Wednesday, May 4, 2016

An Anorexic Complementarian

                                             -Mike Love, Brian Wilson






Wendy Alsup, used to be a deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, is published in CharismaMagazine , has written three books, loves theology, math, and whales, attends a small Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, and writes a Blog titled Practical Theology for Women. When asked once, "Why target women?" she answered:
Certainly everyone needs theology—I just think women are underrepresented as target audiences of theological texts and the theological community in general. There are very few women’s books that emphasize theology. Most of the classes I’ve taught had a mainly female audience. Therefore that is where my particular burden is. (emphasis mine)
On April 22 she published A Unified Field Theory on Gender which was reprinted in The Aquila Report on May 4 (disclosure: I search for, collect, and send to the editors materials they may want to use which I do regardless of my own views of the content or writing of what I find). 

Wendy joins Aimee Byrd in not liking what Kevin DeYoung wrote regarding "complementarianism":

There's been a number of posts this last week defending complementarian thought. Most notably, Kevin DeYoung wrote 9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism. I've had this post in the works for a long time, but Kevin's post and Aimee Byrd's response to it reminded me anew of a long unsettled feeling I've had with complementarian language. 
She is a "maybe, sorta, kinda" complementarian, who, while appreciative of some complementarians, is not really comfortable with the organization the Bayly Boys don't like because it's too liberal:
Many reformed conservatives feel dissonance with the Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Though we generally identify as complementarian, this is more a function of the fact that we DON'T identify with egalitarian thought than a hook, line, and sinker support of conservative presentations and applications of complementarian thought. Furthermore, we generally identify as complementarians because we've been greatly influenced in other ways by the old leaders of the movement. I was deeply influenced by John Piper's Desiring God. I find D. A. Carson's exegeses of various passages incredibly helpful, including passages on women. Tim Keller's writings on social justice transformed how I think about the gospel applied.
I really don't want to be at odds with any of these guys whom I respect and from whom I have learned life changing truths. But some of their language around the Bible and gender and the applications of the groups they support leave me uncomfortable. I go back again and again to the word dissonance. Something is not quite right. Something doesn't fit the rest of Scripture. I think often of a science conundrum that well illustrates the problem (in my humble opinion) with the last 30 years or so of discussion on gender among evangelicals.
Her illustration is that the old Newtonian physics explained the universe in terms of gravity. However, Einstein came along and saw that gravity does not work as an explanation of everything. Gravity worked at the macro level, but not at the micro. So Einstein set out in search of a Unified Field Theory that could explain the universe at both the macro and micro levels. (He didn't find it.)

Ms. Alsup asks, "Can you see where I am going here with gender?" and answers her own question. At at earlier time complementarians offered a seemingly plausible explanation of the universe of male-female relations and roles:
In the 70s and 80s, a new conservative model on gender in the Church was codified. Statements were written, councils were established, and books were
published. And these statements, councils, and books spoke into a number of problems around gender in the Church. They highlighted the fact that God created two distinct but overlapping genders (though the overlapping part has been sorely under-emphasized), two genders that complemented each other. Complementarian thought was born, and it caught on with many because it explained a lot of our experience to us. For those who value a straightforward reading of the Bible, especially when it comes to submission in Ephesians 5 and male-only eldership in I Timothy 3, it gave us a systematic way to look at gender. It also fit what many Christians were seeing in their homes. Among my generation, it gave many a counterexample to their upbringing shaped by parents of the 60's who were putting off the conservative social constructs of the previous generation. Ozzie and Harriett accidentally raised the Woodstock generation. Who raised my peers. And many of my peers wanted more stability in the home for their children than they had experienced with their Woodstock parents. Complementarian constructs resonated with children of Woodstock parents.
However, now we see that old complementarianism does not work as well to explain the male-female universe as previously thought. For one thing it has an Achilles' heel that undermines the whole - its exegesis of Genesis 3:16:
The problem is that while the complementarian movement explained a lot and defended important Scripture, it still has underlying root weaknesses. The primary one in my opinion is its foundational misinterpretation of Genesis 3:16 that believes a woman's root problem after the fall is that she wants to take control from the man and dominate him in return. That view put termites in a corner foundation of complementarian thought. You can't build a solid structure on gender with that kind of foundational misinterpretation of the root problem from the fall for women.
I have three questions: (1) Is the exegesis of Genesis 3:16 as universal among complementarians as Ms. Alsup says? (2) If it is, and it is wrong, how critical is it to the complementarian view of male-female role relationships? (3) What is wrong with the position? {Personal: I used to take the view that Genesis 3:16 taught that women would have pain in childbirth and would experience over-dependence (strong desire for) on her husband with the result that he will rule over (dominate) her. However I have become convinced of the exegesis she rejects because of the parallel between 3:16 and 4:7.} What does she find wrong with this exegesis and what is her exegesis of "desire for" in the verse? (Her somewhat scholarly view - "somewhat scholarly" her term - is "that it means an idolatrous longing for something from the man that she was created to receive from God alone.")

But, if the exegesis of Genesis 3:16 is the Achilles' heel, there is an yet bigger problem with complementarianism:
Most of all, this movement hasn't allowed for women to serve in the modern complementarian church the way they served with Jesus, Paul, and Peter in the New Testament church. (Emphasis hers)
This statement, of course, begs the question: Exactly how did women serve with Jesus, Paul, and Peter? What did they do? What did they do that the "complementarian movement" does not allow? What would a reformation with regard to male-female relations in the church look like?

So what does Wendy propose to do in light of her conviction that complementarians are so wrong? Two things:
1) Re-examining headship through Scripture. I think headship is an incredibly important teaching because it starts in Genesis and extends all the way through the Epistles. Understanding how the Bible uses the concept unlocks a lot around gender. I've been looking at headship particularly in reference to I Corinthians 11's instructions on women and head-coverings. I feel like the light has come on in my head, solidified after reading an article on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. THAT STORY IS I CORINTHIANS 11 PERSONIFIED – it is everything Paul was trying to warn the church in Corinth about. The competing definitions of headship as source on the egalitarian side and authority on the complementarian are equally weak choices. Headship in Scripture is deep and beautiful, and I'm looking forward to publishing that article on Monday -- Headship, I Corinthians 11, and Thomas Jefferson.
If you want to know what she came up with on the meaning of headship in the Bible, how it relates to male headship and the head covering in 1 Corinthians 11, and what it all has to do with Thomas Jefferson, you can find it here . She begins with what she considers the first rule of exegesis, that Scripture interprets Scripture. Using that rule, she concludes that the key to understanding headship is found in Deuteronomy 21:10-14. Egalitarians are wrong (headship means "source"). Complementarians are wrong (headship means "authority"). Headship really is about protection of a vulnerable person, specifically a husband's protection of his wife in a covenanted relationship. 

Several observations may be relevant. First, the rule that Scripture interprets Scripture is not really the first rule of interpretation. The first thing to look at is the vocabulary and grammar. Wendy's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11 founders on the matter of vocabulary. Second, the fact that there is not the slightest indication in 1 Corinthians 11 that the Apostle had in mind what Wendy reads into his mind, is no deterrent to Wendy's belief that she has discovered the true meaning of headship, and (wouldn't you know it?) it undermines the work complementarian scholars and their exegesis of the meaning of the word "head" as used by St. Paul.

She also proposes to do a second thing: 
2) Looking at all the women in the Bible. Conservatives have come up with an idealized womanhood that fits about 50% of the women affirmed in Scripture. Every woman used by God in Scripture gives us a data point for understanding what God did and did not mean by certain words He used. Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, and Abigail. Euodia, Synteche, Lydia, and Junia. These ladies aren't outliers. They are part of the normative plan for women made in the image of God. We must couple them with Sarah and Ruth, Mary and Rachel for a holistic understanding of what God created women to be and how He uses them in His story.
"Conservatives have some up with an idealized womanhood that fits about 50% of the women affirmed by Scripture." "Idealized womanhood" makes me think of June Cleaver in her shirtwaist dress, pearls, and heels and of the Jack Jones song - which is not altogether bad, at least better than the woman who recommended wives meet their husbands at the door wearing cellophane - but I digress. But I think that what Wendy is saying is that complementarians (among whom she continues count herself - which makes me think that, if Carl and Aimee are thin complementarians, then Wendy is anorexic), show in their writing and practice that they do not take into account all the things all the women in the Bible did. There are a lot of female particles out there behaving in ways that complementarian theory cannot account for.

But I have a question and a comment. When complementarians exegete 1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, and 1 Peter 3 and say, "The Apostles teach these things concerning the male-female roles in home and church, and their teaching reserves certain functions and offices to men," are they obligated to look at every thing every woman in the Bible did and show how these do not contradict their exegetical conclusions? And, does Wendy accept or reject the rule of interpretation that the preceptive teaching controls the interpretation of the exemplary? 

Regarding the women she mentions: Deborah: I have no objection to women political leaders. Phoebe: I have no objection to Phoebe's being a servant and, if you wish to use her to construct and argument for female deacons, please have at it. Priscilla: I have no objection to Priscilla joining her husband in the private instruction of Apollos to give him a more complete understanding of the faith which he eloquently proclaimed in public. Abigail: I have no objection to Abigail's or any other woman's loading up donkeys and bringing food. Euodia and Synteche: I have no objection to their laboring side by side with Paul and Clement in the work of the Gospel in Philippi, nor to their resolving their relational difficulties. Lydia: I have no objection to her being a businesswoman or to her showing hospitality to and support of those who carry on the ministry of the Gospel. Junia: I have no problem with women such as Junia, or for that matter, Andronicus, being fellow prisoners for the Gospel, nor to their being apostles (sent ones), though I don't for a moment think they may be Apostles in the sense that Paul the other Apostles appointed by Christ to lay the foundation of the church were Apostles. 

Now, over to Wendy. What do you think these examples teach us? And how do you think these examples relate to the preceptive teaching?

I want to know two things. How could the Hardest Workin' Man in Show Business have been so wrong? And what am I supposed to do with my Barry White albums?

When our twins weren't gaining weight, the doctor told us to "take those boys home and feed 'em some grits and redeye gravy." That might be good advice for some of these skinny complementarians.
















































Certainly everyone needs theology—I just think women are underrepresented as target audiences of theological texts and the theological community in general. There are very few women’s books that emphasize theology. Most of the classes I’ve taught had a mainly female audience. Therefore that is where my particular burden is.

Wendy is the former Deacon in charge of Women's Theology and Training  at Mark Driscoll's church. She quietly left that church (there must be a story in there but I digress) and runs a blog called Practical Theology for Women link.

A Unified Field Theory on Gender

There's been a number of posts this last week defending complementarian thought. Most notably, Kevin DeYoung wrote 9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism. I've had this post in the works for a long time, but Kevin's post and Aimee Byrd's response to it reminded me anew of a long unsettled feeling I've had with complementarian language.

Many reformed conservatives feel dissonance with the Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Though we generally identify aa complementarian, this is more a function of the fact that we DON'T identify with egalitarian thought than a hook, line, and sinker support of conservative presentations and applications of complementarian thought. Furthermore, we generally identify as complementarians because we've been greatly influenced in other ways by the old leaders of the movement. I was deeply influenced by John Piper's Desiring God. I find D. A. Carson's exegeses of various passages incredibly helpful, including passages on women. Tim Keller's writings on social justice transformed how I think about the gospel applied.

I really don't want to be at odds with any of these guys whom I respect and from whom I have learned life changing truths. But some of their language around the Bible and gender and the applications of the groups they support leave me uncomfortable. I go back again and again to the word dissonance. Something is not quite right. Something doesn't fit the rest of Scripture. I think often of a science conundrum that well illustrates the problem (in my humble opinion) with the last 30 years or so of discussion on gender among evangelicals.

 Note: if you are of the personality type that curls into the fetal position at the mention of a science conundrum, I'll try to explain this in a way that is empowering, not frustrating, to you. If I fail, let me know in the comments, and I'll try harder next time. 

Consider for a moment Newtonian physics. Most of us are familiar with it -- even you artists and poets who don't think you are. At least we all live according to it everyday. It centers around the concept of gravity. An apple fell on Sir Isaac Newton's head in the late 1600's, causing him to figure out gravity. Large objects (like our earth) pull smaller objects toward them (like an apple being pulled back to the earth or the moon being held in orbit by the gravitational pull of the earth), and the foundation of Newtonian physics was laid. Much in our world fits Newtonian physics, and it has become a great tool for understanding the universe. We all stick to the earth because of Newtonian physics. The moon orbits the earth; the earth orbits the sun. From satellites transmitting data to the earth to ants crawling along the ground, it seems that our universe is fundamentally held together by gravity. I was even taught in high school that electrons orbited around neutrons in atoms similar to the planets around the sun. The idea was that the neutron held the electrons in orbit through the gravitational pull of the neutron.

The problem is that scientists later discovered that electrons and neutrons don't actually work like that. In fact, you can't even measure how an electron travels in an atom. All of our world does not in fact obey Newtonian physics, particularly at the micro level. So we have a universe that follows one principle while the tiny parts that make up that universe defy it. Atoms don't fit Newton's model. Albert Einstein and others after him sought for a Unified Field Theory, something that explained how the universe worked on a macro and micro level. How could the big parts of the Universe work together in a way that the small parts making them up defied? There has to be a bigger principle at work, one that explains both.

Can you see where I am going here with gender?

In the 70s and 80s, a new conservative model on gender in the Church was codified. Statements were written, councils were established, and books were published. And these statements, councils, and books spoke into a number of problems around gender in the Church. They highlighted the fact that God created two distinct but overlapping genders (though the overlapping part has been sorely under-emphasized), two genders that complemented each other. Complementarian thought was born, and it caught on with many because it explained a lot of our experience to us. For those who value a straightforward reading of the Bible, especially when it comes to submission in Ephesians 5 and male-only eldership in I Timothy 3, it gave us a systematic way to look at gender. It also fit what many Christians were seeing in their homes. Among my generation, it gave many a counterexample to their upbringing shaped by parents of the 60's who were putting off the conservative social constructs of the previous generation. Ozzie and Harriett accidentally raised the Woodstock generation. Who raised my peers. And many of my peers wanted more stability in the home for their children than they had experienced with their Woodstock parents. Complementarian constructs resonated with children of Woodstock parents.

The problem is that while the complementarian movement explained a lot and defended important Scripture, it still has underlying root weaknesses. The primary one in my opinion is its foundational misinterpretation of Genesis 3:16 that believes a woman's root problem after the fall is that she wants to take control from the man and dominate him in return. That view put termites in a corner foundation of complementarian thought. You can't build a solid structure on gender with that kind of foundational misinterpretation of the root problem from the fall for women.

Another root problem in complementarian thought is that the movement was fundamentally a reaction to 2nd wave feminism. It's obviously a problem to build a system of teaching from Scripture as a reaction against any cultural movement. But it is even more of a problem when you realize that 2nd wave feminism itself was in many ways a white privileged movement. First wave feminism was not, in my opinion. But 2nd wave feminism hasn't impacted other cultures the same way it has middle and upper class whites because other cultures and other income brackets struggle with a different set of gender issues than those traditionally associated with 2nd wave feminists (like equal executive pay). Gloria Steinhem and other feminist leaders have long been criticized for their overemphasis on equal pay in the upper echelons of the privileged while only paying lipservice to the types of gendered abuse that occurs throughout the world among the poor.

This movement has also allowed for other wrong interpretations in Scripture, for instance that women were created to image the church (Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Mary Kassian) and that all women should submit to all men (John Piper).

Most of all, this movement hasn't allowed for women to serve in the modern complementarian church the way they served with Jesus, Paul, and Peter in the New Testament church. 

So what to do? Well, we need to re-examine some key teachings from Scripture. Personally, I've been looking at this from two angles.

1) Re-examining headship through Scripture. I think headship is an incredibly important teaching because it starts in Genesis and extends all the way through the Epistles. Understanding how the Bible uses the concept unlocks a lot around gender. I've been looking at headship particularly in reference to I Corinthians 11's instructions on women and head-coverings. I feel like the light has come on in my head, solidified after reading an article on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. THAT STORY IS I CORINTHIANS 11 PERSONIFIED – it is everything Paul was trying to warn the church in Corinth about. The competing definitions of headship as source on the egalitarian side and authority on the complementarian are equally weak choices. Headship in Scripture is deep and beautiful, and I'm looking forward to publishing that article on Monday -- Headship, I Corinthians 11, and Thomas Jefferson.

2) Looking at all the women in the Bible. Conservatives have come up with an idealized womanhood that fits about 50% of the women affirmed in Scripture. Every woman used by God in Scripture gives us a data point for understanding what God did and did not mean by certain words He used. Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, and Abigail. Euodia, Synteche, Lydia, and Junia. These ladies aren't outliers. They are part of the normative plan for women made in the image of God. We must couple them with Sarah and Ruth, Mary and Rachel for a holistic understanding of what God created women to be and how He uses them in His story.

Of course, Einstein never figured out a Unified Field Theory, and maybe we won't around gender either. But I do believe that God is sanctifying His Church, and I think the next step may be moving us to a better understanding of male and female in the image of God, one that contributes to the flourishing of both man and woman in the Body of Christ as God intended in Eden. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, excellent article, my friend. I became convinced of the view on the effect of the fall on women while reading Genesis 4 in my Hebrew Bible, at which time I noticed for the first time the identical language used to describe Eve's prospective "desire for" Adam and sin's "desire for" Cain. Keep writing!

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