Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I think I may be a "Complementary Egalitarian"

William Webb's book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals has put me over the edge I think. I have continued to straddle this fence for quite some time. Yet, I think I may have jumped; I think I might be a "complementary egalitarian". I think I have found a category in the debate that fits my developing perspective. It is true that I have and continue to waffle back and forth between what Webb terms "ultra-soft complementarian" and this "complementary egalitarianism".
However, there are two reasons that Webb may have pushed me over. First, his careful discussion of the culturally-bound aspects of the concept of primogentiure (creation order), which has been the primary issue for me in maintaining some sort of a complementarian position. Second, Webb provides a convincing discussion of 1 Tim 2:13-14, particularly the connection between the two points in Paul's argument (creation order and the easily deceived woman) and their culturally-bound aspects. What's more he usefully presents the weakness of soft-complentarian explanations of 1 Tim 2:13-14 (i.e. Schreiner & Doriani) (see pgs. 224-28).
Here is how Webb defines a complementary egalitarianism:

Complementary egalitarianism is an appropriate title for the form of egalitarian position developed within this book. On the one hand, it differs from secular egalitarianism in the sense that interdependence and mutual submission are the pursued values instead of extreme independence and autonomy. On the other hand, it differs from some forms of Christian egalitarianism in that it applauds the recognition of biological, psychological and social differences between males and females. Men and women can and should function in "complementary" ways (p. 241).

I appreciate the combination of equality and interdependency. Without a creation-order argument then there is no reason to be a complementarian. Yet from 15 years of marriage and just a year of being the father of a girl, I can definitely say that there are biological and psychological characteristics of females even a little baby girl. Men and women were made to complement each other this is the truth of Genesis 1-2 and a truth of experience. I think I'm off the fence.
By the way, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals is an excellent book and should be a must read for all evangelical Christians.
Update: Let me clarify two points. First the title of this post is "I may be a complementary egalitarian". I still have reservations about both sides of the debate, not least I continue to wrestle with the creation-order issue. What's more, I still think there is something to the very concrete observation of the context of the early church being in the home. I think it might be possible to say one thing about the home that is different than the church in today's culture where the church is detached from the home (at least most churches in the West).
Second, I was asked if I think Webb's book makes interpretation more complex than is necessary. On this point, I think there is room for critique. But when I made the endorsement above I was more or less agreeing with what Schreiner wrote in his less than complementary review of the book: "There are some good insights in his use of the criteria" (p. 16 of Schreiner's review at Resurgence). Now we won't agree with what insights or how many I would guess, but I think there are well argued and persuasive discussions on the interpretation of women passages; particularly criteria 7, 11 and 18. Furthermore, I would recommend reading Webb's book from the end. Read his chapter "What if I am Wrong? (8)and the "Conclusion" (9) first.


hrobins said...

I should read this sometime as it's been on my shelf for about a year. However, I agree with you and am glad you've come to some rest on the issue. That being said, I'm curious how you feel about unordained women (or men) baptizing--say, an older sister baptizing her younger sister?

Michael Kruse said...

I quibble with some minor points but this is one of the most helpful books I've read. I'm particularly drawn to his redemptive movement hermenuetic. It is helpful in processing so many aspects applying biblical ethics.

It is a mouthful, but the best descriptive title I've ever come up with for myself is nonhierarchical complementarian. Complementarian alone should be enough but most who use the title have at the core the idea that the primary complement is that he leads and she submits.

Furthermore, most Christian egalitarians I know do not remotely hold to the idea that there are no differences between the sexes. Many bristle (including me) at the accusation that egalitarian means obliteration of differences. Equality exists in our ability to bear the image of God in the world, to answer God's call to service, to lead, and to be personally accountable to God without a "covering" or a mediator. How we go about these activities will differ in a number of ways with one influence being gender.

Thanks for this post.

Michael F. Bird said...

I think they'll now call you Darth Willitts in certain circles!

D. P. said...

"On the other hand, it differs from some forms of Christian egalitarianism in that it applauds the recognition of biological, psychological and social differences between males and females."

Maybe I slept through it, but I can't say I've ever heard an evangelical Christian egalitarian deny that there are biological, psychological, and social differences between men and women. I certainly haven't noticed it in any of the CBE materials that regularly arrive at my house. I guess I've been a "complementarian egalitarian" all along thinking I was a plain old "egalitarian"! :-)

Paul D. Adams said...

Have you seen Men and Women: Leaders Together? There is some important discussions going on there and, of course, the book Discovering Biblical Equality is a most important read.

Paul D. Adams