Monday, May 30, 2016

incubation continues

There's a couple of topics I'm hoping to eventually get to at the blog but they're somewhat complex and inter-related/overlapping topics.

My esteemed associate and blogger Wendy has been blogging about complementarianism and egalitarianism a bit lately.  She raises a few concerns about some issues we've discussed here and there and increasingly we're of a perspective that the conflation of prophecy (whatever that is) with the office of elder is looking more and more like a massive category mistake.  That a pastor today takes up many responsibilities that would be fulfilled by priests seems easily established but the activities a prophet are another matter.

One of the core mistakes in conflating "pastor" with "prophet" is that the people who keep doing this display not only no serious interest in what prophets were described as actually doing in the Old Testament, they seem to be actively hostile to attempts to seriously, systematically and carefully consider the Old Testament as the baseline for defining what a prophet is and what prophecy was to begin with.  I'm going to indulge in that thing I hope is rare for Wenatchee The Hatchet and make a sweeping generalization, cessationists and Baptists have too much at stake in conflating "pastor" with "prophet" to be taken altogether seriously on the subject how to define prophets and prophecy.  The sum of the Old Testament seems to present a picture of prophets and prophecy that is vastly more ad hoc and occasional than either cessationists or continuationists in a contemporary Western setting seem willing to grant

Beyond that simple point there's another problem, which is that if we don't sit on the assumption that various Pauline prohibitions regarding women and speech in church gatherings were redactions, we see that the prohibitions against women speaking in the churches are so categorically that their mere existence in biblical texts forces us to reassess what on earth "prophecy" could be if women could prophecy with a head covering but not in a way that involved speaking in a church gathering yet in a way where virgin daughters of Philip the evangelist could become famous for being gifted in prophecy.  Whatever prophecy actually was, it would seem that it wasn't public teaching or instruction.  A commenter at Wendy's blog who said that Moses was a prophet who publicly instructed too easily forgot Numbers 11, in which it was explicitly established that Moses was a prophet but not "just" a prophet in the way Miriam was.  Moses and the Mosaic law define Judaism in a way that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount plays a defining role in Christianity--the exceptions that established the rules can't be invoked as a way to say those carrying on a tradition were working at the same level.  So, nope, can't grant that Moses was a prophet means that prophets gave public instruction.  Gad the seer didn't seem to. Neither did Huldah, that we can prove from a biblical text.

And that gets to another matter, which is that if complementarians conflate prophecy with preaching then they have to cede the entire matter of women in the pastorate to egalitarians just on the basis of the Old Testament ... unless they want to suddenly and abruptly change to the position in which the all-male priesthood becomes the basis for understanding pastoral/elder activity. 

I'm still reading secondary literature and mulling over biblical texts but I would suggest that Deuteronomy 16-18 has been skipped over too much as a potentially definitive text for how to understand prophecy as a largely occasional, ad hoc judicial activity within the OT narratives and the parameters of Mosaic law. 

There is another element pertinent to the question of what prophecy was in connection to what could constitute a prophetic activity in the present and that will get to the history of interpretive understandings about prophecy.  Some of the magisterial Reformers argued there was not just a priesthood of all believers but a prophetic capacity in which all believers could function.  That women functioned as prophets and in at least one case as a judge is beyond dispute--what may be in dispute from some is whether Deborah "ought" to have been a judge and on that point I hope to get back to Barry Webb's commentary on Judges later.  Preliminary answer--there's no indication from Judges itself in any direct way that Deborah wasn't supposed to be a prophet or judge any more than we get told that about Miriam.

It seems more the agenda of contemporary complementarians or neo-patriarchalists to retroactively ascribe to ancient Israelite society a partitioning away of women from prophetic and judicial roles that, if we actually read the biblical texts themselves, we'll see wasn't the case.  If documents from the Iron and Bronze eras tell us that in ancient Israel women could serve as prophets and judges and in the 21st century United States some complementarians want to say that women can't have those kinds of roles that suggests that the myth of linear progress is surely that, a myth.

And the reason these things have been on my mind this year is because among those sorts of complementarians there seems to be a complimentary concern about the role women play in what is colloquially known as watchblogging.  So what I've been incubating for a while now is a project or two in which I hope to survey the Old Testament literature on the topic of prophets and prophecy; connect this to prophetic activity as political speech in the context of ancient near Eastern empires; to then connect the thread of this activity to the magisterial Reformers on the prophethood of believers in genera; maybe throw in some asides ruminating on theories of the press; and to make a case that given some important caveats about the effectuality of the enterprise that the watchblog can be done in a socially responsible, journalistic/historical way and that it can be done by women whether or not certain types of complementarians get pissed off about that or not.  I plan to write about the matter as a Calvinist who's totally okay with supralapsarianism. 

Having said that, I basically reject the categories of egalitarianism vs complementarianism on the one hand, and also the categories of continuationism vs cessationism on the other as I see both polarities as fundamentally irresponsible American chauvinist attempts to impose the political battles over who should have access to institutional power within the 501(c)3 systems of the current United States churches as somehow necessarily germane to a responsible reading of biblical texts.  I've seen plenty of people say over the years here in America that the Bible condones slavery.  The Bible didn't condone the form of slavery practiced in the antebellum South and if there's a lesson to be learned here it's not so much that the Bible condoned what was a reality of economic and military life in the bronze and iron ages but that you can't trust Americans to not use the Bible to justify whatever atrocities Americans want to commit. 

All of this will end up being (should I finish it) the writings of a layperson.  I'm not going to pretend I'm a pastor or a deacon or more than an amateur scholar of biblical literature and ancient near Eastern history.  So anything and everything could and should be taken with a few grains of salt.  I'm hoping to formulate what I write in a way where even though I'm a Calvinist and a Presbyterian what I write could be of potential help at a more ecumenical level. 

And, yes, since Wenatchee The Hatchet has probably been mainly known in the last five years as some kind of watchblog I think it is helpful and necessary to attempt to formulate a rationale for watchblogging as an activity that can be informed by the precedent of considered interpretations of the scriptures (particularly consideration of the role prophecy has historically played in both advisory and critical roles within ancient Israelite/Jewish thought); writings from the polemics of the Reformers; later considerations of freedom of the press within the context of nascent libertarian thinking about the press; and the way recent lock-down positions purporting to be either cessationist or complementarian have failed to adequately or responsibly address certain aspects both of the Christian canon on the one hand and the history of its interpretation on the other. 

In other words, I'm eventually hoping to make a case that contemporary complementarians do not really have a significant case being concerned that women have watchblogs as if the mere existence of women with the time to spare for watchblogging meant they shouldn't be doing it. A great deal of blogging about ... bloggers has tended to assume the worst about the competency and methodology and motives of watchblogging.  There are really good reasons for that, actually.  But to extrapolate from the low level of scholarship or literary art so prevalent in watchdog blogging hardly seems like a reason to think we can't do better. 

In make a defense of the potential legitimacy of watchblogging I'm hoping to make that case as someone who can ideally leave a lot of that behind in terms of regular practice so that a case can be made from the position of having done it when I felt it was necessary during a time when a sense of collective responsibility can ideally have shifted to others.  How you do it and why you do it has everything to do with the credibility you are perceived as having or not having and this point is hard to overstate even if nobody may wish to take it seriously or if a ton of people take it as given. 

To go by the election year mania of 2016 I think too many people conceive of watchblogging as an us vs them thing when the only way a watchblog seems likely to have traction is an us vs. us dynamic in which one of "us" challenges the rest of "us" to ask serious questions about whether what's happened in our midst really reflects the ideals, doctrines, dogmas and affections we've professed.  We live in an era of manic and livid propagandas through which few seem able to pierce--this is because we want what we want and we're loathe to examine our pet desires before questioning the legitimacy of what others want.  As an apostle wrote, it's not our business to pass judgment on outsiders, but we can and should pass judgment on the insiders.  A watchblog that is poised to pass judgment on those the blogger considers outsiders is already failing.  There is a sense in which intra-group critique has to be a foundation for a watchblog to have any traction or else it's stopped being a watchblog and has descended into the kind of partisan propagandizing that is so characteristic of our time.

So I'm hoping, later this year, to get around to writing more about that. 

But there's such a thing as having what is colloquially known as a life.  The new Whit Stillman film is really, really funny!  Kate Beckinsale couldn't keep being in Underworld movies forever and her return to Austen adaptation is glorious.  :)  Love & Friendship is a funny, funny movie. 

There's other stuff I want to write about at some point, like a lot about Ferdinand Rebay.  I also have some spleen to vent about the final failure of Legend of Korra as symptomatic of a creative failure in the action genre more generally.  And depending on what happens I might still do some of what's called watchblogging.  Not all of the LLCs no longer exist here in WA state for instance.

1 comment:

chris e said...

"I think it is helpful and necessary to attempt to formulate a rationale for watchblogging as an activity that can be informed by [lots of stuff]"

I'd agree with much of this, though identifying the particular drive that animates a particular blog or blog post gets into thorny territory, and it would be easy for it to degenerate into endless arguments about 'prophetic purpose' vs 'acting as a fourth estate' and so on.

OTOH; it doesn't take anything more than good sense to state that some things are screwy (whether that is then being used providentially as a means of the prophetic or whatever is besides the issue). When someone seeks to have a very public ministry then critiquing their ministry becomes the responsibility of the church at large, which can de-generate, but the presence of the bad never implies the absence of the good.

A lot of the 'reformed' critique of such things focuses on tone, but this is just a case of the 'reformed' being hoisted by their own providential petard.