01 August 2012

An Interview with Phil Johnson, Part 2

Yesterday I linked to Part 1 of an interview with Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, former blogger at Pyromaniacs and keeper of the online treasure trove known as The Spurgeon Archive.

In the first portion of the conversation, we discussed Phil’s life post-Internet as well as his thoughts on the role of discernment ministries in the church. Today I’d like to share the second half of our conversation, wherein I asked Phil to contribute his thoughts about the growing problem of women teaching and taking authority within the evangelical church. Continue reading at Christian Research Network


  1. Erin,

    Phil Johnson is someone I respect, but I found his attitude in this part of his interview with you extremely saddening. As CRN doesn’t allow comments, I’m going to respond here instead. I appreciate that I should really be addressing Phil directly, but this is the only place that allows comments.

    I am a Bible-believer just like you and Phil. I have a high view of scripture and regard it as inspired and authoritative. BUT I believe it supports the egalitarian position – leadership in the church, including the office of pastor, is to be open to both men and women equally.

    Phil is entitled to his view, as are you, and I respect this, even though I disagree. And whilst I feel that your position is based on a misunderstanding of the Bible and I would like you to change it, I’m not going to argue about it with you now (unless you want me to!). But what I am going to say is that Phil’s attitude to the diversity of Bible interpretation amongst evangelicals is immature and unhelpful. He lacks both reality and humility.

    The fact is that both our positions are interpretations of the Bible. Phil fails to acknowledge that and presents an opinion (which is not universally shared) as if it were absolute truth. This is theological arrogance in the extreme.

    By way of example, how would Phil feel if someone like Tim Keller condemned him for not baptising the babies of believers? This is a conviction that Presbyterians hold deeply and sincerely based on their understanding of the Bible. They could say something like “By not supporting covenant baptism, Phil Johnson is in major error. He needs to be corrected, and until he changes his view we cannot share ministry with him and he cannot speak in any of our churches. He is rejecting the clear teaching of scripture on this subject, and we cannot trust his judgement on other important issues. He’s probably actually a liberal theologian”.

    Phil would probably be most offended, as his beliefs on baptism are also based on the Bible. Yet he used similar words about those who support women in leadership.

    Another example is from history. In previous times, the majority view amongst evangelicals was that the Bible supported slavery. Anyone who suggested otherwise was guilty of a “violation of clear teaching of Scripture” – the very words Phil used about people like me who support women in leadership. Today, we look back on that period with great sadness, and consider our spiritual ancestors to have been seriously wrong. It is possible, in the future, that Phil’s “leadership is male” interpretation of the Bible will be viewed in the same way that we now view the pro-slavery interpretation.

    So we need to tread carefully and humbly. I would like to see Phil admit his views are simply one of many possible interpretations of the Bible, and for him to stop regarding evangelicals who differ as scripture twisters who have to be treated with suspicion and kept at arms length. No-one has to deny their convictions; we just have to accept the validity of alternatives. It’s a very childish attitude to say “I’m right, you’re wrong, go away” to what is a genuine difference of opinion amongst Christians. The faith we share and the things we agree on are infinitely more important than the things which divide us. How is Phil showing love to a brother or sister in the Lord when he refuses to associate with them over a matter which, by his own admission, is not a primary one?

  2. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You said, "And whilst I feel that your position is based on a misunderstanding of the Bible and I would like you to change it, I’m not going to argue about it with you now (unless you want me to!)."

    Since I feel exactly the same way about your position, I suspect that any discussion will result in a stalemate. :-) We both could probably find a better use of our time.

    "I appreciate that I should really be addressing Phil directly, but this is the only place that allows comments."

    Well, we can certainly see if there are others who would like to weigh in on this discussion. I will, however, pass your comment along to Phil. I don't expect that he will visit here and respond, but at the very least you can know that he has seen your thoughts on the subject.

  3. I'm just wondering: is that Peter Jones of Westminster Seminary California and childhood friend of John Lennon?

  4. @ Sergius - Sorry, no. Presumably you're no relation to George Martin?!

    @ Erin - We both know a debate about women in leadership wouldn't get anywhere. The key thing is that disparaging fellow Christians who have differing convictions (based on study of the Bible) is not acceptable. Both viewpoints already exist within evangelicalism and they should not be a barrier to fellowship or ministry. How do you feel about this?

  5. I agree with Phil on most everything except that I have problems with his answer to your question with Scripture.

    Erin-"What if a woman is teaching mixed audiences outside of the context of the local church, such as at conferences or on a television show?

    Phil-"Teaching inherently entails the exercise of authority. If you are teaching, you are exercising authority. If you’re teaching biblical material, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the context of the local church or not, you are exercising the authority of Scripture. If you’re teaching biblical material to fellow Christians, whether it is a home Bible study or a conference somewhere, that’s still what Paul meant by “in the church.”

    "we have the case in Acts 18: 24-26 where the eloquent and learned Apollos was boldly and accurately speaking of Christ in the Synagogue but had incomplete knowledge and Pricilla and Aquila took him aside (it doesn’t say where they did this) and they both brought him up to speed on his doctrine. "

    "Then of course there are instances of women prophesying in both the Old Testament: Huldah, Miriam, Deborah, and the New: Anna, who resided in the temple when the baby Jesus was presented and who “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:36). And there was also Philip the evangelist’s 4 daughters who prophesied in Acts 21."
    quotes from "Theology for Girls" website

    when I muse the Scripture with Phil's answer,, Scripture doesn't violate what Phil said in regards to pulling "ONE" aside as compared to teaching mixed audiences... Maybe he's correct in that sense.

  6. @Peter
    No, I am no relation to the Beatles' manager. I do realize that your "how do you feel about this" question was directed to Erin, but I trust the two of you won't mind if I step in and offer a few thoughts.

    I am not an egalitarian -- though I have come to have deep concerns about the label "complementarian," based on various factors, including its origin. What bothers me about much of the comp-egal discourse is the attribution of motivation and intent by one party against the other. It seems that many on the complementarian cannot accept the existence of a thoughtful, considered, and principled adoption of an egalitarian position based on careful Biblical study. Rather, that type of position can only come from "rebellion" against the "creation order." I know I don't like it when the other side attributes my position to a deep-seeded desire to rule over women and keep them down -- though that accusation certainly does rear its head from time to time. But the former accusation seems to be much more common. It's the "you're-not-only-wrong,-you're-bad" smear.

    Regarding Linda's concerns, my follow-up question to Phil Johnson would be along the lines of: how far do you want to take it? Should women not be teachers or professors of any discipline, in any situation in which they would be in "authority" over male students? Not a few on the comp/patriarchal side would honestly answer in the negative. Should women never be in a position of authority over men in any context? Public officials? Police officers? Again -- many would seriously say no. Much has been made over John Piper's assertion in the CBMW book that women, when giving highway directions to men who ask for their help finding the interstate on-ramp, need to take care to maintain a proper deference to the male direction-seeker while giving the directions so as not to upset what should be proper gender submission.

    There's a rumor I've seen on some blogs with a more egalitarian bent. I hope it's not true. According, to this rumor, Phil Johnson's wife (I do not recall her first name) has said publicly that if she is ever in a situation in which she is asked a question by a male that is theological in nature, that she will not answer the question -- even if she knows the answer -- but that she will attempt to find a man who can answer the question. Again, I don't know if that's true or not, but either way, it points up the importance of being very specific about how precise your interpretation of Bible verses that restrict women's roles vis-a-vis their interaction with men needs to be.

    Sorry for the excessive volume in this comment, but I think Peter makes a great point in saying that, though debate probably won't resolve anything, there are matters that would benefit from further discussion.

    1. Sergius Martin-George from how you've delineated your follow up questions to Phil, I cringe that I've even left comments on Phil's website... He should have made his website for "Men only" if this is his view of taking what is supposed to be -in context "order within the Church" and now applying it to outside the Church.

      I can't help but think of the woman at the well who ran into the nearby town and said to the people --"Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ" ..-John 4:28-30..
      I'm pretty sure there were men she said this to

      There are "leadership limitations"

      quote--"The scope of the authority is limited to the area of the authority given to them by God. God does not require us to obey leaders outside the legitimate sphere of their authority. This is why wives are urged to "be submissive to your own husbands" - not to all men (1 Pet. 3:1; Eph. 5:22). For the same reason, it is inappropriate for parents to tell their adult children whom they must marry, or for civil authorities to tell their citizens what religious beliefs they must hold, or for church authorities to tell Christians what jobs they may take."

      "In the Bible, the church is sometimes called the family of God, but we should remember that the parent is God the father--leaders are (brothers and sisters) like the rest.

      leaders and Pastors need to exercise care to avoid implying that their authority extends further than it really does"

    2. @ Sergius,

      Both sides have entrenched positions and arguing over them usually generates more heat than light. My desire is basically for each side to respect and accept the other as being within Biblical parameters, rather that disparaging them. Phil's use of pejorative language such as "twist your understanding of Scripture" is frankly shameful. Eric Barger recently wrote a great piece on "When Discernment Turns Ugly" (Google will find it) in which he, quite rightly, takes issue with this approach.

      Which leads me nicely to the "how far do you want to take it" question, I've often wondered about 1 Cor 14:34-35. Are there churches that use this to prohibit women from speaking completely? Very few people would take such an extreme approach, I suspect. In which case, if you accept that these verses require interpretation and do not amount to a blanket ban (which would be the literal meaning), is it really unreasonable to conclude that Paul is referring to interrupting, chattering, or disruptive behaviour?

    3. Quick answer to the question "are there churches that prohibit women from speaking completely?" I know of at least one movement which I grew up in which is known as the Brethen movement (not talking about the exclusive movement) but "brethren" or Assemblies or Gospel Halls or Gospel Chapels do not allow Women to teach (except ladies meetings or Sunday school) or pray audibly & heads are covered. Hope that helps! There are lots of them around the world.

  7. Okay everyone, here's the deal: Regrettably, I simply don't have the time right now to thoughtfully and adequately participate in this discussion. Of course, since that is usually the case around here, I encourage all of you to continue the conversation.

    That said, let's remember to please stay on topic with the post. Meaning, let's ensure that we are addressing the contents of the post and not outside comments or unsubstantiated rumors that may best be left to those blogs that thrive on that type of thing.

    There's some really good, thoughtful discussion going on here about a touchy topic. Let's keep that up and let's keep it edifying!

  8. The Word of God has been under attack since the Garden of Eden until now. This open and brazen assault on the Word is no different, the wicked one is yet again calling into question the truth of the Word when it comes to allowing female bishops/pastors/teachers in the church. The Word of God does allow for this and states it in no uncertain terms. Both the letters to Timothy and the one to Titus speak plainly that the office of bishop/pastor/teacher is to be filled only by a man, not a woman. The problem lies with some who wish to pervert, alter, void, massage, and twist the Word to fit their soap-box agenda. Our Lord does not take such mockery of His Word lightly. It would be best if this open rebellion against His Word were stopped. The question must be asked: Is the Word of God the final authority in all matters, or do you place something over it in order to achieve some nefarious goal?

  9. Forgive me, Darrel, but I honestly can't tell whether you're being facetious in order to help us prove our point(s), or if you're being genuine--and have proved our point(s) for us without intending to.

  10. With the lateness of the hour and the seriousness of the subject-the attempt to dismantle the Word of God-I find no room for humor of any kind, nor is there room for double-speak.

    1. Darrel,

      I'm sorry to say this but your comments are not edifying. You speak ill of Christians who disagree with you over the interpretation of the Bible. And the disagreement is over on a subject that has no bearing on the essentials of the faith.

      Let me make it clear that the Bible is my final authority and I have no desire whatsoever to pervert, dismantle, or downgrade it in any other way. I have no soap-box agenda - my only desire is to understand the Bible correctly.

      The question I have for you is this - how can you say with certainty that your understanding of the Bible is correct?

  11. Phil said "If I just step back and look at the spiritual state of the Church in my lifetime, I think things have actually gotten better rather than worse. Not that that’s true of the evangelical movement as a whole, which has gotten bigger and more apostate."

    I have to disagree with Phil.. The discernment level among Christians is awful and at it's lowest I've ever seen even when compared to 10 years ago and thus the spiritual state of the Church is at an all time low. that's my estimation..

    Look at Kay Arthur who espouses Beth Moores books
    Look at men like Ravi Zacharias whom I just read are embracing people like Henri Nouwen and calling him "one of the greatest saints"..

    Something is seriously wrong with the CHURCH when we have Christians embracing false teachers....

    And so Phil Johnson lacks discernment when it comes to the true state of the Church.

    1. Btw, I wanted to add that this is not to discredit Phil Johnson who is a brilliant, astute, articulate crisp writer and Pastor. I've learned sooooooo much from him and continue to do so.. It's the GIFT God has granted him but he doesn't have all the gifts just like no Christian does. Thanks Phil Johnson

  12. Well, dare I say, Darrel, that neither the lateness of the hour nor the seriousness of the subject excuses us from our responsibility to extend charity to our brothers and sisters who hold different views. When we attribute unfounded motivations to those believers, we are still sinning against them.

  13. PJ & SMG
    Who set set up the "essentials" of the faith? Man, not God. Show me from Scripture only where the Holy Spirit has done such a thing. Every time a truth is perverted it leads to more perversion. Peter, you say that you have not perverted the Word, but in fact you are: "I do not suffer a woman to teach, or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence". Plain and simple language which you say does not apply to a woman being a pastor/ teacher. HOW? "A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife..." and yet you say again this does not apply. WHY? because you do not wany it to? And for all of these words you would still insist that it's ok for women to hold such an office in the church and you still claim that you are not perverting the Word of God-HOW?

    SMG: By "charity" do you mean that I should simply agree to disagree with someone who is teaching error? Where is that found in Scripture? Because I attempt to expose error that in itself make me unloving in your eyes? Where is the love in letting a brother continue down a path that leads to destruction?

    There cannot be two correct interpretations that are diametrically opposed to one another. This "debate" can continue as it is with both "sides" claiming to be right, but where is the edification in that? Would you place a stumbling block in front of a new believer? I hope not. The only thing that perpetuates such a "discussion" is pride. See what happens when you allow for "non-essential" doctrines? Not so non-essential any more when the "debate" swells up pride-pride that is most hated by our Lord.

  14. Darrel:

    The distinction between essentials and non-essentials has a long history. Consider Nicea, Constantinople, Chalcedon. You are correct that it was man and not God who "set up" these distinctions, but what was "man's" alternative? The canon was closed -- as I'm sure you would agree. When equally-intelligent, equally sanctified men come to differing interpretations of scripture, what are they to do? Are you ready to ditch systematic theology? My Bible and me under a tree?

    By arguing for extending charity, I am not suggesting that you should not argue vigorously for your interpretation of scripture on these matters --an interpretation which, by the way, I happen to share (don't know if you read that part of my commentary or how closely you were reading). I am suggesting, however, in the strongest terms, that the attribution of sinful motivation to those who hold different interpretations--based on no evidence other than their holding that interpretation in the first place--constitutes bearing false witness against that brother or sister.

  15. Phil Johnson said --"Syncretism is based on the idea that the wisdom of this world is compatible with the revealed truth of scripture. Do you see the danger in that?

    "If you start with the presupposition that this world's wisdom is compatible with the wisdom of scripture, then you won't permit the revealed truth of Scripture to act as a corrective to wrong ideas. What you'll do again and again is adapt your interpretation of Scripture to make it fit with the worldly wisdom."

    "And there's no better illustration of this than the modern feminist movement. Which is closely related to Gnosticism. You see current worldly wisdom says that there should be no differences between men and women. Men and women should have equal authority. That's contemporary wisdom, that's secular wisdom."

    "But 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul says this "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Now feminists Gnostists insist on reinterpreting that verse and others like it in Scriptures, explaining it away in order to make Scripture fit what secular wisdom currently teaches. That's why we have evangelical feminism. What it really is, is an attempt to adapt the teachings of Scripture to make them fit with current worldly wisdom. That's how syncretism inevitably corrupts the Scriptures. The worldly ideas ultimately take precedence over the truth of Scriptures. That's the danger of it."

    I'm wholeheartedly in agreement with Phil Johnson as it pertains to the Church ORDER as addresses in context in Scripture as Christ is the HEAD of the Church and to disobey this command is to disobey Christ and throw him out of those Churches which have women in authority. What God is a woman teaching if she's disobeying this command? its NOT the God of the BIBLE...

    Outside the Church we who are wives are to submit to our OWN Husbands not to all men. We ARE ALL to "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."-Eph.5:12... Scripture does NOT say about single women and it does not say we are to be silent in the sense of not saying a word.. I believe Paul was addressing loud, backbiting,obnoxious type women who really need to be quiet and be in submission to their own husbands. Scripture is replete with examples of women sharing the Gospel and even being the first witnesses to the resurrection. It does not say we cannot share the hope we have in Christ and it does not say we are not to defend the faith once for all given to the saints.

    Jesus came not to serve but to be served and he left us an example that we should all follow whether male or female..

    So anyways until the LORD teaches me otherwise about women bloggers who are sincerely wanting to expose false teachers and their teachings I don't see that this verse for the order of the Church has to do with outside the Church. We women should be more careful in what we type and show humility and kindness..

  16. SMG, I understand and appreciate your stance on this issue. No, I am not advocating ditching systematic theology, only that the same rules apply equally throughout a discussion, which could be characterized as a stretch here. Both sides of this issue can be wrong, but both cannot be right which is what most like to see happen so that the "discussion" becomes never-ending, nothing is solved, and confusion reigns supreme in those who do not yet have a clear understanding of the Word-I refer mainly to new believers. A discussion of any sort in and of itself will never edify believers, old or new. Only the conclusions of such a discussion that are based on sound Biblical interpretation will edify. Most who read and comment here are of the sort who take the Bible literally and do not seek to massage it to prove some point that ultimately is unprovable.

    All false doctrine/teaching has as it's root the pride of man. That is why no doctrine, however we may esteem it, is ever non-essential. Every false doctrine mocks the Lord Jesus. Every false doctrine impunes the character of our Lord. Every false doctrine is placed before God and is by definition an idol. It is not my place to pass judgment on anyone concerning this matter. It is my duty to the Lord Jesus Christ to expose evil when it is revealed. Women serving as pastors, etc. in the church is evil. Knowing this and remaining silent about it is also evil. My Lord finds enough for me to repent about often enough, I do not wish to add laziness in this matter to the list.

  17. Darrel,

    The essentials of the faith are those matters which relate to God, Jesus and salvation. Matters relating to the organisation of the church (including the gender of leaders) have no bearing on this.

    You said, "Only the conclusions of such a discussion that are based on sound Biblical interpretation will edify. Most who read and comment here are of the sort who take the Bible literally and do not seek to massage it to prove some point that ultimately is unprovable."

    I agree with your first sentence completely, but your second sentence is not compatible with centuries of evangelical theology which has universally adopted the historical-grammatical approach to Biblical interpretation. This says that the meaning of a passage is what it meant to those to whom it was originally written. The conclusion of numerous evangelical theologians is that Paul's supposed prohibitions of women teaching (eg 1 Tim 2:12) were written to address specific situations and were never intended to be applied generally and for all time. You may not agree with that exegesis, which is fine, but please don't denigrate those whose study of the Bible has led them to a different conclusion to you.

    On the subject of taking the Bible literally, let's move on a few verses to 1 Tim 2:15 - "But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety". What does that mean, if taken literally? Do you take instructions to greet one another with a holy kiss or that women should cover their heads when praying literally? What about Jesus words at the Last Supper - "this is my body ... this is my blood..." - I think it's only catholics who take them literally!

    Just out of interest, what is your particular denominational affiliation?

  18. Darrel, I don't disagree with much you've had to say this time around--though I'm not sure what you mean about different rules applying in our discussion here. I, too, am cynical of endless "conversations" of the kind the Emergents seem so enamored of these days. I do, however, think there is value in some theological discussions in which resolution and/or defection to opposing positions does not take place. I believe, borrowing from my favorite radio talk show host, that clarity is often preferable to agreement. Being clear on precisely where we differ has value independent of our ability to convert others to our own views. Here, I think some of the issues that Linda has brought to this discussion are helpful. In my original response to this post, I shared my desire to ask Phil Johnson precisely where he draws the line on issues of women in ministry, the family, and society -- and why. I think those are reasonable questions, as, apparently, Linda and others do as well.

    1. "Same rules" was for Peter as he seems to want to bend things to give his argument credibility. It is not my aim to stiffle a good and productive theological discussion. Many will continue til Jesus returns and can be very usefull when "another piece of the puzzle" is put into place. As for the discussion here, blatant misuse of Scripture has taken place (NOT by you) and therefore must be exposed-Eph. 5:11 & Titus 1:10&11. Linda always brings good things to the table. Her zeal to uphold Scripture and to speak to the praise of the Lord Jesus is most admirable. A clarification from Phil would be nice, hope it comes soon. I cannot speak to the motivations of those who seek to have women as their pastor, though it is not hard to figure out. I can speak to those would have us believe that the Word of God has contradicted itself by the use of "church history" or any other means. It is fast approaching the "Hath God said" level and once the wedge is driven to question the validity of the Word everything else comes into question also. Deception is only broken by the Holy Spirit and it is my prayer that He will do so for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ and those not yet saved.

  19. How terribly discourteous of you, Peter, to skirt by the hard questions posed. I see that you failed to address "A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife" also. You also have retreated to "church history" as your argument is leaking. If church history is so important, please show us the names, dates of service, and source cited that shows women in the office of bishop-there must be a few thousand or so. Pardon me, I see that you did answer my last question by supplanting the Word of God with some dubious version of church history. Perhaps you should inform the Holy Spirit that He forgot to tell us of this long hidden caveat about His Eternal Word in 1 Tim. 2:12 being only for those to whom Paul wrote, which, according to your logic would be only Timothy and therefore useless to rest of the Body of Christ. When you answer the questions posed by me I will be happy to return the courtesy. The Scriptures you cited early on have nothing to do with women in the office of bishop/pastor in the church, so please find at least one that will speak directly to the subject at hand and that gives unmistakable license for your theory.


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