Patriarchy? Unnh, unnh.

Error message

A friend directed me to a mini-discussion of feminism on a PCA blog. Surprise, surprise: we learn once more that though feminism may be bad, patriarchy is worse.

PCA pastor Phil Ryken writes,

There are errors on both sides of a biblical view of godly male leadership in the home and in the church. Authoritarian, domineering men who stifle the gifts of women -- or worse, who use their stength or their position to legitimate verbal, physical, or other forms of abuse -- are a reproach to the church and stand in opposition to the ministry of Christ.

Indeed, this is one of the reasons I am in strong support of the Danbury Statement produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: it is zealous to protect men and women from ungodly patriarchy.

I say "patriarchy" because the connotations of the word make me reticent to use it as the first-choice term to describe the biblical view of male leadership.

Typically I use terms like "servant leadership" or "spiritual authority," but never "patriarchy." To me the term would always need careful qualification because for many people today it already suggests the kind of overreaching use of authority that the biblical position opposes.

Sadly, this amounts to a staunch defense of male headship within the PCA: five apologies, four qualifications, three reservations, two reproaches of those who venture further and one whimpered admission. (It's not the foes of male headship within the PCA who convince me that the PCA will be as feminist as the PCUSA in another generation, it's the professed friends.)

Rick Phillips, a PCA pastor I respect and whose hospitality I've enjoyed, responds to Ryken on the same blog:

...I (too) am actually a bit reserved about the application of the term "patriarchy" to masculine leadership today. The reason I brought it up in an earlier post is that the book in question declares biblical patriarchy to be a sin. This is clearly wrong. But patriarchy is not the term I would most prefer for godly male leadership today, mainly because it too easily down-loads social arrangements that do not possess an enduring biblical mandate. If we want to highlight the permanent and enduring aspects of God's social ordering, it helps if we do not mix them up with those aspects that are not permanent and enduring. To me, at least, patriarchy is so associated with, well, the patriarchs, that it may not be the best term for our present use. Nothing wrong with Abraham and his boys, of course. It's just that the kind of male leadership demanded by the New Testament does not seem to incorporate all the social privileges and obligations that Abraham held.

Neither man seems to grasp the fundamental model for male leadership in Scripture....

Ryken thinks male leadership is based on the "servant leadership" (a term as rooted in eastern mysticism as Biblical teaching) of Jesus Christ. Yes, we all must agree that Christ's role as Head of the Church is Scripture's model for husbands in marriage. But is the Headship of Christ over the Church the sum total of what we learn of manhood from the life of Christ? What about Christ's role as King of heaven and earth? What about Christ's warrior triumph over His enemies? Are "servant leadership" and "spiritual authority" ALL we learn of perfect manhood from the life of Christ?

And though Rick Phillips is less embarrassed of Biblical masculinity than Ryken (he writes at one point, "the best remedy for feminism is a good dose of masculinity"), he too seems unsure of the ultimate Scriptural referent for male leadership when he writes, "the kind of male leadership demanded by the New Testament does not seem to incorporate all the social privileges and obligations that Abraham held."

In fact, Rick is right. Biblical manhood's foundation isn't Abraham. Patriarchy (or "father rule") is rooted in the nature of God the Eternal Father. We may as well apologize for the social privileges and obligations of God the Father as apologize for permitting Abraham's position to influence our understanding of male headship.

In fact, the headship of Christ over His Church is not the model Scripture routinely holds up for manly leadership. Complementarians focus exclusively on Christ to avoid confronting culture. But the mandate for manhood begins in the character of God. Reduce manhood to the life of Christ and we have no template for understanding fatherhood.

New Testament Scripture, indeed the teaching of Christ Himself, points time and again to the Father as our paradigm. Jesus argues from the nature of human fatherhood to the Fatherhood of God when He urges prayer: "What father gives his son a scorpion when he asks for a loaf of bread?"). We're told in Hebrews that just as earthly fathers discipline children, so the Heavenly Father disciplines all He accepts as sons.

The poverty of the "complementarian" position (and the PCA is complementarian at best in its approach to sexuality) is that it denies the Father by affirming only the Son.

Even Karl Barth was more orthodox in his view of Biblical manhood than the typical PCA pastor today....