What’s an Exile to Do? Show the Uniqueness of Christian Employees

Posted by R. Fowler White

In this continuing series of posts on the Apostle Peter’s “Survival Manual for Christian Exiles” (aka First Peter), we’ve seen him exhort us his readers, as the New Israel (2:9-10), to live lives of moral excellence in Gentile society (2:11-12). Moving through three spheres of our societal life in 2:13–3:12, he presupposes that his Christian readers are treated by non-Christians as “Repugnant Cultural Others” (thanks to Susan Friend Harding for that phrase). Having focused on our civic conduct in 2:13-17, he will next concentrate on our household conduct in 2:18–3:7. To the extent that our conduct involves economic relations, he’ll tell us that a Christian employee should behave differently from a non-Christian employee. Just how is the behavior of Christian employees different? For perspective on this question, we need to orient ourselves to the slave-master relationship in Peter’s first-century Greco-Roman world.

For our purposes, it’s important to understand that slavery in the NT era was quite different from slavery in North America during the 17th through 19th centuries. Slavery was an accepted fact of Mediterranean economic life and labor structure. Slaves were not only domestic or field workers, but also semiskilled laborers, craftsmen, architects, physicians, philosophers, teachers, grammarians, writers, librarians, administrators, accountants, or estate managers. Though most Greco-Roman slaves got into their position involuntarily (because of war, kidnapping, or birth), some non-slaves actually sold themselves into slavery to climb the social ladder for a better standard of living. While many lived in miserable conditions, many others enjoyed more favorable living conditions than free laborers. In addition, manumission was on the rise, and under Roman law slaves could expect to be set free at least by the time they reached age 30. In Peter’s day, then, there was no general mood of unrest among slaves, and, though slave rebellions did occur, neither slaves nor government took up the cause of abolition. In general, the status and experience of NT-era slaves within a family household approximated that of a semi-permanent employee with less legal, social, and economic freedom than others. (In that light, we’re justified in seeing ancient servants and masters as analogies to present-day employees and bosses.) As Peter’s words suggest, however, a person’s experience as a slave depended primarily on the character and social status of his or her master. There were cruel, brutal, and unjust masters. As a rule, however, a master’s treatment of his children was a predictor of his treatment of his slaves. Still, there was a wildcard that might complicate matters in a household: if slaves converted to a credo outside the culturally accepted emperor worship or polytheism, their standing could sink even more among the “Repugnant Cultural Others.”

Against that background, Peter commands us Christian employee-servants to be subject … to our boss-masters, to take our place under them, to submit to them (2:18). Emphatically, our duty is not conditioned on their being good and gentle (considerate); it applies even if they’re unjust (corrupt, unscrupulous). Pressing home his point, the Apostle specifies the attitude with which we take our place: with all respect. Having started his teaching on Christian duties by highlighting the fear of God (1:17; 2:17), Peter states here for the first of three times (2:18; 3:2; 3:16) the respectful attitude that Christians are to exhibit toward others at home, in church, or in society. He declares, in effect, “let non-Christian employee-servants be disrespectful: we Christian employee-servants will be different. We’ll treat our boss-masters with the respect their position demands. In the service of our God, we’re not free to dishonor them. To the contrary, God obligates us to subject ourselves to them with all due respect.”

But why does Peter constrain us employee-servants to do our duty even to the worst boss-masters? His reason is not to keep us from gaining our freedom (1 Cor 7:21) or changing our circumstances. No, his reason is that subjection to those over us finds favor with God; it pleases Him (2:19-20). Even when we suffer unjustly while doing good, God looks on our good works in Christ and is pleased to accept and reward them (3:13-17; see WCF 16.5). Peter’s words are particularly encouraging if our bosses mistreat us, but he has more encouragement to offer. Adding to God’s favor, he reminds us of our call to Christ (2:21), of our conversion to new life in Christ (2:25). Like no other NT author, Peter’s teaching in 2:21-25 takes full advantage of Isaiah 53, building on the Passion itself wherein Jesus suffered a death reserved, fittingly enough, for slaves, criminals, and others lacking full Roman citizenship. Jesus was the consummate suffering Servant, and all of us Christians, employee-servants or not, share a likeness to Him. In what way? Certainly not as the substitute suffering unjustly for sinners (2:24), but as His servant-people (2:16) who suffer unjustly. So, as Christ suffered for us, we who are His must suffer as He did. While suffering unjustly, He never sinned or deceived (2:22), reviled or threatened (2:23); even so we must not sin or deceive, revile or threaten. While suffering unjustly, He kept entrusting Himself, His people, and His persecutors to the righteous Judge (2:23); even so we, while suffering unjustly, must keep entrusting ourselves and our persecutors to the righteous Judge. We do these things because His sin-bearing changed the direction of our lives: He secured our death to sin, our new life to righteousness, our healing from sins (2:24), our conversion to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (2:25).

Christian employees, has your Christian confession made you “Repugnant Cultural Others” to your bosses? If so, Peter exhorts you: show them, especially the non-Christians, the honor that their position calls for. Show them that, though you’re under them, you’re first under Christ, the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls, following His example. You’re being conformed to His image, living righteously, suffering unjustly, and enjoying divine favor that no boss can ever take away. In other words, show them the uniqueness of Christian employees.

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.

What’s an Exile to Do? Live Your Life with Honor

Posted by R. Fowler White

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:11-12)

At its core, the Apostle Peter’s first letter acknowledges that we Christians are exiles in this world and its residents are our hosts. At certain times, our hosts tolerate us; at other times, they’re hostile. Truth is, at bottom, they want us to become like they are and to live our lives as they do theirs. In 1 Pet 2:11-12, Peter presses us again to remember the truth mentioned in 1:1 and 1:17 that “we are just visitors here” and to live as the visitors that God has made us (2:11-12). 

It’s worth noticing how the Apostle begins his exhortation to us here. He addresses us as God’s beloved. He would have us remember that though the world may tolerate or reject us, God loves us, just as he’s explained in the preceding verses. But we’re not only beloved by God. Peter says that we’re also sojourners and exiles living among the Gentiles. Our ultimate homeland and citizenship are in heaven and in the world to come. Not only that, when Peter mentions the Gentiles, we think back to his identification of the church in 2:9-10, and we realize that, united to Christ, we are what Israel was called to be (Exod 19:5a): a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, God’s people. In short, we’re the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). The Apostle’s point is, then, because God has made us who we now are, we’re to live our lives in Gentile society for His sake.

Peter goes on to spell out what he means. First, what not to do: for the safety of our souls, we’re not to indulge worldly appetites (2:11). Don’t pander to the passions of the flesh, not just those appetites we have for bodily pleasures but appetites for possessions and power, those passions that wage war against our soul. Peter makes it clear that he’s not only talking about momentary urges that distract us, but also about deep cravings that corrupt and eat away at our souls. Appetites like those that Moses faced when he might have enjoyed the fleeting pleasures of sin while living in Egypt, but instead he chose to be mistreated with God’s people. Appetites like those Jesus faced when the devil tempted Him to exchange God’s good provisions of care, reward, and protection for his diabolically deceptive provisions. For the safety of our souls, Peter says, do what Moses and Jesus did: don’t indulge worldly appetites.

Now that we know how we’re not to live our lives, the Apostle tells us how we are to do it. His directives boil down to this: for the glory of God, conduct your lives in Gentile society with honor (2:12). We might read Peter’s words and think, “How positively cultured you sound, Apostle.” But then we realize that, by God’s common grace, non-Christians can recognize right from wrong in human relationships and can show at least a grudging respect for a Christian lifestyle of good deeds. Yes, they may well continue to disdain our love of the one true God, but our love of neighbor can win a grudging respect from some when we treat others as we would have them treat us. It’s not that we expect the world suddenly to show us support or to give us aid and comfort. After all, they speak against us as evildoers. The point is, the good deeds they see will contradict the words they speak. In fact, our good deeds will be either a testimony against them or a witness to them. And, as a result, on the day of judgment, whether they’re judged as God’s enemies or saved as God’s people, they will give glory to God. So, think of it this way: as Moses tells us (Gen 39), when Joseph was in Egypt, he lived his life with honor (just ask Potiphar and his wife), and the Lord gave him favor with the Egyptians. Or, as Peter tells us (3:1-2), non-Christian husbands can be won over without a word by the respectful and pure conduct of their Christian wives. In the same way, as Jesus said, You are the light of the world. … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. For the glory of God, then, live your lives in Gentile society with honor.

We Christians are visitors in this world and the world’s residents are our hosts. At best they’re indifferent to us, and at worst they’re hostile. Bottom line is, they want us to become like they are, and to live our lives just like they live theirs. Don’t do it, says the Apostle. Remember who you are—God’s people—and live your lives in Gentile society with honor for His sake.

What’re Exiles to Do? Be a Refuge for Fellow Exiles

Posted by R. Fowler White

Even as exiles in this world, we Christians desire to lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim 2:2). There’s no doubt that we American Christians have had it better than our persecuted siblings in other times and places, even in the NT era. Like other “traditional Americans,” many of us see the prospect of that peaceful and quiet life exemplified in the promise of the American Experiment, designed as it was to secure the unalienable rights with which we and our fellow citizens are endowed by our Creator. Too frequently, however, it seems that skilled polemicists have manipulated our trust, convincing us that they share our belief in the promise of America when, in fact, they redefine it for personal, political, or commercial gain. Acting as mere power brokers, these pugilists apply a double standard to snub those they deem deplorable, to decry those they consider lawless, and otherwise to hinder certain of their fellow citizens’ prospects for a peaceful and quiet life. As new Orwellian measures of population control take hold, no one seems to know how to dispel the anger and fear among those convinced that their unalienable rights are now less secure and their prospects for a peaceful and quiet life are now more remote. In such an environment, what becomes of that peaceful and quiet life that the Apostle would have us lead? What  does God require of “traditional American” Christians who are members and officers of His church? The Apostle Peter offers at least part of the answer in 1 Pet 3:8-12.

As he did during those NT days under the fickle thumb of imperial Rome, Peter commands that we be a refuge for fellow Christian exiles, a holy haven exhibiting five virtues (3:8). The first and fifth of these traits—be like-minded and humble-minded—actually share a verbal component in the original text, and so it’s best to take them together. Truth shared is the basis of love shared, so like-mindedness in confession is indispensable to being Christ’s refuge. As the fellowship of the Spirit of truth, it is like-mindedness in truth that binds us together in love, and its complement is humble-mindedness. Rejecting self-interested competition, we’re to commit to the common good, sacrificing individual interests for the interests of the whole. Two other traits, the second and fourth mentioned by Peter, will also mark Christ’s holy haven: be sympathetic and tender-hearted. To understand this synonymous pair, Paul’s words offer the best commentary: rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor 12:26). Holding all five virtues together is the third virtue listed by Peter: be brotherly, that is, love your family members in the household of faith. As he does in 1:22 and 2:17, Peter again commands us to heed carefully the Second Great Commandment. We’re to promote the good of our siblings by building such community with them that together we offer sacrifices pleasing to God (1:21–2:10). What’s Peter aiming for here in these five virtues? A refuge for fellow exiles who will support each other as they pursue godly and dignified lives in a hostile world.

Even as we’re to be a holy haven for our fellow Christian exiles, we must also know how to deal with critics. Anticipating his fuller teaching on persecution from non-Christians in 1 Pet 3:13–4:19, Peter tells us initially how to defend ourselves against insults and verbal abuse. Perhaps unexpectedly, he says, show your critics favor, not disfavor (3:9a). But why this tactic? Because in the blessed life to which God has called us, we’re not to live a life of retaliation, but of repentance; not of payback, but of conversion. Since we’re now at odds with non-Christians, we cannot avoid insult and evil, pain and suffering, so as to see only good days. Rather, despite insult and evil, despite pain and suffering, we can live godly and dignified lives in communion with God. In fellowship with Him, we watch how we talk and how we walk (1 Pet 3:10-11). As Jesus taught us: Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:28). As Paul stated: See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thess 5:15; cf. Rom 12:17; 1 Cor 4:12). So, when we’re insulted, we’re not to insult in return. When we suffer, we’re not to retaliate with threats. We’re to live our lives before our Lord who not only requires us to live a godly and dignified life but who also inspects the way we live our lives (3:12). Meanwhile, we live our lives knowing that the ears of the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls are open to hear our prayers that we might break the cycle of verbal abuse and other evils that only spirals downward.

What, then, are Christian exiles to do if we’re convinced that our unalienable rights are less secure and our prospects for a peaceful and quiet life are more remote? Whatever else Scripture may teach us, following Peter’s directions, God requires us to be a refuge where with fellow Christians we pursue godly and dignified lives before Him who alone judges justly.

What’s an Exile to Do? Give God Thanks

Posted by R. Fowler White

For all us Christians who find ourselves increasingly marginalized in society, the Apostle Peter’s “Survival Manual for Exiles” tells us how to persevere. He opens his manual with a call to take courage from our identity as God’s elect (1 Pet 1:1-2). He continues with a review of God’s past, present, and future saving work on our behalf. In light of God’s work, Peter challenges us to bless God, to give Him thanks for His great mercy to us (1:3-12).

Give God thanks, says Peter: He has given us new birth (1:3-5). He has given us just what Jesus said we must have in order to inherit God’s kingdom: you must be born again (John 3:7). God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves: He has caused us to be born again. Through this rebirth God has brought us a living hope, a hope of new life before death and more: as the reference to Christ’s resurrection makes clear, a hope of new life after death. Through that new birth God has also brought us a lasting inheritance, one with no expiration date. It’s an inheritance that God guards for us, while by His power He protects us now through faith. Our place in the heavenly country is, thus, secured with a divine reservation that no creature can ever cancel. So, give thanks to God for His great mercy of rebirth.

Give God thanks, says Peter: we have joy, love, and faith now, despite testing (1:6-8). Though we face the trials of being exiles, we still have joy in our salvation. Yes, trials hurt, but they’re temporary. Yes, trials injure, but they’re valuable. They prove that our faith is genuine. They bring God glory, and they bring us reward when, at last, we see Christ face to face. So, give thanks: God has given us joy in our salvation. Moreover, though we haven’t yet seen Christ face to face, we do now love Him. God converted us from hating Christ to loving Him, and, with that adoration and affection, we gladly present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices. Give God thanks, then: He has put love for Jesus in our hearts. Furthermore, though we don’t now see Christ face to face, we do now have faith in Him. To be sure, our faith is not yet sight. But we are now trusting Him, and through that faith He is protecting us. So, we give God thanks: He has given us faith more precious than gold. And one more thing: though we don’t now see Christ face to face, we do now have joy in the future He holds for us. Again, though our faith is not yet sight, we find joy now in knowing that whoever believes in Christ will not be put to shame. On top of that, we find joy now in knowing that trials do to faith what fire does to precious metal: as heat separates dross from metal, so trials test and prove that our faith is genuine. We endure the testing of our faith, then, strengthened by the knowledge that trials are our God’s refining fire. So, give God thanks: we do have joy, love, and faith now, though we’re tested in exile.

Give God thanks, Peter writes: we’re blessed to hear the preaching of that grace predicted and investigated by the OT prophets (1:9-12). We now see the grace that they could only predict as a service to us in their future. As Jesus said, Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Ours is the blessing, then, to live in the time of fulfillment! Ours is the privilege to see and hear what even the OT prophets did not! Give thanks to our God, then: He has granted it to us a great advantage to live in the time of which the prophets could only dream.

Peter’s first readers were much as we are: pushed into cultural exile, sometimes geographical exile. As it was then, so it is now: the world wants us just to shut up and assimilate. But we need to listen to Peter. He knew the temptation to deny his identity and to assimilate. After all, though he had been the first to confess Jesus’ identity as the Christ, on the night when Jesus was betrayed, Peter had three times denied both Jesus’ identity and his own identity. Jesus, however, had prayed for Peter that, though tested, his faith would not fail. God by His power guarded Peter through faith so that, when he turned again, he strengthened his brothers in faith (Luke 22:32). Peter continues that strengthening ministry to us in his first letter, telling us that, though the trials of exile test our faith, we should give God thanks for His great mercy to us. Will we heed his message?

What’s an Exile to Do? Take Courage

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Peter’s first letter has been described as a Survival Manual for Exiles, for Christ’s kingdom-colony of resident aliens in this world. His letter was relevant in the first century and is relevant now because, in the ebb and flow of divine providence, Christians can find themselves at the margins of life, relegated into social-cultural, if not geographical exile. To increasing numbers of people in our world right now, we who confess the historic Christian faith are outmoded at best and hateful at worst. It is vital, then, for us to know how Peter would have us approach every area of life. The Apostle’s opening message (1 Pet 1:1-2) to us is straightforward: though we’re exiles, we ought to take courage in our identity as God’s elect.

First, our present reality: we’re exiles (1:1). To be specific, we’re exiles of the Dispersion. But what does this wording mean? Originally applied to deported Israelites, Peter now applies it to the NT church, including Gentiles, scattered throughout the nations. But Peter’s words tell us more. They tell us that, like our father in the faith, Abraham, we’re resident aliens and strangers in this place. Meanwhile, however, by faith we understand who we are: we understand that God has made us heirs of a better country, a heavenly homeland. Knowing, then, our identity as God’s exiles, Peter says to us, “Take courage.”

Though like other exiles we lack a permanent homeland here, we’re different from others too. We’re elect exiles, loved from eternity by God the Father (1:2). Just as the Father foreknew His beloved Son (1 Pet 1:20), so He foreknew us. That is, before the creation of the world, the Father, who set His affections on His Son, set His affections on His people too. While we humans make our choices based on something worthy in others, God’s choice of us as His own is not based on anything worthy that He has foreseen or sees in us. As the Apostle Paul plainly states, God chose as He did so that no human being has anything to boast about before Him. So, nothing in us made us deserving of His choice. His choice is purely gracious. By contrast, the world measures our worth by ever-changing standards, vacillating between tolerance and hatred. Disdaining the world’s ambivalence toward us, we take courage in our gracious God: we’ve been irrevocably under His care since before the world began.

Speaking of God’s irrevocable fatherly care, we’re His elect exiles, set apart from the world by God the Spirit (1:2). Chosen precisely as the Father foreknew us, Peter says that He chose us for the purpose of having the Spirit sanctify us. That is, He had the Spirit set us apart from the world to be saved through faith. We ought to take courage, then, knowing that our present identity is no accident, no product of good luck. To the contrary, it is the Father’s eternal choice of us coming to fruition through the Spirit who set us apart for salvation.

Being now saved just as the Spirit sanctified us to be, we’re God’s elect exiles, obedient to and purified by God the Son (1:2). Focusing on the goals (not the grounds) of the Father’s choice and the Spirit’s sanctification, the Apostle describes the two sides of our conversion: side one is our obedience to Christ’s gospel; side two is Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness of us who believe. God chose us, not because of obedience to Christ, but for obedience to Christ. That is, He chose us to the end that we would obey Christ as He called us to repent and believe His gospel. God also chose us for sprinkling with His blood, to be cleansed from the sins that defile and doom us. Most likely, Peter means to remind us that Christ is like Moses, but also better (see, e.g., Heb 9:11–10:18). Moses put the old covenant into effect, and the high priest kept it in effect, by sprinkling the blood of sacrifices that could never take away sins. Christ, however, put the new covenant into effect and has kept it in effect by sprinkling the blood of His one sacrifice, by which He has forever taken away our sins. We who believe, then, should take courage from knowing that we have become just what God chose us to become: obedient to Christ and purified by His blood.

So what’s an exile to do when relegated to the margins of society? Take courage. Though we have no lasting city here, we bear witness that our triune God has given us an identity better than anything this world has to offer. By His grace alone, we are His elect, loved from eternity, set apart for salvation, purified forever.

Are We All Cainites Now?

Posted by R. Fowler White

Isn’t there an increasing likeness between our culture and the culture of Cain and his descendants? Sure seems so in some key ways. Consider that question in the light of Gen 4:16-24.

Like Cain and his descendants, we claim to be “people of faith,” but we don’t live coram Deo. Notice Gen 4:17-18. Cain and his wife were fulfilling God’s command to fill the earth, but notice the names that they gave to their sons: several had a short-hand version of God’s name (“El”) embedded in them. What are we to make of those names? Arguably, in them, the Cainites displayed a form of godliness, but they didn’t live their lives coram Deo, that is, in God’s presence, under God’s authority, to God’s glory. In that sense, they took God’s name to themselves in vain. What happened then appears to be happening today. Like Cainites, some have taken the name of God-in-Three-Persons in Christian baptism but have no discernible intention of living coram Deo.

Our culture seems to share a second likeness to Cainite culture too. Like Cain and his descendants, we endorse marriage and family, but we redefine them apart from godly virtues. Look again at Gen 4:19-24. Cainites believed in marriage and family alright, but in just seven generations from Adam, they had exchanged monogamy for polygamy, and husbands like Lamech sang of their ability to intimidate their wives. Similarly, in our culture: secularists redefine “marriage” and “family,” celebrating what God condemns. Meanwhile, professing Christians take marriage vows but live together oblivious to biblical teaching on marriage.

Our culture looks to be Cainite in a third way. Like Cain and his descendants, we seek community, safety, and beauty apart from God’s altar. Notice Gen 4:17, 20-24. Cainites produced food and clothing, tools and weapons, musicians and instruments. They had milk and meat, but no milk or meat of the Word. They had clothes, but not the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. They made tools to build tents and weapons to wage war, but they had no tent of meeting with God, no spiritual armor. They had livestock, but no Lamb of God. They sang along with Lamech’s taunt and doubtless even silly love songs (cf. Gen 6:2; Matt 24:38), but not the songs of ascent or the Song of Songs. So, where did the Cainites find all this community, safety, and beauty? Excommunicated from God’s presence (Gen 4:16), they had to find these benefits away from His altar, apart from His Spirit and His Word. Too many in our society and our churches seem bent on seeking and finding community, safety, and beauty away from God’s altar too.

A fourth likeness between our culture and Cainite culture is observable. Like Cain and his descendants, we demand justice, but we lack the fear of God. Look again at Gen 4:23-24 and its cultural legacy in Gen 6:5-12. Cain’s descendant Lamech mocked God’s justice, bragging of a better justice that lacked the restraint of God’s lex talionis (Gen 4:24). Increasingly, like Lamech, our culture defies God and deifies man. And the taunting spirit of Lamech that lives on in our society brings it neither justice (Gen 4:23) nor peace (Gen 6:5, 11).

As a culture, we demand justice, but with no fear of God in our hearts. We claim to be “people of faith,” but we don’t live our lives coram Deo. We endorse marriage and family but redefine them on our own terms, not God’s. We seek community, safety, and beauty, but find them apart from God’s altar. And what are the results of our likeness to Cain and his descendants? Paraphrasing the words of cultural commentator and theologian David Wells, our society has rapidly lost moral altitude. We’re not merely morally disengaged, adrift, and alienated; we’re morally obliterated. We’re not only morally illiterate; we’ve become morally vacant. The onset of this spiritual rot has come so rapidly that many would say that we’re in a moral free fall. Since we’ve abandoned the pursuit of virtue, we’re left to talk about values, but our values have no universal value because the idea of absolute truth has disappeared from public discourse. We’re looking now at a society, a culture, even a civilization that, to a significant extent, is travelling blind, stripped of any moral compass. Some would even say that we’re all Cainites now. Is there any way of escape? Yes! Face the brutal facts. Don’t be like Cain. Be like Abel, Seth, and their descendants, who called on the name of the LORD (Gen 4:26). Just as they did, confess our rebellion, individual and corporate, against Him (cf. Jude 1:14; Heb 11:7). Just as they did, subject ourselves in faith to Him and His Christ, acknowledging that His wrath is quickly ignited against us rebels, but that all who take refuge in Him are blessed (Ps 2:12).

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.

One Race or Many? A Note on Acts 17:26

Posted by R. Fowler White

In Luke’s record of Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-34, we read that Godmade from one man every nation of mankind” (Acts 17:26). From this passage and our current historical and socio-cultural context, some are drawing various inferences about the Bible’s use of the term race. For the purposes of this post, three points stand out to me.

First, in discussions about the term race and the Bible, the term itself is usually not defined, but, as talking and writing continue, it becomes reasonably clear from the term’s usage that it refers to distinct groupings of human beings based on inherited physical and behavioral differences, with those differences sometimes extending to include language, religion, or nationality. Turning to a Bible concordance, however, it doesn’t take long to realize that the Bible doesn’t use race in quite the way we do. That observation leads us to our next point.

Second, these days, some folks claim that the Bible speaks only about “the human race.” The Bible, however, does express the concept of “races” in its references to various subgroups (otherwise known as nations, peoples) descended from a common ancestor within the human race. Right there, in the trait of “descent from a common ancestor,” the Bible sharpens our understanding of the term races. What I mean is this: at the least, we have to acknowledge that God’s covenant-making acts with Abraham and his descendants created and preserved a specific group of descendants from Abraham through Jacob for His divine purpose (see, for example, Ezra 9:2; Acts 7:19; compare Rom 9:5; 11:14). Though God’s acts were certainly not motivated by any superiority of those particular Abrahamites, His acts did make Israel, as descendants from Abraham through Jacob, a race distinct from other races, such as those descended from Noah’s sons, from Lot, or from others (e.g., Mark 7:26). Of course, Bible believers who claim that it speaks only about “the human race” are trying to make the good point that, despite our ancestral differences, we are also united in the first man Adam. Still, it seems to me that denials that the Bible speaks of “races” amount to word games that don’t help us reach a common mind with others. We do better just to say what we mean: God our Creator made us all from one man, just as Paul said at the Areopagus.

Third, perhaps you’ve heard, as I have, the suggestion, implied or expressed, that the Jew/Gentile distinction in Scripture is an example of racism. Some would cite the narrative in Acts 10 to make their point. There, God met Peter with his (holy) desire to obey the (holy) laws of separation that He had formerly but temporarily established between Jews and Gentiles. In that teachable moment, God re-educated Peter as to how in Christ He had abolished those laws and had expanded the reach of the apostolic mission to include the formerly unclean Gentiles. Now it’s reasonable to imagine or infer that the corruption of the fallen human heart would have led some to interpret God’s laws in racist terms. My point, however, is that the Jew/Gentile distinction itself was not an example of racism, for it was God Himself, with whom there is no partiality (Acts 10:34-35), who had set up the distinction between the one holy race and the many other unholy races in the first place. Attempts, then, to find a modern parallel to racism in the distinction that God made between Jews and Gentiles are misguided and at odds with the teaching of Acts 10 and the rest of the Bible. In that light, we should reserve the “racist” label for corrupt interpretations of that distinction, born in the unholy phobias and prejudices of us sinners.

Well-intentioned but misinformed efforts to address racism from the Bible remind us how important “the whole counsel of God” is both to right interpretation and to right application of individual texts of Scripture. In our striving against injustice, let’s be sure to build parallels and lessons from the Bible to our day on the foundation of that counsel.

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.

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