As trendy as it may be to rage against the patriarchy, for progressive evangelicals, the key to doing this successfully is to rage against the exegesis, which is to say, to rage against the clear implications of the text.
I have been astonished at how often a plain statement of Scripture is simply backhanded in a discussion among Christians, as though the presence of raw unbelief (under the guise of anger, or hurt, or something) somehow settled a matter. And if you press the issue with such a person, the attitude expressed goes from contemptuous dismissal to one of white hot anger and indignation. The end of the affair is that the responsible exegete, who labored to determine what the text actually required of us, is dismissed as a hater and bigot, and is forced to begin thinking about what ministry in the Siberian camps might be like.
Compounding the irony, there are many passages of Scripture where the liberal exegete might be more trustworthy than the evangelical exegete. This is because the liberal is at liberty to tell us what the (bigoted) text says (ho, ho, ho), while the evangelical is employed on the faculty of an institution that requires an annual pinch of incense be offered to the Doctrine of Inerrancy, as a way of placating the donors, and this means that the said evangelical faculty member is going to be stuck with the results of his exegesis. What to do, what to do! The liberal can tell us what Paul thought, and wasn’t it quaint, not to mention hateful. At the same time, the progressive and very stuck evangelical has to affirm whichever apostle may have offended this time, but while maintaining that what he akkchully said was . . .
Let us take just one example of this. We shall consider the teaching of the apostles that Christian wives should be submissive to their husbands, and that it was necessary for wives to take care that they obey their husbands.
Let’s Make It Plain, Shall We?
Paul teaches us that the older women in the church are supposed to instruct the younger women a number of things. Among the things he includes in the curriculum is the lesson on how to be obedient to husbands.
“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
Titus 2:4–5 (KJV)
But now, in this enlightened era, we teach the younger women to reach for their dreams, follow their heart, and to not let anybody tell them what to do . . . that the word of God not be blasphemed. We are wiser than Paul, as it turns out.
It also turns out that we are going to have to be wiser than Peter as well.
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives . . . For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
1 Peter 3:1, 5–6 (KJV)
Not only did Paul say this kind of thing in Titus, but he was also a repeat offender.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”
Ephesians 5:22–25 (KJV)
He did it again in Colossians, the sister epistle to Ephesians.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.”
Colossians 3:18 (KJV)
This kind of thing is fitting in the Lord, he says, but the submission of wives to husbands doesn’t fit everything. It doesn’t fit a bitter heart, or a rebellious one. It doesn’t fit an egalitarian frame of mind, and it doesn’t fit feminism. It doesn’t fit a cranky face.
But it does fit the way God made the world.
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”
1 Corinthians 11:3 (KJV)
The conclusion seems inescapable—the Scriptures are unabashedly patriarchal. And if you, oh gelatinous (but still inerrantist!) pastor, have drifted into a frame of mind that now regards patriarchy as an irredeemable sin, a sin that needs to be “smashed,” then all that remains is for the devil to stand up on his side of the chessboard and say something like “checkmate.” Or, in the immortal words of C.S. Lewis, “how should a jelly not conform?”
You were entrusted with the Bible as the Word of God, and you were ordained to proclaim its message, but now, after just five years of attending the wrong kind of conferences, and reading IVP books, you are limbering up for your final effort in the Apostasy Dash. You are gearing up to confess that the Bible is the thing that is all screwed up. Your seminary education was something of a Maginot Line, and all the woke Nazis had to do was send their tanks of asininity through Belgium.
And if a woman Bible teacher cannot understand the above texts, and obey them, then we shouldn’t really be entrusting her with unpacking the really difficult stuff. Should we now?
What would be a good parallel? As I read somewhere once, if your pastor tells you that Jesus turned 160 gallons of water into grape juice, how can you trust anything he says? It is the same kind of thing here. So if an egalitarian tries to tell you that submission, obedience, deference, and respect are basically synonymous with having the whip hand over your designated servant leader, why would you believe them when they try to explain what a parbar is (1 Chron. 26:18)? Or the meaning of Ezekiel’s wheels (Eze. 1:4-28)?
It will be objected that there are some awful husbands out there. It will be said that submission to a jerk is difficult, and why don’t you try it some time? It will be maintained that white fragility has nothing on male fragility, and that if men need their egos stroked so bad, they should check in with a psychiatric masseuse. And on top of that, if they really need someone to look up at them with adoring brown eyes all the time, they should get down to the pet store immediately in order to purchase themselves a Pekingese lap dog.
I see. There were no abusive husbands in Peter’s day? There were no jerks or difficult men in Ephesus of old? Or perhaps they were such men back then, and God overlooked their existence while He was inspiring His sacred books. He was busy and occupied with the arduous task of inspiring some really bad counsel for us. So perhaps the next progressive wave of evangelical nu-think is preparing to say that the God of Scripture was as incompetent back in the day as they maintain that He is now. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall hurt your feelings.
Let us brainstorm this, they say. It could be that when Peter instructs wives who have husbands who “obey not the word,” telling them to win their husbands with quiet deference (1 Pet. 3:1), he was talking about men who were characterized by tiny little faults and peccadilloes, really hard to see, and easily borne. Otherwise he would be convicted of telling wives to do something difficult. Yeah, that’s the ticket. The Word calls men to take up their cross and to live lives of self-denial, but the women get to do whatever they want.
But alas, that won’t work. Want to know what the real problem is? The real problem is that we have a great multitude of hard-hearted wives out there, or would be wives, professing evangelical Christians, who very much want to be married, but on their own terms. They want a kinder, gentler version of submission, one that can be readily backed out of the picture entirely in just a few years, after they get their husbands trained. They want their version of headship and submission, and not God’s.
Tell me, why does the Bible tell wives to be submissive and obedient so often, and yet you can’t remember the last time you obeyed your husband?
A Parable, Brief and Dark
A woman went to her doctor, and was informed by him that she had cancer. She naturally got upset by this, and asked him if the last male patient he had seen was told he had cancer. “No,” the doctor said, “but that was because he didn’t have . . .”
“And the male patient before that,” she interrupted. “Did you tell him that he had cancer?”
“Well, no,” the doctor admitted, “but that was because he didn’t. He had a broken ankle.”
“What I don’t see,” she continued, “is how you can maintain that your medical practice is at all fair-minded and equitable when you tell me that I have cancer, and you refuse to tell male patients that they have cancer.”
“When they do, I do. But most of the men I see have different problems. So I try to treat those, and not the problems they don’t have.”
With that, she huffed out of the office, highly indignant. She was arrested later that evening for breaking into the doctor’s office. She was found rifling through their computer files, examining the prescriptions that had been written for all the men. She was trying to find a pattern.
Today’s NQN Giveaway
The gift installment to you this time is Reforming Marriage. This book was first published in 1995, which means that I had been married twenty years when it was first printed. And that means in its turn that I did know something about marriage at the time, and the sentiments expressed therein were not (at that time) illegal. And now that I know a bit more, I am grateful that I still agree with all of it, and I am able to say that the stalwart Canon johnnies are not pressing me to rewrite it in order to take out the inconvenient and angular parts. In this fallen world, obedience is supposed to be awkward.
Here is the link to the free Kindle, and hope you enjoy it.