Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A New Wave of Complementarianism

There's a new wave of complementarianism stirring. It's not made up of true egalitarians, though those in this new movement respect many egalitarian concerns. Too often in the past, egalitarians and feminists were made out to be the bad guys with a complete disregard for the very real issues that concern those who hold feminist and/or egalitarian views. This new wave is also not the same as old school complementarianism, which rose up in the 1970's in reaction to 2nd wave feminism. That type of complementarian view was founded upon Susan Foh's interpretation of Genesis 3:16 as a desire among women after the fall to control their husbands. It is often linked with patriarchy.

I know of this new third way because women have been emailing me, messaging me, and calling me since I first started writing on things I noticed that undermined the traditional complementarian position back in 2010. Then almost exactly one year ago, I wrote my somewhat scholarly analysis of Genesis 3:16. Boy did that generate feedback. The vast majority of that feedback was positive from complementarian men and women. I also posted on the Gospel Coalition website, and again, woman after woman (including some who write for the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, The Gospel Coalition, and other respected blogs) wrote me privately to encourage me. This topic resonated! Like me, there are many women who love the Word and love the Church who have felt dissonance with the older version of complementarianism, especially when it came to the interpretation and implications of Genesis 3:16. The view that a woman's root problem is that she desires to control the men in her life is painful to hear, in part because it is confusing from our real-life experience. I know of no better word to describe it than dissonance – the simple inconsistency between this belief we've been taught and the reality of our experience and the experience of those around us leaves us uncomfortable, feeling that something isn't sitting right and is unresolved. The result is a growing 3rd way of interpreting and viewing gender issues in the Church that is neither egalitarian or hard core complementarianism/patriarchy.

Based on my observations and knowledge of the women who are writing on this new wave of complementarianism, I offer what I think are its tenets. 

1) Belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture. These women (and a few men I know as well who've talked about this subject), love the Word and study it hard. They read, they study, and they listen. And they do it all from the foundation that the Bible is God's written Word, handed down through the Holy Spirit and preserved by God for the instruction of His children.

2) Belief that the Bible interprets itself. The Bible is the best commentary on itself and gives us a great deal of information that, when coupled with common sense interpretive principles (like the fact that story is different from instruction), leads to much more clarity on issues of gender in the Church than some claim.

3) Respect for Church history and the Creeds. Which leads to number 4.

4) Strong disagreement with Foh's interpretation of Genesis 3:16 that the woman's desire for her husband will be a desire to control him. This new wave of complementarian believers notes that Foh's interpretation of Genesis 3:16 has no history in the Church. Before 1970, no Church father/theologian had suggested her interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Instead, this new wave embraces Genesis 3:16 as reflecting an inordinate longing by the woman for the man, an idolatrous longing that is often the root of very bad choices on the woman's part.  The answer to which is greater dependence on God, not the man, which then frees the woman to help the man as God originally intended.

5) Identifying with aspects of feminism. This new wave of complementarians does not see feminism as the root of all evil on gender issues. I personally think feminism rose up to address legitimate concerns, but a movement is not going to solve such root issues of the heart. Only Christ can do that. Feminism is simply a coping mechanism – helpful on some things, harmful on others.

6) Valuing complementary views of gender. This new wave still values distinctions in gender. God obviously created complementary genders. If men and women didn't bring separate yet equally valuable things to the gender debate, we would not even exist to have this debate! In the older form of complementarianism, women were created with complementary gifts to aid the man in the areas in which he is lacking. Women were created to complement the man. But this new wave views this complementary nature not so much from the perspective of Genesis 2:18 (I will make a helper suitable for him) but more from Genesis 1:27, where God made man and woman in His image. It takes two distinct though obviously overlapping genders to reflect the fullness of the image of God (and even then we still are lacking in our reflection of Him). Complementing genders are about two genders reflecting God, and the female gender brings some things to this reflection that men don't as well, and vice versa.

7) Not setting up marriage and family as the end all for women. For too long, conservatives have mixed up good things with ultimate things. Some set up marriage and family as the goal for every believer. I understand how that happened. Feminism seemed to undermine what women did of value in the home, and Christians felt they needed to strongly emphasize the value and need for women in the home. But few are good at emphasizing something positively and still distinguishing it from something that is ultimate. What I do for my husband and children is powerful and important. It is personally my first physical priority by my conviction. But I do not hold the view that my single female friends or married friends without children have any less powerful and important role to fulfill in the Body of Christ.

8) Not threatened by the terms submit or respect or the concept of male-only elders. Why? It goes back to point number 1. Those I know in this new movement trust Scripture, and that goes a long way when it comes to embracing/understanding a controversial word. Many also feel strongly that churches should allow women deacons. Why? Again back to point number 1. And point number 3. Female deacons are both biblical and historical.

I won't name the other women with whom I've been talking, but chances are you know them and read their writing online. Chances are, you ARE one of them. I'm encouraged by all of this because, first and foremost, this new wave of complementarianism is founded on a strong love of the Word (not a desire to control men – an accusation I'm braced to hear against myself at some point). And perhaps after talking about this for a bit, we can all back off from conversations about gender and just go BE our genders, reflecting the character of our Creator as we are redeemed and restored to be like Him once more.

102 comments:

  1. This is just fabulous. Sent it to my church team of women leaders. Thank you.

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  2. Well, I'll come clean and say not only do I agree with everything you've said here, but I'm also one o' those women who've been emailing you ;)

    Bravo!

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  3. Agreeing with you 100%! Thank you, Wendy.

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  4. Well, I didn't email you but I am nevertheless glad to see this post and this position articulated so well. I completely agree with your points here. Thank you!

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  5. YES. Thank you for this. I am a former feminist whose heart has been broken for men, and I've been radically changed over the past few months so this helps me understand what I believe now. Thanks again.

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  6. I saw Emily post this link on her facebook. THis gives me a lot more to think about. I always consider myself somewhere in the middle between the two ideas of women. I struggle with the idea of submission, but I am also weary of much of the ideas of feminism. Thank you for clearing up some of my misconceptions.

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  7. Thanks for the quick feedback!! It encourages me so much.

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  8. "And perhaps after talking about this for a bit, we can all back off from conversations about gender and just go BE our genders, reflecting the character of our Creator as we are redeemed and restored to be like Him once more."

    Well said.

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  9. I don't need to say that I agree because I just talked to you earlier today. ;-) Well done my friend!

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  10. And with this, a three letter acronym (far better for Twitter and complementarianism and its awkward abbreviations!) is born. I love it. I'm in (not that ya'll are surprised. :) )

    One direct, immediate benefit of this approach is the way it sets aside every type of lifestage/age/vocational choice barrier (or at least it should). There is now no distinction between married and single, old or young, homeschooling or public schooling, paid work or unpaid work, for we are all in one body of women in Christ.

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  11. Yep, yep, and yep! Thanks for articulating this, as it's helpful to those of us who feel like we don't quite fit in the preconceived definitions but do love Scripture and want to honor God!

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  12. Rachael, exactly!

    What I would like to see now, along with taking Wendy's recommendation to go out and BE women who love Jesus is some of the following:

    A. Some of you ladies have blogs, think through some of these implications and write about them.

    B. Do all with a loving and gracious spirit because we are witnesses for the Lord.

    C. Ask the help of the Holy Spirit to live this out before a culture that is rapidly disintegrating. Let the world see what redeemed gospel–centered, Scripture trusting women look like.


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  13. Hmmmmm. New Wave Complementarian. Hashtag #nwc. I have to give Luma credit for that title via a conversation we had today. :-)

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  14. Luma - I'm going to start one called "What She Said" and just link to you and Wendy and Hannah Anderson. I'll be the Justin Taylor of #NWC. :)

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  15. Rachael, you've made me snort twice tonight. This and the image of pink fluffy bunny t-shirts.

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  16. I also think the by-product of #nwc is its attractiveness to culture. I'm a #nwc because of the Scriptures alone (1, 2, 3), but I'm able to be a winsome #nwc because #nwc happens to be non-defensive, thoughtful, celebratory, etc.

    As a side note, I'm so honored to be a part of this crew. I just met Hannah last week at TGC, but I would love to know the rest of you.

    Here's a bit about me: I live in NYC. I'm a lawyer by trade, but I work in ministry. I run a nonprofit (@theparkforum) that gets the Bible in the hands of urban professionals daily. I'm working on a book project - a gospel response to "having it all" called "Having All That Matters" (you can follow my research and help me write the book at bethanyjenkins.com).

    Would love to know about you all, my fellow #nwc crew.

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  17. I agree 100 percent. Thank you for writing this.

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  18. “The answer to which is greater dependence on God”
    “trust Scripture, and that goes a long way when it comes to embracing/understanding a controversial word”.
    “reflecting the character of our Creator as we are redeemed and restored to be like Him once more.”

    Amen. thank you; and thanking God for His great love, sacrifice, word, Spirit and zeal, incredibly, for His us!!!

    the zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this! Isa 9:7b

    for it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Phil 2:13

    redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. Eph 1:14b

    it is written, “ Zeal for Your house will consume Me John 2:17b

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  19. Thank you so much for this Wendy. My mind is spinning with so many things that I want to say and hash out with all you, but mostly I'm just grateful and hopeful. I see this "new wave" as a move toward more Biblical faithfulness because like you said, my unsettledness has not come from feminist culture but from reading the Bible and seeing how we're missing the big picture of God's plan.

    As an aside, I'd also suggest that using Foh's paradigm necessarily results in positing male sin as abdication rather than oppression. But history tells a different story: the story of gender is that men routinely use their strength to abuse women and women idolatrously cling to them to their own detriment. And neither flourish in the beauty that God intended.

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    1. Thank you Hannah for recognizing the problem of abuse in "Christian" homes.
      We went to church 3 x a week and my marriage was horrible.
      In the end, divorce was the only solution left for confronting his sin---like 3rd step of Matthew 18, or like ex-communication from church for refusal to repent.
      Thank you Hannah for sharing your insights with us!

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  20. This is a neat thought. I also might be one of you. I call myself a non-hierarchial complementarian to reflect that I do believe in complementarity but that I think the emphasis in Scripture is on unity and relationship in the church and in marriage rather than on hierarchy. That is a mouthful of a phrase though!

    But I'm fully with you on points 1-7 and I think I'm mostly with you on point 8. I don't have a problem w/ a truly accountable, connected and responsive male governing eldership but I do think I'm past the point where I want to be part of a church that doesn't have a mixed gender, responsible and involved deaconate.

    And, I don't have a problem with the terms respect and submit / yield unless they are unilateral, where one person is always supposed to get respect because of his gender and one person always yields / submits because of her gender. I'm grateful my husband doesn't desire or expect that. We respect each other and serve each other and yield to each other. Can't wait to celebrate our third anniversary tonight!

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  21. Hannah, that's an important point. Foh's interpretation leads to the misdiagnosis of the root problem for both men and women.

    I am getting some pushback on whether Foh's interpretation has any history in the Church. Her big conclusion that desire in the Hebrew actually means a desire to dominate does not. But the larger idea that women will at times try to lord over a man and should not be surprised that the man pushes them back down does show up in some early commentaries, Bunyan for instance.

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  22. EMSoliDeoGloria, I don't like the term hierarchy, but D. A. Carson has convinced me on his exposition of the word submit in Ephesians 5 that it is not a truly two way street. He points out that all in the Body of Christ are called to defer to one another and serve one another, but there is a specificity to the word used for submit in Eph. 5 that clearly implies hierarchy. D. A. Carson has a compelling session on this topic that I loved and found helpful and encouraging. I'll see if I can find the link.

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  23. Bethany, I've appreciated the Park Forum devotionals over the last few years and have pointed readers toward them at times. It's nice to "meet" you here.

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  24. Certainly, women can try to usurp authority and men can become passive, but those seem to be secondary sins that stem from original abuse of authority. To me, documentaries like Half the Sky prove that female dominance is not the prevailing issue--in cultures devoid of Judeo-Christian framework, you see the exact opposite. You see men routinely abusing their power and women and children suffering for it.

    Also in context of Ephesians 5: "submit to one another" is thesis statement and the verses that follow are explanations for what that looks like in differing contexts. So a husband's submission takes the form of Christ-like sacrifice, loving his wife the way he loves his own body. Children submit by honoring and obeying fathers. Fathers submit by not provoking them but bringing them up in the Lord. Etc.

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  25. Absolutely to your 1st paragraph, Hannah.

    Hupotasso in Ephesians 5 is an interesting word. I've done basic word study on it via my trusty sidekick, bible.crosswalk.com. Here's a link to hupotasso via the NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon for anyone who hasn't studied it. http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/hupotasso.html

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  26. Bookmarking this to read again in the future. I've recently walked away from church, shaken the dust off my sandals, and don't feel much like looking back. If I heard one more sermon on how easily deceived I am, I was going to lose my mind - THAT concept is at dissonance with my life experience. For now, any mention of male authority over me causes me to want to shut down or run (or violently overturn some tables, if I'm being honest). I'm allowing myself time for my frayed nerves to heal before I try to sort all of this out. Thanks for writing this.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous
      I know your pain concerning shaking dust off your feet, etc
      I felt the same way for a long time.
      Then
      I kep searching til I found answers....
      Check out
      Women, Abuse, and the Bible
      By
      Catherine Clark Kroeger
      I'm currently in a conservative church with male pastor and women And men elders...peace, equality, and unity can be found.

      Delete
  27. Dr. Carson is a very capable and persuasive expositor. I've been compelled by some of his arguments too and may have already reviewed the lecture you are referring to some years ago (rings a bell, at least).

    I've too little time (typing on my lunch break @ work) to get into some of the theological reasons why I don't think hierarchy is the focus of the NT (esp in marriage but also in the church). That doesn't deny that structures exist or that Christians are called to serve others through obeying Christ and submitting to one another (both mutually and some to others), however. I just don't see "some of you submit to others of you" as the focus for the body of Christ, given that our Lord and master washed his disciples feet.

    In Eph 5, I see the unity of the head and body as the important theological emphasis (and a striking correction to the culture of the original audience). At the same time, I see many theologians overplay the Christ / church analogy, giving husbands responsibilities that Paul actually didn't - and then some pastors berating husbands and wives for failing to accurately represent Christ and the church. What if the radical nature of men and women, in all the glories of our image bearing similarities and individual diversities, is that we truly are stronger together, a blessed alliance, to borrow from Carolyn James? What if enmity between us is a hellish strategy to keep us from realizing the way God has redeemed his original plan for male-female relatedness in Christ?

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  28. Wendy and Hannah, Matthew Henry in his commentary although doesn't define "desire" as a desire to usurp per se, he brings in the woman's pride into play and says that because of her sin she was forced into subjugation. He makes a statement which I believe debases the gospel. That is he says no matter how harsh the subjugation is by the husband on the wife the wife is not to complain. I think any right thinking gospel understanding man or woman would disagree with that. He seems to totally disregard how the gospel changes all of this.

    So I would add Matthew Henry to the list of people who believed that the woman's curse is to usurp the man.

    Bavinck, however, see it as straight desire: Here are Bavinck's words which I'll be using (Bavinck's context is beautiful will quote it later):

    "A dual principle of wrath and grace, justice and mercy takes effect: the penalty for the original transgression strikes the woman (Gen. 3:16) both as mother and as wife: suffering and pain in bringing forth children, desire for and submission to her husband. Yet, she will also be the mother of all living and blessed in bearing children (1 Tim. 2:15)." —Bavinck

    This is how I had always read it, straightforward desire.

    It doesn't look like a lot of the older writers spent a lot of time nitpicking definitions for "desire." I think part of this is because gender roles issues were not the "hot topic." It was more the deity of Christ and other such things.

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  29. This is something that has been stirring in me and many other women the past few years here locally. Thank you for presenting this piece...as a point of further discussion and awareness. So blessed to be a woman and blessed to have a husband who encourges and appreciates my love of studying the Word and is not threatened but rather encouraged by it. A desire to know and study God's Word is gender neutral... after all...and mutually beneficial.

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  30. Carson's analysis on Eph. 5 is dead on.

    Wendy, I listened to those recordings I don't know how many times. Love them! Do you want help looking for them or do you have this one?

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  31. Right there with you! And encouraged by the number of women and men who are like-minded on this!

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  32. I just read all 32 comments and noticed many things, but one stood out to me: They're all by women. As a complementarian man, may I simply say, "Bravo!" This is great. I support you all on this. What an encouragement to read!

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  33. I love this! Thanks for summing it up perfectly.

    And I'd love the link to D.A. Carson on Ephesians 5 if possible, too!

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  34. Wendy, I love what you've written here. I'm a woman about to start at Southern Seminary in the fall to get a master's in church music and pursue God's call on my life for worship ministry. As a woman who understands the value of "women's ministry" as we see it played out in American churches, that isn't where God is leading me. As someone who understand and values my unique gifting by God, what does this new understanding look like for women in worship ministry? I certainly know thatGod's calling isn't for women to be "senior pastors" or "elders or overseers", but if a female worship leader is under the authority of male elders, what would be Biblically prohibiting her from using her gifts to lead in this way? I think sometimes (though well intentioned) men play out patriarchy forms of this, though not necessarily abusive. I feel limited by the suggestion of some that I should only lead worship for all female gatherings, or simply "sing" while the "man" is the leader. I just don't see anywhere in Scripture that supports this. Sorry for the long comment, but I'm really wrestling with this right now and could use some perspective from a female, reasonable like yourself :).

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  35. Griffin, thanks so much for adding your voice to this!! I've heard encouragement from a number of other comp men on this topic, but you're right, it's all women commenting here so far. :-)

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  36. Luma, yes please find and post that link. Thank you!

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  37. EMSoliDeoGloria, you said

    "... I don't think hierarchy is the focus of the NT (esp in marriage but also in the church). That doesn't deny that structures exist or that Christians are called to serve others through obeying Christ and submitting to one another (both mutually and some to others), however. I just don't see "some of you submit to others of you" as the focus for the body of Christ, given that our Lord and master washed his disciples feet."

    I like how you use the word "focus." I definitely see structures and tiers of authority remaining in the NT -- government, parents, pastors, and husbands. Yet, as you said, Christ turned the entire idea of authority on its head when He washed His disciples feet. Those two are intertwined principles that each explain the other. Thanks for adding that on your lunch break. :-)

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  38. Briley, our church which is PCA uses the principle that a woman can do anything a non-ordained man can do in the church. I think Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian follows that principle as well, though maybe Bethany or someone closer to Redeemer can confirm.

    At our church, women read Scripture during service, serve communion, and at times lead worship (though facilitate may be a better word than lead for how our church worships, which flows naturally through the liturgy rather than a start/stop form that requires a "leader" that gives instructions at each juncture.)

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  39. I'd like the Carson link as well.

    Also I come from a literary background so I tend to avoid interpretations that hinge on one specific meaning of one specific word to understand a passage. (Which is why I can't get behind Foh's argument--it only makes sense in a feminist context.)
    Instead I tend to rely on structure, literary convention, and rhetorical devices to understand the meaning of a text.

    In Gen 3, the immediate context is one of a woman's fertility so desire more than likely has something to do with that. This parallels the use of "desire" in Song of Solomon 7:10. With this rendering, the picture is one of a woman desiring a man and his returning that desire with rule instead of love.

    And yet, this doesn't rule out the fact that women do try to manipulate men--but it is often a manipulation rooted in a desire, not to rule them per se, but to gain their affection. This is the precise reason we are facing an epidemic of unwed mothers, abortion, and the hook-up culture. Women will do anything for a man to gain his affection--including tricking and manipulating him.

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  40. Hannah, I strongly agree with your analysis, though I do like to dig down on specific meaning first to aid me in operating from the right foundational context. Have you seen the trailer for the MissRepresentation documentary? That reflects exactly what you are talking about -- women willingly participating in their own exploitation out of this misplaced desire for some kind of affirmation/love/security from men. That trailer and Carolyn Custis James' Half the Church got me thinking about this in a deeper way.

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  41. Hey Wendy, great post. Since my wife and I are at odds with this, I have two questions and one comment. :)

    1) From my studies the primary interpretation of the early fathers, rabbis, scrolls, literature was "desire" meant to "return" to her husband and was used in the same way as water "returning/desiring" earth as one example. This lead to many versions of this interpretation such as "her desire (will) is no longer hers but her husbands." My point is that even though there is no ancient interpretation for "desire" meaning wanting to control him I don't see an ancient interpretation to your interpretation. Am I missing something?

    2) Second, it must be admitted that the interpretation of "desire" is difficult. However, it is it's use in other places such as the Cain passage concerning trying to master sin, but it masters over him to be where this interpretation has come from. Because it is difficult on a word level to interpret it the Cain passage was pretty key. How do you interpret the Cain passage?

    3) I'm still confused what is at stake with this interpretation. The Genesis passage clearly emphasizes the sin of Adam and it's affects on men. Why do you and others feel it is an important distinction to make as to what the curse of Eve passed on? I'm open to other interpretations of this, but don't understand in this case why it is a big deal.

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  42. Hi Everyone,

    I had a hard time finding the EFCA page that I had bookmarked for this. But I found the TGC page that has all the talks of Carson and Yarbrough from the EFCA Theological Conference last year on the complementarian position. The one where Carson specifically goes through Eph. 5 is the one titled, "Family: Husbands and Wives, Love and Submission, Christ and the Church." When you have the time, I strongly recommend listening to all of them!

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/19/understanding-complementarianism-with-carson-and-yarbrough/

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  43. Are you looking for Dr. Carson's talk earlier this year, or something older?

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  44. Never mind. That's what I get for not refreshing the screen before submitting a comment. :-)

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  45. Brent,

    Wendy has researched this much more than I have, but as a conservative woman, let me take a stab at 1 and 3.

    1. I don't see how your understanding of "desire" would necessarily be inconsistent with Wendy's understanding of it--in fact, it actually supports it better than Foh's interpretation because Foh's implies that a woman's will WON'T return to her husband--that the curse means she fights him. But Wendy's says that a woman's will does turn toward a man and becomes subsumed in his in an idolatrous way--in a way that is inconsistent with her imago dei status.


    3.The importance rests in how you understand the brokenness between the genders. I agree that a seemingly minor piece of text (and a somewhat difficult one at that) should not be so significant, but it has become significant because of how many conservatives use it to fight against feminism and what they perceive as the root of the struggle between men and women.

    Many, many pastors teach that this passage is positing a woman's lack of submission as THE ultimate problem between genders. In this context, anything a woman does is suspect. She can never offer a differing opinion; she can never hold any form of leadership (even biblically sanctioned leadership) because of the fear that she will succumb to the greatest evil of trying to usurp a man's authority. I suppose the biggest problem is that it defines her inclination to sin primarily in terms of her relationship to man instead of God.

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  46. Hannah, that is very helpful clarification.

    I have always held that the fall affected men in their abuse of women instead of loving them. The fall affected women in their desire for their own way in marriage instead of supporting a husband's leadership. The love and respect passage of Ephesians seems to be tackling the opposite issues the husband and wife struggle with.

    However, I've never taught nor heard of the view that this passage teaches why women in general are to submit to men in general or that "women's submission is the ultimate problem between the genders." Who says that? The Genesis passage is much harder on the man than the woman in terms of the curse. Eve is never held responsible and sin doesn't even pass through her line. The problem in marriage is equally struggles both have with humility and dominance.

    Anyway I just point out that I currently still hold the that view of the passage Wendy disagrees with but without all that other baggage. I hold this primarily from the use of "desire" as it relates to Cain where that interpretation came from.

    brent

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  47. Two questions:

    1. Hannah Anderson said: "As an aside, I'd also suggest that using Foh's paradigm necessarily results in positing male sin as abdication rather than oppression. But history tells a different story: the story of gender is that men routinely use their strength to abuse women and women idolatrously cling to them to their own detriment. And neither flourish in the beauty that God intended."

    Speaking of dissonance between actual experience and interpretive theses, what about the dissonance Christian men feel with both the abdication AND oppression views? In my marriage, I had no desire either to abdicate or to oppress. I am aware of few (if any) Christian men who had either desire.

    2. Also, if NWC denies that the woman desires to control the man, what is the accounting for the pervasive difficulty (if not outright refusal) that Christian wives have with submission to their husbands? In my experience, Christian wives' lack of submission is (usually) not due to abdication by the husband but due to the wife's fear: she thinks the husband is handling something the wrong way or has made a wrong decision, she is very fearful of the consequences, and she insists that things be done her way instead. That sets up a confrontation that may result in either abdication (to keep the peace) or oppression (real or perceived). But the abdication or oppression did not precede the conflict. (This is why, I think, 1 Peter 3:6 links the wife's "do[ing] what is right" with "not giv[ing] way to fear.")

    I am not arguing for or against Foh's or Wendy's understanding of "desire" in Gen. 3. Just trying to understand the explanatory power of each. Thanks.

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  48. The NWC position doesn't deny that women frequently want to control men at all. Rather, it argues that that tendency is a secondary manifestation of the primary sin, which is an inordinate/idolatrous desire for man to be what only God is. "If my husband doesn't [affirm me, provide for us, discipline/disciple our family], I'll be miserable, homeless and our kids will be pregnant and in jail". Ahem, for example. :)

    FWIW, Hannah, I haven't considered the Foh position to inevitably result only in oppression necessarily. TBH, haven't studied it in great length. But what I DO see from Gen 3 is that the curse on man is on the seeming futility of his work, a continual uphill battle that seems unwinnable. One manifestation of the curse will be domination (I'm in charge, not God). Another will be passivity or acquiescence (it's too hard/not worth it, so I'll just give up). In both cases, as with the woman, the man has made either himself or his surroundings his God.

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  49. Not only do I love this post, I love the discussion, and seeing so many names I recognize and respect jumping in!

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  50. David J., you said this.

    "In my experience, Christian wives' lack of submission is (usually) not due to abdication by the husband but due to the wife's fear: she thinks the husband is handling something the wrong way or has made a wrong decision, she is very fearful of the consequences, and she insists that things be done her way instead."

    Fear is a big issue, and I Peter's mention of that word in that context has resonated with me, which is why I think the big heart issue is trust in the one true God as the only solution.

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  51. *I've edited my first response to Brent to remove names of specific pastors/churches who have used Foh's interpretation in harmful ways. That's unhelpful to dialogue at this point.

    Brent,
    Sorry I'm late responding. Been out with the boys enjoying Spring Break. I concur with Hannah's response to your original point 1. In fact, I think that your point 1 flows well with my understanding of desire.

    As for point 2, one thing I forget to include when I refer to Church history on the meaning of this desire are the historic translations themselves. Through the history of the Church, in multiple languages over thousands of years, with the one exception seeming the Latin Vulgate, the original Hebrew is consistently translated as desire for her husband, a returning to her husband or being drawn back by a natural tendency toward her husband. The Arabic translation is an inordinate longing. The Latin Vulgate and KJV word it in a way consistent with Calvin's commentary – that her every desire will be subject to her husband. But there isn't a Hebrew word indicating either subjection (Calvin/KJV) or control (Foh) in the phrasing, which makes both of those seem anomalies and the more consistent translation of desire/inordinate longing seem the most reasonable option.

    As for question 3, I don't think we need to overly focus on Gen. 3:16 long term. But it was a foundational piece in the early CBMW movement. I've run into this in churches I've attended in the past,. Women were taught that the fall brought in an inherent tendency among women to “desire to control” their husband according to Gen. 3:16. Subsequently, women who questioned were viewed suspiciously, and the women who truly did resist submission or try to control/manipulate in their home were written off as living out their inherent tendency to try to control the man, when in reality, I believe women grasp and clamor in relationship not from a need for power but from a need for affirmation and security, things that only God can provide long term in a sustainable way. This specific interpretation resulted in at times an ugly response toward women in my experience, such as elders telling husbands they needed to shut up their wives or the elders would do it for them. I hear from a number of women with other church experience in conservative complementarian circles with similar experience. Women are shut down with a knee jerk reaction to a symptom but with no heart care for the root issue. No woman I know truly wants power and control as an end result. We mostly want peace and security. Power and control simply become avenues toward that end when we fear the loss of security or fear never gaining it in the first place.

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  52. Rachael and Wendy: Very helpful responses. Thank you.

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  53. Additional thought about those who posit a woman's lack of submission as THE problem between genders:

    I realized that is possible that as women, we hear this cited more frequently than men in the same circles. Our exposure to it comes more often in literature written to women and in context of women's discipleship than in a mixed gender setting like a Sunday worship service. So it is entirely possible that our brothers haven't heard this paradigm as often as we have because it is necessarily directed toward a woman's spirituality.

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  54. @David J: Another assumption that I make is that a Christian husband WON'T tend toward oppression because the gospel is alive and working in him. The oppressive rule is what you would expect to see in wider society devoid of the gospel.

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  55. Brent, one more thought. I discuss why Genesis 4:7 isn't a strong support for Foh's interpretation here. http://www.theologyforwomen.org/2012/04/somewhat-scholarly-analysis-of-genesis.html

    If you haven't already read that analysis from last year, I'd love to hear your feedback.

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  56. Stumbeld on this page. Just wanted to say that I'm grateful of the contents and the quality of discussion. Will be following from now on. Thanks!

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  57. @Rachael, per whether Foh's interpretation leads to see men's sin as abdication:

    If you interpret "desire" as the desire to control, it influences how you read the next phrase. In such a context, I've heard "but he shall rule over you" explained as the corrective to the aforementioned woman's desire to control--i.e. a woman wants to be in charge, but the man is given this authority instead. She is coveting his divine headship. The problem I have with this is that it effectively removes the possibility of oppressive rule because the emphasis for the dysfunction has already been placed on the woman's desire to rule. The only way left to interpret "but he shall rule over you" is that a man fails his masculinity by failing to rule.

    Now, I prefer a reading that allows for abuse of headship that was already established, in large part, by biological normatives. The man is necessarily the stronger sex and so he must use his strength to care and protect the weaker sex. Any authority comes with this responsibility. Abuse of this strength often takes the form of oppression as it has throughout history or it can take a subtler form of oppression which includes abdication of responsibility to care and protect--but abdication is still a form of oppression because it is only possible because he is the stronger sex. A woman simply can't force him to do what he is supposed to do.

    This leads to fear on her part and the desire to control the situation and try to force him to love her enough to use his strength in a responsible way.

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  58. “Christ turned the entire idea of authority on its head when He washed His disciples feet”

    still pondering His beauty :)
    …6 although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross
    9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,

    let us…2 make our joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5a Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus 2 So then, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Phil 2

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  59. Thank you! Thank you for thinking thru and writing this so well. It resonates what I've been thinking but am not quite smart enough to articulate! :)

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  60. I'm always wary of the word "new" -- epscially a "new wave" or a "new monement" b/c of recent controversies -- but in this case, I appreciate it!

    Thank you -- once I read through all your points I realized "this is what I believe and have come to believe" especially point #8.

    This needs to be shared and heard and studies and considered by many in the church, I think.

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  61. Wendy, I friend of mine just turned me on to your blog and i am so excited to dive into your posts and books!!!

    I haven't read much about "complementarianism" at all but again, i'm excited to dive and and read more. Thanks for being a woman who cares about the gospel and theology.

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  62. Wendy, thanks for your response. I'm so glad you are addressing some of these issues while attempting to stay balanced and biblical.

    In my opinion even if one held "desire" to mean Eve's will fight for her own will it is not this interpretation which fosters chauvinism. One would have to do a cosmic leap to move from this to the interpretations and caustic denigration of a wife's value or voice. Both men and women are commanded to submit to another's will in Scripture and both struggle to do it. Both men and women are commanded to love and not dominate those who they have power over and both struggle with this as well.

    My observation is that it seems an unnecessary attempt to redefine "desire" in the original fall of Eve as a possible solution to it's horrible application by certain men and leaders for their own uses. We still have to remember that the men's tendency to abuse women is a much greater infraction to God than a woman's tendency (if this were the case with Eve) to step away from her husband to do what she wants. In fact as I'm teaching through 1 Peter I find it fascinating that although wives are told to defer to their husbands at times they are not threatened if they don't. Yet husbands are told if they don't love their wives "their prayers will be hindered." The injustice of male domination far outweighs the inconvenience of a wife struggling to support a poor leading husband.

    So I don't think it is a woman thing being addressed in Genesis, but a human nature thing. We are commanded to submit to authorities because without the command we never would. Men are commanded to love their wives because unrestrained they will tend to dominate and abuse them.

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  63. Good thoughts, Brent. I agree with much you've said. I will clarify this.

    You said, "My observation is that it seems an unnecessary attempt to redefine "desire" in the original fall of Eve as a possible solution to it's horrible application by certain men and leaders for their own uses."

    I resist the term "redefine." I'm not advocating redefining or retranslating anything. For the history of the church, the Word has been translated "her desire will be for her husband." Desire is historically defined as a strong longing (including the HALOT which has been a widely accepted standard for a long time on definitions of Hebrew words). I'm saying we've always translated it desire and desire has always meant strong longing. So let's value the perspicuity of the Word and just stick with that. On top of all that, the straightforward understanding of the term fits with women's experience and is still obvious in society even after years of feminism.

    I just resist the idea that we are redefining anything. :-)

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  65. To confirm what Wendy said about the implications of Foh's redefining the term desire:

    The issue is not that Foh's re-definition leads to male dominance but that it down plays it as a sinful reality. In this paradigm, churches simply aren't conditioned to be on the watch for male oppression because they've been conditioned to watch for women trying to usurp headship.

    As Brent said, both men and women can sin by willfulness and lack of love. But because we believe in complementarity, we also believe that those sins will take different forms. In the case of men, we expect to see it exhibited in oppressive rule as a perversion of the headship that is already established. It's not that women sin less, but that when a man sins, it affects those who rely on him for protection.

    Truthfully, I think we're all on the same page, but my concern is how the conversation has been shaped and the rhetorical implications. Brent is absolutely correct that there are plenty of other Scriptures that should enlighten this text, but if we've already determined that the foundational drive of a woman's(as opposed to a man's) heart is to usurp authority, then we will necessarily interpret other passages in this light.

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  66. I'll add to what Hannah said. Foh's re-definition has the potential for downplaying the very real issue of male oppression of women. While this is not the normal negative experience in the church, you don't have to read very far in daily headlines to know this remains a local, national, and global issue. Downplaying this real issue and redirecting the emphasis to the unsubmitted woman resulted in feminism becoming a perjorative term in conservative evangelicalism. Foh's definition made us think that the issues feminism originally sought to address (and many issues feminism still attempts to address) are not real problems. Her definition in my experience conditioned churches to be on the watch for women trying to usurp male authority rather than men overreaching their authority. In environments with uber-emphasis on her definition, dominance became acceptable because it solved the "problem of the curse." That is not a good outcome.

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  67. And I should reemphasize Hannah's last words.

    "Brent is absolutely correct that there are plenty of other Scriptures that should enlighten this text, but if we've already determined that the foundational drive of a woman's(as opposed to a man's) heart is to usurp authority, then we will necessarily interpret other passages in this light."

    Emphasis added by me. Our foundational preconceptions color how we read the rest of the Word. Genesis 1-3 are pretty important.

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  68. Interesting post here from Jen Wilkin that may fit your NWC idea: http://jenwilkin.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-complementarian-woman-permitted-or.html

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  69. I have been struggling for a few years with the fact I strongly identify with many feminist ideas and concerns, and that this was apparently contradictory to my faith and position as a complementarian. Your recent posts on this topic have been immensely helpful to me. Thank you.

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  70. I would suggest that if you don't think that women want to control, think about jokes that put men on the couch, in the dog house, that have the wife saying that (euphemism) the blessings of the covenantal marriage bed are going to be denied him that night.

    I recently read an article that suggested if the sex drive of a husband can't be satisfied by his wife (and she determines the frequency) then he may be in sin. Think about that. The wife has the "right" to deny her husband, and if he's not satisfied with what she doles out, he may be in sin. That's not the desire to control, using sex as a weapon?

    One of my co-workers said to me 2 days ago that yeah, she submits, but her husband needs to follow her direction because he has no common sense.

    So, I believe the evidence points to women wanting to control. Face it, we all know what buttons to push to get what we want. If we use them, that's wanting to control.

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  71. "I know of no better word to describe it than dissonance – the simple inconsistency between this belief we've been taught and the reality of our experience and the experience of those around us leaves us uncomfortable, feeling that something isn't sitting right and is unresolved."

    I love your choice of the word dissonance to describe this. This dissonance is what keeps me prayerfully studying and thinking on gender issues.

    I spent 10 years living in a rigid patriarchal belief system and now that God has set me free from that I totally agree with your thoughts here.

    But I find a dissonance that goes beyond just this Genesis passage. For example, my experience and the experience of those around me tells me that a woman is permitted (and capable!) to lead a country (think Margaret Thatcher) but my belief tells me she's not permitted (even though she may be more than capable and qualified) to lead a church.

    In other words, I find complementarianism (new wave or old) to be dissonant but as a conservative stay at home homeschooling mom I find it hard to call myself an egalitarian. It still feels like a dirty word to me :-)

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  72. Thanks for adding, Becky. I understand what you are saying in your last sentence. I think about and wonder through those issues. I find it helpful and settling the example of Deborah and Priscilla -- women obviously leading and discipling with God's approval. But their leadership seems different than, say, the 12 disciples, who were all male.

    I've never really heard a good reason that God discussed the particular role of elder/pastor in the New Testament church in only male terms. It is not like husbands leading in their home as an example of Christ. Nevertheless, He does only talk of that role in male terms while clearly talking of other roles in male/female terms (such as deacon). I think 1) either God was really bad at communicating His true intentions in His word or 2) He planned for men to have the lead role of authority in the Church. My convictions about the perspicuity of the Word (the clarity of the Word) give me confidence in #2 even though I don't always fully understand God's purpose in it.

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  73. For what it's worth, I do t remember Priscilla discipline outside of partnering with her husband. This does not indicate a position of leadership over the local congregation.

    Deborah also, was not a priest, who (at that time) intercessors between their flock and God.

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  74. Don't points 1 and 2 (we base it all on the Bible) conflict with points 4 and 6 (but we disagree with these other people, who also base it all on the Bible)?

    At some point, doesn't the OT become more of a hindrance than a help in these discussions? Its position on women doesn't match what our modern morality tells us is right and good. So instead of acknolwedging this problem, we "interpret" the OT to suit ourselves. But in doing so, we continue to hold the OT up as a guide to right behavior, which tends to turn off some people, and gives other people bad ideas.

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  75. Jim, no, I don't believe points 1 and 2 are a problem for points 4 and 6. Though people have disagreed over the years, still many others have agreed -- the Bible gives important interpretive principles for itself including how we are to understand and integrate the Old Testament into the New. First, Jesus said He didn't come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. Then Paul said the Law was a teacher to point us to Christ, and in Christ now, the Law is no longer needed for that purpose. So we value what the Law taught us of our need for Christ and His purpose in our lives, but we are CLEARLY no longer under the Law.

    As for the hard parts of the Law in terms of human rights, we always must remember that the Law came at the dawn of civilization, and at that point, civilization was not very civilized. They had no police, no courts, no OSHA, no medical establishment, and so forth, and I respect the rigid safeguards and weird limitations on a people struggling to figure out the basics of life on their own.

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  76. Hi Wendy,
    Awesome article. One issue.
    You have actually made the case for what I believe to be traditional complementarianism. I what you're effectively arguing against is this new generation of complementarians who have taken the reins and twisted the scriptures to support some idealized view of men and women they imported from the old Baptist fundamentalists. They have swung the pendulum hard into an extra-biblical position out of fear.

    They are so afraid of giving any ground to egalitarians that they have taken extra-biblical views. I appreciate your call to correction. I just don't think it's actually "new", but rather the "original" view.

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  77. Hi Wendy,
    I have a question for you.

    Under point 6 you said, "It takes two distinct though obviously overlapping genders to reflect the fullness of the image of God (and even then we still are lacking in our reflection of Him). Complementing genders are about two genders reflecting God, and the female gender brings some things to this reflection that men don't as well, and vice versa."

    If it takes male and female to be an accurate reflection of God, I'm curious how you would explain what Hebrews 1:3a says about Jesus, a single man.

    "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature..." (Heb. 1:3a)

    With your idea, it seems as though something would be missing in Jesus and He couldn't be an "exact imprint." In other words, what female characteristic does the average man not have that Jesus had?

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  78. But don't forget why Jesus came -- for His Bride. To redeem her for Himself.

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  79. Sean, I think you want to paint me into a theological position which you label heretical, and I'm not comfortable with what you are trying to do.

    I will say that I believe in keeping all the verses in the Bible. So, yes, male and female were created in God's image. In fact, it was Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt who first pointed me to the fact that God is clearly the example to women on what it means to be a helper from Genesis 2:18. And, also, Jesus is the exact representation of God. Hebrews 1 and Colosians 1 are my favorite passages in Scripture. When I want to better understand God, I can always go to Jesus walking among us reflecting God at the most perfect level.

    Beyond that, since I don't fully understand the physics of planetary motion, I'm not surprised that I can't fully reconcile all that the God who put those planets in motion has revealed about Himself. Yet, if He says two things that I can't fully reconcile, I still accept them both.

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  80. Wendy,

    I apologize if I made you think that I "want to paint [you] into a theological position which [I] label heretical." That's not the case at all. We probably have more in common here than not.

    I do think however, that when you make the point one of the 8 tenants of a movement, it's important to understand what it means.

    So in an effort to let you explain without forcing you to paint yourself into a heretical position, we'll leave Jesus out of it.

    Can you give me an example of what man brings to the table that woman does not and what woman brings to the table and man does not in regards to the image of God?

    In Christ,

    Sean

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  81. Thanks for your clarification, Sean. Here's an article I wrote on God's example as help/ezer that articulates some of my vision on this.

    In general, I come at the topic from an opposite angle than you are setting up. It's not about what I as a female bring to the table to reflect on God that a man doesn't, but what God brings to the table to reflect on me particularly in the roles He has created me for as a woman.

    I imagine that answer seems inadequate, but I don't have an answer to what I as a woman bring to the table to reflect about God that a man doesn't. But I can say, as I do in that article to which I linked above, what God brings to the table that empowers me for the places to which He has specifically called me as a woman.

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  82. Wendy,

    To say that "people have disagreed" about what the Bible says is certainly true. I just finished reading a book called "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis," by Mark a. Noll, which describes how people on both sides of the war gained support from the Bible.

    It seems to me that what is happening with the treatment of women, is another example of how the OT makes it possible to ignore the Two Commandments of Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself, in favor of less admirable attitudes and behaviors. Unfortunately, people who want to truly put the Two Commandments into action still want to leverage the authority of the OT, which leads to the kind of dissonance we saw in the Civil War and which we continue to see today.

    What I object to here, is the dishonesty involved, and the price of such dishonesty. In continuing to promote the OT as a source of moral guidance, we keep it alive for future generations. And nothing we do today can change what the book actually says. Thus, when we coerce it to say nice, cuddly things to satisfy ourselves, we ignore how this text has been used, is being used, and will be used again in the future.

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  83. First, my apologies for commenting anonymously.
    As a pastor's wife in an IFB church, I can assure you women are very much deacons -- we just don't call them that.
    These women work tirelessly on behalf of the church to give the pastor (my husband) the opportunity to devote his precious hours to study and prayer. In addition to the work, they teach the vast majority of our Sunday school classes. They counsel. They comfort. They evangelize.
    In short, they function in every way as a biblical deacon.
    My problem with churches that don't recognize women deacons (including my own!) is that any woman, even one who doesn't begin to meet the I Timothy qualifications, can easily work herself into a position of great influence because we refuse to recognize the office.

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  84. I'm looking forward to your response to Kevin DeYoung's questions posted on his blog today.

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  85. Anonymous, I posted my responses on Kevin's blog today. I don't plan to respond on this blog, though I may change my mind later.

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  86. I'm so in... so excited about this conversation. The whole Susan Foh thing is new to me though... will have to research that more but am thankful for the information. Thank you!!!

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  87. Thanks for reading and commenting, Suzie! Welcome to the conversation.

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  88. Anonymous IFB preacher's wife nails it! Because the churches don't value women as people who need to be held to a biblical standard of knowledge and behavior - be Phoebes or Priscillas- deaconnesses, not elders - unqualified women work and influence, cause trouble and so perpetuate the view that all women are troublesome, ignorant, and not really valuable to the body as a whole.

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  89. Would those of you who are affirming this post please give examples of books by "new complementarians"? I'm having trouble following what it is that is being advocated here.

    I say that because at least with respect to marriage, I see no meaningful concept of male sacrifice in recent complementarian writing....just the same old emphasis on wifely submission.

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  91. This is for the second Anonymous poster... the one who said she has "shaken the dust off my sandals" and left the church. My heart goes out to her. I want to recommend my book, Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide. It was written for *her* and any woman who needs some good reasons to hang on to Christ and the Bible.

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  92. Hallo, Wendy. I like your post and agree with most of it. I have a question for you (or anyone who also feel like you.) In point 8), you say “not threatened by the terms submit or respect”. I can see how complementarian submission is not threatening in a situation where the man acts Christlike, but I can also see where complementarian submission would be very threatening. I write of it here:
    http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/when-soft-complementarianism-is-too-hard/
    http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/when-soft-complementarianism-is-too-hard-part-two/

    I would welcome any of you to comment there on what a gentle and wise complementarianism can do for a woman whose husband makes an unwise or selfish decision, or has unreasonable demands.

    I truly want complementarians to proclaim a message that is good for such a couple, not one that amplifies the problem.

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  93. Retha, I've written on this some, and included a section in the chapter on Ephesians 5 addressing this in The Gospel-Centered Woman. But this is an important point. I may try to write on it more soon.

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  94. A great post. Thank you.

    The big question I face over Genesis 3:16 is this: is what God says prescriptive or descriptive? It's certainly been descriptive--men have ruled over women in virtually every culture for millennia. But I don't believe it is prescriptive. We see what God intended in the first two chapters of Genesis where there isn't a hint of hierarchy (except for men and women over the animals).

    We also see what God intends as we look at the person of Jesus who treated all women with dignity and respect. He held some of his most important conversations with them. Used them as heroines in his stories. Entrusted the message of his resurrection to them.

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  95. Good question, Felicity. In my understanding, it is definitely NOT prescriptive. It describes the consequences from the fall that Christ came to redeem us from. God can't possibly prescribe sin. And that would seem the case if the "curse" is something to obey, not the description of life in a fallen world.

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  96. Wendy, I appreciate your tone and the sense of earnestness that I perceive in your lectures to yourself.

    I (and others who do not impose a hierarchy on our marriages based on friendship, romantic love, and mutual consent of peers) trust scripture AND am not threatened by the terms submit or respect or the concept of male-only elders in a local assembly. On the former, living by a Christo-centric ethic obliges my husband and me to submit to and respect each other. Though scripture was written within a patriarchal society that invested a hierarchy of authority in the paterfamilias and consequently reflects that reality, we do not read the trustworthy scriptures as imposing a hierarchy on all marriages for all times and all places.

    As to the second, though I can't speak for all non-hierarchicalists, I am not threatened by local assemblies who believe in male-only elders. I attend a church of male-only elders, and I suspect there are many more like me. I think more accurately, non-hierarchialists, or Christian egalitarians, if you like, do not think male-only elders is the only way to have Christ-honoring assembling of believers and/or that male-only elders is less than ideal for the flourishing of the assembled believers.

    In a follow-up to Felicity Dale's comment and your reply...

    Do I understand you saying NWC diverges from TGC and CBMW and does not affirm hierarchy existed pre-fall?

    Given the similarities between non-hierarchialists and the points of NWC (with some nuance on #8 as given above), and if NWC is not patriarchal, in what way does it significantly differ from how you are using egalitarianism in your post? Or, stated another way specifically how are NWC and non-hierarchialists most alike?

    Thank you for starting this conversation. May your voice be heard and your influence expanded as the good reputation of Jesus is made better known.

    Angie

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  97. You say you wrote on this. Are there any blog entries here you can point out to me?

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