In recent weeks much was written about the exchanges between Tim Challies and Ann Voskamp regarding Challies’ review of her book, One Thousand Gifts. He didn’t like the book, she sort of responded, and he sort of backed down when she invited his family to dinner.
I will confess that I haven’t read the book. I have thumbed through it, but the writing style is not one that engages me. I do, however, have an online acquaintance with Ann Voskamp. We have read each other’s blogs over the years, commented, and exchanged a number of emails on various topics. We have always had a cordial relationship online. Some of her posts about homeschooling have resonated loudly with me and I have returned to them time and again for encouragement. But the more mystical, ethereal, symbolic writings… Not so much. They just aren’t what connects with me theologically and, honestly, after reading many reviews of the book I think I would also have some significant concerns about it. (I write this disclaimer at the beginning to avoid being dismissed by readers out of hand for not “knowing” Ann or not having read the book.)
Why Don’t the Women Speak Up?
What I found most interesting was not so much the back and forth between Voskamp and Challies regarding the book’s content. Instead, it was a link Challies endorsed on his blog to The Christian Pundit. In the post, Challies, Voskamp, and All Us Girls, Rebecca VanDoodewaard expressed her deep concern that more Christian women (specifically Reformed Christian women) had not responded to some of the theological problems that Challies pointed out in his original review. Why, she asks, had no Christian women come forward in eighteen months to warn people of the dangers of the book’s content?
I’m not sure why VanDoodewaard is surprised that no Reformed women responded to the book. This is precisely what women have been taught not to do, especially in the Neo-Reformed circles. In fact, this entire scenario is an excellent example of some of the significant problems with complementarianism the way it is being heavily promoted in these same circles. One could almost say it is inappropriate for anyone to call out the Neo-Reformed women for not responding with any theological depth since they have been repeatedly told in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that they should not do this very thing.
Complementarian Women Have Been Told to Know Their Place
Consider some of the foundational teachings that women hear over and over again from teachers such as Tim Challies, John Piper, C. J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, the Pyromaniacs, and other connected with the complementarian Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
According to John Piper, the church has a masculine feel and women should be grateful for the male leadership in that masculine church. He said:
“When I say masculine Christianity or masculine ministry or Christianity with a masculine feel, here’s what I mean: Theology and church and mission are marked by an overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community. All of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus.”
“It’s the feel of a great, majestic God who is by His redeeming work in Christ inclining men to humble Christ-exalting initiatives and inclining women to come alongside those men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.”
So men do the theology and the women cheer them on. Intelligently, of course, but still. There is nothing about women being risk-takers who contend for the Truth of the gospel. In other words, the subtle message is that women should wait for someone like Challies to tell them what is wrong with Voskamp’s book and then cheer him on when he does so.
Or perhaps consider the Pyromaniacs and their attack on women with The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Discernment Divas in which they write:
The following video (40+ minutes) is from the recent Psalm 119 Conference in Keller, TX, sponsored by “Wretched,” featuring Todd (“Freakishly Tall”) Friel. Todd dragged me on stage to discuss the Elephant Room and other issues related to wall-building, biblical discernment, bad discernment ministries, shrill-and-sharp-tongued women who fancy themselves called to ministries of full-time criticism—and a few other interesting topics.
And then there is the pronouncement of why it is wrong for women to read Scripture in church by Tim Challies in Men, Women and the Public Reading of Scripture. He writes:
Over the years there has been near-endless discussion and disagreement about 1 Timothy 2:11-12. There Paul writes to Timothy and says, “Let a woman learn quietly and with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” He goes on to ground this in God’s Creation ordinance. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve…” Some people hold that when Paul says, “I do not permit,” he is speaking from a personal perspective and his words do not carry the weight of God’s authority. Some people hold that this is a cultural command that is no longer relevant today. Some hold that the kind of quietness he advocated was limited to very specific circumstances that do not apply to our churches. What we can all agree on is that these words, whatever they mean, are in the Bible and are, therefore, given by God for our instruction. These are not sexist words; they are God’s words.
It is my conviction that these words are meant to be read and understood in the simplest sense. Speaking with God’s authority, Paul is saying that women are not to exercise teaching authority over men. In other words, it is men who are charged with authority in the church and the most important component of this authority is to declare the words of God. This puts me firmly in the complementarian camp which says that God has created men and women equal in value and dignity and worth, but different, complementary, in function. Men have been called to exercise headship in the home and in the church while women are called to different and complementary functions.
How and Where Are These Complementarian Women to Learn?
These are just a few examples. I could go on and on. The point remains… Why would these women EVER think of offering a detailed theological response to Voskamp’s book? They’ve been told over and over again that they can’t lead in church, they can’t read Scripture in church, they are more easily deceived, and they should focus on being wives and mommies.
VanDoodewaar herself says:
“Are evangelical women able to sort the wheat from the chaff? It is so easy, being the emotional creatures that we are, to engage a book (or blog, or talk show, or magazine article, etc.), on a purely or even largely emotional level. And that is so dangerous. Emotion itself is not wrong; emotion taking over thought is. We always need to be thinking and evaluating biblically.”
Great. So how are women to learn to do this? In church where they are not allowed to speak? In Sunday School classes where a woman challenging a man on a theological point would be social suicide and seen as an indictment of her husband’s lack of leadership in the home?
And would VanDoodewaard be asking the same question if the book were written by a man? Is it okay for women to pick apart a book’s theology if it was written by a woman but not a man?
This circle wants it both ways. They want women to know their place which is, of course, sitting quietly under the authority of men. They want the men to do the serious theological thinking and sparring in public.
They tell women that they need to focus on being wives and mothers. College for women is subtly discouraged by many in this circle. And while a woman can learn on her own, how many women have the time or resources to do so?
Where are women to learn to wrestle with theological meat? Public school? Hardly. Christian school? Most Christian schools I’ve interacted with do not place a premium on developing the higher level critical thinking skills necessary to engage in significant theological debate. Homeschool? Yes, some women will learn much in a homeschool environment. But only if their father deems it important to thoroughly educate his daughters as much as his sons.
And why would the average young woman decide to invest much time in studying? What kind of outlet does she have for her learning? If she writes a blog with authority, she’ll be seen as too aggressive and stepping out of her natural sphere. (Unless she is speaking purely the Neo-Reformed party line. Then I think she gets a pass as long as she’s not too strong of a writer and thinker.) She shouldn’t be working so she doesn’t need her theology for that. She won’t be allowed to teach a mixed class at church. If a woman can find the time to study, what is she to do with it?
Are Women Supposed to be Bereans or Not?
Because while there are helpful elements in Voskamp’s writing, what we need are men like Challies: “…shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:11-14).
No, we really don’t. We need more Bereans in the church. Men AND women. There is already an unhealthy dependence on well-known leaders and speakers among Christians today. We don’t need more of it. We need less of it. We need men AND women who study their Bible, not wait eighteen months for a prominent blogger to do a review of a book.
The leaders in this group have created a culture of dependence amongst the followers. Why were people writing to Challies, asking him for his opinion of the book? Why weren’t they able to pick it apart themselves? Why aren’t they discussing it with their own pastor? Why do they need a word from on high from Challies, Piper, Mohler, or some other complementarian celebrity?
Complementarian Theology Leads to This
If they really want bold, theologically astute women who will raise the red flag when something is amiss, then they need to start approaching their teachings about men and women a bit differently. Because I think the average Neo-Reformed woman has gotten the message loud and clear.
When my husband and I went through a time where we were drawn to the Patriarchal movement, it completely destroyed my desire for the Bible and studying the Bible. I went from being a woman who devoured the Scriptures and happily spent hours studying them to someone who did not even want to open them. Why should I? I was being told that I was more easily deceived. I was told there was no appropriate outlet for my study. I couldn’t teach any longer even though I had taught to mixed groups for many years and had a clearly identified gift of teaching. Why bother studying any longer? The loud and clear message was that as a woman I couldn’t be trusted to handle the Scriptures.
Is that what these men are saying? Not explicitly. But that is the message that women are getting. Be sweet. Be submissive. Respect the men. Encourage the men in their leadership roles.
Why did the women not say anything about Voskamp’s book?
Because they are living out exactly what they have been told.