June 24, 2020

Announcing My Forthcoming Book

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 12:09 am

Holy GrailFriends,

everal years ago, I began publishing a series of essays on women’s ordination. Over time, these expanded into a book. Baylor University Press has now agreed to publish this book as Icons of Christ: A Biblical and Systematic Theology for Women’s Ordination. It is scheduled to be available for purchase on Nov. 1, 2020, and may be pre-purchased at either Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Unfortunately for readers of my blog, that means that the original essays are no longer available. Fortunately, for all of those who have asked me over the last several years, “When will these ever be published as a book?,” there is now an answer.

Thank you to all of those who have encouraged me in this project over the last several years. Blessings especially to those women who have been encouraged by what I have written to pursue your own vocations, and to those men who have encouraged them.

Grace and Peace,


June 23, 2020

Response to the Diocese of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word: The False Dilemma Fallacy and the Catholic Argument Against Women’s Ordination

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 10:32 pm

St. George

The Logical Fallacy of the False Dilemma has a number of other names: the false dichotomy fallacy, the either-or-fallacy, the fallacy of false alternatives, the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses. The fallacy presumes that a particular situation or problem has only two exhaustive solutions or possible options, and that one must chose between them. The fallacy is endemic to political discussion: Either build a wall or be in favor of open borders! Allow no restrictions on the ownership of firearms or risk imminent death by home invasion, mass shooters, or government tyranny! If you don’t approve of gay marriage, you’re homophobic! If you allow “special rights” for gays, you’ll destroy the traditional family!

In theology, the fallacy of the false dichotomy has often been accompanied by conflation. In the case of the choice between the three options of historic Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, or Liberal Protestantism, advocates of each position have reduced the theological alternatives to only two options. For all his brilliance otherwise, Karl Barth infamously claimed that “natural theology” was the inevitable link between Roman Catholicism and liberal Protestantism, and that “natural theology” eventually led to the Third Reich. (Embrace the Reformation and reject “natural theology” or be a Nazi!) John Henry Newman claimed that “private judgment” was the common link between Protestantism and liberal theology, and that without a magisterium, one inevitably led to the other. (Accept the papacy or end up with subjectivity uncertainty!) In book after book, liberal Episcopal Bishop John Spong has repeatedly claimed that “fundamentalism” is the common link between historic Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. (Embrace liberal Protestantism or be a Fundamentalist!)

In the previous essay, I pointed out that the writers who wrote the Response endorsed a complementarian hermeneutic. In this essay, I will make the case that they also engage in the fallacy of the false dichotomy, and that this is illustrated by repeated conflation of alternative positions concerning women’s ordination.

June 19, 2020

Response to the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word: Hermeneutics and Complementarianism

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 2:16 am

Willliam Perkins


n previous essays responding to the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word’s Response to Women in Holy Orders, I have claimed that the dividing issue has primarily to do with hermeneutics, not biblical interpretation. In this essay, I intend to have a more detailed discussion of the hermeneutical process itself, and how it functions in the Response, and why I find that problematic. In a later essay, I will discuss an alternative hermeneutic.

Oliver O’Donovan has a helpful discussion of the hermeneutical process in his book Self, World and Time: Ethics as Theology 1.1 The context of the discussion is Christian ethics, but insofar as the issue of women’s ordination is a concern about the practical application of Scripture – in light of what the Bible teaches, what should we do? – the concern is the same:

1) “A biblical story, command, or counsel presents us with a train of moral thought, a discursive argument that runs, though sometimes we need exegetical insight to make it explicit, from some A to some B, led by its practical question . . . and reaching some resolution.” That is, at the time the Bible was written, there was some particular reality or situation A; in light of A, the Biblical authors concluded that some action B is the appropriate form of response to this reality (discerning and obeying God’s will in this situation).

2) “That whole course of thinking, from A to B, is laid before our attention as we seek to fashion a course of thinking of our own, from some X to some Y, led by our own practical question, observing our own contextual restraints, and finally reaching our resolution to the matter that is our own view.” That is, given our own moral or practical issue that needs to be addressed (X), how does the Biblical process from A to B give us guidance to discern what is the proper Y in response to X?

3) O’Donovan is clear that the biblical path from A to B is not negotiable; it is fixed in the text. Nonetheless, “[i]nterpretation has to do with what is already the case about the meaning of Scripture; moral thinking [and other decisions of practical reason such as church order] is not about what is already the case, but about what to do next.” That is, exegesis is not hermeneutics; interpretation is not application.

4) “Obedience is a matter of how our own confession is to harmonize with the testimony of Scripture, and it is concerned to achieve a correspondence between the whole train of thought of the text from A to B and the whole train of thought from X to Y.” O’Donovan suggests that we express this in the formula [A→B]→[X→Y]. However, obedience is not simply a matter of taking up a conclusion in the manner of A→B →Y, which would shortcut the process of X→ Y; nor is it a simple matter of A → X → Y, working from some general principle or command overlooking how Scripture engages in its own process of what actions A might imply.


June 14, 2020

Response to the Diocese of the Living Word: The Tradition Challenge

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 10:44 pm


his is the third essay in a series of responses to the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word’s “Response to Women in Holy Orders.”

In an essay I wrote a while ago, I laid out what I called the “Tradition Challenge.”

I have argued that Evangelical Complementarians and Catholic Sacramentalist opponents to women’s ordination represent innovations to the historic tradition. Their advocates insist that they do not, and are simply following the historic tradition. My challenge:

Provide an actual historical reference from the Christian tradition that corresponds to what I have called the Complementarian or Sacramentalist positions. It is not enough to provide some individual positive statement about women mentioned by a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author.

There has been a kind of response to the “Tradition Challenge” by four writers from the Diocese of the Living Word in their Response to the essay “Women in Holy Orders,” written by myself and Bishop Grant LeMarquand. They state:

[LeMarquand and Witt] claim that the historic reasons for opposition to the ordination of women depend on the presupposition of ontological inferiority. That is demonstrably untrue. The unifying reason, found in every source that we have examined, is the conviction that Holy Scripture forbids the ordination of women. This reason does not require the ontological inferiority of women, unless one concludes that Scripture teaches the inferiority of women (and it is our conviction that it does not).

In the “Tradition Challenge,” I laid out the “traditional argument” against women’s ordination, and provided evidence for each one of its key propositions:

The Ontological Deficiency Claim

(A) Women are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation than men.

The Exclusion by Nature of Subordination Claim

(B) Ordination necessitates exercising authority over others, particularly teaching and speaking in an authoritative manner. Women cannot be ordained because they are necessarily subordinate to men, and therefore cannot execise authority in this manner. This is primarily an exclusion from women exercising any authority whatsoever over men, and only secondarily a specific exclusion from ordination.

The Inherent Correlation Claim

(C) Proposition (B) is a direct corollary or consequence of Proposition (A). Women are necessarily subordinate to men, and cannot exercise authority over them because of an ontological incapacity located in a deficiency in reason, emotional instability, and susceptibility to temptation. Because of this ontological deficiency, they cannot exercise authority over or teach men, and so cannot be ordained.

I concluded: “Any argument against women’s ordination that does not include all three propositions is not the traditional argument, but an innovation.”


June 13, 2020

Response to the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word “Response”: It’s about Hermeneutics

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 2:17 am


In reading the Response of some writers from the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word to the essay “Women in Holy Orders,” written by Bishop Grant LeMarquand and myself, I was reminded of an interchange between Anglican apologist C. S. Lewis and Episcopal theologian Norman Pittinger seventy years ago. Lewis complained that Pittinger had seriously misrepresented what he had written in his book Miracles: “How many times does a man need to say something before he is safe from having said exactly the opposite?”1 How many indeed?

Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Post-modernist?

The writers of the Response apparently think that Bishop Grant LeMarquand and myself are post-modernists. They ask “What if progressive theologians are actually reading a dualistic, detrimentally hierarchical and patriarchal structure into the text before deeming the text void for consideration?” They refer to a “linguistic turn” that “results in the idea that an authoritative interpretation of a text is not possible,” and to a “new consciousness of pluralism, ambiguity, and hope.” Their next sentence reads: “Several hermeneutical factors of this type are at play when Drs. Witt and Marquand (sic) argue against what they believe to be the conservative position on the ordination of women” (p. 8).

Of course, neither I nor Grant LeMarquand believe that Scripture contains a “dualistic, detrimentally hierarchical and patriarchal structure.” We would categorically reject such an interpretation of the Bible. Neither do we believe that an authoritative interpretation of a text is “not possible.” We wrote: “Most of all, we contend that there is a substantial body of scriptural reasoning and theological argument in favor of ordaining women as priests. . . . This scriptural witness leads us to believe that the ordination of godly women as leaders in Christ’s church should continue to be authorized . . .” To be clear, if we thought that an authoritative interpretation of a text is “not possible,” it would make no sense for us to claim that “this scriptural witness leads us to believe . . .”


June 8, 2020

Concerning Women’s Ordination: What about Bonaventure?

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 10:41 pm

In a comment on the essay by myself and Bishop Grant LeMarquand, “Women in Holy Orders,” someone named Stanislaw referred me to an essay by Sarah Coakley, entitled “In Persona Christi”: Gender, Priesthood and the Nuptial Metaphor”:

“I was wondering what would you make of Bonaventure’s argument that the priest must be male. Sarah Coakley in her “In Persona Christi. Gender, Priesthood and the Nuptial Metaphor” paper (p. 149, pdf available here:) refers to this argument when she discusses Sarah Butler’s approach.”

My response was too long to put in a comment.


I apologize that it has taken me so long to get back to you. Your comment came in the midst of end of the semester paper grading.


Thank you for bringing my attention to this essay by Sarah Coakley as well as the debate between Dennis Ferrar and Sara Butler. I had not been aware of either the Coakley essay or the debate. However, I do own a copy of Sara Butler’s The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Hillebrand Books, 2007), which I consider to be the definitive defense of what I have called the “new” Roman Catholic argument against the ordination of women. Butler makes one reference to Bonaventure in this book, which I had marked, but missed when I went back to write what became the chapter in my book on the topic of the representative role of Christ as acting in persona Christi. Her entire discussion is only a paragraph, which is likely why I missed it on a second reading.

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