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Complimentarianism in the SBC

Spending several years in Bible college introduced me to many different theological positions, views on the kingdom, the will, evil, salvation, the millennium, etc. One of the most contentious issues of all was, and is, the complementarian / egalitarian debate. Essentially, at the heart of the debate is the question of what roles are and are not permissible for a woman to hold in the church and family. Complementarianism is the doctrine that there is a hierarchy in the church and family and that man is the head of both. Egalitarianism is the doctrine that there is no such hierarchy and that men and women are equal in their right to fulfill leadership roles. Both of these definitions are very rough, but work well enough for the purpose of this post.

The purpose of this post is to reject a form of complementarianism, not to promote egalitarianism. Some may say that this post is simply attacking a straw-man. It isn’t. I doubt that the content of this post will be affirmed by many (if any) complementarians, but experience tells me that there are times when our actions will do the assenting in the face of our mouth’s dissent. I will call this form ‘Southern Complementarianism’ (SC). From my experience there are unnecessary, but consistent tenets of complimentarianism in the south and particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Those tenets are:

  1. The only suitable roles for women are wife and mother and all other pursuits or talents should bow to these first priorities.
  2. From 1, the proper role of a woman as a wife is to support her husband in his endeavors, goals, etc.
  3. A woman’s opinion is naturally inferior to a man’s since the man was created as leader of the woman.
  4. From 3, a woman should never question her husband’s judgment.
  5. Women (in general) should submit to men (in general)- similar to the way children (in general) should respect their elders (in general).
  6. A woman’s education is generally less important than her husband’s and she should simply be able to trust his opinions and learning.

Premises 1 and 2. Part of the problem is thinking that our primary aim is to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and, after all, the only way to do this is for men and woman to submit to their teleological role of baby-making. Since someone has to take care of the kids, and the man has to be out providing, it falls to the woman to stay in the home and raise the children. Thus, premise 1. This is also propagated by ‘the role’ talk (according to this ‘the role’ of a woman is premise 1) . For instance, reading through this post (by the editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) and the comments might give you an idea of the kind of thing I am speaking of. So that everyone knows (as Bertrand Russell pointed out over a 100 years ago in On Denoting) the word ‘the’ implies at least one and no more, that is, singularity. But does the Bible really point out one such role for a woman, to be a wife and mother? What if she isn’t one or both? Is she a failure to the Kingdom? It is my belief that the command to be fruitful and multiply is not for us. The command is given 12 times in the OT but only three of the times was it given to humans: to Adam, when there was no one else on earth, Noah, when there was no one else on earth, and Jacob- who is Israel- when the nation of Israel was being formed), and it is given no times in the NT. Our command is not to multiply babies, but according to Jesus, disciples. And Paul’s charge that it may be better to remain single seems to fly in the face of all of this ‘the role’ nonsense (despite the title, Mother Theresa was neither a mother nor a wife).

Premises 3, 4, and 5. Back in the garden Eve was deceived, this shows us that women are more likely to make bad decisions and this somehow shows us that men are more likely not to make bad decisions (though the former in no way implies the latter). So, pre and post fall (lapse), the woman was and remains inferior in her decision making abilities. Thus, premise 3 and 4. And, it seems, the principle from these premises has been extrapolated to denote a general relationship between men and women. Thus, premise 5. However, if the complementarian position is right, the submission of the wife to the husband is for the purpose of pointing to the relationship between Christ and his bride, not something that happens as a result of a lack on the woman’s part. And, if this is the case, the wife is submitting to but to a position, not a gender. I believe that 3 – 5 result in a general degrading of women. Though many complementarians in the SBC claim that the ‘forbidden fruit’ for women is the teaching of Christian doctrine, this fleshes itself out by disallowing them to participate in most positions. I can’t remember the last time, in a Baptist church, I saw a woman pray from the front, read a passage of scripture, or even help with the tithe collection. This is a moral catastrophe and failure on the part of churches. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you…”

Premise 6. In the south, especially in the Christian south, most get married much, much younger than the rest of the western world. As a result, Bible colleges are full of married kids training for the ministry that can only afford for one to attend university. Thus, the result is that since the man is going to be ‘the preacher’ he is the one that needs the education. Four years or more go by, the kids have kids of their own and the woman never gets a shot at being educated. Some women don’t care, some do. The attitude is that a woman’s education is less important than a man’s. In fact, I’ve noticed that some male Bible students have a real aversion to their wives being educated. I can only guess at why this might be.

Before my wife and I moved to England (after we had both finished an undergraduate degree) we were sitting in the office of a man who worked for a Southern Baptist institution and we were discussing our options. We informed him that we were both interested in more education. He asked what we were interested in. I told him philosophy and my wife said she was still considering her options. He looked at my wife and said with a scoff, “Do you really want to get more education? I mean, come on, you’re pretty, you’re taller than a lot of men, and you already have one degree…” I don’t think I really registered what he said until after we left, or perhaps I was just too in the middle of the SC dust cloud to even recognize that he was being a chauvinist. I simply want to note that true Christianity is not chauvinistic and Jesus’ heart and actions toward women was completely different to the one modeled by SC.

Moving to another country has help me view this situation with slightly different eyes and see this to be the problem it is. Pastors and men should help identify SC and do away with it because it is harmful to the gospel, chauvinistic, and altogether shameful.

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Christians, Voting, and Immorality

Does requiring Christians to vote mean requiring them to be pragmatists or even immoral? This seems to fall back to the question, is it possible to be in politics and maintain an ethic (as far as Christians are concerned, a Kingdom ethic)? In most people’s minds the word ‘politician’ seems to connote something similar to ‘used car salesman’, and for good reason. On a practical level it seems that a Christian that runs for office must do 1 of 2 things. Either view Christianity and politics as two separate spheres that co-exist, pursuing the latter and living the former privately (even though religion can’t actually be successfully dropped from politics). Or, view the two as indistinct in life/practice and run for office accordingly.

It seems to me that in a democratic society where, by definition, the populous is represented by individuals, the populous’ ethic is too. In this case, it seems as though the second of our two options above will always be in opposition to the populous’ belief. If this is true, and it seems to be, then requiring Christians to vote is pushing them into a dilemma: choosing one of the two populous representatives, one of the two populous’ ethic. So, what must a Christian do, choose the lesser of two evils? Should a Christian take part in placing someone in office that is, more than likely, less than morally reputable? It seems then that the Christian is stuck choosing a candidate because he will most closely achieve some end that Christians see as ideal. Isn’t this pragmatism? Is this immoral?

Let’s put this more straightforwardly:

  1. Being a politician means being dishonest
  2. Dishonesty should not be supported by Christians
  3. Therefore, Christians should not vote for (that is, support) politicians

Now, of course I would never say that there is a necessary, logical connection in premise 1 between being a politician and being dishonest, it’s just the way it is (and in a democratic society, the way things have to be). When I say ‘dishonest’ I don’t necessarily mean a tax-evading, stealing, cheating person, I mean someone who uses his words to intentionally not tell the whole truth or to mislead in order to gain popularity among the people.

So, maybe Christians shouldn’t vote. What do you think? Let’s lay aside what might happen if Christians didn’t vote and, for now, discuss the argument.

What is Gender?

Adam & EveI have read a number of posts recently on the topic of the Gender. Some on the gender of God (here and here) and even more on the theological issue of gender surrounding the complementarian vs. egalitarian debate (one blog I surveyed had nearly 25 entries on this topic alone!). Now, I’m not really interested in arguing whether the Bible actually does speak of God in masculine terms- It certainly does. Furthermore, I’m not interested in arguing whether the Bible means what it says or whether there is a gender-biased writing of scripture that is in need of correction, my beliefs about the Bible limit that kind of a conclusion. What I am interested in is the notion of gender itself. What is it?

The word ‘sex’, when used to refer to a person’s gender, is a biological notion- male or female anatomy. The word ‘gender’ seems to function in an analogous, but not exactly similar way, which is why it can be hard to associate particular characteristics, especially non-biological ones (like anger, joy, tenderness, kindness, or perhaps the way one dresses, etc.), with either men or women alone. That is to say, it would be hard to make a statement like: ‘it is the case that all women and no men have such-and-such personality traits’. Defining things in this way can be extremely difficult.

So, then, while one society may try to anchor gender down by associating it with its understanding of masculinity or femininity, it isn’t the case the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ take the same form from society to society. So, in the end, that doesn’t help either.

As a result of this description difficulty, the easiest anchor for ‘gender’ seems to be a physical one. So, maybe a certain gender is simply synonymous with a certain physical description. But, here is where the theoretical rubber meets the road, what if we can soon operate to completely change, inside and out, a man’s body to a woman’s? Does this change the man’s gender from ‘male’ to ‘female’? The physicalist, at pains to even have to answer such a trivial question, it would seem, would answer ‘yes’. But, what about Christians or, for that matter, even those philosophers who believe in universals? Is there some sort of ‘manhood’ being instantiated by men and ‘womanhood’ exemplified by women that isn’t solely dictated by one’s physical description? Or, maybe more simply, does God view individuals as male and female regardless of physical procedures?

So, Christians? Platos? What do you think?

Tim Keller’s ‘The Reason For God’

Last week I picked up Tim Keller’s new book A Reason for God. The purpose of the book is twofold. In the first seven chapters Keller addresses what he believes, according to 20 years of pastoral experience in New York, to be the most common objections to the Christian faith. This half of the book was surprisingly not frustrating, and actually helpful. Typically, when I see books with title’s like Keller’s I am confronted with an onslaught of not-so-nostalgic memories of Lee Strobel’s A Case for Faith and other such catastrophes. However, after also having listened to several talks by Keller, I know that he believes in a presuppositional approach to apologetics (revealing the inconsistency in one’s thought according to their own terms), which he models well. Due to his experience, Keller really seems to understand and appropriately address today’s zeitgeist.

He seems able to do this, partially, because he is so well read, which comes across in the number of people Keller cites. C.S. Lewis is on about every other page, but interspersed among the Lewis quotes are top shelf philosophers like Thomas Nagel (someone no Christian knows unless he actually reads philosophy) and Alvin Plantinga, as well as various other theologians, scientists, news journalists, playwrights, et al.

The second half of A Reason for God is composed of seven more chapters giving reasons for faith. I appreciated Keller’s balanced approach to this section as well. Early on in this half of the book Keller says,

How can we believe in Christianity if we don’t even know whether God exists? Though there cannot be irrefutable proof for the existence of God, many people have found strong clues for his reality… (p. 127, my emphasis)

Books in this genre often load the reader down with so many ‘irrefutable’ scientific and empirical facts that once someone finds a way to sink the argument, or reject the empirical data altogether, the Christian’s confidence is shot. However, Keller understands that Christianity does not rest on such arguments and that demonstrable, watertight ‘proofs’ for the existence of God (much less the God of Christian theism) themselves don’t exist. Keller goes on to demonstrate, though, that such arguments can be indicators or ‘clues’ to the existence of God. He says that these clues aren’t immune to philosophical challenge, but when combined and looked at altogether have much more explanatory power if God exists than if he doesn’t. And, after having read what he has to say, his assertion is compelling.

Keller goes on to explain and defend the tenets of the Christian faith- the cross, sin, forgiveness, the person of Jesus, the resurrection and even the new heavens and new earth (and, thank God, there was no reference to anything like the Shroud of Turin). He doesn’t shy away from an explicitly Christian understanding of things and yet explains it in a way that is not overbearing or annoyingly confrontational.

The book was written for Skeptics, but I would recommend it to all. For the Christian, Keller explains a lot of issues from a Christian perspective such as addiction, living morally, freedom, culture, injustice, eternal judgement, etc. And, I believe that already believing Christians, could still learn from and be encouraged by what Keller has to say. For those interested in apologetics, Keller’s book is a must read for a clear example of how to do it. And, for the skeptic that wants to read something other than a caricature of the Christian faith, Keller’s book gives you a real opportunity to reject Christianity on its terms. Understand what you are reading, though. If you are looking for something like Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief, you won’t find it here. That is not Keller’s audience. Keller is addressing the popular objections in a straightforward, easy to understand kind of way.

“The Christian and Alcohol” A Response to Land & Duke

The topic of the Spring edition of the Criswell Theological Review (CTR) was ‘Christians and Alcohol.” The opinions expressed in the journal demonstrated the gamut of beliefs surrounding the ‘controversial’ subject of alcohol consumption.

In the Journal was an article written by Richard Land (president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) and Barrett Duke The Christian and Alcohol. Land and Duke take the traditional prohibitionist stance, arguing their case from scripture, society, and a good witness. Essentially the authors establish 3 things and nothing more.

  1. The abuse of alcohol in America has had terrible effects (financially, socially, etc.)

  2. Prohibition is the historic stance of the Southern Baptist Convention, and

  3. The Bible forbids the abuse of alcohol

In fact, throughout the article, Land and Duke seem to make a terrible mistake in reasoning, namely equivocating the Bible’s message by muddling the distinction between alcohol use and alcohol abuse. The author’s seem to transfer the condemnation of one act to the other. As I read the article I couldn’t help but wonder whether the two were clear about whether they were trying to convince the reader about the Bible’s message of being drunk or the Bible’s message about drinking at all.

Here is one such example: “Solomon compares alcohol to a snake. A snake can be nearly mesmerizing with its slow, graceful movements. Its true nature can be completely overlooked. Yet, if one fails to respect its nature, that snake will surprise the unwary person with a bite that could possibly be deadly (v. 32)…” Based on the author’s judgement, the warning here is in respecting the drink’s nature, in the same way we should respect a snake’s (i.e. not carelessly- don’t abuse it!). However, they continue, “Solomon says the user of this snake-like substance will experience visual and mental impairment (v. 33) and severe physical instability (v. 34). It can even make one so unaware of his environment that he cannot even respond to physical danger and attacks (v. 35).” (my emphasis- p. 24)

See the sleight of hand? The author’s jump from Solomon’s warning to those that abuse the drink to any ‘user of this snake-like substance…’ I have to assume that neither Land nor Duke have ever ‘kissed this snake’ since, if at communion or a wedding or anywhere else, they had (i.e. had become ‘a user’) they would be shocked by the fact that they didn’t immediately experience ‘visual and mental impairment’ or ‘severe physical instability’, etc.

The article continues by showing the different Hebrew words used to indicate drinks with alcohol in them and their various uses (Noah, proverbs, certain sacrifices, etc.) and then moves on to the New Testament to conclude that “except for the handful of references in the Gospels that speak of wine… one encounters only negative statements in the NT about the non-medicinal use of wine.” (p. 28). After all, Jesus may have made the wine at the wedding feast in Cana, but he didn’t necessarily drink it (footnote 8). And furthermore, Jesus may have drank wine (Matthew 11:18-19), but he was certainly never drunk, as his enemies accused him of being. (p. 31)

Land and Duke point out that according to the passages outside of the gospels we can’t say that drinking is inherently sinful, but that it was really probably used more for medicinal purposes than anything else (so, don’t worry if you need to take some cough syrup. Rest assured, it does have alcohol, but you are not sinning). The authors go on to say “In fact, there appears to be a clear movement in Scripture toward a rejection of alcohol use. We pointed out earlier that the OT had more positive references to alcohol use than the NT. This could be evidence that the Bible‘s principles were gradually undermining the practice of alcohol consumption…” They continue on to cite a few passages, of which a full explanation of each was beyond the scope of their article as well as my response, but a look at what they said is worth noting:

Romans 14:21 counsels Christians not to engage in any behavior, including drinking wine that would cause a fellow believer to stumble in his spiritual life. Ephesians 5:18 is a command to the Christian not to get drunk… In 1 Tim 3:3, 8 and Titus 1:7, Paul gives instructions about the role of alcohol among church leaders, whether pastors (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7) or deacons (1 Tim 3:8). While the Greek phrases differ in these two passages, Seesemann concurs that both constructions warn against over-indulgence” (p. 28 )

If it is true, and it seems to be, that the Old Testament has more positive references to alcohol than the New Testament, why would that be? If we think about the nature of the Old and New Testament scriptures there is one fundamental difference. The majority of the Old Testament is narrative, while the majority of the New Testament is comprised of epistles written to churches. Now, an epistle was written usually because the author was prompted by a controversy or an occasion needing correcting in the church. In light of this, it wouldn’t make any sense for, say, Paul to write a letter commending the church on their appropriate use of alcohol. Rather, if Paul were going to write to a church regarding their drinking habits, it was usually provoked by the fact that they were in need of correction.

The passages cited above shows, again, nothing new, that over-indulgence is wrong and that if drinking causes your brother to sin (the meaning of which can be debated elsewhere), then one ought to abstain.

Land and Duke go on to say, “Those who cannot find chapter and verse to justify consuming alcohol still argue that their freedom in Christ enables them to imbibe. It is certainly true that Christians are no longer under the bondage of the Law. However, the freedom that Christians enjoy is not to be confused with license.” (p. 33) However, it seems clear that the confusion is on the part of the authors, not their audience. I have never met a committed Christian that has argued for the right (or license) to get drunk. If that is who this article is addressing, the authors are wasting their time by addressing an audience that doesn’t exist (‘you don’t have the license to sin!’) or is, at least, the extreme minority. Otherwise, Land and Duke are saying that Christians don’t have a license to do things that they have admitted that Jesus did. It seems that Jesus’ critics would have accused him of gluttony and a chronic tummy-ache if the reason Jesus was drinking alcohol was for medicinal purposes!

The authors use the last few pages of their article to show that abstaining from alcohol is a great Christian witness. They illustrate this point with a recent situation that Dr. Land was in. Land and his wife were on a trip with other evangelical leaders (‘non-SBC’). It became apparent that Land and his wife were the only ones not drinking alcohol. When approached and asked by another leader why that was, Land informed him that he was of the abolitionist persuasion. The non-SBCer told Land that he also used to abstain ‘but had now come to a place where he enjoyed his liberty in Christ.’ Land responded “with a summary of the arguments contained in this article and shared with him that if the greatest sacrifice Jesus ever required of him was not to drink alcohol and be considered odd as a result, he would be fortunate indeed.” (underlying premise: Jesus commanded Land not to drink alcohol. Really? Where?) After this, Land noted that the other leader did not drink for the remainder of the trip. Land and Duke considered this a successful witness.

Was it successful? The man may have indeed not drank because he felt convicted or guilty, or maybe it was because he thought he was ‘making his brother stumble’ but regardless of why the man chose to stop drinking, the point is, it doesn’t change the fact that he had the freedom to do so. Moreover, I wonder how many such encounters Land has had with people who aren’t Christians? Is this really a way of attracting people to Christ, reciting ‘a summary of the arguments found in this article’? Give me a break.

If there is an argument for Christians abstaining from alcohol it isn’t found in this article. Land and Duke continually confuse the issues. If the majority of America abuse alcohol it doesn’t mean that Christians do. If the Bible condemns the abuse of alcohol, it doesn’t mean that it condemns the use of it (Jesus drank, the authors admitted this). If not drinking can cause a non-SBC evangelical leader to feel bad about drinking, it doesn’t mean that unbelievers are going to act the same way (since they don’t recognize the same authority) and repent to enter the Kingdom of God.

This is the kind of thing that Derek Webb is addressing in his song ‘A New Law.’ I think he sums it up when he says, “what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep for one you can that cannot get you anything?”

An Empire of Dirt

I am intrigued by this video and why it is that Cash would cover it. Listen to the lyrics and watch the video and tell me what you think. What message is he conveying with this song? Though Nine Inch Nails and Cash sing the same lyrics, it seems that Cash is trying to convey something more with the medium of his video. Juxtaposing the two, you see (I think) different messages. You tell me. You can watch the NIN video version here if you are interested. If not, still watch the Cash version below.

Johnny Cash (Nine Inch Nails cover) ‘Hurt’

The New York Times on A Growing interest in Philosophy

See what the New York Times has to say about the increase of students’ interest in philosohpy.

In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined

(Thanks to Brian Leiter for posting this on his site)