The Twitterverse had a good balk at a General Baptist pastor, Stewart-Allen Clark’s sermon where he goes on and on shaming married women for gaining weight, letting themselves go, looking brut and stinking, not being trophy wives (hey, he says not everyone can look like Melania Trump but at least go for the participation trophy), and blames them for their husband’s wandering eyes. His marriage counseling advice is: women, lose weight. He extols his friend’s “divorce weight” that he holds over his wife.
But let me commend the General Baptists for this: immediately, Clark resigned as moderator for a General Baptist Council of Associations, and it was announced that he is taking a leave of absence from pastoring his church, 1st General Baptist, and seeking professional counseling.
Thank you. That’s what needs to happen. These clearly weren’t whoops, I stuck my foot in my mouth and said something I regret kind of comments. In listening, it is clear how pervasive his views are, how he’s conditioned his congregation, and how far from an actual sermon that dehumanizing screed was. I hope that he resigns as a preacher of the word and leader of the sheep and seeks shepherding himself. I hope he repents and sincerely apologizes to his congregation.
But it all makes me think of the contrast. Pastors in my own denomination are also preaching and teaching abhorrent things about women. But it’s still out there. It’s not being challenged.
Numerous complementarians have critiqued my last book, saying that I use egalitarian hermeneutics. It made me raise an eyebrow, wondering what they meant exactly. I think the charge is that I’m reading/interpreting Scripture with the presupposed lens of the tenets of egalitarianism. Maybe they are claiming that I read Scripture with some of the same hermeneutical methods as egalitarians. The former is not accurate; the latter could be partially true, as I’m sure there are some intersections. Although, egalitarians do not all use the same hermeneutical methods. I figure it is time to address this and share what framework I use in my hermeneutical toolbox. So here goes. These are very brief descriptions that could each have a chapter in a book to unpack:
Trinitarian hermeneutic: The Scriptures are a communication from the triune God to his people. There is an ecclesial reception, then, that faithfully works as an interpretive community of his living word. Knowing the triune God and his redemptive purpose in communicating to us shapes our reading of Scripture. The Bible isn’t like any other book. Moses or Paul’s authority is not granted autonomously. Scripture is God-breathed. We must always read Scripture with the Divine Author in mind. This does not take from the human element of authorship and the reasons why we would want to study their literary styles and context. But the human authors of Scripture are authorized to write parts of Scripture by the inspiration of the Spirit. So even as we look at the literary sense and the intent of the human author, from our perspective we need to explore the divine intent within it. We see Jesus and the apostles using this hermeneutic when interpreting the Old Testament. There’s other fun stuff to explore here, like allegory, typology, or prosopological exegesis, but I am trying to be basic and brief. The rest of these methods could all fall under this overarching method of trinitarian hermeneutics.
Canonical hermeneutic: Verses are not isolated, chapters are not isolated, books do not stand alone. They are woven into a whole canonical corpus. We read Scripture with what Richard Hays calls a “portable library” of all of the Scriptures in mind. So, to get more specific on a complicated and contentious text, when we read 1 Tim. 2:12, we need to wrestle with what that means in the context of Paul’s writing to Timothy as he is pastoring the church in Ephesus, his appeal to the creation narrative, as well as how this restriction jives with all the other exhortations to men and women to teach such as Col. 3:16, Heb. 5:12, Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:31, 1 Cor. 14:1 & 26. We also need to consider examples where women are exercising authority with men such as Huldah and Deborah, and why this verse in 2 Timothy is the only instance in Scripture where that specific Greek word is used. A canonical hermeneutic will also consider the nature of revelation in Scripture and along with that, any intertextual references, allusions, or echoes that activate other verses and enhance how we read them.
Mike Bird and I have another episode of Birds of the Feather for you, where we discuss our pet peeves, the need for sexual reformation in the church, Ravi Zacharias, and whether presbyterians should practice Lent. It’s a decent mix of fun and serious matters.
We reveal what we hold sacred by the language we use. Maybe those who don’t consider themselves religious would think themselves exempt from this proposition. But that isn’t so.
Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Sheffield, Dr. Valerie Hobbs contends that “all humans participate in sacred-making.”
The sacred is anything or anyone that is set apart from the ordinary, treated with reverence or disdain. Any material or immaterial entity can be sacred, from the seemingly mundane to the more visibly significant. The sacred flows out of answers to fundamental questions about knowledge, ourselves and the world around us, our worldview. The sacred is always connected to these understandings of the greater world. It substantially affects the way we view ourselves, how we live our lives, how we spend our time and our money, how we relate to others and to the world. (173)
In her book An Introduction toReligious Language: Exploring Theolinguistics in Contemporary Contexts, Hobbs shows us that religious language is all over the place: in our advertisements, sports commentary, music, and science material. As she says, “Religious language reveals what we love, what we cherish, what we protect, what we hate, and what we fear” (xiii). Did you catch that last part? We also use religious language to mark boundaries, to exclude. “By it we both bless and curse. By it we manipulate and are manipulated” (4). I’ve been more interested in learning about how we use language since encountering spiritual abuse. It starts with the language.
“’The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re not cool.’”
He is quoting from Lester Bangs, a character in the movie Almost Famous. Lester is on the phone with his aspiring rock journalist friend, William Miller, who is telling him about the band members he is doing a profile on and how chummy they are being with him. “Don’t buy it, says Bangs. ‘They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.’” Bangs reminds his friend who he is and is not; but that’s a good thing, he says. “‘We’re uncool’” He wears it like a badge. Edmundson elaborates, “and though uncool people don’t get the girl, being uncool can help you develop a little spine. It’s too easy out there for the handsome and the hip—their work never lasts.” That’s when he lays down Lester Bangs’ line about the true currency of uncoolness. Edmundson builds on this, saying the best teachers are the uncool ones, “because really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way everyone else does.”
The whole 459-page book really leads up to this line. When making the argument in “Why Read?”, he laments that Americans are always watching screens which serve as narcotics to deaden our souls. And what are we watching?—the culture of cool. It’s all an advertisement. Even the actual commercials don’t describe the products anymore as much as the type of person they will supposedly make us. We are all expected to want to conform. In our postmillennial consumer culture, we “buy in order to be. Watch (coolly) so as to learn how to be worthy of being watched (while being cool).” This isn’t a currency we can trust.
I love the benediction given at the end of the worship service. After being given Christ in the preached word and sacraments, we are sent back into the world with a blessing. Often, the preacher will use the words that the LORD told Moses that he and his sons were to use to bless the Israelites:
“‘”The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
(Numbers 6:24-26, NIV)
Yesterday, as my pastor was saying these words for our benediction, I couldn’t help but think of the end of the Song of Songs. First, the bride is so kept, so protected, that she identifies herself as a wall, and her breasts are towers (Song 8:10). She appropriates military language with her own body. She is merely mirroring how the Groom has already described her throughout (4:4; 6:10; 7:4). I have much to say about this in my upcoming book, so I’m not going to get into all the glorious details here.
Second, the Groom’s face has so shown upon her that he says about her, “Who is this who shines like the dawn, as beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awe-inspiring as an army with banners?” (Song 6:10). She is radiant like her Groom.
I have gone back and forth whether to write anything after the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE) trial on January 15 &16th, regarding the charges against Michael Spangler. There could be multiple motivations in doing so, and I needed time to consider what it would actually accomplish—or more accurately put, I have no expectation that it will accomplish anything. The officers of the PSE have made their ruling. I have no agency in that. I still am wondering how in the world I have gotten in such a situation, and that/if/why God would have me to follow through with it. And frankly, I am just weary. This whole process and experience with ministers and elders in Genevan Commons and with the PSE has been so devaluing: the fact that I had to publicize it for it to be addressed, that only two church officers were held accountable, the committee’s actions and report, the charges they took over and reduced, the trial, the contempt they had for me there, to this outcome. The message they sent was clear.
After reporting on the way this has been handled, an internationally known expert on abuse reached out to me saying that I am under gross spiritual abuse, and that is putting it mildly. This is my motivation in writing about it, the underlying question that needs to be in the forefront: what message has the church sent to any woman who speaks truth and looks to the officers in the OPC for help?
This is a plea for reform that has little hope behind it. And yet I feel compelled to use the voice that I do have to say what is painfully obvious to me. Sure, this is about justice; but it is about more than that. A few questions that arise reveal that what is really needed is reform:
Why do I need to ask for justice?
What theology about men and women is being taught, promoted, or tolerated by officers in Reformed denominations?
How important are the qualifications for elders and preachers?
How do those in power respond to the vulnerable?
How are victims impacted by the decisions and process of the system?
Here is a brief update. You can read here, here, and here to get more details about how we got to this:
Charge #1 against Mr. Spangler is for offenses against his brothers, for “sowing discord in the church by publicly disparaging the governance of the Presbytery.” In the charge, it notes that he violated the 5th commandment. The specification was the letter that Mr. Spangler and Mr. Anderson wrote to the congregants of their church, written about in my last update.
Is there a better line in all of Scripture than the bride’s proclamation, “I am my love’s and his desire is for me”? (Song of Songs 7:10). It’s full of theological meat—she appropriates the covenant language that reverberates throughout Scripture. That is fabulous in itself. But none of it matters if you don’t get it deep down in your bones, if you don’t follow through with what it really means, and if you don’t sing it with her.
Are we perhaps guilty in our theology of upholding a Savior who gave his whole life for us, but not seeing him as the Groom who absolutely desires and delights in us? This isn’t a lustful desire to reduce his bride, the church, as an ends to his pleasure—it is pure and good to the core, elevating her dignity and personhood. It fructifies her. It is eternal and unchanging. In the Song, we not only see this, but his desire arouses our own. And we long for that day when we will consummate that.
Dr. James Eglinton has a great new critical biography out on Herman Bavinck. I sought his expertise to answer a gnawing question about Bavinck’s views on women. He graciously obliged. Here is my question, followed by his response:
It can be difficult reading a theologian whom you learn so much from and hold in high regard, and coming across their views on women. I’ve had this experience with Bavinck, devastated to read these words: “the woman must wrestle continually against her deficiency in logic that is manifested both in rigid tenacity and incorrigible willfulness, as well as in a fickleness that defies every form of argument.” But your critical biography reveals that is not the view of women that Bavinck ended his life with. How did his views on women change, why don’t we read much about that now, and how did it affect what Bavinck advocated for women later in his life?
Bavinck, Women, and The Christian Family
In his later years, and in his own cultural setting, the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) was noted as a public advocate for women’s participation in society, and for open equal access to education for girls. The mature Bavinck spoke regularly at women’s conferences, shared platforms with women speakers, and published books on the changing role of women in society. My recent book,Bavinck: A Critical Biography, charts how his mature views on this topic developed rapidly against the backdrop of the First World War. During that War, millions of young men had been killed, leaving a generation of young women with no realistic prospect of marriage or motherhood, and a labour market now missing millions of workers. At short notice, a society based on the family unit had to reimagine itself as a society of individuals, in which an increasing number of single women was joining the work force. Although Bavinck’s more famous colleague Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) struggled to see how Christianity could be reconciled to this newly reimagined society, Bavinck thought that the Christian faith could indeed advance—albeit not easily—into a world where women functioned as individuals.
After a nice Christmas break, Mike Bird and I recorded another YouTube conversation for Birds of a Feather. Of course Mike wanted to talk about the insurrection of our US Capitol, so we also talked Christian nationalism. And with the beginning of the year it seemed fitting to discuss Bible reading, the importance of interpretive communities, quiet time habits, and, you know…Tim Keller’s relationship to George Soros. I also try to throw in a few of my favorite “Birdisms” into my vocabulary.