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  • Jonathan Shumate

Toby Sumpter's Bull, Pt. 1

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Toby Sumpter, a pastor of a church in Moscow, Idaho, recently penned a blog post regarding the controversy over John MacArthur’s statement that Beth Moore should, “go home,” and not be preaching. I am a complementarian and ordained minister in the PCA, and yet I found Toby’s post to be deeply flawed in its logic and theology. This article is a response to his. To be clear, I am not going to interact with the Beth Moore/John MacArthur controversy in this article. My issue is with Toby’s explanation for why he supports MacArthur’s statement.

To the average reader, it should be mentioned that Toby is associated with a movement that embraces a view of men and women commonly referred to as biblical patriarchy. Much has been written about this view, but I want to state clearly that though they claim to be complementarian, they are not. They hold similar views to complementarians regarding male-only ordination, but beyond this there are many disagreements. The reader can read more about Doug Wilson, so-called biblical patriarchy, and the rest through a number of good resources already made available.

In my article, I want to respond to a few of the significant errors in Toby’s article. It is my belief that these errors are indicative of the patriarchy position and betray their true status as a cult.

The first significant flaw with Toby’s article is that he encourages and counsels idolatry within the church. Idolatry is the worship of anyone or anything other than God. In his article, Toby extols two idols: himself and the home.

He makes an idol of himself when he describes, without any biblical support or citation, the kind of preacher, and the kind of preaching, that is to be done in the Church. Toby claims that most men who preach (even in complementary circles) are “soft men” with “soft preaching,” which is juxtaposed with “masculine preaching.” Of course, what “soft men” are, and what “soft preaching” is, in juxtaposition to “masculine preaching,” are not explained with any biblical evidence or exposition. In fact, his description of so-called soft preachers is the equivalent of what one would expect from a bully on the playground at recess. They are men characterized as those who mince words, lisp, share their feelings, and try to relate to everyone in the room with stories, illustrations, and jokes. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, his argument is that the reason so many women can be pastors is because so many male pastors might as well be women for how they behave.

The truth is that Toby’s attempt to categorize good pastors and bad pastors through a gender paradigm of "masculinity" is a doorway that leads to idolatry. This is because he sets himself up as the final arbiter of who is, and who isn’t, a "masculine preacher." The inevitable result is that Toby believes all preachers should look, act, and think like him. He is the ideal preacher, his opinions are God’s opinions, his preferences equal to God’s Word. This is idolatry of self. Toby is looking at himself in a mirror as it were, and then saying, "This is what it means to be a rightly called and practicing preacher in God’s household." He hides the idolatry behind the tribally approved term “masculine preaching,” but in doing so, Toby is removing God’s Word as the standard by which we establish qualifications for preachers, and putting his word in its place. This is idolatry. Toby is not God; and he does not get to redefine godly preachers or preaching in his image under the guise of what he self-defines as “masculine.”

The second way idolatry shows up in his article is when he claims that a woman’s glory is her home. This is also idolatry. A woman’s glory is not her home, a woman’s glory is her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Women, like men, are made in the image of God, and redeemed in the image of Christ. Her calling is to become more like Christ just as it is a man’s. When he declares that a woman’s “real glory” is her home, he is situating domestic life at the spiritual center of her life. Toby makes this crystal clear when he claims that on the Day of Judgment, God will ask Beth Moore (and presumably all women), "What she did with the glory of her home that He gave her?" There is not one Scripture to support such an assertion. Women are not held up to a different standard of judgment or glory than men.

This idolatry is exposed whenever you consider the possibility of a woman who is not married. If a woman’s home is her glory, then a woman without the kind of home he describes, is a woman without glory. Indeed, his teaching would quite easily lead to a woman in such cases believing that her singleness is shameful. Yet the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 seems to say the exact opposite:

“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.”

Here the Apostle Paul is encouraging single men and women to consider remaining single that they might be able to live with singular focus on serving the Lord with their lives. It is hard to reconcile his words here, even if one takes them as contextualized to the situation in Corinth, with Toby’s. If it is true, as he says, that a woman’s glory is her home, then this would supersede even temporary trials such as what the believers in Corinth appear to be undergoing. At no time would it be permissible for Paul to encourage women to remain unmarried if it would mean that she would be judged by God for it. A clear reading of Paul’s words directly contradicts almost everything he says about women and their glory in his article, and this is because everything he says is built off of idolatry of himself and the home.

A Christian’s glory is Jesus Christ, and a woman is commanded to glorify Him in all ways and at all times with her life, just as a man is. This is exactly why Paul can also say in Galatians 3:27-29, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” He is not obliterating ethnic, economic, or gender distinctions, but saying that in light of redemption, all believers share in the same body—Jesus’; have the same calling—honoring Him with their lives; and the same promise—eternal life with Him in the new heavens and new earth. A woman does not have, “a different glory.” Her glory is just like a man’s, Jesus Christ.

The Appeal of Toby’s Idols

A few thousand years ago, God’s people encamped at Mount Sinai and covenanted with God. While Moses was up on the mountain, the Israelites grew fearful and worried, and in their anxiety, they rushed to make a god bearing the ubiquitous symbol of strength in their world—a bull. They channeled their unbelieving fear and fleshly desires for security into worship of it, and God was so angry that he would have wiped out the entire nation had not Moses (who possessed a speech defect) interceded on their behalf. Toby’s idols are no different.

Many American Christians today feel deep anxiety and fear over how to live in the modern world, and over what we see happening in our culture, and we are just as prone as anyone else to flock to culturally meaningful symbols of strength and security. Toby happily provides the idols for us to do so. In his article, Toby speaks to several major fears conservative complementarian Christians have: feminism, the erosion of culture, dwindling influence and significance in society, confusion over gender roles, modern pressure on marriage and family, lukewarm Christianity, and more. He speaks to these fears and he holds up a shining beacon of strength. If male preachers were more "masculine," if women were focused on their "real glory" in the home, then so many of our deepest anxieties could be mitigated and the things we fear would get better.

Just as the golden calf was deeply attractive and soothing to the Israelites several thousand years ago, many evangelical Christians are attracted to Toby’s idols of strength and security, but these idols cannot save us, they cannot fix our problems, and they cannot bring peace into our hearts and lives. Like all idols, what they will do is drive us harder, and harder, and harder to get the results we want from them. We will spend our lives looking for more and more “manly” churches and pastors; we will strive harder and harder to get “the culture” out of our lives; men will tell their wives all the ways they are falling short of, “the glory of the home;” women will respond by trying ever harder inwardly and outwardly to live up to this glory. It’s a never-ending cycle that will require more, and more, and more out of its adherents, until eventually one realizes the only way to really do it is to move up to Moscow, Idaho and ensure one’s whole family is thoroughly entrenched in Toby’s community.

In the end, Toby’s rebuttal of Beth Moore, and his support of John MacArthur, are not toward the end that people worship God, but that people worship the idols he has setup as gods—himself and the home. This is not a satisfactory response to egalitarian views. Simply proof-texting a few verses that relate to the marriage covenant does not mean his teaching is biblical. Toby preaches himself and his definitions as the standard for what qualifies a man to preach, and he advocates for women to worship the idol of home and family in place of Christ. These are no small things and they should not go by without rebuke.

Part Two can be read HERE.