Doug Wilson and the Neo-Reformed

So here’s something we learned last week…

Neo-Reformed theologian and self-described “paleo-Confederate” Doug Wilson thinks slavery was basically all right.

In fact, he wrote a whole booklet about it, Southern Slavery As It Was, in which he erroneously claims:

  • That most enslaved blacks were happier and better off than most free blacks and even many urban whites.
  • That Southern slavery created a veritable multiracial utopia. Quoting Wilson: “Slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that… has never existed in any nation before the [Civil War] or since.”
  • That slavery is biblical and abolitionism nothing less than “rebellion against God.” Again, quoting Wilson: “The New Testament opposes anything like the abolitionism of our country prior to the War Between the States.” (“War Between the States” is how neo-Confederates refer to the Civil War.)

Conveniently, Wilson relies almost entirely on pro-Confederate, pro-slavery revisionists like 19th-century theologian R.L. Dabney to lend a veneer of credibility to his questionable history.

But Wilson has already been vetted and debunked by properly qualified historians. (See, for example, Southern Slavery As It Wasn’t.) So enough about his historical malfeasance. For those interested, Anthony Bradley and The Wartburg Watch have done an excellent job shining a light on the real Doug Wilson — bravely so, considering Wilson’s history of going after anyone who dares to criticize him.

Wilson’s views, abhorrent as they are, aren’t what I’m wondering about. What I want to know is this:

Why does the neo-Reformed community embrace Doug Wilson as one of their own? Why are they giving this guy a platform? Jared Wilson is hardly the first neo-Reformed blogger to get mixed up with the other Wilson. The Gospel Coalition features several articles and resources from Doug Wilson. He is a recurring speaker at John Piper’s Desiring God conferences. The only person with more stage time at the 2012 conference was Piper himself. And when Piper invited Wilson to speak at the 2009 conference, he introduced Doug Wilson with this video:

“Doug gets the gospel right,” Piper said. Namely, because Wilson affirms “substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone.”

Never mind that Doug Wilson tries to justify slavery, directly contravening Jesus’ inaugural sermon in which he announced that he had come to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and to “set the oppressed free.”

Is this what it’s come to? Is it really OK for Doug Wilson to get Jesus categorically wrong, so long as he ticks John Piper’s “substitutionary atonement” box? Is it really OK that he defends the oppression of an entire race, so long as he whispers “sola fide” in John Piper’s ears?

I think it’s unlikely that most members of the Gospel Coalition share Doug Wilson’s thinking on slavery. (At least I hope they don’t.) So why are they giving him a free pass? Maybe they weren’t aware of his views before, but they sure as heck are now.

What does it say about their priorities that they have refused to denounce Wilson for his reprehensible views? What does it say if they’re more comfortable associating with someone who rationalizes slavery but adores Calvin than someone who may not be a Calvinist in good standing but has the good sense to admit slavery was and is a horrendous evil?

A truce (of sorts)

Here’s a thought in light of the recent controversy surrounding Jared Wilson’s inflammatory blog post (or, more precisely, Jared Wilson’s quoting of the habitually inflammatory Doug Wilson)…

Obviously, the gender roles debate isn’t going away anytime soon. Nor should it. This is a conversation we ought to be having. Yet both sides feel they’re routinely misunderstood and caricatured by the other. And that’s not such a good thing.

So… maybe it’s time we called a truce?

I’m not saying we should forget our differences. For me, as an egalitarian and father of a two-year-old girl, mutuality and equality are too important to set aside. So let the debate continue.

But maybe — for the sake of a more constructive dialogue (and because it’s the right thing to do) — we should start dismantling the caricatures we have of one another.

I’ll go first.

Complementarian marriages are sometimes depicted as little fiefdoms where husbands rule firmly and unilaterally. But this is a caricature. Few couples have likely given much thought to whether their marriages are “complementarian” or “egalitarian.” But among those who have — and, specifically, among those who’ve embraced the complementarian point of view — most husbands I know are loving, considerate, and honorable.

They are not domineering. They do not bark orders at their wives. They do not make important decisions on their own. They help out around the house. They run errands for their wives (as Jared Wilson can attest). Although they may not care for the phrase “egalitarian pleasure party,” their wives are well loved.

Most complementarians know full well that “wives, submit” isn’t the only thing the Bible said about marriage. They also take seriously the part that tells husbands to love their wives as they love themselves.

To be sure, the caricature of complementarianism — the boorish husband who walks all over his wife — does exist, and in far too many households. But in my experience, it is less common among those who are intentionally complementarian as a result of careful study and deliberation.

OK, complementarians? Are we good?

Now it’s your turn. You could start by acknowledging that we egalitarians don’t deny there are meaningful differences between men and women. Most of us have taken a biology class at some point. We get it. Boys and girls are different.

What’s more, we celebrate these differences. Egalitarians believe women and men each contribute something vital to the human race. In fact, we might’ve called ourselves “complementarians” if had you hadn’t snatched the label first.

You could acknowledge that egalitarians have no interest in neutering the human race. We’re not out to emasculate men or defeminize women. We just don’t see why the God-given differences between women and men require a hierarchal distinction.

What’s more, many of us have fairly conventional marriages. You might be surprised to learn my wife stays at home raising our two-year-old daughter, while I “bring home the bacon,” as it were. (I have the good fortune of working from home, so I suppose we’re both stay-at-home parents in a way, but my wife does the lion’s share of childrearing by far.)

We egalitarians don’t despise women who stay at home. We just don’t agree with those who say this is the only valid path for married women.

Yes, we think there’s value in rediscovering some of the feminine images for God found in the Bible (e.g. El Shaddai in Genesis 49:25, the mother in labor in Isaiah 42:14, etc.), but we’re not out to purge our lexicon of masculine terminology. Most of us are quite comfortable praying to God our Father. We’re OK with the fact that Jesus and his 12 disciples were male (although we think Jesus’ female followers — many of whom were more dependable than his male disciples — deserve a little more recognition).

It may surprise you to learn that very, very few of us strip down and dance around statues of ancient fertility goddesses on Sunday mornings. Sorry, but we just don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. There are very real differences between our competing views of gender. And I fear those differences become even greater and more divisive when we turn to the subject of women leading in the church. Some of us have a hard time finding biblical justification for a view that automatically denies half the church (more than that, actually) the opportunity to lead, solely on the basis of which reproductive organs they have.

So we may not see eye to eye anytime soon. But for the sake of the gospel, let’s dispense with the worst caricatures of each other. OK?

Now is it time for an awkward side hug?

Fifty shades of nonsense

(Or, where the argument for women’s subordination came from)

Update 7/21: Friday night, Jared Wilson took down his post and apologized to those who were “offended and shamed” by his comments (more precisely, his quote of Doug Wilson’s comments), which many took as suggesting that men are more likely to fantasize about rape (and, God forbid, act on those fantasies) if they aren’t allowed to exercise dominion over their own wives. Jared’s apology is not exactly a renunciation of patriarchy (that was hardly likely to happen), but it was sincere nevertheless. Jared, thank you for doing the honorable thing.


No, this isn’t a post about Fifty Shades of Grey. Haven’t read it, don’t intend to.

This is about what happens when a Gospel Coalition blogger decides to make a “biblical” point about Fifty Shades of Grey.

Jared C. Wilson’s post [link taken down as of 7/20] featured a lengthy quote from a neo-Reformed compatriot named Douglas Wilson (no relation), in which the latter claims that “men dream of being rapists” only because they’ve been robbed of their God-given right to “conquer” their wives in the bedroom. When men aren’t allowed to assert their unilateral authority in the marriage bed, they become sexually frustrated. So they resort to inappropriate means of sexual dominance such as rape and BDSM. (As if there were any “appropriate” means of sexual dominance?)

Several Christian leaders have already denounced this kind of thinking for what it is. I commend to you Scot McKnight, Rachel Held Evans, Matthew Paul Turner, and especially J.R. Daniel Kirk.

Both Wilsons have reacted by crying foul [link taken down as of 7/20], saying they’re being deliberately misunderstood. They’re just trying to protect women, they insist.

Yet the unmistakable subtext of Doug Wilson’s quote is this: if you’re a woman and you’ve been raped, you and your feminist friends are partly to blame. This sort of thing might not happen if you gave up your silly notions of equality and allowed your husbands to “conquer, colonize, and plant” at will.

Others have unpacked the problems with the Wilsons’ argument. But where does this kind of thinking come from? For the answer, let’s take a closer look at Doug Wilson.

It’s no coincidence the elder Wilson describes himself as a paleo-Confederate who believes “the South was right on all the essential constitutional and cultural issues surrounding the [Civil War].”

He claims Southern slavery was a good thing, that it “produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that… has never existed in any nation before or since.”

He uses the term “abolitionist” as an insult.

Let’s go back in time, if you will, to the pre-Civil War era and revisit the arguments Southern Christians used to justify slavery (I’ve mentioned them before in a previous post):

  • They said slavery was sanctioned by the Bible.
  • They said it was by God’s design that some people were intrinsically subordinate to others.
  • They accused abolitionists (yup, they thought it was an insult too) of capitulating to the “spirit of the age.”
  • They believed those who rejected slavery were rejecting the Word of God.

Notice any similarities between these arguments and those used to keep women in their place today?

Most Christians have long since given up rationalizing slavery. Except Doug Wilson.

Most complementarians would be rightly uncomfortable with the possibility that their arguments were once used to justify slavery. But Doug Wilson is a reminder of where this kind of thinking came from.

Colorado burning

Yesterday, photos of smoke, ash, and devastation began to fill my Facebook feed.

I have a lot of friends in Colorado Springs.

I heard from one who spent the evening watching the ash descend on his house and praying it wouldn’t light. Another spent the morning watering her roof.

Then came the updates from those forced to evacuate — who don’t yet know whether their homes are still there.

As Christians, the best thing we can say (if we say anything at all) is Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.

Sadly, if the fires had struck any other city, some religious leaders might be tempted to say more.

If this were New Orleans, for example, someone might declare the fire God’s judgment on homosexuals, as John Hagee did when Hurricane Katrina struck.

If this were Port-au-Prince, someone might attribute the victims’ misfortune to a pact their ancestors supposedly made with the devil. That was how Pat Robertson explained the 2010 earthquake that killed over 300,000 in Haiti.

If this were Minneapolis, and there was a gathering of liberal Lutherans in town, someone might proclaim the 15,000-acre conflagration as “God’s gentle but firm warning” to repent, much as John Piper did when a tornado briefly disrupted the ELCA’s national convention taking place in his hometown.

But this is Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family, Compassion International, The Navigators, and a hundred other evangelical ministries. This is the veritable Jerusalem of the Rockies, with THREE Christian radio stations.

So who’s going to stand up and condemn it? Who’s going to claim insight into the divine counsel and tell us why God allowed and/or caused this disaster — and precisely who he’s mad at this time?

Is it Focus on the Family? Has God grown weary of their conflict with those whose values don’t line up with theirs? Is he mad at the entire state of Colorado for voting to ban gay marriage in 2006 — an effort spearheaded by Ted Haggard, a once-prominent Colorado Springs pastor?

Should progressive Christians take this opportunity to do some pontificating of their own?

The answer is, of course, no.

You see, even if you believe God is meticulously sovereign — that he not only allows bad things to happen but determines each and every one of them, it takes a colossal amount of hubris to point the finger at someone else and say, “God brought this disaster to judge YOU.”

Even if you believe God has used calamity to judge people in the past, that doesn’t mean you or I have the authority to say which disasters (if any) are divine judgments today.

“But unless you repent, you will all perish.”

When the tornado hit Minneapolis during the ELCA’s convention in 2009, John Piper took to his blog and quoted Luke 13:1-5 as proof the cyclone represented God’s judgment against the gathering of liberal Lutherans, among others.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

On the basis of this and a few other texts, Piper believes every disaster, natural or manmade, is the judgment of an angry God.

But let’s take a closer look at Luke 13.

Jesus learns that some Galileans were slaughtered in the temple by order of the Roman governor. Galilee and the surrounding area was a tinderbox of Jewish resentment against Roman occupation. (See this post for more about the political climate of first-century Galilee.) It’s more than likely these Galileans were killed in retaliation for some challenge to Pilate’s authority — whether they were the instigators or just “collateral damage.”

Many Jews of Jesus’ day longed to thumb their noses at their Roman oppressors. All they needed was a messiah who would rise up and lead them to a blood-soaked victory.

But when Jesus hears about these martyrs for the cause, he doesn’t mince words. He tells his listeners, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

This is not a general call to repent of just any sin, lest some disaster overtake you. Jesus is warning his listeners to abandon their plans for armed revolt. “Unless you repent of this futile effort to retaliate against your enemies,” he tells his compatriots, “the entire nation will perish.”

Indeed, Jesus’ prediction came true when the temple was razed and Jerusalem destroyed in A.D. 70.

Again, it was not a natural disaster he was talking about in Luke 13. It wasn’t even divine judgment. It was manmade and self-inflicted.

The Bible gives no encouragement to those who interpret every act of human suffering as divine judgment. There’s even one story where three individuals, too smart for their own good, are condemned for doing so.

Rather, we are told simply to “mourn with those who mourn.”

So as Colorado burns, we put our hands over our mouths and say,

Kyrie eleison. 


Related posts:

Authoritarianism in the church: divine right or coping mechanism?

This news came from Matthew Paul Turner’s blog: a pastor fired from Mark Driscoll’s church has come forward with his story. Five years ago, Driscoll told his congregation he’d like to “go Old Testament on” on a few members of his leadership team, by which he meant he wanted to “break their noses” (referring to Nehemiah 13:25, apparently). After the service, Driscoll walked into a room and fired Paul Petry.

At the time, Driscoll was pushing a revision to the church’s bylaws. Petry felt the new document consolidated too much power into too few hands. So he proposed some changes. He and another pastor were told to get on board with the new bylaws or get out. In his defense of the firing, Driscoll claimed that Petry was “among the least administratively gifted for the task” of rewriting the bylaws. Which is weird, because Petry was a lawyer by trade.

Petry stayed quiet for five years, but recent controversy over Mars Hill’s philosophy of church discipline prompted him and his wife to chronicle their version of the story.

I’m not interested in taking another shot at Driscoll. You can read Petry’s account and decide for yourself. Instead, I want to ask:

Is there a link between the heavy-handed authoritarianism in some neo-Reformed churches and their cultural/theological assumptions about God and women?

I’ll lay out my theory below. (Please tell me if you think I’ve got it right or wrong.)

Over the past few generations, our culture has gradually embraced the notion of equality. The abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, equal pay for equal work (at least in theory), gay rights, and so on. Some of these ideals have gained near universal acceptance; other are hotly debated. All were controversial at least to start.

To those for whom power is a zero sum game, any advance for one group (women, minorities, etc.) means a step back for others (males, whites, etc.). Sometimes they’re right. Abolition, for example, deprived slaveholders of their power to own other human beings, and rightly so.

Over the years, those accustomed to being in charge have had to cope with a new reality — one in which we don’t enjoy as much power as we used to. One in which we’ve had to learn to share power with those our predecessors once ruled.

Even those who accept that change was inevitable — necessary, perhaps — might resent some of the particular manifestations of it: affirmative action, Title IX, etc. They might feel the march toward equality has created a new disparity in the opposite direction.

Men are no longer allowed to be tough and rude; we’re supposed to be sensitive and in touch with our feminine side. The husband is no longer the undisputed king of his castle. Heck, he can’t even beat his subjects when they get out of line anymore. Realms that once were the exclusive domain of men aren’t any longer. From the athletic pitch to the pulpit, we now have to share space with the fairer (and allegedly weaker) sex.

Now imagine a theology comes along claiming that God is meticulously sovereign over every detail of history, from dust motes to tsunamis. This God is tough, powerful, and he doesn’t mind busting a few heads every now and then.

The divine right of kings: a model for church governance?

What’s more, this God is a man’s God. Not only did he foreordain everything down to the tiniest particle; he also decreed that men should call the shots on his behalf. From the church to the home, men are to lead by divine right. Men are the spiritual authority; women are the dutiful subjects.

Setting aside for a moment whether this is what the Bible actually teaches, can you imagine the appeal such a theology might hold among disaffected, predominantly white males?

Now there’s a way for those who’ve lost power (or think they have) to get some of it back. At least in one or two spheres of life, they can call the shots again.

Is it any wonder someone like Mark Driscoll, who reads his wife’s email and talks wistfully of being able to break people’s noses, would be drawn toward a theology that grants him a privileged place of power, purely on the basis of his masculinity? Is it any surprise that men who live in a bubble where they hold all the power won’t let it go without a fight?

In some ways, it’s an understandable reaction from men who are, after all, trying to find their place in a brave new world. But that doesn’t make it right.

My contention is that neo-Reformed churches like Driscoll’s have reintroduced a medieval theology of power to help them cope with society’s slow, steady march toward equality.

Of course, they would argue such a theology comes straight from the Bible. But does it?

Is this what it means to “value others above yourselves,” as Paul urged the Philippians? Is it what it means to become “the servant of all,” as Jesus insisted when his followers began arguing about who among them was the greatest?

Is it what Paul had in mind when he assured Gentile believers in Galatia that Christ renders social hierarchies irrelevant? Some of the Jewish believers of Paul’s day thought they had the right to lord it over their Gentile brothers and sisters because Jews were the “original” covenant people. They were the first to follow the Messiah. Paul, himself a Jew, responded with a big, fat “so what?”

And speaking of “lording it over…”

Any theology that consolidates power in the hands of a particular group on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, or social status is at odds with the Bible. All churches need some form of governance and authority, but when power becomes absolute or unaccountable, it becomes the antithesis of love.

And love, not power, is supposed to be the defining hallmark of Christ’s church.

In defense of troublemakers

Last year, a 25-year-old Seattleite named Andrew got a taste of Mark Driscoll’s almost cult-like style of church discipline. Andrew’s story has made the rounds many times since blogger Matthew Paul Turner first shared it. I won’t rehash the details here.

Yesterday, Slate picked up the story, which prompted some to accuse Turner of tarnishing Christianity’s reputation by criticizing Driscoll. The following comment, posted to Turner’s Facebook page, captures the feelings of those who believe it’s wrong for Christians to publicly criticize other Christians:

Way to go Matt. You’ve given those far from God fodder for scoffing at Christ and his bride… hope you are proud.

Matthew Paul Turner loves to poke a stick at the more ridiculous elements of the Christian subculture. From really bad church signs to abstinence bears, he invites us to share an ironic laugh at the expense of the absurd.

But there’s nothing funny about spiritual abuse. So instead of his usual satire, Turner’s criticism of Driscoll is intense, earnest, and, at times, angry.

Which bothers those who think it’s more important to protect Christianity’s reputation among nonbelievers than to call out abuse and injustice in our midst.

But such preservationist instincts never stopped writers of the Bible from criticizing corruption in the early church — loudly, at times. If it’s wrong to engage in public criticism of those who are abusing others in the name of Christ, then we may want to consider making some drastic changes to our Bible. We could start by cutting 1 Corinthians.

Paul lashes out at the church in Corinth for everything from separating into factions to neglecting the poor. His letter is now canonized in sacred scripture, where anyone, Christian or otherwise, can read it. Whether he knew it or not, Paul was airing the Corinthians’ dirty laundry for all to see.

“But they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” some argue. And they’re right. Jesus himself said as much. But if it’s Jesus’ reputation we’re concerned about, then it’s incumbent upon us to speak up when someone abuses people in his name.

Love means standing up for the abused and marginalized, even — and especially — when their abusers profess to follow Christ. Yes, even if that means being labeled a troublemaker.

The world could use more troublemakers like Matthew Paul Turner.

A God who doesn’t want to be found?

There are times where Jesus says something nice and heartwarming like, “For God so loved the world…” etc. etc.*

Then there are times when Jesus says something like this:

This is why I speak to them in parables . . . ‘Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

This little aside comes near the start of a mini-marathon of parables in Matthew 13. After the first parable (the sower and the seeds), Jesus’ disciples ask about his sudden shift into storyteller mode. “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” they wonder.

Jesus’ answer is unsettling to say the least. Basically, it’s so people won’t understand what he’s talking about. To drive the point home, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6, where the prophet is sent to further harden the already callous hearts of God’s rebellious people:

Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.

(Jesus’ choice for “verse of the day” is even more alarming when you read what comes next in Isaiah.)

For some, his statement about parables is yet further proof of a limited atonement, the idea that God chose a select group of people and determined that only they would understand the teachings of Jesus.

At the very least, it begs the question: why would Jesus deliberately keep people from understanding his message? Why would God-in-the-flesh not want to be found?

Calvinists find the answer in their theological presuppositions about God and salvation: Jesus conspires to confuse because he only wants to save those who were chosen beforehand.

Fortunately, there’s a better answer to be found by looking at the historical and cultural backdrop of Matthew 13.

For starters, Matthew 13 is part of a much bigger section of scripture. Altogether, Matthew is arranged into five main sections; this one occurs smack in the middle. It starts with chapter 11 and continues through chapter 13.

In this section, Jesus encounters opposition from all sides:

Jesus’ deliberate obfuscation has to be read in light of all this. It’s a reaction to the opposition he encountered, not the cause of it.

It also helps to remember that everything Jesus said was spoken against the backdrop of Roman occupation. There was an intense debate raging among the Jews over what to do about their unfortunate situation. Some said cooperate with Rome; others advocated violent resistance. Most devout Jews expected the Messiah would sort out the Romans and restore power to Israel when he came. (Even after the resurrection, the disciples still seemed to think this would be the case.)

Jesus came as messiah, but he radically redefined the messiah’s role. He walked the line between Rome’s demand for total acquiescence and the call by some for armed resistance. He knew full well where the people’s thirst for violent revolt would get them. (He didn’t have to google A.D. 70 to figure that one out.)

In Jesus and the Land, Wheaton professor Gary Burge writes:

In the volatile climate of first-century politics — among a people living under the harsh realities of Roman military occupation — we should not expect a public teacher like Jesus to speak explicitly. . . . To exhibit resistance to Rome is to run up against a skilled army which is watching for signs of subversion. To show cooperation with Rome is to run up against fellow Jews for whom such sympathies are intolerable. In every explosive political context (both today and in antiquity), people with opinions must remain opaque to the many listeners standing in the shadows who are choosing sides.

In short, Jesus didn’t obscure his message simply because he was playing favorites. He didn’t hide the truth from certain people because God had predestined them to perish in their ignorance. There were other factors at work.

A little context can be a wonderful thing.


*Fun fact: In reality, Jesus might not have even said “For God so loved the world….” More likely, this was John’s commentary on the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. That’s what happens when Greek manuscripts don’t have any punctuation. Scholars get to play “guess where the quotation marks go.” But still.

Apostles to the apostles

A few days ago, Rachel Held Evans challenged male bloggers to respond to John Piper’s depiction of Christianity as a “masculine” religion. That’s why I wrote yesterday’s post about Huldah, a female prophet to whom the Jewish high priest, a male, turned for direction after rediscovering the Book of the Law.

There are many of examples of women in God’s story that contradict Piper’s claim, and today I want to look at one more.

It’s well known the 12 disciples were men. Piper makes much of this point, though J.R. Daniel Kirk has shown how Piper obscures a vital element of the gospel by doing so.

It’s also well known that in Jesus’ darkest hour, his female followers stayed close to him, while his male disciples scattered.

The women who followed Jesus feature prominently in the resurrection as well. Each gospel tells the story a little differently. In two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke), it’s the women who announce the resurrection to the remaining 11 disciples. (In John’s account, the women tell Peter and John about the empty tomb, but they don’t seem to realize why it’s empty.)

The women’s role is much more than a matter of being in the right place at the right time. According to Matthew and Mark, an angel gave them the task of announcing Jesus’ resurrection.

In the New Testament, an apostle was someone who had a direct, personal encounter with the Messiah and who, on the basis of that encounter, proclaimed the good news, teaching it with authority. The disciples are often referred to as “apostles.”

Now back to the women at the empty tomb. They are the first witnesses to Jesus’ triumph. They bring the good news of resurrection to the male disciples.

Given that Jesus’ resurrection lies at the very heart of the gospel (as Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15), we can put it even more bluntly: women proclaimed the gospel to the apostles so they could proclaim it to others.

God chose women to be apostles to the apostles.

Not exactly what you’d expect from a “masculine” religion.

To be fair, the four resurrection accounts differ — and not just in trivial ways. According to Mark, the women run in fright. They tell no one what they’ve seen because they’re terrified.

What accounts for the difference? Each writer shapes the story to serve his own purpose. Each has a slightly different point to make, so each freely modifies the details as needed.

This shouldn’t cause us to lose confidence in the reality of the events they’re describing. But it should give us pause to remember: the Bible has a context. It has a cultural backdrop. Each book had an original audience to which it was speaking.

No book presumes to say everything that could be said about everything. The Bible does not seek to give us the final word on every matter.

Multiple perspectives, multiple viewpoints live together within its pages — which should give us pause when we read something like, “I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” It may be — in fact, it is very likely — this was a specific word to a specific community dealing with a specific situation. To apply it to every church in every situation is to steamroll over the rest of the Bible, including the parts where women are apostles to the apostles.

Election in the Old Testament, part 3

In the Old Testament, God kicked off his redemptive plan by forming a covenant nation called Israel. The nation as a whole was a chosen instrument, predestined by God.

But each person had a choice to make. If you were born into the covenant, there were dozens of ways you could opt out — that is, be “cut off.” If you were born outside the chosen nation, there was nothing but your own pride to keep you from joining it.

Which leads to another important point about predestination in the Old Testament: it’s always for the benefit of others — i.e. the not-predestined. This idea is woven into the very first promise God made to Abraham:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Notice the promised blessing is unlimited in scope. Anyone who blesses God’s people (and by extension, God himself) will be blessed by God in return. And notice that God’s action comes in response to human action.

Yes, God is orchestrating redemptive history. Yes, he alone initiates salvation. But he does so in a way that leaves room for us to play a meaningful part.

The promise ends with “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This is the whole reason for God’s covenant with Abraham. God is not raising up a chosen nation for its own sake, as if to carve out a tiny portion of the human race for himself. He intends to use this nation as a vehicle to bring salvation to the entire world.

After the exodus, God established his covenant with the whole nation at Mount Sinai, calling them a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19). A priest is a human conduit for grace. Someone who not only points the way to God, but helps others walk the path.

In other words, the Israelites were not predestined to be “saved” for their own sake. They were predestined to be priests. They were predestined to draw others to God — or as Isaiah puts it, to be a “light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42, 49).

In the New Testament, we see the same connection between predestination and priestly proclamation. Paul refers at one point to his “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God” (Romans 15). Elsewhere, Peter writes to the church:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession [all of which is predestination language], that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Predestination is never an end unto itself. We are not predestined to be members of a club, we are predestined to be ambassadors and priests, proclaiming the good news to others so they in turn can be predestined to do the same.

Calvinism views predestination as a means by which God narrows the scope of his redemptive agenda, applying its benefits to a select few. But in the Old Testament, predestination works in reverse, gradually expanding the circle to include more and more people — with the end goal of blessing “all peoples on earth.”

The best thing I read this week (January 21)

Yes, it’s another Mark Driscoll post. This one is from Jonathan Martin, pastor of Renovatus Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The thing I like best about Jonathan (apart from the fact that I so badly want to see him turn a deck of cards into a weapon), is how he reminds us that women in ministry is not some crazy new idea. It’s not, as Mark Driscoll would have us believe, a spineless capitulation to a culture that only recently came to value the equality of women (as if that’s such a bad thing anyway).

There’s at least one Christian tradition (which just so happens to be the one Jonathan represents) that has embraced women in ministry for ages — long before the rest of us were willing to entertain the thought of female pastors and priests. And they (rightly, in my opinion) see women in leadership going all the way back to the apostolic church.

To quote from Jonathan’s blog (or better yet, go and read the whole thing):

The argument that Mark lays out [against women in ministry] is not so much from Scripture but his own culturally conditioned assessment of the role of women in leadership.  I come from a very different cultural context that tells a very different story…

As a third generation Pentecostal preacher who has been and continues to be shaped significantly by women in ministry, this time I had enough.  Within my tradition, which is theologically very conservative, we have never had prohibitions about women in leadership.  From the beginning, we have believed that the Spirit given on the day of Pentecost causes both “sons and daughters to prophesy.”  We had women pastors and leaders while at the same time forbidding our congregants for many years to wear make-up or jewelry, go to the movies, swimming pools or beaches; play cards or play sports.  Women were not allowed to wear pants or wear their hair short, men could not wear their hair long or wear shorts.  And yet in all of this—women were fully authorized to preach, teach, marry, bury, baptize and serve communion.

We did this all in a tradition that had an extraordinarily high view of the Bible (I would argue a much higher and even more terrifying understanding of the Word of God than the fundamentalists)…  We did it because we believed there was in fact serious evidence in the New Testament that women were in fact leaders in the early church.

We had no connections to liberal social movements, but were demonstrating racial equality in pockets all around the world years before the modern civil rights movement.  We weren’t demythologizing the Bible or playing down the blood or the cross of Jesus or the judgment of God (as Mark’s logic would suggest these are interrelated with the ordination of women as pastors).  There was a new social order coming in not through politicians or seminarians or professors, but from ordinary people who were taking the Bible and the Spirit seriously.

While there isn’t a hint of self-congratulation in Jonathan’s post, it’s a good reminder nonetheless that if you’re lucky enough to be part of a Christian tradition that welcomes women as full participants at every level, you should thank a Pentecostal. They were our trailblazers on the path to a better understanding of how God can use anyone in any capacity, regardless of gender.

Do yourself a favor and read the rest of Jonathan’s post.