O God, who in this day didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of they Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
Collect on the day of Pentecost, The Book of Common Prayer
Throne of Grace—Shai Linne
Two weeks ago, Kevin DeYoung posted a question and a concern about the “New Wave Complementarianism” described by Wendy Alsup in a blog post of hers. Since I’m the one who coined the phrase in conversation with Wendy, I took full responsibility for it in the comments section on his blog. There has been a good online discussion within complementarian circles as a consequence. Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, who always models a gracious tone for me, commented on the subject here. Owen Strachen, Executive Director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, responded with a gracious post. Christ and Pop Culture joined the conversation here and here, with Brad Williams really giving me things to think about. I also thought Trevin Wax brought up some great points on his blog here.
Some of my complementarian friends and I have conversations via phone or email. We talk about Jesus, the Christian life, motherhood, children, our writing projects, what we are reading and other subjects friends share with each other. One of the concerns has been the disparity or dissonance between what we believe the Bible teaches about men and women, and the current complementarian Church culture. (There are exceptions of course.) Out of one of these conversations with my friend, Wendy Alsup, came the post that ignited this online conversation: A New Wave of Complementariansim. We are thinkers and writers, most of us have other passions as well. However, we care about the Church, and we care about women in the Church. We feel this burden acutely, and because of it, we try to write about these issues faithfully and graciously. Our friend, Hannah Anderson, has done good work on this subject here, a response to Kevin DeYoung here, and here. Wendy has followed up her original post with some clarifications here. The last thing anyone felt was “the impulse to rescue counter-cultural doctrines from their own unpopularity,” as was one of DeYoung’s concerns. As an aside, if anyone is concerned with my Reformed bona fides, I would say that I stand in the theological heritage of D.A. Carson.
I’m not as developed of a writer as Wendy and Hannah but I want to take the time, before the conversation got too far along, to sketch out a foundational issue. This issue is so important that I don’t want to touch any of the theology before this gets addressed.
I’ve been thinking a lot about where this disparity between doctrine and culture and theology and tone comes from. It’s all too easy to chalk it all up to sin, but in reality there are always certain thinking patterns and habits which drive us to sin in certain ways.
I want to show this by way of two examples:
Church A subscribes to what is generally called a complementarian view of manhood and womanhood. The subject matter is preached on from the pulpit. The men are very concerned that the women in the congregation are submissive. Ecclesiastical structures are set up so that the women may only participate in “safe” non slippery–slope areas such as singing, playing the piano, helping in the nursery and teaching Sunday school. The women are also in charge of all areas of hospitality. These doctrines are held as those of primary importance. Sermons range from how women ought to dress in modesty to how to be better wives and mothers. Complematarianism is on everyone’s radar. So much so that skirt and dress lengths start to get judged. There begins to be spoken and unspoken “rules” about women working outside the home, how many children families have, what education choices a family is allowed, what books women are allowed to read, etc. Most families are very careful to keep their marital troubles to themselves lest they should look less “holy.” When a wife finally has the courage to talk to the elders about some issues with her husband she is told to go back and be “more submissive.” Women in this church start viewing each other in a way that allows certain forms of competition to start setting in. Now suppose there’s a church meeting, things are getting heated, when the rubber meets the road, lo and behold we find that quite a few of these women who looked submissive on the outside are not so submissive in heart.
Church B also subscribes to a complementarian view of manhood and womanhood. They see the tides of culture lapping at the door of their church and they want their church members to stand strong against the worldly tide. They love Jesus. The gospel is preached with firmness and compassion every Sunday no matter where in the Scripture the pastor is preaching from. They prioritize heart transformation over behavior modification. They want to encourage men and women to use the gifts God has given them to serve the Church near and far, and so they set up Ecclesiastical structures and opportunities to maximize the giftedness of the congregation. Through modeling and when it comes up in the course of preaching through the Scriptures manhood and womanhood is discussed. The women are encouraged to study the Scriptures above other books, the men also are encouraged to study the Scriptures and opportunities are made available for each to do so. This is not a perfect church. Everyone knows they are a sinner in need of grace from God and from one another. Although there is discernment, the church culture is warm and compassionate on those who find themselves in trouble. There are some marriages in distress and since no one is shamed for not living up to the “complementarian” standard they are willing to go seek help. The elders (who are all men) make it very clear that Christ and the gospel are the center of that church. The elders desire the flourishing of all who are in their care, and so they work at creating a church culture toward that end. They see that in order to have strong families who can withstand the onslaught of the surrounding culture, both men and women need to be invested in. Not wanting to set up marriage or family as an idol they work hard at encouraging these things without falling into the error of making their congregation believe that their identity is in any role, rather union with Christ for men and women is stressed. Singles do not feel less valued.
On paper, both of these churches might look the same. They would have the same statement of faith, possibly a statement on why they have the Ecclesiastical structure which they have etc. But what is the difference? What births such divergent church cultures? It is law and grace. Although in a substantial way their doctrine is the same, the enfleshing of the doctrine is different. Church A’s presupposition in its approach to the doctrine is law. Church B’s presupposition in its approach to the doctrine is grace. It is the very same doctrine yet one sees it as law to be obeyed, the other a grace to be given with longsuffering and love.
Now these are hypotheticals, and not inevitabilities, but follow this dynamic: Although Church A started off with the same doctrine as Church B (on paper) it wasn’t long before Church A started over–reaching and setting up extra–Biblical markers. This happens because when we approach the things of God through “law” it doesn’t take long before we become judges of all we survey.
And so what I believe has happened (again setting aside certain theology which feeds some of these variants) is that many churches in the “complementarian” end of the spectrum have set up a “law” approach to these doctrines. Some of this is tied up with a lack of gospel–centrality (which is something I discuss in my book Gospel Amnesia).
I think if we are honest, we cannot deny this disparity between the theology and the application. Pastor Anyabwile has some great posts on this from January 2011 which can be found here and here and here and here and here. These really are a must read.
If we know there is a disparity, and we can see that what causes it is a law versus grace mentality, then we can move forward and talk about some of the other issues with this as the backdrop.
Many of us are grown up and disciplined enough to push through life. We “grin and bear it.” We live with our silent sorrows and our groaning griefs. We hold them close in our bosom. They have become our “Precious.”
Sin—we get it, we know and confess that only the blood of Jesus washes it away. We get forgiveness, or think we do.
But what about all those other things we bear in our weak humanity? What of our sorrows? What of our griefs? What of our physical brokenness? What of our mental brokenness? What of all the hardships which pull us down like gravity?
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
Jesus didn’t just die for our sins. On that cross he bore all our griefs and sorrows. But we forget. We speak the words of the gospel so quickly and glibly, we miss the depth and height of this awful beauty.
Sin, I repent of. But I am wont to carrying all my griefs and sorrows. I have a deeply ingrained habit of lumbering through life holding on to them. It is so entrenched that I was unaware of how heavy laden I had become until I started dwelling on Isaiah 53. It didn’t dawn on me that Jesus took my sorrows and griefs upon him on that cross. He took the brokenness and misery of us all. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:5) “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10)
It will do no good to think of “the poor chap in Africa who has it so much worse.” Or to tell myself, “get up and pull it together old girl.” No no… this is not the way of a Spirit–filled, gospel loving woman. No, the answer is to take the sorrows and griefs and lay them at the feet of Jesus—deliberately, and confident in his power. This is hard for those of us who are accustomed to bearing our own burdens. But we are not left to our own strength and memory. We are those who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. It is he who comforts us and reminds us to lay our cares upon the Lord. We do this by releasing our hold of these burdens and transferring our affections and focus onto Jesus. This requires spiritual discipline and therefore we do it over and over again in this life.
I may not be saying anything new, but we are forgetful creatures. We need constant reminding of who He is, what He has done, and who we are in light of Him.
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”
By Your Side—Tenth Avenue North
Needed to hear this today. May it bless you and may you see the glory of Jesus.
Through life experience and using the internet for reading and writing, I’ve deduced something of the way Christians in particular think about truth and how it is communicated. A false presupposition has been acquired (the reasons for which will be discussed at a later time), where we have come to believe that truth by necessity has to be abrasive to qualify as truth. This has and can lead to carelessness in how we communicate the truths of God. I see it as a tell–tale sign that we don’t have a full grasp of the nature of truth.
Truth has always existed. Truth is objective. Truth is beautiful. Jesus is Truth. The Word of God is Truth. Truth in its nature is not ugly, biting, or powerless. If we know these things about truth then we should not fall for the false idea that truth is harsh. Nor should we fall for the phrase “hard truths make soft hearts.” Truth may be difficult but it is not intrinsically harsh. Therefore, as Christians, as those who confess Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we are called to adorn the truth with what the Bible calls love.
Ephesians 4:10–16 says:
10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
This is a crucial theological text and I intend on coming back to it.
So what does that look like practically as we preach, speak or write? How should truth be communicated by Christians in a culture which does not believe in an objective Truth? Answer: In love. Not with sarcasm, scorn, arrogance or derision. Truth, although beautiful, can be marred by how we communicate it. Some believe in sarcasm and irony, but Scriptures shows this is the exception, not the rule, and certainly not the M.O. of Christians.
I would like to encourage all of us in how we think about Truth, which I pray will lead to a better communication of it.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Satisfied in You—The Sing Team (Mars Hill Music)
In his book, Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul writes:
Countless times I have heard Christians say, “Why do I need to study doctrine or theology when all I need to know is Jesus?” My immediate reply is this: “Who is Jesus?” As soon as we begin to answer that question, we are involved in doctrine and theology.
These words have been imprinted on my mind for years…. You can read the rest here.