Book Review · Theology · women in ministry

God Forgive Us For Being Women: A Theological Response

What follows is my “theological response” delivered today at the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies as one of four panel respondents to Joy E. A. Qualls’ God Forgive Us for Being Women: Rhetoric, Theology, and the Pentecostal Tradition ( Frameworks: Interdisciplinary Studies for Faith and Learning; Pickwick, 2018).

“God Forgive Us for Being Women”:

A Theological Response

Practical Theology Interest Group

Rick Wadholm Jr.

Trinity Bible College & Graduate School

Presented at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies

Introduction and Testimony

I am grateful for the work of Joy Qualls regarding her publication of this invaluable work on women in ministry in the Assemblies of God. Her work continues to open the way for further studies of the use of rhetoric in Pentecostal circles, but more importantly in addressing the issues of women serving in leadership in the broader Pentecostal Church. In the movement through the various ways in which the Assemblies of God has addressed this subject, there were many stories and accounts, which gave room for considered pause and reflection. Many more (quite honestly) caused anger sufficiently that I was forced to put the book away for a while (and even tossed the book at one point). There were still other moments where I sensed the Spirit’s call to action on my own part in raising up a new generation of ministers for the good news of the kingdom in preparation for Jesus’ soon coming.

By way of offering some frame of context for my responses to this volume I offer the following. As a professor in an Assembly of God Bible college, I pour my life into discipling women and men called into vocational ministry. I serve several graduate schools and seminaries in the Assemblies of God globally and do likewise in those contexts realizing those students are transformative for the national churches they represent as these women and men are in their pursuit of graduate ministerial training. I am committed to this work. I long to see the sons and daughters of God empowered by the Spirit, educated for the work of the ministry, and serving to the Spirit’s fullest potential in and through them. I have contended for at least one U.S. District Council of the Assemblies of God to revise completely their bylaws to change the explicitly masculine language regarding the opportunities of serving in the presbytery and district leadership (with such a change being made in the upcoming District Council). I count this one small victory, but note that Qualls’ work reminds me that even should the rhetoric turn toward allowing women, this does not necessarily entail the actual election of women to such positions.

As a Pentecostal, I cannot but help to share a personal testimony as well. My mother as a teenager was invited to a revival service in the “Black side of town” at a racially mixed Pentecostal church holding services in a Quonset hut. Sister Lang was the evangelist preaching that evening. During the service, Sister Lang gave a word of knowledge to my mother in the crowd regarding her need for healing. She invited my mom to the altar where she began by asking if my mom had committed her life to Jesus. That very night my mother was saved, healed, and baptized in the Holy Spirit thanks to the prophetic preaching ministry of Sister Lang. In this fashion, I owe my own salvation and Pentecostal heritage to the ministry of Sister Lang.

Three Theological Words of Appreciation

While there could be any number of pointed comments made regarding specific points of Qualls work, I will leave such to others. Further, while there are many things praiseworthy in this volume, I will offer only three specific points. Thus, I would like to offer the following three specific theological ways in which I believe Qualls has helped to further this long-overdue conversation.

First, I would offer that her work on the history of one specific Pentecostal fellowship provides an avenue of investing the development and contours of a sort of theological history. In the case of this project, the Assemblies of God has been examined in ways previously not engaged. As such, Qualls has helpfully offered this gift of taking the reader on a journey through the various movements of Assembly of God leadership and their responses to women in ministry. Such a historic turn allows for a critical self-reflection for those on the inside of said fellowship, and speaks to potential self-reflection for other Pentecostal fellowships to consider their own journeys (for good or bad, for empowerment or silencing) and to offer ways to look to the future in what God has done and might still do among us as we sort through our specific theological claims and discern how the Spirit is speaking.

Second, Qualls has reminded the Pentecostal community that our rhetoric matters. We only often imagine we understand speech as those given to emphasizing divine speech patterns and forms. However, Qualls offers her prophetic rebuke, by way of historical examination, of the ways we have failed to appreciate our rhetoric. The way we describe, respond to, affirm, confront, empower, or silence women in ministry reveals more about our own hearts than it does about the Spirit per se. Our claims seek to draw upon the Scriptures, but seem to prefer cultural adaptations and entrapments more than we might like to admit. We cannot escape our contexts and the ways this shapes our speech (word choices, patterns, etc.), but we can (and must) be enabled to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.           

Third, in a fashion reminiscent of early Pentecostals (like Sister Aimee), Qualls has not based her work upon any forms of Feminism (though she could properly have done so). Instead, she has sought to be descriptive of the Assemblies of God’s history and to root her work in the theology of the outpoured Spirit and Pentecostal testimony to such as engagement of the Scripture’s own witness. My appreciation of this point is not because Qualls chose not to make use of Feminism, but because she instead chose other bases for her work to offer ways (through careful choice of rhetoric) to persuade readers to hear what she says without offering the stumbling block for many who might not otherwise give their ears to hear.

Three Theological Words of Commendation

By commending Qualls work, I mean first off to give thanks for the ways she is helping us to speak to each other and listen better toward faithfulness to our Lord. Second, I mean to commend this work toward ways in which it might be better clarified and strengthened in its contentions. Third, I mean to commend this work for our hearing in call and response to what God is at work doing among us already and desires to do toward that Day. With such explanation of my meaning to commend this work, let me humbly offer the following three specific commendations.

First, this work would be better served through a clarification of language regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit and pastoral ministry/authority. The baptism in the Holy Spirit functions as empowerment for witness and is not calling to vocational ministry. This failure to distinguish between empowerment as witnesses to Jesus and those called vocationally among those empowered for witness makes for argumentation that does not appreciate the fullest import of the empowerment of the baptism for all, and the distinguishing features of specific gifts within the church for individual members of the body.

Second, and related to the first, there seems to be at times a collapsing of language wherein terms are not sufficiently clarified or distinguished. Qualls seems to collapse such terms as calling and authority, and preaching and pastoring. These terms could use careful distinction as calling to ministry does not essentially entail authority within the church, nor does preaching entail pastoring. In relation to such terminological ambiguities, one might wonder in what ways “pastor” is made use of since many within Pentecostalism seem good with women pastoring women, children, or youth, but somehow not preaching in the Sunday AM worship setting as the regular preacher nor leading a board of elders.

Third, there appears at times to be an over-simplification of the unity of thought in early Pentecostalism (or at any other time in Pentecostalism) that regards the Assemblies of God as primarily in favor of women in ministry, pacifist, etc. There has always been a mixed response to these issues. What we are dealing with is predominant voices who were published and whose writings are extant. We do well not to overplay these nor to imagine things as more cohesive than they might have likely been. While Qualls at times allows for variant voices to be heard in her reporting of history, this work would be further strengthened in the recognition that always we are only dealing with those literate leading voices who were published and preserved. This may or may not be actually indicative of the Assemblies of God even as it is representative of specific leading voices. The broader constituency likely is not aware of such and may not even care. This is perhaps a problem of theological education wherein leadership may speak to issues, but the broader church simply does not hold such in individualized contexts.

Four Theological Orientations of Response

Finally, I would like to offer a four-fold (without offence to our five-fold brothers and sisters) orientation toward a stronger theological reading of Scripture and expression of such through our practice as the Pentecostal Church in better orienting our vision and language regarding women in ministry.

First, creation (as pre-Fall). Qualls rightly notes the ways in which Evangelicals have tended toward appealing to a proposed creation idea of the role of women in the Church drawn primarily from the post-Fall narrative of Genesis. Qualls does well indicating the ways in which appealing to pre-Fall creation is the ideal and ought to inform our trajectory within the redemptive community of God. I would press this yet further along the lines of interpretation offered by J. Richard Middleton’s The Liberating Image.[1] Creation of humans in the image of God was creation liberated into freedom toward and for one another. It was not bounded by relations of power and authority over and against, or exclusionary, but relations in light of God’s own inner communion: Father, Son and Spirit … mutual self-giving in love one for the other. Pentecostals, as those who live in light of God’s soon coming kingdom, also live in light of this beginning (and have perhaps missed this as orientative toward God’s intent in creation). To borrow the German terms for those points, which lay beyond historical investigation – urzeit and endzeit – Pentecostals are well served to draw upon our theology of urzeit (without exclusion of the endzeit), but it should actually be the urzeit to which we appeal as God’s intent and not the sin-filled world of historical experience. These times belong to the margins as those things outside of our experience and belonging to the revelation of God distinctly calling for belief, and to be enacted by faith. These are believed and experienced only by faith as that which belongs not to the fallen world groaning for redemption, but as the world “very good” and where God is with his people and his people with God. Such life is indeed liberating from the very beginning as a move toward the end. While Qualls makes certain overtures toward such a reappropriation of this true beginning, readers would do well to take up this task toward a more fully developed theology of creation pre-Fall.

Second, being in Christ. As Pentecostals we have already begun to experience the new creation breaking in upon us in our experience of the Spirit-anointed, Spirit-anointing Messiah. While this is a foretaste, it means that in our experience of Jesus we are experiencing what was intended from the beginning and have been liberated to a world already being made new in Christ. This inclusion in Christ, and only in Christ, toward that life calls for a rethinking of gendered relations. If indeed, there is neither male nor female in Christ (Gal. 3.28) what does this mean in the praxis of the Church? It certainly does not mean a removal of gendered life in Christ, but does point beyond simply an idea of “salvation” as inclusion in the community of God. It entails a remaking of all peoples as the one people, a testimony against the relations of distinction used against one another and an entering into unity where the “other” is received as Christ. This is not degendering, nor regendering, but engendering all of God’s people into Christ Jesus, the man from Nazareth, Son of Man and Son of God. This is a freeing to be male and female beyond cultural boundedness, but also within cultural expressions as embodying Christ with us.

Third, pneumatologic rhetoric. Perhaps, further we might begin to think pneumatologically and thus see in the “shy member of the Trinity”[2] the very work women (as Qualls helpfully states throughout) in Pentecostalism have taken up as they point to another, the Christ, rather than themselves. There are a number of directions this might develop, but perhaps most relevant to the project of Pentecostal rhetoric is an opening of speaking by the Spirit in tongues. To speak in tongues is to speak beyond the boundedness of the world as we know and experience it and to speak toward the language of the kingdom coming.[3] This is, partially, to exercise the tongue with “pneumatological imagination.”[4] This is to speak by the Spirit, a pneumatologic rhetoric, that points to the in-breaking of God’s kingdom over and beyond all words with imagined power in the present passing age. This liberating of the tongue is orientative toward God’s future where one people live fully in the one Spirit as those speaking in many tongues with one voice. This is the pneumatologic rhetoric of the distinctions among us enabled by the Spirit to bear witness to the one God and Father of all. Following Leonardo Boff, “The Spirit sets humankind free from an obsession with its origins, its desire to return to the original paradise, access to which had been finally closed (Gen. 3:23). The Spirit moves us on toward the promised land, the destiny that has to be built and revealed in the future.”[5] This pneumatologic move points us, orients us, and even draws us, eschatologically as God’s future in-breaks by the Spirit into the present.

Fourth, eschatology, specifically an eschatological hermeneutic.[6] A hermeneutic of eschatological orientation is at play in how Pentecostals read Scripture (or ought to be), make our theological confessions, and our Pentecostal Christopraxis.[7] An eschatological hermeneutic as Christopraxis hears Scripture toward their aim (when all things are brought into the life of Christ Jesus as from the Father) rather than simply via a historical-grammatical reading of Scripture. Such a hermeneutic might be regarded as prophetic which is language which Qualls proposes as the potential of Pentecostalism and as truer of early Pentecostalism. Qualls’ contention was that this earlier hearing of Scripture was impacted by a shift toward priestly understandings over and against prophetic understandings. While a specifically gendered bias might appear in a priestly turn (it is not inherently so), to paint the priestly as inherently conservative and the prophetic as somehow progressive or not conservative, seems to miss the very conservative nature of the prophetic as pointed out in the works of Terence Fretheim and James Barr.[8] Thus, while one might argue for a return to a prophetic engagement with Scripture, such would be ultimately “conservative”, that is, it is thoroughly in light of creation pre-Fall, being in Christ, pneumatologically proclaimed, in light of the making of all things new. Further, a truly “priestly” and “prophetic” turn is a turn to King Jesus as true beginning and end. Perhaps the notion even of “conservative” in such a sense alters the term as many have come to define it in light of life in a sin-fallen world who are not seeming to take seriously the in-breaking kingdom of God. Such an eschatological orientation cannot but hear beyond the historical context and potential historical intent of the texts of Scripture and see these in light of Jesus the Christ in whom those previously in Adam find themselves by the Spirit declaring a world that is testified to by the life of the en-Spirited community toward that dawning day of his return. This is why Bonhoeffer would say, “The church of Christ witnesses to the end of all things. It lives from the end. It thinks from the end, it acts from the end, it proclaims its message from the end.”[9] And thus may it ever be so of those claiming Pentecost, and the God of Pentecost, as their shared experience.

I would actually have utterly missed the point of this book if I did not end where Qualls begins: with a prayer for forgiveness. But here, instead of a rhetorical word of confession by a wounded and abused member of the body of Pentecostal fellowships, I offer a confession of my sins (and our sins), of omission and commission. I have sinned against my sisters here in failing to speak up on their behalf as often and as boldly as the Spirit has compelled me to. I have sinned against my sisters here in speaking and acting in ways that dismissed and damaged God’s fullest calling on their lives to minister fully on his behalf. I have sinned against my sisters here in not always affirming their imaging of God in Christ with regard to the call to care for the flock of God. I have sinned against my sisters here as a man thinking first of being a man among brothers, and have not raised up my sisters as the prophetic witnesses they are in God’s congregation. 

Dear Church, we have sinned against our sisters … and we have sinned against God. We have sinned against Christ’s body. We have sinned against the temple of the Holy Spirit. And we can only begin towards redemption here by saying, “God, forgive us….”


[1] Middleton, J. Richard. The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005).

[2] Frederic Dale Bruner and William E. Hordern, The Holy Spirit: Shy Member of the Trinity (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984); see also, T. F. Torrance, Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (T & T Clark, 2001), 63; Andrew K. Gabriel, The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Attributes (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 94. Gabriel prefers the term “the Forgotten God,” 100.

[3] On which see, Robert Jenson, Visible Words: The Interpretation and Practice of Christian Sacraments (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), 57.

[4] Amos Yong, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002), 133-217.

[5] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, trans. Paul Burns (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988), 192-193.

[6] On just such an example of eschatological orientation in our hermeneutic and speech toward the telos of creation as defining for Pentecostalism/s, see Yong, Spirit-Word-Community, 47-48.

[7] On the construction of a Christopraxis, see Ray Sherman Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

[8] Terence E. Fretheim, “The Prophets and Social Justice: A Conservative Agenda”, Word and World 28 (2008): 159-168, and James Barr, “The Bible as a Political Document,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 62 (1980): 278-279.

[9] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 3; ed. John W. de Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 21.

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