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What’s Wrong With Apologetics?

One thing that strikes me is how dim a view so many have of apologetics. This is not just from people who aren’t Christian. I see theologians, clergy, etc. who don’t trust apologists. I say “don’t trust” because that’s accurately what people say: there is a perception of apologists or those doing apologetics as people who just want to win an argument. Apologists are viewed negatively with almost universal unanimity by those who are not Christians as well. Such universal aversion, even from within, ought to tell us that Something is wrong with apologetics. I wanted to spend some time to talk about what’s wrong with apologetics. I don’t have any quick fixes; I don’t have any way to repair the damage we apologists often do. I do offer a few possible solutions, so this doesn’t feel as hopeless as it might otherwise.

1. We are too quick to teach rather than learn.

We often have a lot of training and we do a lot of reading. So when someone comes along and makes a “basic” objection to Christianity or a clear mistake, we tend to shift to lecturing almost immediately. Rather than listening to the real concerns of others, we tend to move too swiftly into correction or trying to tell them why they’re wrong. It is rarely, if ever, helpful to try to lecture someone into your own position. Moreover, it shows a remarkable amount of self-importance and arrogance when we assume that others want or need us to teach them. Yes, it’s possible that people we speak with are woefully uninformed on a topic at hand; but that doesn’t mean it is our job to teach them or that they want us to do so.

Possible solutions: Refrain from teaching others unless they ask. Example: The person you are engaging says “Really? I don’t know much about that. Could you tell me more?”
Make every effort to spend at least as much time listening to others as you do talking. Example: You’re speaking with a non-Christian who appears not to know much about the topic; instead of lecturing them so they can learn about it, ask probing questions: “Why do you think that is?” “Have you heard about other possibilities?”
Before jumping into any explanation of something, ask if that is what the other person wants. Example: “May I share my perspective?” Note that genuine listening to their perspective will make it much more likely that they value hearing your own.

 2. We believe we are experts where we are not.

I think this one is hugely important. Training in apologetics is a kind of jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none training. You may think you’re an expert in evolutionary biology because you took a graduate or undergraduate level course on it. You’re not. I may think I am qualified to lecture on the history of philosophy given how many philosophers I’ve read. I’m not. No one can be an expert on everything, and becoming an expert on just one thing takes a massive investment of time and resources. But I see and have heard of Christian apologists constantly firing off on things they simply don’t know anything about. It’s okay to have an opinion, but acting as if that opinion is a reasoned response to thousands of hours of study when it is really just a general sense is deeply problematic. Moreover, apologists too often engage in fields where they are not even close to experts, and end up coming off as rather arrogant and ignorant as a result.

Possible solutions: Admit you are not an expert. “I had one class in college on economics, so I am sure you know more than I do. Perhaps you can tell me why you feel so strongly about your differing position?”
Do not lecture (see above!). Unless you have an advanced degree in biology, your attempts to argue that there must be a creator for the origin of life might actually be amateurish without you knowing it. An expert in that field may see you as a fraud. It is okay to say “I don’t know much about this topic, but it seems to me that x requires y. Could you explain why you think differently?”

3. We do not value other perspectives.

Just the fact that someone else is a different religion than your own or -gasp- a different denomination or political party does not mean they are automatically wrong. Guess what, you make mistakes too! Indeed, I have been forced to change my perspective on a large number of things upon deeper examination of the evidence. You’re probably wrong about something, so maybe other people with different perspectives can present great learning opportunities for you or ways to challenge your own beliefs.

Possible solutions: Don’t waste time trying to correct others’ (wrong) opinions. They don’t need that and probably won’t value what you’re doing at all. Use disagreement to come to deeper understanding and respect. Our ultimate goal may be to “win others to Christ,” but we can’t do that if we’re too busy being complete meatheads to everyone we disagree with in the meantime.

4. We don’t actually treat others with gentleness and respect.

I think this is pretty obvious. We all know we’ve seen apologists being totally rude and disrespectful to others. Don’t do it. If you see it, call that out.

5. We are too dismissive of the difficult history of Christians and Christianity.

“That’s a ad hominem!” “That’s a genetic fallacy!” “That was so long ago and not my denomination!”

Yep. We have all done this when confronted with the very real, long, horrible history of Christians behaving badly. Antebellum slavery, Crusades, witch hunts, inquisitions, the list can go on and on. If your gut reaction to that list was to say one of the above, you’re part of the problem. Martin Luther was anti-Semitic, so were a boatload of the Reformers. Maybe instead of dismissing that history, we ought to apologize for and reject it. It would go a long way.

6. We dismiss concerns of others by calling them logical fallacies.

There was a little bit of this seen in the previous point, but we apologists love pointing out fallacies. I know I do. It’s kind of like the “Gnostic” card for theologians, it gives a thrill to bust your opponents’ use of the genetic fallacy. Boom, argument won, right? Well, maybe, but it hardly comes across as “kindness/gentleness and respect” when you’re talking to someone at Thanksgiving and telling them they’re guilty of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Fallacies are a real thing, but it’s also possible to misidentify a fallacy and make a fallacy fallacy, as I call it: saying someone is being fallacious when they’re not. Indeed, many fallacies can be too liberally applied: the fallacy of appealing to an expert may be mistaken, but if 99% of all experts in a given field agree on something, that ought to give us pause if we disagree. Again, we’re not experts on everything.

Possible solutions: don’t jump to conclusions regarding fallacies. If someone is truly engaging in a lengthy argument with you, maybe it’s okay to start pointing them out by name, but it usually doesn’t expand the conversation.
Instead of calling fallacies by name, which may come off as throwing your learning in someone’s face, just explain the issue. “You suggested Lutheranism must be false because Martin Luther was an anti-Semite. I agree he was anti-Semitic, and I think that is deeply, horribly wrong. It is possible to be wrong about one thing and right about other things, though, don’t you agree?” It takes more work than shouting “genetic fallacy, you lose!” but it may get you farther in conversation.

7. We over-value our heroes and under-value our “foes.” 

William Lane Craig said it, so it must be true, right?

Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic approach can’t be wrong, can it?

Yeah, we have heroes. They make mistakes, too. Just because William Lane Craig did a Defenders podcast about something doesn’t mean he actually is right about a specific doctrinal point. Moreover, we’re too willing to look over real moral or philosophical failings in our heroes. It’s okay to acknowledge that someone we admire can be wrong about something. They certainly are. More importantly, it is altogether possible that some of the “arch-enemies” of Christianity have some things right. Richard Dawkins. The name alone is enough to raise hackles for some, but we should not dismiss everything the man says. He is truly an expert on evolutionary biology who taught at Oxford as a Professor for Public Understanding of Science! Is it possible that we might gain some understanding of science from the guy? Probably. Yes. We would.

Possible solutions: Be ready to admit when your favorites get things wrong and be willing to acknowledge it.
Read works by others with the intent to understand what they’re saying rather than exclusively to refute it.

8. We do not practice what we preach.

I heard it time and again in apologetics classes: “Christianity is offensive enough, we don’t need to make it more offensive.” The general implication was that we ought not to add baggage to Christianity that might drive others off. But far, far too many apologists are all too willing to dismiss others’ real world concerns as the ramblings of a “social justice warrior” (itself seen as a bad thing) or to write off ethical concerns as beneath us. Yet it is definitely not wrong to say that Jesus loved the poor, warned the rich, and came for the sinner. Those “social justice” concerns that altogether too many apologists write off as some kind of conspiracy of atheists are truly concerns of the Christian and found in the Bible, which exhorts us to “do justice.” Yes, yes, I now: “justice” may look different to different people. But before you rush off to dismiss others’ concerns, maybe spend some time listening to why they have whatever catch phrase written on their T-shirt or why they feel so strongly about a topic that they’re marching for what they believe is justice. Genuine, caring listening–especially to those with whom we disagree–can go a long way to heal the perception that Christian apologists currently have.

9. We circle the wagons.

There’s not an easy way to say this, and I’ve said it a few times already: you’re wrong about a lot of things. No one’s perfect; it’s okay. But if your gut reaction to someone’s challenge to your belief is to double down rather than even listen to their perspective, that might mean you need to spend some time really thinking about that topic. Simply standing up and re-asserting you’re right again and again doesn’t actually engage anyone else.

Conclusion

There’s a lot wrong with apologetics. A lot. I say this as someone with an advanced degree in the field. Hopefully reading this will lead to some introspection, and some other bloggers going and writing their own reflections, and maybe some changing of hearts can happen. We need to fix apologetics. We need to take seriously the fact that it has such a negative perception, even within the church. It’s not a matter of arguing more–it’s a matter of truly taking feedback and acting on it. I hope this helps.

In Christ,

J.W. Wartick

SDG.

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Book Review: “The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God” by David Baggett and Marybeth Baggett

The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God is a witty look at the moral argument and some objections to it.

The book begins with an overview of the moral argument (more like moral arguments because there are several varieties) throughout the centuries, giving readers a working knowledge of the major philosophers who have engaged with the argument in the past. A brief section addresses Euthyphro’s dilemma in between the major sections before transitioning into positive arguments in favor of the premises of the moral argument. The argument the Baggett’s present is an abductive version of the argument rather than a deductive one. That is, their argument relies on observations of moral facts leads to God’s existence as the best conclusion from these facts.

David and Marybeth Baggett provide readers with anecdotes and examples to break up the more philosophical portions of the book, and there are study questions at the end of each chapter. The book is geared towards those with up to a moderate knowledge of the moral argument and can serve as an introduction to the same. Overall, the book seems to be presenting the argument in a winsome way alongside giving the basics such that readers will come away able to articulate the argument themselves.

The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God is a good introduction to one of the more intriguing theistic proofs. It acts as an introductory synthesis to much of David Baggett’s earlier work on the same argument. It’s recommended for those who are engaging in apologetics and interested in exploring this argument further. It could be used as a study group book, as well.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness” by John Lennox

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness addresses one of my all-time favorite Bible stories. I may be a bit biased, as my name is Joseph, but I’ve always loved this narrative. I also had it assigned as a narrative to translate from Hebrew in college, which only deepened my love for this story. Lennox’s title says it: this story has it all. But what of this book? I was excited to dive in to find out what John C. Lennox, a rather famous man in some Christian circles, would have to say about this narrative.

Lennox is a somewhat strange choice for a book on Joseph on the face of things. A search of “John Lennox” with terms like “Joseph” and “Bible” brings up a number of videos of Lennox discussing this narrative, however, showing something of a longstanding interest in the topic. Lennox’s training is in mathematics, though he has written extensively in the fields of apologetics in particular as well as science-faith topics. Where this becomes relevant is when Lennox delves more deeply into the background of texts. He leans heavily on other thinkers for this, and seems particularly reliant upon Kenneth A. Kitchen. These include citations from a text from 1966, along with the more recent On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2006). Kitchen is an excellent scholar with impeccable credentials, but again, the heavy reliance on other scholars by Lennox makes any background here seem superficial.

Nevertheless, Lennox does provide quite a bit of background for readers. He begins not with the start of the Joseph narrative, but with an overview of the structure of Genesis, including a re-reading of many of the Genesis accounts. Though this may seem somewhat unnecessary, Lennox does this to give a real sense of place, time, and setting for the Joseph narrative, making it feel even more alive and fresh than it might otherwise. Lennox is keen throughout the book to show that God’s judgement, mercy, and sovereignty are in play throughout the narrative.

Lennox gives plenty of context for readers, but mostly follows an totally expository path, deviating little from the content of the story itself. Where he does deviate, it sometimes goes into strange territory. For example, when discussing “Joseph’s rise to power,” Lennox goes on a tangent about confidence, which leads to a discussion about Christianity in “the West.” In the midst of this discussion, Lennox cites others noting that “there has been a collapse of Western self-confidence…” He then goes on to link this loss of confidence to a rise in trust in science as over and against Christianity. Following previously cited authors, Lennox argues that “confidence in God and in the Lord and the Gospel is being shaken as never before” (154). Then, Lennox just brings Joseph back in. Joseph was just “a single individual, with no other human group supporting him, yet such was his conviction of the truth of the message he had… that he influenced the future of an entire nation. That is the sort of confidence in God… that is necessary in order to stand up and reverse the trend of weakness and lack of conviction and authenticity that characterize far too much of that which calls itself Christian” (155). Frankly, I am baffled by this rabbit trail. Apart from the strangeness of demanding that Christianity be characterized by strength and authenticity rather than being humble (Ephesians 4:2, for example), it also seems very much like a grasp by Lennox to make an application in a section that he has thus far done little to make practical theology happen.

The story of Joseph, of course, features prominently at least one woman: Potiphar’s wife. Lennox goes over the story of Potiphar’s wife attempting to seduce Joseph in detail. Once more, Lennox is keen to make applications to today from the story, including arguing that sexual activity “including pornography” is encouraged in “our contemporary world.” In contrast, Lennox argues, this leads to bitterness and anti-social behavior. To combat this, we ought “to make God the center and focal point of our morality, not our desires, or feeling that it is so right” (128). Later, when discussing Potiphar’s attempt to frame Joseph, Lennox appeals not to the Bible but to the common proverb “a woman scorned” to make his point (129), attempting an appeal to what he seems to think is a shared agreement–women, right? This movement from an individual woman–Potiphar’s wife–to all women: “a woman scorned,” is surely overdone and not a little insulting. Lennox’s implication seems to be that Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to frame Joseph is just what we ought to expect from a woman who was trying to seduce a man like Joseph. But this is the very kind of generalizing from abusive behavior to excuses that has led to so many problems in the world and church around the topic of abuse. I was surprised to see this, but then Lennox follows it with another disappointing statement, saying that Potiphar’s wife “denounced Joseph to the other servants, playing the race card” (129). This “race card” was that Potiphar’s wife blamed Joseph due to his being a Hebrew (Genesis 39:13-15). But the use of “race card” in this way is clearly pejorative. Lennox doesn’t give any further context for this statement, but this kind of terminology is often used to denounce those who point to real, current abuses happening due to people’s race. What makes it particularly odd is that Lennox puts this apparent condemnation of lumping whole groups together right next to his own action doing the same (“race card” means calling Joseph Hebrew to denounce him is bad, but in the very same paragraph Lennox uses “a woman scorned” to reference the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” proverb that implies all women act in this manner). It’s an alarming and disappointing series of discussions from Lennox in this section.

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness is a competent look at a beautiful story. Lennox gives much by way of background, but derives most of the details from other sources. When he makes contemporary applications, they are quite uneven. The theological leanings of the reader will most likely be the determining factor in one’s enjoyment.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

“The Ordination of Women: A Twentieth-Century Gnostic Heresy?” by Louis A. Brighton in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“The Ordination of Women: A Twentieth Century Gnostic Heresy?” by Louis A. Brighton

First, do an exercise for me. Search “gnostic heresy” on your preferred search engine. Now, look at Gnosticism on Wikipedia. Confused yet? I am–because Gnosticism is a radically diverse set of beliefs that has effectively had that label slapped on it. And, in modern times, virtually any position anyone wants to condemn theologically has been referred to as Gnosticism. The fluidity of the label is notorious, leading some thinkers to effectively give up the term, or at least argue it is much more diverse than we may think. But here, Brighton makes an effort to rebrand egalitarians–those who support the ordination of women–as some kind of modern Gnostic heresy. Let’s dive in.

Brighton begins the chapter with a series of questions, ultimately concluding with questions that effectively present Brighton’s thesis: “How did the role of women in Gnosticism relate to Gnostic theology, specifically the article of God? Secondly, this paper notes the oopposition of the early church to both the Gnostic practice or ordaining women and the Gnostic doctrine of God” (91). Related to this claim is his assertion that “It is quite clear that the early church saw an important and intimate connection between the practice of women serving as priests… and the doctrine and teaching about God” (ibid).

Brighton then cites a few church fathers speaking poorly about women being teachers in the church. For example, he quotes Tertullian as saying it is audacious to allow women “even to baptize!” (92). It is odd that Brighton would favorably quote this, because this goes against the Lutheran Confessions. The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.” (See more here on a Sacramental/Lutheran view of women in church leadership) Moreover, at various levels of being taught by people, including pastors, in the LCMS, I have been told that women may baptize, at least in the case of an emergency. But Brighton makes no reference to the Confessions, nor to the possibility that Tertullian may have gone too far. Instead, he presses on in his point.

Next, Brighton notes various ways women interacted in society in the Graeco-Roman world. Ultimately, he accurately states that “It is difficult… to be dogmatic… and certainly it is not possible to make a blanket statement about what was or was not socially acceptable” (93). After giving a very brief survey of some Gnostic sources, Brighton moves on to the role of women in Gnosticism. “In some of the Gnostic texts women appear equal to men in being authorities for the establishment of doctrine” (95). What is odd here is that though Brighton notes positive examples of women in the Gnostic texts, he ignores or excludes those which are negative. This is, perhaps, because he’s seeking to support his conclusion that “The role of women in Gnosticism is in striking contrast to the role that women held in Orthodox Christianity” (96). This statement, to put it bluntly, is historically vacuous. Brighton doesn’t demonstrate this whatsoever. Simply citing a few positive statements in a select few Gnostic writings does nothing to demonstrate the following essential points for Brighton to support his thesis: 1) that “orthodox Christianity” was a single unit with unified teaching in this time before Nicaea (and after, for that matter); 2) that Gnostics universally held to a different position on women than “orthodox Christians” universally did; 3) that Gnosticism spoke with one voice; 4) that orthodoxy spoke with one voice on women; 5) that Christians treated women differently in every case; 6) that no “orthodox” Christians had women as leaders (something which is demonstrably false–see concluding paragraph below). Any one of these points is deleterious to Brighton’s point, but together they show that he hasn’t even begun to make his case for such a strong conclusion.

Brighton states that in Gnosticism, God is portrayed as feminine. He argues that this is in “marked contrast to both the canonical scriptures and the orthodox church’s belief, in which the feminine element is absent in both thought and symbolism of God” (97). This is a surprising claim, given that very clear statements in the Bible itself are made in which feminine symbolism is used of God. For example, though Brighton earlier decries Gnosticism for seeing God as Wisdom and therefore feminine, Wisdom in Proverbs 1 and 8 has long been seen in many strands of orthodoxy to be a reference to God or even Christ, and is a decidedly feminine portrayal. Both men and women are created in the “image” of God in Genesis–which would suggest that both masculine and feminine aspects are present in the Godhead. In the Bible, God is seen as giving birth (Deuteronomy 32:18, which unites masculine and feminine imagery); as a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13); as a mother bear (Hosea 13:8); as like a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14); as a mother hen (Matthew 23:37); and more. If even one of these is a feminine symbol of God, Brighton is wrong, but it is clear that every single one of these is a feminine symbol of God and in church history there are plenty of “orthodox” Christians who saw feminine imagery of God as well, especially surrounding the Wisdom passages in Proverbs. Brighton is just wrong here, and it undermines essentially his entire argument in this section, which is based on a denial of any such imagery.

What is remarkable is that in the very next section, Brighton actually lists several of these examples, but doesn’t acknowledge in any way that this would present a problem for his thesis that it is “absent”! The rest of this section is spent on Brighton noting various other sources certain Gnostic groups used to see feminine imagery, but it hardly undermines anything that is actually present in the Bible! Brighton then attacks one strand of Gnostic thought that equivocates on good and evil and sees God as the source of evil, spending a few paragraphs attacking this notion. But nowhere does he actually link this to any modern feminist theology, nor does he link it to egalitarianism in any way.

In another surprising turn, Brighton’s conclusion follows this, and he re-asserts that the theology of God of Gnosticism was rejected, but then goes on to say that “this paper concludes that orthodox Christianity of the early church, with its theology of the Triune God, could not but reject the practice of the ordination of women into the public ministry” (105). What? Where does Brighton even make this connection in any real sense? He doesn’t actually argue that the early church saw this connection, nor did he demonstrate that there was a connection! Indeed, he even lists Bible verses that disprove one of his central claims! Yet here, he turns around and argues that somehow modern egalitarians are Gnostics? There is no connection made anywhere between the two schools of thought, other than the incidental fact that each ordains women (and Brighton even fails to adequately define Gnosticism or show that ordination of women was a universal Gnostic practice, which it almost certainly was not). There is no evidence here mustered against the ordination of women; it’s just a survey of Gnostic texts followed by Brighton’s rejection thereof.

A significant issue with Brighton’s thesis is that it doesn’t actually align with all of Gnosticism. In attempting to link modern-ish egalitarianism to Gnosticism, Brighton failed to take into account the whole breadth of Gnostic thought and factions. Instead, he simply asserts without argument that the two are equivalent. But Brighton doesn’t deal with those Gnostic texts or beliefs that run contrary to his thesis. For example, in the Gospel of Thomas, one of the very texts Brighton cites to push his point, one finds saying 114:

Simon Peter says to them: “Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!” Jesus says: “See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

Does this saying appear to align with Brighton’s theory that Gnostics favored women and are somehow equivalent to modern day egalitarians? Clearly not. But Brighton should have been aware of this and many, many other sayings and beliefs detrimental to women in Gnostic thought.

Perhaps the most significant problem with Brighton’s position is that it discounts entirely those examples in the early church that run contrary to his point. For one, there are numerous examples in the New Testament itself of women in roles of leadership. Junia is an apostle; Phoebe and Priscilla are various levels of church leaders, women were clearly named as prophets numerous times, Lydia and Nympha are stated as having churches in their houses, and the fulfillment of Joel 2:28, in which there doesn’t appear to be a distinction whatsoever between men and women prophesying, is affirmed in Acts 2. For more on some of these, see here. But Brighton doesn’t account for any of these examples, nor does he deal with the documentary evidence in the early church of many other church leaders. Yet these are direct refutations of his thesis. Either he doesn’t know about these counter-examples, or he intentionally does not mention them. Either way, it is a significant oversight, and one that refutes him. Moreover, as we have seen several times above, simply charging others with Gnosticism is hardly a fruitful way to engage with other positions. This chapter is most accurately described as a lengthy move to poison the well against egalitarians.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious Freedom” by Brandon J. O’Brien

Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious Freedom explores, largely, the life and thought of Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor who helped navigate between the completely hands-off approach to religion that Thomas Jefferson argued for and the notion of theocracy other Americans were trying to establish.

O’Brien’s look at Backus’s life begins with a look at the reasoning behind seeing the need for revival in the United States. Backus was struck by the need for this revival and dedicated his life to preaching. Ultimately, he moved to Baptist theology from his life as a farmer and part of the “separate church.” His theology developed through his life. It is in outlining this development that I found O’Brien’s book occasionally problematic. It is difficult to present such large theological issues in such a small space, but at times it seemed as though Backus’s movement theologically is one all should make–somewhat odd considering O’Brien says his own theological journey moved him in the opposite direction (from Baptist to Presbyterian). Perhaps this is a case of a biographer effectively conveying the convictions of their subject, but it was distracting at times here. It felt jarring to be pulled from a narrative of Backus’s life into an exposition of Baptist theology, only to be thrown back in again.

Backus’s look at how religion and state should work continued to develop as well. His view ultimately helped influence how we view religious liberty today. Backus refused to affirm anything like a theocracy in which the state was simply established with a religion. But he also argued against a complete separation that did not allow the state to have some involvement in religion. The issue was to do so fairly. Backus had drafted his on bill of rights for protecting religious liberty which has many parallels to the Constitution that was ultimately adopted. Backus’s bill provided for all people to follow their own convictions regarding faith, though it also was rejected because many thought Backus was bringing false accusations about his own liberties being constrained. It is interesting, then, to see that Backus was a rival of Paine and Adams, and it was ultimately they who adopted a bill of rights quite similar to the one that Backus presented.

Demanding Liberty is a somewhat uneven look at the life of a man who was more influential on the formation of the United States than most may think. It provides an interesting but flawed overview of his life and influence. For those interested in the topic of religious freedom in the United States, it is worth picking up for a read.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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