We received a letter from Rev. Dr. Brian M. Abshire, Teaching Pastor at Highlands Reformed Church in response to our article Who Will Be First in the Kingdom?. After writing Pastor Abshire called and we spoke for a while. I found him to be kind, open and very much a gentle man. I had suggested that he upload his letter to his website as our article is public and our response would be as well. His letter, with very slight edits is posted on his website under the title CRITIQUING PATRIARCHY AND VISION FORUM. Our response was sent out on:
August 29, 2007
Rev. Dr. Brian M. Abshire
Highlands Reformed Church
1817 E. Whispering Springs Ln
Colbert, WA 99005
Dear Pastor Abshire,
I apologize for the delay in the written response to your letter of July 25, 2007. I appreciate the opportunity to have spoken with you by phone on Monday August 6th and had desired to attend to this sooner but wanted the input of at least one of the MCOI Board of Directors and Advisory Board member before doing so. I also wanted the response reviewed prior to mailing.
I appreciate your request for a formal public apology but at this point am not persuaded that I or MCOI has borne false witness against you, Doug Phillips or Vision Forum based on the written material we reviewed and quoted. You write:
“We do not believe what you say we believe, we do not teach what you say we teach and the proof is in the very essay you used to criticize us.” (p.1, par. 3).
I cannot comment on what you, Doug and Vision Forum may or may not believe other than what the position papers state. I don’t find that anything in your paper contradicts what we wrote. I will elaborate on this shortly.
As far as the claim of “poisoning the well,” (p. 2 par. 4) the MCOI Journal article Who Will Be First in the Kingdom? lays out categories of “teachings and claims of popular movements and individuals inside the church as well as cults, false religions and false teachers outside of it.” As we work through the categories we address the seeming trust of anything emanating from within the church we use as an example Bill Gothard (p 1, par 4) and state “It isn’t his Statement of Faith in essential orthodoxy that is problematic: it is his addition, mis-/re-definitions, and other claims that move him in to ‘false teacher’ category” (ibid). I am at a loss at to how this differs in kind from Vision Forum’s statement “Egalitarian feminism is a false ideology that has bred false doctrine in the church and seduced many believers. In conscious opposition to feminism, egalitarianism, and the humanistic philosophies of the present time, the church should proclaim the Gospel centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy as an essential element of God’s ordained pattern for human relationships and institution.” The dichotomy is set up between the “Gospel centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy” and views not in concert with the “Gospel centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy” which are being opposed as false and unbiblical by Vision Forum. Your response to the questions I sent to Vision Forum in points 1 & 2 on page 6 of your letter of July 25 state, “but with error.” Error and false are synonyms but do not necessarily imply “cultic” as far as I know. We did say that the consequences for some of Gothard’s followers is that it can turn “out to be a very cult-like situation.” (top par. of page 2). We haven’t said that Bill Gothard isn’t a Christian and we haven’t said that Vision Forum and those associated with it aren’t Christians.
Many of the issues you raise with regard to the section on Bill Gothard probably have more to do with familiarity than anything else. By that I mean that we have researched and written so much on Bill Gothard and IBLP that none of us caught the lack of attributions. I appreciate that you raised this and it is a very important reminder for the future. I was also interested in your statement:
“…if any of my students turned in a paper for one of my classes, with the lack of citations of your essay, they would flunk the course. It is basic scholarship that is a statement is controversial. Especially critiquing another person’s view, you MUST show that this is what they person actually said.” (p.3; par. 4)
As I reread your paper I wondered if the same criteria were applied would you fail your own paper Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation? It appears that you are at least aware that the view being espoused is controversial and though the term “patriarchy” is growing in popularity it is not concretely defined amongst those who are using it when you write:
“While one cannot really yet call it a “movement”, the term “patriarchy” has made a return describing an attempt to develop a counter-cultural model of the Christian family and by extension, a just Christian social order. Those who self-consciously identify themselves as supporting “patriarchy” are not yet united in just what this term entails but there are enough people affirming this view that many in the wider Christian community now believe them to a “serious threat” that needs to be addressed.”
However we find no support for the various assertions in the paper. We find the claim in paragraph 12 that Israel was a “republic” and that:
“The Reformers found biblical warrant in the way that the Hebrews governed their republic in Scripture…”
Isn’t it the case that, at least at the time relative to the biblical passages you site in this paragraph, that Israel was a theocracy and not a republic? Which Reformers and where are the attributions that Israel was a republic and not a theocracy? Additionally, in the same paragraph you write:
“…the ‘elders’ of the twelve tribes ELECTED the king; which was how Saul and David received their kingships (1 Sam 11:15, 2 Sam. 2:4, 3:17, 5:3, etc.). Each tribe elected “elders” to rule over them and these elders then chose the king. Granted God first anointed the king; but the elders had to CONFIRM their ‘calling.’”
As we look at the text and follow the flow of the context we simply don’t find this to be true. It is true that Israel demanded a king (1 Sam. 8:4-5) and in doing so rejected God (1 Sam. 8:7). It would seem that God appointing a king was more in line with being an act of punishment upon the nation (1 Sam. 8:10-18) than a positive biblical example of Federal Representation. In 1 Samuel 11:15 we don’t find an election by elders but rather an affirmation ceremony and commitment to him as king. Similar on 2 Samuel 2:4 where David had his coronation but he was chosen by God years earlier and I haven’t found anything resembling an election by elders particularly in the verses cited. At this point it is not my intention to debate the merits of Federal Representation but rather to echo your point on (page 4 of your July 25 letter), “Is there not an old adage about sauce, geese and ganders that might be appropriate here?”
I appreciate and for the most part concur with your thoughts on church splits. I have heard it said that a church couldn’t truly be a Baptist church unless is had at least two members and the potential for a split. Sadly I have seen my fair share of them and it is a grievous thing to watch as you know. However, it should be noted that contrary to the first sentence of your statement on page 4 paragraph 4 of your July 25 letter we didn’t accuse Vision Forum of “being the CAUSE.” Rather in our article we talk about “Vision Forum advocates” within local churches that contacted us and went on to state in the same paragraph:
“We are well aware that followers can distort the teachings of a leader or organization, and they can do and say things that never were intended to be promoted.”
I have looked in vain to find anything in the article that stated that Vision Forum is the cause of the splits.
On page 4 the last paragraph of your July 25 letter you write:
“Fifthly, you criticize Doug and Vision Forum because you say the web-site ‘looks like a web-site about American patriotism than anything about Christianity.’ This statement is so inaccurate as to constitute false witness as well as demonstrating a puzzling hypocrisy on your part.”
I am not exactly sure how you are able to determine with any degree of accuracy how something appears or looks to me. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being a niche ministry or business nor with marketing items that reflect the niche and I am not sure how that invalidates how something looks to me. Additionally, you state on page 5 paragraph 2:
“In this section you also again, commit the error of assertion without attribution; when you say, ‘Is Christianity supposed to be evaluated mostly through the grid of patriotic Americanism?’”
I would like to point out that this was a question not an assertion. I believe questions are valid and appreciate your response to the question. It may be that the leadership of Vision Forum would concur with your answer and that would be a good thing.
Regarding Bob Renaud, I did receive and do appreciate the written response dated July 6, 2007 with answers to my questions and will enclose same with this letter.
On the topic of daughters being property you write on page 7, first paragraph:
“Never, and I repeat NEVER have I come across ANYONE advocating such a position as what you claim here.”
Sarah Faith Schlissel from The Chalcedon Foundation wrote in her article “Daddy’s Girl: Courtship and a Father’s Rights”:
“The order of God, as indicated in his word, is that God himself defers to the will of the father when it comes to his daughter. God says, “You heard your father. The answer is no. “Thus, the will of the father regarding his daughter IS the will of God.”
We are not told why it is that the father knows better how to care and decide for his daughter than God does and it is a bit bewildering. She affirms that daughters are property owned by the father:
“Beyond being an X-chromosome donor, may we think of the “-’s” in “Daddy’s” in the possessive sense, and affirm with legitimacy that Daddy is my owner?
Any man seeking to beg, borrow or steal a daughter’s hand without her father’s endorsement is seeking to gain, in unlawful ways, “property” not his own.”
Like you I find the idea to be repugnant, disgusting and unthinkable.
I appreciate your discussion and clarification on women and education in your letter. It would seem that at least you and I, I am unsure about Vision Forum, would essentially agree that college and higher learning is not necessarily for everyone. It isn’t necessarily a male or female question. College isn’t for everyone and, as is noted in your letter, you are not opposed to women earning an advanced degree and your daughter herself is working on a degree. Clarifying this in your paper “Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation” would be helpful as I do not see this as either explicit or implicit as it stands at the moment and really does come across as a woman getting a degree is both a waste of time and money. In your attempt to alleviate the guilt for some of the poor working class families who cannot afford college, which I would agree with, another kind of guilt for another group of believers has unwittingly replaced it.
The section on women and voting is much more problematic. You insist on page 8 paragraph 3 that we have taken the quote out of context however, in the immediately preceding paragraph of your article (par 18) Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation you state:
“God had not allowed the civil magistrate to outlaw wine and God does not allow women to vote (cf. 1 Tim 2:11 ff).”
We are not told how 1 Tim. 2:11 supports the assertion that God doesn’t allow governments to outlaw wine or that “God does not allow women to vote.” If it is true that God doesn’t allow women to vote than wouldn’t a woman who does vote would be sinning? If you are not trying to take away the modern woman’s right to vote per your letter are you saying you are not trying to take away a woman’s right to sin in this way? I do believe we were textually consistent with the context of the paper. Are you correct that God does not allow women to vote? If that is true than wouldn’t it be a sin for a woman to vote? If not, why not?
It is true that you use a definition of patriarchy as “rule by fathers.” While the word “patriarchy” can be used in this sense, these days it is more often used in the broader sense of a culture characterized by male control or dominance. The word “patriarchy” is not a biblical word, while the word “patriarch” is found only in three New Testament contexts (Acts 2:29; 7:8-9; Hebrews 7:4) where it simply means “father of a nation” or “ancestor” (cf. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, eds., [Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1979], 636. Note: the fact that the NIV uses “patriarchs” to translate the Greek word for “fathers” in John 7:22, Romans 9:5, 11:28, and 15:8 obviously has no bearing on this discussion). It cannot be tied to any specific form of government, since three times it refers to the head of a family (Abraham, in Hebrews 7:4, and sons of Jacob in Acts 7:8-9), and once it is used of the king of Israel (David, in Acts 2:29) whose rule was above that of the multitude of fathers who were spread across the nation’s twelve tribes.
The repetition throughout the articles on the website dealing with this topic continually refers to biblical patriarchy. I gave an example of how patriarchy was practiced in the article and prior to giving it I posed the question:
“Does Vision Forum practice patriarchy as it was practiced in Old Testament times, for we find no instruction on it in the New Testament?”
Now while it is true that a particular word does not have to appear in Scripture, for example the word Trinity, for the concept to be biblical it seems to me that when we see it practiced in Scripture and we claim that we are reasserting a biblical practice that is claimed to be part of the “grand sweep of revelation” (“Tenants of Biblical Patriarchy,” par. 5) and that “faithfulness to Christ requires that it be believed, taught, and lived.” (ibid) is that we are following it or at least attempting to follow it as we find it in Scripture. Thus the question:
“Does Vision Forum practice patriarchy as it was practiced in Old Testament times, for we find no instruction on it in the New Testament?”
You make an interesting observation on page 9 4th paragraph of your July 25 letter:
“Instead, the term ‘patriarchy’ is a term used by some (not that I think this is necessarily the best term)…”
I think you are on to something here. The Southern Baptists a few years ago made a public denominational statement on the headship of men. Of course, not all were happy but then not all are happy that the Scriptures actually teach that we are sinners by nature and practice. If that is all you are attempting to say, it may be wise to choose a different term than one that already has a demonstration of the practice in Scripture.
I am unsure where all of this will go but do appreciate your letter as well as the time we were able to talk by phone. I did, as you requested, attempt to call Doug Phillips on August 13 and left a message. I was called back shortly after that by a Michael Gobart who informed me that Doug was out of town and that Vision Forum was working on a letter which they planned to have out by the end of the week. The letter arrived on Monday August 20 and I spoke with Wesley Strackbein (Managing Editor, Vision Forum Ministries) and Michael Gobart by phone that afternoon. I will be working on the response to their letter next and after a few of the Board of Directors, Advisory Board I will send it to them and a copy to you. Vision Forum also requested the contact information for my Senior Pastor, our Board of Directors and Advisory Board which I will be providing to them. I will add the above to the cc list as well as the Board of Directors for EMNR (Evangelical Ministries to New Religions) of which I am the current president and another pastor who reviewed the original article as well as this letter. It is my desire to be fully accountable and transparent.
Yours in His Service,
Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc.
L.L. (Don) Veinot Jr.
Cc: Vision Forum Ministries
MCOI Board of Directors
MCOI Advisory Board
EMBR Board of Directors
Pastor Richard Wollard, Meadowland Community Church
Pastor Paul Winters, Spring Valley Presbyterian Church