What IS God's dream for his world?

Over the past several months, I've become an enthusiastic fan of never-boring author/blogger Rachel Held Evans.  Although I don't agree with every stance Rachel takes, her courage, wisdom and well-reasoned and researched arguments consistently challenge me.  I dig.

This week has been "A Week of Mutuality"  at her blog.  Her idea has been to explore egalitarianism/mutuality (the belief that men and women are mutually free to lead in church, home and society, based on giftedness rather than gender) as a biblically tennable option, and to encourage others in the blogophere to do likewise. 

Her June 8 post responds to Denny Burk's claim that, quoting his fellow complementarian Russell Moore, "Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy."  In response, Rachel asks "Is patriarchy really God's dream for the world?"  I couldn't help but jump in (like hundreds of others) on the comments section, exposing myself as a completely inexperienced commentor-on-other-peopel's-blogs by going on and on and getting the formatting on my comment all wrong.  So I thought I'd redeem my comment's life by posting it here (where I know how to format and can go on as long as I like.)  This is what I said:

The title of Rachel's blogpost poses THE question, I think:  What IS God's dream for his creation?  Theologian Kyle Roberts asks something similar in his "Open Letter to Women in Seminary."  Describing his own journey to egalitarianism, Roberts asks, “Why should we structure our churches, families and relationships on the basis of past and present sins and failures rather than on the basis of God’s planned future for shalom?”

I have found texts like 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor 14 troubling and confusing my entire life, but I’m pretty clear on shalom.  Isaiah’s vision of shalom includes the turning of weapons into farming tools (Is 2:4), and wolves living peacefully with lambs (Is 11:6).  Jesus promises it includes freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19).  Paul envisions a new reality that obliterates racial, socio-economic or gender hierarchy (Gal 3:28).  Each of these pictures of God’s shalom – God’s dream for his world – seem to intentionally dissolve any notion of power into a very different vision; all of creation is mutually, joyfully submitted to the beautiful rule of its Creator.  Yep, kinda like Eden.

So, in my own quest for fidelity to Scripture, I have been experimenting with a “shalom hermeneutic.”  I apply it in cases where a “plain reading” of one set of texts (ie 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor 14) seems to conflict with a “plain reading” of another set of texts (in this case, Jesus’ treatment of women and Paul’s inclusion and commendation of women leaders in his churches).   When all the exegetical work I know to do is done, if there’s still a stalemate, I ask: Which of the reasonable interpretations most moves God’s people towards his shalom?  Such a practice has tugged me from dutiful complementarian to increasingly daring egalitarian, and has convinced me that the quest to understand God’s dream for his world—to “discern the mind of Christ” (Phil 2)—requires the gifts and efforts of the entire body of Christ…man and woman alike.



What do you think?  Could a carefully and consistently applied "Shalom Hermeneutic" move us toward more faithful biblical interpretation?


Hermeneutic of Love

Thanks for this post Carolyn. Shalom is a helpful hermeneutic. If you haven’t already come across NT Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, you’ll find a friend there. As a historian, Tom recognizes the challenges of approaching a text with fresh eyes as we all have a world-view that shapes our understanding. So he offers that reader’s should employ the hermeneutic of love. Is a really well-developed and useful literary approach. Completely changed my way of reading.

“In love, at least in the idea of agape as we find in some parts of the New Testament, the lover affirms the reality and the otherness of the beloved. Love does not seek to collapse the beloved into terms of itself; and, even though it may speak of losing itself in the beloved, such a loss always turns out to be a true finding.”

The hermeneutic of love allows for otherness and conversation. Found this to be radically helpful.

Looking forward to hearing more of your journey on this.

Wright On ...

Thanks for this!  That NT Wright book was actually one my assigned texts for my NT course this spring - but it was read at rather a break-neck speed.  I'm going to go back to that section and give it the slow reading it deserves ...  that "hermeneutic of love" sounds incredibly helpful.

The Beautiful Rule

The beautiful rule fuses the stamen of Matthew 7:12 and the pistil of Galatians 2:38 into one perfect flower. Each spring, when the amaryllis bulbs in our front bed sprout green shoots, and the green shoots burst into crimson flowers, I'm reminded of the perfect parity of nature -- and the transitory nature of its blooms. In this world, it seems, our efforts to embody the beautiful rule are as transitory as the amaryllis flower. Yet, thankfully, we're capable of producing such beauty at any time, in any season, if we but try.

Beautiful Comment!

I was just running some errands and noticed that someone had taken the time to plant little rows of flowers on the edge of a grimy fast food parking lot - for no other reason than the fact that flowers are beautiful.  It gave me a strang burst of hope - as does your comment.  Thanks!

Shalom...right on!

Long time fan here. Seminary grad, forty years in conservative US ministry, post-complementarian evangelical married male.

I have loved your writing since your movie reviews at CT. I have recently discovered RHE and find her insights challenging, too. Your thoughts about a "shalom hermeneutic" immediately caught my imagination as an intuitive-thinker type. Even just the brief preview makes sense on the face of it and rings true. I encourage you to pursue it further. I think you may be on to something.

Have you read any of Dr. William J. Webb's books? If not, I think you would resonate with his "redemptive movement hermeneutic."

Keep up the good thinking.

William Webb Indeed

Clay - thanks for the comment - it sounds like we have much in common (well, not being male, but other things for sure!)  I began to develop this articulation of a "shalom hermeneutic" while working on a Regent College paper on Women in Ministry this spring.  William J. Webb's work was supremely helpful, as was John Stackhouse's Finally Feminist.  It's very encouraging to hear this approach strikes a chord with you - maybe I am on to something!

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