he excerpt below contains every single word from The Truth War that makes any reference whatsoever to Kristen Bell. Note that John MacArthur makes precisely one factual statement about who she is (set in bold type below). That's literally all he says about her. Then he quotes a paragraph from a Christianity Today article that quotes her:
So here's how Andrew Jones (our lanky, lean friend from the Antipodes) described that passage from The Truth War: "[Rob Bell] seems pretty sound theologically, despite the attacks. I know John MacArthur chewed out Rob's wife in his book for a comment about the Bible. I never heard how Rob's wife responded to the criticism."
Andrew's first commenter, "Adam S," ramped up the accusation several degrees of magnitude, claiming MacArthur had "viciously attacked" poor Mrs. Bell.
A similar complaint arose here at PyroManiacs in Monday's meta, when commenter Art wondered if it's not inconsistent for someone who believes women shouldn't have teaching authority over men in the church to criticize a doctrinal pronouncement made by a woman. I don't get the rationale behind that question at all, but Art continues: "Would you find it out of order if someone brought up some[thing] your wife said, especially when that person holds a view that, biblically, women cannot teach or have authority over a man?"
Andrew Jones was pondering a similar question: "I guess I was wondering what would happen if we were to put other well-known pastors' wives up on the stand and question them. How well would Mrs MacArthur answer the questions? How well would anyone's wife [or husband] respond?"
I have several observations about that line of argument:
- Both Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. MacArthur are members of my Sunday school class, and I know them well. They are extremely thoughtful and intelligent women who hold strong, well-informed opinions on matters of doctrine and Scripture. But neither of them would ever volunteer any kind of doctrinal pronouncement for publication in Christianity Today. On the other hand, I am confident that if some wily CT editor managed secretly to coax a doctrinal opinion from either one of them, their focus would be on what they believe rather than a euphoric celebration of their doubts.
- I've seen no indication from Rob Bell that he is embarrassed or in disagreement with what his wife said in CT, and that's been in print and in wide circulation for at least three years. It seems fair to take Mrs. Bell's statement at face value as representative of the Bells' worldview.
- MacArthur's critical comments were in no way focused on Kristen Bell specifically; he cited a lot of similar comments from Emergent celebrities, and then disagreed with the glorification of doubt. But his disagreement was with the idea, not with any one individual. In fact, he said nothing that could possibly be construed as personal or even specific about Kristen Bell.
- Still, it seems like bringing my wife and my pastor's wife into a hypothetical argument violates whatever point our emergent friends might have been trying to make about the propriety or impropriety of making an argument that brings someone's wife into the polemical conflictand it actually compounds the problem by resorting to hypotheticals in order accomplish the very thing the argument pretends to deplore.
- The whole objection is reminiscent of Mr. Clinton's complaint when he scolded his wife's political opponents for not treating her like a lady after she verbally slapped them around. You can't legitimately put a woman on the front line of defense for such a horribly low view of Scripture, and then hide behind her skirts when someone points out that the opinion she expressed to the whole evangelical world is so very wrong-headed. If someone wants to defend Kristin Bell's statement, do it. But let's drop the facile accusations that merely disagreeing with her is somehow inherently cruel.
- Emergents seem to have a pattern of this sort of behavior. A few of the most virulent trash-talkers in the Emergent blogosphere are women. I generally try to ignore them, but I've seen the "that's no way to talk to a lady" defense hauled out whenever someone answers them with a firm but contrary opinion.
- Note: I'm not the one who brought up the egalitarian/complementarian debate. But now that it's been mentioned, let me say to the radical egalitarians in the emergent movement: You are not going to be able to sustain even the illusion of credibility in the egalitarian position if you want to pretend it's somehow cruel, inhumane, or brutish to contradict what a woman says. It's a contradiction of the egalitarian claim to believe that women such tender souls that to contradict them is to subject them to a de facto martyrdom.