Cover Story

Femme fatale

"Femme fatale" Continued...

Issue: "Stealth Bible," March 29, 1997

Dan Doriani, dean of faculty at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, says one problem in meeting this challenge is that "a great number of evangelicals rest their faith on either custom/tradition or experience, with experience becoming increasingly important." The argument, he says, goes like this: I have gifts and people affirm them. I have the sensation of being called, therefore I am called. I need to exercise my gifts, therefore I'll exercise them. But they don't ask how to exercise those gifts in a biblical manner.

Other complementarians acknowledge that the church has sometimes unnecessarily limited the roles women can fill. But with the changes in Bible translations, it will be harder to tell what Scripture actually teaches. Last year Zondervan published the New International Reader's Version (NIrV), a simplified NIV written at a 3rd-grade reading level, which is intended for children or adults whose first language isn't English. It is "inclusive," although it isn't marketed that way, and there is no identifying statement on the cover.

Will the NIV publicize the nature of its turn-of-the-century revision? In England there are two versions, the unisex-language and the traditional one. But Mr. Walker says the consensus of the Committee for Bible Translation in America is to have the unisex-language version "take the place of the other." Mr. Barker says it will be the publisher's decision: "If our committee had its way there would be no separate inclusive-language edition." But he says, "I've heard--I can't say that this is actual fact--that Zondervan will keep making the two editions," at least for a while if the traditional version finds a market niche.

R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, is cautious about the push for unisex-language Bibles. The translations should "seek to be as inclusive as the original text intends and no more inclusive than the original text intends," he says. He fears that some translators employ a hermeneutic that "predisposes them to see any differentiation in roles as arbitrary or irrelevant."

How can the church stand firm in the face of all this outside pressure to cave to new cultural norms? It is not going to be easy. Although Dan Doriani of Covenant Seminary says, "Wrestling with this issue is either nonexistent or close to nonexistent on our campus," he acknowledges that cultural pressure could make it an issue in future years. "If we keep our commitment to biblical authority," he says, "if we keep our exegetical skill ... and if we keep our willingness to remain counter-cultural, then we should stay relatively free of controversy."

The pressure to conform, however, is intense. At a recent gender symposium at Vanderbilt University's divinity school, Mr. Doriani found himself one of the few conservatives in a meeting dominated by liberals and moderates. Mr. Doriani later told his students at Covenant "how tempting it was to cut my remarks in order to be liked, but it was my responsibility to say what I believe the right position to be."

At Southern Baptist Seminary, Mr. Mohler successfully defended the traditional view despite student, faculty, and media pressure to conform. His 1995 veto of the appointment of a prospective faculty member who supported women's ordination led one of his deans to call a press conference to make known her opposition to his veto.

But Mr. Mohler, with support from his trustees, stuck to his guns. The trustees agreed that all prospective faculty be able to affirm, among other things, that women should be restricted from the office of senior pastor or overseer. The president said at the time, "I am convinced that this issue will be in the coming decade one of the crucial dividing lines separating evangelicals committed to biblical authority and inerrancy from those who are seeking to transform evangelicalism from within."

Since 1995, when the seminary's position was "conclusively clarified," there has been an 85 percent turnover in faculty, as members retired, left for pastorates, or went to "friendlier" seminaries. The result has been "great peace and common purpose" at the institution.

Within the Southern Baptist Convention, ordination continues to be a burning issue only "within the elites of the denomination with access to the press," Mr. Mohler says; he points out that the Southern Baptists have fewer than 50 female pastors out of 38,000 churches. Mr. Mohler's tough approach ended the controversy at Southern Baptist Seminary, at least for now.

But Wheaton's Gilbert Bilezikian is confident that the egalitarians will win. "It is a quiet reform movement that is unstoppable," he says. "In two or three generations from now it won't even be an issue." He predicts there may be groups that hold to the traditional view in 100 years, but they will be relegated to the margins.


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