If you had to take a vote, what would you say is the weirdest passage in the New Testament? Some might raise their hand and immediately say “The Book of Revelation.” Ok, that is a whole book, so how about something shorter?
I mean, when I first tried to read the entire New Testament cover-to-cover back in high school, this one just jumped out at me: What in the world is Paul talking about? Here is the whole disputed passage from the English Standard Version:
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
Some of the things that Paul says sound fairly straightforward, but certainly not all of it. Frankly, if you are like most Christians I know, you probably just gloss over this passage and move onto something else. Better to pretend that something this weird in the Bible did not exist, right?
Everything about head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 (….. well, maybe not “everything,” but we try to hit the highlights here at Veracity)
Well, we probably know that if you really believe the New Testament to be God’s Word, then it might be important to try to make some attempt to understand this chunk of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. God’s self-disclosure in Holy Scripture is not just some random exercise where we can pick things we like and toss out the rest. For that would dishonor the Lord Jesus. Plus, every book of the Bible is its own literary unit. Simply picking out parts of the Bible and forgetting the rest is not a good recipe for really understanding the Bible. However, if most American Christians are honest, we would prefer to ignore this passage, and if you were even to ask Bible scholars about it, they might agree with you as to how difficult this passage is. It is one of the most hotly debated passages in New Testament scholarship.
In this series of blog posts, Veracity will attempt to make some sense about this passage. The significance of this passage is that it plays a vital role in the on-going debates regarding how men and women are to relate to one another in the church; in what sense are husbands to be “head” of the home, should women serve as elders in a local church, etc. This is part of the rather controversial discussion between so-called “complementarians” and “egalitarians” that has continued to divide believers from one another, resulting in church and denominational splits, particularly within the last sixty years, and more intensely within the last couple of decades. I have written about this debate at length on Veracity, in another blog series, but because 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is just so weird, it really deserves special treatment all on its own.
This passage brings up a number of questions. Here is a sample:
What does “head” mean in this passage?
Is this passage about a physical head covering, or is it about the length of hair, comparing a man and a woman?
Is the teaching merely cultural, applicable only to Paul’s first century context, or does it have relevance to 21st century Christians?
Why does Paul bring up the topic of creation here?
Why does Paul talk about God’s relationship to Christ?
What does Paul mean by “image”, “glory,” and “nature” in this passage?
Does this passage contradict with what Paul says just a few chapters ahead, in 1 Corinthians 14, about women speaking (or not speaking) in church?
What is Paul’s mention about “no such practice” in verse 16 referring to?
Does this passage even belong in the Bible?
Is Paul refuting, instead of teaching, much of what we read here?
What is this whole thing about “because of the angels” in verse 10?
How do we apply this passage to us today?
As we head into the summer, over the next group of blog posts, I will write about different views that various scholars take regarding this passage, one by one. My wife often tells me that I typically just lay out different views about difficult parts of the Bible and I do not really land anywhere, and it frustrates her to no end! So, to try to make her a little happier, I will summarize each viewpoint in the successive blog posts, and then you can figure out where I might land in the final analysis. We can discuss different interpretations of the Bible, but in the end, there is a right and wrong way of understanding the text:
The Traditional View (well, at least it summarizes some of the main points that many Christians have agreed with for centuries).
The Hyper-Conservative View (otherwise known as the “John MacArthur” view)
The Symbol of Protection View (challenges the idea that head coverings signify something about authority)
The Hairstyle View (in other words, this is not about head coverings per se, but rather about male vs. female hairstyles)
The Quotation/Refutation View (Paul is refuting a Corinthian false teaching)
The Interpolation View (Someone stuck this passage in the Bible later on, or Paul himself put it in there, and then just ran away….. yeah, seriously)
The Supernatural Sexual Modesty View (otherwise known as the “PG-13” view…. that is, keep this away from young children)
Applying 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Today (what do we do with all of this?)
It will take nearly the whole summer of 2023 to get through this, so I will try to make it more digestible in bite-size pieces. I will probably take a few breaks along the way, to spice things up.
However, his longest video is on this particular passage, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. It comes in at a whopping 6 hours and 46 minutes. WOW!! I can not endorse everything Mike says in nearly 7 hours, but he is thorough. See the video below.
So, if you just want to read a much shorter summary of what Mike Winger says, in Veracity style, stick around for the following blog series. I land at a different place from Mike, but I do appreciate his work. Please feel free to follow on Veracity by clicking one of the “Follow” buttons on the right and/or enter your email address, then click “Follow.” Feel free to comment along the way, too.
Oh….and one more thing…. the reason why I am doing this series…. : About four years ago, my local church held a discussion about the complementarian/egalitarian controversy. The overall presentation was well done, but the discussion stirred up a lot of emotions that rippled through the entire church body, generating a lot of confusion and even frustration.
This particular passage on head coverings was mentioned in a period of just five minutes. Five minutes. That’s all.
I left the discussion having more questions than answers. Since then, not a single sermon, Bible study group, question and answer session, or anything else in our church has attempted to address this passage in a meaningful way. In defense of our church leaders, our church was not obligated to uncover every stone on this. But it still bothered me to have these questions and very few answers. So, since our church leadership decided to bypass this passage, I felt that I had no choice but to dig into this myself, if I was going to understand what Paul was teaching.
As an evangelical Christian, I believe that I have the opportunity and the obligation to share with others the Good News as presented in the Bible. But it is pretty difficult to share my confidence in what the Bible teaches to others who need to hear the Gospel when we effectively gloss over, or even skip, certain weird parts of the Bible, especially a passage that is partly responsible for dividing many, many churches and denominations in our current day. Here, I offer to you, my research into this vexing passage…. a passage that most Christians would rather ignore than talk about.
Veracity is different. Here at Veracity, we want to talk about it. We want to dig into the Scriptures. Why? So we can better handle God’s Word.
Engaging in an online discussion can lead to some interesting outcomes.
In early 2022, I corresponded with a Christian author from the U.K., Andrew Bartlett, about the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Earlier I had heard of a book written in 2019, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts. Little did I know that my online interlocutor had written this thorough examination of the Bible’s teaching regarding men and women in the family and the church.1
I promised Andrew that I would read his book, only to discover that while 100 pages into his 648 page book (according to Kindle), that this really is a big book! Andrew is a lawyer and arbitrator, with a background in theology, so it really should not have been a surprise. I had to put the book down and try to come back to it, every now and then, over the past year and a half. Then an email from Andrew a few months ago convinced me that I should finish the book and offer a review. By the time I finished, I ended up with the following article that best summarizes my reflection on the men/women debate in the church to date, after four years of research and blogging. So, you might want to go grab a beverage, a nice chair to sit in, and perhaps even a Bible before I go on…
The length of the Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts will be a drawback to some readers, who simply will not have the patience to wade through many pages of detailed analysis and argumentation. This is unfortunate since there are many, many rewards the book has for the reader, filled with insights, and being exceptionally thorough, without getting overly technical. In other words, mere human beings without a PhD can read this book, and walk away with an understanding why this issue is so complex. Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts interacts with a vast array of literature on the topic, published over the last several decades, which makes it essential reading for anyone desiring to dig deep into the debate. Regardless of what one ultimately thinks of Andrew Bartlett’s thesis, Andrew is a great dialogue partner, and he has done the Christian church an invaluable service with his thorough and careful analysis. So, thank you, Andrew (assuming you read this)!!
The relationship between men and women in the family and the church is one of the most hotly contested issues among Christians today. The controversy is part of a fundamental shift in Western society associated with questions about gender and sexuality:
What does it mean to be male?
What does it mean to be female?
What is marriage?
What is the relationship between the church, as a spiritual family, to the biological family?
All of these preceding questions were largely settled in the minds of most Westerners during the mid-20th century, and perhaps as late as some thirty years ago. Today, these questions are subject to vigorous and hotly contested debate outside of the Christian church, but the church is not absent from the discussion.
The debate is often pitched as being between the complementarians, who focus on the complementarity between male and female, and the egalitarians, who focus on the equality between male and female. But the reality is that most Christians are on some type of spectrum between the two points of view.
The egalitarian case is generally more restricted in scope in that the bottom line is simpler, especially when it comes to how men and women are to minister and exercise leadership in a local church setting. But it is quite rare to find an egalitarian who is consistently egalitarian, as the early Quakers were, in the broadest sense possible. Those early Quakers completely despised any notion of an organized clergy or local church office, preferring to sit in a round for their worships services, waiting for the “Inner Light” to prompt anyone to speak as the Spirit guided. Today’s evangelical movement still likes the idea of a hopefully educated and skilled orator behind a pulpit, often standing upon an elevated stage, expounding the truth of what is taught in the Bible, while the rest of the congregation quietly takes in the message.
Not very “egalitarian,” if you ask me.
But you would be hard pressed to find anyone giving a Sunday morning sermon pleased if someone else from their church would interrupt their sermon to correct them.
In other words, today’s evangelical egalitarians will still insist that we need leaders in our local churches, thus rejecting the radical egalitarianism of traditional Quakers. But when it comes to the question of men and women serving as leaders in the local church, today’s evangelical egalitarians are embracing a particular view that was largely dismissed as being contrary to Scripture, or exceptional at best, until roughly a hundred years ago. Evangelical groups like various Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Holiness movements led the way in the shift roughly a century ago, but relatively little controversy arose in its wake. But since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the changes only accelerated since the 1960s, as denomination after denomination among the Protestant mainline began ordaining women as presbyters (elders) in their churches, while smaller, more conservative segments of those denominations broke off to form their own denominations, thus retaining the practice of having only qualified men serve as local church elders (and in some cases, becoming more restrictive).
The egalitarian side of the conversation today generally embraces the view that when it comes to the question of men and women serving as elders in a local church that men and women can serve interchangeably in these leadership roles. There are three main questions that arise when consider this perspective:
Egalitarians will insist that they see no difference in a man or woman’s service as an elder in a local church. However, many egalitarians will still insist that men and women are still different. But what does this difference actually look like in a local church fellowship? Is the local church to be thought of as a spiritual family, and if so, what does that actually mean with respect to liturgical practice and/or church governance? Is the local church modeling for biological families within that church what healthy brotherhood and sisterhood, fatherhood and motherhood, etc. actually looks like? If so, how does the local church express this form of a being spiritual family? To put it another way, what is a “man” and what is a “woman”, and how does that impact our view of the local church as a spiritual family, in the sense of how gender distinctions are expressed in a healthy way, setting an example for children and other young people today in a culture beset with confusion about gender? How do we define our terms here?
What exactly is an “elder” of a local church? Are the elders merely functioning like a board of directors for a church, comparable to a secular organization? Is the oversight they exercise merely administrative or is there actually some spiritual authority component active here? What is the relationship between “elder” and “pastor?” Another way to ask questions like these is this: is the office of elder tied to some notion of passing the faith down from one generation to the next, charged primarily with protecting a local flock from serious theological error? How do we define our terms here?
How does an egalitarian read passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 (most controversially), along with 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1, which historically have been interpreted to argue for only qualified males serving as local church elders? What exactly has changed that gives egalitarians the confidence that their newer reading of Scripture is correct?
On the other side of the debate, today’s complementarians, particularly in an American context, will largely reject many of the excesses of patriarchalism of the past. Gone are the days when women were forbidden to go receive a college education, because “women do not really need it,” etc., because of a culturally-defined, patriarchal logic, not due to any particular Scriptural teaching. I personally have known of a woman who became an egalitarian because her dad forbade her from getting a driver’s license until she was out of the house in her twenties!! Really? Wow!
Nevertheless, today’s complementarians will still insist that some distinction with respect to roles in the church and in the family still needs to be maintained, in accordance with Scripture. Sure, there are still outliers who still believe some distinctions between men and women need to be carried into the marketplace as well. But the vast majority of complementarians view it necessary to value some form of “male headship” when it comes of leadership both within the home and in the church, and keep the discussion limited to those realms.
There are a few problems with such complementarian views:
Not all complementarians are the same. In fact, some differences among complementarians are just as wide among themselves as differences in general between complementarians and egalitarians! Some believe that only qualified men should be leaders in a local church, regardless of office or other role. Alternatively, some believe that while the office of elder is restricted to only qualified men, women and men can serve together as deacons (a view that I hold). Some define “elder” one way and others define it another. Some say that being an “elder” and being a “pastor” are interchangeable roles. Others do not. The list of possible situations appears to be quite different depending on which school of complementarian thought you are encountering.
Are complementarians really following Scriptural teaching, or are they simply clinging to older cultural norms? Have complementarians marginalized the contributions of women to the church, or have they empowered women and men to truly be who God made them to be?
How does a complementarian read passages like Romans 16 and Galatians 3:28, which suggest that women were encouraged to serve as leaders in Paul’s churches alongside men, and that Christians today are encouraged to follow Paul’s example?
After doing several years of research, I have come to the conclusion that leaning towards being a complementarian is the most faithfully Scriptural way on interpreting the Bible on this challenging issue. Some might call me a soft complementarian, or a narrow complementarian, or even a moderate complementarian. I prefer the terminology of being a sacramental complementarian, where ultimately I understand the Bible to teach that there is a profound mystery behind what it means to be male and female, and that the Bible teaches that having qualified men serving as elders in a local church has been designated in the New Testament as the most faithful means of church expressing that mystery, while at the same time encouraging women to serve as leaders in other capacities within a local church.
As noted above, I get shot from both sides here, where egalitarians are bothered that I am complementarian, while other complementarians do not think I am being complementarian enough!!
It is best to quote the introduction or jacket cover of the book to get a feel for what the authors are trying to accomplish:
A biblical vision for the roles of men and women in the church—and how to put them into practice.
It can be tempting to shy away from addressing the issue of gender roles in church because it’s often controversial. But this can result in churches either being increasingly influenced by secular culture or simply sticking with the status quo when it comes to what men and women do in church.
Building on the belief that complementarianism is both biblical and positive, this book focuses on what these convictions look like in practice. Moving beyond the familiar discussions around “gender roles”, and leaving room for variety in how readers implement these ideas, it will encourage a church culture where men and women truly partner together—embracing their privileges and responsibilities, and maximizing their gifts, in joyful service of God’s kingdom.
Too often, conversations about complementarian theology tend to get bogged down into discussions that focus on the negative. Instead of exploring the beauty and goodness of God’s purposes, as grounded in creation, for men and women, discussions tend to focus away from what men are called to do and instead focus on what women are NOT to do.
Such conversations often go something like this: “Men and women are different. The church is called by God to celebrate those differences while acknowledging the unique gifting of men and women…. Oh, and so therefore, this means that women are prohibited from serving as elders in a local church.”
In an age when secular feminism is predominant in the culture, and makes its presence felt even in the church, such a discussion sounds antiquated at best, or even discriminatingly destructive at worst.
At that point, you can often feel the tension, a tension that is so thick that you can cut it with a knife. Once you get stuck there, everyone begins to look for an exit. Unfortunately, this is NOT the best way to move the conversation forward.
Instead, Beyond and Tooher focus on the practical, helping those who embrace a complementarian theology to find ways for men and women to serve together in a local church, while remaining committed to the principle of a qualified male eldership. In many ways, Embracing Complementarianism is a step up from Kevin DeYoung’s book Men and Women in the Church, which I reviewed almost a year ago, which does well in its general theological framework, while still supporting a much “harder” view of complementarianism, which I contend is unwarranted by the actual teaching of Scripture; e.g. DeYoung argues for no women deacons in the church, and no women teaching of any kind in a mixed-setting, even under the authority of an all-male eldership.
The theological driver behind Embracing Complementarianism had its beginnings in the ordination debates for women in the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Australia in the 1990s. I have dear friends of mine who reject the faulty logic of slippery-slope arguments, and to a great extent I would agree. However, we have come a long way since the 1990s.
Back then, opponents of women’s ordination to the priesthood were concerned that the adoption of such a practice (which was eventually endorsed) would tend towards a slippery slope towards the full acceptance of same-sex unions in that Anglican communion. In those days, supporters of women’s ordination sought to reassure their opponents that the full acceptance of same-sex unions was a type of slippery slope argument that was unwarranted, and that there would no serious attempt to try to change the definition of marriage in such Anglican communions. Contrary to the prevailing culture that sees “womens issues” and “LGBTQ issues” on the same continuum, defenders of women’s ordination in Australia sought to draw the line against same-sex marriage.
The best part of the book, apart from being fairly short, was in its attempt to frame the principle of a qualified male eldership to be a very positive thing. In other words, it is a expression of the beauty and goodness of God in creating men and women as God did by being grateful that men should be encouraged to step up and lead in their churches in such a way that encourages men to lead their families, by following the example of Christ loving the church, who laid down his life for others (Ephesians 5:25). In contrast to more traditional views, the concept of “male headship” is not a call to a unilateral, top-down hierarchy of husbands “ruling” their wives, but rather, there is an emphasis on servanthood and partnership, which is also to be reflected in the spiritual family of a local church body.
Despite the practical benefits of Embracing Complementarianism, there are two drawbacks that I would still note about the book. First, while Embracing Complementarianism rightly leans towards a more generous, “softer” version of complementarian theology, it does not come across as strongly enough in rejecting some of the excesses found in more “harder” versions of complementarian theology. For example, the two co-authors do not agree with one another on whether or not women should ever lead in Christian worship, even if the all-male eldership of that local church would encourage the practice, even only on an occasional basis.
For example, one reviewer has noted that chapters 5-7 in the book speaks a lot about “male leadership” in the church, which can give the mistaken impression that women should never be leading in a local church. It would have been much better if the authors had stuck to the principle of a “qualified male eldership,” instead of the more slippery and sometimes misleading notion of “male leadership.” For example, Nympha had a church meeting in her house (Colossians 4:15), and Lydia did, too (Acts 16:11-15), which assumes that both women had some leadership role. But to say that Nympha and Lydia were leaders in their respective churches does not mean that either woman was an elder in that church, anymore than saying that just because I have led Bible studies in my home, that therefore this has made me an elder in a local church. That type of logic simply does not follow. 1 Encouraging men to lead in the church should not be a discouragement from women leading, in a complementarian fashion.2
Secondly, the focus on the practical working out of a complementarian theology was somewhat hampered by an insufficient exploration into why having a qualified male eldership in a local church fully explains Paul teaching on this subject in the Pastoral Letters (primarily 1 Timothy and Titus). This criticism is rightly made in Andrew Bartlett’s review of the book.
My answer would be that Embracing Complementarianism would have been even better if it had tried to connect complementarianism with a more sacramental theology. Thus by acknowledging the sacramental character of qualified male eldership, we do not have permission to ignore this practice in a local church, anymore than it would be to say that the sacrament of baptism is unnecessary today because what really matters is a conviction within the heart, as though the liturgical practice of water baptism is simply an irrelevant, old-fashioned ritual that belongs to a by-gone era. Rather, in recognizing the mysterious element here of how male and female relate together offers an invitation to explore the theological reasoning that undergirds this mystery. In other words, simply saying that the Bible teaches about a qualified male-only eldership does not offer enough theological substance for folks who wonder why God would have the Apostle Paul lay this principle out in the first place. A brief attempt to try to paint a sacramentally theological vision for a qualified male-only eldership was made decades ago by the great Oxford don, C.S. Lewis, by drawing upon the analogy of ballroom dancing. But more imaginative theological reflection is needed now in the 21st century. As Lewis himself put it, “the Church ought to be more like a [dance] Ball than it is like a factory or a political party.”
There is a serious need for complementarian theology to be expressed in book form that tackles this task. In the meantime, Embracing Complementarianism fits a needed space for a type of complementarian approach to what it means to be male and female in the church today without falling into either the Scylla and Charybdis extremes of a Council of Biblical Manhood and Woman-style, more-hardened, authoritarian-leaning complementarianism, on the one side, and a Christians for Biblical Equality egalitarianism, on the other side, which at times reaches too far with what comes across as exegetical handstands in trying to defend their arguments.2
1. Egalitarian biblical scholar Linda L. Belleville makes this non sequitor logical error in her essay in Two View on Women in Ministry, p. 54, in saying that “Mary, Lydia, and Nympha were overseers of house churches“. With respect to Mary, the mother of John Mark, Belleville cites Acts 12:12 for support, using the same faulty logic. Sloppy and slippery definitions of what it means to be an “elder” and “overseer” in a local church merely complicate the conversation, thus keeping the discussion from moving forward in a constructive direction. When we can not even agree upon the meaning of the terminology in a discussion, healthly productive conversation will often suffer. ↩
This summer was amazingly hectic for me with my job at the College of William and Mary. One phrase summarizes my summer: Supply chain delays. But now that students are back on campus, things are starting to settle down.
What follows is my attempt to recap some things that have made me think a lot, so far this year…. Bart Ehrman, “women in ministry,” where do you get your news, David McCullough, Roe vs. Wade, Jordan Peterson, Alex Jones and Sandy Hook, what is the best argument for the Resurrection, the “Late-Date” theory for the Exodus, Henry Emerson Fosdick 100 years later, “progressive Christianity,” divine hiddenness, and analytic philosophy.
A bit disjointed for sure, but all very important. I have a bunch of thoughts, but instead of individual blog posts about each topic, I will try to keep things fairly short, and include the summaries below. Read on!! ….
Blogging Recap… Featuring Bart Ehrman
I have written several blogs this year that I put quite a bit of thought into, after reading several books on my bike ride commutes to work. The longest series is on the “historical criticism” of the Bible, some of its history dating back to the 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, how “historical criticism” has both positively and negatively impacted the church, and offering a sample of Bible passages, with a model of doing “historical criticism” in a nuanced way, that appreciates the value of allowing historical method to inform our interpretation of the Bible, without slipping into unnecessary skepticism of the Bible’s divine inspiration.
My fundamental claim, in a nutshell, is that the most common methodology employed by historical critics like Bart Ehrman, as well as “Progressive Christians” who adopt the same methodology, is that they believe that you can only do proper historical research on the Bible by treating it like any other piece of human literature, which in their minds, implies that you must bracket off claims regarding the inspired nature of the Scriptural text as being the very Word of God, at least temporarily. If you fail to bracket that off, you ironically risk distorting the interpretation of the text. Historical critics like Bart Ehrman says the Bible is inherently contradictory, and so he dismisses attempts to try to harmonize Scriptural texts, even in the most nuanced way, as actually obscuring what the Bible is trying to tell us.
I am increasingly concerned that the negative impact of “historical criticism” that in the 20th century wrecked havoc in mainline Protestantism is now creeping into certain areas of less denominationally oriented evangelicalism, in a way that most evangelicals are completely unaware of. I will just leave it at that.
The most substantial book review was for Bart Ehrman’s Heaven and Hell. I had not read through a Bart Ehrman book before, with such detail. I can see why Ehrman has so many followers. I am just surprised that there have not been any Bart Ehrman fans who have jumped down on me and made critical comments on the blog yet. I strongly disagree with Bart on many points, but I have to concede that he articulates probably the most cogent critical view that I have read attacking the reliability of the New Testament, which partly explains why he is such a popular author. Plus, I would describe him as an honest non-believer, who does not try to pretend that he is a Christian. His interest in Christianity is primarily historical, trying to make sense of Jesus of Nazareth, the single most influential person in the world who has ever lived. If you want to understand why so many educated people reject the Bible as being authoritative, you better read Bart Ehrman. The chances are high that some highly educated “former” Christian you know, or someone who is going through a faith “deconstruction,” has read some Bart Ehrman.
An Update on the Complementarian/Egalitarian Divide in Evangelicalism
Nevertheless, I still hold high regard for evangelical Christians who are egalitarian in their convictions. My main concern is not in the specific conclusions that are drawn, but rather, I am concerned about the hermeneutical methods that some use to draw their conclusions. A faulty hermeneutic in one area of reading the Bible can lead to other distortions of Scripture in other areas.
So, Where Do You Get Your News?
We do not live in the 1970s anymore. Gone are the days of three major television news outlets, CBS, ABC, and NBC nightly news programs, and the hegemony of newspaper publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. For most of the 1990s, I narrowed down the options even more: The only time I bothered with listening to the news was on my evening commutes with NPR’s All Things Considered playing on the radio. Today, we get our news from various sources, which all give us conflicting and contradictory views of the world, which pretty much makes civil discourse in society today near to impossible.
I try to steer clear of exclusively of heavily biased news sources. Occasionally, I will read longer pieces by liberal outlets like the New York Times, but I try to balance it out with stories from the much more conservative Wall Street Journal. My wife likes listening to The World and Everything In it, the daily news podcast put out by WORLD News Group, which styles itself like a conservative evangelical alternative to NPR’s All Things Considered. WORLD has gotten better over the years, but recent staff upheavals at WORLD make me a little leery as to its future.
I pretty much stick with Ground.News, a secular outfit that ranks the bias of various news organizations when reporting stories, which I find quite helpful. But I have decided to try the PourOver email newsletter and podcast, as it offers to give a Christian perspective on the news while trying its best to steer clear of heavy bias, without flooding your brain, as it only comes out three times a week. So far the PourOver is a very refreshing approach to the news.
The Late David McCullough
While the bulk of what is posted on the Veracity blog is an Christian apologetics, my other love is for church history ( and history more broadly). Not too long ago the popular American historian David McCullough died. For me he models what a good historian does. He was the author of various best sellers, including 1776 and John Adams.
At the risk of being a little controversial, blogger Samuel D. James has some insightful thoughts regarding what Christians can learn from McCullough. James points out that some recent Christian books criticizing evangelicalism historically have fallen into a bad habit. In the most memorable quote by James, one particular author “wanted me to see the subjects of her history the way she sees them, not as how they saw themselves. How they interpreted their lives and beliefs was of little consequence. How the generations after them interpreted them was everything. This is the kind of history that gets people angry and eager to deconstruct whatever they sense is tainted by moral failure…. What renews my soul about reading David McCullough’s work is that it doesn’t do this.” Now that is provocative, but I am inclined to think that James is right, based on some other writings I have read along the same lines.
The Overturning of Roe vs. Wade
Like a lot of people, I was really surprised when the U.S Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, earlier this year. On the other hand, I am not convinced that the court’s verdict will have a lasting impact on public opinion about abortion, though I could easily be wrong. By putting the issue back in front of the states, the legislative debates will surely continue and get really complicated on a state by state basis. Perhaps the only solution will be something like an amendment to the federal constitution to ultimately settle the matter, and I do not see that as happening anytime soon. The main reason for thinking this is that even if extensive anti-abortion laws get passed, it might be almost impossible to enforce them. Without public support, passing unpopular laws will probably achieve little.
Marvin Olasky, an outspoken pro-life journalist, agrees citing what we know from history: “From the 1840s through the 1940s, public opinion concerning abortion was more negative than it is now, but even during that era, enforcement of abortion bans was rare. Millions of abortions occurred during that century, but only a tiny percentage of doctors did prison time. It was hard to get police to arrest, juries to convict, or judges to support jury decisions and turn down appeals.” As the subtitle of his article in Christianity Today declares, “Looking ahead, Christians should focus less on enforcement than on changing cultural attitudes.”
In the meantime, I am grateful for friends who work in or otherwise support crisis pregnancy centers that offer assistance to those in need. In my area of Williamsburg, Virginia, the closest center is CareNet Peninsula. They do great work there. It is through such efforts that perhaps there will be a day when abortion becomes an unthinkable option for people faced with such difficult decisions.
The “right to life” cause, in the political sphere, is primarily an effort led by Christians, as Bible readers seek to make their moral convictions known within the public arena. There are notable exceptions to this, as the late and famed New Atheist Christopher Hitchens opposed abortion. But by and large, I doubt if we will see a remarkable surge in support of the “right to life” until we have a massive wave of Christian spiritual revival in the West. That can only come about by prayer and evangelization, which means in part engaging in the type of apologetics being promoted here on the Veracity blog. Interestingly, history shows us that as more and more people came to Christ in the Roman Empire, in the first 500 years of the church, that this shifted public opinion away from promoting abortion. As more people embraced the Gospel, the less support there was for abortion. Perhaps this can be a lesson for us in the 21st century.
I just recently ran across a short, Tik-Tok type video, put out by one of my favorite YouTube apologists, Michael Jones, at Inspiring Philosophy, who addresses the objection that the Bible actually sanctions induced abortions, based on Numbers 5:27. I have been hearing the Numbers 5:27 pro-abortion argument a lot lately, and really did not know how to respond to it, until I saw Jones’ video. Jones argues that the NIV translation is unlikely, and explains what might be a much better translation. Worth checking out:
The Return of Jordan Peterson
While the world was swirling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outspoken Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, had a close brush with death of another kind. As a result of a successful nation hoping medical tour, Peterson finally made it out of this crisis and is back on the public stage. Many have described Jordan Peterson’s teachings as a “gateway drug” to Christianity, and I believe this is correct.
The following video by Peterson is perhaps the best short video supporting a psychological apologetic for complementarianism, urging Christians to stop downgrading men with constant talk about “toxic masculinity” and instead challenging young men to step forward and take responsibility, as a matter of Christian virtue. As Peterson argues, by supporting young men this will have a positive impact on young women as well. Plus, I believe that taking seriously Peterson’s argument will go a long ways towards trimming back the number of mass shootings, which are almost universally committed by young, disaffected and lonely males, longing for a sense of visionary purpose in life…. and that ranges from the Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooter, who had no father figure in his life, to the May 2022 racist shooter in Buffalo, N.Y. where as a child, he felt he did not have “that much importance” to his family, and that “my parents know little about me,” despite outward appearances that he had a nice, balanced family life.
Nevertheless, we should not define doctrine based on what Jordan Peterson says, but rather we should look to the Bible as our final authority. Jennie Pollock, a blogger in the U.K., has a nice short essay summarizing what she says, “Why I love my complementarian church.”
As a bonus, I found a really provocative approach to the issue of having “women as elders” by Dr. Gerry Breshears. In the following video interview by Preston Sprinkle, Breshears argues as a “soft” complementarian that only qualified men are to serve as local church elders, but interestingly, this has NOTHING to do with hierarchy. In fact, Breshears contends that neither Paul nor Timothy would have qualified to become church elders, even though Paul was an apostle and Timothy was the undisputed leader of the church in Ephesus. Agree or not, Dr. Breshears’ presentation will turn your head upside down on this (as it did mine!):
Alex Jones, Sandy Hook, and Conspiracy-Theory Driven “Christianity”
There is just some absolutely crazy stuff going on at the fringes of the evangelical Christian world. The story of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who was recently sued by parents of a child killed by the Sandy Hook mass shooter, says that he is a “Christian.“
Author Elizabeth Williamson has written a whole book about this, An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth, something I want to put on my reading list. Here is part of the promotional flyer on the cover for the book: “On December 14, 2012, a gunman killed twenty first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Ten years later, Sandy Hook has become a foundational story of how false conspiracy narratives and malicious misinformation have gained traction in society….One of the nation’s most devastating mass shootings, Sandy Hook was used to create destructive and painful myths. Driven by ideology or profit, or for no sound reason at all, some people insisted it never occurred, or was staged by the federal government as a pretext for seizing Americans’ firearms. They tormented the victims’ relatives online, accosted them on the street and at memorial events, accusing them of faking their loved ones’ murders. Some family members have been stalked and forced into hiding. A gun was fired into the home of one parent.”
As Williamson argues, the professing “Christian” Alex Jones was propagating this conspiracy theory, repeatedly using his InfoWars platform to spread these lies, influencing his followers to threaten some of those Sandy Hook parents. Over time, Jones eventually started to back off on such claims, but it took a number of years before he finally emphatically admitting that the killings were real, during this summer’s trial. Why it took Jones so long to admit his errors is baffling. Was it all just for show? Why he continues to propagate further lies and just plain odd behavior is even more troubling.
The testimony of this mother of one of the kids murdered at Sandy Hook, confronting the lies that Alex Jones continues to spread is heart-wrenching:
You read that right: the largest religious group in the American South are unchurched people claiming to be evangelical Christians.
Effectively, we have a steadily growing number of people who are leaving churches, while still claiming to be Christian, who are no longer being discipled by churches but who are instead being discipled by right-wing media outlets, that claim to promote Christian values. Historian Daniel K. Williams summarizes it like this: “Data suggests that, when their attendance drops, these nominal Christians become hyper-individualistic, devoted to law and order, cynical about systems, and distrustful of others.”
I can believe Williams because I know of a several professing Christians who have pretty much given up on going to church. They are not Sandy Hook conspiracy promoters, but they follow the same pattern that Williams summarizes.
As a reaction against this, I also know of several professed “Progressive Christians” who have a negative view of conservative evangelical faith, particularly that which often carries the label of “Christian nationalism.” But it might help such friends of mine to consider that perhaps what they are reacting against is not actual Christianity being practiced in our churches, but rather, they are reacting against a kind of fake Christianity practiced by professing “Christians” who would rather stay home and watch conservative media outlets on television instead of going to a vibrant Christian fellowship on Sunday mornings, and otherwise actively becoming part of some community, where they might get discipled in the faith.
Just something to think about.
Dispute over the Minimal versus Maximal Facts Argument for the Resurrection
Christian apologist and YouTuber Mike Winger is a bit simplistic here, but he has a decent short summary of each approach:
The minimal facts argument, articulated best by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, suggests that we limit the evidence used in our argument to those facts that the widest spectrum of biblical scholars and historians, ranging from conservative to liberal, will most reasonably accept. For example, many scholars and historians today believe that the Apostle Paul only wrote 7 of the 13 letters in the New Testament attributed in him. Also, many scholars suggest that a good deal of the material we have in the Gospels is historically unreliable, much of it being the product of the early church placing ideas and words on the lips of Jesus. For people who are to some degree aware of what such scholars and historians say, the minimal facts approach will probably meet the least amount of resistance. Nevertheless, the goal is to try to persuade people that Christians can be thoughtful and still believe in the Resurrection at the same time, so that inquirers might consider taking further steps in having a deeper understanding of what the implications of the Resurrection are, so that they might embrace the whole of the Christian message.
Alternatively, the maximal facts approach suggests that we use the entire arsenal of evidence from the New Testament to make our case for the Resurrection. My thought is that we should use whatever approach makes sense, based on the assumptions made by the audience with whom we are engaging. If someone follows the broad scholarly opinion, I would lead with the minimal facts argument. If someone is willing to accept the whole of the New Testament as historically reliable, or is at least fairly open to it, then I would use the maximal facts approach instead.
In other words, Christians should invest the necessary time to be able communicate both arguments, both the minimal facts and the maximal facts approach in their evangelistic conversation. Since in my experience, most Christians I know are not familiar with the minimal facts approach at all, and that they tend to fumble their way through some variation of the maximal facts approach, it would be the most wisest thing to learn both approaches, with their pluses and minuses.
The key is this: Know your audience. Adjust your argument accordingly so that you keep the discussion on track, in hopes that your friend will take a closer step to knowing Jesus. Pretty straightforward, to me, at least.
I have come to conclude that the so-called “late date” theory of when the Exodus occurred is probably the best explanation of both the Scriptural archaeological data, as YouTuber apologist Michael Jones, and his Egyptologist consultant, Dr. David A. Falk, suggest. Here are some of the latest and best YouTube videos that dig into the details. I am still open to changing my mind on all of this, but to date, this position seems to be the best argument to make to support the historicity of the Exodus:
Lest anyone think I am being unfair here, you might want to listen to the following interview that Sean McDowell did with archaeologist Dr. Titus Kennedy, who favors an early date (15th c. BCE) versus Jones/Falk’s late date (13th c. BCE) proposal. Jones was previously an early date advocate, like Kennedy, but was convinced on the late date (as I am) by Dr. Falk. If you are still persuaded by the early date proposal, let me just say that the late date proposal, in my view, is easier to defend with non-believers, regarding the historicity of the Exodus. At some point, I hope to do a whole blog series regarding the historicity issue of the Exodus, but that’ll be some time far off into the future!!
I could be wrong about the “Late-Date” (13th century). The “Early-Date” (15th century) could be correct. Whatever I am, I am not impressed by chariot wheels stories passed around by Ron Wyatt. No Christian archaeologist is either.
As a bonus, here is another cool video from Inspiring Philosophy about the stopping of the sun moving in Joshua 10:
Shall the Fundamentalists Win? – Harry Emerson Fosdick 100 Years Later
On May 21, 1922, Henry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist serving in a New York City Presbyterian Church, preached a most (in)famous sermon entitled, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Fosdick’s sermon was a tipping point in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the early 20th century, that led to the split between liberal mainline Protestants and conservative evangelical fundamentalists in America, during the 1920s. One hundred years later, church historian Darryl Hart discusses the impact of this sermon on the church today.
The Debate over Defining “Progressive Christianity”
The problem with “progressive Christianity” really is about definition of terms, but it also points to the difficulty in being able to know where to draw the line between essentials and non-essentials of Christian faith. In the 20th century, the line between liberal mainline Protestantism and conservative evangelicalism was pretty clear. Here in the 21st century, this is not the case any more, as the term “evangelical” gets played around with a lot. In my view, it is better to err on the side against progressive Christianity.
In defense of Alisa Childers, I must say that in the various videos that I have seen, Childers is actually quite honest and revealing that “progressive Christianity” is indeed a very loose and difficult concept to define, as various “progressive Christians” will often contradict one another. For some reason, Randal Rauser does not see this. Perhaps this is because Alisa’s book comes across as less nuanced, and I will admit that I have not read her book, so Randal might be right. Still, I think she has a good approach to this, even when I do not completely agree with every particular position she takes on certain issues. I would say that her journey away from egalitarianism to complementarianism is a perspective that does not get discussed that much.
To her credit, Alisa Childers has a quite revealing interview with Bobby Conway, the One-Minute Apologist, who actually went through his own deconstruction process a few years after he started his One-Minute Apologist YouTube channel. As he describes in the video, the destructive behavior that resulted from his deconstruction process cost him his job as a church pastor, but thankfully he has been in recovery since then.
The Problem of Divine Hiddenness
If there was one area where I think that both atheists and even progressive Christians raise a good question, that I personally struggle with, it has to do with the problem of divine hiddenness. To put it briefly: “Why doesn’t God seem to reveal himself to people who are open and seeking him?” This is something I have to do some more thinking about, so I am not making any claims here. Many Christians tell me that the reason why God sometimes seems silent in a person’s life is because that person has some sort of sin impeding their ability or receptibility to actually hear from or see God at work. I am not so sure about that at this point, but I am willing to learn more. Justin Brierley at “Premier Unbelievable?” invited atheist Alex O’Connor (aka Cosmic Skeptic) and Christian apologist Lukas Ruegger to discuss the issue on the Unbelievable? YouTube channel and podcast. This (and the following) video I probably need to listen to a few times before I finally have some remedial grasp:
Philosopher Liz Jackson was also interviewed a couple of years ago on this very topic:
…. and then there is this…..
And Finally….. A Christian Approach to Philosophy
I want to introduce you all to a fairly new friend of mine. Dr. Philip Swenson teaches philosophy at the College of William and Mary. I met Philip through the ministry of the Cambridge House, a Christian study center serving the campus community at William and Mary, here in Williamsburg. Dr. Swenson, as you will see below, has interests in the area of free will and responsibility, where he talks about stuff like Monism and compatibilism, and other fancy ideas that I can barely pronounce. Frankly, philosophy at this level is not really my area, but I still enjoy learning things from Philip. You may agree or disagree with him, but the main thing is that Philip loves Jesus!
Recently, Philip told me that he has a few interviews up on a Christian apologetics YouTube channel. So, if you think that Christians are dumb anti-intellectuals, the following videos will cure you of that misguided notion (HA-HA!!). Philip has an interesting background, having grown up in a charismatic church but currently attends a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. What a combination. He was recently interviewed a couple of times on the Analytic Christian YouTube channel (the last video is response by another Christian philosopher, Justin Mooney at Denison University, in defense of Molinism). I will probably have to listen to these a few times myself to get everything, but for those who appreciate analytic philosophy from a Christian perspective, here ya go!!
…. For the Rest of 2022….
I have started reading a couple of other books which I hope to complete when my wife and I go on vacation later in the Fall. For example, I am near the end of reading a book on “Divine Violence” in the Bible, which has been very helpful to think through during this age of the ongoing war in the Ukraine.
Also, I FINALLY got around to reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which I have been putting off for about 40 years, and that is no joke. Why did I wait so long? Mere Christianity is really an excellent book, one of the best apologetic books I have ever read. Look for a book review coming out fairly soon. Stay tuned!!
…. Oh, and Just For Fun….
Found the following video, from a bluegrass band, Southern Raised, performing (oddly enough) the song “Thunderstruck” as an instrumental. Their YouTube channel describes them as a Christian band, but I must say that their version of this well-known song by the Australian heavy-metal rockers, AC-DC, is much better than the original. Lot’s of fun… just wait ’till mid-way towards the end!
How are men and women to relate to one another, in the church and in the family?
When we read the Bible, we find various statements about men and women that seem to be at odds with one another. Galatians 3:28 sees no distinction between male and female, whereas 1 Timothy 2:12 seems to place a restriction on women that men do not have, when serving in the church. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 has Paul saying that husbands and wife share mutual rights with one another, whereas Ephesians 5:22-33 suggests some type of priority husbands have in relation to their wives, in terms of who submits to whom.
What is a biblically faithful Christian to do with this? Select a certain group of texts has having priority over others, thus having a “canon within the canon” approach to Scripture, …. or find a way of integrating the whole of the Scriptural material?
A debate rages among evangelical Christians as to how to resolve the tensions that various Scriptural passages like these present to us. On the one side are the egalitarians, who sense a profound embarrassment over anything in the Bible that appears to be misogynistic, and thus emphasize the equality between men and women. For egalitarians, the liberating message of Jesus for women takes center stage. On the other side are the complementarians, who recognize gender equality, but who refuse to shy away from those passages that might suggest otherwise. Complementarians instead see such difficult passages as offering clues into the complementary relationship between male and female. Instead of embarrassment, complementarians see a beauty being expressed in the gender complementarity of the Bible.
It is important to say at the outset that Christians of good faith, can and indeed do disagree on these matters. Nevertheless, the positions we do take on how male and female relate to one another do have an impact on both marriages and the structure of a local church, and in how we think about gender more generally.