My interaction with Brad Littlejohn on this pink hair business is going to have to proceed very careful lest the whole thing turn into a love fest. I think we have established that we largely agree on the principles, at least at 30,000 feet. The issue remaining, as I understand it, is how much of a gap or jump is there between the scriptural principle and the application of that principle. And more to the point, do preachers making such applications even acknowledge the existence of such a gap? Is there a diminution of authority, in other words, by the time you get down to the modern implementation? And if so, shouldn’t the preacher make his applications a little more cautiously?
But before getting to that—which is a most interesting point—I need to correct and tighten up my language. I initially said:
“But left out of this equation is whether the pastor is correct, and whether the believer would be right in thinking what he now does based on what the pastor says. And this goes back to the clarity of the scriptural teaching.”
However later on in his post Brad had addressed that, as he pointed out in his follow up.
“Of course, if the rebuke is according to the Word, if the minister does indeed accurately proclaim and apply God’s wrath against a certain kind of behavior, then it may be worth the risk of such responses; something will need to be said, although one still needs to be wise in when and how it is said.”
His qualification was there and I missed it—so apologies to Brad on that front, and my statement should have read differently. My point would have been better made if instead of saying “left out of the equation” I had said something like “not being given its due weight is the question . . .”
So turning to the question of the authority of a preacher’s “pronouncements,” here are just a few random thoughts. Take them as paragraphs arranged around a general theme, and in what follows I am not interacting with Brad point-by-point any longer, albeit with thanks to him. I have officially slipped the leash and am off on my own.
The reason my thought experiment selected 100 women from each group is because I know the variability of human motivation and the wild card of individual circumstances. In other words, I know that the sweetest Christian woman ever might highlight her hair with a touch of color that is like nothing on earth, and do so in a way that doesn’t have me calling for the elders to bring her up on charges. And some other woman could be defying the neon rainbow and all its works with a demeanor that violates every Pauline exhortation for women ever written. Take a look at the two pictures to the right—the cute girl (don’t get your egalitarian back up, you know which one it is) is much closer to what we want in our churches than the other. But if we stop reasoning carefully on this subject, what we are going to wind up with is the Carrie Nation version, only with hair dye. That might be good, if for no other reason than that it enables us to see her coming.
So I know there are eddies here and there, places where the water moves upstream. But I also know which way the river is going. I am happy to acknowledge the existence of exceptions, and am happy to be careful to make room for them.
When a preacher generalizes, he is not offering a proposition out of Euclid. Triangles have three sides and men are taller than women are both true, but they are not true in the same way. If a particular point in the sermon stung someone, it is not to the point to find a Pharisee who isn’t a whited sepulcher. Pastors are shepherds of flocks, and they are dealing (all the time) with group dynamics. The Bible—over and over—requires this sort of pastoral admonition. “A Levite passed by on the other side . . .” (Luke 10:32). “Why a Levite? I know plenty of Levites who would never do that . . .” As D.L. Moody once said, if you throw a rock into a pack of stray dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit.
To say something is a sin in a parishioner is not to say that “the wrath” of God is necessarily headed our way because of it. Many times, and particularly on subjects revolving around this theme, we are talking about people who are just sad muffins, trying to make their way in a world that bewilders them, surrounded by sweet Christians who lie to them—which always makes it worse. It is not always about some high rebellion. When I see a miserable woman in Christian circles in some godforsaken outfit, I would be willing to bet that at least three people told her it was “cute,” or that they “really liked it,” or something else suitably mendacious and affirming. And my conclusion is that there goes a person with no real friends, nobody who really loves her enough to tell her the truth.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean the wrath of God couldn’t ever be a factor. Looking over the past twenty years, we are much closer, palpably closer, obviously closer, to tolerating attitudes and behaviors in the conservative church that are beyond appalling. We actually are on the threshold of, and in the process of, becoming the Cities of the Plain, and we have throngs of Christians who think that if a voice is raised against what is actually happening, that voice must belong to a stodgy preacher in an eighties movie about the fifties, arguing that poodle skirts were going to be our ruination.
In the meantime, I do acknowledge the existence of the gap between exegesis and application. I believe that pastors and preachers have a responsibility to be measured, careful, and humble as they seek to connect the Word of the first century to the world of the twenty-first. But this is not to be measured by the responses of the people in the problem group in question. In other words, pastors are far more likely to be aware of the perils of “the gap” than are the teenagers in their congregations who are busy enough being catechized by Netflix. Yes, I would say to the parishioners who are being admonished for their unreflective cultural choices. There is a challenge here, but your pastor is likely far more aware of the nature of the challenge than you are.
One last thing. It is not the case that pastors need to leave such issues for the women to deal with. It might seem like prudence to leave it all untouched or, if touched, to make the word gingerly seem ham-handed. But one of the great problems underneath all of this is the large-scale abandonment of pastoral care for women. There is a long tradition within evangelicalism that equates the feminine touch with the Holy Spirit, and that tradition has been turned into the service of egalitarianism and the rule of feminine sensibilities. It begins with a great deal of flattery, but it ends in frustration and despair. It continues because pastors are too cowardly to say what needs to be said.