Wrap Up & Look Ahead

THAT’S A WRAP

Our May 2017 Quarterly issue commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Sujin Pak expanded her article on the Reformers affirmation of Scripture’s clarity in an interview, in which she shared how the Reformer’s interpretation has impacted her own, and discussed contemporary misunderstandings of the Reformers’ commitment to perspicuity. Stephen Chester evaluated the ongoing usefulness of Reformation readings of Paul and offered a public lecture on “Reading the Bible with Martin Luther after 500 Years,” available online.

UPCOMING

The next issue of the Covenant Quarterly will engage the “Doctrine of Discovery” and its ongoing impact in the church, featuring contributions by Soong-Chan Rah, Mark Charles, Randy Woodley, Jim Sequeira, Lenore Three Stars, Curtis Ivanoff, and Jonathan Wilson. Be in touch to recommend Forum contributors on the theme of congregational vitality – or to contribute yourself. And don’t forget to subscribe to Forum to receive notification when corresponding posts begin.

Reading Paul with the Reformers

From Stephen J. Chester, “Reading Paul with the Reformers” :

How should we think about the Reformers as interpreters of Paul at the 500th anniversary of their transformation of church and society? Should our interest be antiquarian only, their interpretation of the Pauline letters of value for how we understand the sixteenth century and its conflicts but of little direct interest for our own task of interpreting the New Testament in and for the twenty-first century? Or, at the opposite extreme, do the Reformers provide for us exegetical and theological touchstones, departures from which must be resisted as a falling away from the truth of the gospel? ? In the aftermath of rise of the New Perspective on Paul (hereafter NPP) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, New Testament scholars largely adopted the first of these approaches… In contrast, some in the church and a minority the academy simply sought to refute the NPP and reassert traditional perspectives. In my view, neither of these responses is helpful. Whether acknowledged or not, the history of reception exercises influence over contemporary interpreters

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At the heart of their [the Reformer’s] achievement lies the formation of a new paradigm for Pauline interpretation. Early Lutheran and early Reformed interpreters together founded a new tradition of reading Paul that transformed the legacy of Pauline interpretation they inherited from the patristic and medieval eras. One way in which to picture this new tradition is through the analogy of language and grammar. The Reformers’ language of Pauline theology is a new language, radically different from the language of Pauline theology spoken by their predecessors and sometimes unfathomable to those for whom that earlier language was native.

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In relation to key issues in Paul’s description of the human plight apart from Christ (e.g., the nature of sin, the law, and the conscience) and in relation to his description of salvation in Christ (e.g., the works of the law, grace, and faith), the Reformers developed a powerful new consensus that set limits within their communities of interpretation as to what could plausibly be proposed.

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Nevertheless, the NPP represents a significant and salutary advance in turning Pauline scholarship away from sweeping negative characterizations of Judaism and towards engagement with the realities of Jewish practice. Here we should remember that the Reformers were not historical-critical scholars nor did they have access to the range of sources that allow contemporary scholarship to present more nuanced accounts of Second Temple Judaism. Yet if our question is how the exegetical legacy of the Reformers relates to our own contemporary task of interpretation, it is indisputable that the Reformers do not pay sufficient attention to these realities of Jewish practice.

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The relationship between the Reformers’ Pauline exegetical grammar and contemporary Pauline scholarship is thus more complex than might be imagined. As well as genuine disagreement over the meaning of the phrase the “works of the law” and the nature of Judaism, there is also unacknowledged dependence, rejection based upon simple misunderstanding, and intensification of some elements at the expense of others.


Read the full article here.

View Dr. Chester’s lecture, “Reading the Bible with Luther 500 Years Later,” here.

Reformation Lecture Available

Commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by watching Stephen Chester’s lecture, “Reading the Bible with Luther after 500 Years: Reflections on Luther’s Legacy and Why It Still Matters.” The recording is available here (lecture begins at 8.20, with image corrected at 12 minutes).

As both Bible translator and interpreter, Martin Luther revolutionized the experience of engaging God’s word for millions of Christians. Yet 500 years later, just as in his own lifetime, Luther’s legacy is still very much contested. What was the nature of Luther’s achievement with the Bible? In the midst of all the controversy surrounding Luther, can we gain a clear picture of his contribution? And as readers of Scripture today, what should we be thankful for and what must we be cautious about? What is best left in the sixteenth century and what might still be vital for us as we struggle faithfully to interpret the same texts in and for contemporary contexts?

Following the lecture, Dr. Chester engages with the following audience questions:

  • Can Luther’s Pauline interpretation and that of the New Perspective on Paul be harmonized? (at 52.30 min)
  • What was the content of Luther’s spiritual despair (Anfechtungen), and can his experience of despair leading to spiritual insight prove pastorally useful? (58.40)
  • If Luther and Calvin were sitting down together, what would they talk about? (104.20)
  • Did Luther’s understanding of the gospel cure his obsessive scrupulosity – perhaps OCD, as Ian Osborne, Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, argues? (107.30)
  • To what extent did Luther’s reading of Scripture lead to his anti-Jewish writings? Can we disentangle this from ways Luther read Paul rightly? (111.25)
  • What role did Katharine von Bora, Luther’s wife, play in Luther’s life and reforming work? (115.20)
  • How can we bring reformation to today’s church as Luther did to his? (120.17)

Happy Reformation Day, 2017!

Reading the Bible with Martin Luther after 500 Years

Join us October 27 for a public lecture commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, co-sponsored by North Park Theological Seminary and the Commission on Covenant History.

Delivering the lecture is New Testament professor Stephen Chester, whose Covenant Quarterly article, “Reading Paul with the Reformers,” draws from his recent book, Reading Paul with the Reformers: Reconciling Old and New Perspectives (Eerdmans, 2017).

Reading the Bible with Martin Luther after 500 Years: Reflections on Luther’s Legacy and Why It Still Matters” will begin at 7:30pm in Isaacson Chapel, Nyvall Hall, located on North Park’s campus, 3225 W. Foster Avenue.

As both Bible translator and interpreter, Martin Luther revolutionized the experience of engaging God’s word for millions of Christians. Yet 500 years later, just as in his own lifetime, Luther’s legacy is still very much contested. What was the nature of Luther’s achievement with the Bible? In the midst of all the controversy surrounding Luther, can we gain a clear picture of his contribution? And as readers of Scripture today, what should we be thankful for and what must we be cautious about? What is best left in the sixteenth century and what might still be vital for us as we struggle faithfully to interpret the same texts in and for contemporary contexts?

Please join us! For those not in the Chicagoland area, the lecture will be recorded and subsequently published here.

Reading Scripture Today: An Interview with Sujin Pak

Sujin Pak is assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School. Her article, “The Perspicuity of Scripture, Justification by Faith Alone, and the Role of the Church in Reading Scripture with the Protestant Reformers,” is published in our most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. In this interview she addresses the pastoral implications of her article. (Read Pak’s full article here.)


G. Sujin Pak

How has your research impacted your own reading of Scripture? 

I teach a class on the “History of Biblical Interpretation” that spans from early church to contemporary interpreters. This course has not only enriched my own thinking about and engagement with Scripture but also helped me locate the Protestant Reformers within this larger history. One of the things that strikes me most about pre-modern readings of Scripture is that they steadfastly keep before them a sense of the purposes for which Scripture (as a text of a faithful community) is given—namely, that Scripture is a gift of God to God’s people to reveal God’s saving purposes centered in Jesus Christ. This, therefore, refocuses one’s purposes for reading: it is not so much for the exact knowledge one can obtain or about employing the exactly right method of reading (though, it certainly secondarily could be some of these things); it is first and foremost an opportunity to encounter God in Christ through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. And, as pre-moderns describe this, this encounter promises to be transformative: to call one out of one’s own self-absorbed ways and perspectives to a journey toward holiness and wisdom—toward Christ, the very Wisdom of God.

Thus, the journey of reading Scripture is not really about finding that right method. Pre-modern theologians employed a large variety of methods, methods often clearly shaped by the available tools of their contexts and specific situations they were addressing. Moreover, pre-modern readers of Scripture affirmed that there can be multiple faithful readings of a text; there is not just a singular correct reading. For me personally, this allows for a freedom, beauty, and creativity in my encounter of the Triune God through Scripture and casts off the shackles of my anxiety to “find that one right meaning.” This is not to say, though, that faithful reading is boundless (with no limits, as if anything goes). Rather, pre-modern readers of Scripture paint a picture of a beautiful playground for biblical interpretation that is bounded by the convictions that constitute the core of Christian identity—convictions such as Trinity, centrality of Christ, christology (two natures of Christ), incarnation, belief in the Holy Spirit, and commitment to the church in which many pre-modern theologians point to the Apostle’s Creed as a guide to these core convictions of Christian identity about which Scripture testifies.

In your article, you make the point that the Reformers’ affirmation of Scripture’s clarity “could never entail a larger array of persons claiming to have the singular, authoritative reading of Scripture” but that “this may very well be the reality in many Protestant churches today.” How have you seen this play out practically in the church?

Truly grasping the implications of Luther and Calvin’s doctrine of justification by faith alone as it shapes their views of Scripture’s clarity has proven incredibly slippery in subsequent generations. First, I should clarify that there are other ways to hold to a doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity beyond what Luther and Calvin asserted, but it seems that many claim Luther and Calvin (for their views of Scripture’s clarity) without recognizing how profoundly Luther and Calvin built this claim upon a doctrine of justification by faith alone. I think for Luther and Calvin the convictions of Scripture’s clarity and accessibility were not meant to promote multiple claims to an authoritative reading; they were meant to open up a space for the Spirit’s working in the church, an opportunity for a profound submission (and discovery) of the Spirit’s work of illuminating Scripture, in which they believed the Spirit would always be consistent with itself. Luther and Calvin recognized in this the need for a communal process of discernment. Hence, they often pointed to the pattern of 1 Corinthians 14 in which two or three provide an interpretation and “the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor. 14:29). Though, when this increasingly lead to what they viewed as “disorderly” practices, Luther and Calvin emphasized the need for ordained ministerial leaders to provide leadership and counsel for the public ministry of God’s Word, which ultimately ended up placing the proclamation and interpretation of Scripture soundly within the preacher/pastor’s hands and downplayed their earlier emphases upon the priesthood of all believers. Continue Reading

The Reformers & Scripture’s Clarity

From G. Sujin Pak, “The Perspicuity of Scripture, Justification by Faith Alone, and the Role of the Church in Reading Scripture with the Protestant Reformers”:

Martin Luther Translating the Bible, Wartburg Castle, 1521

Among several legacies that could be identified, three rise to prominence in my own reflections: the Protestant Reformers’ assertions of the prime authority of Scripture, justification by faith alone, and the perspicuity of Scripture… They function as natural corollaries to one another and together embody the theological core of the Reformers’ message, particularly that of Martin Luther and John Calvin.

*****

First, the Reformers’ affirmation of the perspicuity of Scripture was a crucial tenet of their assertion of Scripture’s prime authority and their challenge to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, the Reformers grounded Scripture’s authority and clarity on the biblical principle of justification by faith alone as the very perspicuous heart of Scripture and as a principle that reinforces Scripture as self-authenticating and self-interpreting. We might more accurately understand the Protestant Reformers’ teachings on the perspicuity of Scripture if we understand its deep foundations in the principle of justification by faith alone. Yet even as the Protestant Reformers displaced church authority in favor of the prime authority of Scripture, this did not mean that they stripped the church of all authority concerning matters of Scripture’s interpretation. Rather they strongly affirmed the authority of the church insofar as it acts under the guiding rule of Scripture.

*****

In this way, Luther argued that God’s Word is prior to the church—prior in both existence and authority. Accordingly, it cannot be the case that the authority of Scripture relies in any way on the consent and authority of the church. Rather, the church is brought into being by the Word of God; the church is built on the very foundation of Scripture as God’s ordained and sufficient revelation. Indeed, Luther defined the church precisely by its relationship to this authoritative Word of God: the church is the community that hears and obeys the Word of God revealed in Scripture.

*****

[The Reformers’] point was not that any person, even any Christian, has what they need to interpret Scripture in and of their own ability. More specifically, the Reformers’ point was not that by the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit one’s own abilities were purified and empowered. Rather, their very point was that Scripture is clear and accessible not by virtue of any human efforts or abilities, even sanctified abilities, but solely by virtue of the gift of faith through the work of the Spirit—precisely the gift of faith given when one is justified by faith alone. Just as the Protestant Reformers affirmed that only God can initiate faith and do the work of salvation in a person, so also they insisted that only God is the actor in any true interpretation of Scripture. Just as the human must despair of making any contribution to her salvation, so Luther insisted that to interpret Scripture rightly one must despair completely of one’s own intelligence and ability.

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Luther thereby connected the principle of justification by faith alone directly with the prime authority of Scripture and the assertion of God’s Word as the only actor that can accomplish the true applications and fruits of God’s Word. He clarified that though any Christian has the right to proclaim God’s Word (i.e., the priesthood of all believers), God alone has the power to accomplish what God intends in and through its proclamation. These fruits belong solely and ultimately in the hands of God. This, in essence, disciplines all human attempts to interpret Scripture, so that one must wait and see whether and how God acts in and through a proposed interpretation to accomplish God’s purposes.

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To put it another way, in the view of the Reformers, the primary goal of Scripture is to reveal Christ. Luther and Calvin affirmed that all of Scripture points to Christ. This goal of revealing Christ connects directly to Scripture’s soteriological telos: to reveal Christ is to reveal God’s ordained path of salvation (i.e., justification by faith alone). For the Protestant Reformers, the true act of reading Scripture is a moment of transformative encounter with God… In this way, reading Scripture creates a sacred space in which the Holy Spirit illuminates the words of Scripture so that one may be transformed into greater conformity to Christ and glimpse the very heart of God.

 

Read the full article here.

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:2 | Reformation 500

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which set into motion the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. Our latest Covenant Quarterly issue commemorates this watershed movement. 


G. Sujin Pak

G. Sujin Pak, assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, discusses what the Reformers intended in their affirmation of Scripture’s perspecuity, how this affirmation was rooted in the concept of justification by faith alone, and how it impacted their understanding of the church’s role in the task of interpretation.

“[The Reformers’] point was not that any person, or even any Christian, has what they need to interpret Scripture in and of their own ability. More specifically, the Reformers’ point was not that by the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit one’s own abilities were purified and empowered. Rather, their very point was that Scripture is clear and accessible not by virtue of any human efforts or abilities, even sanctified abilities, but solely by virtue of the gift of faith through the work of the Spirit – precisely the gift of faith given when one is justified by faith alone. Just as the Protestant Reformers affirmed that only God can initiate faith and do the work of salvation in a person, so also they insisted that only God is the actor in any true interpretation of Scripture.”

From “The Perspicuity of Scripture, Justification by Faith Alone, and the Role of the Church in Reading Scripture with the Protestant Reformers”


Stephen J. Chester

Professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary, Stephen J. Chester, engages with the Reformers’ “new Pauline exegetical grammar” and its relevance for contemporary Pauline interpretation.

“How should we think about the Reformers as interpreters of Paul at the 500th anniversary of their transformation of church and society? Should our interest be antiquarian only, their interpretation of the Pauline letters of value for how we understand the sixteenth century and its conflicts but of little direct interest for our own task of interpreting the New Testament in and for the twenty-first century? Or, at the opposite extreme, do the Reformers provide for us exegetical and theological touchstones, departures from which must be resisted as a falling away from the truth of the gospel? … In my view, neither of these responses is helpful.”

From “Reading Paul with the Reformers”


Read the complete issue here.

Spener and the Role of Women in the Church

From Denise D. Kettering Lane’s article, “Philipp Spener and the Role of Women in the Church: The Spiritual Priesthood of All Believers in German Pietism”:

[Spener] aimed his criticism [in Pia Desideria] at all Christians, regardless of gender, occupation, or education. He lamented that the laity did not perceive drunkenness as a sin, treated each other miserably, failed to live Christian lives, and harmed the Lutheran witness to misguided religious groups, such as the papists. According to Spener, this unchristian behavior appeared predominantly in the preponderance of lawsuits and dishonest trade relationships. His discussion of occupations further highlights his emphasis on social sins: “If we look at trade, the crafts, and other occupations through which people seek to earn their living, we shall find that everything is not arranged according to the precepts of Christ, but rather that not a few public regulations and traditional usages in these occupations are diametrically opposed to them.” By locating these problems in the bar, courtroom, and shop, Spener largely omits women’s activities in his castigations.
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Denise Kettering-Lane

Nowhere in the first section of Pia Desideria did Spener identify specifically female behavior as a symptom of corruption in the church. While the spiritual equality of men and women meant that women were included in Spener’s general discussion of corrupt characteristics, he did not raise the issues of vanity, prostitution, or gossip—all sins traditionally associated with women at this time.

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Nowhere does Pia Desideria propose a particular role for women or mention women explicitly.Spener apparently did not foresee some of the attacks that would occur because of women’s involvement in independent Bible reading or the conventicles. In fact, one scholar has commented that the resulting participation of women caused Spener to moderate his position in hindsight to conform more fully to societal conventions.
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Even as he wrote tracts that minimized the activity of women in the Pietist movement and asserted views that corresponded to traditional views of women, largely to fend off accusers, he engaged in regular correspondence with women, providing advice about leading family devotion time and reading the Bible—even discussing theological matters. Also, if anything, Spener’s correspondence to women substantially increased over the course of his life. Thus throughout his life he consistently adhered to the notion that developing a more involved laity would result in an improved church, and he recognized that women were part of that laity. While publicly conforming to many social conventions, privately Spener regularly encouraged women’s activities in his correspondence.
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His emphasis on practice reinforced the available, though limited, role of women in his vision of a collected pious group that could reform the church and the world. Nevertheless, all of these tasks performed by women remained firmly within the private realm. Women were not engaged in public teaching or sacramental roles. All of this took place within a patriarchal system ruled over by the man of the house or the minister. Spener did not suggest a change in the church structure but instead reinforced the existing patriarchy by advising extensive ministerial oversight, even in the homes of parishioners for small group meetings. It was a spiritual priesthood, but a priesthood that always operated under the careful oversight of a watchful clergyman.
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Spener affirmed women’s spiritual equality, citing Galatians 3:28. He additionally acknowledged that women are recipients of spiritual gifts and refers to women in Scripture who worked with—not under—the apostles. Spener appears to support a cooperative vision in which the majority of men and women share gifts and work to support ministry. However, the subsequent question restricted the extent of women’s ministry, asking, “But are women not forbidden to teach?” Here the division between public and private spheres governed. It is true, Spener said, that women are forbidden to teach “in the public congregation,” marshaling 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11–12 as scriptural support. Thus Spener’s view of the spiritual priesthood—and spiritual equality of men and women—ultimately reaffirmed existing constructions of women’s roles within the church, limiting women to private activity.
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In his effort to ensure that the spiritual priesthood did not upset contemporary notions of social order, Spener clearly outlined the roles of women in a way that reflected and reinforced patriarchal norms that focused on the spiritual rather than practical equality of women. While a generous reading certainly reveals places where the possibility for expanded activity for women in the church is mentioned, the overriding need to reinforce order ultimately won the day.

Response to 40-Year Survey: Timothy L. Johnson

In this post we continue our series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.” See additionally the 1989 letter from the Board of Ministry (following the 10-year study) as well as responses from Katherine Hamilton and Mark Novak & Carol Lawson.  


It has been a personal pleasure for me to engage with the February 2017 issue of the Covenant Quarterly, as the issue of women in ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church intersects in several ways with my life and ministry.

Personal Intersection

I began seminary only months before the decision was made to ordain women at the June 1976 Annual Meeting of the ECC. As I think back on my years in ministry, I am particularly grateful for that 1976 decision. In each of the churches I have pastored, I have ministered with women pastoral leaders. I am married to an ordained clergywoman whom I have had the pleasure of working with as well as witnessing her ministry in other contexts. I was blessed to graduate from North Park with five women in the spring of 1980. I believe this was in a graduating class of forty. In my current role at NPTS, I have the privilege of being involved in the vocational development of gifted women and men for ministry. Most years the student population is close to 50% women.

It is noteworthy that a majority of the students in NPTS’s master of divinity program are men, while a strong majority of students in programs like the Certificate in Spiritual Direction are women. Those distinctions are significant but do not negate the fact that the composition of the current student body is vastly different than it was when I was a student. This marks the fact that real progress has been made in the past forty years. I have the joy of observing gifted women enter our seminary community, expand their knowledge base and ministry skills, develop their pastoral identity, and depart for the purpose of serving in Christian ministry.

There is, however, grief to be recounted. It was a personal delight for me to observe at our most recent Midwinter Conference one of my female classmates, Mary Miller, receive the honor of being named distinguished alum of NPTS for 2017. Mary has served the ECC well as an exceptionally gifted servant leader. As a colleague and friend, Mary has been a blessing to me over my decades in ministry. Honoring Mary also serves to honor those other early women in ECC ministry. It also causes me to remember one classmate who was also exceptionally gifted for ministry but had to choose to serve in another denomination because of the way things unfolded for her. That memory illustrates the impoverishment to our denominational body when inadequate provision is not made for a major change in our denominational culture. As it has frequently been noted, it was both curious and unfortunate that the same assembly that voted to ordain women also voted not to embark on a strategy to promote and educate concerning the matter.

Pioneers

Kelly Johnston’s biography of  Jean Lambert was a particularly apt way of unpacking the concept of the pioneer. Along with Mary Miller and the other four women I graduated with in 1980, Jean Lambert was certainly a pioneer in for women in ECC ministry. I had not been aware of the letter Jean had written in 1989 on behalf of the Board of the Ministry. It was and is a strong letter, and it describes well the pioneer role of our earliest female colleagues in ministry. As I was glad for the honor bestowed on Mary Miller at Midwinter, I was reminded of what a good thing it was that Jean Lambert was honored by the ECC in 2006 (Irving C. Lambert Award for excellence in urban and ethnic ministries) and NPTS in 2008 (honorary doctorate). She established solid ground for women pastors and theologians in the ECC. I was personally struck by some of her work referred to in Johnston’s article.

Lambert’s contribution to Amicus Dei opened my eyes to the richness of “Mission Friend” terminology. This work was a major influence in my Doctor of Ministry work at Hartford Seminary (1986-1991). One of the things Lambert did well was to show how Pietist essentials, such as the “priesthood of all believers,” offered a path toward a  less hierarchical, more egalitarian church. These essentials are given strong expression in the third article of this issue of the Quarterly. Denise Kettering-Lane reminds us that even though the early giants of Pietism likely did not have women ministers in mind, their theological principles are given rich expression through the reality of women in ministry.

Practical Considerations

A a Covenant, we are fortunate that each decade since 1976 persons have offered careful analysis of the ECC’s progress in living into its vote. Lenore Knight Johnson offers fair and thorough insights on where we stand at year forty. Some of her suggestions for improvement I find particularly helpful. It is a given that we are congregational in our polity, and I think the advantages of this far outweigh the disadvantages. Yet there is no doubt that congregational polity has in large measure limited the suitable placement of many gifted clergywomen. Knight Johnson helpfully points out major ECC events, such as Midwinter and CHIC, as available opportunities for the ECC to draw attention to gifted women preachers.

I would add our Covenant camps to that list. This was brought home to me recently when my daughter Chloe came home from a youth retreat at Covenant Point and enthusiastically reported what a great speaker Ramelia Williams was at this event. As the father of a sixteen-year-old young woman, I celebrate that she has had ample opportunity to hear gifted women preach, including her mother. It is my hope for Chloe and others like her that each decade going forward will mark dramatic progress for our denominational family when it comes to women in pastoral leadership.


Timothy L. Johnson, graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 1980. After twenty-five years of parish ministry, Tim returned to NPTS in 2005 to serve as field education director (currently also interim academic dean). Tim’s wife Kari Lindholm-Johnson is an ordained Covenant pastor who is currently the artist-in-residence at Swedish Covenant Hospital. They have two children. Gabe is a sophomore at North Park University; Chloe is a sophomore at Von Steuben High School.

40-Year Survey Response: Ordered Ministry

In this post we continue our series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.” See additionally the 1989 letter from the Board of Ministry (following the 10-year study) and Katherine Hamilton’s response


Lenore Knight Johnson provides a comprehensive study of the state of credentialed clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church four decades after its 1976 decision to ordain women. Her research expanded the first and second decadal studies that included only ordained women who earned their MDiv degrees from North Park Theological Seminary. As she reported, the number of women serving in credentialed ministry has grown dramatically since the first and second decades of this analysis. She appropriately acknowledged a broader range of women called to serve in ministry – and actively doing so – beyond the category that was originally studied.

Carol Lawson

While the “threshold position” of the senior/solo preaching pastor is still seen as the benchmark for progress in our denominational position, we do celebrate the increased number of credentialed women who are serving in a variety of roles. Yet we acknowledge we are not yet where we want to be as a denomination. We too have heard stories of female colleagues who struggle to find a call or who desire to move to another ministry setting but have difficulty making that next step. We can always do more to support women in ministry, and we work hard toward finding specific ways to do so.

As mentioned in the article, our Commission on Biblical Gender Equality wrestles with these exact questions and statistics at each of their meetings since its creation in 2002. After completing educational material Called & Gifted for the 30th anniversary of the 1976 decision, the Commission devoted itself to seeking ongoing ways to advance its advocacy, knowing we had not yet achieved a fully welcoming culture.

We are particularly excited about Project Deborah. This initiative was briefly mentioned in Knight Johnson’s article, but since the February publication the Commission has expanded Project Deborah to enhance our commitment to identifying gifted and godly women in our ministry settings who may be called to lead and serve the church. A downloadable video curriculum with discussion questions is now on our website, along with seven vignettes of women sharing ways they have been mentored and encouraged. It’s an important initiative because it highlights ways in which male clergy have stepped up to encourage women. We think this is a critical element. (Our Commission blog invites writers and readers to share in this journey.)

Mark Novak

In working with Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), we have learned that many Christian communities are in this same journey. CBE is excited about the Project Deborah initiative and have asked our Biblical Gender Equality Commission for permission to use and advertise these resources within their circles of influence.

Develop Leaders also hears the disappointment of clergywomen who are seeking a call and feel less than welcome by some local churches. The challenge of congregational polity is real, not imagined. There are wonderful stories of women who are ultimately celebrated in their role as pastor, if not always initially. And there are times that the Methodist Church’s placement of pastors is envied rather than resented. We are committed to continually working with the Council of Superintendents promoting advocacy for clergywomen to be equally considered for all pastoral positions. We hope that some of the comments in the article represent a narrative that has been corrected. But we recognize that this is an ongoing challenge and one we do not take lightly. Continue Reading