Sunday, October 09, 2005

"Singing the Same Old Hymns?" - Reviewing Wayne Grudem

I mentioned a few days ago that I am reading and throughly enjoying the rebuttal to Grudem and Piper's "Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" tome which is partly edited by Gordon Fee. I have a few more chapters to go before I have finished it, and then it is to the drawing board to thrash through what I really think on this issue. My brother-in-law asked me over Sunday lunch whether I approached this book with a predisposing prejudice. Indeed I did! My entire background in church life has been geared towards the view that "Leadership is Male". My home church in Dunstable was totally this way, as was my Newfrontiers church in Birmingham. So studying "Biblical Equality" has brought a refreshing wind of change - whether I am persuaded by their arguments or remain unconvinced.

I thought I would write a review of one of Wayne Grudem's recent books just as an aside before I finish reading;

Singing the Same Old Hymns??

A Review of Professor Wayne Grudem’s book, “Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood”.

Yes – that’s correct, yet ANOTHER tome to add to the ever-growing library on this never-ending controversy. By his own admission Professor Grudem sees the situation as, “an on-going debate” (p13). However his apologetic is that this volume provides a “more scholarly focus” (p13). So what titbits are we, the weary readers offered as a good reason to buy and more importantly read this addition?

1. Contributors.

Professor Grudem has gathered an impressive array of theologians and pastors to each contribute papers to this book. They range from Bruce Ware (Dean at the Southern Baptist Seminary) to Peter Jones (Professor in New Testament at Westminster in California). Of course no book on Manhood and Womanhood would be complete without John Piper, Senior Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and Grudem himself offers 3 chapters of his own.

2. Content.

Lest any of us remain unimpressed by ‘personalities’, Grudem has edited a varied and interesting content to the book. In comparison to its voluminous predecessor – “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” – Grudem is careful to take an exegetical standpoint, but not neglecting to address key issues such as the object of marriage, Trinity as well as ensuring the egalitarian viewpoint is countered on all fronts – including the meaning of “head” (Gal 3:28) and interpretations of submission in Ephesians 5:21-22.

This review will be slightly more lengthy than usual as there are a larger number of issues to address. Not all chapters will be reviewed in the same depth as say, Dr Grudem’s key overview paper in Chapter 1.

1. Overview – “Chapter 1: The Key Issues in the Manhood-Womanhood Controversy and the Way Forward” – Wayne Grudem.

The author opens cautiously, carefully and courteously (as well he should) by establishing the framework for Key Issue No. 1 (of which there are 6). Namely that, “men and women are equal in value and dignity” (p19). He asserts that any discussion must start from here – our equality in the image of God (p19). With that in mind we are moved to the inevitable issue of differences and takes a great deal of time in establishing why male headship existed pre-fall. While this list is comprehensive, his apologetic for taking 13 pages to detail this is simply that this was God’s purpose in creation – that of difference (p37). The review imagines that his underlying purpose was to make an attempt to use the case study of the first man and the first woman to support his case – as well as showing that his framework was biblical before the resurgence of feminism!

From that theological beginning, Grudem then moves to speak very practically on the errors of passivity and aggression and the need for balance in home life (p42). He swiftly confronts the egalitarian arguments detailing 3 objections to their claims – Gal 3:28, Eph 5:21 – “mutual” submission and finally the meaning of “head”. These points are answered in typical eloquence.

His next move is to state Key Issues 3 to 6 and each “issue” seems to dramatise and lift the whole matter onto a higher level. Issue 3 draws a serious parallel between men and women and the Trinity. Issue 5 is the most blatant; “This is a matter of obedience to the Bible”. I found this issue the most disappointing, for rather than interacting seriously with general texts to show this, Dr Grudem seems to deal with anecdotes on organisational statements of belief rather than on sound, biblical exegesis as to why this is a matter of such severity! I would suggest that either the title is toned down or he re-write this section for any serious reader will not be persuaded on anecdotal evidence.

Pages 62-63 detail a stimulating and interesting chart showing “how a biblical view of men and women stand in contrast to the opponent No Differences on the far left and the opponent on the far right” (p60). His conclusions remain strong – this controversy is “really about God and His character” (p68). When one reads this chapter, it is clear why SGM “apostle” C J Mahaney would state that Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is a “hill we will die on”. The conclusion to this review will assess this matter of “primary” or “secondary” importance and to which this matter fits into.

2. “The Glory of Man and Woman as Created by God” – Bruce A Ware.

Ware commences this slightly shorter chapter on a similar view to Grudem using Genesis 1:24-31, “Created in the image of God”. The aims of the chapter were:

1. What the image of God is. Traditional images are examined including Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin. Relational views are examined – Barth and Brunner and functional views are assessed – Verduin and Clines. Ware is careful to assess these objectively.

2. Male and Female “as the image of God”. He is careful to note that egalitarians and complementarians are united on the fact that the image of God “indicates equal value of women with men” (p80).

3. Male and Female Complementarity as the Image of God. Ware speaks much of the “functional” role – both must have responsibilities. Interestingly enough he notes;

Concepts of inferiority or superiority have no place in the God-ordained nature of male and female in the image of God” (p89).

He then takes some time to include a discourse on singles and their role in the church concluding our goal is to “fulfil His will and obey His word” and suggests we do this in relationship. It is a useful contribution to the book.

3. “The Surpassing Goal: Marriage Lived For the Glory of God” – John Piper.

Dr Piper begins in typical form – summed up in the sentence; “God is ultimate and marriage is not” (p93). He then spends much of the chapter speaking on the Person and Glory of God. It is therefore truly an excellent chapter in the book soaking in God-centred theology. His thesis is simply:

Marriage exists to magnify the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of God. God does not exist to magnify marriage. Until this order is vivid and valued – until it is seen and savoured (a favourite phrase of Dr Pipers) marriage will not be experienced as a revelation of God’s glory but as a rival of God’s glory” (p93).

His vision is clear – to see the glory of God shining forth from marriage and he suggests that it may happen at two levels. 1. Structural. Both spouses are essentially fulfilling their roles in the relationship. 2. Deeper Sustained Hope Giving Superior Satisfaction in God. This is the ultimate goal in any marriage. We must see the glory of God as more precious, more fulfilling, more deep – indeed the ultimate goal of life – than marriage. He ends his paper by reproducing a poem he wrote for his son at his wedding day. “Love Her More and Love Her Less”. The essence of the poem is that Piper’s son will love his wife more, by loving her less. It is a powerful alternative to the written prose – of which the rest of the book is made up of. Yet the reader does not feel cheated out of Dr Piper’s theological writings! The message is almost even more powerful than many of the other chapters. “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness”. Many young couples would do well to mediate on this chapter before hastily rushing into marriage as seems to be the trend nowadays.

Practical Matters:

There are seven further chapters in the tome – seeming to make up the other half of the book. Five are classified for the purposes of this review as; “Disputed Matters”, the other three are known as “Cultural Matters”.

“Disputed Matters”.

§ Chapter 4 – Galatians 3:28 – Gender Specific Roles – Richard Hove

§ Chapter 5 – The Meaning of “Head” – Wayne Grudem

§ Chapter 6 – Novelty of Egalitarian Interpretations of Ephesians 5:21-22 – Daniel Doriani

§ Chapter 7 – The Myth of Mutual Submission – Ephesians 5:21-22 – Wayne Grudem

§ Chapter 8 – Tampering with the Trinity – Does the Son submit to the Father? – Bruce Ware

“Cultural Matters”.

§ Chapter 9 – Sexual Perversion – Peter Jones

§ Chapter 10 – Plastic Sexuality – Daniel Heimball

The reviewer would take issue with these two final chapters in this tome. While one may appreciate the value of such issues being raised and discussed in a frank and honest way, it would seem that these men have written from the standpoint of academics rather than with a pastoral touch. While this may be their purpose, one is left with the feeling that there is very little hope for any who may stray from their narrow path. From the standpoint of one who has had some practical experience of “Plastic Sexuality”, the reviewer would query whether the matter is as hard and fast as Mr Heimball would make out. I am well aware of the distrust and disinterest in psychology, and would agree that there are inherent dangers in such approaches. C J Mahaney is correct in his excellent series on the therapeutic movement, in suggesting that the danger is to blame circumstances rather than sin. However I do not think that these men have replaced Christian psychology with a viable alternative. A Christian struggling with such issues is left with the distinct impression that they are a deviant. End of story. The challenge is to replace the psychologists with pastors; the clinics with churches, the couches with fellowship groups – if this is done, then much healing and change may be seen.


The reader may benefit much from investing in this tome. However I would question whether the lay reader need purchase this, if they have the monumental tome “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”. While I remain fully persuaded of Dr Grudem’s thesis – namely that church eldership is a male role, I am not convinced of the importance that his disciples put on the matter.

As I said at a recent SGM Leadership Conference, C J Mahaney was noted to have said, “This (the Manhood and Womanhood issue) is a hill we will die upon”. This would seem to suggest that such ‘Grudemites’ are and should be exalting the matter to a place of primary importance – i.e. essential to the gospel. At the same time, the same SGM have rapidly removed issues such as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as being fundamental to membership of that movement so churches such as from the Third Wave may join. I would question whether that is the correct organising of priorities – coming from the influence (it would seem) of Dr Grudem.

Despite this, I would not dream of seeing this issue as one in which I have fixed my opinions. I benefit much from reading Wayne Grudem’s writings – appreciating his passion, his devotion to the Word of God, and his high value of the biblical text and would continue to recommend this and all his other books to those that have the time and the interest in reading them. It is an investment worthy of the effort.


Anonymous said...

Any links etc.. detailing why SGM have removed baptism in Holy Spirit as a key value for their member churches?

{just interested}

Luke Wood said...