(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.
Longing for a New Movement
5 years ago