The Slow Unsettling: My Journey into Preaching
The Slow Unsettling: My Journey Into Preaching
By Julie Canlis
Matt and I, a few years after attending Regent College
Last Sunday and this Sunday, I'll be teaching on Hebrews 8. Well, preaching is actually what I'll be doing - and I'd like to share with you the 25+ year journey it took to get me to that place.
When Matt and I went to seminary at Regent College straight out of being history/philosophy majors at the UW, we definitely had everything figured out - especially women's roles and Scripture. But then again, don't all recently-married 23 year olds know everything? The double impact of being newly married (and having very different personalities that didn't fit into gender stereotypes) and coming under some very godly professors, began to crack a small wedge into our certainty. Finding that I didn't exactly fit into whatever was supposed to be meant by "submissive," Matt and I went first to one of the leaders of the NIV translation committee for the Old Testament, the venerable Bruce Waltke (in his 70s). He explained to us his view of Paul's teachings on women, and how they were rooted in the structures of creation, and his humble belief that men were to have a loving, sacrificial "authority" over their wives. We thanked him for his time and for walking us through the Scriptures, but as we headed out the door he said something that floored us:
"but you should definitely visit my very dear friend in the next office, Gordon Fee. He is also on the committee for the NIV translation, for the New Testament. He has a completely different view than I do, and you should also go speak to him. He is very wise and you will love to hear what he has to say."
Dr. Fee with his welcoming smile and turtleneck indeed did interpret the Scriptures (about women) opposite to Dr. Waltke, but he only had charitable things to say about differing interpretations. He based everything on the new creation brought about by Christ's death and resurrection which nullifies viewing anyone from the 'old age' according to the flesh. Why? Because Christ's death has brought the whole human race under the sentence of death, so to be 'in Christ' is to belong to the new creation (where there is neither jew/greek, slave/free, male/female). And as we left his office, he said, "But you must visit the office of my dear friend Bruce Waltke and hear his wisdom ..."
Thus began the slow unsettling. Not so much of gender roles or of our interpretations, but of something much bigger - our need to be certain, and our need to know what "camp" we were in. If the leaders of the NIV translation committee for the Old and New Testament remained best friends, and prayed daily together with deep reverence for one another, and were committed to not gathering groupies of like-minded seminary students around themselves, then what were we there for? What was knowledge for? We realized that they prized intimacy over certainty - in fact, that certainty might (in some cases) be a barrier to intimacy.
Fast-forward to Matt and my next 13 years in the Church of Scotland. Women's roles were so low down the priority list of urgent pastoral needs of a church in crisis - no one thought twice about it. If there was an equipped person within 100 miles who loved Scripture and could teach, then that person should be feeding the flock. Our little tiny 1600 year old church in Methlick was a triumph of Pentecostals, Catholics, Methodists, and yes, Scottish Presbyterians all just thankful to have found a place to worship together on a weekly basis. As I began to see incredible women on the front lines, preaching and teaching and single-handedly keeping a village church going, I began to see what Gordon Fee taught us in his office hour. He said, "Yes, I advocate for women in ministry, but it is more an advocacy of the Holy Spirit in the church. God was there before me, so who am I to say to those whom God has gifted, 'God, take this gift back.'" In fact, sadly, we have just heard that Methlick Church is closing its doors this year because there are not enough pastors in Scotland.
And now, to today. When we first came to Trinity a decade ago, I was still unsettled about women "preaching" from the front, simply because it was such a novelty to me (and I was uncomfortable with something I had not experienced before). For many Christians younger than me, this is a non-issue - but for my forty-year self, it felt like a big cultural (less theological) hurdle. And I know that this describes some of you. Although I was confident teaching seminary students, pastor conferences, and even, in one instance, the higher-ups of the Catholic church at an International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, I didn't know how I felt about "preaching" in Wenatchee. I knew all the Scriptures on both sides, all the theological rationales, and I have dear friends who have attempted to be deeply faithful to Scripture who have come down on different sides of women in ministry.
Having joined the Anglican Church, I am grateful that the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) has decided to make this a non-divisive issue. Some dioceses ordain women. Some do not. But the primary posture is humility. And all are united around the belief that the Holy Spirit does not give some gifts to men, and others to women - and that women should be encouraged to serve the church using all their gifts (including pastoring, preaching, leading, shepherding). We are a kingdom of priests! But even though I had already "taught" up front, using my gifts, it took me many years to call this "preaching" because I had yet to allow this theological truth to make its way to my emotional comfort level.
[If you would like to read a wonderful, irenic letter from one ACNA priest in our Rocky Mountain Diocese to his congregation (Church of the Advent, Denver) on why our diocese ordains women as deacons but not priests, here it is. You don't need to agree with it, but his humility is spot-on, and represents the "posture and position" attitude that characterizes RMD (Rocky Mountain Diocese).]
So that is where I'll leave this. I've been on a long journey - theological, cultural, personal - that has covered many years. It has landed me preaching at Trinity Church, which I didn't exactly expect when Matt and I knocked on Dr. Waltke's door at seminary those many years ago. I know that many of you are on a similar journey - some have changed on this issue, some have never had to change, some are uncomfortable - but I'm thankful you are here with us, growing, being open, curious about how other Christians are walking faithfully in this time of cultural transition, and mostly treating one another as the image-bearers that we are.
P.S. from Carson – Russell Moore (Christianity Today) just released a podcast touching on this topic yesterday with Rick Warren, the 43-year pastor of Saddleback Church. (Saddleback was my home church when I was growing up! And I have gleaned much from Rick’s wisdom over the years.) Near the beginning at minute 11:45, Rick comments about how, after 40 years, his mind was changed on the topic of women in leadership by three scriptures that he never fully considered. I encourage you to check it out. I love my old pastor’s heart of humility as he discusses how he came to this conclusion on what he deems a secondary issue. He models how to have unity-in-difference.
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