever else I am, I am an evangelical. And I’m not ashamed to say that, even though these days it’s cooler to disparage and mock evangelicals.
I am an evangelical who believes that it is important to explore theology and biblical studies from an evangelical perspective, and that evangelicalism has something to contribute to the world of academia. I have been a student member of the ETS for ten years (oh my where did that time go?) and one day I hope to be a full member, once my schooling is complete.

Now, it’s true that it’s been eight years since I was last at ETS. And just looking at the program guides over the last eight years, it is hard not to notice the conservative turn that the ETS membership is taking. There appears to be a growing contingent of presenters and attendees from SBTS which has caused some people concern. Who knows, maybe I’ll go to conference this year, and find that it’s not the same conference it was years ago. And that’s okay. But my guess, is that I’ll go, and rub elbows with people I agree with, and people I don’t. I’ll sit in on fantastic presentations, and probably sit in on a few not so stellar presentations. That has happened each time I’ve been to ETS. I will go and learn and be edified. I will go and be challenged. I will go and see what is currently “hot” in evangelical academia. I will go and spend a whole bunch of time checking out the tables and tables of books in the vendors’ hall. I will sit in on at least one or two sessions of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. And I will go and meet new people. I’m looking forward to meeting Leslie and other bloggers who I’ve gotten to know online.

And maybe one day I’ll have a conference budget that will allow me to attend all kinds of theological conferences without having to worry about the cost. Then I can go to ETS and to the Karl Barth conference, and to whatever other conferences strike my fancy. Ah the life and dreams of an academic!

Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part Four Responses to the Invectives

“I should prefer that all women, even of the lowest rank, should read the evangelists and the epistles of Paul.” Erasmus, Paraclesis: or, an Exhortation (1516).

See previous:
Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part One Introduction
Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part Two Examples of Invectives
Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part Three Sexual and Posthumous Invectives

It appears from the writings of these women that they could give as good as they got. Argula von Grumbach wrote her own poem in response to Johannes Landshut, and when she had it published, she didn’t try to hide the original poem, instead she included it in the publication so that readers could judge for themselves who was right, because she had full confidence in rightness of her response. Likewise, Argula did not back down in light of her uncle’s chastisement of her. Instead, she stood her ground and justified her letter writing campaign by arguing that the leadership at the university (and even the princes of the land) were “as well informed about the Bible as a cow is about chess.”

Marie Dentière did not wither in the face of invectives thrown at her. In her Epistle to Marguerite of Navarre, written at the request of Marguerite to inform her about what had happened to cause John Calvin’s expulsion from Geneva, Marie did not mince words as she condemned the Genevan city leadership for their decisions. She likened them to “cowardly soldiers” who “when they find themselves in assaults, skirmishes, and ambushes with the enemies of truth…don’t want to bite for fear of blows, insults and outrages. Thus, they are as bold as slugs.” These men were “donkeys, wolves, and impudent, lustful hypocrites.” She specifically called out one man, Pierre Caroli, who “impudently abandoned his own pregnant wife…and returned to his vomitings,” that is, he rejoined the Catholic Church.

When Katharina Zell was called a concubine for being married to a clergyman, she chose to not remain silent and instead wrote a defense of not only her marriage to Matthias Zell, but a defense of clergy marriage in general. And Elizabeth displayed her unhappiness at Knox’s First Blast by refusing to allow him to travel through England as he traveled from Switzerland back to Scotland.

Up Coming:
Part Five: Evaluation


Argula von Grumbach, “An Answer in verse to a member of the University of Ingolstadt in response to a recent utterance of his which is printed below (1524)” in Matheson, Argula Von Grumbach: A Woman’s Voice in the Reformation, 173–190.

Katharina Schutz Zell, “Apologia for Matthew Zell on Clerical Marriage (1524)” in Zell, Church Mother: The Writings of a Protestant Reformer in Sixteenth-Century Germany.

Robert Healey. “Waiting for Deborah: John Knox and Four Ruling Queens.” Sixteenth Century Journal XXV, no. 2 (1994): 371–386.

Peter Matheson, “Breaking the Silence: Women, Censorship, and the Reformation.” Sixteenth Century Journal XXVII (1996): 97–109.

Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part Three Sexual and Posthumous Invectives

“I should prefer that all women, even of the lowest rank, should read the evangelists and the epistles of Paul.” Erasmus, Paraclesis: or, an Exhortation (1516).

See previous:
Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part One Introduction
Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part Two Examples of Invectives

Sexual Invectives:

It is interesting how quickly invectives against these women took on a sexual nature. George Hauer condemned Argula von Grumbach as a “shameless whore.” The pseudonymous poem against Argula suggested that Luther’s theology was the reason that women like Argula were prone to “fornication and lechery/ of brazen, gross adultery.” The author insinuated that the reason Argula so forcefully defended the student on trial was because she was in heat and lusting after him. Katharina Schutz Zell, being one of the first women to marry a clergyman in Strasbourg, was denounced as a concubine of the Matthias Zell, and that he should pay the proper tax for his illicit relationship with her. In England, Anne Askew was described as “a coy dame, and of very evil fame for wantonness” simply because she chose to go by her maiden rather than her married name.

Posthumous Invectives:

The invectives against Argula did not stop after her letter writing campaign was finished, or even after her death. Even as late as 1782, the university still held a dim view of her efforts, with the chronicler noting that she was and continued to be “regarded by everyone with derision.” After Anne Askew’s self-reported “Examinations” were published posthumously, the invectives continued with the bishop of Winchester characterizing her writings as “pernicious, seditious and slanderous.” In the nineteenth century, Aimé-Louis Herminjard published a collection of letters from the French Reformation and he included an excerpt of Dentière’s Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre. His commentary on her contribution is filled with contempt. He characterized her as “a resolute woman” who meddled in areas she should not have, a “proud and vindictive woman” who was the reason for her husband’s downfall, and a “scheming woman.”

Up Coming:

Part Four — Responses to the Invectives
Part Five — Evaluation


Elaine Beilin, The Examinations of Anne Askew (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

Amié-Louis Herminjard, ed., Correspondence Des Réformateurs Dans Les Pays De Langue Française. Recuillie Et Publiée Avec D’autres Lettres Relatives à La Réforme Et Des Notes Historiques Et Biographiques, Reprint. (Nieuwkoop: B. DeGraaf Publishing, 1965), 6:173.

Peter Matheson, Argula Von Grumbach: A Woman’s Voice in the Reformation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995).

Marie Dentière, Epistle to Marguerite De Navarre and Preface to a Sermon by John Calvin, ed. Mary McKinley (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004).

Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part Two Examples of Invectives

“I should prefer that all women, even of the lowest rank, should read the evangelists and the epistles of Paul.” Erasmus, Paraclesis: or, an Exhortation (1516).

see previous entry: Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part One Introduction

Argula von Grumbach

In 1523, having witnessed a young student at the University of Ingolstadt being charged with heresy for embracing Lutheran theology, Argula von Grumbach came to the defense of this student by writing a letter to the university denouncing the leadership for being hypocritical and greedy. This letter was then published and circulated publicly. The administrators of the university were furious that Argula dared to involve herself in the affairs of the university. Her husband lost his job as administrator, and the family was banned from Dietfurt as a result of her letter writing campaign.

George Hauer, a theologian at the university, responded to Argula’s letter by preaching an angry sermon about the “wretched children of Eve.” Turning specifically to Argula, he denounced her as being a “female desperado,” a “wretched and pathetic daughter of Eve,” an “arrogant devil,” and a “heretical bitch.” Argula refused to back down, and even though she had received death threats, she sent a letter to the city council which included a copy of her original letter to the university in which she tried to clarify the purpose of her original letter. Not only did the theologians at the university want “the silly bag tamed,” her uncle, Adam von Thering was angry that her unladylike behaviour had brought shame on their family’s name and he “wanted her walled up for good.”

The most sustained invective against Argula came in the form of a pseudonymous poem written by “Johannes of Landshut” who was supposedly a student at the university. The poem not only ridiculed Argula for failing to show womanly restraint, it charged her with purposefully deceiving her readers through the twisting of Scripture, and it concludes with a call to put her back in her proper place, and if she does not heed this call, she may face an untimely death: “It’s not a woman’s place to strut/ With the words of God, or lecture men/ But to listen like the Magdalene./ Woman, I give you good advice/…For if for this topic again you head/ Like all your heretic friends, you’re dead.”

Katharina Schutz Zell

Invectives against Katharina Schutz Zell can be seen in her tense relationship with Ludwig Rabus. Rabus succeeded Zell’s husband as pastor of the church in Strasbourg. In 1557, after Rabus abandoned his pastorate, without properly tendering his resignation, for a new position in Ulm, Katharina wrote an open letter to the city of Strasbourg imploring Rabus to explain himself, and to call him out on his hypocrisy. Rabus’ response was dripping with contempt. His letter of response began, “your heathen, unchristian, stinking, lying letter reached me…when I was busy and much laden with preaching.” He characterized her letter as being from the devil and that it slandered a true “servant of Christ.” He accused Katharina of being a troublemaker in the church and of tormenting her husband. Rabus did not apologize for his invectives against her, and instead justifies his tone by pointing out “that one must answer the fool as he deserves.” The invectives went even further, with Rabus calling her “a heretic, Zwinglian, devilish, stinking liar, pharisaic, a false witness, a rumour-monger, inspired by the devil, poisonous, pagan and a fool.

Marie Dentière

Marie Dentière took an active role in preaching the Gospel in Geneva, and made it her mission to convince nuns to join the Reformation. She wrote and spoke with authority, and this angered the leadership in Geneva. The pastors in Geneva not only condemned Marie, they, like the university officials at Ingolstadt did to Argula von Grumbach, attempted to punish her through her husband. Beautus Comte, the pastor of the Lausanne church, refused to believe that she was actually the author of her writings, and instead assumed that it was her pastor husband, because he was “not ready to acknowledge that a woman could publish a work of reformed doctrine or that a pastor could collaborate on such a project with his wife.” Even John Calvin called her an ‘unruly woman’ who deserved only contempt for her actions, particularly for her fervent defense of the right of women to speak and proclaim the Gospel.

John Knox

The most sustained invective against women is John Knox’s The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Written in response to the Catholic Queen on the throne of England, Knox called the Queen a “Jezebel,” a “wicked woman” and a “traitoresse and bastard.” Any woman in a position of political authority was “repugnant to nature.” Woman were not suited to rule because they were “weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish…unconstant, variable, cruel and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment.” He pointed to Aristotle, Scripture and the Church Fathers to support his position that “woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him.” If a woman was in a position of authority, it meant that Satan was “president of the counsel” and those who chose to submit themselves to her authority were “slaves of Satan and servants of iniquity” because, “from a corrupt and venomed fountain can spring no wholesome water.

Some scholars suggest a more sympathetic reading of Knox’s First Blast because it is not so much a treatise about gender as it is a treatise against idolatry. But if that is the case, why does Knox reject “all women from empire and dominion above man”? He also had an opportunity to recant his First Blast when Elizabeth (a Protestant) ascended the throne, but he did not. Instead he attempted to clarify his argument, and suggested that Elizabeth was like Deborah in the Old Testament, called by God, and yet in First Blast he makes it clear that Deborah’s rule (and likewise other unusual examples like Huldah) is like polygamy: just because there are examples of it in Scripture does not make it right, for Christians are called to follow the commands of God, not examples. In fact, Knox called on Elizabeth to admit that she was unfit to rule and that her being Queen was solely because of the gracious patience of God.

Up Coming:
Part Three — Sexual Invectives and Posthumous Invectives
Part Four — Responses to the Invectives
Part Five — Evaluation

Argula von Grumbach, “Letter to the University of Ingolstadt” in Peter Matheson, Argula Von Grumbach: A Woman’s Voice in the Reformation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995).

Johannes of Landshut, “A word about the Stauffen woman and her disputativeness (1524)” in Matheson.

Peter Matheson, “Breaking the Silence: Women, Censorship, and the Reformation,” Sixteenth Century Journal XXVII (1996).

Ludwig Rabus, “Letter of Ludwig Rabus to Katharina Schutz Sell (1557)” in Katharina Schutz Zell, Church Mother: The Writings of a Protestant Reformer in Sixteenth-Century Germany, ed. Elsie McKee (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006).

Marie Dentière, Epistle to Marguerite De Navarre and Preface to a Sermon by John Calvin, ed. Mary McKinley (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004).

John Knox, “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” in The Works of John Knox, ed. David Lang, vol. IV (New York: AMS Press, 1996).

Susan Felch, “The Rhetoric of Biblical Authority: John Knox and the Question of Women,” Sixteenth Century Journal 25 (1995).

Robert Healey, “Waiting for Deborah: John Knox and Four Ruling Queens,” Sixteenth Century Journal XXV, no. 2 (1994).

Invectives: Examples of Reactions to Women in Leadership in the Reformation — Part One Introduction

“I should prefer that all women, even of the lowest rank, should read the evangelists and the epistles of Paul.” Erasmus, Paraclesis: or, an Exhortation (1516).

The Reformation brought a new freedom to Christians. With the proclamation of the priesthood of all believers, meaning that no person needed a priest as mediator for access to God, and with the push to translate the Bible into the vernacular so that all literate people could read and understand the Bible for themselves, an equalizing spirit swept through the Reformation. On a spiritual level at least, women were equal with men. The preface to the Great Bible written by Thomas Cranmer, Erasmus, and even Luther and Calvin praised women for their knowledge of Scripture, and encouraged them to read the Scriptures for themselves. Indeed, the Protestant Reformation pushed for universal education for both boys and girls so that they could learn to read Scripture for themselves. (There is debate as to the equality of the quality of the education given to girls compared to boys, but this is outside the scope of this series. Susan Karant-Nunn notes that the encouragement for women to read Scripture was to teach women their moral responsibility “to be submissive wives, responsible mothers and attentive, frugal housekeepers.”)

In light of this new egalitarian theology, women from a variety of backgrounds found a voice and entered into the action of proclaiming the Gospel and wrestling with the new theology of justification by faith. As Daniel Frankforter notes, at the advent of the Reformation, “many women comprehended immediately what it was about, embraced its faith, preached its message and encouraged its leaders.” Unfortunately, the response from the leaders of the Reformation to these women actively participating in preaching and teaching was not entirely positive. More often than not, the women who chose to write, preach and teach were met with invectives, attempts to expunge their writings, and silence.

This blog series will highlight just a few examples of the invectives that some of the women who were active in the Reformation experienced. The invectives examined here against women who preached and wrote occurred not because they preached heresy or were outside the tradition of the Reformation, but because of their gender. This is also true of John Knox’s invectives against women, for although they were originally written against the Catholic monarchy in England and Scotland, his refusal to recant his position when a Protestant Queen ascended the throne demonstrates that his invectives were directed at gender rather than at the theological convictions of the monarchy.

By way of introduction, a caveat must be given on some of the restrictions of this series. While some of the women’s writings have been translated into English, not all of the reactions to their writings have been. As such, the analysis of the different types of reactions to these women comes largely from the introductions and historical research that the editors of the English translations of the female authors’ writings have presented.
Up Coming:
Part Two — Examples of Invectives
Part Three — Sexual Invectives and Posthumous Invectives
Part Four — Responses to the Invectives
Part Five — Evaluation

Kirsi Stjerna, Women and the Reformation (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2009).

Susan Karant-Nunn, “Continuity and Change: Some Effects of the Reformation on the Women of Zwickau,” Sixteenth Century Journal XII (1982).

Daniel Frankforter, “Elizabeth Bowes and John Knox: A Woman and Reformation Theology,” Church History 56 (1987).

Encouraging Women to Attend this Year’s ETS Part Two: What to Expect at ETS

This is part of the ongoing project by me and Leslie Keeney to encourage more women to attend this year’s ETS conference. You can see our previous posts here, recipe here and here.

So what happens at ETS?

Well, try in short, lots and lots of presentations. When you register for the conference, you are sent a program guide that lists all of the presentations. These presentations are divided into sessions or sections usually based on discipline or specific topic. There are usually 5 or 6 blocks of presentations: Wed morning, Wed afternoon; Thurs morning, Thurs afternoon; Friday morning and Friday afternoon.

So how do you choose which presentations to attend?

1. Based on the presenter. This can be a good way to see what your friends, heroes or teachers are currently researching. But note, if you chase after the “celebrity” presenters, these presentations tend to be filled to the brim and sometimes are “standing room only” (this happened at a Greg Boyd presentation I went to at the Toronto ETS.) The downside to this approach is that you may miss out on fantastic presentations simply because you don’t know the presenter. ETS is a perfect opportunity to engage new people and new ideas so don’t be afraid to try someone new.
2. Based on the title of the presentation. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes the title of the presentation is witty and engaging but then the presentation is absolutely dreadful. An example, I once went to a presentation where the title was “Did C.S. Lewis go to heaven?” thinking it would be an analysis of his “The Great Divorce.” Nope. I was so very wrong. The presentation was actually, “No C.S. Lewis is not in heaven because he was an Anglican and not an evangelical.” (I’m so not kidding). On the other hand some of the best presentations are the ones with the boring or even overly technical titles.
3. Based on your area of research. This is a good way to see what is currently hot in your area of study, and also to see what ideas are beginning to germinate in your field. But this approach means that you may limit your learning opportunities as well as your chance to meet new people.
4.Based on a whim. I have done this. I had one slot left on a Thursday afternoon in Atlanta, and nothing was screaming “must attend”. So I listed all of the available sessions, closed my eyes and chose one. It turned out amazingly well. I ended up in a presentation by Timothy Erdel from Bethel. I was so impressed, that I made sure I attended his presentation the next year, and I will probably keep an eye out to see if he presents this year as well.

What else happens at ETS?

Of course there are also the plenary addresses. These are delivered by guest speakers and are related to the theme of the conference. This year’s theme is Caring for Creation and the plenary speakers are Richard Bauckham, E. Calvin Beisner, Doug Moo and Russell Moore. You don’t have to go to all or even any of the plenary sessions. It’s up to you.

There is also a banquet on one of the evenings. I have found personally that the banquet is not for me, but that is mainly because by the time I’ve spent the entire day bouncing from presentation to presentation that I am intellectually drained and want nothing more than a quiet supper and an early bedtime.

But most importantly is the book vendors. This is the most amazing part of the ETS experience. Every single book publisher comes and has a table. They have “hot off the presses” books, classics, must-reads and more. And they all discount anywhere from 30-70% off the suggested retail price. When I went to the conference in San Antonio I was worried about how many books I could buy and fit in my suitcase, so I stood at the IVP booth humming and hawing. And then the rep said, “we can ship it to you!” Perfect! And most of the vendors had the same policy. Wahoo!

Is there an event specifically for bloggers?

I know that at SBL the bloggers would try to get together and go out for supper together. I would love for that to happen at ETS. If you’re coming to ETS and would like to go for supper, let’s do it!

I want to attend, what do I need to know?

All the details, including registration are at the ETS website. But here’s the basic details:
November 14-16, 2012 at the Frontier Airlines Center in Milwaukee. There are blocks of rooms at two hotels (Hilton and Hyatt Regency) or you can book at another nearby hotel if you’re on a tighter budget.

And if you can’t make it this year, next year’s conference is “Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and the Evangelical Theological Society: Retrospect and Prospect” in Baltimore, MD.

#mutuality2012 Evidence For Ordained Women in the Patristic Period

Rachel Held Evans is hosting a week of mutuality on her blog. As part of this synchroblog event, here I will be doing two things: One, I will be highlighting posts that I have written on the subject; and two, Leslie Keeney over at The Ruthless Monk and I will be posting about encouraging women to attend this year’s ETS annual conference that is coming up in the fall. We want to write about this now so that people have plenty of time to prepare and plan to come.


A phenomenal book that should be on the shelf of every one who studies the role of women in the church is Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek. This book looks at all the available documentation in the first six hundred years of the church and finds references to female deacons and presbyters in both the church in the East and West.

Madigan and Osiek argue that though the vast majority of ordained women were ordained to the office of deacon or deaconess, there is evidence of female presbyters in the early church. Indeed, “what can be said with certainty is that the claim that women never functioned as presbyters in the “orthodox” church is simply untrue.” (9). Prior to outlining all of the references to ordained women, Madigan and Osiek ask the question, what did the early Church say about these NT texts that suggest that women were in leadership roles in the NT church? So, in regards to the Romans 16 passage that mentions Phoebe the deacon, the authors compile commentary on this passage from Origen, John Chrysostom, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Ambrosiaster and Pelagius.

And once we get into the Patristic writings, the conclusion is that, just like today, it’s complicated. While evidence for female presbyters is rare, it is not non-existent, and in some cases not enough evidence has survived to tell us exactly how or to what extent women participated in leadership roles.

Some interesting tidbits:

* Tertullian speaks out against women performing baptisms, suggesting that some communities were allowing women to preside over baptismal rites. Likewise, the Apostolic Constitutions (early 3rd century) specifically condemns women performing baptism, arguing that for a woman to preside over the rite is “perilous, rather uncustomary, and irreverent.” (AC 3.9.1) But at the same time, deaconesses were called to participate in the baptism of women “for the sake of decency” (AC 8.28.6) This is probably required because there is evidence that, in the early church, catechumens were baptized naked!

* For some reason, ordained female deacons are found almost solely in East and not in the West until the 5th century, and when the office of female deacons in the West does begin to appear it is usually in relationship to monastic orders.

* In 441 the Council of Orange decreed that women were no longer to be ordained as deacons: “if there are any who have already been ordained, let them submit their heads to the benediction that is granted to the laity.” The Second Council of Orleans in 533 reiterates this ban on female ordination: “It has been decided that, from now on, no women may be given the diaconal benediction on account of the fragility of their sex.” This seems to suggest that the edict forbidding female ordination was ignored, and that churches were continuing to ordain women.

* The Testamentum Domini (4th or 5th century) offers some clues as to the roles of female presbyters: “For the female presbyters we pray…” (TD 1.35) “Let the female presbyters remain with the bishop until the dawn, praying and resting.” (TD 2.19) Madigan and Osiek make this observation about female presbyters in the TD: “In a context such as this, presbyterae could simply be translated ‘elderly women’ but their special role alongside the bishop suggests a special status and role…they are found in prayer, their primary responsibility.” (pg. 158)

* Several funeral inscriptions denote specific women as presbyters. “The term for presbyter could mean simply older women, but this is unlikely in a tomb commemoration, where functional and honorary titles are used.” (170)

* In a letter written to Ambrose, Atto, Bishop of Vercelli in the early 10th century assumes or has knowledge of women having been leaders in church in the 4th century: Citing Romans 16, “Here it is understood that not only men but also women presided over the churches because of their great usefulness…We believe women were enjoined to the office of baptizing so that the bodies of other women might be handled by them without any deeply felt sense of shame just as those who were called female presbyters assumed the office of preaching, leading and teaching, so female deacons had taken up the office of ministry and of baptizing, a custom that no longer is expedient.”

#mutuality2012 Let Me Introduce You To Few of My Favourite Female Theologians

Rachel Held Evans is hosting a week of mutuality on her blog. As part of this synchroblog event, mind I will be doing two things: One, cialis I will be highlighting posts that I have written on the subject; and two, Leslie Keeney over at The Ruthless Monk and I will be posting about encouraging women to attend this year’s ETS annual conference that is coming up in the fall. We want to write about this now so that people have plenty of time to prepare and plan to come.


The role of Pastor and Theologian are off limits to women. That is what some churches teach women. These offices are teaching offices and are reserved for men only. Even in churches and seminaries that are egalitarian, it more common than not to find that women in these teaching roles are a minority.

Partly I think it has to do with the fact that potential female scholars are encouraged, or find it easier, to study and teach areas that are “womanly”: gender issues, counseling, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, youth ministry etc.

Theology is not off limits to women. We shouldn’t be scared of theology, or think that it’s reserved for the “old boys club”.

Theology needs women, and women need theology.

Female theologians are not just writing about feminism or “women’s issues”. In fact, there are some amazing contributions being made in the areas of Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology and much, much more.

So if I may, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favourite female theologians:

Kathryn Tanner:
Dr. Tanner is Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. She has written several books, including Christ the Key, and Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity. Ben Myers has said this about Dr. Tanner:
“In my view, Kathryn Tanner is one of the best theologians working in the Reformed tradition today – she has both a profound grasp of the dogmatic tradition and an acute sensitivity to the contemporary theological situation.” See also, Chris Tessone’s Why I Love Kathryn Tanner and Tripp Fuller’s I Heart Kathryn Tanner’s Christocentric Christology!


Sarah Coakley:
I first came across Dr. Coakley’s writings while doing research on the Council of Chalcedon for a Barth paper. Dr. Coakley is Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. According to her faculty page, she is working on a four volume systematic theology (Yay!). Check out her suggestions of 5 essential theology books of the last 25 years. Also, you can watch (or even read) the Gifford Lectures Series she recently did at the University of Aberdeen on the topic of theology, ethics and the philosophy of science.


Nancey Murphy:
Technically Dr. Murphy is a philosopher, but much of her work intersects with theology, and has been invaluable to my studies. Dr. Murphy is Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary. In her writings on the human soul, Dr. Murphy argues for a non-reductive physicalist position (i.e., there is no dichotomy of body and ‘soul’).


Ellen Charry:
Dr. Charry is Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. I’ve become interested in Dr. Charry’s work on the theology of happiness. There is much overlap between Dr. Charry’s work and work that is currently being done in the field of positive psychology.


Marva Dawn:
Dr. Dawn is a teaching fellow at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. Dr. Dawn has written on worship, pastoral theology and much more. Her book, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God won a Christianity Today Book Award. And of course, her book Reaching out without Dumbing Down is a must-read for anyone involved in leading worship in the Church.


A few more that I have read:

Catherine LaCugna: God for Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life.

Elizabeth Johnson: Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology.

Amy Marga: Jesus Christ and the modern sinner: Karl Barth’s retrieval of Luther’s substantive Christology.

Encouraging Women to Attend This Year’s ETS Conference Part 1: My Experience with ETS

Last year, view Mike Bird noted that the percentage of women attending the Evangelical Theological Society annual conference was really, check really low. He then went on to give five very good reasons for women to attend ETS.

Well, this year’s ETS conference is just around the corner, November 14-16 in Milwaukee. And, Leslie Keeney and I have decided to talk up the ETS in the hopes of encouraging more women to attend this year.

I thought I would start by giving you a brief look at my experience of going to the ETS conference. I have been a student member for eleven years. For me, it all started when ETS came to Toronto. I was in Bible College, and our Integrative Theology class was looking at the Doctrine of God. The professor, seeing the controversy swirling in academia, decided to devote the majority of the semester to Open Theism. Clark Pinnock came to our class, and very patiently and graciously answered all of our queries, concerns and even one outright confrontation. (When we told him he was wrong for stating in ‘The Most Moved Mover’ that God didn’t get angry at Moses, since Scripture specifically says “God got angry at Moses”, Dr. Pinnock openly admitted that he had made a mistake, and that he was hoping to have that error fixed in the next printing). And of course, the Toronto ETS conference was awash in Open Theism papers. So myself, and a few friends went. There we were lowly undergrads. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

It was awesome!

So many scholars!

So many ideas!

So many books! (Oh, if you need only one reason to go to ETS, the book vendors would be that one good reason!)

Were we in over our heads? Absolutely. We landed in one session where William Lane Craig was presenting on Molinism (middle knowledge). Oops. We didn’t understand hardly any of it. But later that day, the three of us ran into Dr. Craig and worked up the courage to ask him about his presentation. He graciously spent twenty minutes explaining Molinism in a way undergrads could understand.

I loved seeing the people behind the books I had been reading. It changes how you read their books. For example, I had liked Gregory Boyd’s writings before going to ETS, but after seeing him present, standing behind the podium in sneakers and utterly unable to stop moving for one second of his presentation, I liked his writings even more. I got to see the passion and energy that he pours into theology and now whenever I read anything by Dr. Boyd, I always picture him constantly moving as he works through his ideas.

That first conference made such an impression, that the next year, my friends and I van-pooled all the way down to Atlanta for the next year’s conference. And then the year after, I was brave and went to San Antonio all by myself.

That’s not to say that every scholar is energetic and fascinating. I quickly learned that sometimes the best writers are dull in person, and sometimes even, really bad at giving oral presentations of their ideas.

And even more eye-opening, not every Christian scholar acts like a Christian. I watched the Open Theism witch hunt spiral out of control. I sat in the general meeting when the entire membership voted on whether or not Clark Pinnock could truly be a member of the ETS. I watched popular, well-liked scholars act like school children who, when asked to play nicely with others, threatened instead to take their ball and go home. And I was shut down by one scholar when I worked up the courage to ask him a question about his book on being a good pastor. “It doesn’t matter, because you can’t be a pastor” was his response to my question.

But seeing the dark side of the ETS doesn’t dishearten me or discourage me from continuing to attend. Indeed, the only reason I haven’t been to ETS these last couple of years is due to finances.

In fact, seeing the dark side, seeing the human side, seeing the messiness of having scholars who hold different views on everything from inerrancy, to women in ministry, to the doctrine of election, encourages me to continue to attend. It is a microcosm of the Evangelical Church and Christianity in general. Life in the Church, life connected to other Christians is both messy and beautiful; it is both exciting and tense. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

So this fall I’m going to ETS. Stay tuned for my next post on the ETS where we’ll talk about all the neat sessions that you can attend (and no, being a woman does not mean you have to go the sessions on gender).

See also, Leslie Keeney’s first post: The ETS Women’s Project.

#mutuality2012 Feminism and Christianity: Interacting with Daphne Hampson

Rachel Held Evans is hosting a week of mutuality on her blog. As part of this synchroblog event, buy cialis I will be doing two things: One, treat I will be highlighting posts that I have written on the subject; and two, healing Leslie Keeney over at The Ruthless Monk and I will be posting about encouraging women to attend this year’s ETS annual conference that is coming up in the fall. We want to write about this now so that people have plenty of time to prepare and plan to come.

Daphne Hampson argues that the problem with Christianity is that it is permanently rooted in history, a history that is patriarchal in nature, and because it is a religion that must always point back to a historical point it cannot be of use to feminists. On the one hand, she is absolutely correct that “Christianity cannot lose its reference to that history.” (pg. 7) On the other, her assertion that this historical reality of Christianity, as found in the incarnation of Jesus, is a hindrance to and completely incompatible with feminism is logically weak. Just because there is a necessary historical referent does not mean that Christianity is unable to navigate between timeless truth and temporary cultural realities.

Of course, in order to answer the question of whether Hampson is right or wrong in her assertion that one cannot be both a feminist and a Christian, the question of definition must be addressed. What is feminism? In the case of this particular work, Hampson suggests a minimalist definition of feminism: “the proclaimed equality of women and men.” (pg. 50)

Unfortunately, what she presents in her subsequent argument demonstrates that she does not actually hold to in the minimalist definition. Hampson argues that Christianity is inherently patriarchal; that because God is referred to in male terms, and because Jesus never fights against the oppression of women, (pg. 89) there is inequality inherent to Christianity. Hampson suggests that had Jesus been concerned with equality, then instead of having women like Mary sitting at His feet learning, He would have sat at the feet of a woman. (pg. 104) What she fails to consider is that Mary is not sitting at Jesus’ feet because He is male, but because He is the Teacher and she is a disciple. In addition, Hampson fails to consider that the issue of feminism would have been a foreign concept in the first-century Judeo-Christian world.

Hampson is absolutely right that, in the past, Christian structures did not proclaim the equality of the sexes. Indeed, Christianity has often times affirmed a superiority of men over women. But, just because Christian institutions did not fight for equality in the past, does not mean that Christianity itself is antithetical to feminism. Hampson is right to point out the inequality of Christian practices, such as communion, in which a group of men gathered can partake together of communion, but a group of women (e.g., nuns) have to have a man present to administer sacraments. She argues that this demonstrates that “within the Christian context women must necessarily refer to, and exercise a dependence upon, the world of men, of a kind which men would not conceive of having in relation to the world of women.” (pg. 63)

The question, then, which Hampson fails to address, is, is the problem with an inherent inequality between men and women, or is it with a faulty understanding of the administration of communion? Modern evangelicalism is not immune to this. Take for example women’s conferences in more traditional congregations that require that a male pastor still preside/be present at the conference as a way to ensure that the women leaders are under the authority of a male elder.

So, can Christianity be redeemed from its patriarchal past? Hampson argues that it cannot, but I would suggest that there is much to be said for trajectory hermeneutics, such as William Webb’s Redemptive Hermeneutical model, which demonstrate how the biblical narrative demonstrates a theology of gender that differed from its surrounding culture, including, for example, Jesus counting women among his followers, as well as his first post-resurrection appearance to women, which put the women in a position of witness, an area that they were not considered reliable for in the broader culture.

In addition, in 2011, the minimalist definition that Hampson sets forth is a definition that the majority of Christians would affirm. Even within evangelical circles, and the ongoing debate between complementarians and egalitarians, there is agreement, that at an ontological level, men and women are equal in their standing before God through Christ. The question then becomes, does the exclusion of women from certain roles within the Church, such as pastors and leaders, necessarily demonstrate an inequality that must be overcome? Can there ever be complete equality between the sexes when our biological makeups are so different?

Ultimately, Hampson’s argument that Christianity and feminism are incompatible is a result of her not wanting them to be compatible. Twenty-five years of discussion and dialogue about the theology of gender has occurred since the publication of Hampson’s book, and there has been much written on how they can indeed be compatible. And this compatibility does not necessitate the dehistoricization of the faith. Indeed, if anything, the concreteness of the Christian faith, as it is grounded in an historical event, becomes the foundation for this compatibility. For as the Apostle Paul wrote, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29).

This post was originally posted December 12, 2011.