Deep in the bowels of the 54 comments under the post, "The Lotz/Chapell/Keller/James matrix...," an alumnus of Covenant Theological Seminary who held membership at Church of the Good Shepherd while earning his Ph.D. at Indiana University prior to receiving the M.Div. at Covenant, and who currently serves on the pastoral staff of Christ the Word (PCA) in Toledo, Ohio, documents the doctrine of sexuality he found pervasive at Covenant during his three years there. Pastor Dionne writes, "On a number of occasions I heard (Covenant) professors declare that chauvinism, not feminism, is the main problem in the church today. The work of complementarian authors (including Piper/Grudem and their Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) was denigrated as "demeaning to women."
Responding to Pastor Dionne's statement, several current Covenant students wrote in defense of their professors and Covenant's administration and president. Our readers may find a full record of the exchange here. Meanwhile, a few of my own observations:
Covenant Theological Seminary student Michael writes:
Biblical submission is a much more nuanced reality than the dichotomy you accuse me of propagating.
Covenant Theological Seminary student Todd writes:
Paul's thinking is nuanced... Paul wrote to a different culture in a different time to a different group of people experiencing different situations. ...there must be more to our exegesis than ripping one verse out of context and co-text and the original language... there is more to proper and biblical exegesis than ripping parts of verses from the English translation.
Michael and Todd here serve us well representing the heart of the doctrine of sexuality held to by much of the evangelical and reformed world. Dichotomies are bad. But of course, God made this dichotomy dichotomous--namely male and female--and called it "Good." Then God's Holy Spirit told us the significance of this dichotomy: women are not to exercise authority over men.
And immediately that uber-weasel word 'nuance' rises to the surface of both Michael's and Todd's retreat. Not wanting to affirm the plain dichotomous creation of male and female as its significance is revealed by our Creator, they fall back into academy-speak, the same wearisome pattern of escape clauses I heard twenty years ago at Gordon-Conwell from evangelical feminists David Scholer, Roger Nicole, and Gordon Fee. "Different culture," "different time," "nuanced realities," "different group of people," "different situations," verses "ripped out of context," and so on.
But most importantly...
note well how Todd began this litany: "Paul's thinking is nuanced..."
At first glance no one may have been offended by these words, but let's try them another way. If we're escaping the clear application of a text to our lives and families and churches today by talking on and on about nuance and dichotomy and ancient cultural contexts, can we see why we'd begin our escape clauses with the statement, "Paul's thinking is nuanced..."? What if we changed two of Todd's words and wrote it this way: "The Holy Spirit's thinking..."? Things become clear, don't they?
But wait, let's add a couple more words: "The Holy Spirit's thinking is nuanced..."
Really, it's easy to recognize arguments that are aimed at cultural appeasement. It's good to know that Michael and Todd both desire to affirm Scripture's teaching concerning sexuality, and we wish them well. But for myself, I would encourage them to go somewhere else for their theological training. In fact, I'd encourage them to go to Fuller or Princeton or Bethel rather than Covenant. Why?
Because hitting their heads against the real McCoys of evangelical feminism might convince them there's really an enemy to be fought, that this enemy takes no prisoners, and that faithful soldiers of the Cross will wield the Sword of the Spirit in a dichotomous, non-nuanced, way--seeking to allow, not Paul but the Holy Spirit, to separate "joints and marrow."
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).
No doubt many students and professors at Covenant, as well as Princeton, Fuller, Regent, and Bethel, are ready to come to the aid, testifying to the biblical faithfulness of their alma mater (nursing mother). No doubt each school has faithful servants of the Lord who truly love God's Word and call their students to discipline their flocks with those truths hated by our culture--and any man even faintly conscious today must place hatred of authority at the top of this list, particularly authority that is a function of one's sex.
What remains is the testimony of one man who came to Covenant a couple years ago from a major research university where he'd taken his Ph.D., who then completed his M.Div. at Covenant and spent his time there keeping careful track of what he was and wasn't taught concerning the biblical doctrine of sexuality; and who upon completion of his three years there makes these observations. And I quote him here:
(Covenant) does very little to promote the biblical doctrine of sexuality. (Covenant's) professors declare that chauvinism, not feminism, is the main problem in the church today. (At Covenant,) the work of complementarian authors (including Piper/Grudem and their "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood") was denigrated as "demeaning to women." A lecture on 1 Corinthians 11 ...neglected to address any implications of this passage for women today and focused mainly on how men should respect women... Not once in a marriage and family counseling class did I hear any approaches that were sex-specific. Not once during my three years of course work for the M.Div. were headship and submission mentioned. In general, biblical headship was caricatured and biblical submission was ignored. The combined weight of all of Covenants teaching (or lack of teaching) most definitely gave the impression that she and her president were convinced egalitarians, promoting and practicing the idea that "a woman may do anything a non ordained man may do."
The Rev. Dr. Dionne's observations lead naturally to certain questions:
In today's world, how is it possible for a man to complete three years of training for the ministry of Word and Sacrament at a seminary paid for by faithful PCA congregants without being taught headship and submission? Is the man lying? Maybe he sat through chapel and classes listening to his iPod?
But then, we must go on and ask what kind of culture prevails within an institution where professors believe chauvinism, not feminism or rebellion, is the most significant sin of the church? (It occurs to me to wonder whether these profs are saying something about their president, here? Speaking hypothetically, what if these men live under autocratic leadership? Might it not be that their conviction about chauvinism permeating the church is only the natural error of generalizing from one's own experience to the broader world? Just a suggestion, but Covenant's board of trustees might be wise to investigate whether Covenant's president cultivates an atmosphere of blind submission rather than academic collegiality? Joke.)
And finally, is it possible to be in love with the truth of Scripture's doctrine of sexuality while denigrating John Piper and Wayne Grudem's "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" for being "demeaning to women"? And how is it that Covenant's administration and board of trustees has grown so lax in their supervision of their employees that this sort of statement is made, not in a private consultation with an individual student, but boldly to a whole classroom of students?
But I must say this testimony comports well with my own observations. Few Covenant grads have a heart for anything other than a minimalist doctrine of sexuality, but their heart for graceful nuances is huge. Certainly they have not been trained for battle.
Yes, these are generalizations. And there are always exceptions to generalizations. And when dealing with something like judgments concerning the kind of culture that pervades an academic institution, there will be many opinions and many facts cited as corroboration of each opinion.
Time will tell what lessons our denomination's pastors learned while taking their M.Divs. at Covenant. Meanwhile, David, Andrew, and I will continue to warn souls that evangelical feminism is the cultural reality within many reformed evangelical communities and churches, and that this culture is antithetical to biblical faith. Warning, exhorting, correcting, and rebuking on this matter is loving and graceful--not to mention obedient.
To those inclined to think such criticisms as those appearing above proof of my having a party or schismatic spirit, let me assure them that I have absolutely nothing to gain by writing these things. I'm not a part of any party of men (or women) that will pat me on the back for what I've said. Rather, I write because, for myself, I believe "the church reformed, always reforming" is not hypothetical. If we love the souls we shepherd, not to mention the confessional community we belong to, ecclesiastically, we must work for her future and not simply give ourselves to endless rehearsals of her glorious past.