Monday, September 15, 2008

The Question of Consistency: Part 1

It appears that the major organizations promoting the patriarchal-complementarian (PC) view—namely, Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—either support Sarah Palin unequivocally or, at least, allow that voting for her would not necessarily violate Scripture. However, a number of PC voices have arisen in protest against a woman serving in any position that would have her exercising authority over men. The dissenters base their view on what they see as a universal biblical principle of exclusively male authority throughout all of God’s creation, which God established at his creation of humanity. They regard the patriarchal practices of the Old Testament—along with the New Testament proof texts—as a clear indication of God’s mandate for male rule in all things. They see the PC view that mandates exclusively male rule only in the church and in marriage to be inconsistent with clear biblical teaching.

One such dissenter speaks of this view as a “complementarian compromise,” and of certain representatives of CBMW and SBC as “semi-complementarians.” He defines complementarians as “those who believe that men and women have different but complementary roles according to the revealed will of God.” Given that this dispute seems to be about the “true” meaning of gender “complementarity,” I would like to begin by considering this fellow’s definition of such. Besides co-opting this view as the only possible account of biblical truth, he also invokes the standard euphemism of “different but complementary roles.” This phrase—taken literally, apart from the implicit coding of the language—is also true of biblical equality (BE). The PC view is not rightly distinguished from the BE view merely by its affirmation of different but complementary roles, because biblical egalitarians also recognize and affirm different yet complementary roles for women and men.

Difference in gender roles can be universally true or only generally true. The universally different roles of men and women are (a) the different reproductive functions of male and female, and (b) the creationally ordained pattern of marriage, whereby a man marries a woman and a woman marries a man for as long as they both shall live. This may seem overly obvious and thus unimportant; but the point is that these are nonetheless “roles,” which are affirmed by the BE view of gender. In our sexually confused culture, these “obvious” roles are being abrogated right and left, what with reproduction occurring in various inventive ways and, of course, the notion of marriage expanding into assorted arrangements other than one man and one woman for one lifetime.

Most of us have also noticed gender differences that obtain generally but not universally. For example, women tend to be more inclined than men to nurture young children at home. In addition, men and women typically exhibit different communication styles (women tend to process ideas in a more holistic and relational fashion, are more readily engaged in personal conversations, etc.). Also, there is a general difference between conceptual processing in women and men (women tend to have a more integrative way of thinking, while men seem more inclined to focus on single issues). Differences such as these are truly complementary, and demonstrate why it is usually beneficial to have both men and women working together in various projects, churches, and organizations, according to each one’s gifts and callings.

However, it is not possible to ascertain which of these general differences between men and women may have been established by God in the original act of creation, and which have developed as a result of the fall. PC advocates of “Mars and Venus” views of gender difference routinely confuse “what is” with “what originally was.” For example, the male inclination to pursue a woman and then, after the conquest, to hunt for someone new, has seemed so ingrained to so many that it is sometimes viewed as “the way God made men to be.” But this much, at least, we know is untrue. The way God set things up with regard to romance and marriage is succinctly but certainly set forth in Genesis 2:24.

Similarly, it is impossible to decipher which generally apparent gender differences are due to nature and which are due to nurture, or what mixture of nature and nurture there may be in these generalizable differences. Because of the powerful and pervasive influence of environment on human behavior, innate gender differences cannot be isolated and then manipulated and controlled in scientific experimentation. Yet it is evident that in every culture there are general behavioral differences between women and men, some of which seem to be more or less consistent across culture; but even this does not necessarily show these differences to be ordained by God. Between us and God’s creation there stands the fall, by which the world suffered significant disruption of God’s original desire for human life. Nonetheless, wherever there are generally consistent differences in expertise or inclination between women and men, there is gender complementarity.

Although the points of difference between men and women can vary from time to time and culture to culture, the consistency of complementarity (in the true sense!) is indicative of God’s creationally ordained differentiation of male and female humanity. This we can know to be God’s design! What is not warranted from either nature or Scripture is a flat-footed stance on what men and women ought and ought not do in terms of ministry and vocation in order to be truly feminine or truly masculine in accordance with what God “clearly” ordained at creation.

This issue of nurture and nature—or, more to the point, culture and creation—bears on the question of mandating unilateral male authority on the basis of the patriarchy of Old Testament culture and social structures. Those who consider themselves fully complementarian invoke the universal expectation of male rule in ancient Israel as proof that God explicitly commands civil leaders to be men.

Yet the idea that we can derive God’s ideal for human culture and behavior from a world in which sin is imbedded in every social structure is na├»ve at best. The fact that God did not directly rebuke patriarchal culture, but rather worked within it, does not indicate that these structures were his ideal for human culture. No, God’s ideal culture would have to be discerned from pre-fall culture—of which we have little information (although we do have God’s pre-fall account of marriage in Genesis 2:24, which exactly reverses patriarchal culture).

In patriarchal culture, a woman leaves her parents’ home and is taken into the extended family of her husband. She becomes a part of her husband’s family, under the rule of her husband and the family patriarch (typically her husband’s father). But in Genesis 2, after God created the woman and before the man and woman fell into sin, God decreed a very different picture of marriage: the oneness between woman and man would come from the man leaving his own family and cleaving to his wife. The two would then become one unit, one flesh.

It is also telling that nowhere in the OT is male rule specifically mandated. It is simply assumed, given the culture of the times. In ancient agrarian societies, patriarchy was the only game in town. This was the culture of all societies, including the heathen nations.

Because God is sovereign, he orders and directs all that occurs in this world. However, this does not entail that everything that occurs is in accordance with God’s specific design and perfect pleasure for his people. This is a fallen world, and sin pervades every aspect of human social structures this side of Eden. We cannot conclude that patriarchy was ordained by God simply because it was there.

It is true that God did not treat patriarchal culture as intrinsically evil—as he did, say, idolatry. God regarded the patriarchy (and concomitant polygamy) of ancient Israel as simply the culture of the time. Although patriarchy was not the offense to God’s holiness that idolatry was, this is no reason to conclude that it was entirely pleasing to him. God regulated the culture of the Israelites, reforming it in various ways. God certainly regards some cultures as more sinful than others, and he also desires his people to seek to renovate culture according to biblical ethical principles. However, God’s rule in this world is not directed primarily to transforming human culture to his divine standard, but rather to transforming the hearts of his people.

A number of the dissenting PC commentators intoned the argument that the OT prophets saw the rule of women as God's judgment against Israel (Isa.3:12), and that the example of Deborah (Judges 4 & 5) was actually an anomaly that highlighted the failure of Barak to lead. So let us look specifically at these instances.

In Isaiah 3:12, the rule of women is presented as an indication of God’s judgment against Israel. Why was this seen in such a light? Fundamentally, it is a picture of the total breakdown of ordered society (by the standards of society in the ancient near east). Reference is also made in Isa. 3:4 to boys and children in official governing positions. In the entire near east—including the pagan and idolatrous nations—government by women or youngsters was an indication of extreme political instability and social disarray. By definition, patriarchal culture is ruled largely or entirely by men. When there are no men in leadership in such cultures, it is an indication that the social structures are disintegrating. This is precisely the situation described by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 3. The allusion to boys and children and women ruling is a telling metaphor (they were not actually ruling) of the ruinous state of anarchy that the prophet was predicting would come upon the nation of Israel.

If Isaiah’s picture of Israel’s ruin in 3:12 were indicative of the errors and terrors of female leadership, then this would flatly contradict the account of Deborah’s godly, beneficial, and victorious leadership of Israel (Judges 4 & 5). The biblical narrative here offers only praise for Deborah. The nation of Israel cried out to Deborah, their national leader, and she delivered the people from twenty years of being oppressed by a Canaanite king. Deborah, who was also a prophet, began her military campaign with a prophetic word for Barak: God was commanding him to take the troops to Mount Tabor. This was not just a clever idea that Deborah had come up with; it was the word of the Lord. Barak should have recognized it as such and offered unconditional obedience to God’s call upon him; but he did not. He was willing to obey God’s command only if Deborah went with him. Barak evidently did not believe that God would go with him unless Deborah—upon whom God’s hand obviously rested—would go with him as well. There is no indication in the text that Barak was rebuked because he failed to exercise his God-given male leadership. There is not a hint of even the concept of God-given male leadership. What is quite evident from the text is that God had commanded Barak to do a thing, and Barak had agreed to it only under his conditions. This is not wholehearted faith and obedience; this is faint heartedness—a failure to trust wholly in the Lord. And this is a sin whether it is committed by a man or a woman.

In the end of this story, everyone is a hero—Deborah, Barak, and Jael—but God alone is given credit for the victory. What a lovely picture of men and women serving God as leaders together!

Rather than being an object lesson on the failure of male leadership, the remarkable story of Deborah’s leadership of Israel single-handedly refutes the notion that God has ordained that leadership authority is the sole province of men. As I noted in Good News for Women, page 190, proponents of male-only leadership “often try to explain that a ministry of such power and prominence as Deborah’s was an exception to the rule of male authority in the Bible. But exceptions to rules occur in the natural and social realms; they do not occur in the realm of God’s moral law. If God called Deborah to her ministry, female leadership cannot be said to violate moral principles ordained by God.”

This can be boiled down to a simple modus tolens argument (the argument form “If P then Q; not Q, therefore, not P”). The following construction of the argument is taken from notes by Doug Groothuis. (1) If men have universal and God-mandated authority over women in the church, then we should find no divinely authorized woman leader in the Bible. (2) Deborah was such a leader in both spiritual and political capacities. (3) Therefore, there is no universal and God-mandated authority by men over women in the church (by modus tolens).

So then, who is the true complementarian? And which sort of “complementarity” is the most consistent?

More to come in Part 2.

15 comments:

Jamin Hubner said...

I've been waiting for paragraphs 3-6 for a loong time from the egalitarian camp...very good. Although, the "impossibility" of obtaining knowledge of such universal standards in Genesis may be under dispute. But I agree; the complimentarians have by no means arrived at a universal definition of masculine and feminine roles (or the objective basis of them), if such universals could even be arrived at in the first place.

cokhavim said...

RMG wrote: "It is true that God did not treat patriarchal culture as intrinsically evil—as he did, say, idolatry. God regarded the patriarchy (and concomitant polygamy) of ancient Israel as simply the culture of the time. Although patriarchy was not the offense to God’s holiness that idolatry was, this is no reason to conclude that it was entirely pleasing to him."

I'm troubled by this. Here's my feeble attempt to explain why: Patriarchy is the system whereby men take was is not rightfully theirs (exclusive authority), and in many cases women wrongfully give up what God has given and charged them to wield (authority). The first case is theft, and the second case is disobedience. Both involve the same disregard to God's authority as idolatry, and so are sinful and inherently evil. So why doesn't God condemn patriarchy like he condemned idolatry? Worse than that, why does God spend so much time on, for instance, mould and mildew instead of condemning patriarchy? Patriarchy was far more devastating to the Israelites and the entire history of the human race than mould and mildew.

So I contend: Patriarchy is evil. Why doesn't God explicitly condemn it?

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Jo:
Since your question is not a simple one to respond to, I will be putting my response into a new post (as I have done before, if you recall!)

Gem said...

RMG: "God’s ideal culture would have to be discerned from pre-fall culture—of which we have little information (although we do have God’s pre-fall account of marriage in Genesis 2:24, which exactly reverses patriarchal culture).

In patriarchal culture, a woman leaves her parents’ home and is taken into the extended family of her husband. She becomes a part of her husband’s family, under the rule of her husband and the family patriarch (typically her husband’s father)."


God uniquely singles out the husband as the one who is to "leave and cleave" (which is repeated in the NT). Katharine Bushnell wrote about how this provided protection for women: GOD’S LAW OF MARRIAGE.

But I just read this about "hupostasso".

from this link (click here):
QUOTE: The form of marriage practiced by the Ephesians was known as "marriage without hand," meaning "marriage without commitment." In this pagan model, the wife remained under the authority of her father or the oldest male in her birth family. Since the wife's family could remove her at any time, uncertainty destabilized the marriage relationship.

Furthermore, a father-in-law could pressure the husband to do his bidding by threatening to "recall" the wife. This could be especially trying for Christian couples since a pagan father-in-law could threaten to remove his daughter unless she and her husband renounced their faith.

Important in this discussion is the meaning of the Greek word hupotasso, translated by the English word "submit" in this passage. An informed study of the meaning, as opposed to a biased, cursory rendering, clearly reveals Paul's intended meaning as being "to identify with." It has nothing to do with "being put under." The Ephesians' readers understood what Paul really meant: A married woman was no longer to identify with her birth family but was, instead, to identify completely with her husband; and the two were to be one.
ENDQUOTE

That confuses me because it sounds like the woman is leaving and cleaving? She is getting out from under the "patriarchy" of her kin, but isn't she jumping from frying pan to the fire of being under the "patriarchy" of her husband's kin?

Don said...

Thanks for stating things so clearly.

We see the dangers of consistency starting from flawed premises with the extreme PC position.

And we see the CBMW justifying voting for a woman for VP with a special needs baby, when their claim is women are homemakers. They claim that one does not need to be concerned with the morality of that decision, as it is only between the parents and their pastor, so it is neatly compartmented so one can ignore the implications of their teaching in one area in this case.

The amazing thing to me is that some seem to buy into this creation of an ever more esoteric PC teaching.

ryan said...

http://www.dennyburk.com/?p=2470#more-2470

Why not interact with the answers to your questions on that many complementarians have given? It is not like there is such stunned silence that no one is answering these matters that have long been dealt with.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Please explain. What questions have I asked that complementarians have long answered, to which I have failed to respond?

Gem said...

Dear RMG,

I got wondering if my comments on here are off in left field or something (since I commented on a couple old threads and you didn't reply)... Anyway, I think in my comment above I was too focused on a little part of your post. I really did appreciate your thoughts, especially about Isa 3:12. I think you would be tickled by how much overlap there is between your view and that of PC icon Douglas Wilson. I saw his post first and was really tickled to see that you and he agree on this passage. from Doug Wilson's blog

QUOTE: The best argument against Sarah Palin has been an argument that says this kind of thing has happened to us because American Christian men have been wimpy. This argument resonates with us because American Christian men have been abdicating for many years -- in their homes, in their churches, and in their vocations. But in a nation of 300 million, surely there are some men about whom this is not true? Why couldn't God have raised up one of those guys? The answer has to be -- He didn't want to.

This assumption about wimpiness rests on a common reading of Deborah in the book of Judges -- the assumption being that Deborah was a judge simply because the men of Israel in that day were all a bunch of abdicating males. But the text never says that -- never accuses the men of that generation of being wusses, and never hints at any kind of disapproval of Deborah. And the only penalty Barak receives (relatively minor) is one caused by him putting conditions on a directive that a woman gave him. Had he simply obeyed that women (Deborah), he would have had the glory of taking Sisera's head instead of that glory going to Jael. Barak's problem was not "too much" obedience to a woman in civil leadership, but not enough obedience to a woman in civil leadership.
ENDQUOTE

ryan said...

Denny Burk deals very effectively by the loud outcry by egalitarians that there is somehow "inconsistency" in their view of supporting Palin for public leadership, even though she is a woman.

Palin provides no cause for pause as the complementarian view simple argues that the Bible clearly teaches servant leadership for men in the church and home. Nothing more.

Once again read Denny Burk's article on the subject, and bolster your argument by actually interacting with the other side rather than pretending that they are so befuddled they are unable to respond.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

gem:

Thank you for your several thoughtful comments. I'm not intentionally ignoring you, I've just been rather busy with other stuff the last several days, and I wanted to get the Part 2 post on consistency up before I get to the rest of the comments. I'm not the fastest blogger on record (but I may be the slowest!).

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Ryan:

Have you, perchance, concluded that I am of the view that CBMW & company are necessarily inconsistent in their approval of a woman as president and their disapproval of a woman as pastor? Perhaps you should wait to draw your conclusions until you have actually heard my thoughts on the subject in the upcoming "Question of Consistency, Part 2."

As for my knowledge of the beliefs of CBMW & company, I probably could argue their case as well as any one of them. I have "interacted with the other side" at length and in depth for fifteen years and in three books. Are you not the "Ryan" with whom I interacted on this blog last spring, under the post, "Adam and Eve in Genesis and 1 Timothy," when you presented a number of objections to biblical equality and I answered them all very thoroughly? Or was that another "Ryan" who also failed to identify himself?

Gem said...

RYAN said: But I find it tragic that in a time in which the world is in such great need of mission and the the there is already such a negative eye cast on the church, we waste out time devoting WHOLE blogs to our pet issues.

Precisely why a blog like this is important. Half of the body of Christ has been crippled by the traditions and doctrines of men. They need to be set free to serve Him.

Doug Groothuis said...

"Ryan's" previous post--to which GEM responded--was deleted by R. Groothuis at my advice, given its incivility and glibness. I did so as her "head"!

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Gem said...
RMG: "God’s ideal culture would have to be discerned from pre-fall culture—of which we have little information (although we do have God’s pre-fall account of marriage in Genesis 2:24, which exactly reverses patriarchal culture).

In patriarchal culture, a woman leaves her parents’ home and is taken into the extended family of her husband. She becomes a part of her husband’s family, under the rule of her husband and the family patriarch (typically her husband’s father)."

God uniquely singles out the husband as the one who is to "leave and cleave" (which is repeated in the NT). Katharine Bushnell wrote about how this provided protection for women: GOD’S LAW OF MARRIAGE.

But I just read this about "hupostasso".

from this link (click here):
QUOTE: The form of marriage practiced by the Ephesians was known as "marriage without hand," meaning "marriage without commitment." In this pagan model, the wife remained under the authority of her father or the oldest male in her birth family. Since the wife's family could remove her at any time, uncertainty destabilized the marriage relationship.

Furthermore, a father-in-law could pressure the husband to do his bidding by threatening to "recall" the wife. This could be especially trying for Christian couples since a pagan father-in-law could threaten to remove his daughter unless she and her husband renounced their faith.

Important in this discussion is the meaning of the Greek word hupotasso, translated by the English word "submit" in this passage. An informed study of the meaning, as opposed to a biased, cursory rendering, clearly reveals Paul's intended meaning as being "to identify with." It has nothing to do with "being put under." The Ephesians' readers understood what Paul really meant: A married woman was no longer to identify with her birth family but was, instead, to identify completely with her husband; and the two were to be one. ENDQUOTE

That confuses me because it sounds like the woman is leaving and cleaving? She is getting out from under the "patriarchy" of her kin, but isn't she jumping from frying pan to the fire of being under the "patriarchy" of her husband's kin?

RMG response:

Yes, I see what you mean. This translation of hupotasso doesn’t help much. With this sort of marriage law the woman is left vulnerable whether or not she submits to or identifies with her husband. The “identify” translation is a minority view and the Hyatts are not biblical scholars, so I wouldn’t worry about it!

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Gem said...

I got wondering if my comments on here are off in left field or something (since I commented on a couple old threads and you didn't reply)... Anyway, I think in my comment above I was too focused on a little part of your post. I really did appreciate your thoughts, especially about Isa 3:12. I think you would be tickled by how much overlap there is between your view and that of PC icon Douglas Wilson. I saw his post first and was really tickled to see that you and he agree on this passage. from Doug Wilson's blog

QUOTE: The best argument against Sarah Palin has been an argument that says this kind of thing has happened to us because American Christian men have been wimpy. This argument resonates with us because American Christian men have been abdicating for many years -- in their homes, in their churches, and in their vocations. But in a nation of 300 million, surely there are some men about whom this is not true? Why couldn't God have raised up one of those guys? The answer has to be -- He didn't want to.

This assumption about wimpiness rests on a common reading of Deborah in the book of Judges -- the assumption being that Deborah was a judge simply because the men of Israel in that day were all a bunch of abdicating males. But the text never says that -- never accuses the men of that generation of being wusses, and never hints at any kind of disapproval of Deborah. And the only penalty Barak receives (relatively minor) is one caused by him putting conditions on a directive that a woman gave him. Had he simply obeyed that women (Deborah), he would have had the glory of taking Sisera's head instead of that glory going to Jael. Barak's problem was not "too much" obedience to a woman in civil leadership, but not enough obedience to a woman in civil leadership.ENDQUOTE

RMG response:

“The best argument against Sarah Palin has been an argument that says this kind of thing has happened to us because American Christian men have been wimpy.”

Actually, this “argument” is rather a non sequitur, since Sarah Palin was chosen precisely because she is a woman.

However, it is interesting that, unlike many PC advocates who turn themselves inside out to argue that Deborah’s leadership was contrary to God’s will and arose only because the men of the time were wimps, Douglas Wilson acknowledges that there is not so much as a word in Scripture hinting that Deborah’s leadership was in the least inappropriate or unseemly. Wilson’s perspective maintains PC sanction by his claim that Deborah’s leadership was merely civil leadership, not spiritual leadership. By his lights, Deborah was an acceptable exception because she was not exercising spiritual leadership. But the fact is, her leadership of Israel was both spiritual and civil—for two reasons. First, Deborah was a prophet. In the Old Testament, prophets told people what to do by telling them what God said they should do. Such prophetic pronouncements were both spiritual (of God) and authoritative (to disobey was to sin against God’s word). Second, Israel was a theocracy (i.e., church and state were one institution). Thus, every national leader held both civil and spiritual authority in some sense.

As I understand it, the mainstream PC view is that in the U.S., where government is strictly secular, the occasional female national leader is acceptable—so long as female leaders in civil government remain the exception. But this proviso seems odd. If the PCs are laying down God’s will on this point, then should God be quite so equivocal on the matter? Further, is this proviso (that female civil leaders be few and far between) applicable to all women in civil leadership, or only to Christian women in civil leadership? Well, perhaps a few more epicycles will yet be forthcoming from PC quarters…