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Taste is acquired. Flavours remain ambiguous until the brain learns how to interpret the relevant electrical signals received from the tongue into a meaningful sensation. Familiarity breeds potential contempt for changes in our perceived status quo.
This post is inspired by the recent interaction between Jory Micah and Bekah Merkle regarding the increasingly strident divide over gender roles within Western evangelicalism. Quite simply, I couldn’t resist a brief contribution to the ongoing conversation, since Bekah’s post used the analogy of whisky vs lite beer to illustrate the difference she perceives between evangelical feminism and evangelical complementarianism. As a staunch advocate of single malt Scottish whisky, I immediately felt drawn to the subject. Without further ado then, some thoughts on theological purity vs syncretism:
Jesus is perfect Theology like single malt is perfect whisky
My own developing theological method is fundamentally Christological and seeks to reinterpret tradition accordingly. In a nutshell, given the prior faith commitment of affirming the divinity of Christ by declaring that Jesus is Lord, my approach to Theology embraces various presuppositions about Christian Scripture. Based upon scripture’s own testimony, I consider it to be God-breathed, and infallible as to its purpose of witnessing to Jesus himself. God’s word will not return to him void, and whilst heaven and earth will fade away, Jesus’ own words shall never fade away (2 Tim 3:16, Isa 55:11, Matt 24:35, c.f. Luke 21:33, Mark 13:31). Furthermore, since Jesus is also referred to as God’s word, and all scripture points to him, we must seek to interpret Christian Scripture in light of Jesus and his gospel, which is of first importance (John 1:1-3, 5:39, Luke 24:27, 44-49, 1 Cor 15:1-3).
In other words, as one helpful organisation I once had the dubious pleasure of briefly studying with put it: ‘Jesus is the hermeneutical key’ by which we attempt to make sense of Scripture. As a self-confessed, gentrified Pentecostal I would also submit that sound exegesis and hermeneutics require pneumatological guidance via the Spirit of God (e.g. John 16:13). Finally, in order to make sure that one has at least a fighting chance of correctly interpreting sacred Scripture and turning it into sound praxis, humility is utterly essential, since God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6, Matt 23:12, Luke 14:11, etc). Take it from me, as someone who has stumbled far too many times already: pride goes before a fall.
Plenty of other dynamics surely exist, such as the necessity of a broad general education encompassing history, philosophy, an awareness of the natural sciences, and the ever present reality of spiritual warfare (Eph 6:10-18); unless of course one is hopelessly indebted to the legacy of enlightenment naturalism. In the latter instance, the postmodern turn has already pulled the illusory rug out from beneath the feet of both Deism and Atheism alike, thus rendering proponents of a closed universe all but mute amidst a glorious symphony of existential ambiguity. All of which is to say that Theology is a seriously complex and dangerous enterprise, and we do not merely wrestle with flesh and blood.
Beer, Whisky, and Brick Walls
However, to return to the analogy in question, if Bekah Merkle’s complementarian theology is supposed to be Whisky, and egalitarian theology is cast as lite beer, then Jesusology is more akin to single malt Scottish whisky, and is the gold standard elixir by which all lesser liquors must be measured. The trouble is that to the uninitiated, a blended, mismatched vial of Bells from myriad filthy barrels may pass as drinkable. Worse yet, to taste buds unaccustomed to the amber nectar of Jesus’ theological firewater, cheap imitations with a few drops of the good stuff in them may even seem like the real deal. In reality though, counterfeit whisky is from multiple sources, and it has tainted flavours. Single malt is far more pure, unmixed with the muddied streams of other casks, and retains an authenticity unmatched by its hybrid rivals.
So it is with Theology. As I have written about previously, ‘patriarchal’ complementarianism (which, despite bluster to the contrary, is what it is) has more in common with the prevailing tides of human culture throughout history, than it does the gospel of Jesus Christ. True, the apostle Paul may have prohibited women in Ephesus from teaching men in a domineering fashion (or wives from teaching husbands, as the Greek is ambiguous), and may or may not have expected Corinthian women to remain silent within their churches during the first century CE (1 Tim 2:12-18, 1 Cor 11:2-16, 14:33-35). Both of these contentious proof texts can be interpreted in various ways, yet to slavishly insist upon a universal, literal application of them as binding instructions for the Church across history runs headlong into a substantial set of brick walls; three of which are Junia, the well renowned apostle, Phoebe the deaconness, and Priscilla, Paul’s co-worker and host of a first century house Church (Rom 16:1-19).
As my previous post highlighted, patriarchal complementarians sail into tumultuous waters when faced with exegetical problems like these. If Junia was an apostle, ostensibly leading a church and/or planting new ones, did she do so in a silent manner? Perhaps she was unable to speak, or had taken a vow? As we can see, superimposing Pauline admonitions to localised congregations upon the entire Church begins to look like an embarrassing case of square pegs and round holes. Admittedly, what of the text in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36? Did women keep silent in all churches? If so, how did Phoebe remain silent and carry out her work as a Deaconess? What about prophesying? Or tongues? Was this done in a silent manner, akin to our modern day ‘silent discos’? Presumably, Priscilla merely gestured to her guests when welcoming them into her house Church? If the prohibition to speak holds, surely it holds here? At the very least, such an idea brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘quiet time’.
Back to the future
Herein lies the crux of the matter when comparing patriarchal complementarianism to whisky: It is the muddied, blended bourbon which masquerades as unadulterated single malt, yet ultimately leaves one with a stinking hangover and a cavalcade of regrets the morning after an impromptu binge. It boils down to a cornucopia of disparate proof texts from diverse casks, which are all too often used to buttress misogyny within the Church, under the guise of being ‘biblical’. As my previous post began to address, patriarchy is clearly stated to be a consequence of sin within a fallen world, and is not part of God’s original design (Gen 3:16). Jesus’ glorious gospel sets us free from the curse of the fall, as new covenant humanity begins to walk in the mysterious transformational process of moving from being sinners into saints. God’s adopted sons and daughters are arguably redeemed and liberated from the curse of Eden, thus demolishing one of the Devils’ key strongholds in his rebellion against God; patriarchy is a consequence of the Devil’s work, which Jesus came to destroy (1 Jn 3:8).
If the Kingdom of God can be partially realised here and now, then Jesus’ rule and reign can begin to manifest itself within our present reality (e.g. Matt 12:28). In other words, we can drink deeply of Jesus’ finest, liberating, ‘now and not yet’ liquor, today. Aspects of an otherwise distant future can inhabit our world now. What is more, the wee dram he offers is more than enough to satisfy both host and guest. Imagine pockets of the Kingdom springing up across the globe as God’s people dwell together in unity as living witnesses to Jesus’ gospel. Picture an ekklesia where men and women coexist as equals, and are free to function in any sphere of Church leadership without hindrance, as the Spirit directs (1 Cor 12:11). Apostles, Prophets and prophetesses, evangelists, pastors and teachers can all be working together for the gospel in order to see the great commission fulfilled (Eph 4:11-13). Once this has been achieved, Jesus will return in glory to close this fallen chapter of history; he will thus decisively replace it with eternal peace. I think we could all, egalitarian and complementarian alike, raise a glass to that.