Author Archive | Denny Burk

Should “headship” determine who we vote for in the presidential election?

I taught 1 Corinthians 11:3 this morning in my New Testament Survey class at Boyce College. One student asked what implications a text like this one has on our thinking about the presidential election. If the Bible teaches male headship, should a Christian vote for a female running for president? I want to share how I answered that question, but before doing that I should stipulate that what follows should not be construed as an endorsement or non-endorsement vis a vis the current candidates for president. I should also stipulate that the Bible has much more to say on this question than is contained in a single verse. Still, it is instructive to think through what this text means and how it might relate to our thinking about our democratic stewardship. Here’s the text:

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. –1 Corinthians 11:3

One thing that is clear in this text is that “head” refers to a relation of authority (cf. Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 2:10, also see BDAG). Thus to say that “Christ is the head of every man” is the same as saying that Christ is the authority over every man. Likewise, to say that the man is the “head” of the woman is to say that man is the authority over the woman.

But we must add two important clarifications at this point. First, while Christ is said to be the head of “every” man, man is not said to be the head of “every” woman. One reason for that is because Paul intends “man” and “woman” in this context to refer specifically to “husband” and “wife.” Paul is not talking about the relation of every man to every woman but of the husband’s and wife’s specific covenant obligations to one another (cf. Eph. 5:22). The husband is the leader in the home, and the wife is to affirm and follow that leadership. The relation between husband and wife in the home has implications for public worship when the church gathers, which is what the rest of the passage fleshes out (1 Cor. 4-15).

Second, the headship language establishes an analogy not an identity. In other words, Christ’s headship over the man is analogous to the husband’s headship in marriage, but they are not the same in every respect. They are both alike and unlike. The key to understanding the analogy is to discover the points of correspondence and not to press the analogy further than Paul intends.

The narrow point of analogy here is that there is a leader in both of these relationships. It would press the analogy beyond Paul’s intent to observe Christ’s absolute authority over every man and then to conclude that a husband has absolute authority over the wife. The husband is not like Christ in every respect, so neither is his authority like Christ’s in every respect. Christ is sinless, perfect, and all-powerful deity. No husband can say the same of himself.

That is why, for example, no husband can claim the authority to lead his wife into sin or to require her to submit to abuse. His authority is delegated to him by God, and he is not free to do with it as he wishes. He is free to be servant of the Most High God in his leadership in the home. While it is always wrong to resist Christ’s authority, it is not always wrong to resist human authorities. Indeed, sometimes it is our duty to resist them (e.g., Acts 5:29). So there is analogy between Christ’s headship and a husband’s headship, but not identity.

The text speaks first of Christ’s headship, then the husband’s headship, and then finally God’s headship. Why is God’s headship over Christ mentioned last? Before answering this question, it is important to note that “God” (Gk. theos) is the term Paul typically uses to refer to God the Father (e.g. Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3). This means that within the Trinitarian economy, God the Father is the authority over Christ. Christ himself refers to this relation when he says things like, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). Why is this intra-trinitarian relation mentioned last? I think Tom Schreiner’s answer to this question is correct:

I think Paul added the headship of God over Christ right after asserting the headship of man over woman in order to teach that the authority of man over woman does not imply the inferiority of women or the superiority of men. Some Corinthians may have concluded that the headship of man over woman diminished woman’s worth. Paul anticipates this objection and adds that God is the head over Christ. And even though God (i.e., the Father) is the head over Christ, He is not essentially greater than Christ. So too, even though women are under men’s authority, they are not essentially inferior (Tom Schreiner, “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity,” p. 130).

To sum up: The husband’s leadership in the home is analogous to Christ’s authority over every man. The husband, therefore, should think of his own headship as loving, benevolent, and sacrificial leadership in the home (Eph. 5:25). And he should remember that his leadership in no way implies the inferiority of his wife. The husband and wife are equally created in God’s image and therefore have equal value and dignity. In Christ, husband and wife are co-heirs of the grace of life even as they have different roles in the covenant of marriage (1 Peter 1:7).

So how does all of this relate to the question that my student asked me in class? Does the headship principle rule out voting for a woman running for president? Here’s my answer:

First, this text addresses the way that husbands and wives relate to one another in the covenant of marriage. Because the covenant of marriage places certain obligations on husbands and wives, that order must be reflected when husbands and wives gather together for worship with the church. That means that this text is defining the way things should be within the home and within the church. It is not giving explicit instruction about how men and women relate generally outside of those two spheres. Any application outside those two spheres would have to come by way of implication, not by way of explicit instruction.

Second, it is true that Paul is dealing with principles that are rooted in the order of creation (see 1 Cor. 11:4-12). But the wider implication of that principle has less to do with headship than with gender presentation. Because gender differences are grounded in the creational order, men and women should never dress or behave in ways that blur the distinction between male and female. Certainly, this norm is required within the covenant community, but by implication it would also be required outside the covenant community (cf. Deut. 22:5). One application, therefore, is that Paul would oppose the normalization of transgender identities.

Third, while complementarians agree that the headship principle must be observed within marriage and within the church, there is no complementarian consensus on whether or how the headship principle applies outside those two spheres. Here are two examples to illustrate this complementarian counterpoint. On the one hand, John Piper has argued that the creation order means that women should not run for president, even though wise Christians may indeed vote for a woman for president. On the other hand, Russell Moore has argued that we should not expect or require secular authorities to reflect kingdom order. That order belongs to the church alone.

I tend to agree with Moore about our expectations for secular authorities, and I agree with Piper that wise Christians may sometimes choose to vote for female political leaders. Indeed both men end up agreeing that it is permissible to vote for female political leaders. It does not necessarily undermine what the Bible teaches about manhood and womanhood to do so.


Is there a need for “sexual orientation and gender identity” laws?

Over at The Public Discourse James Gottry argues that these laws are an answer to a non-existent problem. According to the article, there is no evidence of systemic discrimination against gay or transgender persons. These laws then have the effect of coercing people who hold traditional views to violate their conscience. You should read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

In recent years, laws that provide special privileges to individuals based on their self-proclaimed gender identity or sexual preferences have emerged across the country. Commonly known as SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) laws, these legislative undertakings are typically fueled by activist groups and represent a subversive response to a nonexistent problem. Available data confirm there exists no significant social pattern or practice of unjust discrimination against these groups. This is not only because the vast majority of Americans already respect each other and are fair-minded, but also because anyone engaged in baseless discrimination faces the prospect of social and financial consequences brought on by public pressure and boycotts.
SOGI laws, however, use the full force of the law to punish individuals who seek to live peacefully and to work in a way that is consistent with their consciences. Elaine Huguenin, Barronelle Stutzman, Jack Phillips, and Blaine Adamson are just a few of the small business owners who gladly serve all people without exception, but who also face legal punishment because they declined to participate in certain events or to create custom art that would have violated their consciences. In Elaine’s case, she politely declined a request to use her expressive photography skills to tell the story of a same-sex commitment ceremony. Her attempt to remain peacefully true to her faith’s teachings about marriage led to a seven-year court battle that culminated in a ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court against her and her husband, Jon. One justice stated that the Huguenins “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” and added that this compulsion “is the price of citizenship.”

Farewell to Les Miles. No one wanted it to come to this.

I am a fan of Les Miles. I admire Les Miles. I think Baton Rouge and LSU owe so much to Les Miles. He’s the winningest coach in the school’s storied history. He gave us some great teams and, no question, some great players. He was the Mad Hatter with more tricks than you could shake a stick at (one of my favorite bits of mad-hattery above and another below). He brought the school two SEC championships (2007 and 2011), two national championship appearances (2007 and 2011), and one national championship win (2007).

In addition to that, he has meant so much to the community in Baton Rouge. He showed leadership and rallied the community during Katrina, during the racial unrest over the summer, and during the aftermath of recent devastating floods. In spite of the downturn in Tiger football of late, people in Louisiana genuinely love and admire Les Miles. That is why he got one more shot to coach the Tigers after a disappointing 2015 season. That is why after the victory over A&M last year, his players carried him off the field. They love him, and so do so many others in my home state.

So what happened that led to his abrupt firing earlier today? If you think it was due solely to the heartbreaking loss to Auburn yesterday, you only know part of the story. The real story is that LSU football has been in decline since 2012. In fact, we can put our finger on the exact moment that the decline began. It was January 9, 2012. Continue Reading →


Is the Bible Foundational to Christianity?

Andy Stanley preached a controversial sermon a couple weeks ago arguing that the Bible should not be the basis of our Christian faith. A number of worthy responses have appeared, but I want to highlight one that appears today from Michael Kruger. Kruger sets forth a copious critique of Stanley’s argument. I highly recommend that you read all of it. Among other things, Kruger writes: Continue Reading →

“The Benedict Option” for evangelicals will likely include 9Marks

I am a Baptist by conviction. That means that I not only hold to believer’s baptism but that I also adhere to congregational polity. I believe in these not for pragmatic reasons—though I do think they “work” the best—but for biblical reasons. It marks out a way of being in the world, not of the world, for the sake of the world.

Without question, my understanding of scripture on these matters has been decisively shaped by Mark Dever and the ministry of 9Marks. For me, this influence began when I was still a seminary student in a conversation with Mark Dever in the hallway at Southern Seminary. It was actually more of a debate. But over time after doing more reading and study, I became persuaded that he was right about what the Bible teaches. Continue Reading →

Should an Evangelical Theological Society admit members who affirm gay marriage?

Stan Gundry is Senior Vice President and Publisher at Zondervan Academic and a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). On Friday, he posted a letter to the membership of ETS voicing concern about a resolution passed at our annual meeting last November in Atlanta. Before getting into this, a little background is in order.

At last year’s meeting Owen Strachan offered a resolution affirming traditional marriage and the sexual binary taught in scripture. These kinds of resolutions are unusual at ETS, but the rationale was that such a resolution might be in order given the extraordinary Obergefell decision handed down by the Supreme Court just months before the annual meeting. I made the motion that the four points of the resolution be taken together and voted up or down. Here are the four points. Continue Reading →

The child was sick so they killed him. And it’s legal.

The stakes couldn’t be any higher or more grave than they are in this report:

A terminally ill minor has become the first child to be euthanized in Belgium since age restrictions were lifted in the country two years ago, according to several sources.

A Belgian lawmaker told CNN affiliate VTM that the physician-assisted suicide happened within the past week.

The child, who was suffering from an incurable disease, had asked for euthanasia, Sen. Jean-Jacques De Gucht told VTM. The identity of the child and age are unknown.

“I think it’s very important that we, as a society, have given the opportunity to those people to decide for themselves in what manner they cope with that situation,” said Gucht, a supporter of euthanasia legislation.

According to the BBC, the child was 17-years old. Lest you think this is far removed from us, just remember that physician-assisted suicide is already legal in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, and Vermont. We are not so far behind.

What does this precedent mean? Like in the United States, a child cannot decide by himself that he wants to die. According to the report, the child must understand what euthanasia is and the parents must also give consent to let it happen.

But what does it mean for a child to know what euthanasia is? Does he really understand death and mortality? Do his parents who must give consent even understand? Do they understand that every life is sacred because it is created in the image of God? Do they understand that “consent” does not nullify the dignity that God has given to that precious life? Do they understand that if we only value lives that meet a minimum threshold of “quality,” then none of us are safe? As a society, do Belgians (and we) understand that just because consent is required today does not mean that it will be required tomorrow?

If life is only reckoned as valuable based on utility or quality of life, then when society deems such lives unworthy of living consent may no longer be required. Utilitarianism can be a conscience-crushing, life-destroying moral argument. And we must oppose it wherever it raises itself up against the image of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is a slippery slope that we must not go down, but it appears we are already on the move.

Lord have mercy.

Five quick points on the ESV’s rendering of Genesis 3:16

This is not the definitive post on the translation of Genesis 3:16. But in light of controversy surrounding recent changes in the ESV, I thought I’d offer some reflections on the interpretation of this text. I am particularly interested to interact with some of the items in Scot McKnight‘s post on the topic. So here we go.

But first, here is the change that was made:

Permanent Text of Gen. 3:16 Previous Text of Gen. 3:16
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.

Continue Reading →

They’ll never come after churches… until they do

The Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination issued a document last week titled “Gender Identity Guidance.” Among other things, it requires places of public accommodation to acknowledge and affirm transgender identities.

It is not difficult to see the religious liberty implications for such a policy. It means, for instance, that a Christian bookstore would have to make its sex-segregated bathrooms available to persons based on their gender identity not on their biological sex.

It also means that places of public accommodation must “Use names, pronouns, and gender-related terms appropriate to employee’s stated gender identity in communications with employee and with others.”

But here’s the kicker. The new policy even requires churches to acknowledge and affirm transgender identities in events that are open to the public. The guidelines say this:

“Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public. All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation” (emphasis mine).

Over at The Washington Post, Eugene Volokh notes the conflict with religious liberty that this will eventually provoke:

Now, churches hold events “open to the general public” all the time — it’s often how they seek new converts. And even church “secular events,” which I take it means events that don’t involve overt worship, are generally viewed by the church as part of its ministry, and certainly as a means of the church modeling what it believes to be religiously sound behavior.

My guess is that most churches would not turn someone away from a generally open spaghetti supper… But some religious leaders, as well as the church employees and volunteers, may refuse to use pronouns that they believe are inconsistent with God’s plan as revealed by anatomy.

Volokh offers an extended quotation from a blog I wrote a while back about transgender naming. In it, I wrote this:

Truth-telling is always necessary for the Christian (Eph. 4:15). We are not allowed speak in ways that are fundamentally dishonest and that undermine the truth of God’s word about how he made us and the world. Transgender ideology is fundamentally a revolt against God’s truth. It encourages people–sometimes very disturbed and hurting people–to deny who God made them to be. It traps them in a way of thinking and living that is harmful to them and that alienates them from God’s truth. We do not serve them or love them well by speaking as if transgender fictions are true. …

The practical upshot of this principle means that I must never encourage or accomodate transgender fictions with my words. In fact, I have an obligation to expose them. For me, that means that I may never refer to a biological male with pronouns that encourage him to think of himself as a female. Likewise, I may never refer to a biological female with pronouns that encourage her to think of herself as a male. In other words, I have to speak truthfully. And that includes the choice of pronouns that I use.

I have no idea how many evangelicals would agree with the conclusions I reached about transgender naming. For all I know, it may not be very many at all. Nevertheless–whether many or few–Christians ought not be compelled to speak in ways that violate their conscience, but that is precisely what this new law in Massachusetts requires.

What does this mean? It means that the activists are not going to leave churches alone. They are coming for churches to make them conform or risk sanction by the state. It’s already happening in Massachusetts. I expect it to will spread to other states as well.

This is where we are. It looks like Rod Dreher’s “law of merited impossibility” is unfolding right before our very eyes. In this case, it goes like this: “Stop being a Chicken Little. The sexual revolutionaries will never come after the churches, but when they do churches will deserve it!”

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