The Actual 4 Dangers of Complementarianism: A Response to The Gospel Coalition

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Yesterday The Gospel Coalition released an article entitled “4 Dangers for Complementarians,” written by Gavin Ortlund (Find Here). I appreciate that Ortlund is encouraging complementarians to self-assess, but I am afraid he has only touched the surface of how dangerous complementarian theology is.

Ortlund shares that he grew up in a healthy complementarian family, which can most certainly happen. Likewise, I grew up in a healthy egalitarian family, in which Christian love and ethics were beautifully displayed. In fact, my egalitarian parents have been happily married for 38 years. Further, my husband and I who are egalitarians, will be married for 7 years this February.

Therefore, it is evident that egalitarian marriage can be just as godly and beautiful of a design as complementarian marriage. 

I would even argue that many complementarians who claim to have a complementarian marriage, have an egalitarian marriage in actuality (and visa versa). So obviously, deep down, this conversation is not about marriage, as both egalitarian and complementarian marriages can be a beautiful testament to Christianity .

What this conversation is actually about is how complementarian theology has damaged the Body of Christ as a whole, and continues to do so. 

Here are the actual 4 dangers of complementarianism: 

1. Pride

The Gospel Coalition is notorious for making statements such as, “The truth is offensive,” as if they have figured out God’s divine plan better than all other Christians who are skillfully and faithfully studying the Bible. Ortlund even writes, “Of course, many people will disagree with complementarianism—often quite vehemently—no matter what we say or do. But the truth is offensive enough without our help.”

This is a prideful statement. Ortlund leaves no room for complementarianism to be wrong. He has put complementarianism on the same level as the Bible – the written Word of God. This should send chills down our spine, as complementarianism is theology (the study of God), not God, and not the Bible itself. Complementarianism is a manmade doctrine, which means it is flawed to some degree.

2. Injustice:

Complementarians continue to interpret the Bible in such a way that limits God’s daughters in how they can serve the Kingdom. Often, they can be children’s pastors, but they cannot be youth pastors. They can sing God’s message as worship leaders from the stage, but they cannot preach God’s message as teachers from the stage. They can be famous preachers that write Bible studies, books and lectures (that both men and women learn from), but they cannot be teaching pastors or elders at their local churches.

To make matters worse, seminaries that are associated with complementarianism admit female students and take lots of their money, fully knowing that they will never be considered for higher level jobs within local churches. This fact in itself should keep us up at night, as the Church is contributing to the national debt, caused by seminary student loans, young female ministers simply cannot pay back.

Complementarianism suggests that female ministers can either work with children or with other women, but the facts are that many female ministers do not feel called to work with children and paid women’s pastors are typically only found at mega churches, making these jobs rare and highly competitive. To make matters worse, untrained pastor’s wives are given honorary titles and platforms, while trained and called female ministers are unable to find jobs, a voice, and a purpose.

3. Abuse: 

Complementarianism empowers men, the already powerful. This began as a way of motivating “lazy” men to grow up, take responsibility, and be better husbands and fathers. Overtime, however, this type of power goes to one’s head. Ephesians five is about husbands laying down their cultural privilege and physical power, in order to love and empower their brides. The passage speaks nothing of husbands taking authority or making final calls for the home or local church.

When we give power to the already powerful, we set up a breeding ground for all sorts of abuse. When we tell flawed men that they are literally “like Christ” to the women in their lives, girls and women are in trouble. The truth is that men are simply human and have historically been prone to abuse girls, women and each other. Even if we train men to be “godly men,” their depravity will come through to various degrees.

4. Fear: 

Complementarianism has claimed to have found “true biblical manhood” and “true biblical womanhood,” and no Christian wants to openly question what is “biblical.” In the evangelical church, this is like questioning God Himself. Therefore, men and women who sense deep down something is wrong with complementarianism are afraid to speak up and break free.

Complementarianism is based on hierarchies and order. This creates fear among both men and women, as no one dares to get out of “God’s order.” The truth is that God is love and God is a good parent. There is no fear in God.

God is not a drill sergeant type of parent, who doesn’t permit His daughters to sit at elder tables and preach the Bible from the pulpit. Gender cannot define our unique giftings and callings. Plenty of women throughout Scripture and church history demonstrated strong leadership abilities, over both men and women. There is freedom in Christ to be who we are uniquely destined to be.

Ortlund himself states,

In the Bible, women are involved in ministry in many different ways. Just to pick out one example: many women throughout the Old Testament were prophets (Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and so on), and in the New Testament the gift of prophecy is clearly given to both men and women (Acts 2:17-18, 21:9, 1 Corinthians 11:5). In our complementarian settings, do we seek to accommodate anything like this example?

The truth is that complementarianism does not have room for female prophets, because a modern-day female prophet looks a lot like a preacher, blogger, evangelist, teacher and author whose words do hold authority over both men and women because they speak for God.

Female prophets are rising up everywhere and calling out injustice in the Church. We can only pray that God will give The Gospel Coalition eyes to see and ears to hear. 

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  • So true! As I’m preparing for marriage and am privy to more conversations about young brides following a complementarian model, I have definitely concluded that complementarianism only works without heartache or abuse if (1) the husband is naturally a leader and the wife is naturally a follower and/or (2) they actually follow a more egalitarian, self-sacrificial model. I’m witnessing firsthand how the ideology of complementarianism is supporting and excusing emotional abuse in my friend’s marriage. Complementarianism empowers already controlling men to take even more control and discourages sacrificial men from embracing their spiritual gifts of meekness and support. At worst, it’s abusive; at best, it misses the point of sacrificial love. Thank you so much for speaking against this and sparing men and women the heartache of a weak marriage model!

  • I think you’re so right when you say that the conversation isn’t about marriage. It’s about a lot of things, and for some it may actually be about marriage, but I think so often it’s about more than that.

    It’s about trying to be right and seek the path of God.
    It’s about power and control.
    It’s an inability to view the channels of grace as just a bit wider than our own thoughts and beliefs.

    I really don’t look at my marriage and think complementarian or egalitarian. Labels like that just don’t really capture the experience to me. I think of the love I have for my wife and that we’re walking through life and faith together figuring it out as we go. I guess I’m less concerned with labeling my marriage than I am about loving my wife as best as I can.

  • Jory
    This article you cite — at the link he cites to the earlier post– defines egalitarianism this way: “egalitarianism (as I use the term, the view that men and women have identical roles)”

    Who would buy that ? If his premise is faulty isn’t the whole article faulty ? That is not the definition in my dictionary! I checked! Equal worth, status and opportunity doesn’t mean equal qualification by role …that a guy can have a baby or a woman has upper body strength etc. I think we are saying when people are qualified they shouldn’t be shut out based on sex combined with flawed interpretation of scripture.

  • You underscore the true dangers of complementarianism and these dangers are a big reason why I can no longer view it as a side issue. I of course treat my compementarian brothers and sisters with respect, but cannot validate their viewpoint. I am curious about one thing. You mention that it is mostly megachurches that hire women for pastors (or maybe I misunderstood). Most megachurches I know of (Willow Creek being the lone exception) are NOT egalitarian and have all-male pastoral staff and deacon/elder boards. Sometimes the lead pastor’s wife will be billed as a co-pastor, but she still is in “submission” to him. Most egalitarian churches I know of are mainline churches or churches with a more liturgical bent. Just my observations, you may know of some churches I don’t.

    • Yes, Clarke. Often complementarian megachurches DO hire a women’s pastor just for the women, since there are no other female leaders (to adults) on staff.

  • As long as there is not a perfect world (which is now) there will exist people who are deaf to the truth. Men and women are utterly convinced that men are strong and women are weak and should be the man’s servant and keep quiet and make babies and raise the babies and Blah Blah Blah! I’ve left the church completely, I still have not found a church to go to around here that teaches the complete Bible as God’s word for us….I’ve found churches that seem good on the surface, but are really rotten under it all. When there is true equality, that means there would be no more “I am right and you are wrong” type deals. People don’t want to be equal, they want to be right…and in doing so they are totally WRONG!

    • You will never find the perfect church. Women are generally physically weaker, that is a scientific fact. We are the only sex who can have babies, so it follows that women care for their babies. It is a natural instinct for mothers to look after their babies and it is sad if a mother does not wish to see her babies grow up well. In the end, you need to take responsibility for what you believe to be right and live your life, regardless of what these churches say. Hope that helps, sister.

    • Yes, as I do for most of my views. As scripture says, we see only through a dim mirror, but one day after we leave this earth we will come face to face with God and we will see everything clearly. I believe that only God knows all, so I leave room to be wrong in most (if not all) of my beliefs.

  • The idea of complementarianism and egalitarianism is something that I’ve struggled with over the years. I’ve read commentaries by women, and found them very helpful.
    I enjoy studying Scripture with women, because they often see applications (or exclusions) that I never would have noticed.
    Within the Bible, I see women as judges, queens, workers, merchants and managers of households (and I’m sure there are many other roles as well). I also see them as the primary supporters of the work of the Kingdom of God. But I also see that men are the primary means used to influence the powerful. They are also the ones leading the Church.
    Is this merely as a result of the culture 2000 years ago, and/or is this how the Church was established?
    And is your view based on the cultural changes in the last 200 years, or based on what you see in the Bible? That is to say, is this something that developed from our current social context, or something that you see the early Church teaching?

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