This is what the tortured, twisted logic of patriarchy looks like

The police as God intended, according to Piper—with one exception...
The police as God intended, according to Piper—with one exception

The other day, John Piper fielded a question about whether women should be police officers. His response highlights the tortured logic necessary to make patriarchy “work” in the real world.

Worth noting: the woman asking is a complementarian. She believes, like Piper, that men lead and women follow. Yet she feels drawn to police work and therefore conflicted—presumably because her job would require her to exercise authority over men on a regular basis. She even promised to quit if she gets married someday and her husband objects to her line of work.

Most complementarians don’t go so far as to prohibit women from working—though they often discourage married women from doing so, and some do indeed go farther. (I once had a pastor who said in a sermon he didn’t think women should ever work outside the home, even if they were single. We left that church shortly after.)

Piper himself accepts there are “thousands of possible roles” women can fill in society. But this creates a problem for patriarchy: what about the many roles which might require a woman to exercise authority over a man?

It’s not just police officers.

What about being a college professor? Or a guidance counselor? Or an author? Or a city planner? Or an HR specialist?

What about being a scientist who presents her research at a professional conference and therefore “teaches” men? What about being a financial advisor telling men how to invest their money?

This is where patriarchy ties itself in knots because, on the one hand, it wants us to believe the allegedly subordinate status of women is universally applicable and not limited to a certain sphere, like the church or home. As Piper says in his response to the aspiring cop:

At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. The postman won’t relate to the lady at the door the way a husband will, but he will be a man.

Leading—exercising authority over women—is “at the heart” of what it means to be a man, according to Piper. Yet even he must sense the extreme nature of this, because he immediately tries to qualify it so he can allow women to serve in at least some roles outside the home.

Piper concedes the folly of making a list of “acceptable” roles for women—not that others haven’t tried. Instead, he resorts to some breathtaking mental gymnastics in order to explain how a woman can exercise authority without really exercising authority:

If a woman’s job involves a good deal of directives toward men, they will need to be non-personal in general, or men and women won’t flourish in the long run in that relationship without compromising profound biblical and psychological issues. And conversely, if a woman’s relationship to a man is very personal, then the way she offers guidance and influence will need to be more non-directive.

According to Piper, a woman can exercise authority so long as it’s “non-directive” or “non-personal.”

He sees no problem with a woman designing traffic patterns, “deciding which streets are one-way, and therefore… controlling, in one sense, all the male drivers all day long,” because this kind of influence isn’t personal.

But if that same woman were to be a police officer standing on a street corner making sure those traffic patterns are followed? Then she would be violating Piper’s notion of manhood.

Now it’s personal, according to Piper. Now she’s offending a man’s “God-given sense of responsibility and leadership.” Now she’s controverting “God’s created order.”

How does that even make sense? How is that not an artificial distinction designed solely to maintain an unworkable system?

It’s funny, because complementarians like to accuse egalitarians of doing mental gymnastics in order to explain 1 Timothy 2:12—“I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” (There happen to be very good and, I think, convincing ways to interpret this passage from an egalitarian perspective. See here and here, for example.)

But what about the mental gymnastics necessary to maintain patriarchy, albeit in a slightly less terrible form?

Paul doesn’t say, “I do not permit a woman to assume authority over a man unless it’s non-direct or non-personal.” Piper has introduced an unfounded caveat to a text he claims to interpret more straightforwardly than the rest of us.

Piper says this is about being “submissive to the Bible,” but he can’t even follow his own rubric for interpreting it. (He also wants us to believe his is the counter-cultural view, something I addressed in a recent guest post on Jory Micah’s blog.)

Speaking of the Bible, if it’s wrong for a woman to exercise authority over a man, how do you explain the prophet Deborah instructing Barak—who was afraid to go into battle without her?

How do you explain Huldah instructing the high priest of Israel?

How do you explain women being the first to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection? (“He is has risen” is the foundation of all Christian teaching, after all.)


How do you explain Priscilla instructing Apollos in the way of God?

Deborah and Huldah were nothing if not directive. Mary Magdalene and Priscilla were nothing if not personal.

Authority is authority, whether it’s directive or not, whether it’s personal or not. And when it comes to the biblical narrative, steeped though it is in a patriarchal world, we see women exercising bold, prophetic authority—in accord with God’s created order, not against it.

Photo by Dave Conner on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Stephen Fry’s God is no straw man

“Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” That’s what I’d say.
—Stephen Fry

It is right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die. God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs. So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.
—John Piper


Stephen Fry clearly struck a chord with his impassioned denunciation of God. It’s fast approaching exceeded five million views on YouTube. There’ve been no shortage of responses, either—even Russell Brand weighed in with a video rebuttal… before he had time to make his bed, apparently.

For me, however, the response that resonated most deeply was not a rebuttal. It was my friend Ian’s heart-wrenching story of how he can relate to the anguish Fry articulated, even though (unlike Fry) Ian identifies as a Christian.

Other responses, for the most part, fell more clearly into the “rebuttal” category. Many expressed surprise or bewilderment at Fry’s depiction of God. That’s not the God we know, they protested. Where did Fry get the idea that God is the author of eye-burrowing parasites or bone cancer in children?

It turns out, we don’t have to look far to find the answer.

The second quote at the start of this post is an actual thing a prominent Christian pastor and author has said. Not someone on the lunatic fringe. Someone squarely in the heart of mainstream evangelical Christianity. “It is right for God to slaughter women and children,” John Piper argues. “Anytime he pleases.” Because whatever God does, according to Piper, “is just and right and good.”

Bone cancer in children.

Eye-burrowing worms.

According to this view, God is the author of both. Such a God is every bit as capricious and unreasonable as Fry says he is, because he does not operate according to a consistent or predictable ethic. Whatever this God decides to do is, in that moment, “right and good”—for no other reason than he chose to do it.

Such a God provides no credible standard of morality for us to live by. Such a God cannot be trusted. Such a God cannot be said to be “for us” in any meaningful sense. Such a God exists purely for himself, for his own glory. And if this God decides that slaughtering a million children is the thing that will bring him the most glory, then according to Piper, he is entirely right to do so.

None of which is to pick on Piper per se, rather to point out that there are lots of Christians who hold the same view of God, even if they haven’t been as diligent as Piper in unpacking it full implications. (I disagree strongly with Piper, but I respect him for following his theological convictions to their logical end.)

Indeed, you can build a case for Piper’s view of God through a selective reading of Scripture. Isaiah 45 says God brings both prosperity and calamity. “When disaster comes to a city,”  another prophet asks rhetorically, “has not the Lord caused it?” Both statements ought to be read in their immediate literary and historical context, but it’s far easier to universalize them.

And of course, there are a number of places in the Old Testament where God appears to orchestrate, even command, precisely the sort of atrocities which Fry laments and Piper accepts as normal divine behavior.

Now, I happen to believe there are other explanations which make better sense of the full sweep of Scripture. I happen to believe this is one of many reasons why we shouldn’t treat everything in the Bible as “a list of normative behaviors” (to quote Zack Hunt).

I happen to believe that Jesus is the primary lens through which we see and understand God rightly. Everything else we might say about God—including everything else the Bible might say—must be filtered through this lens. (Note: not discarded or dismissed. Filtered.)

I happen to believe the image we get from Jesus is of a God who emptied himself of power instead of using it against us—something that Giles Fraser pointed out in his response to Stephen Fry. I believe in a suffering, vulnerable savior who set out to right all the wrongs that Fry listed—and I believe this is the most definitive, tangible image of God we have. Not the God who slaughters children at a whim.

But that’s not really my point. The truth is, it’s easy to get up in arms at what Fry said about God. It’s easy to take offense—and then go on the offense. It’s easy to ostracize those who see reality differently than we do.

What’s not so easy is to listen—in this case, to acknowledge that Fry was not attacking a straw-man version of God. He was describing precisely the kind of God that many Christians believe in and worship.

If we do not allow Jesus to fully shape our understanding of God, we will end up with exactly the kind of deity that Stephen Fry so forcefully denounced.

Highlights of the week

First, a helpful guide to persecution this holiday shopping season, from Rachel Held Evans:
Are you being persecuted?

I thought this was a really good perspective on the whole “fighting for a place at the table” issue, by Trischa Goodwin:

I’m not going to spend my days trying to get the attention of someone who ignores me when I extend my hand.  I will let people exclude me, because I know I cannot make someone see me if they refuse to look or hear me if they refuse to listen.

I also hate to be in a place where I am welcome, but others are not.  Even at a table where everyone is allowed a seat, if some of those seats are offered grudgingly, with averted eyes or conditions or shying away, I don’t want to sit at that table.

Most deserving of a “been there” solidarity fist bump, from Samantha:

It’s a frustrating feeling, knowing that you’re not actually being listened to, but that the person you’re talking to is sitting on the edge of their seat just waiting for you to stop talking so they can stab your argument with a brilliant sound bite about what the Bible clearly says.

Favorite N.T. Wright quote of the week (he spoke in Grand Rapids on Wednesday):

The biblical narrative calls us to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel.

(Wright was commenting on Jesus’ statement to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,” in John 21. It’s the practical flip side to Wright’s big-picture view of the Bible as the story of Israel, brought to fulfillment in the story of Jesus.)

Second favorite N.T. Wright quote of the week:

Your theory of the atonement is always a function of your view of evil.

(During the Q&A, someone asked Wright what his view of atonement was. Wright’s point was that if you start by assuming the world is totally depraved and that evil is primarily a legal/transactional issue, then of course you’re going to gravitate toward penal substitution as your primary way of looking at atonement. If, on the other hand, you see the world as captive to sin and evil and in need of rescue, as Wright does, then you might take another approach to the atonement, without necessarily denying other facets.)

Currently reading (review coming soon):


My most read post:
John Piper’s mythical research debunking orientation

Favorite tweet (in response to my post on Piper):


Finally… some long overdue (but no less welcome) news:
The Church of England votes overwhelmingly for women bishops (The Telegraph)

John Piper’s mythical research debunking orientation

Piper tweet

The other day John Piper took to Twitter to claim that sexual orientation is little more than a social construct. The fact that Piper thinks so is isn’t surprising in itself, but he also said there is “vast research” proving that sexual orientation (or perceived orientation, as he called it) changes all the time.

Usually, when someone invokes “vast research” or “overwhelming evidence” to make their case, it comes across as a discussion-ender. In this case, it also had the effect of implying that a conspiracy was at work. Such evidence debunking sexual orientation, if it exists, would be paradigm shifting. Why is no one talking about it, unless there’s an effort to cover it up?

Well, maybe it’s because the research doesn’t say what Piper thinks it does.

The link Piper tweeted was a blog post which claimed that a 2007 Centers for Disease Control survey had found that the “vast majority” of fully gay 16 year-olds had become fully heterosexual — that is, reporting “only opposite-sex attraction” — one year later.

There it is: an official government study proving that most gay teenagers change their orientation — not just a little, but by a lot. In which case, if you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that any of us know someone who’s gay.

The problem is, the CDC never did any such study. However, the University of North Carolina did, and its findings were cited in the self-published book My Genes Made Me Do It: A Scientific Look at Sexual Orientation, which claims that 98% of gay students eventually move toward heterosexuality.

But as it turns out, that’s not quite what the UNC study found.

Researchers asked teenagers to rate their sexual identity on a 5-point scale: fully gay, mostly gay, bisexual, mostly straight, and fully straight. Only around 1 in 10 teenagers reported a change in their sexual orientation one year later — and most of these had moved toward same-sex attraction, not away from it.

In addition, most students who reported a change did so by only one point on the identity scale — for example, moving from “fully straight” to “mostly straight.” Just 0.4% of students moved two or more points away from same-sex attraction — for example, from “mostly gay” to “mostly straight.”

In other words, that claim made in the blog Piper shared — that “the vast majority” of 16 year-olds who identified as fully gay were fully straight one year later? It’s misleading.

No one disputes that there’s some degree of fluidity when it comes to sexual orientation, especially for those somewhere in the middle of the continuum, somewhere between fully straight and fully gay. There are peer-reviewed studies that suggest women and bisexuals are somewhat more likely to report some kind of change in their sexual identity over time. On the other hand, 90% of gay men in one peer-reviewed study reported no change in their sexual identity over a 10-year period.

Perhaps what it boils down to is that sexuality, like almost everything else about us humans, is intricate and complicated — especially when it comes to teenagers, whose hormones are just starting to kick in. How much of what’s perceived as fluidity of sexual orientation is really just confusion about their identity? How much is driven by the fear of acknowledging their orientation because of the stigma they could face from their peers and family? How much of it is just kids trying to figure themselves out as they careen toward adulthood?

Whatever you believe about homosexuality and the Bible or the moral legitimacy of same-sex relationships, there’s no use pretending sexual orientation isn’t real. Not when people have been ostracized and stigmatized for their identity — yet it remains part of who they are. Not when people have survived parents who literally tried to “beat the gay out of their children.”

Sexual orientation isn’t always simple. And whatever yours may be — gay, straight, or somewhere in between — it is not the sum total of who you are as a human being made in God’s image. There is more to you than who you’re wired to be attracted to. But sexual orientation is a reality of human existence. And we should accept that.

This is not just an academic discussion. Because research has also shown that those who experience stability in their sexual orientation — gay or straight — are more likely to enjoy good mental health. The more comfortable a teenager is in her identity, the better off she’ll be. On the other hand, the more a teenager’s sexual orientation is stigmatized by peers and family, the more likely he is to question himself, experiencing confusion and poorer mental health.

Whatever your beliefs may be, we can’t afford to trivialize or dismiss sexual orientation. Not if we care about our kids’ well being.

Which is why I hope John Piper will take another look at the research.

Colorado burning (again)

This is an updated version of a post I wrote last year, as the Waldo Canyon fire burned in Colorado Springs. This week another fire raged, this time in Black Forest, on the northeast corner of the city.

Around 380 homes have been destroyed so far. At least one friend had to evacuate. Another lives in the middle of the burn zone. No word yet on his house, but several homes near his were destroyed. 

Events like this are a sobering reminder of what to say — and what not to say — when those around us suffer loss. 

damaged homes


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 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, all we can say is Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.

But sadly, not everyone stops there when disaster strikes.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, John Hagee declared it to be God’s judgment on gays and lesbians.

When an earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Pat Robertson blamed more than 300,000 deaths on a pact supposedly made between their ancestors and the devil centuries ago.

When a tornado threatened Minneapolis as the left-leaning ELCA gathered for its convention in 2009, John Piper speculated that the near-miss was God’s “gentle but firm warning” to repent.

But this time, it’s Colorado Springs. The home of Focus on the Family, Compassion International, The Navigators, and a hundred other evangelical, mostly conservative ministries. This is the veritable Jerusalem of the Rockies, with not one but three Christian radio stations.

So who’s going to stand up and explain this disaster for us? Who’s going to claim the prophet’s mantle, the inside track into the mind of God? Who’s going to tell us why he allowed and/or inflicted this disaster on Colorado Springs — and who he’s angry at this time?

Since Colorado Springs is a bastion of conservative evangelicalism, should we interpret the fire as God’s judgment on the religious right?

Of course not.

You see, whether or not God is meticulously sovereign — whether he just allows bad things to happen or determines each and every one of them — it takes takes a colossal amount of hubris for anyone to point a finger at someone else and say, “God brought this disaster on YOU.”

God may have used calamity to judge people in the past, but you and I are utterly without authority to say which disasters (if any) are divine judgments today.


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

In 2009, a tornado hit Minneapolis, just as ELCA leaders gathered to debate (among other things) their position on homosexuality. Within hours, John Piper took to his blog and quoted Luke 13:1-5 as proof the cyclone was God’s judgment against the Lutheran denomination.

The text in question reads:

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.”

PIper assumed the tornado was divine retribution, in keeping with his belief that every disaster, natural or manmade, represents the judgment of a perpetually angry God.

But take a closer look at Luke 13.

Jesus learned that a number of Galileans — his people — had been slaughtered in the temple, on the orders of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Galilee at the time was a tinderbox of resentment against Roman occupation. (See this post for more about the political climate of first-century Galilee.) It’s likely these Galileans were killed in retaliation for some challenge to Pilate’s authority. Whether they were instigators or just “collateral damage” is unclear.

Whatever the case, the Galileans had long desired to be rid of their Roman oppressors. All they needed was a messiah who would rise up and lead them to a blood-soaked victory.

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

This was not a sweeping call to repentance, lest some disaster overtake you. It was a warning to Jesus’ listeners: “Abandon your plans for armed revolt. Unless you repent of this futile uprising, the entire nation will perish.”

Which is exactly what happened in A.D. 70, when the temple was razed and Jerusalem destroyed.

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

The Bible gives no support to those who interpret every act of human suffering as divine judgment. Just the opposite. There’s one story where three individuals, too smart for their own good, are rebuked for doing what Piper, Hagee, and Robertson have done in our day.

When disaster strikes, we have but one response — whether the victims are our friends, strangers, or even our enemies. 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. 

How I need to learn to mourn with those who mourn

When news broke that Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, had taken his own life, it wasn’t long before the outpouring of support gave way to a more repugnant sentiment.

People taking to social media to mock Warren’s faith . . .

To declare his family’s heartbreaking loss to be some sort of payback for his theology or his politics . . .

To speculate on his son’s eternal destiny.

Paraphrasing John Armstong’s timely response to these attacks, the words pathetic and cruel come to mind.

I don’t claim to be a huge Rick Warren fan. I don’t go in for his style of church. Theologically and politically, he and I are probably worlds apart. And I could never quite get into the whole “purpose-driven” thing — even though I was employed by his publisher during the heyday of his mega-bestselling book (and therefore indirectly benefited from it). And yes, I did read it.

So it would be pretty easy for me to congratulate myself for not jumping on the bandwagon of judgment being directed at Warren by a few trolls on the internet.

Except . . .

Despite our differences, I like Rick Warren. He comes across as a nice enough guy. I kinda sorta met him once, and he seemed every bit as warm and approachable in person as he does on TV.

And you have to admit: even if you don’t share all of his politics or theology, Rick Warren is a way better ambassador for evangelicalism than some of the other current and former contenders. His PEACE Plan is something to be admired — even if you disagree with some of the particulars (or just don’t share Warren’s penchant for acronyms).

In other words, it’s easy for me to sympathize with someone like Rick Warren.

So what if it was someone I didn’t just disagree with — what if it was someone I actively disliked?

What if it was John Piper, who doesn’t merely express what I think is some rather sadistic theology, but seems to delight in doing so?

What if it was Mark Driscoll, whose misogynistic rants have wounded more than a few of my friends?

What if it was James Dobson, whose unholy mix of Christianity and right-wing politics has arguably done more than anything else to drive people away from faith?

If any of these three suffered a comparable loss, would I grieve for them? Would I feel sorry? Or would I feel smug?

I have to be honest. The answer scares me a little.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul encouraged believers to “mourn with those who mourn.”

I’d like to tell myself that Paul is asking Christians to mourn with other Christians, and that Piper/Driscoll/Dobson [add your nemesis of choice here] hardly qualify as good models of what a Christian ought to be . . . therefore we are exempt from mourning when they stumble or suffer loss.

It’s OK to be smug when people like THAT suffer.

Except that it’s not.

You see, Paul wasn’t just talking about how we treat other Christians, those who think exactly like we do, or those we find it easy to like. Just one sentence earlier, Paul also said, “Bless those who persecute you,” which would seem to rule out a narrow interpretation of who he means by “those.”

Bless those…

Rejoice with those…

Mourn with those…

“Those.” As in everyone.

We bless, we rejoice, and we mourn with any and all, because we believe that no one is beyond redemption. We believe that no one is beyond God’s love. A relatively new friend of mine, Trystan Owain Hughes, has a timely (and challenging) piece about this very thing.

It’s not easy to mourn with those we dislike. But perhaps the true test of our willingness to follow Jesus is not our ability to grieve at the suffering of our friends, but at that of our enemies.

So today, I will grieve with Rick Warren. But I’ll be honest and admit that it’s easy for me to do so. It’s easy to grieve with those whom I like. So I will also pray for the strength to grieve with my enemies when they stumble or suffer loss.

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?

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. 


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Complementarianism and the Bible

Some complementarians want to frame the gender debate as a battle for the Bible, the gospel, and the very soul of the church. Some have even implied that their side is the only one that takes scriptural authority seriously.

Exhibit A, Thomas White, from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

If we lose the battle over the gender debate, we lose the proper interpretation of God’s Word, we lose inerrancy, we lose the authority of the Bible itself.

Exhibit B, Wayne Grudem:

I believe that ultimately the effective authority of Scripture to govern our lives is at stake in this controversy.

And exhibit C, John Piper:

As soon as you ask what are the implications of not following through with what Ephesians 5 seems to say or what 1 Timothy 2 seems to say… sooner or later you are going to get the gospel wrong.

Complementarians revel in their embrace of the so-called “difficult doctrines” or less palatable parts of Scripture. According to Wayne Grudem, egalitarians “pick and choose” what they like and don’t like in the Bible. Complementarians, on the other hand, faithfully adhere to “every word.”

But it’s not even close to being true. 

How many complementarians, for example, support reinstating the biblical test for an unfaithful wife? Women suspected of adultery were forced to drink a vile cocktail of water, dust, and ink — which, according to Numbers 5, would cause them to miscarry if they’d been having an affair. (That’s not very “pro-life,” is it?) ANY woman could be subjected to this indignity, even if the only basis for suspicion was her husband’s paranoia. And by the way, she had no similar recourse if she suspected her husband of infidelity.

Yes, it’s part of the Old Testament. But remember, Dr. Grudem said “every word.”

How about Leviticus 27:1-8, which assigns a monetary value to men and women? Males ages 20-60 were valued at 50 shekels of silver. Women the same age were worth only 30 shekels. How do we square this with the belief that women and men are “equal before God,” something modern-day complementarians strongly affirm?

What about Paul ordering women to cover their heads during worship? Complementarians frequently refer to Paul’s teaching about headship in 1 Corinthians 11, yet they mostly ignore the part about head coverings (which was the whole reason for Paul’s comments about headship in the first place).

Or what about the apostle Peter who, after advising slaves to essentially take a beating for the Lord, told wives to obey their husbands “in the same way”? I don’t know of any mainstream complementarian who argues that Christian wives should stay in abusive relationships for the sake of their unbelieving husbands.

So how is it that complementarians follow “every word” of Scripture while only egalitarians “pick and choose”?

Next up: complementarianism’s appeal to church history…

Image: Ryk Neethling on Flickr

Yes, a wife’s submission is culturally outdated (a response to John Piper)

It seems #mutuality2012 has caught John Piper’s attention. Piper is one of the elder statesmen of the complementarian perspective, which teaches that women must unilaterally submit to the authority of men in both the home and the church.

Today, Piper tweeted the following:

At issue are the “household codes” in the New Testament (Colossians 3:18-25; Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9; 1 Peter 2:18 – 3:7), which address the relationship between husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters.

Complementarians often cite these household codes when arguing that God wants women everywhere to submit unilaterally to their husbands. Egalitarians like me point out that if you’re going to argue this way, consistency demands you interpret the slave/master passages the same way.

Not so fast, says Piper. The article he tweeted, “Is a Wife’s Submission Culturally Outdated?” by Tony Reinke from Desiring God Ministries, argues that Paul treated marriage and slavery differently. Therefore, even though both appear in the same set of household codes, one is forever binding and the other is not. Wives’ submission to their husbands is rooted in “the theological fibers of creation or eschatological expectation.” In other words, the instructions concerning husbands and wives “have theological strings attached to them that slavery does not.”

I’d like to suggest three problems with this argument.

1. None of the household codes say anything about creation.

Paul does appeal to creation elsewhere — for example, when giving some ground rules for women prophesying in church (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). But unless Piper & co. are prepared to tell women to start wearing head coverings to church, they may not want to hang their hats on this argument.

2. Paul roots slaves’ obedience in something much bigger than creation.

It’s true that Paul doesn’t base his instructions to slaves on anything in creation or eschatology. Instead, he roots it in obedience to Christ:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ… (Ephesians 6:5-6, NIV)

In other words, pretty much the same way the wife’s obligations to her husband are rooted in obedience to Christ.

3. Four words: “In the same way.”

The apostle Peter also included a set of household codes in his first letter. After instructing slaves to obey even when their masters abused them, he turned his attention to wives:

            Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands… (1 Peter 3:1)

Peter makes no distinction between a slave’s obedience and a wife’s. Married women are to submit in the same way (Gk. homoyoce) that slaves do.

In short, Piper is pressing an artificial distinction. Both commands are rooted in theology. Both are connected to obedience to Christ.

Both were also products of their culture. Household codes were hardly unique to Paul or Peter. (Rachel Held Evans has a good overview, if you’d like to read more about them.)

Similar codes are found in ancient letters from Philo and Josephus. The household codes were considered essential to the preservation of Roman society, at the center of which stood the pater familias or head of the family. Any new movement or sect thought to undermine the authority of the pater familias (and with it the stability of the whole Roman system) would have drawn unwelcome attention.

Paul did not throw away the Roman household codes; to do so would have been suicide for himself and the early church. But he did seek to reform them by urging the pater familias to show a measure of kindness, restraint, and respect not typically expected of him.

Paul did not liberate the weaker parties (slaves and women) from their culturally-bound obligations. Rather, he offered them a way to work within these obligations — turning them in an opportunity to imitate Christ’s suffering and thus redeeming an unjust situation.

So when it comes to the New Testament’s instructions for women and slaves, I don’t think Piper and Reinke have made their case. You can’t say one is a product of its culture and the other is a timeless command. They are either both one or the other. We can’t have it both ways.