Back in 2010, I wrote Exploring a Woman’s Freedom in Christ, a series of posts on the increasing number of problems I saw with the complementarian view as it was being promoted among some of its more prominent spokesmen and women. I was at the point where I could no longer call myself a complementarian even though I am pretty conservative theologically in most other ways. But the logical conclusions of complementarian theology seemed to contradict the words and actions of Paul and Jesus himself again and again.
At the same time, I wasn’t comfortable labeling myself an egalitarian either as I was still thinking through the elder/pastor/hierarchy in the church issue. I do believe God created men and women to complement each other, but not in the way that popular complementarians are promoting that has an unhealthy emphasis on hierarchy and power. So the past few years I’ve been living in this nether-land, not knowing what to call myself. Writing the series helped clarify my thinking and I also hope in some small way it has contributed to the increasing discussion of these topics online.
I have never understood why people say this is an unimportant secondary issue. To me, it seems critically important as it impacts every aspect of a woman’s life. Is it a primary, gospel and salvation issue? A few years ago I would have said simply no. But now I would say, no, not in most cases.
Why the change? Because some of the teachings coming out of the complementarian camp are becoming more and more radical and it is starting to border on a salvation issue. Not that I believe a Christian has to believe one way or the other (complementarian versus egalitarian) to be saved. Instead, some of the ideas being promoted by complementarians are becoming dangerously close to a false Gospel as it pertains to the relationship of a man, a woman, and Christ.
Often when I’ve written these posts or read posts on other blogs, complementarians have pushed back that the view of complementarianism being presented isn’t really what complementarianism is. (See Voskamp, Challies, One Thousand Gifts and What is Truly Ironic to Me.) I think many of the average complementarians really don’t know what is being presented out there in the name of complementarianism. And they don’t know that the most extreme views are the ones that are becoming more mainstream and considered more representative of what complementarianism is.
They haven’t fully grasped the logical, negative outworkings of the complementarian theology as it is being promoted by many.
I think that is finally starting to change.
Pushback to Complementarian Theology
If you missed it, there have been a number of posts lately by or about complimentarians that have provoked much discussion. I suspect that complementarians are really starting to feel the heat, especially after John Piper’s proclamation that the church has a masculine feel. There has been much more written about the problems with the complementarian view since that comment went forth. I think it is finally starting to sink in in some of the complementarian camp that they have been doing a poor job of understanding why people are seriously concerned about their teachings.
For too long complementarians have written off any criticism of the complementarian view without seriously addressing the questions. I think they thought only fringe, far-left kooks would question their complementarian view. But the pushback has been growing, including among many of us who are conservative and right of center theologically.
Here is a list of what I’ve been reading and digesting. Then I’ll share a few of my own thoughts…
What Complementarian Theology Leads To
Karen did a great job of pointing out the inconsistencies in Will the Real Complementarian Please Stand Up? She summarizes three complementarian views being promoted by prominent complementarians that are not consistent with each other. This post was written partially in response to Mary Kassain’s post Complementarianism for Dummies in which Kassain attempted to define complementarianism the way it was originally meant by those who “created” it. Kassain was a part of the group in the 1980’s that wrote the Danver’s Statement and coined the term complementarian.
(WARNING: ADULT CONTENT FOLLOWS)
The popularity of the vile book Fifty Shades of Grey amongst even some women in the church (!?!??!?!?!) has spurred some related topics. Karen wrote an excellent piece entitled Why are Christian Women Reading Fifty Shades of Grey?.
And then Jared Wilson at The Gospel Coalition wrote The Polluted Waters of Fifty Shades, Etc. in which he quoted Doug Wilson’s book Fidelity: What It Means to be a One-Woman Man. (Please note: Jared has since removed the post, but you can read the offensive quotes if you take the links below to Wade or Karen’s posts.)
To say that people were deeply offended by the quote wouldn’t even begin to touch on it. Wilson and Wilson claim to be misunderstood, but what I can’t fathom is why Jared Wilson and The Gospel Coalition can’t understand the outrage over the quote. I think Jared Wilson meant well with his post but was naive as to how it would be received. But the view of marriage and sex being promoted in Doug Wilson’s quote is so offensive… I’m just at a loss.
(If you somehow aren’t familiar with Doug Wilson, Dee and Deb at The Wartburg Watch have been covering a number of topics related to him including Doug Wilson: Fashionable Calvinista Has Disturbing Views on Slavery.)
Several bloggers responded to Jared Wilson’s post and Doug Wilson’s book excerpt. Here’s a list of what I found most interesting. Please note that I am not endorsing the content and/or comments of these posts or the sites themselves.
- The Only Thing Worse than a Church Full of Women Reading 50 Shades of Grey Is a Church Full of Men Reading Fidelity: What It Means to Be a One-Woman Man from Wade Burleson
- When virile goes viral: more muddled complementarianism from Karen at ThatMom
- Sex, Authority/Submission and Remarkable Insensitivity from Internet Monk
- The Gospel Coalition, sex and subordination and Some Final Thoughts on The Gospel Coalition, sex and subordination from Rachel Held Evans
- Sex is What I Do WITH My Wife, Not TO My Wife from Evangelion
- The Language of Abuse from From the Fig Tree
- “Benign” Christian Patriarchy and 50 Shades of Grey: A Response to Jared Wilson from The Piety that Lies Between
Problems with Complementarianism
The things I took away from watching all this unfold…
1. Complementarians have a serious problem in getting out their message in an accurate way.
Prominent complementarians don’t even agree on how to define their views and the most radical complementarians are the ones getting the most coverage. Complementarianism is suffering from a serious identity crisis that has gotten significantly worse over the past year.
2. Egalitarians are consistently dismissed when they raise red flags about the logical outcomes of the comp teaching.
This continues to happen. The fact that concerned people were told they had reading comprehension problems because they didn’t understand what Wilson and Wilson really meant only adds fuel to the fire. Will this finally wake up the apparently naive leaders in the moderate complementarian movement to the fact that they have a serious PR problem on their hands? We’ll see.
3. Situations like this do not help Christian homeschoolers and I continue to be concerned that they will come back to haunt homeschoolers in the future.
I read a couple of posts by non-Chrsitians that spun off this controversy. Christian homeschoolers are being connected to the most extreme examples of complementarianism and patriarchy that deny women educational and personal opportunities. Again, the most vocal and visible examples of this teaching are the most extreme and also the best funded. Unless the moderate complementarians get a hold of the situation, Christian homeschoolers could suffer some serious consequences as a result.
4. Although I still cannot put myself 100% in the egalitarian camp, situations like this reinforce for me the fact that the egalitarian view makes the most sense biblically in so many ways.
The mental gymnastics that comps have to go through at times (like But What Should Women Do In the Church? by Wayne Grudem) convince me more and more that the Body of Christ is not to be hierarchical and that an egalitarian marriage (which I am blessed to have) is one of the greatest gifts God can bestow on a man and woman. My egalitarian marriage is just so simple. And for that I’m profoundly grateful. My heart breaks for the women and men who are in unhappy marriages as they try to navigate the confusing teachings of the complementarian and patriarchal camps.