Complementarian Issues of Nomenclature and Doctrine

I personally have some big differences with those who founded the conservative complementarian movement and would love for there to be a different word to identify non-egalitarians.

In conclusion, the nomenclature issue isn’t really an issue in my opinion. But it does help to understand why so many more people resonate with the idea of complementary genders than with the specifics of complementarian application that the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood supports. But the reinterpretations of Scripture, in my opinion, are a massive issue. They reframe the spectrum of debate on women’s issues in the Church from liberal and conservative to liberal and another kind of liberal. We can’t play loose and fast with Scripture to fit our agenda. Liberals can’t. But conservatives can’t either.  This is clearly the case with the reinterpretation of Genesis 3:16, and I’m concerned it may also be the case with linking ESS to gender (and not just marriage) as well.


1) Nomenclature

To quote Shakespeare, “What’s in a name?” Many evangelicals claim the name complementarian. I have myself identified that way since the time I first became aware of the term about fifteen or so years ago. For many who identify as complementarian, they use it simply to mean that they are not egalitarian. They believe that Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 and on male-only elders in I Timothy 3 transcend time or culture and remain relevant for today. However, I have come to realize that the term complementarian was coined by a group of people with a very specific agenda related to evangelical feminism. The outworking of some of their agenda has been seen in the recent debate on the Eternal Submission of the Son. I personally have some big differences with those who founded the conservative complementarian movement and would love for there to be a different word to identify non-egalitarians.

Except that I believe in complementary genders in the image of God.

I did some research on the term complementarian, and I was fascinated to note that while the term complementarian was coined by those who founded the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the concept of complementary genders had a long history of being used and valued by egalitarians long before the Danvers Statement.

One of Giles’ observations is that what we now have — in the reality of this debate — is hierarchical-complementarians (those who use the term “complementarian” today) and egalitarian-complementarians (those who are called “egalitarians” today).  Both believe in complentarity of the sexes:

Because God made humankind man and woman (Gen 1:27-28), virtually all theologians agree that man and woman complete what it means to be human; the two sexes are complementary. Man alone or woman alone is not humanity in its completeness. Since the earliest descriptions of the evangelical egalitarian position in the mid-1970s, egalitarians have unambiguously affirmed the complementarity of the sexes. …

Grudem, in his 2006 book, Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism, tells us how his side came to use the words, “complementary” and “complementarian.” He says the first time those arguing for a hierarchal relationship between men and often used the word “complementary” was on November 17,1988, in the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s founding document, the Danvers Statement. He says, that as far as he knows, “it had not been previously used in this controversy.” It had indeed, as I will show below. In the Danvers Statement, the stance taken is not called the “complementarian” position. Grudem tells us that he and John Piper, in editing the 1991 symposium, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, “coined” the term “complementarian” as a self-designation of their position. In other words, they invented it. In this book, the editors admit that, in designating their understanding of what the Bible teaches on the sexes the “complementarian” position, they were seeking to establish a new term for what had hitherto been called the “traditional” or “hierarchical” position. From this point on, virtually every book written by an evangelical in support of the creation based subordination of women has designated the stance taken as the “complementarian” position and constantly spoken of the man-woman relationship as “complementary.”

I find this history interesting and validating. For I have long resonated with the idea of complementary genders while being subsequently uncomfortable with how that vision has played out practically through the writings of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It is good to know that historically, the discussion wasn’t between one group who thought there was 100% parity between men and woman and another who believed God created complementary genders. You can believe in complementary genders without identifying fully with the group who claimsto be the “flagship organization for the complementation movement”, the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

2) Doctrine

The other concerning thing for me has long been the manipulation (in my humble opinion) of Scripture and theology to fit the perceived ills of evangelical feminism by those who coined the term complementarian.

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