When “Biblical Gender Roles” Aren’t So Biblical: An Evangelical Woman Reviews “Beyond Authority and Submission” by Rachel Green Miller

Some Christians ask, “Is it appropriate for men to read Bible commentaries written by women?” Or “Are women allowed to be police officers?” Others suggest that women are more easily deceived than men, and therefore cannot be trusted. Still others suggest that the fundamental difference between the sexes is authority and submission. For many people, these are the things conjured by the term “complementarian”.

About a year ago, I remember having a conversation with myself about gender roles. I’ve heard enough bizarre teaching and seen enough horrific behavior in my years as an evangelical to have gotten burned out on the topic of gender roles.

But last year I started wondering what the truth really is after we cut through all the distortions and cultural layers. It was in this context that I said to myself, “I’m not sure what I believe about gender roles, but it’ll probably end up being what Rachel Miller and Aimee Byrd believe.”

Thus, when Rachel Green Miller put out a tweet asking for volunteers for her book launch team, I, in faith and with some trepidation, volunteered.

Rachel Green Miller is a theological conservative, a member in good standing at a Presbyterian church, the former editor of The Aquila Report, and a prolific blogger. All of her work is highly researched and clearly communicated, and she possesses the uncanny ability to see and trace connections between ideas and people. I know her primarily from her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation, and from Twitter. I gravitated towards her work immediately, feeling that she was both discerning enough and conservative enough for me to feel safe with and trust her thought processes. She has been immensely helpful for me in moving from being a “cynical evangelical” to a “discerning evangelical,” and for that I am immensely grateful.

For a more “official” introduction, here’s her bio taken from the P&R Publishing website:

Rachel Green Miller is a researcher and popular blogger who is passionate about elevating the dignity of women, improving the cultural conversation about gender relations, and defending orthodox Christianity. A member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, she lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Matt, and their three sons.

In Beyond Authority and Submission, Miller overviews the history of gender roles and the nature of men and women before looking to how these concepts apply in marriage, the church, and society. She summarizes the message of her book in this way:

“…as theologically conservative Christians, we must acknowledge where extrabiblical and unbiblical ideas about women and men have permeated, weakened, and confused our teachings. We need to move beyond a focus on authority and submission in order to incorporate equally important biblical themes in our discussions, such as unity, interdependence, and service. As we do, we will strengthen our vital relationship as co-laborers in Christ.”

In this book review, I will share highlights from each section and then give my response and recommendation.

Summary

Miller begins her book by clarifying that she is not comfortable identifying as egalitarian, complementarian, feminist, or patriarchalist. She does, however, believe that God created men and women to be equal and interdependent; that marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life; that husbands are called to servant headship and wives are called to voluntary submission; and that ordained church leadership is restricted to qualified men.

She does, however, disagree with many voices in complementarianism, such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Voddie Baucham, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Doug Wilson, and Mark Driscoll. Throughout her book, she provides dozens direct quotes from these organizations and individuals to back up her claims about what complementarians believe and practice.

History

In Greco-Roman times, women were viewed as inferior to men, had few legal rights, and were thought to operate in the “private sphere” whereas the “public sphere” belonged to to men. In Victorian times, women were treated as children, were expected to endure abuse by their husbands, and had no legal recourse if their husbands were unfaithful.

Things begin to change with first-wave feminism, which emphasized votes, education, and employment opportunities for women and chasity for men. Second-wave feminism pushed for allowing divorce in cases of abuse. Some feminists of this time bought into the sexual revolution as well as promoting abortion, whereas other feminists saw industries such as abortion and pornography as exploitative of women. Third-wave feminism is largely joined to the abortion and LGBT movements, with some exceptions, as well as being one of the drivers behind and the #MeToo movement, which helps men and women speak up against sexual violence.

From a historical Christian perspective, feminism is a mixed bag—doing much good as well as sometimes supporting immorality. As evangelicals grew in their concerns regarding feminism, they rightly spoke up for biblical truth, but unfortunately often “corrected” by doubling down on ideas borrowed from Greco-Romans and Victorians rather than Scripture; this has resulted in concerning teachings and practices in evangelicalism today.

The Nature of Men and Women

For many complementarians, the fundamental difference between men and women is authority and submission. A tandem belief is that women are more easily deceived and have a core desire to usurp male authority. Together, these beliefs set men and women up to be at enmity with one another.

Miller describes the typical complementarian belief that women are to be “submissive, gentle, quiet, responsive, soft, life-giving, and helping” while men are to be characterized by “strength, authority, and theological discernment and as being initiating, providing, and protecting.” She suggests that these stereotypes come not from Scripture but from culture. In fact, in looking at Scripture,there are positive examples of women leading and initiating (Deborah), providing (Lydia), protecting (Miriam and Abigail), demonstrating strength (Jael), and having theological discernment (Lois and Eunice, Priscilla). Likewise, there are biblical examples of men helping (Barnabas), being gentle and quiet (see the instructions in Paul’s letters to both men and women), giving life (Adam), responding to other’s leadership (Barak and Apollos), and being soft and tender-hearted (David and Paul).

Not only are the complementarian stereotypes not biblical; they can also cause harm and unnecessary pressure. Women who have strong muscles or leadership qualities may feel condemned in their femininity. Men who are short, like poetry, or have emotional intelligence may feel inadequate in their masculinity. However, these stereotypes are merely cultural. There is much freedom within the biblical definitions of maleness and femaleness for uniqueness, and we do well not to add cultural rules to biblical ones.

Marriage

When authority and submission are the main lenses through which complementarians view marriage, the man is seen to be the ruler (prophet, priest, and king) of the house while the woman’s role is to run the home in practical matters. Miller, on the other hand, believes that from a biblical perspective, companionship is at the heart of marriage, along with interdependence, unity, and service. Within this context, she affirms men are to be servant heads and women are called to voluntary submission.

When marriage goes wrong, the question of divorce is raised. There are three main views held by evangelicals. The first is the “Permanence View”, which is that no marriage is ever to be broken by divorce. The second is the “Adultery-Desertion View”, which is that divorce is permitted only in cases of adultery and desertion. The third view is the “Serious Sin View”, which allows for divorce in cases of serious sin such as all kinds of abuse. Miller advocates for the third, asserting that serious sin breaks the marriage covenant; divorce, when chosen, merely makes the broken covenant legal while freeing the aggrieved party from a broken situation. She writes:

Because we hold a high view of marriage, we need to acknowledge that some sins are so heinous that they destroy a marriage. Hard-hearted sinners who break their marriage vows shouldn’t be allowed to make a mockery of marriage through their actions. Marriage is important, but it’s not meant to be preserved at all costs.

Church

When it comes to church, some complementarians believe that men should be the priority, that women are theologically inferior, that men mediate between God and women, and that the church should have a masculine culture. All men are to lead in some capacity, and women may participate in hospitality and childcare.

Miller affirms that women have direct access to God and that only qualified men should be ordained (and therefore preach, administer church discipline, and administer the sacraments) while pointing out that in the Bible, women are shown as singing, praying, prophesying, evangelizing, learning theology, and serving. Miller suggests that women should generally be able to do anything that an unordained man can do.

Miller’s final topic in this section is abuse. Domestic abuse exists in all circles and is justified by people of all belief systems, but there is a particular kind of man who finds cover in hyper-complementarian churches. It’s imperative that we are honest about this, that we condemn both the abuse and the wrong teachings used to justify it, and that we prioritize the lives and safety of the women at risk. The world is watching, and the name of Christ is often slandered because of how churches respond to abuse victims.

Society

When it comes to men’s and women’s roles in society, some complementarians teach that men are to initiate and form while women are to complete and fill. They suggest that godly societies and persons will prefer male leadership in business and government and that female co-workers are dangerous. (Miller, as usual, provides ample documentation that these views are actually widely taught.)

Miller, on the other hand, points to Genesis in saying that work is a shared calling for both men and women. Education, also, is rightly given to all people. There is much freedom as to how men and women work and function in society, to be guided by wisdom, situation, needs, and preferences. Miller also points out that Scripture dignifies both business leaders and employees.

My Response

As I read this book, I found myself often and involuntarily saying either “yes!” or “ew!” as I was struck by Miller’s insights or horrified by quotes from others. What I read put words to my concerns and beliefs. Miller provided data and quotes backing up my intuitions regarding the problems in much of complementarianism. She connected the dots and showed where things came from.

I loved the biblical examples of men and women performing different kinds of tasks and displaying different types of character qualities! I felt a sense of relief and assurance that it’s okay not to fit societal stereotypes. I found myself wishing that various friends and acquaintances of mine who have struggled unnecessarily in the past could feel the same relief.

I love how Miller points to Jesus as the ultimate example of both authority and submission and urges both men and women to look to him as their model for both!

I really appreciated Miller’s balanced approach to feminism. It was fascinating to read a good summary of each of the different “waves” and then to realize that I’m probably a 60 to 66% feminist.

I love the emphasis Miller put on companionship in marriage. Over the years, I’ve been unsure and uncomfortable when I’ve heard people talk about marriage being primarily about either hierarchy or holiness. I think that in the biblical text, particularly the beginning of Genesis, companionship is at the heart of marriage.

In recent years, I have researched the topic of different Christian views on divorce. Hearing Miller list the three main views gave categories for me to better understand. The “Serious Sin View” lines up well with the PCA’s position on divorce, which is that unrepentant serious sin is a form of abandonment and therefore biblical cause for divorce. This is my position as well, and it was helpful to have Miller’s reasoning to further strengthen my position.

I’m very thankful that Miller touched on the topic of abuse in the church. This is something close to my heart, and I think there is opportunity for Christians both to repent of how they have dealt with abuse in the past and then to set an example for the watching world of what it looks like to treat with dignity and truth those who have been victimized by all kinds of abuse.

In general, reading Beyond Authority and Submission has made me less afraid of the topic of gender roles and more confident in my faith, the Bible, and in the wisdom that I have developed over the years. I feel affirmed in my belief that the Bible is safe for women when properly understood and practiced.

My Recommendation

In summary, Miller engages insightfully with topics vital to the health the church, the dignity of all image bearers, and the witness of the church before the watching world. I recommend this book for those interested in the connection between history and current Evangelical teachings, for those who want a robust interaction with Biblical truth, and for those who are developing their own theology of gender roles. This book is good for both church leaders as well as lay people, both men and women.

I will note that this book is from a primarily Western and Caucasian perspective, meaning that it looks at the history of the West and specific teachings prevalent in white evangelicalism in the United States today. Other cultures may be able to relate to varying degrees, but I want to acknowledge that Miller’s critiques may or may not be true of other cultures. (She never claims that they are, but for those reading in a different cultural context, I just want them to be aware.) For example, Kyle James Howard, a seminary student and biblical counselor, has written about the teachings and practices regarding gender roles in the African American church and how they differ from teachings and practices in many white churches.

Miller’s writing itself is clear and concise, well-organized and easy to follow. The concepts are fascinating, the historical overview is helpful, and the many quotes shared back up her claims regarding prevalent teachings in evangelicalism. She is committed to historical and credal understanding of the Christian faith and she has the endorsements of people such as Carl Truman, Aimee Byrd, Jacob Denhollander, Wendy Alsup, and Liam Goligher.

In conclusion, thank you, Rachel, for writing such an insightful and helpful book! I give it five out of five stars, and I highly recommend it. I found it personally refreshing, clarifying, and helpful. I believe it is an invaluable resource for the church as we wrestle with what it means to be biblically male and female in our homes, our churches, and our societies.

You can purchase it from Amazon here or P&R Publishing here.

I’ll leave you with a superb summary quote and call to action from Rachel Green Miller herself:

Too often we find ourselves fighting each other face-to-face instead of fighting side-by-side as we were meant to. From the beginning, when Eve was made to be a helper for Adam, they were meant to work together for God’s glory and for His kingdom. As believing men and women, we have been united together in Christ. Instead of being distracted by what could divide us, we should focus on what unites us. We are the body—the church. Through the work of the Spirit, we are knit together and our true goal has been restored: women and men united and interdependent, serving together as co-laborers, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

Jesus: The Ultimate Example of Biblical Manhood?

The question was first posed when I read a Twitter thread asking questions about biblical manhood and womanhood, particularly as relates to being like Jesus. Soon afterwards, I heard someone assert that Jesus is the ultimate example biblical manhood. And these things got me thinking…

Christians are called to follow the example of Christ in some ways. We are not God and we are not called to die to save humanity from sin, but we are called to Christlikeness. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the apostle Paul says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” And again, Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”

In some ways, it makes sense to say that Jesus could be described as the ultimate example of biblical manhood: Jesus was, of course, the perfect human, and he was a man. Thus it seems reasonable to tell men to follow the example of Christ as a way to live out their maleness in a healthy and holy way.

However, there are at least two potential problems. First, nowhere in the Bible are men in particular called to emulate the example of Christ as an example of godly masculinity. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wrong to do so, but it’s important to note that the Bible itself does not make this call. Second, if men are to follow Christ’s example as the ultimate example of biblical masculinity, then who are women to look to as the ultimate example of biblical femininity? To ask it in a different way, if women follow Christ, will they not be walking in obedience? Are women to follow Christ only in some ways?

I don’t have answers to these questions (yet), but I do think it’s worth considering. I’m curious if you all have any thoughts on this.

Here’s what I do know: Jesus Christ, God become human, is not primarily our example; he is primarily our Savior. He knew neither sinful nature nor particular sins, yet he (in some mysterious way) took on our sin and the punishment we deserved for it, so that we could, by faith, receive the gift of the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.That is the most important thing to know about Jesus.

And secondly, we are called, once we are saved, to live out our new identity as ones who are forgiven and adopted children of God. This is possible because of Christ in us, making us new. And it is reasonable in light of the great work of salvation God has joyfully wrought for those who trust him.

So let us all–male and female–press on to know, love, imitate, and serve our Savior today and every day.

A Good Grounding // Romans 5:1-11

A Good Grounding

[This sermon was inspired by another sermon entitled, “Anchors During Adversity” by Dr. Timothy Beougher found in the 2005 Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook. I preached this sermon Sunday evening, July 22nd, 2018 at Newton Springs Full Gospel Church.]

Text: Romans 5:1-11

Introduction:

Dr. Thomas Lambie was a missionary to Ethiopia. He had to ford a lot of streams and rivers while he was over there, and there was a lot of danger in doing that because you could get swept off of your feet in the current and get carried down the river and possibly drown because you can’t get back up or even get thrown into some sharp rocks.

Well, Dr. Lambie learned from the locals that the best way to make such a dangerous crossing was carry a large stone on your shoulders while you were crossing. The larger, the better. Because if you were carrying something heavy across the river, it would act as a “ballast.” The extra weight of the stone would kept your feet solid on the bed of the stream allowing you to safely cross without being swept away.

In Romans 5:1-11, I think we need to see the love of God as a ballast that keeps us grounded in times of trial. Everything in your life can be going downhill, but knowing that God loves you in spite of your failures can make all the difference in the world.

The first thing we need to do is realize our present position.

We Need to Realize Our Present Position (v. 1-2a)

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand…”
– Romans 5:1-2a, KJV

Verse 1 starts with a therefore. Whenever you see a “therefore” in Scripture, the author is making a logical connection. He’s saying that because what we just said was true, what we’re about to say is also true.

When I taught the young adults Sunday School class at another church, I always to used to tell my class that when you see a therefore in the Bible, you’ve got to go back and see what it’s there for. And that’s what we’re because this points us back to the first four chapters of Romans.

  • Chapter 1 – In Romans 1:16, Paul points out that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it’s the power of God unto salvation, and then verse 17, Paul says that because of the Gospel, because of the good news of Jesus we who are just shall live by faith, and then in the rest of chapter 1, Paul talks about how God pours His wrath out on those who blinded to the glory of God by their own sin even though the evidence is all around them. They would rather worship the creation rather than the creator.
  • Chapter 2 – In chapter 2, just to make sure that all of his audience is getting the message Paul says, “You’re just as inexcusable as they are, and every time you judge them for their sin, you condemn yourself.” But in Romans 2, Paul talks about the righteous judgement of God, and the Jews relationship to the law.
  • Chapter 3 – In Romans 3, Paul uses Psalm 14 as a proof text to say that no one is righteous. It doesn’t matter: Jew or Gentile. You’re all law breakers, you’re all unrighteous, none of you seek after God. However, Paul goes on to say that the righteousness of God is available in Christ, and you receive it by faith alone, apart from works.

    • That’s why the cry of the Christian faith for the last 500 years has been that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

  • Chapter 4 – In chapter 4, Paul uses the illustration of the faith of Abraham, and he said that he received the sign of circumcision by faith. He believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. All you have to do is believe what God says about Himself, and what His Word says that Jesus has done on your behalf, and your belief is counted to you for righteousness.

And all of that brings us to where we are in chapter 5 where Paul says that because all of this is true, we are justified by faith, and we have peace with God. That’s our present position, and Paul says, if all of that is true, then “we glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”

So, we need to realize our present position, but we also need reflect on our future hope.

We Need to Reflect on Our Future Hope (v. 3-4)

“…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4And patience, experience; and experience, hope:” – Romans 5:3-4, KJV

I think it’s good to think about Romans 5:3-4 in these terms: every time we go through trials in life, God always uses those trials to produce in us patience for the present, experience to look back on, and hope for the future.

  • Have you ever had those times in life where it just looked like it was one bad thing after another. You come through one trial just to go through another one.

You get over one sickness just to get sick again. One of your cars breaks down, you get it fixed, and then your other car breaks down. You’re always having to spend money that you really don’t have on something that you need, and then there’s a big bill that comes out of nowhere.

Every time you go through something like that God is working patience in you. You don’t always feel patient, but that’s what it is.

A man in Los Angeles, California was arrested for negligent discharge of a weapon after shooting his toilet bowl five times with a 38 caliber handgun. He claims that he just got upset. He couldn’t take it any longer. His daughter had flushed a hairbrush earlier in the day and clogged the pipes. So he shot the offending toilet. I have no word on the toilet’s condition, but the man’s patience was long gone.

  • Now. the problem is that expressing patience always requires you to be annoyed first, but when you’re patient, it pays off because patience is a form of sacrifice. You’re sacrifice what you want now for something better later. You’re sacrificing your time for a reward later. And it seems like people with the most contentment are people that have learned to sacrifice well over the years whether that’s time, energy, or money.

Not only does God use trials to develop patience in us for the present, but also experience to look back on.

For my Pastor and Public Worship class I have to read “From Memory to Imagination” by C. Randall Bradley, and in that book Bradley notes that a lot of our faith is based on memory.

 

  • “Memory is an important spiritual exercise because so much of our faith is informed by memory. Memory is reliving our experiences. Memory can be active storytelling, individual reflection, or shared silence surrounding mutual encounters… God’s plan for humankind was to create a memory for us on which we can hang everything. From the beginning, God designed a covenant with his creation through which we were able to remember God’s love and actions on our behalf. This covenant of assurance was designed to launch us on our journey to fulfill God’s plan. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually called his followers to remember, to allow their memory of God to inform all that they did.”[1] – C. Randall Bradley

 

So, every time God brings you through a trial that’s another testimony that you have to God’s faithfulness. That’s a memory you can look back on and see God at work. 

So, this is what Paul means when he says, that tribulation worketh experience, patience, and hope.

If we have patience in the present, if we have past experiences we can look back on, then we can have hope for the future.

This is isn’t an uncertain kind of hope. The way we talk about hope isn’t the same way the Bible talks about hope. We say, “Well, I hope it all works out.” But Paul says that the hope of our salvation is an anchor for the soul in Hebrews 6:19.

Paul says that hope doesn’t make us ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost so there’s no chance that our hope in God can fail. Failure is not an option when hope is involved.

Once we realize our present position, and reflect on our future hope, then we need to recall the love of God.

Recalling the Love of God (v. 6-8)

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:6-8, KJV

We might be willing to die for a friend or a family member, but for an enemy?

I know we’ve heard this all of our lives that we should love our enemies, but do we really do it? I mean, think about it. When you think about your enemies, you know there’s some people in your life that if they were on fire and you have a glass of water, you would drink it, but did you know you were an enemy of God?

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul tells us to remember that at one time we were apart from Christ without hope and without God in the world.

God’s love is revolutionary because He doesn’t just smite His enemies, He dies in their place. God the Son accepted the wrath of God the Father on our behalf. Jesus died on our behalf. We didn’t deserve it, we didn’t earn it, but it was freely given to us.

Christ’s death on the cross was an actual event in the past. He went to the cross knowing all of your sin, your faults, your failures, your hangups, and habits, and He took that punishment that you deserve for those things. He went to the cross knowing that the Apostle Paul was going to not do the things he wanted to do, and do the things he didn’t want to do. Jesus went to the cross knowing that you life would be hard, and that you would struggle.

And you know what? When Jesus died, your sin died with Him, and when He rose, your sin didn’t rise with Him. If you’re saved, then your sin is a dead issue, and you are clothed with His righteousness.

You’re gonna suffer. Jesus said you would, but He said that we should take heart because He has overcome the world.

So, far, Romans 5 has taught us to realize our present position, reflect on our future hope, recall God’s love, and now finally we need to rejoice in God’s Work in Christ.

Rejoice in God’s Work in Christ (v. 9-11)

“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” – Romans 5:9-11, KJV

You have to think about who Paul’s audience is. He’s writing to the church in Rome that’s made up Jews who became believers, but there’s also Gentiles there who were Pagans.

These people who used to be Pagans heard a lot of stories of the Roman and Greek gods of the pantheon, and all of this talk about God reconciling the world to Himself through the death of His Son was completely new to them.

“Greeks spoke about reconciliation between persons in conflict, but did not think of deities initiating reconciliation with mortals who had offended them. The idea that God would do so at the cost of his own Son would be shocking.”
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

This is the revolutionary love of God at work on our behalf.

And not only was His death for us, but so was His life. That’s what Paul says at the end of verse 10, “much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

For a long time I didn’t understand that. I always knew that His death was for me, but what does it mean that His life was for me? I think the author of Hebrews explains it well in Hebrews 4:14-16.

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16, NRSV

Jesus lived a perfect life that we couldn’t live. He had no sin, and we’re born into a world of sin with a sinful nature.

Jesus endured all the same temptations that we’ve been tempted with and He succeeded. He didn’t just go through those temptations and endure for us, but all the saints of the Old Testament too.

Where Adam failed to obey God, Jesus obeyed God perfectly. That’s why the Apostle Paul calls him the second Adam in 1 Corinthians 15.

And it’s by Jesus Christ, the second Adam, that we’ve received atonement.

All atonement really means is at-one-ment. We are at one with God because of Jesus’ work on the cross on our behalf.

So, tonight, trust Jesus. I know you’ve probably all at one time trusted Jesus, but do you need to renew your trust? Do you need to be called back to a place of repentance?

When Martin Luther first started getting a congregation together after he’d been booted from the Catholic Church, he would serve communion every week, and he would explain the death and resurrection of Jesus every week. And one of his congregants asked him, “Brother Martin, why do you preach the Gospel every week?” And he said, “Because you forget it every week.” And we’re not better.

A lot of you had to pour out blood, sweat, and tears for everything you earned, and your work ethic is commendable, but sometimes we translate that over into our faith.

We think we have to make up for all the bad stuff we’ve done, so we better pray extra hard, we better read more this week. We better really show God we’re sorry. Listen, Jesus already paid your debt on the cross. All you have to trust Him.

In the book of Acts, the call of the Gospel was simple. Repent, and believe the Gospel.

So, tonight, I’m going to pray for us, and these altars are opened. If you want to come and pray, that’s fine. If you want to pray in your seat, that’s fine too, but I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to have one more song.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, You sent Your Son to be a sacrifice for our sin, and we thank you. We thank you that you’ve placed all the sins of those who believe upon Him. We thank you that by His stripes we are healed, and our sins are forgiven. Lord, we ask that if there’s anyone here who doesn’t know You that You would draw them to Yourself with irresistible grace. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


[1]  Bradley, C. Randall. From Memory to Imagination: Reforming the Church’s Music. Eerdmans, 2012.

A White Evangelical Responds to “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”

a WHITE EVANGELICAL RESPONDS TO

(Editor’s Note: This article contains references to race-based slavery and racism, which could be distressing to some readers.)

Living in Mississippi has provided a unique opportunity for me to dive into the issue of race in America, because you really can’t live in Mississippi and not face the reality of a racialized society! Though much of my learning occurred through following a diverse group of people on social media, I kept hearing people reference a non-social-media medium (a book!) for learning about this topic—and specifically a book called Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. And so this month, I finally decided to give it a read. Spoiler alert: I loved it, I was challenged by it, and I quickly knew I wanted to share my findings with whomever would care to read them. And thus this article came to be. In it, I attempt to summarize the book, share some personal reflections, suggest ways for white evangelicals to respond, and pass along some additional resources.

Historical Overview

Emerson and Smith begin with a brief definition of terms such as “evangelical” and “racialization” and then make a case—using a myriad of statistics—that race is the defining societal divide in America. “Evangelicals” are defined as those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, urge personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and self-identify as evangelicals. They define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (page 7) And more specifically, “[i]n the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness” and in which we are always aware of the race of people with whom we interact. (page 7) They then spend several chapters recounting the story of race and Evangelicalism throughout American history, starting with the 1700s and going through the present day (or rather the 90s, since the book was published in 2000). I’ll share some of the highlights.

In the 1700s as Europeans colonized what would later become the United States, people from West Africa were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought over to work the land. At first, there was no particular concern for the religious beliefs of the slaves. But partway through the 1700’s, attempts to “Christianize” enslaved people began. At first there was some confusion about whether converting to Christianity necessitated temporal freedom from slavery, but religious leaders quickly allayed those fears. For example:

Cotton Mather forcefully argued that the Bible did not give Christian slaves the right to liberty. Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English Constitution made a connection between christianization and temporal freedom. (page 23)

In fact, Evangelical leaders argued that enslavement was good for Africans because it gave them the opportunity to convert to Christianity. (Some Christians hold this view to this day, and it is repugnant!) The social stratification of masters and slaves was understood to be God’s design for a peaceful society. These ideas were diligently catechized to the enslaved Africans, with Frederick Douglass later explaining, “I have met many religious colored people … who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery and to wear chains with meekness and humility.”

The American Revolution brought a fresh look at race-based slavery. People wondered if the principles behind the fight for freedom from England applied also to enslaved peoples. Thus began the rise of the anti-slavery movement among evangelicals. They were largely moderates and “gradualists,” believing that slavery would slowly be put to rest overtime as both masters and slaves were converted to Christianity. As Emerson and Smith point out, “Evangelicals of this time … held that by changing individuals, social problems would eventually dissipate.” (page 29) This movement had minimal results and petered out in the early 1800s.

The 1830s saw a rise in Evangelical “immediatists,” who demanded direct and immediate action to end what they saw as the great injustice of slavery. One such evangelical was Pastor Charles Finney. He connected his faith with abolitionism, going so far as to deny communion to parishioners who were slaveholders, believing that it was impossible simultaneously to own slaves and to be a Christian. (Personally, I think what he did was awesome!) However, as the movement gathered steam and begin to emphasize amalgamation of the races, Finney distanced himself. He saw slavery as a separate issue from race, and did not support amalgamation or integration. (This line of thinking paved the way for Jim Crow laws.) Emerson and Smith see Finney as representative of the views of many Evangelical abolitionists of the time.

If the well-educated and progressive Finney willingly spoke out against slavery, but not racial prejudice and segregation, it is reasonable to suppose the grassroots evangelicals, though perhaps viewing slavery as wrong, were often prejudiced, continued to view African Americans as inferior, and were generally opposed to the integration of the races. Although calling for people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. (page 33)

Not all evangelicals took exception to slavery. In the mid-1800s, a robust defense of slavery was developed using so-called biblical, evangelistic, social, and political support. Enslaved Africans were also frequently reminded of the supposed rightness of slavery. For example, when slaves attended church with their masters, preachers would share an additional sermon reminding them of their “Christian duty” to submit to their masters.

After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with slavery officially outlawed, white northern evangelicals sent money, teachers, and missionaries to the South to “raise up the Negro.” Condescending? Yes. But still a generally positive endeavor. Overall, Reconstruction was a time of social and political success for freed slaves. However, Southerners soon began to fear for their way of life, wanting to get back to what they saw as “Christian America,” and therefore imposed laws to restrict and oppress black people. This was the start of Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation. Northern evangelical interest declined, and most of them left Southerners to deal with “race problems” on their own.

In response to legislated segregation, African American people started their own churches while white Christians largely denied that there even was a race problem. In other words, even while Jim Crow laws actively worked against equality for African Americans, white Americans believed that equality already existed!

In the twenties and thirties, evangelicals were generally critical of violence between the races, though not of segregation. In 1919, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation began.

The goal during this period was to provide a better racial environment. … It advocated an end to lynching, portraying African Americans in a more positive light, and better facilities, such as school buildings for African Americans, though still within the context of segregation. Indeed, the commission never attacked segregation itself, but simply strove to improve race relations and the lives of black Americans within the institutional context of segregation. (page 42-43)

The Civil Rights Movement highlighted the extent of differences between black Christians and white evangelicals. Most evangelicals were critical of the Civil Rights Movement while most black Christians supported it. Those white Christians who did support it tended to be non-evangelicals such as mainstream Protestants.

Billy Graham is an interesting case study of the Evangelical mindset of the time. He was for improved race relations, but believed that organized efforts were harmful, especially because he perceived them as being connected to Communism. (Sound familiar? I guess this argument has been around for decades.) On the one hand, Graham removed the segregating rope between blacks and whites at one of his southern Evangelistic Crusades. But in another instance, he stated that he tried to work within the social framework of each city he visited. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of his Crusades, yet declined to join King’s March on Washington, believing King’s methods to be flawed. In response to the “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham remarked that black children and white children would hold hands in harmony only when Jesus returned.

To understand this, we must account for the premillennial view that had come to dominate the American evangelical worldview and played a role in limiting evangelical action on race issues. According to this view, the present world is evil and will inevitably suffer moral decline until Christ comes again. Thus, to devote oneself to social reform is futile. (page 47)

Graham, like most white evangelicals of the time, opposed racism generally, but viewed organized social reform as fruitless, unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.

The 80s and 90s brought a new wave of racial reconciliation efforts by evangelicals through organizations like Promise Keepers and people like Curtiss DeYoung and Tony Evans. Most whites who spoke against prejudice, urged personal repentance and reconciled relationships between individuals, while African American Christians generally focused on changing what they saw as oppressive structures, and unjust laws. The difference in approach is highlighted in the words of Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray:

White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures…. The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.

I’ll close this historical overview with a quote, which, though challenging, highlights Emerson’s and Smith’s overall analysis of evangelicalism and race relations throughout American history.

Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not countercultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alteration at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (pages 21-22)

Evangelicals’ Thoughts on Race Today

Emerson and Smith conducted an extensive telephone survey of 2,000 people to determine present-day thoughts of evangelicals on racial issues. They then conducted 200 in-person interviews. The results were enlightning. Smith and Emerson asked people to describe the race problem in America. Many people admitted there was a race problem, describing it as a problem of discrimination or violence between individuals. Other evangelicals denied the race problem altogether, instead suggesting that those who talk about race are the problem. Very few referenced structures, laws, or societal values that contribute to racialization.

When asked about the reasons behind economic inequality between blacks and whites, the two most common explanations given were 1) lack of motivation and 2) flawed cultural values among blacks. Fewer evangelicals ascribed economic disparity to 3) lack of access to quality education and/or 4) discrimination. In other words, evangelicals tended to blame economic hardship on African Americans themselves as opposed to historical, structural, or systemic problems. Most black Christians, on the other hand, pointed to structural issues or discrimination as the main problem.

As sociologists, Emerson and Smith explain that the cultural tools a person or group has affects the way they identify problems and solutions. They point out three cultural tools evangelicals use that heavily influence their views of race, which are: 1) accountable freewill individualism—“individual initiative conquers all;” 2) relationalism—“attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships;” and 3) antistructuralism—“inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences.” Applied to racial issues, this cultural framework necessitates holding African Americans accountable for their struggles (accountable freewill individualism) and focusing almost exclusively on personal reconciliation (relationalism and antistructuralism). To begin to explore societal and structural components of a racialized society, white evangelicals would have to reexamine these core beliefs.

Emerson and Smith end the book by discussing various sociological principles that describe ingroup dynamics and contribute to de facto segregation today. They close by calling for an honest look at comprehensive solutions to the issue of racialization.

My Reflections

I think that Divided by Faith is remarkably well-written and well-organized. I found it easy to follow, and I appreciated the variety of information—historical, sociological, personal interviews, etc. In other words, I was never bored. I appreciated that this work was neither a puff piece nor a hit piece, instead seeking balance and honesty, focusing on facts over value judgments.

I learned a lot about various historical movements and historical figures. I was particularly interested in learning about the great Evangelist Billy Graham as I’ve seen a lot of diverse perspectives on his relationship with Civil Rights; this book seems to carefully lay out both the positives and negatives. I was also fascinated by Emerson’s and Smith’s exploration of how the white evangelical worldview affects the way evangelicals understand and address racial issues. Their sociological insights into group dynamics that prop up prejudice and racialization were also helpful.

In general, this book helped me honestly examine the past—my past, if you will, since I am both an American and a white evangelical. I’ve always known some of the positive ways that evangelicals have fought for human rights and civil rights for African Americans, but this book helped me honestly face the negative actions evangelicals have taken as well as the discriminatory societal structures that evangelicals have helped to maintain. And so I feel both thankful and grieved. I now acknowledge that taken as a whole, white evangelicalism has done more to hurt race relations than help. This is a sobering realization to come to. But sometimes truth leads to lament, and sometimes lament is the first step to change. (Side note: this increases my empathy for those individuals, particularly African Americans, who have chosen to distance themselves from the term “Evangelical,” even while maintaining theologically-conservative Protestant beliefs.)

On a personal level, as I read some of the quotes by modern-day evangelicals, I was humbled to realize that just a few years ago I might have said some of the same things—things like “the breakdown of family structures is the main cause of problems in African American communities” or “playing the race card is as big a problem as racism.” I’m embarrassed even to type those sentences, and my heart is rightly grieved. And I am truly sorry. For me it’s been a process, starting 3 years ago, of seeking to comprehensively understand racial issues in America.

I am profoundly thankful to have read this book! I highly recommend it to any American—especially to white evangelicals—or to anyone who wants to understand why race continues to be a defining aspect of the American story.

What is a White Evangelical to Do?

Maybe this information is new, and you’re feeling like a deer in headlights. Or maybe you’re familiar with these perspectives, but you’re not sure what practical actions to take. Either way, here are a few suggestions. First, accept uncomfortable emotions; don’t reject new ideas just because they feel scary. Second, know that lament and anger are appropriate responses to sin and injustice, and can be impetus for change. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Third, get educated; read a book like Divided by Faith (purchase on Amazon or read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books here). Fourth, sit under the teaching of minority voices: on social media, by listening to sermons, and by engaging in conversations (with a focus on listening to learn). And fifth, financially support minority-led organizations.

Resources

Here some of the people and organizations that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned about racial issues in recent years.

Two of my favorite African American pastors are:

  • Elbert McGowan at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. Listen to his sermons here.
  • Dr. Mika Edmondson at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, MI. Listen to his sermons here.

The following are some theologically-conservative people and organizations I recommend financially supporting as a practical way to support African Americans and racial reconciliation.

  • The Witness: A Black Christian Collective is an organization that puts out articles and podcasts on all things related to race and faith. Donate here.
  • Reformed Theological Seminary offers the African American Leadership Scholarship, a 50% tuition break for qualifying African American students who are training to be pastors, professional counselors, and leaders. Donate here with a note that your donation is for the AALS fund.
  • Kyle J. Howard is a Christian Counselor who works with and creates resources for those affected by racial trauma. Donate here.
  • Peace Preparatory Academy serves children and families in the heart of urban Atlanta. Donate here.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Hannah

Check out some of of my other articles:

Sermon of the Week: “True vs. False Faith” by Pastor Jon Tyson

In this message, Jon Tyson, pastor of Trinity Grace Church, will discuss what it means to have real genuine faith. Enjoy and be blessed.

Christ Died to Save Sinners

“This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.”
– 1 Timothy 1:15 (NLT)

Karl Barth was one of the greatest theological minds of our times. The depth of truth in his writing still carries weight to this day in many Bible colleges and seminaries. One day, shortly before Barth went to be with the Lord, a young man asked him, “What is the most profound theological thought you’ve ever had?” Without missing a beat Barth replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Sometimes I think we miss the simplicity of the gospel. Paul explains gospel very clear to Timothy when he says that Christ died to save sinners, then he goes a step farther and acknowledges the fact that himself is the worst of all sinners.

Paul is not saying that he was the worst of all sinners, but that he is the worst of all sinners. He recognizes the sin nature within himself. As a result of acknowledging the sin within himself, he also acknowledges his need for a savior.

We all need a savior and Jesus came to die so he could be that savior. He rose again to show us victory over that sin nature, and He will return as a righteous and reigning King who execute judgment on those who reject the gospel and bring those who received the gospel home with Him to rule and reign forever as kings and priests.

Do you know Jesus as your personal savior? Is He your righteous King? If not, then I pray that you repent and come to know the beauty of having a relationship with Him today.

My Journey To Eternal Security

After lots of prayer and studying, I’ve come to the conclusion that I believe in Eternal Security. There’s too much biblical evidence to support this idea. I’ve been flirting with it for a while, but was never able to fully come to terms with it until I read “Transforming Grace” by Jerry Bridges. My thought process about Eternal Security originally started about three years ago while I was still in high school.

I was reading through Ephesians and some passages caught my eye.

 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,” – Ephesians 1:13 (NASB) 

That phrase “Holy Spirit of promise” is really caught my attention first and I was thinking about how God always keeps His promises and what promises specifically was Paul referring to here so as I went back read the passage in context, I read about about how God has a predestined purpose that works in all of us and that purpose is redemption.

Then I noticed Ephesians 2:8, 9:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8, 9 (NASB)

One time I heard a preacher in an Assembly of God church say one time that grace was free, but you had to work to keep it. At the time I heard it, I almost agreed with him until I read this passage. If grace a free gift so that no one can boast about their works, then what would happen if you had to work to keep your Salvation? You would boast to God about how well you’ve kept your Salvation, but the point of salvation is that no one can boast about their good works.

Then it was this last passage that really made the wheels start turning.

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30 (NASB)


I read that and it seemed like it all clicked for me. I tried to suppress it because I’m surrounded by so many people that would probably kill over an issue like this. Who knows? I’m probably going to lose friends over this, but if they decide not to associate with me because they disagree with me theologically then were they really my friends to begin with?

I’ll be posting more about this later.

I’m Logan and this is my journey to Eternal Security.