Why a New Wave of Complementarianism? Because The Old Wave Went Too Far.

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While Wendy Alsup has struck a chord with her proposal that there is a a New Wave Complementarianism about to wash up on the shore of evangelicalism, I for one am glad for it. I am glad for the critique, and I am glad for what I hope is a timely discussion about what it means to be a complementarian. Since her original post, Kevin DeYoung, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Owen Strachan have weighed in on the issue and asked some helpful questions of Alsup’s proposal. I simply want to articulate some reasons why I think this discussion is necessary.

I should point out from the start that Amy Peterson did a great job of summing up a few things right here at CaPC, especially Anyabwile’s thought about Alsup erroneously equating modern complementarianism with patriarchy. It’s not Alsup’s fault if the director of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood equated the two. If she is confused as to the difference between “old” complemenatrianism and patriarchy, she seems to have good reason.

That’s why this discussion needs to take place. I am myself a dedicated complementarian, and I don’t want to have to make that assertion with a laundry list of caveats. I am not interested in getting rid of old wave complementarians, or even ushering in a new wave, I am interested, as Pastor Anyabwile said, in starting with definitions.

To that end, it seems to me that we ought to start by following Alsup’s lead, ironically enough for complementarians. There is nothing wrong or objectionable about the eight concepts she put forward. DeYoung didn’t seem to reject them himself. In fact, he was left wondering why it would be necessary since pretty much every complementarian he knows basically adheres to them.

Here’s why: the old wave has gone beyond this simple list.

We have had pontifications that worship services ought to have a “masculine feel“. We have been told that little boys should never play with dolls and that it was offensive for Sesame Street to do so. It is strongly implied that it is a womanly dereliction of duty to work outside the home or make more money than the dad. It is as if we are embracing cultural programming, which is ever shifting, to be part of the definition of what it means to be a Biblical man. It is not.

Pink is not a girl color. If a boy hates to play sports, he is not less manly. A boy can love fashion, enjoy the piano, love to cook, and wear pink. He is still a man; he is still manly. I have a relative who stays at home to take care of eight children, half of whom are foster children. He is not a man fail. He is a dad, a stellar and commendable man. His wife’s job as a CEO helps make this possible. She can do this without usurping his manliness or without abdicating her motherhood. You may be of a different opinion, but you don’t get to impose it onto a family where a real man is the head. Because he won’t suffer it, and he shouldn’t.

When we go beyond biblical simplicity, we risk enforcing our vision of a glorified past culture or a dream of our perfect culture where it does not belong. We say that all boys ought to be adventurous and love camping, and fishing. We begin to alienate boys who hate those things and love things you might label as feminine, which until recently included being a nurse or a receptionist.

I know a boy who plays dolls with his sister. He pretends to be the dad, and he cares for the ‘babies’ with his sister. He is a good care-giver. If someone came in and told that boy he was being too feminine, they would have to contend with the man of the house about it.

So yes, I am absolutely persuaded that we need to have this conversation. We need to have it because we are asserting that being a ‘provider’ is strictly related to bringing home the most money. We are defining gender roles based on what feels right to us according to our current and resent past culture, and not along strictly Biblical lines. The stay at home dad “man fail” is particularly baffling: less than 100 years ago almost every dad in Alabama was a stay at home dad, and the mom worked equally hard beside him in the fields at home. Let’s talk about how many of these assertions are actually based on our culture rather than inviolable Biblical principles.

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About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.


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