More Nashville thoughts

I really should just let the Evangelicals have their internal quarrel, but I’ve now seen a moderately-popular Orthodox blog argue that Orthodox clergy and hierarchs should support the Nashville Statement, so here we go again.

It almost certainly won’t be the last word on the Nashville Statement, but Matthew Lee Anderson, who earlier announced why he wouldn’t sign the statement, has revisited the topic in light of many reactions and defenses over the last few weeks. The heavily-annotated result is simply devastating to the procedural claims of the Nashville proponents — which are mutually-contradictory to boot. (“Do we contradict ourselves? Very well, then we contradict ourselves, We are large, We contain multitudes.“)

The official story is that the Statement was for Christian catechesis and not a tactic of culture war. By the time I finished Anderson’s latest foray, I was persuaded that the authors and signers are disingenuous, delusional or, likeliest (since they are mostly honorable people), unwittingly divided.

Far, far too much about the statement belies its catechetical intent; far, far too much about the chosen means of dissemination belies the denial of culture war:

While forming God’s people is a thoroughly laudable aim, I wonder: why then the website, the press release, and the signatories? The means of communication are not neutral, after all. They deliberately invite attention not just from evangelicals, but the world. If the form of such statements is part of catechesis, then why were Bible verses left off? And why were reasons for each of the affirmations and denials not given, or definitions of terms not supplied? Such additions would dramatically expand the statement’s length. But what does that matter, if the purpose is catechism and not the culture war?

[I]f the aim is the formation of Christians, doesn’t that mean confessing our complicity in the spirit of the age becomes—non-negotiable? Mohler obliquely alludes to Ron Belgau’s version of this critique, assuring us that evangelicals really know our shortcomings. But if the statement’s purpose is catechesis—shouldn’t it then express something of the atmosphere of repentance, especially if evangelicalism’s leadership already agrees such a response is justified?

In short: the Nashville Statement is more apt for catechesis in our endless culture war than the confident, faithful affirmation of the Gospel within our churches. We know it is more apt for such a purpose partly because that is how its defenders have used it, contrary to their claim that it is not a “culture war document.” The statement’s affirmations and silences, its form and its presentation are consciously designed to reach as broad an audience as our media allow. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But it is literally unbelievable that the drafters are “astounded” by the attention they have received. How precisely does one write a statement announcing a crisis, and then claim to be surprised when controversy ensues?

We are asked to see this statement not as a reflection of a movement of Christians invested in a narrow understanding of gender roles but as an inclusive document that makes room for all evangelicals. We are asked to ignore the fact that its form and content are designed to generate public attention, and simply accept on testimony that this is not a culture-war document. We are asked to forget that the preamble passes a sweeping judgment on the spirit of our age, but the affirmation and denials only name manifestations that are easy to distance ourselves from. We are asked to accept that this statement is important enough that it belongs in the same sentence as the creeds, but told not to make the “perfect the enemy of the good.”

The appeal to such intentions would be more persuasive if its signers agreed on what it means. But the statement is no model of clarity where it counts for conservative critics. Burk claims it’s purpose is the churches, but John Piper claims the audience is both the church and the world. Mohler reads the statement and says nothing about it acknowledging complicity. Burk’s inventive reading discovers such an acknowledgment in the preamble.

Or consider Article 7. The ‘plain sense’ obviously writes out Wes Hill and Spiritual Friendship. They are the only group known publicly to whom such an article would uniquely apply. Because those who are affirming are ruled out on the other statements, the only reason to add the boundary in Article 7 is if one thinks Wes Hill is outside of it. But Tom Schreiner signed the statement, and he says it doesn’t apply to Spiritual Friendship. Alastair Roberts says it does …

The appeal to intentions in order to settle matters of dispute is a shibboleth in evangelical circles, but there are (at least) two deep, relevant problems with it. First, it is ironically a close cousin of the ‘spirit of the age’ that the Nashville Statement so forcefully denounces. One person ignores the social and material conditions of their bodies and angelically asserts they have a different gender; another ignores the social and material conditions of their words and angelically asserts that they have meant something different than what we heard. Such a principle is self-exonerating; it means no one can be wrong about what they have done, because their private, inaccessible intentions are the final arbiter of what they’ve done. It is a principle that subsequently breeds deep self-deception and insularity, as it is a trump card that ends disagreement and dissent.

Note that my concerns don’t interrogate the literal substance of the statement apart from Articles 7 and 10, and I’m not even ready to say flatly that either of those two is mistaken.

Be it remembered, though, that CBMW — the driving force behind the statement — stood for “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” though they seem to be eschewing that name now. CBMW propounded and still propounds a complementarian view of the sexes that (1) is in conscious contradiction of egalitarianism, and (2) can take an ugly turn — and not just in abusive husbands or boyfriends:

The topic at hand in the Nashville Statement involves homosexuality and transgenderism. But those who have espoused and followed CBMW dogmatically over the years should confess their own complicity, at times, in gender confusion, in pushing conservative followers to not trust their own body’s revelation of their biological sex. I ministered at Mars Hill Church for years and witnessed for more years after I left the harm done to individuals’ understanding of their God-given sex by the hyper masculinity and hyper femininity that were taught through CBMW literature and leaders (along with Doug and Nancy Wilson and Martha Peace) who “discipled” Mark Driscoll and our congregation. Though many attendees certainly entered Mars Hill with a misunderstanding of sexuality, the teaching they received there often contributed to GREATER sexual confusion. I can not tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with folks wrestling with their sexuality in light of the ways they didn’t fit Mark’s caricature of the manly man. And all this happened under the discipleship and influence of the former leaders of CBMW, many who remain on its council and whose names are on this new document.

The mere fact we even have phrases like “manly man” or “effeminate men” in our churches is a travesty that adds to confusion. Biblically, a man is a man because he has male sexual organs. A woman is a woman for the same reason.  Hannah Anderson, Bekah Mason, and Rachael Starke have sharpened my thinking on this.

It was the false teaching of gnosticism in Bible times that separated the realities of the human body from the spirit. Though one may feel they don’t fit uber conservative perceptions of gender, our material bodies matter. I am a woman, not because I feel super feminine or perceive myself as a girly girl, but because my material body has the female genetic makeup and physical features that go with it. I am a godly Christian woman because, despite my overly logical mind that doesn’t particularly enjoy teaching young children, planning weekly family meals, or wearing feminine colors, I submit to Christ and God’s Word. In my circles at Mars Hill, Driscoll and Owen Strachan’s teaching in particular compounded this disconnect between what our bodies say we are (man or woman) and what we feel we are (for instance, Driscoll’s caricature of a “real” man). Oh the damage we have done in the Church, the ways we have contributed to gender confusion by our language of “real” men and “true” women. We went beyond Scripture for years in our teaching on what it means to be a man or a woman, and we must own our part in the confusion this created within our own churches and repent, otherwise we hamstring any new discussions and statements on the subject.

(Wendy Alsup, emphasis added) Mark Driscoll really became a freak show of one before being defined out of Evangelicalism under the No True Scotsman standard.

But how about Wendy Alsup’s insight: the CBMW-inspired manly manhood and womanly womanhood give tacit aid and comfort (or so it seems to me) to ideas like “well, penis aside, I feel like a woman because I’m not so muy macho as Mark Driscoll.”

As a guy who likes music, singing, writing, poetry, fine dining, travel, is re-learning French, and who doesn’t care much for sportsball (especially the kinds that lead to brain damage in the participants) but has no gender dysphoria whatever, I kind of have a personal stake in telling Mark Driscoll that his hypermasculine stereotypes are full of sh*t. And if his schtick was a legitimate outgrowth of CBMW nurture, then I’m not too keen on CBMW, either.

I’m not sure what game the CBMW is playing in the Nashville Statement (I’m not sure they do, either), so I’m not going to play along.

Pre-Publication Update: I have been completely unaware of Preston Sprinkle, as I was of Owen Strachan. Sprinkle has his own interesting Christian take on  the Nashville Statement. Note especially his bullet points.

(Yes, I cringe and get suspicious whenever someone says “heteronormative.”)

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.