Thursday, May 5, 2011

Egalitarian vs. Complementarian

It's a strange thing to admit, but when I got married 10 years ago, I was what you would call an evangelical feminist.  I believed men and women were equal and I hadn't given much thought to the scriptures that said wives were to submit to their husbands.  

Then I got married.  My husband told me later that he knew there were some things that needed to work themselves out in how I viewed marriage.  Only a few months into our marriage, the Lord began convicting me about submission.  I had to learn what it meant.  

Galatians 5:22-24 NIV
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Over the next few years, I often pondered, prayed, and read what the Bible says about marriage and about my role in marriage.  In time, I found peace in my heart as I came to accept that God calls me to submit to my husband in His Word.  As much as my heart was rebellious at times, I couldn't deny what the Bible said.

Amidst those ponderings, I heard a lot of wrong messages of what submission is and what it looks like.  I finally found a book last year that I feel comfortable recommending to other women about submission.  It's called Dancing With the One You Love by Cindy Easley.  Ms. Easley speaks to the heart and is straight forward yet her writing is filled with grace.  In her book, she addresses what submission is and then what it looks like in seven different and difficult circumstances.  What I've discovered over the past 10 years is that submission doesn't look exactly the same in every marriage, but that it is our hearts as wives that matter.  

When I realized what the Word said about submission, I also realized that submission runs contrary to the idea of women being pastors and elders.  The Word also has a lot to say about this.  In I Timothy 3, it is written that overseers must be the husband of one wife.  In other places in the Bible, women are exhorted not to be in authority over men or to teach men. (I Timothy 2:12).  If a woman is a pastor, then she is necessarily in authority over her husband.  You can see that I ran into problems logically as I began to dig into what the Bible said about submission and church leadership.  For years, I had thought it was okay for women to be pastors.  

I have several friends who've gone to seminary over the years.  I grew up in a liberal Quaker church thinking that men and women were created equal and are equally able to be a pastor or leader in the church.  In my black and white strong willed mind, I struggled not to disagree with my friends' decisions and many friends who felt (and still feel) it is okay for women to be in pastoral leadership.  It was also hard to disagree with what I'd believed for so long to be right.

What complicated my struggle was the realization that submission in marriage and female pastoral leadership are not salvation issues.  So, in the end, do they really matter that much?

I couldn't shake the feeling that yes, they do matter.  They matter quite a lot.

I just finished reading an excellent book titled Evangelical Feminism:  A New Path to Liberalism by Wayne Grudem.  In the first chapter, Grudem identifies exactly why I've been so concerned about these issues all these years in this quote:

"this issue of egalitarianism and complementarianism is increasingly acting as the watershed distinguishing those who will accommodate Scripture to culture, and those who will attempt to shape culture by Scripture...there are issues more central to the gospel than gender issues.  However, there may be no way the authority of Scripture is being undermined more quickly or more thoroughly in our day than through the hermeneutics of egalitarian readings of the Bible.  And when the authority of Scripture is undermined, the gospel will not long be acknowledged." p. 19 

Grudem defines theological liberalism as "a system of thinking that denies the complete truthfulness of the Bible as the Word of God and denies the unique and absolute authority of the Bible in our lives." (p.15) He also defines on the same page evangelical feminism as "a movement that claims there are no unique leadership roles for men in marriage or in the church...(and that) leadership is to be shared between husband and wife according to their gifts and desires."

It is as much the issues that are concerning as the logic that is used to justify those conclusions.  Grudem's book does an excellent and often scholarly job examining the logic evangelical feminists are using to justify their views.  He examines the most common arguments as well as many that I'd never heard of.  For such a deeply theological book of arguments, it is surprisingly readable.  The first few chapters and ending chapters are particularly important reading.  

Grudem mentions that "Francis Schaeffer warned years ago that the first generation of Christians who lead the church astray doctrinally change only one key point in their doctrinal position and change nothing else, so it can seem for a time that the change is not too harmful.  But their followers and disciples in the next generation will take the logic of their arguments much further and will advocate much more extensive kinds of error." (p. 20)  In the beginning and ending chapters, he gives examples of how what Schaeffer warned about has come to pass in many churches over the years.  These examples are interwoven with the chapters.

In the process of reading so many books over the past three years, I've come to think much more critically about what I read and what I believe.  I am thankful that reading this book was able to finally give the biblical support for what I've come to believe about evangelical feminism and the Bible.  The first section of the book explains why examining this issue matters.  Next, Grudem examines the arguments.  Finally, he moves on to the future implications of evangelical feminism and where it is taking us.  In this section, I was particularly struck by chapter 33.  Though Grudem often gives very direct arguments and identifies church denominations, professors, and even organizations that hold evangelical feminist ideas, he exhorts readers to respond in kindness and gentleness to all. 

               "No matter how seriously we differ with other brothers and sisters in Christ, we must continue to treat them with kindness and love.  We must continue to report their positions truthfully, without distortion or misrepresentation." (p. 252)

I think no matter what the issue is that is wise advice.  Often we feel so strongly and passionately about issues that we forget to speak in kindness and love one another well.

If you have struggled with this issue as I have or are puzzling through it now, I highly recommend this book.  You may not want to read every argument and counter argument, but the beginning, major arguments, and ending chapters are very valuable reading.  If you disagree with me and think that the Bible leaves room for an egalitarian view of marriage, then I will pray that you will read and consider the logic behind what you believe and how you view the authority of Scripture.  If we don't accept the authority of Scripture and that God is who he says He is, the gospel is no longer needed.  

I am thankful to have read this book--especially chapter 33.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Crossway Books.


Angela Fehr said...

Love that quote about how to treat those who differ from us theologically. Very good!

Anonymous said...

thought provoking...thank you.