Stuck with their noses in the text

The Samaritan woman at the well, Ravenna
The Samaritan woman at the well, Ravenna

Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

• Matthew 9:13

• • •

In her book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse, Ruth Tucker references a prominent preacher who promotes the “complementarian” view of gender roles and who gives unrealistic advice in an online Q&A to women living with abusive spouses. She says this about him: “It’s almost as though [he] is living in a parallel universe. He just doesn’t seem to get it. Does he have any understanding at all of the law or of tyrannical husbands?” (p. 155).

I have the same question about Tim Challies.

With cool detachment, Challies reviews Ruth Tucker’s book at his blog and does what people who have their noses stuck in their Bibles often do: he fails to see and listen to a hurting human being and focuses his attention instead on where he thinks her ideas are wrong.

His empathy (and there is some) is faint and brief. He’s glad he read her book: “As a Christian and a church leader I gained important knowledge from reading her book and I believe it will help me grow in compassion and understanding toward those who are in similar situations.”

His criticism, however, is lengthy and sustained — a four-point argument against Tucker’s “case” for egalitarianism rather than complementarianism.

First, he writes these condescending and ignorant words: “The first weakness is related to the fact that to some degree Tucker defines an entire theological understanding out of her own experience. She understands her ex-husband to be a complementarian and in that way an exemplar of this theology as it takes root and advances to its logical conclusions.”

As I wrote yesterday, I took a course on women in ministry from Ruth Tucker back in the mid-1980’s in which she clearly displayed her grasp of the biblical text, without any reference to her own experience. She publicly debated John Piper on the subject in 1995 at Wheaton College, and over half of her presentation was a survey of the biblical argument for her position. She’s written and published more than enough on the subject that a little research would have put the lie to Challies’ contention immediately.

Of course, this particular book was not written to cover this ground again. It is not designed to be a dispassionate discussion of the biblical texts. It’s her story, and a discussion of some of the questions it has raised in her mind over the years about men and women and marriage and the church. In fact, she makes a specific point early in the book to appeal to her fellow Christians to set aside academic debates for awhile and listen to each other’s stories and experiences of life.

But no, for Challies that simply shows intellectual weakness on her part. Her position is based on her experience, not the text. She is writing from emotion, not from a careful analysis of the text. He simply does not get it, or perhaps he doesn’t want to get it.

This shows in his second complaint: “A second weakness is that she does not deal well with the various texts that challenge her egalitarian viewpoint.”

Tim, once again, a little heads up here. This is not a Bible study.

Third, he defends complementarianism as a doctrine that offers equal protection and escape for a wife who experienced abuse as Tucker did.

Perhaps, at least on paper. However, Challies says nothing about the many examples of inadequate and incompetent counsel given to abused spouses by prominent “complementariness” that Tucker cites. A little humility and honesty would be nice here.

Finally, he criticizes Tucker’s interpretation of the historical examples of good marriages she commends, saying that they were actually complementarian unions, not egalitarian. To think Tucker is not aware of this is silly, and besides, this is such a minor point in the book that I don’t feel compelled to comment on it, except to say that Tim Challies is really reaching here to find something he can speak against.

In the end, Tim Challies says he’s glad he read the book, but he can’t recommend it to others.

Of course not. It doesn’t fit comfortably within his alternate universe.

Like the Pharisees, biblicists (and the neo-reformed are preeminent examples of this) are stuck with their noses in the text. Real life is too messy, too conducive to spreading uncleanness in the camp. So they stay above the fray, making absolute pronouncements from their sanitized pulpits and writing desks.

They can’t even set that aside when faced with a woman covered in bruises who has just escaped with her life. They barely look up. They question her ideas but cannot see her face.

How unlike Jesus.

118 thoughts on “Stuck with their noses in the text

  1. As to watching Star Wars – STM watching them in order of events covered, from the journey to Naboo to the appearance of Vader as a Force ghost (or, now, to Rey’s meeting with Luke) makes the best sense. Though the connections between 6 and 7 could do with being shown.

    Likewise with the Chronicles of Narnia: don’t read them in publication order, but in order of events. This means reading The Horse and His Boy before reading the account of the hunting of the White Stag in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Which gives the reading order:

    Magician’s Nephew
    Bulk of LWWrobe
    Horse and His Boy
    last few paragraphs of LWWrobe
    Prince Caspian
    Voyage of the Dawn Treader
    The Silver Chair
    The Last Battle

    Watching or reading in publication or transmission/screening order just confuses things – without SW 1-3, 4-6 don’t make as much sense.

    (*Do* “cradle Catholics” read the Narnia books ?)


  2. He might become persona non grata in the SBC if he keeps speaking up. And the fundamentalism of that denomination has been morphing into new calvinsm.


  3. I dunno, I downloaded a sample of her book from Amazon and read it. But the table of contents seemed to indicate it was more of a polemic against complementarianism, in which case I can understand Challies responding as he did.

    What do you think Chaplain Mike?


  4. Thank you, TED

    looks like Russell Moore understands what has happened and has spoken up . . . I wonder how he will be received among his own people ??

    in his world, about thirty years ago, there really was a ‘fundamentalist take-over’ of the Southern Baptist Convention by Pressler and Patterson and their followers . . . the SBC ‘Baptist Faith & Message’ was re-written and Our Lord was removed as the ‘lens’ through which sacred Scripture was to be interpreted and so began the fundamentalist concept of ‘inerrancy’ . . . after all that was done, the SBC has steadily lost membership over time, and many simply say that the SBC is now a ‘prophetic remnant’ that needs to be preserved, which is one way of ‘saving face’ in what otherwise could be classified as a failure to thrive as a fundamentalist/political entity

    Jared Moore seems a thoughtful man. I hope he can help his denomination in future. We shall see.


  5. This is very interesting to me, I recall a time in my experience where I realized that, had I lived at the time of Christ, the things I had learned from my fundamentalist/evangelical upbringing would have made me side with His enemies. My training in using Scripture alone was grooming me to side with the Pharisees. It was a literal choice between keeping my Bibles and theology books or Jesus.


  6. Christiane, take a look at this article by Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. He’s describing the problem pretty well. “Evangelical” became a distinct term from “fundamentalist” in the last half of the 20th Century thanks to Billy Graham, Harold Ockenga and others—but it does seem to many of us that the terms are merging again, and that “evangelical” has been hijacked by the fundamentalists.


  7. Mike Bell, and Miguel,

    By “experience” don’t we mean “spiritual gift” experience, as in prophecy, tongues or discernment, as with the Pentecostals? Otherwise, why is that any different from “tradition” except for being more recent?


  8. I have heard more Christian people than I can remember insist that the institution of marriage must be preserved at all costs, even if it means subjecting the people in the institution to indefinite misery, even physical danger. They refuse to allow themselves to be swayed by such trivial matters as what hardship someone may be undergoing – the Rules are all that matter.

    It’s an idea that gets a lot of traction. Google the phrase “God doesn’t care about our happiness”. The results are quite revealing…


  9. Of course, demoting the level of inspiration in the text itself is a good way to elevate our personal opinions over inconvenient truths. You can’t say that never happens.

    I can’t deny that, no. But neither can you deny that promoting the inspiration in the text itself has been a way to elevate other human being’s opinions to the level of divine authority that must be accepted without question, instead of painfully, haltingly and carefully working out answers for ourselves.


  10. Thank you. This seems to be the norm today. Passing judgment while staying totally detached from real life. Thank you for your boldness.


  11. No Robert, but recognizing that our experiences can create biases which cloud our judgement is the first step towards learning to see past them.

    Inspired text vs. inspired reading is a false dichotomy. The vast majority of adherents to an inspired text also accept illumination, the idea that the Holy Spirit guides us into a right understanding, and apart from Him, we can only misunderstand the text.

    Of course, demoting the level of inspiration in the text itself is a good way to elevate our personal opinions over inconvenient truths. You can’t say that never happens.

    Inspiration is a complicated, paradoxical beast. You appear to be balking at the verbal plenary theory. There’s plenty of others to choose from.

    FWIW, your prioritizing of some NT books over others is an integral part of confessional Lutheran hermeneutics. We may give the Gospels a bit more preferential treatment than your list does, but not all epistles are created equal. It’s not that they aren’t all true. But in our harmonizing of the texts, we start with the clear passages with more solid attribution, and use those as the lens through which we wrestle with some of the others.

    Fisk has a great presentation on our understanding of the “canon within the canon” here:


  12. I found Challies’ review irritating, but then again I tend to. It’s another example of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy—Complementarians may, by and large, dismiss, demean, even abuse women, but he doesn’t, and he is the standard by which complementarianism is defined. (A claim he makes for pretty much every position he takes.) He doesn’t believe complementarianism bears poisonous fruit; he would never beat his wife, or endorse such behavior, et cetera, ad nauseam.

    Challies objects to Tucker pointing to personal experience, yet he defines complementarianism by his personal experience. Even though plenty of other complementarians define it quite differently. My uncle is so insistent about women “knowing their place,” he’d edit Deborah, Esther, Priscilla, Mary Magdalene, and the Samaritan woman at the well, out of the bible if he could get away with it. Challies’ standard is hardly the standard.

    Hence “I don’t dismiss and demean women” is the argument he uses to, ironically enough, dismiss and demean Ruth Tucker.

    But to be fair, he dismisses and demeans any man who thinks unlike him. So in that sense he’s egalitarian.


  13. [quote]This lack of human compassion and complete absorption with the particular interpretation of the text seems to be a systemic problem with some of the uber reformed types.[/quote]

    I fear that the problem is even wider than that; that it isn’t limited to uber-reformed types only but is often characteristic of conservative Bible-believing Christians in general.

    This tendency comes to the fore very noticeably when issues of suffering within marriage are considered. I have heard more Christian people than I can remember insist that the institution of marriage must be preserved at all costs, even if it means subjecting the people in the institution to indefinite misery, even physical danger. They refuse to allow themselves to be swayed by such trivial matters as what hardship someone may be undergoing – the Rules are all that matter.

    And what makes it all so much more angering and distressing is that often, people who take this stance actually take pride in their hard-heartedness. They see it as evidence that they’re being led by the Word of God alone and not letting ’emotion’ or ‘circumstances’ cloud their pure Biblical perspective.

    The most common example of this is when, confronted with evidence of unrepentant abuse, people will not countenance a divorce because there is no chapter and verse in Scripture which explicitly addresses, or permits this. They therefore conclude that the correct Christian thing to do is tell the victim that they must remain with the abuser.

    I read on another website recently of a church which subjected one of its members to church discipline because she sought to divorce her abusive husband. Her father, one of the pastors at the church, was then fired because he supported his daughter in defiance of the other leaders.


  14. I would like to add my “Well said!” to those of others. I have never been married. I can’t remotely imagine hurting my wife. And I can’t make much sense of the complementarian point of view.


  15. Well for starters, I don’t give a fig what Challies thinks or writes. He has been flaunting his mile-wide yellow streak for years now in his official position as propaganda arm of the Neo-Puritan movement. But having said that, I am sorely disappointed with complementarians who refuse to admit that their ideas promote and even enable abuse. I don’t mind if someone chooses to be complementarian (I have many friends who are, and most people would peg me and my wife as such, given our traditional roles), but I do expect them to have the intellectual honesty to admit that their position is not equitable, and empowers abuse in a way that egalitarianism does not. And a scientific analysis of domestic abuse confirms that. Believe and practice what you will, but don’t deceive yourself.


  16. I’ve come to believe in an inspired reading of Scripture rather than an inspired Scripture; the Church is sometimes capable of such an inspired reading, which is not to be confused with an infallible reading or a finished reading.

    I’m no longer able to believe that inspiration is a quality that inheres in the texts themselves; the New Testament texts are witnesses to the event and person of Jesus, and to his passion and resurrection. Jesus did not write them, as we all know; in addition, I can no longer believer that the Holy Spirit inspired them in a single, discrete, irreversible, finished act. I think it’s absolutely necessary to bring our personal experience to the ongoing inspired readings that the Holy Spirit leads us into; not only is it necessary, it’s unavoidable. Anyone who thinks they can eliminate, or reduce to a negligible factor, the contribution that their experience makes when reading the scriptures is fooling herself. It just ain’t so.


  17. Miguel, I don’t think evangelicals will admit to putting reason first. I’m not even sure (we) put reason into the equation at all.

    It’s scripture-scripture-scripture-scripture, ostensibly—with a heavy denial of tradition (too Romish) and denial of experience (too Pentecostal).

    But (we) do rely on tradition heavily—we just don’t recognize it while interpreting our bibles from our own tradition.


  18. StuartB, Yes, reading the oldest parts of the New Testament first is a good way to approach. But Acts was not one of the oldest; most biblical scholars believe that Luke-Acts were written by the same original author(s), and that they are actually a literary unit rather than discrete texts. So Acts would’ve been written at the same time as Luke. The Epistles were first; and the authentic Epistles of Paul should be given priority over the others that were only later attributed to Paul.


  19. Yes, it is a two-edged sword, but not one you can avoid by playing it safe. The sword will show up anyway, because we can only have knowledge of reality through personal experience, and that includes knowledge of the New Testament and the rest of the Bible, and knowledge of faith, both our personal faith and the faith of the Church.


  20. @ Miguel, I experience the risen Christ, too, and quite aside from any sensational boundary events. Whenever I experience or extend forgiveness and reconciliation in Church and in the world, I experience the presence of the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Church and in the world is his real and personal presence, his life-beyond-death, in our midst and in our hearts. That’s how The Kingdom of God is within/among you…. Without this experience of his forgiving and reconciling presence, my faith would be nonexistent, and my religion empty, as would have the religion of the early Church, no matter how many sensational or miraculous boundary events of Jesus’ physical presence they experienced.


  21. This lack of human compassion and complete absorption with the particular interpretation of the text seems to be a systemic problem with some of the uber reformed types.

    As it was with the Communists, the Taliban, and anywhere else where Reality must bow to Ideology.


  22. Aren’t reason and experience the same thing, or flipsides? To gain reason you must experience something, whether it’s scripture or life. And to gain experience you must read scripture or life and reason out what it said/happened.

    Take a look at the end results of some of those ideologies too. If the most important things continually supercede the latter…don’t we end up with such popular Christian heresies as Communism and movements like the Third Reich?


  23. Not going to say they were making it all up. But remembering verbatim something a guy said that you spent 3 years with and trying to write it down 30 years later after much more discussion and group memory…that’s something else.

    Saying they “made it up” is kinda like saying Moses was lying in Genesis, lol. or something, idk, brain hurt.


  24. Hi MIGUEL,
    for some time fundamentalists have hi-jacked the term ‘evangelical’ and now when people hear that term, they are really thinking ‘fundamentalists’ and extreme right-wing politicos. It’s a shame, but there it is.

    Was a time when the term ‘evangelical’ was more respected by all Christian people, but as the extremists and the crazies took over and conflated their religion with politics, things changed.

    Most of us know evangelical people who are Christian, not crazy, or extreme, and we understand that the term itself was hijacked.

    I think hard-core fundamentalism will run its course in time. It is doing tremendous damage to Christian witness.


  25. “I’d say that conversely, you positive experience with Evangelicalism has prevented you from questioning its foundations with as much rigorous skepticism.” – I think you nailed it with that one.


  26. He is a Done, in effect is pastoring a church at large for Nones and Dones

    Ha! A revival in reverse.


  27. It really does. I don’t mind him disagreeing with her or wanting to make an argument that she doesn’t present an accurate view of complementarianism, but to start off his argument (literally, his first argument ) with, “Well, she is an abuse survivor; of course she would say that” is profoundly insulting to both Tucker and Challies’ readers, regardless of whether we agree with Tucker or not.


  28. Our concern is based primarily on my wife’s intuition, which has been remarkably prescient in the past. The neighbor’s wife seems to have become very withdrawn and isolated. There has been some argumentation and shouting, but not really enough to file a complaint.

    I just have a bad vibe of ending up as That Moron with his thumb up his butt on the 5:00 news saying “I dunnu, uh, everything looked OK to me” when the EMTs are gurneying the body out of the house.

    Maybe we should invite them to church or something. Actually, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.


  29. Did Challies know that about her career when he wrote that? If so, then yes. If not, then chalk it up to not being thorough. HOWEVER, the fact that he didn’t bother to learn a google search’s amount of info about the author already says something.


  30. You know, I have heard that done with the text before. Doesn’t jive with the parable of the good samaritan, but I suppose I’m just arguing semantics there. 😛


  31. This is where SOME Evangelicals are. According to some, to be an Evangelical is to be this, but this is truly unfair to many who are rather generous to the LGBT community, including numerous Evangelical champions of their cause.


  32. Tim Challies: The first weakness is related to the fact that to some degree Tucker defines an entire theological understanding out of her own experience.

    The “her” being Ruth Tucker, who earned a doctorate in history in 1979, held 4 adjunct/visiting professor positions and two tenured positions, and wrote 20 books on church history. Sure, when she writes about complementarianism, she has no other basis for her writing than her being someone’s wife. 40 years of research and publications dismissed.

    Pretty sure, if we needed a dictionary illustration of what sexism looked like, it would be a picture of Challies writing that sentence.


  33. Brilliant. The family as a mini-commune. It really is!

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say every member is on equal footing (speaking of parent-child relationship, not spouse to spouse).

    If we all could give what we could to meet each others needs as best as we could, there would be no room for additional rules to contribute to the beauty of that picture.


  34. Yes, and this is WHY I believe in the Wesleyan quadrilateral. Experience plays a major part in shaping our perspective, we have to recognize this and learn to work past it if we wish to see more clearly. Even further, I’d say that everyone defers to scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, whether they recognize it or not. Admitting it is the first step towards distinguishing between their influences so we can go deeper into the “why” of our opinions in our search for truth.

    I’d say that conversely, you positive experience with Evangelicalism has prevented you from questioning its foundations with as much rigorous skepticism. Luther said the three things that make a theologian are prayer, meditation, and suffering. So I am convinced that it wasn’t only so much that my negative experiences soured me towards Evangelicalism (though many people have had similar experiences), but rather, it helped me to evaluate it more clearly.

    Believe it or not, I don’t feel much bitterness towards Evangelicalism as a system. The peace I have found in my new home has surprisingly been enough to assuage that. I do think many of its beliefs and cultural tendencies can be spiritually harmful, even as I recognize it functions as a wonderful home for many. But more often than not, I see its negative quirks proving immensely challenging to the faith of friends and family still in it.


  35. HUG, thanks for the link. I went to his web site, listened to an hour talk by him, subscribed to his daily cartoon, and ordered some books. He is a Done, in effect is pastoring a church at large for Nones and Dones, and thus cutting edge as far as I can tell at this point. Something like this place.


  36. Yes, but that was the only experience that pushed them through a major paradigm shift. The rest of their trials, sufferings, and intellectual endeavors were not the driving factors of their theology, at least, not by comparison to the drastic effect of this.


  37. I am convinced that how you prioritize them will determine where in Christendom you can be most at home: From most to least important:

    Tradition, scripture, reason, experience = Cathodox
    Scripture, tradition, reason, experience = Lutheran
    Reason, scripture, tradition, experience = Reformed
    Reason, scripture, experience, tradition = Evangelical
    Reason, experience, tradition, scripture = Mainline
    Experience, scripture, tradition, reason = Pentecostal

    I realize many of those groups sincerely believe they put the scriptures first. But often I find that they read the text so strongly through the lenses of reason or experience, that it is responsible for leading them to different theological conclusions than my own tradition, which tends to let Scripture trump our reason and experience.

    And yet, somehow the father of existentialism was a Lutheran. Go figure.


  38. Thank you, Scott. I believe I’m getting it now.

    I must point out, though, that personal trials and scientific studies are qualitatively different from walking and working with God in the flesh for three years, and have a different level of “overturn” when it comes to reevaluating the scriptures. Jesus himself spelled out their new interpretation. He spelled it out to the pharisees in John 5.39 as he spelled it out to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Certain other evolutions in perspective are not necessarily spelled out as clearly by Jesus. That doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, but it does cause me to hold them a bit more tentatively, even if I do accept them.

    I think the end of every Christian’s journey of Cartesian doubt needs to come not only to the love of Christ, but specifically how it is shown in his death and resurrection, because this is how we know what love is, and apart from it, we are truly to be pitied among men.

    There is a tension between keeping an open mind and being able to hold well tested beliefs with conviction. We certainly aren’t called to terminal uncertainty, nor to arrogant over-certainty. Humility indeed is the key to fruitful theological study, discussion, debate, and discovery.

    On the brighter side, that leaves us all with plenty more to learn!


  39. Which is all the more reason to get some outside help to try to determine what is going on, to avoid bringing law enforcement around if that is not necessary. It’s messy and could even be dangerous for Mule & wife to get involved, so reasonable DV input would probably be useful.



  40. Hard to love your community and your neighbor when the text forbids you from even eating with them…


  41. I don’t think I’m making my point. I concede and agree the writers of the NT were not just making stuff up out of whole cloth. My point is the writers considered their experience with Jesus and said, “Hmmm, I know my Bible seems to say this about this subject but maybe, in light of what I’ve seen and experienced, especially in Jesus, I should go back and look to see what it has to say about this subject.”

    For instance, the Bible seems to point to the earth having been created in six days; my experience after having been subjected to current scientific knowledge has led me to go back and re-examine what the Bible truly says about Creation.

    There are those, no matter how much reason and experience runs contrary to their beliefs, simply refuse to re-examine those beliefs.

    “…the Pharisees knew the OT better than anyone, and could not recognize its fulfillment standing right in front of them. That one always baffled me.”

    Me, too. And causes me to seek a little humility when I approach 100% certainty on any theological subject. I’m with Barth: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That’s the only thing I know for sure.


  42. Excellent post. This lack of human compassion and complete absorption with the particular interpretation of the text seems to be a systemic problem with some of the uber reformed types. I have a family member who has become a very devoted follower of one such well known pastor over the past ten years. The single most noticeable change in this person has been a complete loss of any compassion or empathy for anyone outside of their belief system. It has been indescribably sad to watch this happen.

    There is something deeply wrong with a theology that loses the ability to love and weep with and be present for others in their suffering.


  43. You and the Sci-Fi analogies, Stuart.

    If the Gospels were “putting words in Jesus’ mouth,” and the apostles are pretty much just making Christianity up, why believe any of it? It’s fine if you want to believe that, but you have to recognize that when you do, you cease to be arguing in the same theological ballpark as those who believe the text is true.


  44. To only give ‘unrecommended’ reviews to books outside of one’s own ideological circle is a very deceptive practice, imo. It is worse than not reviewing these books at all, because it conveys that the reviewer has a sense of generosity and intellectual curiosity to the readers/followers that actually does not exist:

    “Oh look, Pastor X reviewed a book by Author Z. I’ve never heard of Author Z., she is outside of my circle. Pastor X must be extremely well-read and knowledgeable to interact with such a wide breadth of books. Oh, it seems that Pastor X does not agree with her, so I best avoid it too.”

    Repeat for every book that does not fall perfectly within ideological orthodoxy and repeat, ad infinitum, to reinforce the boundaries that only ‘approved of’ books should be given the time of day.


  45. There’s a big leap here in approaching this as “abuse” without any supporting evidence. It could be that they’re going through a rough patch in their marriage or a separation or maybe even divorce. Not sure you can make the leap to “abuse” given what Mule has written.


  46. Mule,

    the question is not what you can expect, but what the wife and children can expect.

    If they are suffering abuse, if the police come and then go away soon, their lives may get worse. I appreciate Rick’s concern, but I don’t think that would accomplish much and also may make things worse.

    Call your local DV shelter and ask what the best path would be. It may involve your wife’s intervention on some level. Lord, have mercy.



  47. Dana – yes. But the writers of the Gospels etc were certainly not the historians or biographers Miguel would like to think they were. In short, in ancient times, as you say, all writing was agenda driven.


  48. Scott,

    the Gospel writers were only doing what was typical of Jewish scripture commentary, then and now. It’s not the “systematic” approach we’re used to, and therefore seems weird to us. But they weren’t being any more “creative” than the well known rabbis of the day.



  49. The maxim is simply a paraphrase of Scripture:

    “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” Acts 2:44-45

    While mankind is too bound by sin to live this way on the large scale, there is some hope of attaining this ideal on the family level.


  50. I was thinking primarily of the Gospels, particularly Matthew, and the “creative” use of OT prophesies to re-frame Israel’s story as being fulfilled in Christ.


  51. I was speaking with one of my pastors several years ago and shared the title of a book I had been assigned for a class. His response to me was, “Oh, you should be careful reading him.” I thought it a strange response, particularly coming from someone whom I considered well-read and intellectually curious.


  52. I posted this thought yesterday and maybe it’s more appropriate for today:

    “To me, one of the paradigm shifts during Jesus’ ministry on earth was a call for religions (and even cultures) to begin respecting two segments of society that never got any respect: women and children.

    If you’re using the Bible to justify disrespect toward those whom Jesus told us to respect, you’re not one of His.”

    And maybe to add onto that, in keeping with today’s subject, if you are too ready to whip out the Bible in lieu of showing mercy, you’re not one of His, either. The Good Samaritan didn’t let the idea of religious cleanliness get in the way of helping someone in desperate need. Stick the Bible in your pocket, people, when it comes to people who are suffering.


  53. Tough one. I guess if you feel led, maybe approach the man some day and say, “I’ve noticed a change. Don’t know what anyone is going through, but If you need to talk to someone, let me know.”


  54. Key word being “faith” there. We do not have that experience. We only have faith that they had that experience and that it actually happened.


  55. Right. But in any case, David concludes that his own actions are what brought about their deaths (1 Samuel 22:22).

    In any case, my larger point was that things that seem right with 20/20 hindsight (Jesus’s comments about David) may appear different in the actual moment.

    Did David flat-out lie to Ahimelech? Or was it merely a wink-wink, plausible deniability cover for Ahimelech, who might’ve known it wasn’t true anyway? And when David promised that none his band of misfit mercenaries had touched a woman (21:5), what is the likelihood that was true? We don’t know. And why go to the priest for bread, instead of to some farmhouse? Is David trying to test God’s provision and previous anointing? Who really knows?

    Point is, it is odd that anyone would start with the stories of 1 Samuel 22 and end up with the praises in Psalm 34, and with Jesus’ later commendation of David. Odd, unless God is at work in greater and more mysterious ways than it appears on the surface.


  56. EVERYONE argues theology from their experience. Part of the reason that you and I have taken different paths Miguel is because we have had different experiences. Same text + different experiences = Different conclusions. When I read your recent article I said to myself, “this has not been my exerience at all”, but if it was I might have gone a different direction.


  57. All distilling down to “BOYZ RULE, GURLZ DROOL!” and “I HAVE A *PENIS*, SO THERE!”


  58. I’m tending to think nowadays we shouldn’t read the Gospels first. Start with Acts or maybe the Epistles. Read in order they were written.

    After all, you wouldn’t watch the Prequel Trilogy first, would you? Totally changes the whole story. I’d recommend the Machete Order, but no matter what, always start with IV V VI.


  59. Yeah. That’s why it’s getting such a workout.

    I fully understand the “baseball bat up side the head” impact power of art or writing; in one of his online essays, Rob Bell called it “Poem Truth” in contrast with “Math Truth”. (And “The Theologians” are an example of “Math Truth”.) My commenter handle comes from such an art piece I did about 15 years ago.


  60. …Or, when the apostles wrote the Gospels, they put words into Jesus’ mouth. Lots happened between Pentecost and when the gospels started getting written, lots of things probably were developed and thought through.

    But that opens a holy can of worms.


  61. “Jeesus loves ME
    This I know;
    I’m a BOY
    That’s how it rolls;
    Little girls
    To ME belong;
    They are WEAK
    And I AM STRONG!”
    — don’t remember who came up with this one (TWW or SSB), but it says it all


  62. So are Challies and the Pharisees to be criticized for being loyal to their understanding of scripture?

    Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their zealous loyalty to their understanding of Scripture all the time.


  63. Scratch that last phrase. You did mention Saul, just forgot to mention that Saul, not David, is the bad guy of this story.


  64. As for “mercy” or “loyalty” in Hos 6:6, the Hebrew word is the multifaceted word, chesed, in my view the greatest word in the Heb Bible. While it does speak of covenant loyalty in Hosea, Jesus applied it in Matthew to Pharisees who were critcizing him for consorting with sinners. It seems covenant loyalty includes not only loving God but also one’s neighbor, and especially those who need love and ministry the most.


  65. So are Challies and the Pharisees to be criticized for being loyal to their understanding of scripture?

    Sure, why not? A commitment to preserving “right thinking” about Scripture that ignores the very real lived experiences of people who live in your backyard (i.e., victims of spousal abuse) should be criticized, and criticized often.

    And, for what it’s worth, the priests aren’t killed because they broke doctrinal practice by giving consecrated bread to a person outside of the priesthood; they were killed because Saul wanted to punish them for harboring a fugitive, and Ahimelek lied to protect David. So the only bad guy in the story is Saul, the person you didn’t mention.


  66. I think this happens in a lot of tight theological/political/philosophical circles. But with the neo-Puritans, it’s really become quite the tradition. It’s human nature to gravitate towards homogeneity and echo chambers, and in some instances it can be a positive thing, but we we never be free of the challenge to keep our minds open and patiently consider views we disdain.


  67. Extremely well-written post, CHAPLAIN MIKE.

    in ‘patriarchy’, the most outstanding feature of this cult may be it’s ultimate lack of compassion for its victims AND its resounding arguments intending to excuse and protect the perpetrators


  68. Exactly what I meant, I think. Experience IS an important criteria in our understanding of God, I just work to give it a back seat to scripture, tradition, and reason. After all, apart from reason to understand experiences, they don’t have philosophical meaning to them.


  69. The last thing I would ever do is “trivialize someone’s devotion to scripture.” But there’s a difference between that and “having one’s nose stuck in the text.”

    I could have used 1Tim 1:5 — “The goal of our instruction is love…”

    I might also confess that I have BEEN Tim Challies. For years I didn’t get it either. It took God booting me out of my study and into hospice ministry before I was able to get my nose out of the book.


  70. The apostles did very little re-interpretation of the Scriptures. Most of that was done by Jesus. But hey, maybe he had a line on what they originally actually meant.

    The idea behind the NT is that what the apostles put in the epistles wasn’t their own idea, but rather the stuff they learned from Christ.


  71. That is a terrible line of reasoning. Their “experience” was literally seeing the risen Christ. By your logic, since we have NOT had that experience, we should seriously reconsider placing much faith in that.


  72. Chaplain Mike, you picked a really messy scripture in Matt. 9:13. Jesus quotes back to Hosea 6:6, which originally reads “I desire loyalty, not sacrifice”. So are Challies and the Pharisees to be criticized for being loyal to their understanding of scripture? Perhaps loyalty can be misplaced (for example, being “loyal” in an abusive relationship). But perhaps rather than trivializing their devotion to scripture, it is better to both hold scripture in high regard AND recognize that something bigger has entered the room.

    Elsewhere, Jesus references the Hosea 6:6 passage in ways that get even messier.

    Jesus re-quoted this same “compassion not sacrifice” scripture in Matt. 12:1-8, when he defends the example of David eating consecrated bread in 1 Samuel 21. In that scripture, David not only takes the consecrated bread, he LIES in order to do it: he tells the priest that King Saul has sent him on a secret mission there. The priest gives David the bread, and the incidient costs the priest’s family their lives in the next chapter.
    Immediately after, David seeks refuge in the hands of the Philistines, and then fakes insanity so as to not seem a viable threat. Then David writes a Psalm about the incident, in which he says if you want a long life, “keep your lips from speaking deceit” (Ps. 34:12-13).

    So, Jesus commends David’s ethics in the situation that’s something that’s a hot mess on several levels.


  73. Tim Challies ought to look at his ideology and theology as well; the same goes for his church. It’s one thing to believe women shouldn’t be ordained. I hold a different conviction, but that’s a topic on which believers can hopefully agree to disagree. However, several years ago Challies stated on his blog that only men are permitted to publicly read Scripture in his church. That’s taking complentarian theology too far. On the other hand, it may also help explain how Challies reached his conclusions in reviewing Ruth Tucker’s book.


  74. There is, in my neighborhood, a woman who may suffering abuse.

    She is white, he is, from his accent, Central American. I mention this because it matters. i could have the police out in thirty seconds if I told them there was a Mexican beating on a white girl.

    My wife believes she is suffering abuse. Because they are a “mixed” couple, as are we, she reached out to them last fall. They were polite but distant. They have two children. One appears to be hers, the younger, theirs. Last fall they were outside frequently. We greeted them, they us. Their children went trick or treating and mingled with the neighborhood children.

    In January, their routine changed. He gets up at 6:00 and leaves in his truck. A half hour later, a woman who appears to be his sister comes by and picks up her and the children. When they return in the evening, the appear to sit in a dark house. No TV, as formerly, no stereo, as formerly, no children outside, as formerly. On weekends, he continues to work on his house and lawn, but there is no sign of her or the children, despite the fact that their former playmates are all about the neighborhood. He does not respond if I wave to him.

    I think it could be any number of things; job issues, family issues, anything. My crazy neighbor with the gill nets says that he doesn’t blame ‘Carlos’ for avoiding white people. Trump has everybody in a lather and he’s obviously afraid of deportation.

    Neither my wife or I can get close enough to see if there are any physical signs of abuse.

    I don’t think the Bible will give me too many ideas about what to do going forward. What can I expect if I contact the police?


  75. Reality MUST bow to Purity of Ideology, Comrade.
    (Ask any survivor of Cambodia’s Killing Fields…)


  76. Well said, Chaplain Mike. Mr. Challies’ review of Ms. Tucker’s book is an academic exercise, there is little compassion or empathy; little grief for the broken world we all inhabit, no matter our theological persuasions.

    As much an academic exercise as an Intellectual describing nuclear war as “only a three-point-seven Gigadeath situation.” (real incident)


  77. In composing the New Testament, the Church “argued” theological conclusions from its experience.

    But perhaps not exclusively – or even primarily. I think Scott’s remark that re-evaluation and re-intepretation is more apt as it places the theological conclusions on Scripture and how the life of Jesus is reflected there. For the early witnesses and writers, Scripture – the Law and the Prophets – is their only guide and it is well referenced in the Gospels and Epistles. That said, their experiences with Jesus clearly inform how they interpret Scripture and what they conclude about Him and God through that interpretation. I imagine the church’s understanding of this would be that the Holy Spirit directed such interpretation rather than it being the result of human agency.

    So I took from Miguel that his bristling was at the impulse of some to place experience above or in place of Scripture rather than denying its utility for theological evaluation altogether. I’m not speaking for him at all, but if that’s what he was going for then I am in his camp, too.


  78. Yes, really any healthy family operates in a “communist” manner – sharing in order to meet everyone’s needs without keeping score. Then as the circle expands outwards from family, to your circle of friends, to your community, your town, your nation, and the whole world, it does so in a gradual gradient from full communal sharing to capitalism to outright cheating, warfare, and violence against those we define as being farthest from our “circle.”

    When a family is healthy, their “communist” circle of sharing expands to embrace more and more people: friends, neighbors, their community, those in need. The mistake of the communists was not that they find that sort of equal sharing appealing, but that they thought it could be imposed from the top down rather than expanding from the bottom up.


  79. Well said, Chaplain Mike. Mr. Challies’ review of Ms. Tucker’s book is an academic exercise, there is little compassion or empathy; little grief for the broken world we all inhabit, no matter our theological persuasions.

    As I’ve reflected on my own response yesterday, there was little compassion from me towards Ms. Tucker, either, just another excuse to defend my position just as Mr. Challies defended his position. I mourn my own lack of compassion and empathy for the suffering Ms. Tucker endured. Thank God she found loving, compassionate people in her life to walk with her and for the redemption and renewal she found through Jesus Christ, who makes all things new. May he renew may own heart, as well.


  80. It’s the control that worries me the most. “Don’t read this book, because if you enjoy it you will cease to agree with me, and you must continue to believe that my recommendations are best for your life.” It is the same with TGC. I can predict with about 95% accuracy whether a book review will be positive or negative based on the title and author.


  81. That is the most creative and appropriate use of Lenin’s maxim I have ever seen. Well played, sir.


  82. “In composing the New Testament, the Church “argued” theological conclusions from its experience.”

    And in many cases, re-evaluated and re-interpreted their Scriptures in light of their experiences.


  83. Isn’t this exactly where most evangelicals are on the issue of homosexuality? Noses so stuck in the text that they never (even fear to) look up and hear people’s stories of abandonment, rejection and vilification by the church.


  84. Like Challies, I bristle when it appears to me that someone is beginning to argue theological conclusions from their experience.

    In composing the New Testament, the Church “argued” theological conclusions from its experience.


  85. I want Communism, not egalitarianism or complementarianism, to provide the guiding motto for my marriage:

    From each according to his or her ability, to each according to his or her need.


  86. “biblicists (and the neo-reformed are preeminent examples of this) are stuck with their noses in the text. Real life is too messy, too conducive to spreading uncleanness in the camp.”

    In my TR days, I would gladly have acknowledged the messiness of real life. But I also would have insisted that the Bible’s teachings on matter X were plain, clear, and eternally True, and the fact that the rest of human life and experience did not live up to them was utterly irrelevant. The fault was not in the text, but us for not living up to it.

    Yep. Pretty Pharisaical when it comes down to it. Kyrie eleison.


  87. If their copious Bible study leads to a love for the text rather than a love for people, what does that say? I’m honestly at the point where I feel that the tranche of leaders epitomised by Tim Chillies would burn people at the stake or recommend child abuse or wife abuse if they felt the text said it. There are no limits on their ‘devotion’. Their consciences seem entirely repressed, how is this different from those who love Sharia law? Would those arguing over every jot & tittle even look up to feed the hungry… although they might if a matter of church discipline came up.
    Ruth Tucker deserved much much better than Challies using her book as a lesson in how not to do Bible studies. What a shallow & poverty stricken response. Defending Complementarianism & casting doubts on her ex-husband’s salvation instead of listening to her story is hardly an advert for Complementarianism’s effect on the male heart. If he’d wanted to beat that drum he could have written a second article on how he felt her ex-husband did not typify the theology he espoused & why. That could have been pastorally helpful o some at least.


  88. Chaplain Mike,

    Thank you for this review (or is it a review of a review?) – it very nicely puts into words the almost inarticulate feeling I got when I read Tim Challies’ remarks on the book, manifest in the desire to smash my head against any handy brick wall.


  89. The real world challenges systematic theologies, and that’s a scary proposition for those whose entire faith rests on those human-made constructs.


  90. “…or perhaps he doesn’t want to get it.”

    Challies, from what I know, does pastoral work. No doubt he’s dealt with abusive situations. And no doubt he’d prefer not dealing with the truth when it upsets his contrived little apple cart.

    “A little humility and honesty would be nice here.”

    Good luck with that. This concept is foreign to the neo-reformed.


  91. While a part of me is hesitant to allow the diligent study of Scripture to labeled as a fault, there is a sense in which it can become a fruitless endeavor. As you referred to, the Pharisees knew the OT better than anyone, and could not recognize its fulfillment standing right in front of them. That one always baffled me. I tend to think of Biblical studies as an important component of spiritual growth.

    I think the rigorous study of the text and commitment to it’s teaching is indeed virtuous. But I must concede that in and of itself, it is not enough to prevent some pretty hazardous errs.

    Like Challies, I bristle when it appears to me that someone is beginning to argue theological conclusions from their experience. I am an ardent proponent of the Wesleyan quadrilateral, but that is the part to which I strive to give the least weight. It’s refreshing to see someone who takes the narrative approach that is equally skillful at objective formulation and argumentation. I would really like to hear her debate with Piper.

    Unlike Challies, I do try to take people seriously when they explain what they have learned through tentatio.


  92. Well said, Chaplain Mike.

    This isn’t the first time Tim Challies has proven he doesn’t get it. A few years ago he tried to tell us how to think “biblically” about C.J. Mahaney and the Sovereign Grace Ministries child sex abuse coverup scandal. In a nutshell, thinking “biblically” meant looking the other way.

    With all due respect, it’s time for Tim Challies to shut down his blog, step away from his church position, and spend some time encountering the real world in which the rest of us live.


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