Since a lot of you have asked, (and in the spirit of Banned Books Week,) I thought I’d let you know that I recently received word that Lifeway has decided not to carry A Year of Biblical Womanhood in stores, presumably in the wake of the “vagina” controversy over the summer.
The history: Evans has written a book detailing how she spent twelve months attempting to follow all the biblical instructions for wives as literally and fully as possible. Her manuscript contains the word ‘vagina’. Her editor encouraged her to remove this scandalous word, because it would offend the sensibilities of Christian bookstores. Readers of her blog campaigned for her not to give in to such silliness, and she didn’t.
Now, the Southern Baptist bookstore chain Lifeway has said it won’t stock this evidently shocking book. Is it down to using this terrible word? Certainly, Evans has criticised Christian bookstores for demanding such ultra-sanitised content that, if they really followed through with their stated convictions, they wouldn’t stock the Bible itself. So maybe this is Lifeway’s revenge. That’s a nice Christian motive if it is the truth. Yet bizarrely, they are taking online orders for this book! Well, business is business, I guess.
Maybe it’s Evans’ public pronouncements in general, that have been deemed too theologically liberal for Southern Baptists. One of their scholars, Denny Burk, denounced her the other day as a ‘non-evangelical’, a ‘post-evangelical’ and a ‘theological liberal’. He doesn’t give any evidence in the blog post or the comments, but since Burk is a ‘complementarian‘, he is probably offended by her egalitarian views on gender rôles. Indeed, one of the thrusts of his article is that several of these women should not be celebrated, because they are doing things that only men should do – proclaim the Word of God. Worse than that, Evans has raised doubts about creationism and dares to think that gay people are human beings, not an issue.
Only in America?
Actually, no. Although they have certainly changed in recent years, the British-based international bookstore chain Christian Literature Crusade used to be known in some circles as ‘Constricted Literature Crusade’. (I think Michael Saward may have been responsible for that name.) They only sold certain books under the counter in brown paper bags if you ordered them, because they wouldn’t stock them. The Lion Handbook to the Bible was one example, because it contained a photo of an archaeologist who was smoking.
So am I advocating that Christian bookstores should have no boundaries? Of course not. But I am saying that fear is not a decent motive for boundary-setting. And I am saying that attitudes which denigrate women (why else would a proper biological name for a body part – a body made by God – be unacceptable?) are also unworthy of Christians.
Further to my previous post, it is good to see the graciousness of Jared Wilson in taking down the original post and apologising. I believe that all of us who were upset by his original blog post should accept this sincere apology and his assurance that he does not stand for a domineering, violent approach to marriage. This contribution from Jared Wilson seems honest and humble to me. However much I continue to disagree with his views on gender rôles, I think this latest contribution shows the signs of someone who takes the Gospel seriously. Thank you, Jared, and God bless you. In this, I echo Rachel Held Evans and Scot McKnight.
I wish I could say the same for Douglas Wilson, the author of the contentious quotation that Jared Wilson originally used. Sadly, he has replied with one of the most vile blog posts I have read in a long time in the Christian parts of the blogosphere. It is a series of misrepresentations and half-truths in the way he casts those who have been so critical. We’re all ‘professional indignati” who are feminist bedwetters and who deny the authority of Scripture. So that was why we were calling you back to the Song of Songs and 1 Corinthians 7 in opposition to your teaching, was it, Mr W? Since only registered users may leave a comment on his blog, I make mine here: only read the link I have reluctantly provided if you have a clear medical need to vomit. If you are at all of a sensitive disposition, or if you have ever suffered at the hands of the church for your gender, take a long detour away from it.
Back after a long, difficult period away from blogging with this: in apparently trying to condemn the tawdry book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, the Gospel Coalition allows a blog post that uses language which seems to endorse rape. The justifications in the comments by author Jared Wilson that the language of a man ‘conquering’ his wife in the sexual act are to be taken metaphorically are beyond belief. What kind of metaphor is that? How does it soften the language? Not one bit. He accuses critics of misunderstanding the post – all this when it later appears he thought E L James, the author of the murky trilogy, was a man. I don’t think he’s in any position to tell others they have misunderstood. Jared Wilson has posted a clarification, but he is still so tied to male authority and female submission that he doesn’t see the point about the grim metaphor of conquest, however much he might protest that Douglas Wilson doesn’t stand for that.
As for repeatedly quoting 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 and the Song of Songs in favour of male authority and female submission, that requires taking a pair of scissors to both texts. The former clearly says that both parties in a marriage must realise their bodies belong to their spouse, not to themselves. And in the Song of Songs the Shulammite woman clearly takes the initiative in an erotic encounter.
I’m left with this question: does the Gospel Coalition have any Gospel for women? I think the answer is ‘no’.
His response to the furore is fascinating. You can’t comment on the blog post. What’s the matter, Mark? Are you afraid those cowardly Brits will beat you up online?
He didn’t like the aggressive line of questioning from the journalist. Can I just say the words ‘pot, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’, Mr Driscoll? I thought you liked men to be aggressive.
And he accuses the journalist of being liberal, because – amongst other things – he doesn’t believe in hell as a place of conscious, eternal torment. So, would you have been man enough to call John Stott a liberal to his face in his lifetime for his annihilationist views, pal?
As for bemoaning the lack of famous young British Bible teachers, please don’t get sucked into celebrity culture: a preacher can choose in ambition between making Jesus famous and making themselves famous. You can’t go for both. If God raises you up to prominence, fine. But that’s God’s business, not yours or mine.
Some wonder whether we should take Mark Driscoll seriously. Part of me would like to think of him as Christian comedy, the same way I laugh at Jeremy Clarkson, but not with him. However, ask in any school playground whether you should take bullies seriously. Because this kind of accusation amounts to bullying.
Most of all, what sticks in my throat is the way I see the word ‘Pastor’ in front of his name all the time. It’s Pastor Mark this, it’s pastormark.tv, and so on. What exactly is pastoral about this behaviour? We all slip. I do. But Driscoll has been called out as a bully before, and his elders have taken him to task. I think it’s time for a repeat. And a look at why this kind of behaviour keeps recurring.
I won’t be foolish to try a review of 2011 in its entirety, not even my own 2011. But I thought I would just highlight the fact that one thing I have enjoyed this year is reading memoirs. They have been a refreshing contrast to the linear arguments of theology that I often read, and a useful reminder of the truth I often proclaim that God wants to draw us into his story.
Here are three I especially commend. I certainly discovered the first two from Scot McKnight’s blog, and I think possibly the third one, too.
Rachel Held Evans, Evolving In Monkey Town is a book I have wanted to read for a while. Evans comes from the town in Tennessee that was the storm centre of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, and is thus a bastion of fundamentalism. Evans grew up in that faith, and her memoir details where her questioning led her. Some of her conclusions will not surprise those who have grown up in mainstream churches, but they are a hurricane all of their own for someone with her background, and she writes engagingly, with both modesty and passion. Read her blog, too, or follow her on Facebook.
Then I would commend Flirting With Faith by Joan Ball. Ball is an atheist who is dramatically apprehended by God in a church service. Don’t read it for intellectual arguments in favour of Christianity and against atheism, but do read it for the humour and honesty she displays. It is both fun and poignant to read how her faith grows, and disturbing to hear how she is attacked from within the community of faith for it. Nevertheless, her faith endures, and she never stops questioning. Like Evans, there is a beautiful honesty in her reflections. You feel like you are living someone’s real life, rather than one of those ‘When I came to Jesus, all my problems were solved’ stories. Ball knows better than that, and so her story is not at all remote from the average reader.
Last of all, let me add my praise for Ian Morgan Cron‘s wonderfully titled and powerfully written Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me. Cron is an Episcopal priest in the States. For some he will be too sacramental, but even if his expression of faith is not quite the same as yours, do not be put off. This is a book in which to encounter grace and the healing work of the Holy Spirit, as Cron battles the demons of his father’s life and his own inner struggles. The book will be like a magnet, attached to your hands.
Yes, all three books are American. That’s just a coincidence. There is plenty in these for those of us east of the Big Pond to appreciate.
Have any of you read these books, and if so, what did you think? What else have you read this year that you would recommend, and why?