What is Your Position on Complementarianism and Egalitarianism?

A female professor of Christian ministry just sent me a survey to fill out. I don’t consider myself an expert in this area, but I certainly have tried to be responsible—this is one of those places where the battle over truth is fiercest in my generation. Here were my answers.

What is your position on complementarianism and egalitarianism?

  • Strongly complementarian ✔
  • Moderately complementarian
  • Moderately egalitarian
  • Strongly egalitarian
  • Neither complementarian nor egalitarian

Briefly explain the choice you made in the previous question.

I think Jonathan Leeman has done the best job assessing the current scene in intra-complementarian debates, and I like his “broad complementarian” terminology. I’ve always been at least a “narrow” complementarian (to use Leeman’s terminology again), because I’ve never been able in good conscience to read the classic statements of Paul on the issue as applying to the narrow historical settings to which they were originally addressed. Paul makes a creational argument, not a parochial or situation-specific one. But over the years I’ve become a “broader” complementarian because I’ve come to appreciate the essentially natural law arguments for maintaining (what are for me as a Christian Westerner) the basic traditional roles of men and women in society. Alastair Roberts was particularly helpful for me here. Working on Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption (BJU Press, 2015) showed me both that 1) gender roles are EXTREMELY touchy, because my very conservative consultants were picking over my language with noticeably greater care than they used in other chapters and that 2) a Christian worldview cannot and should not limit itself to reading the Bible, no matter how odd that sounds. That is, we need also to read creation in light of the Bible.

List 5-10 outside resources (e.g., books, articles, websites, etc.) that have contributed to your understanding of women’s ministry.

  1. My top recommendation right now, is a must-read series by Jonathan Leeman: “Complementarianism, a Moment of Reckoning.”
  2. Then there’s “Why We Should Jettison the “Strong Female Character” by Alastair Roberts, which was massively influential for me in fleshing out my “broad” complementarianism because it provides specifics most people are too scared (or too wise?!) to get into. (Also see his responses to commenters here.)
  3. Also massively helpful for me (I really love Roberts!) was a follow-up piece Roberts wrote.
  4. Rosaria Butterfield, in general, has also been a big help to me. Her overall approach to sexuality in, for example, Openness Unhindered, provided real help.
  5. I’ve had friends I love complain about the tone, and I totally get it, but Rebekah Merkle’s Eve in Exile I found to be really good.
  6. I finally stopped subscribing to Doug Wilson in the last year after I just couldn’t endure his tone anymore (though his writing skill and overall cleverness never disappointed!), but he did frequently cut to the heart of secular gender contretemps, explaining (for example) slut-shaming and slut walks. I found I needed his help to read the culture. He is a lot like Lewis in this regard. (I wasn’t always so keen on Wilson’s barbs against fellow evangelicals; sometimes complaints about his tone are not veiled complaints about his substance.)
  7. In a somewhat different direction from Wilson (ahem), I’ve enjoyed seeing Michelle Berg Radford and Hannah Anderson be women, and thinking women, and thinking Christian women—not unlike Rosaria Butterfield—in public.
  8. Andy Naselli on Aimee Byrd’s book was helpful. His chart laying out the various approaches was, I believe, fair and accurate. And I happen to know that Andy sent it to many people for suggestions, yielding even greater care.
  9. Similar analytical care I’ve discovered in Steven Wedgeworth, a nearby assistant pastor. See this article, for example.
  10. I’ve long known that the “blue book”—Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—lay underneath a lot of the complementarianism I’ve come to breathe as part of my Young, Restless, Reformed air. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’ve dipped in in multiple places. And Piper’s intro is a classic. He’s one of the few people who’s ever bothered to define masculinity and femininity.

List what you see to be the top 5 pressing needs in the church’s ministry to women.

  1. Teach them the apostle’s doctrine.
  2. Administer to them the sacraments.
  3. Facilitate and encourage fellowship.
  4. Help older women teach younger women not merely to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4), because that seems to be almost a given in a culture of love marriages, but to be women.
  5. Keep pushing back against the frilly and vapid culture of women’s devotional literature.

What 3 areas of training should we emphasize for women’s ministry?

  1. Theology/biblical studies. My wife’s undergraduate and graduate training in biblical counseling has been massively helpful to me. She is a helper fit for me, truly.
  2. Ability to read the culture, including the history of feminism and its current manifestations.
  3. Ability to avoid some of the pendulum swings away from the culture that aren’t actually biblical. Dressing up like prairie girls isn’t the right answer; neither is jumping into MLMs that hawk alternative medicines and essential oils. I’m so glad to have a discerning wife.

Additional comments/suggestions:

I love my wife not only because she is biologically female and beautiful and Christian and educated and skilled in so many areas (though I love her for all those things) but, as I’ve always said to her, because she is a lady. There is a refinement and gentility there, something that is recognizably feminine and truly—in its older sense—awesome to a man. My mother-in-law, though an adult convert, bred that in her. I’m so grateful. I want my precious little girl to be a lady in a culture that doesn’t seem to be producing them much anymore. So I, with Piper, really find it helpful to get practical in this debate over gender roles. On so many other hot issues, I can stay on the sidelines and keep cogitating and no one seems to mind. On race, I spent many years serving the black community in Greenville, SC, but now I often don’t know what to do or recommend or say; and now that I live in a part of the country in which few African Americans reside, no one seems to mind that I’m silent. But on gender roles, I have a girl, and I have two boys. I must do something to show what a boy is and what a girl is, what a man is and what a woman is. By God’s grace, I’m doing my best to get off the sidelines here and raise a woman and two men.

I resist the idea that there is something beyond complementarianism and egalitarianism, that these are impositions of current questions onto the text of an ancient Scripture that wasn’t concerned with them. I am trying, as my pastoral mentor once laid out for us, to put together 1 Tim 2, 1 Cor 11, and 1 Cor 14. It’s not immediately apparent how to put together the latter two, in particular. But I won’t let some of the awkward questions that arise—can women be police officers?—derail me from obeying God’s Word in the Bible and in creation. Every position has awkward questions to answer, edge cases that make bad law.

Last thing: the sexual revolution is the biggest con ever played by the patriarchy. Commitment-free sex was supposed to free women from the restraints of a cosseting culture, but it simply took the collective power women of virtue held over men and removed it. The result has been catastrophic. I didn’t follow the rules of my conservative Christian culture in my dating life; I followed my Bible. I truly did. Starting at a young age, I read Prov 5 and 6 and Matthew 5:27–30—and I knew my culture was wrong. For me, this worked out beautifully, and I praise God. I have an extremely happy marriage in every way.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

1 Comment

  1. Bernie on September 21, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Thanks for sharing and explaining the background to what you believe and why on this important subject. I’ve followed you for a long time – got into your blog after finding some tech and study tips (you remember Bible Works?). You don’t write posts like that much anymore – sadly. I found them very helpful.

    I’ve followed your blog even though I don’t always agree (in some areas I guess we’d be sitting on totally different pews – smile!). Unlike Google and Facebook algorithms, I actually believe it’s important to be challenged and not just read the stuff you agree with. So even though I may not always reach the same conclusions, you do make me think.

    In the past while I’ve worked in Muslim countries, one of the clear differences between Christianity and Islam I would regularly witness was how the two treat their women. Islam generally sees women as inferior to men, a species that needs to be controlled because of the danger it poses to the males. Originally I surmised that the culture would change through mothers teaching their sons a different way. Surely they would raise their sons to respect women. I was therefore shocked when I witnessed mothers allowing, even training their young sons to be abusive towards them and encouraging them to be condescending and abusive to the other female members of the family. Why? Because it was their right as males to do so – regardless of age.

    What a contrast this was to Christianity where enmity between the genders is described as being the result of the fall! Both male and female were created in God’s image. In the New Testament we read that there are neither Jew, Gentile…male, female but all are one in Christ Jesus. I find it amazing how approachable Jesus as a single man was by women in a society which was not unlike many Muslim societies today. Jesus didn’t fit the expected picture of his culture or the crowds. And the first witnesses (the first missionaries) to the resurrection? Women! Unbelievable, especially in a patriarchal society. As a male, and with my Muslim background experience, that little part of the resurrection story still shocks me! No wonder that so many women were drawn to the early church. No wonder this was sometimes used as a weapon against them (https://www.michaeljkruger.com/how-early-christianity-was-mocked-for-welcoming-women/).

    Christianity clearly is very pro women!

    Then I read some writers who describe your position but not as graciously as you have. The hatred some seem to have towards women or towards the egalitarian view, shocking! How many women are turned off by what is preached under the guise of the Gospel, I wonder? So much justification is given to put down half of God’s creation, to sometimes even use this to explain away abuse of all kinds!

    In the church we can often be so hard on others as we push through what we believe is right without regard to the damage and injury we cause around us. As men we insist certain things for our sisters without giving them a voice, to use their God given gifts, or allowing them to say how it makes them feel. Do they even have a right to do so? After all, what does the created order say? Men teach it to the women. The mothers teach it to their sons. And if anyone disagrees then their faith and view on scripture itself is challenged. No wonder some women are shocked when they discover that they too are made in the image of God! How sad is that.

    What’s my point? I guess I would encourage us all to be a bit flexible and willing to learn from one another. Sometimes we fear we will lose an inch of ground to the opposition when in the end we discover we’re an island, that the battle has passed us by and we’re left defending a patch which wasn’t so important after all.

    Like the battle for the KJV. Initially we feel if we give in to new interpretations or new readings that we will lose the battle for the inspiration of Scripture. “If I reject the inerrancy of the Johannine Comma, 1 John 5:7, then the whole doctrine of the trinity, maybe even the view of the inerrancy of scripture, will crumble!” It turns out, we can still trust the Bible and learn about the trinity even without that contested verse. Or, if we stop capitalising the pronouns for God then we rob Him of His glory or make Him into just one god of many. Is that ground truly so important and the dire consequences of some flexibility so inevitable?

    Perhaps sometimes we are fighting a cultural skirmish when the battle has in fact moved on past us. I’m aware that what I write may sound like I am arguing for cultural relativism. No, I believe the Bible does tell us what God wants and how we should live. We just have to become more open to listening to people’s stories. Sadly too often we make the Pharisees our example rather than Jesus.

    Keep up the good work. Thanks for your posts.

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