N.T. Wright on Women Bishops, “Progress”, and the Bible

N. T. Wright

In the wake of the Church of England’s vote not to allow women bishops, N.T. Wright recently wrote a great article pointing out that the issue is about what the Bible says and not about any ideas of progress. After all, as Wright points out, what did ‘progress’ brings us?

“’Progress’ gave us modern medicine, liberal democracy, the internet. It also gave us the guillotine, the Gulag and the gas chambers. Western intelligentsia assumed in the 1920s that “history” was moving away from the muddle and mess of democracy towards the brave new world of Russian communism. Many in 1930s Germany regarded Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his friends as on the wrong side of history. The strong point of postmodernity is that the big stories have let us down. And the biggest of all was the modernist myth of ‘progress’.”

So what is the real issue?

It is the lie that to people who believe in the Bible will oppose women’s ordination. Folks normally point to 1 Timothy chapter two, which is the worse place to start as the Greek words used in that passage occur nowhere else and are very hard to translate…

No, the place to start talking about this issue (well, really ANY issue in following Jesus), as Wright beautifully points out, is with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead:

“And Jesus entrusted that task, first of all, not to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary Magdalene. Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.

“Within a few decades, Paul was sending greetings to friends including an ‘apostle’ called Junia (Romans xvi, 7). He entrusted that letter to a ‘deacon’ called Phoebe whose work was taking her to Rome. The letter-bearer would normally be the one to read it out to the recipients and explain its contents. The first expositor of Paul’s greatest letter was an ordained travelling businesswoman.

“The resurrection of Jesus is the only Christian guide to the question of where history is going. Unlike the ambiguous “progress” of the Enlightenment, it is full of promise — especially the promise of transformed gender roles.

“The promise of new creation, symbolised by the role of Mary Magdalene in the Easter stories, is the reality. Modern ideas of ‘progress’ are simply a parody. Next time this one comes round, it would be good to forget ‘progress’ — and ministerial ‘programmes’ — and stick with the promise.”

Amen and amen!!

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