I should begin this post with a word of gratitude toward Dr. David Gushee. Dr. Gushee was a professor of mine during my time at Union University. He is now the Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University. I am thankful for the influence he had on me during my time at Union. His ethics courses challenged me to truly consider the way I live out my faith in every day decisions. Furthermore, Dr. Gushee helped me to see the implications of my faith in regards to many difficult ethical issues. I have found his book Kingdom Ethics, co-written with Dr. Glen Stassen, to be extremely thoughtful and fair minded. It has become a useful resource in my collection of books.
Dr. Gushee recently wrote an article for the Associated Baptist Press called Opinion: Keeping complementarians true to Scripture. The issue of gender roles is a hot topic within the church today. The two views that are at odds with one another within this debate are complementarianism and egalitarianism. A summary of the two positions with objections and responses can be found at The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
Dr. Gushee writes from the perspective of an egalitarian. As he puts it, “I am convinced that all positions of service and leadership in the life of the local church should be open to women or men based entirely on calling and gifts — an egalitarian view.” One of his main motivations in addressing complementarians is “to help you keep the application of your approach as biblical as possible.” With this purpose in mind, Dr. Gushee lays out four questions that he believes “expose weaknesses in complementarianism that cannot be mended from within that paradigm.”
- Are you successfully communicating to young men the conviction that a complementarian perspective must elevate rather than diminish the dignity of women, and therefore inculcating a moral commitment on their part to act accordingly?
- Are you absolutely clear on which positions of Christian service (you believe) are barred to women?
- Once you have determined what positions of Christian service are barred to women, you have therefore also determined which positions are permitted. Are you active in encouraging women to pursue the positions that are permitted?
- When women occupy positions of church leadership that parallel those of men, are their positions named equally and are the individuals involved treated equally?
I believe Dr. Gushee’s questions are extremely valid and appropriately challenging to all complementarians. As a complementarian myself, I believe we should be holding the dignity of women in high regard. I also believe that we should encourage women to use their gifts in service within the church. And I certainly believe that men and women in parallel positions should be treated equally. However, I believe Scripture is clear about the differing roles within the church for men and women. The role of an elder is to be reserved for a male who leads his family well and is able to teach. What about other positions? Are those reserved only for men as well? That discussion is for another time. This distinction does not make men better or greater than women, just different. We can see this same principle when Scripture speaks of marriage. Men and women are equal but different.
Though Dr. Gushee’s questions are very helpful, I believe his conclusion on complementarianism is flawed. His questions reflect experiences with the inconsistency of some who hold the complementarian position. He asks these questions not only to challenge us but to “expose weaknesses” through the evidence of practical inconsistency. However, the inconsistencies do not automatically discredit the position. As Denny Burk says,
Gushee assumes that the abuse of one’s principles (in this case Complementarianism) invalidates the principles themselves. But this premise is totally unwarranted and if applied to other principles would lead to totally absurd conclusions. Can you imagine if someone said the following: “Civil laws are constantly broken by those who otherwise say those laws are just. Therefore, the hypocrisy of the lawbreakers invalidates the laws.”
As Dr. Gushee mentions, the egalitarian position has many practical inconsistencies of its own. The argument against egalitarianism is not based on the inability of people to apply its principles. The argument against this view is rooted in the belief that Scripture does not teach it. I do believe Dr. Gushee’s questions are useful and challenging. However, I believe there are good answers to these questions. I also believe that there are good examples of churches and people living out the principles of complementarianism. It does not negate the fact that many are not consistent with their belief. Practical consistency is an issue for all positions because humans are inconsistent by nature. Yet we could apply this same concern and argument to many aspects of the Christian life. So does the struggle to live out Christian principles discredit a person from being a Christian? I think not. Otherwise our faith would not be based on the grace of God but on the consistent works of man. In the end, I believe Dr. Gushee’s argument falls well short of exposing flaws in the complementarian view. It does however reiterate the fact that inconsistency is a part of who we are as humans. Thus Dr. Gushee’s argument reminds us of our continued need for the transforming grace of God.