Intimate Allies (pt. 5): A Message I Don’t Approve

In the season of platform messages and political adds, I feel that it is important to assert that I approved of the first four messages that Tremper Longman and Dan Allender present in their book Intimate AlliesTheir emphasis on spiritual warfare and the kingdom of God, evangelism and discipleship, as well as biblical theology to undergird our understanding of marriage is very helpful.  However, there is a message in their book with which I do not agree, and which is, I believe, fundamentally opposed to biblical marriages, biblical discipleship, and spiritual warfare.  It is the culturally accepted notion of feminism and the ecclesial/anthropological matter of egalitarianism as it pertains to the roles of men and women.  (For an outline of the issues see The Danvers Statement).

Without so much as a definition, an argument, or an admission of an egalitarian agenda, Longman and Allender presuppose and assume that an egalitarian reading of the Bible is normative for the evangelical Christian.  (For an opposing view, to which I wholeheartedly subscribe, see The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).  Concerning the Genesis command to fill the earth and subdue it, they write:

In marriage, we are both kings and queens who rule by ordering creation to enhance the glory and pleasure of each other.  We are to rule through sacrificing on behalf of one another (86).

At this point, I am in total agreement.  However, in there next supporting paragraph they deny any kind of intended order in the creation of man and woman.  They continue:

Further, we must recognize that the job description is given equally to men and women.  At this point, God makes no distinction about who is to do what.  Women are not the slaves or servants of men; men are not the slaves of servants of women.  Men and women together fill, subdue, and rule over all of creation (86).

By failing to cite a biblical reference, include a footnote, or make an argument for the assertion, “At this point, God makes no distinction about who is to do what,” they disregard biblical testimony to the contrary (cf. 1 Tim. 2; 1 Cor. 11, see Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for biblical corpus of articles that examine and exegete the relevant passage in Scripture ) and contemporary scholarship that argues for gender complementarity.  Instead, they casually assert their culturally sympathetic appeal and assume it will not cause any problems  This is not an isolated incident either.  In a later chapter, once again discussing the account in Genesis 2, they argue:

Once again, this passage [Gen. 2] is misread if either Adam’s statement of Eve’s derivative creation is understood to mean that the woman is subordinate to the man.  The man is not in any way better, superior, or closer to God than the woman is.  Indeed, the passage could not be clearer: the man needs the woman as much as the woman needs the man (216).

Though I disagree with their conclusion, in this instance Longman and Allender make an argument for egalitarianism, instead of propounding an assumption.  Their argument is feminist reasoning that supposes that worth in the eyes of God is dependent on hierarchy or perceived status.  For instance, a CEO is more valuable than his secretary.  In other words, if men and women cannot assume all the same functions within the home and the church, then they clearly cannot be equal.  They fail to take into consideration that God himself is equal in the Godhead and yet with distinctive roles (see Bruce Ware’s book Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance). 

Moreover, their argument makes a semantic range fallacy.  They speak of authority (i.e. “subordination) and then proceed to define it in terms of worth or significance (i.e. “better, superior, or closer to God”), when in fact the ordered world illustrates all the time that hierarchy and worth are distinctive spheres of meaning.  A sergeant in the army and a luitenant in the army have different degrees of authority, but the same ontological value; parents and children, in the eyes of God, have distinctive roles of authority and accountability, but both are equally loved by their Father in Heaven; and employers and employees have unique roles, but the same intrinsic value.  To disregard or expunge these roles is to move towards anarchy. 

Longman and Allender disregard these cosmic structures, just as they reinterpret biblical passages that clearly teach that men and women are equal, yet different (see Alexander Strauch’s helpful book by that same title, Men and Women: Equal Yet Different).  After explaining their understandings of Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, Longman and Allender summarize on page 191:

We have already pointed out that this commmand [“wives submit to your husband as unto the Lord,” Eph. 5:22] must be understood in the light of the mutual submission commanded by Paul in Ephesians 5:21.  We have also seen that Peter urged men to a submissive attitude toward their wives when he told them to “be considerate” toward them (1 Pet. 3:7). 

Here again, Longman and Allender are twisting meaning and common sense.  When you go to the doctor, you want him to be “considerate” but you don’t want your visitation to be a collaborative effort!  If in consideration for your feelings, he asked you to take the lead on your colonoscopy, you wouldn’t stay with his practice long.  You expect, and for good reason, that he or she be an authority in medicine.  Your responsibility is to submit, even if it is a woman!  (This hierarchy structure is different than that of the home or church). 

Or, to give another example, this time from Scripture, Jesus is the kind and compassionate head of the body, but this does not undermine his absolute authority.  The analogy of head and body only works because the healthy human body is controlled by the head.  When limbs, under their own initiative begin to lead, something is wrong.  Therefore, consideration and submission are not synonymous, as Longman and Allender suppose.

Throughout their otherwise faithful book these explicit egalitarian appeals arise.  They are exegetically reinforced in Chapter 11, “Submitting to One Another in Love,” and they are seen at work in at least two personal testimonies that portray their wives as spiritual co-leaders in the home (38, 52).  In short, while helpfully setting marriage in its discipling and warfare locus in the kingdom of God, they weaken their kingdom-worldview by denying God’s gender roles.

So overall, I commend the four aspects of the book I previously considered (Warfare, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Biblical Theology), but I do not commend their egalitarian agenda.  Intimate Allies is a book I would recommend to well-read Christians who want to see how their marriage fits into God’s eternal strategy of the Great Commission and spiritual warfare, but it is not a book I would ever use for (pre)marital counseling or that I would commend carte blanche.  There are too many other good books out there that are more faithful to God’s Word.  Finally, I am tremendously appreciative of Tremper Longman’s work, I look to him as an expert in OT and Biblical Theology, but in this instance, I cannot universally commend Intimate Allies.

My name is David Schrock, and I approved this message.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Intimate Allies (pt. 3): A Call for Christian Maturity

Discipleship: Maturation Through Marriage

In addition to bolstering evangelism, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman posit the integral role that marriage has in discipleship.  Consider their words:

The purposes of our marriages are to create life and to shape life to maturity.  A marriage is no better than the vision we have for one another and the willingness we have to sacrifice for each other, to suffer to see growth occur.  Many marriages survive by merely providing a partner for activities–a resource to counter occasional biological and personal needs.  But God’s intention for marriage is to grow or subdue each partner in relation to the other in order to draw each–and eventually marriage itself–to reflect the character of his Son.  The high calling of God is to create life and then to shape it in his image.  Our marriages are not only the context for evangelism but also the soil for discipleshipAnd to what end?  Ultimately, our marriages are the foundation for the kingdom of God to grow on earth in anticipation of its full realization in the new heavens and new earth (Intimate Allies, 83-84).

Just as marriage opens doors for evangelism, it also creates environments for sanctification and discipleship.  Incredibly challenging is the notion that marriage is not just a relationship for recreation, “providing a partner for activities.”  Instead, it is a licensed endeavor to procreate God’s love, to picture divine grace, and to proclaim the mystery of Christ and the church.  This does not mean that your marriage has to be perfect to convey such a message, it just has to be honest, intentional, and gospel-rich.  The Good News has always been that Jesus came to set captives free and to heal the sick.  Therefore, Christian marriages that fail to give verbal credit to Jesus Christ, verge on cosmic plagarism because they do not footnote their source.  Similarly, those that do not admit their frailty, while testifying of Christ’s overcoming sufficiency, miss out on the life-giving joy of telling others of the power and kindness of God.  In other words, maturation occurs in an individual and in a marriage, when the gospel is believed and shared.

This idea of maturation that Allender and Longman highlight is vitally important.  If we have been born again (cf. John 1:12; 3:3-8) and are growing into the image and likeness of our savior, marriage serves as an opportune environment for Christian maturation.  Evangelism and discipleship are requisites of the Christian faith, and marriage is designed to improve these, not impoverish them.  However, too often marriage and Christian maturity are set at odds.  A hidden assumption is that the serious Christian must take on monastic commitments if they are too be holy.  (Gary Thomas addresses this in his book Sacred Marriage).  Some may claim, “the kids keep me from my quiet times,” or “being the bread-winner disallows me from church service.”  Yet, it does not have to be so.  In fact, it must not be so.  The Christian marriage, filled with children (if the Lord permits), should be a vehicle driving us to a greater need for the gospel and propelling us to share the love of God with others.  In this way, marriage enhances our discipleship, as we press towards our spouse in gospel-empowered love, taking on the yoke of self-denying discipleship (cf. Matt. 11:29-30; Luke 14:25-33).

May we pray to that end, that God may be most glorified in our marriages as we are daily conformed into the image of Christ.  May we evangelize and be discipled through one of God’s most precious gifts–marriage.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Intimate Allies (pt. 2): Marriage and Evangelism

Evangelism: Marriage Depicts the Mystery of Christ and the Church

In Intimate Allies, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman show how marriage reflects to the watching a world a picture of the gospel, while at the same time for those Christian couples committed to growing in Christ-like conformity, it provides powerful opportunities for discipleship and sanctification.  Consider first their observation on marriage’s gospel-depicting purpose(s):

Marriage must be a picture of or testimony to new birth.  Marriage must reflect the fruits of new birth and the creative, Trinitarian God who is he author of life.  In that sense, a marriage is the foundation of evangelism and the declaration of the possiblity of being a son and a daughter–being a member of the family of God.  The central task of a marriage is first to create and offer life and then to take new life and shape it in the direction of maturity (79-80).

What an incredible vision of marriage!  By participating in and continuing the work of creation in the world through child-bearing, marriage is a picture of new birth.  Likewise, as life is cultivated within the marriage, and as the fruits of marital love are seen with runny noses and dirty feet, God’s program of filling the earth is accomplished.  Consequently, marriage does not stand at odds with God’s plan of salvation, as some might assume from passages of Scripture like 1 Corinthians 7; rather, marriage is a primary means by which the Great Commission is accomplished.  Consequently, marriages that seek to reflect the overflowing love of Christ and the church, provide a powerful lead in to gospel conversations and testimony to the greater, more perfect marriage–one that married and singles alike, can look forward to.

Paul in writing to the Colossians asked for prayer, that God would open a door for more effective service.  He writes, “Pray for us also, that God may open a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison” (4:3).  This petition is a model prayer for all missions-minded believers, and for the married couple who long to see their marriage be a means of evangelistic witness, it should fill their hearts with hope.  For the very being of their marriage witnesses to the mystery now revealed–Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).  So married couples can and should pray with boldness that God would open doors of for the word of God, pried open by unbelievers witnessing the effect of Christ on their marriage.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Intimate Allies (pt. 1): Marriage Means War

Why does the bridegroom stand on the right side of the bride? 

The legend goes:

Long ago, the right arm was considered the sword arm of most fighting men. If a man had to protect his bride, he would hold her with his left hand, and fight off attackers with his right arm.  The reason that men may have had to fight off others was because quite often women were kidnapped. Family members naturally wanted to rescue the stolen brides. Sometimes even during the wedding ceremony, the grooms had to fight off other men who were desirous of their brides, along with the bride’s family members. So having his right arm free was an important strategy.  This tradition is followed today by when facing the officiant, having the bride stand to the left, and the groom stand to the right.  (HT: Wikianswer).

This kind of readiness to defend makes sense in a time and place when marriages were threatened by violent thieves.  But what about today?  In light of the Scriptures, it still makes sense.  Such a posture illustrates the twin realities of love and war, and whether or not we consider marriage to be a violent affair, spiritually speaking, it is.  Marriage is warfare!

In their book, Intimate Allies: Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage and Becoming Soul Mates for Life, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman make this very important connection.  Love is war!  And for Christian marriages to be strong they must participate in cosmic conflict against the enemies that seek to destroy their marriage.  Concerning marriage and warfare, they write:

The language of a battle may disturb many readers, but life is a war.  And marriage, at times, requires war if the battle of life is to be fought well.  But are our spouses non-combatants, people disengaged from the real battles of our life?  Or worse, are our spouses enemies whom we fight daily?

God’s intention is for our spouses to be our allies–intimate friends, lovers, warriors in the spiritual war against the forces of the evil one.  We are to draw strength, nourishment, and courage to fight well from that one person who most deeply supports and joins us in the war–our soulmate for life.  Husbands and wives are intimate allies (Intimate Allies, xvi).

Clearly strong marriages are not engaged in internecine conflicts, but they are drawing battle lines and contending with external threats.  From the foundation of the world, Satan has been seeking to kill, steal, and destroy (cf. Gen. 3; John 10:10).  He is the accuser, the robber, the murderer, and the home-wrecker.  He loves to pervert and destroy all things that God has created good, and he takes specific aim at marriage, sexuality, and the familial relations of the nuclear family.  One aspect of redemptive history is to re-establish the home.  This is evident in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the fruit of the Spirit-filled life results a properly functioning marriage, where husbands lovingly lead their wives and wives respectfully submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-33).  In a return to the properly alligned marriage in the Garden, it seems evident from God’s Word that Spirit-led marriages are in cosmic conflict with the spirit of this age.  Allender and Longman elucidate this point:

What is the basis of the war between the sexes?  It is ultimately, of course, the war between God and his adversary, Satan.  We ought never to be naive.  The deepest struggles of life will occur in the most primary relationship affected by the Fall: marriage.  No one on earth will have more potential to do harm or to do good than your spouse.  Consequently, no relationship will be imbued with more desire and danger than your marriage.  No wonder most couples soon settle down into a distant, parallel existence in which the pain and the joy are kept at a minimum (287).

Sadly, their point is too often the case.  Couples, young and old, settle into patterns of coexistence rather than mutual edification.  Instead of conforming themselves into God’s intimate ideal for marriage, couples accept the luke-warm tensions of marriage, and make it up as they go.  In so doing, they ignore the marriage-transforming power of the gospel, and allow Satan to strip away the joys of marriage.  Yet, it does not have to be that way.  Allender and Longman contend that married is an environment for sanctification, spiritual growth, and gospel-empowered grace.  The battle that closes in on the home provides incentive and opportunity for the God’s power to be made manifest within the marriage, so that the flaming arrows of the enemy become refining fires that illumine and eradicate sin as Christ’s atoning work is applied to each act of sin.  They continue with optimism:

Our marriages are the ground for change.  It is the place where exposure of our need for the gospel is most profound; therefore, it is the relationship where depravity is best exposed and where our dignity is best lived out.  Marriage is the battleground of sin and the place where the Cross is revealed as the only hope for life and joy.  In the midst of the Curse, God promises that redemption will come as the seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent.  [Therefore], the curse is a friend that drives us to the hope of redemption.  Marriage is the sweet wine and rich meat that heralds the final day and the wedding feast of the Lamb (288).

The first marriage was ruined by the slithering voice of the serpent, yet it was restored by the promise found within the curse: “the seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent.”  Adam believed the promise and named his wife Eve, the mother of all living, and thus marital hope was restored, if only partially.  The same kind of redemptive hope is available for every marriage today, and in even greater ways since we know the rest of the story.  Sin still tears at marriage, but through the gospel of Jesus Christ, as depicted in marriage itself (Eph. 5:32), we know that the power of God can restore and reinforce every marriage under threat from sin and Satanic attack.  “Where sin has increased, grace has increased all the more” (Romans 5:21); and “the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).  Consequently, the attacks of the enemy can in turn become the God’s means for mutual sanctification, as husband and wife humbly cry out to Jesus to come and work wonders in their marriage. 

This is not a civilian’s work (cf. 2 Tim. 2:4).  Picking up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and believing the promises of God takes courage and tenacity.  Putting to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit is an act of war against the one to whom we were once held captive.  It is war, and it is the kind of war that is fueled by love (for God and for our spouse).  Perhaps it is counter-intuitive, but it is absolutely essential that every strong Christian marriage must employ a constant patrol on enemy activity encroaching against their marriage.  Every husband must stand guard, ready to go to war to protect their marriage by destroying every argument and [knocking down] every lofty opinion rasied agsint the knowledge of Christ; just as, every wife must combat Satan through prayers intercession for her home and for her husband.  Marriage is war!

Married people confront life as a battle.  As intimate allies, they push back the chaos.  With the power of God, marriage is an awesome calling and at times a delightful prelude of heaven.  But no matter what joy of what sense of meaning is found in marriage, it is always involved in a war.  At times marriage itself is part of the war… A successful marriage is one in which two broken and forgiving people stay committed to one another in a sacrificial relationship in the face of life’s chaos.  We are intimate allies in the war.  We rejoice together in our victories and cry together as we ecnounter setbacks.  But even in the setbacks, we can have joy because we know that the final victory is ours.  We look forward to the ultimate Wedding, which our own weddings only faintly reflect (346-47).

The pervading thesis of Intimate Allies is that marriage means war.  Once we realize this truth, it will re-adjust how we think of our own marital commitments.  It will re-allign the patterns of our daily interaction.  Our marriages require the daily posture of a pugilist–always ready to embrace our spouse with grace and forgiveness so that the devil does not get a foothold (Eph. 4:26-27).  Simultaneously, we are ever-ready to fight all those who would rend asunder what God has joined together.   Intimate Allies alerts us to the biblical reality of spiritual warfare attacking our marriages, and it implores us to put on our armor because the devil is coming to kill, steal, and destroy.

May the Lord grant us courage to fight sin, Satan, and the spirits of this age that would love to undo our marriages. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss