My appeal to complementarians – Stop telling me to calm down

My appeal to complementarians – Stop telling me to calm down September 11, 2012

I am getting a bit frustrated with my complementarian friends and their propensity to want to suggest that egalitarians are not respecting scripture.

I have been in several debates and found that as soon as I raise a decent point they either claim that they are trying to be scriptural or that we need to agree to disagree for the sake of unity (which is almost like saying ‘calm down’)

In particular I am bemused at the way complementarians do theological gymnastics with 1 Tim 2:12 and 1Tim 3:2

On the one hand they totally contextualise the first by allowing women to teach in certain circumstances; whilst on the other they refuse to accept that Paul may not have been addressing the gender of elders in 1Tim 3 but dealing with men having licence to have multiple partners (something that was not common for women).

I remember hearing Wayne Grudem at a Newfrontiers conference trying to navigate his way round the fact that Wendy Virgo had written a book (and by implication acted as a teacher).

His answer ‘I prefer to think of reading a book by a woman as having a chat over a coffee than as teaching’

The above is compounded by the constant references to respecting scripture as if the only way this can be done is to hold a complementarian position.

Let’s get a couple of things straight shall we:

1) Everybody contextualises. Even the most serious defenders of Calvinism do.

2) Some things are too important to not raise an objection to.

So complementarians let me appeal to you: Admit you contextualise and stop asking me to calm down.


Thanks to my good web friend, Al Molineaux for this challenging guest piece. Connect with him on Twitter.

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  • Thank you for posting this. I left my church recently because of this issue and it was incredibly painful. I was made to feel that I was making a big deal out of nothing, but as a woman in seminary, I felt their stance to be demeaning to my call and that of other women. Your honesty is refreshing, especially being that you are a male writer whom I respect.

    • Hey Tricia.

      I trust you will find peace after your brave decision.

      Be encouraged that there are churches around that are affirming of all in their discipleship journey.

      Peace : )

  • One of the best ways to shut down a debate is to claim you are being Scriptural. It serves to imply your opponent “is not” being Scriptural and provides one with an excuse for refusing to listen respectfully! Unfortunately, it also shuts down any opportunity for growth.

    • Hey Clark – I agree and this forms the main part of my frustration.

      All of the egalitarians that I know and speak to are respectful and careful will scripture.

      Once someone accuses you of not being scriptural you are left with no voice.

  • “‘I prefer to think of reading a book by a woman as having a chat over a coffee than as teaching.'” Wow. How hilariously (and tragically) patronizing of Grudem.

    • Tragic indeed!

      I have just watched a teaching video by Mark Driscoll in which he asks his wife to ‘share’ some thoughts.

      After she does so he states that she wasn’t teaching but they were ‘they are just having a conversation’

  • Dan Jr

    I share the same frustration mainly over the accusation that I don’t love the Bible and respect its authority. I love your point “everybody contextualizes” It’s because I love Jesus and His way that I dive deeper into the context in order to handle the Bible with appropriate care in application. I did a little post related to this>

  • Grudem’s remark highlights one of the chief problems with the complementarian perspective, particularly that of teaching in the church: nobody knows where the line should be drawn. So, we end up asking questions like, “Should guys listen to Beth Moore?” or “Can women read Scripture in the pulpit?” I’m not suggesting that they’re not also looking to be faithful interpreters of the Bible, but this sort of example shows just how thin and threadbare the patriarchal argument is.

    The thrust of Scripture is certainly in favor of women leading and serving in church. Early church accounts line up with this, as well. As I understand it, until the Roman church chose to use an Old Testament framework for their authority, women served freely and openly.

    I am grateful for your witness on this matter, Kurt. I believe this issue will be more solidified in the next half-century, but for now, we need this clarity.

    • I trust you are right that it will be more solidified during the next half century.

      At present it seems to be getting more polarised.

      I hope that my generation can keep making the case so that the next doesn’t have to.

  • I understand and appreciate both sides of the issue, but defenders of complimentarianism seem to fight for a superficial reading of the texts, not the other way around (as I’ve been told). It’s the denial of perspective, “contextualization” as you pointed out, that is the heart of the debate.

    • True Allen

      I am not asking that complementarians have to agree with egalitarian position – just that they recognise that you can see scripture in this way.

  • Elizabeth Nordquist

    you go, Kurt!

  • A few weeks ago, Rachel Held Evans said theologically conservative Christians should just give up the fight about acceptance of homosexuality. Were you willing to tell her not to tell others to calm down then?

    • Why do you think Kurt is obligated to do that?

      • James Williams

        Not sure that I said he as obligated. I asked if he did so.

        • Why does it matter, though?

          Your original post made it sound like Kurt was obligated to say something to Rachel, since he had said something to the complementarians. Maybe I’m just reading that wrong, but that’s how it comes across.

    • It’s not the point of the blog.
      Passion is ok whatever your view point.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    At The Gospel Coalition they have continuing discussions on why they are comp and yet exclude some who hold to the gospel, despite their (mis)name of their group. They end up declaring that while it MIGHT be possible to be a believer and not be comp, the very methods egals use will work to tear down the gospel! What arrogance!
    And they also have to explain why they allow people who differ over whether infants should be baptized into their group, but not egals. It does not have to make sense, it just needs to make sense to those that are weaking blue glasses, so let’s pretend everyone should wear blue glasses. I do not get it.

    • I am totally with you Donald.

      It is the inconsistency that frustrates me most.

  • True, Ben. Awful.

  • RT

    Kurt, if we do not contextualize what we read in the bible it loses its specific meaning for us. You can see the big picture as well as seek the specific guidance that the bible provides to each of us. The bible needs to be read not only in the context of what was going on at the time (culturally etc), but also in the context of what is happening in our life now.
    Oh, one more thing Kurt, maybe it is that Vegan (or is it Vulcan) diet thingee you are on that is causing you to be so cranky. I would prescribe a nice turkey breast sandwich on whole wheat twice a week. 🙂

    • KA Crosby

      I think you’ll find it wasn’t Kurt that wrote this piece!

      • Thank you so very much for pointing out what should be obvious, this is after all a guest post and thus was not written by Kurt. Possibly most of my comments should have been directed to Mr. Molineaux. However, as it is Kurt’s blog, I responded to him. I still think that if Kurt did eat a nice turkey breast sandwich on whole wheat twice a week he may be less cranky.

        • Oh brother dad 😉 Love it when you comment!!!!

          • LOL I went to Loma Linda University, which most of you probably know is a Seventh-Day Adventist school. Quite a few folks there tried to convert us non-Adventists either to Adventism or vegetarianism, not always in that order. Some of it was serious, other parts in good fun. In the latter category, one November as Thanksgiving was approaching, one of our profs reminded us non-Adventists to think about the fact that “you are what you eat.” We responded that we’d rather be turkeys than vegetables…

          • Dan, I just laughed out loud!

          • My view is that if God had wanted us to eat vegetables he would have made them taste like bacon : )

        • Just for the record: I probably eat enough meat for both Kurt and I : )

    • hahaha Dad. For the record, this article wasn’t written by me 😉

  • The exhortation to “calm down” is a manipulation tactic on the part of these arguers you speak of; they are trying to claim the non-emotive, logical, masculine place of power. It is a mind game. They seek “power-over,” but in the end, compassionate “power-under” will always prevail!

    • You are right charity. It is a form of passive-aggressive behaviour.

  • pete z

    “agree to disagree” so, you think I am abdicating my role as male, ruining my family and society, and you want me to calm down? sorry but this beta geek will go rambo on that sh&t. Focus on your own damn family. oh, you can’t because your totalistic worldview demands dogmatic coercion of others? yeah, guess my postmodern ass has to oppose that. And you thought postmodernism had no truth? here is the truth: complementarianism is bullshit, and bad eisigesis. hey, if you wanna go all S and M or old schoo power games in your marriage, fine, but my wife and I live in the 21st century and like Gene Rodenberry, we are boldy trying to go were the human race has not gone before–a world of peace, science, love, compassion. But, hey, you get back to saving souls and patting your wives on the head while children starve. Hope that works out for ya.

  • It’s interesting to me that while the church continues to hemorrhages its young people it choses to exclude 50% of those who stay from taking meaningful roles in leadership.

  • In
    particular I am bemused at the way complementarians do theological gymnastics
    with 1 Tim 2:12 and 1Tim 3:2

    On the one
    hand they totally contextualise the first by allowing women to teach in certain
    circumstances; whilst on the other they refuse to accept that Paul may not have
    been addressing the gender of elders in 1Tim 3 but dealing with men having
    licence to have multiple partners (something that was not common for women).

    Let me give you three explanations that
    might help clear the fog of your bemusement:

    1. There are those who are convinced
    exegetically of complementariansm but culturally would much rather be
    egalitarian. These people will, of course, push the boundaries as much as their
    conscience will allow. This is a form of theological gymnastics, which needs to
    be resolved by submitting cultural preference to exegetical integrity.

    2. There are those who are convinced
    complementarians but are so sensitive to egalitarian accusations (“You’re using
    the same argument a slaver would”) that they fudge whatever can be fudged in
    order to appear less offensive. This is theological gymnastics, which needs to
    be resolved by having greater confidence.

    3. There are those who read 1 Tim 3
    alongside the rest of scripture and in so doing are convinced that eldership is
    limited to men; at the same time they read 1 Tim 2 alongside the rest of
    scripture and are convinced that there are some contexts in which it is
    inappropriate for a woman to teach and others in which it is appropriate. This
    is not theological gymnastics but doing the hard hermeneutical yards.

    All three of these groups would consider
    the argument to which you allude (men having multiple partners) to have as much
    hermeneutical credibility as the argument that “they exchanged natural for
    unnatural” means it is wrong for straight people to have same-sex sex but not
    gay people.

    • I wasn’t saying that complementarians have to agree with my egalitarian position.

      I was saying that they should admit that they contextualise.

      The examples I give are to a) show that they do I fact contextualise and b) that we egals are still using scripture in a thoughtful and respectful way when we read it.

      Whichever camp the complementarians fall into from what you write above they ALL contextualise.

  • Alan, thank you.
    Kurt, thank you for using Alan’s work.

  • Mattie

    Similarly relevant:

    Have you seen this? It intrigues me.

  • YES! Took the words right out of my egalitarian mouth.

  • Andrew Thule

    “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” [Deu 2:24]

    I wish someone would explain this whole complimentarian/egalitarian debate.

    I have a hard time understanding how ‘.. and they (two) shall become ONE flesh’ isn’t complimentarian.

    Actually, just thinking about it, I have a hard time understanding how it isn’t egalitarian either.

    • It’s mainly because complementarians put a hierarchy into the ‘one flesh’.
      Once you do this you are bound to deny any natural leadership skills that a woman has: thus denying her equality.

      • Becoming one flesh isn’t really either egalitarian or complementarian, IMO. It’s more unitarian (not like the religion, obviously). It reminds me of a sermon I heard by a wise old pastor in Tanzania years ago…he preached on Ephesians 5:21-33 (starting with v. 21…submit yourselves to “one another”). He said it’s like chai, the British-influenced tea we drank all over East Africa. When you put milk in your chai, you can no longer separate the chai and the milk into distinct things. In the same way, he said, we should be so busy submitting to each other and loving each other, you really can’t tell who’s doing which, when.

        One of the tragedies of the egal/comp fights, IMO, is that both perspectives really depend upon a distinction of identity that flies in the face of unity. I see this in both churches and marriages, and I think both are the worse for it.

  • Okay. I’ll stop.

  • I have stopped having even “discussions” with complementarians. It’s pointless and frustrating for all of us when we do, and much more peaceful and Kingdom-advancing when we don’t.

  • Debo