Byrds of a Feather

Fire at Will

When is it justified to speak harshly about other Christians?  How far should one go in public criticism of brothers and sisters?  Can we rebuke each other in love?

I merely ask these questions because what I am about to write will probably confound many of the answers that Christians would like to give to the above questions.  I come from a Reformed church tradition and goodness knows there is a long tradition of outspoken traducement, personal caricature and outright abuse that has characterised the reformed folk from the Reformation until now.

It’s not the nicest characteristic nor one we should be most proud of.  The point is some of it is sometimes justified. Sometimes (without sounding too Machiavellian) some of it is necessary and mostly it can be brushed off as hyperbole.  But there does seem to be a particular approach of pious folk of a Calvinist-bent to sound off in the most offensive and personal manner, usually fortified with a bulletproof sense of righteousness and theological rectitude.

I merely make these passing observations not so much as a criticism, but as justification.  This penchant for abuse and polemic is part of the culture. Perhaps not the most attractive part of it, but it seems to me undeniable.

And so, for this and other posts, I claim it, with no other justification except that it exists.

And yet there is a further justification (such a line is always followed by justification; some dismiss it as the ‘tone police’).  My further justification is what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, largely in relation to this article called ‘The Death of Coward’ by Aimee Byrd, the Housewife Theologian, nunchuck specialist and maker of speciality coffee.

Giving Wayne Grudem The Byrd

Aimee Byrd once had a great idea which was to write a book on theology and how it informs every aspect of a woman’s life.  Not just a particular woman, although it was entitled ‘Housewife Theologian’, but every woman and her reasoning for doing so was an admirable desire for women to engage more with serious theology and grow in their faith but, one senses, also a frustration that most Christian women didn’t get much past the sort of mushy pulp theology that passes for 90% of the Christian publishing scene.

So far so very commendatory.  The problem was that for all its worthiness and good advice it was a very boring book.  I gave it to my wife who never finished it.  Another Elder gave it to his wife…who never finished it.  (Need I stress that neither of these women are normally to be found reading even so much as a magazine let alone some unworthy fluff designed to keep women from actually thinking? ).  Suffice to say a short book badly written can seem a very long book, long enough to entice the reader into wondering whether it was worth the effort.  At this point, and worried for the spiritual improvement of my beloved wife, I picked up the demi-pamphlet. I never finished it either.

However, on the back of this, Aimee Byrd is invited to join Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt as an ‘honorary bloke’ on the Mortification of Spin podcast.  It worked quite well to begin with.  All of those sycophantic Americans with a masochistic enjoyment of being denigrated in an English accent were primed to tune in to Trueman’s Olympian detachment from American reformed culture, anticipating the prospect of pathetic yelps of delicious, orgiastic pleasure as each tongue-lashing descended on the tenderest parts of American evangelical hypocrisy.  Whatever turns you on, I guess.

Added to this mix was the novelty of a permanent ‘female voice’ which allowed a host of really bad jokes about cookies, making coffee, and shoes and being allowed in with men which usually got messed up in some spurious fictional concoction of various imagined venues where this ‘serious conversation about things that count’ went on.  Best of all (I’m talking the early days) was Todd.  Pruitt (early Pruitt) could be relied on to come in as the ‘good ‘ole boy’, say some outrageous, half-developed, common sense sledgehammer of a statement that the other two would proceed to ridicule and dismantle as he helplessly yet bravely defended himself.

I liked MoS then. And then they all started agreeing with each other, which meant Todd joined Aimee in spending their time nodding vigorously as Carl opined from his ‘Ivory Tower’.  And the main thing they started agreeing on was not so much on anything important, or anything useful.  No, what they decided they agreed on was that John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Doug Wilson and anyone male associated with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womenhood (CBMW) were the devil incarnate.  Somehow the women associated with the CBMW got let off.

And so MoS changed from being ‘ a conversation about things that count’ to a ‘conversation about…about…about…anything as long as it ends up discussing how stupid/heretical/dangerous/corrupt/insidious etc. etc. the complementarity industry is in American evangelicalism’.  Barely a week went by without some covert or overt dig at members of or the whole darn bunch.

A Little Free Publicity

The obsession climaxed when Aimee Byrd, having written a chapter for her next, much awaited book ‘No Little Women’ (which I won’t be getting for my wife this Christmas) about the evils of CBMW and complementarity and got Liam Goligher to write a series of posts in which he accused CBMW, Wayne Grudem and many others besides of heresy.

No, no, sorry of course he didn’t accuse them of heresy.  He really didn’t because how would he, as a minister in a church, be qualified to call someone a heretic.  I mean it would be outrageous, wouldn’t it if he took it upon himself, through the medium of MoS, to call some a heretic.  So he didn’t; he merely implied it.  And has been implying it ever since on Twitter!!! (St.Helen’s, Bishopsgate are the latest to get it in the neck for their Read, John, Learn’.  Yes, THAT St. Helen’s, that den of iniquitous error…and Dick Lucas! Liam Goligher has become like what Obama accused Trump of being at that Correspondents dinner.  ‘Why is he not here? What could he be doing? Is he at home, eating a haggis, tweeting out insults to CBMW?)

But just think about what’s going on.  Normally, someone writes a book and then defends it.  They don’t normally get someone else to defend their controversial bits in advance of publication, allowing them (and others like her co-hosts) to take all the flack and then publish later almost in the slipstream of the ensuing storm of Trinitarian orthodoxy. Although, one assumes it saves the publisher no end of marketing expense.

How cowardly, you might say?  But why take the heat yourself when you can use the Three Stooges to take the heat for you, knowing full well that each of them has never knowingly passed up an opportunity to cross to the other side of the street if there’s a fight to be had there?

The Death of Coward?

How cowardly indeed.  Which is somewhat significant given that La Byrd’s latest screed is entitled, ‘The Death of a Coward’.  It’s about Hugh Hefner and Amee’s accusation of cowardice seems to stem from Hugh Hefner’s reaction to his wife having had an affair while he’d waited and was a virgin on their wedding night.  Now, aside from this episode being a fascinating insight into the world’s most famous pornographer, and leaving open the possibility that Aimee Byrd is right when she condemns Hefner, she writes thus:

“This is the moment of integrity. Hefner did not get the reward he felt he deserved for his chastity. His reaction to this devastation of betrayal and unfaithfulness will reveal the man he really is. How does Hefner react when he doesn’t get what he wants? Well, we all know the answer: he becomes a coward who reduces women into soft bunnies, playthings that will be harmed by thousands of Lennies…”

I’m going to leave it there because I don’t know about other people (and I have read ‘Of Mice and Men’) but I didn’t really get the following references to ‘Lennies’, Georges and ‘the fatta o’the lan’; (is it clear to Americans perhaps?) but there seems to me some problems here.

Hefner was a pretty awful character and his influence doubtless not a good one on our culture, we’re all agreed.  However, I think it’s a bit much to assume to know exactly how he felt when he experienced what would be a pretty devastating thing for anybody.  Now clearly he reacted in a bad way, becoming a leading pornographer is not a good way to react to anything.  But how Aimee knows that this is because his previous chastity was a sham or that therefore his reaction was cowardice, I’m not sure.

What I am very sure about is that, Aimee Byrd’s reservations and critiques of Amercian evangelical purity culture notwithstanding, if this was a woman experiencing such pain and outrage at being treated thus, she would not have been called a coward even if it was shown her previous chastity was something rather more self-serving than it ought to be.  Do all those who value their purity and chastity for the wrong reasons deserve to be maligned thus as hypocrites and cowards.  Well, maybe they do.  Maybe we all do to some degree, but the day I see Aimee Byrd or any of the current reformed stable of blogging female malcontents be so coruscating about a woman in such a position is the day I stick a fluffy tale on my backside, strap a pair of rabbits ears to my head and answer to ‘bunny’!

50 Shades of Myopia

Which brings me to another point.  Hefner gets it both barrels here and not even I am going to say he doesn’t deserve it.  But I do trust that when a female pornographer of similar but in some ways even more malign influence like, I don’t know, E.L. James dies that Aimee Byrd will write similar vitriolic condemnation about the ‘publishing sensation’ of the 21st. Century.

I don’t know how many millions of copies ’50 Shades of Rape’ has sold but I’m willing to bet its many more times than the number of copies of Playboy, and almost all of them bought by women.  That those who have read it include many Christian women is just simple mathematics and yet I don’t hear any shouts of outrage about ‘evil lurking in the basement’.  125 million copies sold worldwide and the film grossed $571 million globally, including the fastest selling ticket sales for a non-sequel film ever.  Somehow, however, despite this massive cultural impact, to read Aimee Byrd, or Wendy Alsup, or ‘a daughter of the reformation’ (!) Rachel Miller, or Valerie Hobbs etc. etc., you’d think all this had completely passed the lives of Christian women by, as they continue to float ethereally on clouds of moral outrage above everyone else occasionally being dragged down to the awfulness of the ‘real world’ by the despicable ‘hyper-masculinity’ in the basement!

“Complementarianism and Pornography: Now You’re Seeing Pictures, Ain’tcha!”

Now what I am not doing here is accusing any of these women of actually being guilty of any nefarious interest in the ’50 Shades of Rape’ phenomenon because that’s much more than I know and would be unfair to even imply it.  But this is precisely what Aimee Byrd does in the rest of the article.  I mentioned the obsession with CBMW, Grudem, Piper etc.  Not content with implying heresy or covert intimidation, Byrd, along with Trueman at times, wants to associate complementarity between the sexes as guiding principle with the current apparently ubiquitous presence of pornography. To whit:

“And yet, some echo this nostalgic brand of complementarity [of Hefner’s, apparently. CP]. Menchaca-Bagnulo turns to churches promoting the same view of complementarity as Hefner, which she calls an “intellectualization of domination and dehumanization.” I’ve seen this polished, Christianized version of complementarity with all its hyper-masculine teaching for men and “complementary” (sic) femininity taught as subordination.”

And further…

“The Georges [these are the bad complementarity Christian men with filthy basements! CP] share sermon after sermon, article after article, retelling the story of masculine bravado, encouraging men to step up into their authoritative position of so-called godly leadership. They are encouraged to play into this stereotypical role of what they call biblical manhood. Abuse is covered up because they believe these are exceptions that tarnish their image. Women are told to consider whether they are being submissive enough and whether they are fulfilling their husbands’ needs. These women have no voice. “They cannot speak, and so can make no demands or critiques, nor can they express their own desire.” And they call this hyper-masculinity “servant-leadership.” This is not biblical headship. This is not the filter that distinguishes manhood from womanhood. This is not complementarity. This is not leadership.
Menchaca-Bagnulo says that “many women run from churches screaming,” and I would add that they run from Christianity screaming too. They found the basement and they want nothing to do with it.”

So there we go.  A series of associations.  Firstly, finding a stash of Playboy magazine in the basement as a girl.  Secondly, Hefner associated with pornography, dirty little secrets and (most ludicrously) a complementarian view of men and women.  And finally, men who hold to a ‘biblical manhood’, but who also have dirty little secrets and complementarian views.   Nice, huh!

Now Aimee Byrd doesn’t quite say that this is also directly linked to pornography but Carl Trueman has at the end of one podcast when the three of them were having another round of pummelling the CBMW and he said that he thought the whole movement had some direct link with pornography.  I sat up in my chair thinking that he ought at least to explain his somewhat outrageous assertion.  But it was left hanging in the air and the podcast ended.  What possible evidence or justified intellectual linkage between the two could there be to make such a damaging assertion?

Answer came there none.  But there is a clue in the use by Aimee Byrd of the term ‘hyper-masculinity’.  (Is there such a thing as hyper-femininity, one wonders?) The idea goes that pornography is generally a sexualised hyper-masculinity (this is where 50 Shades becomes problematical) and that as complementarianism is also hyper-masculinity the two must be linked, you know in the ‘Women are told to consider whether they are being submissive enough and whether they are fulfilling their husbands’ needs.’ kind of way.

Within the discourse of MoS and the ‘Twitter Coven’ of reformed female bloggers (Byrd, Miller, Alsup, Hobbs et al), any mention of hyper-masculinity very often gets paired with the accusation of ‘hyper-sexuality’, just to really push home the link between someone like Wayne Grudem and abhorrent sexual practise.  Yes, I know. Wayne Grudem, for goodness sake!!

Just Grow Up

The final charge is that the whole thing is also associated with immaturity.  Hefner is called a ‘boy’, complementarian men are:

“Boys in their immaturity [who] often exercise hyper-masculinity. Grown boys who never become men put manners on it.”

Maybe this is true.  In some ways I can see a bit where they are coming from.  What I can’t stomach is the fact that none of these voices ever talk about female immaturity.  What does that look like?  Does it even exist?  Does it damage anybody else apart from immature women themselves?  Do we seriously think that given the general infantilism of our current culture that, again, Christian women are somehow above it all in a way that Christian men find impossible?  How many times have you heard Christian women (and, for that matter, Christian men in authority) bemoan the immaturity of men and yet not a word about something similar in women?

Your Lust, My Body-Image

Which brings me to my final point which is the consistent and studied focus on male sins by the ‘Reformed Coven’ and their fellow travellers.  Search their blogs and writings and nowhere will you find a serious discussion of female sin.  Apparently, it just doesn’t happen or if it does it’s usually some bloke’s fault at the root (yes, we’re in the basement again!).  Aimee Byrd did once talk about how women tend to read a load of fluff but then blamed that on the Christian publishing industry, there are some allusions to anxiety being a bit of problem spiritually for women but the all-time classic (or is it giveaway?!) on this attitude was the immortal line from Aimee during one podcast:

So guys [the guys being Todd and Carl], let’s talk about a sin that guys struggle with…like lust.  And let’s think of a sin that women struggle with like..

[like? like? Ooh the anticipation!]…

…like body image.”!

Yeah, let’s compare lust (one of the seven deadly sins, directly related to the 6 Commandment, one which has considerable stigma attached to it and is, no doubt, particularly associated with hyper-masculinity, hyper-sexuality, pornography and the CBMW) and let’s compare it to problems with ‘body-image’.  Yes, ‘body-image’ which of course for women wouldn’t be a problem it wasn’t for, (you guessed it!)  hyper-masculinity, hyper-sexuality, pornography and (because everything wrong with Christianity in the US can traced to them) the CBMW!

It’s for these sort of gems that I still pay the MoS site a visit from time to time.  Which is a shame because like I said at the beginning I used to find it genuinely useful.  To misquote Paige Patterson (who he?):

“I don’t usually have much time for myopic, bitter vilification of fellow brothers in Christ; but I make an exception for Mortification of Spin.”


Jude the Obscure

You’ll just have to excuse the unforgivably unimaginative title to this post, but it remains the case that Jude is indeed an obscure book for most Christians.  Firstly, it’s obscure in it terms of its author.  There is very good reason to think that Jude (actually Judas but the name has, it is suggested, to many uncormfortable connotations for the 1st. Century Christian), was the brother of James the leader of the Jerusalem church as well as, olong with James, the brother (or, some say, half-brother due to the difference in conception, one being immaculate, the others, well, less so) of Jesus Himself.  Although there is no further mention of Jude and indeed very little by way of references to him by the first church fathers, he was by this measure, and eye witness of Christ as well as acquainted closely with the apostles as well as the events of pentecost and the early church.

Secondly, Jude is obscure becasue of the references he calls upon in his letter.  The content, as I will show later, is not by any means obscure but orthodox and powerful, just pure Gospel.  But the examples Jude gives to warn of false teachers and to illustrate their dangers as well as their motivations are in many cases unique to Jude.

For example, v. 6 talks of ‘angels who did not stay within their own position of authority.’, which is a reference either to Genesis 6 and the angels marrying the daughters of men or a reference to the fall of some angels more generally.  For my money, I don’t think it matters for they are an example, among others, of created beings whether angels or men trangsgressing the boundaries and authority given to them by God.  In v.5-7, Israel rebels against its God-given privelege to be God’s people, the angels reject the boundaries they were created within to reach for something that was not theirs and the men of Sodom and Gomorrah trample on the beauty and privelege of divinely created sexual identity and transgress their very nature.

Even more obscure is the example Jude then gives to describe the sin of another transgression or rebellion, that of the Devil himself who always and at every time seeks to subvert and disdain the will of God and His Word.  The example of the dispute between the archangel Michale and the Devil over Moses’ bones is not, of course, a scriptual one, at least as far as scripture is understood now.  It was a story from a much more ancient text, familiar to the Jews of the time as it had been for some period but lost to us now.  Origen tells us that Jude is using a story from a text called the Assumption of Moses which told the tale of Moses final burial and his acceptence into God’s presence.  The Devil disputes that Moses is fit to be admitted to paradise due to his sin, namely the murder of the man in Egypt that was never admitted or atoned for and his role in the rebellion in the wilderness.  Michael, wrestling with the Devil over the bones of Moses, refuses to agree with the Devil nor, surprisingly, to condemn the Devil.  Accusation and judgement are for God alone and Michael refuses to transgress the boundaries of the authority given him by God, even when it involves the Devil.  The Devil remains the Great Accuser and, with Moses accepted into heaven, God is the true judge as well as saviour.

With these and other more conventionally scriptual examples, Jude makes his point.  All through history the heart of sin causes men (and indeed angels) to desire to trample on their created natures and roles, to reach for what is God’s privelege alone and to rebel against the good and loving ordering of creation and salvation that God has ordained. These traits are what distinguish the false teachers and their false doctrine and this is what makes Jude for me so germane.

Jude, I believe, in highlighting this tendency to subvert not only God’s word (like Balaam), in acknowledging the seriousness of sin (‘the way of Cain’) and rebellion against God’s authority and putting ourselves in His place (Korah’s rebellion; all Jude v.11),  by these and other examples, such as the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, points to the fact that it is not just sin that makes us want to shrug of our God-given nature and identity, but sin that makes us want to re-make it entirely, in our image and for our glory.

The immediate and most obvious manifestation of this currently is found in the current attempts to re-make men, women and, in fact, all human sexuality as inexhaustibly malleable but, more specifically, malleable by the individuals themselves. And this is were Jude has his finger on the pulse, because within the wider church it is primarily within the arena of human sexuality and gender identity that the re-writing, re-contextualisation and wilful capitulation of orthodox, historical interpretation of scripture to contemporary views of personhood is focused.

Contemporary Feminist views on men and women lead to new translations of key words in key texts, translations never before contemplated.  In other passages, contextualisation leads to the dismissal of the plain meaning of the text.  Likewise with homosexuality, where new readings that deploy again novel translations of words and the heightened prominence of local cultural contexts leads to interpretations fundamentally at odds with the historic witness of the church, not to say with the otherwise obvious meaning of the text within its own context and the context of the Bible as whole.  This has, as Jude says and not to put too fine a point on it, led to false teaching, a deliberate attempt to transgress the boundaries of God’s creation, law and Word by reinterpreting His inspired word. ‘Did God really say…’

I would even go as far to say that the insidious nature of the idol of individual autonomy, which lies at the heart of feminism, the gay rights movement as well as most of our other modern pathologies, has struck at the heart of man’s relationship to God in a fallen world.  As a result, the tendency to deny any aspect of atonement is astonishing if there isany fair-minded, rational reading of scripture in its totality and demands explanation.

This lies in the fact that the denial of Christ’s atonement on the cross as ‘cosmic child abuse’ is absolutely in line with a view of humanity as NOT permeated and affected by our own sin. Moreover, at the heart of this lies the assumption that, as we stand ONLY as autonomous individuals ultimately, it is abhorrent not only that an individual ultimately will lose that autonomy in hell (through God’s judgement as the only truly autonomous being), but that God Himself should die in our place, as a federal head, a second Adam so that we may not fear judgement but be reconciled to God, not as individuals alone but as a people to glorify Him.

Thus, it is that Jude is bang on the money about what leads to false teaching and the insidious way that it is nurtured within Christians and churches.