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 chastity 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.

From a “Worthless” Evangelical Woman: A Response to Robert Truelove

From a _Worthless_ Evangelical Woman

Within the past week, Robert Truelove has posted two articles, the first of which is entitled “Why Most Evangelical Women are Worthless.” (He wrote a follow-up article called “Why Most Evangelical Men are Worthless” and my Late Night Theology colleague has responded to that article here.) Well here I am, a potentially-worthless Evangelical woman, sharing my reflections on his article.

Pastor Truelove begins by calling out the problem of women who feel unfulfilled and empty. They then turn to women’s ministries for answers. The answer given by women’s ministries is to become MORE involved in women’s ministry (and perhaps even start one’s own women’s ministry). He explains why he thinks this is a faulty answer: 

“A Christian woman should be taught to find her calling first and foremost IN HER HOME. The domestic duties of the home are her sphere of Christian leadership, for she is to be a ‘keeper of the home’. Her first ministry is to her husband and children as she loves and serves them as a Christian wife and mother. This is WHO the Christian woman ought to be!…When a Christian woman seeks to ‘find herself’ outside of the home, it is not piety but rebellion. Such women make poor wives and mothers.”

In other words, if women would faithfully fulfill their duties in the home rather than looking outside the home for joy, they would naturally come into contentment and fulfillment.

I have three issues with this article. First, is the title. I think it is extremely problematic to refer to any human as “worthless.” Even though Robert here is referring to a woman being worthless as regards to her natural function, I think we must be very careful about language that could seem to attack the doctrine of Imago Dei. When people begin to believe that others are worthless or worth less, we get things like slavery, rape, and murder. So no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to women (or any person or group of people!) as worthless, even for the sake of a clickbait title.

My second issue is that Pastor Truelove’s conception of gender roles seems more cultural than biblical. He envisions a household where the woman takes care of the children and the cleaning and the cooking, the husband works to provide for the family, and the wife is not involved in either ministry or the workforce. The problem is, I don’t see this model mandated by Scripture. In fact, there are both Old Testament and New Testament examples of women who were involved in ministry AND the workforce. In the Old Testament we have the Proverbs 31 woman and in the New Testament we have Lydia. The Bible seems to allow for more flexibility than Pastor Truelove in how families provide for themselves and in the ways that they are involved in ministry. To me, it seems much more appropriate for each couple to decide what works best for them (for their personalities, needs, and cultural context) with regards to both providing for their family and taking care of their household.

My final critique has to do with the concept of fulfillment. That anyone would try to find fulfillment in either working in the home, in ministry, or in vocation is problematic. Every Christian’s sense of deepest fulfillment and contentment needs to be rooted in Christ, and even that will be imperfect until Heaven. A person feeling unfulfilled COULD be a result of shirking their duties, but it could be evidence that they are not yet glorified! I realize that Pastor Truelove likely did not mean that a woman should find her ultimate satisfaction in keeping her household, but I think it’s an important clarification to make! (I think it would even be appropriate to remind women NOT to find ultimate satisfaction in their duties at home or at work or in ministry.) But even if we’re talking about a lesser fulfillment, I think that both men and women can find fulfillment in a whole host of things including marriage, family, friendships, work, service, nature, and rest.

In conclusion, I affirm the dignity and worth of men and women. I recognize that the strict gender roles emulated by Robert Truelove are highly encultured and largely not biblically prescribed. And finally, I wish to urge the finding of joy in many aspects of life, while knowing that ultimate joy is found only in Christ. ❤️

~Hannah

Check out some of my other articles here:

Why Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel are Different Manifestations of the Same Thing

Why “Be Strong” or “Buck Up” is the Wrong Response to Suffering…

Grace for the Worthless: An Open Letter to Robert Truelove

Gracefortheworthless

Dear Robert,

Holy crap. I get trying to come out strong with your new blog; but wow. Two articles in two days about how Evangelical women and Evangelical men are “worthless”. Now, I’ve read both of them (multiple times) and my first reaction was stunned silence. Seriously, I just sat back in my chair and chuckled. Not because what you said was funny (cause it’s not). But because laughter is my  go to response when I’m both frustrated and confused. I know that a chuckle isn’t the best response, but it’s my natural one. Ask my wife.

On second thought, don’t do that. You’ve said enough about why she’s terrible as it is.

Now, we can talk about why clickbaity titles are pretty cliche. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but come on. Let’s ignore the fact that it’s just a petty way to get readers. It’s just lazy. But I’ll just give you that one for free. Shock value is so good for building a brand. It’s edgy, it’s masculine. Hell, next you’ll move to Seattle, sport a faux hawk, and start preaching in Tapout shirts and vests.

But let’s deal with your content about why  men are worthless. Best as I can tell, you’re premise is this: men are worthless because they don’t lead and love their wives well. Here’s the thing: I don’t disagree with your frustration. I get it. There is an epidemic of a lack of male leadership in the church. Yes, by and large men fill the offices and hold the titles. But you and I both know that the title doesn’t make the man. So yes, I agree, there’s a lack of male leadership. And leadership is hard. There is a fine line between passivity and domestic despotism; blessed is the man who can tightrope it.

But then you lose me. Because you blame this failure of men at the feet of women and Feminism. You said

“Every time men try to put their heads out there and lead, it gets whacked off. Too many evangelical women with strong Feminist leanings lament the lack of strong men while living out a worldview that emasculates men.”

and also

“It’s very telling that when a man does actually speak out against feminism, most of the responses from other evangelical men are nothing more than virtue signaling for Feminism. Too many men are infected with Pansyism. The guys have joined the girls, but fellas, the dress doesn’t fit nor flatter you.”

So let’s talk about this. I’m assuming that you’re talking about Third Wave, hyper, xym/xyr, shaved head, fishmouth, campus feminism. And yeah, they’re batty. You don’t have to tell me twice, that’s some crazy stuff. Postmodernism has never been more alive and well in the culture.

But the Church isn’t the culture. And look, maybe I’m misunderstanding. Maybe when you say most Evangelicals, you’re talking about Mainline liberal denominations. But you didn’t say that. In an attempt to be clever, you weren’t clear.

Because what you’re describing, I don’t see. You’ve said, “‘submission’ has come to mean the husband should merely lead the discussion but the wife has veto power over any decision.” I asked my wife when that’s ever happened in our short time being married. We couldn’t think of any. Now she’s pushed back on things. She’s by no means a doormat. If I wanted a doormat I’d buy one. If I wanted to just have someone who always obeyed my commands without any hesitation, I’d just get a dog.

You’ve said “Feminism lives out in the church in various ways.” Now you don’t list those ways. You just say that it happens. If you’re going to make the claim you have to prove it. But I think you’re just building a straw(wo)man out of “Evangelical Feminism”. I get it, it’s the in thing to do if you’re a white American male. Cause honestly I too hear the rhetoric and go “man I don’t think I’m as awful as they say I am”.

But I don’t think we can lay the fault at the feet of Feminism, rush off and form an Evangelical version of the Proud Boys. Yeah maybe it’s a symptom. It’s not the disease. Becaus this isn’t a new issue.

We’ve been doing this since the Fall. It’s not feminism’s fault men don’t lead well; it’s Adam’s. Sin came in the world through one man (Rom 5:12) and from that point forward, we’ve not been leading well. Now you may take this and run with it and say, “Yes but Feminism is the result of the Fall and that’s totally what I meant to get across” but that’s not what you said. Again, you were clever; but you weren’t clear.

So sure you’ve not taken it so far as To suggest that I should put my boot on my wife’s neck physically or even emotionally. But by calling us worthless, and holding up this legalistic approach to marriage, you’ve certainly asked me to do it spiritually. Because if, according to you, I am to find any worth as a Christian, then my home better be immaculate. My wife better do what I say the first time. Because Feminism has ravaged my home and the Church.

But Robert, I think I’m going to pass on that. Rather, I’m going to love my wife by trying to find SnoCaps for her. I’m going to love my wife by taking on some chores when she’s had a rough day. I’m going to love my wife by pointing her to Jesus as best I can. By leading not to despotism, but to grace.

And if I’m honest, I’m going to fail. Like every husband that’s come before me, I’m going to fail. And when I do, it won’t be becuse I’m worthless. It will be because as much as I am a saint, I still am a sinner. But the way to press forward isn’t by wrenching my stones away from Feminism and demanding obedience, but by looking to Christ; the true and better Husband.

Sure Robert, that’s probably what you meant to say. You probably meant all of what I just said. You just didn’t say it. You were being clever; not clear. But when we put extra law and an impossible standard up for where our worth is, we fail. When we put the blame on Feminism, instead of looking at the sin in our own hearts, we fail. When we fail to rest in Christ, we most certainly fail.

So Robert, I’m going to just tell you. I’m not going to kill my wife and my marriage on the altar of “masculinity”. I won’t lead perfectly. But, Christ died for me and my failure to lead- there’s grace for that. I’m not worthless, but I wish I could say the same about your article.

To the rest of you: if you’d like to hear Hannah’s push back about Women Being Worthless click here

 

 

A Mental Buffet //9 Mar 2017

mental-buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

How Flocks Are Protected – Douglas Wilson

“Shepherds need, in Paul’s terms, to “take heed.” They need to take head to themselves, and they need to take heed to the flock. A man who is not taking heed to himself cannot watch out for the flock. And if a man is not watching out for the flock, then he is clearly not taking heed to himself—he is guilty of a gross dereliction of duty.”

 

Throw Like a Girl: Why Feminism Insults Real Women – Rebekah Merkle

“The idea that women are equal to men is not a feminist idea; it’s a Christian idea. The apostle Paul said it long before Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Gloria Steinem when he taught us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). And he said it nearly two millennia before the women’s rights people came along.

The feminists try to take credit for something that is the fruit of the gospel, working its way into culture like yeast through a loaf. We need to stop letting the feminists act as if they somehow achieved our equality.”

 

Why I Am a Continuationist – Sam Storms

“If signs and wonders were designed exclusively to authenticate apostles, we have no explanation why non-apostolic believers (such as Philip and Stephen) were empowered to perform them (see especially 1 Cor. 12:8-10, where the “gift” of “miracles,” among others, was given to average, non-apostolic believers).”

 

Evolution and the Historical Fall: What Does Genesis 3 Tell Us about the Origin of Evil? – J. Richard Middleton

“…the narrative of disobedience in Genesis 3 is not simply about a single event in the past (though that is not thereby excluded), but describes what is typical in the process of temptation and sin in human experience. Indeed, when preachers expound the Garden story they tend to emphasize how this is true for all of us, rather than locating it in a singular event long ago.

Once we are open to viewing the Garden narrative in this manner, the dialogue between the woman and the snake in Genesis can be seen as a profound study in the phenomenology of temptation and sin, which may be applied not only to our own present experience of temptation, but also to the experience of early Homo sapiens.”