Why the Gender Issue Is the Issue (part 2)

Ligon DuncanI want to follow-up on my earlier post about Mark Dever and his remarks about the gender issue in evangelicalism. Dever’s remarks were made on the “Together for the Gospel” (T4G) blog and were an attempt to answer criticism against T4G and its pro-complementarian stand.

Now Ligon Duncan has followed up Dever’s post and has sought to offer even more context to the complementarian endorsement in T4G. Duncan’s remarks are in line with what I said about hermeneutics and the inerrancy and authority of scripture (see my original post and the interesting conversation that followed in the comments section).

Duncan writes:

The denial of complementarianism undermines the church’s practical embrace of the authority of Scripture (thus eventually and inevitably harming the church’s witness to the Gospel). The gymnastics required to get from “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” in the Bible, to “I do allow a woman to teach and to exercise authority over a man” in the actual practice of the local church, are devastating to the functional authority of the Scripture in the life of the people of God.

By the way, this is one reason why I think we just don’t see many strongly inerrantist-egalitarians (meaning: those who hold unwaveringly to inerrancy and also to egalitarianism) in the younger generation of evangelicalism. Many if not most evangelical egalitarians today have significant qualms about inerrancy, and are embracing things like trajectory hermeneutics, etc. to justify their positions. Inerrancy or egalitarianism, one or the other, eventually wins out (source).

I include this extended quotation because I would like to know whether you agree. In particular, I wonder if you agree that “we just don’t see many strongly inerrantist-egaliatrians.” Is this a fair claim?

I don’t have any official statistics, but my own experience with egalitarians has born this out (even though I acknowledge that there are exceptions, just as Dever pointed out in his adulation of Roger Nicole).

By the way, be sure to read all of Duncan’s post. It’s golden, and for the record I agree with all of it.


13 thoughts on “Why the Gender Issue Is the Issue (part 2)”

  1. Dr. Burk,

    I know inerrantists that are in both camps on the gender issue and errantists (they would hate that I call them that) that are in both camps. But I definetly think you are right, most egalitarians are not inerrantists.

    I wonder if that has more to do with “communities of belief” than anything else.

    BTW, I came across your ETS paper on Phil. 2. I’m still trying to understand the syntactical points, but the theological aspects are really interesting.

  2. Denny,

    I enjoy this discussion very much! Believe me, I do appreciate your thoughts and passion on this subject too!!

    1. Lig’s post is quite interesting and promotes good discussion. But (with Scot) I think the issue of defining the egalitarianism that you’re objecting to is important. Otherwise it’s a straw man argument. There are also varieties of egalitarianism that need to be recognized in this debate. One criticism that applies to some does not apply to all.

    2. Likewise there are varieties of complementarianism. I think the same indictments of underming inerrancy could be made against some moderate complementarians. Consider those complementarians who allow women to teach and preach under the authority of their husbands, who allow women to participate in church ministry in a semi-pastoral way, but prohibit women from being senior pastors. Do these moderate complementarians deny inerrancy and damage the church’s witness to the gospel? [I want an answer to this question!!!] I could infer that you are not merely deriding egalitarians but also other complementarians who fail to hold to YOUR particular version of complementarianism. Does this mean that it is necessary to go on a stalinesque purge within CBMW to cleanse the organisation of other complementarians who are not rigorous enough? Is there room for diversity among complementarianism and if so what are the boundaries?

    3. I detect in Lig’s post that egalitarians allow what Scripture expressly prohibits (i.e. women teaching men in church) and the exegetical gymnastics necessary to overturn this prohibition require a rejection of inerrancy and biblical authority. My response is: sometimes, but not always! But let me ask, are you willing to apply the same principle everywhere? For instance the International Missions Board (IMB if I’m right) prohibits it’s missionaries from speaking in tongues even in their private prayer life. Yet there is only one commandment about tongues in the entire NT and that is “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14.39). The IMB and the SBC prohibits what God expressly allows. Thus, are you willing to say that the IMB/SBC is underming inerrancy and compromising biblical authority just as much as egalitarians do? [I really want to hear your answer on this one!!!] This is because of the “gynastics” involved in turning permission into a prohibition. Denny, brother, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t accuse the egalitarians of attacking inerrancy while your own denomination does essentially the same on the issue of tongues. You either apply the same criteria for compromising biblical authority in both places, or you admit that in both cases there are larger theological, historical, cultural and exegetical issues involved.

    I look earnestly forward to your reply to these three questions.

    In Christ


  3. Mike (in #5) and Scot (in #3),

    1. Egalitarianism holds that there should be no distinction in the roles of men and women in the leadership of the church and home.

    This definition leaves a bit to be desired, but maybe it’s a good conversation starter.

    2. I would reword your sentence: “there are varieties of complementarianism.” I would say that while there is broad agreement about what it means to be a complementarian in principle, there still remains disagreement about what it means to be a complementarian in practice.

    What all complementarians hold in common is the belief in patriarchy in the church and in the home. So we agree in principle the the Bible teaches male headship. This principle gets enacted in different ways in different churches, but I hope that more agreement will emerge as the conversation continues among complementarians.

    I don’t want to purge anyone, and I especially don’t want to be associated with Stalin in any way.

    3. The following statement you made is incorrect: “Yet there is only one commandment about tongues in the entire NT and that is ‘do not forbid speaking in tongues’ (1 Cor. 14.39).”

    In verse 28, Paul says that if there is no interpreter, “let him keep silent in the church.” Paul also limits tongues speaking to one person at a time and two or three at most at any given meeting (14:27). In Paul’s churches, he was already placing restrictions on tongues-speaking.

    As far as the “gymnastics involved in turning permission into prohibition,” I suspect that I would have less somersaults to do than you would on 1 Cor 14:34-35–unless of course you follow Fee and Ehrman, then you don’t have to deal with it at all! 🙂

    Thanks for the fun discussion.


  4. Denny,

    Thanks for your thoughtful answers to tough questions. I am trying to box you in a corner on this one and so far you’ve responded very well! But let me hone in my questions:

    1. I think your definition of egalitarianism is slightly narrow. There are many egalitarians who believe in male headship of the home. If you don’t believe me go and read the CBE website. But they also hold to “mutual submission” in areas of spiritual gifting. That is an important qualification.

    2. You acknowledge differences among complementarians in practice – I’m glad we can establish that. But you still haven’t answered my question: Do moderate complementarians who allow women to teach/preach in church under the authority of their husband deny inerrancy and damage the church’s witness to the gospel as much as egalitarians do? Lig says that if you allow what the Bible prohibits you are indeed denying inerrancy and biblical authority. So be it – but’s let’s apply the same rule to everyone. If you can accept these moderate complementarians then why not egalitarian too?

    [I’m also glad that you don’t want to purge CBMW – I can’t imagine you changing your name to “Darth Denny” and going into CBMW HQ with a light sabre and bunch of storm troopers to expel all the moderate complementarians].

    3. On tongues and IMB/SBC. Let me acknowledge that Paul does have other regulations about tongues, but nowhere does he offer a flat out blanket veto of it. Paul allows tongues the IMB/SBC does not! Now when you say, “I suspect that I would have less somersaults to do than you would on 1 Cor 14:34-35” that misses the point. Lig’s remark was that anyone who does gynastics or somersaults is denying inerrancy!!!!!!!! Are you saying that on some issues gynmastics are allowed? Well if the IMB/SBC can do it on 1 Cor 14 why can’t egalitarians do it on 1 Tim. 2.11-14.

  5. In Australia, Denny, that’s a reasonable comment.
    Complimentarians and inerrantists are the same group.
    And we are not many.
    As to tongues… I can see why the IMB is making those changes. Many Baptist churches in Australia have moved from being progressive (neo-orthordoox) to Contemporary (vis Hybels and Warren) to charismatic, to Pentecostal and some have left the Baptist union to enter full Pentecostal denominations. We are struggling to get churches to maintain the concept of congregational government these days.
    As for clear gospel preaching… I look to the SBC websites to find that these days.

  6. Mike (in #7),

    I was going to give you the last word, but I will oblige your request and respond. I will use your numbers.

    1. Headship in the home, mutual submission in the church. Thank you for the clarification. I didn’t know that this was a position that was widespread in the CBE. I guess the main problem with that view is that the key “mutual submission” text (Ephesians 2:21) addresses the home, not leadership in the church.

    2. When we say that certain egalitatarian teaching undermines the inerrancy and authority of scripture, we don’t mean to say that egalitarians explicitly deny the inerrancy and authority of scripture. Some do deny inerrancy (like Hays), but many don’t. What we’re saying is that egalitarians (whether they affirm inerrancy or not) seem to be willing more and more to adopt what looks like very fanciful exegesis. Whatever the motive for this, the result is that the authority of scripture is undermined.

    Let me be clear. We are all guilty of this to some extent. To the extent that I interpret Paul to say “x” where Paul really means “y,” I suppress what Paul the apostolic author intends. The result is that I am undermining the authority of scripture. My prayer is that the Lord would keep me from adopting an ideology/theology that makes such suppression systemic in my exegesis.

    So, yes, let’s apply the same rule to everyone, recognizing that none of us is batting a thousand in our interpretation of scripture (though I think the complementarians get closer than the egalitarians 🙂 ).

    3. On Tounges and the IMB, you need to understand that the new IMB policy is not a doctrinal statement. It’s a policy for making sure that missionaries that are appointed reflect the ecclesiological practice of most Southern Baptists. The IMB has a constituency that is by and large non-charismatic. The missionaries that are appointed need to reflect that fact.

    Thanks for the discussion. I look forward to your having the last word!


  7. Denny,

    Isn’t saying “most” Southern Baptists a little exclusive? It’s like saying, “although you are a part of this convention, you cannot partake of all its privileges unless you are like the ‘most’ of us”?

  8. Luke,

    Here’s how the IMB policy reads:

    “In terms of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia. Therefore, if glossolalia is a public part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.”

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