Icons of Christ
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Icons of Christ

A Biblical and Systematic Theology for Women's Ordination

William G. Witt

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  1. 447 pages
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eBook - ePub

Icons of Christ

A Biblical and Systematic Theology for Women's Ordination

William G. Witt

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The pastoral office is one of the most critical in Christianity. Historically, however, Christians have not been able to agree on the precise nature and limits of that office. A specific area of contention has been the role of women in pastoral leadership. In recent decades, three broad types of arguments have been raised against women's ordination: nontheological (primarily cultural or political), Protestant, and Catholic. Reflecting their divergent understandings of the purpose of ordination, Protestant opponents of women's ordination tend to focus on issues of pastoral authority, while Catholic opponents highlight sacramental integrity. These positions are new developments and new theological stances, and thus no one in the current discussion can claim to be defending the church's historic position.

Icons of Christ addresses these voices of opposition, making a biblical and theological case for the ordination of women to the ministerial office of Word and Sacrament. William Witt argues that not only those in favor of, but also those opposed to, women's ordination embrace new theological positions in response to cultural changes of the modern era. Witt mounts a positive ecumenical argument for the ordination of women that touches on issues such as theological hermeneutics, relationships between men and women, Christology and discipleship, and the role of ordained clergy in leading the church in worship, among others.

Uniquely, Icons of Christ treats both Protestant and Catholic theological concerns at length, undertaking a robust engagement with biblical exegesis and biblical, historical, systematic, and liturgical theology. The book's theological approach is critically orthodox, evangelical, and catholic. Witt offers the church an ecumenical vision of ordination to the presbyterate as an office of Word and Sacrament that justifiably is open to both men and women. Most critically Witt reminds us that, as all Christians are baptized into the image of the crucified and risen Christ, and bear witness to Christ through lives of cruciform discipleship, so men and women both are called to serve as icons of Christ in service of the gospel.

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Notes

1. Preliminaries

1 George R. Sumner, Being Salt: A Theology of an Ordered Church (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade, 2007), 9–10; Thomas F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood: A Theology of Ordained Ministry, 2nd ed. (London: T&T Clark, 2003 [1993]), 103. In Reformed or Presbyterian polity, the person who fulfills the ministerial role of Word and Sacrament is sometimes identified as a “teaching elder.”
2 Francis Martin, The Feminist Question: Feminist Theology in the Light of Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 90–93, 108–9. What forms such “lay ministries” might take would differ among churches according to their understanding of the ministry of Word and Sacrament. For example, if there are churches in which the pastor alone has the primary responsibility of preaching, “lay preachers” would be a self-contradictory notion. In churches that allow certain laity to preach, there would still be a distinction between the role of pastor and the role of “lay preacher.”
3 Donald W. Dayton and Douglas M. Strong, Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage: A Tradition and Trajectory of Integrating Piety and Justice, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014). Whether or not women may have held church office during the New Testament or early patristic period is a distinct issue, not addressed in this introductory chapter.
4 See especially Carrie A. Miles, The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006).
5 On secularism, see Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007).
6 George Hunsinger, The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 1–18.

2. Non-theological Arguments against the Ordination of Women

1 James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991).
2 Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong was one of the first to use this imagery. See Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992).
3 Advocates of “inclusiveness” would include the late Marcus Borg and the feminist theologian Sallie McFague. See Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994); idem, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2003); idem, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—and How They Can Be Restored (New York: HarperCollins, 2011); McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987).
4 Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.
5 For a now-classic Evangelical account, see Donald W. Dayton and Douglas M. Strong, Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage: A Tradition and Trajectory of Integrating Piety and Justice, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).
6 Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Career of the Reformer I, Harold J. Grimm, ed., W. A. Lambert and Harold J. Grimm, trans., vol. 31 of Luther’s Works, American ed., Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1957), 327–77.
7 Luther, “Against the Murdering, Thieving Hordes of Peasants,” in Christian in Society III, Robert C. Schultz, ed., Charles M. Jacobs and Robert C. Schultz, trans., vol. 46 of Luther’s Works, American ed., Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967), 49–55.
8 John Wesley, “Thoughts upon Slavery,” in vol. 11 of The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Thomas Jackson, ed. (London: John Mason, 1841), https://docsouth.unc.edu/church/wesley/wesley.html, 56–76.
9 Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, encyclical letter, May 15, 1891, https://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum.html; Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, encyclical letter, May 15, 1931, https://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19310515_quadragesimo-anno.html; John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, encyclical letter, April 11, 1963, https://w2.vatican.va/content...

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