Posted on Monday, June 06, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
On Friday, I posted Part One of a guest post by Dr. Liam Goligher, Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination. Hopefully it has opened some eyes regarding some troubling teaching in the name of complementarianism. Here is the Part Two that I promised:
 
While we were sleeping, feeling secure that they were not tampering with the glory of the gospel, they were in fact tampering with the glory of the eternal Son of God!
 
My last article ended assuring that God as He is in himself requires our faith and adoration, not our speculation. We can however be sure that His eternal being is faithfully expressed in how God deals with the world. It is at this point we move to what we know of God in Christ. The NT tells us that He is the Son of the Father; this describes His filial and eternal relationship with the Father; as the Divine Son He shares the nature of His Father. He existed 'with God in the beginning’ and He ‘was God’ (Jn.1:1-3). This tells us that He shared eternity and equality with the Father. There are not degrees of Godness; one is either God or one is not. Paul later tells us that the Son is ‘by very nature God’ and ‘equal’ with God. Since God is God, He cannot be God by nature without being God in all His thinking, willing and acting. 
 
Indeed, that is where the early Christians located Jesus, within the identity of the God of Israel. And they went further; by using a person-centered reading of the OT, they found embedded in the texts accounts of conversations between divine persons that gave them clues as to how to speak of God as Trinity. Our Lord located Himself there when He used the emphatic "I, I am;" when He claimed power and authority normally attached to God Himself (e.g. to have "life in Himself;" to "forgive sin;" to be the locus and focus of worship (Jn. 4); to speak as God to Israel (Matt.5-7); to be ‘one’ with the Father); and when He spoke of the "glory" He shared with God the Father before all worlds began (Jn.17). He was the one who spoke to Moses at the burning bush; and who appeared to Isaiah (when the prophet had a vision of the heavenly temple, the council chamber of God). To hear Him is to hear the Father; to know Him is to know the Father. From all eternity, He was ‘face to face’ with God; His sonship is utterly unique.
 
Primacy of the Father?
 
The church long ago rejected any form of primacy of the Father within the eternal Trinity, though there were some among the fathers who wanted to assert primacy to justify bishops in the church, just as there are some among evangelicals who want to assert primacy to justify patriarchy in the home and beyond. And the church long ago rejected any form of eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. The language of Psalm 110 makes it quite clear that when the Son speaks to the Father, He speaks as God to God, as Lord to Lord. Jesus quotes that psalm in Mark 12 where He claims to be Lord, and is completely understood by the rabbis as claiming to be the 'Son of the Most High' that leads to their charge of blasphemy. In other words, the Pharisees understood Jesus’ claim to be Son as an ontological claim. 
 
It was this Son who humbled Himself (notice the voluntary nature of the movement in Phil.2) by taking "the form of a servant" by being found ‘in fashion as a man.’ He did not ‘empty Himself’ of deity or of ‘all but love’, but He humbled Himself and emptied Himself by ‘taking’ something He never had before – servanthood (He took the nature of a servant) and humanity (He was found in fashion as a man). The grammar tells it all, ‘himself He humbled taking…’ He takes the form of a servant, and becomes the second and last Adam to win our salvation by His active obedience in the life He lives and in His passive obedience in the death He dies. 
 
This movement is quite obvious in Isaiah's revelation of the Messiah. First, His divine identity is established - He is the Son "given" to us; divine titles belong to him: He is "mighty God, everlasting father.” The coming Son is ‘Immanuel,’ God with us. By the time we reach Isa 40 we are expectantly looking for the appearance and arrival of God Himself ("Behold your God"). And it is precisely at this point that we are introduced to the Servant of the Lord. Care is taken to locate the Servant alongside God - He too is "exalted, high and lifted up" with divine honors. John’s gospel makes it clear that the thrice holy ‘Lord God the Almighty’ of Isa.6 is the ‘Servant’ of Isa.52-53 (John 12). The movement from divine Son to divine Servant, from exalted Sovereign (ch6) to the despised and rejected Servant (ch52-53) is clear. It is this humiliation that distinguishes His eternal and divine life before His incarnation, from the creaturely and earthly life He lived in His flesh. The Son continues as God after His incarnation, and what He does in the flesh He does as one person, the God-man. So, in His earthly life we see this mixture of the earthly and heavenly. What is creaturely about His life on earth cannot be read back into the life of the Triune. When it comes to us His people we can only imitate the earthly and godly aspects of His life. Then, after the resurrection Jesus is exalted as “Son of God with Power,” the Mediator of our salvation, who reigns as the glorified God-man. 
 
What Is at Stake
 
The internal life of the Trinity is neither egalitarian nor hierarchical because of the very nature of God as God. Only in His voluntary state as a servant do we read that ‘the head of Christ is God’ (1Cor.11:3). Only in the economy of redemption, in His state of humiliation, is this true. As the second and last Adam, acting for and in place of His people, He is placed in a covenant of works relationship with the Father, charged to obey where we disobeyed and to ‘fulfill all righteousness’ on our behalf so that His righteousness might be ‘accounted’ to us (Isa.53; Romans 4). As such, His ‘food’ is to do the will of Him who sent Him and to ‘finish’ His work. His obedience was entirely congruous with His having taken our creatureliness into Himself. We derive our model of servanthood, submission and obedience from His perfect example. To confuse Christ in His state of humiliation with the eternal Son as He was ‘with God in the beginning’ is to move beyond Scripture and Christian orthodoxy as historically understood. 
 
So, here is the bottom line: God has revealed Himself as Trinity. To speculate, suggest, or say that there is a real primacy of the Father or subordination of the Son within the eternal Trinity is to have moved out of Christian orthodoxy and to have moved or be moving towards idolatry. Idolatry is to believe or say of God something which is not true of Him. Scripture is our authority in the matter; and the church’s confessed faith is a safety check on our understanding of it. This gospel clarity is imperative for the pastor/preacher. With the souls of men and women at stake, confusion or unwarranted speculation (in the interests of novelty or academic advancement) at this point is fatal. The church took so long to articulate its position on the Trinity and Christology because it recognized the danger of heresy and blasphemy. What we face in evangelicalism today is at best shoddy thinking and at worst ungodly thinking about the first principle of our religion – “Who is God?” The teaching is so wrong at so many levels that we must sound a blast against this insinuation of error into the body of Christ's church. Before we jettison the classical, catholic, orthodox and reformed understanding of God as He is we need to carefully weigh what is at stake – our own and our hearers’ eternal destiny. 
 
 
Dr. Liam Goligher is Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church. He is the author of A Window on Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 1994), The Fellowship of the King (Carlisle, 2003), The Jesus Gospel (Milton Keynes, 2006), and Joseph—The Hidden Hand of God (Fearn, 2008).  Liam and his wife Christine have five adult children (Louise, Ruth, David, Sarah, Andrew) and nine grandchildren.
 
Posted on Friday, June 03, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I am pleased to share two guest posts with you, written by Dr. Liam Goligher, on classical Trinitarianism, and why that matters. Stay tuned for Part Two on Monday!:
 
Is the Trinity no more than a social program for the world and the church? Is the eternal life of the Trinity hierarchical or egalitarian? Are there three minds, three wills, and three powers within the Godhead? Are the current Trinitarian views of some evangelical people in danger of leading them out of orthodox Christianity into eccentricity (at best) or idolatry (at worst)?
All of the questions above are under debate in the evangelical church today. Some, whose instinct is to defend the differences between men and women, are following the egalitarians in redefining the Triune nature of God to defend their position. Egalitarians typically describe the Trinitarian as a divine dance. They use this as an argument for an undifferentiated humanity made in this God's image. Now, some who pose as complementarian are proposing the idea of hierarchy or primacy within God as a being, God as He is in Himself. They teach that there has always been authority and subordination within the Trinity. This view poses a clear and present danger to our understanding of who the Christian God is. Contrast these few quotes:
 
Contemporary Evangelicalism
 
“The Father is the authority of Christ, and always has been…There is no Holy Trinity without the order of authority and submission” (Strachan and Peacock, The Grand Design).
 
“I hold to the eternal submission of the Son to the Father” (Wayne Grudem, www.waynegrudem.com). 
 
"Former TEDS systematic theology professors Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware returned to the suburban Chicago seminary and argued the affirmative: relations of authority and submission do indeed exist among the persons of the Godhead. They pointed to a number of biblical texts that show that while the Son dwelt among us, he submitted to his heavenly Father. This was not the point of disagreement, however, so Grudem cited additional passages, arguing that they suggest the Son has submitted from eternity past and will submit for eternity future. He turned to Ephesians 1:3-5, Romans 8:29, and John 1:14 to argue: 'The role of planning, purposing, predestining — the entire history of salvation — belongs to the Father, according to Scripture. There is no hint of any such authority for the Son with respect to the Father.'" (Christianity Today, Oct.10/08).
(Edit update 6/10 to expand Colin Hanson's quote)
 
 
Orthodox Christianity
 
“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of light, very God of very God” (Nicene Creed)
 
“In this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater or less than another” (Athanasian Creed).
 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist “in an inseparable equality of one substance” (Augustine).
 
“We believe with all our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God – eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty: completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good” (Belgic Confession).
 
“There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” (39 Articles).
 
“In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son” (Westminster Confession of Faith). 
 
“The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are equal with the Father, ascribing to them such names, attributes, works, and worship as are proper to God only” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q11).
 
“The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father's glory, of one substance and equal with him who made the world, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made…” (1689 Baptist Confession)
 
"If there be one God subsisting in three persons, then let us give equal reverence to all the persons in the Trinity. There is not more or less in the Trinity; the Father is not more God than the Son and Holy Ghost. There is an order in the Godhead, but no degrees; one person has not a majority or super eminence above another, therefore we must give equal worship to all the persons." (Thomas Watson)
 
"In deeds of grace none the Persons of the Trinity act by themselves. They are as united in their deeds as in their essence. In their love towards the chosen they are one, and in the actions which flow from that great central source they are still undivided" (C. H. Spurgeon). 
 
It’s not hard to see who has moved! These quotes highlight what is at stake in the teaching of some contemporary evangelical scholars and pastors: they are presenting a novel view of God; a different God than that affirmed by the church through the ages and taught in Scripture. This is serious. It comes down to this; if they are right we have been worshipping an idol since the beginning of the church; and if they are wrong they are constructing a new deity - a deity in whom there are degrees of power, differences of will, and diversity of thought. Because, mark this, to have an eternally subordinate Son intrinsic to the Godhead creates the potential of three minds, wills and powers. What they have done is to take the passages referring to the economic Trinity and collapse them into the ontological Trinity. 
 
What's at Stake with this New Teaching?
 
I am an unashamed biblical complementarian. The original use of that word took its cue from the biblical teaching about the differences yet complementarity of human beings made in the image of God while not running away from the challenges of applying biblical exhortations for wives to submit to their own husbands in the Lord or the prohibition on ordination for women in the church. With only those two caveats, as Calvin told John Knox, women may be princes in the state, but not pastors in the church. But this new teaching is not limiting itself to that agenda. It now presumes to tell women what they can or cannot say to their husbands, and how many inches longer their hair should be than their husbands!  They, like the Pharisees of old are going beyond Scripture and heaping up burdens to place on believers' backs, and their arguments are slowly descending into farce. 
 
They are building their case by reinventing the doctrine of God, and are doing so without telling the Christian public what they are up to. What we have is in fact a departure from biblical Christianity as expressed in our creeds and confessions. Out of that redefinition of God their teaching is being used to promote a new way of looking at human relationships which is more like Islam than Christianity; more concerned with control and governance than with understanding the nuances of the relationship of the Son with His Father in eternity on the one hand and how that differs from the roles they adopt in the economy of redemption on the other. They make this move by failing to distinguish between God as He is in Himself (ontology) and God as He is in Christ in outworking of the plan of redemption (economy). 
 
Collapsing Who God Is in Himself Into the Economic Roles of the Trinity
 
They are in turn doing great dishonor to Christ. They collapse the intra-Trinitarian life of God into the roles adopted by the persons to accomplish our redemption. If they are right, then Paul is wrong when he writes that Christ "took the form of a servant" and became man in order that He might become "obedient to death," because for these new teachers, his obedience in his humanity is simply an extension of his eternal obedience. It means the writer to the Hebrews is wrong because Jesus did not "learn obedience" since He had spent eternity "obeying" His Father. Jesus is wrong because, when He says, "I and the Father are one," He means so only in a modified sense. And John is wrong when He says that “the Word is God,” for, by definition, if He is a servant bound to obey, then He must not have as much Godness as God the Father has in His Himself. Surely it has been the basic stuff of Christian preaching that Christ gave up status and place to take on our humanity and become obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Where is the glory in Christ's humiliation and obedience that have been the theme of our songs through the ages? Let there be no doubt at this point; departure from the faith starts with incremental adjustments to received doctrine, those adjustments eventually lead people away from the faith altogether. So, we urgently need to see how far these men are moving. 
 
The Intra-Trinitarian Life of God
 
At the heart of our confession as Christians is God the triune (theology proper) and the work of God (the economy). Before all worlds God existed in the Trinity of His sacred persons. In John 17, Jesus speaks of the glory which, as the Son, He shared with the Father in the love of the Holy Spirit before the world began. In His high-priestly prayer, the Son reflects on the bliss of that communion which He enjoyed within the interior life of the Godhead. In the repose of their eternal life, the divine persons shared one mind, one will, one power, because there is but one God (and not three) with one divine nature (Phil.2, Col.1, Heb.1), one divine splendor, and one divine being. The relations are signaled by the names ascribed to them: The Father begetting the Son (Psalm 2, John 1), the Son being the begotten, and the Spirit proceeding as the mutual love of the Father and the Son. These eternal relations, absolutely considered, pertain to being: the Son and Spirit share the very nature of God as God – they are essentially identical (though relatively distinct). Within this eternal life, there was distinction without primacy and order of being without priority of life or authority. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. There is only one God and we baptize in the threefold name of that one God. John Calvin, citing Gregory Nazianzen, says this beautifully, “We cannot think of the three without thinking of the one or of the one without thinking of the three.”
 
The Works of God
 
So, God in Himself (in se) is Trinity, but what about the works of God? From eternity God the Trinity, the One who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, of His own good pleasure, without any external pressure or internal need on His part, willed one will and chose to become our Father, through the Son, in the Spirit to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph.1). The divine will of Father, Son and Spirit then caused everything to exist ex nihilo, out of nothing; space and time, darkness and light, stars and planets, heaven and earth, Angels and humans. First, there was God alone in the blessed repose of His Trinitarian fullness, and then by His decree (a simple willing on God's part) there was God and everything that is external to God, all creation both material and spiritual. Scripture delights to praise 'the counsel of His will' by which everything exists and is sustained. What drove the creation was His intention to share the bliss of the divine life with elect sinners - through the decree of the Father, by the work of the Son, in the love of the Spirit. The relations of the eternal Trinity would determine the way God would reveal Himself to creatures. The Father would elect a people to give to the Son; the Son would voluntarily choose to become both a servant and a man in order to become our mediator; and the Spirit would act to enfold us into the divine life and love. We typically refer to this as the Pactum salutis or the covenant of redemption. This one act of willing and doing occurred simply and immediately without any effort whatsoever on God's part - the inseparable operation of the persons: Father, Son (Word) and Spirit. In the Triune God the three ‘persons’ think as one, will as one, rule as one and act as one, and God does so from the perfect rest of His eternal life. The persons’ mutual indwelling and delight in each other is beyond our understanding. Their fellowship is unique and cannot be reproduced. 
 
Classical Trinitarianism  
 
What I have written so far is classical Trinitarianism, or Orthodox Christianity. This is how the church has viewed God from the earliest days. This is the view of God enshrined in the creeds and confessions of the church. To shift from this is to move into unorthodoxy. To speculate, suggest, or say, as some do, that there are three minds, three wills, and three powers with the Godhead is to move beyond orthodoxy (into neo-tritheism) and to verge on idolatry (since it posits a different God). It should certainly exclude such people from holding office in the church of God. On the other hand, to say, suggest, or speculate that God’s life in heaven sets a social agenda for humans is to bring God down to our level. The eternal life of God as He is in Himself is incomprehensible to us and impossible to reproduce except by analogy. The life of the Three-in-One cannot be replicated by creatures. To use the intra-Trinitarian relations as a social model is neither biblical nor orthodox. God is not a collection of people, but we are. He is the Creator and we are His creatures. The incarnate Christ sets an example of godly living as God in human flesh; He does not give us an example of the eternal life of God. The inner life of the Triune God does not support hierarchy, patriarchy, or egalitarianism. If you think about it for a moment, how could it? Here we have the perfect communion of divine persons who share the same nature and equality as God, while we are discreet and distinct beings. The life of God in Himself is utterly distinct from ours, which is graciously why He has created all things, and in Christ has taken on our flesh, in order to display to His elect people something of His life, relations and roles with respect of us. 
 
God as He is in himself requires our faith and adoration, not our speculation. 
 
 
Dr. Liam Goligher is Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church. He is the author of A Window on Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 1994), The Fellowship of the King (Carlisle, 2003), The Jesus Gospel (Milton Keynes, 2006), and Joseph—The Hidden Hand of God (Fearn, 2008).  Liam and his wife Christine have five adult children (Louise, Ruth, David, Sarah, Andrew) and nine grandchildren.
Posted on Monday, May 30, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Remember The War Room? In my own circles, I heard from more than a handful of people who walked away from that movie saying they were inspired to pray more. One of my concerns was with what kind of theology on prayer and the God whom they were praying they also walked away with. I was especially concerned about that after reading and reviewing the lead actress’s bestselling book based on the movie. Priscilla Shirer’s Fervent was more about women’s struggles and Satan’s strategies than it was about God and prayer. I concluded my review pointing out that Shirer opens the book saying that praying with precision is key, and I wished that there was more precision in her teaching on prayer itself, her biblical exposition, and her theology on sin, God’s revelation, and spiritual warfare. 
 
So I wonder, how has the prayer life of those who watched The War Room or read Shirer’s Fervent changed a week, or a month, after being inspired? Has their prayer life improved in a sustainable way?
 
I’m going to put my neck out there and guess, no, no it hasn’t. But whenever someone recommends a book that has disturbing theology in it, I like to be able to reply with a recommendation of my own. So I am happy to offer Megan Hill’s new book, Praying Together to anyone who was intrigued by The War Room or Fervent. In fact, it’s a great little book that stays true to its subtitle: The Priority of Prayer in our Homes, Communities, and Churches.
 
Hill’s book does something Shirer’s does not---it focuses on the God we are praying to and a correct theology on prayer.  I also love that she explains what is happening when we pray. While Shirer focuses on Satan’s strategies, Hill teaches us that since we are relating to a Trinitarian God, “in prayer we approach a loving, listening Father, and we are helped by the intercession of the Son and the groaning of the Spirit.” She quotes her own father as explaining, “’When we pray, God talks to God.”(23). You see, Hill teaches us that God’s being, attributes, and work on our behalf has everything to do with our prayer life. And then she goes to God’s Word to teach us about the act of prayer and the fruits of praying together.
 
Together. Sure, it is vital to have a personal prayer life, but God’s people are a covenant community. And this is where you can see Hill’s passion. She teaches how we disciple one another in the gospel when we pray together. In praying together, we train one another in faith, theology, repentance, desire, thankfulness, and the act of prayer itself. 
 
Hill’s focus isn’t on separating ourselves into a special room with sticky notes of prayer requests on the walls, but on a sustainable prayer life together with God’s people. She has a wonderful chapter on the importance of corporate, elder-led prayer, including practical tips on how to pray when someone else leads. She then moves on to public prayer meetings in church life, teaching how to lead while others pray. The book ends with both rich and practical help on praying with others in our communities, and especially in our homes. 
 
This makes for an inspiring book that will help us to cultivate a sustainable prayer life both personally and in our homes, communities, and churches. Not only that, Hill teaches us how to pray effectively because her focus is on who God is, and what he is doing in when we pray. She handles God’s Word responsibly in her teaching. No, you won’t get the sensationalism of The War Room. You won’t get to be the star of your prayer life because of your own fervency in it. You will get something better---an ordinary, sustainable prayer life to an extraordinary, faithful God, with our eyes pointed to that Great Day when we will join him for eternity.
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
If Machen were living today, Jon Payne believes he would write another book. This one would be entitled Christianity & Evangelicalism.
 
Are Christianity and evangelicalism so radically different now that they actually constitute two different religions altogether? 
Is evangelicalism a rival to Christianity?
What are each founded upon?
 
Dr. Payne warns that he is not going to be highly nuanced in this sermon, as he is pleading with his congregation to hold fast to authentic Christianity. It’s a powerful message for the whole church, as we are living in a post-Christian culture. Who are we listening to? 
 
I recommend you do take a listen to our friend Jon, “No Payne, No Gain”:
 
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
My cohorts and I had a rousing conversation on today’s podcast about women teaching Sunday school. As we were sharing our opinions, I realized we were kind of arguing in circles because we did not share the same view of the function of Sunday school. So, I thought I would expand on that a little more, and I’ve asked Todd to do the same in response.
 
On the podcast, Todd said that Sunday school in his church is set up in such a way that it makes an impression of the teacher giving exhortation with authority, like it would be done during a worship service. And yet, the other elements of the worship service, such as the call to worship, the singing, confession of sin and assurance of pardon, congregational prayer, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the benediction, you get what I’m saying, are purposefully absent from Sunday school as to distinguish it from the worship service.
 
Of course, Sunday school does look very different than it did in its beginnings only a couple hundred years ago. It was first established in Britain, and eventually spread to the U.S., to teach overworked children affected by the Industrial Revolution how to read and write, with the Bible as the primary textbook. They were learning about the Christian faith as they were receiving a basic education. It was certainly not confused with the worship service, even as adults began attending and there was more mature exposition of Scripture.
 
This leads me to ask, why is it now? 
 
While I don’t think all Sunday schools in every church need to have the same set-up, the way that we present it does matter. So that raises a lot of questions. Is a Sunday school class equivalent to a worship service? To this, all three of us would agree in the negative. Should we be setting them up that way? Some do give that feel. And Todd made a distinguishing point that his church is much larger than Carl’s or mine, and therefore the Sunday school classes are not as easily set up in a cozy, casual manner. If the class is to be like a worship service, then we are going to want someone who is ordained or on that track delivering the “sermon.” However, Todd isn’t so much looking for an ordained person, or someone who may be called to ordination in the future. He wants someone who is equipped to teach and who is a man, as to not cause confusion.
 
So let’s take a look at what is similar, that may cause confusion. There is a teacher. And that person is teaching from Scripture. Secondly, Sunday school takes place in the same building as the church. Thirdly, Sunday school occurs on the same day as the worship service, usually immediately preceding it. That leads me to two more questions: With these three commonalities, is it then too difficult for us to distinguish between Sunday school and worship? And, if we are unable to discern the difference, should we continue to have Sunday school at all?
 
If we are to continue providing Sunday schools in our churches, there are good reasons to purposefully distinguish between those Sunday school classes and our worship services. The call to worship carries a summons from God. We are not summoned to attend Sunday school in this kind of authoritative manner. The call to worship is a call from God, invoking a response. And the liturgy begins, as our Father in heaven is the host. So one function offers general teaching in the setting of a class, the other offers the sacrament of the preached Word in a worship service. If Sunday school classes do not have all the elements of a worship service, why would we want to mimic one?
 
And this is where it gets more interesting. The biggest concern for not having women teaching Sunday school is so that we do not give the appearance of a woman teaching with authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12). However, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with giving the appearance of a worship service without providing all the elements in worship, which is the context in which God promises to bless us in Christ. 
 
What kind of authority are we talking about here? Granted, some churches would have a problem with women teaching men even if it wasn’t confused with the worship service. But those who rightly want to protect the authority of the ministerial offices of the church, but do not go beyond the biblical parameters of headship and household may be undermining the very offices they are trying to protect. I agree with Todd that appearances are important. While I want to respect any equipped person that my elders ask to teach a class in church, I do not want him or her to have the appearance of carrying the same kind of authority as the elders. I want to be assured that every layperson is teaching under the accountability and guidance of the elder’s oversight. Because we do want to protect the household structures in God’s church, and we don’t want to host anything that would cause such confusion, we should aim to provide clarity on what the function of Sunday school even is. 
 
That’s why I don’t like the “err on the safe side” argument that I often hear. Why would we be content with erring on any side? We should be upfront about the differences and work at presenting the appearance of what we are actually doing.
 
Here’s what we miss when we err on the safe side:
 
1) The emphasis of the ministry of Word and Sacrament and real authority given to the officers of the church.
2) An opportunity for the elders to help equip all laypeople, including the women, to be teachers, skilled in the Word of righteousness, and to become mature and discerning (Heb. 5:12-14).
 
How can we help to encourage mutual learning between the men and the women in the church that trickles down from the ministry of Word and sacrament? This is where I see Sunday school functioning. 
 
I’ve already introduced what I think is a very helpful teaching regarding women as ezer, or necessary allies. To be an ally, we have to be equipped to teach. One can learn from Hannah’s prayer and Mary’s song in Scripture and see that they were well equipped in the Word, as well as resolved and discerning women. Necessary allies should be competent allies. Women are major influencers in the household of God. We are teaching all the time, most often in many informal ways, just like laymen in the church. And when the elders notice a woman who exhibits more of a formal gift to teach, wouldn’t they want to take an active role in helping her to mature in that way? Doesn’t it adorn the ministry of Word and sacrament to have the responsible and prepared reflections of the laymen and laywomen, learning and teaching as an extension of what they have received? I experience this kind of help and encouragement from the elders in my own church, and it supports and shapes both my learning and teaching. 
 
I could write a lot more about that, but sticking to the Sunday school topic, take a look at this conclusion from John Frame (offered to me by a reader once in my comments section) on the difference between women teaching from the special office in worship, and the general office in Sunday school. You will see that this presbytery report also agrees that appearances are important.
 
Since I know that Todd, Carl, and I all agree on the necessary contribution of women in the church, the need to equip them well, the special offices of the ministry, and the need to give proper appearances, I found it interesting that our perceptions about the function of Sunday school were really the main issue. And I’m looking forward to reading what Todd has to add or to differ from what I’ve suggested here.
Posted on Monday, May 09, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Today, Books at a Glance posted my review of a book I wish everyone would read. I posted a reading reflection from this book several weeks ago about propaganda masquerading as fluff, in evangelicalism, particularly in the women’s section of the Christian bookstore. Subverted is both a page-turner and an eye-opener. Here’s a portion of the review. Be sure to click on the link at the end to read it in full:
 
This is one of those books that got me making noises while I read it. Like a good meal, where you are just compelled to express “mmm’s,” and comments about the flavors and combinations of food, I read Subverted with both gasps and chuckles. This book is an eye-opener. Sue Ellen Browder kicks off her book apologizing that she has no good justification for the role she played in promoting the sexual revolution, as we know it today. She was duped herself, and yet takes responsibility for believing in propaganda over actual truth. And so she explains, “In the beginning, the women’s movement and the sexual revolution were distinctly separate cultural phenomena” (11).
 
Then Browder tells the story of how a movement that began with the wonderful goals to provide equality for women in the workplace, education, and domestic rites was subverted by another movement that deceptively promotes liberation by means of sexual promiscuity and abortion. Browder basically perpetuated this sabotage as a writer for Cosmopolitan Magazine in the 70’s–80’s. I have to say, even being the cynic that I am, I was shocked to hear about how Browder graduated from journalism school with all the idealistic fervor to be a good investigative reporter, landed her dream job to work for the glitzy Cosmo culture, and was immediately taught to make up sources and stories, complete with fictitious experts, creating the illusion of the life of the “Cosmo girl” persona. They flaunted the life of single, sexually uninhibited, aggressive, career women who supposedly were living the dream that was to be sold to all the so-called enslaved women out there.
 
Most of us are familiar with the name Betty Friedan as a leader of the women’s movement, made popular by her infamous book, The Feminine Mystique. And I would say many conservative Christians place much of the blame on her for feminism gone wrong. But Browder elaborately demonstrates how it isn’t that black and white. Freidan wasn’t originally a supporter of the sexual revolution and was repulsed by the images and messages Cosmo promoted. So how did a woman who valued motherhood, wanting to pave a way for moms to not be discriminated against in the workplace, end up becoming such a pivotal person in the sexual revolution? Why would she add a clause that is opposed to motherhood, the repeal of anti-abortion laws, in the National Organization of Women’s package of “women’s rights”?
 
Browder demonstrates how the behind the scenes manipulation and influence of a name that we are not familiar with plotted the course that Freidan foolishly helped to pave. “What happened between the closed doors between Larry Lader and Betty Friedan would misguide my thinking in such a way that it would change my whole life and the lives of millions of other Americans” (48). 
 
Read the rest here.
Posted on Thursday, May 05, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Okay, this post may or may not be the result of me using my Mother’s Day present before Mother’s Day. But while the fam is away, they have no idea whether I am breaking into my present for an early sampling. This year my major award for Mom of the Year is Christian Dogmatics, edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain. And for that sampling, I was eager to read Scott Swain’s chapter on the covenant of redemption, as I’ve been spending a lot of time in Psalm 110.
 
It’s a great essay, but it was a footnote that wonderfully articulated something that has been bothering me for a while now. When it comes to popular Christian authors who teach bad doctrine, I’ve noticed a troubling pattern from those who should be troubled by their teachings. Whether it’s the universalism of Rob Bell, or the exalting of social justice coupled with the degradation of the preached Word of Jen Hatmaker, many who should know better will continue to tolerate their public voice---until they come out supporting homosexuality. Then all of the sudden, conservatives are full of outrage, ready to denounce these authors and warn us against them. But the homosexual argument is just a side effect, a natural consequence, of their bad theology that has already been revealed. And it usually centers on what they think about love.
 
What is the greatest end to which God directs all things? Following the statement, “By virtue of God’s free and sovereign decree, all things outside of God flow to the eternal love of the Triune God,” Swain provides a marvelous footnote (and glory be to God that it isn’t an endnote!). I give you footnote number 37:
 
Along with Bavink, I take exception to the tradition of describing the ultimate end of all things as the glorification of God’s mercy in election and the glorification of God’s justice in reprobation (Bavink, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:389). The glorification of God’s saving love toward sinners is a great end indeed, but it is not the greatest end toward which God directs all things: that honor belongs to the glory of the Father’s love for the Son in the Spirit. To put matters this way, I should add, is not to fall prey to the sentimental modern trap of elevating divine love over the other divine perfections for the simple reason that what the Father loves in the Son, and what the Father desires to put on display in and before all creatures, is the full array of divine perfections as they shine forth in the one who is the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his being (Heb. 1:3). The question naturally arises, though, how it can be said that all things flow to the love of the Triune God when God decrees that some creatures will inherit eternal condemnation for their sins. Following Tony Lane, we may suggest that even God’s wrath is an aspect of God’s love: while God’s wrath on impenitent sinners may not be an exhibition of love toward those sinners, it is nevertheless an exhibition of the Father’s love for the Son (Ps. 2) and for those who are elect in the Son (Ps. 36:10-12) (Lane, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,”…138-67). (115) 
 
The greatest end to which God directs all things is the love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit. That’s where we see what real love is and what real goodness is. “By virtue of God’s free and sovereign decree, all things outside of God flow to the eternal love of the Triune God” (115). If we don’t get this, we get a whole lot of other things wrong.
 
The love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit is a marvelous glory to behold. And amazingly, we don’t see it displayed as we would have guessed. As Michael Reeves has put it, commenting on the same opening verses in Hebrews, “God’s innermost being (hypostasis) is an outgoing, loving, life-giving being. The triune God is an ecstatic God: he is not a God who hoards his life, but one who gives it away, as he would show in that supreme moment of his self-revelation on the cross. The Father finds his very identity in giving his life and being to the Son; and the Son images his Father in sharing his life with us through the Spirit” (Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, 45). 
 
On the cross we see “the full array of divine perfections as they shine forth in the one who is the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his being.” And in that display, how could we not also see his wrath as necessary to all unrepentant sinners, who clearly do not love the Son? 
 
Let’s be careful not to cling to a love that is too weak to understand the greatest end. Oh to behold that beatific vision, of Christ in all his glory, on that Great Day! Christ is preeminent in all things. Christ is our Messiah primarily because of the Father’s great love for the Son in the Spirit! Psalm 110 gives us a confession of that glory and a peek at that sovereign decree:
 
The Lord says to my Lord:
 “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
 
The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
 “You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
 
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.
 

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 03, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Somehow, I’ve ended up with a copy of Ken Golden’s new book, Presbytopia, signed by none other than Carl Trueman. How does such a thing happen? Well, I certainly didn’t pilfer it right of his bookshelf or anything. I mean, he said I could have it. Now I’m wondering what other books I could have walked away with while he was in the giving mood…
 
What does it mean to be a Presbyterian? Many outside the denomination, and even some within it, have wondered this very thing. My Roman Catholic mother-in-law has conceded that her son is a much better Presbyterian than he ever was a Catholic. But she really doesn’t know much about where his confessions and practices of faith differ from her’s. Growing up as a Southern Baptist, I looked at Presbyterians as fuddy duddies who thought they were more special than everyone else.  In some of the retreats where I have spoken, I’ve heard women who’ve grown up in the church say things like they were good Presbyterians before they were Christians, or that they didn’t really even understand what was distinctive about Presbyterianism. And there are many Baptists who tolerate us Presbies, as they are thankful for many of our books, but don’t quite understand our positions on things like baptism and church government. Presbytopia helps cut through the stereotypes and get to the important matters with biblical clarity.
 
Membership classes are important.  First of all, the very idea of why one should join a church needs to be explained well. And we should never join a church without knowing what it believes, some of its history, and how it governs and worships. This is a big task for elders. Ken Golden has done the work in presenting and teaching these basics in an organized fashion with helpful discussion questions following each brief chapter.
 
While this will be an excellent resource for new membership classes, I think Presbytopia is a great little book for anyone who would like to learn more about Presbyterianism. I can’t believe how succinct it is. In just over a hundred easy to read pages, Golden covers the essentials of the Christian faith, Reformed distinctives on the doctrines of grace, church government, and worship, as well as the means of grace by which we receive Christ and all his benefits. I particularly liked his section on means of grace. His chapter on baptism should be extremely helpful for Presbyterian pastors who have credo Baptists in their congregations. It will be a go-to for me to help communicate the Presbyterian stance better to my Baptist friends.
 
Overall, I find Golden’s succinctness to be profitable. However, a couple sentences did have me wishing he’d either elaborated more, or had been even more concise in his wording, when discussing why the serpent approached Eve rather than Adam. Since the book serves as a tool for teaching and discussion in a membership class, I’m glad he proposes a question regarding that at the end of the chapter. I’m sure the discussion questions provided throughout the book will lead to great discussions in that setting.
 
Also, I wanted to mention the glossary of terms and sample liturgy given as appendixes. New lingo, or walking into a worship service in a denomination different from what you are familiar with, can be intimidating. Golden provides a handy way to quell that realm of the unknown.
 
What does it mean to be a Presbyterian? Pick up Golden’s book , or pilfer it from a friend’s bookshelf, and acquaint yourself with this well-presented guide.
Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
In my response to Kevin DeYoung, I asked a question that made a point, but also one that I hoped would provoke change. I asked how complementarianism can be healthy if women are not heard. I wondered where is this intra-complementarian discussion happening that DeYoung spoke of. And unfortunately, I have not seen any responses from complementarian men. I have received some encouragement in my comments, on social media, and privately through email, but am getting the usual sound of crickets from those men who are more or less the spokesmen of the complementarian movement.
 
And I’m not the only woman who is trying to sort through some of the troubling teachings in this movement. Since my article, Wendy Alsup has written A Unified Field Theory on Gender, and Thomas Jefferson, Headship, and I Corinthians II. She also mentions Hannah Anderson, whom we’ve interviewed on MoS about this issue. And today I have a thought-provoking guest post written by Rachael Starke. I’m not asking the Top Men to agree with everything we say, but these are all women worth listening to and who deserve engagement and not crickets. Now I will turn it over to what Rachael has to say about that: 
 
During many recent Easter sermons, some time was likely spent noting the significance of women being the first to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus, as recorded in Luke 24. The applications drawn out perhaps involved Jesus’ resetting of the gospel witness scales, inviting women into the work of proclaiming the good news of Jesus alongside men. But it’s possible that less attention was paid to the power dynamics involved, and how that turns this interaction, and others in the New Testament, into a warning to men in authority on the importance of heeding the words of women among whom they serve.
 
Many commentaries on Luke 24 will comment on the historical context of the women, that would likely have found them poorly educated, and their testimony in civil courts as inferior to men. But less commentary is usually offered on how Luke describes the men. The men to whom the women speak aren’t simply some of Jesus’ unnamed disciples. They are His apostles, commissioned by Him to be His disciple makers, to establishing and building of His church, and to documenting it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They are Jesus’ Top Men. 
 
Because of this, Luke employs specific literary tactics to expose the significant inversion of authoritative revelation at work when the women come to them.  In classic chiastic form, the women (lacking any authority and limited understanding) come bearing words of supreme, life-changing significance (Jesus is risen!). But the apostles (those with spiritual authority and understanding) toss their words aside (idle tales!).   The women bear the words of disciple-makers, while the apostles are the ones whose testimony is unreliable. On its own, this verse serves as a warning to men who perceive their position of authority as a deflector shield against receiving any insight or exhortation from women. But the testimony of the women to the resurrection is the second time in a week the Scriptures records a male leader’s failure to heed the words of a woman, and the prior incident is even more damning than the latter.  
 
Matthew 27 records the trial of Jesus by Pilate, prior to His crucifixion. Into the middle of the of the chief priests’ accusations and governor’s questions comes a word of warning from Pilate’s wife, while Pilate is sitting on his judgment seat, a symbol of his civic authority. It seems like a pretty audacious thing to do - like Jane Roberts sending a note to her husband John while he’s hearing arguments at the Supreme Court. But a hint to the reason for her urgency can be found in how the warning she wants to relay came to her. She’d had a bad dream.  Matthew ‘s gospel has recorded previous incidents where God has given instructions about Jesus through dreams to people.  This is just the first time He’s done so through a woman, and the first time His message isn’t heeded.  Even though Pilate is inclined to agree with his wife, he capitulates to the angry mob under the guise of maintaining civil order. The irony of his declaration of innocence is thick – far from absolving himself, he indicts himself as an active participant in the grossest act of injustice the world has ever seen. 
 
In both of these passages, the men to whom the women speak hold positions of significant authority, while the women hold none. But it’s clear in both cases where the moral authority lies, and more importantly, from Whom that moral authority is derived. The women in both scenarios seem to exemplify acting as a “necessary ally”, a term proposed by John McKinley at ETS as an alternate, more complete translation of “ezer kenegdo” than the common “suitable helper”.  In his paper, McKinley grounds his arguments in God’s naming of Himself as “ezer” to Israel, in the context of militaristic language to do with fighting, and winning, great battles against enemies. God is not merely “helping” Israel – he brings weapons of war to her aid, without which she would go down in defeat.  Pilate’s wife and the women testifying to the resurrection are, in essence, doing just that – bringing the words of God to bear on a moment of serious spiritual significance. When their words are disregarded, the men fall into error.
 
McKinley’s terminology came to mind as I followed last week’s Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference and the surrounding social media storm because of the participation of CJ Mahaney. A founding member of T4G, Mahaney’s ministry, and Mahaney himself, has been embroiled in a years-long and now fully public controversy regarding serious charges over his leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), particularly in the wake of now multiple incidences of mishandled child sexual abuse cases within the church network he lead. I’ve walked alongside more than one woman whose heart has been badly damaged by heavy-handed church leaders who’ve dismissed or minimized their testimonies of sexual or domestic abuse. My own family tree has been scarred in the same way.  When the controversy first broke open 3 years ago, I participated in several online interchanges with men about it, trying and failing to explain the betrayal women feel when men in leadership use their authority as a shield for themselves and one another, instead of for the vulnerable ones in their care. Hearing it happen again last week was even more painful than the first time, so I can imagine how it must have felt for others. 
 
The Calvinist in me couldn’t help but ponder the two other incidents that bookended the conference.  One was the announcement of yet another public leader of the Reformed Evangelical movement being removed from ministry for, among other sins, being domineering over those in his charge, and misusing his power and authority. The other event was a preconference hosted by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The theme of this conference-before-the- conference was “The Beauty of Complementarity”, and the topics covered comprised the themes for which the CBMW is becoming increasingly known – among them, that maleness is inherently expressed through leadership, femaleness expressed through submission, with both as absolutes in the contexts of church and family.  It was suggested that the church is lacking in “sanctified testosterone”, and, even more provocatively, that the gospel itself has “ a complementarian structure”. (Aimee has already offered up good and necessary objections to how our sanctification is worked out through our endocrine system; the latter comment deserves its own post.
 
What’s significant about the complementarian model CBMW is promoting, and groups like Together for the Gospel, Acts 29, SGM and others have been operating under, is that it emphasizes male leadership, but not male listening; womanly submission, but not womanly speaking.  It has viewed women as helpers, but not as necessary allies.  And in choosing to lead alone, leader after leader after leader has instead fallen in to sin, and ministries that have served so many so well are now left vulnerable.
 
I am certainly not arguing that simply incorporating more womanly counsel into a ministry will protect it or its leaders from sin or error. Nor am I suggesting that this is the only issue at play. But at this moment in history, when the church of Christ seems poised for some of the biggest battles against culture and secularism it has yet seen, she needs allies. 
 
She has allies. 
 
She needs to lean on them. 

 

Posted on Friday, April 22, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Kevin DeYoung has a post on his TGC blog today offering 9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism. He begins his article explaining that there are some disagreements on how we talk about and practice complementarianism, saying:
 
The conversations can be pointed, the rhetoric heated. And yet, the fact that there is an intra-complementarian discussion taking place is a sign of the relative success of the movement. The complementarian camp is large enough to contain a fairly disparate group of people and personalities. The presence of disagreements and the need for definitions should come as no surprise. Sharpening is not a problem, so long as we are not unnecessarily sharp with each other.
 
My question is, where are these intra-complementarian conversations happening? No one from TGC or CBMW has ever responded to any of my questions or critiques of the movement. (Well, there was that one time that Denny Burk called Carl and me thin complementarians. I did appreciate him directly engaging with his thoughts at least.) And I began asking these questions as someone who was on their side, per se. I wanted to have some healthy, pointed conversation, but have been completely ignored.
 
I’m not trying to be unnecessarily sharp here, but there have been some teachings that call for necessary sharpness, I believe. 
 
And as I read the 9 marks of healthy biblical complementarianism, I see that none of them answer some of the important questions I’ve been raising. They all seem more of a buffer to keep a movement going, statements that sound nice but are basically ignoring the real problems. I certainly agree that our theology is important. And if Mr. DeYoung is serious when he says that it’s good for women to be “eager to go deep, get good theology, and challenge their hearts and minds,” then why is it that when women try to respectfully engage in the conversation with some sharpening, we are ignored? What’s complementarian about that? Shouldn't an important mark of healthy biblical complementarianism be that the women are listened to and given the decency of a direct response?