Eternal Subordination of the Son and Focus on the Family

For over four years now, I’ve been writing about a popular doctrine of the Trinity called the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS).  I’ve written several posts highlighting the various ways ESS is taught in the conservative Christian world. Today I ran across another example of ESS from a well-known conservative Christian resource.

Focus on the Family published an article, “Submission of Wives to Husbands,” answering a woman’s question about wives submitting to their husbands. Early in their answer, Focus on the Family compares the relationship between husbands and wives with the relationship between God the Father and God the Son:

As in marriage, so in the Godhead we find diversity within unity. But while all three Members of the Trinity are fully equal and mutually identified in the sense that all three are God, we can also detect a certain hierarchy or subordination of function in their relationships with one another. For example, though Jesus made several statements clearly making Himself equal with God (see John 5:18), He also said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). As the Creeds express it, “The Son is begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The seeds of Paul’s doctrine of marital submission can be discerned in this statement. (emphasis added)

What’s interesting is the appeal to the “Creeds” to explain this hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity. First off, I’m not certain where the quotation they use comes from. The sentence,”the Son is begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son,” does not appear in any of the creeds as quoted. But beyond that,  the creeds which do discuss the Son being begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son do so for the express purpose of rejecting any hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity.

The Nicene creed was formulated, in part, as a response to the Arian heresy which taught that the Son was created and subordinate to the Father. The full statement was carefully written to emphasize the equality of God the Father and God the Son. The wording “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” doesn’t suggest any hierarchy or subordination.

The section on the Holy Spirit, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified,” was also written to emphasize the unity and equality within the Trinity.

The Athanasian creed goes further in explaining the relationship within the Trinity:

The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (emphasis added)

Again, the creed emphasizes the unity and equality within the Trinity, and it specifically denies any hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity. The article by Focus on the Family also uses Jesus’s statement that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) as an example of the supposed subordination. However, the Athanasian creed addresses such statements and explains that Jesus, the God-man, is “equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.” All subordination and hierarchy within the Trinity is rejected by the orthodox creed and confessions.

We need to stop doing damage to the doctrine of the Trinity in our attempts to explain how submission works in marriage. ESS, while tempting, is not a viable answer to the question of marital submission. There is nothing to be gained by appealing to an eternal relationship of authority and submission within the Trinity, and plenty to lose. Hopefully, more conservative Christians will recognize the danger and stop promoting ESS.

Continuing Down this Path, Complementarians Lose

Recently I saw an article at Jared Moore’s blog called “The Complementarians Win.” This is a review of a new book, One God in Three Persons, edited by Bruce Ware and John Starke. The book’s blurb on Amazon says:

Challenging feminist theologies that view the Trinity as a model for evangelical egalitarianism, One God in Three Persons turns to the Bible, church history, philosophy, and systematic theology to argue for the eternal submission of the Son to the Father.

Having read portions of the book, I believe that Moore’s review is an accurate summary of the book. Moore summarizes the book this way:

Complementarians believe that God has created men and woman as equal image-bearers of God, yet with differing roles in the church and home. Many, however, balk at this notion arguing that a hierarchy in the church or home necessarily means that one gender is less valuable than the other. But if complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in the church and home. If God the Father leads the Son and Spirit infinitely, and if the Son submits infinitely to his Father, and these Three remain fully and equally God, then the hierarchy in the home and church, and the submission of women to men in the church and home does not necessarily mean that women are less valuable than men. Just as the Son and Spirit are not less valuable than the Father, women are not less valuable than men, though a hierarchy has been given by God based on gender in the home and church. In the new book, One God in Three Persons, the complementarians win. They have argued persuasively that there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. (emphasis mine)

This is very, very interesting. Here’s what’s happening for those who might not be familiar. There are some theologians who teach a doctrine called “Eternal Subordination of the Son” (ESS). This includes Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem, both of whom have chapters in the above linked book. Using the human relationship of father and son as a model for the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, ESS teaches that the Son, because he’s a son, submits to the Father from all eternity and for all eternity.

Proponents of ESS have been accused of teaching a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity, but they used to deny this. This book is the first time I’ve seen it clearly stated that they believe that the Son’s submission to the Father is ontological and not merely a function of the economic Trinity. At one point, the book claims that it is promoting functional subordination and equality of nature/essence. However, it goes on the make arguments for authority/submission as inherent in the nature of God as Father and Son.

Immanent or ontological Trinity refers to the nature, being, or essence of God. Economic Trinity refers to the way in which the persons of the Godhead relate to each other, for example in the work of creation and salvation. Basically the discussion is over who God is versus what God does and how He does it.

The term “complementarianism” was first coined as a response to feminist and egalitarian discussions of gender roles in the church and home. The basis is that men and women were created to complement each other and that men and women, while equal, have different roles in marriage and in the church. The challenge is maintaining equality given the differences in roles. Some complementarians have looked to ESS as a way to ground gender complementarity in the Trinity. The above quote explains the connection:

if complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in the church and home.

There are several problems with this approach, however.

First, ESS is more the result of eisogesis, or reading into the text, than exegesis, or interpretation of the text. It’s always dangerous to use one’s presuppositions as a starting point when interpreting Scripture. The article (and book) accuse feminists and egalitarians of using their beliefs about gender roles as the guide for understanding the Trinity. Unfortunately, some complementarians are equally guilty on this count. They have started with a particular understanding of how men and women are meant to relate to each other, and from there, they have built a doctrine of the Trinity.

Second, it is extremely dangerous to tamper with the historic, orthodox formulations of the Trinity. The inner workings of the Trinity is a mystery. We have been given some small glimpses into understanding aspects of the Trinity. Our creeds and confessions, especially the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds, give evidence of the careful study and consideration that the early church fathers gave to the doctrine of the Trinity. Any departure from those formulations should be done with great caution.

Third, there is considerable damage done both to our understanding of the Trinity and also to our understanding of men and women and how we relate to each other. ESS has a trickle down effect on doctrine in many areas. Despite it’s claims to the contrary, it makes the Son inferior to the Father and misinterprets aspects of the work of redemption.

It also creates an environment in which women are more likely to be mistreated, devalued, and abused. If men and women were created with an authority/submission structure, how does this get applied? Does it apply only to the church and the home? If women are by nature (ontologically) submissive, how does this not lead to all women should submit to all men? And, given that close to 90% of men will not be ordained leaders in the church and therefore must submit to the leaders in the church, how is being submissive uniquely feminine? What it means to be male/female must be more than authority/submission.

In this article, I want to answer several claims made in the article/book. My contention is that if complementarians choose to promote ESS and especially a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity, they will not win. In fact, they will lose.

As part of this article, I will use a couple of quotes from Matthew Henry and John Calvin to contrast the way in which proponents of ESS interpret Scripture. I will also have a second article that gives more comparison quotes with a discussion of the differences in interpretation and why it matters.

As a side note, the authors of the book are using a different acronym from ESS. They have termed the doctrine, “eternal relational authority-submission” (ERAS). As far as I can tell, the two are functionally the same.

Back to the article’s claims, contrary to what the article says:

  • A father/son relationship does not necessarily mean there is a hierarchy of authority and submission.
  • Arianism is not the only form of subordinationism denied by the Nicene Creed
  • A difference in roles in the Trinity does not necessarily mean there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity.
  • A hierarchy in the immanent Trinity is not the historic, orthodox teaching, and teaching that there is a difference between the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity is not new or innovative.
  • Egalitarians are not the only ones who deny a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity.

Point one, the article claims that because God defines the relationship as Father and Son and because the Father sends the Son, then there must be a hierarchy of authority and submission:

The Son and Father are God, but there is an eternal hierarchal relationship, in that the Son submits to the Father according to John’s Gospel. The Father sends the Son, and the Son willing goes. The Son submits to his Father and is willingly obedient to him. The apostle John clearly uses Father and Son language to indicate a Father and Son relationship. At least, that is how his recipients would have understood his language.

Some have argued that the Father sending the Son highlights their unity not hierarchy, but that is only half the story concerning the background. In Jewish institution, the one sent has the authority of the sender, that is true, but according to Jewish agency, the sent one is subordinate to the sender.

Whatever was true of Jewish understanding and culture of the time, father/son relationships do not necessarily mean authority and submission. We are not talking about an adult father and his adolescent son. The Son of God is not an eternal child. Consider rather an adult father and his grown son. Should that relationship have the same authority/submission structure? Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 6: 1 might indicate otherwise.

Jesus is the Son of God. He is equal to God. He is the very image of God. He has a unique relationship with the Father different from created humanity. Colossians 2:9, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” He is God with us. His designation as “Son” speaks to His glory not to His being second in the hierarchy of the Trinity.

Second, Arianism is not the only form of subordinationism. Subordinationism is an old heresy that teaches that the Son and Holy Spirit are subordinate in nature and being to the Father. Arianism was one form of subordinationism that went so far as to say that the Son was created and not of the same substance as the Father.

All forms of subordinationism, or hierarchy in the ontological or immanent Trinity, were condemned by Athanasius and in the final form of the Nicene Creed. This is part of the split between the Eastern and Western church. The Eastern church taught a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity: Father-Son-Spirit. The Western church taught equality in nature and being: “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The authors of the book, One God in Three Persons, are not Arians. They do not believe the Son was created by the Father. They are, however, teaching subordinationism or hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. Despite what the article claims, this is not the historic, orthodox formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

From the Athanasian Creed:

And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Third, a difference in the roles between the persons of the Trinity does not mean that there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. This is the very reason why theologians discuss the “economic Trinity.” The economic Trinity and immanent Trinity are different in description.

Fourth, the orthodox creeds and confessions illustrate these differences. God: Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in being and nature. One God, not three. One being, not three. One essence, not three. But there are distinctions and differences in the tasks they perform. To claim that the distinctions require a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity is to run contrary to the historic, orthodox formulations of the immanent and economic Trinity.

Making a distinction between the economic and immanent Trinity is not new or innovative. You can see these distinctions in the commentaries Matthew Henry and John Calvin wrote on the Bible. Here is an example of the difference in interpretation between a proponent of ESS (Wayne Grudem) and those who hold to a distinction between the immanent and economic Trinity (Henry and Calvin).

First are two quotes from the commentary in Wayne Grudem’s ESV Study Bible. Notice the emphasis he makes on the supreme authority of the Father within the Trinity:

John 12:49 (6809, ebook)
Not … on my own authority indicates again that supreme authority in the Trinity belongs to the Father, and delegated authority to the Son, though they are equal in deity.

1 Corinthians 11:3 (7365-7366, ebook)
The head of Christ is God indicates that within the Trinity the Father has a role of authority or leadership with respect to the Son, though they are equal in deity and attributes.

Here are excerpts from Matthew Henry’s commentary on the same passages. Notice that Henry makes it clear that Christ, in his role as mediator, submits to God:

John 12:49

Christ, as Son of man, did not speak that which was of human contrivance or composure; as Son of God, he did not act separately, or by himself alone, but what he said was the result of the counsels of peace; as Mediator, his coming into the world was voluntary, and with his full consent, but not arbitrary, and of his own head. (emphasis mine)

1 Corinthians 11:3

Christ, in his mediatorial character and glorified humanity, is at the head of mankind. He is not only first of the kind, but Lord and Sovereign. He has a name above every name: though in this high office and authority he has a superior, God being his head. (emphasis mine)

Lastly, here is John Calvin on the same passages. Calvin also makes a distinction between the Son’s equality of essence with the Father and His submission to the Father in His role as mediator:

John 12:49

For I do not speak from myself. That the outward appearance of man may not lessen the majesty of God, Christ frequently sends us to the Father. This is the reason why he so often mentions the Father; and, indeed, since it would be unlawful to transfer to another a single spark of the Divine glory, the word, to which judgment is ascribed, must have proceeded from God. Now Christ here distinguishes himself from the Father, not simply as to his Divine Person, but rather as to his flesh; lest the doctrine should be judged after the manner of men, and, therefore, should have less weight. (emphasis mine)

1 Corinthians 11:3

God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. (emphasis mine)

Both Matthew Henry and John Calvin repeatedly interpret the passages that refer to Christ’s submission or subjection to be speaking of Christ’s role as mediator. This is a consistent application of the orthodox understanding of the economic Trinity.

Lastly, contrary to the article, egalitarians are not the only ones who deny a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. Many complementarians make a distinction between the economic and immanent when discussing the Trinity. Not all complementarians agree with Grudem and Ware that there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity.

In conclusion, I’m not convinced that the authors have proven their point. They claim that a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity does not mean inequality:

If there is hierarchy and equality in the immanent Trinity, then the complementarians win, for it means that men and women can be equal even with an order of authority.

A hierarchy in the immanent Trinity will always lead to inequality. It is more than a difference in roles. It is about the nature or essence of God. I can’t help but conclude that their argument is the biblical, trinitarian equivalent of “separate, but equal.” No matter their intention, the result is the same. It’s not equal.

As for the desire to ground complementarity of men and women in the Trinity, there is good Scriptural support for the main claims of complementarianism without changing the historic, orthodox teaching on the Trinity. While egalitarians and feminists may disagree with the complementarian interpretation of those passages, there is clear, Biblical evidence for teaching the following:

  • Men and women are made in the image of God and equal before God in Christ.
  • Husbands are the spiritual leaders of the home.
  • Wives should submit to their own husbands.
  • Ordained leadership in churches should be male.
  • Christ, in His role as mediator, submitted to His Father, and He is our example in all of life.

While I understand the reason these theologians want to find support for complementarity in the doctrine of the Trinity, I believe, on the whole, that we are safer when we hold fast to what the Bible teaches and stick close to the creeds and confessions. The Trinity is a mystery and should be handled with great care. Departing from the historic, orthodox formulations of the Trinity is not a winning move, no matter what the motivation.

True Woman 101: Divine Design

There have been a couple of really good blog posts recently about the need to be discerning in what we read. Good reviews, impressive recommendations, even the stellar reputation of the authors shouldn’t be all that we rely on in deciding the worth of a book. Scripture tells us to be careful about the messages we listen to and to test them based on Scripture. In Acts, the people of Berea are commended for “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

It’s in that spirit that I’m writing this review. Not to score points in a debate or to win an argument. Not to prove someone wrong or to pat myself on the back. Bad doctrine hurts the church, and specifically, it hurts the people in the pews.

True Woman 101: Divine Design is a eight week Bible study intended for women. The book brief on Amazon.com reads:

What does it mean to be a woman? The current cultural ideal for womanhood encourages women to be strident, sexual, self-centered, independent — and above all — powerful and in control. But sadly, this model of womanhood hasn’t delivered the happiness and fulfillment it promised. The Bible teaches that it’s not up to us to decide what womanhood is all about. God created male and female for a very specific purpose. His design isn’t arbitrary or unimportant. It is very intentional and He wants women to discover, embrace, and delight in the beauty of His design. He’s looking for True Women!

Bible teachers Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss share the key fundamentals of biblical womanhood in this eight week study. Each week includes five daily individual lessons leading to a group time of sharing and digging deeper into God’s Word. And to enhance this time of learning together, on-line videos are available featuring Mary and Nancy as they encourage women to discover and embrace God’s design and mission for their lives.

The authors are Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. From their bios on the True Woman website:

Mary is a distinguished professor of Women’s Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the author of several books including The Feminist Mistake and In My Father’s House.

And

Nancy Leigh DeMoss is a beloved mentor and “spiritual mother” to hundreds of thousands of women who have read her best-selling books and who listen to her two daily radio programs, Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

Because of my particular interest in the discussion in complementarian circles about what it means to be a godly man or woman, I was curious about this book. I’ve read some blog posts at the True Woman website in the past, and I recognize the names of several of the authors. I wondered what they were teaching about biblical womanhood.

Having finished the book, I am very concerned. There are serious foundational problems with the teaching in this book. The most serious are discussions of the Trinity. The authors then use their understanding of the Trinity as the foundation for their teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood.

Probably the next most troubling thing is that the authors use the relationship between husband and wife as the model for all male/female interactions. And while they recognize that some Christians may disagree with them about what they teach, they consider any disagreement to be the result of the feminist movement’s influence on society. The result is that the book tends to be very heavy on law and very light on grace.

Starting from the top, Kassian and DeMoss’s description of the Trinity is concerning:

The first relationship mirrored the image of God. In the Trinity, individual and distinct beings are joined in an inseparable unity. The individual members (Father, Son, and Spirit) are joined as part of the collective whole (God) (93, all page numbers from the ebook version).

I realize that this is most likely an example of sloppy word choice, but it’s very, very important how we talk about the Trinity. The words used make a big difference. The Trinity is not a “God club” with three individual members. If you combine the Westminster Confession and the Athanasian Creed you have the orthodox description:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. …  So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (WCF 2.3; Athanasian Creed 27-28)

God is one being, three persons, equal in glory and power and majesty.

The reason that this sloppy handling of the Trinity is important is that the authors also discuss the Trinity in concerning ways in their definition of what it means to be made in the image of God. Here is their explanation for “Let us make man in our image:”

The discussion about creating man and woman took place among members of the Godhead. It may have been among all three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But at the very least, it involved the Father and His Son, as Scripture draws parallels between that relationship and the relationship of the man and the woman (see 1 Cor. 11:13). We’ll talk more about that later, but for now, just think about this: When God created male and female, He had the dynamic of His own relationship in mind. The Lord created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within God (24-25, emphasis mine).

The authors of True Woman 101 teach that there is an authority/submission structure in the very nature of the Godhead. Nancy Leigh DeMoss interviewed Wayne Grudem on the Revive Our Hearts website to discuss “Marriage and the Trinity“:

When did the idea of headship and submission begin? The idea of headship and submission never began. It has existed eternally in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. It exists in the eternal nature of God himself.

And in this most basic of all relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in all attributes and perfections, but authority is just there. Authority belongs to the Father, not because He is wiser or a more skillful leader, but just because He is Father. Authority and submission is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity. (emphasis mine)

When Reformed theologians speak about the Son’s submission to the Father in the work of redemption, they are generally speaking of the economic Trinity, i.e. the way the persons of the Trinity work together in the acts of creation, redemption, etc. This is distinct from the ontological Trinity which concerns the very nature of God. The problem with Grudem’s formulation here and its subsequent use in the True Woman 101 book is that by saying God the Father has supreme authority “just because He is Father,” he is making an ontological statement about the very nature of God.

This is contrary to the traditional formulation found in the Athanasian Creed:

And in this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater, or less than another.

As a result, the book teaches that there is an inherent inequality in the nature of the Godhead. This is troubling. And it appears to be the result of a desire to ground the complementarian understanding of the relationship between husband and wife in a “deeper truth.”

As you can see from the second half of the above quote from True Woman 101, the authors teach that “[t]he Lord created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within God.” (25) What they are teaching is that, just as there is within the Trinity, there is an authority/submission structure inherent in the creation of men and women:

Males display the glory of God in an uniquely masculine way. Females display the glory of God in a uniquely feminine way. Each sex bears the image of God; but together, they display deep, important truths about God in relationship- God the Father in relationship with the Son of God, and the Son of God in relationship with His bride (33).

According to Kassian and DeMoss, men were created to reflect God the Father’s authority, and women were created to reflect the submission of the Son. Men therefore have a unique calling to lead and to be in authority. Women are made to submit to that authority through being amenable and deferential:

But it does mean that leadership, provision, protection, and responsible initiative are central and indispensable to what God created man to be (57).

And,

The third aspect of a beautiful womanly disposition is the inclination to submit. We believe the Lord created women with a disposition – an inclination – to respond positively to being led. We are the responder-relators created with a “bent” to be amenable (152).

In other words:

He initiated. She responded. The pattern of their relationship reflected who God created them to be (69).

Of course, I do believe that men and women were created with differences inherent in who we are as male and female. I also believe that husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and of their wives and that wives are called to submit to the leadership and authority of their husbands.

However, the problem with the book is that the authors of True Woman 101 move beyond the relationship of husband and wife and ground the authority/submission structure in the very nature of male and female. This means that they apply their paradigm of initiation/response to all male/female relationships:

The Bible presents a design for True Womanhood that applies to all women – at any age and at any stage of life – old, young; single, married, divorced, widowed; with children or without, whatever. Its design applies to women of every personality type, every educational level, every career track, every socioeconomic status, and every culture. God’s design transcends social customs, time, and circumstance (20, emphasis original).

For men this means leading, providing, and protecting women:

Man is accountable to God to nourish (provide) and cherish (protect) those in his sphere of responsibility. His primary responsibility is toward his wife. But the charge also extends, in a general way, to the attitude men ought to have toward all women. It is part and parcel of their distinctive, God-created makeup (48-49, emphasis mine).

And,

In other words, the way a man relates to a wife, sister, daughter, colleague, or friend will differ, but all those relationships are informed and influenced who his is as a man. Masculinity means that he accepts a chivalrous responsibility to offer appropriate guidance, provision, and protection to the women in his life (57).

For women, it means responding to the initiative of men:

Having a receptive, responsive spirit is at the core of what it means to be a woman. A godly woman is an “amenable” woman – an agreeable woman. She says yes (amen!). She has a disposition that responds positively to others, and particularly to the initiative of godly men. She is “soft” and not obstinate about receiving direction. She is “leadable” (69).

And,

Whether married or single, an amenable woman affirms and encourages godly qualities and initiative by men by being responsive rather than resistant in her interaction with them. Of course, we’re not talking about being amenable or responsive to sin. But even while saying no to sin, we can have a spirit that is inclined to be responsive, yielding, and deferential (153).

To summarize, men are to initiate and women are to respond in all of life. Of course, I do wonder how this paradigm works with the interaction between Boaz and Ruth. It seems clear to me that Ruth initiated that relationship, on Naomi’s advice. And then there’s Deborah.

The authors continue to apply the relationship of Adam and Eve in creation to all of mankind by discussing woman’s role as a “helper”:

Being a “helper” is a fundamental aspect of our design as women. This calling certainly applies to a woman’s relationship with her husband. But we believe it also extends beyond the marriage relationship. There are many ways we as women can help, rather than hinder, the men around us. We can help them: Glorify God (170).

According to the book, women were made to help men, not just that wives were designed to help husbands in the marriage relationship. This is disturbing, in part, because of what Kassian and DeMoss teach about man’s created purpose vs. woman’s created purpose. They teach that men (males) were created to glorify God and that women were created to help men fulfill that purpose:

The male was created to bring glory to God – and to serve Him (rather than himself). This is man’s ultimate purpose. … God created a helper to assist the man in fulfilling his ultimate purpose. Woman helps man glorify God in a way he could not do if she did not exist (76, emphasis mine).

This is a troubling departure from what the catechism teaches:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (WSC)

Despite modern understanding, “man” here refers to humanity or mankind. All of mankind, male and female, were created to glorify God. Women are called to glorify God. We may do so in conjunction with men or on our own, but our purpose is not different from that of men.

Kassian and DeMoss spend a considerable amount of the book discussing the dangers and influence of feminism on culture and the church. While I share many of their concerns about the modern feminist movement, especially third wave feminists, they present a muddied and confused picture of the historical feminist movement. As a result, all of the movement is deemed bad and contrary to God’s divine design.

This is unfortunate. As I’ve written elsewhere, the feminist movement started well before the 1960’s, and the earliest feminists were Christian women who were striving to protect and defend women in many worthy ways.

It is somewhat amusing to me that Kassian and DeMoss would depict the feminist movement as universally bad given the numbers of ways in which their own lives have benefited from some of the work of the first and second waves. Ms. DeMoss, for example, is an unmarried woman who lives in her own home, inherited money that she manages, runs her own business, hires employees, earns her own income, publishes books, and speaks publicly to large groups. All of these are blessings and are the result of the work of first wave feminists.

But, back to the book. Kassian and DeMoss view feminism in all forms as rebellion against God’s design for women. They believe that it is contrary to the gospel:

Did feminism identify some valid problems? Yes. Did it propose some helpful changes? It likely did. Can feminism be embraced along with our Christian faith? Absolutely not. Why not? Because it introduces a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) distortion into the way we approach gender and male-female relationships. It contains truth, but it also contains some powerful and destructive lies. And in so doing, it strikes at the very image of God and at an important earthly picture He chose to display the redemptive story. At its core, feminist philosophy is antithetical to the gospel (120).

To be clear, I do believe that there is an anti-God movement within the modern feminist movement. Margaret Sanger is a good example as are many third wave feminists. However, the early feminist philosophy that women were equal in value and worth and should be treated as such is not at all antithetical to the gospel.

According to the book, feminism is wrong and misguided because it misidentifies the root problems in society:

Feminism is based on the wrong premise. It assumes that ‘patriarchy’ is the ultimate cause of woman’s pain. It proposes the wrong solution. It says that women have the right, the knowledge, and the power to redefine and rectify the male-female relationship. It’s fueled by the wrong attitude. It encourages anger, bitterness, resentment, self-reliance, independence, arrogance, and a pitting of woman against man. It exalts the wrong values. Power, prestige, personal attainment, and financial gain are exalted over service, sacrifice, and humility. Manhood is devalued. Morality is devalued. Marriage is devalued. Motherhood is devalued. In sum, feminism promotes ways of thinking that stand in direct opposition to the Word of God and to the beauty of His created order (121).

Kassian and DeMoss have created a false dichotomy. While it’s true that modern feminists often demean and devalue men, marriage, and morality, that doesn’t mean that patriarchy isn’t a real problem. Throughout the True Woman book, patriarchy is generally put in scare quotes which signals that the authors don’t see it as a real topic of concern. In fact, they appear to support patriarchy, calling it “God’s divine design”:

Culture promotes a way of thinking about womanhood that is decidedly feminist. Its solution to the battle of the sexes is to dismantle patriarchy, and in the process, undermine and dismantle God’s divine design (132).

Patriarchy is an actual problem and is not God’s design. It has been a problem for women and society for thousands of years. Dismissing the truth of that does not help Kassian and DeMoss in their concerns about feminism. One can disagree with the devaluing of men and also believe that there exist those who devalue and demean women. Both extremes are bad, and both extremes are at work in our culture and churches.

My final concerns about the True Woman 101 book has to do with the practical applications. This has three basic parts: divorce, abuse, and a lack of grace/gospel. These are the ways in which the book’s teachings will impact and hurt women, families, and churches.

First, the True Woman manifesto, which all book study participants are encouraged to read and sign, teaches a permanence view of marriage. That means that divorce is not allowed in any way for any reason. The view would say there are no biblical grounds for divorce, not adultery, abandonment, or abuse. This teaching is dangerous. It’s contrary to the Bible, and it’s contrary to the teachings of my denomination.

Second, because of their belief in the permanence of marriage, their teachings on the nature of women to submit, and their dismissive attitude to the dangers of patriarchy and men who misuse their authority, the book creates a perfect environment for abuse to flourish. Instead of recognizing that men can and do abuse women even in the church, Kassian and DeMoss make a point of sin-leveling which makes abuse just another of the many sins in a relationship and we’re all sinners:

The problem in the male-female relationship isn’t men. It’s sin. And sin is something that affects women just as much as it affects men. Men and women may sin in different ways, but the truth of the matter is that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Women are not innocent. Women are sinners. Women can’t fix sin. So we can’t fix men (112).

At one point in the book, Mary Kassian relates a story of one of her friends who was abused by her husband. Kassian tells of being very angry and wanting to confront the man for what he did. She goes on to say that her husband took her aside and reminded her that the abusive man wasn’t the real problem, but that sin was. (111)

While it’s certainly true that sin is the root problem in all relationships, it is right and proper to confront a sinner for his sin and to hold him accountable. The answer is not shrugging our shoulders and lamenting the sins that damage our relationships while submitting to the abuse. It’s also not teaching women that their own sins are equally at fault in abusive situations.

Kassian and DeMoss seem to recognize that the teachings in True Woman might be understood to encourage abuse, but they dismiss that as silly:

We’ve heard all sorts of dismal prognoses about what will happen to women who decide to push back from the table of wildness and embrace God’s vision for womanhood instead. … You’ll encourage abuse. … Sorry but those dire threats are just plain silly. The truth is, as anxious as we might be about what could happen if we fully follow the Lord, we should be more concerned about what will happen if we don’t! (136)

The authors would do well to get to know the very real women and children who have been hurt and abused by men who have taken teachings like True Woman 101 and used them as support for their abuse. When men are told they hold the authority and reflect the authority of God the Father in their relationships with women, there are bound to be men who see this as just the affirmation they need to treat their wives and children in abusive ways. Combine that with women being told they must be soft and amenable and deferential to all men and that divorce is never an option, and you have women who are conditioned not to speak up and not to get help:

Are you angry at some man for the way he has treated you? … how does God want you to respond? How does the gospel of Christ motivate and enable that kind of response? ‘For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.’ (123)

My final concern about the practical implications of the book is that there is very little grace or gospel. The whole of True Woman 101 is filled with commands, musts, shoulds, and questions designed to show women how far they are from the “biblical womanhood” ideal. The weight of the failure of marriages and society itself is placed on women acting in rebellion to the picture of femininity that Kassian and DeMoss hold up as the standard. And once a woman is feeling terrible over how far she has missed the mark, the solution the book gives is not to turn to Christ but to work harder.

Take a moment to “fess up” in prayer. Ask the Lord to help you take personal responsibility for your choices, to acknowledge where you have chosen your way rather than His (92)

Do you think your attitude is in line with God’s ideal? If not, how could you bring it more in line? (94)

How do you need to adjust your attitude toward womanhood so that it matches His? (136)

Which “standard of teaching” about gender do you think God wants you to obey? (142)

How devoted a bride are you? Fill out the following devotion report card. In the column to the right of each statement, give yourself a grade ranging from A to D for how devoted you are to Christ (145).

Go back and fill out the shaded part of the report card. Give yourself a grade for how devoted you are to your husband (146).

Are you a helper or hinderer? Are there any ways you may be hindering the men around you from becoming all God created them to be? (170)

What are some possible effects of ignoring or rejecting God’s design for womanhood – on women, the home, the church, and the culture? (172)

Without godly womanly influence, its moral fabric would unravel, families would fail, and it would certainly sink into degradation and ruin (174)

What do you intend to do to support the vision for the quiet “counterrevolution” that we’ve shared? (178)

Kassian and DeMoss even go so far as to suggest that if you disagree with them on these matters, you are actually disagreeing with God, and your salvation might be in question:

Obedience is an evidence that we are truly children of God (1 Peter 1:14; see also Heb. 5:9; 11:8). In fact, according to Scripture, those who persistently disobey His Word, those who have no inclination to obey Him, have no basis for assurance that they belong to Him (36-37).

And ultimately women are responsible for their own righteousness:

But it’s particularly important for us women to listen up and pay attention to these passages, because “bride” is the part of the gospel story women are uniquely designed to tell. The spotlessness of the bride’s wedding dress reflects the type of character that God desires for women. A True Woman dressed in the beauty of holiness. … Holiness isn’t an abstract concept. It translates into practical, daily attitudes and behaviors (148).

There is no good news here. According to Kassian and DeMoss, women are the ones at fault, but if we follow these guidelines for biblical womanhood then we can be holy. That’s not the gospel. In fact, the book is so works oriented and so lacking in Christ’s work of redemption that a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness reading it would probably not be offended in the least.

While there is more that I could write about True Woman 101 and my concerns, these are the ones that I found the most troubling. There were a couple of quotes that I found that I did agreed with, although not for the reasons the authors intended. I’ll close with these:

You need to be smart when it comes to the messages you listen to (132).

[S]ome people use the Bible to defend views and practices that are anything but biblical (181).

My 2 Cents: Feminism, Stereotypes, and Experiences

Last week, I read a post “If I Had a Million Dollars (Why I’m Not a Feminist)” by Shannon Popkin. It’s an article written in response to another post, “If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist)” by Anna Fonte. Both women wrote about their experiences: growing up, fathers, mothers, daughters, families, men, fulfillment as a woman. Both articles make some interesting points, but each falls short of getting to the heart of what feminism is and why it should be embraced or rejected.

The terms “feminist” and “feminism” are used often but the meaning is variable. Most historians consider there to have been three waves of feminism. First wave feminism took place in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was mainly concerned with legal rights. Most people are familiar with the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote. But there were other legal rights that the first wave feminists sought. These include: the right to inherit property, shared ownership of their children, the right to own property, the ability to execute wills and make legal decisions for their children, and the ability to be a legal witness in a court case. The first wave feminists also wanted to improve opportunities for women in education and in the workplace.

While some may argue with me about this, these goals were admirable ones. Before this time women were truly at the mercy of others and often unprotected. A woman whose husband died or left her might find herself with no money, no shelter, and very few good options for employment.

In the 1960s, a second wave of feminism began. While these feminists were also concerned about inequalities in the workplace and in the laws, many were pushing for what would be called “reproductive rights.” Abortion, contraception, and less restrictions on sexuality were part of what this wave is known for. Not all women agreed, however. Many women who were for “equal pay for equal work” were not in favor of abortion. There is still a significant group of feminists who are pro-life.

Other goals from the 1960s-1980s include ending discrimination in the workplace and courts, awareness of domestic violence, and confronting the objectification and exploitation of women through prostitution and pornography.

Second wave feminism is more of a mixed bag when considering the good and bad of the movement’s goals. Abortion and “casual sex” have, and continue to, hurt many women. No fault divorce, along with these, has allowed many men to abandon women and children with little responsibility for their welfare.

Interestingly enough, it was a disagreement among some feminists over issues such as prostitution and pornography that lead to a distinct third wave. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and has been well-known for it’s focus on gender and sexuality. Many third wave feminists embrace a very fluid definition of gender and an unrestrained and open sexuality. There is nothing that I can commend in these goals.

Considering the three waves of feminism, there are some good things that have come from the first and second waves. If you are a single woman who lives on her own, owns her own home, and has a good job you have these women to thank for much of that. If you have never been asked in a job interview when your last period was (they wanted to know if you might be pregnant and likely to leave the job) you owe that to these women. If you are a woman who has an education and job opportunities for decent employment, you are benefiting from the work of these women.

But it isn’t all good. As I pointed out above, there are some really awful things that have been brought about by the various waves of feminism. Abortion, casual sex, open sexuality, fluid gender: these are wrong and have brought about nothing but hurt.

There is also a very ugly side to the modern feminist movement: the demeaning and devaluing of men. It is very common today to hear women say that men are worthless, that women don’t need men, that women are better than men. Men are often the butt of jokes as clueless or useless. This is very ugly and completely wrong.

Back to the two articles I mentioned at the start. I believe that both articles are weak because they focus mainly on experiences and on stereotypes. Anna (why I am a feminist) explains how men have hurt her and her mother. She chooses abortion because of what was happening in her life at the time. She uses her life history to show that she doesn’t need a man because from her history men are not to be trusted.

Shannon (why I am not a feminist) explains from her own history how her dad and her husband have cared and provided for her and her family. She and her mother embraced traditional roles as homemakers and mothers. She feels happy and fulfilled because being a mother and homemaker is better and more fulfilling than any career or other way of life. She sees feminists as angry and less happy. She uses her life history to show what it means to be “not a feminist.”

Anna’s piece is very sad to me. She has been hurt by men and lied to by those who told her abortion was the answer. She has scars from her childhood and needs desperately to be loved and forgiven as only Christ can. She’s wrong about men. Some men are wicked and untrustworthy. But that’s not the way it should be.

Shannon’s article is frustrating to me. She’s had a good life. She has a husband and children. Her husband has been able to provide in such a way that she is able to be at home and care for her family. But I’m concerned that her emphasis on fulfillment through husband and children will hurt women who do not have the same experiences.

Is this the only way or even the best way for Christian women to find fulfillment? There are many single women around, godly women who would love to be married and have a family. But God has not provided that for them. Are they less fulfilled? Do they have less value if they serve God through their career and friendships? What about women who help to provide for their families through their work? Are they less worthy of praise? Are they “feminists” because they work outside their homes? And what about the barren women? Are they less fulfilled because God hasn’t filled their arms with children?

While I think it’s very important to stand for good things life family, homes, marriages, and child-rearing, we should not created a checklist of what it means to be a good woman beyond what Scripture teaches. The Proverbs 31 woman, among other examples, was a woman of many talents who was busy providing for her home as well as caring for her household.

So as far as feminism goes, I’m thankful for the good, and I reject the bad. Would I call myself a feminist? No, especially not given the modern feminist movement. My life experiences, both good and bad, are not the reason I’m “not a feminist.” My reasons are based not on stereotypes, but on objective truth.

My own list would look like this:

  • Men and women are both created in the image of God and equal in Christ
  • Husbands and wives are different and need each other
  • Husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and wives are called to submit to that leadership
  • Ordained leaders in the church should be men
  • Men and Women are fulfilled by glorifying God in all they do through the callings and gifts that God has given them individually
  • What that looks like will be different for each man and woman
  • Abortion is always to be rejected.
  • Sexuality is to be expressed in marriage.
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman.
  • Divorce should only be the result of adultery, abandonment, or abuse.

When we move past experience and stereotypes to biblical truth, we find that there are some things that are absolutes on which we should not budge. And there are other things that are matters of discernment and liberty. We should be kind but firm on the one, and gracious and flexible on the other. May we build each other up in Christ.

Is Complementarian Just Another Word for Patriarchy?

There have been a number of articles going back and forth on whether complementarianism is the same thing as patriarchy. Some feminists say, “Of course it’s the same.” Some complementarians seem to agree at some level. There is certainly debate over the issue. It’s worth noting that the boys at the blog that shall not be named believe that complementarianism is just another name for feminism.

So what do I think? Is complementarian just another word for patriarchy? Well, my answer is: not really and it depends who said it. Helpful isn’t it.

First, I think it’s important to note that there is considerable confusion over the definition of terms. There are many people who claim the term complementarian often with significant differences over what they think that means. Because of that it can be difficult to determine what a “complementarian” believes simply based on the label. I believe it’s worthwhile to consider the various views on gender roles on a continuum with feminism on one extreme and patriarchy on the other. So, some “complementarians” would be closer to patriarchy and others further away.

Also, it doesn’t help matters that some complementarians claim to prefer the term patriarchy or that some in the patriarchy camp claim to be complementarians. There is a real need to define what one believes, and it’s possible that some labels are not as helpful as they were developed to be.

Some complementarians (and also the patriarchy guys) think that the word patriarchy best describes the Christian faith. Since patriarchy means “father rule” and since God is our Father, then we have a patriarchal faith. These complementarians argue that just because some extreme views have assumed the name patriarchy doesn’t mean that the name itself should be avoided.

I would argue that even if the word hasn’t always been associated with those views, it is now. Like it or not, once a word has assumed such as strong association, it is near impossible to call it back, and it’s honestly not worth the effort or the confusion it causes. For example, if someone says, “I’m gay” we all know exactly what they mean, and it has nothing to do with a temporary emotional state of happiness. I don’t think it’s helpful to try to rehabilitate the word patriarchy.

But back to the idea that Christianity is inherently patriarchal. I absolutely believe that God is our Father and that He rules everything. If that’s all that’s meant by patriarchal, then I can agree. However, God is more than our Father. God is Father, Son, and Spirit. Besides being our Father, He is also our Husband, Redeemer, Creator, Savior, Teacher, Comforter. My concern is that we can limit our understanding of God by seeing Him ONLY as Father.

I’m also concerned that if we aren’t careful we will lean towards a hierarchical view of the Trinity that flirts with heresy. Of course, in the economic Trinity, God the Father sends the Son, the Son submits to the will of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. But when we are dealing with who God is we must remember that the three persons of the Godhead are “the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (WLC Q.9). It is not only God the Father that we worship. We worship the Triune God: one God, three persons. It is not only God the Father that interacts with us.

What about the view that the “patriarchs” of Israel were patriarchal? The New Testament uses the word “patriarch” twice: once to refer to David and the other to refer to Abraham. The use of the word is similar to our use of forefathers. Did the forefathers of Israel live a patriarchal life? Many of them did. Many of them were also living polygamist lives. I believe that this is an example of the descriptive nature of their marriages and their society, not a prescriptive one.

I think it’s worth looking at the evidences of how the Israelites were different than the surrounding cultures as the people of God. We can consider the actions of Deborah, Ruth, Esther to be contrary, in many ways, to a strict patriarchal society and difficult for many modern patriarchy guys to explain. In fact, when Deborah is brought up the most common answer starts with her being “non-normative.”

In the New Testament, the teaching is very much counter to the Roman patriarchy system. Paul tells the church that woman are to learn in silence. We get caught up on the silence part, but it was revolutionary to say that woman were to learn! The New Testament also teaches a much, much more complementary view of men and women in marriage and also equality before God in Christ. This was very different from the society they lived in, and also different from what the modern patriarchy movement teaches.

So, in summary, do I believe that complementarian is just another word for patriarchy? It shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, there is often not as much differentiation between complementarian views and patriarchal ones as there should be.

It can be hard to be in the middle ground between two extremes. People on both ends will disagree with you. But the answer isn’t to deny that the middle ground exists.

My plea for complementarians is to be clear about what you believe. Don’t be afraid to take a stand that pits you against both extremes. Speak out against the twisting of Scripture and the dangers and abuses of both sides. Feminists may always believe that you’re just patriarchy guys by another name. Patriarchy guys may always call you feminists. Just because they see the world that way doesn’t make them right.

Making Patriarchical Heads Explode

Over at Reformation 21, Dr. Carl Trueman has been writing on complementarianism and whether or not it is a gospel distinctive. If a person holds to an egalitarian position, is that person denying or undermining the gospel?

I completely agree with Dr. Trueman that complementarianism is the most biblically faithful position. I also agree that the hermeneutic that leads one to hold to egalitarianism tends to lead further and further away from orthodoxy. But does that mean that an egalitarian is therefore not a believer? Dr. Trueman answers it this way:

Second, if complementarianism is a gospel issue, then I think one is really saying that it is a matter which touches directly on the credibility or coherence of a simple profession of faith by an ordinary believer and one should act consistent with that view. That surely makes it very hard for complementarians serving with egalitarian colleagues at seminaries which claim to be Christian or evangelical to do so with real integrity. After all, the gospel as they understand it is being compromised in the classroom by their colleagues. Yet I wonder if serving on faculty with the late Roger Nicole would have been so very problematic to many members of the Gospel Coalition. It also seems to press towards a position where church membership must be denied to someone who is an egalitarian. If it is a gospel issue, then it seems that denial of it must in some serious sense be a denial of the gospel. Here, of course, ecclesiology can help us out: one can make a helpful (and I believe biblical) distinction between the qualifications necessary for church membership (a basic, credible profession) and officebearing which defuses some of the practical issues involved. Complementarianism becomes a matter of faithful, biblical ecclesiology rather than an immediate gospel matter.

From what I’ve read this morning, there are a number of Biblical patriarchy guys who are spitting nails over Dr. Trueman’s post. This confirms for me a thought I’ve had. For many of the Biblical patriarchy guys, the issue of the roles of men and women is THE issue. It is the root of all problems in the church and in the world. It is the one issue that holds them together despite pretty significant theological differences.

Which brings me to Dr. Trueman’s final point:

Third, we have to be careful what we decide to make into gospel issues and not simply allow our own immediate context or admittedly important cultural struggles to be decisive. Luther thought affirmation of the presence of the whole Christ, in, with and under the elements of the bread and the wine in communion, was a gospel issue such that those who denied this were ‘of a different Spirit.’ Zwingli thought infant baptism was a gospel distinctive, such that he collaborated with the council in Zurich in the judicial drowning of Anabaptists. Indeed, Baptists have to face the fact that most of their theological heroes throughout history have baptized babies and, indeed, thought it a gospel distinctive. I am not saying that they should therefore become paedobaptists (though they could do a lot worse); but I am saying it should give us pause for thought before we start declaring what are and are not gospel issues and distinctives. This has been a perennially tough question for Protestants and needs to be parsed with care.

The Problem with Patriarchy: 50 Shades of Grey, Authority and Submission

[TRIGGER WARNING]: The content of this post contains language and imagery that may be sensitive or harmful to victims of sexual abuse or rape.

One of the problems that I see with the patriarchy movement is that it views all relationships in terms of authority and submission. When your entire worldview is seen through the lens of authority and submission, it’s bound to cause some unfortunate and ill-advised comments on any number of subjects. Yesterday I came across a particularly bad example of this.

Over at The Gospel Coaltion, blogger Jared Wilson started a firestorm when he wrote about the current fascination with the 50 Shades of Grey novel. In case you aren’t aware (and I wish I could say I’d never heard of it) here is Wiki’s short definition:

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James. Set largely in Seattle, it is the first instalment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism (BDSM).

There really aren’t enough words to explain what’s wrong with these books. Suffice it to say they should be avoided.

Jared Wilson’s original post, which has since been deleted, attempted to explain the appeal that 50 Shades has on so many women. He wrote that women are fascinated by books like this because it is a perversion of “good, God-honoring, and body-protecting authority and submission between husbands and wives.” Thanks to the magic of cached documents on Google, you can still see what he wrote. The part that started the uproar was a quote from Douglas Wilson that he used to support his theory:

A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.

– Douglas Wilson, Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1999), 86-87. (emphasis mine)

What is truly amazing is that Jared Wilson didn’t seem to understand why so many women were upset with Doug Wilson’s language and word choice. Doug Wilson acknowledges that egalitarian women would be offended by his words, but really, shouldn’t all women (and men too, for that matter) be offended by such violent imagery. Both Jared Wilson and Doug Wilson have attempted to explain how there is nothing wrong with what they wrote, and that the problem is with the comprehension of the readers.

While I appreciate that both Wilsons have stated that they do not approve of violence against women, my concern is that they are the ones who have a comprehension problem. The sum total of the intimate relationship between husband and wife cannot be condensed into authority and submission, especially as defined by Doug Wilson above. The language of the Bible is much more balanced when it comes to descriptions of the right relationship between husband and wife. 1 Corinthians 7 states that a husband has authority over his wife’s body, but also that a wife has authority over her husband’s body. This authority and submission is not a one-way street.

The problem I have with Jared Wilson’s post and Doug Wilson’s quote is that the preoccupation with authority and submission leads to social and familial structures that encourage abusive relationships. Not everyone who agrees with the Wilsons will be abusive, but many will see these words as supportive of abuse. When one views all of the world in terms of authority and submission, there are bound to be comprehension issues. Maybe the whole world didn’t misunderstand. Maybe you’re wrong.