Last month I was given the opportunity to take a course in Christian Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theology Seminary under the direction of Dr. David Nelson. One of the course requirements was to complete a research paper on an area of interest within the field of the course. I chose a topic from a suggested list in the syllabus: Sex-Roles and the Plan of God. I wanted to explore the heated discussion of egalitarianism and complementarianism with a specific look at how this conversation applies to a women’s ministry within the home. Though a brief sketch in this debate, I urge women to journey with me this week through the paper. There are numerous practical implications for both sides of the debate.

I choose to write this paper primarily to become a better mother and wife. This topic plays out as much in theology as it does in the home. If you are not familiar with the terms complementarianism and egalitarianism- that is ok, it will be explained! Even if this paper is a little technical, it is just as applicable to a stay at home mom, or any other woman. Please take this opportunity to become a student of the Scriptures and learn more about what God has instructed for us in His word.

Please, feel free to leave a comment with questions, encouragements, or critiques. Please remember to be loving and Christlike should a differences of opinion occur in the comments.

Monday, Part I: An introduction and overview of Egalitarianism.

Tuesday, Part II: Implications for Egalitarianism.

Wednesday, Part III: An overview of Complementarianism.

Now Presenting, Part IV:

As egalitarians are also called evangelical feminists, this identification affirms their relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and their belief in the truthfulness of the Bible.[1] The uncertain debate of gender roles must be treated as a loving discussion as those in the debate are all brothers and sisters in Christ who adhere to the same gospel despite the opposing viewpoints. In the book Recovering Biblical Manhood &Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, authors John Piper and Wayne Grudem communicate their love for egalitarians while still showing their disagreement with the issue. They say, “Yet, we also consider their essential position to be wrong in light of Scripture, and ultimately harmful to the family and church. Therefore we have tried to respond to them in detail and with clarity, and we have in many cases attempted to show that their interpretations of Scripture are simply not persuasive, and should not be accepted by Christians.”[2] The implications given within egalitarianism must be not be avoided, but critiqued as it affects marriage, family, and the church. In a review of Jack Cottrell, Headship, Submission, and the Bible: Gender Roles in the Home, Jason Hall clarifies Cottrell’s response to egalitarianism. He states, “Not surprisingly, his conclusion is that the way egalitarians handle headship and submission is not faithful to Scripture or sound scholarship.”[3] Cotrell’s conclusion is demonstrated at the outset of egalitarianism.[4] The Declaration on “Men, Women and Biblical Equality” written by those within the organization entitled Christians for Biblical Equality[5] states the foundational summary of their beliefs within the first sentence of their speech. It claims, “The Bible teaches the full equality of men and women in Creation and in Redemption.”[6] This is a bold assertion as men and women are different as demonstrated within the physiological and neurological[7] differing compositional makeups. This claim also produces uncertainty for the homosexual agenda as “men are not equal with women personally or physically as candidates for the spouses of men.[8] When a man is to be married, he must be assured that he is not able to choose from either a man or a woman as egalitarians claim that they are both equal in totality.  Egalitarian Letha Scanzoni with Virginia Mollenkott, in the book, Is the Homosexual My Neighbour? Another Christian View reference Margaret Eveing’s claim regarding homosexual Christians. She says, “…even if it is not the condition ordained by God when He said that it was not good for man to dwell alone, then we can only rejoice that God is, as ever, bringing good out of evil. We can thus accept with humility the special gifts mediated to us through those who are His homosexual children, our brothers and sisters whom we cannot and would not disown.”[9] Though not all egalitarians affirm homosexuals as Christians, it is important to note this close connection with egalitarianism. Complementarians affirm the equality of women in dignity and worth, but there is a unique distinction in femininity that is separate from masculinity. The centrality of this debate lies within the description and range of equality for humanity.

CBE continue to display their emphasis on equality by their declaration on the inspiration and interpretation of the scripture. It states,

The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself in the totality of Scripture, the authoritative Word of God […] We believe that Scripture is to be interpreted wholistically and thematically. We also recognize the necessity of making a distinction between inspiration and interpretation: inspiration relates to the divine impulse and control whereby the whole canonical Scripture is the Word of God; interpretation relates to the human activity whereby we seek to apprehend revealed truth in harmony with the totality of Scripture and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To be truly biblical, Christians must continually examine their faith and practice under the searchlight of Scripture.[10]

This publication reveals the unity of inspiration which complementarians share with CBE.  Both groups rightfully affirm that Scripture must be interpreted in agreement with the whole of Scripture. The concern is within the resounding theme that CBE identifies with the whole of Scripture; that is, the equality of humanity given at creation. The totality of Scripture is determined by attentive interpretation to the context in which the smaller passages are written with the assistance of the hermeneutical circle.[11] Andreas Köstenberger addresses this hermeneutical concern in his paper, Avoiding Fallacies in Interpretation: How Fallacies Distort Understanding of the New Testament Gender Passages. He states,

Robert Johnston attributes the differences in approach regarding the role of women in the church taken by evangelicals to “different hermeneutics,” calling the study of women’s roles a “test case” of evangelical interpretation. If Johnston is correct, evangelical hermeneutics seem to have failed the test, since the existing exegetical conclusions on the NT gender texts vary widely. What is perhaps even more disturbing is the apparent lack of consensus regarding a proper methodology.[12]

Complementarians are concerned of CBE’s vast opposition regarding the biblical interpretation for women’s roles and their differing use of hermeneutical interpretation. It is an erroneous interpretation and hermeneutic to invalidate a smaller passage of Scripture (teaching regarding unique roles for men and women designed by God) due to one’s larger emphasis (equality among humanity).[13] This interpretive oversight has enabled confusion of roles and loss of identity among young evangelicals. CBE does not address the appropriate roles unique to manhood and womanhood that are right and good as were given by God in creation. Sexual differences do not limit a woman, but enable her to glorify God as he has uniquely gifted her to act in specific ways different from men. Egalitarians attempt to grant freedom to women through equality by de facto has limited her gifts and burdened her with responsibilities unique to manhood. This brief critique demonstrates that egalitarianism is an inaccurate biblical approach to gender roles, and their implications are unsuitable for the Christian life. Complementarianism is a more biblically truthful account of the issues involved in gender roles as it seeks to affirm to the totality of the Scriptures and demonstrate practical roles in the ministry of the home that women are specially gifted to fulfill.

Tomorrow will demonstrate practical roles for women’s ministry in the home within the view of complementarianism, Thanks for reading!

[1] The thoughts and ideas of this paragraph is taken from Piper and Grudem, xiii.

[2]  Piper and Grudem, xiii-xiv.

[3] Jason Hall, [accessed on 27, July, 2010]. “Readers should note that Cottrell limits his study to the concepts of submission and headship in the home”.

[4] The thoughts and ideas of the critique of egalitarianism is taken from Piper and Grudem, Chapter 26

[5] Christians for Biblical Equality are a group of prominent Egalitarians who compose documents and statements of egalitarian beliefs. The abbreviation CBE will be used throughout the rest of this paper to refer to Christians for Biblical Equality.

[6] Piper and Grudem, 407.

[7] See Chapter 16 of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism for more information on the physiological and neurological differences in men and women.

[8] Piper and Grudem, 407.

[9]Letha Scanzoni & Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbour? Another Christian View (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), 36.

[10]Piper and Grudem, 407-408.

[11] The hermeneutical circle involves an interpretation of Scripture wherein the totality of Scripture affects the particular passages of Scripture as likewise the particular passages of Scripture effect the totality of Scripture.

[12] Andreas Köstenberger, Avoiding Fallacies in Interpretation: How Fallacies Distort Understanding of the New Testament Gender Passages, CBMW, Vol.3 No. 3, Fall 1998, 1. This is an excellent resource regarding the hermeneutical problems within Egalitarianism.

[13] This oversight is displayed in the hermeneutics of Gretchen Gaebelein Hull’s book, Equal to Serve.