Posted in discernment, theology

Boundary Stones and Slippery Slopes: A discerning look at Jen Wilkin, part 1

By Elizabeth Prata

Part 2
Part 3

Introduction

Hosea 5:10 speaks of moving the property boundary stones.

The princes of Judah have become like those who move a boundary; On them I will pour out My wrath like water. (Hosea 5:10)

So does Deuteronomy.

In the inheritance which you will hold in the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess, you shall not move your neighbor’s boundary marker which men of old have set (Deuteronomy 19:14).

Deuteronomy 27:7 pronounces a curse on those who do so. Moving the boundaries are also mentioned in Proverbs 22:28, Proverbs 23:10, Job 24:2 and more. This is an important topic. I will get back to it in Part 3.

Discernment is a moving target. It’s never settled. There are new battlefields popping up every day. We battle our own clouded mind to ensure we interpret the scriptures correctly. Those pastors and teachers who are safe today are not solid tomorrow. We’re always being Bereans.

Recently a video clip surfaced of author, Bible teacher, and Executive Director of The Village Institute, Jen Wilkin. Wilkin is considered solid. Her 2014 freshman book, Women of the Word is used widely. She is a vocal proponent of complementarianism, the biblical concept of the living out the different but complementary roles God has set for women and men. She is a staff member and a congregant at one of the campuses of Matt Chandler’s Village Church. Mrs Wilkin is also a sought-after speaker at national conferences and podcasts.

However, in this clip of which I’ll speak, Wilkin was educating a gathering of male pastors and church planters on the topic of Women in Church Planting: Understanding women as central to the mission.” Teaching a male audience violates 1 Timothy 2:12. Further, as part of her lesson, she eisegeted a woman’s menstrual period. She said that women “understand the Gospel” differently because of it, and intimated that because women ‘are wrapped in female flesh’ we have special insight into Jesus because of this fleshly parable of the monthly “shedding of blood for the renewal of life”. Transcript and video clip will be in part 2. Thus, her gender politics were evident, another shock. What is going on? That is what this and the next essay is about.

Eisegesis is when you apply a topic, thought, or narrative INTO the text and shape your talk according to your presupposed concepts, manipulating the Bible to fit it. The proper way to handle God’s word is to exegete it, or draw out of the text (ex-) its intended meaning.

Needless to say, the earthquake the video caused was thunderous. Social media was abuzz, stunned at what had previously been seen as a solid teacher speaking of such things casually, unbiblically, eisegetically, and to a room full of men, no less.

Is it time to look into the teachings of Mrs Jen Wilkin? It seems so. Subsequently I was asked to look into her biblical positions and her activities, in a discernment review.

How I do it

When I do a ‘deep dive’ into a nationally known author or Bible teacher, I prayerfully take my time. It should be said at this juncture that if a nationally known speaker to Bible teacher is using her platforms to teach and speak for God, it is not necessary “to go to her” and “speak to her privately”. That notion comes from a section in Matthew 18 outlining church discipline for when a member of a local congregation is sinning against another member of a local congregation. In Mrs Wilkin’s case and others like it, a speaker is using her platforms to teach publicly, and I use my platforms to critique her teaching publicly. If you’re still unsure, here is an article explaining the Matthew 18 process and another one here.

So I pray, take it slow, and gather my research. I watch or listen to numerous videos and podcasts. I listen to ALL of the video or podcast, for context. I think it’s fairer to see the entire thing than just a short clip. I watch a lot of them to see if the issue is a one-off or a sad trend. I read the person’s books, sometimes more than one.

I read whatever Bible lessons are available. In other words, I absorb a wide range of material and a lot of it forms the background of my initial research. This avoids my own ‘eisegesis’, or cherry picking certain materials in order to support any presupposed position I might have on the person.

Then I focus, if necessary, on lifestyle. Lifestyle is just as important as doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:16 says “watch your life and doctrine closely.” Peter was not expressly teaching a false doctrine to the new converts but by his lifestyle decisions he was impacting his witness for the Gospel. Paul opposed him to his face on it. (Galatians 2:11). The Bible speaks to lifestyle, saying elders must be “above reproach” (morally) and women teachers must be “reverent”. (Titus 2:3).

I just wanted to be transparent and explicitly discuss how I approach a discernment essay. Hopefully this transparency regarding my process will quell the frequent and sometimes uncharitable concerns/accusations that typically fly when any discernment reviews at all are applied to a nationally known Bible teacher.

Jen Wilkin: Pros

As for Jen Wilkin, I admire her emphasis that we should teach through books of the Bible, not relying on canned curricula. I also admire her desire to bring to women a cohesive understanding of the Bible and its overarching message. Mrs Wilkin proclaims a strong complementarian stance. She is passionate about women receiving a proper theological education. There is no doubt that Mrs Wilkin is intelligent and well spoken. Her self-described preparation process for teaching was spot on, saying in one interview she does repeated reading, learns the passage’s themes, and resists the urge to consult commentaries so as to see what the text was saying first. I liked this. Her proclaimed stances are all ones with which I agree.

We should compare what people say with what they do. Talking is easy. Does the person follow through with a lifestyle that demonstrates her proclaimed stances? I learned this because what people say does not always match up with how they act. Many complementarian women say they “don’t want to be pastors,” including Mrs Wilkin. This is good, it’s not biblical for women to lead a church. But they stop short of true complementarian doctrine when they restrict their activities to solely being a pastor. 1 Timothy 2:12 says “I do not allow a woman to teach or assume authority over a man, she is to be quiet.” (NIV). Teaching men or a co-ed audience in church or at conferences violates this verse. Not just pastoring. There’s more to complementarianism than solely pastoring.

This was the background and introduction. There will be three parts. This is part 1.

In the next part I will examine the now-infamous menstruation clip. In part 3 I will look at Jen Wilkin’s recent activities to see whether they line up with her proclaimed complementarian stance. I’ll also look at Jen’s continual insistence that adding women to the teaching staff “is not a slippery slope”. (Hint: It is).

In a follow up to these three parts of my discernment review, I discovered her lessons on “Redefining the Story of Rahab.” Ladies, any time you see someone, man or women, redefining anything from orthodoxy, be wary. Her Rahab lesson includes promotion of situational ethics but it gives me a chance to write about proper treatment of handling material. I’ll write that follow up soon.

So, is Jen Wilkin “moving the boundary stones? We will see.

Caption: The Village Church Institute is the teaching and discipling arm of the Village Church, to which Jen Wilkin belongs. Matt Chandler is currently the main pastor of the church, over all the campuses. Jen is on staff there. I’m not positive but I believe she had been Classes and Curriculum Director first and was promoted next to Executive Director. Jen writes Bible studies for the Institute.

Part 2
Part 3

Author:

Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.