A Gospel-Centered Doctrine of Biblical Patriarchy?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Gospel-Centered Doctrine of Biblical Patriarchy?

I am not a public critic. Years ago I used to be. I greatly enjoyed the privilege afforded to theological peons on the lower rung of biblical scholasticism. There my budding mind felt free to spell out lofty, winsome and stinging critiques of those with whom I disagreed. However, my problem is that I had never actually talked to any of the people with whom I disagreed. It occurred to me several years ago, thank God, that it is not fitting for believers to publicly criticize other believers until we have first sat down over a meal, or over the phone, to discuss our differences. And I also learned that even if it takes weeks, months or possibly even years to make sure that we have talked or at least corresponded enough over the matter, I should take this time and file my disagreement away in the drawer lableled 'patience.' God's kingdom has lasted this long without little old me weighing in on such massive issues. And I believe that it will be able to last just a little bit longer until I can get my ducks in a row to know for sure that I'm representing the other person's views properly, and that we are enjoying the benefits of our communion and fellowship in Christ with fervent love for them.

That said, the question I asked in the title to this post is not, however, a critique of the person who coined the phrase, "Gospel centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy." But this post simply asks the question: "Does not the association of two concepts such as the gospel and biblical patriarchy raise flags in our minds?" It did in mine. But then again, I am a theological peon. And my prayer is that through my observations and 'critiques,' that my many friends who hold to the 'doctrine' and concepts discussed in this post, will consider these things more deeply, and also still be my friends!

The phrase comes from "The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy" from Vision Forum Ministries, whose founder is Doug Phillips. The document itself is a statement of wonderfully biblical proportion and motivation. And it is not my desire to critique it, nor its motivation. However, there are questions that must be raised when the gospel of Jesus Christ is placed along side of the doctrine called 'biblical patriarchy' in such a way as to be made seemingly inseparable. That's what clearly comes across through the document as well as the ministry overall.

First, let's define 'biblical patriarchy.' It is difficult to define it within the document because it is more an atmosphere than it is a concrete definition. The concept or doctrine flows out of the the biblical truths presented in "The Tenets." So there is no forthright definition of it, since it encompasses and flows out of so many texts. That's understandable and one must appreciate such an approach, especially theologians who themselves are often at a loss for one definition since it can either mean too much or mean too little.

Overall, 'biblical patriarchy' as a doctrine, if it can legitimately be called such, is rather recent and I afraid, quite novel. It is novel as a doctrine, to be sure, though not as a biblical concept. It is not one of those 'doctrines' that you'll find expounded upon in a systematic or biblical theology book. So at the outset, calling this a 'doctrine,' and not finding it in 'doctrinal' statements or works since the early church must call it into question.

However, we must also recognize the progress of dogma. This is a phrase theologians have used to refer to the progress which doctrine has made throughout church history. For example, in the first three centuries of the church, the deity of Jesus Christ, Christology, was under attack. So in God's providence, those formidable years were spent identifying, sharply cutting, sanding and smoothing the rock, Jesus Christ. Within that same time period, the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit also came under attack, and He was defined biblically. Overall, it was during this period that the doctrine of the trinity came to be established. And out of this era we have historical creeds such as the Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedon Creed, etc. which the church used afterwards to define its doctrines.

In the middle ages, the doctrine of justification, relating to soteriology, came to be recaptured and defined biblically. Afterwards, the doctrine of the church, ecclesiology, became an issue. Following this period was the doctrine of end times, eschatology, which still seems to be in 'process' today. What theologians mean by this 'process,' is that for various reasons, cultural or otherwise, yet always due to God's providence, one particular doctrine or doctrines has remained on the 'front burners' of the church.

It would seem that the doctrine called 'complimentarianism' is just such an issue which we have had to face in our day and age. It has moved from front burner to back burner to front burner, off and on, for the last couple of decades. The doctrine has come to be well-defined in books like Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (edited by Grudem, Piper, et. al), as well as Evangelicalism and Biblical Truth (edited by Grudem). This doctrinal battle has been waged against what are plainly the anti-biblical truths called 'egalitarianism' and 'feminism,' both of which argue either from a revisionist perspective of biblical history, or from a historical-critical approach to exegesis. The motivation has been also clearly biblically proven that when the home and family step out of sync with Scripture, so does the church. And this is so not necessarily or even logically because the church is made up of homes, but primarily because the Bible says the home, and more particularly marriage, is to be a reflect of Christ's love for the church (Eph. 5:23 ff.).

It is in this atmosphere of unsound exegetical, interpretational, and bible study principles, new archaeological 'discoveries,' new technological 'advances,' and cultural 'progress,' that the 'doctrine' of biblical patriarchy has emerged. For this, it is to be applauded, for from a bird's eye view it joins the ranks of such ministries as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in the fight against an unbiblical view of marriage and gender roles, as well as unhealthy practices in the home.

So what does this 'doctrine' mean when it is said to be 'gospel centered'? This was puzzling to me at first. But the puzzle all shifted into place when I recalled the Reformed view of eschatology called 'postmillenialism.' It is a theological view (I once held, and one which remains very tempting) which teaches that the church will be victorious in winning much of the world to Christ before the Second Coming. Now, there are branches and tributaries of 'postmillers' just like there are in every other theological view. Some are just your basic postmillers like Lorraine Boettner in his book, Postmillenialism. Others are in the 'preterist' camp, believing that some (or all - making you a hyper-preterist) of the prophecies relating to the end times and return of Christ (e.g. most of Revelation) have already taken place. Others are in the 'theonomist' camp, a view which believes that since the church will have a powerful and effective influence on the world over the course of time, that christians ought to be involved in government so as to influence and shape it too, drawing it back into the confines of Scripture, and more particularly the Old Covenant Law. Those holding to the 'doctrine' of biblical patriarchy definitely tend towards the theonomist view of eschatologyand government. It plainly drives much of the doctrine.

It is in this way that those who hold to the 'doctrine' of biblical patriarchy can say that it is gospel-centered. Because they are theonomists, which for many comes from their postmillenialism, state and government ought to be ruled by God's Law, not man's. And it ought to mirror the theonimistic structure and function which is reflected in Old Testament Israel. And because this is a tenet of postmillenialism, theonomy is simply an outworking of the gospel's effect on the rest of the world.

In response, there are serious continuity and discontinuity issues which are at stake here. First, the Old Covenant has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, and in its place He has set up a New Covenant. The New Covenant reiterates much of the Old Covenant, but clearly one place in which it does not is the concept of biblical patriarchy. It would seem that this 'doctrine' reads far too much into the NT descriptions of families (e.g. the 'household' passages of Acts). What is simply happening in the NT is that the gospel is making serious headway into pagan cultures, and it is producing repentance from pagan practices, and it is also redeeming those parts of various culture for the sake of the furtherance of the gospel. My first critique then, is that Old Covenant patriarchy tends to ignore and many times reject culture and refuse to recognize common grace in other cultures to the extent that what might be used to further the gospel is expelled. This leads to the second concern.

What happened under Old Covenant Israel's theonomy and function? They had God as their King for many years. What happened during this time period? They had kings, godly and not, during the monarchial period of its history. What happened then? They returned from exile and reestablished itself religiously and theologically. But what happened then? The answer to all these questions is that the natural desire of their sinful hearts took over and caused Israel to become an nation turned inward rather than outward. God had designed it to be a nation turned outward from the beginning, yet throughout its history, it simply did not. Instead, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene in history, Israel's patriarchical system had developed into Judaism, which was a theology turned completely inward, concerned only with its own theology and purity, and simply letting the rest of the world go to hell (and wishing it would do so). The evangelistic emphasis which God had designed to be a part of Israel was lost because of their individualistic yet nationalistic isolationism. My second critique then, is that returning to an Old Covenant model of patriarchy has proven in history to produce isolationism and neglect evangelism.

Both of my critiques then, have focused on evangelism. Isn't that the focus of the gospel? It is a message of good news that is meant to be taken to the world. And unless I have misunderstood it, or until I come into more enlightenment, the 'doctrine' of biblical patriarchy does not seem be so gospel-centered. I'm not sure Paul would have recognized biblical patiarchy as a tenet of the gospel. And I sincerely believe that this doctrine does not contribute well to a biblical postmillenial view of the end times, for the evangelism with which the world is conquered for Christ is seemingly absent. If I were a postmillenial, this 'doctrine' wouldn't serve my theology very well.

So in summary, "The Tenets of Biblical Patiarchy," while largely a very biblical theology of gender roles, home, family, etc., seems to draw theological inferences where the text implies none. In other words, I don't know that after reading the document apart from its preface that one could conclude or produce a doctrine called 'biblical patiarchy.' It seems more a reaction to the ungodly, unbiblical, and flat-out pagan influences which the world has had on Christianity and the church. And the danger in reactions is that they always lead to truth out of balance. The pendulum of truth in the church should definitely swing the opposite way, away from such worldly influences. But let's try with all our might to stand at the bottom to stop it when it gets there. Let's strive together to prevent it from swinging all the way in the opposite direction.

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