Reformation21 has an intriguing article by Russell Moore on why evangelical “complementarians,” or patriarchalists, are losing the debate with evangelical feminists.  The conclusion:

Egalitarians are winning the evangelical gender debate, not because their arguments are stronger, but because, in some sense, we’re all egalitarians now. The complementarian response must be more than reaction. It must instead present an alternative vision—a vision that sums up the burden of male headship under the cosmic rubric of the gospel of Christ and the restoration of all things in him. It must produce churches that are not embarrassed to tell us that when we say the “Our Father,” we are patriarchs of the oldest kind.

Moore starts by citing W. Bradford Wilcox’s work which labels what most evangelicals are living as “soft patriarchy.”  It’s functionally egalitarian, but under the guise of a “servant leadership” understanding of patriarchalism.  In Moore’s words, “Evangelicals maintain headship in the sphere of ideas, but practical decisions are made in most evangelical homes through a process of negotiation, mutual submission, and consensus.
I’m not sure what to make of this charge.  I have been told by feminist friends that I live like an egalitarian.  I’m not sure that the framework of mutual submission and consensus is a properly “egalitarian” framework, especially if one thinks God is a libertarian and works with our free wills, as I think the God of classical theism can be understood.  As a traditional patriarchalist in thought, I surmise that God has the authority, but seems to submit himself to the desires and wishes of his creation in the work of redemption.  This, of course, goes badly, but it still seems to be the best and clearest example of the patriarchal love of God that we have.

What made me happy about Moore’s piece, though, are these lines:

But there is more here to be said about the Fatherhood of God—a Fatherhood that is not just eternal and abstract but realized in a divine relationship with Jesus as the representative Man, an historical Father/Son covenantal relationship that defines the covenantal standing and inheritance of believers. Patriarchy then is essential—from the begetting of Seth in the image and likeness of Adam to the deliverance of Yahweh’s son Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh to the promise of a Davidic son to whom God would be a Father (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 89:26) to the “Abba” cry of the new covenant assembly (Rom 8:15). For too long, egalitarians have dismissed complementarian proof-texts with the call to see the big picture “trajectory” of the canon. I agree that such a big-picture trajectory is needed, but that trajectory leads toward patriarchy—a loving, sacrificial, protective patriarchy in which the archetypal Fatherhood of God is reflected in the leadership of human fathers, in the home and in the church (Eph 3:14-15; Matt 7:9-11; Heb 12:5-11). With this being the case, even the so-called “egalitarian proof-texts” not only fail to demonstrate an evangelical feminist argument, they actually prove the opposite. Galatians 3:28, for example, is all about patriarchy—a Father who provides his firstborn son with a cosmic inheritance, an inheritance that is shared by all who find their identity in Christ, Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free (italics and bold are mine).

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!  The debate has been framed around the so-called “problem texts” and away from the full-testimony of Scripture and the underlying hermeneutical principles that each side is employing (something I pointed out in this review), which it seems been unhelpful for everybody.  But if Moore is right, then he may have answered his own question:  the renewed vision for patriarchy must be nothing more or less than the gospel of the love of God in Jesus Christ.  Soft patriarchy–if it is indeed feminism–is nothing less than an unfamiliarity with the truth of God in Christ.  If that is how most “patriarchalists” live, then perhaps it is not our patriarchy that needs fixing but our understanding of how the Gospel informs our lives.  If patriarchy is true, then we must be sanctified into it.  The charge that we are not living patriarchy is a subtle way of charging that we are not living the gospel.*  Somehow that seems both more and less controversial to me.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Mattbert,

    The interesting thing to me about this post is the being-function issue, an issue that as I think about it seems all-pervasive in such discussions these days.

    Yes, most of us are functioning egalitarians (why else would evangelical congregations appoint women as pastors in all significant functions yet deny them titular recognition).

    What I haven’t found yet (admittedly I haven’t looked very hard) is someone to step back and offer a knock-down argument for ontological roles and relationships. I think you’re kicking in that direction and it seems to me the right way of thinking.


  2. Snell,

    The being/function distinction feels way too difficult for me to navigate. I agree that it’s lurking everywhere, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

    Also, I’m not yet ready to concede that we are “functioning egalitarians.” I guess it depends on what the differences in a marriage would be between an actual egalitarianism and patriarchalism. That is, an egalitarianism and not female dominated home, which is my fear egalitarianism descends into…


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