Response to Mark Jones on Authority and Submission

Book Reviews, Culture, The Laboratory, Theology

In his review of Rachel Green Miller’s book, Beyond Authority and Submission, Mark Jones offers a critical review suggesting that her motives are good but that she misses the mark. You can read my extended review of Miller’s book here. I don’t know anything about Jones, and the only things I’ve read from him are this review and the article cited by Miller in her book. I can appreciate that Jones at least attempted a genuine engagement with the content of Miller’s book, unlike one other review. But at this point, I’m not speaking on Miller’s behalf, I’m only speaking from my own impressions.


(NOTE: Jones has a grievance that Miller took an article of his from Reformation 21 out of context. I’ve read this article. I see what Jones’ is attempting to say in light of his explanation in this review. However without this explanation, I’m not entirely persuaded that Miller “blatantly misread” him; that is, that she maliciously paints him in poor light. The context of Miller’s reference is concerning a disconnect about the kind of intimacy marriage entails. Given that marriage for love is a relatively new phenomenon in human history, Miller raises a valid question. Jones’ Ref21 article tells me what his relationship with his wife is not; not what it is. Miller’s point is that we as a culture, don’t know the extent of what marital intimacy actually is, and Jones’ article does not positively contribute an answer. It only contributes a distinction from his male friendships and the need for husbands to have male friendships, which are wholly distinct from their relationship with their wife. Fair enough; I concur with his claims about men and male friendships. But the article is about why his relationship with his wife is more than his relationships with male friends. To this aim, it’s lacking an explanation of how his relationship with his wife is better, or is more. He only states that Eph. 5:22-33 is a sufficient explanation, but this passage has many hotly contested interpretations, so does not answer the question. I think this is Miller’s point in citing his article, though I could be wrong. But even taking Jones’ reference out of Miller’s book would not negate the concerns that Miller has in the chapter where Jones’ article is referenced.) Now, on to my response to Jones.


First, we need to be clear on the thesis of Miller’s book

Jones says, “This is part of her “thesis” in part one: to remove authority-submission from as many realms as possible, especially if it involves male authority.”  Jones makes no citation here so I don’t know where he actually gets this from, but “removing authority-submission” is not Miller’s aim.

This is Miller’s thesis:

Over time, we end up with layers and layers of extrabiblical and even unbiblical ideas that cover up what the Bible teaches. That’s why I wrote this book. I’ve become increasingly aware of what’s being taught in conservative circles about the nature of women and men and what’s considered appropriate in marriage, the church, and society. It’s troubling, and much of it isn’t biblical. In addition, I see that authority and submission have become the lens through which all of women’s and men’s interactions are viewed—even to the point that some people try to figure out if it’s okay for a woman to write a book that a man may learn from.” (17)

Jones levels several objections that Miller’s book needs to offer more exegesis, more anthropology, and more ontology. Miller’s expertise is not systematic theology, philosophical or theological anthropology, or metaphysics. She doesn’t claim to have this expertise and her thesis doesn’t require it. The expertise required for her thesis is an understanding of history and an agreement with the reformed confessions (she appeals to the Westminster Standards), and this is her area of expertise. (Her degree is in history, and she is confessionally reformed, adhering to WCF).

Since the goal of the book is to peel back extrabiblical layers concerning cultural influences, it doesn’t require her to create theoretical proposals to replace these layers. So she doesn’t need to present an alternative-to-pagan influence here. She’s presented her “lens,” which is Scripture and she’s presented the historical perspective of Greco-Roman and Victorian influences to compare and contrast.

The New F-word: Feminism

There is a continual problem in these discussions and unfortunately Jones is not immune from making them either. It’s all too common for Complementarian/Patriarchalist advocates to misapply feminism as a counter argument when feminism isn’t being argued for. Jones’ review illustrates this problem precisely. He opens with two terms: “radical feminism” and “toxic masculinity.” Why?

Miller states in the beginning of this book she’s not a feminist. In fact, she’s had to repeat herself on numerous occasions, that she’s not a feminist. And what of “toxic masculinity?” She doesn’t mention it. She doesn’t even mention the word “toxic” in her book a single time. “Toxic masculinity” is a pejorative that radical feminists use against men and masculinity broadly. Miller doesn’t use it. Ever! She doesn’t even employ the concept.

It does not make sense for Jones to associate these terms with Miller when she is not using them or their concepts herself, and she has denounced feminism. This is one example of disingenuous interpretation on Jones’ part. But this is not only a problem with Jones. This is a problem across the gamut of this discussion where the standard response to questions and challenges is to call men and women “feminists” as a means of shutting down the conversation. Here are three examples from Jones illustrating how feminism is misappropriated to those of us challenging this doctrine.

Jones: “Rachel Green Miller attempts to address real problems in the church concerning toxic masculinity in particular.”

No, she doesn’t.

Jones: “Miller seems somewhat sympathetic to the first-wave feminists.”

Sympathetic to owning property and keeping the fruits of her labor? That’s not feminism.

The label “first-wave feminist” wasn’t coined until the “second-wave feminists” came on the scene. The era of history for which Jones references is known as the Women’s Rights Movement. Miller points out that those women who were key in influencing the Women’s Rights Movement were doing so in order to be better wives to their husbands and better mothers to their children. This is right in line with Scripture for these two vocations and no one should find this threatening.

Jones: “Miller shows how complementarians have reacted to types of feminism.”

It’s imperative for Christians to learn what feminism is. Feminism is a proposed ideological solution to claims of rights violations against women. Some are false claims because feminists don’t know how to properly identify legitimate rights. However, some of their claims are legitimate rights violations, but their proposed solutions are themselves unjust. So, to be clear:

Feminism entails claims of rights violations against women and proposed solutions that look like this:

Illegitimate claims | Illegitimate solutions
Legitimate claims  | Illegitimate solutions

What Christians need to be concerned with are the legitimate claims where the church is involved. Has the church promoted doctrine that violates God-given rights of women? Those of us challenging Complementarianism are saying, yes! But we are not suggesting that feminism is the answer. We are saying Scripture is the answer but that some interpretations concerning women in Scripture have been interpreted through poor (culturally-influenced) hermeneutics.

There are waves of feminism, where certain rights violations claims are at stake in different points of recent history (this is what Miller presents in her book), and then there are types of feminism, which offer different proposed solutions. Miller does not present the various types of proposed feminist solutions. She is pointing to certain rights violations claims, how Complementarians respond to those claims, and how Scripture contradicts Complementarian responses.

Standard responses by Complementarianism and Patriarchalism

The standard response when these concerns arise (one of which is domestic abuse), which Jones seems to enjoin here, is a superficial nod that “abuse is wrong and unbiblical,” BUT … wives are supposed to submit to their husbands … (Jones underscores in this review) “in everything,” (he references and emphasizes Eph 5:24 three times) and ignores Eph 5:22, 25ff. I cannot tell you how typical this is, and as such, how empty it rings. Are wives supposed to submit to abuse? Some well-respected theologians answer, yes! (Admittedly, I don’t know how Jones would answer this question). But if not in abuse, then “in everything” is qualified, ostensibly by Eph 5:22.

Other issues of concern is whether husbands have the authority to violate the conscience and Christian liberty of their wives, or pastors over women in the church. Obviously, we agree that pastors and husbands have authority concerning matters of actual sin, but what Miller references are matters of adiaphora. Jones’ complaint that Miller doesn’t believe pastors have authority to correct sin is an argument from silence. Miller believes no such thing. Miller, and myself, are in agreement with the Westminster Standards.

No one here is challenging legitimate authority and proper submission. We’re calling into question what constitutes legitimate authority and proper submission, and are illustrating where some have overstepped legitimate authority and illegitimately demanded unbiblical submission.

Jones’ implication is that Miller (and by extension the rest of us) deny Scripture. We do not!

Eph 5:22 says to submit “in the Lord.” So “in everything” and “in the Lord” must mean something particular and NOT something universal, as Jones emphasizes. What is that? This is where we reasonably disagree with Complementarianism and Patriarchalists as being outside the Confessions. What does Jones’ do with 1 Cor 7:4 where states the wife has authority over her husband’s body, while Paul states in 1 Tim 2 that he doesn’t permit a woman to have authority over a man. This isn’t a contradiction, it’s a distinction. Why would the passage in Eph 5, where the apparent contradiction is just a few words away, also not provide a particular distinction and not a universality?

There has always been a general agreement that men and women “complement” each other, that is a “complementarity” exists between men and women. The question is, how does that “complementarity” manifest? Does it lean more hierarchical in the case of patriarchy? Maybe to a lesser degree as in Complementarianism? If so, in what ways? Maybe it’s totally equal and interchangeable as in Egalitarianism? Maybe “girls run the world” as in matriarchy?

To add to the complicated nature of the question, the exact middle may not be the answer either. I see patriarchy as the logical consequence of complementarianism, and matriarchy as the logical consequence of feminism. Egalitarianism I see as the erroneous middle ground.

Claims that Complementarianism has always been the historical position of the church is as erroneous as the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation claiming their pagan-tainted traditions were valid because they had been practiced for so long.

When I read the Confessions, I don’t see Complementarianism or Patriarchalism in them

When I hear patriarchalists say, “you should read the Divines, like Gouge!” this is odd to me. One facet of the Reformation was that the Pope/Papacy didn’t hold Apostolic authority, and therefore could (and did) error. Yet, we’re supposed to take the opinions and writings by those who sat in the Westminster Assembly as undeniably, fundamentally biblical?

The Patristics, Reformers, and Puritans did express a number of views on sexual/gender differences in terms of exegetical arguments that deserve more substantive interaction. However, this does not mean exegetical considerations wouldn’t show that their views were more culturally determined than biblically founded. This is Miller’s point. There is evidence, which she presents that shows certain claims of sexual/gender distinctions by Complementarianism and Patriarchalism are indeed more culturally determined, and that culture is fundamentally pagan, not biblical.

If the Roman Catholic Church could exist for centuries erroneously practicing pagan-tainted traditions, then certainly Protestant denominations are subject to the same kind of error. Saying that Complementarianism must be right simply because something akin to it has been the cultural practice for centuries is not a sound argument. It’s now being challenged.

Aside from this, classical views of anthropology (including the Scholastics) were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. Miller’s whole point is that ancient Greco-Roman culture has far-reaching influence. This really isn’t difficult to see how it could be true when we understand how Plato, Aristotle, and others have influenced Christian anthropological thought. This is one major reason why I’m encouraged by the works of Herman Dooyeweerd and Reformational Philosophy. Even Herman Bavinck’s views on women are vastly more encouraging (though still, I think, problematic in some areas) than Complementarian and Patriarchal views.

I have seen some of those who challenge Complementarianism and patriarchy be enticed by feminism. This is a shame. At the same time, it seems to be a reaction on their part to being told (and erroneously believing) any challenge to Complementarianism must be feminist. The fastest way to bring feminism into the church, is to continue to paint Christian brothers and sisters with legitimate concerns as “feminist,” and/or consider the matter of gender and anthropology settled by tradition, thereby resisting a serious conversation on this topic.

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