Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why I'm a Nervous Complementarian (part 2)

(If you have not yet read part one, please do so before reading further)

This issue is not a favorite topic of mine, as you may have already guessed if you've been reading, but it is important and so we all should work and think through it. At the end of this post I will not have thoroughly worked through the issues, I will merely have expressed where I am in the conversation. To work through it, I need yalls help. Conversation and dialogue help us to see and understand these issues from a wider and more complete perspective. Dialogue won't settle the issue, most likely, but it will help all of us make better and more informed theological decisions.

My last post was an explanation of why I am a Nervous Complementarian, with the emphasis obviously on the nervous. This post is why I am a Nervous Complementarian, and the latter aspect of the title will be the focus. I'm going to approach this topic three ways. First, I will explain the reasons that my 'nervousness' is unconvincing, in other words I'm going to try and answer my own objections. Second, I'm going to answer Jim Robinson's (a 'not-nervous egalitarian') comment that he left on an earlier blog post. Thirdly, I'm going to explain the reasons I have for remaining in the (most likely) losing camp.

Nervous but not THAT nervous....

In my previous post, I gave four reasons for being 'nervous' about my complementarianism. The first was my natural preference for complementarianism. Unfortunately for my natural preference, this is no way to choose theological positions. If I had my way, there would be no hell, there would be no sanctification (just instant glorification), there would be no Satan, no curse, and no meticulous predestination issues. Everything would be bright and sunny with singing butterflies, dancing trees, and talking animals. But I do not base my theology on my preference. It is important that we recognize God as God and that we make no attempt to hyper-arrogate ourselves to the point where we are pronouncing right and wrong. Before we talk about "wives submit to your husbands," we have to firmly establish "theologians submit to your God." Submission is first and foremost a requirement of us humans before God. I have to accept things I don't like and/or understand.

My second reason for being nervous is that I am unsure of the validity of many (or most) of the complementarian 'proof texts'. This uncertainty remains. But there is not a single egalitarian proof text that makes me doubt my complementarianism. The Galatians 3:28 might be a legit proof text for the essential equality of all humans (although that is even suspect), but it says nothing about roles. Surely there are still apostles and teachers? Surely there are still those who teach and those who do not? Those with spiritual authority and those without? Honestly, I don't think this passage has anything to say to the primary question at hand about the roles of men and women in the church and the home. The other primary proof texts are references to women in perceived places of authority. But not only are these passages descriptive not prescriptive, they are all ambiguous. Junias (Romans 16) is listed as an apostle but with her husband (presumably). Apostle has a semantic range that includes those with apostolic authority and those without. There's too much ambiguity and too little hard data to base doctrine or praxis here. Phoebe was a deacon but I believe in female deacons so I feel no need to address her. Priscilla's taking of Apollos aside does not conflict with what I believe is permissible and, again, is done in conjunction with her husband. There just isn't enough Scriptural basis here to say that Scripture teaches or prescribes egalitarianism.

The third reason (the role of culture in making these decisions) is probably the most difficult for me. As I study church history, it is striking how much the culture of the times influences the theology of the period. This isn't always bad, but it should cause us to be cautious and be sure we do not make theological decisions because our culture "tells us to." Some argue that the Gender Roles issue is basically the same as the slavery or race issue. I disagree. There are several passages in Scripture that seem to appeal to "transcultural principles." I Timothy appeals to Creation. I Corinthians 11:10 appeals to "the angels" (whatever that means). These passages do not appeal to reasons that are culturally based. It remains true that God created man first, this hasn't changed over time. While I do not pretend that this short argument has settled the issue, there are difficult hurdles for egalitarians to jump.

The final reason I gave is my embarrassment brought on by the arguments of some of the louder voices in the complementarian camp. But to be honest, the other side is just as bad, possibly worse. They are just as shrill and unreasonable. They appeal stubbornly to some very poor argumentation. I can't escape association with bad arguments and bad arguers. They are everywhere and on every side.

I don't mean for these answers to be final or conclusive. My point is only that these objections themselves are not final or conclusive. This is a complicated and difficult issue. Those who pretend the issue is simple or are over confident in their position are often not dialoguing, just arguing. Arguing is a waste of time. It entrenches both sides deeper and deeper into their positions as we become more and more invested. Let's stop arguing and start dialoguing!

Dialoguing with Jim

To begin with, I want to thank you Jim for your comment. We seem to agree that this issue is not an essential and that good brothers and sisters can disagree. That's a start anyway.

But I must protest, Jim, that I do not think your analysis of complementarians as a whole is at all fair or accurate. The complementarians I know are complementarians because they really and honestly believe that the Scripture teaches it. And even if we are wrong, it is quite an understandable misunderstanding. There is a passage that says "I do not allow women to teach", there are several that tell wives to submit to their husbands, and there are no passages that clearly institute women as authoritative leaders in the church. I think it is very unfair to attribute the position to legalism instead of "struggling with what the Bible has to say." I'm sure there are some complementarians that are legalistic, but stereotyping and judging everyone to be of the same stripe is radically unfair.

Secondly, I feel compelled to point out that the position has nothing to do with "post WWII culture and legalism." This has almost universally been the practice and teaching of all Christians for the last two thousand years. It has only been recently that it has been challenged. The position may be wrong, but those who hold it are holding the traditional position of the church. You almost seem to imply that it is the other way around.

Thirdly, as relates the relationship between the trinity and egalitarianism/complementarianism, I did not mean to say that these two issues have NO correlation whatsoever, but that such a correlation is not NECESSARY thus it is not legitimate to argue from it. One could reasonably hold to subordination in the Trinity but be an egalitarian. Another could reject subordination within the trinity and be a complementarian. There might be a correlation, there might not be. All I was trying to say is that you can't resolve the gender debate with the trinity debate. Both sides have tried to do this and I do not think it is a fair argument.

Finally, I just want to point out that the fact that people in your church have a problem with the issue does not mean that it shouldn't be an issue. Many people have a problem with hell. There have been times in my life where it really tried and even tortured my faith to accept the doctrine of hell. Today, most people have a real problem with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Even if this issue is on a different level that these issues, we have to teach the "whole counsel of God", whether we like it or not. We can't just tickle ears and tell people what they want to hear. If the complementarian position is correct, we ought to teach it.

Your objection to the designations given to the opposing camps is not completely unjustified. But keep in mind that there are varying degrees of complementarians. Piper and Grudem are further down that line than I am. We should be careful when we give these designations to remember that "one size does not fit all." To assume I agree with everything that Piper and Grudem say is not fair and not true.

I enjoy my friendship with you and your wife and am glad that we all agree that this is not a core belief. I am willing to change my position, as I hope you are, if convinced (thanks Luther) by sound reasoning or the Holy Scriptures. I would enjoy discussing this further with you. I promise not to burn you at the stake if you promise not to burn me!

Why I, in the end, come down as a complementarian.

This post is already long and I really don't want to be on this topic forever but let me just give the core reason I am in the complementarian camp. And for that I appeal to Blaise Pascal.

Many of you are probably familiar with Pacal's wager. If you don't remember let me refresh your memory with a couple sentences. Blaise Pascal struggled with the existence of God. Did he exist or did he not? In the end he decided that believing in God is better than not believing in God because if you believe in God and are wrong, no big deal. If you reject God and are wrong about his existence, BIG DEAL!!! So he concluded that believing in God is the "safer bet."

What does this have to do with complementarianism? There is no instruction in Scripture to necessitate egalitarianism. The instructions that seem to teach complementarian may be culturally based and may no longer apply. Then again, they may, perhaps, be trans-cultural and are still valid applications today. I'd rather be wrong because I took the Bible too seriously, than to be wrong because I didn't take cultural implications seriously enough. This may seem weak. It is. But because I think that there is more Scriptural warrant for complementarianism and almost no scriptural warrant for egalitarianism, and remain unconvinced that these instructions are only given because of the culture of the day, I will remain a soft complementarian until soundly convinced otherwise. I could go further into proofs and Scriptural interpretation, but most of you have probably heard it all a million times before and I feel no reason to be redundant and irrelevant.

Where to go from here...

I do not consider this issue as firmly settled in my mind. I want to remain in the conversation. I honestly think that this is where we should all be. This conversation is still going on and it is too early to pull out and entrench ourselves confidently on our 'sides'. Let's keep talking, continue learning from each other, and continue to seek to arrive at a better understanding of what Scripture teaches before we "forever make up our minds."

I have probably two posts left on this issue. Next time, I'm going to move towards applying my version of complementarianism in the church and home. My fifth and hopefully final post will be interaction with whatever Nate and Austin end up saying about the topic. I look forward to dialoguing with all of your responses.


Anonymous said...

ok i wasn't going to comment but i hate it when you take the time to post something and no one gives you any feedback. first of all i think it's funny that for someone who is going into this kicking and screaming you sure are very thorough abt covering every aspect of this. :D second of all, i said it before and i'll say it again. really appreciate the tone of your arguments on this topic. i think it makes it easier for people to consider another viewpoint outside their own, especially since your points are so clearly articulated and well argued. thanks for another thought-provoking post.

Bri said...

honestly, i feel sorry for you, too...i wasn't going to say anything, but i feel under appreciated when no one responds to something into which i put much time and effort.

it's refreshing to read thoughts similar to my own, and i certainly appreciate your blogging this series, so props from me to you. :) thanks, matt!

Jim said...

Hello Matt,
After checking back in on your blog I saw your response. I hope you did not see my response as an attack, either direct or indirect on you. I have a lot of respect for you which is why I replied to your blog in the first place. I expected to be the minority view on this topic and take my licks for it. The way you started out part 1 said you were viewed as “discriminatory in the eyes of 21st century American”, but since I’m an egalitarian you said I would be looked at as a “compromiser or a Judas”. I try to keep my defenses down but I guess the tone comes through sometimes. Sorry if that was the case.
Like you and I both said in our previous posts, heavyweight theologians disagree on this issue. This results in the debate bogging down into a my theologian is beating up your theologian. Very, very little is gained other than further polarizing the sides.
It seems pretty difficult to dialogue via blog when you align yourself with a general position such as complementarianism. You said you were not as far along the spectrum as Grudem or Piper but I don’t know how far down the spectrum you are. My comment about post WWII culture influencing conservative churches was not aimed at you individually, but at the church culture that many of us have grown up in. I really think this point is hard to contest. The Bible was written in a patriarchal culture and until very recently the whole of Western civilization has been almost completely patriarchal. In fact, women didn’t even gain the right to vote in the United States until 1920. When you think of it like this, it wasn’t even 90 years ago that women were seen as “inferior” to men…right here in the USA. Your admonishment on this issue is probably due but please understand I am speaking of a historical culture of legalism and I think that is a very fair assessment of many of our more conservative denominations.
I really would like to spend hours and hours on this but let me also use the Pascal’s argument. This is where I am…right or wrong. When I’m finally held accountable for what I’ve taught and practiced as a pastor of God’s people, I will tell Him the scriptural evidence was unconvincing for both positions and I always lived and taught to help others to become everything that He created them to be. I believe God created people with tremendous spiritual gifts, passions, talents, and abilities and to the best of my ability I believe this to be regardless of gender. I would rather be wrong as an egalitarian than a complementarian…bottom line.
This has been a result of the myriad of pastoral implications I have seen in my time as a pastor of God’s people. More than one woman has stayed in abusive relationships because they were “submitting” to their abusive husbands. I had a lady tell me her “Baptist church” told her she was going to hell because of her husband’s affair and his divorcing of her. I’ve seen men that struggle with balancing the checkbook when their wives are CPA’s. Many complementarian churches have pastor’s of men’s ministry but directors of women’s ministry who make less money strictly because of their gender. I have seen pay inequalities because a man needs to make more money as the “leader of his house” and a woman doesn’t need to make the same wage for the same work. Some churches have women teachers all the way through young adults and college age, but no women teaching married adults…maybe the thinking is you’re not a man until you’re married? In other churches women can teach junior high but not senior high. In one church I saw a woman that was functioning as the executive pastor but was called the executive administrator and she felt it was OK because she didn’t do weddings, funerals, or communion…but she did teach and did exercise authority over the other pastors with the final oversight of the senior pastor. I could really go on and on. Please understand, my point is not to say that you believe these things to be correct but that pastoral issues such as these are why I choose egalitarianism when I don’t believe this issue can be settled decisively through Scripture.

faithbornfromdoubt said...

Thanks for your comment again Jim. I think the only thing I misread was your level of certainty. I thought you were meaning to imply that you were pretty certain of your position. I didn't see your comment as an attack so don't worry about that.

I'm going to respond again on my next post but let me just say that there is a lot than we can and do agree on. For instance, I very strongly agree (and was going to say this in my next post) that equal work deserves equal pay. I think it is very wrong to pay a woman less just because she's a woman and justify it by changing the job title. After I post my next post I'll let you label me. Some people think I'm not actually a complementarian. I think I am, but I am not hard core. Let me just say that I probably agree with you on almost every example you gave in that last paragraph...

More later


faithbornfromdoubt said...

Oh and I didn't mean to imply that I thought egalitarians were Judases or compromisers... I was just kind of making fun/criticizing the ridiculous level of personal attacks people use when addressing this issue. I think we're both innocent on that number so far.

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul