Going Beyond the Complementarian/Egalitarian Debate

My journey into the issue of women in church leadership began around my senior year of High School. During this time, my folks where helping start a small church with a female senior pastor. Even thought I knew this lady and respected her, I always felt uneasy sitting in her church. My mind said that it was wrong; yet my heart said that God was there and working….

It was all very confusing… I guess that is why in the end, I decided to follow Jesus’ advice to His disciples in Mark 9:40: “whoever is not against us is for us.” (i.e. As long as the Gospel was going forward, I would let God sort out the details.)

For years, I lived in this tension – sometimes leaning towards the egalitarian side (ie. man and women are equal in both role and essence); sometimes toward the complementarian view (ie. men and women are equal in essence but differ in roles).

Then I heard that Derek Morphew (a Kingdom Theologian that I trust and respect) just wrote a book about “going beyond the Complementarian/Egalitarian debate”…  My inertest was peaked and I bought the book, “Different But Equal”, as soon as I could.[@more@]

The Book: “Different But Equal: Going Beyond the Complementarian/Egalitarian Debate”

One of the “un-written rules” of reading a book is to always read the author’s bio and introduction. These two things will tell you a lot about how the author is going to approach the subject matter (another rule is to check the publication date as it will give you some context for the material…).

This book is no different.

In his introduction, Morphew lays out a few foundational points that impact his view of Scriptures, which in turn affect his understanding of the women in leadership debate. The first foundational point is an understanding of how the Hebrew / Biblical worldview is different from the Western Greek / Logic worldview. Namely, under a Biblical worldview one can hold too two seemingly contradictionaries points without having to choose between them (examples: God’s sovereign vs man’s free will; the kingdom now, but not yet).

The second foundational point is the eschatological nature of Jesus’ life and ministry.

After laying the foundation, Morphew then proceeds to look at the underlying presuppositions behind both the Complementarian and Egalitarian viewpoints. Namely, he goes back and looks at the Church’s view of the Trinity. Yelp, the Trinity.

You see, a lot of folks hole to that the members of the Trinity are subordinated to each others. Ie. there is a hierarchy beginning with God the Father and ending with the Holy Spirit with Jesus the Son in the middle. This doctrine, called Subordinationism, claims that while each member is Trinity is equal in essence, they are different in role. Hence, male and female are equal in essence, but different in role.

The other view of the Trinity states that all three members of the Trinity are equal in both essence and role. A lot of Egalitarians take this view as it allows them to claim that male and females are always equal. However, as Morphew points out, there is the tricky part of the incarnation and mission of the Son Jesus in which Jesus, a man, was both simultaneously “equal and non-equal” with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. As such, it may also be that male and female are also “equal and non-equal”….

And the book goes on – looking at monism (God in everything), Feminist Theology, the household codes of Paul, the Creations arguments and so forth. Way, way, too much information to list out here…

However, I will share a little bit of Morphews conclusions as I thought they were helpful my understanding of the issue. To start with, let us look at the below chart:

This would be how an Egalitarian worldview: God created the world with mail and females as equals; after the fall, sin enters the world and there is a patriarchal dominance; then Jesus comes and resets everything back to the before fall creation equality.

However, there are some things in this view that leaves my head spinning and, frankly, doesn’t make sense.

Then there is the Complementarian view.

This view states that in the beginning there was equality in humanity (or essence) but male leadership in role; after the fall, patriarchal dominance took hold – yet even within the fallen world, the true nature of equality in humanity but male leadership continued to be practiced by those of the Faith. At the end of the age, all of humanity will be restored to this way of life.

Again, there are some things in this view that does not make sense. It seems that one has to explain away one verse or another in order to hold a Complementarian or an Egalitarian view…

This is why I was excited to hear of a third way – one that uphold the Scriptures and yet allows God to work through whom He wants too.

In this view, you see that there is a Biblical foundation for a for an equality in humanity (or essence) but male leadership in role worldview in the original garden. After the fall, sin entered and twisted the male leadership into dominance. However, with the eschatological nature of Jesus’ life and ministry, we see the Age to Come enter into this Present Evil Age. This eschatological event brings the equality (essence and role) of the New Age into the Present.

Yes – the New Heaven and Earth is going to be different and better then the original garden, for why God just visited Adam and Eve in Eden, He is going to live with us on the New Earth.

In conclusion, both the Complementarian and Egalitarian viewpoints are correct. And since we live in the tension of between the ages, we must listen to God and decided which view fits our situation, family, culture, and church.

The only option not available to us is condemning others for not following the path we choose. We must allow God to work in their lives and remember that there are Biblical support for both.