enGendered: Tim Keller and his Company Pastors vs. John Calvin and his Company of Pastors...

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Just now I read Marvin Olasky's short review of World's Book of the Year in their "Accessible Theology" category, enGendered: God's Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship by Sam Andreades. Here Marvin tells us why he thinks this is this past year's most important work on doctrine for laymen and laywomen...

[Andreades's] key concept is asymmetry... Husbands should make their wives secure, and wives should give their husbands rest: “The principles of rest-giving and secure-making are the roadway underneath the snow of cultural practices.”

Andreades ...exegetes passages about Jael slaying Sisera and a woman using a millstone to crack Abimelech’s skull: “These brave women, in creative ways, brought rest to their homes. … [T]hey teach us that the way in which we do gender is not limited to one narrow job.”

Andreades shows how “embracing gender distinction in housework improves marriage.” It makes sense that nine of 10 evangelicals say “marriage should be an equal partnership [and] the husband should be head of the family,” because he provides security and she gives him rest. In short, “a real man is someone who lays down his life for the women in his life.”

He notes that the Bible is unlike the Quran, which teaches that “men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other” and advises husbands to “admonish [wives], forsake them in beds apart, and beat them.” The Bible praises women business executives such as Lydia in Acts 16 and Bereans in Acts 17...

Andreades also emphasizes the importance of asymmetry in critiquing same-sex relationships. He learned much while pastoring a PCA church in Greenwich Village...

And so on...

Sometimes I wonder if Keller fans realize this sort of drivel is not helpful, actually. The difference between Tim Keller and his Company Pastors in New York City and John Calvin and his Company of Pastors in Geneva is that Calvin's Company of Pastors fought manfully using words that were direct in teaching Scripture and opposing error, while the words of Tim Keller, his Company Pastors, and their admirers around the world are united in avoiding any of that. Thus they and their congregants and editors and reviewers mince and prance and suggest, and the whole world goes after them being convinced these rhetorical ploys are strategies worth emulating.

Here are a few statements of Calvin illustrating the commitments to simplicity, zeal, and straightforwardness which characterized the teaching and preaching ministry within the Company of Pastors:

Let us know that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and simple one, and let us embrace and hold it resolutely.

[Biblical preaching is not] ostentatious [but] is genuine and efficacious, and has more sincerity than refinement.

If I should see a man getting too close to a pit, so that he is only a couple of paces from falling into it and dying, will I say nothing more to him than "Watch where you are walking"? Not at all! Rather I must shout as loudly as possible: "Oh! Do not go any further! Stop right there, otherwise you will break your neck!"

When we see that some people have given themselves over to fornication, superfluous habits, usury, pillaging, and other similar wicked deeds, we must cry out with a loud voice: "Hey! Do not go any further! You are near the abyss of Hell. If you fall into there you will never be rescued, indeed you will suffer punishment forever!"

Thus Calvin's beloved fellow-pastor, Beza, warned a young pastor:

Beware of polluting the holiness of true doctrine, either by indulging in vain and curious speculations and subtleties directly contrary to its simple purity, or by using flowery eloquence that is entirely at odds with the serious and sound...simplicity of the prophets and apostles, a style that is truly divine and heavenly. 

Beza, again:

One must learn this holy rhetoric, not from the principles of the orators...but from examples in the writings of the Prophets and Apostles, where one will find neither a contrived manner of writing, nor a flowery arrangement words, but a weight, a gravity, and a vehemence which is apparent to anyone with sound judgement.

Shortly after Calvin's death, one candidate for a call to the church of Geneva, Gabriel Cusin, was rejected by the Venerable Company of pastors for preaching that was "new" and "overly elegant." The Venerable Company warned Cusin to preach with "an honorable and suitable gravity" that would instill in his congregation "good and solid judgment." Cusin refused to heed the admonitions, and Manetsch picks up the story:

During the next several years, the "new style" of preaching practiced by Cusin and other reformed preachers in France continued to grow in popularity, especially among young students of theology. The situation became so serious that, in February 1605, the Venerable Company summoned to the Auditoire all ministerial students from the Academy to warn them about preaching methods that employed a "new style and new language" borrowed from pagan authors and Catholic preachers. Such "painted" eloquence undermined "the solid simplicity of the Scriptures" and "transformed their preaching of the Word of God into a vain babble."1

Some of the souls under their care condemned Calvin and the Company of Pastors for their simplicity and holy zeal. Calvin answered the critics, pointing to the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 13:10:

Indeed it is appropriate to repeat here once again what I mentioned before, that fault must not always be found with the servants of Christ, if they are driven with violent force against professed enemies of sound doctrine, unless one is perhaps disposed to accuse the Holy Spirit of lack of moderation. ... the vehemence of holy zeal and of the Holy Spirit in the prophets was like that, and if soft, effeminate men think it stormy, they do not consider how dear and precious God's truth is to Him.2

In Calvin's day, the precious rhetorical ploys of the Redeemer wing of the Reformed church today would have brought a man under the admonition of his fellow pastors. They would have called enGendered's preaching "effeminacy" and warned the man to stop it, warning their seminarians not to emulate him.

The reform of the church of our time requires our return to the faithful witness of our fathers in the faith who turned away from wheedling and cajoling towards what the Holy Spirit instead commands—that we preach the word with urgency, in season and out of season, convincing, rebuking, and exhorting with great patience with full knowledge that many of our people, and often those with the greatest pride and wealth, are opposed to such a Biblical ministry.

And yet, we remember our Lord's statement, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me" (Luke 7:23).

  • 1. Manetsch, Calvin's Company of Pastors, pp. 164-178.
  • 2. Calvin, Commentary on Acts.
Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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