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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Christian Feminism? (V)

Are We on the Right Track?
A question that I’ve been mulling over in my mind lately is this: Are we on the right track in Christianity in general and in the PCA in particular when it comes to our “women’s issues”? My tendency is to think that we are getting it mostly wrong because our emphasis seems quite incorrect. I believe that a case can be made that what Christ’s Church needs is to reassess its emphases when it comes to both women and men.
I’ll begin with the men since I’m part of the problem. There are certain things that are crystal clear regarding the state of spiritual affairs of the lion’s share of Christian men today: They do not lead their homes spiritually. Some have abdicated their responsibilities intentionally while others are confused or befuddled about the “what” and “how” vis-à-vis spiritual leadership. Whatever the case, most males are horribly deficient when it comes to leading and training their wives and children in the home. There are a variety of contributors to this current malaise, but whatever the situation, men really need “to suck it up” as far these matters are concerned.
The clear biblical mandate is for men to lead their families and since this mandate comes from God via Scripture it comes with absolute authority. The command is not negotiable and is equally not dependent upon our status as men economically, politically, academically, or in any other area. For example, President Bush has the same spiritual responsibilities that you and I do irrespective of how busy he is. As often as not, men offer the thin veneer of an excuse that they are busy. Well, duh! We’re all busy! What that statement translates into however is a difficulty to make time for that which is of utmost importance in a marriage and family.
This is one of the many reasons that it is imperative that churches continuously train and re-train (for blond men, especially) their male members to be good, well-equipped spiritual leaders in their homes. This will require those male leaders getting off their “duffs” and getting to church for Sunday School or a mid-week Bible study. Schedules might have to be rearranged and priorities recalculated. In addition, men will have to be willing to put aside the sappy, saccharine studies they’re doing and get into something that contains more spiritual “meat” that they can really sink their teeth into. In short, they will need to become well versed in Scripture and be willing to dig deeply into the Word of God.
Local churches have a huge roll to play in equipping males to be effective leaders in their homes. All of this might very well sound like “breaking in open doors,” but I’m convinced after twenty-five-plus years of pastoral ministry that the Church has not been doing her job and when she has done her job she has not been doing it all that well. In many—far too many—cases, there has not been enough “hands on” training in the local church that can then translate into effective, confident leadership at home. A structure, controlled environment where you can—to some degree—measure the progress and work on the week points of a particular individual seems to be the most effective way to train our men. Think of this, if you will, as “small unit” training comparable to the manner in which a military squad is trained to be an effective fighting team, capable of using each other’s weapons if necessary.
Even though what I’m saying has been around for a while, it seems to have become forgotten in the course of history and in the din of noise that we call culture or pop-culture. Anthony Rotundo describes what he calls communal manhood that was part and parcel of everyday life in colonial New England.[1] Here is how Rotundo describes the concept of manhood in the early years of our country’s existence: “There, a man’s identity was inseparable from the duties he owed to his community. He fulfilled himself through public usefulness more than his economic success, and the social status of the family into which he was born gave him his place in the community more than his individual achievements did. Through his role as the head of the household, a man expressed his value to his community and provided his wife and children with their social identity.”[2]
In Thomas Manton’s letter to the readers of the Westminster Standards that “Religion was first hatched in families, and there the devil seeketh to crush it…. If he can subvert families, other societies and communities will not long flourish and subsist with any power and vigour; for there is the stock from whence they are supplied both for the present and future.”[3] Indeed, “A family is the seminary of Church and State.”[4]
The Preface (To the Christian Reader, Especially Heads of Families) to Standards expressing similar concerns and, as the title suggests, places the burden of leadership squarely upon the shoulders of the male. Fathers and husbands have a special duty regarding those within their immediate families that God has entrusted into their care for spiritual leadership and guidance. This leadership duty is “so expressly commanded, so frequently urged, so highly encouraged, and so eminently owned by the Lord in all ages with his blessing…”[5] Therefore, Christian men are to look to themselves and their walk first and then to that of their respective families.[6]
Modern Christian men would do very well to search the scriptures diligently in order to ascertain what their duties are to their wives and children today. That is my contribution regarding the general state of affairs in Christianity today.

The Wrong Focus
Now I’m going to shift over to my own denomination: the PCA, and discuss where I think we’ve missed the boat in our current setting. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” article, but is “if-the-shoe-fits-wear-it” one. So if you are outside of the PCA, this can still be for you. In point of fact, I believe that a large number of evangelical, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches will benefit by reflecting on what I’m going to say.
What I’ve noticed lately is that our discussions tend to center on women and their role(s) in the modern Church. When texts that seem to hint or state explicitly what the roll of the woman in Christ’s Church is, there are a lot of people doing “the shag,” “barefootin’,” and the “booty green”—three famous dance steps. There are apologies all around and we begin to tippy-toe around on the proverbial eggshells. Why is that? Are we embarrassed by what God reveals in Scripture? Are we convinced that the Church hasn’t gotten it right concerning the role(s) of women in the Church? Are we succumbing to the pressure of pseudo-problems created by seminary students, ivory tower professors, students, some seminary professors, and the pc-minded Christian crowd?
When push comes to shove, I am convinced that we have not yet fully understood the inroads Feminism has made and continues to make in the PCA. I’ll grant that we do not have a bevy of “fire-breathing” feminists, but it is evident that we have our share of those who have been influenced by Feminism as I intend to show. Rather than re-focusing on the need for our men to step up to the spiritual plate, we have tended to bring women into positions that are not biblically suited for them. Some of this has occurred under the mantra of: a woman can do anything an unordained man can do. This is just a short step away from the feminist counterpart of: a woman can do anything a man can do. Both of these statements disavow any distinction between the sexes. For example, putting a woman on a “leadership” team or “worship” team that stands before the congregation and give directives might not be the best idea. Why, for instance, wouldn’t a congregation want the males who will be the leaders in terms of supervision, oversight, and direction as well as worship leading them from the outset?
Part of the mindset in the PCA needs an attitude adjustment. One example will suffice here: women in combat. It strikes me as beyond odd that PCA pastors and Ruling Elders would find the notion of women in combat acceptable. The notion is both unbiblical and unnatural. In all likelihood, few would be able to trace when the first woman entered one of our service academies or who the President of the United States was who gave that appointment the green light. The year was 1976 and the President was Jimmy Carter. In July of 1976 Mr. Carter expressed his full commitment to the feminist movement when he said, “I am fully committed to equality between men and women in every area of government and in every aspect of life.”[7] It was the Carter administration that lent its support to almost any program that White House feminists thought would advance their cause.
Carter favored and supported special federal grants to schools that provided “non-sexist” education and girl’s football teams, “to programs under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) that trained and encouraged women to become plumbers and welders instead of secretaries or nurses.”[8] Mr. Carter and his wife “also took a very active role in pushing the states to ratify the stalled ERA…”[9] It was Carter, it should be remembered, whose personal program has become household words for us: affirmative action. There are those today who think of “Peanut” Jim as a kind of “aw, shucks” type of man who is always building houses for Habitat for Humanity. For those of us who lived through the years of his presidency we recall inflation and interest rates in the double digits, a badly bungled rescue attempt of Americans held hostage by the Iranians,[10] and a president that micro-managed who was playing tennis on the White House courts. But what we don’t know or remember about Carter are the appointments he made to the Defense Department. Mitchell gives us this penetrating insight:

Those near the top in the Pentagon included: Kathleen Carpenter as deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity; Deanne Siemer as Defense Department general counsel; Antonia Handler Chayes as undersecretary of the Air Force for manpower, reserve affairs, and installations; Jill Wine Wolner and Sara Elisabeth Lister as general counsel of the Army; Mitzi M. Wertheim as deputy undersecretary of the Navy; Patricia A. Szervo as deputy general counsel of the Navy; and Mary M. Snavely-Dixon as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower. None of the above had ever served in the military. Most had no connection with the Defense Department before 1977. All were committed to expanding opportunities for military women even if it meant drafting women for combat.[11]

But this is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg as far as the influence of Feminism in culture and in the Church is concerned. The roots run very, very deep here and it is the unwise congregation that does not give due attention to the profound impact of Feminism upon both.

The Subtlety of Enculturation
It is true that “Principles which one generation accepts provisionally, in the context of other cultural commitments, soon harden into icy dogmas for a generation brought up on nothing else.”[12] Arguably, the feminization of the Church has been moving forward since the Second Great Awakening. Nancy Pearcey has traced this development in the 12th chapter of Total Truth.[13] The dual forces of the SGA and the Industrial Revolution wreaked havoc on American families. It was during this era that America—implicitly, through the subtle influences of culture—that a paradigm shift occurred that centered moral and spiritual leadership among women. Anthony Rotundo writes, “Women took men’s places as the custodians of communal virtue.”[14] There is a double disappointment here: first, that men abdicated their positions so easily and second, that women accepted it.
Fast forward to the late 1960s and early 1970s where we find a watershed of the “icy dogmas” of the SGA and the IR hardened, but not yet finished. The political and cultural unrest of the 60s and 70s was a catalyst to re-formulate—in more radical format—the icy dogmas of the previous century. The rise of secular Feminism during this time was paralleled—albeit at a somewhat slower pace—by the feminization of God and the (further) feminization of the Church.
The feminist agenda crept into music, movies, plays, and TV—and then, finding acceptance, it rushed headlong into every area of life. Granted, not every woman burned her bra, but the infiltration was comprehensive. The Church did not remain unscathed either. The more liberal—in the bad sense—churches began incorporating many of the feminist’s notions, failing to grasp the inherent danger of the mixture of culture and Church. Of course, as with any such movement, who is capable of measuring the implications and far-reaching consequences of such a course of action? Many were so caught up in the ecstasy of the moment and the promises of liberation made by Feminism that they lost their clear vision and direction.
It was around this time that even on the campuses of conservative seminaries and in some conservative churches women such as Nancy Hardesty and Virginia Mollenkott began to hit the speaking tour. In Pasadena, Paul Jewett published Man as Male and Female. Others such a Rosemary Ruether, Letty Russel, Mary Daly, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, and others plied their trade among the liberals. In both cases, the stage was set for the feminist onslaught and the Church would not be spared. By virtue of the fact that feminist ideology permeated culture, many of their tenets were assimilated in a virtually imperceptive manner. Moreover, what took place in a more “radical” fashion in the mainline liberal churches eventually found its way into a number of the more conservative churches as well.
How was Feminism—in one form or another—able to influence those in conservative churches? There are a number of ways, but allow me to outline just a few. First, my wife has a theory that theologians live too long. That’s a somewhat scary thought because I’ll be sixty-two on my next birthday! What she means when she says that is this: it seems that pastors and other theologians seem to go off the “deep end” when they’re older. They lost their faculties, but much worse, they lose their biblical principles. Or, they read their own press clippings and start to believe that they actually are God’s gift to the Church. In either case, pastors are partially to blame either for their cowardice or for their unwillingness to believe God and to think his thoughts after him rather than to believe society.
Mary Kassian, who once called herself a feminist, agrees that “Many Christians view feminism as an ideology that merely promotes the genuine dignity and worth of women.”[15] To the extent that the Bible teaches that women and men are of equal value in God’s eyes, are both created in his image, and both are saved by faith in Christ alone through justification, then I agree. The qualification that she introduces to the previous quotation is essential to a proper understanding however. She writes, “But the philosophy of feminism adds a subtle, almost indiscernible twist to the basic Biblical truth of woman’s worth.”[16] What is that almost imperceptible twist? “Feminism asserts that woman’s worth is of such a nature that it gives her the right to discern, judge and govern that truth herself.”[17] More importantly, “It infuses women with the idea that God’s teaching about the role of women must line up with their own perception and definition of equality and/or liberation. Feminism does not present itself as an outright affront to the Bible, but it nevertheless contains an insidious distortion that erodes the authority of Scripture.”[18]
These last two quotations, I believe, strike at the heart of the matter facing us in the PCA today. When, for example, a church planter encounters a sister in the Lord with a strong personality and certain convictions about the role of the woman in the Church does he tell her that she is correct in assuming that it’s her right to discern, judge, and govern God’s truth? Is she so concerned to have another member for the worship or leadership team that he doesn’t correct this distorted view? Well, what if she leaves? Then she leaves. As the Germans say, ganz einfach—that’s simple. Better that she leave than cause more disruption in the congregation later.
In the second quotation the reasoning is just backwards, not merely for women, but for all of us. The moment we begin to believe that God’s truth—whatever it may be talking about—must line up with our perception and definition of anything we are being consummately rebellious. What has occurred recently in the PCA is the calling into question of the traditional boundaries taught by the Church at large as well as calling into question the very reason the PCA has the fight over women’s ordination in the first place. I know: some of you are thinking or saying, “Well, we never intend to have women pastors and Elders!” That’s analogous to Hillary believing that even though socialized medicine has been a dismal failure wherever it was tried it would be different with her healthcare program. The PCUSA and the PCUS never intended to have women pastors or Elders either.[19]
Mary Kassian gives us a timely example of this. She writes, “Readers who call themselves feminists may dissociate themselves with the feminist philosophy that has been presented to this point. ‘I am a Christian, and I am a feminist, but I don’t believe in THAT! …and I certainly will not slip into the beliefs of radical feminism!’ The problem is that it is extremely difficult to separate truth from error once you have associated yourself with a particular philosophy. Even if you personally may be clear on the dangers of feminism, your association with the feminist label may lend validity to feminist philosophy for others possessing less discrimination.”[20] In other words, you have to be a very good and very careful apple sorter to keep one foot in both camps—and given the truth of Scripture, why would you want to keep one foot in a camp that has such strong ties to Marxism, existentialism, unbridled autonomy, and crass secularism?
The PCA would do very well to heed Leith’s warning that historically “the left,” ecclesiastically, has been demonstrably ruthless in imposing its will on the church and it will continue to do so. The combined pressures today of political correctness (women in combat; women in leadership) and social orthodoxies (victo-crats; harboring illegal aliens, multiculturalism) undermines the capacity of ministers to think biblically and “to take public stands on issues that are before the church. The consequence is that too many church leaders and ministers are subject to being blown about by every wind of doctrine and every fad…”[21]
Unfortunately, in order to be “cutting edge” and be known as those who “engage the culture” some in the PCA have started down the slippery slope and they are attempting to drag other down with them. Mary Kassian comments on the “slippery slope” or “domino” theory thus: “Slippery slope is a term meaning the provisional acceptance of a faulty presupposition will—if not for a certain individual, then certainly for the next generation—lead to its complete acceptance. Biblical feminists have provisionally accepted the precept of feminism which exalts the importance of personal experience in defining one’s worldview. In doing so, they have stepped over the watershed onto a slope that will certainly lead to total acceptance of radical feminism. The only difference between the conservatives and the radicals is that conservative Biblical feminists have not yet followed their presuppositions through to their logical end. Eventually, however, they may find themselves sliding uncontrollably, down the hill, through the red light, and into the intersection, only to discover when they finally stop that their vehicles are pointing the wrong way.”[22]In our next installment, we’ll delve further, Lord willing, into how Feminism has had and continues to have a negative impact on the Church.

[1] E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood, Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era, (NY: Basic Books, 1993), p. 2.
[2] Ibid. Italics mine.
[3] The Confession of Faith, (Applecross, Ross-shire, Scotland: Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1970), p. 7.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 3. Italics mine.
[6] Ibid., 3-5.
[7] Quoted by Brian Mitchell, Women in the Military, Flirting with Disaster, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1998), p. 79.
[8] Ibid., 79-80.
[9] Ibid., 80. Equal Rights Amendment.
[10] The day after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, the Iranians handed the hostages over, knowing that Reagan meant business and Carter didn’t.
[11] Mitchell, WM, 80-81. Italics mine.
[12] Michael Novak, Will It Liberate? Questions About Liberation Theology, (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1986), p. 27.
[13] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), pp. 325-348.
[14] Rotundo, American Manhood, 18.
[15] Mary Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1992), p. 225. Kassian writes, “…up until a few years ago, I called myself a feminist and would have unashamedly stood with others who did so. There are chauvinistic attitudes in the Church, and there are atrocities and crimes of abuse, degradation and shame to which the feminist movement justifiably calls attention. The difficulty for Christians is to deal with the very real problems and issues without being beguiled by the true impetus and philosophy of the feminist movement” (pp. 225-226).
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid. Italics hers.
[18] Ibid. Italics hers.
[19] See John H. Leith, Crisis in the Church, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997). Leith chronicles how both the PCUSA and PCUS went down the proverbial tubes. He writes, “I have also become convinced that the left wing is a greater menace to the health of the Christian community than the right wing was prior to 1960. Certainly the left wing is more, not less, ruthless in imposing its will on the church” (p. x).
[20] Kassian, TFG, 227.
[21] Leith, CC, 6.
[22] Kassian, TFG, 226-227. Emphases hers.


Blogger James said...

Interesting thoughts. I definitely see the same problems on this side of the Atlantic. In the UK, Christianity has en masse lost its sense of masculinity.

It's increasingly the norm that congregations are filled with middle aged women and their kids - if the husbands attend at all, they won't even accept the basic responsibility of membership (never mind serving in office). It's a real problem over here.

I thought you might like to know that I eventually settled on Bavinck's eschatology for my PhD research proposal. I've applied to Edinburgh University and am awaiting news on the application. Thanks for your help a while back.

Blessings in Christ,

James Eglinton

3:54 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Bavinck's eschatology is key to his theological method. Please keep me up to speed. My computer crash recently so I lost your email address. Send me an email ( & I'll send you the paper I wrote for Dick Gaffin's "Festschrift" on Vos, Ridderbos, & Bavinck. BTW, did you hear that Ridderbos recently died? He was 98.
Rattlesnake 6

3:18 PM  

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