The Internet, Blogging, Authority, and the Sexes

The subject of women’s online platforms has been a live one over the last few weeks. A couple of days ago, Christianity Today published an article by Tish Harrison Warren, which provoked considerable controversy, many believing that women were being unfairly singled out by the piece and their voices delegitimized. I wrote a post addressing many of the issues Warren highlights in November, suggesting that many of our problems relate to a fundamental crisis of trust in evangelical circles. That is probably the first place to go for my thoughts on this issue.

The following are a few loosely connected further thoughts.



We need to beware of blaming individual agents for what is in large measure a structural problem. As I have argued at length in the past, the very structure of the currently existing Internet encourages dysfunctional discourse and modes of ‘community’. Many of the barriers to speech that the Internet has removed were necessary protective barriers. Ironically, the removal of these barriers has often not led to liberation, but to the loss of freedoms that healthy boundaries can give us.

The Internet causes problems by bringing us all too close together, in ways that encourage confusion, conflict, impulsivity, and reactivity. It also obscures the healthy social functioning of authority, by making such things as age, context, community, and office invisible and by obscuring the reality of sexual difference. On the Internet we all have egalitarian ‘accounts’, we are not bound to any particular community, and are caught up in a spectacle of our own virtual identities that makes virtue- and identity-signalling practically unavoidable. Again, this is not something that we choose to do (or can simply choose not to do), it is just the way that the Internet is and how it shapes us.



Many, probably most, of us who have online ‘platforms’—for want of a better word—never set out with the aim of creating them. My blogging grew out of participation in online theology forum discussions, which itself grew out of participation in offline theology discussion groups I started with friends. The primary driving force throughout has always been the fact that I think out loud and in conversation and greatly value sharpening interaction with others and sharing ideas.

There have been a great many ways that I could have increased my platform by pursuing publication on more prestigious or popular sites or by tailoring my work for a wider audience. However, when these possibilities have been in tension with my fundamental aim in blogging, I have generally declined or refrained from them. Much of my blogging has started its life in comment threads, private email discussion lists or forums, Twitter, or personal conversation. The majority of my writing isn’t published and that which is published on my blog is seldom very polished. My blog has been a way of exploring trains of thought that outgrew their initial media. Even Mere Fidelity has been determinedly amateur in its guiding principles: we are four guys recording unrehearsed, unedited, and unplanned conversations that are much the same as those we have in private. In fact, I increasingly find myself retreating from the more open online contexts, because I can no longer have the same sort of conversations that I once enjoyed on them.

However, although I have never pursued a platform, I have ended up with one. Over 50,000 people have read certain posts on this blog. Thousands of people visit my blog or read my writings every day. A number of publishers have asked me to write for them. Many people I admire with considerable influence or authority have shared or recommended my writings.

Having a largely unsought platform can be both a blessing and an irritation. Whereas I may blog in pursuit of stimulating conversation and to articulate ideas that have excited or interested me, a lot of people may treat me as a teacher. This places responsibilities upon me that I did not have when I was just a random blogging theology nerd. However, even in recognizing those responsibilities, this situation has never been one with which I am entirely comfortable. I would much prefer writing for a considerably more targeted audience.



I am not ordained. I hold no official or teaching position in my church. I am not an employee or official representative of any Christian organization, although I have worked for several. Although I have a doctoral degree in theology, it is from a secular university. The pastoral oversight to which I am subject is rather limited as just a regular congregant in a Church of England church. No one in my church context is going to be reading or listening to my material before it gets published. Even if they had the time in which to do so—theologically assessing upwards of 3,000 words daily is not a task anyone would sign up for! And few would really be qualified to do so.

Although I have definitely not purposefully avoided accountability and have welcomed it where I have found it (primarily in communities of trained theologians, where I have smart and godly people who will disagree and argue with me when necessary), once again there is a structural problem here. No party really exists that could provide effective ecclesial oversight.

Offline, it is quite possible to distinguish between the informal and institutional discourses of academic and amateur theologians, communities of lay Christian conversation, and the authoritative teaching of the Church. One can more easily tell the authority and authorization with which someone speaks. Unfortunately, online media make drawing such distinctions increasingly difficult. It flattens out conversations and contexts in ways that lead to disorder.

In such situations, the problem may not be so much one of people speaking without authority or authorization, as the fact that the difference between such people and those who do have specific forms of authority and authorization has been rendered unclear by the media. Where structures of authority are clearly visible, the appropriate boundaries are also a lot more visible, and it is easier to uphold the boundaries without needing closely to police any of the actual conversations taking place. Without the clarity of structures of authority and boundaries, however, church leaders risk being officious in their policing of lay conversations and lay conversations risk blinding their participants to pastoral and other modes of authority or authorization or undermining pastoral authority.

These problems aren’t exclusive to the Church. Companies increasingly feel the need to clamp down on their employees’ use of social media, lest it be thought that their opinions are being expressed as a representative of their company or organization. Social media has blurred the boundaries between public and private, authorized and unauthorized, publicized and obscure, etc. As I have often argued, this leads to many conflicts and confusions as the norms, meaning, and contexts of discourse become ambiguous. The loss of differentiation in social discourse is damaging in many ways, one of the most important being the way in which it presses different groups and contexts into conflict with each other, as, without clear distinctions each group trespasses upon the rightful place of others.



Evangelicalism has always had populist, democratic, anti-hierarchical, and egalitarian instincts within it. However, these instincts have typically existed alongside many other instincts that served to correct, counterbalance, or check them. The rise of modern media, especially the Internet, has removed many of the limits to these instincts, radically empowering egalitarian and anti-hierarchical instincts over others.

The Internet weakens the pull of locality and the power of context more generally, while empowering movements that are dislodged from physical context and reality, more fully congruent with its tendencies. This radically shifts the balance of power between parachurch or non-ecclesial agencies and those of the local church. Evangelicalism was always going to be in trouble when the means of self-publication were spread to the masses and the general monopoly of the pulpit upon the public dispensing of theological opinion started to crumble. At least as long as the pulpit held sway, some general standards of theological training could—rather unevenly—be maintained as prerequisites for access to it and there was more hope of a mature conversation. The publishing industry would also primarily discover potential writers among trained pastors and academics, rather than among people who had obtained prominence largely independent of such institutions online.



Institutional and familial commitments can tend to pull people away from the world of Internet, meaning that the world of online discourse is dominated by relatively unseasoned youngsters. A disproportionate number of us were born in the 80s and 90s. The structure of our cultural discourse increasingly prematurely propels younger persons to positions of front line influence, without first submitting them as apprentices to older, wiser elders or, for that matter, to any institution at all. It would be very interesting to trace the generational development of the average age of popular Christian authors.

I have written in the past about the rise of the ‘first person industrial complex’, the proliferation of memoirs written by Christians in their twenties and younger thirties. The influence of such ‘super-peers’ has often replaced the guidance of ‘dis-temporaries’, members of an older generation, and the relationship between the generations in evangelicalism has increasingly been characterized by distrust and detachment. With this shift in generational and intergenerational dynamics has come a shift in the functioning of authority, a movement from the authority of wise elders to the influence of savvy and charismatic peers.



It is difficult to understand the crisis of authority in the evangelical church without also taking into account the degree to which people have been betrayed by a generation of abusive leadership. Despotic and sexually abusive leaders have scarred much of a generation and produced a deep suspicion and distrust in old modes of leadership. These leaders may still enjoy office and power, but the legitimacy of their authority is no longer acknowledged.



Putting the question of authority to one side, there are many other reasons to be concerned about the character of Christian discourse in the Internet age. I wonder whether people lamenting the lack of authority may often be confusing the absence of clear authority with the absence or non-functioning of realities that were formerly proximate or related to it.

For instance, I have frequently discussed problems with the standard of writing and reading online. Once again, this problem is as much structural as it is individual: the Internet tends to destroy context, democratizes conversations, produces distracted readers, weakens the connection between opinion and action, encourages reactive writing over reflective writing, etc., etc. Old authority structures and the control of the means of publication by publishers with editorial staff established some degree of quality control for discourse, disproportionately favouring the most learned, experienced, and mature voices in public conversation. The glaring lack of such quality control online is not straightforwardly a result of a lack of authority, as it is a result of the democratizing of the means of publication. The limits that ensured the higher quality of discourse were not simply limits of authority, but things such as the costliness of publication, the difficulty and lengthiness of the process of writing for publication, the typical distinction between the author and the publisher, and the role of editors.

That more authority isn’t the answer is also suggested by the fact that authoritative figures often embarrass themselves online, just like the rest of us. The speed of Internet discourse can make authority figures reactive too. Its excessive intimacy and democracy leads them to forget their station. They also get caught up in the spectacle and can allow their online persona, which is projected to be seen by others, to eclipse their actual self.



A friend of mine observed that Warren’s article equivocated in its use of the term ‘authority’. This, it seems to me, is one of the chief problems in this debate, and in the debates about women and authority more generally.

‘Authority’ is a term that carries various senses, a point that I have made recently in writing about debates concerning the ‘eternal subordination of the Son.’ Divine authority, for instance, is singular, yet modally differentiated by the three persons. Authority comes from the Father: the Father is the one who authorizes. The Father gives all authority to the Son, who is the powerful expression of God’s authority, the authoritative Word or Image of God. The Spirit is the one in whom divine authority is realized, rendered fruitful, and carried through to its completion. There is only one divine authority, yet this divine authority is ‘appropriated’ differently by the three persons.

Distinctions between forms or modes of authority are especially important when we consider relations between the sexes as debates about the authority of men and women commonly muddle together senses of authority that ought to be distinguished from each other. The following is a very rough, heuristic taxonomy of three key modes of authority.

‘Authority’ can sometimes be used in the sense of ‘authorization’. ‘Authorization’ is formal authority that can be vested in someone by a person or institution, typically in order that the authorized person should represent and effect the institution’s authority.

‘Authority’ is a term that has close associations with notions of powerful agency. In this sense, the person with authority is the pre-eminent person in a group, the person whose agency is most strong and developed. The authoritative person is the person who has pronounced, forceful, and confident agency by which they can put themselves to the fore.

‘Authority’ can also refer to the moral, social, and affective authority enjoyed by people who are effective at gathering others around them, people who are charismatic, loved, and who are gifted at galvanizing communities and getting others to act on their behalf.

The first mode of authority tends to be imaged and represented by the second mode of authority: the authority of our institutions is typically represented and effected by persons who naturally possess very strong agency. Such persons are able to act and speak powerfully in combative situations. In this manner, these persons protect and uphold our institutions and their values.

The first mode of authority can also legitimize, support, recognize, and give place to the third mode of authority and is itself given flesh by this third mode of authority. However, this sort of relationship is different from that which exists with the second mode of authority. While the robust agency of the second mode of authority effectively images and establishes the first mode of authority that authorizes it, the third mode of authority requires both the authorization of the first mode and the empowering support and protection of the second mode for its effective operation.

The second mode is authorized by the first mode and then filled out and glorified by the third mode of authority, without which it can be forceful but, as it lacks the centripetal gathering force of the third mode of authority, unfruitful.



Perhaps the problem at the heart of all this is that the second mode of authority is overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) male and the third mode of authority is overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) female. The third (and greatly underappreciated) mode of authority is powerfully on display online in the realm of social media. Women gather communities around them in ways that men cannot, they seek authorization and petition others to act forcefully on their behalf. Women tend to possess and represent the heart of any community, irrespective of the forcefulness of the agency of the men in the community, or whether or not they have authorization. Just as men can be unmindful of the sort of power that we possess and the advantages it gives us, I don’t believe many women fully appreciate the sort of authority they can wield, not least because it is less direct in its operation and expression.

The second mode of authority can also be seen in the way that men can fairly effortlessly dominate many situations and contexts they find themselves in through their more forceful agency. Male groups produce and foster strong agency and direct power. Men routinely engage in ritual combat over values, ideas, communities, etc., encouraging robustness, vigour, mastery, and strength. Men are fairly naturally suited to function as the guardians of groups and, through robustly imaging the authority of the groups that authorize them, strengthen and uphold the authorizing authority. These differences between men and women are very clearly visible online, to any who are paying attention.

It should be noticed that women’s appeals for ‘authority’ are typically appeals for the first and second modes of authority to operate on their behalf: they want to be ‘authorized’ and they want to be ‘empowered’. This is very important. The authority that they express and assert in these appeals is generally their moral and social authority, their capacity powerfully to gather others around them and get others to act for them.

It should also be noticed that these appeals for ‘authority’ are often also appeals to be given offices commonly associated with the second mode of authority, offices that image and establish the authorizing authority of the first mode. Problems arise here, because empowerment requires an empowering authority: it depends upon the support, protection, and service of the second mode of authority. However, women’s quest for authority in the church and society increasingly takes the form of a conflict between the second and the third modes of authority. As this conflict occurs, men’s strength becomes an obstacle.

The resulting conflict can take many forms. If the first mode of authority supports women in their appeal, more typical male authority can be delegitimized and its offices increasingly occupied by women and men who downplay their natural tendencies and capacities. The result of this can be institutional weakness and inability to engage effectively in strengthening conflict. Men can abdicate their strength and responsibility and display a sort of unmanliness, afraid of asserting themselves lest they silence or marginalize the women. Alternatively, men can dissemble the differences between the sexes in these areas, while consistently rushing to the defence of women when they face challenge. While well-meaning, this can become deeply dysfunctional as it has the tendency of replacing the robust imaging and effecting of the fundamentally authorizing authority with an ordering of the community around the protection of the exposed vulnerability of women. Such communities will also often become smothering and forcefully close down agency and challenge (especially of men), as everything is reordered around the vulnerability and potential victimhood of women.

On the other hand, if the first mode of authority supports the more forceful male authority, women can be marginalized, silenced, or crushed. Or, as we see in many evangelical contexts, the male ‘heads’ may remain strongly rooted in their place, while the women whom they have mistreated increasingly powerfully draw the heart of the movement away from them.

What is required is a healthy interaction of modes of authority, so that the Church and society are neither overwhelmingly ordered around men nor ordered in a dysfunctional manner in a misguided attempt to empower women. Rather, men must exercise their authority in ways that are authorized and in ways that are empowering of women, that serve, protect, and give strength to their work and underwrite their modes of authority.

In turn, women should recognize and honour men who image the authorizing authority of church and society righteously, exercising their own distinctive moral and social authority in authorized ways to render that authority effective.

All of this is a fairly rudimentary and abstract sketch of some complex and subtle social dynamics. However, while there is a great deal of detail that needs to be filled out, the important point is that ‘authority’ is heterogeneous. Women’s voices should be heeded and carry weight in the life of the Church, not merely as a matter of permission, but as a necessity for the well-being of the community. We haven’t gotten this right, not by a long shot. Yet talking about ‘authority’ in a univocal manner, inattentive to differences between the sexes in this area, is a recipe for problems and dysfunction. God created us as male and female, not as gender neutral individuals, and the differences between the sexes really do make a difference.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Controversies, Culture, Ethics, On the web, Sex and Sexuality, Society, The Blogosphere, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

64 Responses to The Internet, Blogging, Authority, and the Sexes

  1. RStarke says:

    Alastair – thanks as usual for weighing in and shedding light on the multiplicity of angles in this debate. I’m particularly intrigued by your arguments about the three modes of authority and their connections to the Trinity. Not to get all cute with connecting this back to the Trinity debate, BUT 🙂 – do you see the three modes of authority as hierarchical -where the first is ultimate, the second is derived, and the third is delegated – or as more like a triumvirate, where each is meant to serve the other, and the dominance of any one over the others the cause of problems?

    • There is an ‘order’, but not a hierarchy. The problem with the notion of hierarchy is it tends to suggest a unilateral order structured by a single logic. However, the biblical logic is asymmetrically, yet not hierarchically, ‘trilateral’. None of the modes of authority is independent of the others, as the authority is one. For instance, the Son’s authority is given to him by the authorising Father, while the Spirit also makes possible his ministry at each step and completes and perfects it. The Father’s authorization requires Son and Spirit: the Son as the Word and Image by which his authorship is manifested, and his Spirit as the one who renders that Word fruitful. The Spirit’s ministry, in turn, fulfills the Father’s authorization in completing, glorifying, and filling the work of the Son.

      It is possible to speak of the Trinity in ways that centres any one of the three persons. The Father is the Source of the Trinity. The Son is the Image of the Godhead. The Spirit is the Communion of the Godhead. However, the result isn’t a flattening out or a hierarchy but an irreducible threefold unity.

      We should speak of and draw analogies with human relations with only the very greatest of care. However, analogies do exist here. The headship of the man is one aspect of the union of man and wife, for instance, but it is only one. The neglect of the aspects of the union in which the woman comes to the foreground is a huge problem. Likewise, there is an unhealthy failure to appreciate that even the headship of the man is dependent on its own way. It depends upon the freely given submission of the woman. Without that it can be fairly impotent and will be unable to realise its proper end.

    • cal says:

      RStarke, you’re question makes me appreciate the Eastern Orthodox distinction between essence and energies. While we might speak of the power of God as an energy, and recognize it as triadic in form, it will never seize the very life of God in the palm of our grasping intellects. Whether Subordinationist or the Triumvirate perichoretic nonsense, both lead us to some dangerous places, making God as the ultimate created society. Even though I know you don’t intend it, I think this is step towards blasphemy.

      • Cal, it seems to me that the sort of claims that people are making in this respect tend to be more modest. When we talk about the authority of God, for instance, we are necessarily talking about God’s self-manifestation in the divine mission, which is neither the same thing as nor to be confused with the processions. If we were talking about God ad intra, in detachment from his works, we might talk differently.

        However, as creatures we relate to the Trinity in the divine mission. We perceive the unity of the Trinity and the distinction and relation of the Persons in this mission. The Spirit is the unity in which the Father and the Son dwell. The Son is the Image of the invisible God. The Father is the author and source of all things. These distinctions between the divine persons are real ones, despite the divine persons not being three discrete centres of consciousness or the Trinity a quasi-‘society’.

        Different theological traditions have different theologoumena that serve the purpose of distinguishing while relating the mission to the processions (for instance, the covenant of redemption serves a similar function in much Reformed theology as the essence-energies distinction does in Palamism). This is an essential theological task, as it upholds the Creature-creature distinction, protecting us from collapsing God into his free works. It maintains the reality of a connection between the mission and the processions, without conflating the two.

        Nevertheless, there is a very real danger of effacing God’s self-manifestation to us and our relation to him in the divine mission in order to relate to a God that is some apophatic abstraction from this. The distinction between mission and procession and other related distinctions (which this is not the occasion to discuss) serve to maintain the integrity and bounds of God’s self-manifestation to us, while ensuring modesty and clarity in the way that we talk about God in himself in abstraction from his free works of creation, and the inexhaustible mystery of God. For instance, although God truly discloses himself to us in the authoritative work of establishing a kingdom and we worship the Son who rules the kingdom of his Father by the power of his Holy Spirit, we ought to beware of using the motions of authority for understanding God in himself in abstraction from his creation.

      • cal says:

        I don’t think you quite grasp the Palamist distinction, and the vague use of processions is odd, but that’s neither here nor there. The question is method, and appeals to the Trinity’s actions, or the economy, is too vague and convoluted to be helpful. It takes modest claims and constantly blurs the creator-creation distinction in trying to assess how we can speak of real communion. I am not advocating talking about God in an apophatic abstract, but I think if we refer to the Trinity, as such, we are bound to discuss a Pagan-like abstract. The only gate, it seems to me, to talk about God’s ad extra work is through Christology. Christ’s baptism in the Jordan should be paradigmatic for how we think this relation through. Christology, as well, should be the gate through which we see God’s works, namely His authority and power in Creation.

        My comment was mostly directed towards RStarke, as type of thinking, not you, even though I think you’re defending. The slippage in that comment reveal how the recent turn to the Trinity, which is not inherently bad, has become utilitarian for an abstract notion to prop up theories of power, society, gender-relations, you name it. We quickly slide from God’s mission to us, seen most fully in Christ, to ad intra speculations about relations, hierarchies, etc. This is not paid enough attention to, and it makes us sound like pagans or worse. But then, I’m not Augustinian when it comes to the Trinity or to triads, and so that might be a fundamental fault-line between us. The alternative is not agnosticism, even if that’s the shallow reading of Palamas and the Eastern fathers.

      • I’m not entirely convinced that this is what RStarke was doing, although I may be mistaken.

        I share your concerns about turning our doctrine of the Trinity into a utilitarian device for social or gender theories. I also think we need to be wary of carelessly projecting back actions of the economy into the eternal life of God. However, the divine mission is not without its analogies to and implications for the created pattern of the sexes. This isn’t to say that ‘the Trinity is our social programme,’ but that God’s own work concretely provides the model and structures for human work (which is shaped by gender difference) in ways that create connections between God’s indivisible yet threefold action in the economy of creation and salvation and the work and relation of men and women. For instance, the forming work of the Son and the filling work of the Spirit in creation and salvation are related in some fairly concrete ways to the labour of men and women as those given the task of forming and filling the creation under and after God. We don’t project gender into God’s own being, but recognize that the sexes take their bearings in key respects from the differentiations in the modes of God’s own creative labour.

        Furthermore, the divine mission is where we encounter and relate to God. There is a danger of ad intra speculations, such as the eternal subordination of the Son represents. However, no such speculations are necessitated by reflections upon the relations between the divine persons in the economy, if they are undertaken with appropriate care. I also believe that (narrative) Christology is the lens we should be using, although I suspect you may define this rather more narrowly than I do.

        My claim is not that Palamism leads to agnosticism, but that the danger I see in your position is that, in rightly seeking to maintain the limits of revelation and the danger of speculation, the difference between Creator and creature, and the integrity of the divine mystery, you risk subtly shifting our focus from a confident yet humble creaturely engagement with God as he has manifested himself in his revelatory works to an over-attention to the question of what God is like in himself, that, while appropriately recognizing its limits, places the revelation in some degree of shadow. It is important to draw lines clearly here and to recognize and defend the divine mystery, yet a preoccupation with the hidden things of God that belong to him can lead to a relative neglect of the revelation that he has actually given us, those things by which we must live in confident faith (cf. Deuteronomy 29:29).

      • cal says:

        The essence-energies distinction is, in fact, contrary to focusing attention on God ad intra in highly speculative forms. Palamas’ distinctions depend upon Maximus’ differentiation between Logos and logoi. The logoi make up the Logos, but are not the sum total that make the Logos. Authority or power would be among the logoi, and the point is to helpfully talk about how this belongs to God, and that is God is inseparable from His power, but this wards off the idea that we are peering into the inner life of God to see how authority functions. Instead we can see God manifest among us, and the focus is on Christ. Nowhere in Scripture is there a clear separation between the powers of forming and filling between persons. The Word creates and fills all, and the Word always comes in the power of the Spirit. Bearing the Image of God is to be like Christ, who is the Image, and thus we are subsequent images of the Image. It is the glory, the many virtues that surround and adorn Christ, that reveals what we may see.

        Again, contrary to myth, Palamas wants to articulate how we can talk about knowing and communing with God intimately, without collapsing this dichotomy. However, most people make his position into that of his opponent, Barlaam, who promotes a focus on the ad intra verging towards highly speculative, but agnostic, philosophical-theology.

        There is a way to speak intelligibly about God’s authority, and how we can, in Christ, participate in this, by grace through faith, without collapsing God into creation. But most contemporary trinitarian theology seems always verging towards this, inch by inch. I think it is because it lacks a full depth of biblical thinking that one sees more brightly among the Greek speaking fathers of the East, particularly Maximus. My initial warning should’ve come with some more help clarifiers.


      • Cal,
        Thanks for the response; this should probably be my final comment in this conversation. I’m not sure you are quite getting my point here. I never claimed that the essence-energies distinction is speculative. Its purpose is clearly anti-speculative. My concern was more subtle than this, which is that a fixation on the anti-speculative all too often draws attention away from exploring deeply within the bounds of revelation. It risks so emphasizing the insurmountable fence that it fails to attend closely enough to the extensive divine self-disclosure that has occurred within the fence.

        God is known in his authoritative action in creation and salvation. The knowledge we can derive from this is also knowledge of the Trinity. Theology can argue that this revelation is grounded in God’s essence ad intra and that the divine mission reveals, while being sharply distinct from, the eternal processions, warning us against speculating further. Anti-speculative theology can place necessary limits upon what we extrapolate from this about God ad intra. However, the revelation is there, it is extensive, and it is where our chief attention should be. We don’t relate to God as he is in himself, but to the God who has made himself known in creation and salvation, the God who is known and related to in a Triune work of authority.

        Anti-speculative theology’s concern with the threat of speculation can lead it to fall into the trap of neglecting, underplaying, or generally being nervous around this revelation. Rather than theology faithfully moving in low and humble orbit around the biblical text, the danger is that we start becoming focused upon categories and concepts that exist at quite some level of abstraction from it. Anti-speculation, like speculation itself, can have a focus upon dealing with speculation at its heart. Its attention can become overly focused on the surrounding fence—and, yes, the surrounding fence is important—to the degree that it neglects the garden the fence surrounds.

        Again, you caricature my position in speaking of a ‘clear separation between the powers of forming and filling between persons.’ This is something I’ve denied on several occasions. Forming is an undivided work of God, and filling is an undivided work of God. However, this does not do away with personal differentiation in the works of God, as John Webster and others have argued. There are modal distinctions to be drawn between the divine persons in the works and the doctrine of appropriation has its place here as well.

        My claims about forming and filling as they relate to Son and Spirit are firmly grounded in the scriptural witness and the patterns of divine action that we see in creation and redemption. In creation, we see works of forming (days 1-3) and works of filling (days 4-6). We see various modes of creation, some acts focus on omnipotent and transcendent authorship (attributed to the Father), others on powerful ‘fabrication’ of order and structure (attributed to the Word), yet others on indwelling and the giving of life (attributed to the Spirit). As we move throughout Scripture, we see these modes of creation and action appropriated to different persons of the Trinity. All of God’s work is indivisible, yet we routinely see something attributed to one person in particular (not to the exclusion of the other persons, who are also active in their proper modes in that action, but eminently). Throughout Scripture, the Spirit is associated with the giving of life, indwelling, establishment of communion, filling, generation and regeneration, perfection and completion, glory, etc. The Son is associated with the establishment of order and structure, with forming, with taming, and establishing, etc.

        We don’t have to and shouldn’t peer into the inner life of God in detachment from the creation to see how authority functions. However, in the mission of God in history we can learn a great deal about authority in the threefoldness of the authoritative action of the one God and the Trinitarian relations that exist within the mission itself. Authority is from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. The Father is the one who sends and authorizes. The Son is the one to whom all authority is given, through whom the divine authority is exhaustively enacted. The Spirit is the one in whom authority is completed and made fruitful.

        These associations do not mean that there are three separate divine agents doing God’s work, according to some predetermined divine division of labour. God’s work is undivided: he acts as a single agent, even in the incarnation. God isn’t composite or a community of independent agents, even acting in perfectly conjoint operation. However, each of the persons is modally distinguished in the undivided action of the one God and particular acts can be attributed to one person in particular in an eminent, albeit not exclusive manner. Each person is active at each point in their proper and distinct mode, consistent with their hypostatic existence, yet not identical with it (as the essential eternal processions are independent of the freely undertaken divine mission). The sort of relations that we see between the persons of the Trinity in the mission (for instance, the Son giving up the kingdom to the Father at the end) aren’t merely an analogous playing out of the processions, although they are grounded in and revelatory of them. My concern is that an unchecked anti-speculative impulse can jeopardize both our reflection on the expansive witness of revelation with respect to the threefoldness of the mission of God and our appreciation of the fact that our relation to and knowledge of God occurs within the bounds of the divine mission.

      • cal says:

        I’ll make this my comment my concluding thoughts as well: It seems like we’re on a merry-go-round. Anti-speculative theology is secretly speculative? That is a sweeping categorical claim, because it’s not obvious you understand in what ways Palamas actually contributes to this conversation (i.e. what way he fences and what it then opens us up to saying). If you did, you’d see these concerns are rooted not in abstract theory, but in phrasing that intend to make sense of Biblical data. You’re unfamiliar with it, that much is clear, but sweeping it away is unjust. Technical language of ‘begotten’, ‘procession’, and ‘ad intra/ad extra’, to name a few, can seem floating off and away from the Biblical text to the uninformed. But it is precisely for fidelity to the Biblical text these technical terms form. My claim, which you dance around, is that there is a more helpful way forward, though, this being a comment thread, I’m not going to write it out. But, as per my original comment, there’s something disturbing about the careless phrase of “triumvirate” in RStarke’s post that shows a Trinitarian theology slipping into a dissolution of the Creator/creation distinction.

        Judging by your response, I was not caricaturing your position on separation between forming and filling. The problem is not a slippage into tritheism, but the ambiguity of the Biblical data. I do not see a problem with ‘particular Person’ being recognized in Biblical revelations of God’s work (that’s clear as it is in the Bible), it’s in the gendered division between the forming (male) and filling (female) that is then attributed to Word and Spirit respectively. I, like you, find the forming/filling binary viz. Podles as helpful and illuminating, but I do not see that as helpfully applied through Trinitarian works. It is not clear to me in Scripture that accurately describes what is happening. I am on the side of the Patristics that sees Wisdom, especially in her female appellation, as Christological (which I see as on the Filling side). And also I do not see the presence of the Spirit ever a part from the Word, even if recognized as a distinction in a single, total, work. It is Christ, as Image of God, that our Humanity is imaged in, both male and female; and even as Christ, in the flesh is Male, as the Head, His Body is female. I think it is deeply problematic when the Holy Spirit becomes aligned with the feminine. While your approach is much more subtle and thus faithful, modern theologians have taken this to the point of essential division between Word and Spirit, which “enthusiasts” and “fanatics” are always wont to do.

        At the end, it’s a question of boundaries and space for Human language (which is the medium of Human reason). I think Palamas does a better job at this then you seem to think he does, and I think he offers better sense for preventing the anthropomorphic slippage Barlaam rightly condemned, even as his own apophaticism was heathenish at best. And I make this judgement not in terms of a theologic spiritual system, but seeing in Palamas, as both a skillful exegete and student of Maximus, a faithful biblical commentator.


  2. Thanks Alastair. This is vaulable contribution to the disussion. In general, I support what you’ve said here.

    I believe your point 6 is very important:
    “6. It is difficult to understand the crisis of authority in the evangelical church without also taking into account the degree to which people have been betrayed by a generation of abusive leadership. Despotic and sexually abusive leaders have scarred much of a generation and produced a deep suspicion and distrust in old modes of leadership. These leaders may still enjoy office and power, but the legitimacy of their authority is no longer acknowledged.”

    I would go further than what you said there, however. It’s not only one generation that has been scarred by abusive leadership. In my observation (working with victims of domestic abuse, spiritual abuse and sexual abuse) there are victims of all ages. And perpetrators span a wide age range too, from teens through to elderly retired church leaders.

    I agree that “these leaders may still enjoy office and power” but I dispute your claim that “the legitimacy of their authority is no longer acknowledged.” I could name many examples of abusive leaders who are still accepted as legitimate leaders by the majority of the church, but you may not want me to do so on your blog.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

      I think Roberts’ proposals can be fine-tuned a bit. The tension between There are, I would suggest, mode 2 authority figures on both sides. What he describes as mode 3 authority from blogs generally features bloggers who have a form of mode 2 authority by dint of internet access and a willingness to publish. A RHE has a mode 2 authority and a mode 3 authority but not necessarily a mode 1 unless there’s a halo effect of simply being Episcopalian and/or having had a cabinet role in the Obama administration. Mark Driscoll, on the other hand, had plenty of mode 1 institutional authority as president of Mars Hill Church and an overabundance of mode 2 authority on display, even having a fair amount of mode 3 fan support.

      In that sense I agree with Barbara Roberts that Alastair has perhaps not understood that very often the guys with institutional power have all three modes of authority at their disposal and display a propensity to dismiss and belittle those figures who may have, say, mode 2 and 3 authority or influence. This is the last part that many celebrity Christians, particularly ones with institutional backing, seem unwilling or unable to recognize about their support base. The irony is that many of the guys who take to their blogs to decry women blogging about them are simply doing more blogging while not examining the privilege and institutional authority that serves as an umbrella, so to speak, under which their blogging is regarded as legitimate while other blogging isn’t. In a phrase, it’s a paradoxical manifestation of institutional media only taking itself seriously.

      Unless Alastair means that Americans have a long history of bridling against what many people have regarded as truly legitimate authority and if that’s it, well, I’ll risk the joke that this observation about Americans has been made as far back as Edmund Burke’s address to Parliament on American taxation. 🙂

      • It must be stressed that the modes of authority I outlined is only a heuristic taxonomy and would need to be considerably honed were it to be used for more detailed analysis. The modes of authority I outlined are not exclusive to one sex or the other. Most of us enjoy aspects of each mode. However, the sexes dominate in different areas and, when they find themselves in conflict, they will be advantaged or disadvantaged accordingly.

        I have argued, for instance, that there are key differences between more basic power and empowerment. Most basic power is something you possess or create in yourself by the natural force of your agency. Empowerment strengthens one’s agency, but that strength comes from without and involves a relationship of dependence. The Internet empowers us as bloggers, but this is not the same thing as the second mode of authority.

        Someone like RHE is highly empowered, but her empowerment largely rests upon her enjoyment of a considerable amount of the third mode of authority. Remove her many defenders and the social influence she wields and she is definitely not the sort of person who has the strength of personal agency and the sort of mastery that marks her out as a robust theological adversary. However, whenever I have tried to dialogue with her on Twitter, I have come off the worst from the encounters, as she wields such influence and has so many defenders that she can fight off any challenge by exerting her social power against the attacker.

        On the other hand, Mark Driscoll definitely has an abundance of the second type of authority. However, the fan support he has is of a rather different character and is rooted in that second type of authority. It depends on his strength, prominence, and pre-eminence in the group. He functions as a sort of ‘alpha wolf’ that the rest of the pack gets behind, most particularly the males. However, RHE functions more as a ‘queen bee’. The alpha wolf has to possess the most robust agency in order to gather the pack behind him. If he were to lose his strength of agency, the pack would follow someone else instead. The queen bee doesn’t have to possess a very forceful agency at all, as her power in the group functions differently.

    • Thanks for the comment, Barbara.

      You are right: it is not only one generation that has been scarred, nor is the legitimacy of the leaders in question universally denied. My belief is that, although other generations have been hurt, what we are currently seeing is a critical mass of people who are alienated from the old leadership. There has been a sea change in the posture towards leadership. People aren’t merely thinking in terms of some individual bad apples, but are questioning the legitimacy of the leadership more broadly. As this has reached a critical mass, the legitimacy of the leadership is contested or suspected, rather than simply instinctively granted. Even people who acknowledge the legitimacy of their leaders no longer simply tend to take that authority for granted, as they might have done in the past.

      • “What we are currently seeing is a critical mass of people who are alienated from the old leadership. There has been a sea change in the posture towards leadership.”

        —- I agree, Alastair.

        Why has the critical mass been reached now? The power of the mainstream press in exposing how institutional churches covered up pedophile priests and other heinous scandals that church leaders had been covering up. And the internet enabling the networking, mutual support and activism of abuse-survivor communities. If the institutional church leaders hadn’t been so intent on covering up for heinous sinners in their fold, if they had put the heinous sinners out of the church as 1 Cor 5 tells us to do, I very much doubt whether this sea change in the posture towards leadership would have come about.

      • I think there are many reasons. The Internet itself is major one of them. The Internet empowers the masses with the means of publication and with a structure within which to form communities. As such, it really empowers people who would formerly have been marginalized.

        The old modes of authority were predominately the first and second modes. Male modes of authority naturally tend to scale a lot more easily than female modes of authority. While women can hold great influence and authority in socially saturated communities, socially weak contexts are far more dominated by men. Social media changes the balance of power by enabling socially dense communities to scale up and also weakening the first two modes of authority in their grip upon the means of publication.

        Whereas abused people could formerly easily be ostracized and marginalized within their churches—by people with all modes of authority—and they couldn’t get much of a hearing, as the institutions largely controlled the means of publication, after the advent of the Internet, they could both publicize the abuses of church leaders and form communities with others who had been abused online. This change is huge, and is the biggest explanation for why we are now seeing such a shift in attitudes to authorities.

      • Andrew says:

        Democratization also enables over-generalisation: once the bad actors are revealed for what they are, they become the public stereotype for the group, regardless of whether they represent the norm or the minority. Meanwhile, bad actors within the group are treated sympathetically, downplayed and hidden. This behaviour is not of itself unusual; what is unusual is that society is turning it against its own authority structures rather than outsiders (who often existed mostly in the abstract). Making villains of “those guys over there” is usually mostly harmless, except as a distraction from honest self-reflection. Making villains of local out-groups encourages persecution and injustice. Making villains of a society’s own authority structures tears society apart.

  3. I co-lead a blog that addresses domestic abuse in the church— A Cry For Justice.
    In our work at that blog, what Ps Jeff Crippen and I observe is that overwhelmingly the first mode of authority, the denominational churches and seminaries — and big para-church groups like CBWM, T4G, FOF, CCEF, etc. — support the more forceful male authority. And they DO marginalize, silence and yes sometimes even crush women. They especially do this to women who are stating that these institutions mistreat women who come forward and report abuse to the church leaders.

    Therefore, I agree with Alastair that in many evangelical contexts, the male ‘heads’ remain strongly rooted in their place. In my observation, these male ‘heads’ also have a bunch of female followers who blog and teach and speak at women’s conferences, recycling the mantras that these male ‘heads’ have laid down as the party line of their theology.

    These leaders (the male ‘heads’) typically give cheap grace to the perpetrators of abuse… and in doing so they RE-traumatize the victims. These leaders quite often even excommunicate the victims of abuse for ‘not reconciling’ and ‘not submitting enough’ and for showing ‘contumacy to church authorities’. And they allow the perpetrators to remain in leadership positions or they promote them to leadership positions. Yes, it’s that bad. We hear countless stories on our blog like this.

    Thanks to the liberty of the internet, people who have been mistreated by church leaders are now able to share their experiences without being so easily muzzled. Victims of abuse, and victim-advocates, are calling out leaders who’re not responding properly to abuse. They are calling out and crying for justice; they are trying to get these leaders to be accountable for their behavior. The are pleader for this leaders to repent and to learn how to better respond to reports of abuse.

    If the ‘heads’ of the institutions are circling their wagons, it’s not the fault of the victims and victim-advocate who are trying to hold them accountable. There is plenty now out there on the internet for them to learn from, numerous sites and articles and even a few good books which they can read to learn about the experiences and viewpoints of victims and improve their pastoral responses. But in our observation, the leaders almost always show a strong resistance to learning.

    Now, how does gender fit with this? Both sexes are victims of abuse and are often re-traumatized when they report the abuse to church leaders. Likewise, both sexes are perpetrating abuse: males can be perps, females can be perps.

    But the fact is, when it comes to interpersonal abuse THE MAJORITY OF PERPS ARE MALES and THE MAJORITY OF VICTIMS ARE FEMALES. So the preponderance of female victims means that females tend to be blogging about this stuff more than males are.

    I am blessed. As a female victim (of both female & male perps) and as a victim-advocate in my blogging and writing, my colleague and co-blogger is a male ordained pastor who has years of experience leading churches. I think my position is ideal. I am so grateful to God for letting this come about!

    Alastair said:
    “…men must exercise their authority in ways that are authorized and in ways that are empowering of women, that serve, protect, and give strength to their work and underwrite their modes of authority.
    “In turn, women should recognize and honour men who image the authorizing authority of church and society righteously, exercising their own distinctive moral and social authority in authorized ways to render that authority effective. …
    “Women’s voices should be heeded and carry weight in the life of the Church, not merely as a matter of permission, but as a necessity for the well-being of the community. … God created us as male and female, not as gender neutral individuals, and the differences between the sexes really do make a difference.”

    I believe what Al described there is exactly what is happening at our blog. Jeff and I have different skill sets and it’s obvious to me how our different abilities stem from and are coloured by our different genders.

    • Thank you Alastair for a thoughtful and helpful set of reflections. Your analysis of different modes of authority, in particular is worth further reflection.

      To come back to the initial agenda re the Internet and discourse, one element which goes missing on line is Silence. Silence gives context to words, indeed it may be said to birth them, but it is entirely absent in this medium. The absence of writing is not the same

      I’m not entirely sure what effect this absence has, but I sense it is a major contributory factor in much of what you set forth as the dysfunctional nature of online discourse. With a book, it can be put down. In face to face conversation of course Silence Can play a role, but I suspect we are increasingly uncomfortable with it. In an online ‘conversation’?? I don’t know but I suspect the absence of Silence to be a far more serious deficit than we imagine

      Apologies for wandering thoughts 🙂

      • I think you are correct about the importance of silence. I’ve commented a bit on the significance of the absence of silence online in this interview.

      • The importance of silence. The effect of silence.

        “Type-1 authorized” blogs — ones that are authorized by the institutional church & its parachurch limbs)— sometimes allow readers to submit comments. And when comments are allowed on a post, occasionally the post’s author actually replies(!) to some of the commenters.

        In my experience, when that happens the post’s author tends to reply to commenters who have type-1 authorized credentials (esp if the commenter is male) while not replying to the comments of type-2&3 authorized commenters. A commenter who get ignored by the author of the post feels the silence communicated to them by the author. … the silent treatment.

        So bloggers & commenters on blogs very much feel the silence of the type-1 authorized institutional church and parachurch.

        And many type-1 websites do not even allow comments on their posts -— which silences anyone who wants to dispute their point of view or encourage them to take off their blinders about the issues the type-3 bloggers are raising. I know how much time it takes and how complicated it is to allow, moderate and read comments if you run a blogger, but IMO disallowing comments, or selectively replying only to comments that come from type-1 authorized people, is dangerous for the health of the body of Christ.

      • I confess to having some sympathy for people who don’t respond to comments in such situations, or respond very selectively. It can be an open-ended time commitment and, especially on controversial posts, responding to everyone may not be the best stewardship of one’s time. I’ve generally tried to respond to people as much as possible on my own blog, but I don’t commit to responding to comments when I post elsewhere. If you respond only to some, those who don’t get responses can be offended, if you don’t respond at all, people can feel ignored, and if you respond to everyone, it will take far too much time. In such a situation closing comments makes sense.

        Of course, it is crucial for institutions and leaders to listen to and be accountable to people. While I read all the comments that are left on my blogs, even if I don’t respond, I am not sure that comments are often the most effective way for institutions to be kept accountable. However, it is essential that such ways be established and that they be visible.

      • Alastair said: “Of course, it is crucial for institutions and leaders to listen to and be accountable to people. … I am not sure that comments are often the most effective way for institutions to be kept accountable. However, it is essential that such ways be established and that they be visible.”

        I agree that comments are not the most effective way for institutions to be kept accountable. At best, they are the cries of the canaries who are expiring in the coal mine.

        Alastair, do you have suggestions for ways to be established so institutions are kept accountable? — ways that are both visible and appropriate for the internet age?

      • It really depends upon the institution in question. I think many of the problems arise from institutions that are ordered too much around particular charismatic leaders and that stronger institutions are needed to counteract this. The institutions themselves are often in thrall to the personal cults and lack power to challenge them. The deinstitutionalizing forces of the Internet and the non-accountability of many of the people who are calling institutions to account may not actually improve the problem. People calling institutions to account would be better off, for instance, if they were more institutionally accountable themselves, part of bodies maintaining standards of journalistic integrity. This would give them more credibility as they called other institutions to account.

  4. Physiocrat1 says:

    A thoughtful piece as ever Alastair. One general comment, I think the extent to which the female voice has been silenced in the church historically is vastly overblown; the muscular Christianity movement of the early 20th century didn’t come out of nowhere. Further, when you recognise the huge soft power of women, influencing men to do their will (this is not necessarily bad in anyway) female influence is often at play even though it seems they’re entirely silenced. Martin Van Creveld has a short work called the Privileged Sex which is on my reading list and you may find it of interest.

    • “I think the extent to which the female voice has been silenced in the church historically is vastly overblown”

      Physiocrat1, are you a male by any chance? If so, I doubt you appreciate the extent to which female voices have been silenced in the church.

      • Physiocrat1 says:

        Women have a lot of soft power, primarily through their husbands in the church context. Girls would be represented largely by their fathers in a similar fashion. The ones likely with the least influence are single women who are no longer at the church of their parents; to reduce this issue younger average marriage ages would aid this (the average marriage age for women in the UK is 30)

        Also I’d female voices are so silenced why is the church in general so feminised? Whenever I hear sermon on Ephesians 5 it is always focused around the husband’s responsibilities, the wife’s are stated but essentially glossed over. And I repeat if women had so little influence what explains the rise of the muscular Christianity movement and that those who identify as Christian a significant majority are female, something which does not exist in any other major religion to my knowledge.

        I identify as female btw 😉

      • A few comments on this:

        First, women’s power depends a great deal upon the context and their form of embeddedness within it. Many evangelical churches function more like matriarchies and extensions of the domestic sphere, with the male leaders empowering certain women and knocking uncooperative men into line. However, in contexts where the social fabric is weaker and interactions are less personal and more adversarial, women may struggle to find a voice.

        Second, people are often far too focused on gender struggles in power and miss the fact that intrasexual competition is the more significant force in a great many contexts. Women can use men to prop up their power against other women. If you look in the patriarchal narratives of Genesis, for instance, reluctant men are often the pawns in women’s struggles with each other. Abraham is used in the struggle between Sarah and Hagar and Jacob is used in the struggle between Rachel and Leah. What might look like pure patriarchal oppression is often instigated by key women for their advantage.

        Third, it is important to notice that many female voices are silenced in such a situation. Women who lack a strong relational network to give them social influence, who lack a committed husband or male defenders to give them agentic empowerment, and who lack official authorization or status to give them the weight of legitimacy are easily mistreated by all parties with impunity. This isn’t merely because they are women, although women are more vulnerable to being treated in such a way.

        Fourth, this is important to notice in cases of abuse. Women provide much of the power that can enable abuse, because their power and influence is contingent upon the power of the men they are socially protecting. If they throw their abusive husband or pastor under the bus, suddenly their whole sphere of influence goes up in flames. So they can gather around the abusers and freeze out their accusers. While the Internet’s opening up of the means of publication helps accusers against more male modes of authority, its opening up of the means of association helps them against more female modes of authority.

        Fifth, the feminization of the Church has definitely been a problem in many contexts over the last couple of hundred years, especially where church leaders have been implicitly regarded as partisans of their female congregants against the failures of their own sex. Many complementarian circles can function in such a manner. However, the leaders of such churches can often be overly subservient to the wishes of their wives and the powerful women in the church, in ways that enables those women to use them to squeeze out women they dislike. Alternatively, men to whom women look for empowerment can often use women’s dependence upon them and social support of them as cover to engage in abuse. They can abuse the women who are weakest in terms of the female networks of influence and they know that the influential women will often tend to rally behind them against the abused party. The position of ally and advocate is one of the strongest positions from which the male abuser can act. Men can be more alert to the dynamics of this sort of thing and will often be suspicious of the motives of men who side with women rather too consistently.

        Sixth, flat understandings of authority and power are also part of the reason for the downplaying of women’s responsibilities and overplaying of men’s. Evangelicals, both complementarians and egalitarians, tend to think in terms of men possessing most authority and power and women largely lacking these things. This may be regarded as an injustice to be addressed, or a divinely established situation to be preserved, but few actually consider the possibility that submission may be a characteristic form of women’s authority. Whether, how, and to whom a woman submits is one of the most powerful social forces out there. Women who submit to abusers for the sake of their social influence and empowerment can destroy others. Women who aren’t very submissive can lead men around them to conform to their wishes, acting as if their palace guard, preventing them from upholding the truth. Women who are submissive in the Lord are a source of strength and life to those around them, not as people abandoning their agency and nullifying their authority, but as those faithfully exercising them.

      • Physiocrat1 says:

        Insightful thoughts Alastair especially regarding in regards intra-sex competition. In many cases women’s concern for their appearance, from my experience, is largely so they can be considered more beautiful than their rival females by their peers rather than to impress men; some of their concerns, such as not wearing the same clothes as another woman, simply do not bother men in the slightest.

        In regards my second post my main point was that there has never been a systematic silencing of female voices for being female. There are contingent factors which may lead to this in some cases but it isn’t a conscious attempt to silence them as a class

      • I’ve commented on that effect before. These dynamics are often blamed upon the patriarchy, but when you look closer things become a lot more complicated. When people fail to attend to intrasexual dynamics, they miss a lot.

        For instance, there are standards that men have for women and there are standards that women have for women, just as there are standards that women have for men and standards that men have for men. The male urge to be a man’s man is far more than simply an expression of the urge to get a woman, but also involves the urge to have standing among other men and cultivate and express his own manliness.

        Likewise, women are not merely competing for male attention, but competing for status among their peers, in ways that go beyond the quest for male attention (which is just as well, as men aren’t always the best at paying attention!). Women can expose other women’s bodies (or their relationships, homes, families, or lives more generally) to far more critical and unforgiving scrutiny than men can in many respects. Men don’t even notice many of the things that women are looking for.

        And the women that other women most focus upon and idolize are often not the women that are most fixated upon by men. Rather, they are the women who are most effective in intrasexual competition, a struggle that is fought on many fronts, not just in the quest for male attention.

        Much the same can be said of men. There are some men that women gush over that aren’t really idolized by men in the same way. Even though these men may never struggle to get a woman, they appear unattractive to other men as they may capitulate to female influence and values and lack strength, standing, and honour among men. Both sexes tend to prioritize the pursuit of the proper dignity of their own sex and can penalize those who sacrifice this for the sake of easy attention from the other sex as they weaken everyone else of their sex.

        Yes, claims about the systematic silencing of women as a group often fall apart under examination. Although women have often been silenced and suppressed, the dynamics are typically a lot more complicated than people think. However, as people are taught to think chiefly in terms of a struggle between the sexes, they can become unable to see the struggles within the sexes, and miss a lot of the dynamics that are involved. Furthermore, much of the conflict that is most immediate to women’s lives is not adequately spoken of or understood, as those driving the conversation are invested in blaming it all upon the patriarchy.

  5. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    Alastair, you wrote:

    “‘Authority’ is a term that has close associations with notions of powerful agency. In this sense, the person with authority is the pre-eminent person in a group, the person whose agency is most strong and developed. The authoritative person is the person who has pronounced, forceful, and confident agency by which they can put themselves to the fore.”

    I take that to be mode 2 authority.

    I contest the idea that mode 2 authority is necessarily predominantly male. There’s a sense in which any blogger who hits “publish” is making a bid at a kind of mode 2 authority. It will often lack any validation from a mode 1 authority, of course, but that doesn’t mean that a blogger can’t wield (or aspire to) mode 2 authority. Many men have access to all three modes and have a history of dismissing those who may have just modes 2 and 3 (i.e. popular bloggers).

    What may be happening with blogs is that those who have mode 2 and mode 3 authority are running into a dynamic in which those who have mode 2 and mode 3 buttressed by mode 1 institutional backing refuse to take them seriously.

    • I’ve addressed this above. I think you are confusing the personal enjoyment of the second mode of authority with enjoying empowerment by the second mode of authority. These aren’t the same thing.

      It should also be noticed that, although everyone is empowered by the Internet, there are marked sex differences in the way this empowerment is expressed. For instance, men dominate in socially weak and combative contexts, where the most forceful and confident voices and agents are advantaged. However, women tend to dominate in socially dense contexts, where they can exercise their authority to fuller effect.

      • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

        I’m willing to stand by my proposal that literally anyone with access to any form of mass media or social media is potentially capable of mode 2 regardless of other variables. What I’m finding I’m contesting is the clarity and usefulness of mode 2 as it’s currently defined. On the internet what you’re describing might be a distinction without a difference. But if mode 2 can’t be construed as applying across any and every social context I’m not sure how useful it is. I’m getting the impression that Mode 2 either only has any bearing in contexts in which Mode 1 exists or as an attempt to leverage Mode 3, depending on the context of who is enjoying (but not having?) Mode 2 in what context.

        I’d say it’s less a matter of my confusion of the categories 1 through 3 than the way you’ve defined them in your heuristic. Modes 1 and 3 seem clear, but mode 2 is not really that well-defined. If there’s a distinction to be made between the “enjoyment” of mode 2 authority and what mode 2 authority somehow “is” it needs to be fleshed out, since a person’s work could “enjoy” a kind of mode 2 authority by dint of his/her work while having been dead for centuries, like the work of Jane Austen. Austen being dead for centuries doesn’t mean her work isn’t influential.

        It is also possible for a person to enjoy mode 2 authority without using his/her birth name as Erik Blair could be said to have done writing as George Orwell. If all mode 2 depends upon for definition is a forceful personality this highlights the dependence on any mode 2 expression on mode 1 permission. There might even be a threshold past which the only meaningful distinctions could be between distributions of mode 1 and mode 3 since in any partisan scenario mode 2 is a given, given how vaguely you’ve defined it.

        But I’m not seeing a single case, yet, in which any iteration of a mode 2 form of authority isn’t dependent on the norms and resources of a mode 1 authority, regardless of any mode 3 popularity ranking.

        I still (I hope obviously) think your heuristic is potentially useful if we don’t reflexively assume the modes don’t have constant room for overlap and interdependence.

        RHE’s third mode depends on first mode endorsements by companies like Thomas Nelson or whoever publishes her work now. Bloggers can have their blogs immediately rescinded or revoked depending on what their hosts consider in line or out of line. Janet Mefferd ended up taking down a variety of materials she published in the wake of her public accusation that Mark Driscoll was a plagiarist, for instance. These examples suggest that in historical and practical terms the taxonomy of modes 1 through 3 need to be understood as interdependent. A Pravda can have a lot of formal mode 1 authority and very little mode 3 authority.

        A perusal of the governing documents of Mars Hill, while it existed, removes any doubt as to the level of mode 1 authority Driscoll really had, his overabundance of mode 2 being universally acknowledged, even, sort of, by Driscoll himself. 🙂

      • Everyone who uses the Internet is empowered in some respect. However, if you look at the overwhelming majority of online realms of discourse where the social fabric is weak and people are arguing about viewpoints, for instance, they are dominated by men. It isn’t that women don’t have the empowerment of the technology, its that such contexts are overrun by people with the most forceful, assertive, aggressive, and confident agency, and that tends to be men. Women struggle to make themselves heard, as the most assertive dominate such contexts. Men can thrive in adversarial contexts of discourse, we like sparring with others, having our thinking and ideas stress-tested, being pushed by others and pushing back.

        About 80% of commenters on online news sites are male. If you look at the reasons women give for not editing Wikipedia (where 90% of editors are men), you will notice that much of them have to do with a culture that privileges confidence, assertion, and those adversarially inclined. No one is forbidding women from participating and they are largely technologically ’empowered’ to do so, yet men’s exertion of the second mode of authority will have a forbidding effect for those with less forceful agency.

        Lecturers in universities often comment on the same problem. Open discussions will often tend to be dominated by a few male voices. If you want equal participation in the conversation, you will often have purposefully to give women space in the conversation, rather than expecting them to take it.

        This is just one example of what I am referring to in speaking of the second mode of authority. Empowerment doesn’t make it disappear.

      • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

        Well, the 8:28 4-30-17 explication of mode 2 makes it seem even more vague. Statistical patterns in male and female conduct in the public sphere makes mode 2 seem like straightforward bullying and domineering derived from chauvinism rather than anything like an actual mode of authority, if that’s what you’re really meaning by mode 2. But coming at this from a background in studying journalism (if only as an undergrad) it seems to me that whatever mode 2 is must be parasitically dependent on mode 1 or mode 3 momentum or inertia.

      • It isn’t bullying or domineering, at least not necessarily, so much as a form of interaction that plays to strength. One gains standing through demonstrated strength. Strength is demonstrated in situations of combat and risk. This combat needn’t be antagonistic at all. Rather, it is typically agonistic, adversarial but not vicious.

        One could compare it to competitors on a playing field, each trying to push the others to their limits and/or overcome them. There need be no hatred or animus involved. They will shake hands when they leave the pitch and may well have gained a firmer respect and appreciation for each other through the engagement.

        The authority comes from proven strength: strength of agency, strength of arguments, strength of nerve, etc., etc. The strength is only truly proven in situations of risk or challenge. If there is no proving of strength through challenge, many of us are reluctant to recognize authority.

        Many of us love such forms of engagement. We want to play to our strengths, to be challenged and pushed, and to be given the opportunity to prove ourselves. Indeed, being able to function well when tested in such ways is a key dimension of what we mean when we talk about manliness.

        When you read my post, you didn’t just accept my claims on the basis of some authority I possess. Rather, you determined to find the measure of my position through the testing of argument and challenge. Even though my position may be a largely correct one, I still have to prove its strength in argument if I want it to be accorded weight.

        You aren’t bullying me in testing my position in such a way. I appreciate it and welcome the challenge! However, in my experience at least, women disproportionately find such interactions, which are typical and generally friendly interactions between men, to be intimidating or even hostile and can be discouraged from speaking their mind as a result.

        No chauvinism need be supposed here. Testing the strength of people who want to lead us is not a bad thing. If we don’t subject ideas to intense stress-testing, we can fall prey to error that is protected from challenge.

        We can be naturally suspicious of people who want to lead, but don’t want to be tested. Conversely, we tend to look to those who have proven their strength under testing for leadership and tend to accord them a natural authority. This is a real problem for those who don’t or can’t express their agency in the same assertive and forceful ways, or who find challenging environments hostile and threatening.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

      Well, needing to make a distinction between the enjoyment of a mode vs. the mode itself still suggests to me your definitions are unclear and preliminary, but since you seem set on the idea that I’m not getting it I can only hope that you come up with clearer and more concise definitions of the modes of authority and their respective enjoyments somewhere down the line.

      • I don’t see where I distinguished between ‘the enjoyment of a mode vs. the mode itself’. I distinguished between the enjoyment of empowerment by a mode of authority vs. possessing the mode itself, but that is quite a different distinction.

        What does it mean? Imagine the weak kid in your gang as a child. They have hardly any strong agency of their own to speak of. However, every time someone crosses them, they get their big brother to beat that person up. Now, such a person possesses none of the second mode of authority worth speaking of themselves, but they are most definitely empowered by such an authority, as it is exercised by their brother on their behalf.

  6. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    in reference to modes 1 through 3 authority, a case study comes to mind. When Driscoll was dismissive of bloggers there was a limit case, when Wendy Alsup began to blog public criticism of Driscoll’s conduct and teaching she did so as someone who hade mode 1 authority in Mars Hill as someone who led womens’ ministry. Since she wasn’t fired or dismissed she didn’t exactly “lose” the mode 1 authorization she had while she was there, so when she began to publicly criticize Driscoll’s teaching or conduct the possibility of a three mode public platform in which a woman who served in ministry at Mars Hill could address Driscoll’s behavior was possible.

    Pertinent to Alastair’s observation that women have wanted mode 1 authority to act on their behalf, in the history of MH we may have had a case study in which what needed to happen was for someone, a woman who had mode 1 influence, to begin to address concerns for the public record before mode 2 and mode 3 authority/influence could come into play. For my part, it was possible to play a role in documenting that Driscoll himself regarded Wendy as having mode 1 authority within the history of MH because she was not like the women he regarded as too often wanting power and influence. It might be possible to overstate the significance of Driscoll having retroactively vetted the character and credibility of one of his public critics in a way he could not take back, but it’s worth noting.

    Even in my own case, a friend noted that MH formal leadership couldn’t dismiss me as a sour grapes aspirant to formal leadership because I took roles in ministries at MH after being actively recruited by the leaders. When mode 1 authorities seek you out to serve in the church it becomes much, much harder to dismiss you if you decide the leadership culture needs some constructive criticism. So even in my case there was, arguably, too much of a history of direct mode 1 authorization to ignore. I used to serve in a ministry that answered questions on behalf of Driscoll regarding theology questions. MH couldn’t easily attempt to dismiss my blogging without eventually having to field the question of why I was somehow 1) not credible on the subject of publicly criticizing Driscoll yet 2) WAS credible enough that the elders of MH regarded me as someone who could field theological questions on his behalf while I was a member of the church and actively recruited me into that ministry. Even as a lay person who’s been a blogger I have regarded mode 1 authority as an important issue bloggers are too often tempted to dismiss.

  7. DLE says:

    Seems to me that much of this issue is driven by two questions evangelical leaders cannot stop asking:

    “How do we look?”
    “Are we in control?”

    These are the wrong two questions to ask. That they continue to be ruthlessly obsessed over explains much of the present condition of evangelicalism.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

      DLE, yes, and that seems to be as true for “thought leaders” as it is for institutional leaders.

      I was telling cal (I think) over in the comment section of my blog that my frustration with evangelicalism (still willing to identify as one) is that, to the extent that evangelicals have intellectual capital, they keep squandering it fretting about why people don’t take them seriously rather than attempting to address problems anyone else on earth would actually care about.

  8. Physiocrat1 says:


    The asymmetries of preference of male character and disposition by males and females is very true. For example, most men despise boy bands and the the effeminate masculinity on display but teenage girls, typically, can’t get enough of it. It would be interesting to conduct a poll in which you choose the character that is the best exemplar of manhood and womanhood from TV, film or books and then correlate the results by gender. My prediction would be that James Bond ranks much more highly with men than women. I’d probably choose No.6 from the Prisoner which probably largely explains our political disagreements.

  9. Geoff says:

    Thank you for sketching the foundational ideas for your blog and how you’ve arrived at your present place in writings and church. The comments I make are from my training, qualifications, age and experience in the legal profession and in management in the NHS, which is not of the 80’s 90’s generations, and as a convert to Christ at the age of 47.

    Here are some random thoughts on your latest post.

    1 Authority
    1.1 Your writing on authority is necessarily narrow in scope, and does not cover leadership and management, beyond some limited reference to church settings. There is much the church leadership could learn from without, even without straying from scripture principles. What is so special about “heuristic taxonomy” that it seems to be a disregard of the libraries of science of management and leadership. It is not suggested that this blog should be the fount of knowledge on authority, but to ignore all that is can be seen as a discredit.

    1.2 Authority also brings discipline with it, both positive and negative discipline. I recall an edict from very senior management that it would be “career limiting” to any staff who did not carry out government policy.

    1.2 Your statement,”The authoritative person is the person who has pronounced, forceful, and confident agency by which they can put themselves to the fore. “ seems, uncharacteristically for you, rather simplistic almost a caricature.

    1.3 There is a more nuanced relationship between authority and influence than seems to have been recognised, (though your third mode may be seen as “influence”) between what may be illustrated by concentric circles with a small inner circle of real control, surrounded with a much larger and wider circle of influence. Influence may indeed exert control, indirectly. Hence blogs and the internet generally,voices to be tested and weighed by and with truth, evidence, and source reliability, even when “authority referencing” is abhorred and, paradoxically, may be used as a reason to discount and discredit and oppose.

    1.4 Is authority, granted or conferred. earned? There is a need to consider the “What, when, why and how of authority.” And whether there is a distinction between real, ostensible, apparent, implied, representative, authority. Is authority situational? What about delegated authority and accountability of authority in it’s exercise and to whom?

    1.5 In the law of agency, the agent carries the authority of the Principal, to act and contractually bind as Principal.

    1.6 From my experience in the NHS the exerise of your second mode of authority is far from “overwhelmingly male”.

    1.7 I may have missed any mention of the authority of scripture and it’s outworking in Christian lives and relationships Church.

    2 Trinity

    2.1 I’ve already commented in your earlier post on the trinity, that in my view it is an error of category to equate Trinitarian theology, relations within the trinity to fallen human male/ female relationships. Yes, there are servant-headship relations between male/female, husband/wife, groom/bride of Christ. But I do not see anything supporting dominion/rulership, nor anything which supports your second mode of authority, nor relationship by command even though commands may be necessary in some organisations. In my marriage, I fall way short on serving my wife as Christ serves his bride, the church.
    But here, in saying it is an error of category, in my ignorance I’m risking a disservice to all the esteemed theologian past and present.

    4 Our triune God. Here my ignorance is great, but there seems to be much intellectual, philosophical, speculation going far beyond scriptural self -revelation by God. And it causes unnecessary and harmful division in the church, where there is to be unity in Christ and the Spirit. It also seem to go beyond living out life as a worshipper of the true triune God, beyond knowing God, beyond knowing Christ. The current disputations, go way beyond overt blasphemy that pertains in some so called Christian circles where the is a communion liturgy to Mother god (e.g. Methodist in UK) and in others where the trinity is denied by stating that the OT times were times of the Father, Christ’s life were times of the son and now we are in times of the spirit, that there is a chronological sequence.

    There is no Christianity without the unique Triune God, who we can know , but not completely understand with our finite minds, We can know the triune God in and through our union with Christ.

    All of this may seem unduly critical. It is meant to show that the church in the fallen world does not not posses all knowledge, though God is the fount of all truth. It resides in Christ, is Christ . But what do I know? From one adversarialy inclined, as much by training as nature and nurture. Interesting, or not, in my former professional position it was dominantly driven by a sense of justice, of equality before the law, which was far removed from the Social Justice Warriors of today, and exercised in a formal forum with balanced rules of engagement and argumentation and generally opinion not permitted, unless expert (carrying connotations of authority.)

    • Thanks for the comment, Geoff. This will have to be my final comment on this thread for now.

      Yes, there are definitely some lessons that the Church could learn from without. However, I was not trying to provide an account of the specific concrete forms that authority takes or should take, let alone an account of leadership and management. Rather, I was trying to pare things down to some of the most basic elements of authority, elements that seldom if ever appear in their pure form, but which, if properly appreciated, can explain a great deal about dynamics between the sexes in many contexts.

      This is not to say that my rough taxonomy of authority doesn’t have something to say to large institutions such as the NHS, but such institutions are typically and increasingly characterized by fairly peculiar (and unhealthy) patterns of authority at their heart and shouldn’t be taken as models. More importantly, however, your comment gives me occasion to distinguish between the contexts of authority I am speaking about and the contexts that most people think about when authority is discussed. The difference is profound and it needs to be recognized.

      Any institution that is as vast and complex as the NHS will tend to mystify these dynamics, as will much that is written on leadership and management, as it is designed for such complex institutional contexts, contexts that are both alien to and alienating of natural human dynamics. Such institutions can have a Kafkaesque character of obscure authority, where it is far from clear whether and where any human being has true authority at all. Lines of accountability, responsibility, agency, and the like are opaque and heavily mediated, and diffuse throughout an inscrutable system.

      Such institutions tend to function more as large and impersonal organizational structures, with more scientific principles of management, within which individuals must function according to highly developed codes of gender neutral and gender neutralizing professionalism, purposefully designed to dampen and displace many more organic human forms of personal interaction.

      ‘Authority’ in such a context tends to be primarily expressed in terms of rules, policies, standards, etc. of the organization, administered by its appointed functionaries. Much of the purpose of such an authority structure is to close down any sort of pronounced agency or authority on the part of those within it. It is designed to reduce authority as much as possible to rules and the following of them. Such systems tend to dispossess their servants of their natural forms of authority, giving them authority that is built around dependency to replace it. If you are professional, you can rise in the system, be empowered by it, and gain administrative authority as one of its higher functionaries. But you are alienated from any natural authority of your own.

      Of course, people are never reduced to mere cogs in a machine, and more organic human relations continue in such an environment, albeit in a very heavily dampened form. The process is more far gone in some contexts than in others. The education system has increasingly divested teachers of their natural authority in their classrooms, of their discretion in the treatment of students, of their control over what they teach and how they teach it, etc. However, teachers are still able to express some degree of personal agency and sovereignty in managing their classrooms. Even though these developments are further gone in some contexts than in others, at the moment the movement tends to be in one direction.

      The virtue celebrated by such an environment is consummate rule-abidance within the system: professionalism. People are expected to be scrupulous, diligent, compliant, obedient, and smart servants of procedure, while largely lacking agency and authority of their own. The bureaucracy and management structures of such institutions tend to be designed to do away with the need for responsible agency and personal authority as much as possible. While many ‘teaching professionals’ have a host of virtues that make them wise and gifted instructors of children, the system is designed in a way that downplays and displaces such individual agency and virtue-formed character and replaces it with standard procedures and a more generic professionalism. Professionalism substitutes for virtue and character: provided that you are ‘professional’, it doesn’t matter so much what sort of person you are in your ‘private life’, for instance.

      In the process of these developments, people are robbed of actual authority and alienated from their labour. They become primarily servants of a system that rents them as persons in order to manage its own authority. They work for the organization, but they don’t truly have a recognized stake of ownership in it, nor do they have the full dignity of responsible agency in their own exercise of labour. The workforce of such an organization isn’t really an authoritative body, with true sovereignty within and over the institution they work for and the labour that they exercise within it. They are optimized material for the system’s operation, human resources designed to be as exchangeable and biddable as possible. Authority is overwhelmingly displaced, being situated largely in a system outside of and beyond human relations. People are authorized and empowered by the organization, but they don’t have authority of their own. Even the discretion that the organization grants to those within it may be as minimal as possible.

      Yet service for a wage can substitute for a more natural sovereignty and authority in a realm of human labour and affairs and professionalism can substitute for what were once more prominent organic human virtues: courage, initiative, resolve, loyalty, compassion, hospitality, love, etc. The sort of authority that the wife and mother can enjoy in the life of her family and community is not the sort of authority that one will encounter in the contemporary workplace. When such a woman enters the workplace, she is expected to compartmentalize herself off from all of this, functioning as a generic and discrete ‘professional’ instead, acting purely in terms of the hegemonic authority of the system that employs her. Although the system will happily ‘empower’ her, act on her behalf, and appoint her as one of its functionaries, it still retains its monopoly on authority in such actions. Likewise, the man cannot truly exhibit ‘manliness’, a natural mode of authority, as such a virtue of agency threatens the system’s monopoly.

      Wendell Berry expresses the problem rather scathingly as it applies to men:

      …despite their he-man pretensions and their captivation by masculine heroes of sports, war, and the Old West, most men are now entirely accustomed to obeying and currying the favor of their bosses. Because of this, of course, they hate their jobs—they mutter, “Thank God it’s Friday” and “Pretty good for Monday”—but they do as they are told. They are more compliant than most housewives have been. Their characters combine feudal submissiveness with modern helplessness. They have accepted almost without protest, and often with consumptive relief, their dispossession of any usable property and, with that, their loss of economic independence and their consequent subordination to bosses. They have submitted to the destruction of the household economy and thus of the household, to the loss of home employment and self-employment, to the disintegration of their families and communities, to the desecration and pillage of their country, and they have continued abjectly to believe, obey, and vote for the people who have most eagerly abetted this ruin and who have most profited from it. These men, moreover, are helpless to do anything for themselves or anyone else without money, and so for money they do whatever they are told. They know that their ability to be useful is precisely defined by their willingness to be somebody else’s tool.

      The further we get from such ‘professional’ contexts, however, the more organic human authority will come to the fore. The Internet provides examples of such contexts, contexts where we don’t function according to a code of professionalism and operate as functionaries of some system’s authority, while being alienated from our own. Online we can see the greater natural power of men to generate power structures in action and the tendency of men to dominate in contexts where strength of natural agency is allowed to have fuller expression and they aren’t alienated from their agency by controlling systems. Likewise, we can see the greater power of women to form communities around themselves and the sort of profound influence this can give them, a sort of influence relatively few men possess.

      Families and churches are other environments where authority takes more natural and non-alienated forms. The ‘discipline’ and ‘accountability’ that accompany authority in such contexts are of a profoundly different character from the ‘policy handed down from on high,’ that one might encounter in a massive centralized organization. Different forms of authority can be granted, recognized, accorded, asserted, demonstrated, tested, in various ways. Any form of authority, as I have suggested, will tend to depend on others for its expression and proper recognition.

      When people act with their own natural authority, rather than as the limited and alienated functionaries of the authority of some system, gender differences can be quite pronounced; the difference between ‘maternal’ and ‘paternal’ authority can be quite apparent, for instance. Predominately male forms of authority that are tested through forceful challenge in contexts where people must prove themselves are seen to be different from predominately female modes of authority, where authority arises from the person’s power to gather others around them in community, protection, and support (both, by the way, can involve very strong personalities: it is the manner of agency in which they chiefly differ). Many churches have adopted the modern bureaucratic organization as their model of authority, operating according to codified, rationalized, and formalized principles, operating either through organizational structure or organizational culture. However, Scripture’s models are more familial and organic.

      I think you are significantly misunderstanding my argument on the Trinity and gender issues. First, on the issue of the Trinity, I haven’t ‘equated’ Trinitarian relations to fallen human relations. What I have done is argue for limited analogies between the pattern of God’s work in the divine mission of creation and redemption—within which I argue forming and filling are eminently appropriated to the Son and Spirit in key ways respectively—and the labour of men and women. Second, where did I say anything about men exercising dominion over women? Men’s leading role in dominion is a form of authority directed out into the creation, a form of authority that Adam was created for, commissioned to do, and being trained in before Eve was ever created. As this form of authority functions in relation to women, it relates to the man’s duty to use his greater power of dominion in the wider world in order righteously to serve, protect, and glorify his wife, family, and community.

      I share your concern about unbiblical speculations about the Triune God. However, on the other hand, I am frustrated by people’s failure to engage in searching exploration of what Scripture has revealed to us about the Triune shape of the divine mission. While I don’t believe that we have biblical warrant to speak of the Spirit as feminine, for instance, I am also concerned that people don’t pay attention to the way that the work of the Spirit is so often aligned with the work of women, while the work of the Son is associated with the masculine work of a son, bridegroom, king, etc. The Spirit is the one who gives life and the one who establishes communion. The Spirit is the one by whom we are born again. The Spirit is the one who groans within us in the context of the birth pangs of creation waiting for the revelation of the sons of God. The Spirit is the one associated with the Bride. The Spirit is the one in whom life and growth occurs. The Spirit is the one who forms God’s dwelling and home with us. While the Father’s work is eminently associated with transcendence and the Son’s work with direct engagement in presence, the Spirit’s work is eminently associated with a profound immanence.

      We need to be very careful of how we handle such things, of course, but we must handle them and we shouldn’t be blind to the Trinitarian patterns of God’s indivisible labour and their analogies with the patterns of human labour that God created in order to follow and fulfil his own creation. The eternal Trinitarian relationship between Son and Spirit is of a totally different character to that which exists between man and woman. However, there are very limited yet important analogies to be drawn between the labour of the Son and Spirit in creation and redemption and the way that God created man and woman to labour together in his world.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I know this is your last post on this thread, Alastair, but the sense of despair and alienation in your quote from Wendell Berry and your comments about the teaching profession rang a few bells with me! For many years I taught part-time and a buzz-word seemed to be ‘accountability’. I’m think this fits in somewhere with authority, but I’m not sure how. I once made a list of people I was accountable to, as were others who, like, me, were on the bottom rung of the hierarchy. Here are some of the people on my list:
        Line Managers – head of faculty, deputy head of faculty, head of year, deputy head of year, head teacher, deputy head teacher, head of special needs
        School governors
        pupils (some of whom had decided that it was a good idea to threaten to sue teachers)
        Minister of State for Education
        Examination boards.
        I sometimes wondered who was accountable to us!
        I don’t know whether or not this incident illustrates some form of authority: we had a shortage of chairs in the department; I got fed up of asking numerous people if we could have more chairs; kids got fed up of sitting on the floor. One lesson I asked a group of children to help themselves to chairs from a nearby staffroom and they came back with armchairs, revelled in the situation, and worked hard all lesson… and I was not sacked!
        I retired from teaching ten years ago, but I remember it well, and I don’t envy people who are still stuck in that treadmill.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

      Geoff, your doubts about mode 2’s definition resonate with me. It’s an uncharacteristically vague definition. Given the topic at hand is mass media (of which social media is a part) it’s still not clear why this mode 2 necessarily exists as a distinct category. Coming at this from studying journalism and a bit of media theory, it seems mode 2 would apply to literally everyone who avails themselves of social media, which is a subset of mass media, could be said to have some level of mode 2 “authority”. One of my favorite publishers of classical guitar music once wrote that we have to admit that at some level ALL publishing is vanity publishing, we think highly enough of what we think to make sure it gets published for others to read. Mode 2 is, in a mass media context, likely to be parasitically dependent on mode 1 or mode 3 or, likely, some mixture of the other two. Someone has to LET us use social media before we can make use of it. Mode 2 may be how a person acquires and retains mode 1 or mode 3 authorization but without ultimately securing one or both of the other two, mode 2 has little meaningfully definable existence in mass media. It has “some” use in describing a style of interaction but it seems the more Alastair tries to define mode 2 the more it seems like it is, so to speak, a mode of deploying or securing mode 1 or mode 3.

      Pertinent to Barbara Roberts’ comments, any mode 2 manifestation in a mass media/social media context is going to have mode 1 or mode 3 authorization and men with institutional connections will tend to have all of modes 1 through 3 whereas blogs may have very little of mode 1 (which they must have in the sense that someone, somewhere, actively or passively lets them have a blog) and perhaps a lot of mode 2 and mode 3 by dint of participation in the use of mass/social media and a following. The problem may not merely be restricted to the Christian blogosphere. A journalist once told me that one of the pitfalls of blogs is that even when they have excellent work and are well-researched tine institutional press, as a general rule, only respects itself.

      • In all of your comments about the second mode of authority I have described, you really don’t seem to get it. You seem to be speaking past my position, rather than engaging with it. This may very well be a failure of clarity on my part, although other people seem to have a good idea of what I am referring to.

        The sort of authority I am referring to with mode 2 is closely related to features typically associated with ‘manliness’, things like mastery, strength, courage, and honour as they play out in many different forms in various contexts. The manly man can exert a sort of natural authority over a group, an authority that isn’t merely exercised by force or command, although it depends upon the robustness and quality of his agency. Even physical features associated associated with such a form of agency can lead people naturally to treat a person as more authoritative (a deeper voice, for instance). However, this authority is highly dependent upon the testing and proving of strength, through struggle, argument, labour, competition, etc. This isn’t the same thing as bullying and domineering. People who pick on the weak, rather than on people their own size, lose honour.

        One doesn’t gain such authority by being empowered to post one’s opinions online. However, one can gain such authority as you prove yourself capable of arguing your case, fighting your corner, and winning out against various opposing positions. People probably won’t come to your aid, develop a deep emotional connection to you, or form a close community around you as they do in the case of people with the third mode of authority. However, they will defer to you in other ways and regard you as possessing some sort of authority, even if no one has authorized you. And being allowed to use social media counts for virtually nothing. In fact, having one’s social media accounts removed is far more likely to be a sign of this second mode of authority: it would be a sign that you have enough authority of your own to represent a threat.

      • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

        Well, yes, perhaps I don’t seem to get it. I keep seeing this definition of what seems to be mode 2 authority:

        “‘Authority’ is a term that has close associations with notions of powerful agency. In this sense, the person with authority is the pre-eminent person in a group, the person whose agency is most strong and developed. The authoritative person is the person who has pronounced, forceful, and confident agency by which they can put themselves to the fore.”

        It’s just never been clear why those people who possess this kind of authority actually need testicles. What is it about mode 2, but not modes 1 or 3, that makes testicles necessary?

        It may be I get this aspect of your definition of mode 2 but not why you omitted the necessity of testicles for mode 1 authority or mode 3 authority. Does Camille Paglia somehow lack mode 2 authority after all this time, for instance?

      • They don’t need testicles at all, just as people with the third mode of authority don’t need a womb. If you look back through my claims, you should see that I’ve never claimed that the second mode of authority is exclusive to men, just that, descriptively, men consistently dominate in it in society. There are women like Paglia or Thatcher, who clearly possess a pronounced form of this authority. However, they are peculiar in this respect, exhibiting a sort of agency that is far more commonly found among men. We all know women who have this sort of authority, but in this fact they are perceived by many to be more ‘masculine’ in their behaviour. They will often also tend to gravitate to male groups and norms, and may not fit in so well among other women.

      • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

        Then I would say that, as mode 2 is defined, it can only ever be A) a style of using mass media that is gained through either mode 1 or mode 3 or B) the credential by which you get access. Either you’re part of the media industry itself or you make use of a free platform like a blog and build up a popular audience but mode 2 is only ever a potential means to getting 1, 3, or 1 and 3 together. You or I could have all the mode 2 authority in the world on topic W but if the gatekeepers and/or the populace at large want Y or Z then all that mode 2 authority is obviously for naught.

      • Again, I think you are misunderstanding my position here. Perhaps it is because you are narrowly focusing on mass media. My focus is on broader natural interpersonal dynamics, with media only being one context where these dynamics are seen. People with a lot of the second mode of authority will dominate agonistic environments more generally. These environments may be informal or formal ones. They may involve authorized ‘platforms’ or positions empowered by technology or some other agency. However, the differences will still be in effect.
        Another key point to notice is that much of my concern is about the interplay of modes of authority. That Twitter could cancel a person’s account if they chose doesn’t mean that the only authority exercised on Twitter is one given by Twitter.
        Likewise, you seem to have mistaken the third mode of authority for something like popularity or having a supportive audience. That isn’t what it is. Both the second and the third mode of authority have forms of relationship to a wider body of people. It is the difference between the sort of relationship that exists that is key.
        Camille Paglia, for instance, has a large fan base. However, they don’t relate to her in the same way as people tend to relate to people with the third mode of authority. They wouldn’t typically rush to her protection, appeal to authorities to ‘no platform’ her critics, and shield her from direct challenge. No, direct challenge is what they want and is why they support Paglia in the first place. They want to see her dismantle her opponents, not to protect her from them through indirect forms of conflict.
        By contrast, more typically, feminism has been characterized by mode three authority, with lots of appeals to authorities to act on their behalf, use of indirect social means to close down and ostracize opponents and avoid direct challenge, and use of social power and pressure to compel assent to positions that cannot be vigorously stress-tested by argument.
        In her own perverse, trollish way, Paglia is someone who recognizes the difference I am highlighting, although she tends to glorify masculine agency and pathologize weaker women. She berates women who lack agency of their own and expect others to protect them. She emphasizes men’s greater agentic and world-mastering power and women’s natural control of the sexual and emotional realm. She sees men as the model to follow in the realm of the formation of civilization, also suggesting that the more feminine a realm becomes the more it surrenders agency. For instance, “Great women scholars like Jane Harrison and Gisela Richer were produced by the intellectual discipline of the masculine classical tradition, not the wishy-washy sentimentalism of clingy, all-forgiving sisterhood, from which no first-rate book has yet emerged.”
        I believe Paglia’s vision is fairly unhealthy and misanthropic in many respects, but she is a lot more alert to the reality of sexual difference in these areas than many of her critics. She recognizes men’s stronger agentic drive and argues that civilization is a ‘male epic’, within which women have now been given a part, while also maintaining that women are naturally the more powerful sex on account of their peculiar centrality in the core human relational realm.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        It’s worth pointing out that in the Germanic warrior band, men, like Beowulf, strove for, and attained, the second sort of authority; whereas women, like Wealtheow or Hildigunn (from the Njáls Saga) possessed the third. Note that Beowulf gained his authority first, by boasting of his prowess, and then, second, by killing Grendel, and it was this physical prowess in defense of Heorot that prompted Hrothgar and his warrior band to offer Beowulf gifts, and indeed, the kingdom. Wealtheow, on the other hand, exercised authority by the way she spoke to Beowulf as she offered him drink, inciting him to vow to kill Grendel or die trying; and Hildigunn, in Njáls Saga (which I haven’t read–I’m drawing off the peerless Lady with a Mead Cup), exercises authority, and secures vengeance against her husband’s murderer, by the careful manipulation of symbols, and the presentation of her dead husband’s still bloody cloak to someone with type 2 agency, which incites him to avenge her husband’s death.

        Furthermore, both sorts of authority were necessary for the preservation of the warrior band (and positions allowing the exercise of the different sorts of authority were institutionalized and existed in Germanic society across time and space), and so, in a sense, mutually dependent. However, neither of the forms of authority are modern phenomena dependent on mass media.

  10. Geoff says:

    Thank you for your considered response Alistair. I’m amazed at your prodigious immediate output, from a thoroughly active mind, that reveals the depth and width of my ignorance, and limited faculties of communication.

    It is realised that you don’t want to prolong this particular post having indicated that you are drawling a line in the sand so I’m not really anticipating or seeking a rejoinder. There are one or two points I’d seek to clarify. (new paragraph numbers.)

    1 Authority.

    1.1 The example I gave from NHS , does an overall disservice to all who work there, as it was an extreme to make a point, but I’m afraid your reading of the NHS and its structure and systems buys into common fallacies about it and operations. It certainly doesn’t seek to mystify , but to clarify dynamics. Neither is the structure impersonal throughout.

    I use the term science of management and leadership in that it is quantitatively and qualitatively studied. And the methods of scientific research differ from the study of of change and improvement which is, or can be, organic, creative, from the “bottom up “, rather than “top down”
    The questions concerning authority are not not merely systemic and includes multi-disciplinary teamwork, with various conflicts of interests , and value bases of individuals, and motivational factors. I find your “male” motivational factors extremely limited, takes no account of scientifically evaluated factors, such as Maslo, Hertzberg, XY7Z theory and various others along with the assessment of personality types (Myers-Briggs) and the science of the management of change. Myers- Briggs personality testing has already found its way into some parts of the UK Church, and it’s far from stereotypical male /female drivers.

    Within the church there are authority structures and some see ordination as a profession, as it used to be in scholasticism , and in some denominations there is a clear division between staff, stipendiary and lay, non stipendiary ministries, so the distinction between NHS professions and those in the Church doesn’t seem to be as clear cut as you seek to make it. In many respects the Church is akin to legally constituted voluntary organisations in the UK.

    Some traditions in training their ministers,even counsel against friendship with individual church members, Others see Church as first and foremost, family.

    How about yours? Where does authority reside? (I’m not expecting an answer.)

    In my experience the Church is as much, if not more, “top – down” in it’s approach to authority than in many places in NHS, even where there are Church Councils (CoE, Methodists) as well as where the church is Eldership led.

    1.2 Wendell Berry

    Even more of my ignorance was exposed here: I had to look him up on no less than Wikki!

    I clearly don’t inhabit the same world as he did. My grand-dad was a coal miner, my dad a factory foreman. My dad was in WW2 , g/dad in WW1.

    This is not to disparage or gainsay all he wrote, or his life, by an off-hand, ignorant ,summary, but it seems as though he was an idealist. From dim memory , I think I’ve come some either his ideas or similar in Nancy Piercey’ book “Total Truth” from a few years ago which I still have – ideas of self employed, self sufficiency, self -supporting family,land based. In Piercy’s book there is a brief trace of this life- style in history in the USA. But to return to Berry’s quote: I consider it to be deeply flawed , stereo typical, and slightly high-handed and superior, perhaps exaggerating to make a point, but he ignores all I’ve mentioned above in regard to motivation, much of which was known in Berry’s day.

    I’m not seeking to deny there my be some residual or vestige of male motivation that he paints in mono-colour in some circumstances but did he include of exclude himself from the description?

    2 Trinity
    2.1 It’s not you, but others, who seem to use there view of subordination within the trinity , to defend, define male/female relations, but again I could be wrong, that they have done so. Apologies for not making that clear.
    2.2 I accept your limited analogies relating to forming and filling.
    2.3 Again, you have not said anything about men exercising dominion over women. Apologies again for not being specific, as, if you got the wrong impression, others are likely to have done so/ History has shown, and marriage counselling today reveals that “headship” has been seen as “rules over”. In effect ”command and control “ or “dominion” of husband over wife.
    2.4 Work of the Spirit. Yet again my ignorance is revealed. I’ve not heard nor read anything like this, “While I don’t believe that we have biblical warrant to speak of the Spirit as feminine, for instance, I am also concerned that people don’t pay attention to the way that the work of the Spirit is so often aligned with the work of women, while the work of the Son is associated with the masculine work of a son, bridegroom, king, etc. “ But why should I be surprised, though words do fail me. I’m now aware, but not edified.
    You say this: “The eternal Trinitarian relationship between Son and Spirit is of a totally different character to that which exists between man and woman.  “ That is the point I was seeking to make and thought I’d done so. We work together, male and female, independent, distinct, but interdependent – a team.

    • Geoff, I can’t give a proper response to your comments. While it is clear that we don’t see eye to eye on some key issues, I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful pushback. It really is appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  11. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair, I think your example of a weak younger brother being empowered by a strong older brother is a good one, by which I mean that I understand it, and I’ve been struggling a bit with concepts of authority, so if I understand it, it must be good 🙂
    For some reason it reminded me of a situation when I taught German to adults at evening classes when our children were young – at that time I was a full-time Mum during the daytime. In one group there was a good mix of men and women, but it soon became apparent that one man had not come to learn but was more interested in demonstrating what he already knew. He dominated the conversation with accounts of time he had spent in a German prisoner-of-war camp and he spoke a lot of German and spoke it fluently. The trouble was that, in addition to his German being grammatically incorrect (though fluent!), he also spoke in a dialect. I commented that he was speaking in a dialect and added that I found dialects fascinating, but I also pointed out that the course we were using in the class was in standard German, Hochdeutsch, and I wanted to keep to that in class, though I would be happy to chat about dialects during coffee breaks.
    This man was not deterred by what I said – he was convinced that I was getting German wrong and he refused to accept my authority as a teacher. This situation was resolved by some other men in the group who led by example and brought us all back to task by asking me questions about texts in the book we were using. These men had no institutional authority but they acted authoritatively by bringing us back to task and, in doing so, they empowered me – a bit like the older brother empowering the younger brother in your example, but using different strategies. They maintained these strategies for a few weeks and the ‘dialect’ man eventually left the group!

  12. Pingback: (Un)Orthodox Schismatics? | Re:Forming Theology

  13. Pingback: Christian Socialism? – The Fir Tree

  14. Pingback: Of Hatmaker And Heresy - - Watch and Read Latest Worldwide News

  15. Pingback: 2017 Retrospective | Alastair's Adversaria

  16. Pingback: The Forever Idiot Machine - - Watch and Read Latest Worldwide News

  17. Pingback: The Forever Idiot Machine – Novus Vero

  18. Pingback: The Forever Idiot Machine – USSA News | The Tea Party's Front Page

  19. Pingback: Pope Oprah – Novus Vero

  20. Pingback: My Writing on Jordan Peterson | Alastair's Adversaria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.