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on 11 March 2011
This is a contentious and polemical field, and much worthy intention and enthusiastic scholarship is marred by an over-positivistic interpretation of evidence. The conclusions are often weak in evidence and strong in opinion or desire. The presentation as scholarship is misleading, for they are often works of rhetoric not calm scholarly analysis; a presentation of desire not fact. A well phrased review (P. E. Marshall "Reference Guy"; Reynoldsburg, OH United States) put it thus;
" This book infers that there was a time in the history of the church when women were accepted or on their way to being accepted as leaders in the Christian church. The author claims this phenomenon was suppressed around the time the church became the official religion of the Roman Empire (became widely accepted and institutionalized). I have a few major objections to this approach and these conclusions, if you will indulge me.
1. The authors put a lot of emphasis on the non-New Testament history of the first few centuries in drawing their conclusions. This part of history is relatively less well-attested and documented than the history New Testament itself, which they disdain. They are well content to pick out obscure references and build a case, while denying the historicity of the New Testament. They prefer to see the Bible as a misty, unverifiable document, picking and choosing and reinterpreting selective passages to their taste--that is, those that support their conclusions.
2. Other points of view are not represented in this book, other than the here and there whisper of a straw man ready to be knocked down.
3. In my reading of church history, and admittedly I have only a master's degree, there was never a significant movement for accepting women as pastors, priests, bishops, episcopoi, elders; for more than nineteen centuries because it contradicts the clear reading of scripture: "In the church I do not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man." It is only with the filtering into the church of the feminist movement that we have seen a call for this. This smacks of revisionism. Call it what it is: feminist social theory and a rejection of traditional Christian morality and doctrine. Don't dress it up as if the church was supposed to be this way all along.
4. There are books that intelligently and evenly argue for women as leaders in the church, and though I disagree with those as well, one would be better served to read a book like, "Women in the Church," by Grenz than this sensationalist title. "
The above faults are common in the field, and even Ute Eisen, and otherwise scholarly and rigorous writer falls into these traps occasionally. There is also a small book published by Jean Danielou (1961) which can add some corrective to an otherwise loaded debate. Apart from that, readers need to be aware about how thin a lot of the evidence in these books is, and how weighted by prior conclusion; in this they imitate the 'church' authorities whom they attack with their polemic.