Of Complimentarians and Egalitarians

kinnon —  June 10, 2009 — 16 Comments

For those of you who've read my pushed pixels for any length of time, you will know I'm an egalitarian in terms of church leadership. And, I believe the Scriptures support my position. (I don't just appeal to Pauls "neither male nor female" – Gal. 3:28 passage but look to Priscilla & Aquila as co-labourers with Paul, Timothy having been taught by his mother and grandmother, the Apostle Junia – a woman (Romans 16:7), the priesthood of all believers, etc.)


Some of my closest friends are complimentarian. And. I believe it can be said that the Scriptures more easily support their position – though in my not humble opinion that "support" is "too easily" read – often seeming to ignore context and the meta-narrative of the Scriptures.

My particular complimentarian friends view church leadership through the lens of servant leadership rather than power. (Matthew 20:25-28 – "…Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.") I don't agree with their position on women in church leadership but I do know they have come to it with integrity and humility. These aren't misogynists – which is the simple accusation thrown around by too many people who disagree with the complimentarian position.

I was shocked recently by a Baptist Seminary news service that quoted Tim Keller as saying,

…there is an idolatrous reason behind each behavioral issue. For example, behind the belief that women should be ordained is the need for power and a love for feeling in charge.

This quote seemed extraordinarily out of character for Dr. Keller, who is up front about his complimentarian position, but ever gracious in that position. This quote was not particularly gracious and I still wonder whether Dr. K had been taken out of context.

@djchuang points to Anna Scott's blog where she talks about the complimentarian/egalitarian debate and references Tim & Kathy Keller. (Note that Anna's original post, that prompted the one I'm responding to, is very strong and a necessary read.)

I’m not sure that there are any new arguments to be made. When I wrote yesterday, I was not writing about the exegesis of particular passages. I went to Gordon College; I’m in seminary at Regent; I’ve attended two seriously evangelical churches for the bulk of my time as a Christian–I know the arguments, I’m aware of the issues. I know it’s complicated. I also know some people think it’s clear cut, one way or the other. I also am pretty familiar with the Redeemer view, as I used to devour TK’s sermons, and wish I still could, but am finally realizing that you can’t just spend money whenever you feel like it, and I can’t go dropping $30 on a sermon series anymore, no matter how much I want to. However, before I learned to be more fiscally responsible, and while I was getting ready to get married, I DID listen to the marriage sermon. And I’ll say this: it’s the closest I’ve come to accepting the complementarian position. If anyone could have done it, it was Kathy Keller in her talk. But, for me, even though this might sound heretical, as I’m not following this statement with a Bible verse–I just can’t do it. It goes so deeply against my own sense of who I am, the priority of equality, etc. It goes against the argument of my heart, my clear sense of call, and the implications and practical ramifications of carrying these policies out in marriage, church, and societies, that will feel demeaning, whether intended as such or not. [excerpt – link & emphasis added]

Tim responds in the comments,

I don’t mind you being unconvinced by our arguments (most people in the world are!) But with all due respect–I’m not sure its accurate to say we are not attuned to their impact on people. We’ve had plenty of NYC women reject our view, of course (just like we’ve had plenty reject all kinds of other teachings on Christian beliefs and practices.) But I think that what we have accomplished to some degree is that we’ve developed a church in which people who don’t have our view on gender roles are not made to feel their motives are being assaulted. As a result, we have a spectrum of opinion among us, even though we hold to traditional practice. [excerpt]

Anna responds,

…it may be too much to hope for a SECOND response from an intensely busy man (doing so much great work!), but if you [Tim] do get a chance, could you respond at all to the fact that Redeemer does make people feel comfortable and welcome who disagree in this area (like our friends Jon and Steph Fitzgerald, who I think you know), but you also have some strong associations with people whose churches or organizations are far more dogmatic and inflexible (like Driscoll, Piper, Duncan, Mohler, CBMW, etc)?

Interestingly, I was talking with a friend at school today (Regent in Vancouver), and she said she had taken a class with JI Packer, who is emeritus here, but teaches fairly regularly, and he had been similarly gracious on this issue, saying that it was secondary for him, even though he took the traditional position as well. So, I want to make it clear that I am grateful for people like you and Dr. Packer who make that effort, but still see most high-achieving, non-Christian women friends of mine (including my attorney mother) being utterly put off by reading/hearing some of the stuff coming from CBMW or Mars Hill, such that knowing it was associated in any way with Redeemer would be a huge obstacle to getting any of my NYC friends in the door, even though you guys approach the issue in a more nuanced and unique fashion–AND would be preaching the Word in a way that I think would really floor them. [excerpt]

Tim responds,

Anna – Sorry. I didn’t want to make you feel bad at all! I think I did a bit.

I associate with people on both sides of the issue. You say ‘how can you be connected with those folks over there?’ but people to my ‘right’ can be just as bothered that I’m willing to affiliate with people who believe in women’s ordination. I get it from both sides, and I think that goes along with Redeemer’s calling. We don’t want to demonize people who differ with us, and to a great degree that is happening across spectrum. Everybody is deeply offended by everybody else. I guess we are trying to do our small part to change that, and that means we don’t stay away from people because they disagree with us over this. [emphasis added]

Some of us in this debate want to make either position a first order issue. (I recently read the rather simplistic argument of a conservative Canon, formerly in TEC, who identified TEC's present problems with their ordination of women. Ridiculous, in my most arrogant opinion!)

We demonize those who hold an opposing position and will not relate with them. (In terms of full disclosure, the Kinnons attended a PCA church here in Toronto for a number of years which we love to this day. We left the church because of the then pastor's over emphasis on predestination and because we were egalitarians in what was then a much more rigid environment of complimentarian theology. We still love and respect the original pastor, BTW.)

Some people (I'm thinking Driscoll here) say things that make it easy to apply the misogynist label to complimentarians, creating unnecessary stumbling blocks for those both inside and outside the Kingdom – as Anna so rightly acknowledges. (And, oddly enough the supposed Keller example from the news service mentioned above of "the idolatry of the need for power and a love for feeling in charge" could easily be applied to brother Mark.)

Others on the opposite side want to appeal to political world-views and women's rights issues without engaging the Scriptures – to the point of labeling the Apostle Paul a misogynist. Really!? (See the links to NT Wright and Rebecca Groothuis in my earlier post for Biblical exegesis of the egalitarian position – along with two important posts from Peggy Brown here and here.)

We are all broken people who "see as through a glass darkly" – cracked Eikons, as it were. Extending grace, one to another, might go a long way in fulfilling Jesus prayer for our unity – whether we ever completely agree with each other. (We won't.)

After Thought: Two of the preachers who have had the most impact on me in the last couple of years are Tim Keller and Fleming Rutledge – both who love God's Word passionately. To miss out on the solid teaching of either because Tim holds a complimentarian viewpoint or because Fleming is a woman is both silly and costly.

UPDATE 1: Addressing the comment from my good friend Sonja in the comments, when first order issues are spoken of, my understanding is that they refer to what was addressed in the 4th Century by the Nicene Creed. They do not deal with church polity.

UPDATE 2: Read this post written in 2007 by David Fitch and see Dave's comments below.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

16 responses to Of Complimentarians and Egalitarians

  1. Thank you, Bill, for striking a balance on this topic. One of the benefits of viewing life through my purple cHesed glasses is that it requires me to ask these two critical questions before I respond to any and all issues:

    1. Will this help me to be faithful as a covenant-keeper (with both God and with those involved), working for their best interest?

    2. Will this lead me to break covenant (with both God and those involved), either by deliberately choosing NOT to serve their best interest … or by shirking my responsibility to speak the truth in love?

    When what I do (alas, such a badly cracked, purple wee Eikon am I) tears down and alienates, I break covenant and work against the will of God for unity.

    …I am currently processing how I respond to anger, and finding that it is, in fact, possible to be angry and sin not. It does, however, take a good bit of effort to admit it and ask for the Holy Spirit to bring me back to unity — with those pushing my buttons and with our interpenetrating Triune God.

    All prayers gladly accepted….

  2. It’s always interesting to me that men like to say that the women’s issue is not “a first order” issue. But you ain’t standin’ in my shoes …

  3. Sonja,
    Are you saying you don’t consider complimentarians to be your brothers and sisters? (Knowing you, I would find that hard to believe, but perhaps I’m wrong.)

  4. I agree! how can disregarding, dismissing or devaluing more than half of God’s people be a second-order issue?

  5. Huh? Wow … no, I’m not saying that at all.

    I think I misunderstood and/or did not stop to think about the meaning of the term “first order” … which given my current state of mental exhaustion is not surprising. Mea culpa.

    I think I’ll just leave this for later 😉

  6. Sigh

  7. Bill,
    Excellent post here man! A great summary statement.

    I continue to believe that the complimentarians and egalitarians are hamstrung by their indebtedness to an Enlightenment driven political ontology i.e. can only see our relationship to each other (whether gender, race, economic social status etc.) as ordered by a secularized autonomy of the individual held captive to an modernist political theory that organizes us into relationship with each other as individuals apart from our entire relationship in and out of God. Once we escape this structure, we can see new possibilities. For this reason I want to reject egalitarianism (despite the flack I get for it), as well as complimentarianism and opt for a politic born of the new inbreaking Kingdom of God which joins us together into the Eucahristic body of Christ. Here gender difference is maintained while at the same time women are full participants in the orders of the church (I affirm the ordination of women). This post here (link to churchandpomo.typepad.com) is where I first articulated some of this.
    Blessings Bill.. see you along the way.

  8. Sorry, the link got messed up. Here it is again – link to churchandpomo.typepad.com


  9. And if that doesn’t work,
    link to bit.ly
    I really hate how this new TypePad comment system works. I wish I’d never changed to it.

  10. Thanks for the link, Dave. It’s an important post – that should be up at Reclaiming the Mission, as well.

  11. Important post Bill. As a woman who has a fairly extensive preaching / teaching ministry yet has, to this point, chosen to not pursue ordination (as some kind of interesting embodiment of the tension in the Body of Christ), I do think it vital that we have the generous spaciousness to own our convictions with freedom and yet live out a non-coercive, non-patronizing mutual respect of the diversity on the spectrum.
    The question is, can we embody this same generosity when it comes to our glbtq brothers and sisters?

  12. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church in Canada and was exposed to a fair number of very adept ordained female ministers. It’s hard, having had that experience to somehow go back over it and decide that all these wonderful ministers were somehow power-mad or something.

    When you are pastored by a woman and the world doesn’t implode, it’s hard to seriously consider the complementarian position.

  13. Thanks, Bill.

  14. I have been a Christian for over 30 years and in full time ministry for over 20. I am not a pastor but I teach, I pray for others, I visit, I disciple….and I do this with the blessing and encouragement of my pastor. All the gifts the Lord has given me, He has allowed me to use.

    I don’t see why being “a pastor or man-ordained” is so important for some women. I truly believe that there are no gifts God has given us that He will not open doors of opportunity for us to use to His glory. God ordains.

    For sake of brevity, I feel I may be coming off as unfeeling or uncaring and I am not. People may not understand God’s reasons for having roles for men and women in areas of life and church, but that doesn’t make them wrong.

    I believe what has frustrated gifted, called, and God-ordained women, is NOT the word of God, some pastors or leaders in the church that do not bless women in using the gifts God has given them.

    Paul certainly encouraged women in their ministries and commended them, as stated in the above article.

  15. “I believe what has frustrated gifted, called, and God-ordained women, is NOT the word of God, some pastors or leaders in the church that do not bless women in using the gifts God has given them.”

    That should read:
    I believe what has frustrated many gifted, called, and God-ordained women, is NOT the word of God, but rather because some pastors or leaders in the church that do not bless and encourage women in using the gifts God has given them.

  16. Good post Bill, I myself am a complementarian, but it certainly is not a theological “hill to die on” for me. I also desire to be gracious to those with a differing point of view.


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