Challenges to Complementarianism

Screen-Shot-2013-05-07-at-7.25.09-PMOver at the Jesus Creed blog, Scot McKnight has highlighted a paper by David Cramer entitled Assessing Hierarchist Logic: Is Egalitarianism Really on a Slippery Slope? The paper challenges some of Wayne Grudem’s thoughts found in his work Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?

Many will know that Grudem is a complementarian, connected to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The concept of complementarianism teaches that men and women were created equally before God in person, but distinct in roles. Complementarians believe that one of the main ways we see a contrast in roles is through God’s appointing of men into leadership, both in the home and in the church.

Before briefly mentioning some of David Cramer’s thoughts, I want to point out something that Scot McKnight notes in his own post. He states:

In general I prefer that a person be described the way that person wants, and since most of this view call themselves “complementarian” it is wise to give them that label. Having said that, however, I want to support what Cramer does here: time has convinced me that the focus of the complementarian is not how “roles” are complementary but that instead the focus is male leadership. Therefore, the complementarian view is essentially — by consensus of their approaches and emphases — a species of hierachicalism. I therefore find Cramer’s term appropriate and accurate. Those who want to focus on male-female complementarity in roles should be called complementarian; but if the focus is male leadership and female submission then the term hiearchicalism is the better term.

This is why I believe that the word itself, complementarianism, can be a helpful word. I think that most anyone would agree that men and women are not equal across the board. Their roles are complementary and collaborative in many respects. Hence, even as an egalitarian, I believe men and women are complementary.

But the challenge McKnight brings forth to so-called complementarians is that the focus never really seems to be on how men and women are complementary across their roles, working together to accomplish God’s purposes in all spheres of life. It’s more about arguing that men are always the leaders while women are called to submit to this structure. It sounds more about hierachicalism between the two.

Now I suppose that many a complementarians focus on who is to be leader between the two genders because they believe this key facet is being ‘attacked’ day in and day out. Thus, the need to rescue us from falling short of the biblical mandate. So, in another sense, it’s understandable why such a focus on who is in the lead. But as McKnight notes, the emphasis is continually put upon who is the leader, rather than how the two genders are called to work together in the purposes of God.

Perhaps more balance is needed?

But going back to Cramer’s article.

McKnight helpfully summarises Cramer’s 3 main challenges to Grudem’s book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?

First, there is the fallacy of hasty generalization or selective evidence. This happens when supporting evidence is emphasized and counter evidence is ignored or minimized. [I found the same logical fallacy in Grudem’s approach to the warning passages in Hebrews.] Or when a universal claim is made on partial evidence. The problem here is that Grudem connects egalitarianism to liberalism; the former leads to the latter. Only there are so many contra indicators, esp the number of Wesleyan and Holiness women in ministry that vastly outweigh the number of “liberal” women in ministry (3 or 4 to 1), that the author is guilty of a hasty generalization. The correlation, then, is only possible. Cramer concludes that Grudem’s argument is ultimately a tautology.

Second, the fallacy of equating correlation with causation. This one is simple: that some liberals are egalitarians, or even if all were, there is no necessary causation between being egalitarian and becoming liberal. It is far more likely, something Grudem does not explore adequately, that other factors are at work, and not all of them the same between the two groups. Cramer suggests Grudem should have abandoned this logic and argued that egalitarianism or evangelical feminism could be called the new forms of liberalism. Grudem gives no logical reason “to worry that evangelical egalitarianism is a cause of liberalism” (7).

Third, there is the fallacy of the slippery slope argument, which the author criticizes in the case of the “trajectory hermeneutic” and which the author could have applied equally to his own arguments. This argument only works if there is a logical necessity between egalitarianism/Christian feminism and liberalism; there is none. Cramer: “there is simply no logically necessary relationship between these positions” (8). Cramer sees too many psychological issues at work here.

Specifically with this third point, here is how the slippery slope fallacy is played out: If one believes A, then they will believe B (if not also C, D and E). Thus, if one is egalitarian, it easily opens one up to the denial of some centrally important doctrines of the faith or acceptance of homosexual relationships, for this is what liberals do. Things of this nature. Or so the argument goes. This fallacious argument arises in other areas of discussion such as not holding to a literal interpretation of Genesis. For example, if one doesn’t accept a literal reading of Genesis 1-3, then it will lead to denial of our sin problem and, even more, the necessary work of Christ.

In both areas – gender roles and interpretation of Genesis (and others) – the slippery slope remains a flawed argument.

Not only that, but the same could be argued against complementarianism. If one is complementarian, then it will lead to extreme fundamentalist beliefs about gender roles and perhaps even towards spousal and/or leadership abuse. This would be just as silly for egalitarians to argue.

In all, we must remember that egalitarianism does not inherently lead one to liberalism. The same is true of the opposite – complementarianism does not inherently lead to extreme fundamentalism. Rather, egalitarian views come out of both trying to faithfully engage with biblical teaching and also in responsibly thinking through aspects of trajectory theology (that the Scripture does not address every single point on every single issue and, therefore, we need to think through how certain issues continue to play out – i.e. slavery, head coverings, gender roles, cosmology, etc.)


2 thoughts on “Challenges to Complementarianism

  1. These so-called philosophical arguments remind one of the medieval scholasticism… Which Luther hated so! I prefer the Biblical Text itself, with perhaps a bit of the Reformed Scholastic Theology itself. Btw, Mike Horton’s The Christian Faith, A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, is a good read here!

  2. Pingback: Is Christianity sexist? – AntWoord

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