Recently, there’s been a growing conversation about something called “New Wave Complementarianism.” Some have suggested that this conversation isn’t “new” at all but simply a return to original complementarian positions. Still others have suggested that this new wave is entirely necessary because the “old wave” reached too far. And others have said that it is simply a reaction to what’s happened in some churches in the name of complementarianism, but isn’t really a discussion of its core essence.
But no one denies that the tower is leaning.
Still, don’t take my word for it. Remember that time Bob Yarbrough said these exact things at the 2012 EFCA Theology Conference. (Remember that time D.A. Carson spoke at the same conference.) The truth is that there is a “lean” in complementarianism, and it is evidenced by what is being taught and modeled in our churches. Our practices reveal our core assumptions better than any talking points ever could and because of this, they end up being the best indicator of whether or not we need to check our foundation.
So for me, the pertinent question is: “What’s been missing from the conversation that has allowed the tower to lean?”
My approach is predicated on the belief that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth and that Christian truth is discovered through paradoxes. Specific to this discussion, 1) Men and women are the same and 2) Men and women are different. But the paradoxes of the Christian faith are more than simply a set of checks and balances; the tensions actually force us to think more deeply and articulate more fully what we believe. The tension forces us to better understanding (and sometimes humbly admit that we don’t understand at all.)
Because of this, if something starts leaning (oh, like say our understanding of gender), we must go back and figure out what has not been held in tension that should have kept it straight. Like Tim Keller, I consider myself a “complexifier” and believe that we must bring ALL of Scripture to bear on these issues, not simply the passages that speak specifically to gender. So for my part, the conversation surrounding New Complementarianism (a.k.a., New Wave Complementarianism, New Wave OF Complementarianism, a group of friends talking among themselves who stumbled across the concerns that others already felt)—for my part, the conversation must not be about simply recovering original complementarianism but about asking ourselves what has been missing, or at least underemphasized, that has allowed the tower to lean in the first place.
Today I’m laying my cards on the table. I’m doing this because we must have this conversation together. It’s bigger than any specific set of bloggers—bigger than any “movement.” I’m also doing this because while I am a writer, I am also a wife and mom, and at this point, my children need a mother and my husband needs an ezer more than complementarianism needs another blogger.
So in no particular order, here’s what I believe this conversation must entail; we must:
- Develop a robust definition of imago dei.
- Define the differences between men and women in relationship to God’s nature, not simply in opposition to each other.
- Consider the limitations of gender-based discipleship. If gender becomes the paradigm for sanctification, we have unintentionally made gender more significant than Christ. The goal is not masculinity or femininity—the question is immaturity vs. maturity.
- Admit that if we’re going to use the categories of male and female, we cannot begin with them—we must base them on the foundational category of humanness. As a female person, I have more in common with a male person than I do with a female cat.
- Understand that Christianity does not have a masculine-feel or a feminine-feel. Christianity should feel Christlike—it should feel fully-human.
- Recognize that equality must be the basis for headship–not simply the ying to its yang. Headship, whether in the church or home, exists precisely because we are equal.
- Clarify that the goal of headship is union—that Christ’s headship results in the uniting of all things in heaven and earth and reconciling all things to Himself.
- Differentiate between headship and manhood as well as submission and womanhood.
- Reinforce responsibility/authority paradigm of headship. Any authority is given in order to fulfill a responsibility; it does not simply exist.
- And while we’re at it, clarify a Christian view of authority—especially if this is the going to be the key difference between men and women.
- Understand that headship exists only in specific circumstances—headship is not unilateral and some men will never exercise headship because they will never hold a position that calls them to.
- Differentiate between headship and leadership as gifting.
- Realize that passages that speak to men and women’s differing roles flow out of deeper doctrinal paradigms. We understand roles best when we start with the doctrine and work toward application, not vice versa.
- Remember that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Roles are given to enable relationships; relationships are not meant to serve roles.
- Discus how denominational and sociological contexts affect our applications and differentiate between application and doctrine.
- Reclaim an understanding of eldership that invests authority in the office, not the person. When we define authority by cultural cues or personality instead of the process of ordination, we can cordon off areas of ministry that the Scripture does not.
- Consider how we assign value. We cannot simply declare that men and women are equal; we must function in a way that displays this.
- Recognize that this will be difficult in a subculture that elevates pastors and teachers to celebrity status–how do you assign value to women when they will never hold those positions?
- Dismantle the false paradigm of gender vs. gifting. Gender is biological gifting and it flourishes alongside other gifting.
- Embrace a view of the whole person that elevates the providence of God to combine gender, talents, and personality into a unique package with unique strengths and unique limitations.
- Actively pursue women’s unique gifting.
- Consider whether focusing the conversation on “roles” has reduced people to functions instead of agents—do we simply become “workers” in a weird Marxist reality?
- Stop overextending Ephesians 5. A wife is not perpetually in a position to be rescued by her husband. Sometimes a wife will be Christ to a husband in need. (I Peter 3)
- Explore the role of husband as “husbandry”– including the responsibility to ensure that those under your care become all that God has made them to be. Explore the same for “wifery.”
- Wrestle with whether or not “complementarianism” should be equated with a conservative reading of gender. Is it possible to have a conservative reading of gender and not be “complementarian?” (If nothing else, we need a new word because complementarian doesn’t spell-check.)
There. I’ve laid out my cards. Feel free to pick them up and play them. None of these ideas are “new”—but they are things that I believe have been missing and have led to the lean in our tower. It’s time for us to figure out why, to revisit established paradigms, and courageously press deeper into the mystery and wonder of God’s good design.