This isn’t so much a carefully crafted critique as a tetchy sort of grumble, so if you’re not in the mood, look away now.
Several weeks ago I took a deep breath and bought the book Women’s Ministry in the Local Church (by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, 2006). Maybe some time I’ll get round to talking through some of the issues which it raised, although that seems like too much of a can of worms to be a particularly attractive prospect at the moment.
In the meantime, what set me off on my grumble was the slighly irritating way that the argument was presented in Chapter Five (on Submission, by Susan Hunt). After writing out the passage 1 Timothy 2:9-15, the comment which immediately follows takes the following form:
“I am fascinated by the fact that […].”
New paragraph. “Another fascinating fact leaves me breathless: […].”
New paragraph. “Finally, I am awestruck that […].”
Regardless of how valid and worthwhile the facts which she presents may be, it leaves the door wide open for the reader to simply say, “So what?”
If Ms Hunt gets fascinated by some doctrine, and if some other doctrine leaves her breathless, how exactly is that meant to help you and me? What you’re left to evaluate is not the validity of the doctrines which she’s outlining, but the likelihood of whether or not she did experience those particular emotional states on being confronted with this or that fact. Even though in this case I don’t think there’s anything suspicious about the technique, that trick of embedding the argument within the shell of a statement about the writer him/herself is actually a great way of distracting the reader’s attention away from the content of the teaching which they’re being presented with, and leaving them with an entirely uninteresting and worthless comment about someone’s subjective experiences.
Much as it might make the whole book and its arguments more friendly and persuasive, it’s definitely not a style to overuse. It runs the risk of being perceived as patronising – as if the reader can’t decide for themselves what reaction to take to, eg, the fact that there are no aberrant ideas in the bible – does it leave you breathless? and what would it say about you if you didn’t go breathless when you thought about it? It also tends to trivialise the matter under discussion – as if the doctrines can somehow gain validity or credibility by the recounting of that writer’s subjective response to them. And of course there’s always the embarrassing possibility that the feverish girlyness is only on display to act as proof that intelligent and well-respected women don’t mind conforming to the doctrine of submission. But surely that is too embarrassing to be true.