Taking a Dog by the Ears

Taking a Dog by the Ears

Egalitarians and progressives have learned a lesson. They have learned that they can manipulate TGC with unfounded mob accusations of misogyny and harm. This is not good for [Joshua] Butler. It’s not good for TGC. And it’s certainly not good for the truth.

Last week people kept asking me if I was going to weigh-in on the drama du jour generated by a salacious post at The Gospel Coalition website. My response was that there was no way I would be taking this dog by the ears (Prov. 26:17). As far as I could tell, this was “strife” not belonging to me, and there was no sense in making it mine for no good reason. Nevertheless, over the weekend it became clear that the conversation had taken a turn in a way that implicates not just me but all complementarians. So here I am now.

The controversy concerns an essay that Joshua Butler wrote for TGC’s Keller Center last week. The essay is an excerpt from Butler’s forthcoming book Beautiful Union (Multnomah, 2023). Butler’s overall point is that the marriage relationship is an icon of the gospel. In other words, God has ordered the covenant of marriage such that the husband’s relationship to his wife images Christ’s relationship to the church. That much is boilerplate Christian typology that anyone who has ever read Ephesians 5 is well aware of:

Ephesians 5:23-32, “23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless… 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”

This typology is not a New Testament innovation but is the extension of similar typologies from the Old Testament in which God is portrayed as the husband to his people Israel (e.g., Isa. 54:5-7Jer. 31:32Hos. 2:19Ezek. 16:8-14).

Had Butler’s article stopped there, it probably wouldn’t have spawned such a backlash. But it didn’t stop there. The article goes on to press the analogy in explicit, sexual terms. I’ll refrain from describing those terms here because I do believe that they are unseemly. Suffice it to say that it sexualizes Christ’s relationship to the church in a way that Scripture seems to carefully avoid. It presses biblical metaphors and types beyond anything reasonably warranted by the Bible’s own language. For me anyway, it made my skin crawl to see Christ depicted in this way. And just about everyone of nearly every theological persuasion seems to be in agreement on that much.

After a sonorous outcry, TGC pulled the article and replaced it with a link to the first two chapters of Butler’s book in hopes that greater context would lessen the offense. It didn’t work. I read the two chapters, and if anything they made matters worse. The outcry from critics then reached a fever pitch and pivoted from constructive to destructive. Many progressives and egalitarians in particular accused Butler and TGC of mainstreaming misogyny and abuse. They called not merely for a correction but for a cancellation. They wanted Butler’s head on a platter, and they got it.

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