women

This tag is associated with 11 posts

Book Review: “The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Women, Sexuality, and Nazi Germany” by Diane Reynolds

…Bonhoeffer reflects a prewar–what we might call a pre-postmodern–consciousness, a consciousness that no longer fully exists. We view him anachronistically, through our different set of lenses, and thus he shatters or refracts, like an abstract painting, into a dozen disparate images because he doesn’t fit conventional postwar paradigms. He remains, in some sense, untranslatable. (3)

Diane Reynolds’ The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers a unique take on the life of that great German WW2 theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Her biography focuses largely on two topics: the women in Bonhoeffer’s life and questions of sexuality in both his theology and life. The book is a biography, then, that fills in a number of holes that are left by other biographies. It doesn’t provide an exhaustive look at where Bonhoeffer was at any given time in his life like Bethge’s biography, nor does it provide a broad overview while filling in theological details like the excellent work by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. Its focus is even narrower than the interesting Strange Glory by Charles Marsh. Yet it is that narrowness of focus that allows Reynolds’ biography to stand out from among these other excellent works and show he areas that they missed.

Reynolds’ controversial theories about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality (see below) would likely be the biggest takeaway many have from the book, which is unfortunate because it is quite excellent in several other regards as well, no matter what one thinks of her arguments over his sexuality. Specifically, her emphasis on bringing women’s voices in Bonhoeffer’s life to the forefront offsets a rather lengthy time in which women have largely been ignored or set to the side when considering his theology and life. Reynolds aptly demonstrates women were absolutely central to his way of thinking and clearly shaped his thought and direction of his theology in a number of ways. Indeed, his inner circle towards the time of his death was made up of women (Sabine, his twin sister; Ruth von Kleist-Retzlow; and his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer) and Bethge. Though Bonhoeffer was raised with somewhat traditional German values, he rebelled against the Nazi insistence on ideals of women and men in utterly separate spheres of thought and took advice from several women regarding his theology. It would be impossible to paint Bonhoeffer as entirely egalitarian, but not outside of reality to see the way that he lived in an effectively egalitarian understanding while remaining in his traditions.

The most controversial aspect of Reynolds’ biography is that she takes Marsh’s hints about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality and states “I will openly argue… that Bonhoeffer went beyond emotional friendship with Bethge and was in love with him–and that Bonhoeffer’s fiancee knew it” (7). Indeed, Reynolds even goes so far as to argue that there are “seeds of a nascent queer theology in Bonhoeffer’s writing” (7). Regarding Bonhoeffer’s being in love with Bethge, it is true that Bethge himself left open the question of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality. Reynolds’ evidence for her strong claim starts with that, but continues by noting the specific language Bonhoeffer used of and to Bethge, which parallels some of that used by homosexuals in Germany at the time. Moreover, a mutual acquaintance of Bethge and Bonhoeffer (Gerhard Vibrans) used words for their special relationship that were “codes used for gay relationships in Weimar Germany” (141). Maria von Wedemeyer, Dietrich’s fiancée, seemed to question his feelings for her at multiple points in their letters back and forth, forcing the latter to reassure her that his feelings were genuine on multiple occasions. A final piece of evidence Reynolds notes is absences or excisions from letters to and from Bonhoeffer that seem to cluster around questions of sexuality. As she puts it, “We also have unexplained ellipses in at least one [of] the letters to Eberhard [Bethge], a censoring of texts deemed too ‘intimate’ to share” (429). Bonhoeffer’s engagement to von Wedemeyer is explained, in Reynolds view, by both an attempt to thwart Nazi suspicion (Bonhoeffer would have been seen as more “normal” if he were married) and as a kind of cover for Bonhoeffer’s sexuality.

If all of this seems a bit circumstantial, that would be because at least some of it is. Certainly, when taken altogether,  the evidence rings of the possibility of Bonhoeffer having an attraction that goes beyond friendship for Bethge. The intimacy of his letters and exhortations to his friend to spend more time with him, the latter’s apparent moves to thwart the same intimacy, the excision of letters, the language used by mutual acquaintances, and the tepid relationship between Bonhoeffer and his fiancée may all be taken as evidence for Reynolds’ thesis. But her claim is quite strong, not just that there may have been something going on, but that their relationship went beyond friendship and that Bonhoeffer was explicitly in love with Bethge, with von Wedemeyer’s knowledge (7). Alternative explanations could be given for each of these lines of evidence Reynolds’ presents. Bonhoeffer’s apparently cold feelings towards von Wedemeyer could be explained simply by his seeing their relationship as a way to thwart the Nazi investigation; excisions in the letters could simply be quite personal rather than anything related to sexuality; a friend’s knowing taunts could be reduced to jealous teasing at being excluded from the same fraternal intimacy; and the like. The question, of course, is whether such explanations are better than those offered by Reynolds. As it stands, readers must judge for themselves. I do not think Reynolds’ strong thesis can be carried by the weight of her evidence. Insinuations are there, but nothing strong enough to conclude as she does with such certainty.

Regarding Reynolds’ claims for a “nascent queer theology,” I do not find the evidence convincing. Essentially, she turns his writings on friendship into thoughts on how homosexual relationships could be viewed with the same legitimacy as those of male-female ones. For example, she writes, “Both Bonhoeffer and Bethge acknowledged struggles due to the lack of formal recognition of their close companionship… Both men felt the frustration of the military’s indifference to their friendship. These sorts of assertions against invisibility have become the mainstay of the gay marriage movement… insisting on the beauty, necessity, and value of same-sex friendship existing as a cornflower between the rigid rows of more formal social organization offered a beginning vision” 419-420. But there seems to me a vast difference between two friends frustrated over not being able to communicate as they wished to and insisting that that is the formation of a theology of same-sex relationships that affirms marriage. We must be careful not to subsume same-sex friendship into same-sex attraction, and close friendships ought not to lead necessarily to speculations about sexuality. It seems to me that Reynolds’ thesis is once again stronger than the evidence supports.

None of these comments should be taken to suggest Reynolds is not careful in her survey of the evidence. Indeed, she provides correctives to some aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life as well, including on some things that could be seen to support her thesis had she let them stand. For example, she offers a brief comment in which she criticizes Charles Marsh for his “effete” Bonhoeffer, arguing that his style of dress was “from pride in his appearance rather than a ‘flamboyant abbot’ quality” (17). By contrast, Reynolds notes that Bonhoeffer would have been considered “masculine” in his own time. Reynolds here demonstrates that she is not grasping at straws to try to push a pet theory. Rather, her analysis of Bonhoeffer’s life is balanced and challenging.

Another aspect of this biography worth noting is its own. Reynolds’ writing style captures the reader and draws one into the narrative of Bonhoeffer’s life in a way that few biographies are able to grasp. The biography, again, necessarily misses large portions of Bonhoeffer’s life because of its different focus. But in having its focus upon aspects of his life that have been overlooked, Reynolds manages to make a compelling narrative that challenges readers to interact with it, possibly re-evaluating assumptions about Bonhoeffer’s life and theology in the process.

The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a fascinating work. It explores aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life that have largely received little treatment in the works on his life. Though I believe some of Reynolds’ theses are stronger than she was able to support with the evidence, it certainly got me thinking about the life of Bonhoeffer more deeply than I had before. Her demonstration of the impact of women on his life is a refreshing breath of air, showing the influence women had on his life and theology. Those interested in a deep exploration of Bonhoeffer’s life would do well to read this book, whether they agree or disagree with Reynolds’ ultimate conclusions. I recommend it.

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.

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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.

Really Recommended Posts 12/9/16- Jack Chick, Modesty, movies, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneI’ve been feeling pretty gross this week, but thankfully had already scoured the internet for some good reads for you to peruse this weekend. Check them out, and be sure to let me know what you think. It’s a snowy owl edition because it’s actually feeling and looking a bit like winter now.

Jack Chick’s Vision of the World was a Fear-Filled Caricature– The passing of the famous (infamous?) writer of so many tracts presenting a vision of Christianity has led to various reflections. Here is one that I think is fairly accurate to what many experienced.

Christian Thinkers 101- A Crash Course on Justin Martyr– Justin Martyr is one of the earliest Christian apologists, but also remains vastly important reading.

Nietzche and the New Atheists– An interesting read about the intellectual background of some atheistic discussions now and the difficulty putting forward a philosophical vision of atheism as has occurred in the past.

Modesty and Respect for Women- Do they fit together in your worldview?– The “modesty movement” has taken hold of some forms of Christianity today. The debate over the meaning of modesty has led some to look to the Bible for answers, but they often provide over-simplified readings of the Bible that don’t actually match what it says.

John Ray in 1965: The Flood, Fossils, and Extinction– John Ray was one of the geologists who participated in the debate over whether fossils were vestiges of living things or whether they were simply tricks of the rock. Here’s an interesting look at some aspects of his life and work.

Really Recommended Posts 3/18/16- women in church history, video games, and more!

postHere we have another round of posts for your reading, friends. Topics range from parenting gamers to Augustine, from women in church history to talking about abortion. As always, let me know what you think, and be sure to let the authors of the individual posts know as well!

Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on St. Augustine– We need to be aware of thinkers from the past for a number of reasons: so we don’t repeat mistakes made in the past, so that we don’t have to re-learn what was learned before, so we can have our biases challenged across time, and many more. Here’s a post that helps us do just that by introducing, concisely, the thought of Augustine, one of the greatest luminaries of all time.

A Parent’s Guide to Living with Gamers– Some parents may express concern about their kids playing video games. Here are some helpful thoughts from a Christian perspective for parents of gamers.

Women in Church History: Footnoted and Forgotten?– Too often, women’s voices are ignored. Here is a post highlighting some women throughout church history. Be sure to also check out a series of women in church history at a different blog that starts with early church history and the Desert Mothers.

Apologia Raido and the Defamation of Tony Lauinger: A Call for an Apology– There are different schools of thought regarding the pro-life movement, and this post is revealing as to how these schools of thought differ radically on method of engagement in law and in person.

Women, Emotions, and Apologetics: A Response to “Apologetically Blonde”

clur-copancraigI recently came upon Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics, a book I’d been meaning to read for some time. I decided to take a break from the unpacking I was doing to do a little browsing as my son crawled around on my lap. I turned to the index to discover an article entitled: “Apologetically Blonde: The Struggle of Women to Defend Their Faith and What They Should Do about It” by Toni Allen (full citation below- all references to this text). As I browsed the article I knew I needed to write a response, because–with apologies to Toni Allen–I felt much of it was misguided.

Emotional Reasoning

The first critique I have of Allen’s article is the continued references to emotional reasoning and its apparent lack of justification for knowledge. Writes Allen:

…I find that women often depend on their experience and emotional connection with God as the primary justification for the beliefs they hold. In other words, women tend to perceive meaningful experiences and their corresponding emotions to be validation that what they believe is accurate. (40)

She goes on to say:

Yes, the gospel is for the whole person, and this includes existential reasons (including personal experience as well as our deepest emotions and longings)… However, a well-rounded defense of the gospel will include rational reasons and evidences. (40)

Throughout this section, Allen affirms the reality of personal experience and emotions as a basis for believing, but continually asserts that rational reasons are required in the public defense of Christianity. It is difficult to pin down exactly what Allen’s critique is in this section, because the wording is such that it could allow any number of exceptions. Words like “typically,” “often,” “includes,” and the like allow for broad interpretations of her meaning. But it does seem like the whole tone of the article as a whole is that emotions are somehow inadequate as a defense of the faith or that they are opposite or opposed to reason. This latter point is particularly problematic, and it seems like it is closest to the way Allen is leaning throughout the essay.

The reason I say this is because emotions are set up not alongside reasons and rationality, but rather as something separate from them. But this is itself mistaken. As any number of authors have pointed out, emotions themselves are part of the reasoning process and indeed can be integral or even essential to rationality. For example, Daniel Westberg argues in Renewing Moral Theology, a Thomistic approach to ethical theology, that emotions are a central part of the process of reasoning and judgment (see especially 40-43; see also my review of the book here). If Westberg is right, then for Thomists–a formidable bunch of philosophers indeed–emotions are a central aspect of reasoning; not something separate from and possibly antithetical to it. But even if he’s wrong, his case is fairly persuasive that emotions should not be dismissed from the reasoning process, and philosophers of several other flavors have agreed.

Thus, one of the major points of Allen’s assessment is itself mistaken because it operates from a false understanding of the relationship between emotions and reasoning.

As an aside, Allen’s assertion that “we must realize that appeals to religious experience typically do not function as a decisive apologetic” (41) is shifty in its wording (“typically”) while also being mistaken, as philosophers like Richard Swinburne, Caroline Franks Davis, Keith Yandell, and the like have made the argument from religious experience a powerful apologetic tool. Moreover, people like Alvin Plantinga have argued (persuasively, in my opinion), that we can have a rational basis for belief in God through properly basic belief and religious experience.

Can Women Do Apologetics?

Alongside Allen’s constant stream of arguing that women think more emotionally, there is the question of what exactly that is supposed to mean. Again and again we are treated to quotes like the one shared above and those below:

“[W]omen are naturally more cognizant of their emotions… depending on them as the primary validation for our beliefs directly affects our judgment.” (42)
“[I]n mentoring many women over the years, I have found it very common that rather than evaluate an idea on its merits, they are instead more reluctant to adopt an idea if it actuates negative feelings, or more eager to accept it because of positive ones.” (42)
“As women, we should welcome the challenge of defending our faith, even if this pushes us out of our comfort zone.” (45)

Lines like these are found throughout the essay with little supporting evidence other than personal experience–itself a great irony given the previous analysis. But apart from this, it fails to take into account that men and women operate on bell curves in regard to emotional–and other–reasoning skills and so making broad statements like these fails to reflect the reality of the spectrum of capacities for either gender.

Women, according to Allen, also are hamstrung in their attempts to do apologetics through “their natural inclination to avoid conflict” (37). But again, what does this say about men and women essentially (in the philosophical sense)? Do men who have an inclination to avoid conflict somehow become women or more feminine because of this? If so, in what fashion? And what biblical basis do we have for these kinds of assertions?

These and other issues betray a primary underlying presupposition of Allen’s article: gender essentialism. This is a deep topic that I cannot explore thoroughly here, but basically what Allen has–consciously or not–bought into is the notion that men and women operate in largely different spheres with clearly defined cognitive and other barriers between them. That’s why lines like “Women are naturally more cognizant of their emotions…” manage to sneak into the text. But these lines find little argumentative support and again fail to take into account the aforementioned reality that men and women do not operate in entirely different planes of existence–or even emotions. Although Allen generally included lines that allowed for some wiggle room, the overall message was clearly based on this presupposed and unfounded adherence to gender essentialism.

Apologetically Blonde?

A final issue I wanted to mention with the article is the title itself. Although “blonde jokes” have become part of our culture, I think that we as Christians are called to a higher standard. “Blonde” jokes select a specific portion of the population for the sake of ridicule. Though these are often “in good fun” the question is whether such jokes are taken that way and what kind of impact that might have on the people who are, well, blonde. I am not, but it’s easy to see how the use of “blonde” in the title as a synonym for “challenged” could be taken poorly and works against the gentleness and respect we need to display as Christian case-makers.

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!

Source

Toni Allen, “Apologetically Blonde: The Struggle of Women to Defend Their Faith and What They Should Do about It” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics eds. Paul Copan & William Lane Craig (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012).

SDG.

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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.

Proverbs 31 destroys preconceived “Biblical Womanhood”

deborah-beneath-palm-tree-james-jacques-joseph-tissot

Deborah, leading the people of Israel

There are some who advocate a notion of “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” with strict definitions of what roles men and women should occupy. Representative is John Piper, a leading voice in the movement named “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” In his essay “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” Piper writes about “biblical” manhood:

When my father came home he was clearly the head of the house… (32, cited below)

[W]hen there is no bread on the table, it is the man who should feel the main pressure to do something to get it there… a man will feel his personhood compromised if he… becomes dependent over the long haul… on his wife’s income. (42)

Shockingly, Piper even goes so far as to say that:

“[E]ven where a Christian wife may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission–a disposition to yield” (47).

Piper alleges that biblical womanhood follows this pattern:

A mature woman is glad when a respectful, caring, upright man… provides a pattern of appropriate initiatives in their relationship. (48)

[She is to follow] Biblical submission[, which] for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through… (53)

From Piper, we learn that “biblical” womanhood is to yield, to be led, not to be the head of the home, be provided for, indeed even to avoid situations in which a woman is closely leading a man in the office (52).

Proverbs 31 destroys this concept of what a “biblical” woman should be. In this astonishing passage, we read that  the ideal woman:

1. Takes care when selecting products to purchase (31:13)
2. Brings food to her family (31:14)
3. Provides for her family (31:15)
4. Appraises and purchases land (31:16)
5. Brings profitable gain (31:18)
6. Works with tools of various trades (31:18)
7. Helps the poor and needy (31:20)
8. Crafts goods to be used by the family (31:22)
9. Crafts goods to sell and is shrewd in selling them (31:24; 18)
10. Speaks and instructs with wisdom (31:26)
11. Watches over the ways of the household (31:27)
12. Above all, she fears the Lord (31:30)

Now remember, this is an “ideal” and of course no woman could be or do all of these things. This passage illustrates aspects of what a biblical woman would be.

Recall, though, the roles that have been defined for women by some complementarians–people who hold a view in which man and woman occupy different roles in the home and church, with men as leaders. Which of these are found in the description of woman in Proverbs 31? Let’s just do a quick comparison of a few (Piper citations from above):

Piper: [I]t is the man who should feel the main pressure to do something to get [bread on the table] 
Bible: “[The ideal wife/woman] gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family...” (31:15a)

Do women not share the pressure in putting bread on the table when the Bible describes ideal womanhood as a provider of food for her family without excluding the husband?

Piper: When my father came home he was clearly the head of the house…
Bible: “She watches over the affairs of her household…”(31:27a)

Does watching over the affairs of the household have an unwritten, unspoken clause that excludes men? 

Piper: [A] man will feel his personhood compromised if he… becomes dependent over the long haul… on his wife’s income.
Bible: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard… She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” (31:16; 18)

Does the wife/woman’s managing money, earning it, buying fields, ensuring profit, and staying up late into the night focusing on this profitable gain compromise her husband’s personhood?

Also interesting are the things that are not said. It doesn’t say the ideal woman yields to her husband when he does wrong, she rather brings him good, not harm (31:12). Sin is a harmful cycle, and to say women are to rebuke it, but yield because a man is the leader is perpetuating that cycle.

The question, then, becomes this: where are those like Piper, who make the statements quoted above getting their ideas from? Is Proverbs 31 biblical womanhood when it contradicts these notions, or are the Scriptural quotes above instead to be defined as the properly biblical womanhood?

The question is ‘how do we define Biblical Womanhood’? The answer: A buyer, seller, purveyor, manufacturer, innovator, leader, provider, entrepreneur, and above all, one of God.

You ask “What is Biblical womanhood?” I’ll tell you: Proverbs 31.

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!

Check out my posts on egalitarianism – the belief that men and women are equally qualified and called in the church and home (scroll down for more).

On the Femnization of the Church– It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.

Source

John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by Piper and Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006).

SDG.

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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.

Sunday Quote!- What does “head” mean?

mwoc-1Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

What does “head” mean? 

I’ve been rereading Philip Payne’s monumental study of Paul’s letters in relation to the roles of men and women in the church and home,  Man and Woman, One in Christ. There is so much in this book to discuss I feel as though every single page deserves its own post. For now, I wanted to highlight his discussion of the meaning of “head” in the much-discussed 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Payne writes:

The majority view in recent scholarship has shifted to understand “head”… in this passage to mean “source” rather than “authority”… One reason for the popularity of [interpreting it as “authority”] is that in English, German, and Hebrew… the most common metaphorical meaning of “head” is “leader”… Interpreters who in their native tongue associate metaphorical uses of “head” with “leader” naturally make this association when reading this passage. (117-118, cited below)

In the book, Payne goes on to demonstrate why it is that the majority view has turned to viewing “head” as “source.” He provides 15 reasons to think this is the case. A few highlights include contemporary 1st-3rd century usage of the term, lexical support for “source” and lack thereof for “authority,” other usage within the Pauline epistles, difficulties raised by reading it as “authority,” and support for the meaning as “source” from a number of contemporary authors and Church Fathers. In the passage above, I think it’s interesting to see that one’s native language often imports meaning into the text. I’m sure this happens in many places, and I’ve caught myself on some.

If you have any interest at all in the debate over women’s roles in the church and home and do not have this book, you must amend the situation immediately. It doesn’t matter if you are egalitarian or complementarin; you must deal with the arguments raised by Payne, who interacts with top scholars from both sides of the debate (including Piper, Grudem, Wright, and more).

What are your thoughts? How do you read this difficult passage? Does your native tongue perhaps change your perception of the meaning of some parts of the Bible?

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!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).

Source

Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

SDG.

Women and the Reformation: Hope, Silence, and Circumstance

Marguerite_d'Angoulême_by_Jean_ClouetIt is Reformation Day and this year we are going to reflect upon a topic that is all-too-often overlooked: women in the Reformation. We shall consider the impact of women on the Reformation and the impact of the Reformation upon women from a theological perspective. I admit that covering such a broad topic within a blog post means I am very short on detail. I encourage readers to check out the sources at the end of this post in order to explore further avenues.

The Impact of the Reformation Upon Women

The Reformation brought about some changes for women both theologically and socially. Theologically, the issue of inequality  between men and women socially and spiritually was more widely discussed. Although the concept had existed before, the Reformers largely held to the notion that men and women were spiritually equal. Spiritual equality led some to wonder whether women could perhaps be social equals, or–if that was to far afield–perhaps they could at least be less inequal (Spierling, 181-183, cited below). Seeds for social and spiritual change were sown during this period, but it must be admitted that there was not as much development as some may allege.

For example, Martin Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of all believers” is sometimes taken to mean that women and men could stand alongside each other as spiritual equals in teaching, preaching, etc. However, when Luther himself was challenged on this issue by the Roman Catholics, he answered by making it very explicit that although women could teach in extraordinary circumstances, he believed the Bible mandated that men were in charge in both church and home (Spierling, 186; see Luther’s Works 36: 151-152). Spiritual equality was seen as equality in the eyes of God, not in the roles that men and women actually took on earth. However, Luther also fought against some of the double standards regarding men and women and was outspoken against brothels and other abuses of women (Lindberg, 360-361, cited below).

The Reformers remained influenced by early Christian views of men and women, which were, in turn, influenced by earlier non-Christian scholars whose pre-scientific views of biology and psychology were adopted. Diarmaid MacCulloch traced the impact of Aristotle and the ancient medical expert Galen upon figures like Augustine and Clement. He described the Reformers’ view of manhood and womanhood as viewed through this lens thus:

What Christian theologians asserted about men, women, and sexuality was nonsense, but it was ancient nonsense, and humanity has always been inclined to respect the assertion of ancient wisdom. The… package of ideas also had a lunatic coherence: it seemed to make sense, explained a baffling aspect of human experience, and contained a good deal of room for flexibility of interpretation. No doubt our own medical theories will seem equally lunatic to generations to come. (MacCulloch,611, cited below)

Carter Lindberg’s own discussion of the impact of the Reformation upon women is bracketed by the question: “Was the Reformation a help or a hindrance to women?” He answers, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “It depends.” The Reformers denied that marriage was a sacrament, which allowed, later, for the dissolution of abusive or even loveless marriage. Women also began to become more actively involved in theology, though their voices were often silenced or ignored. The encouragement to leave convents may have reduced the possibilities for single women to have careers in the church or any sort of involvement  (Lindberg, 358-361).

The social expectations for men and women during the Reformation period were shaped by the cultural expectations of “gender” which were themselves handed down to today through the theological writings of the Reformers (Ibid, 360). The concept may be termed “patriarchy” and was theologically adapted to continue to make it appropriate for the culture through the 1800s and into today (MacCulloch, 611).

Women’s Impact on the Reformation 

Women had little voice within the Reformation, largely due to some of the issues mentioned above. However, that is not to say that women had no voice whatsoever within the theological developments of the Reformation. There were several women who wrote theological treatises alongside their male counterparts, though their efforts were often ignored (Spierling, 187, 180-181).

Among these was Marie Dentière, who defended her own authority to teach in Galatians 3:28. Dentière was a noblewoman who defended the Reformers through the use of the Bible and who vehemently encouraged women to leave the Catholic faith. She wrote to defend Calvin during his exile. Women were called to teach and take up their Bibles to defend the Christian faith. Dentière’s defense of women’s capacity to teach was grounded in the biblical examples of godly women, among them the first herald of Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary Magdalene (Lindberg, 360; see also McKinley, 155-159, cited below).

Interestingly, Dentière’s writings spurred other women, Catholics, to speak against her in defense of convents. Jeanne de Jussie was directly called upon by Dentière to close her convent, but responded with a theological defense of convents and an attack on Calvinism (Lindberg, 359).

Other women acknowledged the subordination of women in the church and home, but nevertheless argued that the situation of the Reformation had brought about exactly the types of emergency situations Luther had granted women may teach in. Argula von Grumbach wrote defending Arsacius Seehofer, who had been arrested and prosecuted for “holding Lutheran ideas.” She felt the need to defend Seehofer because no one else had done so. Thus, her authority was granted due to the priesthood of all believers.The emergency situation was brought about by Seehofer’s continued imprisonment and the fact that no men had stood up to defend him.

Thus, Reformation theology was seen as the grounds for some women to speak; even those who acknowledged the categories of subordination found within the theology of the Reformers. Others spoke up due to the wielding of Reformation theology against Roman Catholicism. Still others felt that sola scriptura had led them to discover real, biblical grounds for women to teach.

Conclusion

I’m a huge fan of Reformation theology, but it must be admitted that the Reformers’ views on women were essentially a product of their societal background. They embraced, rightfully, sola scriptura, but as I have noted elsewhere (Who Interprets Scripture?), this itself raised a number of issues regarding the interpretation and meaning of a text. Moreover, sola scriptura does not entail that one is able to interpret the Bible in a socio-cultural vaccuum. It seems to me the Reformers view of women as essentially child-bearers and home-makers was more a product of their cultural background than something the text of the Bible specifically taught. Of course, that is a debate for a different time.

To end on a positive note, it is worth noting that the Reformers’ teaching sowed the seeds for greater gender equality. The notion of the “priesthood of all believers” should not be abused in order to be taken as an endorsement of women teaching; but it nevertheless did have within it a concept of spiritual equality which provided a basis, however small, for believing that men and women could be spiritual and social equals. Moreover, women began to take up the torch and teach in “emergency” situations and thus provided a basis for others to do the same. Finally, still other women turned to the Bible itself as a justification for their voice alongside that of men. Their authority to teach was, they argued, itself biblical.

Let us continue that Reformation.

Sources

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Mary McKinley, “Dentiere, Marie” in Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters edited Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 155-159

Karen Spierling, “Women, Marriage, and Family” in T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology edited David Whitford (New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 178-196.

The Image is of Marie Dentiere and is public domain.

SDG.

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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.

Mulan Among Us: Disney’s “Mulan” and Womanhood

mulan-women

Disney’s “Mulan” is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is coming out of “The Vault” for its 15th anniversary. Here, I will explore one of the most poignant themes of this powerful film.

Warning: There are spoilers for Disney’s Mulan in the following discussion

Mulan and Cultural Expectations

Mulan is a warrior. She is powerful, capable, and determined.

Oh, and I forgot: she is a woman.

It is that “shocking” pronouncement which is the focus of the Disney’s Mulan, which is one of the deepest films in Disney’s arsenal, so far as I’m concerned. Mulan is a woman who wants to be respected for her abilities, not placed into the mold of what society expects women to be.

Mulan is challenged at numerous points throughout the movie. She does not fit into her society’s gender ideals. She is expected to be clean, quiet, submissive, and “womanly.” And she tries to fit into these expectations. The culture wants her to be a good wife, so she tries to match what her culture’s idea is in order to become a good wife. Those who have seen the movie knows she fails miserably. When she visits the matchmaker, she recites, in a stumbling way, the right sayings: “Fulfill your duties, calmly and respectively. Reflect before you… Act!” She lacks grace, poise, and ultimately ends up comically ruining the whole scene, setting the matchmaker on fire and dousing that fire with hot tea, running the matchmaker’s makeup and earning the pronouncement that she will never fit society’s expectations for her.

Yet this reveals another cultural shock: it is the very fact that Mulan is placed into a one-size-fits-all box to take on roles which do not match her abilities that leads to her triumph. It is not that she should be trying harder, or that she is wrong; instead, the fact is that it is her culture’s expectations which are wrong. Mulan destroys those expectations. She saves China, and the Emperor himself honors her. Thus, the expectations are shattered, and Mulan remains “true to herself.” Her abilities destroyed the cultural norms that people had tried to apply to her.

“So what!?” you may be asking. “I already knew this, though I may not have outlined it like this.” After all, telling women to be submissive and arguing that there are very specific roles that they should fit into is a thing of the past.

Is it?

Have you never heard the phrase “she wears the pants in that family”? That speaks to a division of roles that is still at least unconsciously acknowledged in our culture. What about “make me a sandwich” or “get in the kitchen”? What of more subtle distinctions? “I would never vote for a woman president.” “A man is in charge of the family.”

Moreover, some theological traditions continue to argue that there are very explicit roles for man and woman in leadership and the home. It is to that concept that we will turn to, with a focus on Mulan.

Mulan and Theology

The shock of Mulan’s story may seem almost comical to us, but the fact remains that there are women whose talents are not being acknowledged. They do not fit the mold. It is said within some branches of contemporary theology that women are to submit to their husbands. These theologians teach that women have very specific roles: that of “helper,” servant, or anything but “leader” or “teacher.” According to these views, women can teach other women and even male children, but when it comes to man, she is always subordinate. Consider the following passage, from a book endorsing this view (“Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood“):

[I]t is simply impossible that from time to time a woman not be put in a position of influencing or guiding men. For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership… But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man that neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised. (John Piper, 50, cited below)

Moreover, women, on this view, must be careful about how they give their advice; they must remember that they are to be submissive:

A wife who ‘comes on strong’ with her advice will probably drive a husband into passive silence, or into active anger (Ibid, 52)

I can’t help but think of the scene from Mulan just before she saves the Emperor when she is trying to get people to listen to her about the great danger of the Huns in the Imperial City. They pull away from her forcibly, ignoring what she says. Finally, her trusty sidekick, Mushu, points out that “You’re a woman.”

Such is the way in which manhood and womanhood is supposed to play out within those branches of contemporary theology which lean towards complementarianism–the view that men and women are to occupy different “roles” in the church and the home. Women are to be submissive, even when they try to give directions to a man. Mulan, in this view, perhaps came on “too strong” in her insistence that the Emperor was in danger. If she had only been more submissive, then she would not have provoked “passive silence” or “active anger.”

The absurdity of this notion can be found in the fact that it is the victim who is blamed for the abuse. “Passive silence” can be just as harmful as “active anger.” Is it really acceptable to say that a woman, by offering advice, “provokes” the man? Moreover, is it really honorable to men to turn us into seething machines, who, if the right button is pressed, turn into active aggressors or passively-aggressive “victims”? Again, the movie “Mulan” has presented a more balanced approach: there are women who transcend society’s–and religion’s–expectations.

There are Mulans among us. There are women who challenge this perceived view of manhood and womanhood. There are women who are gifted greatly to be leaders, not followers. There are women with the gift of teaching. There are women whose very existence shatters the notion that woman’s role is to be submissive. Their talents and abilities call us to use them, not to force them to singular submission. The Bible calls us to mutual submission, not a singular silence from one gender. These Mulans are powerful missionaries, leaders, teachers, yes, even pastors: gifted and called by God to take on roles that their cultural milieu often wants to deny to them.

I pray that more of these women would arise and use their gifts for the church. Many women have already done so, but our church’s culture has too often tried to silence women. Instead, we need to acknowledge the Mulans we know.

Check the links below for more discussions of women and the church. For all my posts on the topic, check out my egalitarianism category (scroll down for more posts).

Links

Be sure to check out my looks at other movies. If you like Mulan, what about Brave?

For information on egalitarianism–the view that the Bible teaches us women and men should fill equal roles–check out “Christians for Biblical Equality.”

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails– I argue that the position in which women are excluded from church leadership entails inequality of being.

Book Review: “Good News for Women” by Rebecca Groothuis– I review an excellent book on the issue of gender equality in the Bible.

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber– I take a look at how science fiction has dealt with theological topics, with a particular focus on dialogue about religion and women.

I discuss the notion of having my expectations of women shattered here.

Sources

John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood defined According to the Bible” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 31-59 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006). There is a newer edition which is linked to in this post and citation.

Mulan– Disney, 1998.

Image Credit

The image used in this post is credited to the Mulan Facebook page.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale

fw-judsonThe roar of our guns was more than my ears could hear. The slaughter in the two rivers was more than one man’s mind could absorb… A sort of madness over came us; we had an infinity of bullets and an infinity of Chinese before us. Every one of our men felt he was killing thousands… Death ran wild. How terrible it is, I thought, that the Yukons should be so good at this. (Judson, 319-320)

Fitzpatrick’s War is a phenomenal read. Theodore Judson takes elements of history, steampunk, and religion and mixes them together to make a compelling story that presses through the imagination the need to contemplate issues of ethics, religion, and warfare. I realize that many of my readers will not have read this book, so I have included an overview of the plot, from which I have edited a few major details for those who want to read the book afterwards. After that, we’ll look at many of the extremely interesting themes found throughout this masterpiece. There are, of course, SPOILERS in this look at the book, starting immediately with the overview.

Brief Overview of the Plot

Fitzpatrick’s War is written as an autobiographic tell-all from the perspective of Sir Robert Mayfair Bruce. He is writing about Lord Isaac Prophet Fitzpatrick, a man who, like Alexander the Great, had conquered the world at a young age and also died young. Bruce was a close friend of Fitzpatrick (whom he calls Fitz) and so reveals a number of less-than-flattering aspects of his personality in his account of the life of the former ruler. It describes Fitzpatrick’s rise to power, his preparations for war during behind his father’s back, and his post-war rule.

Fitzpatrick is revealed as a man who lusted for power and ruled ruthlessly. He participated in assassinations, set up deaths, and mercilessly slaughtered his enemies. He used biological and chemical weapons and burned his enemies to the ground, all simply because of a desire to conquer the world. He had delusions of grandeur, envisioning himself as a kind of modern Alexander who would outdo the other man in every way.

The Timermen are another major player throughout the book. They are mysterious in their motivations and have supreme power over all space travel and most communications. Bruce reveals a number of unflattering details about these people as well.

The book has been edited by Doctor Professor Roland Modesty Van Buren, who is hostile to Bruce’s recounting of the events. Van Buren does not believe that Bruce is telling the truth about the great Fitzpatrick and believes he is instead attempting to make his own name live on through his lies.  Thus, the book is footnoted throughout with Van Buren’s corrections to Bruce’s “lies.”

Religion

Religion is pervasive throughout Judson’s work. The characters constantly quote from the Bible to justify their positions which frequently seem unbiblical and evil. Although the society at large seems to think highly of the Bible, the United Yukon Church itself seeks to take over all religion and has repressed other expressions of religion for quite some time.

Yet Bruce is fully aware of how the Christian faith is being abused throughout the work for evil ends. In one scene, he is speaking privately with Fitzpatrick, who asks Bruce whether God can love someone who will wreak such evil on the world. Specifically, he asks about King David in the Bible. Fitzpatrick wants to know whether he himself is like King David and why God would love someone who so frequently strayed from righteousness. Bruce realizes that it is here that he could have influenced Fitzpatrick to turn from the great evils he would perpetuate. Yet, coveting power, Bruce makes the decision he would regret for the rest of his life and backs Fitzpatrick’s notions of glory and God. He writes:

I would today give up my soul if I could go back to that moment and tell Fitz he could still turn back from his awful destiny. I grant that he had at this date already committed murder. It was equally true that he had not yet made his oceans of blood… The world could have still been saved from his wrath… (204)

Instead, Bruce caves into his own lust for power and desire to please Fitzpatrick. He tells Fitzpatrick:

God loves you… There are a few special men… who, like David, walk through History as Angels walk through thunderstorms. Those about them become wet with sin, while they remain untouched. They may seem to be bad men, these special ones. If we judge them by the standards we hold ordinary men to, they are the worst of men. Ordinary standards do not apply to them. They are doing God’s work here on earth, and as we do not know God’s motives or His ends we cannot judge His servants… You [Fitzpatrick] will be said to be God’s beloved. (204-205)

Bruce regrets this discussion with Fitzpatrick for the rest of his life and struggles with the notion that he can be redeemed.

Fitzpatrick himself seeks a kind of syncretism of all religions, but realizes that it will not ultimately work. He keeps his old tutor, Dr. Flag, around mostly to feel superior about himself. But he had initially attempted Dr. Flag’s project of making all faiths equally valid. One discussion in the book is particularly revealing. Dr. Flag is expounding upon the notion that all religions are essentially the same, but Marshal Jeremiah Truth Hood challenges him on this notion:

“Sir, am I to understand you believe all major religions profess the same core beliefs?” [Hood Asked]

“Yes…” [replied Flag]

“Then that would mean, let us say, that the Chinese and the Arabs share the same beliefs on marriage and family?” asked Hood… “Can we say,” asked Hood, “that Arabs and the Chinese value life to the same degree? Or is human life another secondary question?”

“I mean specific, general matters. You see, such as treating others well.” [Responded Flag]

“You say cultures are essentially the same,” continued Hood. “How would you explain, sir, the different Histories of North and South America? Both continents are inhabited by Christians. The majority in both continents are of European descent…” (364-366)

Hood’s point is well taken. The fact of the matter is that all religions are not the same and to say otherwise devalues the religious persons themselves. The way that Judson presents this dialogue allows for some real insight into the issue: how is it possible to say that, at their core, all cultures or religions are the same when they are so radically different?

Evil, Repentance, and forgiveness

There is great evil in the world, and Bruce’s world is no different. Much of the evil is caused by Fitzpatrick and the war which he created in his lust for power.

Ultimately, Fitzpatrick is reduced to a broken, suspicious man who becomes incapable of even doing the simplest tasks on his own. Marshal Hood is greatly distressed over his own incapacity to make amends for the evils he had done during the War. Hood is sitting with Fitzpatrick and several other Lords when they watch a video from an aerial shot of China and see the destruction their war had done to the country. The bodies  were strewn about and death was everywhere. Bruce, too, feels the need for repentance: “There were no words in my vocabulary I could utter that could justify this abomination, no act of contrition that could ever take away what I had done” (410). Hood himself begins quoting from the Bible, Joel chapter 1. He relates the evils they have done to the crimes that Joel cries out against. Later, Hood is found among the Chinese, trying to help them by growing food and feeding them. It was his way of making amends.

Bruce himself finds forgiveness only through his wife, who speaks with clarity on God’s will and his grace. It seems to me that this theme of forgiveness is grounded thoroughly in the Christian notion wherein people are to forgive each other. We act as God’s agents here on earth, and so we are called to repentance and forgiveness.

Charlotte

Bruce’s wife, Charlotte, is a paradigm example of a powerful, spiritual, loving woman. Van Buren, the hostile editor of the book, has several choice words to describe Charlotte, whom he believes is overstepping her bounds by attempting to be equal to Bruce. She often seems overbearing, but ultimately she strives to be equal to Bruce, and to temper the poor qualities of Bruce’s character. Charlotte is Roman Catholic, a religion which is violently oppressed in Yukon, until Fitzpatrick allows for religious freedom to endorse his own pluralism. Charlotte’s character is important throughout the work as one who provides the positive example of womanhood and the equality of men and women.

History and Doing History

History (always with a capital “H”) is an area of extreme interest in the world of Fitzpatrick’s War. Fitzpatrick himself continues to utter a recurring theme: History is written by the winners. Above, there was a discussion of King David. Fitzpatrick in that same conversation presses the notion that King David rewrote the history books in order to paint him in the most positive light. Later, in his own life, Fitzpatrick would do the same thing. He had the greatest poets and historians of his age come and write histories about him which were highly favorable in their portrayals of himself.

There is active repression of historical knowledge due to the fact that the culture at the time the book is set in believes that the “Electronic Age” (20th and 21st centuries) was a blight upon all History. During one scene, Bruce is being questioned about the Electronic Age and readers discover that only one history exists from that period. The reason is because “[A]ll other Histories of that era were perverted by the strange ideologies of the day…” (35).

As one who has studied historiography (and written on the method regarding Jesus), I can’t help but think of all the issues these discussions raise throughout the book. Interested readers should check out the post linked in the parentheses for one brief account of historiographic method.

Conclusion

I have read few books which have had such a great depth of knowledge about so many subjects as is demonstrated in Fitzpatrick’s War. The book is just phenomenal, and it touches upon so many areas of great importance for Christians and non-Christians alike. As with all great fiction, it does this without becoming overbearing, but instead focuses upon the story. Judson develops wonderful characters whom the reader can relate to, love, or loathe. He explores heady themes with wit and precision. I highly recommend this book to my readers.

Links

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber– I explore two excellent science fiction books alongside each other to see how they speak to religious dialogue.

The Presumption of Pluralism: How religious pluralism devalues all religious persons– I discuss religious pluralism, a topic which is brought up throughout Fitzpatrick’s War and show how it fails.

Check out more of my looks at popular level books. (Just scroll down to see more!)

Hieropraxis is an excellent site which focuses upon a number of cultural issues and how they relate to Christianity. I really cannot recommend this site highly enough.

Empires and Mangers– Another phenomenal site which looks at many popular level works from a Christian perspective. The posts are consistently fantastic. I encourage you to follow this site closely.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

“Cross Roads” by Wm. Paul Young- An Evangelical’s Perspective

cross roadsOne of the biggest publishing phenomena of late, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young generated discussion among people all over the world, selling over 18 million copies. I have discussed that book elsewhere, and now I turn to Cross Roads, Young’s recently released novel. Please note that this will not be a review and I will not provide a summary of the plot. Instead, I am exploring the theological and philosophical themes that Young raises throughout Cross Roads. There will be Spoilers ahead.

Free Will

The notion of crossroads is a major theme throughout the work, and Young utilizes the imagery to discuss free will metaphorically. Anthony Spencer (Tony), the main character, finds himself inside his mind, which is portrayed as a kind of land with various roads and places inside it. Initially, he begins exploring this land and finds himself coming to numerous forks in the road. He continues to find these forks and realizes that as he continues to make choices, “it occurred to Tony that the number of direction decisions was diminishing; options were significantly decreasing” (35). Young doesn’t expand on this much, but it seems like a vivid illustration of libertarian free will, wherein one’s choices in the past do indeed influence their choices in the future. As Tony makes choices on his path, he finds that the choices available to him decrease. The reason, it seems, is because his choices have started to form his world. It seems to me that this is a great way to show libertarian free will in literature.

Church

A robust theology of church and salvation is something that I think is necessary for an adequate theology. I find one reason for this illustrated well by Young:

Church, thought Tony. He hadn’t set foot inside one of those since his last foster family had been religious. He and Jake [Tony’s brother] had been required to sit silently for what seemed like hours… He smiled to himself, remembering how he and Jake had schemed together and ‘gone forward’ one night at church, thinking it would win them points with the family, which it did. The attention their conversions garnered was initially rewarding, but it soon became clear that ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ dramatically increased expectations for strict obedience to a host of rules they hadn’t anticipated. He soon became a ‘backslider,’ in a category, he discovered, that was profoundly worse than being pagan in the first place. (124)

It seems clear to me that here the act of conversion has itself become a work, rather than a gift of grace. Tony’s concept of conversion at this point in the book is that of “asking Jesus into your heart.” Unsurprisingly, when he fails to perform other adequate works–obeying a set of rules. The problem with this theology should become clear immediately. By suggesting that Christianity is about “going forward” and publicly affirming a faith, this form of theology puts the believer in the position of affirming faith, rather than receiving it as a gift. When faith becomes a public work, it becomes the Law instead of the Gospel. When demands for works are made on faith, then faith itself becomes a work. Unfortunately, this kind of works-righteousness sneaks into theology at all levels, ever seeking a place to grow.

The problems with this theology are portrayed vividly in this illustration. The notion that people need to make a public declaration of faith leads to its abuse, as Tony and Jake attempted to do, but it also leads to difficulties for those who believe their declaration was itself true (unlike Tony and Jake, who simply did it to glorify themselves in the eyes of their foster parents). When someone makes their “decision for Christ,”  their faith life becomes wrapped up in that decision. Their walk with God is contingent upon their continuing to make this decision. Unfortunately, this type of theology makes faith all about one’s own decisions, rather than Christ’s justification and the free gift of faith.

Women

There are many church bodies who do not ordain women to the office of the ministry. That is, they hold beliefs that say women should not be spiritual leaders of men in the church. Young explores this issue when Pastor Skor shows up and challenges Maggie, one of the main characters, regarding her outburst during a church service.  Pastor Skor takes Maggie’s outburst and disruptive behavior as a clue to him from God that he has been too lax in his instructing his congregation in the Bible. He makes an argument that women should not be leaders in church and should remain silent:

And we affirm the Word, which declares there is no longer male or female [Galatians 3:28], but… the Word is speaking of how God sees us, not about how we function in the church, and we must always remember that God is a God of order. It is vital that each person play their part, and as long as they stay within the roles that God has mandated, the church functions as it was meant to… (167)

The pastor goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to support his position. Yet Young, through Clarence, an elder who is with the pastor to talk with Maggie, provides a counter-argument to this reasoning:

It is sarcasm… I believe that the apostle Paul was being sarcastic when he wrote what you read… He is quoting a letter that these folk sent him with questions, and he is in total disagreement with what they have written to him. (168-169)

Clarence defends this position by alluding to 1 Corinthians 14:36, apparently using the KJV: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” Given the way this verse is worded, Clarence holds that verses 34-35 are a quote from a letter the Corinthians sent to Paul which Paul then responds to sarcastically by wondering whether the Corinthians think that God’s word came only to them.

Young’s offered interpretation seems possible, but perhaps not made explicit enough. It seems to me possible that Paul would have made it more clear that he was quoting another’s writing here. The KJV seems to support the interpretation given to 1 Cor 14:36 here, but other translations phrase it differently, in such a way that the verse seems to be more of a challenge to readers to dismiss what Paul is declaring in 34-35.

Of course, one could still argue that Young’s interpretation has great strength, noting that nowhere in the Bible do we see this command in the Scripture “as the law also says” and so we may infer that Paul is referencing an extra-biblical teaching and rebutting it. In fact, this seems to line up with Young’s argument perfectly because we can see that Paul would be citing a Judaizer’s teaching in the church in Corinth–who would hold that the silence of women is taught by the Law [Jewish extra-biblical law]–and then refuting this by noting that the word of God did not come from them alone (see Katharine Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women for an extended look at this argument). It seems to me that this does have some significant strength, thus empowering Young’s argument.

Therefore, it seems to me that Young offers a fairly decent egalitarian interpretation of the passage, though he could have given other arguments which would take into account the passage’s cultural context, in which women were speaking out of turn in worship. The core of the statement seems to me to be that the women in this specific context needed to learn from their husbands at home and remain silent in church so that they did not cause disruption.

The way the scenario plays out in the book is also difficult to evaluate because Maggie definitely was disrupting the church service and would have appeared at least slightly crazy to those around her. She was screaming about a demon speaking to her and was, in fact, mistaken about that. I think she can be forgiven for her extreme reaction given the strange situation in which she found herself, but the Corinthians passage is in context all about order in worship in general, and certainly people bursting in screaming about demons would be disorderly worship.

Thus, it seems to me that Young offers a possible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but he has made his case problematic by the narrative context in which he placed it. It is worth noting that this work will get people talking about the issue. Young has given a somewhat strong version of a lengthy egalitarian argument in the form of narrative.

Practical Ethics and Disability

Cabby, a boy with Down’s Syndrome, is featured prominently throughout the book. Young uses him as a foil to show that those with disabilities have much to contribute to modern society. Perhaps the most poignant way he does this is through the negative portrayal of Tony’s view of Cabby:

Tony had never known a ‘retarded’ person. He wasn’t sure if that is what you called them… His opinions on most nonbusiness matters may not have been founded on evidence or experience, but he was sure of them. People like Cabby were an  unproductive drain on the resources of society; they were valuable only to their families. He believed they were tolerated because of liberal persuasions, not because such people had any intrinsic worth… It is easy to create a category of persons, like retarded or handicapped, and then pass judgment on the group as a whole. He wondered if that was not the heart of all prejudice. (108-109)

In contrast to Tony’s view, Cabby turns out to be insightful and delightful. He is shown to have positive value in a number of ways that go beyond his immediate family. He ultimately shows the practical usefulness of inherent human worth.

God 

For Young, understanding God as relationship is central to the concept of deity. The concept of deity that is presented is that of Trinity. Much ink will be spilled, I feel certain, on whether or not Young portrays the persons of the Trinity correctly, just as there was in The Shack (see my own discussion here).

Young’s position seems to be largely unchanged from that in The Shack, and so much of the commentary will follow the same line. I think he does a very good job of exploring the inter-relational character of God and the temporal submission of Christ in the incarnation to God the Father. Some may see the primary difficulty with Young’s portrayal of God is that the Father makes very little appearance in the book, but near the end readers find out that is not the case. In fact, the Father is intricately involved in all aspects of God and the life portrayed in the novel.

Those who conceptualize God as inherently male will have a problem with the book, however. Unfortunately, some paganism has indeed hung on in the church, wherein some view God as a gendered being. In the Bible, however, we find that God is spirit and not a man. Thus, I think that Young’s use of gender with God may shock some but also underscores the fact that God is not a gendered being, and instead transcendent.

Historical Theology

Young offers a short discussion of historical theology and God that seems to me to at least partially miss the mark. It is very brief, but I think it is worth discussing. Young puts the following commentary in the mouth of Jesus himself:

The Greeks, with their love for isolation [of deity] influence Augustine and later Aquinas… and a nonrelational religious Christianity is born. Along come the Reformers, like Luther and Calvin, who do their best to send the Greeks back outside the Holy of Holies, but they are barely in the grave before the Greeks are resuscitated and invited back to teach in their schools of religion. The tenacity of bad ideas is rather remarkable, don’t you think? (73)

There are a number of problems with this small passage. First, Augustine heavily influenced both Calvin and Luther. In fact, Calvin’s theology is tied very intricately to Augustine’s view of free will and original sin. Similarly, Luther’s view of original sin derives directly from Augustine’s exposition in City of God. Second, it seems unfair to view Aquinas as a kind of anti-relationalist when it comes to God’s nature. Aquinas very much emphasized the triunity of God, which was (and is!) an extremely important topic. To thus accuse Aquinas of undermining God’s relational-ness seems unfair. Finally, the notion that the influence of Greek philosophy on Christianity is somehow inherently bad seems a bit shortsighted. There are innumerable positive contributions that reflection on Greek thought has brought into the fold of Christianity. Among these are the very concept of free will that Young pushes in his book, along with a number of aspects of Trinitarian and Incarnational theology that Young seems to support. This may seem to be a nitpick, but it seems to me that if Young is going to use his book to make comments about historical theology, it is vastly important to get that historical development right.

Conclusion

Cross Roads is another thought-provoking work by Young. Those who read it will be forced to think about all the topics on which it touches, regardless of whether they agree with Young’s conclusions or not. As with The Shackthis book will almost certainly be widely read. Those who are interested in Christian theology and apologetics should consider the book a must-read simply for its cultural relevance. Ultimately, Young has authored another fictional work that will inspire conversations about theology on a wide scale.

SDG.

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