There is No Such Thing as a Biblical Literalist

I’m somewhat of a grammar nerd sometimes, and a spelling Nazi to boot. So certain things just grate on my nerves a little bit to the point that I feel utterly compelled to jump in and point out the problem so they can be fixed. This is often to my detriment.

For instance, the overuse of the word “literal” is on my list of world problems to solve. And so when I saw a re-tweet on Twitter the other day where a guy said: “I am literally dead from the closing sentence tho”, I felt compelled to act.

I can mercifully let him slide on the “tho”, after all Twitter has a 140 character limit. But the man claims to be literally dead, yet he lived to tweet about it? This will never do! I must help.

I tweet @the guy: Do you know what “literally dead” means?

OK, perhaps I shouldn’t have done that, because yes, of course, he already knew, and it started a contentious exchange that I only salvaged by my wit, charm, and self-deprecating humor.

But since I seem to never learn, let’s extend this to another facet of the same argument: the so-called “Biblical literalist”. I would literally believe Sasquatch existed before I believed in the existence of a Biblical literalist. There aren’t any Biblical literalists in the world.  Yet we hear about them all the time, as if they were real.

Just today in an excellent Facebook post, someone posted about the spiritual journey we all have taken, and how we should be gracious and give people room to grow to see our point. It was a very anointed and powerful post. But one part jumped out at me:

“Rather than pointing out how they haven’t evolved enough, let’s celebrate the voyage they’ve begun. Because more than likely, they’re getting beat up by the resistance of religion… They’re getting tossed about by the flag bearers for biblical literalism…” – Matthew Paul Turner

Eh… say what? What is this “Biblical Literalism” of which you speak? We could turn to the internet to find a definition:

Biblical literalism is the theological view that the contents of the Bible should be seen as literally true, as opposed to being interpreted as allegory, literature, or mythology. –Rational Wiki

And that is spectacularly unhelpful. The fact is, all of us, all of us read the Bible as literal in some places and not literal in others. All of us.

For example- on the plus side, pretty much all Christians believe God literally created the heavens and the earth, and that Jesus literally died on the cross for our sins and literally rose from the dead. The Bible says all that, and we believe it is literally true. (We may disagree about how God created the heavens and the earth, or how long it took, but pretty much everyone believes the basic fact to be literally true.) The Bible is filled with many such things.

But the Bible says many other things that nobody believes are literal. For example:

“I have been crucified with Christ”, which Paul penned in Galatians 2:20. Does anyone believe that Paul was literally crucified with Christ? Does anyone think Paul could have been one of the two thieves crucified along side him that day? No. Every Bible student of any denomination or doctrinal persuasion understands this isn’t to be taken literally.

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”  Is from Psalm 119:105. Does anyone therefore think they can use a Bible to light their way on a camping trip? “Who needs a flashlight, man? , I have the Word of God!” Nope- everybody understands the Bible is not literal at this point.

“The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” – Paul said this in Ephesians 5:23. Is this literally true? Is the body part above the woman’s neck literally her husband? (If so, can we compliment him on his hair and makeup?)

 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” – Jesus said this in John 6:54. Interestingly, Roman Catholics say this is to be taken literally. But ask any fundamentalist and they will tell you Jesus did NOT mean this to be taken in a literal sense.

There is no such thing as a “Biblical literalist”. Normally when one encounters the term it is being used pejoratively to label some person who believes a certain story in the Bible is a literal, historical event, typically the six-day creation.  But even though someone may believe in a literal six-day creation, he understands very many other Biblical statements in a non-literal way.  That does not make him a Biblical literalist any more than belief in social security makes someone a communist.

Christians tend to know this about themselves. Indeed- my definition of “Biblical literalist” in the opening paragraphs of this post came from a secular source- because I could not locate a credible Christian group on the internet which claimed to believe in biblical  literalism.

It is true that a few people claim to be Biblical literalists. It’s remarkable how often these people are going by a fictitious name, which makes one wonder how many of them are real people. However, some are indeed real people, and they honestly and sincerely believe that they are literalists. But it is my experience that these people have no idea what they truly believe on this issue, and one doesn’t have to talk to them very long before they change their mind. Just like my Twitter friend wasn’t literally dead, these people aren’t literally Biblical literalists. There’s no such thing.

 

 

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Owen Strachan and the Gay Politics of Fear

I wish I could be on the same team as Owen Strachan of the CBMW, but his divisive political rhetoric makes it very difficult.

Case in point is this week’s post over at CBMW.org. For one, he implies that “the true church” preaches hierarchical complementarianism- an odd view given their utter lack of Biblical foundation for such gender hierarchy. But I realize such stone-throwing is part of their politics of denigrating egalitarians at every opportunity.

Thus Owen quotes Matthew Vines linking gay marriage with egalitarianism, and claims they are both born from the same hermeneutics. I’m sorry, Owen, but this brother has to call BS.

Just this morning I read the excellent new article at the Junia Project on Women Leaders in the American Colonies. If Doctor Strachan doesn’t know that godly preachers from the early centuries of the USA were preaching egalitarianism from the Bible and not from a godless humanistic cultural worldview perhaps he should take another class or two. Or maybe just read up on it at The Junia Project.

I don’t have to look it up to know that Anne Hutchinson, Margaret Fell, and Jarena Lee weren’t OK with gay marriage, because the Biblical hermenutics that led them to embrace egalitarianism has nothing whatsoever to do with affirming gay marriage and sexual practice.

Owen reminds me of Joe Friday from Dragnet. Does anyone remember this?

That kind of thinking was very common in the 60s and 70s. And you know what? We knew it was all a load of hooey. And once we figured that out, we didn’t listen to a word they had to say. I think the Joe Friday speeches turned more young people toward drugs than away from them.

Yes, Owen. You’re trashing the credibility of us all by your non-Biblical nonsense. And youre dividing with Christians like me who agree with you about the gay marriage concern, because you’d rather play the fear card as a political wedge for your pet issue.

It’s people like you spreading fear and division, and the Sunday morning all male revue advocated by CBMW and 9marks that has led us to the current confusion in the church over how to minister to gay folks without compromising the Word of God.

We could actually work together on that, but your doctrine won’t allow it. So I do agree with you on one thing: complementarianism matters a great deal more than many of us think.

The Complementarian Emperor is Shamefully Underdressed

Have you ever noticed that complementarians often manage to assume an air of superiority when they write and speak? Well I have. They seem to think their interpretation of the Bible is the Bible, that the Word of God is so clearly on their side of the gender issue that one must go to great lengths and keep one eye closed to miss the intended male over female hierarchy.

Perusing complementarian literature, it’s easy to find the likes of the following

“At the core of this topic lies the fundamental issue of biblical authority. If we write off, ignore, or distort the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, then we are bound to do so with everything the Bible teaches. Indeed, the Bible is so clear on male-female distinction…….. ….If we can wrest egalitarianism from the Bible, we can pervert it to say anything we wish.”1

I can think of few kind things to say about such nonsense. The best I can do is to assume well-meaning but misguided intentions and total blindness to the biblical bankruptcy of their own position. But it’s difficult to be that charitable.

These guys would have us believe that in all their alleged proof texts, Paul and Peter are teaching the same hierarchical complementarianism espoused by  John Piper and Wayne Grudem, and that it came from the creation story. That last part is absolutely essential to their argument, that’s why they keep kicking what is obviously a dead horse.

Because if Paul and Peter are teaching gender hierarchy as the complementarian guys say, here’s the question: Where did they get it? Where did it come from?  Logically there are only two options: they either started it as a new thing, or they got it from someplace else.

Obviously, they can’t have Paul and Peter initiating new doctrine that subjugates the women to the men.  First of all, nobody would believe that, and more importantly, that doesn’t fit the teaching style of either apostle. The apostles were careful to build on the established foundation. But where is that foundation?

Jesus didn’t breath a word about gender hierarchy, but that’s not necessarily a big deal. Jesus didn’t address every possible topic because He didn’t need to. It’s fine that He didn’t mention it, as long as the foundation is laid elsewhere. But that is exactly where the gender hierarchists go embarrasingly astray.

The creation story is where they turn, naturally, and it ought to be there, right? If it’s God’s good plan and all like they say. Every important biblical concept begins with the foundations laid in the first few chapters of Genesis. And look at the many clear and unambiguous statements in Genesis 1-2!

God was the creator.  1:1, 2:4
Everything God created was originally good. 1:31
Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God. 1:26-27
God created marriage.  2:22-24 and blessed the sexual union of man and woman. 1:28
Men and women were told to fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over the animals.  1:28
Plants were given for mankind to eat. 1:29.
Etc, etc, etc.

Clear. Concise. Compelling.

And according to complementarians, this is also where God set up specific “gender roles” in which man would rule over woman in a hierarchical relationship with man as the leader/ initiator / responsible party and the woman as the submissive assistant and only one rung lower than the man on the authority ladder.

Ok, so how about a clear, unambiguous statement to that effect? Nope, sorry. No can do. Can’t help you there.

But what we DO have, are, according to Denny Burk, some “evidences”  Or as Raymond Ortlund says,  “A series of more or less obvious hints,”2

OK, so let me get this straight. You guys are telling me that God subjected one-half of the earth’s population to the other half at creation, an action that affected 100% of the people who ever lived, something more common, in fact, than marriage and sex, and yet God can’t spare a single sentence in the creation story to tell us this? Aren’t you the same guys who were just telling us a moment ago how clear the Bible is on this subject?

According to these self-proclaimed guardians of biblical truth, this gender hierarchy stuff is major doctrine. These guys consider it so essential that they made it a litmus test for membership acceptance into the Gospel Coalition. Piper ominously warns us that, “Egalitarianism must always lead to an eventual denial of the Gospel.”3 There’s that air of superiority again, with a little fear-mongering added for good measure.

Well I have a newsflash for you purveyors of the clear and obvious biblical truth of gender roles: You don’t establish major doctrine like that on “a series of more or less obvious hints.” You need an unequivocal statement of fact- especially in a foundational passage that is literally filled with such factual statements.

And you want to know the part that must cause them unbearable anguish? The clear and unambiguous statement they need is right there in Genesis 3:16, but they can’t use it because it’s clearly connected to the fallen condition of mankind, not the blissful state in Eden.4 So instead of finding their proof text, they are forced to admit that 3:16 describes a fallen state,  and publicly lament that the fall left us with a perversion of God’s original blessed and wonderful design for male leadership.5

So supposedly God gave us a clear unequivocal statement when it comes to male rule as a curse, but when it comes to male rule as a blessing He beat around the bush.

Sorry guys, that’s shoddy exegesis and this brother isn’t buying it. And frankly, if what you’re teaching wasn’t so damaging to the church of Jesus, I’d laugh at the foolishness of what you consider a great argument. It’s ridiculous.

Well, Ok. The complementarian crowd came up empty in the creation story. Perhaps later? Moses, maybe in the 10 commandments, or some other law in the pentateuch? Surely God would have told Moses to put something about it in the law, since it’s such an important part of God’s wonderful plan, right? One would think. But no. Missed it there too.

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“How well Your Majesty’s new clothes look. Aren’t they becoming!” He heard on all sides, “That pattern, so perfect! Those colors, so suitable! It is a magnificent outfit.”

Maybe Job? The Psalms? Song of Solomon? Isaiah? Those all sound like possibili……well…no, actually. Nothing. Not a word in the rest of the Old Testament about this major doctrine of joy.6

And then we get to Paul, and these complementarian dudes immediately see very clearly that he’s teaching gender hierarchy. Because there were some “more or less obvious hints” dropped 1500 years and 1070 chapters previously without a word about it in between. Gotcha.

Good grief! They have no scripture! They really don’t- because Paul and Peter can’t be teaching hierarchy if it’s not supported elsewhere, and neither the Old Testament nor Jesus teach gender hierarchy to support such an interpretation.

Complementarianism is bankrupt because it has no coherent biblical foundation. And yet they claim biblical superiority to the point of infallibity, cast aspersions on egalitarians, and incite fear in the church over abandoning their corrupt system.

This is why I find it difficult to be charitable in my judgment. By and large, these guys tend to be very bright and well educated. How can they be this obtuse?

 

 

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Notes:

  1. Preface to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2006 edition  (xi-xii)
  2. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991 edition, page 88
  3. Preface to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2006 edition  (xii)
  4. This was not always the case. For centuries patriarchal teachers used Gen 3:16 as their proof text, partly due to a faulty translation of the Latin Vulgate by Jerome. For a fascinating historical account, see Susanna Krizo’s book, When Dogmas Die, esp. Introduction and Chapter 1.
  5. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991 edition, page 410
  6. An exception is the ungodly Persian King Xerxes in Esther chapter 1- not the role model they wanted I am sure.

The Impetus of Patriarchy

I read an interesting article at The Good Men Project about: The Hazards of Manhood

Despite some obvious political leanings away from my preferred direction, the article nails some important aspects about manhood and my gender’s incessant quest to attain it, which I think are absolutely true.

“Most American men know perfectly well the qualities they must display to be considered fully creditable as men: power, competitiveness, and toughness.”

That’s the prize, right there. You have to be “considered fully creditable as a man”. And the unspoken understanding of many is that you don’t just get that from having X and Y chromosomes and reaching adulthood. You have to earn your manhood, so as to be seen manly by those around you. If you can feel it, all the better, but in the very least you need to be seen that way.

“They compete for promotions, putting work first in their lives, lest they be seen as wimpy or wussy—sexist code words for “feminine” or “womanly.”

The thinking behind this: If you’re not a man, then you’re a woman. Female is the default gender. Little boys and little girls are virtually indistinguishable with their voices, body hair, and skin, but some of us grow out of that, attaining manhood. The rest remain in that lesser condition. So you can either “wuss out” (be a girl), or you can “man up” ( be a man).

And as the article above tells us, far too many men spend a lifetime reaching for that goal but never feeling they obtain it. (This is absolutely true, and one of the powerful selling points in the message of John Eldredge’s best seller, Wild at Heart.)

“This kind of manhood striving is driven by a contradiction: To be a real man in U.S. society, one must have or display power—the capacity to exert control over one’s self and the surrounding world—but the fact is that most men in a capitalist society have little or no power. For most men, striving for manhood status is an attempt to evade this contradiction, to escape the psychic pain it causes.”

And there you have it.

And if that’s true, that is ultimately what drives patriarchy: Men living in the pain of not “being the man”, which is believed to be “displaying power to exert control over one’s self and one’s world.”

As John Piper said, “Men are hard-wired to lead”.  And by that Piper means that if he is not leading, he is not being manly. Listen to John:

Ok wait. Let’s think this through…. The only difference between a “Complementarian” Christian and an Egalitarian Christian is that the Complementarian places men in authority and leadership roles over women.

And in the video above, when it comes to answering a little boy’s question, “What does it mean to grow up and be a man, and not a woman?” – John Piper says that Complementarians are the only ones of the two that can answer that question. Apparently the only difference between men and women that Piper can see and articulate is that men lead, women follow. So John Piper’s masculinity is inseparably linked to his authority and leadership of women.

This is made clear in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “The Meaning of Masculinity” (2006 edition, pp36-45) and several other places. Piper says that mature masculinity includes a sense of responsibility to lead. (p36) “Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative.” (P 39).

And if a man can’t do that in the neighborhood, or the factory, or the office, or at the club, where can he do it?

At home. In the church, where he can still build his patriarchal kingdom and rule over his subjects. After all,

“A man’s home is his castle.” – Sir Edward Coke, 1628 AD

The church and the home are among the final bastions of officially sanctioned male power. This is true for a number of reasons, among them tradition and faulty Biblical interpretation. But from this brother’s perspective, there is another, more compelling reason.

I believe that fueling the reluctance to change or to even look deeply into the issue of male/female equality is, in the heart of many men,  fear.

Often people think it’s about selfishness or control,  and sometimes it is. But I don’t think most guys in the church are like that. It’s usually not a case that they’re bad men. Quite the contrary, most Christian guys just want to live their life, raise their kids and grandkids, serve the Lord and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end. But many men, even the strongest ones, have a deep and abiding fear of not measuring up. I suspect that fear and insecurity drives John Piper and his theology of “Biblical Manhood” and his feelings that his manhood is being compromised whenever he is in the presence of a woman he feels is less than lovingly deferential to his “authority”. And I believe that theology plays into one of the worst fears of very many men: The fear of not being seen as manly.

Can you imagine Jesus deriving his personal sense of manhood from his authority over and leadership of women? Neither can I.

We shouldn’t be drawing our theology from our fear of inadequacy, nor let such fear hinder our quest for the truth.

A Man on a Mission

I love Jesus. I love His Word. And I love His church, His people. The church is His idea, and I’m grateful to be a part of it, flaws and all. Because I have my flaws as well.

And just as I’m a work in progress, so is the rest of the church that Jesus loves. And I feel compelled by the Lord to share some of the things He’s been showing me along the way for the benefit of everyone else on the journey of faith.

Especially for the benefit of my sisters.

God has been working overtime in me for the past few years to correct a wrong that used to be in my soul, a form of misogyny known as patriarchy. I pray that it’s all gone, because I am completely convinced from a purely Biblical standpoint that the source of this wrong is mankind’s fallen nature as shown in Genesis 3:16.

Of course, one of the hallmarks of a curse is that it is almost impossible to get rid of. And in the church that Jesus loves, patriarchy hangs on tightly, too often as official doctrine, under the name “complementarianism.”

I’ve vaguely known about this for a number of years, but not cared enough about “women’s ministry” to look into it all that much. I suppose I thought the sisters could fend for themselves. Well they have been, but it’s not enough. They need their brothers, their Bible-believing conservative brothers to lock arms with them and go to war with them and for them.

Ironically, one of the primary beliefs of my patriarchal brothers (and sisters) is that “defending the women” is one of the characteristics of masculinity. All right then. That’s what this brother is going to do.

This author believes that that we are now in a modern day reformation period, in which “God is restoring the truth of Biblical equality, liberating and elevating His women to a place of equality with His men.” I agree wholeheartedly. And I intend to do my part.