Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Book Review

Every now and then I am sent a complimentary copy of a newly released book and asked by the publisher to write a review on it. The most recent of these is a book by Del Birkey titled, The Fall of Patriarchy. Dr. Birkey is a prominent writer in what is commonly known as the house church movement (the subtitle of his book is “Its Broken Legacy Judged by Jesus and the Apostolic House Church Community”). As many of the readers of this blog know, I have been involved in the house church movement for almost twenty years, and during that time have been both an outspoken advocate of its benefits and an outspoken critic of most of its proponents. The house church model is a wonderful New Testament model for meeting together as a church, and I prefer it primarily because I see theological significance to it. Unfortunately, that movement draws more than its share of antiestablishment and antiauthoritarian malcontents, disgruntled and rebellious social misfits, radical feminists, “peace and social justice” and ex-Jesus Movement hippies, cultists, and just about every other type of kook and weirdo imaginable. I have always distanced myself from that crowd at large, and at times have even hesitated to mention I am a house church advocate. There are very few houses churches that follow that model for biblical reasons (most do it for reasons of “social consciousness” or “intentional community”)--and even fewer that follow the model for sound biblical reasons!

It took me only a few pages of reading to determine that The Fall of Patriarchy falls within the category of house church “theology” that is to be rejected for its poor exegetical foundation. The author takes the egalitarian position of the relationship between men and women in the church, and argues basically the same egalitarian arguments that have been answered time and again by the complementarian position, and in the process unwittingly exposes that position’s exegetical weaknesses. Here is a sample of the exegesis the author thinks is sound:
In his encounter with the religious patriarchs recorded in Matthew 23:1-12 NLT,
Jesus drew a dramatic and detailed “portrait” of patriarchal-type leaders. He used the episode to teach the bottom line on religious patriarchs. Of course the Pharisees were attracted to Abraham, their greatest patriarch. Yet the stern tenor of the Lord is exceedingly strong as he laid naked the symptoms of these men. He discerned that they always radiate an attitude of arrogance in practicing their patriarchy. But again, if this seems too strong, look at the exacting specifics. Jesus was obviously perturbed; not only did he call them strong iniquitous names, but he demanded that his followers avoid them, in light of their patriarchal behavior. Jesus plainly said that that “don’t practice what they preach,” while at the same time “they crush you with impossible religious demands.” Jesus makes clear that this kind of men enjoy their “prominence, show, and place of honor.” It’s obvious that our Lord had no patience whatsoever with their masculinity parade. . . . Jesus focused on his disciples (verses 8-9), protesting right out: “Don’t ever let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters!” Unmistakably, Jesus hates all forms of patriarchalism, which is sub-Christian and causes incomprehensible division among his people.
"Unmistakably"? Based on what exactly? So, Jesus’ point in this passage is no longer about the religious burden with which the religious leaders were taxing the common people? It is no longer about exposing and correcting a false piety and works-righteousness? Instead, it’s about Jesus’ disdain for men taking a leadership role in a religious and social setting (one wonders if Jesus would then have praised these leaders had they simply been a different gender)? Birkey’s “exegesis” provides a glowing example of just why the arguments for Christian feminism will never be accepted by those committed to rightly interpreting the Scriptures.