Reading Dr. Barr Soberly and Prayerfully

Victor Chininin Buele

I argued previously that two things Dr. Kevin DeYoung did in his review of Dr. Beth Allison Barr’s book The Making of Biblical Womanhood were highly concerning and could be taken by readers to ignore Dr. Barr’s entire argument primarily because of her emotional portrayal of her stories and the trauma she has experienced. Also, there were implications of doubt planted regarding her telling of both her experiences and history as a whole.

Today I do not want to write about the more superficial kinds of controversy that have come with the book’s publication. Instead, I commend Dr. Barr’s work to you to be read soberly (thoughtfully, critically) and prayerfully. Her voice and arguments must be engaged fairly and thoroughly. She is associate professor of history and associate dean of the Graduate School at Baylor University, a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a professing sister in Christ. She is no history aficionado as I am.

She writes,

I have found it useful in my work as a historian—what if I am wrong about my conclusions? Am I willing to reconsider the evidence? I have found it useful as a teacher, especially when a student presents me with a different idea. The question “What if I’m wrong?” helps me listen to others better. It keeps me humble. It makes me a better scholar.

Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood, 41

I have always found that reading in that spirit is very important. Without endorsing him, I want to point out something Doug Wilson said in Heaven Misplaced, as he asks the reader to consider postmillennialism,

Someone can really enjoy The Lord of the Rings and agree to temporarily set aside his knowledge that orcs and elves are not exactly real. But once the reader is in story grip, the story comes alive and is made real to him because of that willing suspension of disbelief. Even if the reader does not really “believe in it” after he has closed the book, he still knows the story far better than he would have if he had been saying, “yeah, right” every other page. He knows the story “from within,” even if he cannot accept it at the last.

Wilson, Heaven Misplaced, 10

Willing suspension of disbelief. I argue for that today. I want you to read Dr. Barr’s work as a charitable Christian ought to read it. And to ask yourself and Dr. Barr the questions that need to be asked.

I should make a quick note about my presuppositions and convictions in the interest of fairness. I confess complementarianism as an appropriate framework to synthesize the Bible’s teaching about men and women in Christ, in God’s image, on mission in the world for the Kingdom as co-heirs of the promise of a new heavens and a new earth after the return of Jesus Christ, our Lord. I confess it with a couple of important caveats: 1) I strongly believe there is a hyper-complementarianism that is as devastating as in Spurgeon’s times hyper-Calvinism was to Calvinism, leaving caricatures and devastation behind that can turn anyone away easily–who wants to cause pain and abuse?, and 2) abuse does happen in any and every context in a fallen creation, but the abuse of complementarianism does help breed cultures, churches, families, and institutions where the subjugation of women, the silencing of women, and the dehumanization of women are very real. This is not me having itchy ears or going with the spirit of the age. This is just reality. Also, in the interest of fairness, I should state that Dr. Barr has not persuaded me of an egalitarian reading of Scripture or of history in her work. Willing suspension of disbelief and all.

As I’ve read the book, I have noted the following areas and questions that I believe any thoughtful reader of this book and the Church at large must be willing to ask and seek to answer and research thoroughly. We will all be better off from it:

  1. The first words of the book will turn off many and will help facilitate confirmation bias for Dr. DeYoung’s tone on his review: “I never meant to be an activist,” she writes. Dr. Barr’s story certainly is full of emotion–how could you not leave a church so dear to you under such difficult circumstances and not show any emotion about it? How could you go through what she reveals at the end of the book and not be affected by it at your core? So, the key question here for the Christian reader is this, what can we do better as the Church and as individual Christians to help those who have experienced abuse and to grow mutually through doctrinal disagreement rather than rush to institutional protection mode? Not just Dr. Barr’s testimony but the testimony of so many is that at minimum the perception of institutional protection and, at worst, actual institutional protection come to the forefront over and above the well-being of the person, of the image bearer of God, who incidentally is going through what very likely is the worst time of her life. Let us not rush to discount truth and to call out falsehood because a person has been through the emotional wringer. Our God is truth.
  2. Dr. Barr reports multiple times, “I stayed silent.” In what ways are we, as individual Christians and as the Church, directly and indirectly silencing women? Are we communicating clearly and unequivocally, even if indirectly, that women have no place in theological discourse, mutual discipleship, the sharpening of the saints, or to raise up concerns or suggestions to the leadership of the church? Where can women go when things do go wrong because they will? What have we built so that suspicion is not our natural reflex or the charge of usurping of authority is not our initial reaction to valid concerns or legitimate charges? Have we built just structures and procedures? Is our discipleship and participation in corporate worship one that testifies to the whole truth of Scripture? Our God is justice.
  3. Dr. Barr assumes that complementarian theology necessarily will result in this concept of biblical womanhood as we observe it in complementarian churches and institutions today, as taught and advanced by the CBMW, the Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, etc. She says, “I knew that it was based on a handful of verses read apart from their historical context and used as a lens to interpret the rest of the Bible. The tail wags the dog […] cultural assumptions and practices regarding womanhood are read into the biblical text, rather than the biblical text being read within its own historical and cultural context” (6). She argues, then, that proponents of complementarianism are misreading Scripture. This is a serious charge that needs to be considered thoroughly. So, is she right? Is complementarianism the reading into Scripture of American mid-twentieth-century preferences or the reading into Scripture of a Victorian worldview? Is complementarianism based on a handful of verses? A good start to this question can be found in Matthew Barrett’s Simply Trinity. I point out to you his discussion of the role of hermeneutics in questions like these starting on page 238 of chapter 8 Is the Son Eternally Subordinate to the Father? Eternal subordination does play an important part of this argument, and Barrett asks, by whose rules are you reading Scripture? His discussion is not about complementarianism and egalitarianism, but I think that frame of thinking and way to address a related subject can be helpful for further discussion about Dr. Barr’s statement. Our God is our Triune Creator.
  4. Dr. Barr joins complementarianism with patriarchy very tightly, and in her defense, she has citations from Dr. Russell Moore to do it. I believe that mixing these concepts can cause unnecessary distraction. I believe we need to discuss fairly what patriarchy is and is not, what abuses of patriarchy are and are not, and that we don’t go past the boundaries that Scripture has for headship. It is not fair to conflate categories on both sides. After some discussion on The Epic of Gilgamesh, Dr. Barr presents what is in my opinion, the most significant claim of her book: “Patriarchy wasn’t what God wanted; patriarchy was a result of human sin” (29ff). Dr. Barr argues, then, that complementarianism is a theology of Genesis 3 and not of Genesis 1-2. I happen to disagree with that. If complementarianism were a theology of Genesis 3, that is, a result of the Fall, I would be fully standing by Dr. Barr’s side on this. But it isn’t. In his article Gendered Exegesis of Creation in Philo (De Opificio Mundi) and Paul (1 Corinthians) in Paul and the Greco-Roman Philosophical Tradition, Dr. Jonathan Worthington presents exegetical work that is substantial that Dr. Barr ought to consider in her analysis not only in her chapter about the Beginning of Patriarchy but also on her proposed reading of 1 Corinthians. Complementarian theologians, how can we show exegetically and practically that complementarianism is not a result of the Fall, that it is rooted in creation? I think Dr. Worthington has given us all a good example to go deeper.
  5. The second heaviest argument presented by Dr. Barr in her book is her chapter 2, What if Biblical Womanhood Doesn’t Come from Paul? In this chapter, she argues for a reading of 1 Corinthians and the rest of the Pauline epistles that is different than the complementarian reading. The thoughtful reader will want to know why this is and how to scrutinize both readings to reach a Scriptural conclusion in the Spirit. Not because we can read Paul differently (42), it means that we must read Paul differently. Is there warrant to do so? Dr. Barr does present her case, but please do not ignore that she is intellectually honest here. Yes, she inflects certain words in 1 Corinthians 14 (What! Did the Word of God originate with you?), but she also says, “While I cannot guarantee this is what Paul was doing, it makes a lot of (historical) sense” (62). What we need to ask is, is she correct? Do we have exegetical and historical warrant to say that Paul was quoting a bad practice common to the cultural context of the day that he is rejecting? Is Dr. Barr right in saying that all the household code sections of Paul mean the complete opposite of what the complementarian reading says they do? Can we take the medieval sermons cited as evidence that the reading is wrong or not? If so, why? If not, why not? What does it mean for the complementarian to affirm that there is both mutual submission and individual wifely submission in Ephesians 5? Can we also make clear that Paul nowhere calls a woman to submit herself to all men? Can we also make clear that none of these readings should make a way for the subjugation of women? Can we also be honest that sometimes the egalitarian writings on Romans 16 seem to be stronger than the complementarian arguments and deal with those cases fairly? Our God does not support favoritism. There is no room for insults or fearmongering in our interaction with these arguments. Sometimes it feels that we are more afraid of being called an egalitarian than we are about missing the truth of God.
  6. How can the historical charges that Dr. Barr make be properly assessed? Are our history books that slanted? I do have to admit that it is rare to find references to women in them. DeYoung’s review is the most extensive in this area. He charges Dr. Barr with ambiguous language and selective information. I want to point out that history is an area that the Christian has to be willing to engage with all the way–our historical heroes are rarely as clean as they’ve been cleaned up by time and distance and by our own idolatry of them, at times. My encouragement to the reader is to engage the historical positions presented by Professor Barr, a professional historian, again, willing to hear them and consider them thoroughly. Then, feel free to ask if anything is missing, and if it is, point it out. We all need to ask, once all the historical evidence is on the table what the role of history/tradition and Scripture are. R. C. Sproul was fond of saying that salvation was not by statistics. I can’t just poll the sermons in America today and argue that because 80% of them say something about a given subject that such a thing is gospel truth or that it is biblically solid. The Church is always in need of reformation. Just because a whole bunch of preachers are preaching the same thing, it doesn’t make it true. But it should alert us to look at it comprehensively. That is a long way of saying, let’s make sure we do understand the medieval Church, what it thought and taught and the reasons why. Then, we can engage in processing that information in the light of Scripture and moving forward without ignoring the saints of the past.
  7. On the subject of Bible translation, can we all be intellectually honest and accept that our favorite translation has made translation and meaning choices that even if well-intentioned can slant our reading of the text? The ESV’s changes to Genesis 3:16 are not neutral! They communicate something. We should be willing to enter chapter 5 of that book with that reality in mind. Bible translators have to make choices for defining meaning and for communicating meaning. Those choices cannot always be isolated from one’s most dearest convictions.
  8. All the these seven areas will impact how we apply these concepts to our lives. Our interaction with chapters 6 through 8 will be marked by whether we listen or not. We all ought to desire complete freedom in Christ for every creature breathing today. There is no distinction. The gospel is the most liberal in its call to every creature to proclaim and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. The gospel is the most progressive in truly advancing humankind by renewing the person who believes in Christ to the core, renewing her mind through the gospel truth, and in humility from the Spirit helping her to find a greater degree of Christlikeness every day through every circumstance.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Barr for taking the time and the massive effort to put all of this into published words. The weight of the footnotes pains me to not be able to go and read every single one of those sources for myself. Yet, that’s why we don’t read in isolation. That’s why we are the Body of Christ, or at least, we are supposed to be. Can we give it a good read? Can we really immerse ourselves in the Word of God so that it sweetness would permeate through Word-based arguments? Can we truly love charitably? We have a lot to learn from Dr. Barr and from one another.

Godspeed, fellow reader. God be with you.

A Hermeneutic of Suspicion: Don’t Waste Your Book Review

Victor Chininin Buele

“Whether because of her own pain, or maybe because of her stated aim to fight for a better world, Barr is frequently guilty of reading material from the other side with a hermeneutic of suspicion.”

Kevin DeYoung, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: A Review, Themelios, Volume 46, Issue 2.

This is hard to start. People in my circles love this prayer: “Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, You have brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see You in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Your glory. Let me learn by paradox.”

I remember walking the streets of Toronto reading a book I picked up at the Indigo Books store at the Eaton Centre. The book spoke of the role of paradox in the life of the Christian, paradoxes leading to worship: Paradoxology. We worship the God who is faithful to the unfaithful, who is far away yet so close.

These paradoxes are not trivial. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12) and Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:32). What is the difference between a contradiction and a paradox? Is the language of paradox a cop out to not have to answer hard questions? It is not.

I cannot accurately count the times that in the face of what my eyes see (and don’t see) I have reached my practical atheist conclusion in the last three years: “Well, therefore, God must not exist. Let’s free up some capital and live large. Let’s move to Leawood and upgrade the Camry. Forget about this nonsense!”

I have read a lot of books. I have read a lot of books that have formed my theology and practice. I have read a lot of books that are the complete opposite than what my theology and practice are. I read. One of my main goals in reading is to jump in and really get to know the author and the cause or concept they represent, to see the author as a person first and to love Christ and the author by not caricaturizing the person or the argument.

Easy example: it is super easy to dismiss everything that Joel Osteen has written because his face looms large on the cover, and one can make an argument that somebody who seeks to imitate the lowly and gently Jesus Christ ought not to be doing things his master wouldn’t do. We could go back and look at the many times Osteen has flaunted his wealth in stark contrast with Jesus who did not have a home on this earth. We could see the ways the organization they call Lakewood has responded or not responded to the needs around them. But, have you actually sought to understand what he writes? It turns out that Joel and I have a proclivity towards a very similar practical theology. I don’t mean I affirm him. I don’t mean I think he is orthodox. I don’t even mean that I affirm he is a Christian. I mean that I also want to live my best life now. When I drive by the homes of the people who use their money differently than I do, I envy their bigger kitchens and the appearance that they lack nothing. Then I walk up their driveways and hear cursing and fighting, or I see the tears in a child’s eyes during a parent exchange. It is easy to realize my discontentment on the other side of what Stephen Altroggee called the greener grass conspiracy. I want the prayer that will make everything be all right, right now. I want the promise that I will lack nothing and my family will not need anything. I desperately want the prosperity gospel to be true. That doesn’t make it true. But I understand why somebody would be highly effective in an attempt to Christianize the power of positive thinking and end up making a ton of money off of people who don’t have very much money and from those who have a ton of money that they want to keep and grow.

A long introduction. I know.

We are terrible with paradoxes.

We can’t handle that somebody can be super nice to you and be abusing his closest friends at the same time. We can’t handle that the man who preached the gospel to you and God used to spark the flame of regeneration in your heart has been sleeping with prostitutes.

We default to simplifying such paradoxes towards the side that makes us feel most comfortable. The world describes this through the concept of a cognitive dissonance. We do the same with God, and when we do so we end up making a god after our own likeness, a false idol that cannot save. Powerless. Imbalanced.

This is a very long way of saying this: in Reformed circles we ignore criticism. And we do it in a way that discourages (at best) or flat out prohibits (at worst) others from looking at the evidence or the facts.

I know why reviews like Dr. Kevin DeYoung’s can receive wide acclaim from pastors, seminary professors and presidents, while at the same time receives tons of Twitter responses (and some more elaborate or academic responses) that are far from acclaim.

Can we accept with the fact that we can learn from Dr. Beth Allison Barr, and that we must do something with what we have learned from her, even when we disagree with her conclusions or her historical analysis or her application? I do not fully agree with her. I am also not a historian. But I do take her work seriously. I must. God did not make her in His own image to be discarded by us mindlessly.

And I will never stop anyone from reading her book. I encourage it.

Because we need to talk!

We are very quick to dismiss arguments based on obvious logical fallacies even as we boast with great pride on how we are teaching our children logic and a Christian worldview. We have Doug Wilson Logic books in our children’s curriculum, but the minute a serious allegation is made against someone we fear and love, or the second our precious place in the inner circle of a church is threatened, you can grab the same Logic book and start looking into all our logical fallacies.

Let’s take the criticisms that have been raised lately in several books as a test case.

The point I want to make is this: I don’t agree entirely with these authors, at times with their methodology, their writing style, their exegesis, their conclusions, their presentation of/understanding of historical narrative, their hermeneutics, their application. That does not mean that they don’t have something to say that I should be careful to understand thoroughly and seek to take before the Lord and His church.

Put simply, hopefully: Listen!

Abusive environments restrict heavily what is acceptable and, dare I say, permitted. There is a running list somewhere (formally or informally) of what you can and cannot read, of who you can listen to or not, of who you can associate with or not.

Interesting fact: The end of Matthew 18 for those who have refused to repent is not to disassociate from them. It is not to treat them like all of a sudden they have the plague. It is to treat them as a Gentile and a tax collector. That is, the local church cannot affirm that they are Christians and members of the local church. That’s it. There is nothing here about cutting them off or leaving them to fend for themselves because they are evil or snared by the devil. As a matter of fact, treating someone as a Gentile and a tax collector requires much love and presence. How else are they going to hear the call to salvation, the gospel of truth, unless they hear the message of salvation with their own ears? Who is going to proclaim it if not those inside of the Kingdom? How are they going to see with their eyes the good works prepared by Jesus for these Christians to do and long to imitate them? I know of an organization that prides itself in being a training post for Christian leaders, a sort of training hospital. The problem is that when the sick show up, the head doctor calls the police to have them removed from the premises. Jesus died to heal the sick. His presence is, in the words of Dr. Craig Blomberg, “contagious holiness.” That is what the body of the church is to embody, the kind of holiness that you can catch through incarnational embodiment of the nature of the Triune God, a holiness of higher transmissibility and infectiousness than the Delta variant.

We do not know how to have these conversations. We certainly can and must ask questions, even express disagreements, express our doubt or our hesitation. How else are we going to have constructive arguments that will reform the church? Somebody has to write the 95 Theses.

Question: have you read the 95 Theses? If you have, you will know that Luther had nothing to do with seeing the Papacy as an unbiblical office when he wrote them. Will you entirely discount the point about the error on the indulgences because Luther’s theology is far from what it would become? The book review of the 95 Theses, especially if it’s written similarly to Dr. DeYoung’s would have the effect that the Roman Catholic priests would have wanted: that the common people would not read them. Or the Bible. Let us not forget it that the common person did not have a way to read the Bible in his own language. And Luther has a thing against the Jews that many have written volumes about. We have to reckon with that, too. We don’t just get to cancel people. But we do get to judge rightly. Ourselves first. And then others. Basic Matthew 7.

Abusers are great at pointing out how all of us are sinners. That’s right. How none of us are good. That’s right. We have all sinned. None of us has lived the perfect life only Jesus lived.

What they rush to conclude is this: “Therefore, leave me alone! Don’t ask me to pursue holiness. I’ve been forgiven by grace. And so have you. Shall we talk about your sins now?”

Notice how instead of having a mutually sharpening and edifying exchange and rebuke even, we have a unidirectional expectation of cheap grace. Always in their favor. Be gracious to them while you do not receive grace.

Before I continue, let me be very clear: I am not saying Dr. Kevin DeYoung is an abuser. I most certainly am not. What I am saying is that his book review has the content, color, and flavor of something that an abuser can use to silence dissent. What I am saying is that whether he intended for this or not, this review has the clear effect of dissuading people from reading Dr. Barr’s book and from taking her seriously, her qualifications ignored, and her ideas reduced to mere emotion. Suspicion is planted in our hearts about her alleged hermeneutics of suspicion of the complementarians.

I should also state clearly that I am a complementarian, and that I do not believe that everything can be reduced to or blamed on the patriarchy. Yet, we are in need of listening well to the allegations, charges, and plain common sense of what is being raised out there. We have silenced women, and I do include myself in that. We have made clear directly and indirectly that they have no voice in the church. We have used a manipulated Trinity to get away with a distorted structure of power. We do have to solve that. We have to fix it. And we cannot let the vulnerable to be hurt in our pews right before our eyes.

I want to thank all the authors that I have read. I needed a lifeline. I needed to understand what I was going through. I needed to know if I had truly become evil and hardened my heart. Or if I truly was a believer or not.

Ironically, I was pointed to Diane Langberg in one of the last attempts by my former pastor to silence me. He wanted me to read about self-deception. And Dr. Langberg really knows about that subject. Something didn’t sit right with me when I was given the article to read, not in her writing but in the recommendation, so I bought the book instead. I was deceiving myself and others, it turned out, but I digress.

I read Suffering and the Heart of God. I have never read any resource like it in all my time in pastoral ministry. That book gets to the heart of the challenges of the person who has experienced trauma in their faith and understanding of God and life. That book must be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to minister to people. This book has great potential not only as a counselor’s help but to form a church culture where we are aware of the causes and consequences of abuse and how that ends up preaching a false gospel. Here is the problem: most Reformed folks will dismiss it entirely because she has a psychology background, and that shows throughout the book. She writes with psychological categories and concepts in mind. This is inconsistent with how many people in Reformed circles see the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling. And sadly, the arguments get lost in the chopping block. I must confess, this was part of my initial reservations with reading the article I was given: why would somebody trained in nouthetic counseling who once gave me the book Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology? recommend a Christian psychologist? But I’m thankful for overcoming this barrier. It doesn’t mean that I line up entirely with Dr. Langberg, but I have learned a lot from her. And her latest work Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church is also highly recommended and a mandatory read for anyone struggling to grasp the aftermath of abuse or working at trying to prevent it. Sadly, this book will perhaps be dismissed because of her background, and let’s not kid ourselves, because it is about power in the church and was written by a woman.

Somebody that came across my world and did a very good descriptive job explaining it is Dr. Wade Mullen. He has put together in Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse and Freeing Yourself from Its Power an excellent description of the tactics used by abusive individuals and organizations to cover up and to perpetrate abuse. He gives language to a lot of those things that you have had doubts about in your life, but haven’t quite been able to articulate. He steps into that place where you ask, “They are quoting the Bible, supposedly preaching from the Bible, but something is not right, what is it?” His dissertation goes into a lot more detail than this popular-level work in showing his research, and it was because of his interaction with Sovereign Grace during his research that I learned about him. Sadly, his work can be easily dismissed because it is not a theological work primarily. So, you are not going to find Dr. Mullen given an exegetical explanation of why something is wrong, for example. Also, he has analyzed the crisis response tactics of several organizations that would call themselves Christian, and we know that addressing such subjects in public is considered and condemned as gossip and slander in the same circles. So, I don’t believe that his work will have the visibility necessary in such contexts where it can be greatly beneficial to help people open their eyes to the reality that they live in.

Late in 2019, Rachel Green Miller published a work titled Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society. Quite frankly I don’t remember the objections I had to it, or the things that I didn’t fully agree with in the book. Time has a way of doing that. I honestly don’t remember what my criticism was. I may have to go back and revisit the work. But, this work addressed some fundamental challenges I was going through, essentially this: Ontologically, who am I and who is my wife? A lot of what happens in abusive situations is never direct. Hardly anybody actually states plainly and completely the heresy they are preaching (sometimes they do, and Miller quotes them—they then respond and mock and insult her). So people get away with saying, “Well, we don’t believe a husband is supposed to control his wife, we don’t teach that a wife’s main purpose and calling in life is her husband’s primarily or only.” But they do. This book enters that space, and it was greatly helpful to me to help me start charting a better understanding of what misunderstandings of God’s design for humanity were instrumental in our arrival at a place of darkness and pain. My greatest disappointment with the publication of this book is that the conversations that ought to have followed became just a bunch of threads of insults and caricaturizing of what Miller brought forward. And let’s not even talk about the whole polity and intramural challenges that were, not awakened, but made more clear because of this.

And, of course, we couldn’t not speak of Aimee Byrd. God bless this sister and strengthen her. I remember following my wife around the house reading The Housewife Theologian to her back in 2013 I think. I stopped reading her book at one point because something about the way she was handling two kingdom theology didn’t set right with me. But we later went back and finished it anyway. That’s what I do with books. I want to know the author. I want to understand the author. And quite frankly, when reviewing the book again to restart reading it, I honestly could not find the place where I had stopped. What I suspect happened is this: I’ve been going to seminary, and in one of my theology classes, my professor used a seminar style. I think in that process I discovered that Aimee Byrd was not on the fringes but that what I had considered a post-millennial (in reality Doug Wilsonian) view was in reality not all that aligned with the Word and church history. I share that because in my amateur pastoral ways, I hit the brakes on a book in what I suspect is the same way others hit the brakes when they read or attempt to read the books I’m describing now.

I do not like fitness at all. I despise it. I try to cram for my doctor’s exams. So I could not relate to Byrd’s Theological Fitness, but I was thankful to study Hebrews alongside with her. No Little Women is a very important work to be read by Christians, both in leadership and not. Can We Still Be Friends? for me got more difficult because she points out a gaping hole in pastoral care—my words, not hers—are we diminishing the image of God in women and her equal worth with man with these walls of “protection” between the pastors and women? Unfortunately, the book got her called names instead of thoughtful and orthodox and charitable discussions about things from the Billy Graham rule to the place where women who are not little can go in the church not just to being up concerns but also to wholeheartedly serve. We must be able to have conversations about the role of women in the church without being accused of going liberal, egalitarian, or of being ugly. We are not on a third grade playground.

But it was not until Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose that I thought to myself, “Two things: (1) It is never going to be good enough or proper enough for local church bodies to actually process this information and these questions, and (2) where are the Reformed exegetes and careful students of the Word, the gatekeepers, and why aren’t they engaging instead of rehashing the same arguments again? There has been a lot of theology done. The application of said theology is not always clear. A lot of people are seeing Dr. Grudem’s work on the ESS as not orthodox, and I would line up on that side of the argument as well. Basing gender roles not on ontology but on function and a dubious flavor of function at that is dangerous. Yet, Dr. Grudem recently published an amendment to his theology of divorce where he presented a case for divorce’s permissibility in cases of abuse. Why aren’t we talking about that and examining that? How does that intersect with Dr. Piper’s view of marriage’s permanence in cases of abuse? How does that intersect with something like Dr. Ruth Tucker’s experience shared in Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse? If an eminent church historian like her goes through this…

I realized that Byrd’s use of egalitarian and Roman Catholic sources was going to be just one excuse to ignore her. But, I also would like to note that there is a gap in the literature. The CBMW does not have it all figured out. We got the closing minutes of Dr. Piper’s panel at T4G. That is just not enough time to address these deeply disturbing issues.

Women are being abused under our watch.

Women are being ignored by us. And we don’t do anything about it. The PCA commissioned the study of the role of women in the church recently. Brittany Smith and Doug Serven Edith a volume titled Co-Laborers, Co-Heirs. We must pay attention to what’s in there. I don’t like it all. I disagree with a fair bit of it, but it was critical to show me that we communicate in clear terms and practices to women that they have a very small place in the church, and that the are very few if any safe spaces for them to share concerns or present their testimony of abuse inflicted upon them in the church.

Dr. Beth Allison Barr is an academic historian who has produced a book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood. And, quite frankly, it is just as uncomfortable for me to read unabashed praise of this book as it is to read Dr. DeYoung’s review of the book. I line up more with something like Wendy Alsup’s review since I, like Alsup, cannot deny the harm done in some complementarian contests—I’ve lived it— yet I have questions about dealing fairly with history that I think must be asked charitably and with ears open to understand. Regardless, I also see the footnotes and understand that even if she produced a 5,000 page volume with incredible historical detail, it may still have produced similar reactions. I am not an academic historian. Just an aficionado.

I could add more examples from the rest of the literature that has been written in the last two years, but I have reached the point of no return. I’m at the point where I believe we must stop for now.

The criticism is a moving target. Period.

Drs. Köstenberger and Schreiner’s Women in the Church is on its third edition. These subjects take time. Revisions to our thinking, dare I say, reformation, are one of the Reformation’s heritage most valued ongoing tasks for the Church.

One of my friends is gracious enough to allow me to read his books before they are published. I work hard at finding grammatical or theological suggestions. I think I’ve gone through it all, and then in print I see something glaringly missed. We are fallen humans. Our minds are being renewed day by day, if we are in Christ, but they are still not what they will be. The flesh, the world, and the devil play their part. We are weak and feeble. We are proud and foolish. We are afraid. We fear man and not God. And sometimes, even if we have all our pursuit of holiness and our kindness and our graciousness, even if we are filled with the Spirit, we are still fallen. We will miss a comma, we will let a poorly worded phrase get through. Or we will actively, in our pride, try to get our way and not God’s.

These authors get criticized because of their credentials—if they have them, they don’t count; if they don’t have them, they count. These authors get criticized because of their use of sources—if we are going to be covering our ears because somebody is an egalitarian or a feminist (or say they are egalitarian or feminists even if they are not), how do we possibly expect others will extend to us the kindness of listening when we talk to them? We can’t change minds if the other side is not listening. Women get slandered about being slanderers all the time. They are said to be egalitarians or radical liberals in a quest to destroy the OPC or Sovereign Grace or the SBC. They are not. And since they aren’t that is just slander about them being slanderers. Period.

Dr. Valerie Hobbs has written a really valuable work in her An Introduction to Religious Language: Exploring Theolinguistics in Contemporary Contexts, but once again, the response is caricatures in Twitterland. These authors get mocked about the way they look, even by their style, by the way people perceive their submission or lack of submission as they would say to their husbands and pastors (a whole other conversation to be had).

When I was a pastor inside of Sovereign Grace, I was told directly and indirectly by the national, regional, and local leadership to not read or listen to the allegations that were presented. Brent Detwiler was painted as an evil mind bent on a vendetta against CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, as somebody bitter and unforgiving. To read him would be as damaging to the soul as viewing pornography. At around the time my local church was adopted into Sovereign Grace, he reached out to me personally via Facebook and asked me to turn around, to consider the evidence of cover ups and evil perpetrated. I didn’t turn around. I perused things, but how I wish I had taken the time to read. I wish I would have allowed myself to ask, “Something is not right. What is it?” But no, I dismissed it because of this caricature of Brent that I was given that fit with my cognitive dissonance that desperately needed to reconcile what I perceived as the goodness of the pastors in the Sovereign Grace Midwest-Northwest Regional Assembly of Elders in contrast with these accounts of evil and allegations of sexual cover up at my own local church. I told myself I did the research. But I just took some people at their word. And ignored others.

Rachel Denhollander and Jennifer Greenberg were the kind of people I was taught to ignore and avoid. When my wife was being yelled at in a moving vehicle once, my pastor said to her that he had given her everything she needed to be the next Rachel Denhollander. That she had the heart of a discernment blogger. I remember the shame I felt because the message I got from that was this: On one side of my cognitive dissonance was this—our pastor is abusing my wife right now, and he knows she will not shut up about it because she knows this to be abhorrent to the Word. My wife was going to be like “this woman,” or like Dee Parsons or like Todd Wilhelm or like Brent. But on the other side of my sinful mind was this: “Why can’t you, wife, just shut up like a nice, gentle and quiet spirit, 1 Peter 3, Sarah kind of wife and take it? You know that he is right about your sin. Let’s get along with life and not make a big deal out of this. Everything will work out if we do what he says.”

How I wish I would have said I would have been proud of my wife if her work would have the impact that Rachel Denhollander has had. So I listened to them in Texas at the Caring Well conference and read their published works. It felt like I was being a naughty boy speaking with Jennifer about her book Not Forsaken at The Good Book Company book stand. I felt like a traitor for listening to what Rachel Denhollander was saying from the stage and reading what she had written. I felt like I was some sort of lower man, a coward, a sell out, a liberal for buying and reading to my girls the kids version of What’s a Girl Worth?

And we need to ask: What is the image of God in our fellow image bearers worth?

We need to talk about some of the larger points of Dr. DeYoung’s review. But it’s more than that. Don’t waste your book reading. Don’t waste your book reviews with this “hermeneutic of suspicion,” especially if you choose to be blind to your own suspicion.

Be a Berean. That’s Scriptural. But be bold and kind in preaching the gospel. I read Dr. Matthew Barrett’s book on the doctrines of grace for a project I was doing related to total depravity. In The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort, he showed me something amazing. To this day, Calvinists and Arminians disagree. We all know that. But when you get to read the actual documents, Barrett is right to highlight the amazing well of encouragement towards piety that the Christian receives from these doctrinal articulations of belief and refutations of error. They used language to bring glory to God even as they sought to refute errors that have remained until our present day. Your faith will be strengthened as you read these saints of old address the issues of their day.

Don’t trash the person. Assess the evidence. Assess the ideas. And refute them if necessary. Just don’t do it cheaply. And don’t do it in the “you don’t have to bother to read this” sort of way. The whole “make me a sandwich” nonsense that Byrd and Green got.

And remember this, there is plenty of questions I have about Dr. DeYoung’s own book, which is a reprint of sorts of the original version. And we have to have these conversations without vilifying the other.

Let’s be salty. The right kind of salty.

And let’s live in the light.

After all, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and if we cannot process the arguments presented by someone like Kristin Kobe Du Mez against a John Wayne kind of masculinity being presented as biblical and commendable, perhaps even as greater than what the Bible actually teaches, are we actually being men of the Word, gentlemen? Are we being good shepherds of the sheep?

In Shepherds after My own Heart, Timothy Laniak says, “Psalm 23 is reminder that even the king—especially the king—was dependent on the God of Israel for personal nurture and guidance. Israel’s kings had to understand that being a member of the flock of God was more fundamental than being an appointed shepherd over that flock” (114).

We talk so much about being kings and shepherds in our circles, but we can’t even handle the simple paradox that somebody can be right about something while being wrong about some of the parts. Or the fundamental principle of Philippians 2 humility, that we are to count others as more significant than ourselves.


Those sympathetic to Barr’s perspective will likely resonate with the personal narrative, considering it one more reason to dismantle patriarchy once and for all. Others, however, might be curious to know if there is another side to these stories (Prov 18:17) and, more importantly, might wonder whether the author’s scars get in the way of giving complementarianism a fair hearing.

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Same Review

There is another element to Dr. DeYoung’s review. Absolutely Proverbs 18:17 matters, and it matters a lot. For example, I mention an encounter with the police. One of the members of the security detail of the church wrote their account of the events on my wife’s Facebook page and immediately defriended her. He said that we would remove those comments. We have not. We will never do that. Because truth matters, and the response itself is part of the events.

Here is the difficult challenge with using the book of Proverbs to silence someone who has been abused. You can use it all day long as part of this narrative where someone with a tender conscience would rather die in shame and silence than in the freedom for which Christ has set them free. All stories have two sides, at least. It took a great deal of time and work of the Spirit of God for me not to be parroting the “other side” of my story.

It goes something like this: My wife was spiritually abused by her pastor of almost twenty years. But, she was idolizing children and was very angry with God. She was also not being able to respect me a whole lot. And I was complicit with it all anyway because I didn’t do anything when this happened before to others. If I were a better Christian, or a Christian at all, I would have stopped this train long ago, but I didn’t because I loved the praise and supposed love of this man towards me more than I loved Jesus.

Guess what? My wife couldn’t respect me because I had distorted the gospel, and submitting to something so vile is precisely what she is not supposed to do. And all of the other stuff is also true. There is another side to the events. But they do not change what happened. Abusers love to focus on what the other has done to get away with their sin and without consequences.

The Word asks us to inquire diligently and to include witnesses because truth matters. Mattthew 7, again, requires us to judge ourselves rightly first, but it doesn’t stop there. We take the thing off from our eye before we can assess if the thing we see in the other is a 2×4 blocking their vision.

The other side of the story is something that the person who has dealt with abuse has had used to silence and shame them.

Don’t let the scars be used as an illusionist trick. Abusers also have scars. Look at the facts. And remember, Dr. Langberg has seen a lot of these stories being told: not in order, with a lot of repetition, and from a lot of pain and trauma. Be patient. Back to the humility of Philippians 2.