At the risk of only furthering the inordinate amount of attention begin given to the Joseph Zichterman incident, I would like to make further comment on something he said in his “lecture” why he joined Willow Creek. On the subject of the ordination of women into Gospel ministry he says,
There are compelling arguments on the egalitarian side that at least ought to back their opponents down from unchallenged dogmatism. Listen, it’s not the safe position to take when people’s gifts get shelved for good and the entire direction of their lives is changed if we’re stricter than scripture allows. We really need to wrestle through those tough passages.
This is a remarkable statement. Let’s think about that middle sentence: “Listen, it’s not the safe position to take when people’s gifts get shelved for good and the entire direction of their lives is changed if we’re stricter than scripture allows.” My thesis is simple: this remark is man-centered.
I know full well that it is not “in vogue” to call people man-centered. The tag “man-centered” is generally reserved for those non-descript entities who do not hang out with us. If you are a Calvinist, perhaps you nick all Arminians with that descriptor, but rarely do you actually call a specific person “man-centered.” To tell you the truth, it is not my custom to come so close to “an attack on motives” or whatever you want to call this. In the case, however, it is clear from the man’s own words.
What about “safe”? What is safety? To be away from danger. When you are in the midst of danger, you are hardly “safe.” Leave that dangerous area, you can rightly say that you are now “safe.” The word “safe” is a tendentious word; it indicates something is better or preferable against an alternative. The word is one that indicates a comparison is being made between alternatives, and one is not only free from danger, but better, preferable, more desirable.
Zichterman is indicating here that the two alternatives–egalitarianism and patriarchy–are interpretations that “could go either way,” that the choice between the two is a really close call. Of course we disagree with this point, and arguing to the contrary is really beside the point. Conservative evangelical scholarship under the work of Tom Schreiner and Wayne Grudem and Russell Moore and John Piper and Andreas Kostenberger has voiced a strong arguments to the contrary. These arguments can be found easily enough and there is no reason to rehearse them here. The point Zichterman is making is that we have these two alternatives, and the Biblical interpretation on these matters could go either way (an interesting thing for someone who is acquainted with church history to say). Therefore we should opt for the “safe” route and choose the egalitarian side. That’s what he said: “it’s not the safe position to take when people’s gifts get shelved for good and the entire direction of their lives is changed if we’re stricter than scripture allows.”
That statement is man-centered. But before I address that, please allow one more quick comment. Of course, patriarchalists are completely in favor of using women’s gifts, but they apply the realm of that giftedness more narrowly than egalitarians. Patriarchalists want women to use the gift of teaching in the church in a “Titus 2” kind of way. And patriarchalists do not want women to “be shelved” and never teach. That is a lie. They do not permit women to use their gifts in certain situations where the Scriptures (the same Scriptures that talk about “giftedness”) expressly forbid it. Patriarchalists do not forbid the use of gifts, neither do they “shelve” women, nor do they alter the “entire direction of their lives.” (!)
But let me return to the subject at hand. This statement–“it’s not the safe position to take when people’s gifts get shelved for good and the entire direction of their lives is changed if we’re stricter than scripture allows”–is man-centered. Here we have two alternatives, and one is deemed “safer” than another. And that safer option is judged to be not to offend or restrict women who think they are called to teach. That is to say, it is better or safer or more desirable or less dangerous to side with the woman than to side with the revelation of God. One cannot miss the similarity between this approach and the account of the fall in Genesis 3.*
Since when is it safer to listen to men than to God? Since when is it safer to heed the experience of anyone–be it man or woman–than the Word of God? This is man-centeredness, plain and simple. Only man-centeredness would say that is safer for your soul to go with the “man” side of the argument over against the specific revelation of God, even if the interpretation of that revelation can be justly doubted (which it cannot be). When it comes down to it, it is not safer to side with the experience of man against the explicit teachings of Scripture, even when that Scripture is the matter of tight debate. That is man-centeredness.
In our thinking, we must be never give greater consideration to the things of man than the things of God. In fact, the Apostle Paul in his epistle the Romans tells us explicitly that when there are matters over which Christians disagree (which is not exactly parallel in this case–this is doctrinal error of much greater significance), that we should err on the side of God: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” God is too glorious and holy and terrible for us to choose the opinions and feelings of men over him. We ought never give the greater consideration to men than to God. Even if it means that a woman’s gifts get shelved for good, to choose a woman first is blasphemy. Even if it means that somebody’s life gets shelved, to give greater consideration to that person than to God is high-handed rebellion. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews warns us, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
In the end, this provides us all a warning, as we can all too easily fall to this temptation. Sometimes we may not preach as boldly about a particular sin as we ought, simply because we are afraid of what others might say. Sometimes we may not order the priorities in our homes and lives as we ought because we want to please other members of our family. Sometimes we hesitate to offer a bold word about the Gospel because we do not want to offend our co-worker or neighbor. Sometimes, there is an activity where Christians are divided on its legitimacy, and we defile our consciences because we more greatly desire to please ourselves and do that thing than to work out if it is really a matter of sin or not (c.f. Romans 14:23). All these things are man-centered.
In all things may we reject man-centeredness. May we all learn the staggering implications of living a God-centered life.
*Genesis 3:17, “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and ahve eaten fo the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”