(This is a book review I left on Amazon for Rachel Millers book "Beyond Authority and Submission." )
Rachel Miller's main proposition in her book "Beyond Authority and Submission" is that the church has adopted pagan views of sexuality to enforce patriarchy causing women to be relegated to the sphere of the home. Mrs. Miller's historical work is shoddy at best. It reaches back to misquote and paraphrase pagan authors without recognizing the theological concept of natural law. She quotes pagan authors on women being the weaker sex, staying at home, and having children. She thinks by simply quoting pagans or summarizing their statements, she has done the work of showing that their ideas are necessarily pagan. It is not enough however to simply show that pagan authors said certain things, you need to show that what they have said originates from their paganism and that paganism is necessary to their ideas.
Anyone with a familiarity at all with the scriptures and church history will know that these quotes by pagans are not unique to paganism. St. Augustine said the concept of patriarchy goes back to the garden and to the patriarchs. In his book the City of God, he said, “And this is so much in accordance with the natural order, that the head of the household was called paterfamilias; and this name has been so generally accepted, that even those whose rule is unrighteous are glad to apply it to themselves.” He makes the point that the Roman title of Paterfamilias borrows from the natural order and it is so evident that even the wicked attempt to adopt this view. God has revealed in nature a created order which is evident to all. Therefore, pagans who reject God reveal that they know God and have the law written on their consciences. The Book of Romans lays this out clearly in its first few chapters. Rather than paganism being the foundation from which patriarchy flows and the church borrowing from the pagans, it is the opposite. God the Father gives his name to fatherhood and the pagans have borrowed from God’s creation.
Can Pagans twist those truths? Certainly. And they most certainly do. Yet this does not undermine the truth. John Knox in his work the Monstrous Regiment of Women quoted at length several pagan authors to show that even the pagans recognize for example that women were not created to exercise authority over men in the civil realm. He then moves from these pagan authors to show that what they have said finds its source and correct view in the special revelation of God, the Bible.
Mrs. Miller then jumps over 1800 years of church history to the Victorian age. She provides a chapter trying to tie Victorian views on men and women back to the Greek and roman philosophers. It is quite a leap. She says that this was the result of the Renaissance stirring up a desire to read the philosophers again. She provides several quotes which I suppose are supposed to shock the reader. For example, she writes “The Victorians found support for their belief that women belonged in the home in Paul’s encouragement that young women be “keepers at home” (Titus 2:5 KJV). William Alcott, an influential Victorian author and a cousin of Louisa May Alcott, explained that a woman “cannot discharge the duties of a wife, much less those of a mother, unless she prefers home to all other places, and is only led abroad from a sense of duty, and not from choice.” Mr. Alcott’s quote would find itself at home in any commentary or sermon on Titus 2 from any period of the church before the 1800s. Calvin, Luther, Matthew Henry, William Gouge, John Chrysostom, Augustine, and plenty of others from all ages of the church have said these things and more. The truth is that Mrs. Miller is starting with a feminist presupposition and anything that does not fit it, she is calling pagan. As an aside, it is interesting to note that almost of the quotes she provides from the Victorian age she got from a secondary source written by a feminist author.
Mrs. Miller is quick to critique a supposedly unique “Victorian Patriarchy”, while she calls us to embrace Victorian feminism. When she criticizes the church for supposedly imbibing from pagan influence, she does so while quoting favorably and naming chapters after feminists like Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme, a proponent of the free love movement of the 1800s. When Wolstenhome got pregnant by a man she was living with, her colleagues demanded that she marry. She fought against it and said it went against everything she believed in. She did finally get married but only at the behest of others. Both her and her free love husband were committed secularists. Mrs Miller fawns over first wave feminism even to the point of having to remind readers that Margaret Sanger didn’t initially support abortion. Could it be that in Mrs. Miller's accusations against 2000 years of church history on sexuality, that she is the one imbibing from sources and worldviews foreign to scripture?
Lastly, Mrs. Miller is quite dishonest in her approach to scripture and confessions. For example, she writes "But those of us who know our catechism can answer that our “chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Do you notice what is missing from her quote of the catechism? The word "Man's" has been chopped off her quote. Now this may seem like a nitpick type of criticism but in truth she does this all throughout the book. Anytime a quote from a confession or scripture uses the masculine inclusive she removes it from the quote. Why? Because the masculine inclusive teaches us something about sexuality. It teaches that male headship goes beyond merely who can preach a sermon in the official worship service on Sunday Morning. Not only does she work to remove the masculine inclusive from the text, she inverts the phrase "men and women" throughout the book to be "women and men." These are little things, but they are very telling.
Another example of her dishonest approach is to simply make statements about scripture that are untrue. She writes “In addition, the church cared for Christian widows and did not require them to remarry. " But Holy Scripture says “Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.” The discerning reader can find these types of things throughout the book.
Her chapter on authority was a case study in sacrificing the normal on the alter of the abnormal. She is ashamed of the call from 1 Peter for a wife to submit even to an unbelieving husband who disobeys the gospel. She constantly is talking about the exceptions rather than the clear truths. She neuters the authority of the husband under the banner of servant leadership. One is left wondering if Mrs. Miller makes lists for her husband so that when he gets home he will know all the ways he can servant lead around the house.
In all charity, Mrs. Miller sets out to answer a question that I actually am sympathetic to. She wants to answer the question “what are women called to do?” It is important in the feminist age we live in to provide a full-orbed biblical and positive view of femininity. Unfortunately, Mrs. Miller by shoddy historical and theological work trades the truthful, historical, biblical, and godly answer to the question for a lie. Rather than setting forth and embracing a positive view of women as life-givers and keepers of the home, she makes femininity into a cheap imitation of masculinity. It becomes a game of everything you can do, I can do better. Women are taught to that to be good women they must be good men. They are taught to ignore their calling at home for a calling elsewhere. It is not enough for her to love her husband, love her children, be a discreet and chaste keeper at home who submits to her husband. No, there must always be something more. It is the same lie that the snake told in the garden. God’s commands for women are not good enough. He is withholding from them. They must reach out and take a hold for themselves. As an ordained pastor and in the spirit of Titus 1, I exhort all believers to avoid this work and instead submit themselves to the Bible.
Instead listen to what one Victorian-era Southern Presbyterian pastor had to say:
Her submission is, therefore, a source of honour. She is not humiliated by it, but exalted...In her cordial submission of will, carrying with it the free coalescence of her own individuality with that of another, she becomes the first exponent of the mighty principle by which, through grace, sinful man is restored to fellowship with God. She is allowed to carry this principle down into all the details of life; and by a thousand acts to show how the will may turn upon its own pivot, and move freely under the law of control...It is a wonderful privilege afforded to her who, “being deceived, was in the transgression,” to be called thus openly to assert and illustrate the spontaneous loyalty of a will that perfectly blends with the authority which directs it. Such a mission is immeasurably grander in its proportions, and sweeter in its beneficence, than all the usurped dignities of the unsexed sisterhood who aspire, contrary to nature, to be the competitor and rival of man, rather than his counterpart and helpmeet."