To My Favorite Correspondent . . .

The following is from an exchange I had via email with a Christ Church congregant who takes me to task on my suggestion that his pastor demonstrates an inappropriately judgmental and intrusive assessment of how covenant people eat, as well as a near-obsession with food-as-theology. I will not identify my correspondent, but my answer to him seems appropriate given my recent posts, and here it is below, in near-entirety:

Yes, I think that Doug Wilson is unwise in suggesting that legitimate concerns about diet, health, food safety, origin, etc., could well be an indication of “father hunger,” which, by the way, seems to be his diagnosis, along with “bitterness,” for anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep. It’s ridiculous to suggest that a true picture of, a true relationship with, our Heavenly Father necessarily results in disregard of common sense — in other words, that butter, red meat, fudge, etc., are not as healthy as, say, bok choy, tofu, peanuts, and hummus. He is reckless in his counsel and judgmental in his conclusions.

My biggest concern, though, is this: what kind of pastor/flock relationship results in a pastor’s lecturing his congregants about what, how, and why they eat — especially when that counsel goes against generally accepted information regarding a low-fat, high-fiber, high-vegetable/fruit diet? I know that Christ Church elders often meet to discuss who is, who isn’t, and who should be pregnant, and I am aware that your pastor considers himself informed on virtually every possible subject, such that he can “shepherd” his flock with admonitions, for example, to ramp up the gift-giving for Christmas; for women to collect tableware and linens while waiting for marriage; to hurry up and “not delay” marriage; to use uncertified midwives when delivering babies; to do, or not do, all sorts of things. Is there nothing about which he’s ignorant? And is there no area in a person’s, or a couple’s, life that precludes his intrusion?

Tell me how Wilson would respond to a Kirk family whose kids go to public schools? Would they be made to feel welcome? Or what about a family in which the wife goes out to work and Dad stays home with the kids — and not through the last year of NSA, but permanently? Would Doug Wilson presume that, say, the vegan congregant — who eats no animal products, not even butter — knows him/herself and his/her own needs, or would they be subject to a presumption of weak theology and father hunger? And the single man who doesn’t feel the need or desire to be married — how would he fare at Christ Church? A woman of the same mind?

And why, with only one mediator between God and man, the human, Christ Jesus, would Doug Wilson presume to pore over the consciences and scour through the pantries of his congregants (and yes, this is metaphorical)? Isn’t it enough that he teaches a dubious theology unfamiliar to most evangelicals — an emphasis on covenant membership that appears in places to excuse the need for a personal conversion, personal walk, and personal decision-making about life’s debatables? Or could it be that his emphasis on covenant, and his subsequent teaching on apostasy and “despising one’s baptism,” is a means of exerting undue control and influence over his flock?

Your earlier question — do I believe all complementarians to be bad people, or could they just be wrong? — I’ll answer now. No. Some, even most, complementarians are decent people who understand Scripture a certain way and attempt to live by it. Some, however, embrace an interpretation of Ephesians 5 that virtually displaces the priesthood of the believer in favor of a second mediator, a second priest, in the wife’s spiritual life other than Christ — her “head,” or husband. Further, I believe that almost all examples of violence in the home spring not just from men, but from men who have bought in to or been made to believe that “headship” and “the Bible” give them an authority over wives and children that God never intended. The teaching is bad, the effect worse, and no matter the individual kindness and maturity of the men who embrace it, there’s enough reason from Scripture and from real life to at least call our understanding of Paul into serious question.

It’s amazing to me how one can read First Corinthians and not see the astonishing symmetry and mutuality in Paul’s advice on marriage. I don’t understand how his call for women to prophesy in the church with dress/adornment suitable for the culture falls away when he later calls for women to be silent in the church. Doesn’t that suggest that we don’t quite get the full picture? In First Timothy, he admonishes Timothy to not let the women teach or have authority over the men, and concludes with some odd conclusions — order of creation, safety in childbirth, etc., that are point-by-point refutations of the Gnostic heresy found in the first-century church at Ephesus and other locales. Could it be, then, that his advice was context-specific, especially when, in Romans 16, he commends the women who “contended for” the Gospel — who ran the house churches, who were deacons, who taught? One of them, Junia, was an apostle, or so thought that radical 14th-century feminist John Chrysostom, who remarks on “the honor” bestowed upon this woman by the other apostles. Can you think of any other subject or controversy in the church that is defended by only three verses that themselves seem especially culture-dependent? The letter from James appears to teach quite clearly that works are as salvific as faith, but we view that in the light of the plain teaching of the rest of the canon, and we know not to start new “works first” churches on the basis of that one verse. We don’t know why Paul said what he did about “why are they then baptized for the dead?,” but we don’t, because of that single verse, institute post-mortem baptisms.

I could go on and no doubt will. But please consider, openly and honestly, what I say about Wilson’s pontificating about food and the level of control he seems to need to exert over his flock. I’d like you to tell me any time when he’s been wrong, or any time you’ve gone against a specific recommendation or teaching of his. You’ll probably tell me it’s never happened. I won’t believe you, but I respect you all the same.

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