Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Christian Hierarchy - Complementarianism vs Egalitarianism

The subject of Christian egalitarianism should seem a moot point by now but because all men everywhere love (or lust for) power, and especially God-ordained power (as self-appointed magistrates  of religious hierarchical power within the Church of God), this subject will never cease to be untimely nor unduly spoken.

Just recently a friend I know was teaching a Sunday School class presuming that there is a God-ordained mandate for the view of hierarchy within the church and family that requires the church board, preacher, priest and husband the final word on any-and-all matters pertaining to direction in the life of church or family. He was expressing a complementarian point of view. And when reading this past year through the many Evangelical articles submitted by theological heads-of-state (presidents of associations, seminary leaders, popular pastors) I discovered that to digress from their opinion was to digress to one's harm and destruction (in moral terms of slander, judgment, condemnation).

But this is not simply an Evangelical problem for we see it occurring time-and-again throughout all forms and expressions of Christianity denominationally, institutionally and personally. Even in my own Emergent church and movement it appeared from time-to-time (though I thought at the time this was more due to youth and frustration than purposefully but God only knows the real truth of the matter...). Though Emergents wish to speak the party line of egalitarianism woe be to those should a dissenting voice "against emergency" ever be expressed. Rather than taking a gracious position to discuss a matter and determine its legitimacy it was overruled out-of-hand and the dissenting voice disallowed either publicly or privately. Consequently, we all sin regardless of the Christian branch we have fallen out from, or have chosen to remain bonded to... the Church is no less immune than any other parts of society.

So then, the topic of power and autocracy never seems to grow old. One can find it anywhere. The man-on-the-street who works hard for his living sees it more than most and is ever disposed to its rejection. However, when raised into power and authority those same folk nearly immediately forget their ancient complaints and arguments from "down below." It takes an exceptionally humble man or woman to remember that we live-and-breathe by God's all-gracious gift of life. That it is God who lifts-up or takes-down men and women from positions of privileged leadership.

And it is to this view/topic of leadership that Dr. Olson in his several articles below expresses the wish, hope and prayer for better leaders - and for that matter - better followers to help their leadership become godly, humble leaders. There are too many who wish for power and authority and not enough who should wish to help support those in power and authority to become better egalitarian leaders. For power and authority is a two-way street and the principal of egalitarian leadership will always be mindful to empower those around us through the practice of mentoring and discipleship to become better leaders in their own right. At the last, power should be given, not taken. This is true empowerment. One that God has exampled to mankind and to His Church specifically.

The best examples of leadership that I have found have been those seeking to empower those around themselves. Seeking to lead others towards fully-functioning decision making. Towards the formation and creation of independent will that is given back over to the whole of the organization (or family unit) and for everyone's mutual benefit. Towards trusting the ability of sincere congregants to the management of their ministries while offering supportive leadership in teams of mutual respect. Towards creating an atmosphere of consensus government beginning first in the ranks of the leadership proper.

And these principles MUST be affected within our daily lives - as fathers with mothers, husbands with wives, parents with children, children with parents, and friends with friends.... By definition all organizations will have a kind of hierarchy to them but in the postmodern world of global communications, mutual cooperation, and tolerant respect, such organizations will work best with a flatten hierarchy that has learned to become servant-minded, sacrificial, and focused on love, respect and integrity as it can be reproduced within itself.

To those who would take advantage of such organizations and family environments be mindful that the lust for power and sin's nearness can destroy many a Camelot, many a good endeavor, and what is destroyed may never return as it once was. It behooves all of us to seek God's will and not simply our own. To lift up those around us and not ourselves. This is wisdom. A wisdom wise men and women do well to heed and mentor towards others. But those who refuse such wisdom will find ruin and destruction.

R.E. Slater
January 17, 2011

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Truth, Authority and Roles
Part 3/3

(Parts 1 and 2 will be found further below)


by Roger Olson
January 10, 2012

Truth, Authority and Roles

“He who begins by loving Christianity, better than truth, will proceed by loving his own
sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.”

 - Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection

Consider this little essay background explanation of why I am against complementarianism and hierarchy in general. Hierarchy, including complementarianism, emphasizes roles and “authority over” and “submission to” based on them. In other words, to put it bluntly, hierarchy is the manner of organization of a social unit (especially the family) so that assigned (or assumed) roles matter more than truth.

Hierarchy is more than an organizational flow chart. Hierarchy exists where a person’s authority over others is independent of truth.leadership without hierarchy. Hierarchy is when the leadership’s power over those led is independent of accountability to truth. Hierarchy naturally inclines toward abuse because of our fallen nature. Its social structure encourages abuse and subjects truth to power-over.

Christians claim to be concerned with and committed to truth. And yet we betray that concern and commitment when we insist on hierarchy. Hierarchical Christians, like all hierarchical people, show by their organizational theory and behavior a preference for power and control over truth.

Let me illustrate. In 1633 Galileo, a faithful son of the Catholic Church, was brought before the Inquisition and found guilty of being “vehemently suspect of heresy” and was put under house arrest and forbidden to publish. The church hierarchy knew that Galileo was right about the heliocentric solar system. (Technically, they knew Copernicus was right and Galileo was right about agreeing with it!) What Galileo was really punished for was disobeying the church that had ordered him in 1616 to abandon all attempts to demonstrate the Copernican system publicly. (He was allowed to write about it as a mathematical fiction only.) This is a clear case of truth being trumped by power, i.e., hierarchy.

The second illustration is Luther. In this case, the church did not know that Luther was right about justification, but Luther stood up to role power and refused to bow to the authority of those above him in the hierarchy of church and empire. At Worms he clearly believed, however temporarily, that truth mattered more than roles. As a lowly monk he faced off against the pope and the emperor on the ground that truth was on his side.

The irony is that many people who consider Luther a great hero nevertheless talk about hierarchy as if Luther was wrong. During his controversy with the pope and the emperor some of Luther’s counselors strongly advised him to bow to their (the pope’s and emperor’s) authority even if he knew them to be wrong.

This is all very personal to me. Over my years of involvement in Christian organizations I have observed (and been involved in) many situations where truth was put second to role-power (or ignored altogether for the sake of sustaining hierarchy). I taught theology at Oral Roberts University for two years. It was my first full time teaching position. There I observed and heard of many examples of this. (ORU is now under entirely new management and I trust [and hear that] nothing like that is happening now.)

My point in all this is a simple one. When a person in a position of authority is manifestly wrong and a person under his or her authority is manifestly right, true authority belongs, in that instance, with the “underling.” For a Christian, especially, to assert the “rightness” of the authority of the person in the wrong just because he or she holds a position, is a betrayal of truth. It is the job of all lovers of truth to hold others, including those higher in the “chain of command,” accountable to truth. And it is the job of all lovers of truth to bow to it even when it is being communicated by someone lower in the “chain of command.”

When my daughters were children I followed this policy with them. When we disagreed, if they were right and I was wrong, I admitted it and allowed their truth (the truth) to prevail.

This is one reason I am a Baptist; true Baptists have no chain of command. We have leadership, but no hierarchy. There is no Baptist person who has authority over other Baptists simply by virtue of his or her role. There are Baptist persons who are recognized as leaders because of their spiritual depth, higher knowledge and wisdom, education and training, etc. However, only God is considered infallible and always to be obeyed. And just because a person holds a certain position or role in the church or convention does not make him or her automatically “right.” (Note: I am not saying only Baptists have this polity.)

A good biblical example is Peter and Paul at Antioch. Peter was over Paul in the early Christian “flow chart.” And yet Paul stood up to him and criticized him when he refused to eat with gentile converts. The truth was on Paul’s side. In a hierarchy Peter would have been considered functionally right even if truth was on Paul’s side. Another biblical example is from the Old Testament—David and Nathan. The prophet Nathan confronted the king about his sin; truth was on Nathan’s side even though David was most definitely above him in the hierarchy. At that moment, hierarchy was suspended for the sake of truth.

I suspect that many people, including many Christians, prefer hierarchy to truth because hierarchy makes things more orderly, controlled and predictable. Authority-as-truth can be messy. But anything else is a form of idolatry (or at least an opening to idolatry) because God and truth are inseparable. To prefer power to truth is always wrong.

Questions such as “But how do we know the truth?” are irrelevant to the case I’m making unless one denies truth altogether. Then, of course, all we have is power. Whether anyone can know truth as God knows it (completely and perfectly) is not the issue. The issue is simply this: When I believe someone has the truth, I should follow that person in that instance even if it means going against authority. (Of course a person has to take prudence into account.) But even more importantly, the issue is: This holds true even and especially when I am the person “officially” over the person with truth in the organizational flow chart. If I believe he or she is speaking truth, I should bend to that truth even if the person discovering it and presenting it is the lowliest person on the organizational flow chart. To do otherwise is a form of idolatry.

When I was growing up in certain Pentecostal circles, a favorite biblical verse quoted often by my parents and mentors was 1 Chronicles 16:22 (echoed in Psalm 105:15): “Touch not mine anointed.” To them it meant “Never criticize or question those ‘in authority’ over you—especially in the church and denomination.” People who dared to criticize or question those “in authority” were labeled “negative” and ostracized. It wasn’t just a matter of how one did it; simply doing it was considered unspiritual. This mentality led to all kinds of abuses in our church and denomination and movement.

This is why I am adamantly opposed to so-called “complementarianism.” No matter how much they say that the husband should love his wife as Christ loves the church, they (the leading complementarian preachers and scholars) are handing husbands the right to ignore truth when it is his wife who has it and he doesn’t—that is, when his wife is right and he is wrong. I am waiting to read or hear a complementarian say to Christian husbands: “When your wife is right, she is right and you must obey the truth.” (I don’t expect them to say “You must obey her;” that would be expecting too much!)

Nothing in the New Testament contradicts this. In fact, I think it is everywhere assumed there. I cannot imagine Paul or any other apostle saying to anyone “I’m right and you’re wrong even though you’re right and I’m wrong.” To Timothy, a young apostle-in-training, he said “Do not let anyone despise your youth.” (1 Timothy 4:12) Clearly what he meant was “Don’t let anyone ignore or oppose your truth, when you are right, just because you’re young.”

In my opinion, “complementarianism” is an open door to abuse and idolatry. (I am not saying it is abuse or idolatry.) At the very least I insist that complementarians admit and teach that truth matters more than role—even outside spiritual matters pertaining to salvation and morality. If the husband believes his wife is right about something, that is, truth is on her side in a disagreement, he ought to let her decide. It shouldn’t even be a matter of “letting her decide.” A mature Christian person should automatically follow the truth wherever it may be found. But when I say “let her decide” I am talking to complementarians in their language (even though to egalitarian ears it sounds patriarchal).

I began this essay with a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I would very much like to see it displayed on church marquees and carved into the marble above the entrances to Christian organizations. The point it is making is one of the most important points ever made. Truth matters more than anything else—even love. Ephesians 4:15 does not say “Let love over ride truth.” It says “speaking the truth in love….” This does not mean license to hate! It means that love should never allow truth to be denied. Love may hide the truth for a while, depending on how important the truth is. But truth that matters to the well-being of people, whether individuals or communities, must not be set aside but communicated in a spirit of love.

I’m afraid that “complementarians” love authority and roles more than truth. If so, they may end up by loving themselves “better than all.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Earlier Articles on Complementarianism

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And now…on the other side (critique of extreme complementarianism)

Part 1/3


by Roger Olson
January 4, 2012

And now…the other extreme from “Christian feminism

Recently here I critiqued contemporary radical Christian Feminism while applauding egalitarianism. By “radical Christian Feminism” I mean the approach to theology that begins from women’s experience and resymbolizes God away from the predominantly male images of scripture to female images treated as superior to male images for their social value (e.g., in promoting equality rather than hierarchy). I regard the theologies of Rosemary Ruether, Letty Russell, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Elizabeth Johnson as pernicious to biblical Christianity insofar as they reject scripture as normative and consider women’s experience (as defined by them) as normative for theology.

Radical Christian feminism, however, is not the only extreme form of reflection on gender in theology that I criticize. Just as strongly (and from the “gut,” so to speak, even more strongly!) I reject so-called Evangelical Complementarianism as that is worked out, defended and promoted by some fundamentalist theologians. (Not all complementarians are fundamentalists; my objection here is mainly to those who seem fundamentalist to me in that they appear to adhere to “maximal conservatism,” elevate secondary matters of doctrine and biblical interpretation to the status of dogmas, and reject fellow evangelicals who disagree with them about biblical interpretation with regard to matters about which evangelicals have disagreed for the past century or more.)

So what is Evangelical Complementarianism? I agree with the definition given in a news article by Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press published in Baptists Today entitled “Abandoned his leadership: SBC professor says Adam’s sin was in listening to his wife” (November, 2011, p. 8). The article says that “complementarianism” “holds that men and women are both created in God’s image but assigned different roles.” But this needs supplementation (just as a definition of “Christian Feminism” that mentions only gender equality needs supplementation). Mention “complementarianism” in any evangelical theological circles and most people know immediately it is more than merely the belief that “men and women are both created in God’s image but assigned different roles.” For example, even feminists believe men and women have different roles insofar as only women give birth!

A complete (or at least more complete) definition of “evangelical complementarianism” (is there any other kind?) must mention that it holds that women, though created in God’s image, are meant by God to be permanently subordinate to men at least in the church and the family. From there complementarians go off in somewhat different directions, but on that they all agree. (Personally, I think “complementarian” is a misnomer because it does not sufficiently describe what these people really believe. The emphasis is not on males and females complementing each other but on females being submissive to males. Therefore, whenever I hear the label “complementarian” in an evangelical context I think of it as an example of “newspeak” as in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. I put it in the same category as “Patriot Act”—a name for a very controversial law implying that anyone who disagrees with any of it is less than fully patriotic.) [and in that case, it is an oxymoron, which is a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in "a cruel kindness" or "to make haste slowly." - res]

Some complementarians believe women should not hold jobs where they have to give orders to men. Others restrict female subordination and submission to spiritual contexts and the family. But all place the emphasis on female subordination and submission in such a way that adult women have pretty much the same role as children vis-à-vis adult men. So far as I know, all (or virtually all) complementarians believe women should not preach, should not be pastors (except perhaps “Childrens’ Pastors”), should not teach men in church settings or Christian organizations, and should obey their husbands unless they command them to sin. (I have heard some complementarians argue that women should obey their husbands even if they command them to sin, but that is, I believe, a fringe view among evangelical complementarians.)

This has been, for the most part, a civil and respectful disagreement among evangelical Christians. “Christians for biblical equality” (whether members of the CBE organization or simply those evangelicals who believe that men and women should have equal roles in church, family and society) strongly disagree with Evangelical Complementarianism but, for the most part, anyway, embrace complementarians as fellow evangelicals. (I’m not sure they have any choice as complementarianism seems to be the “default” view among most evangelicals.)

Increasingly, however, the views and language among some evangelical complementarians has become shrill and extreme. Some are making it a litmus test for biblical fidelity and orthodoxy. According to the article cited above, one evangelical complementarian argued at a recent meeting of The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that Adam’s sin was listening to his wife. According to the article (and the statement is placed in quotation marks in the article) “Eve was cursed on her God-given role before the Fall. She is cursed on her role as a mother and as a helper.” Now this is something new; I have never heard anyone make such an argument until now (assuming the article is correct). Taken at face value, what that Southern Baptist theologians and seminary dean and professor is saying is that just being a woman is to be cursed by God. Also, apparently, insofar as the article quotes the scholar correctly, it is a sin for a man to heed the voice of his wife.

Now, I think there can be legitimate debate about women and men and their respective roles in the church and family, although I am settled about it on the egalitarian side. I can at least see where evangelical complementarians are “coming from,” so to speak, because of their literalistic approach to hermeneutics (which is never really consistently literalistic). I do think most of them are inconsistent insofar as they applaud women missionaries who, of course, evangelized, preached to and taught men in non-American contexts (e.g., Lotty Moon—a Southern Baptist saint!). And I suspect that in the privacy of their own homes many of them actually have functionally egalitarian marriages.

The very ideas that Eve was cursed by God “before the Fall” and that Adam’s sin was heeding the voice of his wife (as opposed to disobeying God’s command not to eat of the tree) seem to me bizarre and weird if not downright unbiblical. They also seem dangerous to me. Such a teaching may be interpreted as giving men permission to be misogynists and to abuse their wives. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the view itself is misogynistic. In preference to such a church (where this is taught) I might be tempted to run to the nearest “Feminist Church!” (Although I suspect I would find somewhat the same view, only reversed.)

Back to the seminary dean and professor in question. According to the article, he claimed that he believes there cannot be “more important debate” (than the conference topic) (viz., gender roles) and “contends that if we lose the battle over the gender debate, we lose a proper interpretation of God’s word,… We lose inerrancy. We lose the authority of the Bible, and that is detrimental to the gospel.” Others have said the same about: premillennialism, creationism, restrictivism…you name it. (This is how I identify a fundamentalists—as someone who takes one side of a legitimate debate among evangelicals and elevates it to the level of status confessionis.)

So what is going on when an evangelical seminary dean and professor of theology makes such outrageous statements that go far beyond garden-variety complementarianism into outright misogyny? First, it seems to me there is a competition among especially Southern Baptist theologians (I’m not saying all SBCers are guilty of this, though, and SBCers don’t hold a monopoly on it!) to outdo one another in discovering and promoting conservative views on the pet issues. Second, conservative evangelicals are so driven by fear of liberalism that they tend to tolerate, if not applaud, extreme views that, even if outrageously nonsensical, are perceived as helping hold back the forces of liberal darkness. Third, many fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have no sense of accountability to a larger religious, spiritual, theological context. Everyone outside the safe and narrow (not necessarily small!) confines of their own hermeneutical and doctrinal circle is unworthy of a hearing.

I suspect such extreme views on the left and on the right have been around a long time. In fact, as a historical theologian I know it. (Not necessarily these particular views but extreme views on doctrinal subjects and matters of biblical interpretation.) Usually, however, moderating voices prevail. That hasn’t been happening so much in the last twenty-five years. People are de-populating the center and rushing (or at least gravitating) to extremes. I look to evangelical leaders, opinion-makers to condemn such extremes (as were expressed in that article in Baptists Today) and make clear they do not represent the mainstream of evangelical theology. I listen but only hear only silence.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A challenge to “evangelical complementarians”
Part 2/3


By Roger Olson
January 8, 2012

Following up on my earlier post about evangelical complementarianism…

I now see that it is possible to interpret the evangelical seminary dean’s comments about Eve being “cursed in her role before the fall” as NOT implying that she was cursed before the fall. The syntax of his sentence is tricky. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt here because it seems to me to say that Eve was cursed before the fall would be very strange indeed (if not a bit crazy).

As I said in response to one comment here, however, it does seem to me that at least SOME evangelical complementarians’ view of women implies that Eve was cursed before the fall. What is permanent, docile, subordination and submission if not a curse? To any doubter of that, let me pose a question: Suppose you knew that, in your life, you would always be like a child in relation to someone else no matter what your IQ might be, no matter what knowledge you gained, no matter what skills you acquired, etc. You would forever (at least in this life) be required to obey UNQUESTIONINGLY someone else. What is that but a curse?

I have held discussions with complementarians many times over the years. I’ve been immersed in evangelicalism and Christian higher education; I’ve pastored, taught, edited a scholarly journal, served as deacon and church board member, interim pastor, etc., etc. Throughout those 30 years of deep immersion in the evangelical subculture I have had many opportunities to dialogue with informed complementarians. I have read many of their articles and books. I have listened to them speak. There is ONE QUESTION they have never even seriously attempted to answer. I have posed it to many of them and the uniform response has been “Well, I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.”

They never do.

So here’s my question. Feel free to pose it to your complementarian friends, family, teachers, pastors, whatever, and let me know what they say. Or maybe you have an answer. Feel free to offer it here. But what I’d really like to know is what do the leading evangelical complementarian theorists say?


"Suppose a married couple comes to you (the complementarian pastor or counselor or whatever) for advice. They are both committed evangelical Christians who sincerely want to “do the right thing.” They are trying to live according to the guidelines of evangelical complementarianism. However, a problem has arisen in their marriage. The wife acquired sound knowledge and understanding of finances including investments before the couple became Christians. The husband is a car mechanic who knows little-to-nothing about finances or investments. A good, trusted friend has come to the husband and offered him an opportunity to make a lot of money by investing the couple’s savings (money for their childrens’ college educations and for retirement) in a capital venture. The husband wants to do it. The wife, whose knowledge of finances and investments is well known and acknowledged by everyone, is adamantly opposed to it and says she knows, without doubt, that the money will be lost in that particular investment. She sees something in it the husband doesn’t see and she can’t convince him that it is a bad investment. The husband wants to take all their savings and put it into this investment, but he can’t do it without his wife’s signature. The wife won’t sign. However, after long debate, the couple has agreed to leave the matter in your hands. The husband insists this is a test of the wife’s God-ordained subordination to him. The wife insists this is an exception to their otherwise complementarian marriage. You, the complementarian adviser of the couple, realize the wife is right about the investment. The money will be lost if the investment is made. You try to talk the husband out of it but he won’t listen. All he’s there for is to have you decide biblically and theologically what she, the wife, should do. What do you advise?"

I have posed this or a similar scenario to many complementarians without definite response. My thought is this: IF the complementarian says the wife should sign in spite of her knowledge, just because the husband says so (and she is obliged by scripture to obey him), he is simply being unreasonable because where would such obedience stop? If the complementarian says it stops at the line of Christian conscience (i.e., wives are not required to obey their husbands if they command them to sin), he has to define “sin” in such a way as to exclude from it the wife’s knowing participation in financial ruin for their whole family. If the complementarian says this is an exception and the wife is not obligated to sign, he is ripping complementarianism to pieces. He is then admitting that obedience is tied to knowledge and not to role.

I think this is a defeating dilemma to rigid complementarianism such as I hear it taught and read it promoted in much of conservative evangelicalism. I’m not at all surprised I’ve never received a definite answer to it from any complementarian. It’s a true conundrum that exposes the impossibility of consistent complementarianism.

I fully expect some complementarian to say the wife should sign and trust God to honor her obedience. I seriously doubt any adviser would actually say that to the wife in the counseling situation. If so, then I can only consider that an example of the kind of legalism Jesus countered in the Pharisees. Jesus said the “the law” was made for man not man for the law. Jesus had no trouble “working” on the sabbath when it was a matter of healing someone or finding food to eat for his disciples.

So, there’s my challenge. Please let me know your thoughts and those of your complementarian acquaintances.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A final comment (for now) about complementarianism


by Roger Olson
January 12, 2012

Egalitarianism (with regard to marriage) is the view that in a marriage husband and wife should agree before any decisions are made or actions taken that affect the family (whether that be just them as a couple or includes children). Whether one or the other is called “the leader” of the family is irrelevant (although, of course, most contemporary egalitarians do not like that designation especially for the husband!). I judge that a couple has an egalitarian marriage insofar as neither one makes any decision or takes any action that affects both without advice and consent of the other.

If a person thinks he or she is a “complementarian” but agrees with that, I judge that he or she is not truly a complementarian IN THE CONTEMPORARY sense of that label in Evangelicalism–unless one can be BOTH an egalitarian AND a complementarian at the same time (which would seem ridiculous to me).

If a person does NOT agree with that, then I worry that he or she is in a hierarchical, dysfunctional relationship that both subjects truth to power and will lead to abuse (not necessarily physical, but not all abuse is physical). I suspect that MOST conservative evangelicals who think they are complementarians, when push comes to shove, will agree with my stated thesis above and then, at least in that moment, be really more egalitarian than complementarian (if complementarian means anything different from egalitarian).