Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: A Short History of the Headship Doctrine in the Seventh-day Adventist Church

A Short History of the Headship Doctrine in the Seventh-day Adventist ChurchA Short History of the Headship Doctrine in the Seventh-day Adventist Church by Gerry Chudleigh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Male Headship / Complementarianism is incompatible with Seventh-day Adventist theology and history.

This is a very short, concise book summarizing how the Adventist church got from being co-founded by a woman, preaching from the pulpit, to today where a huge controversy exists on whether or not women ought to be given full inclusion in ministry.

This book confirms what I have come to suspect: the introduction of Calvinist/neo-Reformed theology into the Adventist church and a slippery-slope fear of radical feminism.

Chudleigh provides a succinct, but excellent summary of those points of Calvinism that are most problematic to Adventist's historical Arminian/Wesleyan theology in regards to gender roles and relations. He shows that historically the church is silent on the issue until the 1970-80's with the rise of certain proponents of headship and complementarian theology in the Reformed Evangelical world: Gotham, Piper, Grudem, etc. and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Chudleigh shows how these forces made strong impressions on certain Adventist leaders, who then in turn propagated these to the rest of the church.

Chudleigh shows how the argument for headship is flawed and circular. He shows that by accepting one premise, all arguments against are automatically invalidated with no room for dissent or even discussion.

He writes, "So the headship principle is a closed system. Once Eve's original, pre-sin role has been defined as submission to Adam, no other argument or text can disprove it." (Kindle ed., location 503)

In conclusion he writes, "Were it not for the new headship doctrine, the church might have easily adopted a policy of unity in diversity, allowing each division, union and conference to decide how to incorporate women into ministry. Instead, the church is faced with the difficult task of learning how to relate to a new theology that is rooted in a Calvinistic view of God and that permits no compromise or diversity." (location 543)

He makes a very insightful observation and asks a very important question, "No one is advocating that Seventh-day Adventists adopt the entire package of Calvinist predestination theology. But is it possible to pick just one apple [headship] from the Calvinist tree without changing Adventists' traditional understandings of such things as the gracious character for God, the spiritual relationship between Christ and his followers, the commitment to religious liberty for all, and the urgency to take the gospel to every person on earth?" (location 547)

Although this book is directed specifically to Seventh-day Adventists, it may be of interest to others involved in the issue of women in the church. It is a very short read and can be completed easily in one or two sittings. There are extensive endnotes supporting the research.

View all my reviews

Book Review: A God I’d Like to Meet

A God I'd Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional BeliefsA God I'd Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs by Bob Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this short book, Bob Edwards argues for the case that Calvinism and its modern manifestations are really ancient Platonism couched in Christian language. He presents the case that many of Augustine's key theological points were derived not from the Bible, but from Platonic philosophy. In turn, Calvin saw himself as a faithful inheritor of Augustine, and some of today's prominent theologians and preachers see themselves as faithful to Calvin.

Bob utilizes extensive quotes from Platonic philosophers, St. Augustine, John Calvin, John Piper, and a few others to build his case. The similarities in words and ideas from Plato to Piper are uncanny. Bob uses numerous Bible texts in his arguments against Calvinistic interpretations.

The first chapter is a high-level overview of what the remainder of the book discusses in more detail.

The second chapter deals with the overall theological framework, motivation, and history that drives Calvinism. Bob discusses how modern psychology sheds light on the formation and perpetuation of the framework. He concludes the chapter writing, "Calvinism, then, is a systematic method of interpreting the Bible through the interpretive lenses, or schemas, of a philosophy that predates Christianity by approximately 400 years."

The third chapter discusses the problems of assigning absolute sovereignty to God. Also is discussed the issues with the concept of predestination, sin, and evil as is understood through Calvinism.

The fourth chapter deals with reason vs. emotion. Bob shows how this is a direct descendant of Platonic dualism. He shows how this leads to the teaching that "anything coming from 'the self' was declared by Calvin to be unholy... Calvin's solution to his understanding of the problem of sin was very straightforward: the self must be annihilated... there must be a destruction of our ordinary nature... All of our natural inclinations, therefore, must be put to death." Bob discusses how this leads to the preoccupation of some Calvinist adherents to the concept of working to achieve holiness above all else.

The fifth chapter is a logical progression from the fourth: how Augustine's desire to eliminate human passion and emotion led to his doctrine of control of women, and how this doctrine persists in hierarchicalism, patriarchy, and complementarianism in some Christian groups today. Bob shows how this philosophy, again, is derived directly from Platonism and its followers. He also discusses how errant translations and faulty interpretations of key passages in the Bible have contributed to these erroneous and problematic doctrines.

The final chapter discusses a different picture of God: a God who is first of all, love, rather than all-controlling and whose primary attribute is depicted as holiness.

Bob writes in this final chapter,

Many people today turn away from a God who is depicted as controlling, abusive and sexist. I believe this is understandable. They reject God as he has been made known to them by church leaders following in the interpretive footsteps of Augustine and John Calvin. Fortunately, there is good news. The distorting lens of Platonic philosophy can be removed from our perception of God. When we remove this lens, I believe that we have an opportunity to see God in the way the biblical authors intended. We are able to perceive that God is love.

He concludes,

In fact, as one looks closely at some of the doctrines of St. Augustine, they can begin to look as if they are anything but Christian... Dualism, a hierarchy of spirit over body, denial of the free will of humanity and the doctrine of self-mortification; these are some of the philosophical principles that eventually led to the formation of the Gnostic heresy. Shockingly, they are also some of alleged “principal matters of Christian philosophy” through which John Calvin encouraged all believers to make sense of the Bible. He derived them from Augustine, and Augustine derived them from the “books of the Platonists.” Rather than being a benchmark for Christian orthodoxy, St. Augustine’s theology appears more like a “union of Christian and pagan doctrines.”

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in some of the historical and philosophical origins of Calvinism, to anyone who has problems with some of its doctrines, and to anyone who wants to explore a different Christian theological framework.

A devoted Calvinist ought to take a look and see if they are able to provide reasonable responses that don't depend on Augustine or Calvin's interpretive framework to explain the problems.

View all my reviews

Book Review: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah

From the Maccabees to the MishnahFrom the Maccabees to the Mishnah by Shaye Cohen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book describes itself as an introduction to the 350 or so years of Jewish history between the Maccabees to the Mishnah. For most people what is found in this book should be more than sufficient to inform and revise many commonly held assumptions about Jews, Judaism: their history, culture, society, religion, and politics during that time.

Chapter Eight is new in this Third Edition. This chapter discusses the "separation" that took place between Judaism and Christianity. What the chapter reveals is that this was a lengthy process and not nearly as clear-cut as it has been so frequently presented. In fact in some cases it is difficult to see that a "separation" actually took place since because there was no common communion between the two groups. In other cases a separation occurred, not because there was an explicit forcing out of Christianity from Judaism, but because it simply became difficult to maintain social connections when social practices became so different. These and other possibilities are discussed.

The end of the book includes extensive bibliography and suggestions for further study for those who desire to go beyond this "introduction."

Writing as a life-long Christian and as a pastor, this book opened my eyes to ways of thinking about the period of the gospels and the apostles in new ways. The relationships between Jesus, the apostles, the various Jewish sects, the controversies, the intent of the New Testament writings, etc. are far more complicated than is typically heard in Christian settings. The way Christians interpret and discuss Jews and Judaism of the period needs to become more nuanced and charitable. For example, the picture of Pharisees in the gospels are more stereotypes and caricatures than what history reveals as reality of the period. What seems to have happened is that later Christian attitudes crept into the preserved writings and their interpretations, which have been handed down as "true traditions" ever since. This book provides a needed corrective to the "jaundiced" tradition that Christians have received over the centuries and millennia.

I recommend this book to all pastors. As pastors we need to stop perpetuating inaccurate histories and traditions when accurate ones are available. Yes, doing so will challenge us in how to incorporate and present new understandings, and it will challenge our congregations.

(Based on ARC via NetGalley.)

View all my reviews