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Episode 13 of Kindavangelical just released! Patriarchal Regrets

Reflections on “The Making of Biblical Womanhood”
MAY 12 2021

I’m reading Beth Allison Barr’s excellent book “The making of Biblical Womanhood.” It is stirring up so much in me. I’ve been a functional egalitarian (the belief that woman are equal to men and are free to exercise their gifts in the home and church) since listening to my Mother open the Word of God with insight and gifting as a young man. I became an egalitarian of conviction during my seminary years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I remember one pivotal day in my theological discovery. It was a Pauline Epistles class, and my professor Dr. Grant Osborne, an egalitarian, had invited his fellow TEDS faculty member Dr. Wayne Grudem, a complementation (the belief that men and women are equal but perform different roles, with leadership and preaching roles being reserved for only men), to debate for our edification, one of the “women passages” in Paul’s writing. Wow, that sentence was a mouthful, I feel the need to apologize. Anyway, hearing a New Testament scholar the caliber of Osborne elaborates on the authorial intent of Paul’s words, the nuance of the language Paul employed, and explaining the historical context of the 1st Century Roman world, while systematically refuting Grudem’s arguments was a defining moment for me. At the end of the debate, the men shook hands (they were good friends), looked at us and said, “now, you go and figure out what you believe about this, no one else can do that for you.” I wrote the rest of my exegetical papers in my seminary years on passages that informed this conversation and came out of seminary an egalitarian. I appreciate the education I got at TEDS, I say often that the faculty there taught me how to think, not what to think and this debate was one example of this pedagogical conviction.

So, at Libby’s encouragement, I’m considering doing a little bit of a “book report” on Barr’s book (I see it as required reading for anyone who wants to grapple with this discussion) as a way to share some of my thoughts on this conversation on Facebook over the next couple of weeks. If the comments get ignorant, dismissive, or attacking I’ll turn them off, I’m not looking for a fight. But I see the way we treat women, the way we suppress women or the way we encourage women to be a crucial factor in our witness, our effectiveness and, honestly, our soul.

I’ll start with this thought. Osborne and Grudem said, “now, you go and figure this out, no one else can do that for you.” But I generally see evangelicals letting other people “do that for them.” Their pastor, favorite author, spouse or small groups leader has forged their perspective and they’ve never really thought about it for themselves. So, my first question for you is not “what is your position” but this, “have you grappled with this for yourself, really, truly?”

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Dr. Beth Allison Barr, a medieval history professor at Baylor University recently released “The Making of Biblical Womanhood.” She approaches the discussion of women’s roles in the home and church from a historical perspective without neglecting theological, and biblical discussion. Her primary thesis resonates with me, because it addresses one of the fundamental refutations of egalitarianism from the complementarian camp. (If those long words are new to you, please read my first post in this series as I define them there.)

Here is the refutation:

“By encouraging women to experience equality with men in both essence and function you are cow towing to contemporary feminist culture instead of aligning yourself with the clear teaching of scripture.”

First, allow me to say, anyone who says “scripture is clear” on this topic either hasn’t honestly studied it, or they have only listened to people that agree with them. An honest grappling with the relevant biblical texts will provide enough complexity to cause pause for even the brightest minds. But back to the guts of this refutation.

The argument is that a complementarian perspective is distinct from the “world” but, in contrast, to call for functional equality in the church is aligning with the “world.”

So many people have said this to me over the years. The problem is that it simply isn’t true.

Barr argues that the world has always been “complementarian” in that the world has always been patriarchal. What is patriarchy? Historian Judith Benner explains patriarchy as having three meanings in English: 1. Male ecclesiastical leaders, such as the patriarch in Greek Orthodoxy. 2. Legal power of male household heads. 3. A society that promotes male authority and female submission. (Barr chapter 1. I’m reading the book in iBook’s, so I have no idea how to relay pagination).

When you look at #2 and #3, you are looking at human history. When you look at #3, you are looking at Christian patriarchy, also called complementarianism. Barr explains this and illustrates it as only a historian can.

Here’s the point. Because patriarchy is the norm, the fact that complementarians argue for it as “counter cultural” misses the mark. What was counter cultural, both in biblical times and subsequent centuries, was the biblical vision of women as image bearers serving alongside men, not under them. Now that was radical gospel living!

Barr says, “Christians are, historically speaking, pretty late to the patriarchy game.” (Ch. 1) and then demonstrates, from world history, how Christian patriarchy mimics the patriarchy of the non-Christian world.

Why is this important? Because patriarchy is bad for women. Barr quotes Martin Stol who concludes his comprehensive study titled Women in the Ancient Near East saying, “In ancient society women fared much worse than men… As we come to a close, we expect none of our readers to shut this book without uttering a sigh of sadness.” (Ch. 1) Barr continues… “from the ancient world through the modern world, history told a continuous story of patriarchy – of women suppressed, oppressed, devalued, and silenced.”

Some complementarians will insist that patriarchy is God’s idea, and it is found in the creation ideal (Gen. 1,2). But Barr correctly points out that Gen. 3:16 is actually the biblical explanation for the birth of patriarchy. This is after the Fall, everything is “fall”ing apart and God predicts what sin will do to the relationship Adam and Eve had been enjoying. Quoting the Latin Vulgate, the primary bible used for centuries of church history, Eve’s consequences were… “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over you.” There is no hierarchy in the creation account, it is, however, blatantly expressed immediately after the Fall as a consequence of sin. This helps us see why it is so bad for women, it is conceived in fallenness.

As Alice Mathews, theologian and former academic Dean at Gordon-Connell Theological Seminary, explains in Gender roles and the people of God, “it is in Genesis 3:16 (God speaking to the woman) where we first see hierarchy in human relationships…Hierarchy was not God’s will for the first pair, but it was imposed when they chose to disregard his command to eat (sic) the forbidden fruit … Adam would now be subject to his source (the ground) even as Eve was subject to her source (Adam). This was the moment of the birth of patriarchy.”

So, the biblical narrative that elevates women out of the pit of patriarchy is aligned with the mission of Jesus to set the oppressed free. And what a beautiful vision it is, if one has the eyes to see it.

Footnote: if you are struggling with the equating of complementarianism with patriarchy, Barr demonstrates from current leaders in the Comp. camp (is it ok if I abbreviate that word, my fingers are getting tired?), that many actually prefer the word patriarchy.

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I’m writing a book report of Dr. Beth Allison Barr’s excellent new book “The Making of Biblical Womanhood” not so that people feel they can skip reading the book, but to whet their appetites for a good slow read of her work. This is part 3, I encourage you to read parts 1 and 2 on my Facebook page as well.

In chapter 2 Barr address Paul. Paul, the author of a good percentage of the New Testament, is a central figure in the discussion about a biblical perspective of a woman’s place/roles in the home, church, and culture. He’s not extremely popular in many circles, even some church circles, today and Barr argues that this is because he’s misunderstood. I think she’s right.

“Paul frames every aspect of complementarian (comp.) teachings. Evangelicals read Pauline texts as designating permanent and divinely ordained role distinctions between the sexes. Men wield authority that women cannot. Men lead, women follow, Paul tells us so. But what if we have been reading Paul wrong?… what if evangelicals have been understanding Paul through the lens of modern culture instead of the way Paul intended to be understood?” (Barr, Ch. 2) Whereas contemporary evangelicalism seems obsessed with male headship and female submission, Barr argues that this has not always been the case.

Barr, a professor of medieval history at Baylor University, tracks sermons and writings from the medieval period to demonstrate, what Religion scholar Daniel Cere explains, “There has never been a tradition of formal doctrinal teaching endorsing [marital] subordination within the Catholic tradition.” (Barr, Ch. 1, insertion her’s). Remember, before the reformation, the Catholic tradition was synonymous with the Christian tradition, there wasn’t anything else.

One example gripped me…

Peter Abelard, a famous 12th Century scholastic, discussed the story of a woman anointing Jesus with oil (Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 7). Abelard points out that, by allowing a woman to anoint him with oil, Jesus overturns male headship – allowing a woman to do what only men had been able to do until that moment, anoint a king.

Whether you agree with Abelard or not, the point Barr is making is that almost 1000 years ago, a Christian leader was teaching something that would be deemed “progressive” by modern standards concerning headship. And he didn’t lose his “head” over it, literally. Which by the way did happen to people in those days who said other “progressive things” like, “everyone should be able to read the Bible” and stuff like that. Actually, they tended to get burned at the stake more than beheaded… but I think you get my point.

But, getting back to Paul, Barr argues:

  1. Paul’s purpose was not to emphasize wifely submission. In this section Barr explains the household codes (known as paterfamilias in Roman society and seen in the “marriage/children/slave sections of Eph. 5 and Col. 3) of the ancient world and how Paul employed them, not as a means to propagate Roman patriarchal structure, but to offer an alternative. She calls them “resistance narratives.” New Testament scholars Carolyn Osijek and Margaret MacDonald argue, “that the ethical teachings embedded in the Ephesians household code are so ‘oppositional’ to the Greco-Roman world that, rather than a sign of accommodation, ‘the household code is presented as that which ultimately sets believers apart.’” Barr quotes Aristotle’s famous household code as an example of what the Greco-Roman world believed about men and women. Contrasting Eph. 5 with Aristotle will allow you to see how Paul was blatantly challenging a world of oppressive subjugation. One snippet from Aristotle, “The inequality [between male and female] is permanent… The courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying… silence is a woman’s glory but this is not equally the glory of man.” 9Barr, Ch. 2) (Sheesh, this is what Paul was challenging!)
  2. Paul’s purpose was not to emphasize male authority. Barr returns to the household codes to discuss how Paul resists Roman patriarchy in relation to male authority. In this section Barr highlights one of the most egregious decisions in the mass production of Bibles (my words, not hers). In Paul’s household code in Eph. 5 most Bible transactions separate vs. 21 from vs. 22 with a section heading (something about Christian marriage). Look at your Bible now, do you see it? If Paul was reading a modern Bible, I’m convinced he would get to this section and ask, “who divided those two verses? Can’t you see vs. 22 doesn’t make sense without vs. 21 because it borrows the verb from vs. 21?” And the verb is, “submit.” That’s right, the word submit doesn’t even appear in vs. 22 in the original text. The verb has to be borrowed from the preceding verse to make vs. 22 work. Of all the verses in the Bible, these are two that have to stay together. So, what does vs. 21 say? ‘Submit one to another out of reverence to Christ.” From this springboard Paul dives into his household code. Husbands, according to Paul, are to submit (voluntarily place themselves under) to their wives, and wives are to submit (voluntarily place themselves under) to their husbands. Now, put that next to Aristotle, and do you see what Paul is doing? And, while I’m asking awkward questions, do you see what the Bible translators are doing? Separating vs. 21 and starting with vs. 22 allows them to mitigate the damage that Paul inflicts to their theology, and in doing so continue to promote patriarchal norms. (Barr specifically references the ESV version in this regard. More about this later).
  3. Paul’s purpose wasn’t the Roman Gender Hierarchy. Barr points out that early Christians were perceived by the Roman world as “gender deviants”. Pliny the Younger, a Roman historian, called Christianity “a depraved and excessive superstition” specifically because, “not only did early Christians place women in leadership roles, they met together on equal footing – men, women, children and slaves…” (Barr, Ch. 2) Men, women, children and slaves are the four characters in the household codes. They were all told to submit to one another, can you even imagine? “Christianity was repugnant to Pliny because it didn’t follow the Roman household codes, not because it followed them.” (Barr, Ch. 2) On a side note, does it strike anyone as unfathomable that a guy was called “Pliny” by his parents, and then he grew up and called his son the same thing? I just don’t get it. But I digress and this is getting really long. “Instead of being directed towards men as the final authority, the Christian household codes include everyone in the conversation. Instead of justifying male authority in account of female inferiority, the Christian household codes affirm women as having equal worth to men. Instead of focusing on wifely submission (everyone was doing that), the Christian household codes demand that the husband does the exact opposite of what Roman law allowed: sacrificing his life for his wife, instead of using power over her life. This writes Peppiatt, is the ‘Christian revolution.’ This is what makes Christianity different from the world around us.” (Barr, Ch. 2)

One more side note, a more serious one. If you have struggled with holding an interpretation of Eph. 5 as a timeless directive for families, you are probable embarrassed when you get to the section on slaves. You have probably heard people explain it away, usually saying that a modern equivalent would be an employee (or worse yet, condoning slavery as biblical which scores of our predecessors have done.). But Paul is talking about slaves. And if you take this section literally and as a timeless directive, you have a real problem on your hands concerning slavery. But, if you understand that Paul, in this section, was challenging the Roman view of marriage, parenting, and slavery, you can see a way forward in that conversation. Something to think about.

I can see that I need to stop here even though I haven’t finished telling you about Barr’s second chapter. But my Dad always told me, “the mind can absorb only what the seat can endure.” Barr moves into the role of women in the church according to Paul in the second part of the chapter, so this is a good break point. So, I’m going to give you some time to chew on this and maybe make some comments below. Thanks for reading this far. Get Barr’s book, it will fill in the dozens of gaps in this post.

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Barr’s chapter (2) on Paul is long and detailed, and for good reason. Paul is the central figure in biblical conversation concerning how women are treated and fit in the church, family, and kingdom. Just yesterday I glanced at “The Transformed Wife” a popular complementarian website for women. The lead article was entitled, “False Female Teachers Elevate Jesus’ Words Over Paul’s.” Let that sink in for a second. Now, Lori Alexander (the woman behind the site) is on the extreme end of the comp. spectrum, but the point is made. Paul is so important to comp. thought that for some, Jesus words need to be measured against Paul’s. There are enormous hermeneutical problems with this mindset, remember, we need to see Paul’s words in the context of the rest of Biblical content, not use Paul as a lens for everything else.

That being said, when discussing this topic with people over the years I will hear certain phrases from folks concern specifically women’s roles in the church (leadership, preaching, etc.). Here are some examples: “Paul is crystal clear on this…” “Paul told women to be silent in the church…” “only men can be ordained as pastors, the Bible says so…” “Women can’t teach men…” “the role of elder is reserved for men”, “women should just be content being homemakers and leave the leadership to the men.” All of these beliefs are drawn from 3 or 4 passages in Paul’s letters. None of this comes from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Jude, James, the anonymous author of Hebrews or… Jesus’ words in the gospels. And there is ample content in Paul’s letters that seems to say or demonstrate the opposite mindset about women than these verses convey (for example, in 1st Cor. 14:33-36 Paul calls for women to be silent in the church, but earlier in the same book, 1 Cor. 11:1-6, he gives instructions on how women are to give prophecies in church gathering in an orderly way according to cultural norms of the time.) So, which one is it Paul? If both are timeless instructions, then Paul is contradicting himself. If one holds to the inerrancy of scripture, they simply both can’t be timeless imperatives. Something else is going on here. There is robust conversation among believers who end up answering that question differently, but know this, there is nothing “crystal clear” about this if you are honestly dealing with all of Paul’s writings and practice.

One example from Paul’s writings: In 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” This is the verse that people use to say that women can’t teach men, and thus can’t preach on Sundays. But it doesn’t say that. In the original language, the first word in the sentence is the verb “teach” (this is a position of emphasis in Greek). So, it reads literally, “teach I do not permit, nor have authority over a man.” Two separate things (Paul’s structure points to this separation), the simple reading of the text is that Paul does not allow women to teach at all, ever, in any settling, with any audience, nor does he allow women in authoritative positions over men. But, in Titus 2 Paul instructs the older women to teach the younger women and in Acts, Paul commends Priscilla for her teaching of Apollos (Acts 18). So, what is Paul actually saying? And why does he seem to say or demonstrate the opposite things elsewhere?

One example from Paul’s practice: Why do I mention practice? Well, we have Paul’s writings, and we also have narrative in Acts about Paul’s life and ministry. Once again, if Paul is going to be consistent, his teaching will need to match his life. In fact, he, himself, says this at one point encouraging believers to pattern their doctrine and walk after him. If Paul, in fact meant to convey to all churches through human history that leadership, teaching, and certain roles are off limits to women, then why does he encourage and empower women leaders in the book of Acts and proclaim the impact of their leadership in Rom. 16.

Do this for me. Open your Bible and read Romans 16 out loud. Listen for the female names that Paul commends. (Junia is a female by the way) and note what Paul commends them for. Barr points out in Ch. 2 that there are 10 women recognized by name and 7 of them are recognized by their ministry. Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osijek tell us that Phoebe “is the only deacon of a first century church whose name we know.” Junia is recognized not simply as an apostle, but as one who was “prominent among the apostles.” Barr points out that more women are identified by their ministry in Romans 16 than men are. Let that sink in. This is Paul writing this, Paul. As Barr points out, “Romans 16 makes clear, the reality is that biblical women contradict modern ideas of biblical Womanhood.

In the second half of chapter 2, Barr does a deeper historical dive into Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. and the women in Romans 16 (including a discourse on the shenanigans around Junia being turned into a male name in later translations). She tells us what it was like outside the church in the early days and how counter-cultural Paul actually was. Barr will not settle all the disputes around Pauline theology concerning women in this chapter, but I hope as you read it, you will discover Paul’s aggressive attempts to elevate women and combat the patriarchy of the Roman world. And if, at some point in the past, as a woman you’ve given up on Paul because you think he “hates women”, I hope you might give him another chance because Sister, he doesn’t!

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I’m sensing the need to move these reports along and chapter 3 and 4 affords me such an opportunity. I will touch on them both in this installment.

In Chapter 3 entitled “Our Selective Medieval Memory” Barr introduces us to some largely forgotten female church leaders from the Medieval period. Barr is certainly qualified for this task as a Medieval scholar who also specializes in women’s studies. She introduces us to Margery Kempe who went nose to nose with the archbishop of York (the number two guy in the English ecclesiastical hierarchy in 1417), Christine de Pizan a late 14th century French Woman who wrote eloquently of Mary’s role in preaching the gospel on resurrection morning, Saint Paula, and Saint Margaret of Antioch. These are incredible stories, as Barr repeats often, medieval history is not boring!

Barr points out the prevailing opinion of Mary in Medieval thought. She was acclaimed by both men and women, for being entrusted with the good news of the resurrection that pivotal Sunday morning. But that is not where her influence ended. She went on the have an extensive preaching/evangelistic ministry. “…she was a missionary of Christ, affirmed by Peter. She preached openly, performed miracles that paralleled those of the apostles, and converted a new land to the Christian faith. Even though we may doubt the historical accuracy of Mary’s missionary journey to France, medieval Christians didn’t.” Mary’s status in the church during this era afforded women more freedom to exercise their gifts. (Barr Ch. 3)

But men were uncomfortable with this practice so often Mary was cast as “an exception to the rule.” In one of Barr’s most provocative statements she says, “…the problem wasn’t a lack of biblical and historical evidence for women to serve as leaders along with men in the church. The problem was male clergy who undermined the evidence.” Barr quotes New Testament scholar Ben Witherington: “No, the problem in the church is not strong women, but rather weak men who feel threatened by strong women, and have tried various means, even by dubious exegesis, to prohibit them from exercising their gifts and graces in the church.” I’m guessing that quote won’t be well received by some of our complementarian brothers and sisters, but before you respond defensively, ask yourself, could he be right?

In the remainder of Chapter 3 Barr backs these statements up with stories of Clotilda, Genovefa of Paris, Bishop Brigit of Kilgore and Hildegard of Bingen. Chances are Hildergard is probably the only name that is familiar to you in that list. Barr catalogues how the most popular Christian history accounts ignore the female leaders of this era. There are reasons why you haven’t heard of them. She recounts Abelard’s losing battle for female ordination, the move toward a celebrate priesthood, and the absolutely incredible story of Saint Cuthbert, who became a misogynist 400 years after he died (Yep, you read that right) to help us understand how women were marginalized during the medieval period.

The prevailing attitude towards women during this time was that their bodies were “deformed male bodies” (thanks to Aristotle’s view that women’s sexual organs never ‘came out’ and thus they were essentially deformed – yeah, for real! In his “Generation of Animals” Aristotle writes, “because females are weaker and colder in their nature…we should look upon the female state as being as it were a deformity.” – Barr Ch. 2) but women could escape their femaleness by being celibate and dedicating themselves to full time ministry. If they did this they were “like men” and thus they were free to preach and lead with authority. Once again, the church is in a position of adopting secular patriarchy as a base. This grotesque perspective on the essence of women would soon be jettisoned thanks to the Reformation, but a more biblical perspective of femaleness would, unfortunately, lead to a curtailing of women in ministry. Chapter 4 addresses this. Let’s go there.

“Women have always been wives and mothers. But it wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that being a wife and mother became the ‘ideological touchstone of holiness for women.’” “…Women’s alternatives to marriage decreased and their dependence on their husbands (economic, political, legal, etc.) increased.” (Barr Ch. 4) Barr uses the example of brewing beer to show how this process gained traction in England. “In the medieval era, women who brewed ale were ale-wives. They were identified as such in the records. They were identified by their work as well as their marital status. They could have more than one identity. But later, in the early modern era, a Protestant wife who brewed was a good wife alongside her husband…”.

I’ll let you read Barr to track her explanation of this fundamental shift and the impact it had in women, because I want to point to an analogy that Barr used that gripped my heart.

Barr uses Virginia Woolf’s phrase “a room of one’s own” to explain historical differences within the continuity of women’s lives. I will quote it in its entirety:

“Women, throughout history, live within the confines of patriarchy. Bennett describes this is the patriarchal equilibrium. Regardless of how much freedom they have, they always have less than men. Yet the patriarchal equilibrium is a continuum, not a fixed standard. The boundaries of patriarchy wax and wane; the size of a woman’s room – the space where she’s able to make her own choices – changes. Some women have bigger rooms, such as wealthy women with husbands and fathers among the highest social classes. Some women have smaller rooms, such as poor women from families with little political and social influence. Historical circumstances such as the aftermath of the black death in Europe, temporarily expanded women’s rooms by increasing their independence as wage earners, while other historical circumstances, such as Athenian democracy, made women’s rooms smaller.” (Barr Ch. 4)

During the aftermath of the Reformation, the view of women became more Biblical (image of God vs. deformed man – yeah!), but the women’s ‘room’ got considerably smaller (boo!). Please read chapter 4 to learn about this and how Reformation theology laid the groundwork for shifts in women’s roles that continue to be manifested in contemporary evangelicalism. It is a crucial part of the historical narrative.

Let me end this post by asking two questions of the women and one question to the men reading this post. Please answer these questions in the comments below.


Question 1. As a woman, on a scale from 1 to 10, how big is your room? (1 = a matchbox, 10= wide open spaces). You can answer this for any or all contexts, church, family, work, etc.

Question 2A if your number for question 1 is 7 or above, please tell us how you came upon this open space.

Question 2B if your number is 5 or below, please tell us how that feels to you and how you navigate a small room.


Since Patriarchy is baseline in our culture and churches, generally men get to decide how big women’s rooms are. I’m not endorsing this, just stating facts. What have you done to increase or decrease the size of the room’s in the women’s lives around you (home, church, work).

This will be a safe place, no one is going to judge you or your answers. Please respond ladies and gents, I’m longing to know what it really like in your world.

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Read these two translations of Proverbs 19:21, and then let’s talk.

“Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21 Today’s New International Version – TNIV)

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21 English Standard Version – ESV)

Do you see the differences?

In 1991 I was only 28 years old when I started my pastoring and preaching ministry at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in North Dallas. I had preached 5 live sermons in my life (not counting preaching labs in seminary) and I had so much to learn. In my insecurity I found myself prefacing comments with, “in the Greek this says…” or “the original doesn’t really say what you’re reading in your translation.” After multiple conversations with folks in the church I realized that I was inadvertently undermining their confidence in their English translations, which, not knowing the original languages, was all they had.

I don’t want this post to undermine your confidence in scripture, but I think it is important to understand that our English translations are translated by scholars with theological convictions, and in some cases, come into being for the express purpose of transferring those convictions to their readers. This does not mean that it’s impossible for lay people to discern the true meaning of the original scripture, it simply means that it takes a little more work than simply reading the translation that agrees with our theology. In Barr’s fifth chapter entitled, “Writing Women out of the English Bible”, you will be introduced to this reality. Fasten your seatbelts.

Barr gives a helpful overview of what has become known as the “Gender-Inclusive Bible Debate.” It was the late 90’s when Zondervan Publishing House had started requiring its authors to “avoid using masculine pronouns as ‘generic placemarkers’ and instead use gender-inclusive terms like humanity and people…” (Barr Ch. 5). Zondervan was re-doing their best-selling Bible the New International Version (NIV) with these thoughts in mind. Writer Susan Olasky, a writer for World magazine wrote articles decrying this practice and 12 men led by James Dobson and including Wayne Grudem and John Piper met together to produce guidelines for “Gender Related Language in Scripture.” Shortly after this, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) met in Dallas and “the nearly sixteen-million-member denomination unequivocally condemned gender-inclusive language in Bible Translations.” They accused these Biblical scholars of being people, “…who do not hold a high view of Scripture”, and by the end of 1997 the battle lines were drawn. When Zondervan released their new Translation in 2002 (Today’s New International Version – TNIV) Grudem and others wrote scathing reviews. Before The TNIV was even released, the 12 men referenced above were already working on their new translation. In 2001 (they beat Zondervan to the punch), the ESV was released by Crossway Publishers. “The ESV was a direct response to the gender-inclusive language debate.” (Barr, Ch. 5). Proponents of the ESV see the TNIV as a capitulation to modern feminism. But as a historian, Barr sees it differently, “gender-inclusive language has a long history in the church…” she says, and then walks us through some of that history.

She describes the English Bible before the Reformation, debunking the myth that people in the Middle Ages were biblically illiterate, and then shares some examples from Medieval sermons where pastors specifically make gender neutral adjustments in their messages. “Long before either the TNIV or the ESV or even the King James Version (KJV), for that matter – priests in the late Medieval England were already erasing ‘the male oriented details’ from scripture as they preached to the men and women crowding the naves of their churches.”, she continues, “Middle English sermons so frequently translate the Biblical text in gender specific ways that I suspect many Medieval people perceived gender-inclusive language to be commonplace in the Bible.” (Barr Ch. 5).

“Modern evangelicals denounce gender-inclusive language as a dangerous product of feminism. Medieval clergy used gender-inclusive language to better care for their parishioners.” (Barr, Ch. 5)

Barr describes the cultural factors behind the male oriented language in the King James Version (the granddaddy of English versions – my words) and explains what a “false universal language” is. (I won’t attempt to explain it here, she does an excellent job.) She shows how the false universal language in early modern England continues to influence modern English translations today.

There is so much more in the chapter, you really need to read it! Don’t let it erode your confidence in God’s word, just be aware, and make sure you are reading the text in multiple translations. If your translation is “male language heavy” (most are), I encourage you to read the TNIV as well. And read Barr’s chapter, it alone, is worth the price of the book.

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If you’ve discussed women’s roles in the family and church with your friends (very courageous!), you’ve probably heard something like this: “the woman’s place is in the home, it’s been that way for 2000 years, it is her highest calling and it’s always been her spiritual responsibility, why are we messing with this now?” Right?

Not so much.

Let me tackle that sentence clause by clause:

“The woman’s place is in the home” – actually, the woman’s place is in Christ.

‘It’s been that way for 2000 years…” – actually this is a more recent idea. (Keep reading)

“It is her highest calling” – actually nope, that would be being a disciple of Jesus (see the Mary and Martha story – Luke 10, where Jesus elevates discipleship over domesticity)

It’s always been her spiritual responsibility – actually, “while domesticity has always been important for women throughout church history – like medieval women who baked Eucharist bread and washed the alter linens – it wasn’t until the early modern world that domesticity became linked with women’s spiritual calling.” (Barr, Ch. 6)

‘Why are we messing with this now?” – because it’s been long enough.

I think there are few things more magnificent than a mother nurturing and caring for her children. Women who give themselves to and for their children exemplify servanthood and sacrifice. I am honestly in awe of them. I know almost everyone would agree with me on this. But a strange thing happened to women as history marched forward. During the 19th Century “…a phenomenon central to middle-class culture in Europe emerged. It emphasized piety, domesticity, submission, and purity as characteristics of the ideal woman.” Historians call this phenomenon, “the cult of domesticity.” (Barr, Ch. 6)

“…when we get down to it, the construction of modern biblical womanhood for Protestant women owes much more to the developments after the 16th century than before it.” (Barr Ch. 6). During the Medieval era, Christian women found “holiness” through virginity. But during the Reformation, “the ideological touchstone of holiness” shifted. Instead of finding holiness in virginity, they found it in “the marriage bed.” Westercamp summarized the woman’s place after the Reformation this way, “destined to be married, to labor in the household, and to subject themselves to the rule of their husbands.” (Barr. Ch. 6) Instead of being something that women usually did, domestic prowess in the home became something women should do. That is a fundamental shift. And that shift persisted.

“Vicomte de Bonald, a political writer in France, wrote in his 1802 treatise on education that ‘women belong to the family and not to political society, and nature created them for domestic cares and not for public functions… everything in [girl’s] instruction should be directed toward domestic utility, just as everything in the education of boys should be directed toward public utility.’” (Barr, Ch. 6).

When I was in High school, the girls went to “home economics” class and the boys took “shop”. Bonald had some staying power, didn’t he?

In 1856 Reverend John Gregg, preached that women were designed different from men, and that the differences affected every area of their life, including education and occupation. “Society does better when each sex performs the duties for which it was especially ordained.” All this sounds familiar to modern evangelical ears, this stuff is still being preached today. But where did it come from?

Barr tracks the Historical roots of what she calls “sanctified subordination.” First of all, during the Enlightenment a new idea emerged in the West, it was called ‘complementarity’ (sound familiar)? Katherine French and Allyson Polska in their book, “Women and Gender in the Western Past” said, “complementarity provided the basis for the idea that women were built for domesticity and child rearing, and men were built for rule, rationality, and public duties.” (Barr, Ch. 6) Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an early proponent of complementarity, and in his text “Emile” he said, “the search for abstract and speculative truths, for principles and axioms in science, for all that tends to wide generalization, is beyond a woman’s grasp; their studies should be thoroughly practical.” (Barr, Ch. 6). Complementarity pointed women to domesticity.

Secondly, early modern science reinforced the idea that women were so different from men physically that they were predestined for domesticity. Charles Darwin explained in his 1871 classic Descent of Man that desirable evolutionary traits were “transmitted more fully to the male than the female offspring…. Thus man has ultimately become superior to women.” (Barr, Ch. 6)

Finally, the Industrial Revolution, coupled with the prevailing mindset that women’s bodies were inferior to men’s, led to a transformation in the work of both men and women in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries. On one side, the Industrial Revolution gave women more opportunities to work outside the home, but it also hardened gender restrictions. For example, an argument emerged that women should be paid less simply because they were women. James Mitchell, a British factory commissioner declared in 1833 that women should be paid less to discourage them from working outside the home. Laws were passed to shorten women’s working hours (because they were inferior physically) forcing them to take unpaid maternity leave, and in some places forbidding them from working at all. These laws made it practically impossible for women to compete with men for jobs.

Why are we learning all this history? By the end of the early 19th century “the separation of work from home, scientific claims about female distinctiveness and weakness, and Christian teachings emphasizing the role of the wife all came together to create the “cult of domesticity” The four components, first articulated by historian Barbara Welter were piety, purity, submission, and domesticity. Barr asks, “Don’t these characteristics sound familiar? …  Indeed, doesn’t biblical womanhood just seem like an updated version of the cult of domesticity? …Instead of biblical womanhood stemming from the Bible, it stems from a gender hierarchy developed in the wake of the Industrial Revolution to deal with the social and economic changes wrought by work moving outside the home.” (Barr, Ch. 6)

When I read that quote, the phrase “instead of biblical womanhood stemming from the Bible…” caught my attention. My first thought was, what about Titus 2:3-5? In this text Paul teaches the “older women” how to disciple the “younger women”, to “teach what is good.” Paul then gives some examples of what they can teach, one of which is “to be busy (or workers, or keepers) at home.” Is Paul saying that domesticity is a woman’s highest calling here? Is he eliminating other roles that women might play? Is this a timeless directive, a “job description” for Christian women? Marg Mowczko who writes extensively about women in the Bible has multiple articles on her web page about his text. ( I encourage you to read them, just click on Titus 2 in the list on the right side of the page and multiple articles will appear. One article discusses the “workers at home” vs. “keepers at home” (KJV) language and what that phrase means. Another asks how this phrase applies today. She writes about biblical women who were not “keepers at home” and another article lists 25+ biblical roles for women other than being “keepers at home.” There is great wisdom in older women teaching younger women how to create a home, practically every woman on the planet will need these skills with the possible exception being an heiress in the wealthy home who has a staff to do domestic tasks for her. But Paul is not saying in the text that being a wife and homemaker is the primary identity for women. After all, Paul tells unmarried women to avoid marriage in 1 Cor. 7:34-36 saying, “those who marry will face many troubles in the life and I want to spare you this.” (Vs. 28). He wants them to stay unmarried so as to be unencumbered with the stresses of family life and for the express purpose of focusing their limited energy on ministry. (There is important context in that chapter, make sure you read the whole thing.) Now, back to Barr.

Barr points to James Dobson’s book “Love for a Lifetime” as an example of content rooted, not in the Bible, but in the cult of domesticity and ancient ideas about the biological inferiority of women. Maranel Morgan’s “The Total Woman”, written in 1973 and a favorite among Evangelical women is another example and the True Woman Conference, led by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth presented the ideal Evangelical woman as one who protected her sexual purity, stayed home, nurtured the spirituality of her family, and submitted to her husband. “What evangelicals have failed to realize, explains historian Randall Balmer, is that the ‘traditional concept of femininity’ that we believe to be from the Bible is nothing more than ‘a nineteenth-century construct.’” (Barr, Ch. .6)

Is Barr arguing that women who feel called to stay home and raise their children should start applying for jobs. Of course not. She just wants women to realize that what has been pitched to them as “God’s best for them” (my words), is a result of 19th century sociological factors more so than a complete picture of biblical womanhood. “History matters, and for the modern evangelical woman, the nineteenth-century has mattered far more than it ever should have.” (Barr, ch.6)

Chapter 6 in Barr’s book took me back to hundreds of conversations I had over the years in pastoral ministry with women who felt guilt and shame for not fitting the mold. Women who had never married who thought they were missing God’s best, divorced and deserted women wondering if they could please God now that their calling as a wife had been taken from them, widows, empty nesters, and women who had lost their only child grappling with a lack of purpose, single moms working two jobs to pay the bills, gifted female marketplace leaders dealing with guilt over putting their children in childcare, men beating themselves up because they didn’t make enough money to insure their wives could stay home, or men chastised for staying home with the kids while the wife worked, women who have lost themselves shoehorning themselves into a prescribed role, and of course women struggling with infertility who felt they had “let their husbands down” (even though in approximately half the cases the medical problem was with him.). So. Much. Angst. I have long pointed out to women and men like this that womanhood is much broader than Titus 2, to embrace their station in life and experience the Life of Christ in it… fully. Barr’s chapter will help in this process.

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Hello my friends. I wanted to take a moment today to bring your attention to a mistake I made in the 6th installment of these book reports from Dr. Barr’s book.

In chapter 5 of “the Making of Biblical Womanhood” Dr. Barr references a study done by Dr. Lucy Peppiatt concerning the male pronouns in 1 Tim. 3. In my book report I foolishly challenged Dr. Peppiatt’s conclusion (I should know better) and also shared an opinion about the Greek text that I had not researched adequately (the fact that “overseer” in vs. 1 is feminine and in vs. 2 is masculine.). Whereas these words in the original are actually feminine and masculine, I have had a friend challenge my conclusions based on the grammar and have realized that their correction has merit. I have not researched their position on the text, but this has raised enough question in my mind to remove that portion of the post. I have an unwritten rule to not speak to nuances in the Greek text that aren’t supported in the writings of credible scholars. I made an exception in this case and regret doing so.

I’m sorry, I need to be more careful. Please don’t allow this to reflect poorly on Dr. Barr, this was completely my content. I’ll get back to reporting on her excellent book soon.

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When I candidated for the role of Senior Pastor at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship as a 28-year-old in 1991, I sat with the elders to discuss my doctrine. Before we started, I said, “there are three reasons you probably don’t want to hire me, can I just say them up front so we can address them?” They agreed and I said, “I am not a dispensationalist (this is a big deal in Dallas and Dallas Theological Seminary territory), I’m not a cessationist (the idea that the ‘sign’ gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased upon the death of the final apostle), and I think women are people too and they need to be completely free to exercise their gifts in the church.” This last one went down like a ham sandwich in a synagogue, but to the credit of the board they responded with openness and a desire to enter into discussions around this topic.

In April of 2016 I stood on the stage at Bent Tree with our elder board (different men than the 1991 board) and we told the church that a prayerful and thoughtful decision had been made to welcome women into every level of leadership and every kind of service in the church, including the role of elder. Twenty-five years after the conversation began, we finally freed women to contribute however God had gifted them to do so. It was a fantastic day and has proven to be an excellent decision.

But everyone didn’t see it that way. I’m going to show you two immediate responses to our decision from Evangelical leaders. There is a common theme.

The first one comes from Denton Bible Church, an influential mega-church in Denton, Texas. Tommy Nelson is the pastor there. I don’t know if Tommy wrote this or not, but it sounds like him. I cut and pasted it from the Denton Bible Facebook page, this is the entire post:

“A Response to Bent Tree Bible Church’s Decision

Many of you have heard or will hear about the decision that Bent Tree Bible made recently to officially embrace egalitarianism or to embrace doctrinally the equality of women as preachers and elders. The historic position of the church has been the equality of all Christians before God as His divine children but distinctiveness in the sexes as to the divine roles. If not, Christ and Paul were bad delegators of authority as only men assumed leadership positions. In the past few years as the pressures of feminism and liberalism have encroached upon the pulpits this historic position has been set aside. Usually, it was among the more liberal denominations, but of late, it has become that of what were regarded as fundamentalists. Many know of a few years back of Irving Bible’s landmark decision to embrace women as pastors. A church who has in their past the biblical fundamentalism established by Toussaint and Swindoll. Bent Tree Bible in Carrollton has flirted with this issue for years, but now they feel safe to publicly embrace it. How do we perceive this?

In the third century the Roman emperor Diocletian demanded that churches ‘turn over’ their Bibles. Some churches held on and went through great persecution. Others turned them over and gave their Bibles to the world. The term for the ones who turned them over was called traditors which means “those who hand over.” The term became a proper name in the word Traitor. A traitor is one who hands over his Bible. The action is an injury against all Christianity because the issue of women pastors and elders is not an issue of gender, it is an issue of biblical inerrancy. The gender roles are not based in scripture on culture; they are based upon creation (I Tim 2, I Cor. 11). Bent Tree now stands on a slippery slope. Theirs are failed arguments that have been dealt with for years. The equality of men and women in Christ does not cancel out all the Bible says of male and female distinctiveness. There are all sorts of moral standards that can be abandoned because of “culture” as opposed to the clear teaching of Bible. Egalitarianism is simply the first. It is a slippery slope indeed.

I know many of the folks at Bent Tree and enjoy them as brethren. In this however, we must say, “hither you shall proceed and no further.” We grieve at those who have handed over their Bibles to the cacophony of the world.

In this house, in this council, we shall stand on the scriptures and their literal interpretation. Be comforted. We are safe at Nottingham and 380. Next year we are about to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation who’s watch word was sola scriptura. Here still we shall stand.”

Tommy Nelson (I think) told people to leave our church (that’s what ‘hither you shall proceed and no further’ means) because of our decision. He also hinted that if we don’t jump on the complementarian bandwagon, we are essentially calling Paul and Jesus “bad delegators of authority.” Yikes! After faithfully preaching the word of God in the same community for 25 years, I was publicly deemed a “traitor of the Bible” because we removed the stain-glassed ceiling. The arguments in this post are not cogent and are maddening, but I don’t want to get sidetracked into all that junk. Let’s keep moving.

The next post comes from Denny Burk a professor of Biblical studies at Boyce College, and associate pastor, and the president of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I cut and pasted a portion of his blog post from April 21, 2016 below. Whereas Burk’s tone is much more civil than Denton Bible’s, the theme is the same.

“Briscoe and the elders say that they intend to be a “conservative” church that maintains a tenacious commitment to the inerrancy of scripture. That is something to be thankful for. There are many who join feminist readings of scripture to a more explicit repudiation of the Bible’s integrity and authority. Briscoe and the elders do not wish to do that. Still, whether they realize this or not, the theological rationale for their decision is at odds with a commitment to the Bible’s authority. On this point, I think Lig Duncan has well said: The denial of complementarianism undermines the church’s practical embrace of the authority of Scripture (thus eventually and inevitably harming the church’s witness to the Gospel). The gymnastics required to get from “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” in the Bible, to “I do allow a woman to teach and to exercise authority over a man” in the actual practice of the local church, are devastating to the functional authority of the Scripture in the life of the people of God. By the way, this is one reason why I think we just don’t see many strongly inerrantist-egalitarians (meaning: those who hold unwaveringly to inerrancy and also to egalitarianism) in the younger generation of evangelicalism. Many if not most evangelical egalitarians today have significant qualms about inerrancy, and are embracing things like trajectory hermeneutics, etc. to justify their positions. Inerrancy or egalitarianism, one or the other, eventually wins out.”

“The feminist reading of scripture”

“Repudiation of the Bible’s integrity and authority”

“At odds with a commitment to the Bible’s authority”

Did you see it?

From Denton Bible: “The action is an injury against all Christianity, because the issue of women pastors and elders is not an issue of gender, it is an issue of biblical inerrancy.”

From Lig Duncan via Denny Burke: “The denial of complementarianism undermines the church’s practical embrace of the authority of Scripture (thus eventually and inevitably harming the church’s witness to the Gospel).” … “By the way, this is one reason why I think we just don’t see many strongly inerrantist-egalitarians (meaning: those who hold unwaveringly to inerrancy and also to egalitarianism)”

Do you see it? Here is the argument. “You don’t interpret the Bible the way we do, we’re right, you’re wrong, and so you are a traitor of the Bible because you don’t believe in inerrancy.” Nice hu? Please don’t fall for this! There are diligent students of God’s word who hold firmly to inerrancy and have landed on different conclusions than our complementarian brothers and sisters. This is a cheap distraction from the issues at hand.

In Beth Allison Barr’s 7th chapter in “the Making of Biblical Womanhood” she addresses two tactics that Patriarchists employ to defend their interpretation of scripture. One is to discredit people who see it differently by calling into question their commitment to Scripture (see above), Barr calls this the “weaponization of inerrancy.” Her explanation is incredibly helpful. As weak and egregious as this argument is, it pales in comparison to the second tactic.

Dr. Bruce Ware was a professor of mine at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He also attended the same church as us during our seminary years. He is genuinely a nice guy and a leader in the complementarian theological community.

But, Dr. Ware is so committed to his perspective on Women’s roles that he has slid (can we say slippery slope?) into an ancient heresy to support his views. And some (not all) complementarians have followed him into the mire. The heresy is called Arianism and Barr explains it clearly in her chapter. To summarize, Ware adheres to an idea called “the eternal subordination of the Son” or ESS. The idea is that the 2nd person of the Trinity (Christ) is eternally subordinate to the Father. This then supports the notion that women are subordinate to men. (I know, it doesn’t really make sense, but it does to them). The big problem with this is that the foundational premises behind this notion were already addressed by church leaders’ centuries ago, and deemed heresy. You really need to read Barr’s explanation so you can see the depths of this line of reasoning.

Barr is taking heat for this chapter. Just yesterday the Editor of Christianity Today called her commitment to Scripture into question because of her book. (He admitted later to just skimming the book and not reading it). This is simply an “in the moment example” of exactly what she describes in chapter 7. It is a must read!

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“Biblical Womanhood is Christian Patriarchy. The only reason it continues to flourish is because women and men – just like you and me – continue to support it. What if we all stopped supporting it?” (Barr, Ch. 7)

I, Pete Briscoe, will no longer support Christian Patriarchy.

Many of you who know me are probably surprised to see me write that. Let me try to explain.

I have been a champion for women in ministry for over 30 years. When Libby and I moved to Dallas to lead Bent Tree Bible Fellowship my first hire was JoAnn Hummel, an extremely gifted graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, and we called her “Pastor” because that’s what she was. Over the years we saw the church become increasingly open to women in the pulpit and leadership thanks in part to JoAnn’s strong, wise, patient, and excellent leadership. Joining JoAnn over the years were dozens of gifted female leaders and teachers all exercising their gifts. But we were still a complementarian church because women were disqualified from leading as elders, our governing body. They were not eligible because they were women, that was the only reason. Their sex. That’s it. There is a word for this, it is called Patriarchy. I’m an egalitarian by conviction, but I led a church for over 25 years that was fundamentally patriarchal.

The day we announced to the Body that we were going invite women into every aspect of service and leadership in our church with the joyful anticipation of sharing leadership with no limitations based on sex, the air changed. After multiple conversations after the last service that day, Libby and I were walking back to my office, hand in hand. There was a spring in her step. Someone yelled across the cubicles, “hey Libby, how are you doing?” I’ll never forget her response, “Awesome! I got a promotion today, I’m fully human. The air is different, can’t you tell?” She would tell you that she didn’t actually get a promotion that day and that she was always fully human, but the patriarchy in the air had made her feel “less than”, until that day.

For 25 years Libby, and all the women of Bent Tree, were “one down”. ‘One down” is an expression I learned in therapy. In relationships, my therapist told me, there are 3 ways we can see each other: we can be “one up” (slightly more valuable than the other), “one down” (slightly less valuable than the other), or equal. Of course, we are equal in essence, but this is about how we perceive the other person, and thus how we treat them as a result. Women were “one down” for decades in our church until they weren’t. Libby was “one down” in our marriage, until she wasn’t.

‘Ideas matter. Ideas that depict women as less than men influence men to treat women as less than men.” (Barr, ch.7).

One of the staggering realizations for me over the past 5 years is that our marriage, egalitarian in essence, was tainted with patriarchy. We settled into a relational norm where I was “one up” and Libby was “one down.” My calling was more important than hers, my energy needed to be preserved for ministry regardless of how that depleted Libby, my absence from home life was understandable, my lack of engagement was ok because Libby could pick up the slack. She was there, for me. She left a promising career to raise the kids because, well, I wasn’t going to. It was just assumed; I was 1 up. Not 53 up, just 1, but that 1 made all the difference.

I hear complementarians use terminology like “hard complementarian” or “soft complementarian” to describe how they apply their theology to their homes and churches. The hard comp. men are 100 up, the soft comp. men are 1 up. 1 up is 1 too many. Women in hard comp. marriages and churches are 100 down, in soft comp. relationships, 1 down. 1 down is 1 too many. “1 downing” somebody dwarfs them over time, they start to believe this is their place and they lose their personhood.

In the last chapter of “The Making of Biblical Womanhood”, Dr. Beth Allison Barr asks the question, “Is it time to set women free?” Of course, the answer is yes, but we are centuries late to that decision. I see now that we were decades late at Bent Tree. In the years before we changed, our subtle “one down” message negatively impacted tens of thousands of women and girls. If you were one of those girls or women, I am deeply sorry. Please forgive me for not courageously leading that process sooner.

I was also 30 years late in seeing and treating Libby as an equal partner in our marriage. This cost her greatly and I grieve the losses she experienced as a result. She is the most loving and gracious person I know and, in her kindness, we are rebuilding a marriage as equals. This air is pure and honoring and valuing. The air isn’t polluted with subtle rules or set roles. It’s fresh and we’re breathing.

So, you see, it isn’t just complementarian men who need a radical shift in how they view women, it isn’t just complementarian women who need to see who they really are, it is also egalitarian men and women who have been breathing the toxic air of patriarchy unawares, like me. So, I’ll say it again…

I, Pete Briscoe, will no longer support Christian Patriarchy.

I’m done.

Dr. Beth Allison Barr has written an excellent book. Chapter 7 is impassioned plea for a radical shift in evangelicalism. It is a call away from “one downing” to simply partnering (my words) with one another in grace-filled, loving relationships without the cultural baggage of hierarchy and all that comes with it.

I join my voice to Beth’s, and I invite you to do the same.

If you want to join us, write “I, (your name), will no longer support Christian Patriarchy” in the comments below. I anticipate a fundamental shift in evangelicalism in this regard, better days are coming!

Thanks for reading my posts, I’ve enjoyed the interaction.

Now, “Go be Free” (Barr, Ch. 7)

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