There were several issues arising from the conference. This is less about the conference or its speakers than questions that we’re left with.
Firstly, to what extent can we speak of the ‘plain meaning’ of Scripture? There was an exegetical talk on 1 Tim 2 that pushed this line, claiming that the text is plainly clear: we don’t need elaborate reconstructions because the text is sufficient in itself, so all that remains is the question of our obedience. But to what extent can we understand a text apart from its historical situation? The talk elaborated that while a text may have ‘plain meaning’, our understanding may be skewed by our sin or cultural blinkers. What makes ‘plain meaning’, then? And ‘plain’ to who?
Secondly, in what sense might revelation be progressive? This is related to the question of the self-evidence of a text. Do we expect to get more clarity about a text over time, or for the level of clarity to remain static? All three speakers claimed that Christians have understood gender in complementarian terms for the vast bulk of church history. They called us to listen to those voices and to trust God that his church has been rightly reading the Bible. But does this mean that we don’t expect our understanding to be changed or deepened? Ought we to expect that scholarship will bring new issues to light or transform our understanding?
Thirdly, how do we construct a positive complementarian stance? Gender is an issue that gets us het up, and it is easy to spend all our time reacting to others, defending our territory against the other. But how can we be positively and broadly constructive, rather than defining the terms narrowly and exclusively? What place is there, for example, for those who identify as complementarians but differ on the particulars of practice? How do we incorporate distinctions between marriage and ministry?
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.