Three Complementarians & a Mutualist

So now that Smokin’ Hot Fest 2013 has died down somewhat, I figured I’d deliver on my promise to talk a little bit more about the theological root of the demeaning, misogynistic evangelical fruit that I surveyed in the first post on the topic.

It’s time, you guys. Time to talk about…complementarianism.

Now, I know that the uninitiated will find that word cumbersome and confusing. Does this have something to do with complimenting people? Like, “Nice job!”-ism? Worse, does it have something to do with that particular compliment that some evangelical bros are wont to tweet and sermonize about, the smokin’ hot compliment?

Well, yes and no.

Really, complementarianism describes a biblically-derived complementary view of gender roles in marriage, home, and church. That is, each gender – male and female – is different from the other, with different roles to play in these particular spheres of life; but each role is not “better or worse” than the other. Instead, each role complements the other! It’s all good, homeboys and homegirls (so long as both the homeboy and homegirl in question each stay within their particularly defined roles). Yet, as these roles are unpacked it becomes clear that there is not just gender diversity but gender hierarchy at work. Men are uniquely called to take the “highest” leadership positions in both the home (head) and church (elder/pastor), and women are called to other “lower” tasks that generally imply submission to male leadership.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are the current Christendom guardians of the complementarian worldview (in North America at least) and they sum it up rather nicely in these first points of their audacious-sounding “Danvers Statement”:

We have been moved in our purpose by the following contemporary developments which we observe with deep concern:

1. The widespread uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity;

2. the tragic effects of this confusion in unraveling the fabric of marriage woven by God out of the beautiful and diverse strands of manhood and womanhood;

3. the increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives…


Before one can even scratch down to the content, there is something striking right here on the surface: antagonism. While complementarians are generally self-consciously biblical in their argumentation – beginning with creation in Genesis and plodding their way through the propositions of Paul – this opening statement deals with a decidedly cultural battle. It is antagonism towards the “contemporary developments” of “feminist egalitarianism,” etc., that has moved the men of Danvers to make a statement. And that’s why it has become my conviction that the complementarian worldview, as it currently stands, is far more political than theological.

That said, I used to be a complementarian. My complementarianism even blossomed in half-hearted public “hot wife” talk in order to be one of the guys. It was part of the young, cool conservative evangelical package, and I was playing my “gender role.”

As such, I’ve seen a spectrum within the complementarian school of thought. There’s some nuance here. So without further ado, I want to introduce you to three complementarians, who differ in their particular perspective and delivery. Like the “three men” represented above, they all hold onto a strongly defined maleness, with much proverbial hair on their proverbial chests (though one of them is a little bit more like Steve Guttenberg).

1. The Conservative Complementarian (or, the Selleck). This guy was one of the Danvers men, and he stands for everything conservative and culturally/politically antagonistic about the complementarian position. For him, the goal is to produce statements, white papers, and apologetics against the evils of feminism, egalitarianism, and “gender/women’s studies.” The Bible’s black and whiteness on this issue is beyond dispute for this khaki-and-polo wearing stud, and while he may not tweet about his smokin’ hot wife, he will intentionally suppress her both at home and in the church. (His wife will be inculturated enough to believe that she wants this kind of demeaning submission and stifling restriction.) And, when men in his church emotionally and physically abuse their wives, he’ll discourage law enforcement/court involvement/professional counseling, and simply “bring it to the elders” (see here & here).

2. The Cool Complementarian (or, the Danson). This guy LOVES tweeting about his smokin’ hot wife. Because he’s clear about what men and women are and do in their very different roles, he knows that women like to look hot and to have their husbands tell 8,000 internet followers they look hot every freaking date night. And, he knows that his wife’s “nagging” at home is a problem and she needs to learn to submit and respect him. In fact, it’s also getting to be a problem that she isn’t “available and awesome” enough for him in the bedroom. But no worries – a Song of Solomon podcast and a few more “hot” tweets should fix all that!

3. The Common-Sense Complementarian (or, the Guttenberg). This guy is the redeeming quality of the complementarian worldview. I know this guy, and I respect this guy. He is theoretically on board with complementarian gender roles in marriage, home, and church. But he is highly critical and super suspect of both the conservative and the cool complementarians. He makes no bones about the fact that his complementarianism is completely different from Mark Driscoll’s – because the stuff that dude says is CRAZY. His chastened, common-sense approach is theologically conservative/traditional but practically careful to affirm a baseline equality (he’ll even use the word “egalitarian”). He respects his wife, and all women, and treats them as equals even if he can’t offer them an elder position or Sunday morning sermon slot (he’ll find every way around that, though, to empower women in the church). In the end, his actions don’t create suppression or misogyny, per se; but he is yet connected to an overall theology that often does.

Now that we got our three men out of the way, let’s talk about the baby.

Ok, this is precisely where that metaphor breaks down. Forget the baby.

Instead, I want to briefly introduce the mutualist, the one who stands as a counterpoint to all this complementarian manliness. Mutualism may not have a Christendom guardian organization, nor even a theological Wikipedia page, but it is one way of identifying a growing Christian (and evangelical) perspective that makes a strong objection to the demeaning, misogynistic culture that complementarianism often creates. And the mutualist is self-consciously biblical, just like the complementarian claims to be.

The baseline belief is that the narrative trajectory of scripture, both Old to New Testaments, summed up in Jesus and his gospel, speaks loudest of gender mutuality, not complementarity/hierarchy.

The examples of high female leadership in the narrative (from Deborah to Mary to Junia) are buoyed up by a much bigger theme: the oneness-equality of the genders in creation and new creation. We are all created in the image and likeness of God equally (male and female), all children of the creator-God equally. While sin and brokenness tamper with this unity (Genesis 3), the new creation in Christ super-affirms it:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3).

Further, this oneness results in a mutuality within the body of Christ as all submit to Jesus as Head and then to each other as equal members:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5).

The mutualist believes that this gospel oneness manifesting in mutual submission to Jesus and each other, equally among both genders, is the guiding principle for all other questions regarding roles and callings. She is saying to her complementarian brothers that the monolithic categories of difference between gender roles for which they are arguing have been effectively wiped out by Jesus and his redeeming work of new creation. Now, everyone is free to be exactly who they are, as human beings, in Christ, as gifted members of the body of Christ, together!

Because mutualism is a basline biblical/gospel category, it embraces the beauty of egalitarianism and feminism. And, in affirming all people being exactly who they are as human beings in Christ, it is also inclusive of differences in gender roles and callings as they are simply lived out and expressed. It even affirms complementarity, while denying hierarchy! The kind of “headship” in marriage, for instance, that Paul goes on to propositionally describe in Ephesians 5 is not regarded as a “bad authority thing” but rather a description of a husband’s gifting in an already mutually submitted marriage (verse 21 comes before verse 22). Yet, the manifestation of this “headship” is not monolithic, nor are the particulars set in stone, for it is subject, again, to the narrative of new creation and gospel that resoundingly shouts out the mutuality of our oneness-equality in Christ.

The mutualist reminds us that her view is grounded in scripture, so much so that it is not mainly a political or cultural signifier, as the statement of the Danvers men seems to be. She is painting a picture that is fundamentally non-antagonistic. She’s saying, “Deborah happened! Mary is a thing! And Paul wasn’t embarrassed that the Holy Spirit made Junia an authoritative apostle, leading men, just as he wasn’t ashamed that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles!” The hierarchy of gender roles has been wiped out, not by cultural feminism, but by God, and even the trajectory of Paul’s letters flies unmistakably in the direction of full and equal leadership in the church among genders. She says with Scot McKnight:

I don’t think the traditional complementarian view is biblical. I think it’s anti-biblical.

But there’s something else about the mutualist that everyone should know. As biblically-rooted as she is, she has also generally been hurt by that same Bible in the past. She is familiar with the existential reality of pain inflicted by the unrighteous wielding of the Word, especially upon women and children. She’s seen the abuse. She’s seen the misogyny. She’s been suppressed and demeaned.

And the Jesus she knows – existentially, experientially – simply cannot be ok with what she’s seen.

The gospel simply has to be better news than all of that mess.

And you know what?

She’s right.

So, what do you think? Are you one of the three complementarians, or are you a mutualist? Or have I missed your “type”? Let me know!

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is an author, preacher, and binge-watcher who writes and curates here at The Apocalypse Review. You can also catch him at his author blog,

  • tristaanogre

    And he sets it up… and he lowers the
    Nice one!

  • Amy Thedinga

    I get so happy now when I see a new post from you in my inbox.  And while sometimes it’s a mere sentence about a dead horse or something – more often it’s THIS!  I’ve often wondered, where are the men speaking on the women’s behalf?  It seems so obvious, that I wonder why all Christ lovers aren’t UP IN ARMS.  While evangelicals are running around the globe serving the least of these, they are simultaneously oppressing and ABUSING (more than) half their congregation.  What kind of a crazy world do we live in when Rev. Piper can use scripture to advise that a woman should “endure verbal abuse or a smack”.  That the only time she should not joyfully submit to her husbands leadership is when he’s asking her to sin (like with group sex or something really vile).  But the crushing of her spirit and abuse of the image and likeness of the Living God which she bears is acceptable because it’s only “hurting her”.  Why can’t people see that the enemy has effectively used the church to neutralized ONE HALF of the body of Christ from fulfilling their purpose and calling?  “We have met the enemy, and he is us”.  Thanks once again for speaking to this issue with wit and wisdom.

  • Chris Morris

    I finally found a description to fit what I believe. I have been Gutenberg in the past, but that just doesn’t fit me anymore. I’ve watched my wife and other women be degraded and not given opportunities to lead out of their calling because of their gender, and it’s made me mad. Yet the egalitarian position felt too argumentative for me to jump on. Thank you

  • zachhoag

    Amy Thedinga Amy, all I can say is, AMEN. No wonder the church is in such sharp decline and struggling to be an effective witness. You hit the nail on the head!

  • MAGuyton

    I can submit to my wife as to the Lord and she can love me as Christ loves the church. The point is to imitate Christ and serve Christ in the other within all of our relationships. Paul is simply applying this ethic to the specific expectations of the Roman household.

  • zachhoag

    MAGuyton So you’re saying that the bulk of Eph. 5:22 ff. is mainly contextual with respect to the husband’s headship? That it could be either-or in other contexts/situations?

  • uponacloud

    You put down some of my ideas that I have struggled to put down in a way that makes sense for people to understand.

  • forgedimagination

    I identify very strongly with what you’ve said here, but I’m curious about your thoughts. Maybe you’ve written about this before, and if so just point me that direction . . . I was in a conversation the other day with a woman who argued that marriage is “THE” primary icon for understanding Christ and his church (the Bible opens with a wedding and ends with a wedding feast, for example).
    I can understand how gender essentialism and complementarity isn’t necessary to understand the metaphor, but what about someone who thinks that complementarianism is the only correct means of understanding the purpose and nature of the Church?

  • suzannah | smitten word

    i grew up (and worked in) the conservative/evangelical wing of the PC(USA) church, and i never encountered your types 1 or 2 folks until i started blogging. that kind of complementarianism remains a pretty foreign worldview to me. the camp where my husband works, although owned by a PC(USA) church, is headed up by a reformed/PCA/complementarian man who has always sought to affirm women in leadership and never treated me or any other women (even us feminists!) with anything other than respect. i’ve given staff seminars and taught at sunday worship at camp at his invitation. he and his wife have a fabulous marriage and are some of the best parents (and people) i know. the “gender issue” is wholly peripheral to the work, faith, and friendship we share in common. all this to say, that i agree with your assessment of how theologies of gender hierarchy can be tremendously oppressive (especially prescriptively) but the folks who practice it cannot be lumped together as misogynists by any stretch.

  • BarbOrlowski

    Hi Zach,  A pal sent me the link to your article.  I am glad that he did!  I like your style.  What you have stated is right on, liberating, and paves the way for greater awareness about this issue that is being foisted upon the unsuspecting in the church.  Hi to Amy.  I liked what you said! 

    Some history.  If you look back at the timeline/calendar for Christians for Biblical Equality and CBMW you might see that CBE was already having meetings by 1987.  CBE was officially established Jan. 2, 1987.  The Danvers Statement was drawn up in the next year.  It would appear that CBMW was a direct and perceived ‘biblical’ reaction to CBE’s raising awareness about the view of biblical equality and mutuality based on NT Kingdom principles.  “Opposition arose to this evangelical egalitarian organization—the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) was formed to support a traditional hierarchical view.”  (Wikipedia) 

    CBE was headed up by Catherine Clark Kroeger who founded both CBE and PASCH which stands for Peace and Safety in the Christian Home—an organization raised up to inform the church and provide suitable help regarding women in domestic violence situations. 


  • StephanieArnoldRollins

    Thank you for saying this. I have long held this mutualism prespective and you are so right about having a passion for truth as the Bible says and not a political agenda. Thank you for writing this.

  • BarbOrlowski

    Hi Forged,

    Just a thought:  If your understanding of  the Godhead is based on the Subordination of Christ theology then it is quite easy to follow with the subordination of women to men, whether in the marriage only or also to all men in general.  Though theologically incorrect, this is an easy jump, and to the uninitiated, looks fairly biblical.

  • K Deanna

    Thank you!  Since you mentioned writing this, I have been looking forward to it being posted.  I so appreciate your perspective!  Is it okay, though, to admit I like Tom Selleck? (Not the Selleck complementarian version, just Tom Selleck)  If wer’re still friends after that admission, I’m wondering if you would discuss/elaborate on the concept one of the commentors brought up on Christian marriage as an example of the Church’s relationship with Christ and how we should  understand that regarding mutuality.  Thanks!

  • zachhoag

    suzannah | smitten word that’s great perspective, thank you.

  • zachhoag

    BarbOrlowski Barb, thank you for this! That is really helpful historical background.

  • BarbOrlowski

    Hi Zach, Glad to be able to help.  Not sure if my previous ‘reply went through or not’.  Here’s a rerun.  There are many resources available on the Christians for Biblical Equality Website.  They have a free newsletter with helpful articles.  Check out: 

    CBE holds that any interpretation of scripture that prohibits women from using their spiritual gifts and abilities in ministry constitutes injustice.  CBE defines injustice as an, taking from others freedom, dignity, resources, and even life itself.  CBE considers gender discrimination within the church to be an injustice that harms the Christian church at large and Christian ministry in the world.  The organization sees as its call to be part of God’s mission in opposing injustice as required in Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28.(Wikipedia) 

    OK, all the best as you continue to speak the truth in love and raise awareness about this issue. 


  • zachhoag

    K Deanna listen. I can forgive the Selleck thing. The guy’s mustache is absolutely all-time. We’re still friends, and I’ll definitely do my best to respond below :).

  • zachhoag

    StephanieArnoldRollins you’re welcome, that’s encouraging to hear.

  • zachhoag

    @forgedimagination BarbOrlowski K Deanna I think there are a couple ways to address this. The first is along the lines of Morgan Guyton’s comment below  that what Paul is expressing can be true in any case of mutual submission (even a husband submitting to a wife or another person in the church body shows Christ’s sacrificial servant-love), and Paul is simply speaking to his first century household context. Or (and I tend to lean in this direction in my reflection currently), husbands may have a unique responsibility  to serve/love that uniquely manifests Christ’s love for the church in some way, but that is based on a priori mutual submission. Also, the manifestation of this “headship” is wide and varied and NEVER hierarchical, authoritarian, demeaning, abusive, etc.
    Does that make any sense?

  • Elizabeth | Delightfully tacky

    I’m with suzannah | smitten word in that I grew up in my church and Christian school receiving complementarianism as “right”, though never saw anything as explicitly misogynistic as #1 or 2.  I would definitely count myself as a prior female version of “Guttenberg”, though in the past few years found myself becoming more and more convicted about issues of sexism and oppression in the church.  I had never come across an actual name for what I believed, beyond egalitarian, but I like this Mutualist stuff.

  • zachhoag

    Elizabeth | Delightfully tacky suzannah | smitten word That’s really good to hear. One of the things that I’d add to the post is that mutualism (as I imagine it) is not a replacement for ideas like egalitarianism or Christian feminism, but rather one biblical/theological vision that encompasses those other ideas as well. In other words: I want mutualism to move me into an even more robust egalitarianism and feminism in my attitudes/behaviors/etc. towards women. Etc. So glad this resonated!

  • Barb Orlowski

    I have been getting some chances to read in the latest Pneuma Journal.  Here is something that I just read that speaks into our present topic.  See whatcha think. 

    “Equality between the sexes is grounded in the fact “that both male and female participate in Christ’s redemption and restoration, especially through the act of water baptism (Gal 3:26-28).  They are now imago Christi and, as such, distinctions based on one’s sex are no longer significant.”  . . . 

    “As a part of this New Covenant, water baptism has replaced circumcision and all believers are covered with a new identity that eradicates any form of discrimination on the basis of former identities—Gentile, slave, or female.” 

    “It is Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that brings the restoration of the image of God to humans.  God has provided for the removal of the curse of sin as well as its destructive effects.  Because the image is restored, no human hierarchical systems should be operative among the redeemed of Christ.”

  • Bev Murrill

    Fantastic article. I’ve reposted it on my Facebook page. I’ve made the journey slowly but surely from only preaching to ‘the women’ despite my husband’s determination that I preach to the church… right through to co leading our church planting movement and being completely accepted by all those who have aligned themselves to us. The empowerment of the body of Christ is contingent on whether the entire church can be mobilised. The tough part about it all is the religious garb this garbage is clothed in.

  • zachhoag

    Bev Murrill  thanks Bev, and agreed!

  • Andrew Wymer

    It seems to me that the heart of the difference between mutualism and feminism is an exegetical one.  My perception of your presentation of mutualism is that it is a way of moving toward the removal of gender hierarchies without entering into the textual criticism of the Bible espoused by feminists.  In my experience, most feminists are quite willing to just say Paul was part of an oppressively patriarchal world and this led to him writing a biased, patriarchal text.  (With the obvious implications that the Bible was written in and profoundly shaped by its context and that it is thus not without human bias…)  How the mutualist position deals with this is by noting the trajectory and saying that the trajectory was inspired, which seems to reinforce biblical inerrancy and means we can deemphasize problematic, though completely inspired, texts.  (I do think there is some good scholarship behind this notion of trajectory.)   Am I wrong to connect this issue of preserving inerrancy to mutualism?  I personally come down in a the-Bible-has-errors-and-is-embedded-in-human-context-yet-it-is-truthful-approach.  In this sense, I can affirm the trajectory, but with ease just say that: the Bible is patriarchal and we do not have to take that part as anything other than context.  To me this position seems burdened by a need to preserve inerrancy while wiggling around problematic texts.  Thoughts?  I have the utmost respect for the latter Complementarians and for mutualists of whom you are the first I have come into contact.  They are trying to make good out of bad.  Oh, one last question.  Mutualism.  Where and who are the influential women championing this?  Are there any?  Or is this a male-created, male-led, and male-admired teaching to make males feel better while protecting a text written by males in a male-dominated world?  I think that is a legitimate question, the answer of which is crucial.  That being said, it comes across as cheeky.  Please read it with genuine curiosity and respect from a former misfit Complementarian.

  • StephanieArnoldRollins

    @Andrew WymerThe reason you don’t see many “influential” women championing this
    cause is because she would immediately be targeted and black-balled by
    the community at large. And besides, most women with a large platform
    got there because they had no problem playing by the “rules” that the
    good ole boys club wrote. I look forward to the day when we are
    not judged by the color of our skin,  but the content of our
    character….oops, wrong issue, but I am sure that you  can see the

  • Andrew Wymer

    StephanieArnoldRollins  It seems that you are saying that it will take time for this to fully liberate women.  I can see that argument.  However, until women themselves take ownership (co-ownership?) of Mutualism, it seems, at least functionally, little more than men loosening the leash a little bit.  Certainly, we need men who will stand up for gender rights, but I think that we have to at least recognize that until (If you are indeed correct that no women have really championed this…) women own this teaching as equally as men it is intrinsically male benevolence and comes from a system still dominated by male power.  Awareness of this and its implications seems important whether one affirms Mutualism or not.

  • Tim Krueger

    I know at least one person has mentioned this in the comments, but has been around since 1987, advocating the position that “the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28.”
    To this end, CBE publishes two journals, hosts and online bookstore with carefully reviewed biblical, egalitarian resources, hosts an annual international conference, and publishes a weekly newsletter. The academic journal,, engages in high-level academic discussion on theology, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, logic, etc. to demonstrate that sound biblical exegesis and interpretation supports the full equality of the genders in the home, church, and society. The magazine, called (appropriately), of which I am the editor, does much the same thing but on a popular level, engaging in culturally relevant discussion. Our most addressed rape and sexual violence and the strong connection between a worldview which presupposes the superiority of men (supposedly based on Scripture) and the culture of rape and sexual violence that pervades our world.
    Anyone who’s interested should check it out.

  • StephanieArnoldRollins

    @Andrew Wymer my mother has been in full time ministry for over 30 years. She has been pastoring for the last 13 in the church that we started, as well as planting churches and ministering in churches all over the world. Our church embraces all genders, races, and marital status as leaders. That is a little about my background.
    I would like to respectfully point out that as a woman, I have grown up fighting indoctrination. Even as a daughter of a strong woman of God, I had embraced ideas of complementarianism in the past. But lets face it, the enemy has been subtle in how he marginalizes women who stand up about this issue, even using other women against those of us who chafe at this un-biblical restriction. It is insidious, and without men standing up to say that women who are called to leadership are NOT “jezebels” then change won’t come.
    Jesus had 12 male disciples, not because (I believe) he wanted church leadership to be all male. If the disciples were meant to model the future leadership of the church, then why are white, non-jewish, non-fishermen allowed to pastor? I personally believe it’s because Jesus knew that the world wasn’t ready to “hear” women in a leadership capacity. And until men (and yes, women, I am not excusing them) stand up for their sisters in Christ, then other men and women will point with fear at the “jezebels” and resist the truth that they speak. The words coming out of women’s mouths have already been preemptively made illegitimate.

  • zachhoag

    Tim Krueger Hey Tim, thanks for sharing that info. I’m excited to learn more about CBE and kinda embarrassed for not knowing more about it! So yeah, thanks for educating us :).

  • zachhoag

    @Andrew Wymer hey man, this is a great question. And the answer is probably overly simple: No! No, this is not a way to preserve inerrancy (as I don’t hold to inerrancy). And no, this isn’t a way to avoid feminist theology. Actually, I think your summation of (I presume Christian) feminists as dismissive of Paul is a caricature – they are exegetically serious even if they are contextual in their interpretation (as I’m sure you know, since that’s your position). 
    As for mutualism being championed by women – I don’t think the term itself is being championed by anybody. In fact, I use it with no real historical backing – it’s just a way for me to sum up the interpretive emphasis of mutual submission & equality in the NT/Paul. I do, however, see egalitarian women and Christian feminists as promoting a mutualist interpretation in one form or another, and hopefully mutualism as an idea can be seen as embracing of all that. That’s why my post as the mutualist as a “she” – many women fit this bill on the scene today. (Also, I have seen a cool emphasis among Christian feminist writers on “mutual marriage” which is virtually the same thing I’m arguing for here.)
    Finally, when I hit the idea of male “headship”, I just want to grapple. I DO think it’s contextual, in that the precise expression of headship as Paul envisioned it in a patriarchal Roman household is no longer valid. But, is there a principle in there somewhere that can find a  mutual, egalitarian, non-hierarchical expression? I think perhaps. 
    Hope that makes sense!

  • Barb Orlowski

    One of the many good books on this topic is:  “Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry” by Stan Grenz with Denise Muir Kjesbo.  Grenz looked at many aspects of this issue including church history, Scripture, and Christian theology. He points out that it is important to ensure “that society not be allowed to set the church’s agenda.”

    Grenz cites Mark Chapman:  “The only reason why the church should ordain women is that it legitimately can be expected that God would call women to be his ministers.”

    Their thesis “is that historical, biblical and theological considerations converge not only to allow but indeed to insist that women serve as full partners with men in all dimensions of the church’s life and ministry.  . . . “our contention is that the ministry of the church is best facilitated through a mutuality of leadership.  The mandate to the church is advanced as men and women serve together in all aspects of ministry.”

    The vision of male-female mutuality is grounded in the Bible and serves the practical needs of God’s people.

  • Rachel HestonDavis

    @Andrew Wymer I’m not sure i would agree with you that most feminists are willing to dismiss Paul as biased and unreliable. I’m not sure that most of the Christian feminists I know believe this (if you’re talking about feminists who aren’t Christian, well…I’m pretty sure that most people who aren’t Christian see no reason to believe most of what the Bible says, regardless of what their pet issues are). Having been part of Christian circles where feminism was highly regarded, I just don’t see this attitude about Paul expressed in the majority.

  • Barb Orlowski


    Yes, I agree that most people who aren’t Christian see no reason to believe what the Bible says.  Yet, if you are male or female and it has been drilled into your head that the church’s position is one of stanch patriarchy, that women have no place in church leadership, based on the view that females are less than males, then you would not want to go near a church since it would be perceived as an obnoxious archaic society. 

    Numbers of people have interacted with folks ‘outside’ the church and have verified that this position–about how they ‘treat’ women in the church–just puts them off big time.  Pointing to a Creator-Savior God who valued women and that the church today honors and values women’s input, based on a correct biblical interpretation, goes a long ways to dismantle that that creepy persuasion and to welcome the enquirer into Christ’s claims.

  • Andrew Wymer

    zachhoagOkay, this fills in some gaps for me.   Humorously, I took from this article that mutualism was a new movement that has arisen in response to complementarianism but which is not equatable with egalitarianism, Since I know quite a few egalitarians who do not fit your description of mutualists, I read this as a new or differentiated school.  Anyway, it seems that you are loosely using mutualist as inclusive of some egalitarian thought.      
    My exposure to Christian feminism is generally limited to my scholarly discipline.  I have specifically focused on feminist liturgical and sacramental theology.  These women and other feminist scholars I have read are quite clear that the text reflects the bias and prejudice of Paul’s (and other biblical writers’) time period.  My language was read as inferring that they reject the text, which a close reading would reveal is not what was said.  Just because one recognizes and speaks out about bias and error in the biblical text does not mean that one rejects it.  This is displayed in Protestant Liberalism, where Bibles are still used after one hundred years of historical/critical reading.  (This exegetical method acknowledges that every author brought their errors, bias, and finitude to the text.)  Of course, if feminists rejected the text on patriarchal grounds there would not be much left; rather, they interpret the text in light of that bias brought to the text by it’s particular male author who lived in a male-dominated world.  My point was simply, I have not met or read a single self-identified, Christian feminist scholar who would not identify the Bible as a patriarchal text written by patriarchal males who lived in a patriarchal culture, but I have seen the trajectory argument made by conservatives who are not willing to actually grapple with the text’s interior bias.  This of course led to part of my confusion.  
    What is particular fun to watch from a theological standpoint are those defend inerrancy or something close to it while trying to explain away the patriarchal bias of the authors.  It goes something like this.  “When Paul tells the women to be silent in church he did not mean that they should actually be silent in church.”  (This is definitely a caricature.)  I believe NT Wright has a decent argument about this, but it still requires dancing around an issue that would otherwise be completely and adequately addressed through merely acknowledging that the text like Jesus himself is deeply embedded in the historical time and space of those who wrote it.    
    Egalitarianism (or what you might call mutualism) has many female champions, and it was arguably fully brought to pass by women themselves.  This would render my comments about where and from whom this “mutualism” is coming moot.

  • GavinJohnston

    So nice and refreshing to hear all the Jesus talk in this post!  “All” things are reconciled through Christ!  And as we weave and wave through a post such as this deftly handling theological minutia, hearts can burst open and Spirits can fly when the Spirit of Christ saturates the struggles of the debate.  We Christians are left with very little description of the actual nature of Heaven in the Bible.  Unlike Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age spirituality which delve deeply into the nature of life after death, we are left with only with a few enticing ideas about it.  But one very important thing said about it by Jesus himself is that there is “no marriage in heaven” (Luke 20).  So one of the absolute most important, beautiful, demanding, confusing, and enriching aspects of earthly life does not exist in heaven?  Wow!  What is heaven like then?  Why would there be no marriage?  Probably because all these earthly concerns we are steeped in have no bearing in heaven.  Yet, if it is such a big deal for our earthly life and as Christians we believe that our earthly life is a testing ground for our heavenly life, then perhaps how we handle marriage will reflect how we receive glorification in our resurrected life?  In the video age where we end up watching wolves in sheep clothing (famous preachers) use scripture as cleverly as Satan does to suppress women we simply have to remember that we are not in heaven yet where such ones will be thrown into a lake of fire so they can refine themselves.  The suppression of women is not a Christian problem, it is global problem from all viewpoints – religious and non-religious.  Even the categories we put these terms into relating to Christianity could be stripped of their theological import and related to strictly by social-phenomena without any scriptural reference.  Yet, when we don the Armor of God, we have higher expectations of ourselves.  Remember, the oft-quoted Paul in these matters said that marriage is a compromise if you can’t remain celibate and control yourself!(1 Cor 7:9).  Perhaps when it comes down to it, the root cause of so much of this suppression and confusion among the sexes is a lust issue.  We are told not to lust in the ultra-demanding Sermon on the Mount.  I think we often relate that to lusting for people we are not married to, but I believe it means we are not to lust at all because it is much too earthly and so unlike the heaven we are trying to reach. Remove lust from our lives and see how differently we view the world, our spouse, our partner.  How are we to become sexually excited without lust?  If we can’t, then perhaps we should remain celibate?  Lust always has some sense of objectification to it, even if it is our wife or husband we are lusting for.  To kill someone, to steal from someone, to covet someone, the envy someone, to lie to someone we have to identify to them as less than their Spirit and objectify them.  If we see anyone else’s Spirit we are seeing the Christ in them!  How shall we react to our Savior?  Shall we lust after him, objectify him, not give the proper reverence to him?  This is not a marriage debate, this is a debate about working out our salvation and discovering Christ.  As he gives us a new heart and mind we will truly discover the deepest reconciliation to all seeming differences no matter the arena of debate…

  • GavinJohnston

    Because we are not Christ, we are very identified to our body-principle.  Paul who famously asked for the thorn to be removed from his flesh was told “no”! by Christ (2 Cor 12:7).  Even a women who identifies herself as a feminist is doing so in reaction to the principles of her body whether that be her own relation to it or in relation to other people’s relation to it.  Do not “conform to the world” (Romans 12:2)!  There is life beyond the body-principle!  Not only in our resurrected and heavenly life, but right here, right now while still wearing our earthly rags.  Paul was told the thorn would not be removed from his flesh after he had blissfully visited the “third heaven”(2 Cor 12:2)!  Our life in body is a struggle because God wants us to grow and so He has given Satan access to us (the Book of Job) so that our realizations of God are buffeted by Satan (2 Cor 12:7).  So as we try to figure out the “right” view, the best way to compliment each other, and be mutual to each other in marriage, it is only because Satan is tugging at us and getting us caught up in confusions and lust.  Sometimes I see my wife’s “hotness” as gift from God and sometimes I see it as a temptation from Satan.  But if we focus on the prize at the end of the race (1 Cor 9:24) we will see our own third heavens and beat back Satan all the more…

  • NorrinRadd

    Please endure a lengthy disorganized collection of comments…
    First, the grammar-nazi in me obsessively notes that there is a difference between “complimentary” and “complementary.”  ;-)
    Since I’ve opened with the “terminology” issue, I’ll stick with that for a bit:  I believe “Complementarian” is a dishonest term.  Further, I am judgmental and uncharitable enough to believe that many of my “siblings” who describe themselves with that term *know* it is dishonest.  The positive-sounding “spin” is that it accurately describes the obvious fact that men and women are not identical, and yet are equal in value, and avoids the “error” of Egalitarianism, which (supposedly) teaches that men and women are indistinguishable and interchangeable.  However, as you’ve noted, in actual *practice* Complementarianism teaches a patriarchal hierarchy which renders the alleged “equality in value” a mere platitude.  Meanwhile, Egalitarians / Mutualists (I do kind of prefer the latter term) do NOT say or even imply that men and women are indistinguishable or interchangeable; we recognize there are clear physical differences (Thank God!), and acknowledge that there may be sex-related differences in things such as communication style, leadership style, problem-solving style, etc. (but studies are far from clear-cut in those areas).  We maintain that apart from things such as childbearing that are clearly and directly dependent on biological differences between sexes, each sex is equally qualified for any role, though there may possibly be differences in how each one functions IN any particular role.
    Also on the “terminology” issue, I have not yet become comfortable with “feminist” or “feminism.”  In my mind, I can’t separate “Christian Feminism” from the wacky secular ultra-feminists of my youth — the “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” crowd.  I acknowledge that’s probably just my own personal quirk.  I don’t in any way object to the label, “Charismatic,” even though I know many people, especially outside the U.S., associate that with “Name it and Claim it,” “Prosperity Gospel” theology.
    I’d also like to note that women are not the only ones oppressed by Complementarianism (though I would not deny they do bear the heavier burden).  It is also an insult and assault to men who do not meet the proper “manly” stereotype.

    For those interested, there are many good Egalitarian / Mutualist resources:
    A good, thorough overview is “Discovering Biblical Equality — Complementarity Without Hierarchy.”  It comprises chapters by numerous authors, and is edited by Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee.  (Note that the title sort of illustrates my point about the definition of “Complementarian” by showing that an honest evaluation of Egalitarianism reveals it to in fact be complementarian in the true, non-hierarchial sense.)
    Craig Keener’s “Paul, Women, and Wives” deals with some of the “problem” passages in Paul, and in typical Keener fashion, provides copious NT cultural background.
    “Man and Woman, One in Christ” by Phil Payne provides a more recent and exhaustive treatment of the relevant Pauline corpus, with even more material available at his Web site,
    I’ve only recently begun sampling material from the prolific author Ben Witherington.  I believe he has produced several books favorable to the Mutualist position.

    FTR, FWIW, and all that — I was a rather “soft” Complementarian for the early part of my born-again life, ca. 1980-2000 (very roughly speaking).  I’m now a “hard” Egalitarian / Mutualist.

  • zachhoag

    NorrinRadd good grammar catch! I made some key edits, hopefully I hit all of them… :)
    TOTALLY agree with your assessment of complementarian spin – been there! Hard egalitarian/mutualist – AM there! And thanks so much for listing those resources. Some great stuff!

  • Barb Orlowski

    Good Discussion.  Just wondering–what are the chances that commenters could add a few more paragraph breaks so that it would be much easier to follow their thoughts??!!  Hard to read just one continuous bulk of words.  :)  Thanks!!

  • Barb Orlowski

    Here is a brief piece I wrote about the historical roots of feminism.  You might find it interesting.  It will be in 2 parts.

    Feminism is certainly a curious word that must be defined in order to understand what exactly a person is talking about.  So what are the roots of early feminism?  That is a huge topic.  I find the roots of feminism fascinating in light of the heritage of Christian women who blazed a trail for others to follow!

    Some historians assert that feminism found its roots among evangelical revivals.  Looking at Wesley and Finney, for example, there was room made for women in ministry.  Frontier life required that men and women work alongside each other in order to survive.  Note the founders of the Salvation Army, women in the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements.  Women combined social concern, about slavery and the harm of liquor in the family, with a call to personal ministry.

  • Barb Orlowski

    Continued, Part 2

    Dale Coulter in the Pneuma Journal suggests that “From the outset the first wave of feminism was bound up with the cause of abolition and fueled by Holiness preaching. … Newly founded institutions such as Oberlin College where abolitionism and women’s rights were fused with Holiness rhetoric, became a seedbed for such activity.  Oberlin was the first college to admit women.” 

    “For many nineteenth-century Holiness women, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) became a place to express their theology and their support of women’s issues.  The WCTU was more than an organization opposed to alcohol consumption; its actions covered a broad range of issues, including support for the ordination of women.” 

    Historians talk about feminism’s second and third waves.  This is a whole other discussion.  The complexities in cultural movement abound.  It is important to grasp the historical background as well as to be able to define ‘feminism’ in a more precise way.

  • zachhoag

    Barb Orlowski Thanks, Barb. Appreciate this.

  • RachaelKMcNeal

    Yes and amen.

    What you fail to mention is how the Mutualist position really benefits men and women to be genuinely and holy themselves.

    I am a natural born leader, it comes naturally to me. My husband is a natural born supporter, encourager and behind the scenes person. He leaders in those capacities but when the church tells him he is to the “spiritual leader” in his marriage, it is intimidating and causes him to question his understand of his personhood, self and calling. A mutualist perpsective keeps the pressure off in a sense and allows him to support his wife in the way he feels called, rather than the way others believe he should. It also enables me to be genuinely myself, and to support and affirm my husband’s calling the way he understands it.

  • zachhoag

    RachaelKMcNeal Rachel, that’s a brilliant point, thank you!