A new wave of complementarianism?

Amy Lepine Peterson:

is it time to lose the label “complementarian”?  Thabiti Anyabwile, weighing in at The Gospel Coalition, argues for better definition of terms – and he’s absolutely right.  While he, like many complementarians, sees a difference between his view and patriarchy, other prominent complementarians, such as Owen Strachan, President of the Council for Bibilical Manhood and Womanhood, argue that complementarianism  is merely a new name for patriarchy.  (In a recent issue of The Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Owen Strachan wrote, “For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy and is now called complementarianism.”) These terms are in desperate need of definition, but maybe it’s already to late to rescue them from their confusing, negative, and sometimes false associations.

DeYoung, Anyabwile, and Strachan respond.

Brad Williams replies:

To that end, it seems to me that we ought to start by following Alsup’s lead, ironically enough for complementarians. There is nothing wrong or objectionable about the eight concepts she put forward. DeYoung didn’t seem to reject them himself. In fact, he was left wondering why it would be necessary since pretty much every complementarian he knows basically adheres to them.

Here’s why: the old wave has gone beyond this simple list.

We have had pontifications that worship services ought to have a “masculine feel“. We have been told that little boys should never play with dolls and that it was offensive for Sesame Street to do so. It is strongly implied that it is a womanly dereliction of duty to work outside the home or make more money than the dad. It is as if we are embracing cultural programming, which is ever shifting, to be part of the definition of what it means to be a Biblical man. It is not.

Pink is not a girl color. If a boy hates to play sports, he is not less manly. A boy can love fashion, enjoy the piano, love to cook, and wear pink. He is still a man; he is still manly. I have a relative who stays at home to take care of eight children, half of whom are foster children. He is not a man fail. He is a dad, a stellar and commendable man. His wife’s job as a CEO helps make this possible. She can do this without usurping his manliness or without abdicating her motherhood. You may be of a different opinion, but you don’t get to impose it onto a family where a real man is the head. Because he won’t suffer it, and he shouldn’t.

When we go beyond biblical simplicity, we risk enforcing our vision of a glorified past culture or a dream of our perfect culture where it does not belong. We say that all boys ought to be adventurous and love camping, and fishing. We begin to alienate boys who hate those things and love things you might label as feminine, which until recently included being a nurse or a receptionist.

I know a boy who plays dolls with his sister. He pretends to be the dad, and he cares for the ‘babies’ with his sister. He is a good care-giver. If someone came in and told that boy he was being too feminine, they would have to contend with the man of the house about it.

Precisely. We need a a new wave of complementarianism because well-meaning complementarians like Piper, Driscoll, and Strachan have poisoned the term with over-the-top rhetoric that does more harm than good.

  • I am not complementarian. But I do want to treat the argument fairly and as long as we have people like Driscoll telling me that I should be held under church discipline and ‘am worse than an unbeliever” for staying at home and caring for kids, then I am not going to talk the whole complementarian argument seriously.

    Clearly, there are also abuses on the egalitarian side. But the egalitarian side does not condemn me for doing whatI feel called by God to do.

  • Thank you for this! This is my first time hearing about any of these articles or new wave complementarianism, and they were delightful to read. I want to hear more from Williams and Anyabwile. I don’t have anything to add, it’s just that this whole thing resonates so much with me.