Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Craddock Stories-- Those Women Preachers

Fred Craddock's recent book 'Craddock Stories' edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001) is a gold mine of Craddock's stories used in both preaching and teaching. Here is one sample:

"When I was in Cincinnati, I met a lot of people I was glad to see...One of them was a fellow in one of the churches in the Midwest; I'll not identify him any further. Grumpy sort. A controlling man---that was the problem I had with him. I gave Bible studies and preached in his church lots of times. He's a layman in the church, and a sort of controller, a very controlling man, one of those people that act like they're in the background-- 'Well I don't know, I don't know, I don't know"-- but they're really in charge. He controls his family, controls his kids, control his grandkids, controls the whole family, controls the church, but acts like, "I don't know, I don't know." But he did.

I saw him coming. There was nowhere to go. I shook hands with him and said 'How're you doing?' He said, 'I'm doing all right.' I didn't recognize him-- I didn't recognize him. I said, 'How's the church?' He said 'Better than we've ever been.'
'Really?' And this is what he said: 'God is at work in our church.' I never heard him say anything like that; I've just heard him criticize. 'God is at work in your church.' I said 'That is wonderful.' He said: 'We're in better shape spiritually and in every way than we've ever been in my memory.'

'This is wonderful! Who is your minister?'

He said "We have a woman.' He never did give me her name. he said 'We have a woman.'

I said 'You do?'

He said 'Yeah, I voted against her, and all my family voted against her but we got outnumbered.'


He said: 'I was wrong. I was wrong in my estimation of women.' And then he looked at me and said, 'Brother Fred, if I was wrong about her, I was probably wrong about a lot of stuff.'

Isn't that great? Finally he met the gospel, broke the pattern, and he was making a new way.'

(p. 121).

The point of this is important. All of us have prejudices of course, and all of us have our various interpretations of various NT texts which we think are correct. But what happens when we see so clearly God's blessing of a particular person in ministry that it overcomes even the most extremely strongly held view, and causes one to ask not 'was the Bible wrong?' but rather 'was my understanding of the Bible wrong?'

It was Jesus' word that "you shall know the tree by the fruit it bears." Obviously experience is not the only criteria for deciding this issue, but it is an important one. If Jesus had not healed the blind man he would probably have never become a follower of Jesus. But his personal experience led him to think in a new way about things.

I can't not speak for others, but I have heard and had many wonderful Evangelical women teachers and preachers who have done wonderful orthodox work for the Gospel and the Kingdom. I have also often found it to be the case that those who argue most strongly against women doing these kinds of ministries are men who have never experienced such ministries at all, never mind been fed by them. This is a great tragedy and it does not have to be this way.


Travis said...

Thanks for sharing this Craddock story.

I have had many "orthodoxies" challenged by coming in contact with people who did not fit the labels and caricatures I had assigned them. I grew up in a tradition that implicitly taught that we had everything right and were the only one's going to heaven. It was only when I came in contact with people outside of my denomination, holy men and women who foiled all my assumptions of their faithfulness, that I was able to see the lunacy of my beliefs and open my heart and life to all of God's children. We search the scriptures for answers to complex doctrinal questions, and this is a commendable exercise, but we forget that it is often in fellowship and community when the Spirit’s movement and will is revealed.

David A Booth said...


Your illustration is both wonderfully true and terribly dangerous. What's wonderfully true is how God's grace can break through in totally unexpected ways to reveal how little we actually know and how far His ways transcend our ways.

What is terribly dangerous is the appeal to touching stories as a means of justifying doctrine. If the Bible opens ordination to women, that would in no way be challenged if the woman in question had been a horrible pastor. Correspondinly, if Jesus as the head of His Church chooses to limit ordination to men - the fact that this particular woman was the most extraordary leader and teacher the community had ever known would not change the fact that she shouldn't have been called to be their pastor.

In the legal profession it is said that "hard cases make bad law". We should realize that this applies to the Church too.

Blessings in Christ,


Marc Axelrod said...

Very interesting post.

There is a United Methodist female pastor about 5 minutes from me. She's liberal, she is a Bishop Spong devotee, and she would probably perform a gay wedding ceremony in a heartbeat.

But on Sunday morning, she does a good job in the text. She wrestles with it. She applies it. You'd never know that she was a liberal.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi David:

You totally miss my point. My point is not that experience is the first authority or justifies anything in itself. My point is that experience can make clear that we have badly misinterpreted the Bible which is our first and primary authority.

For example, do you really think that Paul teaches that slavery is an honorable institution and can still be practiced by Christians today?

I think Paul does not teach this at all, but had I been born in the South one hundred fifty years ago, I might well have thought that, because I would never have experienced what it was like to know wonderful, free, bright African Americans, as I have in my life time.

If we ignore experience altogether, then we are being arrogant and assuming we already know what the Bible says in isolation from any living context, despite the fact that we might well be wrong.



Ben Witherington said...

Hi Marc:

Yours is an interesting case. Sounds like that woman doesn't have the courage of her actual convictions, and so preaches against her predilections, kind of like Balaam. Of course the women I am talking about and work with are Evangelicals, not liberals in any sense of the word, and they would not be Spongites, nor would they approve of anything that the Bible indicates is immoral.



David A Booth said...


Mea culpa.

Blessings in Christ,


Marc Axelrod said...

I hear a lot of great expository preachers on the radio - David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie, Alistair Begg, Joseph Stowell, Duane Liftin, Warren Wiersbe, Tony Evans, etc. But I don't hear too many women preachers in the expository preaching camp. Does anyone know of any?

When I was at Ashland Seminary in the early 90's, expository preaching didn't seem to be in vogue. What I was taught owed more to Craddock and Samuel Proctor than to any known expositor.

(I guess I am begging the question, "What is expository preaching?" and I amaware that there is no known unanimous consensus on this. I use the expression to describe a form of preaching where a natural thought unit of scripture is taught verse by verse and applied to everyday life.

For my DMin, the preaching track has been tremendous. They not only have David Larsen and Greg Scharf, but they fly in Don Sunukjian, Bryan Chappell, Timothy Warren, and others.

Anyway, back to the original thought, I have not come across too many women pulpiteers known for their solid, expositional preaching. Most are theme preachers, or motivational speakers after the order of Joyce Meyer and Anne Graham Lotz.

Ben Witherington said...

Marc: I think you would find plenty of them at the Academy of Homiletics meetings, and the wonderful Academy preaching fests which usually happen in late May or early June. There are of course Bible teachers like Beth Moore who are very popular and do do expositions of texts, but for preaching you would want to here on my own faculty Joy Moore-- an African American woman deeply influenced by Tom Wright's stuff.

Barbara Brown Taylor is another woman who immediately comes to mind who can 'bring it'. I love to listen to Susan Jones, the wife of Dean Greg Jones at Duke Divinity school and an ordained Methodist minister. There are many more, but this will do for the moment.



Marc Axelrod said...

Dr. Witherington:

Thanks for the references. I will listen to their teaching. Just read Robert Stein's Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation. Very solid work. You get quoted favorably in it as well.

Now I'm on to Alan Segal's Life After Death.

bobbie said...

thank you for this. it's beautiful!

Pastor Jeff said...

I often wonder if being a good expository preacher is all God expects from a Pastor. As I look through all the comments, it seems as if the general rule is that if a person has perfected the art of exposition, they can be thought of as "Called to Pastor". Of course there are homosexual evangelists that feel they are true to the text when they preach. I am sorry to use that example, however, it seems as if we apply our world view as a way to challenge traditional church methods, we will find ourselves answering to all who can disect text and apply it to a sermon. The truth is, I think woman can do a great job as preachers, however, I also feel that God choose not to put them as Shepherds of His flock... that is good enough for me. I struggle with the times I don't agree with God, but I never struggle with the fact that He is in charge.

One Busy Mom said...

you caused others to think about what they believe. job well done.

Panda Bear said...

Someone above said,

"Correspondinly, if Jesus as the head of His Church chooses to limit ordination to men -"

- but Jesus did not teach any such thing.

If you're going by the fact that the first apostles were men - well, they were also all Jews.

Does that limit ministry to Jews only? No, of course not.

Maybe Jesus wanted to have women among the twelve apostles but could not because of the expectations of his culture, which was patriarchal in nature.

If Jesus had included women among the 12, He probably would've not received a fair hearing in his day and age because His society simply did not accept that role for women.

The people would've rejected Jesus before He even opened His mouth to preach.

You'll notice that God does not sanction polygamy (i.e., Adam and Eve = one wife for one man), but he gave guidelines about it in the Old Testament.

The fact that God addressed the subject doesn't mean he agreed with it, only that he recognized it was part of the ancient Jewish culture.

In other words, Jesus and God made deferences or accommodations to the cultures they were trying to reach -not that they approved of those cultural practices, but that such customs and habits were a reality that had to be dealt with.

In the same way, Paul in the New Testament instructed early believers to dress in a manner that was modest, but not to the point that they looked like freaks to the Non-believers in the culture they were living in.

Paul didn't want the dress/fashions of the early Christians to so repel and turn off Non-Christians that the Non-Christians would not even give the Gospel a hearing. So Christians were to 'fit in' with their secular culture, to an extent.

It is thought that the people behind the early translations of the Bible intentionally mis-translated the name "Junia" as "Junio."

Junia is mentioned as an early aposlte in the New Testament, but early Bible translators were not comfortable with the idea that a woman could be an apostle, so they changed the name from the female form ("Junia") to the male form ("Junio").

upfreakcreek said...


I'm a 35 year old mum of 5 and preacher. I can do expository preaching and love delving deep in to the Bible text, but have grown far more actually through the applied contemporary portrait of the real Jesus shown to me by Mark Driscoll - and his style seems to work much better for me and my audiences in terms of discipleship and evangelism growth.

Feel I'm called to be a Biblical preacher and leader and have trained at Oakhill, and with Moore College, and with sharing the gospel however I can with women in working class North East England, but not sure what God has next for me?