While most anyone concerned about religion in America spent May 23 still digesting the 300-page report of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sexual Abuse Task Force, a group advocating male headship had another topic in mind: The horrors of Beth Allison Barr’s two-year-old book on “biblical womanhood.”
For not the first time, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has published a refutal of the Baylor University history professor’s bestselling book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood. This time, the 6,000-word rejoinder was authored by Bradley G. Green, a professor at Union University in Tennessee and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
Perhaps ironically, Green earned his own Ph.D. at Baylor, where Barr has become not only a beloved professor but one of the highest-profile authors on campus. Her profile has been boosted in part by complementarian male theologians like Green who love to hate on her book and keep writing about it.
The first response to Barr’s book was written a year ago by Kevin DeYoung and published on the website of The Gospel Coalition, which shares many of the council’s values. Barr or her book have been mentioned in at least seven other posts on the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website over the past year.
In the latest attempt to counter Barr’s position — which is that women have been essential leaders in the Christian church since the beginning and should be today — Green describes her book as “an attempt at historical scholarship.”
Barr is an academic historian specializing in European women, Medieval and early modern England, as well as church history. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“This book is more of popular-level historical scholarship in the service of an impassioned personal narrative.”
“While the book certainly is an impassioned personal narrative, I wonder if it succeeds as a work of historical scholarship,” Green asks. “We might put these two emphases slightly differently and say that this book is more of (1) popular-level historical scholarship in the service of (2) an impassioned personal narrative. To be less charitable (perhaps), what we really have is a kind of emotionally charged, high-octane attempt to write against complementarianism, with certain soundings in history.”
Barr’s book, he declares, “is not subtle in its rather highly pitched rhetoric and denunciation of ‘patriarchy’ and all things complementarian. Christians and non-Christians would have benefitted from a less-heated examination of how women have been treated in history, how the church has attempted to apply a myriad of biblical passages, and how Christianity — across history — has succeeded or not succeeded in offering a vision of a truly Christian culture, including how women ought to be treated. But Barr has not written that book.”
Within the review, Green takes issue with Barr’s interpretation of history, her writing style and her biblical interpretation. In the end, the biblical arguments boil down to one of the most basic disagreements between complementarians and the rest of the Christian scholarly world — the proper interpretation of the Hebrew word adam in Genesis. Green insists the word that in English gets transliterated into the name “Adam” — a word that refers to humanity — is a masculine singular noun that therefore must reference a male.
Green’s view fits the required theology of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is that God created men and women differently and to serve different, “complementary” roles in the world.
Ultimately, the male professor accuses the female professor of letting emotion get the best of her.
“It seems to me that Barr’s passion too often gets the best of her.”
“Beth Allison Barr clearly writes with passion, and a passion which it seems has been born, at least in part, of suffering. The challenge of writing out of passion, and indeed out of suffering, is that it can be difficult to channel one’s passion in a proper direction. It seems to me that Barr’s passion too often gets the best of her.”
He adds: “I fear that this frustration and animus have been victorious over careful scholarship and a convincing treatment of the key issues.”
And then he ends with this: “The Christian Church needs good and careful scholars — whether men or women. I hope Barr’s next book will channel her passion into a work of careful scholarship, scholarship that might help readers and that might ultimately bring glory to God.”
On Monday, May 23, Barr tweeted out a response to Green’s negative review of her book.
“I suppose Kevin DeYoung’s review from last summer has been discredited so much that the CBMW had to try again, and they found someone with a link to Baylor to boot,” she wrote. “Please feel free to read my responses to DeYoung, which I’m just going to let stand as responses to you too. My scholarship has passed this test of scholars in my own field as well as the field of biblical studies, and I stand by it.”
Then this: “I hope you realize how poorly timed your review is, considering the report released from Guidepost about the SBC coverup of sexual abuse and silencing of victims for so long. If I was interested in helping the CBMW, which I am not given their behavior toward me and my church, I would suggest they release it at a different time.
“There is a pattern, becoming clearer and clearer, between complementarian theology and the mistreatment of women — ranging from demeaning it to assault.”
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The year of being threatened by smart women | Opinion by Mark Wingfield