The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.
When I took Scott Brown’s Equipping Men for Leadership in the Home and Church out of my Big Box, I had high hopes. I was expecting a meaty, detailed look at the more practical aspects of Vision Forum’s theology of male headship, and perhaps a glimpse or two at the day-to-day inner workings of a family-integrated church (FIC). But as we all know, there are times in life when you are disappointed. This was one of those times.
From an organizational standpoint, Equipping Men was a bit of a mess. For example, Brown opens the lecture by reading Deuteronomy 6:1-18 (homeschoolers will recognize vs. 6-7 as the ubiquitous and unofficial “charter” of the Christian homeschooling movement) and describes this passage as the “nuts and bolts” of male leadership in the home. However, he then immediately leaves the passage and never references it again until the last 10 minutes or so of the hour-long talk! He also repeats himself at length – for instance, urging men to read their Bibles with their families, not just once, but several times over with different wording (enjoy their Bible, find satisfaction in the words of Scripture, etc.).
Despite its many flaws, however, I was able to glean some useful information from Equipping Men. Let’s take a look at Brown’s four major themes.
The centrality of fatherhood in the Bible
After quoting Deuteronomy 6, Brown claims this:
A cursory review of the 66 books of the Bible reveals a central role entrusted to father, to play the premier function in training the next generation for service, and that is how it should be.
Brown then references several Biblical passages to support this assertion – Passover (Exodus 12:1-28, Deuteronomy 16:1-8); the massive genealogical listing in 1 Chronicles 1-10; and various Old Testament situations which were organized by head of household (see below). He also alludes to two passages in the New Testament (Acts 3:25 and 7:51), mentions two more in the minor prophets (Joel 1:3 and Amos 2:4), and claims the church should imitate these models and structure itself around heads of households.
Let’s start by examining the institution of Passover:
Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb.’” (Exodus 12:1-4)
Lest the phrase “according to the house of his father” seem obscure to us in any way, Moses conveniently rephrases this command later in the same passage:
Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb.” (Exodus 12:21)
Moses seems to think that God’s statement here refers to nothing more exotic than every family killing its own lamb for Passover. In light of God’s instructions that families be allowed to combine to avoid too much leftover meat (problematic according to 12:10), this seems to be simply a practical matter, not a symbolic or spiritual one like the blood painted over the door (12:7) or the prescribed dress while eating (12:11). Also, to read some kind of oblique reference to teaching into the phrase “according to the house of his father” seems highly problematic, given that there are very clear teaching instructions later in the same passage (12:26-27).
To be fair, Brown does mention that the Passover meal was officiated by the father. He is correct, at least with reference to the modern practice, as Jews do have a traditional Passover ritual (seder) designed to tell the story of their deliverance from Egypt (see here and here). However, while many elements of this service are derived from the Old Testament, it’s quite an elaborate development when compared to God’s original instructions:
“And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” (Exodus 12:26-27)
“And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)
These simple and straightforward instructions could just as easily be performed by a mother as a father and require no “officiation” whatsoever. So while I don’t believe there’s anything necessarily wrong with Passover seders (I’ve participated in several “Christian” versions myself), I find the fact that Brown, who presumably does not accept the Talmud and other elements of Jewish tradition as authoritative, must look to tradition, instead of a genderless* word directly from God’s mouth, for support of his ideas very telling.
Brown encounters yet more problems with the passages from the minor prophets:
Hear this, you elders, and give ear, all you inhabitants of the land! Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; what the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; and what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten. (Joel 1:2-4)
Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept His commandments. Their lies lead them astray, lies which their fathers followed. But I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem.” (Amos 2:4-5)
The second passage indicates that Judah’s rebellion has continued for generations; the first describes the typical human reaction to terrible calamities – accounts of the disaster are retold over and over again, often for many years. (Think of the vivid images still evoked by the phrase “Black Death” nearly 700 years after the fact.) But why should we assume these are anything but descriptive passages (rather than prescriptive ones)? There’s nothing in the context to indicate they are timeless commands. What evidence does Brown provide for his interpretation? Unfortunately, basically none. He seems to base it entirely on the appearance of the words “fathers,” “children” and “generations” – as if this in and of itself proves his point.
Brown also makes much of the genealogies of the returning Babylonian exiles (Ezra 2, 8:1-14, Nehemiah 7:5-72) and of the tasks performed by various family groups (1 Chronicles 23-27, 2 Chronicles 35:1-6, Nehemiah 3). Here is a sample of these passages (I recommend you read the complete text of each to get the full impact):
These are the heads of their fathers’ houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of King Artaxerxes: of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom; of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel; of the sons of David, Hattush; of the sons of Shecaniah, of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah; and registered with him were one hundred and fifty males; of the sons of Pahath-Moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him two hundred males… (Ezra 8:1-4)
Next to him Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Also next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they fortified Jerusalem as far the Broad Wall. And next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, leader of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs. Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph made repairs in front of his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabniah made repairs. (Nehemiah 3:8-10)
Here again, I see no warrant for finding a timeless theological truth about fathers and the structure of the church in these passages. They seem to be little more than descriptions of who went where and did what when. I imagine they’d be very meaningful to the children or grandchildren of the participants, but that’s a far cry from Brown’s claims that they contain eternal commands. His interpretation of the New Testament passages (see above, and notice how few of them he cites in a discussion about how to organize the New Testament church) suffers from the same problem. These are descriptive and historical passages, not prescriptive ones. I believe the onus remains on Brown to prove his case.
Sunday School is unbiblical
Having explained his views on fatherhood, Brown asserts that the church needs to “change its focus” to equipping fathers and immediately sets his sights on that great nemesis of FIC churches, Sunday School:
I’m just waiting to have a credible rebuttal to what I’m gonna say right now, but my experience is, wherever you have a Sunday School, you have passive men.
Men need to know a really important fact, and that is, when they delegate spiritual training to somebody else as their primary diet, they’re disobeying God.
I’d just like to make a few observations about Brown’s position here. First, if the listener has not previously accepted his earlier statements about fatherhood, his entire argument falls to pieces like a house of cards. Second, despite the fact that his position is allegedly based on eternal commands of God, in the lecture (aside from the statement above about disobeying God) he surrounds it with subjective language such as “in my experience…”; “I believe that…”; “it’s my opinion that…”, etc. He also spent a good deal of time talking about resource allocation and pragmatism, which I find peculiar and incongruous.
Third, Brown’s favored strategy for eliminating Sunday School seems to be the “tough love” method. He speaks several times about “yanking out” the “security net” from under the men and forcing them to do their jobs, and seems convinced that they will step up out of fear for their children. All I can say is that Brown better hope his strategy works, as he has apparently eliminated every other option as “unbiblical” and thus has no backup plan. He also offers no solutions in case his method fails.
Men should read and study the Bible with their families
As I mentioned in the first part of this article, this is the topic that Brown spent the most time discussing (in fact, to the point of redundancy). Many of the things he said were very good (read the entire Bible, trust in God’s wisdom, etc.), at least in the abstract. But as I pointed out in last week’s article, why should we limit these to men only? Surely women should also “find satisfaction in the words of Scripture” and read the entire Bible. I also find it amusing and ironic that he quotes 2 Timothy 3:15 (“…and that from childhood you have known the holy Scriptures…”), as Timothy’s educational background hardly matches up with Brown’s ideal:
…when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. (2 Timothy 1:5)
The most interesting point, however, came up in the question-and-answer session after the lecture. An audience member asked Brown if he had ever seen a father, after undertaking the recommended course of rigorous Bible reading and study, come to disagree with Brown and “rebel against the church.” Brown answered, with great confidence, in the negative.
What was not adressed was how Brown would handle such a situation if it did materialize. Would he tell the “rebellious” father that he had misunderstood the Bible? Would the father be put under church discipline? And did he really mean that to disagree with Scott Brown, in his capacity as pastor, is to “rebel against the church”? The answers to these questions could be quite revealing – and ugly. Unfortunately I can’t conclusively answer them, as the exchange was brief and had little context.
Have lots of kids and a “transgenerational vision”
One of the main ways Brown believes the church needs to equip men is to encourage them to have lots of children. He seems to base this on the fact that God’s purpose for marriage is to produce “godly seed” (Malachi 2:15). I disagree with Brown that producing children is the only purpose of marriage (see 1 Corinthians 7:9). I’m also unsure how the mere act of fathering many children equips men for anything (aside from giving them children to “shepherd”), and Brown never explains this.
As we might expect given his emphasis on having many children, Brown talks a lot about genealogy. Here is his most interesting statement on that topic:
All fathers need to understand that God looks at them and is tracking them through the generations, through fathers to sons, fathers to son, fathers to sons.
As you can see, Brown takes genealogy seriously. But is this claim that God is “tracking” men through generation after generation true? What evidence does Brown produce to support it? As it turns out, besides the evidence he already presented for his focus on fatherhood in general, none. He also does not mention the many passages in the New Testament that completely undercut his focus on physical descent:
“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:8-9)
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. (Romans 9:6-8)
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Interestingly, Brown references Abraham early in the lecture, claiming the following:
Whenever God wanted to preserve man, he raises up a family to preserve godly seed…
He then uses the phrase “soteriological genealogy” to describe Jesus’ descent from Abraham and David. Clearly Jesus’ physical descent is vitally important (see Galatians 4:4-5), but by linking Abraham’s “godly seed” so strongly to the idea that Christian couples should have large numbers of children, Brown seems to have missed the main point of the passages above. In the end, God’s promise to Abraham is as much, if not more, about spiritual descendants than physical ones. In fact, physical descent from Abraham is singled out as essentially useless under the New Covenant. And if physical descent from Abraham – Paul’s prime example of faith in the Old Testament and a central figure in not just one, but three major world religions – is useless, why should physical descent from the unexceptional American males in Brown’s church even be brought up?
The only sonship that matters to God under the New Covenant is spiritual sonship. Indeed, God’s children are described several times as having been adopted (Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5). Thus, given that the entire focus of the New Testament undercuts a focus on physical descent (see also Ezekiel 18 for another instance in which God seems to be “ancestry-blind”), and Brown gives no evidence for his claim about God “tracking” men genealogically except the verses he previously cited about fatherhood in general (see above), I remain unconvinced.
I’d also like to briefly comment on what Brown refers to as a “transgenerational vision,” which he seems to define as inculcating an awareness of family stories and family history in one’s children. I’m certainly not against family history – I have a constantly growing family tree file with over 18,000 names on my computer – and there are certainly examples in my own family of a lack of “transgenerational” awareness leading to appalling short-sightedness. However, I believe another example from my family will serve to make a very pertinent point.
My mother’s family has what Brown would likely term a “transgenerational” take on life. My 82-year-old grandmother, without prompts or hints, can remember at least six generations of her family and her late husband’s family, in multiple branches. Her living room wall is decorated with family photographs (including one of my great-great-great grandparents and ten of their twelve adult children standing outside the family farmhouse sometime around 1900). She also owns a fiddle and a spinning wheel dating from the late 1800s, along with tons of other family artifacts. Meanwhile, on my own time I have located online a scanned tintype of my great-great-great-great grandmother who was born in 1799.
Yes, that’s right – I have looked into the eyes of a woman whose genes I share, born in the 1700s, nearly two hundred years before my date of birth. If that’s not “transgenerational,” Mr. Brown, I don’t know what is. And my family did all this without even a hint of your unsupportable theology of patriarchy and “family shepherding.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t the occasional patriarch in our family. We remember those men quite clearly. In fact, the phrase “shall live in infamy” comes to mind. One of them, on my maternal grandfather’s side, kidnapped his youngest daughter away from an attempted elopement. She never married and died single.
A word of advice from the genealogists – you don’t need to subscribe to Brown’s theology to give your children a “transgenerational vision.” Plain old storytelling, family photos and grandma’s meatloaf will do just fine.
Apologies in advance to my readers if the next TBB post is late or delayed until the following week. Tomorrow is the beginning of Holy Week and that means Hester’s life as a church musician is about to get very busy! Stay tuned, however, for chant selections on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter to get you into that “holy day” spirit…
*A claim that only the father could answer the question posed by the child in these passages must explain why Exodus 13:8 could just as honestly be spoken by Israelite women as Israelite men – unless, of course, Brown denies that thousands of Israelite women left Egypt during the Exodus, in which case he may have a hard time explaining where the many subsequent generations of Israelites came from.