Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Critial Thinking Christian - IV

The Reverberations of Feminist Hermeneutics in the Reformed and Evangelical Christian Communities:
Recovering the Model of Male Authority in the Church & Family

Anthony Thiselton writes,
“But it is precisely here that socio-pragmatic hermeneutics reveals its pastoral inadequacy. For if all claims to patient exegesis are merely internally generated by communities governed by interests, no claim can be ranked in revelation to any other claim except among those who share the same ethnocentric interests.” [Thiselton, Anthony C. New Horizons in Hermeneutics, 588]

Such an approach to hermeneutics leads to cultural relativism. This method sets the stage for Christians engaging in the unfortunate and sinful practice of transforming the text rather than being transformed by the text. The purpose of this article is to discuss the shape that feminist hermeneutics takes as it is subtly, and in many instances, unwittingly adopted by women and men alike in the reformed and evangelical churches. The aim of this article is to help believers in the Christian community recognize these tendencies as they examine certain paradigms for church and family life that have arisen as of late in Western American culture. The aim is to subject certain feminist behaviors in the Christian community to sound critical thinking practices that have been reformed by Scripture so that we can identify those cases where our family and church life are missing the mark as it relates to how we should behave in terms of these respective relationships.

These issues have been discussed in churches within the Reformed and Evangelical traditions on countless occasions. There is no shortage of materials on the subject of husband-wife relationships or the role of women and men in the church. The typical format for these discussions is geared toward making sure believers can communicate and relate to one another so as to have a happy, healthy relationship at home and at church. The problem with this aim is that it does not go deep enough. The question that is begged by such an approach is, “what does it take for me to be happy in my marriage and in my church?” Far too often, the answer is presupposed. We want our spouses to make us feel loved, respected, appreciated, and important. We want our church to focus on a certain style of music, to have a vibrant and entertaining youth program, to teach classes that help us succeed in the world, to be better husbands, wives, and parents. We want our pastors to have charisma, panache, and deliver dynamic sermons that are culturally relevant and speak to the many issues we face week in and week out. But is this really what marriage and church life are supposed to be about? In this paradigm, marriage and church life are not at all God-focused. It isn’t even other focused. It is focused entirely on self. It is this ‘self’ focus that has opened the door to many of the problems we face in the Christian community. While the emphasis of this article is on the ramifications of feminist hermeneutics on the family and the church, the aberrant focus on self does not end there.

Our actions demonstrate what we believe far more than our words. Therefore, we must take care to examine our behavior daily if it is our goal to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. While I am personally unaware of any woman within the ranks of the Reformed or Evangelical churches I have been associated with over the years outwardly holding to overt claims of feminist hermeneutics, I have witnessed more than one or two engaging in behavior that would indicate that they at least think more like feminists than they would openly admit. And it is precisely this behavior that this article is concerned to address.

The Question: What should happen when a husband and wife cannot agree on a course of action for something that involves their lives or home in one way or another?

Most of the scenarios that are usually presented in the teaching materials on this subject are so general that everyone can agree that husbands and wives make decisions together. And for the most part, that is how we function and is as it should be. A good male leader will not lead by abrasive force or harshness. However, there are situations in which the husband and wife cannot agree on a course of action. What does the Bible say about that specific situation? This is where feminist hermeneutics and theology have infected the minds of many pastors, husbands, and wives to the point that they have adopted a paradigm that isn’t biblical. A major contention from feminist proponents suggests that male headship is a result of the fall and that before the fall there was no such thing as male headship. Moreover, many feminist proponents will refer to Gal. 3:28 where Paul says there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. So we must decide what to do when we are faced with a decision where the husband and wife cannot agree on a certain course of action.

What makes this decision necessary? The reason the decision is necessary is, first, there will be times, and they may be frequent, that a couple cannot agree on a course of action. Second, the couple desires to honor God in their lives as well as their marriage. Third, practically speaking, sometimes a course of action is absolutely essential and not taking ‘one of the forks in the road’ is not an option. Hence it follows that a formal way for dealing with these situations is not only prudent, but necessary.

What is recommended and on what grounds? An examination of Scripture is necessary in order to help husbands and wives, and churches for that matter make decisions when there is disagreement between spouses on what that decision should be. Feminist hermeneutics contends that the Bible was written by men and hence has a hierarchical approach that unfairly favors male leadership. While conservative bible-believing women would argue that they do not think this way, often times their behavior betrays them. But feminist hermeneutics begins with the end in mind and places certain impositions on the text that fit what was earlier dubbed as socio-pragmatic hermeneutics. It looks for all sorts of ways to reinterpret the relevant texts in an effort to accommodate autonomous feminist philosophies. Other women within evangelical churches are rebellious in other ways. I remember the story of the woman who was living with a man and attempting to maintain her membership at a solid Baptist church in the south. Her elders came to her on several occasions and confronted her with her sin and asked her to repent of this behavior. She refused to respond to her spiritual leaders who were rightly applying Scripture to her situation. In the end, the elders had to take the correction to the final step of excommunication. Rather than repent, she left the church and took the public letter the elders sent out to the church to Fox News. Was this the kind of attitude she should have been demonstrating to the world or the Christian community? Of course not! But she had clearly bought into the notion that women have no obligation to submit to advice and guidance that they do not agree with. She viewed the elders as male control freaks who were intruding on her personal life without any right to do so. Scripture explicitly instructs her to submit to elders who are caring for her soul in a godly style.

I once had a woman who was taking counseling classes sign up for a class I was teaching on Hermeneutics. This was a very basic, undergraduate course that I taught at a Bible institute that I started at a church I use to attend. She was incensed after I devoted half a class walking through the entire chapter of Jeremiah 29 so that they could see the error of the current rage on Jer. 29:11. She was so distraught that she sent me a hand-written letter containing several derogatory remarks about “my” interpretive method. This was a person who hadn’t taken a course in theology, exegesis, or hermeneutics her entire life. I was a male leader in the church and she did not hesitate to correct me in the most unpleasant manner possible. I have even had women who were supposed godly, mature woman attempt to correct my teaching rudely, in front of an entire class I was teaching. God has not called a female to the role of rebuking or correcting male leaders in the church in any way, especially in front of an entire class. I am sure that if you were to observe these women, you would think that by all accounts, they are bible-believing, God-fearing, conservative Christians who would naturally reject feminist tendencies. And for the most part, they are. However, subtly, Satan has crept in and they have adopted some of the more nuanced ideas of feminist thinking.

Another good example would be the wife who demands that the family attend a particular church while the husband has expressed a clear desire to attend a different church. He has lovingly instructed his family on the matter of how to select a biblical church to no avail. The wife desires to attend the church that is larger, more exciting, and more dynamic, has a better music program, some drama, and a robust youth program filled with entertaining activities for the children. What advice should we give this couple? How should the wife be thinking regarding her husband’s role as head of the family? How does Scripture inform her of how she should behave in this situation? Does she in fact have the right to go against the wishes of her husband and attend the church of her choice? The wife should always be thinking in terms of “how do I honor, obey, and glorify my God in this situation?” If every couple approached every situation with this question in mind first, many issues would be completely avoided in the first place. Some may say this is an overly simplistic approach. It may read that way in an article but when you try living it out in real life, it is anything but simplistic thanks to a nature that is constantly bent to sin.

As it relates to this decision, what are the options/alternatives? The man could capitulate as many men do in our culture for the sake of harmony. Hence he could allow his wife to lead as opposed to leading himself. However, is this God’s expressed will for how men should spiritually lead their families? This is one option. The man could slam his proverbial fist against the table and lay down the law. But is this how Christ leads the church? The man could agree to alternate from week to week or month to month but this would seem another form of capitulation. The couple could agree to attend different churches, but such a decision is hardly demonstrative of family unity and male leadership. The man could lovingly work with his family to help them understand God’s criteria of what makes for a healthy church. He could decide to help his family understand that the church does not exist to entertain, nor is it there to meet our selfish needs and desires. It is a living Christian community where we live and move and relate to fellow believers in a way that helps us honor Christ with our lives in all that we do.

What are the possible consequences involved in this decision? If the wrong decision is made, the family would be guilty of attending a church for all the wrong reasons. The wife would be guilty of sinning against God by not voluntarily and graciously submitting to the leadership of her husband. Both parents run the risk of modeling a marriage and family life that is out of accord with God’s design. The spiritual growth of each family member will be compromised and placed at risk if the church is not a spiritually healthy and vibrant church. The consequences tout court could be devastating.

How important are these consequences? Nothing is more important than the spiritual health and well-being of the family. The consequences are substantial and therefore the decision is crucial.

How can the husband carry out this decision? He should carry it out with much prayer, preparation, and diplomacy. It would be unwise to be insensitive to his wife and children. Above all else, he should demonstrate a high degree of patience and lead his family through prayer and a thorough examination of the biblical material together as a unit. By doing so he is likely to retain their respect, love and affection.

God has something very specific to say to wives as it relates to their role in creation, the church, and the family. Your attitude as a woman/wife should be that you were created by God for God. God did not create you to lead the family. He did not create Eve and then Adam. He created Adam and then Eve. God’s sovereign plan and his expressed will for women is that they should honor, respect, and follow the leadership of their husbands in all things so long as those things do not involve sin. God has not ordained wives to lead husbands and make the final decisions in the family. Yet many women only honor their husband’s leadership when they agree with it. Some women refuse to follow the husband when they do not agree with his decision. Again, the woman is created by God for God and God reserves the right to determine the role of women in the church. Many women, even in conservative churches fall prey to an egalitarian spirit without even realizing the sinfulness of such behavior. They set examples for their sons and daughters that are ungodly. The reject God’s expressed will for the family in preference for the desires of their own heart. Simply put, their agenda is not God's agenda and God's agenda is not their agenda. Some of these decisions are more serious than others, but nevertheless, the effects are still present. A woman should have the attitude that God is her God and that His will is her will regardless of how she feels about it. Her desire should be to please God with her behavior and to demonstrate that she accepts the fact that God is truly Lord over her life by doing what God instructs without question or hesitation. A slave has no right to refuse her Master’s beckoning. A Christian woman has no right to oppose her husband or the male leadership of her church so long as these men are not asking her to sin. She does not have to agree with the counsel of her husband or her spiritual leaders, but she does have to submit to it.

Today there are women in the church who refuse to follow the leadership of their husbands. They may see some of their decisions as minuscule and therefore inconsequential. Other women call into question everything the leadership in the church does. They feel free to challenge doctrinal teachings, strategic decisions, and a variety of other decisions that male leaders deem right and proper given their unique circumstances. Such behavior is unambiguously condemned in Scripture, and therefore condemned by God. Still some women not only refuse to follow their husbands, they refuse to follow their pastors. They have thrown off every piece of advice given to them by their husband and their pastors and have decided it right and proper to follow their own course as their heart so chooses. Such egregious error is a brazen demonstration of rebellion and if done publicly places the person in the position of creating a public scandal in the Christian community. This is the epitome of feminist philosophy expressed in the Christian community. However, far more often it is the little things that pass under the radar that create the most problems in the family and the church. The insistence on service times, music styles, and class offerings are the items that catch us off guard and cause us to sin. Sin is the rejection of God’s expressed will for our lives as given in his word. We reject God by refusing to obey his instructions for us. So many people think that you are not rejecting God so long as you don’t actually say the words, “I reject God.” A homosexual Christian once said, I am not rejecting God I am rejecting your idea of God. When we refuse to do God’s word, we reject God. He that is of God keeps God’s word. One cannot decide to adopt a lifestyle that reflects deliberate continuous rejection of God's word without also rejecting God. Kevin Vanhoozer writes,
"The vocation of the theological interpreter of Scripture is to render judgments - ethical, epistemological, and yes, metaphysical - concerning what is "meet and right" for Christians to affirm of God on the basis of the various modes of divine self-showing, self-giving, and self-saying." [Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship, 198]

God is who He has revealed Himself to be in the person of Jesus Christ and throughout the unfolding historical revelation of sacred Scripture. If He reveals Himself to be for or against certain behaviors, then this is who God is. Deus est constans.

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