The Nashville Statement, Procreation, and the Purpose of Marriage

Friends, I hesitated to write this, but I believe what I have to say needs to be said. Please know that the criticisms in this article are not aimed at every person associated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood or all the signers of the Nashville Statement. More to the point, I consider the signers to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love them, and I welcome a respectful dialogue between us.

Two days ago, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released the Nashville Statement, a document composed “in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture”. It presents a series of affirmations and denials that touch on such issues as marriage, gender roles, homosexuality, and transgenderism. Having reviewed this document, I would say that those final two issues seem to be creating most of the concern on the part of the authors. Consider this portion of the preamble.

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

It seems like every day we hear news reports about children sent to the principal’s office for failing to call a classmate by his or her desired gender pronoun, bathroom laws being changed and then changed again, Christian leaders vacillating on the issue of gay marriage, or liberal politicians labeling traditional Christian teachings as hateful bigotry. That is the era in which we live, and it has come at us at a dizzying pace. There is an urgent need for the church to declare the truths of biblical orthodoxy regarding human sexuality. We cannot possibly expect the world to obey God’s commands when it has forsaken the God who gave them, but we must nevertheless refuse to live as the world lives and believe the lies that they believe. If we forsake the Word of God, we forsake God Himself.

Therefore, I should begin by saying that I broadly agree with the content of the Nashville Statement. I am not even opposed to the concept of an ecumenical group of Christian leaders getting together to draft a new confessional document. I am by no means suggesting that we forsake our historic confessions, which are of utmost importance. Nevertheless, every confession was new at some point in history, and every generation of Christians has been forced to rise to new challenges. The Westminster Assembly of 1643-1653 did not address the issue of transgenderism, for it simply wasn’t a real issue at that time. Science had not advanced to the point where one could safely undergo gender reassignment surgery. We live in a different age, and it is vital that we address the challenges of that age.

The question is, has the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (hereafter CBMW) gone about this the right way? Indeed, are they even the best organization to be putting out such a statement? That may seem like an odd question to ask, given that manhood and womanhood are in their very name, but given some of the things this organization has promoted over the years, it is a question that we must ask. Several prominent Christian voices have already been raised in response to the Nashville Statement. They have pointed out the fact that it discusses God-designed gender roles but is ambiguous as to what those include. This has raised suspicions in the minds of some. They have also noted that some of the initial signatories have taught a doctrine of the Trinity that is not in line with the traditional Reformed confessions or even the Nicene Creed. (Here I refer to the doctrine known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son.) I am sure that other authors will develop these issues in greater depth, but I am choosing today to focus on something that might be missed by others who are not as sensitive to the pain it can cause. Continue reading

Theology Gals Podcast

I was recently honored to appear on an episode of the Theology Gals podcast, which is on the awesomely named Bible Thumping Wingnut network. We discussed my recent articles about Tim Keller. You can listen to the podcast here. I really enjoyed speaking with Coleen and Ashley about these important issues, and I would encourage my readers to take a listen to some of the other episodes of this podcast as well. They have a Facebook page specifically for women, but the things they have to say are useful for all Christians to hear. Keep it up, ladies!

The articles about Keller can be found here and here.

Is Wonder Woman a Good Example of Biblical Womanhood?

It has come to my attention in recent weeks that some people are pointing to the latest incarnation of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman as a role model not only for females in general, but for Christian females in particular. Her selflessness and compassion are admirable Christian virtues, it is said. Her bravery in the face of evil is emblematic of true womanly strength. Her willingness to save humanity, even though it is completely undeserving, is much in line with the actions of Jesus Christ. Some have gone so far as to claim that the filmmakers clearly meant to make a Christological statement.

I read all of this and rolled my eyes internally, for it seemed a whole lot of hoopla over a comic book film that is only considered great in comparison to the long string of uninspired and vapid sequels put out by Hollywood in recent years, all of which seem to rake in exorbitant sums at the box office despite getting terrible reviews. I do not speak from ignorance. My husband is the kind of man who will line up for any film that takes place in the Marvel or DC universe, and though I manage to skip most of these outings, my love for him requires me to attend at least a couple times a year. My goal is to choose whichever film seems either most original or least objectionable, and this summer that movie was Wonder Woman.

Unlike some of my female compatriots, I did not drive to the cinema anticipating greatness. The character of Wonder Woman has always been, in my estimation, a mixed blessing. It is a bit hard to square the notion that she is a feminist icon with the fact that her costume is hardly different from many S&M getups, whip and all. One might also object to the fact that being a strong female is equated with physical violence, or that Wonder Woman has been subjected in some manifestations to being yet another one of Batman’s boy toys, or that her obvious hotness seems intended to attract male viewers rather than female ones. All I was expecting from this movie is that it would be mildly entertaining, and it managed to clear that low bar. It was nowhere near as bad as some of the superhero films I’ve been forced to endure, but neither would I rank it among the very best. (I believe that The Dark Knight is the gold standard, even if it suffers from a disappointing final act.)

After seeing this movie, my Twitter feed continued to light up with all sorts of laudatory statements about how fabulous it is. Some were speaking merely in terms of its entertainment quality, but there was also the inevitable slew of articles from those who constantly seek out Christ in pop culture. A few of these writers made some decent points, and I don’t begrudge them delving into the shallow end of the pool once in a while. However, there were just as many essays that verged on the utterly ridiculous. Part of me wanted to craft a response, but I said to myself, “No, Amy. If you write about Wonder Woman, you’ll just be perpetuating the very trend that you hate. You’ll be giving in to the temptation of click bait.” Yes, I knew that writing about Wonder Woman would probably attract far more readers than my carefully thought out examinations of various Scripture passages. That, in my mind, was further proof of the shallowness of evangelical culture and how female writers will never be afforded the same level of respect as men. Well, I was not about to succumb to temptation. I left Wonder Woman alone.

Then a wonderful Christian author, a female most averse to controversies of any kind, alerted me to some concerns that have been voiced. It seems that there are other people equally troubled by the fact that Wonder Woman is now considered the standard for biblical womanhood. This female I will not name, who is awesome with awesome sauce on top, had no time to respond to the problem, and in any case it is truly beneath her. Such a task is better suited to a nobody like myself. Therefore, I agreed to write about Wonder Woman, and in doing so I ensured that at least on this occasion, my husband would read my blog. Unfortunately, I will not manage to follow this author’s suggestion that I limit the number of words in my articles. Apologies in advance. Continue reading

What We Can Learn about Biblical Authority from Jane Eyre

Jane saying her evening prayers, from an 1847 illustration by F.H. Townsend

I love Jane Eyre. It’s one of the few novels that I have revisited after completing the final pages. Whether it is a landmark achievement in the history of feminism or a subtle attempt to reinforce Victorian marital ideals, I cannot say, though I am more inclined toward the former. In any case, what I find most interesting about Charlotte Brontë’s lone novel of note is its spiritual content. This is ironic, since many of the critics in her own day called it an affront to religion. Yet while it may have been an affront to bad religion, I do not think we can say that about religion in general.

There are important lessons to be drawn from the pages of Jane Eyre in regard to personal guilt, sexual morality, forgiveness, and cultural Christianity vs. true Christianity. It is not a book that simply condemns religion or trumpets it unthinkingly. There are four main villains in this work, if you don’t count the crazy woman in the attic, who in any case couldn’t really help herself. The first is Jane’s aunt, Mrs. Reed, whose religion is nominal at best. Then there is Mr. Brocklehurst, a fervently religious man who is all law and no gospel. Next, we have Blanche Ingraham, Jane’s romantic rival, who worships nothing but herself. The last villain is often not seen as a villain: St. John Rivers, the cleric who is hell-bent on saving souls but has walled off his own emotions to the point that he could hardly know much about Christ.

The heroes of Jane Eyre also have a variety of religious beliefs. The most obviously good person in the story is Jane’s childhood friend, Helen, who is raised up as a model of true Christianity, showing compassion to those around her while also treasuring the Bible. Jane herself has a strong moral core, no doubt influenced by her Christian upbringing. Even so, you are unlikely to hear her spouting complex doctrines. She is more interested to see how those around her, who nearly all espouse Christian beliefs, actually put those beliefs into practice. Then there is the anti-hero Mr. Rochester, who has committed numerous sins and yet acknowledges his sinfulness and longs for redemption. In this, the novel seems to suggest that he is more Christian than many of the “Christians”. Continue reading

Treating People as more than Just Bodies

Photo by Laurin Guadiana

A couple days ago, I talked about the biblical basis for defining a person as both body and soul, and how our ultimate hope is not to become a disembodied spirit, but rather to spend eternity in a glorified body. We are not only our bodies, but our bodies are certainly an integral part of who we are. Having laid down that scriptural foundation, I would like to now discuss how human relationships can break apart when we fail to properly apply these principles.

If the ancient Greeks tended to view people as souls trapped in a shell, the modern world has a tendency to view everything as material. If you are a true materialist (in the philosophical sense), you do not believe that souls exist. Therefore, a human being really is nothing more than their body, and all of their thoughts and feelings are the result of electrical signals that they cannot truly control. This has led some atheists, such as Sam Harris, to write treatises declaring that free will does not exist.

This is not the Christian view. We believe that the human will is under the influence of the sinful nature, and that without the power of the Spirit, humans are unable to perform true acts of righteousness or choose to follow God. However, we certainly do believe that all humans have a soul…even if that soul is dead in sin. No human being is only a body. We affirm the real nature of the physical world while also acknowledging the existence of the supernatural.

Despite this belief, many Christians join right in with non-Christians in acting as if people do not have souls. What do I mean by this? Just look at how we tend to treat people whom we look down on for any number of reasons: we often deemphasize their mental and spiritual nature and view them only in terms of their body. Continue reading

No Thank You, Aquinas: Women Are Not Misbegotten

Depiction of Thomas Aquinas by Gentile da Fabriano, circa 1400

Thomas Aquinas was undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers in Christian history. His Summa Theologica is quite possibly the most influential theological tome of all time. Christians of all stripes certainly have much to gain from reading the works of Aquinas.

However, my opinion of Aquinas is decidedly mixed. He introduced some great ideas into Christianity, but also some unfortunate errors that have resounded down to the present day. One such concept is the notion of “redemptive suffering”, which I have recently been studying. Aquinas was not the first person to teach this idea, but he certainly helped to lay the groundwork for a theology in which human suffering could itself hold salvific power.

Another place where Aquinas introduced erroneous thinking into Christianity is naturally rather important to me: his beliefs regarding women. The problematic section comes in Part One, Question 92 of the Summa. The first article he considers is, “Whether the woman should have been made in the first production of things?” Continue reading

“No Little Women”: An Awesome Book about Women in the Church, Written by an Awesome Person

Never before have I hawked another person’s book on this site, but I am about to make an exception. I commend to you the latest release by Aimee Byrd entitled No Little Women, a book that addresses a very real problem in our churches today: the dearth of good literature and good teaching aimed at the fairer sex.

Why am I taking the time to promote this book, for which it must be stated that I receive absolutely none of the proceeds? First, because the subject matter is very important. After 2,000 years of trying, the Church as a whole still struggles to discern how to deal with women. Most of the literature out there about women in the Church has to do with their roles, whether that be as wives, mothers, or congregants. Much of the literature aimed at women is rather shallow doctrinally, trumpets internal “feelings” over the truth of God’s Word, and even manages to slip in the occasional heresy or two. There are too few books out there that challenge women to up their game theologically, to be good analytical readers, and to think twice about which sources of “truth” they devour. Continue reading

“I Do Not Allow a Woman to Teach”

“The Creation of Eve” by William Blake, circa 1803-05

The Honorable Joseph Turner, youth pastor extraordinaire and reader of this blog, has asked me if I intend to write about women in the church. Well, as a woman in the church myself, one might argue that anything I write at least touches on that subject, but as luck would have it, I was intending to address the topic as the climax of my series of essays on 1 Timothy. The trouble is, I have been attempting to make these posts short, and what I am about to discuss does not lend itself to brevity. The passage is among the most controversial in scripture.

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

1 Timothy 2:11-15

I well remember the day that I led a discussion on this passage with a women’s Bible study. The ladies ranged in age from about 25-35, came from various walks of life, and had a basic knowledge of scripture but not a deep, academic sort of understanding. They had evidently not read the verses ahead of time. I spoke the words out loud, then looked up from my Bible to see horrified faces staring back at me. It was as if I had just killed their pet dog. Continue reading

Revising (and Reviving) History through Fiction

Photo by Flickr user History Books

Photo by Flickr user History Books

 

“History takes a long time for us to reach.”

That rather obvious statement was made by a former president of the United States, George W. Bush, when reflecting upon his legacy. While some sneered that his B.A. in history from Yale University meant little, this was not the only time that Bush proved he had learned a little something about the topic. He told Brian Williams in 2006, “There’s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I’m concerned.” He also famously said, “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” (In Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward)

While it is possible to view these quotes as simple explanations of a basic fact of human existence – time adds upon time adds upon time – or as an attempt to avoid responsibility, Bush was actually getting at something profoundly true. While we may view history as that most unchanging of all things, forever frozen in place, experience suggests otherwise. Continue reading

I Love Mark Driscoll

Pastor and author Mark Driscoll speaks at the opening of a new location of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area in 2011. Flickr photo by Mars Hill Church Seattle

Pastor and author Mark Driscoll speaks at the opening of a new location of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area in 2011. Flickr photo by Mars Hill Church Seattle

“There is nothing new under the sun.”

These famous words from the book of Ecclesiastes (1:9b) are so universally relevant that they tend to pop into my head whenever I find human behavior once again failing to provide any real element of surprise, despite the apparent contextual differences. Over the last couple days, I have been thinking about them once again.

It all started when I made a visit to that website that everyone seems to use even though no one appears to like it: Facebook. I was scrolling through my “news feed”, which in actuality is a concoction of approximately 20% advertisements, 20% baby and/or pet pictures, 20% people posting quotes or verses that they want their friends to read, 20% people saying “X number of years ago today…” someone got married or was born, and 20% people complaining about something. (No judgment here – I’m pretty sure I’ve done all of those things on Facebook.)

In due course, a headline jumped out at me from a website I had “liked” once upon a time, saying something along the lines of “Acts 29 Network Kicks out Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church”. Continue reading