Christian Art Inspired by the Scientific Revolution

I’ve been up to my eyeballs in the history of the natural sciences over the past several weeks, doing research for my forthcoming book on science and faith (formal announcement and further details to come after the publisher has officially nailed down the title and release date). Intellectual history is an exciting aspect of my academic discipline; it’s invigorating to trace big ideas back through the ages and see the timelessness and persistence of truth. The millennia-old intersection between science and theology is rife with examples of this.

Interestingly, we often see these important ideas creatively celebrated. One delightful surprise during my research of the 16th-19th centuries has been the discovery of Christian art that was inspired by the enormous strides being made in the scientific understanding of the natural world. Just as many of the greatest mathematical, philosophical, and theological thinkers of those centuries saw the new insights into the material creation as bringing glory to God, so did painters, poets, and musicians. Sometimes, the artists were scientists themselves! (In a future post, I’ll profile a scientist-poet.)

One example of science inspiring art made a deep impression upon me this past week.

boyleRobert Boyle (1627-1691), the “father of chemistry” who is credited with the modern experimental method, was a devout Christian of the Anglican tradition. He argued that the “first act of religion” is the study of nature, and he followed Johannes Kepler and others in referring to the universe as a great temple of God in which man is a priest, working to illuminate nature’s divine mysteries. In a 1665 book entitled Occasional Reflections Upon Several Subjects, Boyle expresses his amazement with the fact that, despite its extraordinary complexity (which he knew firsthand from doing dissections!), the human body can operate correctly for long periods of time. However, when one part falls into disharmony with the rest, illness results. He compares the body with a many-stringed yet finely-tuned musical instrument. He writes: 

 …an Instrument with above a thousand strings (if there were any such) should frequently be out of tune, especially since the bare change of air may as well discompose the body of a man, as untune some of the strings of such an Instrument; so that ev’n the inimitable structure of human bodies is scarce more admirable, than that such curious and elaborate engines can be so contriv’d, as not to be oftner out of order than they are; the preservation of so nice and exact a frame being the next wonder to its Workmanship.          

                                                                          Section II, Meditation I 

Hymn writer, logician, and theologian, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was struck by Boyle’s words of wonder, and wrote a hymn honoring them:

When I with pleasing wonder stand

And all my frame survey

Lord, ’tis thy work, I own thy hand

Thus built my humble clay

Our life contains a thousand springs, 

And dies if one be gone.

Strange that a harp of thousand strings

Should keep in tune so long.

Composer William Billings composed music for Watts’ lyrics and included the hymn, Creation, in his final collection, published in 1794.

Stay tuned (pun intended) for future posts on how the natural sciences have inspired works of art, particularly painting, sculpture, and poetry. In the meantime, for your listening pleasure:

 

Are Common Descent and Intelligent Design Compatible?

In the fall of 2009, seven years ago this month, I attended my first scholarly conference on evolution and intelligent design (ID). As a brand new graduate student working towards my MA in Science and Religion, I was thrilled by the opportunity to meet some of the scientists and philosophers whose work I was studying, including Dr. Michael Behe. In preparation for his lectures, I had read his recently published book, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. The book, which makes an argument for design from biochemistry, wasn’t the lightest of reading, even with an undergrad degree in biology and five years of experience as a biotech bench scientist under my belt, but I think many would find it manageable.

If you haven’t read it, something that may surprise you (as it did me) is that the arguments put forth in the book aren’t concerned with ruling out the common descent of animal species (one of the tenets of Darwinian evolution). In fact, in the very first chapter of the book, Behe says, “Evolution from a common ancestor, via changes in DNA, is very well supported” (p. 12). 

“Hold the phone! One of the leading figures in the intelligent design movement–really the Godfather of ID–doesn’t deny evolution?!”  

common-descentHere’s the thing. There are about a dozen different ways to define the term “evolution,” and intelligent design, properly speaking, only requires one of those ideas—ONE—to be false. Specifically, it is the claim that all of the [alleged] evolutionary change necessary to account for the observed complexity and diversity of living things has been driven entirely by a blind, trial-and-error mechanism. ID claims that, even if natural selection (a non-random mechanism) is the engine of biological change, the genetic mutations it is fueled by are not all random in the sense of being unintended occurrences. The ID theorist argues that even if all living things descended from a common ancestor, intelligent design is somehow built into the process, and marks of intelligence can be discerned scientifically. Dr. Behe argues that, from a biochemical perspective, we can roughly make out the “edge of evolution,” beyond which intelligent orchestration is required to drive evolution onward and upward.

So, to merely say that the mechanisms involved with evolutionary change are the result of pre-planning for an intended, purposeful outcome is to affirm a minimalist account of ID. This is not to say that all advocates of ID theory are as convinced as Dr. Behe about common descent being the truth about biological history. There is a spectrum of views within the ID community about this. My point is, common descent need not be rejected for ID to be accepted. (Whether or not the theory of common descent is scientifically viable is an entirely separate question. )

In discussions with science-oriented skeptics, I have discovered that this fact catches them off guard. When they make a claim such as, “The fossil evidence is strongly conclusive in favor of evolution,” my response is, “Even if that is so, intelligent design isn’t ruled out. Ultimately, common descent is beside the point.” It’s interesting to see how this completely changes the trajectory of the conversation for the better. By granting them their convictions on biological history for the sake of the argument, I help them lower their defenses and become more willing to investigate the philosophical underpinnings of both sides of the debate. This, in itself, is a major win for both of us.

In terms of Christian apologetics, what is the utility of ID theory? Essentially, ID theory has theistic implications. In other words, evidence for a designing intelligence behind nature, whether at the cosmic or biological level, is supportive of the claim that a Creator exists. ID doesn’t try to defend any interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative; it completely transcends those kinds of questions. It’s very much a stepping stone in the overall project of Christian apologetics.

Some well-known intellectuals, such as the late Dr. Antony Flew (a notorious atheist who turned theist before his death) and Dr. David Berlinski (who describes himself as a secular Jew) stopped on this stepping stone, granting ID but not embracing Christianity or any other faith. (I got to meet Dr. Berlinski at that 2009 conference, and he is delightful!) But others have been convinced of a Designer’s existence and then moved further on to become Christians. A very recent example of this is Dr. Gunter Bechly, a paleoentomologist who is also the Curator at the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History in Germany. I strongly encourage you to read about him.

Of course, there are many secondary discussions about the intersection of science and faith, such as whether or not common descent is compatible with an orthodox Christian view of creation. By no means do I intend to suggest that this, and others, are not important questions; they indeed involve deep theological considerations. Neither am I saying anything at all about where I happen to stand on common descent. But when it comes to opening minds to the most fundamental thing–that a Creator is responsible for the existence and intricacies of living creatures–ID is a most valuable tool. 

 

C.S. Lewis on Why He Wasn’t Roman Catholic

I was Anglican for a long time before I knew it.

Having been in the Anglican tradition (officially) for about 8 months at this point, I continue to have unexpected moments of child-like delight when I discover that a theologian, philosopher, scientist, novelist, or artist that I have long and deeply admired turns out to be Anglican. It’s like this running inside joke between the Holy Spirit and me. Sometimes I’ll go off on a mysterious rabbit trail in my research, thinking I’m wasting valuable time, only to end up at, “Oh my, I didn’t know she was Anglican! How did I not know?” The rabbit trail ends there, and I laugh, again.

Image result for c.s. lewisC.S. Lewis, who has significantly influenced my philosophical and theological thinking, captured my attention years and years before I knew anything at all about Anglicanism. It never crossed my mind, really, to look into Lewis’ faith background. Sometime in my early thirties I finally stopped to absorb the fact that Lewis was a member of the Church of England, and it was a bit later that I came to understand some of the defining characteristics of Anglicanism as a Christian denomination.

I’ve done quite a bit of biographical reading on Lewis, and one of the things I love about him is how well he related to Christians of other traditions. He truly lived out his “mere Christianity” philosophy, which so beautifully reflects Christ’s heart for the universal church. It is a philosophy that I strive to emulate both professionally and on a personal level. As a champion for the mere Christianity ethos, Lewis very rarely wrote publicly about why his chosen “room” of Christendom was Anglicanism, or why he chose Protestantism over Roman Catholicism. However, he carried out private conversations and correspondence with his academic colleagues, acquaintances, and friends who were Roman Catholic laypersons or clergy about why he was so firmly Protestant. Importantly, he did so without being argumentative and with admirable graciousness.

So what were Lewis’ reasons  for choosing Canterbury over Rome?

According to the available body of evidence, it seems that there were three main issues that prevented Lewis from embracing Roman Catholicism. Brothers and sisters, please note that I do not offer these as my personal arguments; I outline them because I find the information both fascinating and helpful in understanding Lewis, the Anglican. (I would like to give full credit to Dr. Stewart Goetz’s excellent, thoughtful book, A Philosophical Walking Tour with C.S. Lewis, from which I gleaned the following excerpts.)

Here are the three issues that seem central to Lewis’ non-Catholic position:

The Papacy. In a letter dated November 1947, addressed to a Father Calabria, Lewis explained that “we disagree about nothing more than the authority of the Pope: on which disagreement almost all others depend.” In another letter, dated May 1945 and addressed to Hart Lyman Stebbins, Lewis said that the papacy seems “foreign to the attitude of St. Paul towards Peter in the Epistles.”  In the Stebbins letter he goes on to say, “In a word, the whole set-up of modern Romanism seems to me to be as much a provincial or local variation from the central, ancient tradition as any particular Protestant sect is. I must therefore reject their claim [concerning the papacy].” Essentially, Lewis rejected the concepts of papal supremacy and infallibility and the “one true church” claim of Roman Catholicism.

Mariology and Devotion to Saints. In the Stebbins letter, Lewis says that part of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary “seems utterly foreign to the New Testament: where indeed the words ‘Blessed is the womb that bore thee’ receive a rejoinder pointing in exactly the opposite direction [Jesus’ rejoinder is ‘blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it’ (Luke 11:27-28)]” In a letter to Mary van Deusen dated June 1952, Lewis elaborates upon what he sees as the theological dangers of Mariology and devotion to saints:

Hail Marys raise a doctrinal question: whether it is lawful to address devotions to any creature, however holy. My own view would be that a salute to any saint (or angel) cannot in itself be wrong any more than taking off one’s hat to a friend: but that there is always some danger lest such practices start one on the road to a state (sometimes found in [Roman Catholics]) where the [Blessed Virgin Mary] is treated really as a deity and even becomes the centre of the religion. I therefore think that such salutes are better avoided. And if the Blessed Virgin is as good as the best mothers I have known, she does not want any of the attention which might have gone to her Son diverted to herself.

System of Dogma. In an ecumenical essay entitled, “Christian Reunion: An Anglican Speaks to Roman Catholics,” Lewis said:

the real reason why I cannot be in communion with you is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but to what he’s going to say…To us the terrible thing about Rome is the recklessness (as we hold) with which she has added to the depositum fidei [deposit of faith]…the proliferation of credenda [what must be believed].

In other words, Roman Catholics are required to believe any doctrine that is declared by the Pope (at any point, past or future) to be dogma (a non-negotiable of the faith). One example of a Roman Catholic belief that didn’t become official dogma until quite recently is the doctrine of the Assumption, the teaching that the Blessed Virgin Mary did not experience physical death, but rather was assumed into Heaven bodily. Pope Pius XII exercised his “papal infallibility” when declaring this doctrine to be Roman Catholic dogma on November 1, 1950.  

So there you have what seem to be Lewis’ main reasons for being a layman of the Church of England rather than the Church of Rome.

 

 

Dr. Dallas Willard on Women in Ministry

Image result for dallas willardI never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Dallas Willard before his passing, but I have gleaned so much through his work and through the work of a scholar he mentored, Dr. J.P. Moreland (a true hero of mine). Since ending my series on gender roles in the church a while back, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Dr. Willard’s words on the issue of women in ministry.

Several months ago, I happened to pick up a book entitled, How I Changed My Mind on Women in Leadership, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the foreword was written by none other than Dr. Willard. I’d like to offer excerpts from that excellent essay here. (It is available in its entirety for free on his ministry website.) Read and enjoy!!

All through my young life—from Mrs. Roy Rowan, at the first Baptist Church of Buffalo Missouri, to Mrs. Flood and others at Shiloh Baptist Church at Rover Missouri—those who had taught me most “at church” were women. Actually, I knew that, in many cases, there would have been no church at all if it hadn’t been for women; and, beyond church, life in my environment was mainly anchored in strong and intelligent women who—often with little or nothing in the way of “credentials”—simply stood for what was good and right and directed others in the way of Christ.

Of course I knew that in my church the “official” pastors were men, but the issue of women teaching men and “preaching” had not hardened in that time and place, and, if need required—as was frequently the case—certain women could do very well at “bringing a message.” Also, I was fortunate to be in significant contact with Wesleyan and Holiness tendencies where women were in leadership roles—quite “officially.” As I grew older, and began seriously to study the Bible and the Way of Christ, I of course became aware of the gender issues and of the biblical passages which, in the minds of some, occasion difficulties concerning “women preachers.” But it seemed clear to me that those passages were not principles themselves, but were expressions of the principle that Christ-followers should be “all things to all men,” in Paul’s language. They were no more part of the righteousness and power of Christ than not eating blood or being saved by bearing children.

I would like to emphasize three points.

First, those gifted by God for any ministry should serve in the capacities enabled by their gift, and human arrangements should facilitate their service and provide them the opportunities to serve. There is no suggestion whatsoever in scripture or the history of Christ’s people that the gifts of the Spirit are distributed along gender lines. It is clearly something that does not even appear on the mental horizon of the inspired writers. And, if it had done so, can one even imagine that they would have failed to state it clearly? Especially if it is as important as those who oppose female leadership make it out to be. You have to put the fact that, in discussing the distribution and ministry of gifts by the Spirit, nothing is said about gender, down along side that fact that many men are allowed to serve in official roles that manifestly are not supernaturally gifted. Then you realize that official leadership roles, as widely understood now, are as much human artifacts as they are a divine arrangement.

Second, it is misguided and unhelpful to try to deal with the issue of women in leadership in terms of rights and equality alone. Rights and equality are not the main considerations involved, and we will make little progress in understanding or practice so long as they are allowed to define the terms of the discussion. Equality is an extremely crude instrument to apply to human relations, even in a secular context, and much more so in the context of spiritual life and ministry for Christ. People simply are not equal when it comes to their talents, to their ministerial gifts, or to their experiences with God. To try to work out arrangements in those terms is to accept a secular modal as the basis of a divine order, and to reduce leadership in the body of Christ to a level that omits the power of God.

It is not the rights of women to occupy “official” ministerial roles, nor their equality to men in those roles that set the terms of their service to God and their neighbors. It is their obligationsthat do so: obligations which derive from their human abilities empowered by divine gifting. It is the good they can do, and the duty to serve that comes from that, which impels them to serve in all ways possible. Women and men are indeed very different, and those differences are essential to how God empowers each to induce the Kingdom of God into their specific life setting and ministry. What we lose by excluding the distinctively feminine from “official” ministries of teaching and preaching is of incalculable value. That loss is one of a few fundamental factors which account for the astonishing weakness of “the Church” in the contemporary context.

Third, the exclusion of women from “official” ministry positions leaves women generally with the impression that there is something wrong with them. Perhaps that is a mistaken inference on their part, and some may manage to work around it without being deeply affected. But if God indeed excludes women from leadership of the Church, there must be some reason why he does. What could it be? And if leadership, speaking, etc. is good work, and work manifestly in need of good workers, what, exactly, is it about a woman that God sees and says: “That won’t do.” Or did he just flip a coin and men won? This line of questioning of course affects all women, and not just those with aspirations to official ministry positions. It is noteworthy what a hard time those who oppose leadership by women have in saying exactly what it is about women that excludes them from such positions, and how that puts an unbearable weight upon what was already a very weak hermeneutic.

So the issue of women in leadership is not a minor or marginal one. It profoundly affects the sense of identity and worth on both sides of the gender line; and, if wrongly grasped, it restricts the resources for blessing, through the Church, upon an appallingly needy world.

So you want to be a pro-choice Christian? Here’s what you need.

unbornAllow me to begin by saying that this is not a post about politics, although, it certainly does have major implications for political platforms. We have public figures at all levels of our government claiming to be both Christian and pro-choice. I came across an article this past week in which someone claimed that their Christian faith is what led them to become an abortion provider. Chances are, you have people in your own circles of family and friends who profess Christianity but rally behind the pro-choice cause.

I’ve occasionally heard the claim from some professing Christians that the Bible is silent on the specific issue of abortion, and therefore we cannot be dogmatic about the moral permissibility of terminating a pregnancy. The problem with this argument is, even if it is granted that no Scripture directly mentions the practice of abortion, the essential Christian doctrine of man is what must be dealt with. This doctrine is the true obstacle to reconciling the pro-choice position with Christianity.

When considering the question of whether or not abortion is permissible within a true, orthodox Christian worldview, the central question that must be asked is: What is the entity within the womb of a pregnant woman? Only if we know for absolute certain what it is can we answer the question of whether or not we are morally permitted to destroy that entity.

On a scientific level, we know that:

  1. At conception (fertilization of the egg, making it a zygote), there is a new being with a 100% unique genetic code and the inherent biological potential to mature to a point of independence from the womb. As Drs. Moore and Persaud explain in their embryology textbook, Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology: “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization…This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” 
  2. This entity is not part of the pregnant woman’s body, it is within, and being sustained by, her body.
  3. The entity in the womb is the same thing from day one of conception until the last day of the pregnancy. Its  identity remains the same over the entire 40 weeks. There is no point at which it changes, ontologically, from one kind of thing to another kind of thing. It simply realizes a certain amount of its developmental potential over those 40 weeks. Just as you are the same entity you were at age 2 (just more developed), and will still  be the same entity 10 years from now.

According to the Christian doctrine of man, which is essential to the entire system of Christian belief, we know that:

  1. A human being is more than a material body. It is a duality of body and immaterial soul mysteriously intermingled.
  2. At least some of the attributes of the immaterial soul of a human being constitute the Image of God in which mankind was created (Genesis 1:27). This image is what makes us wholly distinct from all other creatures.
  3. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made humankind in His own image.” I quote this verse not as a statement on the just penalty for murder, but to show why God condemns the murder of a human being: because they bear His image.

Therefore, if someone wants to harmonize their Christianity with the pro-choice position, here’s what they absolutely must have:

A well-grounded argument that produces 100% certainty that the entity within a pregnant woman’s womb does not have a human soul and thus does not bear the Image of God.

 Newsflash: There is no such argument.

If there is any possibility that the entity in the womb has an image-bearing soul, there is no conceivable justification for intentionally destroying that entity. There are, of course, extraordinarily rare situations in which the pregnant woman’s life is mortally endangered by her pregnancy at a time when her unborn baby is not yet mature enough to live outside her womb. But in such cases, the intent behind terminating the pregnancy is not to kill the unborn child, it is to save the mother’s life. In such circumstances, the death of one human being is the unfortunate yet unavoidable outcome of saving one instead of losing both mother and child–which would be doubly tragic.

I would even argue that Scripture strongly suggests that the unborn child is more than a biological machine. The Gospel of Luke tells us that John the Baptist leaped within Elizabeth’s womb, seemingly in response to the Holy Spirit filling Elizabeth, when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, called out in greeting. (Luke 1:41).

The bottom line is, it is impossible for orthodox Christianity to include the pro-choice view. You may hold one or the other, but you cannot rationally hold both. Scripture is specific and clear on what mankind is: a creature with a physical body and an immortal, immaterial soul that bears the very image of our Creator God. We have no theologically and ethically viable choice but to assume that the image-bearing human soul is present in the unborn from the moment of conception.

 

 

 

 

The world doesn’t revolve around us…or does it?

From the vantage point of Earth, astrophysicists have estimated that our observable universe has a diameter of approximately 93 billion light years. A light year is approximately 5.9 trillion miles, so multiply those miles times 93 billion, and you have an approximation of the observable cosmos: 549 x 1021 miles—and that’s just the observable region!

Milky Way Galaxy

Milky Way Galaxy

Our minds cannot begin to wrap around that kind of magnitude. Contrast the unimaginable vastness of space with our home planet, which isn’t quite 8,000 miles in diameter and circles a star that is only one of 100 billion others in our Milky Way galaxy—a galaxy which is only one of 100 billion others in the known universe!

By comparison, a human being is a minuscule fraction of a speck on a teensy-tiny bit of rock floating around in an average solar system situated in an unremarkable suburb of a galaxy that is itself dwarfed by the homogeneous enormity of space. Thus the reality is, the entire human race makes far less material impact on the cosmos than flicking a single grain of table salt into the ocean—virtually nil.

Some materialists have argued that these facts strongly suggest that the Christian doctrine of man is false and materialism is true. In other words, rather than being the crown of creation—the central reason for the existence of the universe—mankind is merely one insignificant, accidental by-product of physics and chemistry. Moreover, human existence is only a blip on the cosmic timescale, a brief spark that, in a future epoch, no one will be around to remember.

The problem with this argument is, it totally begs the question in favor of materialism. In other words, it uses materialism as its starting assumption when attempting to argue for materialism. Yes, if materialism is true, if the physical stuff of nature is all there is, then it is reasonable to use material size and longevity as a rubric for comparing things. If we eliminate the fallacy by excluding the starting assumption, the argument is still fatally flawed. As we have already seen, humanity is microscopic (huge understatement) relative to the universe. BUT, we can’t make a philosophical leap from this fact to the conclusion that mankind is not of the utmost cosmic significance. Here’s why.

If humans have immortal, immaterial souls made in the image of God, then we are different kinds of things than inanimate matter and lower creatures. If we are more than physical bodies, we cannot be valued according to our relative size. In order to argue that the Christian conception of human beings is false, a case needs to be made against the existence of the soul. Talking about how small we are physically is completely irrelevant; it says nothing about Christian doctrine whatsoever.

I highly recommend Dr. J.P. Moreland’s excellent short book entitled, The Soul. It does an outstanding job of boiling down dense metaphysical arguments for the soul to a more accessible length and level!

It certainly boggles the human mind to even try to conceive of the sheer enormity of our universe and how comparatively small we are. Nevertheless, Christianity teaches that mankind is cosmically significant by virtue of the kind of thing he is, a creature made in the image of God, possessed of an immortal soul, with life purposes that transcend the material and temporal. As the psalmist remarked, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.”[1]

[1] Psalm 8:3-5, ESV.

Eliminating False Teaching, Not Females Teaching

This will be my final post in what has been a series on gender roles in the church, and I thank all of you who have sent encouraging emails and tweets along the way! Soli Deo gloria! You can read the previous posts in this series by clicking here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

At the conclusion of my first post on 1 Timothy 2I gave fair warning that I would be leaning upon respected New Testament scholars who have done much more thorough academic work on this passage of Scripture than I have had the time to do.  I have studied a few different interpretations, and for the sake of time, I will here explain the argument I find to be the most compelling.

Dr. Craig Keener of Asbury Theological Seminary has written an incredibly helpful book on this topic entitled Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul.  I encourage you to check it out. In addition, he has an excellent summary article that I will be referencing so that you can click over and read the entire piece for yourself.

Just as I have done in previous posts, Keener emphasizes that there is a contradiction with other Pauline epistles if 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is taken as applying to all Christian women in all times and places (also remember the consistency issue with head-coverings, hairstyles, clothing, and jewelry). We must harmonize all of Paul’s teaching and use an even hermeneutic if we are to have a truthful coherence. Moreover, Keener explains why Paul didn’t offer specific details about the parameters of application of the instructions he gives about women in the church:

In 1 Timothy 2:11—15, Paul…forbade women to “teach,” something he apparently allowed elsewhere (Romans 16; Philippians 4:2,3). Thus he presumably addressed the specific situation in this community. Because both Paul and his readers knew their situation and could take it for granted, the situation which elicited Paul’s response was thus assumed in his intended meaning.

(Emphasis, mine.) This makes quite a lot of sense to me. If you’re corresponding with someone about a specific situation they are facing and need counsel on, you’re not going to rehash everything they’ve told you when you respond to them. Paul simply tells Timothy what to do in order to correct the problems at the church he was leading in Ephesus.

Remember what that situation was? Let’s look back at chapter 1:

As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. Such things promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith. But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently.

Ephesus was a hotbed of pagan worship. The converts of the area had undoubtedly  been steeped in it prior to learning the Gospel of Christ. Apparently, false teachings were circulating, which was a dangerous thing for the young church. It is likely that Christian doctrine was being tainted with pagan notions. Notice in verse 7 (above) how Paul says some in Ephesus desired to be teachers, but they were woefully under-educated and therefore, unqualified to teach. Now look at this passage from 2 Timothy 3:

For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

Keener points out that the only passage in the Bible that prohibits women from teaching Scripture just happens to be in the letters to a man who was ministering in an area explicitly known for having false teachers who were targeting women.  The women were susceptible to false teaching due to their serious lack of education. Keener says:

Women were the most susceptible to false teaching only because they had been granted the least education. This behavior was bound to bring reproach on the church from a hostile society that was already convinced Christians subverted the traditional roles of women and slaves. So Paul provided a short-range solution: “Do not teach” (under the present circumstances); and a long-range solution: “Let them learn” (1 Timothy 2:11)…Again it appears that Paul’s long-range plan was to liberate, not subordinate, women’s ministry. The issue is not gender but learning God’s Word. 

(Emphasis, mine.) It is no wonder that Paul would forbid the women in Ephesus from teaching. Instead, he wants them to learn the truth in submission so that the false teaching will not proliferate.

Some have objected that Paul’s references to Eve in the subsequent verses, 1 Timothy 2:13 and 14, mean that he does intend for the instructions to be a permanent prohibition for all women in the church. But Keener disagrees:

If Eve’s deception prohibits all women from teaching, Paul would be claiming that all women, like Eve, are more easily deceived than all men. (One wonders, then, why he would allow women to teach other women, since they would deceive them all the more.) If, however, the deception does not apply to all women, neither does his prohibition of their teaching. Paul probably used Eve to illustrate the situation of the unlearned women he addressed in Ephesus; but he elsewhere used Eve for anyone who is deceived, not just women (2 Corinthians 11:3).

To be sure, we need only look at the numerous instances in history and in contemporary life demonstrating that women are not, universally speaking, more easily deceived than men. So that cannot be what Paul intended to say by bringing up Eve.

Thus, the conclusion is, Paul did not intend his words to Timothy to be taken as binding on all Christian women forevermore. If we take his prohibition to be targeted at a specific community for specific reasons, then there is no contradiction with Paul’s other epistles, where he clearly permits women to pray and prophesy aloud in church. Remember, prophesying was a higher gift than simply teaching (though it included an act of teaching) and it was done in the hearing of all, male and female.

Bottom line: Yes, from a biblical perspective, women can teach mixed audiences.

With that said, I would also like to say, for the record, that I am not convinced that this means God intended for women to be senior pastors (or bishops, etc.). Jesus Christ was incarnate as male, and surely there was a reason for that, though for now we must be content with the mystery of it. It seems to me that those shepherding flocks under His name should be father figures in that sense. However, I harbor no thoughts of judgment whatsoever when I see women holding such positions.

A few final, concluding remarks. When I set out to write this series, one of my main motivations was to gain clarity in my own mind about the truth of the matter. I had procrastinated on analyzing the biblical data and stating my official position concerning the role of women in the church. I owed it to both to myself and to the Christian community to do so. As a woman in ministry, I have always prayed and trusted the Holy Spirit to open and close the appropriate doors, and that approach has been blessed. I am grateful for the work the Spirit has done in my heart as I’ve finally hashed all of this out, and I now have a greater sense of peace and confidence as I anticipate the work He has ordained for me going forward.