Friday, March 10, 2023

Answering Scot McKnight's Question: "What Made Josh Butler's TGC Article Different?"

This week, I listened to two podcasts about the controversy that ensued concerning Josh Butler's book excerpt that appeared on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) website on March 1.  A friend gave me a link to the Preventing Grace Podcast, claiming that they expressed some of the same ideas that I did, asking that people would extend mercy to the author.  While I did not find Butler's material to be that difficult in light of other teachings, I became quite triggered by the hosts' straw man mischaracterizations of Butler's critics, along with their claims that his writing was beautiful.  (Apparently, we prudish, small-minded people who cry "misogyny" at every turn only look for material to use to destroy those with a different view.)  The following day, I listened to a podcast that posed questions I'd already been thinking about because of my thoughts from the previous day.

When I became aware of what Butler wrote, I participated in discussing the errors on my blog and social media.  Initially, I noted the problems of Soteriology that Butler's problematic analogy created, understanding as more fruit of the Complementarian arguments that I've been decrying for more than fifteen years.  His statements were not substantially different than what other Complementarians have written, so I encouraged people to recognize that Butler had only done what TGC modeled for him.  I'm far more concerned about the theological problems created by the perspective, not only because the beliefs facilitate abuse, but primarily because it robs Christ of His Glory by diminishing Him and the Work of the Cross.

Perhaps because it's the fifteenth anniversary of my "canceling" for criticizing Complementarians and their Eternal Subordination of the Son Doctrine, I've pleaded for critics to show the author mercy and pray for wisdom for him.  I found the Preventing Grace criticisms challenging.  But what felt even more difficult was their claims that Butler had made no substantial errors through the use of the imagery and metaphors he chose.

On Sunday, I'd processed enough of my outrage over the profane implications concerning the Doctrine of God well enough that the sarcasm I'd been using to cover the personal elements of Butler's writing abated.  My voice cracked as I told my friend about the flash of olfactory memory when I first read the TGC article quote and the sick twinge of it again when I read Sheila Wray Gregoire's blog post when she noted how often she'd used the word "semen."  When I heard Preventing Grace express appreciation and support for Butler's language, the rest of the personal element rose to the surface of my consciousness.

I was first molested at the age of eight.  The abuse continued irregularly and progressed for several more years when the elderly woman who babysat for me would place me alone in the care of her adult son.  I had no language to describe what was happening to me and what I witnessed.  I knew that the bodies of a man and a woman joined, but I knew nothing about male emission.  I thought my abuser was ill when I witnessed the process as he sat beside me on the sofa that first time.  The texture of the upholstery against my hands as I pressed them into the cushion, the smell of his sweat, and the smell of the strange substance that was nothing like urine were forever burned into my mind.  Elements of the experience do not invade or intrude upon my daily life anymore, but when something pulls up those memories, I cannot get free of that smell.  I have made peace with the experience, but I resent the smell that returns to my consciousness like a witness to my long-past trauma.

I am grateful to God and my husband of nearly 33 years that none of these elements of my past ever invaded our marriage bed.  I have always felt safe, respected, and gratified in the "merging of our souls," which has always been the mutual sharing of love.  And I am no prude.  When I became an RN at age nineteen, I wanted to work with oncology patients, but the hospital floor also specialized in urology.  I am grateful for the kindness and humility of my male patients who were always gentlemen as I learned how to care for men afflicted with so many disorders of male reproductive health.

But that podcast set me thinking about what I would have thought as a little girl if someone had told me that my abuser's semen was his show of generosity with me or if my body was a show of hospitality as the TGC author described.  Or that these things spoke to me about God's generous and extravagant gift of love or that it represented how He "works within me."  As a five-year-old, I knelt at the altar to give my heart to the Lord.  By the age when I was violated, I would often stay for the sermons in church with the adults instead of going to children's church.  I was hungry for God's Word, and in many ways, I felt safer in that church sanctuary than anywhere else I knew.  I cannot imagine hearing such ideas in my safe haven of that House of Prayer.

There was nothing godlike or good about what I endured, and I endured because I was duty-bound to obey my abuser.  Lacking the language and the liberty to describe what I experienced, I asked my mother if I had to do everything he asked.  I showed him submission out of duty in obedience to my mother.  It was not hospitality.  It was a kind of death.

Today, I listened to a very different podcast called Kingdom Roots with Scot McKnight.  I had to play it through five times to catch all of the elements of it because it set me thinking about so many things, almost as if the speakers had read my mind.  Dr. Beth Felker Jones addressed the problems of anthropomorphizing in the way that Butler did, reinforcing what I'd already been thinking throughout the previous night.  She highlighted the problematic complementarian teachings that drop deep into theological pitfalls of bad scholarship.  Dr. Lynn Cohick concisely tackled the primary doctrinal problems in light of what we're told clearly and plainly in the New Testament.

Dr. Scot McKnight mentioned the "silo" of TGC and how swiftly they cancel their critics, an experience that I know too well.  He brought up the root problems of their teachings.  He said precisely what my husband said about the non-apology offered by TGC by admitting error without identifying that error.  When Knight asked what was so different about Josh Butler's writing compared to previous statements made by TGC, I felt like that Preventing Grace podcast had already pushed me to the brink of that answer.

The Tenth Chapter of John tells us that we know our Shepherd's voice, and I did not hear my Shepherd in Butler's words.  I did not hear anything that sounded remotely like the relationship of love and trust that I share with my husband in our marriage.  I heard nothing about God's love for me.  I did not feel that inner witness in my heart like a leap of life and joy that says, "This is truth!"  I heard a man talking about what the mechanics of sex felt and meant to him -- and perhaps what he hoped to find in those things.  And then, for just a fleeting moment, I smelled the memory of my rape.  As I continued to read, I asked myself that if this was a passage meant to celebrate marital love, why would anyone mention prostitution?  This was not a discussion of love or theology or marriage.  For me, it seemed like an occasion to the flesh and a discussion of sex for the gratification of (some) men.