Eternal Subordination of the Son and the ESV Translation

One of the questions I was asked in my interview with the Theology Gals was about the connection between the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) and the ESV Bible translation. My response was that I had not seen any evidence ESS in the translation itself, although there are several instances of it in the ESV Study Bible notes. I also noted that I have other concerns about the ESV translation, like the influence of Susan Foh’s work on the meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3:16, but that I had not seen any influence of ESS in the text itself.

The day after the Theology Gals’ podcast aired I came across another podcast from the guys at Gentle Reformation that gives examples from the ESV translation that demonstrate the influence of ESS. I so wish I’d seen that before my interview as I think it’s an extremely important concern. ESS does indeed appear to have influenced the translation of the ESV.

Here are the two texts that the 3GT podcast mentioned as evidence of ESS in the ESV:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. John 14:10 ESV (italics mine)

And:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:13 ESV (italics mine)

As the guys on the 3GT podcast explain, the issue is the translation of the word “heautou” as “on his/my own authority.” The Greek word used, heautou, means “himself, herself, itself.” It does not mean “authority.” Most other translations use either  “of himself, herself, ourselves, myself” etc. or “initiative.” For example, John 14:10 from the NASB:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. John 14:10 NASB (italics mine)

Or John 16:13 from the KJV:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 16:13 KJV (italics mine)

The ESV consistently translates heautou as “on his/my own authority” in every passage referring to Jesus or to the Spirit. Examples include John 7:17, John 8:28, John 10:18, and John 12:49. They do not translate it “on his/my own authority” in the 300+ other occurrences of heautou. 

In all of the other occurrences, heautou is translated as “himself, herself, itself” etc. For example in Luke 14:27:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 ESV (italics mine)

The ESV is not the only translation of the Bible that uses “authority” in this way, but the use of “authority” in these passages is a minority position. And with good reason. While it is not uncommon to speak of the incarnate Son as submitting to His Father’s authority, it is necessary to qualify what is meant by authority and submission.

Proponents of ESS teach that there is an eternal relationship of authority and submission between God the Father and God the Son. They teach that authority and submission are in the very nature of God. This is contrary to classic, orthodox teaching on the Trinity which does not allow for any difference of authority within the nature of the Trinity. As the God-man, Jesus did, of course, submit His human will to the authority of the Father. But that does not mean that the Father and the Son are eternally defined in their nature or being by authority and submission.

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou as “authority” is apparent in the John 16:13 passage. That passage is speaking of the Spirit. While the Son, after the incarnation, has a human will and a divine will, the Spirit does not. The Spirit’s authority is always the one divine authority. If the Spirit is not speaking on His “own authority,” whose authority is He speaking on?

I’m very grateful to the guys at 3GT for bringing this to my attention. I hope you will all check out their podcast and share this development with others. I continue to be amazed at the reach and influence ESS has had and is still having in the Reformed world.

 

Eternal Subordination of the Son- Podcast with Theology Gals

Last week, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Coleen and Ashley at Theology Gals for their podcast. We talked about the Eternal Subordination of the Son controversy. If you’re curious about what ESS is, why it matters, what impact it has practically in our churches, etc, you can listen to the interview here. My hope is that more people become aware of the continuing danger that ESS is for men, women, families, churches, and communities.

Link for podcast: http://biblethumpingwingnut.com/2017/07/17/eternal-subordination-of-the-son-with-rachel-miller-theology-gals/

The Piper Scale of Female Leadership

Recently I was re-reading John Piper’s explanation for what types of careers and jobs are appropriate for women. He goes into a long and complicated description of how to determine what types of leadership and influence a woman can have over a man without doing damage to their masculinity and femininity. It occurred to me that his criteria and subsequent explanation sound a lot like the Pritchard poetry scale from Dead Poet’s Society. So with profound apologies to Robin Williams, Dead Poet’s Society, and the authors of the screenplay, I present to you the Piper Scale of Female Leadership:

“Understanding Female Leadership,” by Dr. J. Stephen Piper, Th.D.

To fully understand female leadership, we must first be conversant with the nature and application of leadership between men and women, then ask two questions: 1) how personal is this female influence over a man and 2) how direct is that influence. Question 1 rates the nature of the relationship between the man and women. Question 2 rates the degree of influence. And once these questions have been answered, determining the inappropriateness of a woman’s influence over a man is a relatively simple matter.

If the directness of the influence is plotted on the horizontal and the personal nature of the relationship is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the influence yields the measure of its inappropriateness.

A wife advising her husband might score high on the vertical (personal) but low on the directness (non-directive). A job as a city planner might score low on the vertical (non-personal) but high on the directness (directive). A job as a drill sergeant, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally (personal) and vertically (directive), yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the female leadership to be truly inappropriate.

As you proceed through other examples of female leadership in life, practice this rating method. As your ability to evaluate female leadership in this manner improves, so will your avoidance of inappropriate female leadership over men.

And how do I feel about the Piper Scale for Female Leadership? To paraphrase Robin Williams’ character, Mr. Keating:

Rip it out! Rip! Be gone, J. Stephen Piper, Th.D. Rip. Shred. Tear. Rip it out!

If, by chance, you aren’t familiar with the original scene from Dead Poet’s Society, you can watch it here.

Answering the Charges of Racism and Misogyny in the PCA

Last month, a podcast on the issues of race and gender received a lot of attention. Some of the concerns were overblown, but some of the concerns were valid. Unfortunately, many of the valid concerns were lost among rude comments and the ensuing charges of racism and misogyny by those defending the podcast. I am not here to defend everything that was said or written in response to the podcast. A good bit of it is indefensible. But I would like to gently address a couple of items from the original podcast, namely the accusations of racism and misogyny in particularly in the PCA.

First off, I’d like to say that there are genuine reasons to discuss racism and misogyny in the Reformed world, and even in the PCA. Some churches in our denomination have bad histories regarding racism. Other churches have bad track records in how they have treated women.

We are all sinners, and as such, no doubt there are individuals, church leaders, sessions, churches, and even presbyteries that may need to address specific examples of racist or misogynist beliefs and actions. I am thankful that there are individuals, leaders, sessions, and churches addressing some of these concerns and many more who appear willing to consider how racism or misogyny might need to be addressed.

However, I do think that there are a couple of cautions that should be raised. As believers, we should address all sin patterns in our lives. However, not all believers will agree on the best course of action when it comes to how these issues should be addressed, especially when it comes to political action or to particular organizational approaches. It’s also worth noting that different believers will have different callings and no one person can possibly be active in the fight for or against everything.

For example, we should all be supportive of adoption, but not all believers can adopt children. We should all be pro-life, but not all believers can devote time to promote pro-life legislation or actions. We should all care about the needs of those around us, but not all can volunteer at food banks and shelters. We should all be against racism, but not all of us will devote our time to advance that issue. We may also not all agree about the best ways to address these issues. And that’s ok. The diversity of callings within the church allow for us as believers to work towards many good things. We should be careful about doubting the faith of our brothers and sisters because they disagree with us or don’t share our passion for a particular issue.

The other important caution is that we need to be careful in our zeal for our causes that we don’t lose sight of the gospel. As Paul wrote

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NASB)

The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected and that because of his death and resurrection, we can be at peace with God. There is no better news than this. And no matter what good things we work towards in this life, no matter what we achieve that benefits others if we don’t trust in Jesus alone for our salvation, it’s ultimately meaningless. If we don’t share the good news of salvation with others, no amount of good things we do here will be of eternal good for them.

To be clear, I am not accusing any of the podcast speakers of having forgotten the gospel. I’m not questioning their faith. I am reminding all of us that we are good at forgetting what’s most important, and I am pleading with us all to remember the primacy of the gospel.

Along these lines, I think it’s important for us to be careful to disagree without accusing others of sinful motivations. Not everyone who disagreed with portions of the podcast did so for racist or misogynist reasons. Not everyone who has the same skin color, the same background, or the same gender is going to agree or think uniformly on any given issue.

There were thoughtful responses to the podcast both from women and from men/women of color who disagreed with aspects of the original podcast. It seems odd to suggest that all those who disagreed, regardless of racial background, were racist and equally odd to determine that all those who agreed, regardless of racial background, were innocent of racism.

The sin of partiality is something that everyone of all skin colors and backgrounds and nations must recognize and fight. As James wrote:

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? (James 2:1-7, NASB)

Moses wrote in Exodus that the partiality can come not only in favoring the rich but also the poor:

You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute. (Exodus 23: 2-3, NASB)

We are always going to be tempted to show partiality towards others for many reasons. Not everyone will struggle with this to the same degree. But we should all be open to considering the ways in which we show sinful partiality to others in our lives. And we should be careful in making accusations of partiality.

Moving on to the charge of misogyny in the PCA, as I said at the beginning, I know there is misogyny in Reformed churches. However, some of the examples being given are not actually misogyny. Two main ones that have been referenced recently are using masculine pronouns or names for God and male-only ordination. While there are certainly misogynists who hold to or teach these ideas, I do not believe that either of these is necessarily misogynistic.

First, let’s start with the use of masculine pronouns and names for God. There are a couple of things to remember in this discussion. As the catechism teaches, “God is a Spirit, and does not have a body like men.” This means that God does not have a sex. However, God has chosen to relate to us in the following ways. He is God the Father. He is God the Son. He is God the Holy Spirit. The pronouns used in the Bible for God are masculine. When God the Son was incarnate, He was born as a male. The names Father, Son, and Jesus are all rightly used with masculine pronouns.

The question that comes up is what to do about the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach, and it’s usually feminine. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, and it’s gender neutral. In English, masculine and feminine words really throw us for a loop because we don’t use them. Other languages use them all the time. In Spanish, a table is feminine, but a pen is masculine. Mouth is feminine, and eyes are masculine. But both men and women have mouths and eyes, so the gender of the word doesn’t affect the gender of the person.

The same is true with ruach and pneuma. All people who have the breath of life in them are said to have ruach/pneuma. For example, Genesis 45:27 says that Jacob’s spirit revived. Jacob, a man, has a ruach, a feminine word. But that doesn’t make him feminine.

As for the Holy Spirit, the pronouns Jesus used in John 14, 15, and 16 are uniformly masculine. Jesus had no problems with correcting faulty beliefs about God, but He did not choose to use feminine pronouns for the Holy Spirit. He also didn’t use gender neutral pronouns for the Holy Spirit when He could have.

The Holy Spirit is not “she” nor “it.” He is the third person of the Trinity. Given the Biblical usage of masculine pronouns for the Spirit, it is not misogyny to call the Spirit “He.” It’s consistent with what the Bible says.

Back to the point about God being a spirit and not having a body or a sex. It’s important to emphasize that when God made man (humanity) in His image, He did so by making both male and female. Women are as much made in the image of God as men. Men are not more in the image of God by virtue of their masculinity. This is often forgotten in the emphasis on the masculinity of God.

We should also remember that God’s actions are often described using feminine imagery. This doesn’t mean God is a woman or “she,” but it does mean that both men and women can relate to God and that both men and women reflect aspects of God’s character. Here’s a list of feminine characteristics or attributes from Scripture:

  • God comforts his people like a mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66:13)

  • Like a woman would never forget her nursing child, God will not forget his children (Isaiah 49:15)

  • God is like a mother eagle hovering over her young (Deuteronomy 32:11)

  • God seeks the lost like a housekeeper, trying to find her lost coin (Luke 15:8-10)

  • God cares for his people like a midwife that cares for the child she just delivered (Ps 22:9-10, Ps 71:6, Isa 66:9)

  • God experiences the fury of a mother bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13:8)

  • Jesus longed for the people of Jerusalem, like a mother hen longs to gather her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34)

These are a good reminder for us not to only focus on the masculine attributes or characteristics of God. We should not make women believe they are worth less because of their sex. It’s also worth remembering that all of the imagery of the church is feminine. It’s not that men always represent Christ and women always represent the church. We are all, male and female, the bride of Christ.

A second example given regarding misogyny is that we only ordain men. The ordination of qualified men to elder and deacon is a practice I believe is Biblical. I am aware that many Christians disagree on this issue and that both sides are convinced on the basis of Scripture. We disagree on the interpretation and application of the pertinent Biblical passages, much like paedobaptists and credobaptists do, or Arminians and Calvinists. I’m not minimizing the seriousness of the differences. But the truth is believers disagree on this and will continue to disagree.

Because both sides claim Scripture and because both sides are certain that they are the ones correctly interpreting Scripture, it would be wrong of us to attempt to force each other to hold a position contrary to our convictions. “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” Each of us is responsible to God for his or her beliefs. Out of respect for each other, we should stand firmly for our beliefs, but we should not force others to accept a position they cannot in good conscience affirm.

Thankfully, there are any number of denominations out there that already affirm every possible set of beliefs on this issue. If you are not comfortable with the PCA’s position on male ordination, there are many denominations that ordain women which might be a better fit. Which is not to say I want anyone to leave the PCA. I just think it is for the best for everyone to be in a church home where they won’t be forced to affirm things they disagree with. If the PCA were to change its position on ordination, then I would be looking for a new church home myself.

Beyond the issue of ordination, it is reasonable to address churches that do not utilize women and their gifts as well as they should. This is a conversation that I believe needs to continue. While affirming the important role that our ordained leaders play in our churches, especially in the leading of worship, administering of the sacraments, and preaching the Word, we should also look for ways to include lay men and women in the life of the church. It is important to ask how we can encourage women in the church to use their gifts in a way that supports the work of the church and doesn’t diminish the vital roles of elders and deacons.

I really hope that this article is received in the gentle spirit of encouragement and critique in which it is intended. My goal is the peace and purity of the church. I do believe that there are areas in the Reformed world and in the PCA, in particular, that should be addressed with reference to racism and misogyny. But I hope that we can also be careful when we are tempted to attribute sinful motivations to the actions of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Policing the Blogosphere? We’ve Been Here Before

Last week, Anglican Priest, Tish Harrison Warren, wrote a much-discussed article for Christianity Today, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere“. Warren is concerned about the lack of authority and accountability for bloggers and speakers, especially women. The subtitle explains Warren’s concern a little more: “the age of the internet has birthed a crisis of authority, especially for women.” She lays out her concerns regarding the state of the Christian blogosphere, using Jen Hatmaker’s recent statements on LGBTQ as an example:

Where do bloggers and speakers like Hatmaker derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?

It’s not at all news that there is a lot of false teaching going on in the evangelical world. It’s also not news that a lot of this teaching is promoted and shared via social media. Anyone with computer access can write and share practically anything they want on the internet.  What is newer about Warren’s article is her solution for the problem:

The broader church has a responsibility to provide formal support and accountability to teachers, leaders, and writers—whether male or female. If we don’t respond to this current crisis of authority institutionally, we are allowing Christian doctrine to be highjacked by whomever has the loudest voice or biggest platform.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that a woman must be ordained in order to blog, publish, or speak. A formal recognition of authority and accountability can be called commissioning, endorsement, partnership, or something else. What this looks like in practice will vary dramatically between traditions and must be creatively hammered out by leaders and pastors in their own denominations or other Christian institutions. But while I cannot provide a specific model for each ecclesial organization, I want to sound a call: All of us—whether complementarians or egalitarians—need to create institutional structures to recognize the authority held by female teachers and writers and then hold them accountable for the claims they make under the name of Jesus and in the name of the church.

Providing ecclesial oversight does not mean that all writers will speak out of one narrow tradition. Nor does ecclesial affiliation itself ensure orthodoxy—there is, of course, no silver bullet against false teaching. Nevertheless, without institutional accountability there is simply no mechanism by which we as a church can preserve doctrinal fidelity. (emphasis added)

Now, anyone who has read my articles knows that I am a strong proponent of orthodox teaching. I think it’s extremely important that all believers be taught sound doctrine. And so I can agree with some of what Warren wrote. I share her concern regarding false teaching being published and spread through social media. I recognize that there is a good deal of disdain expressed online for authority and accountability. I also agree that many popular teachers, both male and female, are heterodox and that they often seem to lack effective authority over them.

However, I do not believe that the answer is adding another layer of authority. In fact, I’m really concerned by the appeal to authority and control as the answer to false teaching for several reasons. First of all, an additional official authority structure will not solve the problem. False teachers are primarily in churches/denominations that agree with them, or they are outside all church authority. Most orthodox bloggers and speakers are already submitting to their local or denominational authority regarding what they write or say.

No new authority structure will stop Joel Osteen from preaching in the church his daddy built. Doug Wilson has a denomination that he created after he self-ordained himself to back him up. Jen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, and many others are currently members of churches that approve of what they do. Rachel Held Evans is now Episcopal as was Bishop Spong. I expect the denomination that didn’t stop Spong isn’t particularly interested in addressing Evans either.

Some denominations have means for addressing false teaching. Others really don’t, and they don’t seem all that interested in changing that. Baptist churches are very happy to be loosely affiliated and yet fiercely independent of any oversight by the denomination. Demanding that all churches form institutional authority structures isn’t going to keep false teachers from teaching, but it may well suppress needed challenges to false teaching, which is my next concern.

Warren’s call for authority structures will only hurt orthodox authors and speakers. Having to go through a formal authority process to be allowed to write or teach, even informally, will simply add another hurdle to jump through. It will also allow those who call out error to be silenced by those who don’t want to hear the truth. And that leads me to my next point, we’ve been here before.

In the 1400-1500s, the universal church in Europe was in a bad state. Priests were often barely literate. The common people could not read the Scriptures or understand the Latin Mass and were dependent on the church leaders to tell them what to believe and what to do. The people had been taught to have a blind faith in the church leaders. They were taught that they could not be trusted to read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves. Imagine, they were told, the errors that might happen if the average person read and attempted to interpret for themselves!

Then men like Hus, Wycliffe, Luther and others believed that the people needed to be able to read the Word of God for themselves. The Reformation was born out of a desire to strip away all the errors that had crept into the church and return to the doctrines of Scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, to the glory of God alone. Many, many books, pamphlets, and Bible translations were written and published during the early days of the Reformation. And these unauthorized writings and their unauthorized writers were condemned by the official church leaders.

The Counter Reformation, starting with the Council of Trent, was an attempt by the Catholic church to put an end to the “false teachings” of the Reformers, and to protect the “orthodoxy” of the Catholic faith:

The spirit of the Catholic Reformation was a spirit of zeal and ardor for the faith, a recognition of abuses in the church and a dedication to the work of reform, and an attitude of intolerance toward heresy.

A list was produced with approved and prohibited books:

The books of those heresiarchs, who after the aforesaid year originated or revived heresies, as well as of those who are or have been the heads or leaders of heretics, as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Balthasar Friedberg, Schwenkfeld, and others like these, whatever may be their name, title or nature of their heresy, are absolutely forbidden. The books of other heretics, however, which deal professedly with religion are absolutely condemned.

The list of prohibited books was enforced by the Inquisition.

As early as 1543, Caraffa., as Inquisitor-General of the Roman Inquisition, had insisted that no book should be published without approval of the Holy Office. He also wanted the Inquisition to hunt out and destroy already published books. Caraffa became Pope Paul IV.

Eventually, the approval of books included a special notation to indicate that the books were without error and approved by the Catholic church:

During this period, probably out of necessity, the church began supervising all printed matter. They issued their first list of approved and prohibited books in the middle of the 1500s. Today Catholic books generally carry the notations, nihil obstat (nothing conflicts), or, imprimatur (it may be printed), to let faithful Catholics know whether the book is prohibited. For many years, the church placed the vernacular New Testament on the prohibited list. (emphasis original)

What’s interesting to me is that this current push for authorization of women writers and speakers seems like an odd weaving together of two very different strands of thought. On the one hand is the idea that women need some official legitimization. Often this is expressed as a call for the ordination of women. On the other hand, the current discussion reminds me of the patriarchal teaching that women need to be under an umbrella of protective authority to keep them safe from danger and error. That umbrella typically shows Christ over the husband, who then is over the wife and children.

It seems very odd to me to see these two threads combined, but that is exactly what’s happening in the current discussions that began with Warren’s article. Imagine having to provide some kind of stamp of approval in order to blog on theology.

The combination here of the two thoughts, women needing legitimizing and also needing protective authority led me to create an official stamp of approval in the vein of the Counter Reformation.

My final concern about Warren’s call for authority structures is that it undermines another aspect of the Reformation: the priesthood of believers. The Reformers believed strongly that all believers were theologians who were responsible for reading and applying the Word of God. This does not mean they encouraged everyone to go about interpreting Scripture without regard to the teaching of pastors and elders, but they believed that theology was not solely the domain of professional theologians. To demand that all writers and speakers must be authorized by the church is to return to a pre-Reformation standard.

Because I do agree about the sheer amount of false teaching, especially the popular teachings peddled to women, I think there are some steps that we could take towards a solution without the authoritarianism. These steps are both simple and yet arguably harder than creating new rules or authority structures. But in the long run, I believe they will be much more effective at preserving orthodoxy.

Instead of creating new authority structures, I think we need to return to the authority already in place. First, we need to return to the authority of God by means of recognizing the authority of Scripture. This was key to the Reformation, and I believe it is key for us today. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches in Question/Answer 2:

The Word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

If Scripture is the “only rule” then we need to return to the authority of the Scripture in our churches, our lives, and in our writing and speaking. Ultimately, what we write and speak must be consistent with what Scripture teaches.

Second, we need to recognize the authority of the local churches and denominations. I know that many people are hesitant to submit to church authority because of the examples of abusive authority that some pastors and churches have practiced. It is a valid concern, and I’m not calling for ultimate authority or authoritarianism in the church/denominations either. Some churches, mainly those without Presbyterian polity, have created massively intrusive membership covenants that have no place in the church.

But that doesn’t invalidate membership vows and a proper submission to church leaders in a limited sense. As a Presbyterian, the membership vows I took do not give the church leaders the right to dictate or control my life.

  • Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?

  • Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?

  • Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?

  • Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?

  • Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

That last vow is important. In matters regarding the peace and purity of the church, I have promised to submit to the authority of my church leaders. Of course, this too can be abused, but that is why no church is independent in our denomination. There are layers of checks and balances to protect church members from being abused. These same layers are designed to promote orthodoxy by holding the ordained leaders to a standard of faith and practice. Is it a perfect system? No, but there’s a reason being Reformed is more than the 5 points of Calvinism. Church polity matters.

Connected to that last point, we need to hold teachers, writers, and speakers accountable for what they write and say. And this is actually where social media and blogging can be a help. Public teaching is open to public critique.

Any Christian who sets himself up as a teacher in the church of Christ and publicly teaches anything thereby opens himself up for criticism by others (cf. James 3:1). If they think what he is teaching is harmful to the church, they have an obligation to point it out just as widely as it was taught. Such public warning or debate on the topic should not be considered a personal attack at all. The teacher’s plea that a critic should first have come to him about his disagreement on the basis of Matthew 18:15 does not hold. This passage has to do with personal wrongs known only between the two, who should privately discuss the matter that separates them. What a critic of a public teaching does in pointing out his disagreement with that teaching has nothing to do with personal affronts or lack of reconciliation; he is simply disagreeing at the same public level as that on which the teaching was given in the first place. — Dr. Jay E. Adams, Grist from Adam’s Mill, 69

This should not be abused, and it should be done with care and gentleness whenever possible. I know that some may be distressed that I’ve critiqued Warren’s article in this way. But my critique has been kept at the level of ideas and not at a personal level. I have nothing personal against Warren. I simply disagree with her on this matter. Her public article invites public critique. And mine does too. I’m certain those who disagree with what I’ve written here will say so.

The next step that I think we need to attempt is to stop buying books from false teachers and to stop attending conferences with false teaching. It sounds easy, but the reason these false teachers have a platform is because people pay for and support them. We need to be more discerning and willing to take a stand publicly.

Related to that, I believe that big name leaders and organizations need to be more discerning and careful to stand for orthodoxy over popularity. That means they need to not promote false teachers. They need to not be silent when others are addressing error. There are big name organizations that were studiously silent on the Trinity debate. I’m not saying everyone needs to address every controversy. There wouldn’t be time. But some errors are so fundamental that we cannot be silent.

Standing up for orthodoxy will also mean not speaking at conferences or sharing stages with heterodox teachers. This also includes not publishing false teaching. I don’t care how winsome those teachers are. The presence of big name leaders side by side with heterodox ones lends respectability. Which leads to another Reformation era danger: certain groups, organizations, or people are seen as infallible no matter what. The average person is conditioned to blindly trust and not question what they are taught by the “right” people. (HT: Persis Lorenti)

Big name leaders and organizations also need to take concerns over the teaching of “one of their own” seriously and not simply circle the wagons or invoke the Good Old Boy network for protection. As Aimee Byrd has written extensively in her book, No Little Women, pastors and elders need to know what’s being taught to the women in their churches, and they need to be willing to address any false teaching.

Lastly, women writers and speakers (and men too) need to be well-grounded in solid doctrine. They need to submit to the local authority of their church. They need to be willing to hear correction and to speak the truth in love in all they write and say.

Warren raised some legitimate concerns regarding the prevalence of false teaching and the lack of appropriate authority and accountability in the blogosphere. However, the answer isn’t authoritarianism, ordination/commissioning, or more control over bloggers. Rather, the answer is a return to the authority of Scripture and the accountability of the local church through existing means. We must teach ourselves and others to be Berean, always searching the Scriptures to see if we or others are staying true to the faith.

As I said, this is much harder to accomplish than introducing more controls or regulations, but it is the only way to truly reform the Christian blogosphere. We need a grassroots effort to reform from the bottom up, not new authority structures to enforce a top-down hierarchy of approved bloggers. Let’s not forget the lessons of the Reformation. The privilege to study and discuss theology as an average woman was too dearly won.

Who’s in charge of the Christian blogosphere? Ultimately, we all are.

Can’t We PLEASE Talk About Something Else?!

I’m sure you’re probably familiar with the sermon illustration of the Sunday School teacher who wanted to talk about squirrels. I have no idea who wrote it originally, but here’s the version of it I found on several sites. If you know the original author, leave a comment, and I’ll update the reference.

A Sunday School teacher wanted to use squirrels as an example of prepared workers. She started the lesson by saying, ”I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.”  The children were excited to show her what they knew and leaned forward eagerly. “I’m thinking of something that lives in trees and eats nuts …” No hands went up. “It can be gray or brown and  it has a long bushy tail …” The children looked around the room at each other, but still no one raised a hand. “It chatters and sometimes it flips its tail when it’s excited …”   Finally one little boy shyly raised his hand. The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Okay, Michael. What do you think it is?”  “Well,” said the boy, “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.”

It’s a funny story, and it could very well be true. All too often we teach our kids that the right answers in studying the Bible are either Moses or Jesus (Moses for OT, Jesus for NT). There are a couple of pitfalls in teaching kids that we can fall into, “All Answers Must Be Jesus” or we’re tempted to reduce all lessons to “Dare to be  a Daniel.” Of course, all of our study of the Word should ultimately point to Jesus, but you get my point.

Moving away from children’s ministry and on to women’s Bible study, I’m concerned that we’re in danger of falling into a new trap where the punchline would be “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Biblical Womanhood.” Yes, I know that our modern culture is woefully deficient on a Biblical understanding of sexuality, gender, marriage, submission, etc. But surely this is not the only topic we need to discuss in women’s Bible studies. I’m not even sure that it’s the most pressing topic we should be discussing.

Like a person who enjoys lifting weights, but keeps skipping “leg day,” I’m afraid we’re so hyper focused on the topic of Biblical womanhood that we’re creating a generation of Biblically lopsided women. Hannah Anderson, in her book Made for More, talks about limiting women to the “pink” passages of the Bible:

Too often as women, we have restricted ourselves to the “pink” parts of the Bible. … And we forget that these “pink passages” were never intended to be sufficient by themselves. (105)

Women need to know ALL of the Bible and to know that ALL of the Bible is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, NASB). All of the passages addressed to believers are meant for both men AND women. Specific passages to husbands, fathers, pastors, etc. may not apply particularly to women, but the majority of the biblical guidelines for living as believers applies both to men and women.

There is a great need in our churches today for women with a strong foundation in Biblical orthodoxy. If we’ve learned anything from the Trinity debate last year, it’s that so much of what is marketed to women is at best weak and at worst heretical. And it’s everywhere. As Aimee Byrd warns in her book, No Little Women, the greatest danger for women today is likely coming from books and materials marketed for women by Christian publishers and authors.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? … Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives? (22)

We should not be afraid to delve into the Scriptures and even to teach women doctrine. I’m sure that some churches and leaders may be hesitant to take this approach with women’s Bible studies. But according to recent articles and studies, the people in the pews are hungry for the Word. And, yes, it may be a stretch for some women who are used to the popular book studies with floral artwork and script fonts and pastel colors that let women know they’re “safe” to read. Women are regularly challenged by popular culture to try new things that might seem difficult or different to begin with. We all know the hardest days of diet and exercise are the early days before we develop new good habits.

In the same way, switching from a diet of fluffy books to more challenging material will be an adjustment but so worth it. And in studying the Word, going through books of the Bible, there will be opportunities to address topics of gender, sexuality, morality. But the opportunities will be organic and not forced. Although we should be careful not to focus our studies of the Word so that all roads still lead to Biblical womanhood.

Which leads to my other concern: What exactly is being taught under the heading of “Biblical womanhood?” From my reading of numerous books and articles on the subject, I’m becoming more and more convinced that much of what is being taught as Biblical womanhood is actually middle/upper-class Victorian ideals that owe more to the ancient Greeks and Romans than to Scripture.

For example, the discussion of the domestic and public spheres of dominion comes not from Scripture, but from secular culture. The concept of men and women occupying separate spheres goes back to the ancient Greeks and Aristotle, but it gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution and Victorian Era.

The idea is that men inhabit the public sphere which includes government, business, etc. and that women inhabit the domestic sphere of child-rearing, housekeeping, and education. A popular Victorian Era poem called “The Angel in the House” exemplified the ideal Victorian woman, and the image of the wife and mother who was pious and submissive came to be referred to as “the angel in the house.”

Unfortunately, this has next to nothing to do with the Bible. Aristotle’s idea, which carried over into the Victorian Era, and into modern Biblical Patriarchy, was that women are by nature inferior to men. However, even these Victorian/Greek ideals only ever applied to the rich and powerful. Women slaves and servants were necessary to keep the system running, and these women were not afforded the same protections or respect. They were not held up as examples of womanhood.

The same is true today. Women who work outside the home to help provide for their families are shamed for not living up to the impossible standards set by those who have the time and money to write books about what Biblical womanhood looks like.

Our study of the Bible and our application of it should be timeless and cross-cultural. A young Christian woman in the US should realize that she has more in common with an elderly Christian man in Asia than she does with the non-Christian women in her neighborhood. And the only way she’s going to recognize that is if she is steeped in the Word.

What if what we’re teaching women under the heading of “Biblical womanhood” isn’t substantially different from what they could get from other religions? For example, here are some quotes from Helen Andelin’s book, Fascinating Womanhood. It is extremely popular in certain circles. It attempts to teach women how to be good wives. The catch is that Andelin is Mormon. Do any of these quotes sound familiar?

The masculine and feminine roles, clearly defined above, are not merely a result of custom or tradition, but are of divine origin. It was God who placed the man at the head of the family when he told Eve, “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” The man was also designed to be the protector, since he was given stronger muscles, greater physical endurance, and manly courage. In addition, God commanded him to earn the living when he said, “In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground.” This instruction was given to the man, not to the woman.  (p. 124).

The woman was given a different assignment, that of helpmeet, mother, homemaker. (p. 124).

Her homemaking role is assumed: She must nurture her young and run the household, to free her husband to function as the provider. (Gen. 2: 18) (pp. 124-125).

The masculine and feminine roles are different in function but equal in importance. … They are complementary. (p. 125).

Contrary to much of what is taught as “Biblical womanhood” the greatest problem for women is not that they don’t submit. According to the Bible, the greatest problem for women is that we are sinners and that apart from Christ we are separated from God and have earned eternal punishment for our sins. That is our fundamental problem.

And the solution isn’t that if women submit then there will be peace on Earth. The solution is found in salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, by faith alone. This is of first importance. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4, NASB).

I’m concerned that our focus on Biblical womanhood in women’s Bible studies has put us in danger of forgetting the gospel. We are saved by the blood of Christ, not by adherence to a standard of womanhood that may or may not be Biblical. If we are not teaching Christ, crucified and resurrected, we are not helping the women in our churches. I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach on topics related to sexuality, gender, morality, marriage, but maybe we should watch what percentage of our time is devoted to these versus the rest of Scripture.

I am very concerned for the women in our churches. They need to be taught the full counsel of God. They need to know the Word of God fully. They need more than a truncated version of the gospel that focuses mainly on “Biblical womanhood.” Let’s teach women to study the Word, to love the Word, and to apply the Word. All of the Word. 

I’m thankful to be in a church where the women study the Word faithfully and the leaders of the church encourage it. I wish that all churches were this way.

Anxiety: My Thorn in My Flesh

I woke up last week with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Nothing, in particular, was wrong, but that didn’t stop my mind from racing through every possible thing that I could worry about. And then it latched on to something. And I began to obsess about it. And worry about it. And I prayed and talked myself down. And then “but, what if?” And then it latched on again. And I continued to obsess about it. And worry about it. And I prayed and talked myself down. Again, and again, and again. For days. Every night I’d go to sleep praying about it. Every morning I’d wake up early with the same dread, and the cycle would begin again. It was exhausting.

It’s not the first time I’ve gone through episodes of heavy anxiety. Sometimes I know when to expect them, other times they seem to come out of the blue. During the worst of the anxiety last week, I read an article that explained anxiety better than anything I’ve read before: “Anxiety: Post Traumatic Stress for Something That Never Happened… But Might.”

Concerns that any “ordinary person” would have about normal things – children, finances, career, relationships, health – skyrocket. Your mind immediately imagines the worst possible outcomes of reasonable concerns. A loop of anxiety that begins with an initial surge of panic and ends in the replay of catastrophic outcomes runs in your mind. This cycle is repeated dozens of times in a given day and you cannot make it stop. As much as you try, you’re unable to let go of things “like normal people do.” Once your mind locks on to something its nearly impossible to get it loose. Someone captured the sensation of acute anxiety as a relentless “embracing of dread.” It comes complete with physiological effects; shortness of breathe, increased heart rate, disorientation, exhaustion.

Can I tell you the encouragement in knowing I’m not alone, that I’m not the only one who feels this way? After sharing the article with friends, I realized that the struggle with anxiety is something that many, many people have in common. I decided to write about my experience with anxiety and some of the coping techniques I have found helpful.

First, I want to address some myths about anxiety.

  • Anxiety is just a lack of trust in God. I’d be the first to agree that I don’t trust God as I should, none of us do. But anxiety is much more than a lack of faith or trust. I want nothing more than to lay every anxious thought at the foot of the cross and allow God to handle it all. But that doesn’t make the anxiety go away.
  • Anxiety is all in your head. Anxiety involves your whole body. It’s not simply thinking worrying thoughts. And many times addressing anxiety means addressing your whole body.
  • Anxiety is just “spiritual”. Again anxiety involves your whole being. There is a spiritual aspect that must be addressed, but it’s not as simple as praying and reading your Bible more and you’ll be anxiety free.
  • Anxiety is sin. Because our whole beings are affected by sin, sin will always be a part of what we do and what we struggle with. Sin can make us anxious. The effects of sin can make us anxious. And our fallen bodies can struggle with anxiety regardless of how strong our faith is. We can sin in our anxiety, but anxiety itself may or may not be the result of particular sin.
  • Christians shouldn’t use anxiety medications. This one is a touchy issue. There are many people who are strongly against the use of medications to treat depression and anxiety. However, there is good research that suggests that medications are necessary and helpful for addressing the physical/biological aspect of depression/anxiety. We don’t stigmatize diabetics for needing insulin. We should be as kind to those suffering from anxiety and depression.

Second, I would like to give a little advice to anyone currently struggling with anxiety. There are many, many physical and hormonal imbalances that can cause us to be anxious. Low levels of vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and magnesium can lead to high levels of anxiety. For women particularly, low progesterone levels can cause all kinds of problems and especially bad anxiety. For men, low testosterone can cause both anxiety and depression. Thyroid is another big contributor to anxiety levels.

My advice is to get your doctor to test your levels. If your anxiety levels make going to the doctor extremely hard, I feel your pain. Regarding avoiding doctors, my approach is often like Jane Eyre: “I must keep in good health and not die.” But these vitamin and hormone problems can be fairly easy to treat and are worth pursuing. It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether anxiety medications might be helpful for you. I realize the hypocrisy of me saying this since I haven’t gotten up the nerve to do so. Yet.

Even with treating the underlying causes of your anxiety, you may continue to struggle with anxiety. What I want to talk about next are some of the practical things that I’ve found helpful in fighting the good fight against anxiety. These are not meant as replacements for medication or medical treatment. They are simply ways of coping.

  • Destress your life. I know that we can’t always control our level of stress. Kids/parents get sick and need help. Crises arise. Life is tough. But where we can reduce unnecessary stress, it is helpful to do so. Sometimes it means saying no and not overextending yourself. Knowing and acknowledging our limits is a good thing.
  • Rest. Our society does not like to rest. We push and push and push until we drop. Our bodies and minds and souls need rest. We were created to rest. It reminds us that we do have limits and that’s a good thing.
  • Exercise. Our bodies were also created to work and work physically. I’m not suggesting we all need to run a marathon, but regular exercise is a good way to combat anxiety. Several friends recommended gardening as a type of exercise which goes well with my next point.
  • Get outside. Living in the land of eternal summer, it’s often too hot to be out much here. But getting outside even for short periods of time can be very helpful in dealing with anxiety. It does us good to get away from all the electronics in our lives. Granted, with wifi, we can take them with us, but maybe leave those at home and go for a walk.
  • Limit your time on social media. Many new studies show the negative effects on our mental health in spending so much time online. We fear missing out. We get depressed by how much better others’ lives seem to be going. We worry over every piece of news, real or “alternative”. We spread ourselves too thin.
  • Eat well. This is not a plug for any particular diet or fad. Eat regular meals of real food. Our bodies need fuel and running on caffeine, chocolate, fries, and alcohol will take a toll. Not to say anything is inherently wrong with those things, just that all things should be done in moderation. We need balance.
  • Talk to a trusted friend. Everyone who struggles with anxiety and the cycle of intrusive worries needs a safe person to talk to, someone who can listen and encourage. It’s so important to have someone you can tell about the “crazy” and know they aren’t actually thinking you’re crazy.
  • Hug someone. We were created for community, and we need physical affection. Hugs from friends or from our kids or from our spouses can be calming and encouraging. It’s a reminder that we’re loved.
  • Pray. I know it seems obvious, right? Of course, we should pray. But in the grip of anxiety, it’s often extremely hard to remember to pray. We have a God who hears us and who cares. He’s called us to cast every anxiety on him (1 Peter 5:7). He’s told us not to worry about tomorrow because He is sovereign (Matthew 6:25ff). He’s told us to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6). He’s promised us His peace (John 14:27).
  • Read the Scriptures. There is a great comfort to be found in the words of the Bible. The passages above are all great places to start when addressing anxiety. My go-to place is Psalms. As Christina Fox wrote in A Heart Set Free:

In fact, the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Lament, give us a structure for how to express our feelings. They remind us what is true. They point us to God’s love and faithfulness. They help us journey through the dark valleys until we can emerge on the other side and bow in grateful worship. (17)

  • Sing or listen to hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs. Music speaks to my heart and soul. In my times of deepest struggles, there are many hymns and songs that have ministered to me. These words come back to me again and again. I’m convinced that many of the hymn and song writers have struggled with anxiety and depression. Some of my favorites are hymns such as Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Jesus I am Resting, Resting, I Need Thee Every Hour, Blessed Assurance. There are many songs by Indelible Grace that have helped me. Some of them are Give to the Wind Thy Fears, Dear Refuge of My Weary SoulPoor Sinner Dejected With FearPensive Doubting Fearful Heart. Sandra McCracken is one of my favorites. Her Psalms album is excellent: My Help, My God (Psalm 42). JJ Heller is another favorite. So many of her songs have encouraged me: Have Mercy On Me. To lift my spirits, I really enjoy Rend Collective Experiment: Joy Of The Lord.
  • Do something for someone else. In my experience, anxiety tends to be very introspective. It can help to shift your focus from your fears to doing something productive for someone else.
  • Remember your own history. If anxiety isn’t a new struggle for you, it can help to remember that you’ve been through these struggles before. It helps me to remember that I’ve felt this way before, that the intensity of the struggle did pass, and that I did feel better again. It also helps me to reflect on my track record of being anxious over things that turned out to be nothing. My anxious feelings aren’t the best indicator of actual problems.
  • Remember your God. For all that is changeable and uncertain in the world and in my life, one thing is secure. God is my refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1). No one can pluck me from His hand (John 10:28-30). Nothing can separate me from His love (Romans 8:31-39), not even my “what ifs”. He will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). And these promises are true for every one of His children.

There is much more that could be said about fighting anxiety, and many good books have been written on the subject. This is not an exhaustive list, just some encouragement from one anxious Christian to another. Feel free to comment and add any encouragement you might have that I didn’t discuss.

A few things I’d like to encourage you to remember.

  • You are not a bad Christian because you struggle with anxiety and/or depression. Many strong believers have struggled before: Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, John Calvin, to name a few.
  • While we shouldn’t ignore our feelings and intuition, we need to remember that our anxious feelings lie to us.
  • You are not a weak person because you struggle with anxiety. Everyone struggles with something.
  • You aren’t going crazy, although anxiety can make you feel that way.
  • God isn’t punishing you.
  • God hasn’t forgotten you.
  • God will not abandon you.

One day, this struggle will end. Maybe on this side of glory, but maybe not. By God’s grace, a day is coming when everything will be made new and there will be no more tears or sadness (Revelation 21). Until that day, God will give you the grace and strength and mercy to fight each day. Like manna, that grace comes with enough for today and a promise for more for tomorrow. Don’t give up hope.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NASB

#clarityforthegospel

During a recent discussion, Valerie Hobbs and I realized that we share a concern about the pitfalls of social media, especially for church leaders. What follows is an article we wrote together addressing this concern.


Some people love twitter. Some people hate it. It seems everyone at least has an opinion about it. Writes Joe Nocera,

So much on Twitter is frivolous or self-promotional. It can bury you in information. Because people often use Twitter to react to events instantly, they can say some awfully stupid things.

Beyond stupid, Twitter users can be mean, hateful even. It is a place where bullies can build a platform and quickly assemble a mob.

Still, we’ve seen some amazing one-liners on Twitter, mostly from people who intuitively understand how to operate within Twitter’s limitations to craft something clever, funny, or sharp. Who can forget this gem, for instance?

And of course, it isn’t just the funny one-liner that is successful on Twitter. This tweet, like all good tweets, effectively packs volumes into a short space.

But how effective is Twitter at expressing complex concepts? Many of us Christians, including our own esteemed theologians, tweet complex ideas, but the results are often poor. Perhaps you too have seen exchanges that go something like this:

  • Pastor/theologian/Christian author/blogger tweets a complex theological concept in an ambiguous way, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.
  • Readers/followers ask questions, challenge, push back on the ambiguity. “What on earth are you talking about?”, “This could be dangerous!”, “Did you mean it in this (heretical) way?”
  • Tweeter: “I shouldn’t have to respond to these challenges.”, “Obviously, I didn’t mean it like that!”, “Get a life. It’s Twitter.”, [tweets 10 clarifying responses]

Admittedly, Twitter would be a much friendlier place if we all read with charity to a greater extent. But then again, when it comes to the Gospel, clarity and precision are pretty important. The devil is in the details, as they say. If you don’t believe that, here’s a helpful use of Twitter which makes the same point:

The most obvious sources of the mismatch between Twitter and theology are points already mentioned: lack of skill in using a limited space to express complex ideas and, of course, our own sinful natures. That is, some people enjoy stirring up trouble. They like the attention, and they think they can get away with it online. But there’s another factor in the mix that scholars researching and writing about social media have identified: context collapse.

Context collapse “refers to the audiences possible online as opposed to limited groups we normally interact with in face-to-face interactions” (source). Put simply, it refers to the lack of boundaries in many social media contexts, particularly Twitter, as all posts are public. In most of our off-line interactions, social boundaries allow us to assume shared knowledge. When we are with our friends, for instance, we can use a shared vocabulary. We can assume, to some extent, that people we talk to know us in that context, what we are like, the meanings of our words, what we believe and don’t believe.

On Facebook, some users attempt to recreate these social boundaries by setting up sub-groups or private groups. Even still, for those Facebook users who keep their account public or who have hundreds of acquaintances they don’t know personally, context collapse is a significant issue to contend with.

Context collapse means that tweets and posts for a public audience cannot require much assumed knowledge. When we tweet, we cannot assume that readers have much knowledge of who we are, what we stand for, and whether or not we hold dangerous theological views.

No doubt close friends and those who’ve read all of our work and who interact with us frequently can see our tweets in light of that shared context. But most people reading our tweets cannot do that. And it is dangerous to assume otherwise as we run the risk of leading people astray. This is particularly true when it comes to theology. Mascall writes,

To avoid vagueness and ambiguity is even more of a duty in popular work than in learned treatise. The very fact that the Christian mysteries in their profundity outstrip our finite powers of comprehension makes it all the more important for us to express the limited grasp which we have of them with all the clarity and accuracy at our command, while fully recognising how very imperfect and partial our grasp of them is.

So how can we tweet about theology in a responsible way?

Get off Twitter.

No, really. How can we tweet responsibly, especially about theology, in light of collapsed context? We should aim for clarity, edification, and self-control.

1. Seek clarity in your tweeting.

“But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’” (Matt. 5:37, NASB)

Remembering that anyone might read and misunderstand what we’ve written, we need to be as clear as possible. Our speech should be open and honest. We should not give anyone cause to doubt our words or cause to question our orthodoxy. While it’s true that anything has the potential to be misunderstood and that no one can prevent that from happening all the time, our goal should be clarity.

How does this apply to Twitter? Retweeting quotes or snippets from sermons or conference talks without the context may lead to confusion. You understood what was meant, but is the tweeted quote clear to someone who wasn’t there?

The same question should be asked when attempting to tweet about a complex theological concept. Is your tweet clear or is it likely to be misunderstood? We’re aiming for sharing the light of the gospel, not muddying the waters. If the concept is particularly complex, maybe it would be better to write more on it elsewhere and link to it through Twitter.

2. Seek to edify with your tweets.

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear … But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” (Eph. 4:29; Eph. 5:3-4, NASB)

It can be tempting to think that Twitter is fairly anonymous and that no one much will notice what you tweet, comment on, or “like” online. In truth, our words and actions are there for the world to see, and people are watching. People will not always agree with us, and the gospel itself will sometimes be offensive to others. But our words should be edifying, should give grace, and should glorify God. We’re not saying we can’t joke or tease. What we are instead saying is that our teasing shouldn’t be crude, and our jokes shouldn’t be double entendres.

Thom Rainer has a recent article “Five Reasons Why Pastors Are Getting Fired Because of Their Social Media Posts.” (source) In it he notes:

Unsavory comments. A pastor or church staff member making lewd or suggestive comments on social media gains nothing, even if it’s a quote from a movie or someone else. The consequences are always negative.

How does this apply to Twitter use? Be careful what you “like” and retweet. Consider how your jokes and things you respond to online might be viewed by others. We used to say, “Never write anything you wouldn’t want the whole world to see.” Now that the whole world can see what we write, consider this: If someone only or mainly knew you from your tweets, etc, what would their overall impression of you be?

It may seem harsh or unfair to have to police yourself so strongly. But when we are known to be Christians and especially known to be pastors or elders, we will be held to a higher standard. James tells us that this is the way life is.

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1, NASB)

3. Finally, exercise self-control in your tweeting.

“For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” (James 3:2-10, NASB)

Self-control is included in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. Most often we hear it discussed in conversations about gluttony or sexuality. But it also applies to our behavior online. In fact, it’s the key to this whole discussion.

When we are self-controlled, we are likely to be clearer because we won’t be quick to speak and slow to think. When we’re in control of ourselves, we aren’t likely to be crude or inappropriate. And when we’re self-controlled, we are less likely to stir up trouble.

How does this apply to Twitter? As noted earlier, some pastors/elders/theologians appear to tweet intentionally ambiguous or provocative statements. They seem to enjoy the ensuing firestorm. This is a lack of self-control.

There are many temptations on Twitter to act and react without thought. As James points out, our tongues are hard to tame. It helps if we remember that those people on Twitter who provoke us and tempt us to respond in anger or in ugliness are people made in the likeness of God.

And if the struggle to control yourself is too much? Then maybe it is time to get off Twitter.

The Desire of the Woman: A Response to Susan Foh’s Interpretation

In 1974, Susan Foh wrote an article for the Westminster Theological Journal on the meaning of Genesis 3:16, “What is the Woman’s Desire?” From the beginning, Foh’s article was intended as a response to the 2nd wave feminist movement. The article begins, “The current issue of feminism in the church has provoked the reexamination of the scriptural passages that deal with the relationship of the man and the woman” (376). Her focus in the article was how to interpret the second half of Genesis 3:16: “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” (NASB)

For such a short article, it has had a profound influence on conservative Christian teaching. 40 years later, numerous books, articles, sermons, and even Bible translations have adopted Foh’s unique interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Even those who swear they’ve never heard of Susan Foh teach her interpretation as if it is the best or only understanding of the passage.

My concern is that Foh’s interpretation is an example of eisegesis with dangerous implications. I’m always wary of “novel” or “unique” interpretations of Scripture especially when they arise in response to some contemporary situation. What I’d like to do here is summarize Foh’s main points and then lay out my objections to her article.

Foh begins her article with 3 common interpretations of the woman’s desire. They are:

  1. Sexual desire: “. . . thy desire shall be to thy husband– thou shalt not be able to shun great pain and peril for childbearing, for thy desire, thy appetite, shall be to thy husband. . .” (Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Kansas City, Mo., Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967, p. 22. )
  2. Pathological craving:  “the desire that makes her the willing slave of man.” (John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (International Critical Commentary), Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1930, p.82.) or  “immense, clinging, psychological dependence on man.” ( Gini Andrews, Your Half of the Apple; God and the Single Girl, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1972, p. 51.) or “a desire bordering upon disease”  (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, V. 1: The Pentateuch, Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., n.d., p. 103. Cf. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, Columbus, The Wartburg Press, 1942, p. 172.)
  3. Desires made subject to her husband: “The woman’s desires are wholly subservient to her husband’s, as a result of God’s judgment.” (377)

Foh summarizes all three common interpretations: “In other words, because the woman desires the husband in some way, he is able to rule over her” (377.)  She objects to all three of these interpretations.

  1. She states that the word teshuqah (desire) has a similar root to an Arabic word that doesn’t mean sexual desire but “to urge, drive on, impel” (378).
  2. Because the husband’s rule over the wife is “part of the created order”, it can’t be part of the curse (378).
  3. Foh does not object to the interpretation that wives are to be completely subject to their husbands. “[T]he tyrannous rule of the husband seems an appropriate punishment for the woman’s sin” (379). Her objection is that there is no “hardship of punishment” in these interpretations because”a willing submission contradicts the context of judgment” and doesn’t fit “the New Testament commands to submit.” (379)

Foh then points out that teshuqah only shows up 3 times in Scripture: Genesis 3:16, Genesis 4:7, and Song of Songs 7:10. She dismisses the Song of Songs occurrence by saying the context is “ambiguous” and that “it is not possible to determine the precise meaning” of teshuqah there (379). But she believes her interpretation of desire “is credible in Song of Solomon 7:10,” noting “that the immediate context is that of possession: ‘I am my beloved’s'” (379).

Having dismissed Song of Songs, Foh compares the similarities between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7. She notes, “[i]n  Genesis 4:7 sin’s desire is to enslave Cain — to possess or control him, but the Lord commands, urges Cain to overpower” (380). Foh points out that other commentaries have addressed the similarity, but that they neglect the context and don’t arrive at her conclusions on interpreting the meaning of desire.

Foh’s interpretation is that the desire in Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7 is the same, “a desire to possess or control” (381) and that Adam’s command is the same as Cain’s, “to rule over” (382). Thus, Foh interprets the woman’s desire to be a desire to usurp or control her husband:

These words mark the beginning of the battle of the sexes. As a result of the fall, man no longer rules easily; he must fight for his headship. Sin has corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. The woman’s desire is to control her husband (to usurp his divinely appointed headship, and he must master her, if he can. So the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny and domination. (382)

Foh believes this interpretation is borne out by experience. She believes that if “he shall rule over you” was meant as an indicative, then it’s false because Cain didn’t rule sin and not all husbands rule their wives. She also points out that not all wives desire their husbands contrary to other common interpretations of the text. In contrast to those interpretations, she states:

The two clauses, “and your desire to control shall be to your husband” and “but he should master you,” are antithetical. (382)

Therefore, the proper way to interpret the passage is:

Her desire is to contend with him for leadership in their relationship. This desire is a result of and a just punishment for sin, but it is not God’s decretive will for the woman. Consequently, the man must actively seek to rule his wife. (383)

Foh gives four reasons to support her interpretation over others:

  1. “It is consistent with the context” (383). The husband’s rule is made harsh because of the wife’s attempts to usurp control.
  2. It’s a consistent interpretation for the uses of teshuqah in the Old Testament
  3. The parallel between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7 is highlighted.
  4. “It explains the fact that husbands do not rule their wives as a result of God’s proclamation in Genesis 3:16b” (383).

Ultimately, Foh believes that Genesis 3:16b can’t be an indicative statement that husbands will rule their wives because not all husbands rule their wives, and “if God states that something will come to pass it will.”

That ends the summary of Foh’s argument for her interpretation of the woman’s desire. As I said at the beginning, I’m wary of new and novel interpretations. The fact that Foh’s interpretation was motivated by a desire to combat feminism in the church is concerning, especially since it is still used for that purpose today. Our doctrine should not be reactive. We might need to seek the Scriptures to determine how to address new challenges and issues, but we don’t need to change our understanding of passages in reaction to those challenges.

Foh’s article demonstrates sloppy research, weak and inconsistent reasoning, and poor exegesis. She misrepresents the three common interpretations of the woman’s desire by reducing them to a cause and effect (the wife’s desire makes the husband’s rule possible) that she then argues against.

Foh dismisses a sexual component to the woman’s desire by using an Arabic word with a similar root to determine the proper meaning of teshuqah. This is poor exegesis as it relies primarily on extrabiblical sources instead of using Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Foh states that “[t]he rule of the husband, per se, is not a result of or punishment for sin” (378). I agree, however, I would argue that neither is the wife’s desire. Like childbirth and work, the wife’s desire and the husband’s headship are pre-Fall realities. All are affected by the Fall. Childbirth would be painful, work would be hard, wives would desire their husbands, and their husbands would rule over them. It’s inconsistent to argue that of all four only the wife’s desire is new and the result of sin.

Foh clearly likes the idea of “tyrannous rule” as a punishment for woman’s sin, but only if a wife is forced to submit. It is disturbing that she believes a husband’s tyranny would be an appropriate punishment for his wife’s sin. Nowhere in her article is there any mention of God’s grace or mercy in forgiving sin. There is also no mention of Christ or salvation or the gospel, which is striking given that God promises a Savior in Genesis 3:15 directly preceding the passage in question.

Since the word teshuqah only appears 3 times in Scripture, it seems inappropriate to dismiss one of the occurrences when attempting to determine the meaning of the word. Following after this passage in Song of Songs, it’s hard to agree with Foh that the meaning of desire is ambiguous. It is clearly a desire that includes sexual longing:

“Your head crowns you like Carmel,
And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads;
The king is captivated by your tresses.
“How beautiful and how delightful you are,
My love, with all your charms!
Your stature is like a palm tree,
And your breasts are like its clusters.
“I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree,
I will take hold of its fruit stalks.’
Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
And the fragrance of your breath like apples,
And your mouth like the best wine!”
“It goes down smoothly for my beloved,
Flowing gently through the lips of those who fall asleep.
“I am my beloved’s,
And his desire is for me.”(Song of Songs 7:5-9, NASB)

Despite Foh’s assurances, her interpretation of desire is not “credible” in this passage. Controlling, contending with, and usurping are not possible meanings of desire in Song of Songs. There is no context in which desire in Song of Songs can be so negatively interpreted without doing violence to the passage.

Having limited the possible occurrences to Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7, Foh discusses the similarities in the Hebrew between the two passages. It’s true, of course, that there are similarities in the words used. However, I believe that Foh forces a parallel between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7 beyond what is clear from the text.

For example, the woman does not equal sin. Pastor and Hebrew professor, Sam Powell, explains in his article on Genesis 3:16:

The fact is “sin” and women are not the same thing, and their desires are not the same thing. I wonder why we make the assumption that women’s desires are always for domination and manipulation even when the text doesn’t say so. Simply saying “Sin desires to manipulate and dominate and since the same preposition is used this applies to the woman as well” simply will not cut it. That’s not how language works.

Another striking difference between the two passages is that Genesis 3:16 is not addressed to Adam, it’s addressed to Eve. Adam is not being told to master sin/Eve. Eve is being told how the curse will change life for her. If the woman’s desire means she will try to control the man and that the man must master her, then all of the curses, except for pain in childbearing, are addressed to Adam. If that is true, we lose the parallel between the curse for the man and the curse for the woman.

As far as Foh’s explanation that sin’s desire is to enslave Cain, Cain, as a son of Adam, was already a slave to sin. Cain was certainly being tempted to sin in a way he had not yet sinned. But the only way he could have mastered it would have been to turn to God. In himself, Cain could not have mastered sin. Foh’s interpretation of desire reads into the text.

Interestingly, Foh quotes from E.J. Young who also discusses the similarities between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7, but comes to a completely different conclusion:

As we examine the language of the Lord, we note that it is capable of two interpretations. First of all, however, it is well to compare it with the similar language in Genesis 4:7. In that verse we read, ‘and his desire is unto thee.’ The mean- ing in this context of the fourth chapter is that what sin desires is what Cain will carry out. His desire is unto Cain in the sense that Cain is a slave thereto, and must perform whatever sin’s desire may be. In the present verse Gen. 3:16 we may render, ‘and unto thy husband is thy desire.’ It is obvious that the meaning here is the reverse of what it was in the fourth chapter. Is it not clear that in this third chapter the meaning cannot be that the desire of the woman is unto the husband so that he must do what she wishes? Is it not clear that the woman is not here pictured as a despot who compels the man to do the thing she desires? Plainly this is not the meaning of the text. (Edward J. Young, Genesis 3: A Devotional and Expository Study, London, Banner of Truth Trust, 1966, p. 126-127, emphasis added)

Foh complains that Young “relies on certain presuppositions about the nature of the husband/wife relationship” (381). However, Foh has based her own interpretation on a different set of presuppositions. She presumes that all wives want to control and usurp their husbands’ leadership. That is the foundation of her interpretation. But this misses the context of the curse: the frustration of and breaking of existing conditions.

As I said before, Foh’s interpretation of desire is novel. She doesn’t cite a single commentary to support her new interpretation. What’s striking to me is that not even the early or medieval church scholars, who weren’t exactly known for being kind to women, attempted this interpretation of the woman’s desire.

Foh states that the husband must master his wife and that therefore “the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny and domination” (382). However, if the husband’s mastery of his wife is commanded by God in the same way as Cain’s mastery of sin was, then why would the husband’s headship be tyranny and domination? Wouldn’t it be right and proper? If not, what does she think is being commanded?

In addition to the sloppy research and poor exegesis, Foh’s biggest weakness is the internal inconsistencies. She states that experience confirms her interpretation, that all women want to control their husbands. She says that “he shall rule over you” can’t be an indicative because not all husbands rule their wives.

While I’m not suggesting that wives don’t struggle with the application of appropriate submission, but in the history of the world, across centuries and countries and cultures, have men ruled over women or women over men? Foh sees no universality to husbands ruling wives, but she does think wives universally desire to usurp authority. This is contrary to the experience of most women.

Foh has fundamentally misunderstood the woman’s desire. As Barbara Roberts wrote:

Woman would desire to be cherished by her husband.

Eve would want Adam’s forgiveness and abiding love, to comfort her in her shame for having made that grievous mistake about the forbidden fruit. And more broadly, women in general would yearn for loving husbands, for cherishing and protection from their men.

Woman would long for closeness and companionship with that one special man, a closeness which would have a sexual component but it wouldn’t be limited to just sexual desire.

Eve had just been told that childbearing would now be painful. Despite that and despite the now broken relationship between her and Adam, who had moments before blamed her for his own sin, she would continue to desire her husband. And he would rule over her. This is a descriptive statement of the future of Eve and her daughters, not a prescriptive one. And that is very consistent with the experience of women across the centuries. It also fits the passage better.

Contrary to Foh’s claims, her interpretation is not more consistent with the context. It ignores Song of Songs 7:10. And it forces a parallel with between the two Genesis passages even when there are strong dissimilarities. As Foh points out, Cain didn’t win against sin. Does she mean to imply that neither will husbands?

Foh also misses out on the mercy and hope in the passage. As Matthew Henry points out in his commentary on Genesis 3:

Observe here how mercy is mixed with wrath in this sentence. The woman shall have sorrow, but it shall be in bringing forth children, and the sorrow shall be forgotten for joy that a child is born,Jn. 16:21 . She shall be subject, but it shall be to her own husband that loves her, not to a stranger, or an enemy: the sentence was not a curse, to bring her to ruin, but a chastisement, to bring her to repentance. It was well that enmity was not put between the man and the woman, as there was between the serpent and the woman. (emphasis added)

Foh’s interpretation of Genesis does exactly what Henry rejoices wasn’t done in the passage. She puts enmity between the man and the woman. And that is the great danger inherent in her interpretation and in those who have adopted it. Foh’s interpretation of desire creates, maintains, establishes an inherently antagonistic relationship between husbands and wives and between men and women in general. And all in a desire to bolster support for male headship in the home and the church.

The problem is we don’t need to change the meaning of Genesis 3:16 in order to teach a husband’s headship and a wife’s submission. There are plenty of New Testament passages that do so clearly. There are also several passages that teach the ordination of qualified male pastors and elders. Foh’s interpretation is completely unnecessary and extremely harmful.

I can’t count the number of modern resources that promote the teaching that a woman’s desire is to control her husband. It’s everywhere, whether or not they acknowledge Foh. It’s even been made an official translation of the passage.

So many women (and men) have been hurt by this kind of teaching. When women are inherently desirous of controlling their husbands and husbands are commanded to master such rebellion, it creates a system ripe for abuse to flourish. How is a Christian husband going to show love sacrificially to his wife if he believes his wife is trying to usurp control and that it’s his responsibility to rule her? How is a Christian wife going to submit to her husband as the church to Christ if she knows he views her with such suspicion?

Foh’s interpretation is unnecessary and dangerous. And the irony is not lost on me that so many men who believe that women desire to control men would continue to promote this unique translation which was written by a woman.

May we put aside such harmful teaching and seek to love each other and build each other up in light of the gospel. Men and women were cursed in the Fall. Our relationships with God and with each other were broken and damaged. But that’s not the end of the story! God in His great mercy and love has sent us His own Son to save us from our sins, to restore us to fellowship with Him, and to redeem even our broken relationships with each other.

For this reason, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, sacrificially putting her needs before his own. And wives are to submit to their husbands as the church to Christ. In all things, we are to show each other love and tenderness and respect, because we are joint heirs, brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is my prayer that more people would reject Foh’s novel interpretation and seek to repair the damage that it has done on men, women, families, the church, and society.

What is the Mission of the Church?

[Editor’s note: I originally wrote this in 2012. Based on many current discussions, I decided it would be good to revisit it.]

What is the mission of the church? What is shalom? What is the church’s role in the pursuit of social justice? Pastors Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert address these and other related questions in their book, What is the Mission of the Church: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission.

There have been many books and articles written and many sermons given on the topics of mission, social justice, shalom, flourishing, and the great commission. Some say that the mission of the church is to continue the work of reconciliation that Jesus started, especially in the realm of unjust social structures. Others say that the mission of the church is to proclaim the good news that Jesus has saved us from our sins. Some say that the gospel message isn’t complete unless the church is pursuing the peace and prosperity of the city. Others say that the gospel message is simply that Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification.

Given the diversity of opinions on these issues, it isn’t surprising that Pastors DeYoung and Gilbert felt called to write a book that addresses the topic of mission from a solidly Reformed perspective. The book is not a heavy theological treatise. Rather, it is aimed for the average person or pastor who is interested in understanding the current discussion on mission. The biblical exegesis is clear and easy to follow.

Early in the book, the authors explain that the book was written to answer the question: What is the mission of the church? Particularly, they write that part of their purpose is to correct “an overexpansive definition that understands mission to be just about every good thing Christians could do as a partner with God in his mission to redeem the whole world” (20). Their concern is that this “overexpansive definition” runs the risk of marginalizing the mission of making disciples, which they argue is what “makes Christian mission Christian mission” (22) and also places considerable guilt on Christians who feel “the church is either responsible for most problems in the world or responsible to fix these problems” (23). The authors are careful, though, to point out that their book is not a critique of their brothers in Christ in the Acts 29 and Redeemer networks (20).

So what is the mission of the church? According to DeYoung and Gilbert it is:

The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father. (62)

Seems pretty simple, but very profound.

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