“This is a non-issue for me, because I was born and raised in a tradition where God obviously gifted people who were male and female.”
Now professor of New Testament at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Fee was raised in the Pentecostal tradition, where both women and men served in every aspect of ministry, including the roles of pastor, missionary and prophet.
Fee remembers one couple in particular who were long-term missionaries in Indonesia who visited his church when they were on furlough.
“He was a good missionary and a great worker, but when it came to declaring,” Fee said, “she was the preacher — a superb preacher, and far more articulate than he.”
As his parents also held each other in high regard, Fee said there was never a controversy about the ways in which women could minister and serve in the home or church.
It wasn’t until Fee began teaching at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston that he was drawn into the controversy about women in ministry. He was asked to sit on a panel with three other evangelical scholars discussing the issue.
At his chance to speak, Fee began by saying that he was born and raised in a tradition in which God obviously gifted both men and women. “That caused us to read texts like 1 Timothy 2 in light of what God had done,” he added.
A well-known evangelical scholar who was also on the panel strongly criticized Fee for reading the text out of experience.
“The thing that bothers me [about] what you’ve just done,” Fee replied, “is that you read the text out of your experience in the church as well, which doesn’t have women in ministry. [You] don’t recognize that you’re even more conditioned by your culture than I am.”
Responding to this kind of criticism, which Fee says he encounters regularly, is something he would rather not devote his time to. “I’m just not of a kind that’s going to spend a lot of time fighting windmills,” he said.
Fee was unable to avoid controversy though, when the public and press discovered Zondervan and the International Bible Society (IBS) were intending to publish an updated version of the NIV Bible approximately four years ago. One aspect of the new version was gender accurate language in reference to the people of God.
As a member of the New Testament team of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation, Fee suddenly found himself in the midst of a Bible battle. Beginning with its March 29, 1997 issue, World magazine led a critique of the new translation, calling it “the Stealth Bible” and “gender neutral.” Others quickly joined in criticizing the translation.
“I still have a lot of pain about that,” said Fee. “I am still having difficulty with the deliberate deceit … that the World magazine did. And certain people allowed themselves to get caught into that, and without talking to us at all, called what we were doing into question.”
Because of the pressure applied by the Bible’s opponents, Zondervan and IBS made the decision not to publish the Bible in the United States. The New International Version, Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI), is currently being published in the United Kingdom by Hodder & Stoughton.
“My problem with that whole thing was that this was being driven by the market, not by scholarship, not by integrity,” said Fee, “and we were trying to do our work with great integrity as scholars.”
“It’s an unfortunate piece of American church history,” he added. “It says something far more about a community driven by fear than by grace, and when people are driven by fear, they do things that grace would never allow them to do.”
While Fee continues to serve on the Committee on Bible Translation, his recent work has included the book Listening to the Spirit in the Text (Eerdmans 2000). This book is a collection of essays, many of which appeared first in other publications.
While the essays address issues like wealth and possessions, worship and the church’s global mission, two of the essays focus on women in ministry. One addresses hermeneutics relating to women in ministry, and another the question of gender issues and Paul, which was first given as a class lecture at Regent College.
By addressing this issue in lectures and other formats, Fee said he is seen as an advocate for women in ministry, but this advocacy is sometimes misunderstood.
“I care about the women who have been gifted very, very deeply,” he said. “But my advocacy is not so much on their behalf, as it is on the behalf of the Holy Spirit in the church.”
“God was there before me,” he concluded. “To those whom he has gifted, who am I to say, ‘God, you have to take this gift back.’”
Growing up poor, I remember times when my parents just didn’t have enough money to buy Christmas presents for us. They almost always seemed to work things out in the end, but there were times things just didn’t to come together. One advantage they had was Wal-Mart’s layaway program – come in and find what you want, pay a little for it now and come back and pay the rest later, at which time you can pick up your item.
This was an advantage for my parents, but not for us kids. One Christmas I remember my mom and step-father taking us to Wal-Mart and telling us we had $100 worth of items to put on layaway. This was right around the time the original Super Wal-Mart’s came out, so I ran around that store for probably 3 hours collecting baseball cards, sweaters (when I was a kid I wanted to be a preppy) and a baseball glove. After our time was up we went and put the items on layaway, in full confidence that in a month we would be able to come back and get our presents.
Unfortunately, that never happened. The first payment was made and my mom and step dad never went back to pay the rest so that we could get our Christmas presents. They never gathered enough money to pay the full sum; I never saw my baseball cards.
The larger narrative of the Spirit of God never has this kind of unfortunate conclusion. The Spirit is the first-fruits of our final, eschatological inheritance…the down payment of our final redemption. At the cross our savior won redemption for the entire world and the giving of the Spirit testifies that that redemption, already accomplished, will finally be completed. The Spirit witnesses in the “right now” to the “what is yet to come” – and the “what is yet to come” is guaranteed.
“Down payment” is from the Gk. avrrabw.n, a word which comes from the business world. The idea is a contractual agreement between two parties that the buyer will make a single payment at one time, in promise of returning with the full sum at a later time. The fulfillment of the promise is GUARANTEED in the initial installment. Thus, promised by the Father (Acts 1:4-5), the Spirit is God’s layaway plan for creation. The Spirit is His promise to entirely finish what He began so long ago. The Spirit is the evidence that we possess in the “now” what we still yet await for in the “then.” The Spirit is the church’s evidence that God will cash in on His promise.
The Spirit is the promise of the final redemption of this world. He is the “wellspring of Christian faith, forward-looking toward the final end.” The Spirit is the promise of the Father, the promise that all our temptations and sufferings do not have the final say. We do not have to wallow in our own depravity, but the Spirit gives us hope to see “the possibility of being wholly set free” and urges us to break free from the fetters of our so-called “freedom.” This hope is entirely audacious. In the face of our failures, this crazy, Spirit induced hope emboldens us to see that our sin does not have the final say. We can truly believe that this sin is the last one.
In Ephesians 1:13, Paul speaks of this inheritance of redemption being sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. A seal was a stamped impression on wax or clay that signified ownership and authenticity. It carried with it the protection of its owner. The Spirit, then, is the evidence that we are authentically owned by God. He has purchased us out of the slave-market and has made us children! This seal marks us “until the day of redemption.” The Spirit is the evidence that God protects us and will finally redeem us.
What better message of hope exists? God is not like my parents. He does not lack the resources to go back and finally redeem his purchase. The promise of full and final redemption is made known in the initial installment, the Holy Spirit.
Today as I walked out of McDonalds, I held the door for a young mother and her 4 year old daughter. The mother cordially thanked me for my kindness and the little girl smiled up at me with a huge smile.
As her face drifted up in my direction, I noticed that her left eye was badly bruised and swollen. A deep, puffy purple marred her beautiful little face. For a split second I though that kind of thing could happen to any little kid falling off their bike or having a misstep.
But as her neck extended, I saw she had a bruise ring around her neck as well. The bruise extended as far as I could see on either side of her neck. It accented her deep, purple eye.
Her smile, though big and joyous, was broken as well. Many teeth were missing and though that could be the result of her age, I live with a four year old boy who has all his teeth. She was too young to be losing them naturally.
My countenance dropped and I felt my heart drop deep into my chest. What could I do? Should I ask her mother? She looked just fine – though, she had a coat on, so who knows what might lie concealed under it.
I sat in my car on the verge of tears. I was reminded of feelings I haven’t had since I was a kid and my stepdad was abusive to my mom. Feelings of helplessness, despair and anger surged through me all at the same time. I know the feeling of that precious little girl – so much life and worth being trashed by some 6 year old in a 30 year old body.
But I felt there was nothing I could do. I know the routine – ask her if her husband hits her daughter and she’ll only deny it. That’s how the cycle works – the abuser has tricked her into thinking its in her best interest to protect him. Her identity is wrapped up in him, her self-esteem is caught up in his thoughts of her.
My little girl will be here in 4 months and I can’t imagine a more joyous gift of God than her. How could someone hate so much that they take it out on someone so innocent and powerless? It seems so unfathomable to me. So screwed up.
What was I to do? What could I have said?
Lord, you say you shelter the innocent,
But where are you now? Doesn’t that apply to her?
She does not deserve to be abused and crushed,
What has she done to bear this burden, to be this alone?
You are the God of the widows and orphans,
But are the Father of the forgotten?
Why do you not still the hand of violence,
Letting her bear this burden, and that, all alone?
The ones to whom you’ve given her
They who should protect her,
It is they who choke and hit,
Making her bear this burden, making her feel all alone.
Oh Lord, the violence and evil she knows so young,
The fear and dread she will never forget,
This will never leave her. Never.
She is bearing this burden. She is all alone.
Protect her from his senseless violence,
Let her know someone cares,
Bring her out of Egypt and into Your arms
But do not let her bear this burden; do not let her be alone.
The Spirit and the Word are inseparable. They, together, are the means by which God created and sustains the world in Genesis. By His word God calls forth all of creation. By the Spirit He works chaos into cosmos. God has called the world into being with the breath of His mouth (ruach) and has made everything by his word (Ps. 33:6).
At times in the OT “spirit” and “word” are even interchangeable. Ancient Jews found it difficult to draw too sharp of a contrast between them. This is because they understood the creative and providential potential of both.
Ancient people believed they could create reality through the spoken word. The spoken word “is regarded as the medium of owners which effectively influence events.”
And even today, though we hardly believe it, human words have the ability to create worlds. By gossip or negativity a world of despair may be created around a person. By love and grace a world of godliness may flourish around someone else.
If we are to have a renewed understanding of the Spirit in the church today, we need to also regain a new understanding of the power of words. With our words, we need to create a world where the Spirit and spiritual things may thrive and prosper. Clearly we do not take the freedom from God to choose to act on His own, but we can still work to create an environment that is ready when God does choose to act. This is done through a connection of Spirit and word.
Notice how so many of our spiritual charisms (gifts) essentially involve words: Tongues is itself a verbal gift, teaching and prophesy are gifts most often employed through spoken word, discernment involves distinguishing whether a spoken word came from God or not, and what would encouragement be if it did not involve a word of hope? And the list could go on.
In a world where everything has already been said, and much of our rhetoric is merely adding to the noise, we need to recover a sense of connection between the Spirit and words. If we fail to do this, “our words may well make a good deal of sense, but they will be devoid of power; it may be that they will explain something, but they will move nobody. They will be ineffectual, idle, fruitless.”
We live in a world where words are considered either hurtful or meaningless. People do not trust the words of lying politicians, the words of cheating pastors, nor the words of even their own family members (“I love you.” doesn’t even mean anything anymore because it’s been so overused and commercialized!).
The church, to them, is just another political entity vying for power, a power to hurt other people. This is how the world sees the church – and we’ve given them no other model! But “if we really want the Spirit to place words on our lips, we need to live constantly in an attitude of death to our own glory, seeking only the glory of God.” We need to stop our self-seeking and squelch our power-hunger. We need to humbly live in the Spirit and employ the words of humility and love.
A fresh recovery of the Spirit goes hand in hand with a recovery of our ecclesial rhetoric. From the individual struggling with gossip, to the larger community struggling with our political rhetoric, from the Pentecostal emphasizing the Spirit to the Protestants emphasizing the Word, we cannot forget that these are inseparable. The Spirit and the word, together, create and sustain worlds. As long as we ignore the value of both in the contemporary church we will continue to reap the harvest of spiritless meaninglessness.
In this final installment on the “Abraham Alone” series, we will look at the ambiguity of Abrahamic religion’s relationship with Canaanite religion and culture. Nearly every text has something to say about this porous relationship that is strained by the wickedness of Canaanite culture in general, but at times quite intimate and righteous. So, the last feature of Abrahamic religion is that it was distinct from, but at times having commonality with Canaanite religion and culture.
Beginning with the distinctions, whether or not Abrahamic religion was monotheistic it is obvious that Abraham follows only Yahweh. Additionally, the practice of circumcision on the eighth day after birth also separates Abraham from the Canaanites. Though ancient Semitic peoples practiced circumcision, this feature is unique to Abrahamic religion. The rituals and theology separating Abrahamic faith from Canaanite religion reinforces the “choseness” of Abraham and the wickedness of most Canaanite culture.
Despite the texts generally negative view, in certain segments Abraham honors Canaanite people and religion. He pays tithes to Melchizedek, understanding El Elyon, a Canaanite deity who is “God Most High,” as Yahweh (14:22). Melchizedek’s is the apex of Canaanite religion, worshiping Abraham’s God, only by a different name. This deity was likely the highest in the Canaanite pantheon, and Abraham’s connection of this name with Yahweh may be due to Melchizedek’s conception of El Elyon as displaying Yahweh’s attributes. Abraham simply sees no difference between Yahweh and El Elyon in this text or a few others: he builds altars to the god El (22:9), which he also connects with Yahweh (22:11).
Abraham’s attitude toward them, then, is not only shaped by the wickedness of some, but also by the righteousness of a few. He enters into treaty’s (21:27) and is even buried among some of them who honor him and his wife (25:8-10).
In the end, full realization of Yahweh’s promises necessitated that Abrahamic faith avoid fraternization with the wickedness of the Canaanites. However, the boundaries were rather porous when it came to Canaanites who were generally righteous in character.
 Much of the distinction between Abrahamic and Canaanite people had to do with the wickedness of the Canaanites in general (13:13). Overall they are viewed as selfish (14:21), sexually deviant (19:8-9) and a people who rule each other (14:8-9). Fraternization people of this character is negatively viewed as it impacts the purity of Abraham’s family (ch. 19).
 These altars probably serve to further separate him from Canaanite religion because He is staking a claim for Yahweh in the erection of them.
 It should also be noted that the text has much to say regarding non-Canaanite peoples who are not Abrahamic in their faith. The Egyptians are viewed as potential murderers by Abraham (12:12). Another nameless group will enslave Abraham’s offspring (15:13) and so God will punish them.
I have no fear of going bald. My hair has always been extra thick and, though I have a five-head (that’s one larger than a forehead), my hair line has remained consistent my whole life. I have what my friend LaRue has affectionately called a “Jew-Fro” – long, thick and curly hair that fro’s up by the end of the day. Those of you who hang out with me till all hours of the night know how intimidating this mass of follicle can be.
But last night I had a dream where I walked in front of a bathroom mirror to look at myself. I noticed as I stared at myself that my five-head looked a bit lopsided. I reached up to see what was going on and suddenly realized that my whole Jew-From was off-center.
I don’t have a part in my hair anymore because I haven’t taken a comb to my hair since my freshman year of college, but for some reason in my dream I had a part. I lifted the Jew-From on the side opposite the part and the whole thing came up like I had been scalped. I freaked out at once, for my Jew-fro was just a wig and what I really had was a horseshoe style, slick on top hair cut. I was so bald on top it looked like I had been waxing my head for a while and maybe even putting make-up on it to cover up basketball bruises.
I thought to myself, “I always told myself that if I got this way I’d just shave it all off. Why, then, am I wearing a wig or a horseshoe?” So I pulled the wig all the way off and realized that my hairless head really highlighted my green eyes. It wasn’t pretty, to be sure. But at least I still had my beard stubble.