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.

Wilson’s Influence on “Classical Christian Education”

As I noted in the last post, Doug Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, sex, etc. are present in materials that many CCE schools, programs, and homeschools use. In doing my research, I focused on the six-volume Omnibus produced by Veritas Press. Veritas Press is owned by Marlin and Laurie Detweiler who were members of Wilson’s CREC denomination.

The Omnibus Curriculum consists of six volumes covering the time periods from classical civilizations to the modern era. The material is intended for students in grades 7-12. Each volume consists of essays and “sessions” discussing the “Great Books.” The Omnibus volumes range between 500-800 pages in length and cost from $75-$100 each. The first three volumes were edited by Doug Wilson and G. Tyler Fischer. Volumes 4-6 were edited by Wilson, Fischer, and Gene Edward Veith. The first volume was published in 2005, and the last volume was published in 2011.

From the description on Christian Book Distributors website:

In Latin, Omnibus means “all encompassing.”

The Omnibus Curriculum from Veritas Press is designed to help enlighten, train, and develop young minds through the study of everything important, long-lasting, and true: the ideas, arguments and expression of the Western Canon as expressed in the Great Books. …

Each volume features lists of both Primary and Secondary books. Primary books are the traditional Great Books, while the Secondary books provide balance in the areas of Theology, History and Literature …

Each chapter covers a Great Book, examining the author, context, significance, main characters, summary and setting, worldview, and providing an in-depth essay analyzing and teaching the important points of the work. Chapters conclude with five sessions that provide questions to consider, optional activities, reading assignments, cultural analysis, biblical analysis, application, summa questions, recitation comprehension questions, lateral thinking, review questions, and evaluation questions. …

Covering literature, history, and theology from a solidly Reformed perspective, editors Douglas Wilson and G. Tyler Fischer weave their understanding of God’s providence and sovereignty throughout history.

In reading through various essays from the Omnibus Curriculum, I found examples of Doug Wilson’s influence throughout. I decided to organize the material here using the list of topics from my post, A Question for Wilson Fans. I’ve made some adjustments, but the basic format was useful in categorizing.

First is the issue of credentials. As Wilson’s own credentials are questionable, he has never been to seminary or been ordained, it seems that many of the Omnibus essay authors do not have the credentials one would expect from this type of curricula. There is no biographical information in the Omnibus for the authors of the essays and sessions. Some of the names were familiar to me as various CREC pastors or members of Wilson’s family. Other names I found through Google, some of them were teachers or administrators at CCE schools, others were former students from New Saint Andrews, Wilson’s college. A few names were of professors from Patrick Henry or other colleges.

The bulk of the essays and sessions were written by Wilson, his family members, and CREC pastors and elders. Wilson wrote over 30 of them himself. Many of his essays were on literature outside the areas of his educational background. His degrees are in philosophy and classical studies. In Texas, in order to certify to teach at the secondary level, a teacher has to have a certain number of college hours in a subject. To use myself as an example, I have the credit hours to certify in History, English, and Spanish.

While Wilson lamented in Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning that many teachers in today’s schools are not experts in their subject matter (RLTL, Kindle Locations 1587-1589), it doesn’t seem that the authors of the Omnibus essays and sessions fared much better, with a few notable exceptions. Gene Edward Veith and David Ayers, among other college faculty, are clearly qualified to write on the topics of their essays. Other authors may also be qualified, but without biographical information, it’s hard to know.

The author of one essay, Michael Metzler, wrote that he was asked to write his essay on Oresteiaa group of Greek tragedies, but he “had never even read a greek tragedy”:

A few years ago I agreed with Veritas Press to write for their first Omnibus text book. True, I was an old friend of Marlin Detweiler, and I even remember offering a little bit of volunteer help when the Detweilers were developing those world famous flashcards, but I don’t think this connection has much to do with my obtaining of the assignment. The assignment was an introduction to Aeschylus’ Oresteia … Although the marketing literature of Veritas Press spoke of the “experts” that were writing for this new release, I must confess that I had never even read a greek tragedy.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Wilson’s views on slavery and history show up in the Omnibus curriculum. Those familiar with Wilson’s book Black and Tan should recognize the line of thought in these quotes. I should note that not all of the following quotes were written by Wilson. Many of the examples here and further down will be from other authors, but the point is that views that Wilson has made public through his own writing appear in these Omnibus essays and sessions.

In the essay and sessions on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Toby Sumpter writes:

While Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work was by far the most popular, there were also popular novels of the period written from a Southern point of view, seeking to show that most slaves were treated fairly and compassionately. These stories show many slaves being given opportunities to learn, attend Christian worship services, and in many ways being treated as members of the family. These novels attempted to show how there were often “covenantal” ties that were thicker than blood existing between masters and servants, with mutual love and respect existing between them. (Omnibus III: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, pg. 177)

In the essay and sessions on Slave Narratives, the author (Wilson, Fischer, or Josh Stevenson) writes:

As you read through the Slave Narratives, exclude the abolitionist argument that the relation of master/slave is necessarily wicked. (Omnibus III: Slave Narratives, pg. 201)

And,

The problem the abolitionists had was … they wanted to maintain that the very relationship of slave and master was prima facia, or on its face, immoral. … The abolitionists rejected the authority of Scripture when it came to slavery, and many faithful Christians were right to resist them at this point. (Omnibus III: Slave Narratives, pg. 203)

Wilson’s book, Black and Tan, is listed at the end of this essay as additional recommended reading.

The following quote is from an essay by William Chad Newsom on Battle Cry of Freedom. It also demonstrates Wilson’s influence on the issue of slavery and the Civil War:

But while McPherson acknowledges the presence of complex factors and the reality of Southern ideals of constitutional liberty, and while he is usually careful to avoid coming across as biased, he nevertheless casts his lot with the North, the Union, Abraham Lincoln, and the radical abolitionism and egalitarianism that provoked the war. (Omnibus VI: Battle Cry of Freedom, pg 257)

Wilson’s views on revolution and American independence are also apparent in the Omnibus essays. In Wilson’s essay “American and French Revolutions Compared,” Wilson explains why he calls the Revolutionary War a War of Independence:

Nevertheless, clear-headed Americans knew that what they had fought for was of a completely different order than what the French Revolution was seeking to establish. To blur them together is to be guilty of an historical slander, and it is to throw away one of the great achievements of the American founding—a righteous heritage. So we have already noted that War of Independence is the better name for our founding war. But in conclusion, let’s use the word revolution in order to set the two side by side, that we may look at them directly. The American revolution was legal; the French revolution was illegal. The American revolution was constitutional; the French revolution was unconstitutional. The American revolution was defensive; the French revolution was offensive. The American revolution was conservative; the French revolution was radical. The American revolution fought to preserve the existing form of government; the French revolution fought to annihilate the existing form of government. The American revolution had a clear and definite object; the French revolution never had a clear and definite object. The American revolution was righteous; the French revolution was unrighteous. (Omnibus VI: American and French Revolutions Compared, pg. 137)

It is worth noting that other essay writers in the Omnibus curriculum acknowledge the fact that contemporary sources call it the American Revolutionary War:

Revolutionary War I realize this name is not the best description of this conflict, but it is how Irving himself refers to the war. (O. W. Leithart, Omnibus VI: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, pg. 536 End Note 1)

Next up is the issue of Federal Vision and other questionable theology. Because most of the essays on the books of the Bible in the Omnibus Curriculum were written by CREC and Federal Visionary pastors, various aspects of Wilson’s theology show up in many essays. What follows is some of what I found.

The first two quotes demonstrate the influence of Federal Vision teaching on justification:

Abraham was declared righteous by God before he was circumcised, therefore his right standing before God was based on his faith, not any good deeds. (Etter, Omnibus 1: Romans, pg. 518)

And,

James is significant in that it shapes our thinking in several important areas. First, it provides the perfect balance to the writings of Paul concerning true, saving faith. (Etter, Omnibus 1: James, pg. 527)

This quote from an essay and session on Robin Hood says that Christians can use deceit:

Is it proper to deceive deceitful people? Can we trick the wicked? Although Christians must use it extremely wisely and carefully, deceit can be a legitimate weapon against the wicked. (N.D. Wilson, Josh Stevenson, Omnibus II: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood 370 (teacher’s edition))

Steve Wilkins in his essay On Plymouth Plantation writes that the downfall of the U.S. is partly due to the Pilgrims’ rejection of the liturgical church calendar:

The Reformers … wanted to retain the more historic observance of the Christian calendar. The Puritans saw even this modified position as dangerous and decided it was safer simply to throw out the entire calendar. But this did not mean there would be no “man-made holy days;” it only meant that distinctively Christian celebrations were replaced with other celebrations. Man cannot live without commemorations and celebrations. … The Christian celebrations were replaced with days which celebrated the accomplishments of the state (e.g. Artillery Day, Election Day). The calendar no longer centered around the life of Christ and the church but around the accomplishments of the body politic. Men celebrate what is important to their gods. (Omnibus III: Of Plymouth Plantation pg. 48-49)

N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul have clearly influenced a couple of essays:

Paul was preaching a new cosmos, a new order, in Christ. The resurrection of Christ had already happened, and this reality was going to permeate the old social order and, as a result was going to overthrow it. (Wilson, Etter, Omnibus III: Philemon, pg. 279)

And,

And the gospel is not just about getting people’s souls into heaven when they die. The gospel does promise that, but it also promises far more. That “more” includes the transformation of all the cultures of all men. (Wilson, Fischer, Steveson, Omnibus III: Slave Narratives, pg. 203)

Wright is quoted in a couple of other essays and his books are included in the books recommended for additional reading.

Another example of questionable theology comes from the essay and sessions on The Old Man and the Sea. This is not orthodox, Reformed teaching on Christ’s death:

Hemingway likens Santiago to Christ, who gave His life for the greater glory of mankind. (Newsom, Stevenson, Omnibus III: The Old Man and the Sea, pg. 530).

James Jordan’s teaching on Adam as needing to grow in maturity appears in a handful of essays:

When God created Adam, He put him in a garden, naked as a newborn. He told Adam to carry out the priestly task of “serving and guarding” the garden (Gen. 2:15). Adam was allowed to eat from the Tree of Life, but before he received the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge he had to grow up. Life is for babies; knowledge or wisdom is for adults, who have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14). Eventually, Yahweh would have allowed Adam to eat the fruit of knowledge, and his eyes would have been opened to judge and rule (cf. Ps. 11:4; Heb. 4:13). Eventually, Adam would have grown up from priest to king. (Leithart, Omnibus IV: Proverbs, pg 13)

And,

“Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect,” Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 5:48. When we hear that, we usually cringe, thinking that Jesus is being totally unreasonable. How can we be perfect? Don’t we still sin? Jesus’ demands are too hard for us, and we might decide that Jesus doesn’t really mean what He says. Jesus does mean what He says, but we often misunderstand it. In the Bible, the word “perfect” doesn’t usually mean “without sin.” Instead, it means “mature.” Jacob was a “perfect” man (Gen. 27:25), and so was Job (Job 1:8). Neither one was sinless, but they were both “complete.” They were both “grown-ups.” That is what the Bible is all about—showing us how to be “perfect,” to be “grown-ups.” Adam was a baby in the Garden of Eden, as naked as a newborn. God planned for him to grow up and put on a crown and a royal robe of glory. But Adam acted just like a baby, grabbing the food he wasn’t supposed to have, and so God put him out of the Garden. When Jesus came, though, He came to bring us to maturity. Jesus came to make us “perfect”—all grown up.  (Leithart, Omnibus IV: Phillipians and Colossians, 377)

At one point, the Omnibus session recommends that students debate the issue of paedocommunion. It’s interesting to note the reasoning behind the suggestion:

Paedocommunion In our discussions on the Lord’s Supper, we discussed the differences of opinion between the four groups regarding the presence of Christ. We did not touch upon another debated issue regarding Communion—that is, the question of who should participate in this sacrament. While most churches only allow adults and older children to participate in the Lord’s Supper, more churches are now practicing what is known as paedocommunion, or child communion. Today, we are going to debate the question of who should participate in the Lord’s Supper.  (Wilson, Etter, Omnibus V: Institutes of the Christian Religion, pg 307, emphasis added)

Wilson’s patriarchal views are also frequently seen in the Omnibus curriculum.

Genesis 2 describes the origins of sexual difference. How does Genesis 2 define masculinity and femininity? Genesis 2 shows that Adam is created to “cultivate and keep” the garden (2:15) and that Eve is created to assist him in this task. Adam is the leader, initiator, beginner of things. And he is also the guardian who protects Eve from spiritual and physical assaults. He puts his strength to work in service and sacrifice. (Leithart, Omnibus II: Macbeth, pg 195-196)

And,

From a Christian perspective, feminism must be seen as a reaction to the sins and abdication of men. If men were genuinely devoted to Christ-like masculinity, if they truly gave themselves for their wives and daughters as Jesus did for His bride, if men honored women as their glory and crown, the feminist movement would have had very little impact. Feminism is a movement about women, but it is just as importantly a movement that poses questions to men. What does it mean to be a man? Christian men are not supposed to be brutal, but Christian men are not supposed to be stuffed teddy bears either. Where is the balance? (Leithart, Omnibus II: Macbeth, pg 1)

And,

Why is Deborah’s victory over Jabin and Sisera bittersweet for Israel? It was bittersweet because on one hand, it was a great victory for Israel, and Deborah was a godly, decisive, courageous judge and prophetess in Israel. On the other hand, when she implored Barak to lead Israel into battle, he would only comply if she went along. She warned him that a woman would receive credit. The bitterness lies in the cowardice and laziness of the men in Israel. In her wisdom (and subtlety) Deborah praises “the princes of Israel who willingly fought” (5:9). (Lusk, Becker, Omnibus IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, pg. 487)

And,

Egalitarianism can mean many different things. I am here using it to describe the philosophy that, while much more obviously present today, was very much a part of the modern outlook in the nineteenth century: the idea that there must be no (or few) boundaries or hierarchies in human relationships and that all people must be “equal” in every possible way. This goes well beyond equal treatment under the law to include equality of income and lifestyle, and the rejection of traditional, biblical roles that give different, complementary spheres to the work and life of men and women, ruler and subject, master and servant. (Newsom, Omnibus VI: Battle Cry of Freedom pg. 274 End note 5)

Wilson’s teachings on marriage also appear in the Omnibus essays and sessions:

Paul views men and women as equal in worth, but different in nature and function. Men and women are created equally in the image of God; indeed, they can only fully image God in community with one another. Further, men and women share equally in the Fall and participate equally in Christ’s redemptive work. But they are also profoundly different, and those differences are more than just a matter of biology. Men and women were designed to complement one another, with their strengths and weaknesses fitting one another like two pieces of a puzzle. Men were made for taking initiative and exercising responsible leadership in both church and home, which the Bible calls “headship.” Women were designed to be helpers and completers. The woman’s role is different, but no less valuable than the man’s. Further, these roles are not arbitrary; they fit with our God-given natures as men and women. We see these basic orientations laid out in Genesis 1–3, where the man’s primary focus is his work in the world (3:17–19), while the woman’s primary focus is the home (3:16); by fulfilling these roles, men and women together rule over God’s good creation (1:26–28) (Lusk, Omnibus VI: 1 and 2 Timothy, pg. 446)

And,

These complementary gender roles are most clearly seen in marriage (Eph. 5:21ff). The man is the head of his household, taking responsibility for the state of those under his care. He is the primary leader, protector, and provider. The woman is to be in submission to her husband, as his helper, not because she is inferior to him (after all, God is called “helper” more than anyone else in Scripture!), but because he needs her support and aid to fulfill his calling in the world. John Piper defines masculinity and femininity this way: At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.13 These are excellent Pauline definitions. There are biblical/theological models that help us understand how men and woman can be equal yet relate asymmetrically to one another. In the Trinity, the Father and Son share in the same “Godness.” They are equal in every way. But they are not interchangeable pieces because they have different roles to play. In the economy of creation and redemption, the Son submits Himself to the Father (1 Cor. 11:2ff). (Lusk, Omnibus VI: 1 and 2 Timothy, pg 449)

And,

Of course, not all Christian men and women are called to be married, and in those cases, there are opportunities for alternative forms of service outside of home life (cf. 1 Cor. 7). But, statistically speaking, it is obvious God calls most people to marry, and the woman’s role as helper to her husband and homemaker for her children should be honored. (Lusk, Omnibus VI: 1 and 2 Timothy, pg. 456 End Note 10)

The last section I want to cover is the significant amount of disturbing material (sex, nudity, violence) in the Omnibus volumes. Some of it is text that reflects Wilson’s teachings.

All of the Omnibus volumes open with prefaces and information for parents and teachers. One of the prefaces has an advisory that explains the editors’ approach to the subject of sex, nudity, and violence:

Advisory to Teachers and Parents

In the course of history there has been much fluctuation on what has been deemed age appropriate for young students. And for those of us alive today, there remains great variation as to what is considered age appropriate. The material we have created and the books we have assigned address numerous subjects and ideas that deal with topics (including sex, violence, religious persuasion and a whole host of other ideas) that have been the subject of much discussion of whether they are age appropriate. The judgment we applied in this text has been the same as we apply to our own children. In the creation of this program we have assumed that it will be used by students in seventh grade and above. Furthermore, we have assumed that there is no part of the Bible deemed inappropriate to discuss with a seventh grade student. Therefore, the material assumes that the student knows what sex is, that he understands the existence of violence, that he understands there are theological and doctrinal differences to be addressed and that he has the maturity to discern right and wrong. The worldview we hold and from which we write is distinctly protestant and best summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Bible is our only ultimate and infallible rule of faith and practice. We encourage you to become familiar with the material that your students will be covering in this program in order to avoid problems where you might differ with us on these matters. (Omnibus I: Advisory, Preface, xi)

Many of the essays recommend movie versions of the books being read. A couple of essays have warnings (like the one below) about the content of those movies:

View the 1964 movie production Becket and write a movie review, commenting on its faithfulness to the record in Lives. Warning: Within the first hour there is quite a bit of female flesh, near nudity, and immorality insinuated to depict Becket and Henry’s companionship in carousing and hunting during Becket’s days as chancellor. An adult should preview the movie and note the times of the offending portions and be ready with the fast-forward or instead find clips of the significant scenes online. The opening scenes are particularly good in showing the king’s penance and the church’s pressure and power in the aftermath of Thomas’s martyrdom. After viewing the film, discuss the following questions (Doud, Omnibus V: Lives of Thomas Becket, pg 226)

One of the books that 9th graders (generally ages 14-15) are expected to read is the play, Death of a Salesman. The play contains profanity, suicide, adultery, and call girls. The Omnibus essay has an end note warning teachers. Note that the warning only mentions the “vulgar and profane language”:

Teachers should be forewarned. This play contains vulgar and profane language. Common wisdom has been to avoid these realities. We think it is more righteous and wise to deal with such matters as God’s Word does: carefully, yet forthrightly and honestly. (Leithart, Omnibus III: Death of a Salesman, pg. 554 End Note 1)

What follows are examples that are representative of the many disturbing images used in the Omnibus curriculum.  It is especially disturbing because of how many there are. As a student of Medieval and Renaissance history, I know that there are many paintings and stories that are troubling. The issue is that there are options when choosing what to use in curricula. That they chose so many creepy images to highlight is troubling. (Each image can be viewed in full size by clicking on the image.)

O1-Samuel-74

(Leithart, Omnibus I: First and Second Samuel, pg. 74) Michelangelo’s David. While there are many nudes in the various Omnibus volumes, this one is particularly noticeable for the angle of the image. For whatever reason, this image was chosen when other angles are more common.

O2-Incarnation-62

(Dawson, Omnibus II: On the Incarnation, pg. 62) The Sacrifice by Edward Knippers. This image has the distinction of being disturbing, nude, and a violation of the second commandment. There was considerable controversy at Covenant College over an exhibition of Knippers work several years ago.

O-2-Beowulf-123

(Merkle, Omnibus II: Beowulf, pg. 123) Artwork by Matthew Clark. The monster’s detached arm is vivid and disturbing.

O-2-Inferno-232-233

(Vest, Omnibus II: The Divine Comedy: Inferno, pg. 232-233) Arwork by Matthew Clark. The caption for this image reads:

Judas, Brutus and Cassius get their just desserts for being traitors to both Lord and empire. Judas is head first as the worst sinner, Cassius the Epicurean screams in his torments forever and Brutus the Stoic suffers but utters no sound. He has a stiff upper lip for all eternity.

O4-Proverbs-20

(Leithart, Omnibus IV: Proverbs, pg 20) I do not know whose artwork this is. If you do know, please let me know and I’ll add that information. This image appears to be a depiction of the adulterous woman from Proverbs based on the surrounding text.

O-4-Apocrypha-245

(Wilson, Gore, Omnibus IV: Apocrypha, pg 245) Susanna and the Elders by Anthony van Dyck. There are other representations of Susanna and the Elders that are not quite so disconcerting, although the theme of the story is disturbing in itself. This is one of several images that depict violence towards women.

O5-Summa-112

(Clark, Dennis, Omnibus V: Summa Theologica, pg. 112) The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. From the description on Wikipedia:

Animals are shown punishing humans, subjecting them to nightmarish torments that may symbolise the seven deadly sins, matching the torment to the sin. Sitting on an object that may be a toilet or a throne, the panel’s centerpiece is a gigantic bird-headed monster feasting on human corpses, which he excretes through a cavity below him,[49] into the transparent chamber pot on which he sits.[53] The monster is sometimes referred to as the “Prince of Hell”, a name derived from the cauldron he wears on his head, perhaps representing a debased crown.[49] To his feet a female has her face reflected on the buttocks of a demon. Further to the left, next to a hare-headed demon, a group of naked persons around a toppled gambling table is being massacred with swords and knives. Other brutal violence is shown by a knight torn down and eaten up by a pack of wolves to the right of the tree-man.

O5-Decameron-515

(Tillman, Omnibus V: The Decameron, pg 515) The Banquet in the Pine Forest by Alessandro Botticelli. The caption reads:

The Banquet in the Pine Forest by Alessandro Botticelli (1445–1510) shows a portion of this story where, witnessing the horrible suffering of some ghosts, a young maiden realizes the cruelty with which she has treated a suitor and so consents to marry him.

Another source I read describes the image and the story behind it:

Directly after what we see in the second panel, the woman who has just been slaughtered rises up as if nothing has happened and Guido mounts his horse and begins to chase her all over again. It is explained that both Guido and the woman are dead. Guido killed himself over his unrequited love for the woman and he is doomed to hunt her for all eternity. The woman, due to her cold heart is doomed to flee from him. The scene Nastagio has witnessed will occur every Friday at the same time, without end.

Nastagio himself loves a woman who does not love him back. The third panel depicts the setup Nastagio has created to win over the woman he loves.
The dinner party depicted is “dedicated to frightening women into sexual submission” (Ricketts, 79) and we can see this through the way the women have all been seated together and have a front view of the gruesome scene.

It is also important to note that the women at the table have similar features to the nude woman Guido pursues and kills. Botticelli uses this resemblance to “imply that all the women were collectively affected…and that they were all potential victims.” (Ricketts, 85) Because of the possibility that they too could end up like this nude woman, the women’s response is exactly what Nastagio intended, which was “deferring to the men’s desires.”(85)

O6-Revolutions-137

(Wilson, Hensley, Omnibus VI: American and French Revolutions Compared, pg. 137) The Able Dr. or America Swallows the Bitter Draught. Particularly disturbing is the lecherous guy looking up “America’s” skirts.

O6-Huckleberry-218

(Iverson, Etter, Omnibus VI: Huckleberry Finn, pg. 218) I’m not certain where this image originates. There wasn’t a name for artist or painting in the caption. But it is clearly meant to depict the torments of hell.

O6-Dreams-621

(Dawson, Omnibus VI: The Interpretation of Dreams, pg. 621) Oedipus and the Sphinx by Gustave Moreau. Again there are other images of Oedipus and the Sphinx that are less disturbing. This one is worse than most, even given the nature of the Oedipus story.

There are other images and more quotes that I could have used here. This is only a small sample. My purpose is to illustrate that the content of the Omnibus Curriculum has been influenced in many ways by Wilson and his heterodox views. I would strongly caution any family or school against purchasing and using this curriculum.

Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson

One of the largest and best-known movements within Christian education is Classical Christian Education (CCE). CCE is popular with both private schools and homeschoolers. There are several publishing houses that produce CCE curricula, whole networks of CCE schools, and a number of CCE programs available for interested parents.

As a homeschooler, I have many friends who use CCE materials or programs. I also have a number of friends whose children attend CCE schools. So while I do not use CCE myself, I have had a good bit of exposure to the programs. Personally, I prefer other educational models, and generally, I take a “live-and-let-live” approach to educational choices. However, after doing some research into Christian Classical Education, I find it necessary to say something.

What concerns me the most about CCE is not a difference of educational model. Many educators, schools, and parents favor a “classics” approach to education. They generally teach Latin and Greek. They probably read Cicero, Virgil, and Plato. They may have a list of “great books” that they believe the well-educated student should read.

While Christian Classical Education includes all of these aspects, my argument is not about these things. My concern is that CCE as a movement has very close ties to Doug Wilson and has been and continues to be influenced by him and his views. Because of his connections to the movement and because of his influence over what is taught, my concern is that CCE is not a good option for parents and educators, especially those in Reformed denominations.

In 1947, Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” in which she lamented the state of education and proposed some changes that she thought would improve the future. The heart of the essay is her recommendations which are based on a combination of the Medieval Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Sayers’ three stages of child development. This is the framework that CCE uses. There are also secular classical programs that incorporate ideas from Sayers’ essay.

Dorothy Sayers explains her theory of child development as it relates to education:

My views about child psychology are, I admit, neither orthodox nor enlightened. Looking back upon myself (since I am the child I know best and the only child I can pretend to know from inside) I recognize three states of development. These, in a rough-and- ready fashion, I will call the Poll-Parrot, the Pert,and the Poetic–the latter coinciding, approximately, with the onset of puberty. The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. The Pert age, which follows upon this (and, naturally,overlaps it to some extent), is characterized by contradicting, answering back, liking to “catch people out” (especially one’s elders); and by the propounding of conundrums. Its nuisance-value is extremely high. It usually sets in about the Fourth Form.The Poetic age is popularly known as the “difficult” age. It is self-centered; it yearns to express itself; it rather specializes in being misunderstood; it is restless and tries to achieve independence; and, with good luck and good guidance, it should show the beginnings of creativeness; a reaching out towards a synthesis of what it already knows, and a deliberate eagerness to know and do some one thing in preference to all others. Now it seems to me that the layout of the Trivium adapts itself with a singular appropriateness to these three ages: Grammar to the Poll-Parrot, Dialectic to the Pert, and Rhetoric to the Poetic age.

Sayers’ essay became the catalyst for Doug Wilson to start a private school implementing her ideas in the late 1980s. He went on to write a book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, about the school and his application of Sayers’ theory of education. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (RLTL) was published in 1991, and it marks the beginning of the CCE movement. Nearly every CCE school, publishing house, educational program, etc point to Wilson’s book as the foundation of Classical Christian Education.

In RLTL, Wilson writes about the importance of Christian education. According to him, public schools are not to be trusted in educating Christian children.

Error is pervasive. It can come from TV, from library books, or from peers, as well as from school. A Christian parent has two options. The first is to neutralize the false teaching, which means the parents have to spend at least a few hours every night countering what the children learned in school. This is difficult because the parents don’t know exactly what the children learned that day. The children are not yet trained to come back and report on what was unbiblical in what they heard. Responsible oversight sight is extremely difficult. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 495-498). Kindle Edition.)

Interestingly enough, in RLTL, Wilson is also against homeschooling as a viable option. I have read more recent material where he moderates that position, but at the beginning of the CCE movement, he was not supportive of homeschooling because he didn’t believe it was possible for parents to keep up.

If parents instruct their children at home for several years and then place them in a Christian school to continue their education, there is no fundamental difference in principle. But if a home schooling family maintains that children can be given a complete education in the average home (say, K-12), then frankly there is an important difference in educational philosophy. The difference mostly concerns the importance of division of labor in a rigorous, comprehensive education. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 1430-1433). Kindle Edition.)

And,

The alternative is for the home school parents to keep pace generally with the curricula of the more traditional Christian school. Some parents are quite capable of doing this; many are not. As a rule, the average parent who attempts to keep pace with the education that goes on in a good school will have increasing difficulty as the years go by. … For starters, you have to know Latin to teach it. … The reason home schooling works so well at the early years is that the parents are teaching literacy, and they are all literate. This is not true of subjects later in the curriculum. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 1500-1503, 1507-1508). Kindle Edition.)

Wilson’s answer to the question of how to school Christian children is Classical Christian Education. He likes the format that Sayers developed in her essay, and he expands on it. He believes that education must conform to the Bible:

We should hold all forms of education up against the same Biblical standard and then make our decision.(Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 534-535). Kindle Edition.)

And that it’s not possible to have a theologically neutral education:

Neutrality is impossible; worldviews in education are unavoidable. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Location 573). Kindle Edition.)

At these points, I have to agree with him. We should recognize that all education is going to be influenced by the worldview of the educators or authors of the curricula, and all our educational decisions should be made using the Bible as our standard. And this is why I’m concerned with Wilson’s continued influence over the CCE movement. Doug Wilson is often referred to as the founder and one of the most influential leaders of the Christian Classical Education movement.

Doug Wilson founded Logos School in Moscow. Logos School is a model for CCE and holds teacher training seminars every summer for CCE teachers. In 1994, Doug Wilson founded the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) “to promote, establish, and equip schools committed to a classical approach to education in light of a Christian worldview.”

ACCS, which is headquartered in Moscow, holds an annual conference and regional teacher training conferences. The speakers at  this summer’s conference will include Doug Wilson, his son, N.D. Wilson, and Matt Whitling, who is a principal at Logos School. ACCS also provides accreditation for CCE schools. There are around 200 schools listed as member schools accredited by ACCS. This accreditation allows Wilson oversight of the CCE schools implementing his model of education. Accreditation can mean control.

As Wilson points out in RLTL:

An accredited private school may or may not be a high-quality school, but one thing is certain-it is a school on a leash. An accredited school is a controlled school. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 1324-1326). Kindle Edition.)

Canon Press, a publishing house founded by Wilson’s Christ Church in Moscow, has a CCE curricula branch called Logos School Press. Logos School Press offers curricula, resources, and online classes for Christian Classical Education schools and homeschoolers.

While there are a number of other publishing houses and CCE programs that provide resources and books for CCE, many of them either publish books by Wilson, promote materials by Wilson, or use Wilson’s books in their programs. Even Susan Wise Bauer’s book, Well Trained Mind,  quotes Wilson to explain aspects of CCE.

To recap, Wilson literally wrote the book on CCE. He founded one of the first schools. He founded the association that trains and accredits many CCE teachers and schools. His books and the curricula he helped develop are used by many CCE schools, programs, and homeschoolers.

While I intend to write more about this in my next post, Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, and sex are present in various materials and curricula used by many CCE schools and programs. Here are some small examples from the RLTL book.

Wilson’s Federal Vision theology, which includes baptismal regeneration, paedocommunion, and a denial of justification by faith alone, shows up in a passage discussing the importance of parents educating their children in the faith.

God has given parents a profound authority over children. If they use that authority correctly, with much love and affection, the children will wholeheartedly follow the God of their parents. … In Titus, the elders are required to have children who are believers-which implies that fathers can bring their children to belief. … He put children in their parents’ charge, and then He instructed the parents to teach their children in a certain way. A child should come to belief on the authority of the parents. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 477-480, 487-488). Kindle Edition.)

Wilson also has views on various aspects of history that many find troubling. This is particularly true of his views on slavery, more on this is the next post, but it’s also true of his views on the American Revolutionary War. Wilson does not believe it is accurate to call it a “revolution” and prefers to call it a “War for Independence.” He apparently believes that revolutions are sinful and not an appropriate description of the Revolutionary War (more on this in the next post).

In RLTL, Wilson uses this distinction to illustrate the importance of the worldview of educators:

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Surely that is a bald historical fact, whether or not the teacher is a Christian. Yes, but did that action by the colonists begin a revolution, or a war for independence? A revolution occurs when the government established by God is toppled, there are mobs in the streets, and lawful authority is rejected. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 710-712). Kindle Edition.)

Even Wilson’s patriarchal views are evident in RLTL when he expresses concern about mothers being the primary educators in homeschools:

In many home schools, the responsibility for lesson preparation, curriculum research, attendance at home school association meetings, and actual teaching falls on the mother. There is obviously no problem Biblically with the mother working with these things, so long as the father is truly exercising his responsibility as the head of the household. But in how many home schools is the father a passive onlooker? In how many situations has the father simply allowed the mother to run the program? If one were to attend a typical home school association meeting, how many fathers would he see there? (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 1465-1468). Kindle Edition.)

It’s also worth noting that in 2003, the board of Logos School voted to restrict membership to men. From the Logos School newsletter explaining the board’s decision:

“First, we are not considering this amendment because we believe that the scriptural requirement of men only in the eldership of a church applies to the board of the school,” the newsletter noted. “Thus, it is our view, it is not a question of whether it is a ‘sin’ to have a woman on the board, but rather a question of wisdom and prudence in our cultural circumstances.”

“Second, in regard to those circumstances, we believe that it is necessary to resist egalitarian feminism, which has spread throughout our culture and has even affected many parts of the church. As a classical Christian school committed to the Scriptures as our ultimate rule of faith and practice, we believe we have an obligation to set a positive example. Sad to say, frequently in the current climate, women seeking positions of authority (e.g. on a school board) subscribe to some form of feminist philosophy. Rather than vetoing a nomination of this sort (which would appear personal instead of principled), we would rather address the issue this way, without involving personalities.”

The danger that I see in this is that many people who do not share Doug Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, sex, etc. may be allowing him to teach his views to their children without being aware of it. You may think that the danger is small, that his views on these topics are only a small portion of what your children are being taught. But as Scripture says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (Gal. 5:9, ESV). In my next post, I will be going through some of the popular CCE curricula to show how Wilson’s views on these topics are being taught and promoted.  For now, I’d like to note that Wilson advises in RLTL that even a small amount of unbiblical teaching is too much:

It is a mistake to assume that the unbiblical nature of the curriculum must be overt before Christians oppose it. If we come to understand that a man’s life is unified in his theology, whatever that theology is, then we will not be surprised to see what he affirms in one area surface in another. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 662-664). Kindle Edition.)

It’s not often that I agree with Wilson, but I do here again. Wilson’s theology shows up in many places in the material I researched in ways that I didn’t expect.

My conclusion is that if you want to teach, or have your children taught, the classics, if you want to study Latin, Greek, and Socrates, that’s great. But if you currently support the Christian Classical Education movement, maybe it’s time to take the good out and start over on the system. As Wilson noted in RLTL, a reform of CCE may be necessary:

There are potential dangers-this is one reform that is necessary, but it might result in a system needing a different type of reform later. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 261-263). Kindle Edition.)

I think the time has come to stop funding Doug Wilson and his various endeavors and to protect our children from being indoctrinated by his heterodox views. May God bless those who seek to develop a new and better way.

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

When going on a trip, I always grab a couple of books to read and make sure my nook is loaded and charged. Our trip last month was no exception. We were headed up to see my in-laws and help them pack. In addition to my usual historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy books, I made sure to take a new book by my friend, Christina Fox, A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament.  The book is due out this week, and Christina had sent me a copy and asked me to review it.

Sitting on the plane, I opened the book and began to read. My eyes began to fill with tears as I realized that this book was exactly what I need to read at that moment. I read these words:

What happens when we don’t find the answers to our problems, when we can’t find peace through our Google searches, or when the solutions we have found fail us? What do we do when we are worried about our children or fearful about the unknown future? What do we do with those emotions? When the sorrow just won’t lift and the loneliness is more than we can bear, where do we go for help? For some of us, we seek comfort in food, shopping, or Facebook to quell the emotional turmoil stirring in our hearts. We might busy ourselves with projects or work long hours to keep our mind off our pain. We might look at our circumstances and seek to change our situation in the hope that we will finally feel at peace once our life has changed. (16)

You see, as I sat on that plane early in the morning, I was a bundled knot of anxiety, fear, worry, and sadness. I was worried about my son’s ear and how it would handle the flight. I was anxious about all the details that go with travel. I was grieving over broken relationships with family and friends. I was afraid of what the future might bring. And I was doing everything in my power to distract myself (reading a book …) and to control my surroundings so that I, myself, could overcome my circumstances on my own and be ready to stand on my own power for any bad thing the future might bring. And then I read that paragraph. And I stopped. And I cried. And I realized that God was using Christina’s words to get my attention and to work on my heart.

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)

Christina start the book with the bad news. Our worry, anxiety, fear, doubt are the result of sin:

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)

She goes on to explain that our normal means of coping (distraction, control, or simply giving in to the worry and fear) are not helping the situation. We’re making the problem worse and not actually dealing with our emotions. I was particularly convicted by what she had to say about using “control”:

Some of us try to handle our emotions, such as worry, fear, or anxiety by attempting to control all the things we worry or fear about. We make to-do lists and refuse to rest until each item is checked off . We research thoroughly everything that worries us. Google and Clorox are our two best friends. … Control is something we all desire but none of us have. … Our desire and pursuit of control are in fact a denial of God’s control. We don’t trust that His plans are good enough. We think we know bett er what we need. All the worrying, fretting, and stressing we do over our life situations stem from a lack of trust in God’s good and perfect plan for us. (40-41)

Thankfully the book doesn’t stop there and leave us condemning ourselves for our failures. Christina moves on to share the hope of the gospel for the believer wracked with fear or worry or depression:

The gospel of grace has not only saved us from our sins in the past and those in the future, but also empowers us in the present. It is applicable in our daily struggles of walking by faith. It frees us from the bondage of bitterness, anger, worry, fear, despair, and doubt. (59)

But the journey doesn’t end with recognizing our need for a Savior. Knowing that sin has caused our hearts such pain and accepting the grace that God gives us in our salvation through Christ, we still face the day to day challenge of living in a sinful, broken world. And this is where A Heart Set Free is very helpful.

Christina lays out the format of the Psalms of Lament and explains the various elements. The purpose it to teach us to make our own laments using the Psalms as a model. In the Psalms of Lament, there is a “three-part structure” that we can use in our prayers: crying out to God, asking for help, responding in trust and praise (87).

Using these steps we can begin to learn to express our emotions to God and learn to trust in Him through our painful situations. That last part is the one that really challenged me. Since the death of our daughter years ago, I have learned to cry out to God, to tell Him what I’m feeling. I realized months after Bethanne died that I was angry and that I was hurting. And it dawned on me that there was no use in pretending before God that I wasn’t. He knew. And not only did He already know, He loved me. He loved me even though I was angry and hurting. So I cried out to Him and told Him what was on my heart. And He heard me. The pain was still there, but things changed that day. I knew I wasn’t forgotten or unloved.

When my boys were born, I learned to ask God for help daily. Being a mother showed me how much I needed Him all the time. But I have always struggled with the final step. Having cried out and asked God for help, I tend to short circuit and go back to worry and trying to control my situations. The book reminded me that the next step is to trust God and praise Him:

This step of the laments is the part where many of us get to and we stop. It’s easy to cry out to God and ask for help but to trust Him in the darkness where we cannot see what’s ahead of us? That’s the hard part. (134)

And that’s where I found myself, with tears streaming down my face on that flight, crying out to God, asking Him for help, and then actually finishing my lament. I laid down my own struggle for control and praised God for His love and care and put my trust in Him to take care of my future. It was the first step in a lifelong journey of learning to trust even when life is painful.

I know that life will not be all sunshine and roses just because I’m learning to trust. Christina reminds us of that:

There may also be times when we go through this journey with the psalmist and we respond in trust and worship and still feel grief. We may still feel intense sorrow. This process of following the structure of the laments is not a magical incantation that erases all our emotions. It’s not a step by step list to follow that will take away our problems. But it is a journey that draws us closer to God. (138)

But even in the sadness, I can learn to have joy in Lord. He is my strength, and He will never leave me or forsake me. And that is the hope we can all cling to:

This joy can co-mingle with other emotions. It can co-exist side by side with other feelings and circumstances like sorrow and fear. Even when life is at its hardest, gospel joy is still there. It is always present, like an anchor in the storms of life. (139)

Like Christina recounts of her own life, I have struggled with anxiety, worry, and depression for much of my life. It’s my “thorn in my side” and so far, God has not removed it from me. Christina’s book has offered me hope, though. Not that I can finally fix this for myself, but that when my heart is filled with doubt and fear, when my anxious thoughts consume me, I can cry out to God. And He will hear me. Just like He heard the psalmists in their laments.

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. Thank you, Christina, for writing this gem of a book. I pray many will read it and be helped by it.

 

 

A Year of Biblical Womanhood?

Recently, I read a twitter exchange between Wendy Alsup and Rachel Held Evans on Evans’ interpretation of Leviticus 15. Specifically the discussion started over whether the Bible actually teaches that women should live in a separate tent during their menstrual cycles. You can read much of the exchange as part of Alsup’s post on A Year of Biblical Womanhood (AYOBW).

The discussion intrigued me, and I started researching into both AYOBW and the Leviticus 15 passage that Evans used in her book. First, the description for AYOBW says:

What is “biblical womanhood” . . . really? 

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.

And here is what Evans says in her introduction about AYOBW and her methodology:

From the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Levitical code to the letters of Paul, there would be no picking and choosing. (AYOBW, xxi)

Evans states her purpose is “to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible.” She says that “there would be no picking and choosing.”

In April in her year of Biblical womanhood, Evans addresses the issue of the purity laws in the Old Testament. Using Leviticus 15:19 as her starting point, she lays out her plan of action. This includes camping out in a tent in the front yard during part of her cycle and not touching a man for 12 days.

Camp out in the front yard for first three days of impurity. (Leviticus 15:19) (AYOBW, 146)

And,

Throughout the twelve days, I was forbidden to touch a man in any way; no handshakes, no hugs, no pats on the back, no passing the salt (v. 19). (AYOBW, 165)

From a casual reading, given the reference in both of these quotes to Leviticus 15:19, a reader might think that in Biblical times women lived in a separate tent and were forbidden to touch a man because of their cycle. But what does the passage actually say?

When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean. (Leviticus 15:19-24 ESV)

To summarize, a woman was unclean (unable to participate in sacrifices and religious activities) for seven days during her cycle. Everything she sat or laid on would be unclean during that time. Anyone who touched her or anything she had sat/laid on would be unclean until that evening. And a man who “lies with her” during her cycle would be unclean seven days and also any bed he laid on would be unclean.

Notice that nothing is said about a woman living in a separate tent for the duration of, or any portion of, her “menstrual impurity.” It also doesn’t say that she is unclean for twelve days. And it doesn’t say that she is forbidden to touch a man or that a salt-shaker would become unclean if she touched it.

So, if it’s not in the Bible, why did Evans choose those things to follow in her year of Biblical womanhood? Evans explains in the introduction of AYOBW:

I took my research way too seriously, combing through feminist, conservative, and liberal commentaries, and seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue. I spoke with modern-day women practicing ancient biblical mandates in their own lives – a polygamist, a pastor, a Quiverfull daughter, and Orthodox Jew, an Amish grandmother. (AYOBW, xxii)

While Evans states that there would be “no picking and choosing” regarding what to follow from the Bible, she did pick and choose whose application of the Biblical instructions to follow. The mandate that she mustn’t touch a man for twelve days and even refrain from passing the salt-shaker came from her interactions with an Orthodox Jewish woman:

In communities where the taharat hamishpacha, or “laws of family purity,” are still observed, a husband and wife must avoid the slightest touch during a woman’s period. (AYOBW, 152)

As for sleeping in a tent for the first three days of her cycle, Evans picked that up from a popular novel about the life of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. She does clarify at this point in AYOBW that there is no Biblical evidence of women living in separate tents during their monthly cycle:

At the more popular level, modern impressions of biblical menstruation are largely informed by the success of Anita Diamant’s best-selling novel, The Red Tent, an imaginative retelling of the story of Jacob’s family through the eyes of Dinah, the daughter of Leah. In The Red Tent, menstruation is portrayed as a time of rest, repose, and female bonding as the women of the house of Jacob gather together each month to mark the new moon and the arrival of their cycles beneath a secluded red tent. While many cultures use huts or tents for the purpose of secluding menstruating women, there is no solid biblical or archaeological evidence to suggest this happened among tent-dwelling family groups in the Bronze Age Mesopotamia, though it is certainly possible. Ahava called the entire book “nonsense,” but I read it anyway and loved it. (AYOBW, 154)

At the end of her month of following the purity laws, Evans writes that the lack of physical touch was difficult. She ponders the effect of such restrictions on women in difficult times, such as the loss of a baby:

No hugging after the birth of a baby? This seemed unreasonable, even cruel. I wondered about women who miscarried and whose blood represented a deeply painful loss. Could the law not be broken to offer them comfort? What kind of God would be offended by that? Orthodox Jews like Ahava adhere to the laws of family purity simply because they are taught in the Torah. (AYOBW, 153, emphasis added)

“What kind of God would be offended by that?” This is the question that Evans comes to, and this is the danger, I think, in Evans’ approach to what it means to live Biblically as a woman. In our culture, women have been conditioned not to make strong, doctrinal, theological, statements of fact. We are encouraged to filter such information through personal experience, to couch our words in softening terms, such as “I feel” or “In my experience.” The result is that women are not taught to appreciate the danger in “Did God really say?” (Gen. 3:1, ESV) type challenges.

The other danger is that we, as women, then have difficulty in separating critique of ideas from personal attacks. When women write about theology by way of experiences, to criticize the author is to criticize her as a person. And it shouldn’t be that way. Women should be taught how to be Berean and how to think critically about what authors and speakers are teaching. My critique here of AYOBW is in no way a criticism of Rachel Held Evans. I do not know her personally, and I’m sure she’s a perfectly lovely person. I have no animosity towards her in the least. But I do disagree with her methodology and conclusions.

Back to the the book, Evans’ asks “What kind of God would be offended by that?” Evans’ experiential approach has led her to draw conclusions about God and His law that don’t reflect what God actually said and what He required in the Old Testament laws. No hugging or touching a woman after the birth or loss of a baby is not in the Bible. It’s a hedge built around a law. God never said not to touch a woman who was bleeding. It only says that a woman was ceremonially unclean (unable to participate in sacrifices and in the tabernacle/temple worship) and that those who touched her or her bedding (things she sat on) would be unclean until evening.

What is interesting to me is that the same chapter in Leviticus also deals men and their discharges of fluid. A man with a discharge, either from disease/illness or natural bodily functions, was also unclean until evening or until the discharge stopped. His bedding was unclean too, and the uncleanliness could spread to anyone who touched him or his bedding. The passage goes on to say that a couple who have intercourse are unclean until evening:

If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening. (Leviticus 15:18 ESV)

If the application of Leviticus 15:19 is that a woman cannot touch a man while she’s unclean, why isn’t the application of Leviticus 15:18, men don’t sleep with your wives? In the Biblical application of these laws, both men and women faced situations regularly which would make them unclean. But the Bible never says a woman can’t touch a man when she’s unclean. So to answer Evans’ question, “What kind of God would be offended by that?” Not the God of the Bible.

So moving away from experientialism, I want to consider the question Evans’ research should have lead her to. Why did the purity laws exist and what application do they have on us today as New Testament Christians?

First, the laws do not exist for us to create hedges around them so that we can attempt to keep them all by never getting close to disobeying them. Jesus warned about these extra-Biblical additions to the law, these Pharisaical burdens in Matthew 23:4:

 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:4, ESV)

We know that no one could keep the law perfectly, no one except Jesus. And that is the answer to my question. The purity laws existed to set apart God’s people, to teach us about the pervasive nature of sin, and to show us our need for a Savior. The law should drive us all to our knees to say there is no way we could ever obey it all. Without Christ, there is no hope.

We need to understand that sin is not a little thing. Sin invades every aspect of our being, thoughts, actions, and words. We are by no means as bad as we could be. Thanks be to God for His restraining Hand. But sin contaminates us and makes us unable to come into the presence of a holy God. But God, in His great mercy, didn’t leave us in our sin and separation. He sent His Son to live for us, obey for us, die for us, and rise for us. Christ bridged the chasm between God and man, and now we can have peace with God. This is no small thing. We demean the work of Christ in our redemption when we treat sin lightly. God forgive us for failing to appreciate the magnitude of what Christ has done for us.

Ultimately, I think that Evans’ book is the result of the experientialism so common in the Church today. Despite her claims that she would follow the Bible’s instructions for women without picking and choosing, she does exactly that. She picks and chooses how to apply those instructions by deciding which extra-Biblical sources she will follow. She then draws conclusions about God and the Bible based on her experiences living “a year of Biblical womanhood.” These conclusions find fault with God and with the Bible instead of with her sources or her own interpretations. This is a very dangerous.

Women reading Evans’ book may come away with a distrust of the Bible and with animosity towards God for “requiring” things He never required. And that makes me very sad. There are plenty of hard sayings in the Bible that are difficult to understand. There are many passages that theologians and scholars have debated and will continue to debate. But the Bible is abundantly clear about those things that we have to know to be saved. And that is a great blessing, because Christ is the only Way to salvation, and the Bible is how Christ is revealed to us.

Instead of looking for ways to dismiss what the Bible teaches, we should all seek to understand what we must do to be saved and how we must live in light of our salvation. Without Christ, as revealed in the Bible, we are without hope in this life or the next.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)