I was sitting in my dorm room reading a book for one of my last classes at Moody Bible Institute. This was my senior seminar class – the capstone of my entire career at MBI. As I was reading, I began pondering my senior thesis paper. This was a twenty-page paper in which I was to dive deeply into a theological topic of my choosing within my particular field of study. I was a systematics major, so I dealt mostly with doctrinal statements and theological perspectives.
I had been wondering for some time what I would write about. I thought I could go with something safe and talk about eschatology (end times theology) or something about an attribute of God. The thing is, while those are great topics to research and write on, I had always been drawn to writing on topics that were distinctive to The Salvation Army, at least in comparison to the theology of Moody. I had written a research paper the year before on The Salvation Army’s perspective on the sacraments. I got a C – not because my writing was poor, but because the professor did not agree with the theology (even though the purpose was to present The Salvation Army’s perspective, not his own). I wasn’t about to go down that road again, especially with such a crucial paper. What about Wesleyan soteriology (the study of salvation)? I mulled that one over for a few days. It was such an expansive topic that I wasn’t sure how to narrow it down for a twenty-page paper. It would also be a cut-throat topic since Moody is very Calvinistic.
As I was running out of ideas, the safe options began to look more and more appealing. One more idea popped into my head – what about writing on egalitarianism? Egalitarianism, though a broad topic, is essentially about the equality of women and men. In this case, it would be the equality of both women and men in ministry. This was another topic that would be controversial to write on at Moody. Moody’s stance is that only men should hold the position of senior pastor or elder in churches. This is even reflected in Moody’s administration, professorship, and board of trustees which is predominantly male-oriented (though diversity has been slightly made in the recent past). Until recently, women were not allowed to even take a popular preaching course at Moody. To write on the topic of women being equally qualified for ministry would be a bold risk.
I will say that I had written on women in ministry prior to this personal dilemma. The semester before, a professor for a Pauline theology class gave us an assignment to write a short commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12 which says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (ESV). When I initially saw that assignment, I almost dropped the class. How on earth would I be able to do that? I decided to stick it out and, thanks to the professor, I was guided to an excellent book by Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry. I found this book to be one of the best resources for an egalitarian argument for women in ministry. This, along with other commentaries and resources, helped me confront this “prohibitive” passage and place it in its proper context. Worrying that I would fail this assignment, I was thoroughly shocked to have received an A on the commentary. You can read the commentary here.
I still wasn’t too sure about writing on this subject again. Yes, I did well, but this was a different professor for a much larger assignment. Plus, my theological colleagues in the class would also be reading my paper, listening to me present it, and then asking questions and giving critique. That was what scared me the most.
As I was reading Andreas J. Köstenberger’s book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (the book meantioned in the beginning), I came across this statement:
[…] Christians in academia today are often tempted to sacrifice their integrity for academic respectability. Pressures abound to go with the flow of scholarly consensus, and the academy often marginalizes those who buck the system. This calls for conviction, commitment, and courage. Will the scholar hide his faith commitment through carefully chosen language in order to gain a wider academic audience for his or her research? Will the doctoral student choose a “safe” topic in order not to sacrifice his or her chances to get a degree? […] Courage, combined with trust in God, will not choose the path of least resistance.1
It was then that I decided that I needed to write on the topic of women in ministry. It had been something that I couldn’t shake out of my head no matter how hard I tried. It kept coming up again and again, so I finally gave in and began to draft my proposal.
My original proposal was nothing like the finished thesis. In fact, much of my proposal needed to be scrapped because I couldn’t fit it into the page parameters. Originally, my topic was an overall perspective on the role of women in ministry from an egalitarian view. My proposed thesis statement was literally, “The Bible does not prohibit women from taking any church leadership.” My proposal included introductory definitions of the egalitarian and complementarian perspectives on women in ministry, an analysis of the “prohibitive” passages, and other biblical considerations such as the creation narrative, equality of women and men in Christ, and the spiritual gifting of all believers. When I proposed my topic to the professor, he thought the proposal was well done and that it would be a good paper. He told me he didn’t agree with me, but that he looked forward to my writing.
Eventually, I found it necessary to narrow my topic even further. I found that I couldn’t write all I had wanted and stay within the twenty pages. I decided to focus just on the “prohibitive” passages of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14. There was plenty of information to be discussed and commentators to dialogue with that I was easily able to fill the pages. I turned in my draft to the professor and he posted it for my classmates to read before I gave my presentation.
Standing up in front of twenty theological students and two professors was a little frightening. I knew they had read my paper and were chomping at the bit to get their questions answered. I knew many of them were smarter than me, especially those philosophical majors, and had probably even done some research of there own on this topic. Surprisingly, many of them respected my writing and my conviction on this subject. In fact, they helped me better craft my arguments. Many gave helpful critique on areas where things were not clear or where I could strengthen my argument. It was a long 15 minutes, but I came away more excited about my work and looking forward to editing my final draft.
As I waited to receive my final grade for my updated draft, I thought back to that point where I was deathly afraid to write on women in ministry at a place like Moody. In fact, over the past year, Moody had helped me wrestle with the topic and find the answers to my questions. Moody strengthened my writing skills and my ability to articulate an egalitarian perspective.
I finally saw the grade posted and had received another A on this paper. My professor gave some additional comments on areas where I could strengthen my argument. Again, he claimed that he didn’t agree with my position, but I wouldn’t expect anything different. The final paper can be found here.