So then, Nadia Bloz-Weber, reigning queen of the ecclesiastical division of the Épater la bourgeoisie vibe, achieved peak relevance recently by gathering up a bunch of purity rings, melting them down into a fair approximation of her theological rigor, and then fashioning them into a sacred vagina thing, like a little bowling trophy. She then presented this high honor on Gloria Steinem, and a good time was had by all. This was the same woman who had said that we ought not to be uptight about porn, so long as it was “ethically sourced.”
But it would take more than that kind of thing to really get me going. I mean, the Jezebels are going to Jezebel, right?
“Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (Rev. 2:20).
No, the thing that got my motor running was a thinkery piece published by the White Horse Inn, tag line “For a Modern Reformation,” which is starting to look pretty worrisome to me. If this is reformation, then the last thing we need is reformation. The authors, Sherrene DeLong and Brooke Ventura, demonstrate, in spades, pretty much everything that is going wrong with our etiolated and deracinated law/gospel platitudes. They are playing a 1950’s game show called What’s My Doctrine?—with your host Pat Answers.
They assemble a bunch of very true bromides, assemble them into the likeness of an effigy evangelist, point him in the wrong direction, and poke him between the shoulder blades so that he starts blathering. My point here is not to itemize the true things that this scarecrow evangelist says, but rather to show how wrongly situated all of it is. The words have to be more than mostly true. They must also be fitly spoken (Prov. 25:11) . . . as these are not.
So the basic response to this outrageous behavior is to “share concerns.”
“While I disagree with Bolz-Weber on a number of theological and biblical points (her ideas about sin being prominent among them), I do share her concern about purity culture.”
Shared concerns? So important to note the “disagreement!” But equally important to note the “shared concerns.” This is academic-speak, and is not biblical at all.
Let’s plug this approach into a couple of other historical events, shall we? Let’s see if this approach fits.
“While it must be acknowledged on all hands that there were some regrettable excesses that occurred at the Golden Calf festival, and for which the organizers have apologized, and concerning which our ministry has issued a press release that expresses our clear disagreement with those excesses, it must at the same time be acknowledged that these sincere worshipers of YHWH who had gathered there were in fact reacting to a genuine problem. We would be less than honoring to our Lord if we failed to recognize these problems. An excessively austere emphasis on purity in the camp, inculcated and enforced by the patriarchs of Israel, had led a number of the daughters of Israel to want to take off their tops and dance like nobody was watching, except for the boys.”
“Our editorial board met in executive session yesterday to review the complaints about our op-ed piece in the aftermath of the Baal-Peor incident. We do agree with the underlying theological assumptions that have been expressed by Moses and the elders, as our confessional commitments are unshakeable, while simultaneously thinking that some of the official measures taken in response tended to be extreme. In addition, we have to acknowledge we share the concerns expressed by some of our Moabite critics that Israel could afford to grow in the areas of body positivity. This simply must be recognized, as some of the plus-sized Moabite women were passed by in the most unconscionable way.”
Back to DeLong and Ventura:
“What should grab our attention isn’t the display of female anatomy, but the way she is addressing a very real brokenness in the Christian community.”
I mean, crikey. I don’t want people to see how many technically true things they scattered over their piece. I want everyone to note how astonishingly tone-deaf this thing is.
“And unto the angel of the church in Thytira, write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and they patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou hast not humbled thyself to learn from that woman Jezebel, who has addressed some very real brokenness in the Christian community” (Rev. 2:18-20, Adjusted)
Let me say something here in passing. We will not dwell on it. This section will be brief.
The sure sign of theological laziness is when you write think pieces that talk about “trends,” “emphases,” and “trajectories,” doing so without ever having to interact with someone’s actual teaching. You know, does anybody anywhere actually say that a woman’s holiness is reducible to her virginity? Which Christian teachers press upon us the idea that men are simply reducible to their bestial urges? Who is actually teaching that, and why wouldn’t they have been escorted out of town on a rail, where they could spend the rest of the afternoon picking feathers out of the tar?
This is a debate with a cartoon. It is to say that you will not debate with what your ideological adversaries are actually saying, but have decided instead to debate with how their positions might make you feel.
Back to the Point: What the Law Actually Does:
Everybody who has been around conservative Christian circles—where biblical sexual morality is diligently inculcated, and where the life-giving liberation of the gospel is frequently not as equally pronounced—knows that sincere Christians can get all tied up into raggedy bundles of guilt. But the problem here is not the presence of the law, but rather the absence of gospel.
The law, of which a purity ring is a somewhat hokey reminder, does nothing but condemn us. So you have a purity ring, and you find yourself fantasizing about things you ought not. You have a purity ring, and you keep the boys away, but you also have a problem with masturbation. Young men are taught very strictly as well, and yet the standards of the law have no power to impart godliness, and porn is readily available. This problem is as old as dirt, and it is the human condition. This is not a unique failing of “purity culture.” The law tells people who are not good to be good. This causes no little consternation, as it ought to.
Is the law sin? May it never be (Rom. 7:7). The law is not impure. The people are impure. Christian adolescents are impure. And when they sin sexually, they feel shame, which is exactly how they are supposed to feel. When you do shameful things, the solution is not to pronounce yourself shameless, and then to graduate into pride over your impurity. That solution says that math is hard, my 32% on the final is really something that I should get to identify as a stellar performance, and accept myself for who I am. And if you do that with such a math score, it is not surprising that you flunked the course.
So no, Bolz-Weber does not “have a point.” She flunked the course, just like all those purity girls did, but at least the purity girls had the decency to be ashamed of themselves, at least for a while. The halfway solution brought in by DeLong and Ventura wants to reduce the shame for such strugglers by readjusting or jiggering with the standard. Bolz-Weber wants to throw away the law, Delong and Ventura want a kinder, gentler law, a version that might somehow escape the censures of the likes of Bolz-Weber. But if any law remains, that priestess of lust will be most seriously displeased. The law cannot do what only the gospel can do, however you configure the law, and whether or not you deliver the law in a box with a smiley face on it. A dutiful father could have given his daughter that purity ring in a really sweet ceremony. That doesn’t change the fact of law.
And so I do know that the gospel is not presented powerfully in many places, and that the law often lands on young people much more heavily than the gospel does. This is a problem, but the problem resides in the sinners. The problem is the people.
I grew up in conservative evangelical circles, and I know that the power of the gospel was not made relevant to me in the ways it could have been. I was not taught to mortify sin the way I would have been if John Owen had been our youth group leader, teaching us all to hunt the wolves of lust in the deep forests, with the musket of mortification and with a sharpshooter’s eye. No, what I learned was more like Elmer Fudd trying to kill the wabbit.
And, at the end of the day, that was nobody’s fault but mine.
So DeLong and Ventura say that Bolz-Weber understands the importance of symbolism.
“Bolz-Weber understands the value of symbols. Her sculpture acknowledges the wrongs inflicted upon earnest Christians, affirms the beauty and worth of the female body, and asserts a woman’s value as being more than simply sexual.”
I repeat a sentiment stated earlier. Golly.
Bolz-Weber most certainly does understand symbolism, and she also understands—just as well—the utter inability of conservative critics to read or understand what she is saying by that symbolism. Here we have two feminist women, created by God to be the image and glory of man, and in high rebellion against that glory one of them makes a symbolic idol out of purity rings, in order to celebrate impurity. Come on, people, let’s delve into the deep things of Satan (Rev. 2:24). Did you ever wonder how churches could fall into this kind of thing? And not just apostate Lutherans falling headlong into that pit, but also White Horse Inn wobbling on the brink of it?
So let me tell you what this symbolism really means. This is what they are saying. They are shamelessly declaring to the world that they are just a couple of cunts.
And in response to this horrifying declaration, we have a couple of theologically-trained Reformed women take a tsking “faults on both sides” approach to the radical evil of Bolz-Weber’s approach, on the one hand, and the virginal young Christians who are trying to obey the Word, on the other, and with the “sympathy lean” going to Bolz-Weber.
You take issue with my language above? You sat through the presentation of that little gynecological statue, and applauded dutifully? You wrote a respectful and dialoging interaction with Bolz-Weber for a respected Reformed publication? And naturally you think that perhaps Phineas was insufficiently respectful of the erotic traditions of others with his spear?
Very well. Phineas didn’t care about that either.
“Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: And so the plague was stayed. And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations forevermore” (Psalm 106:30–31).
So if you are worried about the impending degradation, you should be worried about the reality first, and descriptions of that reality second. That is not my position, nor my language. It is their position, their language, their degradation, their impurity, their sin, their shame, their logic, and their wormhole destination. But Bolz-Weber says it this way: this is “a symbolic gesture to reclaim female genitalia from the control of the church and re-assert female ownership of it.”
But the church is the mother of us all. The church is the bride of Christ. You cannot separate what a woman is from that reality without destroying her feminine identity, and when you have done that, all that is left is the raw biological fact of the female, which the strong will come and take, if and when they feel like it.
The logic is all here, the premises are all present, and it is an echo of C.S. Lewis’s prescient work, The Abolition of Man. Only this one is The Abolition of Woman.