Author Archives: Clarke Morledge

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit.

On Baptism: Why I Want to Worship at an Interdenominational Church

Some might think my view on baptism is quirky, but I have it for a good reason. I was baptized as an infant, and in 6th grade, I went through a confirmation process, that was, frankly, rather lame. So, when I finally came to a genuine awareness of having faith in Christ in high school, and I started attending a Baptist church, I really was not sure what to do with baptism.

My Baptist friends kept telling me, “Now that you are a believer in Jesus, you really should get baptized as an adult.” They would cite to me passages like Acts 2:38, arguing that those who came to faith in Jesus at Pentecost were told by Peter to become baptized. Heartfelt faith and water baptism go together. The practice of being baptized as a believing adult is known as credobaptism.

That made a lot of sense, when I first heard it.

But it also confused me, too, the more I thought about it. After all, I still had the certificate that my parents gave me, telling me that I was already baptized as a child.  The Bible clearly stated that “there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). If I was already baptized as a infant, a practice known as paedobaptism, then to get “re-baptized” as an adult essentially served to de-legitimize my first baptism. There are not two baptisms for a Christian. Only one. “Re-baptism” would effectively make my infant baptism improper at best, or false, at worst, …. and that really bothered me.

After all, for most of church history, paedobaptism has been the standard practice throughout the centuries, for those raised in Christian churches. It has only been within the past few hundred years that there has been a shift towards credobaptism, among evangelical, Bible-believing people. Does this really mean that for the bulk of church history, that most Christians growing up in Christian families; that is, millions of them, received a “false” baptism? Perhaps my own baptism as an infant was “improper,” just as the disciples of Apollos in Ephesus needed to be properly baptized by Paul (Acts 19:1-7), but I could not bring myself to think of my baptism as a baby as “false.”

I went back and forth on the question for years.

Coming to Grips Personally With the Baptism Controversy, In Evangelical Christianity

When I had an opportunity to go to the Holy Land, and a really good friend, who was a Baptist pastor, was going to go with me, it seemed like this was the breakthrough I needed. So, I asked my Baptist friend if he would baptize me, as a thirty-some year old adult, in the Jordan River. He felt really honored to do that, and I felt privileged that he would participate. It would be an act of obedience, resolving to follow the teachings of the Bible, as best as I knew how. I had a peace in my heart and mind about that decision.

I remember talking with another companion on that Holy Land trip, relaying the above story to him, of my theological struggle with baptism, along with my decision to go ahead and get baptized as an adult. I told him that I was not completely sure about the validity of my infant baptism, but out of an act of obedience, though I did not understand it all, I would go forward with an adult believer’s baptism.

My companion’s response shocked me. He was quite honest to tell me that my reasons for getting baptized in the Jordan River were “rather lame.” In his view, my reasoning was theologically unsound.

Well, I have to admit that I did have some bizarre, inappropriate expectation that it would be some cool, spooky experience to be baptized in the Jordan River. After all, Jesus Himself was baptized there!

If you have been to Israel/Palestine, you will probably know the spot where most baptisms in the Jordan are performed, for American visitors to the area. It was indeed a special moment in my life. Any anxiety about not being properly baptized before was removed, at least at that moment. But it was not all that spooky. Experientially, nothing spectacular happened, as far as I could tell. The water in the Jordan River was just as wet as it is in any American baptismal pool or river.

The popular baptismal site at Yardenit, along the Jordan River, where I was baptized as an adult in 1994 (credit: Maranatha Tours)

When I got back to the States, after the trip, I got some chagrined looks on the faces of my paedobaptist friends, when I told them I got “re-baptized.” For those paedobaptists, baptism is a sign that signals identification with the New Covenant in Christ, just as circumcision has been a sign that signals identification with the Old Covenant. Just as circumcision was for infant males under the Old Covenant, so is baptism for infant male and females, under the New Covenant (Acts 2:39). Infant baptism does not automatically lead to faith, anymore than circumcision necessarily leads to the inward circumcision of a person’s heart, though that is what these outward signs point inwardly towards. I had never understood that before.

Mmmm. Had I done the right thing? I still was not completely sure. My friend’s judgment, that my decision to be baptized was “rather lame,” and theologically unsound, stuck in my head. As a result, I began to have doubts. Nevertheless, it was all water over the bridge now. At that point, the deed was done.

Sometime later, I began thinking about some of my credobaptist friends, who were baptized as older children, through a form of believer’s baptism. They later on fell away from the faith, only to come back to faith years later as older adults. Some of them wanted to get re-baptized, because now their faith really meant something. They simply had no idea what they were doing being baptized at 9-years-old. Therefore, now they wanted to get baptized… for real.

I know a few credobaptist pastors who would gladly baptize (re-baptize?) someone who was baptized as an infant. Why? Because that infant baptism was either improper or not a genuine baptism, since there was no genuine faith exercised by that infant. But I have to ask such credobaptist pastors a followup question: What would you do if a credobaptist person, baptized at age 9, were to come to you years later, perhaps at about age 20-30, saying that now they really understand what faith is about, and requesting re-baptism? Would you perform the baptism?

To make it even more complicated, what if that person had also been baptized as an infant? Would her baptism be a third baptism, or would her latest baptism cancel the previous two “improper” baptisms?

Is there some statute of limitations involved as to how many times you can get rebaptized? How do you distinguish between an improper or proper baptism, or even a false versus genuine baptism? Where is the cutoff on the age limit, if there is one, and who decides, and on what basis?

When such analysis extends down to this level, it all gets rather silly, if you ask me.

Baptism and the Conscience of the Christian

These are thorny questions that lead me to think that the question of baptism is one that is best reserved to take place between the person requesting baptism (or re-baptism), and the pastor or other person performing the baptism, or between parents, with their newborn, with their pastor. If families are already members of a particular church, that takes a definite stand on the issue, then they should naturally follow with what that church teaches.

But what if, like me, you are not so sure about all of this? Perhaps you lean a particular way, but you do not want to exclude being in fellowship with another believer who thinks differently? Perhaps you do have a strong conviction, but that you are trusting the work of the Holy Spirit that the Spirit might change the hearts and minds of your fellow believers, and that God might be calling you to be in a community of faith, as an instrument of change, where such introspective reflection is deemed permissible. In other words, while we can surely affirm that there is but one baptism, publicly signaling our initiation into Christian faith, the particular manner of one’s baptism, its mode, and its timing should be a matter of conscience.

Water baptism is the outward expression corresponding to the inward reality of a heart washed by the cleansing blood of Christ. Stressing out too much over exactly when someone really first experiences that inward reality and when you should get baptized can be counterproductive to spiritual growth. The timing of baptism with respect to when someone comes to actual faith is a matter of prayer, the study of Scripture, and having a sense of peace in your mind and heart.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of churches that take partisan approaches to baptism, that are not particularly helpful. Though I have never seen this personally, I have heard of some paedobaptist churches that look down judgmentally upon someone who was baptized as an infant, but then re-baptized as an adult. Perhaps such re-baptisms are improper, upon further reflection, but this is ultimately a matter of standing alone before God.

More often, there are credobaptist churches that will refuse membership to a person, if they only received infant baptism. Moreover, such churches might even allow a paedobaptist preacher to speak at their church, but then refuse them to become members. Even more extreme are those credobaptist churches that would refuse to serve communion to a paedobaptist. Some credobaptist churches, in some branches of the Churches of Christ tradition, even teach a kind of “baptismal regeneration” doctrine, insisting that unless you have been water baptized as an adult, you can not even be saved.

Some of this type of thinking just seems insane, if not outright wrong.

This is why I desire to worship in an interdenominational church, that takes an “agree-to-disagree” posture on the question of baptism. In a biblically-balanced, interdenominational church fellowship, the question of what constitutes genuine baptism is left as a conversation between the one with their question and their pastor, with Bibles open and hearts open with prayer.

Baptism was originally meant in the Bible to publicly signify our identification with Christ, and our profession of faith, a sign of unity of the one, true faith we have in Jesus. It is sad to see how so many churches mistreat baptism as a cause for division, instead of seeing it as a cause for rejoicing for the unity we have in Christ. Some believe that being a part of an interdenominational church, that stresses the principle of “agree to disagree” on non-essential issues of faith, is simply an excuse to avoid “taking a stand” on important issues facing the church.

I view it differently.

It is more about recognizing the complexity of how growing Christians develop in their understanding of Scripture, even changing their views over time, like I have. There is but one baptism, and one faith, not separate paedobaptist and credobaptist faiths, or baptisms, plural. Nevertheless, different Christians can approach issues, like baptism, and come to different conclusions, all under the supervision of Scripture. What matters most is the meaning of baptism, not the mode or timing.

We have come a long way from the early debates over baptism in the 16th century, among Protestant evangelicals. In those years, Protestants sought to settle these debates by actually putting to death the lives of those who held different viewpoints on baptism. I am so glad that those days are behind us. Thankfully, in our day and age, we can rely on a robust theology of conscience, to help us navigate what can be a confusing issue for at least some Christians. Thank the Lord!!

Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ, by Andy Naselli & J.D. Crowley, is a great book that I am currently reading, to work through difficult questions, like the “proper” understanding of baptism.

Addendum: Applying a Theology of Conscience to Other “Disputable Matters” 

If I had enough good sense, I would have ended this post at the previous paragraph. But in view of a lot of things that I have been thinking about, this past year, I need to tie up some loose ends.

Specifically, the inner questions of how baptism works should fit within the category of “disputable matters,” that the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans 14. As an example, I see a parallel here between the question of “women in ministry” and baptism (I could also add topics like the age of the earth, specific views of the “End Times,” the gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc., but for this discussion, I will just stick with the “women in ministry,” question that seems so utterly divisive among believers today). As I wrote about in my 20-post series on “women in ministry,” there is a sacramental character about church eldership, as well as baptism, whereby we have a physical act, that serves as a visible reminder of an invisible reality.

God has mercy towards us humans, who need physical, visible reminders of spiritual realities. With respect to “women in ministry,” the church needs to exhibit a physical, visible reminder of the invisible differences between men and women, in the corporate life in the church. Likewise, water baptism serves as a physical, visible reminder of what in means to be invisibly washed clean inwardly, by the precious blood of Jesus.

In that 20-post series, I made the case that an all-male eldership, exercising spiritual authority within a local church (as opposed to an eldership mixed with men and women), serves as that outward, sacramental reminder of the differences between male and female. Secular society today is very confused about gender; that is, we continually debate as to whether being male or female is essentially a characteristic defined at birth, or is it merely a social construct? In response, Christians who hold to an historic view of orthodox faith need to bear witness to the invisible reality that being male and female is more than just biology. Admittedly controversial for some, I contend that an all-male eldership, committed to listen to and serve men and women in a local church, empowering women to use of all of their God-given gifts for service in God’s Kingdom, has been a remarkably consistent expression of that spiritual reality, for 2,000 years of church history.

Why we need sacramental reminders, like all-male eldership and water baptism, is a great mystery. But God knows why we need these things. The problem is that we often get hung up, as Christians, on the physical, visible characteristics of the spiritual realities, which can dangerously obscure the precious inward meaning of those spiritual realities.

One more thing about this idea of conscience, with respect to baptism, and its connection to the “women in ministry” issue: We must be careful not to impose something that violates the sensitive conscience, of other Christians, in these matters.

In other words, if someone is being compelled to believe that women should not serve as elders or pastors in a church, when they are not convinced by this, then that would be a violation of conscience to impose such a belief, through something like a church doctrinal statement, to that effect. Likewise, to compel a person to submit to an eldership community, where women exercise spiritual authority, when such a person does not believe that the Scripture allows for such practice, would be a violation of their conscience.

Likewise, with baptism, having a good conscience, for me, is essential. Compelling a person to get re-baptized (??) as an adult, when the person believes that their baptism as an infant was perfectly valid, now that they have a professing faith, seems to me to be a violation of conscience. Furthermore, compelling a Christian to have a particular view of baptism, whether that be paedobaptist or credobaptist, when someone does not hold such a particular view, is also a violation of conscience.

Of course, there are plenty of churches that take definite theological positions on “women in ministry,” and baptism, that further divides the Body of Christ into particular factions. If a Christian can accept such a definite theological position, with a clean conscience, then surely, they should become (or remain) members of such a church (or churches). At the same time, such a Christian should be aware that a defined theological position, in such an area, puts one at risk of being isolated from other believers, to a certain degree, in the Body of Christ.

Yet if a person is not completely persuaded as to what they believe is the most biblically faithful view on such matters as “women in ministry” and/or baptism, then being in a community, where there is the freedom to “agree to disagree,” where one is given the freedom to work out the theological difficulties, in their own heart and mind, is a good and proper thing, that demonstrates the respect of a person’s conscience.

The surrounding secular culture, that seems so divided today, needs to see churches that display this type of community, where the principle of “agree to disagree” is lived out, where love for one another is paramount.

Nevertheless, could I worship in a church that takes a “hard line” on a particular stand about baptism? Well, it depends, but I would hope so. That is something that I would have to discuss with the elders of that church, if I am not personally convinced of that church’s view. Otherwise, I would have to register the view that I have, due to my conscience, that I am just not completely sure of the proper mode and/or timing of baptism, and see if the elders of that church would still find me as an acceptable candidate for membership in that church, if God were to lead me, in that direction.

In the end, issues like these come down to maintaining a posture of theological humility, in the Body of Christ. It is also this respect for the conscience of others, who do not necessarily accept my views. And this posture of theological humility, and respect for conscience, are things worth striving for.

That is why I desire to worship in an interdenominational church, if such an interdenominational church really exists.

.     .     .

For more on baptism, see these other blog posts.


Is the Bible Good for Women?: A Review of Wendy Alsup’s Critical, Timely Book

Is the Bible good for women?

That is a question that troubles many people, Christian and non-Christian alike. As my mother told me at times, in so many words, “I like what Jesus in the Bible has to say about women, but I am not so sure about Paul.” I have stumbled over this question myself, and I am a guy.

Is “Biblical Womanhood” a Bad Deal For Women? : Rachel Held Evans Speaks Out

Unless you have no clue what the Internet is, you probably have heard of Rachel Held Evans. Evans was a relatively young mother, of several young children, who tragically met her death at 37, earlier this year. Growing up in a conservative, evangelical Christian home, Rachel, who would probably prefer that title, instead of “Ms. Evans,” was regarded as a master communicator, in the world of social media, and she was a funny and engaging blog and book writer. She deeply cared about her faith in God, the health of the evangelical church, and how to work through periods of doubt, as a Christian.

But she had an edge to her. She would spar with leading evangelical pastors and leaders on Twitter. Her most controversial book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, simultaneously encouraged and disturbed many of her evangelical Christian readers. Rachel had her fans, but she also had her vocal critics. To her fans, Rachel offered a way of reading the Bible, that enabled them to look past a rather rigid, wooden approach to how the Bible treated women. Rachel presented a positive view of women, that offered to transcend the cultural limitations and misogynistic prejudices she saw, that were in the Bible. But she did this in a manner that also sought to retain many classic themes in Christian theology. Many felt encouraged, even relieved, to read Rachel’s book.

For example, to the delight of her fans, Rachel believed that God can call women to serve in any position of Christian ministry, that a man can serve in. Women should be elders and pastors of churches, just like men are. There is effectively no functional difference between men and women, at any level, at any measure, in the ministry of the local church. Bible passages that effectively restrict the roles of women in church, such as Paul’s policy of not permitting women to teach or exercise authority over a man, in a local church, as in 1 Timothy 2:12, can be safely set aside as merely a culture-bound restriction, that only applied to the church in Ephesus in the first century. Today, the trajectory of the Gospel has simply erased any and all differences between men and women, except for basic biology, …though in some circles, even that can be debated today, as the advances of medical surgery can make just about anything possible!

Rachel Held Evans.

Conflicted Responses to Rachel Held Evans

However, for others who read Rachel, they felt ill at ease. To her most alarmed detractors, Rachel came across as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rachel was not merely recasting a different interpretation of the Bible, more acceptable to modern ears. She was attacking the very integrity and plain-spoken character of God’s Word itself.

Many of Rachel’s critics appreciated her voice, opposing the discrimination of women, but were bothered by what appeared to be a diminished view of Scriptural authority. In her effort to make the Bible more palatable to women, as well as to the men who know, love, and respect them, Rachel was throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Rachel’s egalitarian theology was opening up the floodgates of doubt upon other vital themes in Scripture.

Other detractors were not willing to go that far, but still viewed her as dangerous. But all of her detractors felt like Rachel had somewhere crossed a line that should not, or perhaps, to be more generous, need not, be crossed.

Wendy Alsup, a Christian who is a divorced mother, who once was a women’s ministry director in a large megachurch in Seattle, Washington, read Rachel Held Evans’ book, and she was caught in the middle between the two extremes. In her reflections on Rachel’s death, Wendy describes the sense of growing up in a rigidly conservative, legalistic evangelical church, where it was commonly thought that girls who question are troublemakers. The message was this: if you do not want to be a troublemaker, keep your questions to yourself.

That is not very good advice for women who read the Bible, in the shadow of #MeToo.

Thankfully, Wendy Alsup sees right through that kind of corrupt theology. But it still leaves the fundamental question open: Is the Bible good for women?

Does the Bible Required a Raped Woman to Marry Her Rapist?

What women are not troubled when they read about the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34), or the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13), and then also learn that in Old Testament times, the man who who raped a woman, was then commanded, by the Law of Moses, to marry the woman, whom he had raped (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)?

Why would God command such a law, in the Bible? At first glance, it would look like the Bible is really not so good for women.

Wendy Alsup’s personal story is instructive, in understanding why such questions are so important. Wendy was herself working as a women’s ministry leader in one of evangelicalism’s largest megachurches, only to have the whole thing implode, not too long after she left the church, when the pastor was asked to step down from his position, with charges that he was abusing his power and influence. Rachel Held Evans was one of the first Christians to publicly call out this pastor’s abusive behavior.

Wendy Alsup was grateful for Rachel’s willingness to step up and raise questions, particularly about abuse. Rachel Held Evans took a lot of heat for her vocal criticism, and for that, Wendy was grateful for Rachel’s voice. The hoped for accountability structure at this influential complementarian church was not working, and accountability was sorely needed.

But Wendy was also concerned that Rachel had indeed crossed a line, in the other direction, with respect to honoring Scriptural authority. Wendy’s response to all of this was to write her own book about “biblical womanhood.”

 

Wendy Alsup.

 

Tackling Tough Issues With Honesty, Biblical Fidelity, and a Strong Sense of Hope: Wendy Alsup’s Vision of “Biblical Womanhood”

In many ways, Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence through a Jesus-centered Understanding of Scripture, is the book that many Christians, like myself, wish Rachel Held Evans had of written.

Wendy tackles some of the really tough parts about Scripture, honestly grappling with the question in her book’s title. Wendy makes her appeal to some of the best evangelical scholarship available, in order to find answers. For example, with respect to the Mosaic regulation, commanding that the rapist marry the woman he raped, Wendy points out that Ancient Near East culture was not very friendly to women, in such desperate, humiliating positions (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

But then one considers that marrying the raped woman was actually a way of protecting and providing for the raped woman, who would otherwise be shunned by her ancient community, or even killed by her family, due to the shame. The Law of Moses challenged the rapist to re-examine himself, repent of his wrong doing, make restitution to the woman by restoring her dignity and honor, and seek to try to make things right.1

It bears keeping in mind that rape, in those ancient cultures, were typically not involving unknown assailants, as commonly thought of today. Rather, the case of rape often involved persons who were already known to each other, to begin with. True, this ancient Hebrew prescription of the Mosaic Law was not as progressive as modern Westerners have come to expect. But as Wendy Alsup reminds the reader, the Law of Moses was never meant to be an end, in and of itself.

The Law of Moses pointed towards its eventual fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah. The Law itself was incapable to completely right the wrong suffered in cases of rape. Only Christ Himself can do that. Jesus fulfills what the Law intended to do.

The Law of Moses was a step in the right direction, in an otherwise brutal Ancient Near East culture, but it does not tell the whole story of God’s redemptive purposes. Part of the Good News of the Gospel is that we are no longer required to follow laws, such as this one, anymore. We furthermore anticipate that Jesus will wipe every tear away, and undo all of the evil done in this world. This is a big part of our blessed hope as Christians.

What about the prescriptive regulations about cleanliness following a woman’s menstrual period (Leviticus 15)? To be kept isolated after menstruation seems humiliating today. But in a culture where wild animals could easily enter a house, smelling blood, the protective aspect of the Law of Moses begins to become seen in a whole new light.

Keeping a woman in such a condition isolated from wild animals was probably a very sensible thing to do, even though the Bible does not explicitly spell that out for the average reader. Plus, these isolation regulations helped to protect against the spread of disease, in an era when modern medical knowledge was not accessible. As our knowledge of Ancient Near Eastern culture continues to increase, as we learn more about such early periods of human history, through archaeology and historical studies, we can gain some fresh insight into why some of the more bizarre sounding parts of the Bible are perhaps not so bizarre after all.

Wendy embraces a form of complementarian theology, that holds to a time-honored view of male-headship in the home, and in believing that the role of elder/pastor is limited to men only. So while Wendy is quite open to embrace scholarship, that might shed further light on difficult Bible passages, she rejects the suggestion that scholarship can itself be used to overthrow readings of Scripture, that are simply not available to non-specialists, who lack the academic training. Scholarship can help to illuminate those parts of Scripture that are difficult to understand. But scholarship can not be used to contradict a non-specialized reading of Scripture.

This might be still too much for some of Wendy’s more egalitarian minded readers.2 Even I would place a caveat on Wendy’s position, in that it is quite clear to me that some non-specialized readings of Scripture can still be wrong, in light of compelling evidence. Good biblical scholarship can help to bring such evidence to light. Nevertheless, Wendy appears to be correct and quite sober in how she handles the evidence, in articulating her positive, refined approach to a complementarian theology.

Less she gets misunderstood, Wendy is also quite uncompromising on critiquing bad elements of complementarian theology, that would seek to use the Bible as a weapon to harm women. Too often, critics of complementarian views of the Bible, lump all complementarians into the same category, particularly viewing all women who hold to such complementarian views as being “self-haters.” But this one-dimensional criticism is far too simplistic. Honoring differences in gender, through church office, need not imply that women are somehow “more easily deceived” than men, as some supposed traditionalists maintain. In particular, in my view, Wendy’s reading of Genesis 3:16 is spot on, avoiding some of the pitfalls found in the more popular interpretations of this critical verse of the Bible.3

Wendy also sees no conflict with Scripture, if a woman were asked to teach a Bible study, or a Sunday school, if asked by the elders of that local church, as it is the elders of that local church who are given spiritual authority for teaching, and not the Bible study leaders themselves, who are called to submit to that eldership authority. This view of women “teaching” is consistent with what any non-ordained, non-elder man can do, in a local church. You can find out more about what Wendy thinks at her blog, Theologyforwomen.org. Or better yet, read her book.

Wendy Alsup encourages the reader that the Bible is indeed good for women, but that it all begins by rethinking what “good” means, and looking at it from God’s perspective, as ultimately revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Just because we think something is “good” does not necessarily mean that God thinks that it is “good.”

If anything, the chapter of the book where Wendy makes a distinction between prescriptive versus descriptive passages of the Bible, is worth the price of the book alone.

Wendy may not answer every question to everyone’s satisfaction, as Is the Bible Good for Women?, is not a completely exhaustive look at every possible objection, regarding the Bible’s view of women. But Wendy Alsup is to be commended for writing a fantastic book that probes difficult questions, without offering weak and simplistic answers.

If I had to pick one very intelligent woman author, who presents an easily accessible read about “women in the church,” while possessing great theological acumen, and who holds a balanced view on this subject, that would appeal to the greatest cross-section of Christian readers, it would be Wendy Alsup.

If you get the audiobook version, like I did, she reads the book herself, which added to the gripping honesty and forthrightness of the book. As a male, Wendy’s book helped me to understand the  hesitations some women may experience when reading the Bible, while at the same time, affirming a positive answer, that yes, the Bible is truly good news for women. Though published in 2017, Wendy’s message is still very fresh and timely, touching on the ever present themes in the work of the late Rachel Held Evans, a critical engagement in our day and age when topics on gender are front and center, in the minds of many Christians and skeptics alike.

I have read or cited a number of books on this topic, in recent months, but many of them are quite technical. Wendy’s book is more of an easy entry into the discussion, and it makes for a great read. If you, or someone you know, wrestles with what the Bible has to say to about women, then you really need to get this book.

Notes:

1. There are actually other arguments that indicate that the command for a rapist to marry the raped woman, is not exactly how it first seems. For example, another example from Mosaic law indicates that the father of the woman must approve of the marriage, before consenting to it. If the father does not consent, the man who raped the woman must still provide material support for the woman he injured (Exodus 22:16-17). Furthermore, another instance of the Mosaic Law clearly prescribes the circumstances, where one can tell if a rape was committed, or not. If a rape was committed, the male perpetrator was to suffer the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). Some scholars even suggest that there is a Bible translation issue here, as the original Hebrew is ambiguous (listen to Tyler Vela’s Freedthink podcast). It is quite possible that Deuteronomy 22:28-29 may not even be addressing a rape situation. The point is that while Wendy Alsup takes a worst-possible scenario here, reading Scripture within the larger context is a more suitable way to understand controversial texts, such as these.   

2. See Marq Mowczko’s excellent website, offering an informed egalitarian alternative to Wendy Alsup’s moderate complementarianism. For a Bible study on YouTube, covering the same Biblical issues in detail, from another informed egalitarian perspective, see this video with Dr. Cynthia Westfall, at Bruxy Cavey’s church in Canada..

3. Wendy Alsup was interviewed on the Theology Gals podcast, put out by a group of Reformed Presbyterian women, where she explains the problems with the 2016 change in the English Standard Version, in Genesis 3:16.  Wendy highlights the fact that the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), largely drove the translation change, while embracing a suspect view of the Trinity, namely the Eternal Subordination of the Son, an issue that divides the complementarian movement into basically two camps, that of a moderate complementarianism, championed by those like Wendy, and a more extreme version of complementarianism, championed by the CBMW.  Wendy writes about the New Wave of Complementarianism, in her blog, and in an essay, in a new highly praised book, Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues, a compendium of essays edited by Joshua Chatraw and Karen Swallow Prior.  


Jamestown: 1619 Remembered

Growing up in Williamsburg, Virginia, I pretty much took nearby Jamestown Island, the 1607 site of the first successful English settlement in North America, for granted. Yet sadly, I still meet people who know very little about Jamestown, and its historical importance. So, it is very exciting to remember Jamestown on this day, when many of the world’s eyes are upon this island.

On July 30, 1619, a very hot day indeed, the very first democratic English assembly was held, in the “New World,” known as the House of Burgesses, the forerunner to today’s Virginia General Assembly.

Aerial look over Jamestown, Virginia, in the 1950s, showing the beginning of modern archaeological work being performed on the island. 20-years later, as a middle school kid, I worked on one of those archaeological projects (taken from the book, New Discoveries at Jamestown, by archaeologist J. Paul Hudson and co-author John L. Cotter).

1619 was a big year in Jamestown for other reasons. The small colony established at Jamestown was starting to stabilize, but with very few women around, a lot of the men wanted to leave (for understandable reasons). In response, the Virginia Company of London ordered that “…a fit hundredth might be sent of women, maids young and uncorrupt, to make wives to the inhabitants and by that means to make the men there more settled and less movable….” By 1620-1621, women started to show up at Jamestown.

It was a tough sell to get women to come live in an area, centered in a mosquito-infested, swampy island. Some women were secretly kidnapped to bring them to Virginia, but a more voluntary arrangement was needed for the colony to survive. What effectively was a “mail-order” bride system, to provide incentives for impoverished English women to make the journey across the Atlantic, saved the day for the young Virginia colony.

Barely a month after the first House of Burgesses meeting, in July, 1619, the first Africans arrived at Jamestown. What is particularly notable was that among this first boatload of Africans, were actually prisoners taken from a Portuguese slave ship. These Africans were originally treated as indentured servants. In principle, these Africans could purchase their freedom.

But over the following decades, the rules gradually changed. What started out as customs, here and there, eventually became Virgina colony law, as the indentured servanthood status of dark-skinned persons was transformed to make them slaves for life.

There was some resistance to these legal changes. For example, it was not considered proper for a Christian to enslave a fellow Christian. So, if an African person was baptized, they could claim a right to their freedom. Yet as regretted now, in our day, even that exemption was eventually eradicated. Even racial intermarriage was outlawed in 1691.

I wonder what would have happened if those slavery laws were never passed in the Virginia colony. I wonder what it might have been like, if Christians in Virginia would have studied their Bibles a bit more closely, to learn that racism has no actual basis in the Scriptures. Perhaps they might have rethought the whole slavery business, and the inherent racism that undergirded it.

It is worth thinking about… and remembering.

Other posts about Jamestown: (a) Musings about the parallels between Jamestown’s Captain John Smith and the ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, (b) Jamestown and the first Thanksgiving, and (c) Veracity co-blogger, John Paine, takes us on a YouTube video trip to Jamestown, to help us learn some lessons about the historicity of Jesus.


Kissing the “Purity” and “Courtship” Culture Goodbye??

Joshua Harris was only 21-years old when his blockbuster, best-seller I Kissed Dating Goodbye was published. The book spread like wildfire through evangelical churches. “Purity” and “courtship” were the watchwords of the day.

So, what do you do when 22 years later, the much acclaimed author informs his followers that he and his wife are pursing separation? (ALSO: See update near the end of this post, made after this blog post was originally posted)

This book will soon be a collectors item, as the publisher will cease further printings, per the request of the author.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Harris’ message was that young, single people should avoid the modern practice of dating, and pursue “courtship” instead. In courtship, single people should only pursue a relationship with a member of the opposite sex, with the intention of becoming married.  Modern dating had simply become a training ground for divorce. Therefore, if you want a successful marriage, casual dating should be avoided.

In those years, just as it still is today, the Christian emphasis on avoiding the dangers of sexual relations outside of marriage was being disregarded, in the wider culture. Premature physical intimacy, and lack of boundaries in dating, was dehumanizing, thereby confusing self-gratification with intimacy, and eventually destroying marriages.

Harris’ solution was to “avoid everything that leads up to that consequence.” Part of that included the advice, that you should not even kiss your prospective mate until your wedding day. Holding hands? Forget that, too.

What about emotional intimacy, characteristic of dating? That should be avoided as well, as “giving your heart away” before you get married, to someone else, only decreases your ability to give fully to the one you end up marrying.

I had been single for a long time before Harris’ book ever came out, but I could appreciate its appeal, when it eventually did. There had been infamously little published by Christian authors, about dating, throughout the 1980s into the early 1990s…. and I had made a series of mistakes. Sadly, the confusing and conflicting advice I got in my twenties, in those years, from other sincere Christians, did not help very much.

However, there was Elisabeth Elliot‘s 1984 book, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control, that got passed around in my InterVarsity Christian Fellowship circles. Elliot, the surviving spouse of the martyred missionary in Ecuador, Jim Elliot, sought to address issues of the cultural obsession with dating, sex, and intimacy, with direct boldness. It was a message that many Christian young people, in my generation, needed to hear.

I was gripped with her message. Elisabeth Elliot wrote with confident authority, but there were a few things that were nagging in my mind, that I was not completely sure about. Reruns of Elliot’s radio programs are still available at the Bible Broadcasting Network.

As a teenager, Joshua Harris made some mistakes of his own. Reading Elliot’s book emboldened him to radically change course, and try to retell Elliot’s message for a new generation. Nervously, Joshua Harris even sent a copy of his yet unpublished manuscript for I Kissed Dating Goodbye to Elisabeth Elliot, to get her impressions. Harris was elated to hear back from Ms. Elliot, who affirmed Harris for writing a “worthwhile book.” Harris sent his manuscript out to be published shortly thereafter. In 2013, Harris returned the favor by writing the forward to a reprint edition of Passion and Purity, in which he tells the story I just summarized.

The success of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was founded upon a hard-hitting, counter-cultural message. On the positive side, I Kissed Dating Goodbye affirmed God’s good purposes for marriage, and for reserving sexual relations within the context of marriage. But on the controversial side, those Christians who still practiced “dating” were treated with spiritual contempt, among other things. Plus, and sadly, a number of those marriages, founded upon Harris’ principles of “courtship,” ended in divorce anyway.

Harris for years overlooked the views of his detractors. Harris went onto become an instant evangelical celebrity, following the amazing popularity of his book. While still in his twenties, Harris got married, started a family, and soon became a pastor of a mega-church, at age 30. He took on this pastoral responsibility, without ever having had any seminary-level, advanced, theological training.

The Sovereign Grace Ministries network of churches, of which he was a pastor of one, got embroiled in a controversy, over claims of child and sexual abuse, in the churches’ ministry programs.  The incidents that started the controversy happened prior to Harris’ tenure, but the issue was never adequately resolved. The controversy eventually led Joshua Harris to step down as lead pastor, in 2015, in order to pursue advanced theological training at Regent College, in British Columbia, Canada.

It was roughly during this time that Harris began to have second thoughts about the message of his book. Some tied the criticisms of his book with his belief in complementarianism, that men and women are different, emphasizing male-only leadership in churches, combined with the particular, extreme slant that Harris had been promoting. In an interview with Sojourner’s magazine, Harris concedes:

  • I think in our setting, though, the thing that I would say is that we had a very restricted view of the role of women. That’s one of the biggest things I regret in my time of being a pastor is the way we taught about women in the church, women in leadership, in the home, and so on. And I think there are massive indications when you don’t have a female perspective in in policymaking and decisions related to something like that. Like, I think that we would have made better decisions if there had been women in on those moments.But it’s not quite as simple as saying that … I think there were also theological problems related to our view of the role of pastors and our view of the role of the faith and ways that were, in our case, unique to our movement: the low view of psychiatry or therapists and those types of things, and the idea that pastors should be able to help you with any kind of life issue that you’re facing.When it comes to something like sex abuse, we just did not have the training. We needed to be calling in other people, we needed to be, obviously, making sure that — and we did report many cases of sexual abuse, but in some cases obviously we made huge mistakes.

    So there’s sort of a web of problems. But I do think that a very patriarchal, male-centered, low view of women has connections to sexual abuse in different cases.

Harris began to interact with readers of his book, listening to their stories. He chronicled his journey, in a documentary film entitled I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye. If you were ever troubled by Harris’ book, you would do well to watch this film and discuss it with others.

His conclusion? Josh Harris came to admit that he gave millions of people the wrong advice. Harris had condemned dating as being “unbiblical,” despite the fact that the Bible nowhere addresses the topic of dating. In an effort to try to help people live lives of purity, Harris ultimately realized that his solution was heaping toxic doses of legalism and fear, upon the consciences of his readers.

Josh Harris still believes in abstinence before marriage. But Josh Harris now believes that healthy dating can be a good thing, recommending books like Dr. Henry Cloud’s Boundaries in Dating, and Debra Fileta’s True Love Dates, instead of his own.

Reactions to Harris’ rethinking about his book have ranged the gamut. Some believe Harris has gone too far in condemning his own book, believing that “courtship” is still the way to go, and giving up too easily on otherwise good and sound principles.

Others believe that Harris did not go far enough, in making an apology. Nevertheless, Josh Harris made the decision to ask the publisher to discontinue the publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, along with two other books, that stress the same themes.

The popular conservative, and indeed, Reformed, Christian blogger, Tim Challies, interestingly agrees with Josh Harris’ critical analysis of his own book:

  • There are times when a kind of weirdness settles over evangelicalism, when for a while people are swept away by strange and flawed ideas. This usually happens when Christians are attempting to counter ideas that are prevalent outside the church. Instead of reacting in a measured way, we collectively over-react.

The type of self-chastisement that Josh Harris has been going through, despite being so confident in his previous views for so long, buoyed by constant affirmations of others who wanted to think the same way, can have devastating consequences.

Sadly, Josh Harris announced in July, 2019 that he and his wife are separating, after 20 years of marriage.

In thinking about the story of Josh Harris and I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I can think of several lessons for Christians:

  • Relationships are hard. While indeed helpful to many, there was nevertheless a subtle, deceptive allure to Josh Harris’ book, that sought to bypass that truth: Relationships are hard.
  • Friendships with members of the opposite sex are a good thing.
  • Doing fun things together is great, particularly in a group. Setting boundaries in relationships is essential. Avoid late-night solo dates. Revive the art of letter writing. An extreme focus on purity can actually backfire.
  • One can take to heart Josh Harris’ self-critical reflections of his own book, without abandoning a commitment to traditional, Scriptural sexual ethics.
  • The “purity” movement and the “courtship” movement have had some good things about them. But even the best of ideas can descend into an unhealthy form of legalism.
  • Christians may have good intentions in rejecting certain cultural trends, but we must caution against accepting ideas that are reading modern concepts into the Bible.
  • The “courtship” movement can set people up to have the wrong expectations about marriage, that are completely unrealistic, just as much as “dating” can do.
  • The idea of “courtship” works best when you have people in your life, who know you well, and who also know your potential spouse well. Such people can point out blindspots that you and your potential mate may miss. But cultivating the type of community, where such people can exist in your life, can be a difficult task, in and of itself. Ideally, such community should be experienced within a local church (but a lot of these points can apply to “dating,” too).
  • Churches should avoid recruiting young people, in their twenties, into becoming pastors of mega-churches, at such young ages, and they should make sure that whoever pastors their churches have adequate theological training, before assuming such leadership positions… also, getting advice from a 21-year old on how to prepare for, build and sustain a life-long marriage is rather insane.
  • Mentoring younger singles, and even young couples, by older, more mature married believers, is a critical need in our day.
  • The local church surely has a business-side to it, but first and foremost, a local church is a family, and not a business. Churches are ultimately families, governed by seasoned fathers and mothers, and not by corporately-minded CEOs.
  • There are good forms of complementarianism, and there are bad forms of complementarianism.
  • A lot of egalitarian types of thinking are, in reality, over-reacting towards such bad forms of complementarianism.

I happen to hold to a moderate form of complementarianism, but there are bad forms of complementarianism, that should be rejected. For example, there are those who teach that women are not to be in spiritual authority over men, because in their reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, such teachers contend that Eve was deceived; that is, from the text, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, ” because women are inherently more susceptible to becoming deceived than men. And because women are more deceivable, women should not be entrusted in positions of spiritual authority.

A more moderate approach to complementarianism will affirm that only men are to serve as elders/pastors in a local church. But this does NOT mean that this has anything to do with women being more susceptible to becoming deceived, than men. If anything, a healthy approach to complementarian theology would encourage women to give their perspective to men in the spiritual leadership of the church, while encouraging such men to receive such input gladly, with ready hearts and minds. Women and men can help one another see things that the other can not see.

The text of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 simply states an observation as to what happened in Creation. To try to read into the text some type of innate characteristic, created by God, that distinguishes men from women, as to their intellectual or spiritual capabilities, is an abuse of Scripture, reading something into the Bible that simply does not exist. To put it bluntly, the Bible does not teach that women are more spiritually gullible than men. This is an example of the type of patriarchal, bad complementarian theology that Josh Harris is now against. I have tried to articulate a more sacramentally-informed, non-authoritarian-istic perspective on complementarian theology in a twenty-part blog post series.

Such bad theology has inflicted an untold amount of pain and suffering in evangelical churches today. Josh Harris is surely working through a lot of the guilt and shame associated with his own promotion of such bad theology.

It might be best for Christians, who know of Josh Harris, to remember Josh and his wife in your prayers. This is a difficult time for the both of them.

I am sure that Josh Harris and his wife are both wonderful people, and I do hope the best for them. If there is any good news to come out of this whole story, it is this: It takes a lot of courage to admit that you were wrong. Josh Harris has displayed this courage, and I commend him for it. Would we all have such courage.

UPDATED: Monday, July 29, 2019

After posting this a few days ago, I have learned today, that along with Josh Harris’ announcement about his separation, he also announced that he no longer considers himself to be a Christian. In particular, he announced on Instagram that he regrets his previous posture regarding the LGBTQ community, and that he now fully affirms “marriage equality.” Christianity Today magazine has a very helpful followup essay, on this topic. According to Harris, “Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.⁣⁣” I pray that Josh Harris finds his way back onto the path, in God’s timing, and more deeply experiences the grace of God.


How Well Do You Know What Other People Believe?

How much do you know about what people believe about religious faith? The Pew Research Center has a “U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz” that you can take, to see how you compare with other Americans. It has 15 questions, and only takes a couple of minutes. Jews, atheists, and agnostics tend to score slightly higher than evangelical Christians.


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