Christians can have funny pastimes. We like to form coalitions and high councils, often centered around the diagnosis of culture as biblical or not. Some of us like to play referee between the sacred and secular, the profound and profane, the already and the not yet. Unfortunately this habit can become doubly dangerous when the cultural diagnosis is followed by a strict biblical antidote.
For example, a simple dose of Genesis 1-3 is all you need to recover any obvious confusion over gender roles. Recently, Owen Strachan, Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, made such a prescription when he wrote about a Sesame Street episode as an “assault” on our “Protestant worldview” which “is subtly but directly overturning long-held conceptions of manhood”. Although I would gladly respond to Strachan’s piece, Micah Murray did an astoundingly beautiful job with his post, Boys and Dolls: A Father’s Response and I would highly encourage you to read it.
I really don’t mind the coffee shop conversations surrounding complementarianism, egalitarianism and gender roles that plague the evangelical blogosphere. These conversations can potentially provoke the evolution of loving others as equally as we love ourselves, a distinctive characteristic of God’s kingdom. Let the woman OR man oppressed by gender stereotypes say ‘Amen’.
What I really do mind about these councils, coalitions and blogs is the incessant need to constantly ‘recover’ all things as biblical or not. Remember Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘You Might Be A Redneck’ jokes? If you’re blowing the whistle on Sesame Street, then you might be reformed. If you can’t watch one of the greatest children’s television shows ever without appealing to a ‘biblical’ definition of manhood or womanhood, then you might be reformed.
Whistle blowing isn’t a new pastime by the way. Building a biblical framework for everything from dinosaurs to politics has gone on for several hundred years.
Sola Scriptura is one of the pillars of reformation thought. It essentially states that the Bible alone contains all that is necessary for salvation and holiness or right living. This doctrine or idea was basically born from a resistance to ecclesial excesses like indulgences and penance, which were being increasingly taught and cultivated within the Catholic Church.
Enter the greatest whistle-blower of all, Martin Luther, who believed that all scripture pointed to Christ and that anytime traditions or teachings conflict with scripture then tradition must be rejected. Luther sought a balance between the authority of tradition and the revelation of the Spirit, by which some began to claim authority that went beyond scripture. To Luther, that balance was found in the authority of scripture as a test for all claims of revelation be they past traditions or future assertions…including those coffee shop conversations.
However well intentioned the reformers were in developing dogma such as sola scripture, it was still made as reactionary to the misinterpretations of the Catholic Church. I would point out that fighting heterodoxy (or bad teaching) doesn’t necessarily culminate in orthodoxy (right teaching).
Because of this, I take issue with the statement that ‘Scripture alone is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice’. If I believed that, then of course I would feel compelled to diagnose something as biblical or not. Luther’s legacy continues as men like Strachan use the bible to test gender roles. However, the need to preserve and protect the Bible is never more evident in those who are afraid of losing something…
Perhaps the greatest danger of all is in making holy scriptures the fourth member of the Godhead. Salvation is a gift from a loving God who sent His Son as the incarnate Word and who said of himself, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Bibliolatry isn’t the only conclusion to sola scriptura but it is a possible and real conclusion.
Justo Gonzalez writes, “the church established the canon…but the gospel established the church, and the authority of scripture is not in the canon, but in the gospel.” I would never doubt or deny the sufficiency of scripture for both describing our salvation and making plain the salvation history of God but when exactly did the litmus test for something as potentially cultural as gender roles become Genesis 1-3?
Another great theologian, John Wesley, didn’t explicitly propagate a ‘quadrilateral’ for theological authority but he did employ four sources in reaching conclusions to truth. These sources were scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
Wesley believed that our ideas about God affect our beliefs of God which affect our actions toward God. Most importantly, these ideas are never formed in a vacuum. He ironically approached a more Catholic theological attitude of prima scriptura, a paradigm that acknowledges the interpretation of truth as equally important to the truth itself, perhaps even holy itself. Scripture will interpret us as we interpret it but why approach this holy process with such dogmatic rigor?
Christians always seem to get into battles with each other when we try to set scripture against experience or scripture against reason. In one corner is Rachel Held Evans and in the other corner is Mark Driscoll. What we have here is a false choice. It’s a dichotomy that would confuse us. Our imaginations are often forced into boxes that fail to justify in any sense the greatness and mystery that is God’s voice.
Are gender roles going to change over time? Yes and expectedly in the direction of redemption. May all who are captive be set free.
So what exactly is ‘biblical’ then and when is it appropriate to make that categorization?
I have this image of a Christ whose usual pastime is to walk with his friends, eating with them and engaging them physically, emotionally and intellectually. We approach scripture with the same anticipation and expectation of hearing the voice of Christ as his friends did. There is no fear here. Here there is no need to assign roles according to gender. There is only holy wonder, holy laughter. Coalitions and councils give way to community as we leave our diagnoses behind.