The ceiling came down, so it’s time to inspect the whole building. (ESS Part 2)
In part 1 of this series I talked about why it is vital to consider Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem’s motivation in propounding their doctrine of ESS (Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission in the Trinity). I stated that I think they are motivated by a desire to hang on to their privilege. I also said I believe they are resisting having to accord the same degree of respect to women that they accord to men.
In this post, I would like to zoom out to big picture things. I’d like to talk about what I think may be two tectonic plates that are under the surface, moving (I hope) in different directions, because they are moved by different spirits.
Trueman and Goligher pulled on a rope, and the ceiling came crashing down
All Liam Goligher and I did was pull on a rope. The next thing we knew, the whole ceiling came crashing down around us. If that tells you anything at all, it is surely something about how well the ceiling was constructed in the first place. (Carl Trueman, Fahreheit 381)
Yes Carl and Liam, the ceiling crashed down around you when you sounded the alarm about ESS. And yes, that ceiling was badly constructed in the first place.
Now, if the ceiling was badly constructed, what about the rest of the building? There might be more shoddy construction in the building, concealed under the plaster and the paint. If I say whitewash rather than paint, does that bring a biblical reference to mind? Yep, you know what I’m talking about. The religion of the Pharisees.
Two groups within the conservative church
I think it is very likely that there are basically two groups in the conservative church (or call it the complementarian camp, if you prefer). I know it’s oversimplifying to say just ‘two’ kinds, but for the sake of my argument, I’m going to put it that way for the moment.
The first kind is people like Carl Trueman, Liam Goligher and other complementarians who are smelling a rat in the ESS doctrine as propounded by Grudem and Ware. The second kind is Bruce Ware, Waye Grudem, Owen Strachan and people like them.
The second kind, the second group, is resisting according full respect to women because they want to maintain male privilege and all the perks that it brings them. They have actually been pushing an agenda of male authority for selfish personal reasons, and it’s ugly. They are often tacitly or actively being witting allies of domestic abusers, child abusers, spiritual abusers. They may pretend they aren’t, but they know in their hearts what they’re doing. And it’s ugly. Some, or many, of the people in this camp are abusers themselves: wife abusers, child abusers, wolves in sheep’s clothing devouring the sheep.
And the first kind, the first group, has been blind to the evil in the camp. People like Carl Trueman, Liam Goligher and Todd Pruitt may have been dealing fairly well with individual cases of (say) domestic abuse in their own churches. But they have been blind to the corruption in the conservative church overall. They have been tacitly letting the evildoers and their allies take and maintain a LOT of control in the complementarian camp.
But, thank God, men like Trueman and Goligher have finally smelled the rat about ESS and called it out into the open.
They were by no means the first to call it out. In 2015, Rachel Miller called it out here 1 and here 2. So did others, Fred Sanders being a stand-out here. But the Mortification of Spin team at Alliancenet get a lot of oxygen. So last week, when they published Liam Goligher’s guest posts (thanks to Aimee Byrd) and Trueman’s posts — the whistle was blown loud enough to be heard by those who have power. Goligher and Trueman pulled on the rope and the ceiling fell down.
And now it’s time to let the rope be pulled some more, to see if any of the rest of the building falls down. Because none of us want to live in a jack-built building.
In the words of Carl Trueman, let’s see bad teaching corrected so that both this generation and future generations will be saved from some of the erroneous positions of the past. (link)
Michael F Bird is predicting a battle:
there is about to be a miniature civil war among conservative Calvinist Complementarians about Trinity and gender. The Coming War: Nicene Complementarians vs Homoian Complementarians
But I believe it’s deeper than what Michael F Bird thinks. I think the battle lines have not been fully understood yet.
Here is what I think the battle is really about:
It’s about the disrespect and injustice being handed out by evildoers and their allies in the church. It’s not about feminism. It’s not about women’s ordination. It’s not about egalitarianism and complementarianism. It’s about according full respect to victims of abuse, and throwing the abusers out of the church. And I Corinthians 5:11-13 is a key text for this battle.
I think if people grasp this, if they start paying more attention to what the Bible says about the mentality and tactics of evildoers — and how we need to be wise as serpents about evil — then many of the deadlocks in the comp / egal debate will be able to start being resolved. But only if the church takes 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 seriously, by having the gumption to put the abusers out of the church — the phoney christians who are practising evil, the revilers, the idolaters, the greedy, the sexually immoral, etc.
I am writing to you [instructing you, commanding you] not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler [verbal abuser], drunkard, or swindler [one who takes by force] — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)
That is the battle. Which side are you on? And are you even willing to listen?
Some people appear to be blocking their ears:
I have been in communication this week with a bundle of theologians who (1) are deeply concerned about these theologians and what they are teaching the church, and (2) who know that it is an uphill battle to get the principals [Grudem, Ware, etc] to listen. (Scot McKnight, Is it New? Yes. Is it Orthdox? No.)
Scot McKnight is right: people like Grudem and Ware are unwilling to listen. CBWM are certainly unwilling to listen. TGC and Reformation21 don’t allow comments, so they seem to be unwilling to listen.
The pastors and leaders in the conservative church who are not obsessed with male authority, who are trying to weigh the scriptures respectfully, who are not positively digging in their heels with haughtiness — are they willing to listen?
I believe there may be a tectonic-plate subgroup in the conservative church who are clinging (rightly) to the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture and the core doctrines of evangelicalism, AND who are sufficiently uncomfortable with things like ESS (per Grudem and Ware) that they are willing to wake up. Will they give us a level playing field? Will they listen to what we have to say?
While we were sleeping, feeling secure that they were not tampering with the glory of the gospel, they were in fact tampering with the glory of the eternal Son of God! (Liam Goligher, Reinventing God)
Sleeping. I’m very glad Liam Goligher used this word, even if he used it only as a turn of phrase. Because men like him, people like Goligher and Trueman and those who feel affinity with them: they have been SLEEPING. And it’s time to wake up. They blew the whistle; the ceiling fell down; and now it’s time to have a good look round and inspect the debris. Examine it. Consider it. And most importantly, listen to the cries of the victims of abuse who have been hidden behind all the whitewash. Pay attention. Don’t just get out the broom and put all that plaster into the trash bin and put up a new ceiling and shake hands with all your buddies who ‘helped’ you at that working bee. Listen to the victims whose sobs and moans have been exposed. Listen to us. We are part of the body of Christ. Your church — that is, if you are really Christ’s.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)
What I think is motivating Ware and Grudem, in a nutshell (a recap)
I believe they do not want to have to accord the same degree of respect to women that they accord to men. Putting this another way, I believe they do not want to give up their male privilege. I believe they are fighting to maintain their male privilege. “Fighting” is not too harsh a word for it, in my opinion.
I believe Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem are so in love with their idea of gender roles that their Roles Ideology has become the lens through which they are apprehending the relations between the Persons of the Trinity. With their complementarian lenses on, they have reasoned from the creature up to the Creator Godhead and back down again, ….with the result being a mess of pottage.
I believe they are so obsessed with their Husband Authority / Wife Submit doctrine that they are imagining they can see it in the eternal relations of the Trinity. They assert the Primacy of the Father and the Eternal Submission of the Son (father-son) … and then they map that assertion back downwards, not to father-son, but to man-woman and to husband-wife.
But it is a defective circular argument based on selective perception. Prejudiced perception. They deny that they are making a circular argument, and they deny they have a hidden agenda — but I don’t believe them. I think they know, deep in their hearts, that they are doing it. And they don’t want to admit it.
I believe they would like to keep women and wives in the position of children. I believe they are intent on not respecting women as adults. I believe they want to de-voice women, to marginalise them and keep them out of the important conversations.
Despite their denials, they seem to be pathologically obsessed with the doctrine of male authority in the home and the church. They seem to be so focused on their doctrine of male authority that it’s become an idol, and they are striving to cable-tie their idol down to its pedestal by invoking the eternal relations of the Persons of Trinity.
I believe in their secret hearts they know what is at stake
If they respected women as much as they respect men, they would have to listen to the victims of abuse. And they would have to then admit that they have taught in such a way as to compound the suffering of victims of abuse. They would have to be willing to humble themselves and feel shame for what they have done. They would have to be willing to ask forgiveness.
But from their perspective, it’s much easier to keep us banned from the conversation, to keep us in the dungeon where our voices are not heard… so they can go on having their conferences and publishing their books and congratulating each other for how they are ‘holding the wall against wild seas of secularism.’
But we are on their side of the wall: in the dungeons and the caves that their teaching dug out and chained us within. Want proof? See here: Real life examples of pastoral advice to victims of domestic abuse.
Connecting Trinity to gender roles is a dangerously distracting pedagogical gambit. It bundles the doctrine of God with another set of commitments. (Fred Sanders 18 Theses on the Father and the Son)
We need to keep our issues with the earthly politics of gender out of our reflections upon the eternal being of God. (Carl Trueman, Fahreheit 381)
I agree. But what these two men are saying here is, I believe, only an early skirmish in what I predict will be a very long war. A war in which God is sifting His church. The war may not be won until Christ returns and winds it all up, exposing the hypocrites, the abusers, and the cowards — and sending them to the place He has foretold.
Posts in this ESS series
Part 2: Is this post.
Part 5: An open letter to Wayne Grudem