After my recent interactive book review, it was also worth including these reflections sent to me by Dani Treweek, a friend and colleague involved in Anglican ministry in Sydney. Dani is the Women’s Ministry Trainer and Coordinator at St Matthias Anglican Church, Centennial Park. She joined the St Matthias staff team in 2009 after graduating from Moore Theological College and is passionate about teaching the Bible to women of all ages and stages. She works with the women of both the morning and evening congregations to help them grow in their service of God’s people, and to further equip and train them to use the gifts God has given them in their ministry. You can read more about Dani (including her distaste for coffee!) here.
In the weeks since the publication of John Dickson’s new e-book, Hearing Her Voice, a number of reviews have been posted online.1 Most of these reviews have engaged with, and sought to question, John Dickson’s central premise about how the verb ‘to teach’ is to be understood in 1 Tim 2:12. After reading Hearing Her Voice, I also was not persuaded by John’s argument and instead found myself in agreement with the theological conclusions of these reviewers.
However, as a complementarian woman serving in full-time Christian ministry here in Sydney, my reading of Hearing Her Voice also led me to a number of personal reflections on the publication. I’m thankful to Lionel for providing me the opportunity to share one or two of these reflections here.
Whilst I personally agree with John’s call for evangelical Christians to be much more intentional in enhancing opportunities for women to exhort, encourage and prophesy in church meetings (where it is appropriate and where there is a clear understanding of what those activities actually are), I was also disappointed with some other aspects of the e-book.
A disappointing oversight
One of the aspects which disappointed me the most was the absence of any mention of the extensive preaching ministry that is currently occurring amongst women within evangelical Sydney churches. There are many, many qualified women preachers who regularly teach the bible to groups of women throughout Sydney (and beyond). Women like myself are regularly preaching at our (and other) churches’ women’s groups, at training days for women, at evangelistic events for women and also at large women’s conferences. Indeed, from a personal point of view, I have more opportunities to preach (and by that I mean prepare and deliver 20-50 minute sermons to groups of women) than I am actually able to accept. I know that I am not the only female preacher to find herself in this quandary!
As I was reading Hearing Her Voice I found myself thinking: “Surely John Dickson is aware of the preaching ministry that is already happening amongst women in Sydney?!” Unfortunately, if he is indeed aware of it, he appears to have chosen to simply not acknowledge it. In fact, to the best of my recollection, he makes no mention of it whatsoever in his e-book.
I found this both strange and disheartening – particularly because his book seeks to promote the preaching ministry of women. As a result, the only assumption that I could make was that John doesn’t believe my voice can truly be heard unless it is being heard by men. This struck me as far more troubling than liberating. Indeed, I ultimately felt that John was devaluing the ministry of the very women whose voices he wants to hear!
Those of us who do preach to other women consider it a very special, unique and wonderful ministry. We love teaching God’s word to other women – after all, they have equally been made in God’s image as their male counterparts and equally desire, and need, to have God’s word brought to bear on their lives. As such, it is very disheartening for Christian women to not even read any acknowledgement of this unique preaching ministry happening amongst us, and by us, in a book which is supposedly all about enhancing opportunities for women to preach.
A book about women but for men
The underlying tone of the Hearing Her Voice seems to suggest that women throughout Sydney are eagerly longing to have their voice heard from the pulpit, but are being ‘forbidden’ and ‘excluded’ by their male ministers from having such an opportunity.
I have no doubt that this is true for some women preachers and teachers in Sydney. But it is certainly not true for all. Indeed, it seems to me that a very large proportion (perhaps even the majority?) of the capable and qualified women that John refers to have chosen, of their own accord, not to preach to men because of their own understanding of Scripture. And yet strangely, in his e-book, John doesn’t acknowledge this group at all. Let me explain what I mean.
In the introduction to his book John writes that –
[…] I want to invite my friends and colleagues to reassess (again) the biblical basis of their own reticence to invite women into the pulpit. (Loc 67)
However, the further I read, the more and more convinced I became that this is a book written about women, but for men. The permeating language of ‘invite’, ‘allow’ and ‘forbid’ reveals that the minds John is really interested in changing belong to the male ministers who are responsible for this inviting, allowing and forbidding. There is no occasion on which John appeals to complementarian women like myself to reassess our position – even though it is our voices under discussion! I cannot help but to think that this book was written about us, but not for us.
The truth of this seems to have been confirmed by the fact that a complimentary copy of the publication has recently been sent to (as I understand it) all the senior ministers/rectors of Sydney Anglican churches – yet not to the ordained or commissioned women in the diocese who surely constitute a significant portion of the ‘trained and godly women’ whom he wants to see preaching on Sunday mornings!
Please believe me when I say that I in no way resent not being sent a complimentary copy of Hearing Her Voice. Not at all! I only point this out to reiterate my reflection that this is a book written about women such as myself, but not primarily (or even significantly) for us.
The effect of this has, again, made me feel somewhat alienated as well as disheartened.
There are a number of other personal reflections on Hearing Her Voice which I could go on to share. However, I think these two were perhaps the ones I felt were the most immediate to me as a woman who serves in full-time Christian ministry, and who is presumably one of those whom John argues should be invited to preach from our church pulpit on a Sunday.
Whilst I remain unconvinced by John’s argument as a whole, what really surprised and disappointed me about Hearing Her Voice is that, in my opinion, it has in fact devaluedthe unique and significant ministry of women in Sydney (and beyond). John’s silence about our existing–indeed, our thriving–preaching ministry, as well as the absence of any representation of, or even appeal to, women in my position, means it is hard for us to conclude anything except that he believes our voices are not, and will not, be truly heard, unless they are heard by men, on Sundays, from a pulpit.
As such, I fear that ultimately, ‘Hearing Her Voice’ will only serve to dishearten a good number of the very women whose voices John Dickson claims to want to hear.
With the ministry year about to swing into full gear, bible study groups to finalise, meetings to schedule (and attend!) and a number of church and conference talks to write, unfortunately Dani doesn’t have a lot of time for follow up discussion on her reflections at the moment. As such, comments will be closed for this post. Thanks for your understanding!
- see Lionel’s reviews (Part 1 of 2) http://www.lionelwindsor.net/2013/01/03/response-dickson-hearing-her-voice/ and also Peter Bolt’s responses (Part 1 of 3) http://markdthompson.blogspot.com/2012/12/something-old-something-new-something.html ↩