Egalitarianism (feminism) leads to Liberalism: Why I’m for Abolishing the Whole Egalitarian/Complementarian Logic

images-1Last week Justin Taylor asked his readers to consider Wayne Grudem’s argument from seven years ago, that “egalitarianism leads to liberalism.’ He recited a long paragraph from Grudem’s book and then asked his readers to consider the “valid points” in Grudem’s logic. To me Taylor’s blog post , along with a series of other exchanges between Andrew Wilson, Scot McKnight, and D.C. Cramer, explains how both egalitarians and complementarians are caught in the same logic: the logic of hierarchy and the difference-sameness binary. To me this logic is an exercise in missing the point. And it keeps all parties from seeing just what is at stake in the New Testament church’s recognition and facilitation of women in leadership (alongside men) in full authority in the church. I’m for abolishing the whole thing: the entire logic behind both egalitarians and complimentarians. Allow me to explain.


1.) THE NEW TESTAMENT CALLS FOR OVERTURNING (THE LOGIC OF) HIERARCHY: The NT church is not about whether women should be “over” men or men “over” women. It is about eliminating the “over” entirely (this is the point of 1 Tim 2:12). It is about abolishing the politics of anybody being over anybody and instead we come together mutually under one Lord and the organization of authority is centered in the recognition of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit at work regularly in the body of Christ under the one head – Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 12, Rom 12:3-8, Eph 4:7-16). This is the new community. Since God has poured out this Spirit on men and women alike (Acts 2:17ff) there is no discrimination in this authority. This is not a democracy, this is a pneumatacracy under the rule of one Lord. We are all invited, women and men, into the new community God is creating as a foretaste of his kingdom. If we wish to live out this new community, women must be equally invited into leading as men.

Too often however the complimentarian/egalitarian logic thwart this dynamic. The “complementarian” approaches to leadership keep hierarchy (and thereby patriarchy) in place thereby being unfaithful to eschatological reality that is the church. “Egalitarian” approaches to leadership often (unintentionally) become the means to ensconce “male dominant” ways/structures of leadership and then invite women into them. Egalitarians find themselves arguing for “equal” access into a leadership as presently conceived (i.e. in patriarchy/hierarchy) never dealing with the hierarchy in the system. But the NT calls for the abolishment of the entire thing. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Mark 10:42-43.



Hierarchy/patriarchy is a remnant of sin (“and he shall rule over you” Gen 3:16). The patriarchal logic is overturned in the new relationship in Christ (“… submit yourselves one to another in reverence –submission to Christ” Eph 5:20)) where we are reconciled to each other and live in mutual submission one to another (where the husband is to also submit to the wife “giving up his life for her.” Eph 5:25). In the church and in marriage patriarchy has been abolished. But this is not to be mistaken for eliminating difference. Paul is forever reminding the over-enthusiastic excessive Corinthians that they are still married, that sex still matters (and the women is asked to recognize her femininity and her relationship to her husband as head before the congregation by wearing a head covering while prophesying 1 Cor 11:2-16). Women are to remain women and men, men. Women are not to become men, but instead bring all of what it means to be a women to the community in the full exercise of her new found authority in the body of Christ. “In Christ” therefore, there is still gender difference culturally and within marriage (much of this difference is worked out contextually within the various cultural challenges presented to each gender). The struggle in the New Testament is to maintain gender difference in marriage (that has not been abolished only transformed) in the midst of women’s full authorirty n the new Kingdom. This is where the majority of references occur in NT where Paul is calling for women in church authority not to abuse that authority within their marriages. This new dynamic of mutual submission in difference under one Lord both preserves difference while making us one.

Too often however the complimentarian/egalitarian logic thwart this dynamic. Complimentarians often miss how the NT church is calling for a new reconciled “mutually submissive” relationship between genders, not a maintaining of hierarchical management of gender roles. They assume giving up this “hierarchy” eliminates gender difference. Not so! Instead the genders maintain difference but enter into a mutually submissive relationship under and to one Lord. On the other hand, egalitarians often unintentionally diminish gender difference and the roles within marriage. Any sense of male headship at all is viewed as anathema. Yet in the NT these roles are not eliminated (for instance “the headship” of the male in marriage), they are transformed (headship becomes a form of service and a role lived in mutual submission ala the Triune roles within the Godhead). As we can see then, both complimentarians and egalitarians keep the prior logic of either maintaining gender management under hierarchy/patriarchy or eliminating gender difference making management of gender difference irrelevant. The New Testament calls for a new logic of maintaining difference in mutual submission and reconciliation between the genders in the “in between times (before marriage is done away with Mark 12:25).



There is a tradition of ordaining women under these terms that is not based in the logic of either complimentarian or egalitarian thinking. It neither denies gender difference (on the logic that some texts are culturally obsolete) nor sustains hierarchy. Rather we follow Jesus into the cultural revolution of the Kingdom God He is ushering in. We do not restrain women from ordination based on a parallel understanding of men and women’s roles in marriage functioning in the church. There is an overlapping of the ages which must be honored. And women are encouraged to be women and men be men all the while respecting their marriages if indeed they are married (I have an extensive paper on this available on our church – Life on the Vine – website).  Nonetheless, even more so, all are invited to participate fully in the new authority of the Kingdom God is bringing in through Christ. These impulses have been carried out best within the Holiness/Charismatic Traditions (who base their life on the new work of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit in the church) and the Anabaptist traditions (which see hierarchy as abolished within the New people of God as founded in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Somehow these traditions get marginalized in these discussions. And us Anabaptist Holiness people get grouped in with the “liberals” ala Wayne Grudem because we affirm the full authority of women in the church. Hopefully this post makes way for another way.



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