you have to know what you know

A few weeks ago I shared this link on Facebook and Twitter – leading the curious to a blog post by Jared Wilson, a pastor, author, and blogger whom I respect and admire. I thought the post, entitled So You Want to Date My Daughter?, was both salient and entertaining. I have a daughter, and though she’s still quite young, I can readily relate to Jared’s sentiments. That said, as I relayed Jared’s words to the masses (and by masses, I mean my four Twitter followers), I knew one particular snippet of his words would be misunderstood by some, and even offensive to others.

Boy, was I right about that. Within hours, I had a slew of responses, comments, and messages that ranged from puzzled to angry to profane. At the end of the day, the whole scenario was fairly benign and quite predictable – it doesn’t take much to get people fired up on the interweb these days. But it also revealed a tension – one that we all experience – that I thought deserved some explanation.

Here’s the portion of Jared’s post that stirred things up. Jared is listing his stipulations placed upon any young man desiring to date his daughter:

8. If I am not your pastor, I will talk to the man who is. If your pastor is a woman, why I am talking to you, again?

I probably don’t need to say much about why some people disagreed with Jared’s sentiment here – I think those reasons are obvious enough. Instead, I thought I’d explain why there might be good and legitimate reasons for agreeing with Jared’s sentiment – and why we all need to be aware of the factors that cause us to agree or disagree with Jared in the first place.

Before we get to that, though, two clarifications. First, while I do actually agree Jared’s statement, my purpose isn’t to persuade you to agree. I’m not here to defend Jared or his (our) position, rather I want to talk about the process that all of us follow, subconsciously or not, when we determine if we are to agree or disagree with assertions like this one. Second, even though Jared and I agree, I didn’t love the tone he used here. I thought it was a little too flippant and disrespectful to the many who don’t share our viewpoint. That said, it is worth noting that Jared posted this on a personal blog site – one that is off the beaten path, certainly much more so than his blog for The Gospel Coalition. Your anticipated audience matters a lot, whether you’re writing, speaking, or whatever, and I’m guessing most the audience of Jared’s personal blog is comfortable with both his view and his tone.

Now to the matter at hand. Many evangelical Christians – people who love the Word of God and adhere to Scripture as their ultimate authority – have read the Bible and concluded that women should not serve as pastors and leaders in the church. Other evangelicals – who love the Word just as much and desire to honor it just as much – have read Scripture and concluded just the opposite. The question worth answering is this: how can people with the same values come to the same text and leave with such differing conclusions, especially when the issue is as black and white as this one?

I can’t begin to answer that exhaustively. Because they are tied to the conscious and subconscious methods different people use to study Scripture, the answers are actually endless. (Everyone uses a method when they read Scripture, whether they realize it or not. Some methods are good, but many more are terrible. It is important to be aware of how you are drawing conclusions from Scripture.) But I suspect – and the comments and messages I’ve received in the last two weeks have confirmed this – that many people have not really listened to Scripture on this issue. Instead, they have assumed that what they already know and believe is true, because it seems like a notion that would fit with their existing, biblical understanding of who God is and how God works.

The issue really is one of preunderstanding – the ideas, values, and beliefs that we already know – and how our preunderstandings affect our reading of the Bible. Simply put, what we already know shapes what we don’t yet know. Before Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492 (forgive my elementary-school-level knowledge of world history), everyone knew the world was flat. Everything they thought, learned, and spoke about the world reflected that preunderstanding. Only after Columbus (or whomever – I know that my history is bad here) “discovered” America – and established the spherical shape of our planet – did people begin to see how wrong the things they formerly assumed to be right really were.

Apply that to the way we read the Bible. Our culture and modern science assume many things to be true. The equal rights of women and men are, thankfully, among them. Women should have the same opportunities for employment, education, and office as men. It is good that, by and large, in our society they do. But we have to be careful – because it is important to not let that basic, beloved preunderstanding limit what the Bible might actually say about the roles of women in the church or family.

If the Bible is our authority, we have to let it speak – as God intended it to – into issues like this. And a huge part of that process is being aware of what we already think and believe, and working to keep in check our assumptions and preunderstandings – inherited from culture and society – as we see what the Bible says. It may be, for many other reasons, arrived upon through good biblical interpretation, that the Bible does not preclude women from serving as pastors in the church. But, before we judge the interpretations of others who think the Bible does preclude women from such service, let us study the Bible – always aware of and refining the things that we know that we bring with us to the text.

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