Russell and Duenes

How is it that we believe any true doctrine?

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“I believe, I believe. Cuz he made me believe.” – Wes King

Why do I believe the things God says about men and women and find them beautiful? Well, if you must know…

I grew up in a home with pretty traditional parents, the kind where the husband “wears the pants” in the family, and the wife is the homemaker. I never thought too much about it as a kid, and since we went to the Catholic Church with its all-male priesthood, I was used to men leading things in the religious realm as well. We didn’t read the Bible much, so I never got around to reading those passages that are so, shall we say, unsavory to the modern ear: the ones that talk about women being silent in the churches and wives submitting to their husbands. So when I decided as a college student to trust Jesus in earnest, it didn’t occur to me to ask whether Christianity was “sexist.” That is until I joined Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at UCLA and we had a little symposium on the topic.

I’d been minding my own Christian business when we invited to campus Cliffe Knechtle, an “open-air” evangelist. The idea was that he would get up in some well-populated hang out, start preaching about Jesus to the masses, and we would go around and try to engage people in conversations about what he was saying. We would then have little symposiums in our dorms at night to which we could invite our dorm buddies. Our dorm got: “Is Christianity Sexist?” I didn’t know if this was a good question or not, but I invited some friends and went myself. One non-Christian friend who agreed to go was a very friendly young woman who lived down the hall, and from what I can remember, was of Middle-Eastern extraction. She (and I) listened very respectfully to the woman who was assuring us that there was no hint of male leadership or “headship” with Adam and Eve in the Genesis 1-2 accounts. She explained that God is referred to in the Scripture as our “helper” just as Eve was to her husband, and surely God was not in any way subordinate to us. She finished off by telling us that wisdom was personified as a woman in the Proverbs and that Jesus was very respectful to women and treated them with a status hitherto unknown in ancient culture. Sounded good to me, and since she mentioned none of the “problem” passages about woman being created for man and not man for woman or about women being barred from teaching or having authority over men in the church, I felt good knowing that my faith in Christ could not be branded as “sexist” (not that I’d been worrying about this before, as I said.). When it was over, I asked my friend what she thought, and she said, oddly enough, “That’s just her opinion.” Quite an answer, particularly from a non-Christian, but there it was. Had I a personal prophet that day, he surely would have said to me about this woman’s reply, “You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.” Or on a good many “tomorrows.” But God knew.

My interest piqued by my friend’s assertion, I decided, with a rather irenic spirit, that I would visit one of my professors, Scott Bartchy, in his office hours. He was the only Christian professor I had at UCLA, at least to my knowledge, and I knew he must have some opinions on the subject. Indeed he did. In fact, he had written a journal article on hierarchy in biblical relationships and gave me a copy, which I dutifully and eagerly read. Nothing earth-shattering, but I didn’t know what to make of it. I needed more, so I got myself a copy of a book he recommended, Women, Authority, and the Bible. This book was filled with expositions of all the significant Scriptures and themes related to male-female roles and relationships in the Bible, all of which were taking the view that men’s and women’s roles at home and in the church were rather interchangeable, and there certainly wasn’t any “headship” role for men or “submission” role for women. According to this book, men and women were liberated in Christ to serve in any capacity, according to their respective gifts. Needless to say, I became thorough acquainted with the troublesome passages, as well as with some other passages that I never would have considered tangentially related to women’s roles and “equality.”

But here’s where my journey gets interesting. I didn’t feel like I had much invested in this topic emotionally, and yet I was curious. Having read this book with the utmost care and attention, something just didn’t jibe. I was reading Scriptures about men and women that seemed to have fairly straightforward language and intent, and yet I was being told by these authors to lay this plain meaning aside and accept a rather more complicated and, might I say, convoluted reading of the text. I could see their arguments clearly but couldn’t rest in them, if you know what I mean. They didn’t find a home in my bosom like “two plus two equals four” does. The ring of truth was wasn’t there.

I suppose that might’ve been the end of it, but wouldn’t you know, I was thumbing through a Christian magazine and here stares at me this huge ad for an award-winning book called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I hadn’t know they were lost. The book was subtitled: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Hmm. That sounded like the other hand clapping in this debate. What to do? My roommate said, with all the obviousness that my search for truth in this matter required, “Maybe you should get it.”

I got it alright. I couldn’t put it down. I devoured it, and found myself internally saying, “Yes, yes,” at virtually every turn. It was like someone telling me that water was wet and the sky was blue. I can’t possibly figure out how all my background and upbringing and psychological make-up played into it, and it probably doesn’t matter that much. What I do know is that it was plain-as-day to me that my professor was wrong and that the woman who had tried to answer the “sexist” charges against Christianity was not telling the whole story. And it was now as if everything I was seeing around me concerning male-female relationships was confirming that indeed God did design men and women differently, such that we have complementary roles where men are primarily to lead and women are to respond to that leadership. But there was more that God needed to do.

Is knowing and living in the truth really where the soul finds rest? Does doctrine matter, and how is it that we ever come to believe truth? I wasn’t sure, but I think I found out. I started dating this woman who I knew had different ideas about these “gender” matters than I did. I didn’t care. I knew what I felt and what my heart wanted, so I went ahead. It couldn’t make all that difference, could it? Well, actually, yes. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had some major cognitive and emotional dissonance going on. I wanted this relationship, but I wanted the truth, too. Which would prevail? I knew there was pain ahead if I ended the relationship (though I had no idea how much), but somewhere deep down, there was a settled comfort that came from, as the apostle John said, “walking in the truth.” Ultimately I wanted that more, and praise God for that. I have no doubt that he convinced me. He made me believe. And that has made all the difference.

Why do we ever believe the truth? Because God, in his sovereignty, leads us down the path to it, and as I hope you’ve seen, uses relationships and events one would never expect, often very painful ones. He wants us to know the experience that the Psalmist had in saying that his “delight is in the law of the Lord.” We yearn to think, feel and believe as God himself does, and it is his grace that enables us ever to get there, on any topic. How beautiful and wondrous it is to not only believe in the truth, but to delight in it. That’s what God wants. “I believe, I believe, cuz he made me believe.”



Written by Michael Duenes

January 21, 2010 at 5:05 am

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