No, I’m Not a Feminist or an Egalitarian

“Watch out for her. She’s a feminist!” “She says she’s not, but clearly she’s a closet egalitarian.” “She’s a thin complementarian” “No, an anorexic one.”

Words are powerful, as are labels. They can be helpful. They can be used to encourage and build people up. But they can also be used to dismiss others. They can be used to belittle and discourage.

In conservative, Christianity, there are few words that shut down discussion faster than the charge of “feminist!” Heresy is another big one, although it doesn’t work quite the same way. Feminist has almost exclusively negative associations in conservative Christian circles.

Some of that is understandable. The modern feminist movement has strong connections with abortion and same-sex marriage. Not all feminists are for abortion and same-sex marriage, but the association is there. When a conservative calls someone a feminist, it can be an attempt to question the person’s faith and commitment to Scripture.

I used to think it was amusing when someone called me a feminist. It had to be a joke. Or a clear misunderstanding. Who me? A feminist? I know some of the nuttier guys out there think anyone who disagrees with them is a feminist. And then there are the CBMW authors who say all women are feminists. But clearly, those aren’t serious opinions.

Why would anyone think I’m a feminist? Let’s consider my beliefs (which I’ve stated before.) I hold to the following beliefs regarding men, women, and gender:

  • God made man: male and female in the image of God
  • In Christ, male and female are equal before God
  • Husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives, loving them as Christ loves the church
  • Wives are called to voluntary submission to their husbands, submitting to them as the church submits to Christ
  • Ordination is restricted to qualified men in the church
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life
  • Men and women need each other and depend on each other

Take particular notice of what I believe about leadership and submission in marriage and ordination in the church. Those right there set me apart. I’m not a feminist. I’m also not an egalitarian, closet or otherwise. I have respect for the egalitarians I know. I appreciate the work some egalitarians have done defending the Trinity. But we have significantly different interpretations of what the Bible teaches about marriage and ordination.

And that’s ok. It’s possible to disagree and still respect other people. If you asked a feminist or an egalitarian about my beliefs, they would say that I’m either complementarian or patriarchal. It’s laughable to say I’m patriarchal, but each end of the spectrum tends towards viewing things as extremes. Just like there are those who say everyone who disagrees with them is a feminist, there are those who say anyone who disagrees with them is patriarchal.

So then the question is, am I a complementarian? I used to think so. I used to call myself one.  After all, I believe that husbands are the spiritual leaders of their families. I believe that wives should submit to the leadership of their husbands. And I believe that ordained church leaders should be qualified men. Isn’t that a complementarian?

Apparently not. To be a true complementarian, you also need to believe:

  • women were created to be submissive, responsive, soft
  • men were created to be leaders, providers, strong
  • men are supposed to be priests for their families
  • women are supposed to be at home and not in the workforce (unless there’s a really good reason, but even then)
  • divorce is wrong even when there is biblical justification for it
  • the eternal subordination of the Son, especially as it is applied to men and women
  • all women are rebellious feminists at heart and men must put down that rebellion (an interpretation of Genesis 3:16)

How do I know this is necessary for true complementarianism? Well, when I disagreed with these beliefs, I was called a “soft,” “thin,” or “anorexic” complementarian. I was also called a closet egalitarian or a feminist because:

  • I questioned what CBMW taught about men and women and the Trinity
  • I defended orthodox Trinitarianism against the eternal subordination of the Son
  • I raised questions about the ESV translation for changing the wording of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7
  • I wrote about abuse as biblical grounds for divorce
  • I believe women can be leaders in business and politics or even cops and umpires

When I took a logic class in college, I didn’t like the way we were supposed to apply mathematical proofs to language. Math is neat and tidy. Add, subtract, multiply, divide. Numbers have intrinsic meaning. Words aren’t as definite and precise as math. But that doesn’t mean that words can mean whatever we want them to mean.

Our society is losing its collective mind when it comes to words and their meanings. We’re told we can “identify” as whatever we want, regardless of reality. Truth and facts? It’s relative. It just depends on what “your truth” is.

As Christians, we have fought against this kind of relativism for years. You’d think conservative Christians would be more careful about using words accurately. Feminist and egalitarian have actual definitions. There are Christian feminist groups and egalitarian organizations with definite beliefs. Feminist doesn’t mean “a woman I disagree with and wish she’d stop talking.” Egalitarian doesn’t simply mean “someone who thinks women can have opinions about theology.”

I’m not a feminist. I’m not an egalitarian. What I am is tired of the name-calling and the attempts to silence me and others like me. No doubt those who need to hear these words the most are the least likely to listen. But I hope that those who are tempted to believe the lies about me will do me the honor of considering what I’ve written here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, the proper way to interpret the passage is:

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

Foh gives four reasons to support her interpretation over others:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman would desire to be cherished by her husband.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Woman 101: Divine Design

There have been a couple of really good blog posts recently about the need to be discerning in what we read. Good reviews, impressive recommendations, even the stellar reputation of the authors shouldn’t be all that we rely on in deciding the worth of a book. Scripture tells us to be careful about the messages we listen to and to test them based on Scripture. In Acts, the people of Berea are commended for “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

It’s in that spirit that I’m writing this review. Not to score points in a debate or to win an argument. Not to prove someone wrong or to pat myself on the back. Bad doctrine hurts the church, and specifically, it hurts the people in the pews.

True Woman 101: Divine Design is a eight week Bible study intended for women. The book brief on Amazon.com reads:

What does it mean to be a woman? The current cultural ideal for womanhood encourages women to be strident, sexual, self-centered, independent — and above all — powerful and in control. But sadly, this model of womanhood hasn’t delivered the happiness and fulfillment it promised. The Bible teaches that it’s not up to us to decide what womanhood is all about. God created male and female for a very specific purpose. His design isn’t arbitrary or unimportant. It is very intentional and He wants women to discover, embrace, and delight in the beauty of His design. He’s looking for True Women!

Bible teachers Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss share the key fundamentals of biblical womanhood in this eight week study. Each week includes five daily individual lessons leading to a group time of sharing and digging deeper into God’s Word. And to enhance this time of learning together, on-line videos are available featuring Mary and Nancy as they encourage women to discover and embrace God’s design and mission for their lives.

The authors are Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. From their bios on the True Woman website:

Mary is a distinguished professor of Women’s Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the author of several books including The Feminist Mistake and In My Father’s House.

And

Nancy Leigh DeMoss is a beloved mentor and “spiritual mother” to hundreds of thousands of women who have read her best-selling books and who listen to her two daily radio programs, Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

Because of my particular interest in the discussion in complementarian circles about what it means to be a godly man or woman, I was curious about this book. I’ve read some blog posts at the True Woman website in the past, and I recognize the names of several of the authors. I wondered what they were teaching about biblical womanhood.

Having finished the book, I am very concerned. There are serious foundational problems with the teaching in this book. The most serious are discussions of the Trinity. The authors then use their understanding of the Trinity as the foundation for their teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood.

Probably the next most troubling thing is that the authors use the relationship between husband and wife as the model for all male/female interactions. And while they recognize that some Christians may disagree with them about what they teach, they consider any disagreement to be the result of the feminist movement’s influence on society. The result is that the book tends to be very heavy on law and very light on grace.

Starting from the top, Kassian and DeMoss’s description of the Trinity is concerning:

The first relationship mirrored the image of God. In the Trinity, individual and distinct beings are joined in an inseparable unity. The individual members (Father, Son, and Spirit) are joined as part of the collective whole (God) (93, all page numbers from the ebook version).

I realize that this is most likely an example of sloppy word choice, but it’s very, very important how we talk about the Trinity. The words used make a big difference. The Trinity is not a “God club” with three individual members. If you combine the Westminster Confession and the Athanasian Creed you have the orthodox description:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. …  So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (WCF 2.3; Athanasian Creed 27-28)

God is one being, three persons, equal in glory and power and majesty.

The reason that this sloppy handling of the Trinity is important is that the authors also discuss the Trinity in concerning ways in their definition of what it means to be made in the image of God. Here is their explanation for “Let us make man in our image:”

The discussion about creating man and woman took place among members of the Godhead. It may have been among all three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But at the very least, it involved the Father and His Son, as Scripture draws parallels between that relationship and the relationship of the man and the woman (see 1 Cor. 11:13). We’ll talk more about that later, but for now, just think about this: When God created male and female, He had the dynamic of His own relationship in mind. The Lord created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within God (24-25, emphasis mine).

The authors of True Woman 101 teach that there is an authority/submission structure in the very nature of the Godhead. Nancy Leigh DeMoss interviewed Wayne Grudem on the Revive Our Hearts website to discuss “Marriage and the Trinity“:

When did the idea of headship and submission begin? The idea of headship and submission never began. It has existed eternally in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. It exists in the eternal nature of God himself.

And in this most basic of all relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in all attributes and perfections, but authority is just there. Authority belongs to the Father, not because He is wiser or a more skillful leader, but just because He is Father. Authority and submission is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity. (emphasis mine)

When Reformed theologians speak about the Son’s submission to the Father in the work of redemption, they are generally speaking of the economic Trinity, i.e. the way the persons of the Trinity work together in the acts of creation, redemption, etc. This is distinct from the ontological Trinity which concerns the very nature of God. The problem with Grudem’s formulation here and its subsequent use in the True Woman 101 book is that by saying God the Father has supreme authority “just because He is Father,” he is making an ontological statement about the very nature of God.

This is contrary to the traditional formulation found in the Athanasian Creed:

And in this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater, or less than another.

As a result, the book teaches that there is an inherent inequality in the nature of the Godhead. This is troubling. And it appears to be the result of a desire to ground the complementarian understanding of the relationship between husband and wife in a “deeper truth.”

As you can see from the second half of the above quote from True Woman 101, the authors teach that “[t]he Lord created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within God.” (25) What they are teaching is that, just as there is within the Trinity, there is an authority/submission structure inherent in the creation of men and women:

Males display the glory of God in an uniquely masculine way. Females display the glory of God in a uniquely feminine way. Each sex bears the image of God; but together, they display deep, important truths about God in relationship- God the Father in relationship with the Son of God, and the Son of God in relationship with His bride (33).

According to Kassian and DeMoss, men were created to reflect God the Father’s authority, and women were created to reflect the submission of the Son. Men therefore have a unique calling to lead and to be in authority. Women are made to submit to that authority through being amenable and deferential:

But it does mean that leadership, provision, protection, and responsible initiative are central and indispensable to what God created man to be (57).

And,

The third aspect of a beautiful womanly disposition is the inclination to submit. We believe the Lord created women with a disposition – an inclination – to respond positively to being led. We are the responder-relators created with a “bent” to be amenable (152).

In other words:

He initiated. She responded. The pattern of their relationship reflected who God created them to be (69).

Of course, I do believe that men and women were created with differences inherent in who we are as male and female. I also believe that husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and of their wives and that wives are called to submit to the leadership and authority of their husbands.

However, the problem with the book is that the authors of True Woman 101 move beyond the relationship of husband and wife and ground the authority/submission structure in the very nature of male and female. This means that they apply their paradigm of initiation/response to all male/female relationships:

The Bible presents a design for True Womanhood that applies to all women – at any age and at any stage of life – old, young; single, married, divorced, widowed; with children or without, whatever. Its design applies to women of every personality type, every educational level, every career track, every socioeconomic status, and every culture. God’s design transcends social customs, time, and circumstance (20, emphasis original).

For men this means leading, providing, and protecting women:

Man is accountable to God to nourish (provide) and cherish (protect) those in his sphere of responsibility. His primary responsibility is toward his wife. But the charge also extends, in a general way, to the attitude men ought to have toward all women. It is part and parcel of their distinctive, God-created makeup (48-49, emphasis mine).

And,

In other words, the way a man relates to a wife, sister, daughter, colleague, or friend will differ, but all those relationships are informed and influenced who his is as a man. Masculinity means that he accepts a chivalrous responsibility to offer appropriate guidance, provision, and protection to the women in his life (57).

For women, it means responding to the initiative of men:

Having a receptive, responsive spirit is at the core of what it means to be a woman. A godly woman is an “amenable” woman – an agreeable woman. She says yes (amen!). She has a disposition that responds positively to others, and particularly to the initiative of godly men. She is “soft” and not obstinate about receiving direction. She is “leadable” (69).

And,

Whether married or single, an amenable woman affirms and encourages godly qualities and initiative by men by being responsive rather than resistant in her interaction with them. Of course, we’re not talking about being amenable or responsive to sin. But even while saying no to sin, we can have a spirit that is inclined to be responsive, yielding, and deferential (153).

To summarize, men are to initiate and women are to respond in all of life. Of course, I do wonder how this paradigm works with the interaction between Boaz and Ruth. It seems clear to me that Ruth initiated that relationship, on Naomi’s advice. And then there’s Deborah.

The authors continue to apply the relationship of Adam and Eve in creation to all of mankind by discussing woman’s role as a “helper”:

Being a “helper” is a fundamental aspect of our design as women. This calling certainly applies to a woman’s relationship with her husband. But we believe it also extends beyond the marriage relationship. There are many ways we as women can help, rather than hinder, the men around us. We can help them: Glorify God (170).

According to the book, women were made to help men, not just that wives were designed to help husbands in the marriage relationship. This is disturbing, in part, because of what Kassian and DeMoss teach about man’s created purpose vs. woman’s created purpose. They teach that men (males) were created to glorify God and that women were created to help men fulfill that purpose:

The male was created to bring glory to God – and to serve Him (rather than himself). This is man’s ultimate purpose. … God created a helper to assist the man in fulfilling his ultimate purpose. Woman helps man glorify God in a way he could not do if she did not exist (76, emphasis mine).

This is a troubling departure from what the catechism teaches:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (WSC)

Despite modern understanding, “man” here refers to humanity or mankind. All of mankind, male and female, were created to glorify God. Women are called to glorify God. We may do so in conjunction with men or on our own, but our purpose is not different from that of men.

Kassian and DeMoss spend a considerable amount of the book discussing the dangers and influence of feminism on culture and the church. While I share many of their concerns about the modern feminist movement, especially third wave feminists, they present a muddied and confused picture of the historical feminist movement. As a result, all of the movement is deemed bad and contrary to God’s divine design.

This is unfortunate. As I’ve written elsewhere, the feminist movement started well before the 1960’s, and the earliest feminists were Christian women who were striving to protect and defend women in many worthy ways.

It is somewhat amusing to me that Kassian and DeMoss would depict the feminist movement as universally bad given the numbers of ways in which their own lives have benefited from some of the work of the first and second waves. Ms. DeMoss, for example, is an unmarried woman who lives in her own home, inherited money that she manages, runs her own business, hires employees, earns her own income, publishes books, and speaks publicly to large groups. All of these are blessings and are the result of the work of first wave feminists.

But, back to the book. Kassian and DeMoss view feminism in all forms as rebellion against God’s design for women. They believe that it is contrary to the gospel:

Did feminism identify some valid problems? Yes. Did it propose some helpful changes? It likely did. Can feminism be embraced along with our Christian faith? Absolutely not. Why not? Because it introduces a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) distortion into the way we approach gender and male-female relationships. It contains truth, but it also contains some powerful and destructive lies. And in so doing, it strikes at the very image of God and at an important earthly picture He chose to display the redemptive story. At its core, feminist philosophy is antithetical to the gospel (120).

To be clear, I do believe that there is an anti-God movement within the modern feminist movement. Margaret Sanger is a good example as are many third wave feminists. However, the early feminist philosophy that women were equal in value and worth and should be treated as such is not at all antithetical to the gospel.

According to the book, feminism is wrong and misguided because it misidentifies the root problems in society:

Feminism is based on the wrong premise. It assumes that ‘patriarchy’ is the ultimate cause of woman’s pain. It proposes the wrong solution. It says that women have the right, the knowledge, and the power to redefine and rectify the male-female relationship. It’s fueled by the wrong attitude. It encourages anger, bitterness, resentment, self-reliance, independence, arrogance, and a pitting of woman against man. It exalts the wrong values. Power, prestige, personal attainment, and financial gain are exalted over service, sacrifice, and humility. Manhood is devalued. Morality is devalued. Marriage is devalued. Motherhood is devalued. In sum, feminism promotes ways of thinking that stand in direct opposition to the Word of God and to the beauty of His created order (121).

Kassian and DeMoss have created a false dichotomy. While it’s true that modern feminists often demean and devalue men, marriage, and morality, that doesn’t mean that patriarchy isn’t a real problem. Throughout the True Woman book, patriarchy is generally put in scare quotes which signals that the authors don’t see it as a real topic of concern. In fact, they appear to support patriarchy, calling it “God’s divine design”:

Culture promotes a way of thinking about womanhood that is decidedly feminist. Its solution to the battle of the sexes is to dismantle patriarchy, and in the process, undermine and dismantle God’s divine design (132).

Patriarchy is an actual problem and is not God’s design. It has been a problem for women and society for thousands of years. Dismissing the truth of that does not help Kassian and DeMoss in their concerns about feminism. One can disagree with the devaluing of men and also believe that there exist those who devalue and demean women. Both extremes are bad, and both extremes are at work in our culture and churches.

My final concerns about the True Woman 101 book has to do with the practical applications. This has three basic parts: divorce, abuse, and a lack of grace/gospel. These are the ways in which the book’s teachings will impact and hurt women, families, and churches.

First, the True Woman manifesto, which all book study participants are encouraged to read and sign, teaches a permanence view of marriage. That means that divorce is not allowed in any way for any reason. The view would say there are no biblical grounds for divorce, not adultery, abandonment, or abuse. This teaching is dangerous. It’s contrary to the Bible, and it’s contrary to the teachings of my denomination.

Second, because of their belief in the permanence of marriage, their teachings on the nature of women to submit, and their dismissive attitude to the dangers of patriarchy and men who misuse their authority, the book creates a perfect environment for abuse to flourish. Instead of recognizing that men can and do abuse women even in the church, Kassian and DeMoss make a point of sin-leveling which makes abuse just another of the many sins in a relationship and we’re all sinners:

The problem in the male-female relationship isn’t men. It’s sin. And sin is something that affects women just as much as it affects men. Men and women may sin in different ways, but the truth of the matter is that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Women are not innocent. Women are sinners. Women can’t fix sin. So we can’t fix men (112).

At one point in the book, Mary Kassian relates a story of one of her friends who was abused by her husband. Kassian tells of being very angry and wanting to confront the man for what he did. She goes on to say that her husband took her aside and reminded her that the abusive man wasn’t the real problem, but that sin was. (111)

While it’s certainly true that sin is the root problem in all relationships, it is right and proper to confront a sinner for his sin and to hold him accountable. The answer is not shrugging our shoulders and lamenting the sins that damage our relationships while submitting to the abuse. It’s also not teaching women that their own sins are equally at fault in abusive situations.

Kassian and DeMoss seem to recognize that the teachings in True Woman might be understood to encourage abuse, but they dismiss that as silly:

We’ve heard all sorts of dismal prognoses about what will happen to women who decide to push back from the table of wildness and embrace God’s vision for womanhood instead. … You’ll encourage abuse. … Sorry but those dire threats are just plain silly. The truth is, as anxious as we might be about what could happen if we fully follow the Lord, we should be more concerned about what will happen if we don’t! (136)

The authors would do well to get to know the very real women and children who have been hurt and abused by men who have taken teachings like True Woman 101 and used them as support for their abuse. When men are told they hold the authority and reflect the authority of God the Father in their relationships with women, there are bound to be men who see this as just the affirmation they need to treat their wives and children in abusive ways. Combine that with women being told they must be soft and amenable and deferential to all men and that divorce is never an option, and you have women who are conditioned not to speak up and not to get help:

Are you angry at some man for the way he has treated you? … how does God want you to respond? How does the gospel of Christ motivate and enable that kind of response? ‘For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.’ (123)

My final concern about the practical implications of the book is that there is very little grace or gospel. The whole of True Woman 101 is filled with commands, musts, shoulds, and questions designed to show women how far they are from the “biblical womanhood” ideal. The weight of the failure of marriages and society itself is placed on women acting in rebellion to the picture of femininity that Kassian and DeMoss hold up as the standard. And once a woman is feeling terrible over how far she has missed the mark, the solution the book gives is not to turn to Christ but to work harder.

Take a moment to “fess up” in prayer. Ask the Lord to help you take personal responsibility for your choices, to acknowledge where you have chosen your way rather than His (92)

Do you think your attitude is in line with God’s ideal? If not, how could you bring it more in line? (94)

How do you need to adjust your attitude toward womanhood so that it matches His? (136)

Which “standard of teaching” about gender do you think God wants you to obey? (142)

How devoted a bride are you? Fill out the following devotion report card. In the column to the right of each statement, give yourself a grade ranging from A to D for how devoted you are to Christ (145).

Go back and fill out the shaded part of the report card. Give yourself a grade for how devoted you are to your husband (146).

Are you a helper or hinderer? Are there any ways you may be hindering the men around you from becoming all God created them to be? (170)

What are some possible effects of ignoring or rejecting God’s design for womanhood – on women, the home, the church, and the culture? (172)

Without godly womanly influence, its moral fabric would unravel, families would fail, and it would certainly sink into degradation and ruin (174)

What do you intend to do to support the vision for the quiet “counterrevolution” that we’ve shared? (178)

Kassian and DeMoss even go so far as to suggest that if you disagree with them on these matters, you are actually disagreeing with God, and your salvation might be in question:

Obedience is an evidence that we are truly children of God (1 Peter 1:14; see also Heb. 5:9; 11:8). In fact, according to Scripture, those who persistently disobey His Word, those who have no inclination to obey Him, have no basis for assurance that they belong to Him (36-37).

And ultimately women are responsible for their own righteousness:

But it’s particularly important for us women to listen up and pay attention to these passages, because “bride” is the part of the gospel story women are uniquely designed to tell. The spotlessness of the bride’s wedding dress reflects the type of character that God desires for women. A True Woman dressed in the beauty of holiness. … Holiness isn’t an abstract concept. It translates into practical, daily attitudes and behaviors (148).

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

While there is more that I could write about True Woman 101 and my concerns, these are the ones that I found the most troubling. There were a couple of quotes that I found that I did agreed with, although not for the reasons the authors intended. I’ll close with these:

You need to be smart when it comes to the messages you listen to (132).

[S]ome people use the Bible to defend views and practices that are anything but biblical (181).

My 2 Cents: Feminism, Stereotypes, and Experiences

Last week, I read a post “If I Had a Million Dollars (Why I’m Not a Feminist)” by Shannon Popkin. It’s an article written in response to another post, “If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist)” by Anna Fonte. Both women wrote about their experiences: growing up, fathers, mothers, daughters, families, men, fulfillment as a woman. Both articles make some interesting points, but each falls short of getting to the heart of what feminism is and why it should be embraced or rejected.

The terms “feminist” and “feminism” are used often but the meaning is variable. Most historians consider there to have been three waves of feminism. First wave feminism took place in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was mainly concerned with legal rights. Most people are familiar with the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote. But there were other legal rights that the first wave feminists sought. These include: the right to inherit property, shared ownership of their children, the right to own property, the ability to execute wills and make legal decisions for their children, and the ability to be a legal witness in a court case. The first wave feminists also wanted to improve opportunities for women in education and in the workplace.

While some may argue with me about this, these goals were admirable ones. Before this time women were truly at the mercy of others and often unprotected. A woman whose husband died or left her might find herself with no money, no shelter, and very few good options for employment.

In the 1960s, a second wave of feminism began. While these feminists were also concerned about inequalities in the workplace and in the laws, many were pushing for what would be called “reproductive rights.” Abortion, contraception, and less restrictions on sexuality were part of what this wave is known for. Not all women agreed, however. Many women who were for “equal pay for equal work” were not in favor of abortion. There is still a significant group of feminists who are pro-life.

Other goals from the 1960s-1980s include ending discrimination in the workplace and courts, awareness of domestic violence, and confronting the objectification and exploitation of women through prostitution and pornography.

Second wave feminism is more of a mixed bag when considering the good and bad of the movement’s goals. Abortion and “casual sex” have, and continue to, hurt many women. No fault divorce, along with these, has allowed many men to abandon women and children with little responsibility for their welfare.

Interestingly enough, it was a disagreement among some feminists over issues such as prostitution and pornography that lead to a distinct third wave. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and has been well-known for it’s focus on gender and sexuality. Many third wave feminists embrace a very fluid definition of gender and an unrestrained and open sexuality. There is nothing that I can commend in these goals.

Considering the three waves of feminism, there are some good things that have come from the first and second waves. If you are a single woman who lives on her own, owns her own home, and has a good job you have these women to thank for much of that. If you have never been asked in a job interview when your last period was (they wanted to know if you might be pregnant and likely to leave the job) you owe that to these women. If you are a woman who has an education and job opportunities for decent employment, you are benefiting from the work of these women.

But it isn’t all good. As I pointed out above, there are some really awful things that have been brought about by the various waves of feminism. Abortion, casual sex, open sexuality, fluid gender: these are wrong and have brought about nothing but hurt.

There is also a very ugly side to the modern feminist movement: the demeaning and devaluing of men. It is very common today to hear women say that men are worthless, that women don’t need men, that women are better than men. Men are often the butt of jokes as clueless or useless. This is very ugly and completely wrong.

Back to the two articles I mentioned at the start. I believe that both articles are weak because they focus mainly on experiences and on stereotypes. Anna (why I am a feminist) explains how men have hurt her and her mother. She chooses abortion because of what was happening in her life at the time. She uses her life history to show that she doesn’t need a man because from her history men are not to be trusted.

Shannon (why I am not a feminist) explains from her own history how her dad and her husband have cared and provided for her and her family. She and her mother embraced traditional roles as homemakers and mothers. She feels happy and fulfilled because being a mother and homemaker is better and more fulfilling than any career or other way of life. She sees feminists as angry and less happy. She uses her life history to show what it means to be “not a feminist.”

Anna’s piece is very sad to me. She has been hurt by men and lied to by those who told her abortion was the answer. She has scars from her childhood and needs desperately to be loved and forgiven as only Christ can. She’s wrong about men. Some men are wicked and untrustworthy. But that’s not the way it should be.

Shannon’s article is frustrating to me. She’s had a good life. She has a husband and children. Her husband has been able to provide in such a way that she is able to be at home and care for her family. But I’m concerned that her emphasis on fulfillment through husband and children will hurt women who do not have the same experiences.

Is this the only way or even the best way for Christian women to find fulfillment? There are many single women around, godly women who would love to be married and have a family. But God has not provided that for them. Are they less fulfilled? Do they have less value if they serve God through their career and friendships? What about women who help to provide for their families through their work? Are they less worthy of praise? Are they “feminists” because they work outside their homes? And what about the barren women? Are they less fulfilled because God hasn’t filled their arms with children?

While I think it’s very important to stand for good things life family, homes, marriages, and child-rearing, we should not created a checklist of what it means to be a good woman beyond what Scripture teaches. The Proverbs 31 woman, among other examples, was a woman of many talents who was busy providing for her home as well as caring for her household.

So as far as feminism goes, I’m thankful for the good, and I reject the bad. Would I call myself a feminist? No, especially not given the modern feminist movement. My life experiences, both good and bad, are not the reason I’m “not a feminist.” My reasons are based not on stereotypes, but on objective truth.

My own list would look like this:

  • Men and women are both created in the image of God and equal in Christ
  • Husbands and wives are different and need each other
  • Husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and wives are called to submit to that leadership
  • Ordained leaders in the church should be men
  • Men and Women are fulfilled by glorifying God in all they do through the callings and gifts that God has given them individually
  • What that looks like will be different for each man and woman
  • Abortion is always to be rejected.
  • Sexuality is to be expressed in marriage.
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman.
  • Divorce should only be the result of adultery, abandonment, or abuse.

When we move past experience and stereotypes to biblical truth, we find that there are some things that are absolutes on which we should not budge. And there are other things that are matters of discernment and liberty. We should be kind but firm on the one, and gracious and flexible on the other. May we build each other up in Christ.

Women, Stop Submitting to Men

Yesterday I read a wonderful article by Dr. Russell Moore on the subject of women and submission. I was apprehensive when I saw the title, “Women, Stop Submitting to Men,” but I decided to see what he meant by that. I’m so glad that I did. By the first paragraph, Dr. Moore had my complete attention:

Those of us who hold to so-called “traditional gender roles” are often assumed to believe that women should submit to men. This isn’t true.

Indeed, a primary problem in our culture and in our churches isn’t that women aren’t submissive enough to men, but instead that they are far too submissive.

What does he mean by women being too submissive?

First of all, it just isn’t so that women are called to submit while men are not. In Scripture, every creature is called to submit, often in different ways and at different times. Children are to submit to their parents, although this is certainly a different sort of submission than that envisioned for marriage. Church members are to submit to faithful pastors (Heb. 13:17). All of us are to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Of course, we are all to submit, as creatures, to our God (Jas. 4:7).

And, yes, wives are called to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). But that’s just the point. In the Bible, it is not that women, generally, are to submit to men, generally. Instead, “wives” are to submit “to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1).

Too often in our culture, women and girls are pressured to submit to men, as a category. This is the reason so many women, even feminist women, are consumed with what men, in general, think of them. This is the reason a woman’s value in our society, too often, is defined in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Is it any wonder that so many of our girls and women are destroyed by a predatory patriarchy that demeans the dignity and glory of what it means to be a woman?

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