Thursday, January 25, 2007

Arguing While Rome Burns?

I brought and read two new books by Dr Wayne Grudem yesterday on ... yes, you guessed it - "Evangelical Feminism". Doesn't that bring the sum total of books on this topic from this author to around five or six? I got "Evangelical Feminism - A New Path to Liberalism?" (part funded by SGM) and "Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key Questions". As I wrote before up until now I would class myself as a complimentarian and would pretty much agree with Dr Grudem on this issue. My background in each church I have been a member of has been that the gender of the teaching elders are men although I certainly wouldn't leave a church if it turned out that a woman would be preaching.

But I must confess that I finished the two books and found myself wondering what Grudem has achieved by writing and publishing the amount of books he has on this topic and whether I understand the topic any better for spending money and time on reading all his books (and they aren't cheap or short). Would we spend our time and money better by focusing on what Jul perceives to be the greatest threat to the church? That of "pharisaical arrogance and legalism"? What I am trying to establish in my mind is what exactly has been accomplished (other than more royalties for Dr Grudem) in the publishing of yet more books on evangelical feminism into what Puritan Thomas Brookes called an already saturated Christian market?

I think some useful things have been achieved (although not resolved by any means).

1. Wayne Grudem Brings the Subject of Homosexuality To the Table of Discussion.

Traditionally evangelicals have avoided this subject like the plague. "The sin which must not be named". I think Mark Heath might be right although perhaps a little over-generous in saying; "Personally I have never come across an evangelical church that does not claim to want to be welcoming or loving to the homosexual" but is indeed accurate in writing; "they will all make clear that they do not believe practising a homosexual lifestyle is compatible with a Christian confession". In my experience most church leaders tend to turn pale and sweaty at best, and will react with homophobic control at worst when confronted with an individual who confesses they are struggling with homosexuality. Surely here is the attractive nature of the Emerging Church who; "are determined not to be homophobic, which they view evangelicals as being".

But what does Wayne Grudem have to say on this issue in his two books?

Unfortunately not much. To be fair it is not his topic of discussion in the main but it most definately plays a part in his thinking for; "The approval of homosexuality is the final step along the path to liberalism." What does trouble me however is how Grudem links the incident of Judy Brown with egalitarianism. For an academic who's logic and brilliant mind is famous, this seems bizarre at best. Grudem wrote;

"What happened to Judy Brown? I expect that she probably had a deep love for God and a strong spiritual gift of Bible teaching. If she had continued to use this gift within the bounds of Scripture and decided she would teach the Bible only to women, she likely would have had a remarkable fruitful ministry with much blessing from God ... But she stepped outside the bounds of appropriate women's ministry as described in Scripture ... and then it appears that God simply withdrew His blessing and withdrew His hand of protection from her life. She tragically lost the ability to make wise judgements and disastrous consequences followed".

Then Grudem seems to realise that the obvious question poses itself - what then of the hundreds of male pastor spiritual casualities? Again his explanation begs examination;

"I agree that many male pastors have also fallen into serious sin ... but in their cases the reason cannot be that the Bible forbids men to become pastors! Surely nobody would argue that".

Erm ... maybe evangelical feminists would?

Grudem does nothing to use his considerable skills in influencing the many churches who admire him to become more adept at dealing with honestly struggling homosexual people within their ranks. He simply presents it as "the end of the road of liberalism". I fear that the attitude to homosexual people will continue to diversify with worsening negative attitudes in complimentarian evangelical churches and more liberal, welcoming attitudes in emerging egalitarian churches. Are there no churches who will truly "love the sinner but hate the sin"?

It is interesting that God asked Rob Rufus why He should pour out blessing upon his church when their attitude was so poor to "the unlovely". The Lord then told Rob and his church to go out and bring in the prostitutes, the drug addicts and the homosexuals and welcome them - then the blessing would come. They did - and It did. Maybe we should consider doing the same for fear we miss whatever "new thing" God may be doing.

2. Wayne Grudem Brings Respectful Debate to the Table of Discussion.

I did appreciate and learn from the fact that Grudem is clearly aware he is waging theological war and yet remains polite throughout. Al Mohler wrote;

"In considering the arguments put forth by evangelical feminists, Grudem is careful to avoid ad hominem attacks on egalitarian scholars and spokespersons. Instead, he considers each of their arguments with considerable scholarly care and attention, drawing the logical conclusions from the methodological assumptions the egalitarian scholars embrace".

While I do wonder what has been achieved by yet two more books on this subject, I do deeply appreciate the desire to "exhaust" theological issues. This was something that I adored in the great Puritan John Owen. John Piper wrote;

"We cannot properly estimate the blessing of soaking our minds in the Bible-saturated thinking of the likes of John Owen. What he was able to see in the Bible and preserve for us in writing is simply magnificent. It is so sad - a traversty I want to say - how many Christian leaders of our day do not strive to penetrate the wisdom of John Owen but instead read books and magazines that are superficial in their grasp of the Bible".

I have little doubt that Wayne Grudem will still be remembered centuries on as a similar Bible-saturated thinker. These men are just men but we surely do not wish to "dishonour God by not gladly receiving and appropriating the gifts He has given us".

3. Finally Wayne Grudem Brings the Question as to What Is and Is Not of Primary Importance to the Table of Discussion.

In "Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key Questions" Grudem makes reference to the issue of water baptism and admitted it is an important issue in Christian life. Yet in the Together for the Gospel statement it is ommitted presumably due to the presence of paedobaptists within their "discussion". Whether it is or whether it is not will never be decided here but it does seem that again and again debates rise and fall around whether it is "central to the gospel".

Grudem leaves us with no doubt whatsoever that he believes the issue of manhood and womanhood is vitally central. At the end of "Evangelical Feminism" he writes persuasively;

"Which will we choose? Will we follow faithfully in the path of life-long obedience to all the teachings of the Word of God, believing that is the only path to true blessing? Or will we turn aside to evangelical feminism and be led step by step down the path to liberalism and to an ever-increasing denial of the authority of the Word of God?".

Once again no middle ground is allowed. Grudem rules out various "moderate complimentarian" positions that I have heard of such as women preaching "under the authority of male pastors" (he asks "Does a pastor's authority trump Scripture?), women preaching at seminars and he rejects modern prophecies that are proclaiming a release of women preaching ministry.

Wayne Grudem - a Bridge-Builder?

I must admit to finishing these two books and not enjoying them particularly. They left me feeling unsettled and worried about the fact that I am not quite as radical a complementarian as Grudem would have us, and concerned about why that is so. Will Grudem's prolific writings on this matter change the minds of egalitarian feminists? I doubt it. Will his writings harden the views of his supporters? Most probably.

Suzanne McCarthy makes two statements that deserve thought; "My purpose is to show that Dr. Grudem makes public statements without any conscience about whether they are true or not. If authority is about being male rather than about telling the truth, I am simply not interested". I am not totally convinced about the first statement but Grudem did write a concerning passage about Aimee Semple McPherson where he seemed to follow the newspaper lines about her life. I have heard Dr Jack Hayford, the President of Foursquare, lecture on Mrs McPherson and he proved to my mind that the rumours against her were false. I would have thought that a scholar of Dr Grudem's stature would not take serious rumours like this without investigating them and certainly not state them in print simply because she was a woman preacher.

Secondly the statement about authority because of gender was an issue that I was affected by in "Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy". Does the Bible give us permission to bestow authority simply because of gender? Gordon Fee argues definately not but rather anointing of the Spirit. These issues have to be discussed partly because Wayne Grudem insists that they be discussed. I'd rather write about revival, the Holy Spirit or worship anyday. I guess we will wait and see what comes of the fall out of the publishing of these two books. I remain "open but cautious" and I never thought I'd say that.


Luke Wood said...

This topic rears its head again!

I'm impressed with your reading rate by the way. It's funny, the concerns you raise on "do we really need another Grudem book on this issue?" - I think he himself feels the same way.

I can't remember where I get this from but it has definitely been expressed by him (quite possibly his Mobilise main session last year? Now the downloads are free I might check). I just remember feeling from him a sense of exhaustion with the topic and him saying something like "after book x I thought I'd never write on this subject again. Now I've written y, and I definitely don't plan to ever write on the subject again." - bear in mind that that's a summary, but I definitley heard that from him in one form or other over the last year.

So you are not alone in your wonderings. I think reason he has written so extensively on it, is to cover all bases and all angles. Being done with the complementarian issue (in terms of writing) means he now has time to do things like be General Editor of the notes for the ESV Study Bible (which I'm very looking forward to!).

So, I haven't really interracted with your main points (which I think are helpful by the way!) but thought you might be interested to know that Grudem himself agrees with you!

P.S. Did you see that Greg's book is up for "Reference Book Of The Year" at the Christian Booksellers Convention next month?

Mark Heath said...

Hi Dan,
I'm impressed that you found the time to read all that. I thought about it and decided against it. I have however recently bought two commentaries on the pastorals - one by a Complementarian (Kostenberger) and one by an Egalitarian (Towner)

Did you spot the recent post on this issue over at internet monk? I took issue with the style of argument in the comments but it does show that things are not all right in the world of complementarianism.

Peter Day said...

I must join everyone else in amazement at your reading of two weighty books in one day.

I am a complementarian, too. I have taught it in our church, and I have found most of Grudem's arguments in Systematic Theology, and his co-edited book with John Piper, to be persuasive.

However, I share your concern about the implication that this is an issue which is central to the gospel.

Sure, it is important, and we all should want to be biblical. But am I going to stop fellowshiping with another church that allows a woman to preach? Maybe some would think I should, but if this church is working in partnership with our church in praying for our community, should I walk away and say "sorry, but because you don't agree with my interpretation of scripture in relation to women preachers, I am going to stop praying with you and the community can go to hell!"?

I don't believe so. I do welcome sound exegesis of those difficult passages concerning the place of women in the church - and I believe that Grudem gives us that - and I am responsible myself for being biblical and sharing a right understanding with the church I pastor, but the issue of the role of women in the church does not determine whether or not a person is saved.

We must get things in a proper perspective.

jul said...

Great post. Don't think I'll be reading either of those books myself either, I'd most likely just get angry! Do you think linking the female teacher's sin and troubles to her egalitarian views is a bit legalistic? I mean, are we blessed by God through our performance or through his grace? Is blessing tied to our obedience or to Christ's? I'm not trying to downplay the importance of obedience, but true obedience is actually part of God's blessing to us, not the cause of his blessing.

Once again I'm concerned that some complimentarians are very pleased with themselves: Oh Lord, thank you that I'm not a sinner like that egalitarian guy. I still don't see this as central to the gospel, but more likely a ploy of the enemy to interfere with us living together in love as we are supposed to, and to prevent the true gospel from going out in power. Which issue truly comes into any gospel call? I personally have never shared the good news of Christ coming as our mediator and sacrifice in any way that involved the 'good news' that women are 'equal but different'. Baptism, on the other hand, is woven into the very fabric of the message we are to proclaim to the world.

Although this whole business disturbs me, I'm also excited to realize that there are many many believers who are unaware of this debate entirely because they are too busy doing God's work of extending his kingdom! I am always hoping to join their ranks...

Baxter's Boy said...

Thanks my fave four - for your comments!! I was really interested in reading Grudem's comments in the Warnock interview in context Luke. I read the interview before, but glossed over the "lethargy" comment as rhetoric. But I think that's a healthy attitude to have actually. It will prevent him from becoming too obsessed with this one subject which is NOT the be-all and end-all of Christian life here on earth. Christ didn't die so that men could preach!

I found the Internet Monk comments interesting and felt your comments were timely Mark! Thanks for them. I do think that Grudem hasn't made matters easy by allowing any middle ground whatsoever.

Jul - once again I am really concerned that you were right in your blog a while back where you suspected that the evangelical church's greatest need is indeed legalism. It seems to subtly undergird everything and distorts everything! How easy it is to be proud that we do not allow women to preach or hold headship roles yet have no compassion on the hurting, no liberty for the bound.

Scott made a good comment - how much could charities have used SGM's grant to Wayne Grudem to write this final book? It's funded another book that he himself says he's tired of writing when I have just watched a programme on TV where 10-13 year old girls are dying of anorexia nervosa and the Church hasn't got anything (it seems) to say on it.

As Ginny Burgin said last year - WAKE UP CHURCH!!

Luke Wood said...

It's a fair comment I think, to relate the complementarian issue to legalism/grace. A few years ago I was challenged by a friend (part of a Newfrontiers church, but not from that background) who said that they felt that sometimes we apply grace unequally.

The example she gave was that we are comfortable to apply grace to a situation where a senior pastor resists building a team of elders, and is determined to remain a lone worker. On the other hand, we can see no way to apply grace to "women in leadership". I found it challenging and it has moulded my thinking.

How much do we compromise? And I suspect much of what we might consider to be "compromise" isn't that at all, because we are usually too over-cautious about these things in the first place!

Baxter's Boy said...

I've been reading Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons on Revival for the umpteenth time!! I am amazed that this man who is so championed by reformed evangelicals so utterly inexcuses legalism in doctrinal orthodoxy. It's very easy to use and apply grace when we are safe in our one pastor-three or four elders-many congregation churches. But what happens when we get a prophet like Rob Rufus come among us and the "unlovely" start to come in - attracted by the power of God??!

What happens when the prostitutes start to wander in and the homosexuals, the drug addicts and the victims of AIDS? Is it so easy to apply grace then? Who among us will walk straight upto them and welcome them into our midst and make them feel more loved than ever before?

One true story. I brought a dear friend of mine to the prayer meeting night at Brighton 2005 - "Let the Nations Be Glad". He was a pagan and had been involved in witchcraft, the works. I couldn't think of a better context to introduce him to God than that meeting. As soon as he walked in and Evan Rodgers began his unique style of worship, he told me that he knew the room was filled with love and power. He said he could hear God speaking to him and telling him that He loved him so much that He gave His only Son just for him.

My friend got actually freaked out and had to leave when the prayer begun because he said that he hadn't found such power even among the witches meetings he went to.

Why did I tell that story?! Well it still moves me to this day but it was to emphasise that I think we need to stop being quite so paranoid about being "right". Of course orthodoxy matters. But I wonder if God is more bothered about the nations flowing UPWARDS to Zion, than He is how neat the chairs are arranged in Zion?

I think I have never encountered true grace until I heard Terry on "God's Lavish Grace" and read that book. It's incredible that I have been through about 15 years of professed Christian life living as a legalist. I need to go read it again now!! It's grace that reaches people and breaks down the barriers. It's the Holy Spirit that is more than capable of reaching the most pagan among the nations.

Let's not limit God!!