05 February 2013

Coda on the marriage doublets

by Dan Phillips

Last week I put up Marriage: a tale of paired assertions. Many of the comments it engendered were afield from my point to varying degrees, but even most of them had value of their own. It was a good discussion.

I'm adding a brief afterword to make my main point clear. It was:
  1. Both of the assertions communicated Biblical truth. However
  2. In each case, virtually always it is only the first assertion that is said, repeated, stressed, emphasized, and hammered home. And...
  3. I think that's because a number of public Christians are, to some degree, cowards.
It's just been hitting me over and over again: public Christians often just seem to be plain embarrassed by this Jesus who I do believe they largely love and revere. They'll stand foursquare with Him on some issues, but on others they're fairly easily cowed into silence, or at least mumbly equivocation.

Marriage and the relations of the sexes is certainly such an issue. Paul never seemed to be the least embarrassed to speak for Christ on the issue, any more than Peter did. Yet their modern expositors are less full-blooded, and more apologetic — meaning "apologetic" in the sense of "I'm so sorry!", not  "Here I stand, and here's why." We all know that some people will harass us and cast out our name as evil if we agree with God on this issue, out loud; but we're supposed to be prepared for this. In fact, we should expect it!

Yet I think on the issue of marriage, many public Christians have been less helpful than they can be. I mean, if you agree that the real problem always and everywhere is men, and the real solution is shaming them into being more ladylike, then I guess they're doing a great job. But if you think that the real problem always and everywhere is sin, and the real solution is Christ, who is known through repentance, faith and obedience, then they're coming a bit short here and there.

So today the ritual dance is that if a man even will agree out loud about women being morally obligated to subordinate themselves to their husbands, he must immediately hurry to qualify the whole idea almost out of existence. Yet when he calls men to sexual fidelity and love for their wives (which is taught in Scripture neither less clearly nor more clearly than the other), there are no such apologies and equivocations, no darting eyes and shuffling feet, no mumbling and nervous laughter.

My point of course is not that the latter should not be the case, but that the former should not overbalance it. Yes, men can be horrid louts; and women can be appalling shrews. But isn't it simpler (and more Bibley) to say that men can be sinners, and women can be sinners, and call both to bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance, faith, and obedience?

And that's what I'm saying.

Dan Phillips's signature


Peter said...

I must admit I found the whole doublets thing on marriage way too cerebral...thanks for the coda.

Your point is well-made, though I don't agree completely. For the last 100 years or so it's men who have been the weak point and it is largely women's piety that has sustained the church. I think much of the push for women leadership/headship has come because men have done such a terrible job at being the kind of leaders in the church and in the home that God calls them to be.

It's only my opinion, but I think pastors/teachers need to get stuck into the men a whole lot more than the women!

Thanks for this blog - I appreciate it very much.

Carl C. said...

Spot on. This reminds me of comments from the last session of the 2012 EFCA Theology Conference. The speaker was prepping a sermon on 1 Peter 3:1-7, and sent his notes to the wife of a pastor with whom he had worked, requesting input. She responded graciously, yet said in essence he was being too easy on the women, and encouraged him to be as forceful in addressing them as the men. From the summary: "Her words were extremely helpful, especially her encouragement to preach with conviction that this is God's Word to us and as such it is for our good—for men and women."

I guess that's what happens when we're not ashamed of the Gospel or its implications for life. We allow God's Word to pry open every crevice of our existence and shed light on sin wherever it may be trying to hide, cozy and untouched.

Robert said...

Great post, Dan. I honestly hope that pastors and leaders will take seriously their duties in exhorting both men and women to follow Biblical commands for each of them. Many pastors tend to shy away from women's ministry for various reasons, but (as you have shown) the state of the church today should tell us that is a wrong approach. Why else would the first question in each couplet be heard more often?

Robert said...

Let me be clear...by women's minstry, I don't mean the pastor/elder being there at every women's Bible study. I just mean actually shepherding the women as well as the men.

Melanie said...

Perhaps someone with more knowledge of the history of the church's teaching on the roles of husbands and wives can weigh in here but it seems to me that we are currently experiencing a wide swing to emphasizing the responsibilities of the men after centuries of women being treated as possessions. Being loved as Christ loves the church is certainly a good place to be and acknowledging him as Lord is the right thing to do. Acknowledging husbands as lord has led to many (most? all?) husbands lording it over their wives as the gentiles do and not following Jesus' teaching on what it means to be an authority (Matthew 20:25-28) because they are not sinless creatures like Jesus. On the flip side, according to Genesis, wives will always be looking for ways to dominate in a marriage relationship. This tendency is reinforced by a very real fear of being in a position of having to protect ourselves from the very one who is pledged to protect us. In my relationship with Jesus perfect love has cast out all fear....my marriage relationship is not so perfect so fear remains. In this context how do you teach wives to be submissive? What does submission look like in an imperfect relationship? A wife has no recourse in a marriage relationship where the husband follows the world's idea of what being the authority in the relationship looks like. I've been looking harder at the relationship of God the Son to God the Father where Jesus submits in ALL things to the will of the Father. I believe this is the only truly perfect relationship example we have of one party being the authority and the other submitting in all things. How does this translate to my relationship with my husband? And how does it line up with my being a help-mate to him? Cry foul all you want about the huge imbalance of teaching in the church regarding gender roles in marriage but keep in mind that it didn't get that way in a vacuum. There are very real concerns and massive amounts of abuses to be answered for for when the balance swung the other way.

DJP said...

I see one-star hater's up. Boring man.

DJP said...

Melanie, that may be. But I'm sure you'd agree that sinning in one direction is never solved by sinning in the opposite direction. (Witness racism/counter-racism.)

Rachael Starke said...

I agree that Paul was never embarrassed to speak boldly about secondary issues marriage, but that was because he had no need, given how equally boldly he spoke about primary issues of the gospel and the nature of the Trinity, and how tightly and completely he wove them together. (Colossians and Ephesians, for example)

If male and female are made to, ahem, complementarily reflect the Triune nature of God, but a pastor doesn't preach about the nature of God as expressed ih His unique persons, and how men and women likewise are called to reflect His nature,

and if marriage is supposed to reflect the mutually self-sacrificing nature of the relationship between Jesus and the Church, but a pastor doesn't preach about Jesus and the Church,

then the "just skip to the end - say 'Man and Wife!" strategy is not only not going to work, it's going to result in the kind of imbalances you see one way (and Melanie and I have seen and experienced on the other).

But preach primarily on the character of God, and His character primarily expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

Then anyone who sill has an issue with submission, or leadership, or anything else in marriage, really doesn't have an issue with those things, but with the gospel.

DJP said...

Awesomest and smoothest work-in of a Princess Bride allusion that I've seen in months.

Michael Coughlin said...


What he said about PB allusion.

Anonymous said...

You know...Rachel is not only right about the relationship between preaching Christ/and church and man/ and wife...but that particular issue goes much further.

Not to derail the meta (it's short, it'll be fine) but what is Conservatism, in political/social/cultural spheres, while being much more Christian than the liberal options, often confuse Christians into believing that conservatism = Christianity, for the very same reasons Rachel refers to.
Preaching anything without emphasising Christ, leads to a messed up version of truth and, naturally, an aversion within the church, to the actual truth.

trogdor said...

I never cease to be amazed at how easy it is to trust Jesus to crush Satan and reconcile a vile sinner like me to a holy God, yet not trust him to know what he's talking about in comparatively simple matters. Why is the way God designed us so easy to be ashamed of?

The word used in the post - coward - is all too accurate, and it hurts to think how often it's applied to me. It's far too easy to want a share in the eternal benefits of Christ's lordship without having to share in the temporal minor sufferings of affirming his lordship over everything.

Jim Pemberton said...

Thanks for the clarification, Dan. I guess I haven't heard quite the same divergence of message, but I certainly agree that Western Culture has sought to feminize men and can see how this has likely gotten into many pastors' teaching.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"Both of the assertions communicated Biblical truth."

Looking it over again I see this as true. This is really convicting as it shows how much I've been influenced by the culture.

Anonymous said...

"So today the ritual dance is that if a man even will agree out loud about women being morally obligated to subordinate themselves to their husbands, he must immediately hurry to qualify the whole idea almost out of existence. Yet when he calls men to sexual fidelity and love for their wives (which is taught in Scripture neither less clearly nor more clearly than the other), there are no such apologies and equivocations, no darting eyes and shuffling feet, no mumbling and nervous laughter."

This is brilliant. However, not even this much might be true in the near future. What happens when men start wanting exceptions to Biblical law on marriage like women and homosexuals want? Consider the response of some when an adultery scandal is brought to light. Currently the following is a minority opinion, but there are some who make the assertion that goes something like: "I don't think men are biologically programmed to be with one woman their whole life. I think it's kind of archaic to demand of a man 'you can't even look at another woman the rest of your life' Expecting men to be with 1 woman their entire life is simply a recipe for failure".

Marie said...

Wow, I think the second of each assertion is pushed far harder than the first.

When I read the occasional article emphasizing the first assertions, I feel so relieved.

pentamom said...

Really, Marie? I agree that there is a lot of talk about women submitting, but that's not what's being addressed here.

I can't ever recall hearing or reading any teaching (with one exception) emphasizing that women must not use the biblical commands to men, in an unloving or self-seeking manner. It's always that men should not use the biblical commands to men AND women in an unloving or self-seeking manner, but never the balance of the equation.

The exception would be local pastors, such as my own, preaching systematically through the relevant passages, in which they simply addressed the text and didn't feel the need to "make sure the men didn't get it wrong" without also making sure the women didn't get it wrong.

Daniel Kleven said...

I'm just now listening to the messages from DG2012, and Kevin DeYoung hits on this very point when he talks about the "begrudging complementarians" and then unapologetically calls husbands and wives to their respective roles. Good stuff.

Marie said...

Well yes, really, I wouldn't have commented that way otherwise. It's my personal experience, that's all.

Jon Speed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.