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.

Remember That One Time I was a Jerk to Brian Zahnd? I Do, and I Regret it.

Less than two years ago I thought I was a big shot.

I saw a tweet that I didn’t like, and I got on my keyboard and fired off this tweet.

What was I thinking? I was probably thinking I would get some ‘likes’ from some cool Reformed dudes on Twitter. Maybe I was thinking that I might get some ‘follows’ from some young, restless, and reformed guys. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking, I just know one thing for sure. I was a jerk.

So, what was it that I didn’t like? This.

This is the tweet that I decided I needed to pounce on.

I realize now that I was literally angry at forgiveness.

I was angry because someone else’s view of forgiveness wasn’t as small as my own. I was angry because didn’t interpret the Bible through my lenses. I was angry for all of the wrong reasons.

A lot has changed for me personally since December 20th, 2017, and one of those things is that I’m not as big and bad as the Internet allows me to be, and because I’m not as big and bad as the Internet allows me to be that also I’m done being a jerk about theology.

Grace is simply something you receive, it’s something you give, and I should’ve given more grace. I should’ve been willing to ask questions.

As I get older I’ve found that if we’re willing to ask questions rather than assume answers, then we just might find that we stand on more common ground than what we realize.

Brian, if you read this, I’m really sorry. This may not be a big deal to you, but this has been weighing on me for the last few days. Maybe if I come up to the St. Joseph area we can hang out sometime.

 

CSB Pastor’s Bible Review, Part 1: The Unboxing

This is the unboxing of the CSB Pastor’s Bible that I received from Holman. Later I will do another review after I’ve used the Bible for a few weeks where I compare it to the CSB Spurgeon Study Bible that’s available from Truth for Life.

This Bible can purchased at this link: Here

The Spurgeon Study Bible from Truth for Life can purchased at this link: Here

 

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 Life Made Possible: A Review of ‘Hannah’s Child’ by Stanley Hauerwas

Hannah's Child Review

I don’t know that I could rightly identify as a Hauerwasian. I am a Calvinist, and I am quite happy to be in that camp. However, I knew he was the real deal when I read a quote that’s often attributed to him – “Jesus is Lord, everything else is bullsh*t.” When I first read that I knew I had to, at the very least, discover his background. After all, what is it that would cause him to such a conclusion and state it in the way that he did?

Hauerwas is a Texan by birth and the son of a bricklayer by trade. Through the course of certain life events (I’ll let you read the book to find out what those events are) he would end up in Divinity School not even knowing whether or not he was a Christian.

Maybe I’m wrong in what I’m about to say or maybe I’m just reading myself too much into his story, but it seems to me that in this book, Hauerwas not only takes us on his journey of faith but also provides an often critical commentary on Christendom in America from his raising at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in rural Texas to his current home at the Church of the Holy Family in North Carolina, and everywhere in between.

For example, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1.

“Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist, but like most folks in that area we were really Baptist,

(As the pastor of a Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, I feel that deeply. 😏)

which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church, you still had the be “saved.” Baptism and membership were Sunday morning events. Saving was for Sunday nights. Sunday night was an hour hymn sing, a time for “personal prayer” at the altar rail, a forty-five minute to an hour sermon, and then a call to the altar for those convicted of their sin. If you came to the altar, it was assumed that you struck up a new relationship with God that was somehow equivalent to being saved. I wanted to be saved, but I did not think you should fake it.”

With this simple paragraph, Hauerwas puts into perspective and reveals that how we view corporate church gatherings in the South is just plain weird. (After all, the early church didn’t have hour long hymn singings from their Heavenly Highway Hymnal in the first few centuries. 😏)

As we follow Hauerwas up into the north (or as we might call it “Yankee territory”) he seems more at home in the churches in the north where ideas like church membership and the sacraments are treated with more gravity. Although Pleasant Mound (later named Pleasant Grove) would always be a special place, sometimes the place you call ‘home’ changes.

I can relate to that. My grandfather was the pastor at an independent Full Gospel church in a small town called Blackwell. Blackwell was known for it’s bar and two liquor stores. Hardly anyone knew that there were churches there, and honestly, I think that the churches were to blame for their own obscurity. God knows there was no shortage of people there to love and share Jesus with.

However, that little church was my home. The church disbanded and we left, but to this day, I still take drives to see the building and reflect on that wonderful place that I called home.

One of the most remarkable things that I was able to take from this book is how Hauerwas dealt with his first wife, Anne. His wife had some severe mental sicknesses that caused her to be irrational and often caused her to go into fits where she believed that she was in love with other men. Eventually, this led to their divorce, but for the time that they were married it was amazing to read about how gracefully and patiently he dealt with her. I think the reason that he put up with her behavior as long as he did was because they had a son together, and he was trying to keep the family together for his sake.

As someone who has been close to someone with severe mental disorders, his experience has informed my own, and has been a helpful guide for me in dealing with people who have mental illnesses but refuse help or treatment. Although, I don’t think Hauerwas would believe his work to be instructional, it truly has been instructional for me.

One other thing I would like to note about this work before I close out this review is his treatment of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

“I knew we were in deep theological trouble as soon as politicians and commentators made the claim that September 11th had forever changed the world. Most Americans, Christian and non-Christian, quickly concluded that September 11th was a decisive event. That was exactly the problem. For Christians, the decisive change in the world, the apocalyptic event that transformed how all other events are to be understood, occurred in A.D. 33. Having spent decades reading Yoder and four years writing the Gifford Lectures, it was clear to me that September 11th had to be considered in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.”

Time magazine would ask Hauerwas to write an article about the war on terror for their February 23, 2003 issue. For context: Stanley Hauerwas is an advocate of Christian non-violence. This means all war, from his perspective, is evil and can in no way be considered just so his perspective would be an altogether different one from many of the Falwell’s, Graham’s, and Jeffress’s of the nation who proudly made sure their voice was heard.

Here’s an excerpt from his article.

“G. K. Chesterton once observed that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Bush’s use of religious rhetoric seems to confirm this view. None of this is good news for Christians, however, because it tempts us to confuse Christianity with America. As a result, Christians fail to be what God has called us to be: agents of truthful speech in a world of mendacity. The identification of cross and flag after September 11th needs to be called what it is: idolatry. We are often told that America is a great country and that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans wants to be good, but goodness requires that we refuse to lie to ourselves and our neighbors about the assumed righteousness of our cause. That the world is dangerous should not be surprising news to Christians who are told at the beginning of Lent that we are dust. If Christians could remember that we have not been created to live forever, we might be able to help ourselves and our non-Christian brothers and sisters to speak more modestly and, thus, more truthfully and save ourselves from the alleged necessity of a war against “evil.”

Although I’m not certain if I would call myself a pacifist or an advocate of Christian non-violence, I can definitely sympathize with his arguments, and when I read this paragraph I gave it a loud and hearty “AMEN!”

Hauerwas concludes his book by saying that his life was made possible by people who prayed for him. I find that statement to be true in my own life. Like Hauerwas, my life is a result of the prayers of my family. I don’t think I would be who I am had not my grandparents prayed for God work in and through my life.

So, would I recommend this book? If you don’t have the patience to wade through talk about the academic politics, then run far, far away, but you would like to read a compelling story about a theologian finding himself in the world of theology and academia, then by all means, read. I thoroughly enjoyed this work, but I also know that not everyone enjoys the same things that I do.

But if you decide to try it out and can’t wade through the politics and academic language, then just read the first two chapters, and then jump to the back of the book and read the last three chapters. I promise, you’ll get something positive out of it.

 

On Wearing Your Ash for a Hat

Ashhat

When I start this discussion, I want to be very clear. I love Ash Wednesday, and I love the season of Lent. (If you grew up under an evangelical rock like I did and are unfamiliar with these terms then here’s a good article to get you started, and here’s another one.)

Ash Wednesday and Lent are times when we can reflect on our sin and brokenness, and be thankful for God’s grace working in and through our lives to conform us to the image of Christ.

However, something I’m not a big fan of is people who go to an early Ash Wednesday service in the morning or maybe they receive ashes sometime around noon and then they wear their ashes on their forehead in public all day long.

I think receiving the ashes is a helpful reminder that we are sinful creatures that deserve death, and the ashes remind us that we will return to the dust from which we came. However, wearing them in public shows people that you’re celebrating Lent, and if people know that you’re celebrating Lent, then they know that you are fasting from something.

Jesus very plainly tells us in His Sermon on the Mount that we shouldn’t make our righteousness obvious to people.

“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18, CSB

 

If we have to practice our righteousness before others in order for it to be valid, then we prove that our righteousness is not genuine, and if our righteousness is not genuine, then it’s not a righteousness that comes from Christ.

In Isaiah 58, God speaks through Isaiah to condemn the way that God’s people were fasting. They were giving up their food just fine, but they couldn’t give up their power, their greed, or their mistreatment of others. They finally ask in Isaiah 58:3, “Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!”

And then God gives them the answer: “Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”(Isaiah 58:3-4, CSB)

In The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that when we fast we really become aware of the things that have a stronghold on us. (I’m paraphrasing.) If we can give up food, but we can’t give up power, privilege, or prestige, then what do we really live off of? Where does our life come from? Are we genuinely seeking God or are we just wearing our ash for a hat?

From Isaiah 58 to Matthew 6, and even up to now, people haven’t changed that much, but God’s word to them still remains the same. If we’re going to fast during Lent, we should do so biblically, and to fast biblically is to fast discreetly, and we should give up the things that matter – our wills, our desires, and our own righteousness.

Instead, we should seek after God’s will, God’s desires, and God’s righteousness. Do we care about what God cares about? Do we want the same things that God wants? Lent is the perfect time to pray, fast, open our Bibles, and listen to Him.

Don’t Trust Someone Who Says They Have a Perfect Understanding of Scripture (because they don’t)

DTA

A thousand apologies in advance if this post is disjointed, rambling, or otherwise incoherent. Due to a busy schedule, it has been literally months in the making.

I actually did not come up with the wording of the title of this article. It was Phil Johnson of Grace To You who said it in a radio broadcast when talking about a young man he was in correspondence with, who made this very claim. The young man said to Brother Johnson that he was writing a book about such and such, and he disagreed with him. He denied any need for correction and rejected it when offered to him. After all, he did say he has a perfect understanding of Scripture. I say he was writing about such and such because I can’t quite remember what Brother Johnson said it was about, but apparently, he was blatantly wrong, and not only that, he was trying to publish how wrong he was on this certain doctrine to the entire world. He was (and it is assumed, still is) wrong at the top of his lungs. I suppose a good alternate title for this article could be– “An Exhortation to Humility in Interpreting and discussing Scripture”

First: Two Extremes

Before the exhortation should come some context would be helpful. There are two extremes, or ditches, one can fall into as it relates to scripture interpretation. Both are ungodly and worldly. One is to be so very theologically or interperetively “humble” that you are squishy. The other is to be so very dogmatic that you are right, and there is no possibility you could be wrong, so hang any counsel from anyone else, especially if they are in disagreement. To say they are ditches or extremes, though makes it sound as if the correct view is somewhere in between.

It is, and it isn’t. Practically, the correct view is between the soft and hard view. However, there is no in between when it is pride and a false humility, which is also pride. Both are the same sin. In practice, it isn’t the road in between. It is a different road entirely.

The Theological and Doctrinal Jelly Sack

The “soft” approach, or false humility, is perhaps the worse of these two approaches to treating scripture, and subsequently, theology and doctrine. I say it is the worse of the two because it is the most disingenuous of the two. It purports humility, but practically is very proud.

This approach is often utilized by theological liberals and socinians. Since liberals are supposed to be the “nice guys,” it is necessary that in exercising pride, they be as deceptive as possible. The fact of the matter is that all humans are savage beasts, whether conservative or liberal. However, this deceptive approach baits people in by sounding very nice and open to everything, while espousing dangerous teachings and their teachers who are either hirelings or, worse yet, ravenous wolves. They believe abandoning standards communicated clearly in scripture is actually the biblical standard. They believe that since they are following the spirit of Jesus’ ministry, the actual words of Christ Himself doesn’t really matter. Besides, scripture was written by men, and is not as reliable as “personal revelation.” Such is the case when covenants and confessions and creeds are abandoned in the name of “diversity.”

I say hang their notion of diversity. We need unity.

The Theological and Doctrinal Fence Post

The “hard” approach, much like a brick or stone wall, is like a fence post (fence posts cannot be convinced of much).  I only use this term because in the self aggrandizing minds of these folks, brick and stone walls may connote unmoving strength, so let’s call them fence posts. They aren’t just any fence post though, lest they think they’re being compared to a good, strong corner post, used to stretch a six strand barbed wire fence. They are rotton wooden posts that aren’t even good for holding up any wire. They are utterly worthless, they stand alone, and if you argue with one, you won’t get anywhere at all.

This kind is so proud, they don’t even make an attempt at hiding their pride behind a lie. They openly and adamantly reject anyone offering a different insight than their own, especially if someone is biblically seeking to correct them in one of their faults.

These are the people who would claim perfect understanding of scripture, or at least claim the capability to potentially gain a perfect understanding in this life. They can argue using Scripture, though only by accepting the verses they can agree with, while wrenching verses out of context they find impossible to reconcile with their flawed views. Oddly enough, these might also abandon covenants, confessions, and creeds. Some are apt to write their own doctrinal statement, rejecting a biblical confession belonging to their own church, association, or denomination. I’m not knocking writing a confession of one’s own, that’s how they were done in the past, either by writing a confession as a new ministry or group of churches, as a person in bonds of persecution answering accusers, or as a summary or clarification of  a previous confession.  If you’re working with something that is already good, though, why change it? These confessions help us to submit to the authority of our church and to the authority of scripture, not of our vain minds. Ideally, they should eliminate pride in oneself.

And Now, the Feature Presentation.

“1LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. 2Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child. 3Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.” Psalm 131

To begin, perhaps a bit of context is nessecary. This psalm is one of a series of psalms called psalms of ascent, or psalms of degrees. People. They were sang by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feasts, or by the worshippers and priests on their way up the steps of the temple. Considering the length of each psalm in the group, they were also likely psalms taught to children at home, or as devotions for such events as approaching Jerusalem and the Temple.

This psalm in particular focuses on child-likeness (not childishness), and teaches a very important attitude to have before God and man. It is a statement of child like humility. It instills this attitude in children who are learning these psalms. It is a proclamation to those taking their families to Jerusalem for the feast. Perhaps more importantly, for the men in the priesthood, it showed them the same as they approached the temple.

We are told likewise elsewhere in scripture, to be meek like children. This meekness surely doesn’t include a high opinion of oneself. In fact, I believe that you’ll find some of the highest level theologians never really consider themselves masters, but always students of the scriptures.

I, in no way, want to be the one to wear a badge labeled “Mr. Humble,” so I’ll just say I know a guy who can wear that badge and I try to be like him. There are issues that are clear in scripture that are fundamental to the Christian Faith, which only heretics deny. There are also things like baptism and eschatology that are also clear, which have no bearing on salvation. I suggest these things are important, and would affect which church I’m a member of, but it’s okay if a Presbyterian is wrong on this, or if the non-denominational (Baptist crossed with Assemblies of God) is wrong on that. What is important is that we agree on the basic doctrines that make Christianity what it is, whether you’re a Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist.

To Conclude…

When it comes to doctrinal issues, many of us are either very proud, very ignorant, or both. We are proud because, “I’m me, and I don’t believe anything that is wrong! There’s no amount of exegesis that will persuade me of this biblical truth. I’ll misquote and take as much scripture out of context as I please! I’m right, and if we differ, then you have your place with the devil!”

Otherwise, we are ignorant, which I believe is a majority of Christians who say, “Well, it has to be true- my granny, or my dad, or brother whistle britches believes that way! Surely they can’t be wrong, and if you quote that verse one more time, you’ll insult my dead grandparents’ faith, and I’ll rip your throat out. But hey! Let’s just agree to disagree!”

Of course, there’s the ignorant who are proud of it who say, “It doesn’t really matter what the Bible says about that. We are on the right side of history here, and this is how we attract people to our movement. Now, how ‘bout a Fortnite tournament and some pizza to help you forget your serious doctrinal question. Have this album from Bethel or Hillsong United!”