For many years I have taught that authority in a Christian home is to be found in Christ — not in the husband, not in the wife, and not in the two them together. The masculine perspective is not normative, and the feminine perspective is not normative. Both the husband and the wife are to submit to Christ. That means submitting to His Word, which means that, under Christ, the husband is the head of his wife.
I have taught young women — also for many years — that when you find a young man who has high views of the authority he thinks he gets to wield, and low to nonexistent views of the authority that might be above him, the time has come to run. I have as little use for men who think their personal desires and bigotries trump the Word of God as I do for the women who do the same thing. We are all under authority.
In counseling situations, I have had to deal with the grief caused in marriages when the wife put up with things for years that she ought not to have put up with for ten minutes. When this has happened, false views of submission have been a central culprit. But chucking those false views for another set of false views isn’t going to fix anything.
This is not an academic issue for me. When I have attacked masculinist bluster (as I frequently have), I am not attacking villains from my daydreams. In our conservative circles, such bantam rooster views of headship and submission have needed to be rebuked, which I have sought to faithfully do. But in the broader evangelical world, it is the wet smack views of headship and submission that need to be rebuked. Unfortunately, rebuking a wet smack isn’t as much fun as it sounds.
Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. When you close off any particular area, saying that the word of the Lord need not apply here, you open the door to sinners who will manipulate that particular situation to suit them. The world being the way it is, that manipulation will come out in favor of those who hold the power-controls. This is why we must be under the authority of God, for He is the only one who is not corrupted by that kind of power.
So it is not the Scriptures that require a woman to be a “passive receptacle.” Men will do that, particularly if they have been given a blank check by the enlightened that allows them to not consult with the Word of God on what it means to possess their vessel in sanctification and honor (1 Thess. 4:4). We live in a world radically affected by sin, and so we always need to be protected from one another, whichever way we go, whatever we do. Men fail as men when they adopt the despotic attitude of the rapist. They also fail as men when they adopt the outlook and demeanor sexless capon.
Think for a moment about Donne’s famous Holy Sonnet XIV, and try to imagine what kind of poem it would be if he had needed to remove all language that might cause a woman to find it “inaccurate, degrading and harmful.”
Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
“Batter?” Seriously? Shouldn’t it be “Flatter my heart, three-person’d God . . .” Don’t we want God to speak PC platitudes to our hearts? . . .” Conquest of a “usurp’d town?” Conquest? Like what the aliens tried to do in Independence Day? “Break, blow, burn?” That sounds like “domestically abuse me, make me new.” We need to fix that. How about “feed me chocolates, make me new”?
Someone asked in the comments to the previous post about the words I used in that excerpt — the words that everybody was yelling about. Here, let me say it again:
“In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”
One thing that gave offense was my rejection of an “egalitarian pleasuring party.” This was taken by some as me saying that only the man need get the pleasure, which would be ridiculous. The emphasis needs to be placed on “egalitarian pleasuring party” — the kind of party where the sexes of the participants don’t matter, because all that matters is that two or more people come to orgasm. I was by implication lauding a complementarian pleasure party. The term of opprobrium there was egalitarian, not pleasure.
Then there were the other terms that some folks tripped over. In the next few paragraphs, let me just expand on some points I made in the comments at Jared Wilson’s blog.
It is not possible to talk about this without talking about it. “Penetrates.” Is anyone maintaining that this is not a feature of intercourse? “Plants.” Is the biblical concept of seed misogynistic? “Conquer.” Her neck is like the tower of David, and her necklace is like a thousand bucklers. “Colonize.” A garden locked is my sister, my bride. C’mon, people, work with me here.
Incidentally, I know and understand that both husband and wife have sexual authority (1 Cor. 7:4). Her eyes conquer him. “Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me” (Song 6:4-5). She is like an army with banners. So the language of conquest is language of mutual conquest, but it is still there. But when language of conquest is used with regard to the woman, it is unfortunate that some women get huffy. Guys generally don’t. When she starts to militarize, he gets a sly grin and adopts a policy of craven appeasement.
All words have connotations in addition to denotations. For those who are trying to get “being offended” added as a sport in the next Olympics, it is pretty easy for them to pick one definition, the one with egregious connotations, and then to make sure they never allow interpret that word, when used by their adversary, in a benign or positive sense. You can’t fix this, incidentally, by choosing other words. Olympian offendees can be outraged by virtually anything.
So only a person with a poetic ear like three feet of tin foil would maintain that penetrates can only be used of a Nazi invasion of Belgium, or that plants means that a man must treat his woman like dirt, or that conquering can only be done by ravaging Huns, and that colonization can only occur in a Haitian cane break.
Here’s a little poem I wrote. Hope you enjoy it.
Vineyard of En Gedi
When he gives to her, and she receives it
With passive and gentle ferocity,
He thanks his God who made their bodies fit
Within these laws of reciprocity.
So then what appears as carnal pleasure
Is really far more — it is sacrifice,
Holy and sacred, an earth-bound treasure,
Reflecting glory, I render thanks twice
For here is the woman, and here is her head
Gathered in this, their tumultuous bed.