One of the benefits of being at bible college is the opportunity it gives to think hard about some thorny issues. I'm talking about the kind of issues that are (in some respects at least) 'secondary' (e.g. although I would baptise babies I would happily fellowship with someone who doesn't) but nevertheless important because
a. They're part of what God has given us graciously in his loving self-revelation in the bible.
b. Therefore they must be (ultimately) for our good and our spiritual health and the health of our churches (otherwise why would God have bothered telling us anything about them?).
Last night for example, I was at a lecture held at college looking at the issue 'can women preach to men?' where a guy called Graham Cole was arguing for a 'yes' (some people may be surprised to hear that such views are given an airing at a 'fundamentalist-faschist-narrow-minded-calvinistic' institution like Oak Hill, but let me tell you, not only are they given an airing but they are backed by several members of the faculty, and women do preach in college chapel services!). It was a great opportunity to hear from someone committed to scripture and yet taking a different view to the one I've always taken. I went prepared to be persuaded, though clear in my own head why I've always held to more of a 'no' position.
Graham Cole presented his case very tightly, with more than a little passion and much skill. However, I'm sorry to say that he failed to persuade me. Although his case makes sense logically not all of the steps in his argument are (in my opinion) true.
Of crucial importance was his interpretation of 1Timothy 2:11-15 which is perhaps the clearest apparent prohibition of women publicly preaching to a mixed congregation. Cole's argument was that in 1Timothy Paul was addressing a specific situation in the church at Ephesus where people were getting misled by false teaching (which is true) and therefore he is re-establishing the authority of his own apostleship and his teaching in the church by restricting who can teach. So, when Paul refers to the Genesis story (2:13-14) to back up his prohibition he is making an analogy to Eve being misled by listening to the serpent instead of listening to Adam who had been given God's word. The point (in this view) is not so much that 'women can't teach men because there's a basic difference between them by nature or in the way God has ordered his world' but 'those who have received God's word should teach it and others should listen'. So, women could've taught freely in the church in general, it's just that not so in the church in Ephesus because they were listening to false teaching and as a result Paul was needing to restrict the teaching role to those to whom God's word had been first given (himself especially and through him Timothy) and those they would appoint as trustworthy (the elders Timothy is to appoint in ch3).
The problem however is that Cole failed to explain why all the people Paul does permit to teach publicly to a mixed congregation are men. Why forbid all women to teach any men? And if the teaching/leadership office is open to women in exactly the same way as to men, why not get Timothy to appoint faithful elders and 'elderesses' in chapter 3, those men and women who were godly and gifted and reliable who hadn't been duped by the false teachers?
More crucially however, was his suggestion that Paul was using the creation story of Genesis 1-3 purely as an appropriate analogy rather than to say something specific about the nature of men and women and God's created chosen order. In my opinion, this view hinges on there not being any theological significance in God creating Adam first and not Eve, such that when Paul says 'Adam was formed first, then Eve' he's talking about the mere facts of the story to say that those who receive God's word first (which in the Genesis story just happened to be the man because he was made first) should teach it and others should listen (which just happened to be Eve). In other words, God could've created Adam second but it just so happened he didn't, and we can't read anything theological (about the nature of how God does things and orders things) or anthropological (about the way God has made humans and wants his people to be ordered) into it. This seems a highly unlikely and minimalistic reading of Genesis and Paul and I'm unconvinced by it for the following reasons;
a. Genesis 1-3 is a carefully ordered narrative, and just about all the other details do have theological significance. It seems unimaginable that just about everything else in the story is meant to tell us something about the nature of what it means to be human and about how God relates to humans etc. etc. and yet the fact that Adam is created first and received God's word first is incidental and tells us nothing about the nature or order of how God want things to be.
b. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 reads more naturally as taking the Genesis account as normative for male-female order in God's people (not just illustrative of falling foul to false teaching). He uses the specific example of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 to back up a general statement about men and women in vs. 12. This, I would argue, better explains the general language of 1 Timothy 2 and also the male-dominated pattern of leadership in the rest of the letter (and indeed the rest of the scripture).
So, practically, I'm afraid I still think women shouldn't teach or have authority over men, which means that the regular, authoritative preaching of God's word to his gathered people should be given to those men who have been given to the church as pastor-teachers and appointed by the church to serve in this way (whether full-time paid or not). If this is what God has said we should do then it must be better than doing it our own way and it must ultimately be for our good.
However, much more thought needs to be given to the biblical gift of prophecy, since it is abundantly clear that this is different from what the bible calls teaching and yet it is a gift that women can exercise in the context of church meetings (1 Corinthians 11:4-5). It seems that perhaps the problems over women's minsitry wouldn't arise so much if our church services and our church life wasn't so minister/clergy dominated and instead teaching-leaders exercised their ministries in an Ephesians 4:11-16 kind of way - equipping everyone else to be able to use their gifts to build the church. We need the authoritative and regular teaching of God's word by pastors so that the whole church is able to speak the truth in love as we grow up to be mature Christ-like christian communities.