Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Complementarianism: A Gospel Issue?

Yep, it sure is. Below is my response to a recent post at "Jesus Creed," which seems to be a gathering place for less conservative Christians (some of them quite militant). Scot McKnight has blasted the "slippery slope" argument made by complementarians, so I gave him one that is derived purely from exegesis of Ephesians 5. It's not even deep exegesis - just obvious.

Ironically, some of the commenters at "Jesus Creed" have gone all the way down the slippery slope even as they vehemently deny the existence of such a slope. No argument needed, the proof's in the pudding. Anyway, here's my response, which is comment #152 in the thread:

1. Ephesians 5 prescribes gender-related roles to men and women in marriage.
2. Ephesians 5 compares these gender-related marriage roles to Christ and the Church (i.e. the Gospel)
3. Ephesians 5 specifically attaches the man’s role to Christ’s work (especially his death & self-denial) and the woman’s role to the salvation/sanctification/glorification experience of Church.
4. Ephesians 5 says gender-related roles in marriage are directly linked to the Gospel.

The Gospel is to be directly applied to marriage, but in different ways for men and women.

This is the foundation of complementarianism: gender-related roles based on the Gospel.

Now, let each one step back and preach the Gospel to himself (or herself). Does Christ initiate love toward the Church? Or does the Church initiate? Does Christ lead the Church? Or does the Church lead Him? Does Christ have authority over the Church? Or is the Church equal in authority with Christ? Who dies for whom? Who leads whom? Who carries the greater weight?

No slippery slope here. It’s just simple exegesis of Scripture that can’t be denied by anyone who accepts the Word as it is written.

An Egalitarian can certainly believe the Gospel, but he (or she) will be in defiance of Ephesians 5, and will have to explain away several other passages that link gender roles to the Biblical facts of creation and the fall.

Now, here IS a slippery slope I’m observing: Deny inerrancy . . . call the creation and fall in Genesis “figurative” or a myth . . . do away with the NT gender roles that are built on the creation & fall you don’t believe actually happened. The Gospel is tied to all of this, and can’t be separated by the sincerest idealism. Seems like some here are proving the slipperiness of the slope they don’t think exists. But keep in mind – this is not my argument, just an observation. My argument is that Ephesians 5 proves that the Gospel and complementarianism are indispensably linked. Any group or person that wants to be defined by Gospel-centeredness will necessarily follow Ephesians 5 into some form (even a mild form) of complementarianism.

We can applaud the Gospel Coalition and T4G for taking this unpopular but thoroughly Biblical stance.


  1. Hi Derek,

    Can you help me think about what to do with my gifts of understanding a scriptural text, communicating the truths of scripture, and helping others to observe, interpret and apply God's word? This isn't meant to be a trick question - and I do see myself as a gospel-focused complementarian. As a high school literature teacher I spend a lot of time teaching others about how to analyse texts, and I'm genuinely confused about my place in the church and how to relate to other members of the body if I see something they don't see in a passage. I'm very comfortable with male headship, but not sure where to go with my skill set.

    Thanks for any help you can offer me.

  2. Anonymous,

    First, a little disclaimer: I try to respond to all questions and inquiries made here, but I typically avoid getting into discussions with anonymous commenters. Total anonymity tends be problematic in a forum like this.

    That said, I thank you for your questions, and I'm flattered that you would ask my thoughts about the situation. I commend you on calling yourself a complementarian. That label can bring a great deal of derision in today's world, where so many unbiblical cultural norms are now considered self-evidently true - even in the Church (and even if one has to water down and distort Scripture to maintain the cultural norm).

    I assume you are female, and this is why you ask the questions you have asked. Before I say anything else, I must recommend you discuss this matter with your husband (assuming you are married, and particularly if he is a believer) and with the most godly women you know. Also, your pastor might be an ideal guide.

    With all of that out of the way, I would simply note that in Titus 2 the "older women" are commanded to teach and train the younger. So there is certainly a place (indeed, a necessity) for women to share their insights with other women. This much is a Biblical command, and you should seek to obey it.

    Beyond this, much depends on the convictions of your particular church. Milder complementarians see no problem with a woman teaching a mixed group, so long as she remains under the authority of her husband (assuming she has one) and the church leadership. There are more rigid complementarians who would not accept this. I'm not in that group, but if it is the conviction of your church, I recommend working within the system. Personally, I would try to avoid a church that is so rigid if I could. But God leads us, and He sometimes leads us to places where we aren't in perfect accord on all points. I've been in churches where women have been given more - and less - teaching opportunity than I think is Biblical.

    However, the main point of complementarianism is that men and women occupy different roles and carry out different responsibilities within the family and the Church (and ultimately society at large). This does not necessarily boil down to a prohibition against women sharing Biblical insights with men. Some complementarian churches will allow a woman to teach men from the pulpit, some within the small group setting, some through the gift of prophecy, some in a Sunday school class, etc. The convictions differ, but in each case they are trying to live out the Biblical Complementarian model of male leadership in a way that honors and benefits women. Obviously, there are places where male leadership is abused and women are considered second class citizens. This is tragic, but no reason to jettison the Biblical teaching on gender roles. Egalitarianism is sometimes an over reaction to an imbalanced version of complementarianism.

    Personally, I've been greatly enriched by the insightful observations, exhortations, and Biblical exegesis of godly women. This is good, and I thank God for it. On the other hand, I wouldn't place myself or my family under the spiritual authority of a female pastor. As I currently see things, there is a Biblical line drawn there.

    Incidentally, it was my wife who helped convince me that a complementarian approach is more Biblical. Previously, I was convinced by my teachers in Bible College that the Egalitarian view is far better. I've studied and lived a lot more since then, and I've discovered my wife's wisdom is very good.

    This has turned out to be a long, meandering response, and I hope somehow it is helpful to you.


  3. Thanks Derek :) that's helpful.


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