[This originally was published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanood, 20.1 – Spring 2015]

Andreas and Mary Kostenberger.  God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 380 pp. $22.99.

God has given me two compelling reasons to explore Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger’s new book on biblical complementarianism:  Emma and Sam.  My kids are too young to shape directly, but it’s not too early for mommy and daddy to start praying and preparing.    What will daddy say when Sam asks why Sarah is so weird and different?  How will mommy respond when Emma asks about the two boys holding hands in school?  What counsel will we give Emma when a young man is looking to date her?

Today the modern church lives in two-fold confusion.  First, the evangelical church is confused about what the Bible teaches on manhood and womanhood.  Some have strong convictions – one way or the other – while many avoid the topic for fear of entering into another divisive debate.  But what are the consequences of punting on this?  What happens when boys and girls, men and women within churches are confused about who they are as male and female?  Second, the broader culture is utterly confused on masculinity and femininity.  Will the idea of gender be eventually deleted from our societal vocabulary?  And if so, at what cost?

A Unique Contribution

KostenbergerThankfully, in God’s Design for Man and Woman Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger serve up the fresh, life-giving truth that only the Word of God provides.  They have written this book because they’re convinced “it’s vital to wrestle with our identity as men and women for the sake of healthy marriages, families, and churches, but more importantly, for the true expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world” (14).

God’s Design for Man and Woman is a unique contribution to the conversation in that its approach is biblical-theological – meaning, it traces the theme of manhood and womanhood across the scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation.  Many other important works, such as John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s classic Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womahood, address the topic from other angles (such as exegetical, theological/historical, and practical).  But no book-length study before this one maps out scripture’s overarching pattern related to masculinity and femininity.

The book is divided into eight chapters as follows:

  • God’s Original Design and Its Corruption (Genesis 1-3)
  • Patriarchs, Kings, Priests, and Prophets (Old Testament)
  • What did Jesus do? (Gospels)
  • What did the Early Church do? (Acts)
  • Paul’s Message to the Churches (First Ten Letters)
  • Paul’s Legacy (Letters to Timothy and Titus)
  • The Rest of the Story (Other New Testament teaching)
  • God’s Design lived out today

Each chapter is carefully organized, providing key points of summary at the outset, tables that highlight patterns, implication sections, and finally a resource list for further study.  The book closes with three appendices that address the three waves of feminism, biblical hermeneutics, and special issues in interpreting gender passages.

Continuity, Development, and Application

The Kostenerbers main argument is that the biblical narrative contains “a continuing thread pertaining to God’s plan for man and woman” and that “this plan is beautiful, consistent, and good” (258).  It’s not like the Old Testament brought out teaching that was later trumped by the New Testament.  While there is certainly development, the New Testament continues and fulfills the traditions of the Old in the life and ministry of Jesus.

So what is this “continuing thread” that is woven through the pages of scripture?  Mining the first three chapters of Genesis leads us to two initial truths.  First, man and woman are created in God’s image, to be partners in domesticating the earth and filling it with more image-bearers.  And second, in this unique partnership God has designed man to lead and be ultimately responsible, while the woman is called to be his collaborator and supporter.

The Kostenbergers believe this two-fold complementarian confession is consistently upheld throughout the biblical story.  Sin not only damaged God’s image in humanity but put a curse upon the partnership between man and woman.  The rest of the Old Testament documents sin’s impact on maleness and femaleness, including polygamy, divorce, homosexuality, and adultery.  Yet the biblical pattern of male leadership continues with male kings and priests as the institutional and authoritative leaders of Israel.

God’s Design for Man and Woman then examines the life and ministry of Jesus.  God’s Son clearly holds women in high regard.  He taught, healed, freely interacted with, and received support from both men and women.  Women were even the first witnesses of his resurrection.  All this was certainly stunning in a broader culture that deemed women as inferior!  Still, Jesus affirmed the same husband-wife relationship taught in the Old Testament and appointed only men as apostles, the institutional and authoritative leaders of the Church.  In their teaching the Apostles continued the traditions of the Old Testament and Jesus, fleshing out what biblical manhood and womanhood look like within Christian marriage and the church.

My favorite part of God’s Design for Man and Woman is the closing application chapter.  Some of us come from broken families and messy life situations where the complementarian vision feels confusing or even oppressive.  It’s certainly a vision that can be easily misconstrued.  What does it actually look like in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day life of a Christian?  The Kostenbergers give us keen wisdom and practical guidance without pulling punches or pressing beyond the biblical text.

Speaking the Truth in Love

My father-in-law recently commented on a sermon we heard together:  “I liked what he said and I liked the way he said it!”  The Kostenbergers get this right as well.  They tackle this touchy subject with both exegetical rigor and a humble, irenic tone.  They even say this is one of their goals in the introduction: “we’re committed to go about exploring the topic with an open mind and to reach out in love and ministry while doing so” (14).  How I wish more of our books and sermons and conversations would be like this!

I enthusiastically commend this book for three reasons.  First, it is a fresh study of a neglected topic within the evangelical world.  Second, applying its teachings will help grow healthy families and churches.  And third, Christian marriages and churches that embrace biblical complementarianism display the gospel more clearly to a watching world.  Read, digest, teach, and most importantly apply this book!

[This review first appeared at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womahood]

Paul E. Miller. A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships.  Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.  172 pp.  $12.99.

Love is pervasive. Everybody loves something or someone.  We love our spouses, children, cars, antiques, sports teams, novels, pizza joints, movies, tribes of friends—and the list goes on and on.  In fact “love” is thrown around so flippantly that we may need to invent a new word to recapture the radical nature of biblical love.

LovingLifeWhat is biblical love?  John’s words get us started:  “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). To meditate on God’s amazing love in Christ Jesus is astounding and life-giving.  But we are also given the capacity to follow in our Savior’s footsteps—to die for others and pay the price of love!  What an extraordinary gift and calling.

It seems simple, yet both paths of love—God to us and us to others—can be complicated.  We want to experience God’s love and we want to love others.  But something may be out of sync.  We listen to good preaching on God’s love but it doesn’t land on our hearts.  We strive to serve those around us, but it isn’t received well or we’re taken for granted.  Love just isn’t easy.

Thankfully Paul Miller is a reliable guide to biblical love in A Loving Life. Much like his well-received A Praying Life, this new book offers a fresh, down-to-earth vision that transcends pious platitudes and self-love philosophies.  He tells us that love isn’t one aspect of Christianity; it is the whole.

The New American Journey

Miller contends early in the book that with regards to love “we start well but end badly” (13).  We are a culture that dreams big about love but we don’t follow through.  Our perspective on love is more influenced by Disney and Seinfeld than shaped by Jesus’ sacrificial life and death.  Why is this?  Miller gives two reasons…

Naïve expectations make us high maintenance and supersensitive. Human frailty makes us cynical, doubting the possibility of love.  The new American journey is from naivety to cynicism.  The result?  We feel abused, betrayed, and bitter.  It was better not to have dreamed.  The magic is gone  (13).

So how do we love when we’re naïve or bitter?  Miller suggests we listen carefully to the story of Ruth – a story that doesn’t set aside nitty-gritty realism but still clings to resurrection hope.

The book of Ruth shines a spotlight on biblical love in a way that is rich, peculiar, and Christ-exalting.  Miller’s short chapters and unhurried pace allow readers to slowly savor this narrative about a Gentile woman finding her way in a new place.  And along the way we’ll find love.

Hesed Love

Through twenty-three chapters Miller explores the idea of hesed love that dominates Ruth’s story. The word can be translated “steadfast love” and conveys sacrificial, one-way love (24).  Hesed love is uneven; it loves regardless of the response (42).  It’s the kind of love that releases control and chooses to love in the chaos (73).

Ruth exemplifies this kind of love.  As a Moabite, Ruth not only follows Naomi away from her home, but embraces the loneliness that would inevitably accompany a foreign woman in Bethlehem.  She sets aside any chance for marriage and family so that Naomi can have food, companionship, and care.  Miller insightfully comments:

Substitution is the structure of love.  That’s why, subconsciously, we are allergic to love.  We rightly sense that death is at the center of love.  When you realize that death is at the center of love, it is quietly liberating.  Instead of fighting the death that comes with love, you embrace what your Father has given you (27).

This idea of love-via-death is central to Miller’s book.  True love is costly.  When we offer it, we die a little bit.  Ruth offers a love to Naomi that restricts and narrows her own life.  To love is to limit ourselves.  Thankfully, as we see in Ruth’s story, this kind of narrowing love also deepens our lives.

Miller mentions how he sees this narrowing and deepening in godly men who learn to love one woman over many years.  “These husbands develop enormous capacities for gentleness, thoughtfulness, and grace.  Those who flee the sting of particularity often end up flat, without depth, lost in ephemeral things” (74).

Boaz narrowed his life for Ruth by offering her food, work, protection, and eventually marriage.  Miller points out Boaz’s “aggressive tenderness” (95).  Men in traditional cultures may avoid serving women because they could lose their dignity, while men in liberal cultures may avoid serving women because they could compromise gender equality.  Boaz’ aggressive tenderness avoids both tendencies and illustrates Paul’s teaching on sacrificial headship (Eph 5:22-33).

Miller surprised me by saying the true Christ figure in the book of Ruth is Ruth herself (152). No doubt Ruth shows hesed love.  Yet I see myself more in Ruth than Christ in Ruth.  Like Ruth I am foreigner, “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12).  Like Ruth, I need a Kinsman-Redeemer who will buy my freedom and offer me steadfast love.  Jesus is this Kinsman-Redeemer, who set aside his kingly position to pay the ultimate price of love and secure his foreign bride.

A Shepherd’s Touch

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of A Loving Life is Miller’s powerful ability to weave personal stories and anecdotes into his reflections.  He not only explains the book of Ruth and draws out biblical principles, but gently shepherds hearts with the stuff of real life.  His often self-deprecating approach demonstrates the very love that he is trying to teach.

A Loving Life is rich in practical wisdom, pastoral in its tone, immensely quotable, and challenging in its message.  It exalts Christ’s care for his people.  It confronts us with the sacrificial love that Boaz freely offered Ruth and Jesus freely offers sinners.  I enthusiastically recommend it to all who journey on the difficult yet life-giving path of love.


[This review first appeared at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womahood]

William Loader.  Making Sense of Sex:  Attitudes towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.  168 pp.  $24.00.

Has there ever been a society in history where sex isn’t a hot topic? I’m not qualified to definitively answer that question, but my gut tells me “no.” Today, as we peruse news headlines or watch reality shows or listen to conversations at water coolers and play-dates, it’s easy to see how pervasive sexuality has become. It’s everywhere. And it’s awful controversial.

MakingSenseWhat does God say about sexuality? That’s another big question. The first step in approaching this delicate subject is to keep one eye on our present culture while putting the other squarely on the biblical world. We need to grasp the ancient setting behind the text and the literary world of the text. If we miss these, we may not accept the validity of Leviticus’ restrictions on homosexuality (Lev. 18:22) or embrace Jesus’ heavy teaching on divorce and remarriage (Matt 19:1-12) or enjoy Solomon’s racy poem on marital sexuality (Song of Solomon).

William Loader helps us see the ancient world more vividly in his work Making Sense of Sex: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature. He says “this book is about listening to what ancient authors were saying [about sex]. In particular it looks at attitudes towards sex in early Judaism and one of the movements it generated, Christianity” (1).

The Flesh and Bones of the Book

Making Sense of Sex is an accessible summary of five scholarly works on ancient sexuality published by Loader over several years.  These books assess attitudes towards sex from a variety of Jewish and Christian sources, written between 300 BC and 100 AD—including Philo, the Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the New Testament.

Not surprisingly then, this book is thoroughly researched and carefully organized. It’s divided into four sections that explore sexuality within creational beliefs, the family structure, the temple system, and the intersection of Hellenistic and Jewish thought. The book also includes a subject index that covers all six works. Thus, the book can be enjoyed on its own or used as a guide for Loader’s larger corpus.

Sexuality in the Ancient World

Loader effectively describes the ancient world and helps readers learn to inhabit these ancient cultures. He explains that first century wives were viewed as inferior to their husbands. Typically 10-15 years younger than their husbands, they had less life experience and lower social standing. Some in the Roman world even considered women dangerous because their sexual drives could not be controlled. The Apostle Paul’s teaching on sacrificial, Christ-like headship and Jesus’ reversal of norms in his interactions with women must have turned many heads.

Loader also locates a tension in first-century Judaism between those who adopted Greek culture and those who resisted it. Most rejected the widespread adultery, prostitution, and nakedness in sports. Surprisingly, small pockets of Greco-Roman society actually celebrated marital fidelity. Loader insightfully concludes “the respected and respectable in the best of the Roman world easily became the benchmark for Christian households and enabled them to assert that they were not an oddity but models of virtue”  (109). Perhaps the first-century Christian marriage witnessed to the gospel in a way that was valued and not quickly dismissed by the broader culture.

Hermeneutical Assumptions Matter

My main interest in reading Making Sense of Sex is evaluating how Loader handled biblical texts. Does he listen well to the Gospel writers and to the Apostle Paul?  Does he consider the Bible as a transcultural text, for all people and times, inspired by God and authoritative for life?

Hermeneutical assumptions matter…and Loader and I come from fundamentally different interpretive paradigms.  He assumes the biblical text has no more authority than Philo or The Book of Jubilees. He believes the biblical writers were significantly influenced by outside sources—in ways that give no credit to a Divine Author who gives authoritative insight.

Loader’s faulty assumptions taint his ability to accurately interpret to biblical texts. When considering Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Matthew 19:1-12), he claims that Jesus’ restrictions “could trap people in abusive and destructive marriages.” Here he misses the heart of Jesus, which is to emphasize the sacredness of the marriage union and discourage flippant divorcing.

When reflecting on Paul’s understanding of men’s and women’s roles, he claims Paul has a “dichotomous view of women”—in one place affirming women’s dignity (Gal. 3:28) and elsewhere teaching hierarchy in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). He fails to recognize the distinction between role and dignity. Husbands and wives are equally valuable yet play different roles in the marital drama. Unity and diversity is an important motif in the Bible, not only applied to husbands and wives but also to the persons of the Godhead.

Loader also misreads Paul’s teaching on Romans 1 as only condemning certain homosexual acts. Paul only denounces unusual acts that are abusive, out-of-control, or stem from stifled heterosexual desires. “This is not about natural orientation into which people might have been born or which they might have developed in the processes of maturation” (137).

Romans 1:18-32 is a treatise on the origin and development of sin, not just a response to pederasty or out-of-control sexual urges. People suppress the truth in unrighteousness and exchange God’s glory for idol worship. The result is the moral breakdown of society, which includes homosexual acts (vv. 26-27). Paul calls these acts “dishonorable,” “unnatural,” and “shameless” which echo Jewish tradition and Old Testament teaching. Natural sexual relationships for Paul were between a man and a woman, as verse 27 clearly indicates: “…and the men likewise gave up natural relationships with women…”

In the opening chapter, Loader says that sex is not an optional extra—it’s part of what and who we are.  Indeed, sexuality is beautiful, powerful, and potentially dangerous. It is vital that we grasp God’s heart on this subject. Unfortunately Making Sense of Sex is unhelpful and inaccurately understands biblical authors.  For a more careful interpretation of what the New Testament says about sex, I recommend Denny Burk’s What is the Meaning of Sex?

B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948), pp. 446.

The contemporary church takes much for granted and often gets into trouble for it.  Churches today proudly sing of the “Godhead Three-in-one,” not realizing that their theology of the Trinity was forged through fire by Athanasius, Basil the Great, and others.  Forgetting the fires of the past, some modern scholars set aside historical theology and dangerously go their own way.  Sometimes they lead Christians astray.  So today we owe a special debt to church historians who carefully listen to our dead friends and remind us of their relevance.  In a day when Jesus’ divinity, the Bible’s authority, and justification by faith are challenged from within mainstream Christianity, it is crucial to hear these older voices calling us back to biblical Christianity.

inspirationOne of these older voices is Benjamin Warfield, professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1887 to 1921.  He was most known for his passionate defense of biblical inerrancy, though his broader impact on contemporary evangelicalism is also significant.  Not only did he train over 2700 seminary students, including J. Gresham Machen, but his writings have stood the test of time.  Conservative evangelical scholars find much in Warfield that is useful today, while liberal scholars have attempted to upend his present influence.  His voice is still strong and true, and we would be wise to carefully listen to him.


Summary

Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible is not a book that he set out to write from beginning to end.  Instead, it is a collection of articles that Warfield formerly wrote for various bible encyclopedias and theological journals.  In this way, the book is really seven reflections under the umbrella of biblical inerrancy.  After Cornelius Van Til’s extensive introduction, Warfield covers the biblical ideas of revelation and inspiration and explores specific biblical terms about revelation (e.g. “God-inspired”).

Inspiration and Authority continues with a sweeping look at God’s revelation in history, rooting the Bible in God’s overarching story.  Christianity is a “revealed religion” in opposition to other religions which are “products…the art and device of man” (72).  The Bible itself is one of God’s redemptive acts (81), necessary because general revelation (God’s speech through creation; cf. Ps 19) is inadequate for salvation (73).

According to Warfield, revelation in Scripture is defined as God’s acts plus their meaning, carried out in three overlapping stages: theophany; prophecy; and inspiration.  Theophanies were “external manifestations” or “naked messages of God,” such as miracles and direct words from God (e.g. God’s conversation with Moses through the burning bush).  Prophecies were God’s communication given internally to particular men, through visions, dreams, and words.  Prophets had no part in creating the message; they were only reporters (88-89), like Isaiah or Amos.  Inspiration was revelation mediated by the Spirit through human personality and history.  This is illustrated by the Psalms, the epistle to the Romans, or John’s Gospel.

Warfield’s first chapter concludes with a beautiful reflection on Jesus Christ as the culmination of God’s revelation.  He masterfully writes:

As in His person, in which dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, He rises above all classification and is sui generis; so the revelation accumulated in Him stands outside all the divers portions and divers manners in which otherwise revelation has been given and sums up in itself all that has been or can be made known of God and of His redemption.  He does not so much make a revelation of God as Himself is the revelation of God; He does not merely disclose God’s purpose of redemption, He is unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (96).

Warfield then contends that the traditional view of inspiration is the biblical view of inspiration.  He explains that a strong church doctrine of inspiration exists, a “settled faith of the universal church of God” (106).  This church doctrine would claim that whatever the Bible says, God says.  And this view was presupposed by the early church fathers and the Reformers in their doctrinal creeds (e.g. Nicene, Westminster Confession).

Examining the scriptures also produces the same doctrine.  In one of the strongest chapters of the book (“The Real Problem of Inspiration”), Warfield shows how abandoning the doctrine of inspiration means abandoning the authority of Jesus and the Apostles.  Jesus and the Apostles consistently viewed Old Testament scripture as God’s very words.  If we discard their view on inspiration, we also unravel their authority to teach on every other subject.  All Bible doctrines, including the doctrine of inspiration, are formed by careful exegesis and depend on the authority of Biblical writers.  Warfield astutely asks:  “If we do not accept [the Bible’s] account of itself, why should we care to ascertain its accounts of other things?” (209)

Not only does Warfield tackle the big picture issues of the Bible, he also ventures into exegesis and word studies.  In a lengthy exposition of 2 Timothy 3:16, Warfield explains how the Holy Spirit inspired men to write God’s words.  He shows how God’s role in scripture-writing is primary, though the human element is present and uncoerced.  He discusses the Holy Spirit’s “preparation” of the Biblical writers (shaping their ancestry, historical situation, education etc.) so that writing Scripture is a natural outcome (155-157).

The last few chapters are the densest and most demanding for the reader.  Warfield, the thorough investigator, does meticulous word studies on “Scripture,” “God-Inspired Scripture,” “It says,” “Scripture says,” “God says,” and “the Oracles of God.”  These studies further establish his doctrine of the Bible.  For example, he concludes that the use of “Scripture” in the New Testament was an inheritance, not an invention (229).  The idea of “Sacred Scripture” was handed down to Christianity from Judaism, not created by the New Testament writers.

In the longest chapter of the book, Warfield argues against Hermann Cremer’s attempt to recalibrate 2 Timothy 3:16’s use of “inspiration” as “inspiring the reader” (active sense) instead of the traditional “inspired of God” (passive sense).  To accomplish this, he launches a fifty page defense of the traditional usage, tracing the Greek word in several works contemporaneous to the New Testament. He concludes that the word bears “a uniformly passive significance rooted in the idea of the creative breath of God” (275).

Evaluation and Significance

It’s not difficult to see why Warfield’s tome is a classic.  His doctrine is not developed mechanically or purely academically; rather it is formed within God’s overarching story which makes it compelling and interesting.  His arguments are clear and winsome.  His exegesis is judicious and thorough.  While I may not recommend his word study chapters to any old Joe, I would highly recommend the first four chapters to every Christian interested in learning about inspiration.

Before concluding, I want to share a few weaknesses of this book.  Surprisingly, Warfield hardly touches on the formation of the New Testament canon.  In a book about the Bible’s authority, you would think that at least one tangent would be dedicated to this.  Inspiration and Authority also lacks coherence, because it is a collection of Warfield’s previously written articles.  As a result, sometimes the book was unnecessarily repetitive.  To get the most out of Warfield’s word study chapters, the reader should know Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and German.  And most of us don’t.

Despite these small weaknesses, I warmly recommend Warfield’s classic – perhaps in small doses – to those eager to know why the Bible is authoritative.  Warfield is a voice we cannot forget, and his Inspiration and Authority is perhaps where we hear him the loudest.

This is the kind of book that is difficult to immediately apply because Warfield’s ideas are so heavy and vast.  Perhaps the first “application” is to sit back and be in awe of our God, because He has carefully constructed and preserved the Bible for our eternal well being.  As Warfield discusses the progression from general to special revelation, he leads us to praise the God who prepared Israel and sent the Messiah:

By slow steps and gradual stages God at once works out His saving purpose and molds the world for its reception, choosing a people for Himself and training them through long and weary ages, until at last when the fullness of time has come, He bares His arm and sends out the proclamation of His great salvation to all the earth (76).