Complementarity Without Subordination

So what does complementarity and male headship look like without the pollution of the ESS analogy?

In Ephesians 5, the wife is called to submit to her husband “as to the Lord”.  As in the above, men do not possess authority due to their person, and wives do not owe submission to husbands because they are male. Rather, like all commands to Christians, the requirement for self-sacrificial love on the part of the husband and submission as to Christ on the part of the wife are alike calls to regenerate Christians to live righteously before the Lord—not primarily before each other. The call of the wife to submit to her husband is not a call to the husband to require this submission of his wife, nor extract it by virtue of his superiority, by manipulation, sanctions, or even allurements. This is because her call is to submit as to Christ; that is, her submission is part of her Christian walk before the Lord and is not owed to her husband by virtue of his or her subsistence. The husband is not endowed with such inherent authority.


Some Background and Statement of the Question

In my previous post, “ESS, Slavery, and the Metaphysic of Oppression,” I first rejected the simple metaphysic of “unequal in nature, therefore unequal in authority” as Biblically inapplicable to human relations.  I next noted that with the failure of the simple metaphysic, defenders of slavery within the Church turned to a metaphysic of “equal in nature, yet subordinate in subsistence”, or a metaphysic of the inequality of equals.  I next noted that Complementarians in modern evangelicalism have also turned to the metaphysic of “equal in nature, yet subordinate in subsistence” to rescue male headship from the feminist onslaught, but with a much more robust footing supplied by the supposed Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) teaching.  I rejected this position as well as a metaphysic of oppression, grounded as it is in Trinitarian error and the subordination of persons as to their very subsistence.

Of course the questions/push back from evangelicals has been to question how one could still believe in male headship in the home, as I do, yet reject both of the above metaphysical principles.  It is a good question and warrants more than a brief answer. If the metaphysic grounded in the ESS view of the Trinity is a metaphysic of oppression, then one must believe in the inequality of nature to maintain male headship, right?  And if one rejects both, then aren’t we left with egalitarianism as the only remaining option? I, of course, have no newfangled answer, nor my own special way of treating the subject; it has been treated better and more extensively by others.  Rather, I believe that the very asking of this question just shows how much subordinationist thought has infiltrated evangelicalism, so I hope only to point the reader in a different direction and perspective to continue studying the issue.

The problem, as I see it, is that Complementarianism can in itself be a fine expression of Biblical headship, so long as it is not imbued with the false teaching of ESS and its implications; it is complementarity as grounded in ESS that produces the metaphysic of oppression.  In fact, I believe the very fabrication of ESS itself was born of the need to ground a mysterious and inexplicable metaphysic in something already shrouded in mystery and yet also infinitely venerable, viz., the Trinitarian nature of God Himself.[1]

For ESS proponents, the very fact that (1) the Son is from the Father, and the Spirit from the Father and the Son, (2) that there is an eternal unchanging order of operations amongst the Persons of the Trinity, and (3) that the Father is the “Father” and the Son is the “Son”, all demonstrate that there is an eternal order of authority and submission between the Persons.  This order of subordination is necessary for the Trinity to even exist:

If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God. But if we do not have economic subordination[…]then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity. For example, if the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father in role, then the Father is not eternally “Father” and the Son is not eternally “Son.” This would mean that the Trinity has not eternally existed.[2]

Thus, for the analog, husband and wife, we are told that just as the Persons of the Trinity are coequal, so are men and women. Nevertheless, the very fact that (1) Adam was created before Eve, (2) that the woman is from the man, (3) that there is a created order of purpose and working among men and women, and (4) that the husband is male and the wife female, each bearing the image of God differently according to their gender, all demonstrate that there is an eternal order of authority and submission between the persons.  Note well that on this parallel with ESS, these relationships between men and women are creational, part of the very subsistence of the persons, and could not be otherwise without eliminating maleness and femaleness as such, any more than the relation of authority and submission can be eliminated in the Trinity without the Father losing His father-ness, or the Son His son-ness.  This is why I call it a metaphysic of oppression, because even with all of the complementarian talk of “roles” and “functions”, these relations are part of their created being, are as intractable as gender itself, and necessitate subordination by the very subsistence of the human persons.

Fortunately, we can agree with ESS apologist Wayne Grudem on the following: “Of course, if this [ESS] is not true among the members of the Trinity, then it is not necessarily true between husband and wife either”[3]. It is not true of the Trinity and is not true of husband and wife. So what does complementarity and male headship look like without the pollution of the ESS analogy?

Complementarity Without Subordination of Persons

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:27)

There are between men and women created distinctions; God specifically creates His image bearers as male and female, and joins them together as perfect complements in His created order.  But there are indeed differences; some quite obvious and true of each and every individual in his created class, some less so, even some with nearly equal general distribution among individuals.  This truth does not just result from our own personal and scientific perceptions, but is clear throughout the Scripture.  So when we say that men and women are equal, we do not mean to flatten any and all general differences in attributes, aptitudes, or fitness to excel in one area or less so in another, but rather are declaring that all men and women share the one divine image of their Creator and as such are of exactly equal value, dignity, and glory as each are created after the one likeness of God Himself.

The Scripture is also clear that there was a distinct order of creation—first Adam, then Eve: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). And Eve was formed from Adam, therefore “man is not from woman, but woman from man” (1 Cor. 11:8).  Further, there was a created orientation: “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:9).  Last, there was a specific purpose for forming Eve: And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” (Gen. 2:18). They are in turn made one flesh,

And Adam said:

“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23)

Adam and Eve were created as complements and were, it must be made clear, together given authority and dominion to rule over creation: “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Gen. 1:28). They were blessed together and commissioned together to live and work according to their created complementary order. I think at this point in the Genesis narrative, Chrysostom is on point:

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