No Middle Ground

I just finished reading Carl Trueman’s amazing new book. I advise everyone in the church to read it. If you want to know how the West got to where a transgender statement like “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” came to have plausibility, you have to read this book. One of the most important things he said in the book is something I had already agreed with, but hadn’t put it nearly as clearly as he did. Observe:

“[I]t is hard to conceptualize a culture in which the rights of religious conservatives and the rights of those who identify as sexual minorities can both be accommodated. It is precisely because matters of basic identity, and therefore of what constitutes dignity and appropriate recognition, are at stake that makes a negotiated settlement impossible. To allow religious conservatives to be religious conservatives is to deny that people are defined by their sexual orientation, and to allow that people are defined by their sexual orientation is to assert that religious conservatism is irrational bigotry and dangerous to the unity of the commonwealth” (402).

I have long wondered why it is that the LGBTQ+ groups will not simply leave conservatives alone. Why do they have to go after us? The reason is simple: they have redefined human identity to center on their sexual orientation. As Trueman proves over and and over again, the reason LGBTQ+ groups hate conservatives is that, according to them, we are denying their humanity. Of course, that is not what we think we are doing. But for them, they do not have humanity unless they can force everyone else to acknowledge that their definition of humanity is correct.

Aimee Byrd’s Book, Chapter 1

Byrd’s book is divided into three main parts. The first main part is called “Recovering the Way We Read Scripture.” This part deals primarily with hermeneutical issues. As someone who claims the Reformed tradition as her own, it is a question why she should feel the need to recover the way we read Scripture. Does she believe that we have lost something earlier generations had? It is not entirely clear what she means by this, but we will simply note this and move on.

Chapter 1 is entitled “Why Men and Women Don’t Read Separate Bibles.” I agree with much of what is in this chapter, starting with her rejection of the idea that men and women need separate Bibles. Her scathing denunciation of reading the Bible “in pink and blue” culminates in this zinger: “If the aesthetics are good, then our sanctification must be on point” (33). Against many feminist scholars, she rejects the idea that the Bible is patriarchal (42). There are many important female voices in the Bible, some of which she points out (Huldah in this chapter, Ruth in the next), and others exist like Hannah and Mary. Whether all the conclusions she draws from them are justified is another question. At the moment, however, I am listing the areas of agreement. Also, and I agree with her, she laments the poor state of theological education for women. The “Bible” studies that are on offer for women are generally hideous. Maybe publishers think that women can’t handle theology. But why would any great theologian of all church history be inaccessible or irrelevant to women? Byrd elsewhere acknowledges her debt to the great theologians, and that they continue to inform her.

There are several points that need to be examined closely for their implications. Not all of these implications have been mentioned before. First, she says that “the books written before the establishment of Christian trade publishers had an androcentric, or male-centered, perspective” (34). She immediately qualifies this statement by suggesting that this does not mean an inherently wrong perspective, but rather an incomplete perspective. This raises a question in my mind, one which I am not sure Byrd ever answers. Firstly, what does she mean by “androcentric” in this context? Does Byrd see linguistic markers like generic “he” as evidence of androcentrism? Does she see something like covenantal headship, via Ephesians 5, as androcentric? Her words here appear to be a critique, but then she pulls her punch a bit.

Next, the historical situation of Anne Hutchinson is fraught with complications. On Byrd’s reading, she was not taken seriously by her pastors/elders (36). Byrd seems to believe that if the church had invested time and energy into teaching her, the story might have been different. That is possible. However, she was given a rather good education back in England (including religious education), being taught by her learned father, Francis Marbury. It is not clear in the record how much of her theology was already in place before she came over to the colonies. Byrd seems to be claiming that the supposed neglect of Hutchinson was the main contributing factor to her later problems. It is possible that such neglect could be a contributing factor. But Byrd seems to be hinting that no blame for the situation accrues to Hutchinson herself. Any pastor, however, would be disturbed by a group meeting in someone’s house for the express purpose of critiquing the pastor’s sermon. That has “clique” written all over it! Byrd might reply by saying that Hutchinson had no other options available to her. I find that difficult to believe. She didn’t have to form a group. She could discuss the sermon informally with other people. If she had any differences with the pastor, she had a responsibility to bring those to the pastor, and him only, not spread discord by critiquing him behind his back. That is on her.

The most disturbing part of the chapter is the section entitled “Revealing a Woman’s Work” (45-6). If her conclusions are correct, and women formed part of the authenticating of Scripture, then there can be no theological objection to female ministers. If they have the greater, they can have the lesser. She describes Huldah as “authenticating the Word of God largely accepted as the heart of the book of Deuteronomy” (46, referencing Christa McKirkland). She quotes with obvious agreement McKirkland’s claim that Huldah might have been “The first person to authenticate the written Word.” Authenticating the Word of God is not how the Bible describes what she did. All the text says is that she passed on the word of the Lord that came to her, which included this statement from the Lord: “all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read.” It is not at all clear that Josiah wanted it confirmed as to whether the book that was found was the Word of God. His words in 2 Kings 22:13 refer rather to his fear that the things written in the book would come true. Huldah confirms that they would, but with qualifications mentioned in 19-20. Huldah was a true prophetess. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to doubt this, nor for Deborah, whose words came true. Some opponents of feminism have tried to argue that the consulting of Deborah and Huldah indicate the failure of male leadership. At least in Huldah’s case, this is not so, since Jeremiah started his prophecies about five years before the consultation with Huldah (thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, putting the beginning of his prophecy around 626 B.C., and the consultation of Huldah about 621 B.C.). The objection could work with Deborah’s case, but not with Huldah. Most scholars I consulted on this passage addressed the question of why Josiah did not consult with Jeremiah by answering that Jeremiah was probably in Anathoth, whereas Huldah was right there in Jerusalem. In any case, there is no indication that Huldah authenticated God’s Word (who does that anyway? The Reformers always said we receive God’s Word, not authenticate it. God’s Word is self-authenticating). In addition, Josiah’s response to the word even before the consultation indicates that he believed it was already authoritative. What he did in consulting Huldah was to ask how the curses would work out (a point I owe to Fowler). Huldah’s gifts of prophecy are certainly genuine but she does not appear in Scripture as one who had the same public ministry of speaking and writing that her contemporaries Jeremiah or Zephaniah had. Rather, she appears as one who delivered oracles in a private consultation with five members of the royal court. Our conclusions about the exact nature of her ministry or that of other men or women have to depend on other passages and considerations. For more, see Thomas Schreiner’s essay in RBMW. I would need to do more research to see what I thought about this claim, though it seems to have at least some initial plausibility.

The Wrong Enemy

I’m sure many readers have had the same experience I have had. This experience is to see a well-known doctrine in a new light. Yesterday, I was reading through Deuteronomy, and saw the command to annihilate the inhabitants of the promised land (which, of course, needs to have a post all its own as to why this doesn’t make God into a homicidal, genocidal maniac). The application to the Christian life is through spiritual warfare. It strikes me that the majority of Christians today can’t recognize the true enemy. We think our enemy is the person who wronged us, or called us names. We think the enemy is a political group. We think the enemy is human. We have our sights set on the wrong target, the wrong enemy.

Paul told us who the real enemy is in Ephesians 6. It is the realm of Satan and the demons. None of this should be new to Christians, though it sadly is to many. The thing that hit me, however, was this: we pray against the wrong enemy a lot of the time. Why aren’t we praying against Satan and the demons? Just because we can’t see it, and we don’t know much about it, therefore, we think that the battle is entirely in the visual spectrum. But the real battle is a spiritual one. When we see events happening today that we would rather not see, how are we praying? Are we praying for the simple reversal of Roe V. Wade? How about praying against the demonic influence that made that decision possible, and that continually seeks to deceive people into perpetuating the carnage? We see our freedoms being eroded. We tend to blame only humans. Humans are involved. Of course they are. Most of the time, however, that’s all we see. We are, all too often, more concerned with our eroded freedoms than we are with our eroded faith. The things that erode it are legion in America. And we let it happen.

In the Psalms, David prayed against human enemies as well as spiritual enemies. So it isn’t completely an either/or. However, in focusing too much on “THEM,” defined as human enemies, we have distorted the picture to the point that the real and full enemy is almost invisible. Why isn’t evangelism “working” like it should? We know we ought to pray about it so that God does the heavy lifting, but what about the demonic obstacles to evangelism? Why don’t we pray about that?

One practical result of this proposed shift in thinking is that we will have a great deal more compassion for the real, live human in front of us. That person may not be our enemy at all. They may be deceived and blinded. They need light and healing from God the Holy Spirit.

Another practical result is the increase of prayer warriors in the Christian church. We desperately need people to take up the thankless (read “unglamorous,” or “not puffing our own name up”) task of praying against Satan and his kingdom. While this won’t make the entire church in America vertebrate, it might grow one or two vertebrae in our midst. That would be a start.

The Introduction to Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book

Fowler and I decided that we needed to address in depth the contents of Aimee Byrd’s recent book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. We are both aware of several of the other critiques on offer. Some of them are on target, some of them have problems, and none of them are able to go into the kind of depth we intend. We are also aware of the Genevan Commons situation. Fowler and I both repudiate the personalized comments on that website concerning Aimee Byrd, though it also appears that innocent people have been smeared by some of the “discernment blogs.” We have no intention of wading into that brouhaha, only to note that it happened, and that we are aware of it. Our critique of the book will keep personalities completely out of the equation. Aimee Byrd wrote a theological book for laypeople. It is on that level that our critique will rest. Also, it should be firmly kept in mind that Fowler and I both reject the position of some theologians who argue for female submission on the basis of the heretical assertion that the second person of the Trinity is eternally subordinate to the first. These caveats seem necessary due to the unusual situation in which this book has come to publication and been received. That being said, our critiques will differ from each other. Mine will be more comprehensive and detailed. As such, it will not be synthetic. Some criticisms will therefore seem out of proportion to the totality of what Byrd is trying to accomplish. That is only because some issues will take longer to untangle than others. Those that do take longer may not be as central to Byrd’s argument. Fowler wants to address selected issues in a more synthetic direction. It should not be assumed that he and I agree on every point.

The introduction explains the metaphor of the yellow wallpaper. Based on a short story by Charlotte Gilman, Byrd uses the metaphor to mean a layer of blindness in church culture due to traditional patriarchal structures (17). What she wants to do in this book is to alert readers to the existence of this wallpaper, and then encourage people to do something about it (19). To put it more clearly, she believes that cultural stereotypes of how men and women should act are the wallpaper (21).

One of her aims, though by no means the only one, is to dismantle the problematic elements of the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the volume edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (hence the title of Byrd’s book). As we will see, a large impetus for Byrd’s critiques comes from the 2016 controversy on the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS, abbr.).

Another of her main aims is to promote communal fellowship in the church, which she believes has been hampered by the yellow wallpaper. This communion is also hampered by an individualism (27) that works against both Byrd’s vision and against the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW, the organization that promoted and published the above mentioned book). Byrd believes that a narrow focus on the issues CBMW raises has resulted in a corresponding lack of concern for Christlikeness (26). What Byrd hopes to accomplish is a recovery of the beauty of the church (28).

This is a somewhat brief summary of where Byrd is going in the introduction. What follows is evaluation. As has been mentioned, I agree with Byrd that ESS is heresy. I can also agree, in principle, that an overly narrow focus on one issue can certainly make higher priorities fuzzy. I further agree wholeheartedly that “Men and women are not androgynous. Gender is not fluid” (19). I agree that individualism has run amok in America, such that people are afraid to commit to the church at all. This is definitely an obstacle to fellowship in the body of Christ. I further agree with some of her critiques of CBMW’s volume. Indeed, if complementarianism be defined by ESS and by the particulars Piper lays out, I would not be one. However, there are several places in the introduction where I must register dissent. A minor issue is her assertion that the ancient Greeks are the basis for supposing women’s brains to be inferior to men’s brains. She offers no sources for this claim. She might very well be correct in this assertion. However, it should be argued and sourced, given the importance of the claim.

Secondly, she asserts, in connection with Gilman’s short story, “Since women weren’t even given the right to vote until 1920, poor Charlotte Perkins Gilman didn’t have much of a voice when it came to her own diagnosis and treatment” (14-15). The suffrage of women (and men!) is far more complicated than certain narratives suppose. Wyoming gave the right to vote to women in 1869, Utah in 1870, Colorado in 1893, Idaho in 1896, and all the Western states had women’s suffrage before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Furthermore, poor white men did not have the vote, in some cases, until well after 1920. The reader assumes that Byrd is using the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to assert that someone like Gilman would not have had the ability or the right to say anything about her own medical treatment. It is difficult to see a connection, however, between suffrage and medical treatment. It would need, at least, to be argued rather than asserted. Is Byrd implying that women had no voice whatsoever in America before 1920? To broaden the point, Byrd seems to be appropriating a reading of history that is debatable without any acknowledgement that it is debatable.

Thirdly, in Byrd’s summary of the story of the yellow wallpaper, it becomes clear that motherhood is seen as a lesser profession (15-16). When combined with what Byrd says on page 17, what emerges is that if a woman wants to go to work, but is “forced” into the lesser profession of motherhood, then she is being oppressed by the “traditional patriarchal structures” (17). Viewing motherhood as a lesser profession is a tenet of feminism, not something the Bible teaches. The Bible praises motherhood in many places, not least in the fifth commandment.

Fourthly, Byrd notes the story’s critique of John’s treatment of Jane, treating her “more like a fragile child than his wife” (17). No doubt that is how the story runs. I want to bring up a point about feminism here, which also treats women as fragile, though in different ways. Feminism tends to assert that feminists should never have to endure any patriarchal behavior from anyone, and that they should never have to be offended by anyone. Doesn’t that treat women as fragile? I am not saying that Byrd believes this tenet of feminism. I am merely complementing (pun intended) Byrd’s observation about treating women as fragile with a parallel observation that feminism treats women as fragile in some ways, too. The feminist fragility is much more invisible today than the fragility Byrd descries. A book cannot address everything. But, as we will see, the blind spots of feminism(s) are not things that Byrd sees in the book. I am not calling Byrd a feminist. She doesn’t in the book. Feminists themselves have a huge variety of opinions on many things, such that the label is not particularly helpful anymore.

Fifthly, and as something we will see several times in the book, Byrd speaks of cultural stereotypes as if patriarchal ones are the only stereotypes in play, and that they are still somehow all-controlling. She says, “Like John and Jane, we want to do what is right but often get sucked into cultural stereotypes that confine us without our even noticing it” (18). The stereotypes she has in mind are undoubtedly the often-bashed 1950’s stereotypes about a woman’s place and a man’s place. However, the question that can quite legitimately be raised at this point is this: what about the feminist stereotypes for what a woman ought to be? Throughout the book, in my opinion, Byrd over-estimates the power of the 1950’s stereotypes and under-estimates the power of feminist stereotypes. I think, in fact, that it is quite impossible to engage in 1950’s stereotypical behavior in such an invisible fashion as Byrd describes. It would be swimming against the grain of approximately 99% of today’s culture. If anyone is going to behave like a 1950’s family, they are going to stick out like a very sore thumb.

Sixthly, when she quotes John Piper’s definition of femininity, she summarizes it in this way, “These definitions appear to say that all men lead all women” (22). Is this summary something that Piper would agree is a fair summary of his position? This is unlikely, given what Piper says on page 50 of the same article: “But she will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men. This is true even though she may find herself in roles that put some men in a subordinate role to her” (50). He then lists twelve possible occupations that could have such relationships, where indeed, a woman would be leading a man. Whether Piper is correct in his analysis (50-51 of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) of these relationships is beside the point. The point is I doubt Piper would think Byrd accurately summarized his position. On the rest of Byrd’s page, she only references the “yellow wallpaper” examples, without acknowledging the qualifications inherent in the very definition Piper offers, and in the rest of Piper’s article. The qualifications in the definition itself are revealing: the word “worthy” needs to be emphasized, as does the phrase “in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.” The former qualification is the more important one, as it cuts out all possible feminine submission to unworthy men. This word alone makes Byrd’s summary a distortion. The second qualifier recognizes that being feminine is going to look quite different in different relationships, including those in which women may wind up being the leader. Therefore, I conclude that Byrd’s summary is a distortion of Piper’s position, not what Piper believes.

Seventhly and lastly, she asserts that aiming for biblical manhood and womanhood in the method CBMW advocates misses “the bigger picture of Christlikeness to which we are called” (26). She almost seems to be asserting that CBMW’s viewpoint on manhood and womanhood actually prevents people from being Christlike. She does not use any qualifier here like “may” or “could.” She asserts that it simply does. I doubt CBMW would agree. CBMW would argue that the biblical descriptions of womanhood and manhood are ways to pursue Christlikeness (and I would add that some of their authors accomplish this better than others). If Byrd is correct in her assessment, then no one in the history of the church who had any view of manhood and womanhood similar to CBMW’s would be Christlike at all. Is Byrd really willing to disenfranchise such a huge number of Christians of the past? This would be a sectarian position. I doubt Byrd had this problem in mind when she wrote that assertion. However, it is a legitimate question to raise.

I will conclude with this question: did Byrd give the manuscript of this book to anyone who fundamentally disagrees with her positions? She says, for example, that the book “isn’t a man-bashing book” (19). Undoubtedly Byrd thinks, from her perspective, that the book doesn’t bash men, nor does she intend to. Readers can believe that she means what she says. However, did she also run this book by someone who might see things in ways she doesn’t, such that unintentional bashing of men could also be averted? It does not seem so.

Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is something Christians are now starting to hear about (read: getting it stuffed down their throats at Mach 5). CRT is generally understood as the foundation for people’s understanding of “systemic racism.” To put it simply, CRT believes that “the system” is rigged in favor of white people. As Roy Brooks puts it (“Critical Race Theory: A Proposed Structure and Application to Federal Pleading”. Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal 11 (1994): 85ff.): “The question always lurking in the background of CRT is this: What would the legal landscape look like today if people of color were the decision-makers?” CRT is therefore primarily about power, as it is perceived to be unequally distributed. There is a lot more to CRT than that, but this is enough to be getting on with.

I read Bill Smith’s very interesting article on the subject this morning. Though I would have significant theological differences with Bill Smith in other areas of theology, I am in complete agreement with him on his analysis of CRT, and I want to highlight a couple of things he brings out. Firstly, it seems to me that CRT denies the possibility of change on the part of either blacks or whites. Not even God can change racism in a white person, according to CRT. No amount of apology or grovelling will suffice to make a white person woke enough to escape the racism that is endemic to his whiteness. Not even the gospel can bring forgiveness for this offence. This makes the inherent racism of white people worse than original sin, since original sin can be forgiven in the blood of Christ’s atonement. In fact, it makes racism an unforgivable sin period. I could be wrong, but I thought there was only one unforgivable sin, and that it had something to do with blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and not racism.

Secondly, the ethnic uniformity of whites, and of blacks, is emphasized in CRT to the exclusion of all individuality whatsoever. All blacks are oppressed. All whites are oppressors. This makes both groups incapable of moral agency, as Smith points out. Smith goes on to note that if moral agency is thus denied to blacks and whites, then so is the image of God denied to them. CRT thus dehumanizes both whites and blacks, contrary to the narrative of Scripture.

Lastly, and building on what I said above about power, it becomes obvious why statues of Ulysses Grant (a thorough abolitionist and friend to black people) are being torn down. All white power structures must go, even those which are historically kind to black people. According to CRT, justice will not be achieved until blacks have all the power, all the current systems are thrown down, and completely new ones put in their place by blacks in power. Only then will systemic justice be achieved (though see below). But this is to put one’s faith in princes. Justice is no longer in the hands of God at this point. It is in the change of power from whites to blacks. It can be questioned whether a simple power transfer would even be enough. I ask this question: will the payback (read revenge) be eternal? Blacks will, I think, find themselves in the position of Edmond Dantes, finding out, at the end, that revenge always goes too far.

A Further Thought on Racism

I have been told to my face that I am a racist because I am white. Let’s break down that claim a bit. The usual baggage that goes along with this claim is that whiteness is part and parcel of “systemic racism.” Therefore I am racist because I have benefited from a white-favorable system. I don’t agree with this idea. The point I want to get at goes deeper, though, and that is the fact that I cannot choose my whiteness. I have the skin I was born with. So the claim that I am racist because I am white is really a claim that I am racist by default. It is programmed into me, as it were. My DNA is racist. I can’t help but be racist. I couldn’t be anything other than racist.

Here is the problem. These people who claim that I am racist because I am white will turn around and say in the next breath that homosexuality and transgenderism are also things that are in the DNA, and that a person is one of those things, not by choice, but by a predetermined DNA. So, we are supposed to accept and not blame a predetermined outcome in the case of LGBTQ folks, but we can blame people who are predetermined to be white and therefore racist. So why is it that the LGBTQ community can excuse their behavior on the basis of inevitability, but alleged racists, who are also supposedly inevitable in their behavior, are blamed and hated?

Most of the CRT folks using the argument about racism discussed above won’t bring in original sin as part of the discussion. However, in a Reformed context, we cannot avoid it. Theoretically, a Reformed version of CRT could argue that both LGBTQ behavior and the automatic racism of white people comes from original sin, which is something God can save us from. However, this won’t completely work, either, at least not in the case of the alleged racists. Why are only white people afflicted with this aspect of original sin? This gets at another important point debated in the literature: whether black people are capable of racism or not. I have talked to black people on both side of that question. It depends, of course, on how one defines racism. If it is a disparagement of someone from another ethnic background because of their ethnic difference, then there is no reason to suppose that black people are incapable of racism. This is not a politically correct opinion, however, on the definition of racism. The CRT folk define racism in such a way that black people are incapable of it. So, if we go back to the original sin discussion for a second, we will quickly realize that it makes no sense at all to claim that a segment of the world’s population (the white segment) has a version of original sin that no one else has, because of their ethnic background! It sounds an awful lot like the first definition of racism to suppose that white people have a different version of original sin than anyone else does.

Of course, this is all so much logic-chopping to the vast majority of today’s CRT folks. Logic shouldn’t enter the equation, they say. Rather, it is sensitivity to other people’s feelings. I would respond by saying that sensitivity to other people’s feelings is a good thing, but it doesn’t have to be set over against logic. We can still try to be consistent. But logic is inescapable, too. They are, in effect, saying that it isn’t logical to use logic, and that we should logically use sensitivity, because it makes more sense to do so. Logic does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?

A Jeremiad

The America I knew and loved growing up is almost completely gone. The name, at least, remains. Some call it progress. I call it destruction. The people in charge are those who yell and scream, not those who debate with reason and analysis. The political world consists of those who have become so practiced in screaming that I wonder they have any vocal cords left. All political orthodoxy is assumed, not proven, not debated. It is shouted. The power of the shout, and the accompanying shatter of glass, is the only power that means anything today.

This same hatred has poured forth into the Christian world, the theological world, even the “academic” world. Freedom of opinion is not allowed any more. Only certain voices can be heard, because they shout the loudest.

For what then can we weep? Must we not weep for the wrath of God that is coming even through these glass-shattering shouts? Must we not weep for the silenced voices (which are not the voices the world thinks are silenced)? Must we not weep that we will shortly be joining our martyr brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as of a piece with the persecuted church? Must we not weep for the veil Satan has drawn over so many people’s eyes so they cannot see the spiritual warfare?

What hope have we? We have the hope God gives us. God gives us hope that silenced voices are only silent on earth. They are not silent to God. Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground, though his voice on earth was silent. We have the hope of resurrection. Like Abel, Jesus’ blood also cried out, but in a far higher key, to God for our forgiveness. It thunders in heaven. And because of that thundering, God raised Him from the dead. We have the hope that God’s shout of wrath is not the only loud voice He has, though even there, that voice is far louder than the world’s voice. His voice of many waters thunders forth judgment on the enemies of God, but also grace for God’s people.

It is right to weep for the loss of peace and tranquility for the Christian, though not right to cling to the idol of comfort. It is right to weep for the lost, who seem to be growing more and more blind. It is right to weep for the saved, who must now find a backbone where little was required before.

On the other hand, it is right to rejoice in trials of various kinds, counting them pure joy. The church will be a lot smaller five or ten years from now. All the fair-weather friends of Christianity will be gone. The fear of man will have scared them spineless (not that they ever had a spine!). The only people left will constitute a much more pure church. And a much more pure church can have a much more positive effect on the world. All of this is happening to purify the church. Remember that world history exists for the sake of church history, not the other way around. God is heading up all things in Christ the Head. His providence is still at work, even when around us all we seem to see is evil. Evil will not have the last word. God will.

The Nature of the Surprise

There is no doubt that the disciples were surprised to learn that Jesus’ death and resurrection was the point of the Old Testament. In Matthew 26:54-56, it was immediately after Jesus says THIS (His arrest and death) was to fulfill Scriptures that the disciples left Him. Let no one therefore think the interpretation of the Old Testament to be a matter of indifference.

It is commonly debated today, however, why the disciples were surprised. If one compares this passage in Matthew with Luke 24, for example, we come across a bit of a puzzle. How can Jesus reproach the two disciples for being slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken? And in 1 Peter, why did the Old Testament writers search so eagerly in their own writings? It must be because they knew that there was something more in what they wrote than what they themselves had thought. They understood that they had written the Word of God and that God had further things to say than they, the authors, had intended.

How then, can we account for these two clear things: 1. the disciples were surprised; and 2. Jesus says they shouldn’t have been surprised? It has been a commonplace in scholarship to deny that the Old Testament has anything intrinsic to say about Jesus Christ. It is only the rabbinic, Midrashic exegesis of the New Testament that reads into the Old Testament something that wasn’t originally there. One has to achieve this on a supposed second reading.

I propose a different solution to this problem. The surprise is due to sin and a corresponding veil over the eyes of readers, not to a supposed intrinsic absence of Jesus from the Old Testament. Paul talks about this veil in 2 Corinthians 3:14. The problem is in the reader, not the text. In John 5, Jesus very clearly claims Moses wrote about Him. This suggests that even in the intention of Moses, there is something there about the promised one. There is more in the text than the intention of the human author, contrary to what many scholars think today.

So why were the disciples surprised? They were surprised because they had a veil over their eyes that was suddenly and unpleasantly ripped away. Matthew 26 is not telling us that the Old Testament is inherently Christless. It is telling us that the disciples did not understand. They didn’t really understand until Pentecost. That is when God took away their veil entirely. We need to pray that God takes away our veils so that we can understand the Old Testament and God fulfills all His promises in the New Testament.

Some Thoughts on Racism

Racism hasn’t gone away like many people thought it had. Race hatred seems to be worse now than it was when I was growing up. Or maybe I just didn’t hear about it then, and it has always been this bad. Or, the powers that be have stoked the fires of race baiting. Whatever your explanation of how it has gotten to be this bad, it’s pretty bad right now. There is a list of things that black people can’t do with zero fear and white people can. There are the Native Americans who always seem to get ignored in the discussion. There is Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and many, many others. There’s a lot of outrage. And there are plenty of people who think that the outrage should not only continue, but should escalate until “things change.” Given that there are reams of books written on the subject, I do not pretend either to be an expert, or to have the answers in any kind of fulsome way. This post is not intended even to be comprehensive in what it addresses, let alone be adequate to the subject matter. It is just a few thoughts on racism.

First things first, then, there is still racism out there. It doesn’t do us any good to deny it. One does not have to engage in “guiltier than thou” hand-wringing to acknowledge this. While we should be cautious in jumping to conclusions on any particular case, there is still racial hatred out there. And this racial hatred is not all unidirectional. There is plenty of racial hatred of whites by blacks, too. Many people would seek to justify this part of the equation by saying that it is payback. Since when is revenge a healthy, godly thing? The Count of Monte Cristo ought to have taught us better than that. All racially motivated hatred is evil. Period. It doesn’t matter which race is hating which other race for being different, that is wrong. But on what basis is it wrong? Here I want to discuss where I think the beginnings of the solution lie. This is important: the basis for claiming that all racially-based hatred is evil has to be part of the solution to that same hatred. Or, to put it another way, I believe that proper theology (in the broader sense, which would include anthropology) has the beginnings of the solution.

So how can we say that all racially-based hatred is evil? A study of Genesis 1-11 reveals that all human beings come from Adam and Eve, and all human beings come from Noah and his wife. That is the plain intent of the text. Ultimately, there is only the human race. I have been using “race” in the more popular sense in this post up to this point, because it is familiar, but here I have to raise a big caveat to such usage. Most discussions I have seen that come from the critical race theory (CRT) standpoint completely ignore the unity of the human race. The differences are the more important consideration. In contrast to this usage, I use the phrase “human race” to emphasize that all humans have far more in common with each other than we have differences. This is plainly seen when contrasting the human race with, say, snakes (not an animal I chose accidentally). So, one of the global questions in the discussion is this: are the differences or similarities more important when dealing with questions of ethnicity (and here I now substitute my preferred term, instead of “race”)? The Bible suggests that it is the similarities that are more important. Here is the second vitally important point I wish to make: the biological unity of the human race is true even apart from salvation in Christ Jesus! Now, ethnic backgrounds of Jew versus Gentile were a big deal in the Bible. Ethnic mixing of Jew and Gentile was forbidden in the Old Testament, though not for the reason of ethnicity by itself. The mixing was forbidden because of faith reasons: Gentiles were pagans. It wasn’t simply because they were Gentiles that they were rejected. After all, several books of the Old Testament tell us of Gentiles who became Jews (e.g., Ruth). As Paul would say, Jews were so internally, not externally.

If creation and the unity of the human race give us one huge reason to condemn ethnic hatred, the gospel gives us the other. The gospel is not itself the solving of the ethnic question. The gospel is what Jesus did so that sinners might be forgiven, and brought into a right relationship with God. It is first and foremost a vertical story. It is not directly about ethnic questions, but one does not have to go far into the New Testament to realize just how whopping the implications are for the ethnic question. Ephesians comes to mind, particularly. The Jew-Gentile barrier, which was the fundamental ethnic barrier the Bible addresses, is eliminated by the gospel. In Christ, the ethnic barriers are, in principle, removed. When people are brought close to God, they are simultaneously brought close together.

Conversion and regeneration, however, do not eliminate all sin. We still tend to have thoughts of the other as being alien to us. What we need is to focus on, expound, and preach from all the Scriptures the creation, fall, redemption, and glorification narrative of Scripture as it culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the larger story that can engulf and drown ethnically based hatreds in its own baptism by immersion.

There will be those who think that this analysis is hopelessly naive and simplistic. I would counter: I believe the Bible says it is supposed to be just this simple. If we are making it so much more complicated (a good example is the whole discussion about micro-aggressions), then that is our problem, not the Scripture’s. It is human beings who are making the issues so complicated that good old fashioned Matthew 18 reconciliation is no longer possible.

What about justice? What is justice, who decides, and what should it look like? Justice, by its very nature, must always be incomplete in this life. We are not omniscient. We do not know the motivations of the human heart. We may think we do, but we don’t. It is time we acknowledged this in the ethnically charged environment of today. It is time to stop making assumptions about each other. It is time to recognize the image of God in every human being, and treat that image with respect. It is time to follow the rule of law and hold criminals accountable for crime (whether citizen or police officer), and not create lynch mobs to attack people not responsible. It is time to recognize that there is no earthly way that justice can be completed in this life. God will have to be the one to make all things right, and He will. This fact should not be an excuse to prevent us from doing all we can to accomplish justice in this life. But it should prevent us from becoming so frothed at the mouth with outrage that we can no longer listen to reason and wisdom. God will make sure that all wrongs are righted. Surely every Christian must, at this point, cry out, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

What about systemic racism? That is one of the most burning questions of the hour. Is there a system in place to keep minorities “in their place?” That is disputed, even among black people. If we look at the Native American, it would seem to me that reservations are one huge system to keep Native Americans “in their place.” Why have we quarantined them for so many decades? It has not done them many favors, as far as I can see. I do not claim any expertise on this question, but that is what I see at the moment. In some contexts, I see that blacks cannot do certain things without fear that whites can do. In certain other contexts, the reverse is true. In some white communities, blacks don’t feel welcome. In some black communities, whites are not welcome. In colleges and hiring practices, there are many quota-based systems. In such a scenario, a black may be hired because he or she is black, and not because they are qualified (many blacks are perfectly qualified, by the way). Does it really help the black person to hire them because they are black and not because they are qualified? This has always bothered me. Doesn’t it put them in a situation that may make them miserable just so the consciences of the employer/recruiter can be salved? Couldn’t this be seen as using the black person for the sake of image?

On Interpretive Grids

I have addressed this question before, but I have some further thoughts on the matter I would like to share. In particular, I would like to address this question: what kind of grid do people have who claim to have no grid at all?

My own grid should be evident to long-time readers of the blog: I hold that the Westminster Standards are a wonderful summary of Scripture’s teaching. The church I serve believes that these standards function as the limits of biblical orthodoxy on the central issues. Within this field, there are variations of interpretation, just as there are many issues the Bible talks about that the Westminster Standards don’t address. The grid is not set in stone for eternity, either. It can be changed if sufficient evidence accrues for it to be incorrect on a particular point. It does not possess infallibility. It is correct insofar as it correctly summarizes Scripture. In this regard, it has the same character as preaching. There should therefore be reciprocity between the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards. Most people who hate the Westminster Standards seek to impose a barrier between Scripture and the Westminster Standards, as if it were the case that believing the Westminster Standards are a true summary of the Bible is a certain proof that such a person does not believe the Bible, or that such a person’s views of interpretation are naively limited.

This attitude (which is so widespread among biblical scholars as to be the clear majority position) helps us get at the point I am trying to make. Those who reject churchly summaries of the Bible’s teaching have a grid of their own. That grid, at the very least, involves putting up a wall between Scripture and churchly confessions of Scripture. The implicit assumption is that the church has completely misread the Bible. Therefore, any interpretation of Scripture that even overlaps with a churchly confession must be automatically wrong. This is a grid! Let me repeat that: this idea is itself a grid! To put it more accurately and precisely, it is an anti-grid which functions in the exact same way as a churchly grid does, only as its opposite. The biggest problem with this grid is its nearly complete invisibility. Those who hold to this grid believe that they have no grid at all.

So here is the truth: everyone has a grid by which they judge which interpretations of Scripture have more plausibility than other interpretations. Those who say they don’t are actually the most naive and least self-aware interpreters who are blind to their own assumptions and prejudices. The church, in general, recognizes all of this, which is why churches make confessions of faith. They want to have an agreed upon interpretation of the central issues so that the church can have a recognizable identity. The challenge for biblical scholars is this: why do so many of you despise the church for which Christ died? Why do so many of you assume that the church always has it wrong? Is it because you idolize being able to say something new and different so that people will stroke your ego and remark how brilliant you are? Is it because of the Enlightenment’s rejection of churchly authority? Is it because you have been hurt in the past by overly authoritarian churches? Is it a combination of factors? There is healing for all of these problems in Jesus Christ. But it requires a hefty dose of humility and self-abasement to come to this realization.

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