Before I bought Under Cover: The Promise of Protection Under His Authority, I already knew that I wouldn’t agree with the author’s view on authority, but I hoped to at least get to enjoy the seven hours I spent reading it. I didn't. I felt as if I was reading an autobiography that worked really hard trying to convince people that they should pay their leaders well, stop griping, and get on with the program. There is, of course, nothing wrong with wanting to get the respect one feels one deserves; as a feminist author I work hard to get people to treat women with respect and dignity, but as a Christian I also believe that one’s claim must be based on sound biblical theology. And that is what is so profoundly irritating about this book: the sloppiness, the selective reading, and the glaring contradictions. People who go to the Bible to confirm their beliefs do find what they want and need, but they won’t find the evidence they need to convince those who didn’t already agree with them before viewing the proof.
The singularly biggest error John Bevere makes is reading far more into Romans 13:1-7 than the text itself allows for. That all authority comes from God (as a result of sin, mind you) doesn’t define who has the authority, when, how, and why. Bevere has to make a massive leap from civil authorities to religion, home, and educational facilities (none of which are in view in Romans 13) to support his belief in the existence of “delegated authority.” He doesn’t present any other Scriptural evidence as far as authority structures are concerned; reciting Old Testament events doesn’t explain how people in the New Testament should respond to leaders and who they should be, especially since he glosses over all women leaders such as Deborah, Huldhah, Queen Jezebel, (being evil doesn’t disqualify one from authority according to Bevere), Junia, Priscilla. It is one of the most glaring omissions in the book, but easily explained by Bevere’s insistence that no matter how much you believe you’ve heard from God, if it contradicts the opinion of those in authority and is not a clear biblical command (p. 159), you have to obey the delegated authority in your life—unless that delegated authority is your mother and you believe you have a calling in your life to go to Bible College and your Catholic mother disagrees; in that case, “Jesus said to us, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). Strengthened by these words and many similar ones in the Gospels, I knew I had to choose between my mother and father, whom I loved very much, and Jesus’ call to serve Him. There was no hesitation in my decision” (p. 195). Since Bevere believes parental authority ends when (an adult) child gets married, he clearly didn’t want to take his own advice on this matter.
Bevere delights in pointing out original Greek words, something I delight in as well, but he does so in an awkwardly selective way. The book is literally littered with cases of poor scholarship and thinly veiled attempts to find proof where none is to be found. The following are only a few examples:
a) Bevere writes, “Peter continued, “Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). He not only exhorted us to submit but also to honor authorities. The Greek word for “honor” is timao, which means “to honor, to have in honor, to revere, to venerate.” It is the same word Jesus used when He said, “I honor My Father” (John 8:49).” (p. 88-89) Peter tells husbands to “give honor” (timao) to their wives in 1 Pet 3:7. Yet, Bevere believes husbands have authority over their wives; mutual authority (1 Cor 7) doesn’t exist.
b) Hebrews 13:17 (in the original) says, “Esteem (peitho) your leaders and yield (hupeiko) to them.” For Bevere’s concept of “obedience in actions, submission in attitude” to work the text would have to use the words, “hupakouo” (obey) and “hupotasso” (submit). It doesn’t.
c) Bevere claims Eve heard about the forbidden tree from Adam and never asked God about it (although she walked with God every day in the cool of the evening), and for this reason she didn’t have “revealed knowledge” only “communicated knowledge.” He comes to his conclusion in a rather odd way:
“And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Gen. 3:1–3) First, notice when the serpent questioned God’s command, the woman responded, “We may . . .,” rather than a reply such as, “God has said . . .” This is a classic response of one who has heard orders or rules secondhand. It is not the response of a person who has the heartbeat and motive of the One who originated the command. (p. 38-39)
But Eve does say, “God has said.” It’s in the very text Bevere quotes, yet, he seems unaware of what he himself just typed, or perhaps he just copied and pasted and ignored the body of the text.
d) According to Bevere, everyone submitted to the decisions made by James in Jerusalem, including Paul, which Bevere believes describes the authority of James (p. 17). Yet, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote about James, Peter, and John, saying “whatever they were” made no difference to him, for God doesn’t show favoritism (Gal 2:6-7). He doesn’t mention being under anyone’s authority, instead, he publicly opposed Peter when he refused to eat with the Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14).
The book was written in 2001, just before the heydays of the market-crashing housing speculation. Why do I mention this? Because I’m sure this book influenced more than one person with its prosperity Gospel leaning, “what you give to your leaders, you get back from God,” “God wants you to be happy, healthy, and wealthy, and submission to authority is the only way there,” preaching.
That's the carrot.
There is also the stick.
I could almost have forgiven his excessive use of exclamation points, which makes the book shout at you instead of letting you quietly take in what is written, had Bevere actually cared to show a bit more restraint in his attempt to guilt all of us into accepting his authority (which is what the book is really all about) by allowing for individual freedom. Bevere goes so far as to claim that a believer who has failed to submit to delegated authority will not inherit the Kingdom of God (p. 158). But when he begins to tell his readers that failure to recognize delegated (his own) authority is equivalent to witchcraft, I lost all interest in the book (I still finished it, but couldn’t recommend it even if I wanted to).
Throughout the book I was waiting to find what Bevere has to say about church leadership as every Christian knows there are false teachers in the church. If all (true) authority comes from God, how can we know whose authority is truly from God? The answer comes at the end of the book and it is rather unsettling:
“When we are truly saved and seeking the will of God, we will recognize legitimate authority in the church. Jesus said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17). The key is found in the words, “If anyone wills to do His will.” When we have a heart after God, He gives us discernment by the Holy Spirit. As John confirmed, “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things” (1 John 2:20)” (209).
Since we can’t know God’s will until we have submitted to God’s authority through delegated authority we are all left guessing and never really knowing, especially since according to Bevere we aren’t allowed to second guess or look for what the leaders are actually doing—unless there is clear sin in the leader’s life, but until that discovery, how much false teaching have we already absorbed?
In the end I found that “Under Cover” is an attempt to justify an authority model that has little to do with the Bible, that exists to elevate some above others (usually men, but also some women), that has no Scriptural basis, ignores intersectionality, and is ultimately hurtful for the growth of individual believers and therefore the entire church (1 Cor 12, Eph 4, Rom 14). God has a much better way, and it begins with all those “allelon” words that Bevere among others ignores: “Submit to one another,” “Love one another,” “Serve one another.” Self-giving servanthood is God’s way.
How much authority do servants have?