What does it mean to read Scripture as the church? What’s going on when we read the Bible? And do our tidy hermeneutical systems box in Scripture so that God’s voice never judges us, never surprises us, and we miss what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches now?
In his book Reading Scripture as the Church, Derek Taylor addresses the heart of the issue concerning biblical interpretation. Of course, with our questions above we need to talk about methods of interpretation. We also need to talk about how we encounter meaning in the text, and even how that affects our own understanding of human existence. But the heart of the issue is how this all harmonizes under the framework of the church’s relationship with the risen Christ. So, Taylor distinguishes between the practice of tackling the text to interpret its linguistic sense and actually “’hearing it correctly’ as the concrete word of the present Christ” (10). He states:
I’m currently doing a deeper dive into Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Even as I have some significant differences with Roman Catholic doctrine and one of his foundational premises of marriage as sacrament, it is still a breath of fresh air from what is being taught about men and women in many Protestant circles because he highlights personhood and gift. The common thread that I have combatted recently from several parachurch organizations and not so secret Facebook groups is a subordinate ontology of woman and male ontological authority. I spoke to that a bit more specifically here. I then introduced a bigger picture and a need for a sexual revolution in the church here. Then I went back and wrote some on power dynamics and trust here. Now I want to go a little more big picture again, and show how this unbiblical ontological view among many in the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood movement is a rejection of the feminine gift and a rejection of the personhood of women.
Our bodies are theological. They are visible signs that tell us something about our God.
Often, I find that our goals in talking about sexuality in the church are way too small. And it reveals how we are letting the culture guide us, define the terms, and dictate the conversation. We have classes and curriculums about sexuality focusing on the sin of homosexuality, the distortion of transgenderism, and saying don’t have sex before marriage, abortion is wrong…
It is right to care about these issues, but we need to look at what is behind them. Why are they so weighty? Why are these the issues in our culture? Is what it means to be a man or woman image bearer of God reduced to these issues? We know this is not so.
I have listened to this video of Wade Mullen on How to Spot Spiritual Abuse over a handful of times since last fall. It has helped keep me sane, helped me remember what is real and true and right. I wanted to share it because I think it will help many others. Mullen talks about the crazy-making questions those under spiritual abuse are asking themselves:
Is something wrong with Me?
Am I the only one who sees this?
How do I get out of this?
“There are times in our lives when abusers take hold of the pen of our story, and when that happens you fear turning another page because you don’t know what the next paragraph or the next chapter might hold. You’ve lost control of your own narrative and it is now in the hands of others.”
A friend said something about Denny Burk’s “review” of my book that really resonated with me. I’m trying to have a conversation about discipleship in the church. In my book, I ask church officers to lead discussions as I look through Scripture, identify the struggles of men and women in the church, and explore within the bounds of our confessions. Burk dismisses all of this and wants to tell us all what to think: what to think about me, what to think about my book, and what to think about biblical manhood and womanhood.
Denny Burk, the President of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, reviewed my book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology and posted it online. I’m not really sure how to respond. It’s a very negative review, aggressive even. And I really think Burk can do better than this. A basic element in a review, especially one published in a journal, is to accurately describe what the book is about. Burk never does this. This reads like an ad hominem against my honesty and motive in writing, claiming that I am opening a doorway for those who don’t like what they see in certain versions of complementarianism to exit. He says I use well presented, but bad arguments to lead a whole generation of dissatisfied people out who already were looking for the door. And since I have identified this “pre-made audience” I don’t even need to bother with things like good exegesis. He compares me to Rob Bell and Donald Miller, saying that like them, in the end I will be forgettable only after having left behind a vast number of sheep who were led astray by my writing, which is according to Burk, a briefly held way-station on the movement from narrow complementarianism to egalitarianism.
My pastor is preaching through 2 Samuel and we got to the doozy “You are the man!” section last Sunday, where Nathan confronts David with his sin in chapter 12. He violated Bathsheba, and then tried to manage this sin, leading to the murder of Uriah and taking Bathsheba as his own wife. There is David, likely sitting on his judgement throne, and the prophet Nathan stirs up David’s heart against the nature of his sin by telling him a parable of sorts for David to judge. We are familiar with this story—David’s righteous anger is kindled and he declares that the rich man deserves to die. And Nathan does the ol’ switcheroo: “You are the man!”
I was listening to a fascinating discussion about power and trust on a secular podcast, called Work Life with Adam Grant, between organizational psychologist Adam Grant and clinical psychologist Esther Perel. It made me think a lot about all the discussions around authority and submission and really took me back to Ephesians 5:18-33. Here is an excerpt, with a few edits, of what Esther Perel said about power:
There is no relationship that doesn’t have a power dimension. It’sintrinsic to relationships. It’s not good or bad, just part of fabric of relationships. Because in relationships you have expectations, and with expectations come a degree of dependency/reliance, and that dependency confers to the people to whom you depend…[bestowing] power. And that power gets neutralized by making it become something that is benevolent, which we then call trust. So that it will become power to rather than power over. But everybody understands that power is not just a vertical axis that comes with authority. Anybody who’s had a two year old knows that….You can have power that comes from the bottom up, the power that constantly deflects energy, the power that takes the authority away from the people in authority. Power is multifaceted.
Some are asking me more about my theology of gender. I’m working on another book that will continue to speak to that, but mainly because I want to reinvigorate the church in Song of Songs. This book, found in the center of our Bibles, teaches us about Christ, his church, man, and woman. It teaches us the whole point of it all. And it’s not a list of roles and hierarchy, but a love song. We are ripe for a positive kind of sexual revolution in the church and recovering a good theological anthropology will have a lot to do with it. I am convinced that it will take a cooperation of academics, pastors, and informed/thoughtful laypeople (men and women) to do it. We desperately need to peel away the Aristotelian mindset of men and woman that still pervades much of the teaching on sexuality in the church today. Teaching on some of the themes in the Song of Songs is just one contribution to this. Here is an excerpt from a chapter I am working on:
Dream, if you can, a courtyard An ocean of violets in bloom Animals strike curious poses They feel the heat The heat between me and you
Perhaps these lyrics in Prince’s popular song accidentally describe what we see in the best song of all, the Song of Songs. In it, we see the lushness of the garden scenes highlighting the “lushness of sexual exclusivity.” The animals in the Song seem to metaphorically participate in the meaningful, erotic, intimacy between these lovers. Nature, wildlife, and even we as the readers feel the heat.
The intimacy of the love between the man and the woman in the Song can be taken at a plain sense reading, teaching us about the goodness of marriage and even sexual union within it. This is how we most naturally can identify with its language. And yet, it also points to something quite astounding—the spousal love of God for his people. Christopher West elaborates: