Female Pens in the Service of the Sanctuary
I have often wished we had more female pens employed in the service of the sanctuary. In the article of essay writing, I think many women are qualified to succeed better than most men, having a peculiar easiness of style, which few of us can imitate.
I read this John Newton quote for the first time a few weeks ago and posted it on every social media account I have.
A few people questioned me, both publicly and privately, about what the quote was implying. I wish to offer some clarity, and I hope to demonstrate support for Newton’s thoughts on why more female pens should be employed in the service of the sanctuary.
As a complementarian, I believe roles of authority in the local church should be held by men, as demonstrated in Scripture (1 Cor 11:7–9; 1 Tim 2:12–14). For a denser exploration of complementarian values, I refer you to the Danver’s Statement, drafted in 1987. But I think, intentional or not, women authors leave us in a grey area.
Here are the pressing questions: Should women write Christian teaching/thinking, and if so, should men read their writing? To clarify, is writing exercising authority over and/or teaching men?
It might sound silly, but the scarcity of solid, female-authored Christian literature shows us what a majority of Christians think women have to say. I know many women who feel like they learn more spiritual truth from Amish fiction than wholesome, biblical writing. I think women have a unique capacity to communicate without marginalizing or neglecting female readers, as male authors often do (by accident, usually). The church should be encouraging women to take up the task of writing well, and more men should be listening to them.
Sometime around two or three years ago, Lindsay and Daniel — a married couple — were both YoungLife leaders at my high school. They pushed me to form a relationship with them. I mean, Daniel came at me hard. I remember catching on and telling him, “I’m reached. I’m plugged into my church already. I’m good.”
But they were relentless, so I caved. I went to their house for dinner one night, and when I left, I realized that I actually wanted to hang out with them again.
What I didn’t realize as I sat at their square dinner table was that they would have a lasting effect on who I would become. I didn’t realize that Lindsay in particular would be come like a second mother to me (along with the other bajillion people my age that she and Daniel practically adopted).
Fast forward. Lindsay and Daniel have now taken up the noble task of planting a church in my county, back home in Tennessee — Lindsay (typically) teaching and Daniel leading worship.
What a place this puts me in, right?
I’m stuck between siding with what I believe is a faithful interpretation of Scripture and siding with the woman who has cried with me and pointed me to Jesus as I have grown into my own skin.
To make things clearer for you, Lindsay is well-aware of the arguments and is, so far, underwhelmed with the exegesis (maybe I’ll win her over one day…).
I bring up Lindsay for one reason: this subject is one dear to me. I have people I love deeply on the line when I think, talk, and write about these kinds of topics. But most importantly, Lindsay is an example of a female pen in the service of the sanctuary.
Lindsay’s voice in my life has helped me love Jesus Christ more than I could have ever done without her talking to me. In fact, I would feel comfortable saying this: It is precisely because Lindsay is a mother of three squirrelly, blond-haired boys that she was able to help press the gospel deeper into my heart and guide my affections towards Jesus. I love Daniel; he points me to Jesus in his own way. But when I talk about my spiritual life with Lindsay, her maternal nature pushes me into unfamiliar territory — different kinds of questions are asked, different kinds of rebuke are offered, different kinds of encouragement are given.
This is the logical outworking of a complementarian worldview. Complementarianism is not about suppressing women’s roles to elevate men; rather, it is about glorifying God by highlighting (celebrating, admiring, encouraging, and so on) the differences God has given in His creative order. By encouraging women to speak where they typically would feel inadequate, we are essentially welcoming these differences with open arms.
There are three short things I want to contribute to the conversation:
- I don’t think a solid case can qualify authorship of a book as exercising authority. Let’s follow this line of thinking: If all literature is authoritative, this means that reading faulty theology (even intentionally, to be informed) makes someone submit to false doctrine.
This can’t be true. Though some literature becomes foundational in our thought, the beauty of words is that they exist for their readers. This means that we never forcibly submit to words but rather make words our servants in the communication of biblical truth.
- Explicit commands about women’s roles are primarily given in the context of marriage and in the context of the local church. Though Scripture argues against females holding offices that are in authority over men, Scripture does not think that women have nothing to say. Again, pastoring a congregation is exercising authority; pouring biblical wisdom into others’ lives is not. I think female authorship is largely a cultural issue, particularly because there is plenty of Scriptural room for female authors.
- The desire for theologically literate women is good and healthy but will never come to fruition if we do not celebrate the ways that God has gifted our sisters in Christ. If we mean it when we say that we seek human flourishing, we must uphold God’s design for human flourishing, which includes both male and female.
If we are being honest for a second, men, are we really so naive that we think women want to only hear from us all of the time? Even more, do we think that we are better equipped to talk about God? Please hear me: I am fully in agreement with a biblical view of gender roles. But never forget that God instituted male headship, and it was not because males were better at talking or writing about God.
As an aside: I hear an awful lot of women say that they feel like they can’t be involved outside of their women’s Bible studies. They get sick of the programs, too, men. I think that encouraging good penmanship — erm, penwommanship? — from our sisters in Christ will help us expand our emotional palette and help us better experience the joys of the gospel. It will help the women in our churches feel like they, too, can contribute to the spiritual life of others. I think it would unify us.
I’m under the impression that women have a lot to offer when it comes to the life of the church. They were hard-wired in ways different than men, and to ignore that would go against the grain of creation. If we wish to be consistent in our complementarity, then we must be willing to admit that, generally, the differences between man and woman are beneficial ones. How can men appropriately engage with the spiritual thought of women (not counting his wife) other than reading what they have written?
So, this all said: I, too, have often wished we had more female pens employed in the service of the sanctuary.