Note to self when starting a movement I don’t know I’m starting – don’t offer up a new name for it. If I had it to do all over again, I would title the article that lit the match that lit the fuse that started the fire last week A New Wave OF Complementarians. Oh, wait. I did title it that way. Well, somebody shortened it to New Wave Complementarianism, and that seems to have stuck. None of us involved in the original conversation could have foreseen how the conversation would take off in the blogosphere. Call it what you want. New Wave Complementarianism. Or a new wave washing over complementarianism. Or simply conservative evangelicals discussing the Bible and gender. In the end, I see it simply as an important conversation about Biblical Christianity when it comes to the ways we portray the interplay of two genders in Scripture created to reflect the image of God.
Just to be clear, despite the title of this post, I won’t be starting any movements anytime soon, and I didn’t start whatever movement lit fire these last weeks. Someone in a blog called it a brand new movement just born in the last month, but that isn’t what this conversation is at all. Really, it’s a bunch of men and women wrestling through very old words and ideas – particularly the interplay between the words biblical and womanhood (with an emphasis on the meaning of the word desire in Gen. 3:16). At least on my blog, we’ve been talking about this for years. I wrote my first article mentioning my own wrestling through some of these ideas back in 2008/2009. I got a lot of comments on those articles, and the conversation has continued for 4 or 5 years. Though I didn’t intend to spark a movement, I do very much hope there will continue to be movement on this subject. If nothing else, the unexpected response to my thoughts would seem to indicate this is an area of dissonance for many.
If something did get started the last few weeks that remains a part of the conversation long term, my conviction is that the Spirit, not me, started it through His Word. I’m reminded of the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5.
38 “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Now, I’m not likening myself or this “movement” to the spread of the early Church in Acts, but the principle that Gamaliel puts out in his fallen state still rings true with my belief system. If this discussion on the issue of gender roles is from God, then He’ll keep the conversation going for the good of His Church in providential ways.
I’ve heard two criticisms/concerns that I want to address.
1) This conversation presents a slippery slope toward compromise on gender issues. I’ve heard the slippery slope criticism for years about various things, such as that listening to Steve Green’s music, going to a conference by John Piper, or reading a theological book written by a Catholic priest may all lead to an ecumenism that disregards fundamental doctrines. The problem with the general slippery slope to compromise argument is that it seems, at least to me, to violate some principles long loved in the reformed church. I’m thinking particularly of Semper Reformanda – the Reformed Church is always reforming. I use that phrase as Dr. Michael Horton does in this article at Ligonier.
“…here is (the) whole phrase: ‘The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.’ The verb is passive: the church is not ‘always reforming,’ but is ‘always being reformed’ by the Spirit of God through the Word.”
The Spirit is regularly moving to realign the Church with the Word of God. The Church isn’t to reform according to culture but according to the Word. And it is good and healthy to remember that we all need to be constantly re-examining ourselves against the Word as the SPIRIT convicts. In my past experience, the “slippery slope” wasn’t toward compromise but toward correction in light of Scripture. And that’s a slope I need the Spirit to push me down quite often if the end result is greater conformity to the Word.
2) The other criticism I want to address is that I should have written more on Ephesians 5 and Genesis 2, rather than centering my points in last week’s article around woman created in the image of God in Genesis 1. As I read those criticisms, I remembered that often I have read much less of those of whom I am critical than those with whom I positively resonate. Perhaps that is the case with these criticisms as well, since they miss that I wrote extensively on both Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 in The Gospel-Centered Woman (reviewed at The Gospel Coalition here). Plus, I wrote an entire book on Ephesians, including THREE chapters on Ephesians 5:22-33 (reviewed at The Gospel Coalition here). I have written extensively on Genesis 2 on this blog and, all day every day, keep a link to an important post on Genesis 2 under the Posts that Struck a Nerve Heading. So I feel comfortable that I have comprehensively addressed both Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 with anyone who is a long time reader here.
One thing that has continually disturbed me through the years I’ve been having informal conversations with various readers on this blog is the number of women who contact me privately over and over again with thanks to me for expressing what they DO NOT FEEL SAFE TO SAY in their context. They believe that they will be labeled as divisive, nagging gossips if they express their concerns. And, in my experience, that is a legitimate fear in SOME complementarian realms. Some leaders may be offended by that – “Well, I’m certainly a safe person for women to express their concerns to.” Maybe you are. But there are enough women who consider themselves complementarians expressing such concern for each of us to seriously consider whether our tone contributes to their discomfort being vocal in their context. Closer to home, it may benefit some leaders to sit down with women in their context and make clear that they can speak freely, that you NEED them to speak freely, and that you will not label them immature or divisive for expressing their concerns.
From this point on, I’m putting a personal moratorium (we’ll see how long that lasts) on using the word complementarian on this blog. I alienate readers when I use that word, and not because they are egalitarian. The average female reader of this blog is not wrapped up in the words complementarian and egalitarian, and those of us who get caught up in those words likely miss the heart of the majority of hurting women on the ground. Blogosphere debates don’t fit my idea of ministry, and I don’t think they meet the needs of the women to whom those of us who host such blogs most minister. My heart for women is summarized in The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel, and I didn’t use the word complementarian in it at all.
I will conclude this post as I did the one that stoked the low burning embers from the last few years into a roaring blaze. Perhaps after talking about complementarianism for a bit, we can all back off from conversations ABOUT gender and just go BE our genders, reflecting the character of our Creator as we are redeemed and restored to be like Him once more. That remains my heart on this issue.