The Shifting Goal Posts of Complementarianism Show How Bankrupt It Is
It’s telling that when complementarians start losing an argument on one point, they will re-define the argument or invent a new batch.
They will shift the goal posts. This is one indication of how bankrupt their gender theology is.
When complementarians began losing ground, in the last decade or so, to the arguments of non-complementarians, who pointed out that it makes no sense to insist that a woman be perpetually subordinate in role to men based on ontological reasons, they began dragging up the E.S.S. (Eternal Subordination of the Son) controversy, which states Jesus Christ is eternally subordinate to the Father.
You can read a bit more about that here:
These following pages contain examples by early church fathers of their views of women, and they’re not flattering or even charitable:
The Origins of Sexism in the Church – Junia Project (Christian site)
Here are a few examples from the AlertNet page, comments by early Christians and their views of women:
Woman is a temple built over a sewer. –Tertullian, “the father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225)
Woman was merely man’s helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone. She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God. –Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430)
I cannot imagine Jesus of Nazareth saying of any woman, not his mother Mary, not the prostitutes he met, or any other woman, that they were “temples built over sewers.”
The second set of quotes, by Augustine, is just flat-out in contradiction to the book of Genesis, which says that both the male and female were created in the image of God, not just the male, and that God entrusted BOTH sexes to rule the earth, not just the man
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Most complementarians today wouldn’t dream of saying the reason women should not be preachers or be in leadership positions is because all women have always been “more easily deceived.” That was one sort of argument complementarians hundreds of years ago would have used, and it worked back then, but such a rationale would not fly today.
Nor would many complementarians of today say things like women are sewer-like, or not as much in the image of God as are men (yes, there are a sliver of complementarians who do teach and believe such nonsense, but most do not).
Blatant sexism such as that is obviously not biblical, and it does not market well inside or outside the church, so most complementarians today, most of the time, won’t go there.
The fact that complementarians have to keep concocting new arguments to try to continually convince Christians or Non-Christians that God “obviously” designed all men to be one way and all women the other is indication enough of how un-biblical, sloppy, and hollow their position is.
(Also, if it were so incredibly “obvious” that God created all men to be one way, and all women another way, one would take it one would not have to see constant reminders from the complementarians of what constitutes manhood or what constitutes womanhood, but they never tire of churning out such material. What constitutes manhood and womanhood should be self-evident, if we are going by complementarian logic.)
Here are a couple of web pages or so that point out how complementarians shift the goal posts when they are losing the debate.
Reflections on a New Defence of Complementarianism – Steven Holmes
Here’s the pertinent portion (with emphasis added by me):
…. There is a good book to be written by someone who has more patience than I do with bad arguments, narrating the various arguments used by complementarians in recent decades.
A ‘narrow hermeneutic’ argument based around close exegesis of two or three NT texts failed – the exegesis was not plausible; it was replaced by a ‘broad hermeneutic’ argument appealing to a Biblical theology of gender. This also failed, and was replaced by an appeal to ‘eternal functional subordination’ and a direct argument from the doctrine of God to gender relations.
The book I am here treating seems to me to demonstrate that (at least some) ‘complementarians’ themselves have realised what serious scholars already knew: this argument too fails.
…. I reflect, however, that these continually-shifting arguments to defend the same conclusion start to look suspicious: by the time someone has offered four different defences of the same position, one has to wonder whether their commitment is fundamentally to the position, not to faithful theology.
…. How many particular defences of a position need to be proved false before we may assert that the position itself is obviously false?
In the case of the sort of Christian ‘complementarianism’ it [the complementarian book he’s reviewing] defends, this volume makes me wonder seriously if we have reached that line.
Shifting Footings – by Scot McKnight
[McKnight summarizes several different arguments complementarians have used against Junia – a woman apostle in the New Testament – and shows how, when each of their arguments have been defeated, they come up with a new objection to Junia]
….Really, though, we are back to the major issue: she’s a woman; she’s an apostle; and she may have been a missionary kind of apostle .. but don’t forget what Paul says — she was a great apostle/missionary.
What’s next? Will “great” now be diminished too? Will this all be seen as tongue-in-cheek by the apostle?
This gets tiresome. Let the Bible say what it says. Junia was a woman; she was an apostle; she was a great apostle.
The Evolution of Complementarian Exegesis – PDF, Google Cache Version of CBE site
Snippets from that page:
The preface to the 2006 reprint of the 1991 book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, states these assumptions clearly: “many of the evangelical feminist arguments have changed in the last decade whereas the complementarian defenses have not.”
The point of this article is not to ask (or answer) whether this two-pronged line of reasoning is legitimate.
Rather, for the sake of the argument, let us assume that it is and address the latter half of this reasoning: is complementarian interpretation of key biblical passages as stable as claimed?
Or does complementarianism rest on a gradually-shifting exegetical base? This brief study will show that “the complementarian defenses” have not stopped changing—…
[The article cites several examples, here is just one]
Douglas Moo and 1 Timothy 2:11–13
In 1980, Douglas Moo’s article, “1 Timothy 2:11–15: Meaning and Significance,” suggested that, as a general rule, women may be more easily deceived than men.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul cites Eve’s failure as exemplary and perhaps causative of the nature of women in general and that this susceptibility to deception bars them from engaging in public teaching…. While ambiguities remain, it is arguable that only this interpretation adequately
accounts for the data given above.4
In 1981, Philip Payne published a critique of Moo’s article.5 In Moo’s response to Payne’s critique, Moo shifted his position.
In Moo’s words,
The difficulties with viewing v 14 as a statement about the nature of women are real. I am now inclined to see the reference as a means of suggesting the difference between Adam and Eve in the fall— he sinned openly; she was deceived. With this in mind, Paul may be seeking to suggest the need to restore the pre-fall situation in which the man bears responsibility for religious teaching.6
(end Moo quote)
Moo later affirmed and strengthened his revised position in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:
It may be that Paul wants to imply that all women are, like Eve, more susceptible to being deceived than are men, and that this is why they should not be teaching men! While this interpretation is not impossible, we think it unlikely. For one thing, there is nothing in the Genesis accounts or in Scripture elsewhere to suggest that Eve’s deception is representative of women in general.7
(end Moo quote)
In summary, then, Moo’s position essentially evolved in three stages, first from (my words) “women are generally more easily deceived than men,” then to “this may not be the case,” and finally to “this is not likely the case.”
Again, while it is discouraging to see such instability (in what is claimed be a stable base), it is encouraging to see a complementarian scholar willing to revise an interpretation after scholarly dialogue.
( visit the CBE page to see more examples – in PDF format, Google Cache)
There you can see how complementarianism has not remained stable over the years.
If anything, I think the material I’ve placed on this page shows that complementarians have allowed cultural views of women to inform how they interpret the biblical text, which is something most complementarians tend to accuse non-complementarians of.
It’s a little bit harder in nations such as the United States, in the year 2017, for complementarians to argue with a straight face that God wants women to always play second fiddle to men because… “easily deceived,” “not fully in God’s image,” “sewer-like,” and so forth.
You can see from the pages above that even in more recent times – from the mid-20th century forth, complementarians have flipped flopped or changed some of their own arguments or interpretations.
Complementarians once more are shifting the goal posts to make complementarianism more palatable to contemporary culture. They are re-branding it, changing the name, and so on. Read more here:
This was part of a three-day event I attended run by Think Theology, an offshoot of the Newfrontiers network of churches, entitled The Future of Complementarity.
Andrew Wilson, arguably evangelical Christianity’s most well-known complementarian, organised this conference to move ideologically away from US conservatives who want to return to the 1950s (John Piper et al).
We are to no longer call it complementarianism, it is complementarity, which presumably makes Andrew Wilson a complementarityist.
… It came as quite a surprise to me that Think Theology’s complementarian conference advocated for such egalitarian anthropologies, with both Conservative and Reformist Romanticism promoted throughout the event.
It is extraordinary to me that the very feminism that complementarian theology was developed to eradicate was being preached by complementarians for three whole days. That’s some turnaround!
… When Andrew Wilson told the conference that Junia was a female apostle and that Paul mentions Priscilla before her husband Aquila in 2 Timothy, he did not tell them that feminist scholars fought for years for the integrity of Scripture to be valued over patriarchal interpretations.
When Alastair Roberts critiqued capitalism, mass production, liberalism, and the separating of the public and private spheres, he neglected to mention it was men who formulated all of these systems, the same creatures that all the delegates still agree should remain in charge, regardless of their horrendous track record.
The work of feminists and egalitarians remained unacknowledged for the most part, as the delegates were awed by Alastair Roberts, who I concluded was not as clever as they all thought he was.
Throughout the three days, no one sought to define egalitarianism or feminism, which is interesting. Advocating for something usually involves pointing out how the alternative possibilities will not measure up.
There were some brief mentions of how feminists want women to more like men (we don’t), but beyond that and some brief recognition that feminists are not all bad, what with us making women’s lives better, the alternative ideologies remained suspiciously absent from the proceedings.
Based on all the speakers’ contributions, I can say with confidence that Andrew Wilson’s complementarity is a repackaged version of 1980s romantic feminism, which is different enough from 2018 modern feminism to lull delegates into believing they are maintaining their complementarian convictions, even though they’re actually embracing something very different from Grudem and Piper.
… However, every speaker constantly referred to women as biological mothers. When questioned on where women without children fit, Hannah Anderson informed us that, ‘Not every woman can be a mother, but every woman has a mother’ which she explained made all women embodied feminine creatures.
No other speaker challenged this rather nonsensical statement. For women (and men) struggling with infertility or those who are single or don’t want children, this ideology will greatly harm them.
This version of feminism/complementarity relies upon a presumption of innate male and female difference. What does this mean for the women who do not conform to femininity? Where do we fit? And what of men who misuse power, who aren’t kind and nice?
…After the conference I said to Alastair, ‘You are saying that as an embodied female, my innate femininity will simply flow out of me as I live according to God’s purposes. I am currently living my best life, in full obedience to God, but the model you have laid out over this conference does not have a place for me. How can you explain that?’ He didn’t seem to be able to.
The speakers tried to present this new ‘complementarity’ idea as an evolution of complementarianism, which lets complementarians off the hook in acknowledging the huge harm their theology has caused.