I was impressed by your compassion and fairness in the introduction of your new book expressed towards your egalitarian colleagues who you mention by name. Have any of them responded to you yet – in particular concerning your challenge to publically object to feminist arguments that undermine the truthfulness of the Bible and lead towards liberalism?
I have received a very kind and thoughtful letter from one of the men I name, but I have not seen any public response yet.
The bulk of your book is to catalogue and explain fifteen claims that directly deny the authority of Scripture and ten claims that indirectly deny or undercut the authority of Scripture.
You say in your book that people should beware that “if you give way at one point you may provide a huge opening for the enemy to flood in.” When it comes to evangelical feminists, is it true that many of them are just ceding one point to a more liberal approach – perhaps a very different point to another egalitarian in the next town – or do most of them hold to all of the points you mention in your book? Is it only when you put a patchwork quilt together of a number of people’s “one points” that you end up with the rather depressing picture of general compromise with the truth of the Bible that emerges in your book?
I think that any one of these mistakes that I name can start a church or denomination down the road toward liberalism. And what troubles me is that influential egalitarian groups such as Christians for Biblical Equality promote a large number of these mistakes.
Of course, nobody holds all of these erroneous views because some of them are mutually exclusive. For example, some people say that Paul did not prohibit women from being pastors or elders even in his day, and they try to argue that from the text. Others say he did prohibit women from being pastors or elders in his day, but those commands are no longer for our modern age. These viewpoints are mutually exclusive because they have different positions on what Paul meant for the age in which he wrote.
What troubles me is the willingness on the part of a number of groups to use very little discernment and just to adopt what seems to me like any argument they can find as long as it supports their evangelical feminist views.
It seems to me that the core of your argument is that it simply isn’t possible to hold to the accuracy and clarity of the Bible whilst believing in evangelical feminism.
Well, some people do hold to both evangelical feminism and the inerrancy of the Bible, but my point is that they are inconsistent and that those who come after them will be more consistent with the logic that undermines the authority of the Bible, and we see that already in many denominations. So, yes, those who adopt these principles can use them to prove most anything else from the Scripture as well, at least in a number of cases.
One of the most shocking, but perhaps also most enticing, errors you mention is to remove parts of the Bible from consideration, either by saying they are clearly not in the original text (with no textual justification) or by saying that the verses are too “difficult” for us to benefit from considering. Do you think that the influential and well-known people you mention who hold to these positions really understand the significance of us putting ourselves in the position of judging the validity of biblical verses for us today?
I doubt that people understand the full implications of a move like Gordon Fee’s in his commentary on 1 Corinthians when he basically says that 1 Corinthians 14:33–35 is too hard to reconcile with 1 Corinthians 11, and that is his main reason for saying those verses are not part of the Bible. (Ed. See footnote 15 on the NET translation of 1 Corinthians 14.) But we can’t just erase passages that are hard to reconcile with other passages! Just imagine what will happen if we start to take that approach with the Gospels or other passages that are hard to understand!
When the psalmist says, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever,” I think he means that it is all consistent, not contradictory. So if we think there is a contradiction we should keep studying the passage, and praying for God’s wisdom, until we do understand it.
As far as the other evangelical feminist approach you mentioned, namely, refusing to deal with the “difficult” or “disputed” passages – that has the same effect in an argument as taking those passages out of the Bible because no one can appeal to them any more. If I come to a pastor who is wanting to put women on the elder board, or to ordain women as pastors, and I say, “1 Timothy 2:11–14 prohibits that,” and he just says, “I don’t want to hear about that verse because it’s disputed,” then he has really decided that he won’t let that verse speak to the controversy. But that is the most central passage in the whole dispute, the one that speaks most directly to the issue! If we refuse to be subject to passages that speak most directly to an issue, then we are almost guaranteed to come to the wrong decision. I’m not sure if I can think of a better way to come to a wrong decision than excluding from the discussion the verses that speak most directly to an issue.
Yet this is essentially the approach taken by the position paper of the Assemblies of God on women in ministry, for example, or by the paper written by Rich Nathan, pastor of the Columbus, Ohio Vineyard, which the Association of Vineyard Churches now distributes to e
xplain why they are allowing all their churches to ordain women as elders and pastors if they wish. Rich Nathan (who is my friend) sadly writes that there are so many positions on these verses that no one can really reach a decision.
Do we really think God gave us a Bible in which we would be unable to understand what He wants us to know about leadership in marriage and in the church? Didn’t He intend it, in the midst of an unbelieving culture, to be “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19)?
When people just decide to dismiss the “disputed passages” on men and women, I don’t think they fully realize the fact that in every major doctrine of the faith, those who disagree with the doctrine actually turn the key passages into “disputed” passages. Try arguing about justification by faith alone with an educated Roman Catholic person, for example, and you’ll find that every passage is “disputed.” Or try arguing about the deity of Christ with a Jehovah’s Witness, and you’ll see how every passage is “disputed.” The same goes for the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture – people who deny it will dispute and argue and bring scholarly reasons to bear showing why they don’t have to believe in inerrancy.
It was the same in Jesus’ day where the religious leaders that opposed Jesus tried arguing with him at many points. I am thankful that the people who follow Jesus didn’t say, “Jesus and the religious leaders have disagreements about many passages in the Bible, and who are we to decide? I guess both positions must be right.” No, Jesus expected even ordinary people to be able to listen to him, and then to listen to the Pharisees, and then to decide who was faithfully teaching the Word of God. So I hope it will be that way today on this issue as well.
Continued in part four . . .