Bishop N. T. Wright, feminized discourse, and "hedging"...

One of our good readers posted a comment asking, "What, pray tell, is 'feminized discourse?'"

First, in her book, Language and Woman's Place, and a subsequent article, "Woman's Language," feminist scholar, Robin Lakoff, named "hedging" as the first among ten basic assumptions of what is characteristic of the language of women. Hedges are phrases such as "sort of," "kind of," "It seems like," and so on.

Following up on this female characteristic in language known as "hedging," here's an article that goes some way down the road to indicating what's behind my use of this term, "feminized discourse." Here then are some excerpts that should help explain why I refer to academic discourse as the discourse of "a gelded age," and why I accuse Bishop Wright of undercutting the authority of the Word of God in his interview on Australia's National Radio...

As in other types of communication, in scientific writing politeness has been seen as the motivating factor for hedging. Myers (1989) claims that even in this type of discourse hedging is used for the sake of negative politeness, more specificially, to mark a claim "as being provisional, pending acceptance in the literature, acceptance by the community" (Myers 1989, 13). ...hedges reflect a relation between the writer and the readers, rather than the degree of the probability of the statement. Although Myers (1989, 4) suggests that everyone, regardless of their position, must appear as humble servants of the discipline, it can still be assumed that the amount of hedging writers employ depends on such factors as their position within the scientific community, the potential readership, and even the writers' personalities, i.e. how sure or unsure they feel about their own position within the field (cf. Markkanen/Schrder 1989; 1992). academic writing the use of hedges varies according to the field the writer represents, i.e. that there are scientific fields in which hedging is more frequent than in others. It could be expected that the texts of fields like linguistics and philosophy, for example, would contain more hedging than the texts of natural sciences and technology because of the different bases of argumentation in these fields. Argumentation in philosophy is not based on bringing in experimental data and concrete evidence, as in natural sciences and technology. As Spillner (1983, 35) points out, in texts in which the use of experimental data and logical deduction are not so important, the style of writing becomes an essential element in achieving credibility. The convincingness of an argument in such texts depends on the use of linguistic devices, including hedges (Markkanen/Schrder 1989).

...In his article dealing with hypotheses in introductory science texts, Darian (1995, 101) also comes to the conclusion that "hedges are probably the clearest indicators of hypotheses"...

...hedging is not an inherent characteristic of a text but a product of writer-reader communication, i.e. the linguistic expressions used in hedging get their meaning through the response they produce in the readers.

...hedges (are) taken to be modifiers of the speaker's commitment to the truth-value of a whole proposition... Thus, for example, Vande Kopple (1985) in his categorization of metadiscourse types considers the use of hedges as showing a lack of full commitment to the propositional content of an utterance. In other words, hedges (e.g. perhaps, seem, might, to a certain extent) are by him seen as modifying the truth-value of the whole proposition, not as making individual elements inside it more imprecise.


There are denominational flavors of "hedging." You have described Bishop Wright's Anglican form, which always suggests that the hearer or reader (poor fellow) is not quite as sophisticated or educated as the speaker or writer. As I have said before, they seem to me always to have talked like that--at least in my adult lifetime. I thought this even when I agreed more with them than I do now.
But then there is Presbyterian (U.S.A., at least) hedging, which is different. It never says anything about sophistication or education. It never says "so to speak," or "maybe we're wrong." Instead it boldly speaks to the periphery or uses phraseology which is inherently so ambiguous that anybody can find a way to agree with it. Exhbit A: The Confession of 1967 (I have the honor of having voted against it, even when I still thought I was more or less neo-orthodox).
Students of other denominational rhetorics may also have contributions to offer.

I took a meteorology class in college taught by a professor who would put N.T. Wright to shame. During his lectures, he would write definitions of terms on the board, interjecting "as it were," "so to speak," "we might say," in greater quantities than the words of the definitions themselves. I had the impression that he wanted us to know the basic concepts and not the words themselves.

The first time I took a test, I found out otherwise. He wanted the exact wording--minus his useless qualifications. He marked off anything short of verbatim repetition (as it were). Thus I learned about the pernicious nature of this academic Tourette's syndrome.

My favorite hedge word? Unhelpful. Such as: the way the evangelical church has traditionally spoken of hell is unhelpful.

Or, the traditional teaching of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, while not completely mistaken, is perhaps unhelpful.

Or, the maintenance of traditional gender roles in the church has been unhelpful.

Or, the traditional definition of the covenant of works, while having some important things to say about man before the fall into sin, is, (you guessed it) unhelpful.

Take your pick: law/gospel distinction, imputation, etc. Not wrong, just unhelpful!

Please. What exactly does that mean? That the doctrine might be true, or might be false, but is to be judged on its practical usefulness?

Theological discourse is helped when we are clear where we stand. Maybe we can take a lesson from John Calvin, and begin to use the word "caviling" again!

Jeremy, I'm laughing out loud. I can take this one step further though (I don't know whether it is a step in the sad direction or the funny direction). I remember when I took General Logic. We got to a particularly complex idea (complex only when compared to the rest of the class, which consisted mostly of saying things like "If a=b, and b=c, then a=c"). This statement (I don't remember what it was) was written up on the board in two consecutive classes, and both times we were told that it would be on the test. Sure enough, it showed up on the test as a T/F question verbatim to how it was on the board. When we received our tests back, so many people had missed it and began arguing that their answer was right, that the question was confusing, that it wasn't fair, that they prevailed and we handed the tests back in and everybody was marked right, as it were, on that question. Now I'm cracking up again.

At least with your as it were, professor, you knew the difference between being right and being wrong. :)

By the way, does anybody else see the genius of putting "as it were" with the word professor? It makes it abundantly clear exactly what is being accomplished by the use of that type of language--casting of doubt on the truth-value, as it were, of the statement. Any professors out there ok with being called a professor-as-it-were?

Dear Joseph,



David, your uncle, as it were. . .

The above anecdotes provide evidence that the problem is not one limited to female speech patterns. Let's call it what it is - lack of conviction, desire to please, a way of being polite - there are many reasons such hedging occurs. But it's clearly not an estrogen-based phenomenon. Therefore, let's not put down our sisters in Christ by using the word "feminized" as such a perjorative.

No, on the contrary, Light, I don't see how the above anecdotes argue your point for you.

If by "the problem is not one limited to female speech patterns" you mean that it is not something only women can do, you're right. The opposite was never claimed.

If by "the problem is not one limited to female speech patterns" you mean that you see masculine men speaking masculine things and hedging at the same time in the above anecdotes, I don't follow.

The point is that men are not being masculine, but feminine in their discourse. Does that make sense? This is not an attack against women, but against men-as-it-were.

I love it when women are feminine, but not when men are.

Now, the question becomes, is hedging actually feminine. Not per se. It can be, as you point out, a lack of conviction (just like hedging your bets). The point that needs to be made though, is that today, in academic circles, being polite means being feminine. If you want to please people, you must be feminine with your writing/speaking. If you want to be taken seriously you must be soft. (Yes, I am equating women with softness and men with hardness. Yes, this can be seen in our bodies, if you get my drift.) The whole idea of discourse has become one of femininity.

I'm afraid I'm not quite getting across what I mean. Let me try again.

Would you be willing to give me a short list of 5 generalizations contrasting men and women?



Where in the world did you get the idea that someone who is masculine always maximizes all potential conflict and disagreement?

Good grief Dean,

I had to go back and read my posts to see if I was going insane. Indeed I'm not. I never said anything like that.

I believe, based on what he or she has written that Light will actually discuss what I have written. You have made it abundantly clear that you will not. You might want to return to writing about puppies, socks, and Mickey Mouse. What I'd really like to see you write is exactly what you think it means to be a man.

Or, on the other hand, if you want to post here, I'd be interested in you answering the question I asked of Light. Could you please briefly contrast men and women for me?


Socks? When did I write about socks?

And what have you got against puppies?

Joseph, Dean just wrote on his blog, "Unfortunately, too often those who want to help (boys) don't seem to have a clear definition of manhood to start with, and so, almost by default, work on the assumption that the manhood is the ability to take abuse without complaining and to give abuse without compunction."

So it's apparent he's ready to give you some pointers on what manhood really is. I'd suggest at some point testosterone enter into your discussion--the concept, not the thing itself, you understand.

Is it that you hate puppies, or that writing about them is "unmanly?"

In a post concerning the process of moving which I found highly amusing you wrote the following:
4. Some stranger's socks- "Are these yours?" the Mrs. asked holding up a pair too big to be hers and totally foreign to me.

"I don't know where they came from. Those are interloper socks," I said.
That last line specifically stuck with me, having thought the same thing myself.

Also, I have nothing against puppies. That's why I suggested that you continue to write on those topics. They were touching, humorous, sentimental etc.

I haven't had a chance to read the Anthony Bradley post you linked to, but your post (specifically, the sentence my father just quoted) was exactly why I requested the final topic: What does it mean to be masculine, a man, manly. Anything along those lines would do. However, failing that, I'd still accept a simple 5 (or even 3) point list contrasting the differences between men and women.

You've still not addressed the conversation of this post.

Wow, I had forgotten I wrote that.

As I read it now, I strikes me as truer than ever.


Since you all seem to know exactly what manhood is, why don't you tell me.

So far, all I've gotten is that a man is someone who doesn't say, "I think" or "It seems to me."

Dear Light (as it were, as I think that is likely not your real name, as it were)

There is nothing perjorative in using the word feminized in this context. What is feminity? Softness, supportive, careful (full of care), loving, etc. These are truly lovely and wonderful attributes and they are to be highly valued in the correct context. The word feminized is not at all a put down. However, when arguing for God's truth (as if all truth is not) a shepherd must not allow for the ambiguity that can result from a soft statement. Either this is truth, or it is not. If there is a commandment of God then the shepherd MUST call you to follow it.

I had a conversation many years ago with a pastor of mine who asked what I thought of his preaching and teaching. My comment to him was that I loved his courage in teaching on often difficult subjects. However, when making a statement that the Holy Spirit could use to cause conviction, he would often make a joke or say, "but I do it too," thereby letting us off the hook. This care for feelings (or feminization of his preaching) was not allowing for the Holy Spirit to do the work of convicting people. (I say this knowing that we have nothing to do with this, but you get my point. He was not being faithful in calling those listening to him to repentance because he was too concerned about not hurting their feelings in the process and thereby causing people to dislike him.)

There is a time and place in a teacher and a shepherd to have his primary focus be love, compassion, gentleness, etc. However, the proclaimation of truth is not it. How arrogant to feel that we need to soften the truth of God to make it more palitable.

We soften the sinner with our love for them and for one another, not by intentionally misrepresenting the perfect, holy, and yes often uncomfortable truth of God's Word.

Archie -as it were- really Doug. :)


Kinda weasely, don't you think? You are ducking the question.

Fight like a man! :)



I'm not ducking anything.

1) I am trying to continue an interaction with people I don't trust by listening rather than cutting off all communication. I know, of course, that listening is a very "unmanly" thing to do.

2) Why should I be required to lay out my understanding of manhood, when it was the Bayly's, not I, who presented themselves as experts on the subject.

And thanks for the kind words about my blog Joseph.

Not quite Dean. I won't let you off that easy. So far what you've gotten is that a man doesn't say "it seems to me" when he knows. Or more importantly he doesn't say "I think" when God has spoken.

For example, to leave behind effeminate discourse, I would say "God says that sodomy is sinful." instead of "I don't think that God intended or expected us to live a homosexual lifestyle when he made us."

Both are true, but do you see the difference?

By the way. You made enough of a claim to knowing what it means to be a man that I will politely decline your invitation to give my definition first. As I said earlier, I'm willing to continue the conversation given a simple list of 3-5 points contrasting men and women. These could be very short points, I might add, such as, "Men and women have different nether region paraphernalia." But now you can't use that one.


Archie said, "What is feminity? Softness, supportive, careful (full of care), loving, etc."

Archie, just wondering (as it were) Do you consider yourself a supportive, loving, person? If so, are you feminine?

I see the difference between those statements that I believe you see. I understand why you don't like "hedging."

I'm not, however, convinced the point you're making is correct.

When did I make "nough of a claim to knowing what it means to be a man?"

As for your list here are three points.

1. Women are nice to look at, men-not so much.

2. Women often smell better than men.

3. Women giggle more.

Awww, come on Light, I wanted you to respond to my question too, so I'd have more of a list to go off of. Can some other people chime in with some more contrasts?

Dean, as my dad quoted you, "Unfortunately, .. [they] don't seem to have a clear definition of manhood to start with, and so, almost by default, work on the assumption that the manhood is the ability to take abuse without complaining and to give abuse without compunction." To me this says that you have some kind of an opinion of what it means to be a man. Anyway, thanks for humoring me with the list. I'll respond shortly.

Okay, okay, Joseph, I'll bite. Women and men are different in their sexual organs. They are different in chromosomal structure, and the hormones that act upon them as they form in their mother's womb give rise to sex differntiated characteristics, such as facial hair and deeper voices on men, softer skin on women, more muscle-to-fat ratio on men, more fat-to-muscle ratio on women. Women become pregnant, gestate, and give birth. Men inseminate. The higher proportion of testosterone in males leads to more aggressive behavior characteristics. Brain scans show differing brain activity and brain patterns when men and women work at the same task.

Having said that, there are no personality or behavioral characteristics (apart from biological functions that have to do with reproductive capability) that only women have to the exclusion of men, and vice versa. What we have are HUMAN characteristics, and both sexes share in the full range of them, in varying mixes.

Dean, imagine a woman who looks beautiful, smells faintly of roses, and has a contagious giggle which comes out only at perfectly appropriate times.

Now imagine her taking her body and making it look as much like a man's body as possible, finishing by buzzing her beautiful brown hair into a mohawk, and putting on men's clothes. She works out regularly without washing her clothes, so she smells bad, and she starts chuckling obscenely instead of giggling appropriately. She hardens herself against the world

In short, we have masculinized her. Continuing on her laugh, we find that she has changed the way she communicates with people as well. She is no longer sweet and proper, but vulgar, harsh, and rude. She is rough with those she comes in contact with and she has relationships only with those she can dominate.

Has she become a man? No. Masculine? Yes, in some twisted way. Does she know what it means to be a man? No. Is it an offense against men to say that she is masculine and that it is ugly and bad? No, we are not attacking men by saying that. Nor am I attacking women when I say that a man has become feminine in his communication, and that hence his communication is twisted, sick, and wrong. A man who takes on these feminine characteristics has no idea it really means to be feminine. He has made himself into a sickly impostor.

I think this is what we have seen with men and communication. We have taken on certain characteristics of women, but in so doing, we have twisted those characteristics. Archie is right in saying that context matters.

In another post on this blog somebody asked what it means to "act like a man." He wondered whether it was just a pretence, or whether it was simply a set of actions. Our pretend woman has shown what simply following a set of actions is likely to produce. And only women can "pretend" to be men in my mind. Below you will find part of my response to his question.
.. .
I'd say neither "pretend" or "do things men do" is quite right. It's saying men should do the things men were created to do. It isn't that we are pretending to be men. As you already pointed out, we are men, and there is no need to pretend. Nor is it simply saying to do what men do though. If it was, today that would mean I would have to be either a mook (see a definition here: or a "momma's boy". (For a variation on this theme see this article on wimps and barbarians:

Instead, it is calling us to do the things that men ought to do. If you look at the instructions for men and women in 1 Timothy you get the idea that there are certain things that men are called to do and certain things that women are called to do. The problem is that our culture is training us into a false dichotomy. Either men are to be brutes, or better yet, they are to be women. We are taught to value men who have the character traits that women are called to have in the Bible. And this is accomplished starting at the age of 2 by giving boys dolls instead of trucks. It is accomplished at the age of 12 by discouraging boys from keeping score during the soccer game they are playing.

It is accomplished at the age of 16 by encouraging boys to develop their gift of singing by leaving him under the "best voice teacher around" who just happens to shake your hand with a limp wrist and speak with a slight lisp.. . It is accomplished at the age of 40 by expecting a father to have no interest in or interaction with his children.

Like it or not, our culture is encouraging us boys to be girls, and we have to conteract that by searching out what it means to act like a man.

Light, I'm sorry I was writing and missed your post, so I don't address it above.

Here is what I would say. At a very basic level, God created men and women with the differences that you point out, in order that they would fulfill different roles. Given their sex organs, this means that women are to be mothers, and men are to be fathers and that mothers and fathers are not the same thing. Then, let's think about testosterone. Aggression. Men have more of it. God certainly could have made men and women identical aside from their sex organs. Why did he give us men so much more testosterone? It just tends to make us nasty and brutish, I'm told. I'm *only* using your biological differences to discuss this thus far, but we have to turn to the Bible to really answer these questions.

When God calls himself a father to the orphan does he simply mean parent?

Speaking of parents, let me make another comparison. You say that we just have human characteristics, and that they are held in common. I don't doubt that, but you can say the same thing about parents and children. Certainly you wouldn't argue that it is ok for parents to act like children because, after all, we're all just humans. There is something distinctly different about the human child and the human adult. There is something distinctly different about men and women, and you know it goes beyond sexual organs. We've just started with them. When women breast feed they *define* nurturing for us so that we can better understand the love that God has for us through his own nurture for us. Does that mean that I cannot nurture because I'm a man? No. Nurturing, as you point out, is human. Will I ever be able to nurture the way that women are gifted by God to do? No.

When a man's testosterone kicks in and he protects his family at the risk of his own life, he shows us Christ's love for us, when he laid down his life for us. Does this mean that a woman cannot protect her family? No. Showing love by protection is human.

What of the woman who jealously protects her children but rarely nurtures them though? She also has taught us something about God and his relationship to us as His children. What she has taught us is false.

Joseph said:
"When a man's testosterone kicks in and he protects his family at the risk of his own life, he shows us Christ's love for us, when he laid down his life for us. Does this mean that a woman cannot protect her family? No. Showing love by protection is human.

What of the woman who jealously protects her children but rarely nurtures them though? She also has taught us something about God and his relationship to us as His children. What she has taught us is false."

When a woman's adrenalin kicks in, and she protects her children, is she acting masculine? I don't think so: see John 15:13. She is acting in a godly manner commended by Christ.

What of the man who protects his children and also nurtures them? Is he acting as a feminine father? Or just a godly one? If nurturing is feminine (as was claimed earlier), how can he be masculine if he acts this way?

Both fathers and mothers can nurture, and ought to--but being nurtured by a father is different than being nurtured by a mother. In the same way, both men and women can act aggressively, but a woman acting aggressively is different from a man acting aggressively. When the mother defends her young it's a different thing than a father or a man showing aggression. Even when the activities are superficially similar there's still a difference. No one confuses women's basketball with men's.

For all you young conservatives, a voice from the liberal/neo-orthodox past: Professor, later President John Bennett of Union Theological Seminary was known among both the students and faculty of that place as one who needed to hedge big-time. The student summation of Bennett was this exchange: "Dr. Bennett, do you always qualify everything you say?" Bennett to student: "No, not always!"
Everybody have a great day. So to speak.


Thank you for trying to clarify your position. Unfortunately, I already understood.

I've read all the posts. I know the arguments. One problem I have with the Bayly blog is that there seems to be an ongoing assumption that if people only understand your arguments, they will agree.

Well, I understand and disagree.

You wrote " I think this is what we have seen with men and communication. We have taken on certain characteristics of women, but in so doing, we have twisted those characteristics."

No one here has shown that "hedging" ( a term which slants the argument unfairly in your favor, by the way) is somehow a "feminine characteristic."

Also, I assume you are stereotyping homosexuals with your comment about the voice teacher with a limp wrist and a lisp. If so, it is exactly that kind of uncharitable dismissal of other people's humanity that makes me, and more than a few others, think of the Bayly blog as devoid of any real credibilty.

Dean, you are correct that nobody here has shown that hedging is somehow a "feminine" characteristic. In fact, all the anecdotes in the posts above report MEN who are hedging, not women. Joseph states in one post that nurturing is a feminine characteristic - and then goes on to say that both fathers and mothers nurture. So, how can it then be just a feminine characteristic?

My objection to the word "feminize" is 1) that I have never seen it used in any context other than a critical one, usually of another's behavior and 2) it assumes that there are two lists of traits or behaviors, one feminine and one masculine, and that those traits or behaviors are only appropriately found in one gender.

At a large men's conference recently, a list of traits were read and men were asked to vote if the traits were more "feminine" or more "masculine." Those traits were gentleness, kindness, patience, peace, joy, self-control, love, faithfulness and goodness. The hand vote overwhelmingly indicated that most men thought these traits are "feminine." But I expect readers of this blog are a whole lot smarter than that. They are neither feminine nor masculine, but rather godly characteristics: the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)


One of my concerns about the Bayly's is that they seem to dismiss all efforts by men to be polite as "feminine."

They model this belief by being rude to others and ridiculing and stereotyping those they imagine to be their enemies.

In the post Tim removed, the one where he claimed he was using "satire" to try to break through Rod's madness, he was doing much more.

He was mocking the whole idea that people have feelings and that those matter. He was mocking the idea that feelings have any role in persuasion. He was mocking you. And me.


Tim would have to reinsert his post to prove you wrong. For all our readers who are of good will, let me simply say that Dean is arrogantly dishonest.

Dean, this is your invitation to find another location to work your calumnies. Your posts will be removed from this site whenever I see them from now on.

Our readers are free to criticize here, but they must do so honestly.

Though my brother may hesitate to defend himself on this issue. I do not.


David Bayly

If you intend simply to call me a liar and then delete in defenses of myself I might raise, shouldn't you at least educate me on exactly what my "calumnies" are?


Welcome to the club.


Dear Light,

You have ignored the majority of my post. I tried to reverse the sex that we were discussing, and I think I did so successfully. Would you or would you not say that the woman I described has masculinized herself? If so is that an insult to men? If you would not describe her with that word, why not?

I long ago gave up on attempting to show that hedging was feminine. I simply want you to admit that there is such a thing as a man, and there is such a thing as a woman. They were made in the image of God, and they were made male and female. You have continually contrasted male, and masculine behavior as well as female and feminine behavior with Godly behavior. By doing this, you are refusing to admit that they were made male and female, and instead prefer to say that they were made in the image of God. But those sentences cannot be separated. They come one after the other.

When the Holy Spirit says "male and female he created them," what exactly does He mean?


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