Friday, September 15, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Not Going to Nashville [Part 2]

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The Nashville Statement is a significant evangelical document. It’s an attempt by big names such as John Piper, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Russell Moore, James Dobson and others to formulate a written response to Western culture’s post-Christian “massive revision of what it means to be a human being”, especially as that revision relates to sexuality and marriage.

Significant though it may be, in our next few installments we’ll be discussing why, here at ComingUntrue, we’re Not Going to Nashville.

Tom: We stopped after Article 1, Immanuel Can, in which God designed marriage to be a lifelong covenant with a variety of useful purposes.

Article 2: Chastity, Fidelity and Desire

Here’s the second of fourteen pronouncements from the CBMW:

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.
What thinkest thou, IC?

Immanuel Can: I’m still not over the “we affirm” and “we deny” thing. Don’t you think it’s a whole lot more important what God affirms or denies?

Anyway, on we go. I do think our society needs to hear that having enthusiasm or desire for something does not go one inch in the direction of making that thing right. That does need to be said. I just think it needs to be God who’s saying it.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

Tom: Well, since they haven’t bothered, why don’t we support that statement from scripture? For the “AFFIRM” part, I’d think of 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 where Paul says, “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” That’s the God-ordained solution to natural sexual desire. How would you make the case for the “DENY” portion?

IC: Matthew 15:19-20: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man.” Or Ephesians 2:3, or 1 Peter 4:2 or Romans 1:27. That’s not a hard case to make. Lots of stuff that’s felt very strongly is inside human beings; but a great deal of it is not good, no matter how strongly it’s felt.

By the way, that’s what makes the “I was born this way” excuse completely stupid. Once accepted, it would mean that ALL sin just had to be accepted and could not be overcome, for we were all born with a sin nature. “Born again”, or “born from above”: that’s what we need — not to be accepted the way we were born naturally.

Go on, Tom.

Tom: Sounds like we’re agreed that particular Article was okay then, other than the obvious and clearly deliberate absence of evidence?

Article 3: Equal and Different

All right, here goes Article 3:

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.

WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.
There’s some carefully chosen wording going on there which I’m sure you picked up on, and with good reason. We’ve got a forthright denial of evolution, a necessary qualification on the word “equal” (even if it annoys a certain demographic), and the plain statement that men and women are “distinct”, which may be just as offensive to some, though it is evidently very much the case. Does that work for you?

IC: Yes. It’s specifically human evolution that’s denied there, it seems.

Tom: I hadn’t thought about distinguishing … but it would seem to me that’s the most important sort of evolution to deny. And probably any denial of evolution is a secondary consideration here; they’ve just slipped it in, and I don’t mind that they did.

A Sop to Feminists

IC: No. But the quality “equal” … is that something that scriptures ever say human beings have, ought to have, or ought to seek? I can’t think of any place that idea is suggested; can you?

Tom: Bingo. Just remember, YOU opened the can of worms. I was going to leave that one alone. I quite agree, there is no “equality” in the Bible in the sense we use it in our society. I just wrote a post on that recently.

But that’s why I say they chose their words very carefully. It seems to me the writers of the Nashville Statement are going out of their way to give a sop to feminists here, and avoid a fight, maybe even with their wives. And perhaps that’s cowardice; I can’t say. What I can confirm is that Genesis doesn’t use the word “equal” anywhere. That word doesn’t even show up in the Old Testament until the book of Job. Men and women are both created in God’s image; that’s all it says. Perhaps women more precisely reflect the Godhood than men. Perhaps it’s the other way round. All I can be sure of is that both sexes reflect the image of God only dimly at best.

“Equality” and Envy

So, yeah, I’d prefer they had used the language of scripture rather than trying to score points with the girls. I will give them cleverness credit for saying “equal before God as persons”, which gives them a fair bit of cover. I mean, what does that mean exactly?

IC: Nothing, really. “Equality” is an object of envious people, not of good ones.

Tom: That’s an excellent observation. Underline that one. The same thinking is at work in the “DENY” portion of this one: essentially, it negatively affirms that men and women are “equal” in dignity and worth on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. I am confident God loves both men and women, but that is not because we are lovable, or “dignified”, or “worthy”; it’s because he is Love. All our “worth” is conferred worth, not essential worth. So who cares what we are worth compared to another of God’s creations? God doesn’t share his thoughts on that, and we shouldn’t presume.

“Comparison,” as someone once wrote, “is a game for dullards.” Or as Paul puts it, “When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

IC: Better to say “different but valued”: that’s the truth of the matter. We are never promised “equality”.

Okay, what’s next?

Article 4: Divinely Ordained Differences

Tom: Oh, look, here comes another grenade rolling across the floor with the pin pulled:

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.
Hmm. The authors deftly dodge a bullet by talking about “divinely ordained differences”. Again, it’s very carefully written. I observe a big difference between men and women in the area of desire for headship within marriage. Men are quick to abdicate that responsibility, both in scripture and in life: Adam, Abraham, Samson, Ahab — none of them valued their assigned roles as they should have. On the other hand, Eve is specifically told “Your desire shall be toward your husband, but he shall rule over you,” and that tendency, too, is what we observe in scripture and in life. Wives today frequently assume the role God gave their husbands, while men often have to be encouraged to live out their masculine responsibilities.

However, that difference in desire doesn’t seem to have been part of the original design, so the Statement is technically correct in that respect.

IC: Yes, and I see what they’re going for here: I’ve run into it before. The pseudo-Christian liberationist rhetoric goes like this: all distinctions between the roles of males and females are products of the Fall, and Christians are morally obligated to reverse them, making everyone equal in all circumstances. They like to quote a couple of key verses, especially “neither male nor female” in Galatians 3:28.

Tom: Of course that one.

Get Ourselves Back to the Garden ... But Not Completely

IC: Once you’re a Christian, they say, any difference between the sexes is made irrelevant. In fact, a very strident Christian feminist was once haranguing me about this. I asked her:

“We’re supposed to reverse everything to the way it was before the Fall?”

“Right,” she declared, “There’s no male or female in Christ.”

“Okay,” I said, “But if you believe that, why are you still wearing clothes?”

She looked like I’d slapped her across the face with a herring. “Hmmm,” she said, “I guess I’m going to have to think about this.”

Yes, I guess she will: she never did get back to me.

Tom: Well, that would certainly explain this fourth Article then. You’ve pointed out to me that the next three Articles are a group, so let’s talk about them together next time out.


  1. It seems clear to me that "God created ..." implies nothing about the exact way in which he created and does not imply denial of evolution. Therefore evolution can by no means be ruled out and there is no real reason to do so. As a Catholic I am taught, and I totally agree, that it is pretty irrelevant how God created the world since he is the creator regardless of the mechanism he chose. We certainly part ways if the literal interpretation of the bible creation story is taken as ruling out the possibility of evolution.

    1. I am open to the possibility that there is more to the creation story than is contained in the first two chapters of Genesis. No claim is made that what is said there is exhaustive. But while I recognize the potential for plenty of limited species modification in the relatively short term, the story currently floated by evolutionary scientists (which is far removed from Darwin's original idea) contains more holes than Swiss cheese. As such, I am happy to stick with the words of scripture rather than the shifting sands of current theory. If the evolutionists ever settle on one mechanism and one official storyline, we can start talking about which bits of it don't fit with Genesis.

  2. As far as Part 3. and this discussion of Equality is concerned, those of the Egalitarian viewpoint, i.e.
    "Evangelical egalitarianism, or biblical equality, refers to the biblically-based belief that gender, in and of itself, neither privileges nor curtails a believer’s gifting or calling to any ministry in the church or home. In particular, the exercise of spiritual authority, as biblically defined, is deemed as much a female believer’s privilege and responsibility as it is a male believer’s."

    have pointed out that there a logical flaw in the Complementarian position, which leads the two ideas:

    1. Women are equal to men in their essential human being as females.
    2. Women are barred from some leadership roles (church/home) simply because they are females.

    These two statements lead logically to:

    3. Women are unequal to men because they are female human beings.

    The conjunction of 1 & 3is a contradiction i.e. women are both equal to men in their human being as females and unequal to men in their human being as females and therefore false.

    This is a contradiction and is, therefore, false. That is, the conjunction of (1) and (3) is necessarily false.

    1. As pointed out in this post and the post to which it links, nowhere in scripture is the word "equal" ever used to described the relative worth of men and women.

      Moreover, the role Christ has chosen to occupy in relation to his Father shows it is possible to be personally equal but functionally subordinate.