Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How Complementarians and Egalitarians can Grow

I've just read Christianity's Today article "Wounds of a Friend: Complementarian" by Dr. John Koessler, chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute, a self-described complementarian (he believes women cannot serve in certain roles because of their differences and/or God's commands in Scripture) who makes this point: "Adam's first sin was his silence in the garden when Eve was being tempted. His subsequent sin has been to silence the voice of his God-given partner."

While I do not believe Adam's first sin was his silence (God never judges or rebukes him for this) I do believe men are guilty of silencing their God-given partner. Koessler warns complementarians from using Scripture to push a certain social construct and control over women, one of which is manifest in calling stay-at-home mother's as those who are accepting "God's highest calling." As one woman friend tells him, "My children are grown and out of the house. So when I hear people say that a woman's 'highest calling' is to be a wife and mother, I find myself wondering if there isn't anything else for me to do for Christ."

This is precisely what some complementarians have done to women, in their eagerness to uphold the excellent work of mothering, they've allowed all other valuable, excellent jobs, vocations, ministries to pale in comparison. This is not what Christ teaches, which Koessler points out in detail in his article. I mention this here because of a recent post and long, dedicated discussion many of you contributed to the topic of stay-at-home mothering. To read this spirited, kind exchange go to "When Religion Hurts Women."

In a follow-up article, Dr. Sarah Sumner warns egalitarians (those who believe women and men should serve in any capacity in which they are gifted be it elder, deacon, pastor, teacher) in her article "Wounds from a Friend: Egalitarian" that egalitarians need to be careful to use carefully exegeted passages to defend their belief in women's public ministry, not political ideologies (and I'd add gut feelings like, "I feel very strongly that women should be permitted to preach.") Egalitarians must be careful about taking Scripture out of context, not slapping just one definition of "head" on I Cor 11, to be wary of a marriage where there is no mutuality, but only independent individuals operating without the other's input or love and to guard against a genderless church.

This last point is a problem I've noticed in the egalitarian movement. It is a problem that worked it's way into an answer in my first book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home. I'd like to share a short excerpt from chapter five, "A Natural Woman" the footnotes follow below.

Our bodies change the way our souls work. Our very experience of life is female. This difference goes beyond baby-birthing, nursing and menopause . . .

Women have dieted, tanned, styled, dyed, and even cut their bodies in order to get that one marketed look. Few women have observed and lived with their bodies intentionally enough to enjoy owning them, as they are, right now, not next month when I might be able to squeeze into my skinny jeans or after I have a baby when my breasts might swell a bit bigger. Not ten years ago when my stomach was a prepubescent flat washboard, but learning to be “in” my body and accept it right now. We don’t want our bodies, particularly not if they’re vulnerable vessels. This discontentment over our bodies’ vulnerability is the first place we need Christ’s help—to show us that women’s bodies are a good thing

My body is something I get to give over to my husband, a difficult task unless I actually believe that it is mine, part of me, and that my body is a good thing.
[1] I know women who smirk and grimace when their husbands praise their bodies—confident that he is misguided, blind or lying, or embarrassed to have attention called to their flesh. They don’t believe him or anyone else

Until my body and soul are really my own possessions, I cannot present them to anyone. Writer Virginia Stem Owens asks a grippingly good question, “Can I be friends with myself if I am not friends with my body?”
[2] To be friends with our bodies is a good form of self-possession, allowing us to own ourselves enough to be capable of giving ourselves away to God and others. What if we re-defined our bodies with Christ as our first consultant, not fashion, models or my own hurtful standards? What if I asked Christ what he thinks of thick thighs, thin calves, flabby arms and love handles? He may be more concerned at our attitudes towards our bodies than our bodies themselves. My body is something I get to steward, to love, to cherish, to be “in,” to give, until death do us part. After death, I get a new one and I’m not certain it will look all that drastically different from this one. Job says, “In my flesh, I will see God.”[3] It may be time to learn to like what I have been given.

[1] This is perhaps the most egalitarian statement in Scripture: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but he wife does. Stop depriving one another” (1 Corinthians 7:4-5). We get to give our bodies to one another.

[2] Owens deftly illustrates and struggles with the identity she feels with her body. This short story covers her encounter with a lump in her breast, her mother’s Parkinson’s, and her daughter’s horror at old ladies’ bodies. In the end she refuses to surrender her questions to the TV commercials or her HMO. It is this kind of honest body attention that women need to practice together. “The Message in the Body,” Image: Art, Faith, Mystery 48 (Winter 2005): 90

[3] Job 19:25-26. A thought to ponder: Do you think your femininity is something about you that you keep, even when your body is gone? In other words, do you think you will interact with God in heaven as a woman, or as an androgynous soul? When Jesus says that our resurrected bodies will be like the angels neither marrying nor giving in marriage, does he mean we lose our soul’s gender or just the earthly institution of marriage? Perhaps he means to point out that the exclusivity of marriage will be superseded, even outdated in the kingdom of God. See Luke 20:34-38. Could Abraham be Abraham without being male? What about you—can you be you without being female? I cannot imagine otherwise. (quoted from pages 106-108).

I cannot see how anyone gains by minimizing the obvious differences in the bodies and souls of men and women. And even if egalitarians assert that men and women are not exactly the same, if we fail to talk about it, explain and understand these differences, then our differences are not permitted to make a real impression on our lives, our marriage, and our churches.


Ash said...

You wrote: “While I do not believe Adam's first sin was his silence (God never judges or rebukes him for this) I do believe men are guilty of silencing their God-given partner....”

First, God did judge Adam for his silence. Within God’s judgment for Adam’s sin of silence is God’s rebuke for Adam remaining silent and not reminding Eve that to eat of the tree was to disobey God.

Just as in God’s judgment regarding Eve is God’s blaming her for allowing herself to be deceived.

You make an unwarranted assumption that God would have had to make a statement detailing Adam and Eve’s sins within some precise outlining of them before a Bible reader can know that Adam’s sin was silence AND open rebellion to what God had told him (and Eve) NOT to do in the garden.

God didn’t name Eve’s precise sin of being deceived when He judged them for their disobedience either (He didn’t deny that she was deceived when that was her explanation for why she had disobeyed Him, but He didn't rebuke her for that precise part of her sin).

God didn’t rebuke Adam’s lie that God was to blame for his sin, either. In Adam’s excuse for why he had sinned was that it was God’s fault because if God hadn’t given him Eve, he wouldn’t have sinned.

The historical reality is that their sin of rebellion had several sins inherent in the act of disobeying God.

Re: Freedom in the Body of Christ -- Women have every right to do anything a man makes the decision to do in/among the body of Christ.

There are no masters or leaders in the New Covenant. That is what Jesus taught in Matthew 23.

Only Jesus Christ is our master or leaders. We are ALL servants in the church.

Every act of service is a voluntary “going along” in order to meet the needs of fellow-members or to preach to unbelievers.

We do not go along with anyone who asks us to act outside the morality of Jesus Christ (we are slaves to no one).

Paul (writer of Christian letters) is the best friend of women. He has not denied their right of equality with men. In fact, he has stood along side their personal liberty under Christ.

Every teaching that presents a double-standard is not the teaching of Paul or Jesus (or any other writer of the New Covenant scriptures).

Every mistaught view about women comes from one thing... not accepting the teaching within context (consistently).

Women were not silent in the meetings nor were they silent outside of the meetings. Women taught men.

Women spoke publicly and those who challenged that as being right, were challenged by Paul as being incorrect.

Paul is far ahead of every generation and taught the perfect sexual equality of men and women (a concept that neither the secular or religious world has yet to understand and accept).

Just as the early powerbrokers within the growing Christian movement accepted the secular view regarding men and women, this view was accepted and re-interpreted into the early church.

It is time the Body of Christ accepts what Jesus taught and Paul affirmed in his teachings about the liberty under the New Covenant for both men and women.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Hello Ash,

I do not believe we should assume sin unless God has told us something is sinful. Especially at the beginning of the story when we're talking about two sinless creatures, I don't think it is safe to assume any sins of Adam or Eve unless the Bible states them. The only command that Adam and Eve broke was eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Why do you assume Adam sinned by silence? Where do you get this idea?

Every sin I'm saying Adam and Eve committed is listed in Scripture:

1- We know Eve was deceived not from Genesis but from 1 Tim 2: 14 Though I do not see God blaming her for being deceived, I only see God judging her for eating of the tree.

2- We know that God judged Adam for listening to his wife and eating the tree Gen 3:17. We also know that it's not wrong to listen to your wife, when she's speaking truth (Gen 21:12)

3- I wouldn't go so far as to say Adam lied when he told God that the woman gave him the fruit. It's true that Adam wasn't accepting the blame for his own decisions, but I don't think this is why God judges him. Everything Adam said was true, Eve did give him the fruit and God did give Eve to Adam. So why do you say Adam lied?

4- You call their sin is actually many sins of rebellion. That is reading into the text as well. I do not see their actions as more sinful than what we know clearly from Scripture: they ate what they shouldn't.

About the comments you make on the New Testament, I appreciate your emphasis on the equality Paul's teaching gives to women, however, I think you could communicate it with less dogmatism. This is, after all, an ongoing (and much heated) discussion among many orthodox, Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians disagreeing. I think that should inject some humility into our discussion, to be willing to listen to the other sides, instead of stating our view as the only clear one...don't you?

Anonymous said...

Dear Jonalyn,

I want to first thank you for your wisdom on this topic. I greatly appreciate the work you are doing to bring balance into the body of Christ on this particular issue in the church today. I grew up in the state of Missouri, which I belive I can safley associate as a rather conservative autmosphere both biblically and theologically. I have recently moved from the midwest to the west coast, and I am studying the Bible at a liberal Arts college in Settle, WA. All of this background to explain that I have grown in the Complementatians world and I am now in another realm so to speak. I have been wrestling with this balance myself. That is, "What does the ideal situation look like for women and men in the church and in the family". I wanted to specifically ask you what do you think is the Biblical function of men and women in the family. What do you think Paul is refering to when he uses the word 'head' in 1 Cor 11:3 & Ephesian 5:23. Our university recently held a discussion on the role of women in ministry. The discussion was led by a proffessor that I highly respect and look to for theological advice. The discussion was largely centered around the scriptural text of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The conclusion of the discussion was that Paul was adressing a specific issue in the church he was writting to, and that for the saftey of that particular church, it was best for women to not have authority over men. I wanted to ask, what are your views in interpreting this text. I am currently a growing student in the Bible, and I would like to recive your insight into this particualr topic concerning womens function in ministry and in the family. Sorry for such a long question,


Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Hi Sam,

I'm glad you wrote. What lib arts college at you at in Seattle?

Are you by chance attending Mars Hill church?

My view of head is that
1- it is a metaphor and must be "lived in"
2- it is an organic metaphor expressing both unity and complementarity (though not necessarily complementarianism).
3- head can and does mean source, authority, prominence and other things in Scripture.
4- In I Cor 11 I believe head means source (I have a longer explanation of this that I'd be happy to email to you, just let me know)
5- In Eph 5, I have a wonderful husband who has recently put together a verse-by-verse explanation of this passage. I agree with his ideas. They can be viewed at ""
6- in healthy families, I believe women lead, protect and provide as much as men. I also believe men nurture, love and help as much as women. This is NOT to say men and women are the same. I've written my book, Ruby Slippers, to show the many ways we are different. I just don't believe most men are from Mars or women from Venus. I believe we were both made for the same planet, on purpose ;)

My views on I Tim 2 can be best summed up in an online article my husband and I wrote called "UnMuted: the Welcome Colors of Woman's Voice"
Check it out and let me know if it answers your questions. If not, let's dialog more. Email me at

Glad to know you care to dig deeply.

A great resource comparing both views is Two Views on Women in Ministry, though the complementarian in it is rather "soft" :)

Stickler said...

"1- We know Eve was deceived not from Genesis but from 1 Tim 2: 14 Though I do not see God blaming her for being deceived, I only see God judging her for eating of the tree."

In 1 Tim 2 Paul does NOT say that Eve has become deceived and is in sin. It's present tense so who he is refering to is presently deceived at the time of his writing the letter to Timothy. Also notice that Paul has been talking about 1 man and 1 woman throughout the passage. And verse 15 in the Greek says "she" and "they" and "she" cannot be "they".

Paul says "the woman" has become deceived and the woman is the same woman of v.11. She's the one he has stopped from teaching because she is deceived.