While I have categorized my position on gender roles as complementarian, I have wrestled with some ways in which it has been defined. One of my primary issues involves the distinctive roles between men and women, that I consider to be exaggerated or forced. Not only does this create more restrictions than I think is warranted in Scripture, but promotes some less than healthy attitudes. We can’t just look at 1 Timothy 2 and call it a day, especially considering that Paul was addressing a specific context. That has to be measured against the breadth of scripture. So while there is warrant for male headship in the church (which I translate as governing leadership) and home, beyond that I don’t see such as sharp distinction that traditional complementarianism has painted.
Wendy Alsup published a post that describes a new wave of complementarianism. I first came across Wendy’s writings at the Gospel Coalition and loved her treatment of Genesis 3:16. She’s obviously conservative (PCA) and complementarian but strives for a balanced and thoughtful consideration of how genders truly complement each other. Her post on a new wave of complementarianism resonated so well with me because it is the canonical picture that I see in scripture regarding male headship and the complementary aspects of gender in kingdom representation. She profiles 8 characteristics;
1) Belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture. These women (and a few men I know as well who’ve talked about this subject), love the Word and study it hard. They read, they study, and they listen. And they do it all from the foundation that the Bible is God’s written Word, handed down through the Holy Spirit and preserved by God for the instruction of His children.
2) Belief that the Bible interprets itself. The Bible is the best commentary on itself and gives us a great deal of information that, when coupled with common sense interpretive principles (like the fact that story is different from instruction), leads to much more clarity on issues of gender in the Church than some claim.
3) Respect for Church history and the Creeds. Which leads to number 4.
4) Strong disagreement with Foh’s interpretation of Genesis 3:16 that the woman’s desire for her husband will be a desire to control him. This new wave of complementarian believers notes that Foh’s interpretation of Genesis 3:16 has no history in the Church. Before 1970, no Church father/theologian had suggested her interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Instead, this new wave embraces Genesis 3:16 as reflecting an inordinate longing by the woman for the man, an idolatrous longing that is often the root of very bad choices on the woman’s part. The answer to which is greater dependence on God, not the man, which then frees the woman to help the man as God originally intended.
5) Identifying with aspects of feminism. This new wave of complementarians does not see feminism as the root of all evil on gender issues. I personally think feminism rose up to address legitimate concerns, but a movement is not going to solve such root issues of the heart. Only Christ can do that. Feminism is simply a coping mechanism – helpful on some things, harmful on others.
6) Valuing complementary views of gender. This new wave still values distinctions in gender. God obviously created complementary genders. If men and women didn’t bring separate yet equally valuable things to the gender debate, we would not even exist to have this debate! In the older form of complementarianism, women were created with complementary gifts to aid the man in the areas in which he is lacking. Women were created to complement the man. But this new wave views this complementary nature not so much from the perspective of Genesis 2:18 (I will make a helper suitable for him) but more from Genesis 1:27, where God made man and woman in His image. It takes two distinct though obviously overlapping genders to reflect the fullness of the image of God (and even then we still are lacking in our reflection of Him). Complementing genders are about two genders reflecting God, and the female gender brings some things to this reflection that men don’t as well, and vice versa.
7) Not setting up marriage and family as the end all for women. For too long, conservatives have mixed up good things with ultimate things. Some set up marriage and family as the goal for every believer. I understand how that happened. Feminism seemed to undermine what women did of value in the home, and Christians felt they needed to strongly emphasize the value and need for women in the home. But few are good at emphasizing something positively and still distinguishing it from something that is ultimate. What I do for my husband and children is powerful and important. It is personally my first physical priority by my conviction. But I do not hold the view that my single female friends or married friends without children have any less powerful and important role to fulfill in the Body of Christ.
8) Not threatened by the terms submit or respect or the concept of male-only elders. Why? It goes back to point number 1. Those I know in this new movement trust Scripture, and that goes a long way when it comes to embracing/understanding a controversial word. Many also feel strongly that churches should allow women deacons. Why? Again back to point number 1. And point number 3. Female deacons are both biblical and historical.
Right on! Regarding #4, I think one of the unfortunate consequences of that interpretation are attitudes among men that women just want to gain control. While I do not agree with my egalitarian sisters on the issue of headship, this does a disservice to the mutually submissive paradigm that many egals uphold. It also has the potential of creating hostilities towards women by men who might think that any mention of women in leadership means women just want to usurp authority.
I love #6 and its implications. Outside of the Sunday worship service, I think the body would greatly benefit from more co-ed ministry, married and singles mixed. We can benefit from each other’s wisdom and perspectives. If women and men together are the imago Dei, than what better way to grow than sharing the word and life together.
Overall, I really appreciate that Wendy took the time to articulate this nuanced version of complementarianism.