Endurance Sports and the Christian Life

In a time not so long ago in a world not too far away, I embarked on a dimension of my fitness journey that I had not considered before. Up until 2000, my idea of exercise had always been playing sports such as tennis and basketball. (During my high school days, I played tennis, golf, and wrestling. Wrestling taught me mathematics with all that time I spent on my back counting the lights!)

But in 2000, I decided to take up endurance sports. At the time, I was enjoying running 5 miles a day–I had dropped a lot of weight and felt the best I had since high school–and, out of curiosity, stumbled into the ultra-distance community while researching some ideas about running.

In April that year, I completed my first half-marathon, a distance of 13.1 miles. I hadn’t trained for it, but enjoyed the heck out of it.

Then I signed up for the Air Force Marathon. It was 26.2 miles, and it was at a place I loved to frequent in my childhood: the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH.

After the half-marathon, I realized that a full marathon was a whole different ballgame.

Anyone can do a half-marathon, most venues give you 4 or even 5 hours to do it. Most people can WALK that distance without too much of a problem. Sure, if you haven’t trained for that you’ll be sore for a couple days, but–unless you have a disastrous health situation–you can do it.

But a full marathon is a different beast. 26.2 miles.

To successfully complete that without hurting yourself, you actually have to TRAIN for it. You need to develop a running “base”. You have to do long runs–progressively increasing your distance and time–once a week. In the marathon world, 20 miles is the magic number: if you get comfortable doing 20 miles in your long runs, you’re ready for the marathon: it’s a 20 mile run with a 10K at the end.

But the preparation, the training, that requires discipline.

That year, I would do two of those–the Air Force Marathon and the Indianapolis Marathon–and then top it off with a 50K (31 miles) race, the Quivering Quads 50K at Cuivre River State Park in Missouri.

Admittedly, the first of those–the Air Force Marathon–hurt. A lot. I was in pain for 3 days afterward. But the second wasn’t bad at all. And after the 50K, I was tired but not sore.

The training had paid off. I was in the best shape of my life.

After a hiatus–from 2002 to 20012–in which I struggled with back issues, I returned to the game. I did the Air Force Half-Marathon in 2009, 2010, and 2011, but decided to take the plunge and help MrsLarijani do the full marathon, as that was one of her goals. (She did it twice: 2012 and 2013. She’s also done the half marathon with me three times, and had a solo half-marathon finish last year.)

Now, I’m doing “centuries” (100+ mile bike rides), triathlons, long-distance swimming, and the occasional marathon. Since 2012, I’ve done a half-Iron triathlon, two marathons, and 14 century-distance rides. (I DNFd at Ironman Louisville last year, as I got pulled by officials at mile 17 of the run, due to my missing the cutoff time for the final turnaround.)

If my back and knees hold up, I’ve got my sights on an Iron-distance triathlon next year.

After that first race, I had someone in my church question the value of those kinds of events. “It’s just torture!”

I told her. “Life is an endurance event.”

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, admonishes them about running the race–living out the Christian life:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

In distance running, as with the Christian life, success requires discipline.

In the Christian life, you are going to face all kinds of temptation to cut corners: from gluttony to dishonesty to various forms of sexual immorality, it’s easy to cave to those. It requires discipline to fight against the lusts of the flesh and eyes, and the pride of life.

But what does that have to do with endurance sports in particular? After all, other sports–tennis, basketball, weightlifiting, etc.–require discipline, too. What does endurance sports teach that other sports do not?

I can sum that up in one word: perseverance.

In the West, particularly in the U.S. of A, we have a Christian culture that is drowning in various forms of the Prosperity gospel, which is a profoundly heretical teaching.

In modern culture, these are the variations of Christian teaching that are pervasive:

  • God doesn’t want His people to suffer.
  • If you are a Christian, you won’t struggle with lusts. If you do, it’s because you aren’t spiritual enough.
  • If you are a Christian, you will never struggle with material things. If you do, it is because you are living in sin.
  • If you are a Christian, you will never struggle with health issues. If you do, it’s because of sin. Or you are demon-possessed.

In reality, it’s the other way around:

  • If you are a Christian, you are going to suffer in this world. Some Christians will suffer more than others, but this world is not a playground.
  • If you are a Christian, you are going to struggle with sins that, at their root level, involve lust and pride. That is true if you are a teenager with hormones blazing at Mach 9; it also holds true if you are 50 years old and happily-married. Temptations will come from angles you never thought possible, and it takes years to learn to fight and maintain vigilance.
  • If you are a Christian, you will likely have your share of setbacks. Those may not be your fault. You may lose a job though no wrongdoing; you may be falsely-accused of something evil; you may experience health issues–including terminal conditions (cancer, congestive heart failure)–that are common in this broken, cursed, dying world. Hardships CAN be a result of sin, but they are not necessarily a consequence of sin.

In Scripture, Jesus and the Apostles stress the value of endurance. In Mark 13:13 and Matthew 24:13, Jesus said it flatly: he who endures to the end will be saved.

(And no, I am not going to go on a tangential sidebar about the question “are you saved because of your works?” The answer to that question is no, but a more complete discourse on that is beyond the scope of this post.)

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4, says, “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure.”

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul assures them:

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ

In this case, he commends their endurance of persecution and reminds them of the endgame.

In the world of endurance sports, you are going to have setbacks. You might get cramps even if you’re well-trained. The conditions might make your race more challenging. If you’re swimming, the water might be colder than you are used to, or might be choppy. You might get kicked and have your wind knocked out. You might have a bike crash. Your back might be stiff.

Some days will be uneventful, but you are going to have days that are very challenging.

As you age, your body breaks down. That is normal, as we all are going to die one day. Once you hit 30, your cardiovascular fitness, ceteris paribus (all things being equal), begins to decline. Flexibility starts declining. Your back and knees aren’t going to be as good as they were in your teens. This is why you don’t see very many over-30 (or even over-40) athletes in the Olympics.

But here’s the thing: it’s common to see old fogeys–and I’m talking 50 and older–in endurance events. They remain active, even though their bodies aren’t what they once were.

On the extreme end of the spectrum is Madonna Buder, the “Iron Nun”. She is the oldest person to have completed an Ironman triathlon. At 86, she has done 45 Ironmans, and she recently won her age group in the USA Triathlon National Championships. I have dubbed her “Sister Badass”. I hope to live that long, and do what she does now when I am that age.

But what is the value in that?

I can answer quite simply: endurance teaches you the value of fighting through pain while keeping your eye on the finish line.

While every race has a finish line–you finish, you get your medal, and you might even have some goodies (even a beer)–endurance events, marathons and beyond, are a whole different ballgame.

Every endurance athlete I know has some routine they do after they finish. Some wear their medals to work. Some frame their finisher certificates. Some collect their race bibs. Every race presents different challenges, different memories.

(I wear my t-shirts for that season’s events to work.)

For me, every t-shirt tells a story.

When I look at my 2013 Horsey Hundred shirt, I remember that first century ride: no prior cycling experience, no cycling shoes, had no idea what I was getting into. But finished smiling. It was after that race that I decided that an Ironman event was, in spite of my back issues, within the realm of possibilities.

My 2014 Redbud Ride shirt reminds me of the nasty crash at mile 16. I got up and rode 84 miles–with a concussion, a jarred back, and a black eye–to finish.

My 2015 Redbud Ride shirt reminds me of the cold and rain for 33 miles. Rider after rider dropped out. But I stayed the course.

My 2015 Horsey Hundred shirt reminds me of the drunken jackass who killed a rider 3 miles behind me–at mile 99–as I was crossing the finish line.

My 2001 Air force Marathon shirt reminds me of 9/11: that race was cancelled due to security concerns, as it was on the heels of the September 11 attacks. (The race organizers sent us our shirts and patches as commemorative of 9/11, even though the race was not held. I usually wear that shirt on September 11. I have that patch on my flight jacket for the same reason.)

My 2000 Quivering Quads 50K shirt reminds me of the hills, the branches I tripped over quite often, and the nice chili I enjoyed at the rest stops. The fatigue of “the wall” was not enough to surmount the enjoyment.

My 2016 Toughman Indiana shirt reminds me of a number of things: coming back from an asthma attack in the water to beat the cutoff time, my first triathlon finish, my first ultra-endurance finish since 2000.

In life, we also have varying challenges, and–as we fight through them–we have a story to tell. And that is an integral part of your witness if you are a Christian.

You are going to have challenges in your marriage if you are married. Even if you are HAPPILY married. (No, seriously.) If you’re doing it right, you will learn more about your own sin–and God’s grace–than you ever thought possible.

If you are single, you’re always going to have sniveling naysayers questioning everything form your spiritual fitness to your sexual orientation, or–if you’re lucky–you’ll just get relegated to a “singles” class pretty much segregated from the rest of the church. You will have the challenge of living among God’s people without developing a chip on your shoulder. Some days, that will be easy. Until Debbie Maken shows up and wrecks the party…

You may have challenges–with which you were born–that make your life harder than the average bear experiences. You may be wheelchair-bound; you may be autistic; you may be more prone to depression or anxiety; you may be predisposed to bipolarity; you may have various traumas–from car accidents to combat experience to abuses that may include physical or sexual–for which you didn’t ask. Life is not fair in that regard.

(Endurance sports teaches you not to worry about others who are running better times. Some folks are more athletic; some have better genetics than others. They run their races; you must focus on racing your race.)

Living out the Christian life in the midst of all of that requires perseverance, allowing God to create in us hearts of flesh where our hearts would otherwise gravitate toward various forms of hardness.

Endurance sports teaches exactly that perseverance. It is what separates endurance sports from other sports. In triathlon, you will get challenges from many different angles on the same day, due to the multi-sport nature of the event.

Preparing for such events requires discipline and perseverance. Being willing to swim in cold water, or run or bike in hot and humid conditions, being smart enough to hydrate and maintain nutrition while working out. And on those hot, humid, sucky days, maintaining your training often requires thinking about the finish of the event for which you are training.

In the Christian life, it is the same dynamic: the hardships can be severe: from the depths of the hell of depression to the worst anti-Christian persecution (think ISIS). This requires calling attention to the endgame, the finish line.

This is what Jesus says to the church at Smyrna: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

To the church in Pergamum: “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

To the church in Thyatira: “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.”

To the church in Sardis: “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

To the church in Philadelphia: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

Endurance sports are an object lesson in this.

TWW and 9 Marks of an Abusive Church

Actually, this is a pretty decent set of criteria. While I realize that this is a dig at the “9 Marks” paradigm of Mark Dever, the list is derived from Mark Enroth’s book regarding spiritual abuse, and Enroth makes several poignant observations. I will list the “9 marks”, and provide some commentary.

(1) Control-oriented style of leadership

Pat Zukeran explains: “The leader in an abusive church is dogmatic, self-confident, arrogant, and the spiritual focal point in the lives of his followers. The leader assumes he is more spiritually in tune with God than anyone else…. To members of this type of church or group, questioning the leader is the equivalent of questioning God. Although the leader may not come out and state this fact, this attitude is clearly seen by the treatment of those who dare to question or challenge the leader…. In the hierarchy of such a church, the leader is, or tends to be, accountable to no one. Even if there is an elder board, it is usually made up of men who are loyal to, and will never disagree with, the leader. This style of leadership is not one endorsed in the Bible (emphasis mine).”

“Control-oriented leadership is at the core of all such churches. These spiritual power holders become strong role models, and their dogmatic teaching, bold confidence, and arrogant assertiveness become powerful forces of influence. They use their spiritual authority to intimidate the weak,” explains Ronald Enroth in Churches That Abuse (p. 80).

While there is no such thing as a healthy church without some form of discipline, the issue is what we mean by “control”. Most discipline in the church must take the form of exhortations and admonitions; done rightly, it is akin to good coaching. At the same time, leaders can become micromanagy, and that can become quite the morass. When church leaders start insisting that you only wear certain types of clothes, that you only eat certain types of food, that you make no life decisions without consulting them, then you are definitely in a bad situation.

Even worse is when the leaders lack transparency, and the rules that they impose on you don’t apply to them.

Run, do not walk.

(2) Spiritual elitism

Abusive churches see themselves as special. In his book, Enroth explains that abusive churches have an “elitist orientation that is so pervasive in authoritarian-church movements. It alone has the Truth, and to question its teachings and practices is to invite rebuke.”

Without question, this is a huge red flag. A good leader is comfortable enough in his own skin that he can accept correction. Everyone is going to step in it on occasion. My pastor did this once: he got his verbiage tangled, and what he said appeared to convey that the account of Jonah wasn’t necessarily a literal event. I knew what he meant, as I had other conversations with him on other occasions. After the service, I went over to him and said, “I think you probably meant to say [X]…” He agreed, and provided clarification at the next opportunity.

I’ve seen pastors who would have been quite agitated over the mildest correction.

When leaders act like they are the only ones who can lead, and that you–not being one of them–cannot possibly teach them anything, then they are flirting with Gnosticism, engaging in conduct unbecoming of a Christian minister.

If you are in such a church, get out. Do not look back.

(3) Manipulation of members

“Spiritually abusive groups routinely use guilt, fear, and intimidation as effective means for controlling their members. In my opinion, the leaders consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority,” explains Dr. Enroth on page 103 of Churches That Abuse.

According to the Probe Ministries article: “Abusive churches are characterized by the manipulation of their members. Manipulation is the use of external forces to get others to do what someone else wants them to do. Here manipulation is used to get people to submit to the leadership of the church. The tactics of manipulation include the use of guilt, peer pressure, intimidation, and threats of divine judgment from God for disobedience. Often harsh discipline is carried out publicly to promote ridicule and humiliation.

Another tactic is the “shepherding” philosophy. As practiced in many abusive churches this philosophy requires every member to be personally accountable to another more experienced person. To this person, one must reveal all personal thoughts, feelings, and discuss future decisions. This personal information is not used to help the member but to control the member.”

This is along the same lines as “control-oriented leadership” and is often one of the end-results.

(4) Perceived persecution

To explain this identifying mark, Zukeran writes: “Because abusive churches see themselves as elite, they expect persecution in the world and even feed on it. Criticism and exposure by the media are seen as proof that they are the true church being persecuted by Satan. However, the persecution received by abusive churches is different from the persecution received by Jesus and the Apostles.
Jesus and the Apostles were persecuted for preaching the truth. Abusive churches bring on much of their negative press because of their own actions. Yet, any criticism received, no matter what the source–whether Christian or secular–is always viewed as an attack from Satan, even if the criticisms are based on the Bible.”

Persecution is a real occurrence in this world, but unless you have government trying to force you to do gay “weddings”, or trying to use zoning laws to prevent your assembly, or cater to other worldly matters that are clearly immoral, then I would not call it persecution. If the media is criticizing your church, then the issue is what are they criticizing? If they are attacking your stance against immorality or women in particular office, then I would call it low-grade static, something Christians always experience from non-Christian sectors.

If they are questioning heavy-handed tactics, then they might actually be correct. Church leaders must always review their methods and question whether they are congruent with Scripture.

But ministers often throw the word “persecution” around, and I think that dilutes the real persecution that goes on. Pastors in the U.S., with few exceptions, do not experience this. Go to Mosul and take a look at what Christians experience over there. Go to China, or Saudi Arabia, and take a look. Then let’s have a discussion about persecution.

(5) Lifestyle rigidity

Zukeran explains this mark as “a rigid, legalistic lifestyle of their members. This rigidity is a natural result of the leadership style. Abusive churches require unwavering devotion to the church from their followers. Allegiance to the church has priority over allegiance to God, family, or anything else. There are also guidelines for dress, dating, finances, and so on. Such details are held to be of major importance in these churches.

In churches like these, people begin to lose their personal identity and start acting like programmed robots. Many times, the pressure and demands of the church will cause a member to have a nervous breakdown or fall into severe depression.”

On page 135 of Churches That Abuse, Enroth writes: “Life-style rigidity in abusive churches often manifests itself in a curiously reactive mode with regard to sexuality. Proscriptive measures reveal a sometimes bizarre preoccupation with sex that mental-health professionals would no doubt conclude gives evidence of repression.”

Again, this is often the result of “control-oriented leadership”. While churches must admonish against sexual immorality of various types–as this is consistent with the teachings of the Apostles–when they are preoccupied with sex, then it should raise serious concerns.

And when the church begins making dogmatic commands about such matters as dating, dress codes, finances, etc., it’s time to GTHO.

(6) Suppression of dissent

Abusive churches discourage questions and will not allow any input from members. The “anointed” leaders are in charge, PERIOD!

Enroth explains in his book that: “Unwavering obedience to religious leadership and unquestioning loyalty to the group would be less easily achieved if analysis and feedback were available to members from the outside. It is not without reason that leaders of abusive groups react so strongly and so defensively to any media criticism of their organizations.” (p. 162)

Solomon has a term to describe one who will not receive a rebuke: a fool. If your pastor will not listen to dissent, or–worse–begins attacking dissenters–then he is accelerating on the path to disaster. If the cadre of leaders will back him “no matter what”, then your best recourse is to leave and not look back.

(7) Harsh discipline of members

“Virtually all authoritarian groups that I have studied impose discipline, in one form or another, on members. A common theme that I encountered during interviews with ex-members of these groups was that the discipline was often carried out in public — and involved ridicule and humiliation,” writes Dr. Enroth (p. 152).

Enroth also states: “In my research of abusive churches, I never cease to be amazed at the degree to which private and personal concerns are made public and brought to the attention of the congregation.” (p. 137)

“The ultimate form of discipline in authoritarian churches is excommunication or disfellowshipping, followed by strict avoidance procedures, or shunning,” writes Enroth (p. 157).

In the New Testament, most discipline takes the form of exhortation and admonition. Leaders are subject to public rebuke when they step in it, but hard discipline for everyone else is the exception to the rule. The “nuclear option” must be reserved for only the most egregious offenses: unrepentant sexual immorality, violence, fraud, unrepentant spreading of false doctrine.

(8) Denunciation of other churches

According to Zukeran’s article on Enroth’s book, “abusive churches usually denounce all other Christian churches. They see themselves as spiritually elite. They feel that they alone have the truth and all other churches are corrupt…. There is a sense of pride in abusive churches because members feel they have a special relationship with God and His movement in the world. In his book Churches That Abuse, Dr. Ron Enroth quotes a former member of one such group who states, “Although we didn’t come right out and say it, in our innermost hearts we really felt that there was no place in the world like our assembly. We thought the rest of Christianity was out to lunch….A church which believes itself to be elite and does not associate with other Christian churches is not motivated by the spirit of God but by divisive pride.”

There are many people in this world who feel that the only way they can look good is if others look bad. When a pastor becomes preoccupied with the teachings of other churches, then that is a problem.

If he is merely confronting false doctrines, that is one thing. But if he begins denouncing otherwise sound churches who do things a bit differently, then that is a problem. If he starts acting like his church is the only one doing things right, then he’s got an arrogance issue.

(9) Painful exit process

Finally, Zukeran explains that abusive churches have “a painful and difficult exit process. Members in many such churches are afraid to leave because of intimidation, pressure, and threats of divine judgment. Sometimes members who exit are harassed and pursued by church leaders. The majority of the time, former members are publicly ridiculed and humiliated before the church, and members are told not to associate in any way with any former members. This practice is called shunning.
Many who leave abusive churches because of the intimidation and brainwashing, actually feel they have left God Himself. None of their former associates will fellowship with them, and they feel isolated, abused, and fearful of the world.”

Unless you are excommunicated due to immorality, the “exit process” ought to be seamless. We live in a society where people are more transient, and in churches people are going to come and go. It is what it is. It’s not always personal; everyone has different preferences. Are some of those preferences selfish? Probably. But that’s between them and God to resolve.

Barnabas and Paul had a disagreement and went their separate ways. We see no indication in Scripture that either went on to denounce the other. Things happen, sometimes there are differences of opinion, and people need to move on.

Complimentarianism, Scripture, and the Trinity: My $0.02

When debating issues of Biblical importance, you can make your argument strong if you can establish your case in terms of (a) Creation, (b) the Fall, (c) the nature and character of God, and (d) provide strong link to the trinitarian relationship among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(a) is very strong;
(b) is strong;
(c) is very strong;
(d) is checkmate.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, Jesus began by framing the issue in terms of Creation. In so doing, He shut down most of the debate in its tracks, leaving the Disciples incredulous. (Remember, Peter would exclaim, “Then it is better for a man not to marry!” )

In the complimentarianism versus egalitarianism debate, the parties involved have sought to establish their cases accordingly.

In Scripture, the case for complimentarianism is very strong, although I am not ready to frame it in terms of the Trinity, as Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem have done in their attempt at a checkmate.

Here are my thought processes on this….

For one thing, the Trinity is a very big and complicated deal. No human attempt to describe the relationship among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is adequate, and Trinity is the best we can do. Are the three Members the same? Yes. Are they different? Yes. While the word “trinity” doesn’t appear in Scripture, I accept that the explication gets us as close to the mark as we’re going to get.

At the same time, when I frame cases for particular issues, I generally stick to a case that is easily-ascertained from Scripture.

A prominent example of this is sexuality: I frame it in terms of Creation. That is how Jesus established the debate about marriage and divorce, and Paul also–arguing against sexual immorality–frames the sex act in terms of “one flesh”, which is rooted in Creation.

Now for complimentarianism…

I would stop short of describing complimentarianism in terms of the Trinity. Why? When Paul makes his case for (a) the headship of the husband in the marriage, and (b) the prohibition of women in particular church offices, he does not do this in terms of the Trinity.

In (a) he makes the case of the headship of Christ with respect to the Church, and frames the marriage relationship as a portrait of Christ and the Church. An egalitarian understanding of this would put the Church on the same plane as Christ Himself. That strikes me as akin to Man attempting to do what Lucifer attempted: achieve equality with God.

While it is true that “in Christ there is neither male nor female”, that statement–by Paul himself–doesn’t refer to the marriage relationship but rather the problem among the Galatians of ascribing more (or less) honor to others based on their station in life. There was often significant contention between believers of Jewish background and those of Gentile background. Free persons were often treated better than were slaves. Men received dignities that women did not. It is that sort of bigotry that Paul confronts, and I say that because the totality of the letter to the Galatians reflects that.

When Paul precludes women from teaching or having authority over men, He gives theological reasons that are rooted in Creation and the Fall in 1 Timothy 2: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

The problem with attempting to frame the issue in terms of the Trinity is that neither Jesus, nor the Gospel writers, nor the Apostles attempt to do this. And while I would not suggest that the inference isn’t there, the problem with making a case like this based on an inference is that, when you are dealing with the very nature and character of God, you run the risk of muddying an already very difficult matter over which great theologians have struggled for two millennia.

I’m not going to go out and say that Grudem and Ware are wrong, but I’m just wary of the idea of going out on that particular limb. These kinds of issues take decades of deliberation, because the implications can be far-reaching.

I’m for complimentarianism, and the Biblical case for it is very strong, particularly with respect to Creation, the Fall, and the relationship of Christ and -the Church.

But framing it in terms of the Trinity? Even Paul doesn’t do that.

SBC Church Fires Pastor Who Called Church to Reach Out to All Races

While the church is now saying that pastor Jonathan Greer was fired because he “did not visit church members enough”, and did not get along well with a particular deacon, as a longtime Southern Baptist I’m calling BS. Here is the link to the story.

Fact is, many of these Southern Baptist churches will fire ANY pastor–or staffer–who triggers the wrong people. And that trigger can be literally ANYTHING. And here’s the thing: when they fire him, the reasons given will typically amount to trumped-up fluff. The fact that the vote in this case was unanimous means nothing; just remember: the masses, prompted by their leaders, voted damn-near unanimously to crucify Jesus. Times have changed, people haven’t.

I would be interested to see how the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention–which has (rightly IMHA) separated fellowship with churches for green-lighting homosexuality–responds to a church whose members fired a pastor for stepping on their precious widdle toesies on racial matters.

Intellectual Dishonesty, Part 3: TWW and The History of Complimentarianism

In part 2 of Deb’s presentation of the history of complimentarianism, she raises an issue that is very important, while failing to notice her own inconsistency on a different matter.

Whereas TWW cuts Grudem, Piper, Kassian, & Co. no slack for their “private meetings” in which they formulated an organized approach to complimentarianism and developed a position statement, they completely give the IBS, Zondervan, and the Committee for Bible Translation on the NIV a pass for their private collusion in developing a gender-neutral translation of the NIV, all in spite of very clear issues–legitimite ones–that Grudem raises in his paper on gender-neutral translation.

In other words, when egalitarian corporate interests conspire to undermine the translation of Scripture, it’s perfectly ok. But when a small group of like-minded conservative theologians and scholars get together in private to organize a movement to present a position that is in black-letter Scripture, then it’s evil.

This is why I have issues with TWW. Either Zondervan, IBS, and CBTNIV are evil, or Grudem & Co. are acting in good faith. Which is it?

My take: I couldn’t care less whether the parties involved meet in secret or in public. I do, however, care about the merits of the cases that they make.

And along those lines, I would defy anyone to come up with a case for why Grudem’s position paper on gender-neutral translations is off the rails.

At the end of the day, Grudem is merely articulating the pitfalls that can arise when attempting to make the Scriptures gender-neutral. You may not like it, but he is absolutely correct.

What we tend to forget is that feminism, even in the First Wave, involved an attempt to rewrite Scripture to strip patriarchy out of Scripture. Ultimately, the main target of those efforts was not simply men, but God. Feminists have sought to emasculate Jesus, and strip out any vestige of patriarchy in any of the teachings of either the OT or NT.

At SBTS, this was a major issue when I was there. In one discussion, someone brought up Miriam, and argued the rightness of her challenging Moses. When I responded by pointing out that, for doing this, she was stricken with leprosy, the response was, “but the OT is a product of woman-hating patriarchs!”

Ultimately, I get the impression that the folks at TWW are in that camp: for all the good they do with respect to reporting abuses, they have an insidious agenda beneath the surface: they seek to undermine all vestiges of compimentarianism/patriarchy in Scripture. The problem is, in order to do that, one must bastardize Scripture beyond all recognition, and the Jesus which emerges is disconnected from the Jesus of Scripture.

As for Grudem, I have my issues with him. At the same time, I find his concerns about gender-neutral Bible translation to be very legitimate, and his paper is an excellent read.

TWW and a Complimentarian “Split”? Wishful Thinking

I must admit, I received a bit of a chuckle from Dee’s latest post at TWW.

While it is true that there is a variance of opinion among the complimentarian sector regarding the roles women should–or ought, or ought not–to have in society, this is less about “division” as it is a concession that there are gray areas in the discussion.

In the OT, for example, Deborah was both a judge (political leader) and a prophetess (a position of spiritual leadership). While she was not the first woman in the Bible to serve in the latter role–Miriam was–she did wear both hats. It is also notable that, during Deborah’s era, male leadership was clearly lacking. After all, we see no intervention by the Levites, who were supposed to be zealous for the Law. And when Deborah tells Barak–the military commander–to go on the offensive, that God has given him victory, he chickens out, and thus the glory of victory would fall to a woman (Jael).

Nor was Deborah the last woman prophet in the Bible.

During the reign of Josiah, the High Priest discovered the Book of the Law in the Temple, and they didn’t even know what it was! They took it to Josiah, who tore his clothes because he understood there was a problem. Who did Josiah consult? A woman prophet: Huldah.

And when Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple for circumcision. During this time, there were two notable people who made both proclamation and prophecy. The first was Simeon, whom God had promised would not die until he had seen the coming of the Lord, and the other was Anna, a widow and prophetess.

So clearly there is precedent in Scripture for women in positions of spiritual leadership. The issue is whether these precedents add up to an egalitarian standard, or whether they are exceptions to the rule. The answer is anything but trivial.

When we read the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles, we see that Jesus had women among His inner circle, something that was unheard of for Rabbis. He had no reservations about talking to women–even Samaritan women–in public, which also was unheard of at the time.

Still, women were not among the Twelve. And while those women in His inner circle would be faithful servants, we do not see record of them going on to preach or teach or even prophesy.

In the Epistles, Paul is very clear about gender roles both in the home and in the general Congregation:

  • Woman was made for man, not man for woman.
  • Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord.
  • Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.
  • Women are not permitted to teach, or to have authority over men. (And the reasons given were theological, not cultural.)
  • The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church.
  • If women had questions, they were to consult their husbands.

Fair disclosure: I am of Middle Eastern origin. Trust me on this, folks: I know what patriarchy is. And what we in the West call Patriarchy don’t even compare to the Patriarchal culture and standards that are prevalent in the Middle East. I self-identify as a complimentarian, which is to say that I accept what the Scriptures say about gender roles.

And make no mistake: these statements in Scripture–and the Greek is very plain on this, and attempts to water it down lead to hermeneutical holes so large that a blind man can fly a 747 through them–are hard, even by my own Middle Eastern standards. Spinning the patriarchy out of them requires a hermeneutic that doesn’t even rise to the level of eisegesis.

Does this preclude women from civil office? Not hardly. On that matter, both the Gospels and the Epistles are silent, and reasonable Christians can debate the pros and cons of that with respect to this election season.

With respect to particular Church offices, however, any reasonable intellectually honest discussion of gender roles must concede that the burden of proof is on the would-be egalitarian to show that the Scriptures mean something other than what they actually say. At best, what you have in the NT is a rule to which there are few particular exceptions, and even in those cases, one must assess them with respect to other Biblical cases where women served in particular roles.

As for the marriage relationship, it’s very plain. Even in Ephesians 5, while egalitarians will use the “mutual submission” clause as an “AHA” moment, the problem is that they don’t read the entire passage.

Husbands are not commanded to submit to their wives as to the Lord. They are, however, commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. The mutual submission command has particular directives to the respective sexes as to how it plays out.

Whereas there is no place in Scripture where the wife is given headship over the husband, the husband IS acknowledged as the head of the wife just as Christ is head of the Church.

There may be differences in how various complimentarians articulate the fleshing out of this; at the same time, I would not say that this amounts to any impending “split”.

There is, however, a need for a meeting of the minds on certain particulars, especially the hashing out of what we call Headship Theology, and the abuses of that by some in the complimentarian crowd.