So regular readers with good memory skills should be able to recall that I have tangled before with a woman named Rachel Green Miller a time or two. Or three. One example of that was when she subjected my wedding exhortations to something called quantitative analysis, which, I don’t know, sounds pretty scientificky. And another time she was trying to figure out what makes my readers tick. Why on earth would otherwise okay people even read me—apart from the shininess of all those verathaned adjectives, I mean?
It might therefore come as no surprise that some have wondered whether I was going to review her new book, a book entitled Beyond Authority and Submission. But I was not sure I really wanted to, if we are being honest here. However, because I do have a deep sense of duty, and as I have many obligations to my reading audience, I am willing to meet some of my more demanding readers halfway. So let me go this far. Let me attempt to do my part by reviewing the blurbs, the foreword, the acknowledgements, and the introduction.
One reason for my unwonted coyness is this. On my last two ventures out, I stalled out on both of them. I got within a chapter or two of finishing Aimee Byrd’s book Why Can’t We Be Friends? But, as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And while I was wielding the machete of truth through the thicket of Eric Mason’s Woke Church, I confess that I sat down for a minute to rest. When I woke up, everybody was gone. I don’t want to go through that again. It took me hours to get back to camp.
Prolegomena on the Method
Some might object that it does seem a bit thick to give your views on a book after having only read—as shamelessly acknowledged above—the blurbs, the foreword, the acknowledgements, and the introduction. But I do have something to say. By way of explanation, allow me to venture just two things about this.
First, I can stick my pinky into a bottle of vinegar, put it on the tip of my tongue, and still pronounce on the contents. I do not need to chug the whole bottle in order to talk about it with a conscience not positively in tatters. Second, this is not my first taste from this particular bottle. Rachel Miller is going into print to examine the worldview assumptions of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Victorians (Loc. 183) in order to show how their secular assumptions have sneeveled their way into the views of contemporary complementarians. This has happened to such an extent that Rachel Miller is no longer comfortable even identifying herself as a complementarian, despite her stated formal agreement with a number of the key elements of said complementarianism. That agreement amounts to the acknowledgment that men get to be leaders in the home and at church, provided it is servant leadership, and provided also they don’t stray into areas where Greeks, Romans, and Victorians tended to be bossy.
By the way, since Aimee Byrd mentioned servant leadership in her foreword (Loc. 164), and Rachel Miller mentioned it in her introduction (Loc. 251), and since I just now dissed that concept above, let me make clear that I do not object to the servant part of it. Because the Lord Jesus made it perfectly plain that His model of lordship meant washing the feet of disciples and bleeding for the lives of enemies, no sane Christian could object to centrality of sacrificial service. Husbands are called to it. But why do we not call husbands servant heads, or servant rulers, or servant lords? Because that would reveal what is actually going on here.
Excursus done. And leaving the Greeks, Romans and Victorians aside for the nonce, let me say this.
I have had the exhilarating experience of Rachel Miller placing my entomological views under her peculiar microscope, and getting them hopelessly and spectacularly wrong. I say entomological because if I were to write a careful description of a lady bug, say, she would then arrive on the scene and call it a tick. “Look,” she says. “Six legs.” “I take your point,” I would reply. “But ticks have eight legs, except in the larval stage, when they have six, but even then they are not bright red with pretty little black dots.”
I forgot. Another reason people read me is for the excitement of the occasional runaway metaphor.
Anyway, given the way she got those sorts of things all wrong, and has not thought she needed to fix any of them, I think I have enough experience to know exactly what she is up to. Stick around and I will tell you some more about it.
Those Greeks, Romans, Victorians, Et Al.
Rachel Miller is objecting to unbiblical accretions.
“Over time, we end up with layers and layers of extrabiblical and even unbiblical ideas that cover up what the Bible teaches”
“But extrabiblical and unbiblical ideas have been incorporated into the movement’s teaching as well. These ideas have more in common with Greek, Roman, and Victorian beliefs than with the Bible”
But let us leave open as a possibility, and I am merely suggesting it, that the Greeks, Romans, and Victorians had eyes in their heads and that they saw what the Sumerians, Hittites, and Edwardians also saw. Just a thought.
Climbing Through the Overton Window
The Overton Window—the range of acceptable positions within public discourse—is on the move. For those just joining us it is moving decidedly left. Christians who want to keep their position located within that window in these changing times have to figure out a way to change without looking like they are changing.
Christians are supposed to stand for the permanent things, and since the whole point of the modern secular movement is to move the Overton Window so as to exclude the permanent things, Christians, in order to stay in the game, feel like they have to move with the times without looking like they are moving with the times. Thus the progressive agenda is advanced under the name of conservatism. No need to spook the conservative element in the church, who tend to be donors, and so this façade is maintained until it is safe to finally say out loud, “Brethren, we simply must move with the times.”
One way to do this is to have your own little Overton Window for respectable Christians. In what follows, I want you to notice how Rachel Miller positions the range of acceptable positions that reasonable Christians may debate within the conservative church. It used to be patriarchy or complementarianism. Which? But in the way she frames it now, feminism is one extreme and patriarchy is the other—outside the window frame, of course.
Rachel Miller asks this question about our genderview options:
“The most common ones are feminism, egalitarianism, complementarianism, and patriarchy. At this point, you may be curious about where I fit in” Loc
Yes, we are curious. Not that we don’t already know.
So when it comes to role relationships, we have four different kinds of soup. There is the unbelieving secular feminist soup on one extreme, on the left side of the stove, off on the counter, and the hyper-Christian patriarchal soup on the counter on the other side. For Miller, those two are obviously out. We do not cook with those pots.
This leaves the “two middle-ground positions” (Loc. 244)—and there is way more to that positioning, that phrasing, than most might suppose. Look at Rachel Miller consider the two reasonable, non-extreme pots that are on her stove.
Now, out of these two “middle ground” positions, she used to identify as a right pot complementarian, but no more. “However, because complementarianism as a movement has embraced these ideas [of the Greeks, Romans and Victorians, ick, poo], I’m not comfortable with calling myself a complementarian” (Loc. 262).
Now in between the extremes sitting cold on the two counters, we have thin soup egalitarianism and thick soup complementarianism. Now I have ten dollars here that is willing to bet that after Rachel Miller has poured her three quarts of un-Greek, non-Roman, and anti-Victorian hot water into the soup, it will at that point be thinner. I am not a cook or anything, but I think that this is a defensible position.
If these things really are on a spectrum, if things really do work this way, then secular feminism is on the left, then egalitarianism, then soft complementarianism, then hard complementarianism, then soft patriarchy, and then hard patriarchy. So what direction is complementarianism going to go on this continuum when Rachel Miller is done fixing it? Hands up, everybody that thinks that when we are rid of the bad juju from the Greeks, Romans, and Victorians, this will take us a bit closer to patriarchy. No one? That means it will be moving in the other direction, right?
Okay, but that’s if they are on a spectrum, which maybe they aren’t. But if they aren’t, then the whole framework of her argument is spavined. That could become troublesome.
So if they are on a spectrum, then we should ask Rachel Miller where her views fall on the spectrum. Her views on this same subject have to be somewhere on the spectrum, right? So are her views on the right side of complementarianism, closer to patriarchy, or on the left side, closer to egalitarianism?
Now if she says that her views are not on this spectrum at all, but rather she is cooking up her soup in a separate Bible kitchen—into which no Greek, Roman or Victorian has ever entered—then we are justified in asking why we can’t cook our soups in a Bible kitchen too, in which we might also dish up soups that cannot be placed on spectrums. That’s where I try to do my cooking, if the truth be told.
There is another aspect of all this that we must really set the dogs on. She defines patriarchy this way:
“On the other extreme, patriarchal beliefs emphasize the differences between women and men and show a strong preference for male authority in all aspects of life”
So let us stop and consider for a moment the nature of this extreme view, the one that need not be considered seriously because of its extremism. What is patriarchy, according to Miller? Well, here it is in a nutshell. Patriarchy emphasizes the differences between women and men, and it shows a strong preference for male authority in all aspects of life. These words—emphasis and strong preference—are the language of extremism indeed.
But having relegated all of recorded human history to the realm of gender extremism (yes, including the Greeks, Romans, and Victorians), and having adopted a definition that only allows for non-extremism to have magically blossomed in North America and Europe during the last fifty years or so, Miller also warns us against the danger of adapting to trends!
I would like to say that I wish to point out that I almost never use exclamation points, but, as the apostle Paul might say, she has forced me to it.
In the midst of describing universal human nature as extremism, and in the midst of arguing a view that could never have had any purchase at all outside of our own very silly time, she says this kind of thing: “What’s fashionable today is outdated tomorrow” (Loc. 219). She warns that “our theology runs the risk of being trendy” (Loc. 221).
Now to be fair, she was cautioning against trendiness back then and not trendiness now. She was warning us against the trends that other people fell for, not the trends that she is falling for. She was talking about the motes in other Christian eyes and not the beams in her own. Imagine. Somebody writes a book in 2019 wanting to tease out, to use Aimee Byrd’s language, “some of your own lingering doubts about the usefulness of rigid gender stereotypes” (Loc. 63).
Fight trendiness today! Start questioning rigid gender stereotypes!
Land of Goshen. For the love of Pete. Crikey. As I live and breathe. Crabs and crumpets. Good golly Miss Molly. Gosh.
Gather round, Christians. We are (finally!) going to fight the temptation to trendiness by learning how to question rigid gender stereotypes. If I might bring a little perspective to this, this is more than a bit like suggesting that Aragorn change his approach to the battle of Helm’s Deep by learning to question whether the clothing of the Rohirrim standing behind him was perhaps a little old-fashioned. Perhaps so old-fashioned that it was little off-putting to the Uruk-hai. Completely unnecessary.
Seriously? Same sex mirage is the law of the land in all fifty states. Male athletes are competing in women’s events for no other reason than that they say they identify as women. Sixty million dead from the crime of abortion. Our catechetical film industry has taught us that women can be sexy assassins. Actual grown-ups are stocking men’s restrooms with tampons. The people running public discourse can pretty much make anybody, if they say anything like “dude looks like a lady,” crawl, apologize, and beg to keep their job. Shoot, if that person tweeted something like that back in high school, they can be made to crawl, apologize, and beg to keep their job.
And so, in these troubled times for Israel, God has raised up a prophetess, a true daughter of Huldah, one who can teach us how important it is to question rigid gender stereotypes. At last! We were waiting for someone to show us the way. What way?
The way to collapse in front of this secular onslaught whilst simultaneously pretending that we were actually digging deeper into the Scriptures. How to surrender while pretending to wave your sword bravely. The Philistine has come out to taunt the armies of Israel with the fact that we don’t have the requisite number of women in our front ranks. We blush. We are ashamed. We listen—for the Philistine in question is neither Greek, Roman, nor Victorian—and we look at one another meaningfully. Time for a Greek word study! Time to rid ourselves of Victorian accretions.
Reformed Evangelicals Are Being Groomed for the Pivot
No, we are not ready to pivot yet. We need a bunch of Big Voices in Reformed evangelicaldom—ironically including men like Carl Trueman—to help us PREPARE to pivot. We must be groomed for the pivot. And this preparation for the pivot has to be conducted within the camp.
And that is what is being done. This rot is spreading, and spreading rapidly. This book is published by Presbyterian & Reformed. It is blurbed, for example, by Liam Goligher of Tenth Pres in Philly, and by Carl Trueman. Another blurb comes from an OPC pastor. Aimee Byrd wrote the foreword. This kind of stuff, in short, is being churned out by our people, and not by the liberal mainliners, and not by the squishy evangelical left. Or rather, let us say, on gender issues the squishy evangelical left now extends pretty far to the right. Squishiness is on the move.
The preparation for the pivot works this way, and was alluded to above. Patriarchy (with its blinkered view that the last fifty years should not be the compass we steer by) is simply labeled extreme. It is extreme in just the way feminism is. Let us be done with extremes! Let us beware, Liam Goligher warns us in a blurb, of “the extremes of patriarchy and feminism” (Loc. 33).
Now incidentally, I do acknowledge that there is a version of patriarchy out there that really is extreme. But the way Rachel Miller defined her extreme patriarchy, it included virtually all of western civilization. But I don’t at all mind the patriarchy that built western civilization. No complaints there. But the extreme patriarchal types I know about couldn’t run a hot dog stand, and so I don’t think we need to worry about them—about Elijah One Tooth holed up in his Ozarks compound.
Let us abandon any attempts to conserve the heritage of western civilization, let us surrender cravenly to the definitions set out for us by the last fifty years, and let us call what we are doing conservatism. The very first blurb tags Rachel Miller as “a conservative who loves Scripture” (Loc. 2). So what was it we were conserving exactly?
What Does Beyond Even Mean Here?
Rachel Miller says this:
“In addition, I see that authority and submission have become the lens through which all of women’s and men’s interactions are viewed”
She also says this:
“We need to move beyond a focus on authority and submission in order to incorporate equally important biblical themes into our discussions, such as unity, interdependence, and service. As we do, we will strengthen our vital relationship as co-laborers in Christ”
What does “moving beyond” even mean? What are we even talking about? The way this whole discussion is set up and framed at the very beginning tells us exactly what “moving beyond” means. It means sidestepping, it means minimizing, it means restricting the operative realms of, it means diluting, it means trying to make the Christian view of sexuality academically respectable, and it means all kinds of other things.
It means I have seen this movie before.
Integrated thinkers know how to remember one truth while they apply others. And remembering one truth while you apply others does not mean that you are looking at those others through “the lens” of the first truth. Nancy and I have been living for decades in “unity, interdependence, and service.” Who on earth could be against that? And why on earth would “authority and submission” be thought a rival to “unity, interdependence, and service”?
But we both have Bibles that we both read, and they both have Ephesians 5 in them. Interpreting Scripture in the light of Scripture is a positive exegetical duty, and doing this does not hand us a problematic lens that must be set aside when we start reading another passage. I don’t need to forget Eph. 5:22-27 in order to be admonished and encouraged by John 13:12.