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Four Dangers are not enough

February 8, 2016

The other day I was reading an article on The Gospel Coalition website entitled 4 Dangers for Complementarians written by a fellow named Gavin Ortlund.  It was written a while ago but only recently was brought to my notice.  Oddly enough, I was pointed to it by two different people, one of whom heartily agreed that complementarian theology is the one and only biblical way for men and women to relate; the other was someone who thought that complementarianism was the essence of evil abuse of women.  I was intrigued by an article that could elicit both rapturous praise and horrified condemnation and just had to read it.

I was generally pleased with the article even as I disagreed with the man in some ways.  I was impressed that he had a grasp of the concept that your certainty that your conclusion is biblical does not assure you that you will flawlessly live it out.  He encouraged his fellow complementarians to do some rigorous self-examination and gave four “dangers” that might come from a flawed follow-through on this stance.  I think he is correct on all four, although I also think there are other dangers he overlooked.  But, all in all, the article was one of the better complementarian think pieces I have read.

I came away from my reading of it convinced that Ortlund had overlooked, and indeed had fallen into, two dangers he does not mention.  One is peculiar to complementarianism, although there are similar weaknesses in virtually all theological arguments.  At one point he says this:  “men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways.”   The implication is that he thinks egalitarians are saying that men and women are interchangeable.  That is a total straw man.

No egalitarian I have ever met or heard of believes they are and I tire of the assumption that total gender interchangeability is what egalitarianism teaches.  If you are going to refute an argument, refute the one your opponents are actually making, not a caricature of their view.    For example my wife and I totally agree that we “complement each other in mutually enriching ways.”   However we feel that our complementary relationship is based on our gifts and interests, not simply our respective genders.  Complementarianism seem to never be able to shed the “men are like this…women are like that” lumping by gender that they do so often.

The second danger he steps into is not exclusive to complementarianism but is, in my opinion, the biggest weakness in American evangelicalism.  At one point, while he is actually encouraging his fellow complementarians to be gracious, he says this:  “Of course, many people will disagree with complementarianism—often quite vehemently—no matter what we say or do. But the truth is offensive enough without our help.”   In essence, no matter how graciously put, he declares himself on the side of truth and anyone who disagrees to be in error.  In other words, “it is me and God against you.”

The reality is that there are people with what he calls “a high view of Scripture” who have studied the same Bible he does and reached different conclusions.  He does not have the liberty to say or imply that they have a low view of Scripture.  He does not have the liberty to say they are wrong.  He does have the liberty to say he believes they are wrong and to engage them in thoughtful debate.   Scripture may have only one meaning but nobody has the freedom to say that only those who agree with me know what that meaning is.  Yet we evangelicals do it all the time.  This second danger is the root of every nasty theological debate that goes on.  I am sad to see Ortlund’s otherwise thoughtful piece step right into it.

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