Doug Phillips & The Bible

A Plea for Realism

by Mark Hanson


Introduction

With the massive fall-out of the resignation of Doug Phillips, much has been said recently on about what could have been done differently by Doug to avoid the infidelity as well as some of the incorrect teaching that was being promulgated through the so-called “biblical patriarchy” movement.  Though these are two separate issues, I want to look at both of them along with some of the proposed solutions.

Infidelity & Patriarchy

First, let’s look at the idea that somehow the so-called “biblical patriarchy” movement gives a greater probability for infidelity to occur.  My quick answer to this thesis is one word: ludicrous.  Infidelity happens across all denominations and theological traditions whether conservative or liberal, progressive or ultra-orthodox.  Infidelity pervades all creeds, ethnic groups and socio-economic levels.  Now, one could make the case that because “biblical patriarchy” discourages women from pursuing career skills where they could succeed in the marketplace and that these women are at a particular disadvantage to having the option of pursuing a biblical divorce in the case of infidelity because they are somewhat limited in their options for future independent financial viability.  This is quite different though from saying that “biblical patriarchy” causes infidelity.  If anything, it has been argued and in fact proven that with the rise of co-ed work environments, infidelity has skyrocketed.  Shirley Glass, a leading researcher on marital infidelity has estimated that over 50% of female affairs are at work (surveys show that over the past two decades, while the number of men meeting their partners at work has remained steady, the numbers for women are up sharply).  I am not thus arguing that co-ed workplaces are evil or wrong but merely wanting to bring to bear the facts.

We would do well to remember that sin has been around since Adam and Eve and it will continue to be around until the eschaton.  Though many in the church will continue to strive to pursue sanctification, holiness and spiritual discipline, we are going to continue to see Christian leaders fall to infidelity.  It’s unfortunately a part of how things are because sin exists.  This is not a pessimistic view of life but a realistic one.

Patriarchy & Grace

Second, to think that Doug fell to infidelity because he didn’t believe in grace enough is equally problematic in my opinion.  Doug preached and held to an orthodox Reformed view of salvation.  To question this is to waste one’s time and an utter exercise in futility.  Doug embraced the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and never preached a gospel of works.  Every believer holds to an ethic of what is right and wrong.  Just what they believe is right and wrong can sometimes be debated.  Those who have a larger list that they base on Scripture of what is right and wrong are often accused of being legalists by those with smaller lists, though ironically there are others with even smaller lists than they who would in turn call them legalists as well.  So it’s not Doug’s standards that caused infidelity it was an issue of the heart.  There are Christians who are more “liberal” who do not fall to infidelity because there heart is fully surrendered to the Lord and there are other more “conservative” Christians who while yet having more standards will still fall to infidelity because their heart was pursuing Christ.  We are all called to have standards, but at the end of the day if our heart is not right before the Lord we are going to sin.  So it is not that Doug’s standards were too numerous and thus he fell.  We all fall because of our heart.  Now, I do think the critique which has been made which posits that there was not enough of an emphases on the Gospel has some merit.  Standards do not ultimately prevail against the flesh, only the Holy Spirit can, though at the same time He does use standards as means to help us not sin too.

Doug Phillips, Patriarchy and Scripture-Only

This leads me directly into addressing the second issue of “What could have been done to avoid some of the wrong teaching of ‘biblical patriarchy?’”  The proposed solution that I have seen over and over is, “Don’t trust in man but just study the Bible for yourself”.  This to be honest is exactly what Doug preached over and over again.  Anyone who is familiar with Vision Forum and other ministries that existed within the milieu of the “biblical patriarchy” movement know that they emphasized the importance of Scripture more than most evangelical Christians.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard Doug Phillips and others say, “What saith the Scriptures?”  A whole presentation on the importance of Scripture was given by Doug and was entitled, “How a Christian Should Think.”  In this talk, he discussed the Desert Island Challenge which was namely, if you were on a desert island and all you had was the Bible, what would your belief system, worldview and life philosophy look like?

In fact, I’m going to go a step farther and say that the “biblical patriarchy” movement had at its core, its very foundation, heart and soul, a passion for letting Scripture form one’s view in every area of life. 

So you might be asking, “Well then what went wrong?”  My humble opinion is that many of the leaders in the “biblical patriarchy” movement isolated themselves from sound biblical scholarship.  This is the problem that exists within many of the circles within the fundamentalist tradition.  Namely there is a suspicion to and often an isolation from biblical scholarship that is a manifestation of a subconscious aversion to “professionalism” or more specifically to professional biblical scholars.  It’s important that the Bible be interpreted by a community of believers, not solely on an individual basis isolated from others accountability and knowledge, especially those who have an expertise in Scripture.  We are all human and given to biases, lack of knowledge, and limited areas of biblical expertise and so accountability is crucial.

To drive the point home further, which option below, A or B, is better suited to teach the book of Job?

  • A.  A single Christian with a King James Bible who has read the Book of Job 5 times in his life, uses one or two commentaries along with Strong’s Concordance for word searches and has taken a few Bible classes at a conservative Bible college or…
  • B.  A seminary professor who:
    1. Has read the Book of Job untranslated over a hundred times using some of the earliest manuscripts to date of the Book of Job
    2. Has read the other valuable studies of men known for Old Testament scholarship
    3. Actively writes theological journals on the Book of Job and has said articles peer-reviewed by other Ph.D Old Testament scholars
    4. Attends conferences where other Old Testament scholars discuss the Book of Job among other issues and can continue to sharpen their ideas
    5. Is well-read in the history of the various interpretations that those in the Church have had with regard to the book of Job

Basic logic and rationality would completely and 100% choose option B.  This is not to make fun of those who study the Bible themselves or to discourage it.  In fact, I believe a large majority of the Bible is quite clear in its main points and anyone with a basic knowledge of grammar, logic and good reading skills can get and grasp those main points.  Great truth, encouragement and spiritual food are found when the Bible is read individually. 

Where things first go awry is when the reader take a question to the text of Scripture and twists the text to answer their question, when that text was not meant or intended by its inspired author to answer the question posed to it by the reader.  Now if in studying Scripture, you discover the answer to your question because the author intended to address it then rejoice in that your answer has been given and addressed.  But know that many of the questions and methodologies that we wish we had an answer to from the Bible is in fact not addressed or answered.  This is depressing to many and some are unwilling to accept such a thesis.  Because of that refusal they in in turn twist Scripture unknowingly to answer their question.

Second, things can also go awry when Christians read certain passages of Scripture that when read and interpreted on what seems to be a “straight-forward” reading will erroneously interpret that passage with an interpretation not intended by the inspired biblical author. 

Good hermeneutics (the methodology of interpreting Scripture) and scholarly accountability (both contemporary and historical scholarship combined) provide needed guard-rails to keep one’s interpretation of Scripture from going “off the rails”.  Unfortunately the “biblical patriarchy” movement lacked sound hermeneutical principles (to inform their reading of Scripture along) and scholarly accountability which gave way to their sometimes erroneous claims using “Scriptural support”.

Summary

It cannot be overemphasized though that their erroneous interpretations were not done malevolently or to deceive the flock.  They genuinely wanted to interpret Scripture correctly and were wanting to follow the Bible in every area of their life.  In summary, their dedication to Scripture over man was not the problem.  Instead it was their lack of accountability to the larger community of believers indwelt with the Holy Spirit, especially those who have given their lives to the study of Scripture (eg. Seminary professors) along with an incomplete and often inconsistent hermeneutical approach to Scripture.


Ubique, Semper et ab Omnibus                      Everywhere, Always and by All