The company we keep

Andrew Wilson of Newfrontiers recently wrote "I believe in women in ministry, the equality of men and women…" yet less than a week earlier he wrote Complementarianism and the Gospel in which he recomended a video to watch and some articles to read.

I am amazed that Andrew thinks that it is at all helpful to his argument to appeal to John Piper ("It's well worth a look").

John Piper has taught that a wife should endure verbal abuse for a season and that she should endure being smacked at least once (just a reminder that you can watch him saying this on youtube). [update see the comment below from Jon Bryon who corrects my paraphrase of John Piper's comments]

When I challenge Newfrontiers on Male Headship I am continually told that I am being unfair, that in fact they believe women and men are equal. They say that restricting the role of elders to only men and requiring women to submit to the leadership of their husband does not create or imply inequality. They tell me abuse is always wrong and they would never accept it. They tell me that gender roles are not about power and they do not make women vulnerable.

If that is true then why suggest that John Piper, who teaches women to accept abuse, is "well worth a look" (no warnings about his teaching). If Andrew had a teenage daughter would he want her listening to a preacher telling her to endure abuse (verbal for a season, physical at least once)?

Why isn't Andrew making it clear that Newfrontiers do not accept John Piper's teaching on abuse?

Newfrontiers are connecting themselves with people who hold extreme views and they are not saying these are wrong.

In the same post Andrew writes:

In his inimitable way Doug Wilson has pushed back against Trueman (I’d love to see those two slugging it out in the flesh!)  and from a slightly more friendly angle Denny Burk has waded in too. 

What do these people write that Andrew does not condemn?

From How Important is Complementarianism? A Response to Carl Trueman | Denny Burk.

"The rejection of biblical gender roles has dire implications for evangelical theololgy. The hermeneutics of egalitarianism are a blemish leading to theological cancer."

Oh well at least those of us who believe in equality are probably no worse at spelling "theology"!

Oh and by the way as someone whose parents both died of real cancer an expression like this is always going to be particularly welcome!

Elsewhere in the article:

"it is the potentialities of egalitarianism that make it so deadly, not its expression in any particular evangelical."

"This is not to say that every egalitarian will eventually become a heretic. Roger Nicole remained a convinced egalitarian and an evangelical stalwart all the way to the end. We can think of other individuals for whom egalitarianism has not and likely will never lead to an erosion of their fundamental evangelical commitments. Nevertheless, the issue at hand is not whether or not we can find orthodox evangelicals who are also egalitarian. The question at hand is whether or not egalitarian doctrine itself tends toward the erosion of fundamental evangelical commitments such as inerrancy, the doctrine of God, and penal substitutionary atonement. Is the egalitarian blemish benign or potentially malignant?"

Of course those quotes are from the "slightly more friendly angle" (note the assumption that the only alternative to an evangelical is a heretic and the very tight defintion of an evangelical, compare to the Evangelical Alliance).

The alternative is:

"The true gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus) calls us to a life of repentance and faith, and it is not possible to work together with men "in the gospel" when they are refusing to call people to repent of the principal corruption of our day, which is that of sexual confusion. This confusion includes homosexuality, porn, fornication, divorce, women's ordination, and so on. This is the front line of the battle, and if I decline to strike hands with a man who is confused at this point, I am not saying that he is going to Hell. I am only saying that if he cannot detect a strategic moment in history like this, then he ought not to be a general. Keep him on our side, but him back in the Red Cross tent and ask him to wind some bandages."


When Andrew Wilson says he believes in equality you need to consider the people he wants Newfrontiers to learn from. People who say that women should endure abuse; that women's ordination is to be ranked with porn and fornication; and that egaliarianism is a deadly cancer leading, most but not quite every person, to becoming a heretic.

According to Google a lot of sites think you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.

11 thoughts on “The company we keep

  1. Charity

    They tell me that gender roles are not about power and they do not make women vulnerable.
    This is interesting – in a way – though I’m not quite sure how. Vulnerable – in relation to Newfrontiers – is a word that ellicits emotions in me that I can’t put into words, as one of the criticisms/accusations made against me by the NF elder who accused me of having a Jezabellic spirit, was that I wasn’t “vulnerable”. I didn’t know what he meant then and I still don’t. But I find it strangely interesting that they say that gender roles don’t make women vulnerable…

  2. Dave

    I think there is more than one understanding on vulnerability here.
    My reading is that some men in can’t cope with strong women. They can only feel secure in their “leadership” if the woman seems vulnerable ie they could lead them into danger and that thought makes them feel powerful.
    When I am talking about vulnerability I am talking about the risk a woman takes by surrendering equality. This means they are more at risk of abuse ie they are vulnerable.
    Male headship want the first but claim it does not cause the second. That does not appear to be possible to me,

  3. Rhea Flanery

    So according to Piper it’s okay for a woman to get hit once, but if she gets hit a second time, that’s not cool? I just don’t get that. If you let someone think it’s okay to hit you once, they’re going to do it again.

  4. Matt Cox

    Loving this series of blogs Dave, great to see someone challenging Newfrontiers on this subject. Any word on why they have closed the comments on “The pink pamphlet”? Seems to go against the whole point of a blog to close comments on it.

  5. Dave

    He says they should endure verbal abuse for a season and violence like smacking for a night.
    His suggestions for how a woman should respond to abusive demands are very scary.
    Thanks. No word yet.
    Closing comments is quite common (my blog does it automatically after a few months to try to stop spam on old posts). However, we have seen it before from Newfrontiers bloggers.

  6. Jon Bryon

    Hi there,
    Thanks for posting your blog Dave; I’ve just started checking it once in a while and you post some interesting stuff!
    As someone who has read a lot of Piper I was intrigued by what you claimed he said, so watched the YouTube clip. From your various comments I’ve read around the place, I know you really value precision in language and the meaning of words, so I think it would be really fair to say that your characterisation of what Piper says is a little loose :-)
    Regarding a women being abused, Piper’s exact words are: ‘…then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season and she endures perhaps being smacked one night and then she seeks help from the church.’
    Compared to what you say above, I notice the following:
    1) Piper never uses the word ‘should’ or any similar word (e.g. ‘ought’). So it is impossible he advocates a wife ‘should endure being smacked at least once’ (as you say), since he never uses or implies ‘should’.
    2) Furthermore, Piper does not advocate ‘at least once’, since as soon as it happens once, he advises she escape to the security of the church. So in his scheme of what might happen, a second ‘smacking’ is also impossible.
    3) Furthermore, the ‘smacking’ is a possibility before fleeing to the church, not a prerequisite (as your characterisation implies), since he says ‘perhaps’. I.e., he also makes it plain that she may escape to the security of the church *before* any ‘smacking’ has occurred.
    4) Given all the above, it is hard to see how it can be any other way. If I call my wife a fat cow, that is verbal abuse. If I say it once, out of the blue, with no other abuse present, should she leave me for the security of the church? Unlikely; the abuse becomes apparent as it becomes a pattern. This is what it means to ‘endure verbal abuse for a season’. A ‘season’ is an undefined period of time, but his meaning clearly is a period of time over which verbal abuse becomes apparent as a problem in the marriage. (And as I said above, in his own words Piper definitely allows a woman in such a situation to flee to the protection of the church.) Then, if a (single) act of physical violence occurs, she *should* (clearly this is his meaning from the context) go to the church. Note also that Piper does not say ‘smacked for one night’, but ‘smacked one night’; i.e. his words may imply occasion, not duration.
    Thus, in summary, I feel a fairer understanding of Piper’s teaching here is: If a woman experiences verbal abuse from her husband that clearly is not a one-off event but has become a pattern of behaviour, she may flee to the church. If this escalates to a single instance of physical abuse she should leave.
    I know you believe words are really important and should be used well. You may well disagree with my interpretation, but I hope that in this instance you may see that Piper may not saying things quite as harshly as you have described above.

  7. Dave

    Thanks for commenting. You will see I have put a note in the original post above to point people to your comment.
    It is always helpful to think about what we mean by terms such as verbal abuse. Here is one definition. Using an example of calling your wife a fat cow is not a fair characterisation of verbal abuse.
    If we take your interpretation of John Piper which you (in my view generously) summarise as :

    If a woman experiences verbal abuse from her husband that clearly is not a one-off event but has become a pattern of behaviour, she may flee to the church. If this escalates to a single instance of physical abuse she should leave.

    This still leaves me with lots of issues.
    With your corrections I want to know if you think this is good, appropriate and safe advice? Are you happy to suggest that members of your Church follow this teaching? What do you teach in your safeguarding training?
    I am still very troubled by his words about smacking (which is a word that tries to make physical abuse less unacceptable). He uses the phrase one night, not one time (which is why I added at least once).
    My strong belief is that if someone starts physically abusing you then the safe response is to get out immediately and go to the police, you do not wait for the morning. If you want help and support by all means call the Church but not as an alternative to the police.
    The big complication of course comes when there are children involved. Legally, if a spouse (can happen to men as well as women) tells me that they are being physically abused I can suggest they go to the police but they have to make that choice.
    If however, I believe there are children in danger I have no choice but to follow safeguarding policies and report it.
    There have been too many scandals (one would have been too many but sadly there have been lots) in the past with Churches trying to cover up abuse (especially abuse by clergy). John Piper’s advice sets the Church up for more failures in the future.
    Going to the Church is especially wrong given the huge amounts of testimony from women who have gone to their male headship Church about abuse and been told that it is their fault for not submitting properly.

  8. Jon Bryon

    Thanks for your generous and accommodating reply; I appreciate that. My main point was to offer a more generous interpretation of Piper’s teaching, since I believe his language allows for that, but I am not (per se) trying to persuade anyone to necessarily agree with my summary. I do urge people to check the primary material themselves, as you have excellently allowed us to do by providing the link.
    Definitions are important and problems arise when we are not agreed on them. I do know of one specific instance (personally) in the UK where ‘social services’ (I use the term broadly intentionally) do consider comments on a spouse’s appearance as emotional abuse (and thus, I presume, a form of verbal abuse) and worthy of keeping an eye on.
    Whether I think it is good advice or not depends on the nature of the church. Similarly, whether I think your advice of involving the police is good or not is also context dependent. I understand you are in the UK and that means a certain outlook on things and certain legal obligations (by making this statement I am *not* judging whether such an outlook or legal framework is good or bad). What I mean is that, for example, I am British but I live in a large country very far away from the UK. If a lady came to me or my wife asking for help because she is in an abusive situation (and we are not a million miles from a specific, current example), then we would *never* recommend she go to the police; that simply is not good advice or a good option. In the UK I imagine that combining the church with the police is both necessary and good, since the former can provide things the latter can not, and vice versa, but that is because you (and I) feel that would be a good course of action in the UK.
    Assuming the church is a healthy church I think it is excellent advice to flee there. I know you mention the scandals, but other avenues of escape (the police, social services, etc., – not that these are mutually exclusive at all) also have their own scandals and failings. Thus there is no totally safe option. Only a woman (or man) in such an abusive situation can know whether the church is a good place to go. It should be, but we know in some cases it might not be. I only can speak for the churches I belong to, and in these cases I think Piper’s advice is excellent. I also know of other churches in which case I think his advice would not be good. I don’t have huge amounts of testimony from women who have gone to their male leadership church about abuse and have not been well treated; I am sure it happens, but I can only limit myself to the things I know (by that I mean personally know).
    I am also not sure ‘smacking’ is a word designed to minimise the seriousness of the physical abuse. I live and work with enough Americans to know that this word is not used the same way in the US as in the UK. I am comforted by Piper’s tone and body language that his highest priority is the safeguarding of the women being abused, but I can understand if you do not see it that way.

  9. Dave

    Thanks. Just dashing out so a very quick response.
    You make good points about the situation in different countries. Within their funding limitations I have found British social services far better than usually portrayed in the media. If possible I think it is sensible to try to find a couple of avenues to get help/support to protect you from their failings and help with holding them accountable (eg Church & Police/Social Services or Close friend & Church or whatever).
    Sadly, I am writing from things I know personally.
    As for Piper’s tone and body language there are a number of posts which take great exception to the way he is seen as chuckling and the question and smirking through the answers. Maybe this too is partly cultural.

  10. Rhea Flanery

    Why would Piper suggest going to the church for help, but not the authorities? Does he not think that legal action should be taken against a man who commits domestic violence?
    I feel like the more I listen to Piper, the more I dislike him.


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