Posted on Tuesday, December 03, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Benjamin Gladd excels in taking big theological ideas and presenting them in succinct, digestible, and teachable ways. He helps turn academics into real life questions with personal significance. And in his latest book, From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God, he wants to talk about the great value in which each person is created to bear the image of God as a prophet, priest, and king in his family. From the start Gladd explains that his purpose in writing is “not polemical. My main concern in this project is to examine the nature of the people of God from Genesis to Revelation through the lens of being in God’s ‘image.’” What does it mean to be a part of God’s family?
 
Gladd begins by showing us that in creation, we see that God made the heavens and the earth as his cosmic sanctuary where he sovereignly rules, with Adam and Eve being the crown of creation. Created in God’s image, they are both “to rule as kings on his behalf, to serve and mediate his glory as priests, and to embody and teach God’s law to one another as prophets” (20). God shares an intimate communion with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, but even in his perfect creation there is an eschatological goal to expand God’s presence and glory among the earth, to produce godly offspring, and to keep his commands and subdue evil. With God’s full presence being in heaven, they looked forward to an incorruptible earth in incorruptible bodies, where God would descend in his full presence to rule and dwell with all humanity forever.
 
But as we are all too familiar with the history, Gladd has to address the fall and its effects. Although a good chapter, I will say that I was disappointed to see how Gen. 3:16 was presented in this section. He does say that the language is difficult here and goes on to say that it “appears to say that discord will emerge within the marriage relationship. The fall did not destroy Eve’s identity as queen, but it did affect how she will rule. Instead of ruling the created world together with her husband and preserving the internal structure of marriage, Eve will attempt to ‘rule’ over her husband and rest control over him” (26). I understand that since this is not an academic work, Gladd doesn’t see the need to lay out the other translations and interpretations of this verse. But with the book’s aim for a popular level audience, it is concerning to see this presentation on its own---especially given the fact that the church fathers of Late Antiquity translate Gen. 3:16, not as Eve desiring or ruling over her husband, but as turning, and this is interpreted as a positive action. This is remarkable given the historical and Aristotelian and Philonic philosophical context regarding the nature of women in which these same church fathers seem to accept. * 
 
Nonetheless, Adam and Eve’s sin now renders them both unclean and they are exiled from Eden and the tree of life. Gladd describes them now as “kings without a kingdom, priests without a temple, and prophets without the intimate voice of God” (29).  We see the beginning of the perversion of the image of God in Cain, who fails in all three offices of prophet, priest, and king. Sin infects the whole created order and humanity rebelliously seeks to glorify self rather than God. But Gladd walks us through Scripture to demonstrate how God graciously and sovereignly restores his image. We see God setting Israel apart, as a corporate Adam of sorts, giving the Israelites his law and a land by which he will dwell with them. They too fail. The offices of prophet, priest, and king are splintered. But God will restore the true Israel in Christ, the last Adam and the true and faithful Israel, who is the ultimate prophet, priest, and king. 
 
Gladd then showcases Christ’s church as an eschatological community, the family of God, our union with Christ rendering us “little last Adams and true Israelites” (116). In Pentecost, we see the formal event of the restoration of God’s people to function as prophets, priests, and kings. “Therefore, believers in the new age can execute their threefold office through Christ, in a more effective manner on the personal level. That is, the restored image in New Testament believers is eschatological to the core. We rule over all forms of evil in our daily lives, enjoy God’s presence, and embody God’s law far more than Adam and the nation of Israel ever did.” (123).
 
Just as Gladd has specific chapters teaching how Christ is the ultimate prophet, priest, and king, he gives separate chapters of how the church corporately and her individual believers function as prophets, priests, and kings. These are helpful chapters. Briefly, Gladd does distinguish between how Christ (messianic) and the apostles (apostolic) employ these offices with divine authority, and then how pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons (special) and every believer (general) employs these offices under biblical authority. This could be helpful but needs more elaboration. I was left with a lot of questions about how this distinction functions for the church. Perhaps I am wanting a bigger project than Gladd set out to give us though, as he does introduce the book as an overview.
Gladd follows this biblical thread all the way through Revelation and the church in the new creation, as Christ’s bride, God’s temple, the new Jerusalem, prophets, priests, and kings. And, as he has been pointing out our need to use an eschatological lens throughout the book, Gladd again presses that this should motivate us to “fall into the rhythm of the new creation” (169). He gives brief application on how in these last days the church should show the world how to rule well, worship God alone, and embody his law.
 
Gladd succeeds in sharing with us “an accessible, biblical theology on the people of God and the divine image,” “skim[ming] the redemptive-historical cream off the top” (2). This is a needed framework for many more discussions and studies. Without aiming to be polemical, the book is a great defense against dispensational teaching as well. 
 
And I have to say that as a woman reading this book, it was quite refreshing to not be put into the usual second-class status in creation or in the new creation. Gladd doesn’t teach a separate identity for women, with the men being called as the prophets, priests, and kings, and the women’s “role” as subservient, inferior helpers, but that woman too is created to co-rule, mediate God’s glory and presence to the world, and embody his law. He doesn’t get into any distinctions though, as to how we do this as relational allies in marriage or in the church. Again, perhaps this is beyond the scope of the book, but an extra chapter or some applications on the telos of sexual differentiation and the reciprocity in relationships as we fulfill these offices would have been very helpful. Here the experience for the woman reader is somewhat frustrated as she often finds many roadblocks in the church when trying to employ her vocation. While I am relieved to be reading a book where men and women are told they share in this same trifold vocation, I sense many women may have the same nagging question as me while reading it since we often aren’t integrated into the theological heart, communication, and communion of the saints: is this book for me too? If I try to employ what this teaches, will I be suspect as trying to usurp male authority? This isn’t so much a critique of Gladd’s book in particular, but one that male theologians might want to consider as pressing on informed female readers. I was thinking the same thing while reading Daniel Treier’s book, Introducing Evangelical Theology. As I was thinking how great it would be for churches to use to train teachers, I thought, would women be included in such training as well? Or would we be separated? This is something that theologically minded women come to grips with when considering our identity in Christ. So in closing, this is a specific way that the church may be challenged to consider how we need to fall into the rhythm of the new heavens and the new earth.
 
I do commend to you Gladd’s helpful book. And again I am impressed by how succinctly he can present theological themes in Scripture. Great addition to the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology Series.
 
 
*My friend Anna Anderson wrote a helpful paper on the Church Fathers on Genesis 3:16cd highlighting this.
Posted on Friday, October 04, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

As promised, I have another response to Mark Jones' review of Rachel Miller's book Beyond Authority and Submission, by another endorser of the book, since he seemed bothered by all the warm endorsements. Also, I saw an additional great response by a fellow endorser, Kerry Balwin, posted yesterday that you might want to take a look at. But first please turn your attention to this response by Valerie Hobb's:

 
As far I can tell (well, based on about 10 minutes of looking), Mark Jones has published online reviews of a total of three books by women, specifically books by Aimee Byrd and Barbara Duguid (in 2014) and now Rachel Green Miller’s recent book Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in the Church. To accompany his review on Mere Orthodoxy of Rachel’s book, he wrote his first ever book review (as far as I can tell) on Amazon and gave it 2 stars. Normally, I wouldn’t pay attention to someone who shows so little regard for the scholarship of women. But I endorsed Rachel’s book, and she is a close friend. So I read Mark’s reviews, and I looked at how he and his friends talked about her book on Facebook. 
 
As an academic linguist, I found that several aspects of Mark’s review prevented me from engaging fully with his critique upon the first reading. First, there was the proliferation of scare quotes at odd places in his Mere Orthodoxy review. Consider these, for example:
 
In part one she offers a “lens”
Submission is only “one aspect” of the husband-wife relationship
This is part of her “thesis”
In her mind they are more “Victorian” than Biblical
It is convenient for Miller to find a few bad “groups” at certain stages in history but what if the “problems” she finds in the church today are “problems” that were very much present throughout all of church history?
 
Why the scare quotes, Mark, I thought? Lens isn’t a problematic word, Mark. Groups is a pretty non-controversial word that most people use, Mark. Having a thesis is something books do. When put around words like these, scare quotes are a signal that you, Mark Jones, wish to distance yourself from that language because you consider it inappropriate in some way. It signals ironic, non-standard, or otherwise “special” use. See what I did there? Does Mark Jones have some problem with Rachel offering a lens or putting forward a thesis? Is he making fun of her? 
To help me try to get to grips with what he was doing with all those scare quotes, I looked up a few of his other book reviews. I discovered that scare quotes seems to be a fairly typical feature of his writing style. But whatever his intention, it reads like he is making fun of Rachel because that’s how scare quotes work. And that really put me off.
 
Second, in the Amazon review, there was possibly the most over-the-top criteria for scholarship that I have ever come across. And I’m from academia, land of harsh critique! Mark writes [emphasis mine], 
 
For a book like this to work it needs to have impeccable exegetical treatments of the key texts, a proper analysis and understanding of competing positions, a robust Reformed ontology (and the theological and philosophical work necessary for that), and a positive statement of what the NT data actually teaches. This book, sadly, does not meet these requirements and, as such, cannot be commended as a serious treatment of male-female relations. A contribution may be needed to tackle some of the weird Patriarchal views out there - a point I am in agreement with Miller - but because of her jaundiced reading of a number of complementarians it will be hard for this book to do the very thing she hoped it would.
 
I look forward to encountering Mark Jones’ faultless exegesis of the Bible and will of course expect him to show complete mastery of my own field of expertise, linguistics, in any book he writes that touches on language in any way. Otherwise, sadly, his work cannot be commended as in any way serious, though I may recommend it with great reservations as light-hearted reading.
 
Now, all of that may seem a bit harsh in tone, but as I said, Mark’s use of scare quotes and his impossible criteria for scholarship quite frankly pissed me off. Especially since this was written about my good friend Rachel, a woman who has courageously confronted problematic theology that has victimized women in the church and, for her efforts, endured no little amount of abuse. What are you saying to the world, Mark, through your participation in this pile-on? Where does your theology of women lead? To this? Really? Duly noted.
 
But setting that aside, something else was bugging me about Mark’s review. Why was he citing John Calvin so uncritically, for example? Why emphasize the secular authors that Augustine and Bavinck drew from? And it hit me after I saw a quote from him in a post he wrote for Calvinist International in 2017, entitled ‘Reformed Theologians Using Pagan Sources.’ Mark writes,
 
Reformed theologians in Britain and on the Continent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were not afraid to quote pagans. All truth is God’s truth, and certain pagans possessed a certain special endowment of natural knowledge that Christian theologians were happy to make use of them if it enabled them to make a point more forcefully. “Catholicity” then really does have a universal flavour in the writings of Reformed theologians.
 
“All truth is God’s truth.” This is a phrase you’ve probably come across in contemporary Christianity. And it is distinctly Dutch Reformed. What this tells me is that Mark Jones is Bavinckian and Kuyperian in his view of common grace, certainly not Van Tilian. And that’s something that makes me pause.
 
One of the things I really love about Rachel’s book is that she critiques the foundational premises of our modern day concepts of men and women. Her work is inherently Van Tilian in this respect, and I noted this in my endorsement of her book. She pushes us to peel back the layers of our beliefs and practices and consider their origins. Her aim wasn’t to do some impeccable exegesis of the Bible (as if that is possible), though she is faithful to God’s Word. Her aim wasn’t to provide definitive answers about our ontology. Her aim was to ask questions about the source of our theology about men and women and to consider the extent to which we have been influenced by extra-Biblical anthropology and philosophy. The answers are, yes, our sources are compromised and yes, we have been so influenced. And if you’re Van Tilian in your approach to common grace, that’s a problem, friends. 
 
Mark Jones, on the other hand, says in his review that he wants Rachel to engage more fully with ontology by way of natural theology, which involves inquiry into who God is and what He is like (and who we are and what we are like) without referring or appealing to divine revelation. But in his book Common Grace and the Gospel, Van Til argues for a very different approach when it comes to common grace:
 
Going off to the right by denying common grace or going off to the left by affirming a theory of common grace patterned after the natural theology of Rome is to fail, to this extent, to challenge the wisdom of the world (p. 148).
 
The issue I take with Mark Jones, beyond his (quite frankly) arrogant writing style is that he does not grasp just how thoroughly Biblical Rachel is encouraging us to think. In this sense, his attempt at scholarly engagement is poor. 
 
But nor does he grasp the context in which Rachel is writing, a context where women have far fewer opportunities to achieve advanced theological degrees, to write books, or even to be treated with respect and dignity, a context where men hold most of the cards and call nearly all the shots. Mark nods at this in his reviews but heavily qualifies it, which is rather revealing. “Reformed writers may need some pushback.” “A contribution may be needed…” 
 
The content of this discussion matters. So does the context and the tone. Far too many ordained men check their pastoral instincts at the door when engaging with ideas that challenge them. Worse still, few have the courage to hold their peers to account. All of this results in scholarly and pastoral compromise. I’ll end with something Mark himself wrote a few years ago. It’s a good reminder.
 
I think we need really good pastors and we need really good scholars. I just wonder if the “pastor-scholar” doesn’t end up compromising in one of those “arenas”. God forbid it should  be the pastor among his sheep.
 
 
Dr. Valerie Hobbs is Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Sheffield. She is currently writing a book on religious language for Bloomsbury.
Posted on Thursday, October 03, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Mark Jones doesn’t really have anything good to say about Rachel Miller’s book Beyond Authority and Submission in his review posted on Mere Orthodoxy. In the end, he seems perplexed that well-respected people have endorsed it. Since I am one of those endorsers, I thought I’d respond. There will be a forthcoming response from another endorser as well.
 
However, given the review is over 2,000 words, with each short paragraph adding another whack, it would take a very long response to answer each one properly. Constructive critique is always good for an author, and I guess for endorsers as well, as anyone’s work can be improved upon. But this review does leave me scratching my head trying to parse what may be constructive and what looks to be a bit of feather puffing for the reader to see Mark’s academic superiority, making arguments beyond the scope of her book. As Mark is perplexed as to why Rachel didn’t get into theological anthropology or doesn’t address certain passages, so too I am perplexed that he doesn't really even engage with the main thrust of her book, as if it may all be dismissed by her inferiority. In fact, he uses the title of her book as an insult, as if the whole idea of looking at the relationship of men and women beyond the categories of authority and submission is an ontological error that is in opposition to all of church history. And so I thought I would briefly address that, and connected with it, Mark’s reduction of the glory of the woman. (I have decided to address them both on a first name basis, as I correspond with both Mark and Rachel and it just feels more natural.)
 
Rachel’s book examines whether some of the ideas in the contemporary complementarian movement about the nature of men and women and our relationships in the home, church, and society are biblical traditions that have been faithfully handed down or are ones the church has picked up from the Greeks, Romans, and Victorians. Mark, who accuses Rachel of misrepresenting others’ writings, misrepresents her first thesis by saying it is “to remove authority-submission from as many realms as possible, especially if it involves male authority.” I’m not sure why he does that.
 
It seems that both Mark and Rachel agree that we can all lob a bunch of quotes from early church history that teach an inferiority of the woman to man. Of course, it’s not that straightforward, as these teachers can be pretty frustrating with how inconsistent some of their material is with their other teachings. For example, Augustine, who said, "’If God had wanted Adam to have a partner in scintillating conversation he would have created another man’”[1] ,  also laid the groundwork for future developments on integral complementarity when he insisted that the female sex is not a defect and that women will be resurrected in female bodies. [2]  Rachel’s aim is to look at the philosophical context of some of the more troubling teaching on sex polarity, exposing its Greek and pagan roots, how that was picked up in the Victorian age and beyond, and to place the categories of authority and submission alongside a more rounded relational framework of unity, interdependence, and service that we see taught in Scripture. It’s a popular level book.  If Mark would like to read more in relation to theological anthropology, metaphysics, and expansive philosophy on a more academic level, I suggest he read Sister Allen Prudence’s three volume set, The Concept of Woman, in which she comes to the same conclusions as Rachel.
 
Mark argues that Rachel does not say enough about the differences been masculinity and femininity and that she doesn’t talk enough about the goodness of authority and submission. And yet again, it perplexes me that he drops several quotes uncritically in his review. The reader of Rachel’s book will see her stance on male headship in the home and in the church, and that she upholds biblical teaching on authority and submission. However, after reading Mark’s review, I’m left wondering if, for example, he agrees with Calvin in men’s superiority in all things, and if not, wondering why he quoted him at length: 
 
Calvin on 1 Corinthians 11:7-8, “…but of the distinction, which God has conferred upon the man, so as to have superiority over the woman. In this superior order of dignity the glory of God is seen, as it shines forth in every kind of superiority…The first is, that as the woman derives her origin from the man, she is therefore inferior in rank. The second is, that as the woman was created for the sake of the man, she is therefore subject to him…”
 
Is this what the church should teach about men and women? Is this in Scripture? Plus, the language of masculinity and femininity do not pop into our vocabulary until around the time of the Renaissance. 
 
These are short examples, but I must move on. Mark’s argument for Rachel’s lack of theological anthropology reveals his own failure to understand the glory of the woman. He says: 
 
Miller never addresses 1 Corinthians 11:7. Paul says that, “A man is the glory of God and a woman is the glory of a man.” Surely this warrants discussion since this verse seems to suggest unequal glories, with a view to ontology? Christ’s glory, as God-man, is not equal to the divine glory that is proper to God’s essence. Does ontology explain the differing glories? Moreover, very little is done with Genesis 2:15 and theological anthropology.
 
This goes beyond the scope of Rachel’s book, but since he’s bringing up man’s glory as ontologically distinct, it seems his misses the mark on its meaning---woman’s greater glory as the embodiment of Zion, pointing all mankind to their end. Could it be that woman created second, the crown of creation week, is an eschatological order---that Eve's glory may exceed Adam's in that way? (There’s a lot of work being done over at the Greystone Theological Institute about this; Mark Garcia’s Theological Anthropology course goes into depth on it. I just finished lecture 6.1, "Image of God and Sexuate Asymmetry," touching on, by way of analogy, Adam and Eve's eschatological ordering resembling the glory relationship of Moses to Christ as a movement from veiled to unveiled glory--2 Cor. 3:7-18.) And could it be that, Adam’s charge in Gen. 2:15 has even more significance when Adam beholds woman and sees his telos as joining the collective bride of Christ? Her very body, in its structure and function, corresponds to the order of Levitical sacred space. [3]  Given the vocation of a guard and keeper of sacred space, Adam fails to drive out the unclean thing from the temple while the serpent converses with the very embodiment of sacred space---his wife.[4] Now I just said a lot that I cannot expand upon in the scope of this response, but doesn’t it point to a much richer understanding of ontology, eschatological ordering, and theological anthropology?
 
And if we want to talk about verses no one ever brings up, how about 1 Cor. 7:4, where we see that the husband has authority over the wife’s body, and---the shocking part--- the wife has authority over her husband’s body. What was Paul thinking in giving a wife that kind of authority over her husband? 
 
Okay, I’m over 1,000 words in now, so I will stick to these areas and end with a quote by Prudence Allen that we can ponder:
 
Opening a conversation, a dialogue, about woman’s identity that includes women’s reflections on their own selves, men’s reflections on women’s identity, and women’s reflections on men’s identity may help us to overcome some of the admixtures of error and truth about women’s identity [and I add men’s too] that have persisted over time” (Concept of Woman, Vol. 3, 3).
 
As we look to God’s word together, I think the church can do this better. That's why I happily endorse Rachel's book.
 
 
[1]Translated by Henry Chadwick, St. Augustine, Confessions (NY: Oxford University Press, 1991), in Chadwick’s Introduction, xviii. Quoted from St. Augustine, Literal Commentary on Genesis. (Please forgive me, Mark, for using a secondary source.)
[2]See Prudence Allen, Concept of Woman, Vol 1, 218-236 for good overview of the complexities of Augustine’s concept of woman.
[3]See Richard Whitekettle, “Levitical Thought and the Feminine Reproductive Cycle: Wombs, Wellsprings, and the Primeval World,” Brill Vestus Testamentum Vol. 46, Issue 3 (1996), 376-391. 
[4]See Garcia, Lecture 2.3, “The Levitical Woman,” Theological Anthropology.
Posted on Tuesday, September 03, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I'm excited to share the news that Beyond Authority and Submission, by Rachel Miller, is now available to order. MoS will air our prerecorded interview with her about the book soon. But since it's launch week, I wanted to share the Foreword to her book, which I was honored to write:
 
Rachel Miller is the perfect person to write this timely book that challenges the lens in which many in the church use to view the nature of men and women and their so-called roles in the church, home, and society. In the last thirty years, the church has been flooded with resources on biblical manhood and womanhood. I remember reading many of these resources when I first married, wanting to be a godly wife and to properly respond to the sexual revolution that is pervading our culture. I learned about some new movements in the church, such as complementarianism and egalitarianism, that worked to build a framework about what the Bible teaches regarding masculinity, femininity, and the contributions of men and women. These movements became polarizing for those who joined their councils, coalitions, and alliances, as their positions were taught as gospel truths. I found myself in an evangelical subculture that built a framework of authority and submission to describe the nature of men and women. Is this really what the Bible teaches? In looking for some fellow critical thinkers, I discovered Rachel’s blog, “A Daughter of the Reformation.” Her writing is a breath of fresh air.
 
Rachel is a laywoman. Maybe you are wondering what qualifies her to write such a book when there are so many distinguished pastors and scholars who have written on the topic of biblical manhood and womanhood. There are several reasons why an informed laywoman like Rachel has much to contribute to this discussion. First of all, Rachel has firm convictions upholding ordination of qualified men in the church and husbands as servant leaders in their homes.  While not aligning with a movement, Rachel does want to contribute as a complementary, reciprocal voice in response to the many we have read and heard. So, she is what we would consider a reforming voice within her own camp. If complementarianism truly is complementary, it should value this kind of engagement. Published resources for the church are meant to be thoughtfully engaged. Most authors do not presume to be the final voice on matters such as these, but rather aim to offer their interpretation of pertinent Scriptural principles in hopes to move forward in a biblical understanding of the sexes. Rachel’s book is a sharpening response from the pew.
 
Secondly, Rachel has nothing to personally gain. She is not aligned to any organization that will boost her status or career by offering a biblical way to view men and women beyond authority and submission. In fact, in speaking against the grain of many of her peers, it is a brave endeavor. One reason why it is so difficult to have these discussions is because most of the authors are aligned to organizations in which their livelihood is dependent on not budging from their framework.  Since Rachel is an ordinary laywoman, a faithful Christian who upholds the confessions of her church, and is not on the payroll of parachurch organization, she has more of a freedom to write from the conclusions of her historical research and biblical convictions. Perhaps instead I should say that she has nothing to lose. But, like the subject she is writing on, it’s a little more complicated than that. Writing against the accepted grain in your own circles comes with a price. Rachel has counted the cost and cares enough about the way men and women co-labor together to write this book.
 
And third, Rachel has already proven to be a discerning and helpful voice for men and women in the church. Before the infamous Trinity debate that kicked off in 2016 , Rachel Miller was writing articles on her blog, challenging the orthodoxy of the prevalent teaching of the eternal subordination of the Son, and its sister teaching, the eternal subordination of women. Rachel has followed the doctrine on authority and submission in the godhead and between the sexes, challenging its biblical grounds, before many of the scholars or pastors in her camp would speak out. Thankfully, we are now seeing a renewal of focus and resources being published on an orthodox teaching on the Trinity.
 
I am thankful for Rachel’s further contribution of this book, examining whether some of the ideas of the nature of men and women and our relationships in the home, church, and society are biblical traditions that have been faithfully handed down or are ones the church has picked up from the Greeks, Romans, and Victorians. Are our assumptions biblical or cultural? What if, in trying to be a Christian voice in response to the sexual revolution of the culture, the church has inadvertently been arguing from a different secular position? Should our framework for men and women be authority and submission, or can we return these categories to their proper place, while recovering a lens of unity, interdependence, and service for both men and women?
 
Maybe Rachel didn’t foresee just how fitting it was when she named her blog “A Daughter of the Reformation.” She lives according to the Reformation confessions that she upholds. One of those cries is Semper Reformanda, the church is always reforming. We continually need to align our teachings with the authority of the Scriptures. This is something all readers should be able to agree with. I commend this book to you as a valuable contribution to the continuing discussion on the nature, relationships, and value of men and women, with the expectation that it will be a catalyst for fruitful, biblical reform. 
 
Aimee Byrd
 
Posted on Thursday, July 11, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
My friend Anna Anderson is one of my favorite theological conversation partners. I asked her if she would write a guest article for the blog on the connection between Proverbs 31, Ruth, and the Song of Songs. I'm honored to share it with my readers:
 
Why might we not recognize Ruth in the woman worthy of praise in Proverbs 31? Perhaps it is her poverty. She appears on the road from Moab without a bustling household---without a husband who trusts her, children who praise her, and servants whom she blesses. We see her with little means to creatively improve her lot---no wool or silk or linen. There is no mention of spindle or lamp, no money to invest in fields, vineyards, or foreign trade, yet, like the woman of Proverbs, she takes stock of her assets. The list is short: health and hands. Endowed with patient endurance, we find her ready to face what would readily lead many to despair, a life of beggary as a childless, widowed foreigner. And she is not just any foreigner, she is from a detested people formed not by theophany and divine favor, but incestuous rape. It is against these almost insurmountable odds that Ruth stands tall, a woman of valor, an ezer warrior from the other side of the tracks. In the Masoretic Text (MT) of the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Ruth falls between Proverbs and Song of Songs (SOS), a convenient placement to consider how Ruth measures up to the woman of valor in Proverbs 31 and the Shulamite lover of the Song. 
 
As the embodiment of the Proverbs 31 woman, she has no deficit. She is strong in the Lord and heads to the fields. She gathers grain, working with her hands. She brings her food from afar and sets the fruit of her labor before Naomi. (Is there anyone more needy and tragic than Naomi? Carolyn Custis James calls her the female Job amidst the ashes of poverty and shattered dreams: old, voiceless, and deemed a worthless burden to society [James, The Gospel of Ruth].) Naomi is not only esteemed but nourished and nurtured by Ruth's loving kindness. Ruth searches and finds the eyes of worthy Boaz attentive to her needs, and his admiration is cultivated by her virtue. Strength and honor are her clothing, and she becomes the object of Boaz's praise and desire. (And would any of us deny that we, a great multitude of her children, have risen up to bless her?) 
 
This brings us to the other side of Ruth in the MT canon, Song of Songs, where Ruth again might not come to mind at first glance. Is it because Ruth is not a young virgin but a barren widow? Is it because Boaz appears much older, an established businessman, and not a young, ruddy shepherd? Or maybe because a woman who takes courage and charge is difficult to reconcile with our thinking? If we take care to read well, I believe we will see a similarity between Ruth and the Shulamite. In Song of Songs, we have rapturous mutuality (Phipps, Genesis and Gender), harmony, and reciprocity. The Song stands against the Ancient Near Eastern concept of man as "bull" of the marriage bed (Dorsey, Literary Structure of the Old Testament). The number and force of the Shulamite's invitations to love are greater than the shepherd's. Hardly a thought, idea, or action is not attributed to both (Davidson, Flame of Yahweh). She draws; she leads; she gives; she awakens him. She commands him. We might note that the "desire" of the woman in Genesis 3:16, used only three times in the Hebrew Scriptures, is attributed in SOS 7:10 not to the woman, but to the man, as she exclaims, "I am my beloved's; and his desire is for me." This is in the context of her conquering him, imprisoning him with her tresses and ravishing him with her eyes (Davidson). Here the divine pronouncement concerning the consequences of Eve's sin can be seen in the light of a new day. Finally, it is remarkable that the Song is given to us without any explicit mention of children, as if the mutual pursuit and pleasuring themselves are fruitful within the bounds of covenantal love. The shepherd is invited to the locked garden to partake of its prepared delights. This is a "returning to the holy of holies of Eden's garden," where types embedded in marriage take us beyond our marriages to the consummation of time (Davidson). 
 
With this, we turn to Boaz's threshing floor. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, Ruth watches and "considers" before she moves. He has initiated kindness and deference, and she will respond by initiating marriage. In fact, Ruth demands Boaz take her under his wings (Block: NAS Commentary, Judges, Ruth). Block comments that here Ruth goes beyond the instructions of Naomi, calling us to see her boldness: "The reader stands back in awe, wondering what has possessed her. Here is a servant demanding that the boss marry her, a Moabite making the demand of an Israelite, a woman making the demand of a man, a poor person making the demand of a rich man" and all this under the cloak of darkness where she lies at his feet, waiting. Like the Shulamite, she is washed, perfumed, and adorned. She is not proposing a night of illicit love. Rather, she is propositioning him for a lifetime of licit love. She has bid him come to her garden, to eat its choicest fruits, and the determination with which Boaz goes about sealing their union shows that he desires her and that she has captivated him (Ruth 3:18; SOS 4:9,16: 7:10 in comparison with Gen. 3:16b). 
 
It seems to me that Ruth, Proverbs 31, and Song of Songs together beckon us to broaden our understanding of "mature femininity" beyond merely "receiving, affirming, and nurturing worthy men's strengths" and leadership (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 46). Ruth as the woman of valor takes inventory of what God has placed in her hands and goes boldly to the field. She is not primed to affirm or nurture specifically male strength, but Naomi’s, to whom she has solemnly bound herself. Her self-effacing nobility draws the attention and admiration of Boaz who, in turn, receives, affirms, and nurtures her strength. In time, she responds by offering him her love. His response to her proposal leads him to the city gates, where he takes his seat and Ruth’s works find praise. Note the dynamism and flow of the movement, the harmony, the exalting crescendo, whose peak is not found in Ruth, but in Matthew 1, where both Ruth and Boaz take their seats in the gates of the New Covenant. In Ruth as Shulamite, we do not see the language of dominance, but harmony, love flowing in reciprocity between the lovers. This is not an appeal to abandon the headship of husbands over their own wives and the rule of qualified male elders in the church, but it is an appeal to all of us to take the assets that God has given us and apply them in receiving, affirming, and nurturing our neighbors' strengths. And it is a call to see in the Song the bride of Christ, one composed of many who bear His image, both male and female. They are the object of His desire and delight and the consummation of their union yields nothing less than the fullness of everything the Father determined to give his Son when, in eternity, he determined to give his Son a bride (Garcia).
 
Anna lives with her family is southern Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D. C. and pursuing a ThM at Greystone Institute. 
Posted on Sunday, June 23, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Apparently, some who have read my last article have interpreted it as me saying that it’s okay for men to be effeminate. This interpretation is kind of proving my point about the secular categories and framework of thinking within the church. And it illustrates that we do not view humans as having soul/body composite identities. This is concerning.
 
So no, that isn’t what my article was saying, nor is it a logical conclusion after reading my article. Maybe some readers are upset because they actually do understand the article’s conclusion that “effeminate men” isn’t even a proper category, and they emphatically disagree. I understand there is a lot of tension and fear in the church right now over sexuality issues. And I land on the same side morally as some of my concerned readers, even as I am trying to point out philosophical differences that I believe are more in line with a biblical and theological anthropology and eschatology. Rather than react in fear of the serious challenges to the church’s stance on sexuality and turn to the fairly new language of our culture, there are some basic, classic principles that can help guide us. “Effeminate” is employed in two ways in our culture and I do not like either. (And no, the King James Version of 1 Cor. 6:9 is not a proof text here, as it is about actual homosexual act of sodomy).
 
The first way---the one that concerns me the most---is an insult to men who do not fit into what our culture holds as ideal masculinity. Little boys are teased for being too sensitive. Their daddies grow over-concerned because they don’t like the so-called manly stuff like sports and hunting. Some of these boys grow up thinking maybe they aren’t masculine enough. They struggle with gender security. Some, as a result, struggle with gender identity. I will not give credence to this category of effeminate men because it is an offence to manhood.
 
The second way---the one that I believe is concerning my readers asking this question---is used in the gay community (and this is the big fear of those daddies above). This usage turns from an insult to an identity as some same-sex attracted men take on feminine stereotypes of our culture in their mannerisms, interests, and sometimes the way they dress. Reader, please understand, I am not saying this is no big deal. I am saying that this is an artificial identity. And we need to be communicating this well. No matter how much a man wants to pretend, he cannot truly be feminine. And this behavior grossly misunderstands the essence of the female and the concept of woman. I will not give credence to a category of effeminate men because it is an offense to womanhood.
 
As Pope John Paul II put it, “Women and men are the illustration of a biological, individual, personal, and spiritual complementarity. Femininity is the unique and specific characteristic of woman, as masculinity is of man” (Navarro-Valls, “To Promote Woman’s Equal Dignity,” 1.1). So, as I said in my last article, I don’t have to act a specific way to be a woman, as a woman my actions are feminine. It's that kind of language that leads to the concept of the effeminate man. My framework builds an argument against the reality of such a concept. When we use cultural stereotypes as essential elements of femininity and masculinity, we are reducing our brothers and sisters and missing out on God’s creative design of human beings as unique, unrepeatable people. Sister Prudence Allen suggests that men and women are not opposites sexes, but neighboring sexes. This doesn’t diminish the distinctions between men and women, but rather sees the holistic beauty of God’s design and opens the doors for men and women to serve one another by giving of themselves as complete whole people in synergetic and dynamic fellowship. 
 
Switching Gears To Talk About Gender
 
With that, I want to drop it down a gear and talk about how we use the word gender. I highly recommend Sister Prudence Allen’s three volumes on The Concept of Woman. One can really benefit even from reading the Introduction in Volume III. I’d like to share something from the beginning of her Introduction where she discusses the meaning of gender. Unlike the animals, we are, for the most part, differentiated by our contributions to generation. I say “for the most part” because due to the fall there are a small percentage of intersex people born. Although Aristotle taught some grave errors regarding the male and female distinction in generation, Allen points out that he was right in arguing that “’male’ signified one who generated in another, and ‘female,’ one who generated in itself.” She sorts through the confusion that we have in the usage of the word gender as it has drastically changed in meaning in the 20th century.
 
Very early in Western history the concept of gender identity was found hidden in its root, gen. The meaning of the root gen in its verb form is to produce or beget; in its noun form it refers to offspring or kin. This meaning is explicitly integrated into early Jewish history. A clear example, dated variously between 1400 BC and 900 BC, is found in Gen. 5:1, which begins: “This is the book of the generations of Adam”; it continues through verse 32, marking off different periods of history in recording the generations from Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, through to Noah and his sons. The root gen from the beginning of Judaism establishes the significance of history of a people living in continuity generation after generation. It incorporates the act of sexual intercourse, of a male and a female, of a man and a woman who become father and mother through their synergetic union. Thus, we can say, the concept of sex is inherently included within the concept of the root of generation, or gen. (6)
 
She cites further examples from Aristotle, and then the beginning of Matthew, where “in 1:1-16 that Latin word genuit, with the root gen (meaning ‘to beget, to generate, to father’), is repeated thirty-nine times.”
 
The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology records the continuation of the roots of these theological and philosophical concepts in the development of the English language. It includes the following rich, expanding language-family related to the root gen: “gender,” “genealogy,” “generate,” “generous” (nobly born), “genesis,” “genetic,” “gene,” “genial” (nuptial, productive, joyous), “genital” (external generative organs), “genitive” (grammatical possessor or source), “genius” (innate capacity, person possessing prevalent disposition of spirit), “genocide,” “gens,” “gentleman,” “gentlewoman,” genuine,” and “-geny” (mode of production). From this evidence alone, it would appear that the radical separation of the concept of the word “sex” from the concept of the word “gender” suggested by some twentieth century authors is artificial indeed. (7)
 
There's much I am skipping over, but what I am getting at here is that this framework is incapable of switching to a gear where effeminate men are sanctioned. Rather, it is only in a fractional (so-called) complementarity, where men and women “are described as contributing fractional portions to a relation that together add up to one single person” and where the language of separation between matter and form, body and soul/psyche, thrives that we see the artificial identity of the effeminate man. When we realize and uphold the integral complementarity between men and women, where we are “each considered as a whole person and together…synergetically create something or someone more,” our corresponding dignity will not be destroyed by sinful domination nor our significant distinctions disoriented by lust (Allen, 8 & 471). As Allen concludes, “This ontological complementarity of women and men has not only a philosophical foundation but also a theological foundation that begins on earth and continues through life and death to the resurrection of the body into eternity” (483).
Posted on Friday, June 21, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been provoked by something on Twitter recently and tempted to respond with my own provocative tweet. I’m trying to do less of that. While there used to be lamentations that too many people can write whatever they want on a blog post and, besides, people aren’t reading enough books, I enjoyed writing and reading blogs as a sort of public journaling. This is now being replaced by tweets and tweet threads. If thoughts were being condensed by blog-conscious word counts before, they are now further reduced to accommodate Twitter character limits. All we get is the punch line.
 
As tempted as I am to just throw out my own punch lines, I do want real conversation on some of these big, hot button issues battled out on Twitter. So, while I have been developing my thoughts on men and women and the church through some of my books, for the in between I’d rather think out loud in blog format than subtweets and punch line responses.
 
And there’s been a lot to respond to. But this week I saw this tweet going around, both positively and negatively shared, that is representative of many others I’ve passed by:
 
 
My punchline thought was, isn’t this the same kind of thinking perpetuated by the transgender movement? Isn’t the whole idea that men could be something other than men, and vice versa, the new, radical thinking of the sexual revolution? Is there a biological part of me that has a vagina and makes me a woman that’s different than my soul and psyche, which needs to make sure it acts like a woman? And what is it that I need to do as a woman to be a woman?
 
Now, I agree with CBMW that there are distinctions and differences between men and women. And we share some moral values. But CBMW has capitalized on this kind of language, using a word like “role,” which is a theater term meaning “playing a part,” to refer to performed ontological differences between men and women. To be a woman, I must be a certain way, play a certain role. So, when I see the president of CBMW tweeting a line from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood about men needing to be men and women needing to be women, I know what it means. The definition is provided and elaborated on in the book:
 
AT THE HEART OF MATURE MASCULINITY IS A SENSE OF BENEVOLENT RESPONSIBILITY TO LEAD, PROVIDE FOR AND PROTECT WOMEN IN WAYS APPROPRIATE TO A MAN’S DIFFERING RELATIONSHIPS.
 
AT THE HEART OF MATURE FEMININITY IS A FREEING DISPOSITION TO AFFIRM, RECEIVE AND NURTURE STRENGTH AND LEADERSHIP FROM WORTHY MEN IN WAYS APPROPRIATE TO A WOMAN’S DIFFERING RELATIONSHIPS. 
 
We see echoes of CBMW’s teaching of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ontological “roles” in the Trinity) here in its application for gender roles: men’s roles are active and potent---authoritarian. Women’s are parasitic and subservient. The heart of femininity merely means being masculinity affirmers. I wonder, where is the feminine? What distinct contribution does woman have?
 
As discussions on metaphysics and trinitarian theology are making a comeback, we also need to retrieve the essential, hylomorphic understanding of the body and soul that recognizes, as Sister Prudence Allen puts it, “the human being as a soul/body composite identity.” There are only two ways to image God as human beings: as male and as female. I think CBMW agrees with this, but their language and teaching on manhood and womanhood betrays them. There aren’t half-men, clueless as to how to earn their man card. There aren’t biologically identifiable women with male souls. We don’t need to force our sexual distinctions under an artificial ontological framework of authority and submission or under cultural stereotypes. I don’t have to act like a woman---I am a woman in whatever I do. We don’t need “masculine males” and “feminine females” as RBMW tells us. God has already created us as men and women, and he has also created us as unique persons. Let's talk about the meaningfulness of that.
 
And so this way of thinking makes me very cautious to join in using CBMW’s language to lead the way in talking about the serious issues the church needs to address regarding sexuality. While I might share some of the same concerns as them, I don’t align with CBMW’s teaching on men and women. I’m also still waiting for them to retract their teaching of ESS and their application of trinitarian “roles” for men to be men and women to be women. Our "sexuate installation" (as Julián Marías calls it) as men and women should move us toward communion of persons, where we are not actualized by what roles we play, but in fostering a mutual knowledge of one another which results in dynamic, fruitful reciprocity through the giving of ourselves through our differences. But there is no room for this in CBMW’s definitions of "mature" masculinity and femininity. There’s no dynamism because it’s all about male power, male say-so, and male agency. Complementarianism only boils down to who’s in charge.
 
I agree that we need to talk about what is meaningful about being men and women. Ironically, I think CBMW’s teaching on this is too thin to be called complementarian. If there is no reciprocity of voices, where’s the complementarity? I hope to reveal something much thicker in book form soon!
Posted on Monday, June 03, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
 
Last week I had the pleasure of reading New Testament Scholar, Paula Gooder’s responsible work of historical imagination, Phoebe: A Story. In this historical fiction, Romans 16 comes alive. It begins with the last words of the letter to the Romans, “…to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.” Phoebe is anxiously trying to get a feel of the response, as Stachys---whom you may recognize from Paul’s greetings in 16:9---is finishing his reading of the letter aloud to a gathering of people from the Roman house churches.
 
The reader hadn’t so much read the letter as performed it---his voice thundering in the opening paragraphs, thoughtful and careful in the middle, before dropping to a gentle, careful greeting at the end. As she awaited the Roman’s response, Phoebe’s anxiety grew and grew. In Corinth, Paul’s letters did not---to put it mildly---meet with universal acclaim. The receipt of a letter from Paul usually led to what the gentle and generous Gaius euphemistically termed a time of ‘vibrant discussion’; a ‘discussion’ that often ended when one group or another walked out and refused to return. So Phoebe had, unconsciously, held her breath as she waited to discover what form the reaction would take. She had prepared herself for almost anything, except for this: a deep silence. The quiet was such that the chirping of the cicadas felt stridently intrusive.
 
What does happen next? Paula Gooder combines biblical scholarship with historical imagination to help us enter that world, particularly through envisioning the life of Phoebe. In this, she weaves a story of how Phoebe ended up being a patron, what her life was like before she became a believer, the reasons she agrees to make this trip to Rome to deliver Paul’s epistle, how she aims to answer the questions the Roman Christians have about the letter, the time that she spends in Rome, the relationships she builds, and where she is going next. It is an excellent story. I don’t want to give away any of these details so that any interested readers can discover them turning the page as I did. But here are a few things I loved about the book:
 
Phoebe’s status in the church is often either downplayed or lionized. Gooder makes her a person again---one who is dealing with her sinful past and struggling with boldness in her faith, while also equipped to answer theological questions about Paul’s teaching. I love her character development throughout the book, and her relatability for any Christian striving to live a life of faith and obedience.
  • One of my favorite things about this book is the storytelling amongst the historical and created characters. As they are faced with decisions and challenges, or just in the mood for some storytelling, the characters pass down the traditions of the faith---the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, as well as stories about them. We will recognize these conversations, as we have these teachings and stories in the pages of Scripture. But in the first century, they needed to be handed down. And so we see how this happened in Gooder’s book. We see that all of these Christians were tradents to the faith, active traditioners, often informally handing down the stories and teachings so familiar to us as they live life. It was really encouraging to me, as we are still called to this active traditioning in the Christian life today. 
  • The characters are great, from the tension between Junia and Phoebe; Aquilla’s sense of humor and banter with his wife; the wise, hard-working Stachy’s as a freed slave and scribe; and the complexity of Herodion’s introversion and brashness; to the created characters like Felix, Titus, and “Bibi.” Felix is my favorite. 
  • The carefulness of Gooder’s historical imagination. She really does have a great imagination, but it is informed by her extensive research on the geography, social history, time, and of course, biblical scholarship. The first part of the book is the story. But the second part of the book is extensive notes on her research. And it doesn’t function the same as endnotes---which are deplorable atrocities against a reader---but as snapshots of her research and how it weaves into the story. I enjoyed that section and appreciate how she gives resources to the reader who wants to go deeper on a given topic. She opens this section with an apologetic for the genre of the book, her aim in writing it, as well as where she took some liberties. Because of her great research combined with an excellent imagination, we get to learn more about the everyday life these people must have lived. We learn more about how they ate, about the class structures, patrons and clients, the life of slaves, the different communities in Rome, the politics, and the social life of the time. 
  • Like a good scholar, Good is careful with both historical and theological nuances. This plays out well in the scenery she sets, the discussions and debates among the characters, and is further explained in Part Two of the book. 
 
Here are a few caveats:
 
  • Gooder’s view of Romans is influenced by the New Perspective on Paul. This shows most when Herodion shares his testimony in Chapter Four, as he is complaining about how Paul’s letter will cause trouble for the Jewish believers. I appreciate that Gooder is upfront about this in Part Two. I do think it is better nuanced in the discussion in Chapter Four than many of the presentations of this theology. There is certainly some important contributions in research from NPP, even as I do not affirm it’s whole theological system. 
  • Readers will have different reactions to how Gooder paints some of our favorite people in Scripture. While I love how she makes Paul more “real,” I didn’t care for the way she portrays his interaction with the believers from Rome upon his arrival and imprisonment. She gives an explanation in Part Two, but my historical imagination would interpret that scenario differently.
  • Another area where I wanted something different is how she portrays Phoebe as more insecure than I would have envisioned in her authorized mission from Paul as the first interpreter of Romans. I don’t want to give anything away here, but I will say that I appreciate how Gooder’s portrayal reminds us of the complexity of people in general, even those who are given such weighty missions. But this is also what makes it a good historical fiction: provoking readers to interact with her writing and their own historical imagination.
  • There will also be some push back on how Gooder describes, or doesn’t describe, worship in these house churches. Maybe she is just leaving more for the historical imagination? This was, after all, such an early and transitional time in the church.
 
I recommend this book as a great summer read!
Posted on Friday, May 17, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I am a member of an OPC church. When I tell people that, sometimes I feel the need to offer an apologetic, “It’s not like the image you have in your head of the fuddy-duddy, frozen chosens. We are a lively, hospitable community of believers.” It’s a healthy, thriving church with good doctrine, godly leadership, and a great body of brothers and sisters in the faith. So much so, that we attract Christians from different denominations into the OPC for the first time. Because of this, on the Sundays that we read the Apostles’ Creed together, sometimes visitors have questions. What do you mean by "the holy catholic church?” What are you saying about Christ descending to hell? We even have asterisks in the bulletin now, briefly explaining these two popular questions. This is the first time that some of these visitors have seen a creed confessed and they may have questions about the value of that as well.
 
This confusion does not make us want to stop this practice of confessing our faith in the same words as the early churches. It is exciting to share this practice with those who have been in a church maybe all their lives and never have been a part of putting words to worship, as Stanley Gale describes it in his little book, The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. The Apostles’ Creed gives us the core of the Christian confession of what we believe. “While Christian denominations feature their own emphases and nuances, the Creed spells out the core, the basics of the faith, the beating of the heart of the gospel” (3). Gale wrote his book as a way to familiarize the Christian faith, “as it unfolds in the profound simplicity of the Apostles’ Creed.” 
 
My pastor saw this need in our own church community and taught a Sunday school semester on the Apostles’ Creed. Gale’s book is another great resource, as it is a pastoral book that breaks down the confessions in the Creed in a devotional way. Even if you are familiar with the teaching in the Creed, it’s a great reminder that can be used devotionally leading us in praise for who God is and what he has done.
 
I love to hear my pastor ask us what we believe. So often in my own teaching, I have found many Christians have a hard time articulating their faith well. The Apostles’ Creed helps us. There is something beautiful in answering as a congregation, joining with the church historic in confessing our faith together. “The Creed is liturgical (to profess in community), catechetical (to teach), confessional (to express alignment), and missional (as a light to life in Christ)” (4). Everyone benefits from studying it. Along with his book, Gale has an accompanying workbook available so that the church can benefit from this resource as a tool for discipleship. 
 
And those first words of the Creed, “I believe,” should not be passed over as quickly as we may be tempted to in getting to the good stuff. I enjoyed that Gale opens with an entire chapter on the stand that we take in saying “I believe”, “weighty words expressing commitment and relationship with the God who has invited us to Himself…the beliefs of our invisible faith take shape when we clothe them with the statements of the Creed” (21-22).
 
Maybe your church has confessed the Creed every Sunday for as long as you can remember, and now it has just become routine for you. Gale’s book will help recover the meaningfulness in your profession, as every line of the Creed is packed with wonder. What a joy and honor it is to be a part of the Christian church, confessing our faith, and ending with a resounding “amen” together!
 
Posted on Thursday, May 09, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
One great consequence of the Trinity Debate of 2016, which started over the issue of CBMW leaders teaching an ontological, eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (ESS/ERAS) and then applying that to men and women, is a resurgence of classical teaching on the Trinity and on the  importance of biblical theology over and against Biblicism. However, even as the overwhelming consensus was that those who teach ESS are not in line with confessional Nicene trinitarianism, there never was any retraction of the teaching from CBMW or the from leaders who taught it. This is something that I wrote about in the summer of 2016, hoping there would be retractions, corrections, and even apologies.
 
Here we are, three years later, with the current president of CBMW positively referencing and linking to an article written by the previous president, Owen Strachan, in regard to some controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention on whether women should ever instruct the church body. There are many issues brought up in Strachan’s article that provoke discussion. One main one, that is not the focus of my response here, is that Strachan is not only arguing for male ordination, or even to keep women out of the pulpit---he denounces the woman’s teaching contribution in the church whenever adult males will be among the recipients, saying “there is no way for a woman to instruct the gathered church, whether in an authoritative or ‘non-authoritative’ way.” And he’s not only talking about corporate worship either. I have so much to say about this, way too much to cover in one article.  
 
There’s also the question of Strachan’s account of Southern Baptist history. But I’m going to let that lie too…
 
What I want to address here, and what leads to his overarching conclusion stated above, is that Strachan’s argument is a rebranding of ESS. And it’s not subtle. Strachan’s argument rests on “divine order.” That might sound sensible at first, affirming a God of order. But pay attention to how he defines this: 
 
The man is created first in the Old Testament, and possesses what the New Testament will call headship over his wife. Adam is constituted the leader of his home; he is given authority in it, authority that is shaped in a Christlike way as the biblical story unfolds.
 
Again, I am going to hold myself back from addressing Strachan’s understanding of headship, his use of the word possess, and his reading a hierarchy in creation. (Sam Powell’s articles here and here is a start.)
 
Strachan begins the “divine order” with male hierarchy/authority in marriage, and then explains how that transfers to spiritual leadership:
 
On the basis of a man’s domestic leadership, men are called to provide spiritual leadership and protection of the church (1 Timothy 2:9-15). 
 
And then the kicker of all: he says that hierarchy is another word for divine order. He speaks of those who disagree with this divine order:
 
 
In evolutionary thought, there is no maker. There is no design. There is no telos (end) for humanity…
 
They know there are men and women, but they have heard little about divine design. But this design, this order, is vital. Grounded in theistic ontology itself, it is the very bedrock of Christian theology and the Christian worldview. You could say it this way: there is order in the home; there is order in the churches; there is order in the world God has made.
 
Where he writes “divine design”, Strachan links to his book co-authored with Gavin Peacock, one that was never retracted when under attention during the Trinity debate for its direct teaching of ESS and application to man and woman’s “corresponding” ontology as embodiments of authority and subordination. (He also links to his new book on a theology of mankind.) In case that was too subtle, Strachan spells it out for us, saying that this particular divine design, this vital order, is grounded in theistic ontology itselfthe very bedrock of Christian theology. He is not talking about processions here, since he made himself clear that hierarchy is divine order. ESS is “divine order.” Divine order is ESS. 
 
Nothing has changed except the spin. Complementarians, is this really the voice you want to represent your views of men and women---and even more importantly, the Triune God? This is the fruit of endorsing this teaching and then not pushing for the retractions. 
 
I do want to say something about order and creation. Man is created first. Strachan answers the question of why woman is created second, and why God even created woman and not just another man in the most reductionistic way as he praises God’s design. He makes it about hierarchy. Is that why woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7)?
 
Strachan is right about how we need to think about the telos of humanity. And this is exactly what God shows Adam in the creation of Eve. Mark Garcia has written well on this important topic:
 
The LORD could have created man and woman at the same time, but he did not, and the creation of woman second, rather than being a sign of inferiority to the first, is in Scripture an eschatological marker: the second is the glory of the first. She is created to be his eschatological glory. Instead of reducing her, it elevates her.
 
 
As my friend Anna put it, who has been a great conversation partner on hashing out all of this:
 
Woman as second represents the glorious second order. The goal of redeemed humanity is pictured in the prophets as domesticated and bucolic, feasting and reclining. We are gathered and nurtured by God, like a hen gathers her chicks. It is homecoming after war, where swords are beaten into plowshares. Yet what woman represents is descriptive, not prescriptive in this life. Deborah goes out to war, yet because she is a type of the second order, this is not normative. But she has not sinned. 
 
Rather than reduce God’s word and say woman is created second because she is subordinate, we need to see the whole redemptive story God is telling here. Woman was created second from man’s very side as his glory, meaning, when Adam sees Eve, he sees his telos as the bride of Christ, the church flowing out of Christ’s wounded side. Back to Anna:
 
Woman images the peace and nurture of the eternal city. Man, the guardian and protector of sacred space, images Christ who defeats all of his and our enemies and takes his bride.  And yet these are descriptive, not prescriptive categories.  Ruth protects and provides for Naomi and takes her husband, Boaz. Paul is a nurturing mother, and Christ is mother (a picture Yahweh in the OT), longing to gather her chicks. We cannot absolutize these as prescriptions and prohibitions.
 
So we don’t have to reduce Mary Magdalene’s act as a mere witness. The Lord Jesus Christ authorized her to go be an apostle to the apostles, as she has been known throught church history. We don’t downplay the women Paul calls co-workers, or the church planters, the prophets, or the ones who risked their necks for him. Like the picture we see in Romans 16, we can be thankful for men and women co-laborers serving under the fruit of the ministry with reciprocal voices and dynamic exchange. Not all contributions in the church are hierarchies. How can the men in the church grow in the teleological understanding of their humanness, as part of the collective bride of Christ, if they cannot learn from or be influenced by women?
 
Again, I haven’t even touched on the issue of ordination, and barely spoke of the additional notion regarding all the areas where lay men and women are responsible to instruct in the household of God. These are two separate, but connected issues that require much more space. I'm not saying Beth Moore should preach on Mother's Day. But why don’t complementarians go to Gen. 2:16, and start with the “keep/guard” vocation given to Adam and work from there, rather than reading a fictional hierarchy in creation? And why not embrace, in gratitude, woman as ezer, a corresponding strength and necessary ally in their joint mission, and a picture of his eschatological glory? Woman is an embodiment of this glory, a typology of the waters of life that we see the bride calling us to in Revelation 21:17. There are two ways of being human, man and woman. This calls for communion and reciprocity. Yes, there is order. And we can talk about the disagreements of where everyone stands on ordination, etc. But let’s not settle for calling a rebranded ESS teaching of the sexes “thunderously good.” 
 
Maybe we should all first focus on what our bedrock of Christian theology is.