Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness

Do you ever think about how much we complain? We complain about the weather: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We complain about our jobs: deadlines, difficult bosses, co-workers. We complain about our families: our spouses, children, in-laws. We complain about life: traffic, waiting rooms, jury duty, illness. We complain about the church: our pastors, the sermon, the music, the a/c. And politics? Well, that too.

Whether or not we’re aware, we spend a lot of time complaining. Isn’t it just part of being human? After all, we live in a fallen world, and life can be difficult. Our bodies get sick and hurt. Our relationships suffer. Work is hard. But is that all there is to it?

In her new book, Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness, Megan Hill reminds us that complaining or being discontent can often be a sinful response to our circumstances. Why is it sinful? It’s sinful because it says we don’t really trust God to take care of us. And that can start a domino effect of other sinful behaviors.

As Hill explains:

Once it takes hold of our hearts, discontent quickly leads to other sins. Because we fundamentally distrust what God is doing in and for us, our hearts give way to worry. Every new circumstance feels surprising and potentially harmful. Everything from the flu to the presidential election brings an onslaught of uncertainty. We do not believe that God is caring for us, and we have little confidence that the events in our lives will be for our good, so our minds and hearts spin with anxiety.(11)

So how do we find contentment in our sinful, fallen world?

Read the rest of this article over at Reformation 21.

Resources on Anxiety

As you may be aware, I’ve struggled most of my life with anxiety.  I’ve been doing some research into Christian books on anxiety and worry to get a feel for what resources are available to recommend. The good news is there are solid books out there. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of books that aren’t so good.

So first, let’s consider the good ones.

A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament by Christina Fox

Christina’s book, though not explicitly about anxiety, remains my absolute favorite and my top recommendation for anyone struggling with anxiety, worry, doubt, or depression. You can read my full review here.

A Heart Set Free is a book about learning from the Psalms of Lament how to cry out to God. Instead of pretending our emotions don’t exist or that we aren’t hurting, we need to learn how to lament, how to express our emotions in our Christian walk:

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)

One thing that I really appreciate about Christina’s book is her balanced approach to the cause of anxiety and depression. Sin is at the root of our pain, but our pain is not always the direct result of sinful behavior on our part:

Sin is the cause of all our pain and sorrow. It might be the sins of others committed against us that bring us feelings of shame. It might be the effects of sin on the creation around us that bring a natural disaster, resulting in loss and our subsequent grief. It might be the brokenness of our bodies, causing us emotional turmoil or the failure of our minds to work as God intended. It might be our own sinful responses to what happens in our lives. It might even be a combination of all these, but at its root, sin is what brings us all our sorrows, griefs, and fears. (39)

I highly recommend this book to anyone, male or female, young or old. No matter your struggles, God speaks to us through the Psalms of Lament, and through the Psalms of Lament, we can learn how to speak to God.

Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed People by David Murray

David’s book is also not specifically about anxiety. However, like Christina’s book, it’s easy to apply David’s advice to anxiety. This book is short, but filled with practical helps for those suffering from depression and/or anxiety and also for their loved ones.

David addresses the common pitfalls and shortcomings in the counseling and advice given to those struggling with depression and anxiety:

There are three simplistic extremes that we should avoid when considering the cause of depression: first, that it is all physical; second, that it is all spiritual; third, that it is all mental. (20, nook edition)

Instead of these simplistic approaches, David recommends a balanced approach that addressed the whole person and may include the use of medications:

For Christians there will often need to be a balance between medicines for the brain, rest for the body, counsel for the mind, and spiritual encouragement for the soul. (30, nook edition)

We are body and soul, and as such, David reminds us that our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are intertwined:

We cannot separate our thoughts from our feelings or our feelings from our behavior. What we think affects how we feel. What we think and feel affects our physical health. Our thoughts, feelings, and physical health affect what we do. (33, nook edition)

If we aren’t careful about how we address depression and anxiety, we run the risk of teaching a prosperity-type gospel of mental health:

If we come to the point that our default position in dealing with the causes of depression is that it is sin until proven otherwise, we are getting painfully close to the disciples’ position: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents?” (John 9:2). It is also a position that is somewhat akin to the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, in which the diagnosis for trials is personal sin and the prescription is more repentance and faith. (50, nook edition)

I strongly recommend this book to anyone struggling with depression or anxiety. If you have a loved one suffering, the book would also be a help for you in understanding and supporting them. Pastors and church leaders would benefit, as well, from the advice David gives.

Thinking Through Anxiety: A Brief Christian Look by J. Ryan Davidson

I found Ryan’s book through a friend’s recommendation. It’s a short book, but it’s one I really appreciated. Like David’s book on depression, Ryan takes a balanced approach to the causes of anxiety. He also offers practical and spiritual advice on addressing anxiety. As the title suggests, Ryan emphasizes reordering our thoughts when we are struggling with anxiety:

Oh how our anxious hearts need the regular experiential presence of the Lord through the Scriptures in order to be calmed and corrected in our fears, false assurances, and idolatrous ways. (28, Kindle edition)

Another aspect of Thinking Through Anxiety that I really appreciated was its gospel-centered message for anxious believers. When we can’t trust our heart, mind, or feelings, we can trust in the finished work of Christ (31-32, Kindle edition). We belong to Christ and nothing, not even our own anxious fears, can separate us from Him:

We should boldly tell ourselves that our righteousness is in heaven; that our sin has been taken away and that there is no sin that will stand against us in the last day. We are united with Christ because of His life, death, and resurrection and because of the sealing work of the Holy Spirit, we are treated in the courtroom of heaven as Christ is treated—perfectly righteous and accepted in the sight of God. (32, Kindle edition)

Ryan also offers the best hope there is to an anxious believer. There will be a day when all our pain, fear, and sadness are washed away. Even if we struggle with anxiety all our lives, there is great hope and joy in our future:

Therefore, in our continual wrestling with fear, worry, and anxiety, we need to constantly remember, that we are assured resurrection and ultimate freedom from every sin and infirmity on the last day. Our struggle must be framed with the reality of who we are in Christ. This One, who will not bruise a tender reed (Isa. 42:13) is the One to whom we are indivisibly united, even as we battle with anxiety. (65-66, Kindle edition)

As with Christina and David’s books, I would wholeheartedly recommend Thinking Through Anxiety. It was a great encouragement to me. Of all the books that were strictly about anxiety, this was the most helpful that I read.

Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray

Last year, David Murray and his wife, Shona, released separate books for men and women on overcoming burnout. I read both Refresh (for women) and Reset (for men) and while there are slightly different applications and illustrations the substance of the books is identical. For this review, the quotes are from Refresh. 

Shona opens the book with her own story of coming to the end of her rope physically, mentally, and emotionally. Her personal fight with anxiety, depression, and burnout has given her insight into how to encourage others. Shona starts with some warning signs for women, particularly mothers:

If you are a mother, you have little joy in your children and even wonder if they are worth all the effort. You feel trapped in an endless circuit of seemingly menial diaper changes, meals, lunches, dirty floors, crying kids, laundry, and generally being everybody’s gofer. There is no clocking-off time, and you fall into bed at night exhausted, weary, with no sense of accomplishment, and dreading the next day. You hold yourself responsible for every accident, mess, crying fit, episode of bickering, and every failure of character in your children. (31, Kindle edition)

Can you relate? I suspect we all can. Change some of the details to work or social situations and all of us know this cycle of being overwhelmed. Shona and David believe that the demands of our lives, our work, and even our society are running us ragged. We’re exhausted from the stress and worry. We’re beaten down by the constant barrage of negative news and social media. We need to stop and rest.

The weights accumulated imperceptibly; they multiplied a little every year until life slowly yet inexorably crushed us. Now, our minds are frazzled, our hearts are pounding, our bodies are breaking down, our relationships are straining, our sleep is declining, our quality of work is suffering, and our happiness is a distant memory. (118, Kindle edition)

Refresh and Reset give practical advice for fighting the burnout many of us are facing. Suggestions include getting enough sleep, fasting from digital media, regular exercise, pursuing hobbies, and taking a Sabbath rest. The focus of the books is on living lives filled by God’s grace. We truly can rest in His mercy and grace:

As we enjoy the benefits of a quieter inner and outer life and build God-given refreshings of grace into our lives, we find time to pause, to calm down, and to think about who we are and why we are here. (110, Kindle edition)

While these books aren’t specifically books on anxiety, the advice would be useful to those struggling with anxiety. My only quibbles with the books were the refresh-gym and reset-garage motifs which felt forced and the attempts to feminize or masculinize the advice. Certainly, there are differences in application or illustration for men and women when it comes to burnout. But in the end, the substance of what men and women need to hear is the same.

I appreciate Shona and David’s work on these books. I know they have a heart for those who are hurting. I’d recommend these books to anyone struggling under the weight of the world.

The next books were ones that I have mixed feelings about. Some of the advice is helpful. But each of these books takes an unbalanced approach to worry and anxiety. In these books, the formula is simple: anxiety = worry, worry = sin, therefore cure = repentance and obedience. This is exactly the kind of oversimplification that David Murray addresses in his book on depression.

Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Worry is so common that we forget it’s actually a sin. … [I]t’s just as sinful to worry as it is to disregard any other command from God. (emphasis original, 90, nook edition)

Little faith! Think about those words. The Lord equates our worry with a lack of faith. (94, nook edition)

God has directed His children not to worry; He’s classified worry as sin. Why? Because worry flows out of a distorted or incomplete view of His nature and character. … Worrying is also sinful because it elevates our thoughts and abilities to a godlike position. (94, nook edition)

We can’t stop our hearts from pounding or our stomach from being tied up in knots. We can’t control our physical symptoms. But we can, by God’s power and grace, offer our joyful obedience to Him – and trust that He will give us confidence and calm in the midst of the storm. (121, nook edition)

Running Scared by Ed Welch

At first, my interest in fear and worry was limited to quieting them for the sake of my own personal well-being. Now the stakes are much higher. My worry is a sign that I am in danger. When in doubt, pray. I am not sure of all the ways I am called by God to act, but I am certainly feeling more desperate, so I can pray. (78, nook edition)

Fear and worry reveal that our faith is indeed small. If you are looking to plumb the depths of worry, you can find it in your mixed allegiances. (85, nook edition)

In other words, worry is usually about seeking something other than God’s kingdom. Worry is a sign that we are trying to have it both ways, with one foot in the kingdom of the world and the other in the kingdom of heaven. (88, nook edition)

The sin-fear connection is inescapable. Therefore, when confronted with worries and fears, we should encourage our instincts to look at our own sin so that we can be people who make peace rather than break it. (216, nook edition)

Without forgiveness of sins, there can be no peace in our relationship with God, and when there is no peace with God, we will have no peace. If you are finding peace elusive, either you still don’t believe you are forgiven or you don’t really care that you are. If you know that sin is your most profound problem, more critical than anything else that worries you, you will know a resolute peace. (220, nook edition)

Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry by Amy Simpson

Worry is a rebellious choice we usually don’t take very seriously. But it is serious. Willful worry amounts to rejection of God’s character and damages our capacity for the life he calls us to. A close look at Scripture show us worry has always been a frequent point of correction between God and his people because it undermines that very faith he requires and rewards. Worry is still chronically undermining the faith and courage of Christians in this age. It is rooted in a theological misunderstanding of who God is, the nature of life in this world and our place in the universe. (16-17)

Choosing to worry is a sin, an act of rebellion against God, a rejection of our assigned place in the universe, a barrier in our relationship with a God who wants us to live is bold purpose rooted in his character. Worry is essentially a spiritual problem, which ultimately cannot be overcome merely through an act of the will – the solution is rooted entirely in who God is. (127)

Be quiet and allow the Holy Spirit to remind you of what the Bible teaches us about God’s character and capabilities. Reminisce about the specific ways God has taken care of you and other people whose stories you know. Express your confidence in God’s wisdom and love, even when life is a bruised and bloody mess. (143)

Why Worry? by Robert Jones

Worry, like other problematic emotions (such as envy, anger, and despair), serves a revelatory function. It reveals the remaining double-mindedness within our souls. As we will see from Jesus’s teaching, worry expresses our remaining inner pockets of idolatry and unbelief. (5)

By his death, resurrection, and ascension he has given new hope, new power, and new identity to all who trust in him. He came to forgive us for our worrying and to help us to change our patterns. While God might not reverse the tough situations that you worry about, he specializes in pardoning, cleansing, and helping you. (5-6)

Worry expresses lingering idolatry in the heart. It signals that in some way you are trusting in yourself—that you are building your life to some degree on things or people other than Jesus. Your anxiety automatically indicates that your heart allegiances are temporarily divided. (6-7)

The antidote to worry, then, is to trust in God. We must replace anxiety with a growing focus on God’s provisions and priorities. (17)

Because of the limited understanding these books have for the root of anxiety, the advice is one-dimensional. As a result, some of these books minimize the usefulness of medications to treat anxiety. All of these books place a heavy burden on those who suffer from anxiety.

Are we all sinners? Absolutely. If we look hard enough, can we find sinful attitudes and behaviors that we should repent of? Of course. Does that mean that all anxiety is rooted in sinful attitudes and behaviors that we need to repent of? Not necessarily.

Let me give an example. Sometimes I go to sleep at night content and peaceful. I have cares and concerns, but nothing is weighing on me. But in the morning, before I even open my eyes, I am gripped by fear, panic, dread, and anxiety. My mind races to figure out why I’m anxious. It may very well latch on to something, but was that what caused the anxiety? No. Often illness or hormones are the root cause for me.

When anxiety grips me that way, being told to look to my own sin is like heaping burdens on me. No one wants to be anxious. Many of us who struggle with anxiety are hanging on to the promises of Scripture and our faith as tightly as we can. We know our sins. They’re painfully clear to us.

Instead of introspection, what we need are words of comfort and hope and a reminder to look away from ourselves to the One who saves. At the foot of the cross, we can lay our burdens down and cast all our cares on Him. He is the God who hears.

I hope these short reviews will help others who are looking for resources on anxiety. My prayer is that we may all know peace, real, lasting peace.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NASB

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

Can men and women be friends? Our society often says we can’t. As Billy Crystal explains in When Harry Met Sally, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” And sex is what everything is about these days. We’re so saturated in it that we don’t realize how much sex has influenced even the meanings of words.

Intimacy? Sex
Relationship? Euphamism for sex
Affection? Sex
Attraction? Precursor to sex
Friendship? Euphamism for sex (friends w/ benefits), a brief stop on the way to sex, or a demotion from a sexual relationship (“just” friends, the friend zone)
Purity? Not having sex outside marriage

It’s like a Freudian Rorschach test. No matter the question, the answer is always sex.

If the world’s right about the meaning of friendship, intimacy, affection, and attraction, then how can godly men and women possibly be friends? Avoiding interactions between men and women would be the safest option if we want to be sexually pure and holy, right?

But what if the world’s wrong? What if the Bible has a better way for us to pursue purity and holiness through our friendships, even the coed ones? Those are the questions that Aimee Byrd answers in her latest book, Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Aimee explains that the reason we get tripped up on the question of coed friendship is we’ve forgotten who and whose we are. As believers, we are brothers and sisters united in Christ (14). We’re family! And as such, we have a shared calling and purpose. We were made for communion with God and with each other (49). That’s true for us here and now, and especially true for us in the new heavens and new earth that are to come (142).

We are called to be “sacred siblings” (174). And when we consider our questions through the lens of family, of brothers and sisters, we can see not only how men and women can be friends, but how we must be friends. Family relationships are the key.

Seeing each other as sacred siblings changes our understanding of intimacy, affection, attraction, friendship, and purity. As Aimee explains, “We know how to promote holiness in brother-sister relationships” (67).

What does intimacy mean in a family setting? As Aimee notes, “We associate all intimacy with the bedroom, so we expect every meaningful interaction between a man and a woman to be laden with repressed sexual desire” (35-36). But, “If we treat the intimacy appropriately as brother-sister intimacy, then everything stays properly platonic and our affections are rightly ordered” (93).

What about affection? When we listen to the world, we see affection through Freud’s eyes, “Freud reduced all affection to erotic desire – to our genitals – meaning that every look, gesture, touch, and thought holds sexual motives. … This view reduces friendship, whether it is same-sex or cross-sex, to role-playing for sexual gratification (35). But, when we remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to communion with God, we can see affection as God teaches us. As Aimee says, “We can share in his love for his people with godly, appropriate affection, and all our affections will be returned to him in fullness of glory” (73).

And attraction? We associate attraction with sexual interest or lust. But that’s a very limited meaning of the word. We’re “attracted” to people who share our interests. We should be “attracted” to admirable qualities in others: kindness, gentleness, joy, humility, generosity. Aimee explains, “Attraction is not impurity … We should be attracted to godliness in a godly way. … Finding someone attractive doesn’t mean that we should pursue them romantically, however, or allow our thoughts to wander into sexual fantasy” (87-88).

What does friendship mean in the context of sacred siblings? Between social media “friends,” “friends with benefits,” and “we’re just friends,” we’ve completely lost the meaning of friendship. “On the one hand, we have trivialized friendship through technology; on the other, we warn against real friendship between the sexes” (96, emphasis original). But as Christians, we know friendship means more. As Aimee writes, “Spiritual friendship among those of us who are united in Christ is eternal and is the highest form of friendship” (98)

What about purity? We should want to pursue purity, but is purity found in simply avoiding members of the other sex? Aimee explains, “Purity isn’t merely abstention. It isn’t practiced by avoidance. Purity isn’t just a physical status for a virgin, nor is it even the success of a faithful marriage. Purity is preeminently about our communion with God – a fountain that overflows into our other relationships (69).

And that’s Aimee’s point. We don’t pursue purity by avoiding each other. “The virtue of purity rightly orients sensuality before God and others. It perceives and responds to the holistic value in human beings” (76).

Does that mean we should just throw caution to the wind? No of course not. We must use wisdom and discernment. We need to be serious about sin, temptation, and our role in promoting the holiness of others:

Of course we promote one another’s holiness, take sin seriously, and realize that we can easily fall into it. We don’t think of a bunch of reasons to be alone with the other sex, we don’t naively assume that everyone is safe, and we don’t overestimate our own virtue. But, rather than creating extrabiblical rules, we are to do the hard work of rightly orienting our affections and exercising wisdom and discernment with others. We live before God in every situation. And in this manner, we will be able to perform ordinary acts of kindness and business without scandal. (77)

Is Aimee simply naive about the way the world works? Not at all. In fact, she offers practical advice on how to exercise discernment.

If we are weak in this area, or with a particular person, we should certainly not put ourselves in situations where we know we will stumble or cause a brother or sister to stumble. We should never feed temptation to sin. Doing so is a red flag that you are not genuine in godly friendship. (88)

If you are married and find yourself romantically attracted to someone other than your spouse, or if you are single and find yourself romantically attracted to someone who is off limits for any reason, then you need to confess this to the Lord in prayer and not put yourself in situations that fuel romantic feelings. You may need to avoid car rides or eating together with this specific person. The same applies if you discern that others have inappropriate romantic feelings toward you. (91-92)

If you are married and your spouse is uncomfortable with your friendship with someone, whether it’s a man or a woman, listen to their reasons. (92)

Is Aimee trying to undermine holiness and purity? Quite the contrary, “We all agree that Christians should care for purity. I wholeheartedly advocate sexual purity and would never want to influence anyone into promiscuity or sexual sin of any kind” (63).

What she wants is to encourage us to pursue actual holiness and purity but not by “pickpocketing purity, stealing unearned virtue at the expense of another’s dignity” (77). What does she mean by “pickpocketing purity”? She means that by avoiding each other we end up thinking we’re being pure but without actually developing purity or holiness. “Many of the hard-and-fast rules that we add to protect ourselves work against Christ’s sanctifying work, because they point to ourselves rather than to dependence on him” (81, emphasis original).

Without spoiling the book, if avoidance isn’t the answer, how should we pursue holiness and purity?

[B]ecause we are God’s people, siblings in Christ, we are to promote one another’s holiness, which includes rousing one another to active, godly love, assembling with our siblings to publicly worship our God, and encouraging one another in godly living. These are the practices of sacred siblings. (174)

How do we do that? “Be a friend and promote holiness in everyone whom you encounter and whom God trusts to your care. Look at one another through the eyes of Christ” (232).

By doing so, we can witness to the world that there is a better way. We can demonstrate the intimacy, affection, and friendship that we can and must have as brothers and sisters in Christ:

The church should be the very place where the world sees genuine friendship, no matter what sex you are. No matter what race you are. No matter what your social status is. This is where the world should be able to look and see what friendship is and how to do it. (232)

Aimee’s book is a much-needed one in our overly sexualized culture. I’m thankful for Aimee’s work and her willingness to step into this particular minefield.

Do you want to know more about how to be sacred siblings, about the challenges and blessings of spiritual friendship? Read her book. Aimee gives a thoroughly biblical answer to the question, “Why can’t we be friends?” Men and women can be friends but only when we remember who and whose we are, brothers and sisters united in Christ. We’re family, and it’s time we start acting like it.

Top 10 Posts of 2017

2017 has been an interesting year. Looking back over the top 10 posts for my blog, I noticed that the debate over the eternal subordination of the Son continues to be a topic of interest. Unsurprisingly, this year’s salvation by faith alone debate was also one of the big topics as were articles on what women are taught. A couple of older articles round out the top 10 as perennial favorites. Thank you all for your comments and shares. I appreciate you all very much! Happy New Year and may God bless you richly this coming year.

10. ETERNAL SUBORDINATION OF THE SON AND THE ESV TRANSLATION

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou/emautoú 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?

9. TRUE WOMAN 101: DIVINE DESIGN

There is no good news here. According to Kassian and DeMoss, women are the ones at fault, but if we follow these guidelines for biblical womanhood then we can be holy. That’s not the gospel. In fact, the book is so works oriented and so lacking in Christ’s work of redemption that a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness reading it would probably not be offended in the least.

8. WHY I’M NOT USING SUSAN WISE BAUER’S CURRICULA: A REVIEW OF PETER ENNS’ BIBLE CURRICULUM

Having read the parents’ guide, I can say that there are a few things on which I agree with Dr. Enns. I agree that it is very important to teach our children that the whole of the Bible is about Jesus. I agree that our children should learn from the very start who Jesus is and why the Bible is His story. I also agree that our children should be well-educated in the various challenges to the truth of the Bible that they are likely to face. My concerns, however, greatly outweigh these areas of agreement. The problems that I see with Telling God’s Story can be grouped into three basic topics: methodology, Biologos/evolution, and view of Scripture.

7. DOES IT MATTER WHAT WOMEN ARE TAUGHT?

Since I first began writing, one of my main concerns has been the effect false teaching has on the church, and particularly on women. It is a topic dear to my heart. Because of this, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. Aimee also has a heart for the women in the church and what they’re being taught.

6. THE DESIRE OF THE WOMAN: A RESPONSE TO SUSAN FOH’S INTERPRETATION

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.

5. CAN’T WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE?!

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.

4. 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:

3. SALVATION BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE

Piper is saying that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone but that there is also a final salvation separate from justification that includes our works. In this way, he says, we are saved through faith AND works. This is not simply sloppiness or poor wording. This is what he is teaching, and it is clear from the context of the article. And it is contrary to Scripture, to the Reformation, and to the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

2. SAYING FAREWELL TO THE ESV

Between the “contrary to” in Genesis 3 and 4 and the missing “only begotten” in the New Testament passages, my husband and I decided that the ESV wasn’t the translation we wanted to use as a family. To be clear, we’re not dogmatic about it. Our church and many of our friends still use the ESV, we aren’t complaining about it or demanding change. But for our own devotions individually and as a family, we’ve decided to switch to the New American Standard (NASB). We have four main reasons for doing so.

1. 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.

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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Does it matter what women are taught?

Since I first began writing, one of my main concerns has been the effect false teaching has on the church, and particularly on women. It is a topic dear to my heart. Because of this, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. Aimee also has a heart for the women in the church and what they’re being taught.

In No Little Women, Aimee addresses the need for women to be taught both solid doctrine and how to be discerning. The book is geared towards two audiences: pastors/elders and Christian women, although anyone would benefit from reading it.  Aimee wants pastors/elders to take an active role in teaching, equipping, and protecting women in the church. She asks, “[W]hat is your expectation for the women in your church? (271)” She also wants women to be competent allies and not “little women.”

The title comes from Paul’s warnings in 2 Timothy 3:6-7,

For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (NASB)

Aimee notes that “weak” women could be translated “little” or “small” women (23). This description does not mean that women are by nature “weak” and gullible, but it is a useful warning that godly women should heed. If we’re not going to be weak and easily led astray, we will need to be well grounded in the Scripture. We need to know what we believe.

Aimee warns that today the greatest danger for women 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)

For this reason, pastors/elders need to know what’s being taught in women’s books and studies, and women need to learn discernment. Aimee’s book seeks to encourage both. First, Aimee explains why it matters.

All Christians, both men and women, are theologians. We all have beliefs about God. In order to be good theologians, we must be taught good doctrine. Here Aimee emphasizes the importance of the ministry of Word and sacraments done by our ordained leaders. This cannot be replaced by study on our own or in small groups or by parachurch organizations. We need to hear the Word preached and have the sacraments administered in the church by our pastors and elders.

Because men and women together make up the body of Christ, the church, Aimee explains that we must work together. Aimee uses the imagery of the church as the household of God. “In a household that is set up properly, women should thrive alongside the men as they serve according to their giftedness and the needs of the church (87).” Only qualified men should be ordained leaders in the church, but we all have gifts that should be used in the work of the church:

While we do have male leadership in the ministerial office, we don’t want to promote a male culture in the church. Women are not only necessary allies to their husbands within their personal households but are also necessary allies to the men in carrying out the mission of the household of God. And in this way, women have distinct and diverse contributions to make alongside their brothers in Christ. Christ’s own ministry involved women as necessary allies. (106)

In order for women to be competent and to fulfill their roles as necessary allies, women must be taught sound doctrine.

Next Aimee explains why women’s ministry is so often a “back door for bad doctrine.” Many times the pastors/elders are unaware of what’s being taught:

Far too many motivated women are dealing with shallow women’s studies – or, worse, just plain false teaching – in their church. One of the biggest laments is that the elders are unaware of the harm that these studies are inflicting on the women in their congregation. And the message from silence is that the women don’t really matter. (31)

Even when pastors/elders are made aware of the dangerous teachings, many times nothing much is done:

It is often difficult to have an edifying, civil conversation with those who insist on teaching material that is being questioned by a discerning and concerned church member or pastor. The pastor often looks like the bad guy if he comes in, after a study has already been established, to gently correct the teaching and offer something to replace it. Families begin to take sides, and some even leave the church. Women have approached their pastors or elders because their group is studying a book with false teaching, only to be ignored as if it doesn’t matter because it’s just the women’s group. (51)

Two of the main reasons bad teaching in women’s ministry gets a pass is that the teachers are so friendly and likable:

Many Christians do not distinguish between a likable personality and the content of that person’s teaching. … [M]any of the women who teach troubling doctrines are very likable. Their books are well packaged, their talks are endearing, and they are exceptionally good at honing in on the common struggles that women are dealing with. They approach these topic with humor, self-disclosure, and warmth. And their lingo sounds pretty Christian. … [W]e think we can let our guard down. (48)

And many people are hesitant to critique women teachers:

So often, the theology of women such as these is not critiqued because we don’t want to hurt feelings. Somehow it comes off as not nice to critique a woman’s teaching. Well, that isn’t taking women seriously, either. It is not insulting to point out error. What is unloving is giving a teacher license to teach falsely because you like her personality, because you want to believe that it’s true, or worse, because you don’t want to engage critically with a woman. (149)

As Aimee says, it should not be this way. Because women matter, because women are necessary allies, because women need to be competent, we must hold all of the teaching, no matter who it’s geared to, to the same high standard. To do this, we need practical skills to learn how to discern whether a book or study is theologically healthy or not.

In the last third of the book, Aimee sets out to teach us how to do be discerning. She gives a great illustration of the nature of the problem, equating false teaching in women’s books to an autoimmune disease in the church:

While there is a lot of heresy being sold by the Christian book industry, books marketed for and popular with Christian women could often be diagnosed as having autoimmune diseases. Without a thorough inspection, they seem to have some good points and experiences that women can relate to. But the authors tend not to have a sound theological immune system. … Inevitably what happens is that they being attacking healthy teaching in a subversive kind of way, causing all kinds of inflammation and various chronic conditions that weaken the church. For some reason, they do not react well to attempts to correct them, and they want to continue overactively spreading their messages. (234)

It’s crucial that we learn to assess the theological health of a book. To this end, Aimee lists four essential questions to ask about the theology of a book.

  1. What does the author say about God’s Word? (223)
  2. What does the author say about who man is? (224)
  3. What does the author say about God? (226)
  4. What does the author say about what God has done and is doing? (228)

Aimee also explains that not all theological “illnesses” in a book are equally dangerous. She describes the process of determining how dangerous it is as theological triage. She divides the theological differences into three categories: first-order, second-order, and third-order:

[T]he essentials, such as the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, and justification by faith, are what Mohler calls “first-order” doctrines that are necessary for a Christian to believe. Any teaching that contradict first-order doctrines are heretical. (231)

Examples of second-order doctrines would be mode of baptism and church government. These are important, but not essential for faith. Third-order doctrines would be something like eschatology. On these we can often agree to disagree.

Aimee then uses several examples from popular Christian books to demonstrate how to go about implementing these discernment skills. The examples are very helpful. I thought for my purposes here, I would use a quote from a new book as a practical demonstration of the essential questions and triage that Aimee recommends.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is a popular author and speaker. She and Mary Kassian have written many books as part of the True Woman movement. I’ve written before about my concerns with the doctrine in True Woman 101. One of my main concerns was that Kassian and DeMoss taught the Eternal Subordination of the Son. After this summer’s Trinity debate, I wondered if the new books coming out would continue to teach ESS.

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel was released this week and is the first book written since Nancy DeMoss married and became Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. What follows is a quote from Adorned:

But Paul himself, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, specifically sets forth the divine order of headship and submission as being timeless and transcultural – the husband-wife relationship patterned after the God-Son relationship and the Christ-man relationship.

I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3)

For a wife, submission means accepting God’s good order for her life, just as a husband submits himself to God in accepting God’s order for his life. And it gives her the privilege of representing the mystery and the beauty of the Son’s submission to the Father. For even within the Trinity, we see this paradoxical arrangement — seamless unity with separate roles and different identities, perfect equality with pure submission.

The Father and the Son, we know, are both equally God. And yet the Son chooses to submit Himself to the will of the Father:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will by the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

The submission of Christian wives to their husbands is a powerful and beautiful picture of the Son’s submission to His Father and of the church’s submission to Christ. These wives, together with husbands who love them selflessly and sacrificially, put the gospel story on vivid and compelling display. (264-265)

Using Aimee’s criteria, we can assess the theological health of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book, Adorned. What I first noticed in reading the quote is that it teaches the Eternal Subordination of the Son. This answers question 3 above, “what does the author say about God?”

Teaching ESS, in turn, indicates a misuse of Scripture for both the passages quotes, which answers question 1, “what does the author say about God’s Word?” Both 1 Corinthians 11:3 and John 6:38 are speaking about Christ as the God-man. When Christ submits to God, it is His humanity that is submitting, not His divinity. The submission is not within the Trinity.

By applying this wrong view of the Trinity to the relationship of husband and wife, the quote illustrates a faulty anthropology. That answers question 2, “what does the author say about  who man is?”

In answer to question 4, “what does the author say about what God has done and is doing?”,  the quote equates the gospel with the relationship of a husband and wife which presents a severely truncated version of the gospel. Husbands and wives do reflect one aspect of the gospel in illustrating part of the relationship between Christ and the church.

However, there is no way for husbands and wives to tell the full story of the gospel, that Christ was incarnate and made man, that He lived a sinless life fulfilling the law for us, that He died a sacrificial death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that He was raised on the third day overcoming death and hell, that His righteousness has been applied to us, and that He will come again in glory and we will be with Him forever. That is the full gospel and no marriage, as godly as is might be, could possibly demonstrate all of it. And we shouldn’t settle for less than the full story.

As far as triage goes, the Trinity is a first-order doctrine. By teaching Eternal Subordination of the Son, Adorned is teaching a false view of the Trinity. That is a serious problem. As Aimee says in No Little Women,

If an author is not in line with what God says about himself, then you should have serious doubts about what she is teaching you. (227)

Because of this, I would not recommend Adorned to others without seriously cautioning them.

I am very thankful for Aimee’s work in No Little Women. I hope everyone will read it. With Aimee, I hope that pastors and elders are encouraged to get involved with the women of their church in order to teach, equip, protect, and utilize them in the work of the church. I also hope women especially will be spurred to greater faithfulness and discernment. Our churches need us to be competent women in our roles as necessary allies. May we be “little women” no longer.

 

 

Confessing the Triune God: Retrieving Nicene Faith for Today’s Church- RTS Houston

This weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending RTS Houston’s conference on the Trinity: Confessing the Triune God: Retrieving Nicene Faith for Today’s ChurchHere’s a brief description of the conference:

The recent “Trinity debate” reveals much confusion surrounding what is undoubtedly the most important and the most glorious of Christian doctrines. It also signals the need to retrieve the doctrine of the triune God as confessed by Fathers of the church on the basis of Holy Scripture in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381. Join Drs. Ligon Duncan, Michael Haykin, Blair Smith, and Scott Swain as they seek to mine the riches of the Nicene Faith for the renewal of today’s church. Speakers and topics include:

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin | Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates

Rev. D. Blair Smith | Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

Dr. Scott R. Swain | “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III | The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions

We were told that the sessions were recorded and would be available soon on RTS’s website. I haven’t seen a link yet, but when I do, I’ll update it here. The talks are also being published as papers in the RTS Journal in the March 2017 edition. I highly recommend watching or reading these when they are available. The talks were very informative. For today, I thought I’d give a short summary of the talks. In the next post, I’ll give a brief reflection on the conference.

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin | Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates

The first talk, by Dr. Michael Haykin, was on Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates. Dr. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While focused primarily on the fight to affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit, his talk was a helpful summary of the various 4th-Century councils and the extended debates that resulted from them. Dr. Haykin did hand out a copy of his paper, so I will be using some quotes with page numbers.

Dr. Haykin began by explaining that the doctrine of the Trinity is a gift for us from the early church fathers. We owe them a debt of gratitude. The doctrine of the Trinity is thoroughly Biblical, and it’s extremely important for us today. Dr. Haykin pointed out that our understanding of the Trinity is going to be crucial in interacting with Islam.

By the time of the Council of Nicea, the early church had dealt with and was still dealing with a number of heresies. One was modalism or the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three masks that the one God uses in His interactions with humanity. Tertullian responded to this heresy by explaining that Genesis 1:26 is an example of God the Father speaking with God the Son and God the Spirit. According to Tertullian, God must be one substance, one being, but also three persons. From Tertullian, we get this language of the Trinity.

Another heresy that the early church faced was Arianism or subordinationism. This heresy taught that the Son was both created and ontologically (by nature) subordinate to the Father. Arius used verses like John 14:28, “my Father is greater than I,” to argue that the Son “did not share all of the attributes of the Father” (Haykin, pg 5). Interestingly, Arius and his followers were attempting to address the heresy of modalism, but they went too far. Dr. Haykin noted that in theological controversy it’s best to avoid knee-jerk reactions.

Dr. Haykin went on to give a very helpful, detailed explanation of the long battle against Arianism. The next Trinitarian debate was over the deity of the Holy Spirit. Basil of Caesarea was instrumental in this. For Basil, Matthew 28:19 was key. Dr. Haykin pointed out that we are baptized in the (singular) name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This “implies faith in the three persons of the Godhead and also determines doxological ultimacy – the Father along with the Son and the Holy Spirit are to receive equal honour and worship” (Haykin, pg. 12).

Ultimately, the Council of Constantinople in 381 added the statement on the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and worthy of worship and glory with the Father and the Son. Dr. Haykin concluded by that the Nicene Creed, post 381, “must be viewed as a norma normata (‘a rule that is ruled’) it is a rule that faithfully reflects the biblical view of God and, as such, it stands as one of the great landmarks of Christian theology” (Haykin, pg. 16). As Dr. Haykin explained, the creed is not infallible, but we tamper with it to our detriment.

Rev. D. Blair Smith | Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

The second talk was Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century by Rev. D. Blair Smith. Rev. Smith is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS-Charlotte. Building on Dr. Haykin’s talk on the history of 4th-Century Trinitarian debates, Rev. Smith discussed three specific developments in understanding the Trinity: the correlativity of names, eternal generation, and a fully Trinitarian vision.

Athanasius developed the concept of correlativity of the names Father and Son. For the Father to be eternally Father, there must also be an eternal Son. The names carry the meanings with them. The Son can’t be created, because that would mean there was a time before the Father became a father. Athanasius also looked at the divine titles: Word, Wisdom, Power, and Image. Each of these was used to describe the Son. These divine titles indicate a shared nature or ontology between the Father and the Son. Everything that is said about the Father, except being Father, is said about the Son.

Hilary of Poitiers helped developed the teaching of the eternal generation of the Son. Hilary wrote of the Father as the giver in an eternal “birth” or nativitas and of the Son as the receiver. The Father gives all that He is in His nature and there is nothing lacking in what the Son receives. In this giving and receiving, there is an order or taxis that speaks of a priority of the Father as the giver or source. This priority does not place the Father in a higher position, though, because the order is balanced by divine unity and inseparable operations.

Rev. Smith’s last point continued on from Dr. Haykin’s discussion on Basil of Caesarea and his development of a fully Trinitarian vision. Basil helped to expand the debate on the Trinity to include the Holy Spirit. Basil explained that the Spirit is uniquely named in Scripture and has a kinship with the Father and the Son. Therefore, it is right to worship the Spirit.

Basil defined the Spirit as proceeding from the Father, as “breath from His mouth.” This proceeding mirrors the begetting of the Son, both ineffable and yet true. Rev. Smith spoke about the logic of the kinship in the Trinity. There is a communion where each person of the Trinity receives glory. This glory travels along the lines of order from the Father to the Son to the Spirit, but also back from the Spirit to the Son to the Father. In this way, it is not a unilateral dependence, but a rhythmic reciprocity in the Trinity.  This balance is a mystery that is hard to understand and explain, but Rev. Smith concluded by saying that the Nicene honors what Scripture teaches about the nature and acts of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Dr. Scott R. Swain | “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation

The third talk was by Dr. Scott Swain on “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation. Dr. Swain is Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at RTS- Orlando. Dr. Swain answered four questions regarding eternal generation.

The first question was “What is Eternal Generation?” Dr. Swain answered that eternal generation describes the Son’s “eternal relationship of origin from the Father.” The Son is from God the Father but in a way that is different from everything else that we say is “from God.” The Son is without beginning or end.

The second question was “What happened?” Why has interest in the doctrine of eternal generation waned in recent years? Dr. Swain noted that much of the lost of interest comes from attempts to give a simple explanation of the Trinity. He traced the root of this to an early 1900s article written by B.B. Warfield. In his article on the Trinity for the International Standard BIble Encyclopedia, Warfield summarized the Trinity with three points: there is one God, Father/Son/Holy Spirit are each God, and Father/Son/and Holy Spirit are each distinct persons. Warfield then said that this was a complete doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr. Swain noted that in contrast to Warfield’s article, the Westminster Standards explain how the three persons are distinct using the language of begotten and proceeding. Warfield’s definition left out both eternal generation and eternal procession. Unfortunately, systematic theologies of the late 20th-Century summarize the Trinity using Warfield’s limited three points. This includes Grudem’s best selling systematic theology, which Dr. Swain did not mention by name.

Dr. Swain explained that the vacuum caused by leaving out eternal generation and eternal procession was filled with the language of authority and submission. This gave us Eternal Subordination of the Son, Eternal Functional Subordination, and Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission. Dr. Swain noted that the irony was that Warfield was trying to avoid suggesting authority and submission in the Godhead.

The third question was “Why believe eternal generation?” Dr. Swain explained that eternal generation is rooted in “Biblical patterns of divine naming.” This has two parts. First, the New Testament attributes God’s names and works to Christ, therefore the Son is the one true God. Second, there is a relational pattern of divine naming in Scripture. The Son is called begotten.

Dr. Swain pointed out that even if one doesn’t want to translate “monogenes” as “only begotten,” there are many Scriptural proofs for eternal generation. Hebrews 1:5, Proverbs 8:22-24, Micah 5:2, Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15, and John 1:1 all speak of the Son as existing from eternity with God, equal with the Father. The emphasis in these passages is the relational origin of the Son in the Father. Christ is the radiance of the Father, the image of the Father, the Word from the Father.

Even if one doesn’t like the language of eternal generation, Dr. Swain said, one has to affirm the concepts as Scriptural. The Nicene formulation is simply repeating Scriptural concepts.

The fourth question was “Why does eternal generation matter?” The answer is both practical and pastoral. Eternal generation establishes the distinction between the Father and the Son and preserves equality within the Godhead. The Son (and Spirit) are equal in power and glory with the Father (WLC Ques. 9).

This equality of power and glory is lost when eternal generation is replaced by an eternal relationship of authority and submission. Proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS can affirm that the Father and the Son have the same substance, but they can’t confirm that they are equal in power and glory. Dr. Swain quoted from one ESS proponent who claims that the Father has supreme glory in the Trinity.

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III | The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions

The last talk was by Dr. Ligon Duncan on “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions.” Dr. Duncan is Chancellor of RTS and Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology. He is also a senior fellow and board member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He gave nine points related to the recent Trinitarian debate.

Dr. Duncan first gave a background to the recent debate regarding complementarianism and the Trinity. He referenced Liam Goligher’s posts on Mortification of Spin as the start of the debate. He emphasized that the debate is primarily between complementarians. He gave the meaning of the various ESS/EFS/ERAS acronyms and explained that while some might consider it debatable, EFS is not arguing for ontological subordination.

Dr. Duncan then listed several questions that were brought up in the debate. He did not attempt to answer them at this point. The questions included: Is EFS/ERAS taught in Scripture? Is it heretical? (He did give a side note here to say that Liam Goligher called for proponents to quit or to be deposed in his 2nd article.) Does EFS/ERAS entail multiple wills? Does it deny eternal generation?

Dr. Duncan’s second point was that complementarianism relies on Scripture and does not require a “reformulation of the Trinity” as in EFS. His third point was whether or not there is a coming war between Pro-Nicene and EFS complementarians. He explained that CBMW met and voted unanimously that to be a complementarian you need only affirm the Danvers’ Statement. He appealed to the wide theological diversity present in CBMW since it’s foundation.

The next point was a discussion of CBMW’s statement of faith. Dr. Duncan said that the statement of faith is orthodox and minimal regarding what it says about the Trinity. The statement does not mention EFS:  “We believe there is one true God, eternally existing in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom possesses all of the attributes of deity and divine personality.” This he said is close to the Westminster Larger Catechism’s wording.

Dr. Duncan’s fifth point was that classical protestant confessions don’t affirm EFS, but are minimalist about what they affirm on the doctrine of the Trinity. He said that  WCF 2.3 is the “only statement on the Trinity in the WCF.” He went on to say that all protestant confessions are equally minimalist regarding the Trinity.

Next, Dr. Duncan explained that this creedal minimalism left room for 20th-Century evangelicalism/biblicism to question Trinitarian language such as: simplicity, impassibility, foreknowledge, eternal generation, and eternality. He said that the Westminster divines assumed an inheritance from the church fathers and reformers and weren’t writing at a time when these issues were being addressed. They didn’t anticipate this current debate.

Dr. Duncan went on to say that the debate was part of a greater tradition of biblicism vs. retrieval. He said there has been an emphasis on non-speculation in modern times and that younger theologians are more interested in theological retrieval and drawing on church history. They have a different attitude towards historical theological formulations.

The eighth point was that the tone of the debate has been lacking. He said he’s thankful for the discussion, but that it’s better addressed in serious venues like conferences and journals.

The last point was a reassurance that RTS and Dr. Duncan are both complementarian and Pro-Nicene. He concluded by saying that complementarianism is not compromised by being Pro-Nicene.

 

Again, I am very grateful to have been able to attend and thankful for my sweet husband for coming along with me. I learned a good deal. In my next post, I plan to give my thoughts on the conference.

Humble Roots: Finding Rest for Your Body and Soul

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

In Genesis 2:2, the Bible tells us that after finishing the work of creation, God rested from His work. In Exodus 20:11, God explains that that rest is a pattern for us to follow. One day out of seven, we are to dedicate to worship and to rest from our labors. Jesus later explained that the Sabbath was given for man’s good: Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NASB). It seems now more than ever we need to remember the Sabbath. We are a nation full of stressed out, overworked, restless people.

But even in remembering the Sabbath, we need to be careful. I read a comment recently that reminded me of conversations I’ve had in the past with Reformed types about the proper observation of the Sabbath. The gist was that God’s rest wasn’t inactivity, and neither should ours be. Granted, many people attempt to defend sleeping in on Sunday and not going to church because it’s the only day they get to sleep in.

But I think we should be cautious about comparing ourselves to God regarding rest, our need for it, and what our rest should look like. We are not God. We were made to worship Him, and we were made to need rest. Our bodies, our minds, our souls need rest. But how do we find it in this busy and exhausting world?

I recently had the privilege to read Hannah Anderson’s new book, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul. Hannah starts out her book explaining that we are a tired and stressed out group of people. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. We all know that.

We are tired, because we do not rest. We are stressed, because we do not acknowledge our limitations. We are anxious, because we are relying on ourselves. Our pride tells us that we can be like God, but we can’t. We must learn to rest in Jesus and to trust God to care for us. Hannah explains:

You’re not God. I’m not God. None of us are God. … We are made in His image, but we are made nonetheless. (10-11)

Using the Matthew 11 passage quoted above, Hannah explains that what we need is to acknowledge that we aren’t God and to humble ourselves to serve Him:

When we disregard our natural human limitations, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we insist that our voice and our work is essential and must be honored, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we believe that with enough effort, enough organization, or enough commitment, we can fix things that are broken, we set ourselves in God’s place. And when we do, we reap stress, restlessness, and anxiety. (42)

But there is rest to be found in trusting Jesus:

So what does it mean to trust Jesus for rest? How does seeking His kingdom free us from anxiety and worry? He frees us from our burdens in the most unexpected way: He frees us by calling us to rely less on ourselves and more on Him. He frees us by calling us to humility. (32)

This is not a call to do more or to be more or to rely on ourselves and our own actions. This is a reminder that Jesus is our rest:

When Jesus calls us to take His yoke, when He invites us to find rest through submission, He is not satisfying some warped need for power or His own sense of pride. He is calling us to safety. The safety that comes from belonging to Him. The safety that comes from being tamed. (43)

Jesus is also our example for true humility. As Philippians 2 describes, Jesus is the very model of humility. But Hannah warns that we must not give in to the temptation to simply try to be more like Jesus:

We are not called to embody Jesus ourselves. He has already been incarnated and is still even now! No, we are not called to be Jesus; we are called to fall at His feet and worship Him. … And it is through this worship, through recognizing His rightful place, that we are finally humbled. (76)

Through worshipping Jesus and accepting our limitations, we can finally rest like the Psalmist says:

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord From this time forth and forever. (Psalm 131 NASB)

Hannah goes on to expound on how this rest through humility can give us rest for our bodies, our emotions, and our minds. She explains how this humility teaches us to trust God with our resources, our plans, our pain, and eventually our death.

Our bodies can find rest because we recognize our limits. We know we are created and in His acceptance we can find peace. How many of us look in the mirror (or avoid it) each day and hate what we see? Why do we do this? Why are we ashamed of our bodies? (Hannah notes here, and I want to be sure to add, that the discussion here about shame is not about the results of physical or sexual trauma. This is the more general sense of body image shaming so common in our culture.)

Humility reminds us of our limits; humility teaches us that we are physical beings existing in a broken world. Not only are we limited and imperfect ourselves, but our bodies and our sense of our bodies have been shaped by false messages around us. … What will free you from shame is humility; what will free you from shame is accepting that you are not and were never meant to be divine. And once you do, you are free to embrace your physical nature. You are free to stop obsessing over your imperfections because you know that to be human is to be imperfect. You are free to enjoy your unique genetic makeup that has been generations in the making. You are free to reject the lies that have made you ashamed – whether they come from the media, friends, and family, or your own head. You are free to hear the voice of the only one whose opinion counts. You are free to hear God declare you body “good.” (89)

Our emotions can find rest because we understand that how we feel is not the last word on reality. This is a great reminder for me. Many days I wake up anxious for no real reason. On those days, I have to remind myself again and again that though I feel like something is terribly wrong, my emotions are lying to me. Hannah explains:

In other words, we do not resolve our emotional uncertainty – our stress and anxiety – by focusing on our emotions themselves. We resolve our uncertainty by getting to the root cause. We resolve it by learning from Jesus, who is meek and lowly of heart. The premise of this book is that much of our emotional inability is rooted in pride. Not simply pride in our intellect or our physical bodies, but a pride that prioritizes our emotions as the source of truth. … Humility teaches us that we don’t have to obey our emotions because the only version of reality that matters is God’s. (103-104)

Our minds can find rest because we realize that we are not saved by having the right opinions or ideas. Public/private/home school? Vaccinations or not? Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/None of the above? Our salvation doesn’t depend on getting these answers correct. We don’t have to be afraid of being wrong, and this is such encouraging news.

When we believe that our righteousness comes from having the “right” opinions or taking the “right” position on an issue, we can never move from that position. And so, like an animal backed into a corner, we fight and scrap and lash out against anyone who would try to make us. And as James predicts, this kind of rational pride – this “earthly wisdom” – ultimately leads to anxiety and disunity … . If God accepts us based on our being right about every issue, then we must fight to prove ourselves right; but if God accepts us based on our being right, then none of us have any hope. If, however, God accepts you based on Jesus’ being right, then you are safe. … And then you can finally rest. (126-127)

Humility teaches us to trust God with our resources because we acknowledge that all we have is a gift from Him both to enjoy and to honor Him through:

If we take a great deal of satisfaction in how little we need, in how much we reject abundance, simplicity becomes nothing more than an asceticism that, as theologian J.I. Packer puts it, is “too proud to enjoy the enjoyable.” Instead of rejecting our resources, humility teaches us to receive them as gifts and to use them for God’s glory and the good of those around us. (147)

Humility also teaches us to trust God with our plans because we recognize our limitations and know that while we aren’t in control, He is. How freeing it is to know that God is in charge. Even when things don’t necessarily go the way we want, trusting God with our plans leads us to draw closer to Him:

Pride tells us that all we have to do is organize well enough, plan effectively enough, and work hard enough and we can achieve our dreams. Humility teaches us that it was never up to us in the first place. The same God who gives us our desires is the God who orchestrates how, and whether, those desires come to pass. And the hard truth is they may not. … But here again, humility offers rest. If we are submitted to God’s hand, even our unfulfilled desires can be fruitful because our unfulfilled desires can be the very things God uses to draw us to Himself. (165-166)

Humility teaches us to trust God with the pains and sorrows of this life because we remember who God is:

This is how humility overcomes the world: Humility trusts God. In the midst of injustice, humility believes that God is just. In the midst of grief, humility believes that God is comfort. In the midst of brokenness, humility believes that God is health and life. … And when we remember who God is, when we are humbled before Him, we will be free to mourn the brokenness – both from within and without. (185)

We know that He sees. We know that He cares. We know that we will one day bring an end to pain and sadness:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. (Rev 21:4 NASB)

Humility teaches us to trust God even in death. Death is a reminder that we are finite and that we are not yet perfect. But even death itself will be done away with when Christ returns.

Even as we are humbled in death, God promises that death – that proud destroyer – will itself one day be humbled. Even as death boasts over us, God promises that one day death will be abased and we, who have been humbled, will be exalted. (197)

Our bodies are frail. Death reminds us that we need physical rest. It reminds us that we need spiritual rest because without Christ we are not at peace with God and are dead in our sins. Death also reminds us that as believers we have the hope of a future and more perfect Sabbath rest. (Hebrews 4) There will be a time when we will no longer struggle against sin and pain, but we will be free to enjoy God and His rest forever.

I strongly encourage you to read Hannah’s book. If you are stressed and tired and overwhelmed, come to Christ for rest. There is rest for us in humility. I hope you will be as encouraged and challenged by Hannah’s book as I was. If you are interested in winning a free copy to read, please leave me a comment here and share this review with others, if you don’t mind.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. (Psalm 103:8-15, NASB)

The Grand Design: A Review

Continuing some research I’ve been doing, I recently read a new book, The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them, by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock. I didn’t read the book intending to review it. However, given the recent debate over the Trinity, I decided it was a good example of why this debate is so important. All of our beliefs and doctrines are interconnected, and necessarily so. What we believe about the Trinity will influence other aspects of our theology, and that is clearly illustrated in this book.

The book blurb on Amazon describes The Grand Design:

The world has gone gray-fuzzy, blurry, gender-neutral gray. In a secularist culture, many people today are confused about what it means to be a man or a woman. Even the church struggles to understand the meaning of manhood and womanhood. In The Grand Design, Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock clear away the confusion and open up the Scriptures. They show that the gospel frees us to behold the unity and distinctiveness of the sexes. In Christ, we have a script for our lives. Doxology, we discover, is in the details.

The authors are Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock. Owen Strachan is Associate Professor of Christian Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, President of the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), and son-in-law to Bruce Ware. Gavin Peacock is a former professional soccer player, Pastor of Calgary Grace Church and Director of International Outreach for CBMW.

This last month there has been an important debate going on over the Trinity and specifically over the nature and roles of the persons of the Trinity. On one side of the debate there are those who hold to the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), also called Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) or Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission (ERAS). These would include Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Owen Strachan, Gavin Peacock, and others.

On the other side of the debate are those who hold to the formulations found in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. These would include Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd, Todd Pruitt, Liam Goligher, and many others. There have been many articles written the last two weeks. There is a helpful list at Bring the Books if you would like to read up on the topic.  I’ve written before about ESS and why I think it’s wrong: here and here.

At the heart of the debate is whether it’s correct and appropriate to speak of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son as one of eternal authority and submission. While orthodox theologians have traditionally taught that there is equality in the nature of the persons of the Godhead, they have also taught that there is a voluntary submission of the Son to the Father in the Son’s role as Mediator. This is the distinction between the ontological (the nature of who God is) and the economic (the roles each person plays in the work of creation, salvation, etc.).

Those who teach ESS/EFS/ERAS believe that authority/submission is an eternal aspect of the very nature of God. This is a departure from the historical, orthodox formulations of the Trinity as explained in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and Westminster Confession of Faith.

This is important because what we believe and teach about the Trinity is foundational to our faith and understanding of the gospel. But it is also important because of the applications being made from this foundation. Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup explain in their article, “The Eternal Subordination of the Son (and Women),” that authority/submission in the Trinity is being used to ground authority/submission of men and women.

This is where The Grand Design comes in. In The Grand Design, Strachan and Peacock ground their understanding of the complementarity of men and women on a relationship of authority and submission in the nature of the Trinity. The result does damage to the doctrine of the Trinity, distorts the gospel, and damages the understanding of men and women and how they should interact.

In The Grand Design, Strachan and Peacock teach that God the Son is by nature subordinate to God the Father:

The Son does the Father’s will: “I do exactly as the Father commanded Me,” Christ said in John 14:31. He submitted himself to the Father’s will (John 6:38). This posture of submission to fatherly authority did not begin the day Jesus came to earth. The Father is the authority of Christ, and always has been. The Son joyfully carries out the plan of his Father. The persons of the Godhead are not impersonal, with only titles to differentiate them. They are living persons, and their own love has structure and form. The Father as Father has authority; the Son as Son obeys his Father. (71, emphasis mine)

And

The Father is the Father because he sends the Son. The Son is the Son because he submits to the Father’s will. The Spirit is the Spirit because the Father and the Son send him. There is no Holy Trinity without the order of authority and submission. (89, emphasis mine)

This is dangerous because if the Son is by nature subordinate to the Father then He is not equal to Him, and if the Son is not fully divine, we’re all lost.

Having explained the authority/submission structure that they believe is inherent in the Godhead, Strachan and Peacock move on to apply this structure to men and women. The purpose is to be able to say that women are equal in value to men but also subordinate to them.

Just as there is equality of value but difference in authority and role in the Trinity, so it is with husband and wife. (71)

And,

Husbands are called to exercise leadership over their wives patterned after Trinitarian order (God the Father’s authority over the Son): God –> Christ –> Husband –> Wife (1 Cor. 11:3). A husband also exercises this headship due to creation order: the woman was made from the man (1 Cor. 11:8-9), thus giving the man primacy of leadership in the Garden as he names her “woman” and “Eve” (Gen. 2:23; 3:30).( 91)

In both of these quotes, the book mentions husbands/wives, not men/women, but as I’ll demonstrate later, Strachan and Peacock expand these ideas to encompass all men and women. Now to be clear, I believe that husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives and that wives are called to submit to their husbands. I also believe that ordained leadership of churches should be male.

The difference between what I believe and what this book teaches is one of essence versus relationship. It’s one thing to teach that a wife should submit to her husband. It’s another thing to teach that men are by nature leaders, and women are by nature submissive to male leadership. When you teach that women are by nature submissive to men, it has a profound effect on how you view men and women and how you expect men and women to behave.

According to The Grand Design, men were created to be:

Leaders

Men are called to be leaders by very virtue of the fact that they are created male. This is not a competency issue. It is an issue of God’s design. (46)

Providers

Men were made to work and physically provide. A lazy man who is not alert does not deserve to eat (2 Thess. 3:10), and those in his care will suffer. And he who stays home and watches the children while his wife goes out to work is not fulfilling his manly mandate. It doesn’t matter if she has more earning power; it’s about God’s design for manhood. There may be a season where a wife must step in to help, or a man may have disabilities that preclude him from certain labour. For men in general, however, the inclination to provide should be there. The biblical man’s job is physical provision. (50)

Protectors

Biblical manhood protects women, loving them through gracious leadership. Instead of taking from women as unsaved men do, godly men provide for women in appropriate ways, with the apex of this duty coming in marital provision (1 Tim. 5:8). (45)

Women were created to be:

Submissive

As we have seen, however, biblical submission is beautiful. It is a central feature of biblical womanhood. It is vital to understand that a woman’s role as a helper, her reverent attitude and her submissive response are tied together in God’s sovereign purposes from creation (as we’ve seen) but also in redemption. (82)

Respectful

Women are called to a posture of deep respect. (79)

Quiet and Gentle

Wives, for example, know that they are uniquely called to have a “gentle and quiet spirit,” a spirit that takes special expression in a marriage (1 Pet. 3:4). This teaching certainly applies most directly to married women, but we cannot miss the fact that any woman training her daughter in a godly way—knowing that marriage could be in her future—would teach her to develop by the Spirit’s power such a posture. We cannot think that it is only when a woman gets married that she seeks to exhibit such godliness. (146)

Helpers

What specifically was the woman created for? She was a “helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18, 20). This was the unique role given by God to Eve. Adam was not created as a helper for Eve (Gen. 2:18-22 cf. 1 Cor.11:9-11). As noted in Chapter One, God created male and female equally in his image. He made Adam first but it was not good for him to be alone (Gen. 2:18). He needed someone to help him to complete the commission to be fruitful and multiply and rule over creation (Gen.1: 28). The woman was to help him do this by producing children with him and filling the earth with the presence of God’s image bearers. She was the man’s second in command. So Eve functions as Adam’s helper by virtue of creation. (65)

Life-givers

For their part, women are life-givers. Women give physical life to humanity, a task so great and so significant it cannot be quantified. God has highly esteemed women by making the survival of the human race hang on their care and nurture. There is immense fulfillment and meaning for women in this truth.( 69)

Again, I do not disagree that in the economy of marriage husbands are called to lead, provide, and protect. I also agree that in the economy of marriage wives are called to submit to their husbands’ leadership, to be helpers for their husbands, and to be life-givers, if the Lord sends children. However, I do not believe that it is Biblical to use these marriage roles to define the nature of men and women. If you doubt that this is what Strachan and Peacock are doing, please consider these quotes.

Whether a man is single or married, this biblical vision for manhood stands. (44)

And,

Manhood and womanhood are not limited to the home and church because they are not states you can switch off when you step into in a secular world. (113)

And,

Christian women have a far higher goal than that which our world sets for them: to glorify God as a woman. This involves being a helper—first in the context of marriage, and then as a principle to apply in her broader life. (76)

And,

In the bigger and everlasting family (household) of the church we all relate to each other as brothers and sisters meaning that gender-specific behavior is relevant. When we train men and women in same-sex settings, we help them understand better the very nature of manhood and womanhood. We call men to lead like Christ and we call women to respect and trust like the purified church (Eph. 5:22-33). (111)

The problem with teaching that the roles of husband and wife are actually the nature of men and women is that it stereotypes men and women, and it is contrary to Biblical examples of what men and women should be. The Biblical picture of men and women is much fuller and much harder to reduce to bullet points.

Deborah was a leader. Lois and Eunice lead Timothy to the faith. Ruth provided for Naomi. Believing women are told to provide for the widows in their families (1 Timothy 5). The Hebrew midwives, Jochebed, Miriam, Pharoah’s daughter, and Zipporah all protected Moses.

All believers all called to submit to God, to our church leaders, to civil authority, and to each other. Believers are also called to respect their church leaders and all those to whom respect is owed (1 Thess. 5:12, Romans 13:7). Psalm 131:2 encourages us all to have a calm and quiet soul. The Lord describes himself as “gentle” using the same word as the 1 Peter 3 passage (Matt. 11:29), and gentleness (same root word) is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). God describes Himself as our helper in many places. Appropriately fathers are also considered life-givers (Prov. 23:22). It does take two to bring life into this world.

Because Strachan and Peacock believe that the authority/submission structure is inherent in the Trinity and in men and women, authority and submission become the lens through which they understand Scripture. This shows up in their understanding of the Fall:

Adam should have protected his wife, rebuked the serpent, and exercised his God-given dominion over a beast that creeps on the ground. He was given this powerful role in Genesis 1. But he does no such thing. He hides instead of leading and protecting his wife. As a result, the beast takes dominion of mankind, and then Eve leads Adam. The order of creation instituted by God is reversed, and the man and woman sin against the Lord, and death enters the world.( 34-35)

And,

He abdicated his responsibility to lead his wife when the serpent usurped the created order by approaching her first and not Adam. The roles reversed. She bit, he was passive, they both fell, creation was fractured, and relational crisis ensued. (43)

It also distorts the application of the Bible to believers. Verses that are clearly for all believers are applied to either men or women depending on how it fits their paradigm. It’s the Procrustean bed of theology: what doesn’t fit, gets chopped.

His words in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 apply to all believers, to be sure, but they have special significance for men, who are called to lead God’s people, and thus are called to lead in exhibiting the five traits we explore below. (47-48)

And,

Even as he calls all believers to maturity, Paul recognises that there is a specific way that a man should act, with manly bravery. (54)

And,

A reverent woman is not assertive, loud and obnoxious. She is appropriate, meek, modest, and self controlled, bringing honor to God, not attention to herself. (77)

Because they believe the characteristics of authority and submission are part of the very nature of men and women, Strachan and Peacock don’t restrict their understanding of the complementarity of men and women to the church and the home. They believe that there are certain jobs in the workforce that a woman shouldn’t do because she’s a woman.

Christian womanhood should have meaning in the workplace as well as the home and church. This means you express your femininity in all of life in all relationships. So young women should think carefully about what kind of job they might be working towards. Will it demand a masculine, directive aggression that goes against the grain of femininity? A woman’s challenge is to avoid a thin, quasi-womanhood, which doesn’t embrace the fullness of her feminine vocation and presents what Elisabeth Elliot calls a “pseudo-personhood.” … Surely, there are ambiguities on the matter of women in the workplace. I would suggest, though, that there are certain jobs which would at some point stretch biblical femininity to such an extent that they would be untenable for her (or reversely a man). An army sergeant for instance—barking orders and directing men or a female referee in a football match. (74)

They also believe the length of our hair is important:

Women and men should grow their hair different lengths, according to the Apostle Paul. “Long hair,” he teaches, “is a disgrace” for men but the “glory” of a woman (1 Cor. 11:14-15). The man and woman united in marriage must not look the same or blur their roles in marriage. The man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man (1 Cor. 11:9). (123)

And they give descriptions of what it means to them to be masculine and feminine that have more to do with Western, middle-class cultural constructs than Biblical teaching.

We want our boys to pursue strength, to look adults in the eye when they talk, to shake hands with a firm grip, to welcome physical challenges, to take responsibility in the home, to wear clothes that are not feminine, to play games that are masculine, to jump to their feet when a woman needs assistance and offer it discreetly and courageously, and to appropriately and within reason pursue personal appearance and behavior that is not feminine. We do not want boys to talk to girls like they are are “bros,” to embrace other boys as if they are their wives, to be snarky and passive aggressive in their humor, and to shirk from responsibility and leadership. (138)

And,

We want our girls to pursue femininity, to develop a sense of social grace and decorum, to avoid being catty or enticing in their demeanor, to welcome opportunities to develop domes tic skills, to wear clothes that are not masculine but are modestly feminine, to welcome physical exertion but avoid manly com petition, and to appropriately and within reason pursue personal appearance and behavior that is not masculine. We do not want girls to treat boys like they are “girlfriends,” to look to boys for meaning and self-worth, to be aggressive in their approach, and to shirk from a uniquely feminine manner. (138-139)

Lastly, the view of complementarity taught in The Grand Design distorts the gospel. Strachan and Peacock teach that complementarity, as they define it, is an essential doctrine. “[C]omplementarity cannot be ‘take it or leave it'” (142). They teach that if you understand the gospel, you will agree with them on their version of complementarity. They teach that their understanding of complementarity IS the gospel.

The gospel creates a passion for and understanding of complementarity. You cannot divorce the two; you cannot separate one from the other. If you are to love the gospel, you cannot help but love the Christ-shaped vision of manhood and womanhood that the gospel creates. The two are one. (166)

This is extremely dangerous. While I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ in His role as Mediator voluntarily submitted to the Father, that husbands are to be Spiritual leaders in the home, that wives are to submit to the leadership of their husbands, and that ordained leadership in the Church should be male, I do not believe that complementarity is equal to the gospel.

I believe that the view of complementarianism taught by Strachan and Peacock in The Grand Design is a dangerous distortion of Biblical truth. They start with a faulty and unorthodox understanding of the Trinity. They build on that foundation a narrow and unhelpfully limited view of the nature of men and women. They elevate their understanding of gender roles to the level of a first order doctrine. They distort the gospel.

I’m so very thankful for the light that has been shed on the bad doctrine being taught regarding the Trinity. It is imperative that our teaching on the Trinity be orthodox. I hope that there will be continued scrutiny of how ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching has trickled down through the complementarian movement. Men and women are hurting. Families are hurting. Churches are hurting. It’s time to pay attention to what’s being taught in the name of complementarianism.

Plagiarism, Wilson, and the Omnibus

[Note: Please note that the name of the author of the essay does not mean that the author is the one responsible for the plagiarism. This is especially true of the image captions and side bars (large text inserts). Typically those parts of books are added by others after the authors have already written their essay text. I’m sorry for the confusion.]

As was the case in Omnibus I, numerous experts have contributed to this monumental work. –Veritas Press

Your final product will, of course, differ from the example given (if it does not, you might want to start over and confess the sin of plagiarism). (Omnibus II: Confessions, G. Tyler Fischer, pg 45)

How do Google, Wikipedia, and other online sources affect the value we place on information? While things like Google and Wikipedia can be an enormous blessing, they do tend to devalue information. Because we do not have to quest for knowledge, but can get pretty much anything we need in a few seconds online, we sometimes cease to see the value of thinking through difficult concepts or reading through difficult books. (Omnibus V: Le Morte d’Arthur, Rick Davis, pg 413)

When I was researching the Omnibus Curriculum for my posts on Doug Wilson and Classical Christian Education, I noticed that Steve Wilkins and Randy Booth had both written essays. Wilkins and Booth were Wilson’s co-authors for two books that were pulled for plagiarism. Wondering if they had plagiarized any text in their Omnibus essays, I decided to check Wilkins’ essay on Of Plymouth Plantation by running sections of the text through a commercial plagiarism checking software. I found that portions of text were unoriginal and without citation. In other words, I found plagiarism.

I noticed that there were large text captions on the images throughout the essay. I checked a couple of those and found that there were significant amounts of text taken from other sources and not cited.

At that point, I began to wonder if other essays had similar problems. I started by looking at various image captions. I found several examples of plagiarism. I also looked at portions of essays and large text inserts as well. What follows is a representative sample of the over 100 instances of plagiarism that I found. There are examples from image captions, essay text, end notes, sessions text, and text inserts. There are many more examples that I found, and given the size of the volumes, I was not able to search everything. I would also like to note that all of the research here was done exclusively by me.

A caption explaining the example appears on each image. To view the caption, hover over the image. I have included the names of the editors and essay authors for citation purposes. I do not know who is responsible for the plagiarism in each example.

Clicking on an image below will open a gallery for that volume. Each of the images can be viewed full sized by right clicking. The legend for the image is as follows. Each image is a comparison of the Omnibus text and the original source material. The plagiarized text is usually highlighted in yellow. In some examples, more than one source was used. In those cases, a different color of highlighting is used to represent each source. A dark green line is used to separate the separate sources the text was taken from. Some examples have text that was rearranged in a different order from the original source. In those cases, the moved text has been highlighted in a different color, usually light blue. A dark red line indicates that there is a break in the text.

Omnibus I: Biblical and Classical Civilizations, ed. Douglas Wilson, G. Tyler Fischer; Veritas Press, 2005

 
Omnibus II: Church Fathers through the Reformation, ed. Douglas Wilson, G. Tyler Fischer; Veritas Press, 2005

 
Omnibus III: Reformation to the Present, ed. Douglas Wilson, G. Tyler Fischer; Veritas Press, 2006

 
Omnibus IV: The Ancient World, ed. Gene Edward Veith, Douglas Wilson, G. Tyler Fischer; Veritas Press, 2009

 
Omnibus V: The Medieval World, ed. Gene Edward Veith, Douglas Wilson, G. Tyler Fischer; Veritas Press, 2010

 
Omnibus VI: The Modern World, ed. Gene Edward Veith, Douglas Wilson, G. Tyler Fischer; Veritas Press, 2011

As these example show, the plagiarism in the Omnibus volumes is extensive and pervasive. These are only a small portion of the more than 100 instances I found.