Much outcry over “division” in the church today is ill-founded, aimed at those who care enough about important theological issues to stand their ground. They would have us ignore biblical doctrine in the name of false unity. All that matters is “loving Jesus”–as long as you claim to do that, it’s totally fine to hold heretical beliefs about God and Scripture. What they don’t realize is that “division” is sometimes necessary in order to preserve biblical truth. We must never compromise on the Word of God.
But there are situations in which division is a real problem in the church. And one of those is the continual separation of the congregation into age or “life stage” groups.
This division can be created artificially–through Sunday school classes and “traditional” vs. “modern” services–or can occur organically as the older and younger isolate themselves, seeking the familiarity of same-aged peers. While some separation is natural, even beneficial, radical division is harmful.
Why? As Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shows us in her new book, Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, we can’t obey passages like this one from Titus 2 if the older and younger in the church aren’t discipling one another:
But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. (Titus 2:1-5)
In fact, that is the main message of Adorned–not just the biblical necessity, but the beauty of older women and younger women living out Titus 2 and spurring one another on toward greater Christlikeness and holiness.
CLEAR, BIBLICAL GUIDANCE
In each chapter, Wolgemuth outlines the various ways Christian women are to honor God with their lives, according to His Word. These holy callings include embracing sound doctrine, avoiding slander, developing self-control, caring for our households, being submissive to our husbands, and showing kindness.
She also provides Scriptural insight and examples of how older, more experienced Christian women are to guide and teach younger women in the church to grow in these specific areas.
One of the things I appreciate most about this book is its clarity of thought and language. Wolgemuth maintains a steady, decisive voice as she teaches, refusing to meander off into rabbit trails. She writes warm-heartedly, yet without manipulation or cleverness. Unlike so many other female authors, she does not feel the need to chit-chat with us, flatter us, or entertain us with frivolous stories. Instead, she expresses God’s truth with conviction and sincerity.
The vast majority of the instruction she provides is biblically sound and unapologetically truthful about God, His Word, and what we are called to do as believers. How refreshing in this day and age!
CENTERED ON SCRIPTURE
On nearly every page, you’ll find not only Bible references to support Wolgemuth’s teachings, but contextual explanations that ensure she is not twisting the Bible to favor her own opinions. (That’s a relief!)
And while I would prefer that she stuck with only the most accurate translations, she doesn’t resort to the dreaded “Message Bible” anywhere in this book. She relies the most heavily on the ESV, but occasionally compares it to other translations such as the AMP, HCSB, KJV, NASB, and others.
It is clear to the reader that Adorned is not merely a product of the author’s experience or imagination, but it is firmly rooted in the Word of God. With the exception of one doctrinal point (which I will get to later on), I agreed with Wolgemuth’s interpretations and appreciated the illustrations she gave to show, on a practical level, how we can live out the doctrine we hold dear.
A MUCH-NEEDED CALL TO DISCIPLESHIP
Perhaps the most important aspect of this book is its emphasis on encouraging women to disciple one another. Sadly, older-to-younger relationships are facing extinction in many churches.
As Wolgemuth explains, when this discipleship is lacking and there is no exchange of wisdom and discernment, the Church suffers and, worst of all, Christ is dishonored. Younger women more easily fall into foolishness without the guidance of older women, and the older women find themselves giving into empty living and selfish frivolity rather than living out the purposes God has for them, in passing down their wisdom.
At the end of each chapter, Wolgemuth provides helpful, practical questions for women to discuss with one another in the context of these older-and-younger relationships. I look forward to seeking an older Christian woman myself with whom I can study and discuss the book. I’ve struggled, in my own experience, to develop these kinds of relationships as well.
I hope we can all recognize the detrimental effects of this division of generations, and pray that the church embraces the beautiful unity and discipleship God has called us to in His Word.
We live in a culture infected by ungodly feminism–where the concepts of submission and homemaking are reviled and cast away as misogynistic ideas of the past. As we’ve seen, many churches and so-called “Christian authors” have jumped on the feminism bandwagon as well, uniting with the world to throw out biblical womanhood in exchange for the slavery of “liberalism.”
Thankfully, Wolgemuth has not joined their ranks, but stands firmly opposed to feminism and instead upholds the truth of God’s Word. Throughout her book, she firmly teaches the biblical calling of women to be “workers at home,” caring for their households, submitting to their husbands, and loving their children in a way that brings glory to Christ.
Yet she does so wisely, taking the time to patiently clarify some common misconceptions that may be clouding the reader’s judgment, while emphasizing the great and wonderful purposes the Lord has for us in these often-difficult roles.
She is not apologetic of the truth, yet she is gentle and consoling. She avoids sweeping over the subject with a broad stroke, but rather gives attention to special situations that require a more nuanced approach–such as those of single mothers and wives with abusive husbands.
And unlike others, Wolgemuth does not merely emphasize the outward, societal duties of women, but the inner qualities all of us must endeavor to cultivate–true godliness and purity of heart. In doing this, she demonstrates the necessity of desire for Christ and His glory, and challenges us to avoid “going through the motions” as we fulfill our roles.
MY ONLY (MAJOR) CRITICISM
Thankfully, I only have one major theological issue with Adorned.
In chapter 12, “An Unexpected Blessing,” Wolgemuth discusses the submission of wives to their husbands–what this looks like (and doesn’t look like) biblically. To establish her points, she refers to the Creation account, and acknowledges how it’s always been God’s good plan for men and women to have separate roles. This, I agree with.
However, she then turns to the Trinitarian relationships as further support of the woman’s calling to submission–and that’s when things get muddy.
But Paul himself, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, specifically sets forth the divine order of headship and submission as being timeless and transcultural – the husband-wife relationship patterned after the God-Son relationship and the Christ-man relationship.
I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3)
For a wife, submission means accepting God’s good order for her life, just as a husband submits himself to God in accepting God’s order for his life. And it gives her the privilege of representing the mystery and the beauty of the Son’s submission to the Father. For even within the Trinity, we see this paradoxical arrangement — seamless unity with separate roles and different identities, perfect equality with pure submission.
The Father and the Son, we know, are both equally God. And yet the Son chooses to submit Himself to the will of the Father:
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will by the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)
The submission of Christian wives to their husbands is a powerful and beautiful picture of the Son’s submission to His Father and of the church’s submission to Christ. These wives, together with husbands who love them selflessly and sacrificially, put the gospel story on vivid and compelling display. (264-265)
It is clear, just from these paragraphs, that Wolgemuth supports the theological teaching of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS)–a doctrine incompatible with many of the historical creeds of the church, and the Word of God itself.
Without hashing out the two sides of the debate or getting into the specific details of the position, let me summarize why I strongly disagree with Adorned on this point.
Essentially, those who hold to ESS believe that the Son has always been submissive to the Father, from all eternity, whereas those who oppose ESS conclude that it is only in Christ’s human nature–not in His divine nature–that He submits Himself to the Father. Prior to taking on flesh and coming to earth, the Son was never subordinate to the Father in nature, nor in role. All three Persons of the Trinity are co-equal, one essence, with one eternal will.
There are two problems I find with the ESS view.
- In order for this position to be correct, and for Jesus the Son to submit to the Father eternally (not just on earth), it would require Him to have a separate will from the Father even before becoming man. But the orthodox teaching is that, though Jesus did acquire a unique human nature (and thus, a human will), He shares His divine will with all three Persons of the Trinity. If we begin to think that there could be more than one will in the eternal Godhead, we take a dangerous step toward concluding that God is not One, but three separate gods.
- As summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith, we know from Scripture that “In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost” (WCF 1.3). The Larger Catechism adds that they are “equal in power and glory” (Q.9A). However, if Jesus is, in any way, inferior (in the sense that the Father is His superior) in His divine personhood, then that would contradict the teaching that all three Persons are co-equal eternally. When Jesus said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), He was referring to His human nature. In the essence of the Trinity, no Person is greater than the other.
So while I affirm with Wolgemuth that wives ought to submit to their husbands, and that this submission beautifully reflects the submission of Christ to the Father, I must depart from her when it comes to her advocacy of an eternal superior-subordinate relationship within the Godhead.
Now, just how serious of an issue this is, and whether or not Wolgemuth’s ESS-based teaching on submission–which occupies only the span of two pages out of the entire text–is enough to warrant avoidance of the book as a whole, is for you to decide. I do believe this is no small error, as it involves the Trinity, and that at the very least, caution must be taken by readers of this book.
I found Adorned to be a rewarding, edifying read, despite the problem I encountered with the ESS position of the author. The book reminded me of the high calling given to me as a Christian woman, wife, and mother, and encouraged me in my striving for holiness, while at the same time comforted me with the love of Christ. So though I must issue a warning with my endorsement, I still recommend Adorned as a whole, and rate it as WHEAT.