In Defense of Complementarianism: A Response to Allen Yeh (Part 1)Culture, Religion — By David Nilsen on October 8, 2009 at 10:53 pm
Last week on The Scriptorium Dr. Allen Yeh made a non-theological case for egalitarianism. The theologian in me immediately wants to respond by asking, “Why bother? If there is a theological case to be made, who cares what culture has to say?” Indeed, I am concerned that Dr. Yeh chooses to lead with the non-theological case (his theological case will follow shortly). Perhaps he is allowing his cultural cart to be put before the theological horse. Nevertheless, it can sometimes be beneficial to examine one’s theology from a sociological or cultural perspective, if only in an attempt to avoid cultural bias. What follows is a brief response to Dr. Yeh’s argument.
After first calling everyone to recognize that “women in ministry” is a misnomer for this debate because no one thinks that women should be absent from all forms of ministry, Dr. Yeh makes five “cultural/sociological” points in defense of egalitarianism.
People exist in communities but they are also individuals. It’s one thing to generalize about a whole group (i.e. all women should do such-and-such) but people have different gifts, talents, personalities, and inclinations, and it is just as ridiculous to say “all women need to be homemakers” as it is to say “all men need to be athletes.”…
This is a bad analogy. It would indeed be ridiculous to say that all women (or men) should do only one type of activity, if that were the complementarian position. But complementarians argue that there is one type of activity that women are not called to do. The question would then be whether it is ridiculous to exclude women from this particular activity.
Competence needs to be a consideration as well. It is widely acknowledged that among Billy Graham’s children, his daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, is by far the best preacher. However, it is Franklin Graham who inherited his father’s ministry. I realize that ability is not the sole criteria for doing something, but does it not feel like a waste of Anne’s preaching ability if she does not exercise it?
Two points in response: First, women who are gifted teachers need not be excluded from teaching per se. As Dr. Yeh pointed out in his initial comment, not even complementarians deny that women ought to be involved in some aspects of ministry. In the case of a gifted female teacher, she could be a youth pastor, lead a women’s group, etc. Second, suppose a church has to make a choice between two preachers, one who is not so gifted but will faithfully bring good exposition of the Scriptures each week, and one who is a very gifted speaker but does not agree fully with the theology of the church. Which should they choose? Depending on how significant the theological differences are, it seems clear that the church ought to choose right theology over good speaking ability. Likewise, theology should always be a higher priority than the perceived gifts of an individual (it is the Holy Spirit, after all, who gives the Word of God power, not man). Yeh seems implicitly to agree with this when he notes that ability cannot be the “sole criteria” here, but he doesn’t allow his admission to actually inform his argument, since he takes the case of Anne’s superior ability in and of itself as an argument for egalitarianism.
Where the rubber meets the road: It’s one thing to remain in the realm of theory, but quite another when you put it into practice. I hardly know of anyone at Biola who would have a problem with sitting under the tutelage of a female professor…
The only thing that this comment proves is that many evangelicals don’t follow their theology consistently. It doesn’t constitute support for egalitarianism. Moreover, it confuses the office of church elder with that of seminary (or college) professor, which is not even a New Testament category. I am a complementarian, yet I have no scruples about female professors because I do not believe that the Bible prohibits women from teaching in such a capacity. According to complementarianism, the Bible’s restriction of female service in the church is actually an extremely limited one, and thus any honest debate must be equally limited.
Let’s call a spade a spade: in complementarian churches, the pastor’s wife is essentially the female pastor in all but name. Even complementarians cannot deny that women need women to minister to them…
Dr. Yeh is actually making two points here. First, he is arguing that many women function as pastors (if only of women’s or children’s groups), but aren’t called “pastors” by name. This is true, and I agree with Dr. Yeh that they should be recognized by name for the work that they do. I have no problem referring to a woman as a “Women’s Pastor” or “Children’s Pastor.” The issue is whether she serves in the specific role of exercising authority over men. Remember that the New Testament only mentions two offices, Elder and Deacon. Any other unofficial offices that we create to meet needs in the church (youth group, women’s group, etc) should not be closed to women unless it serves the same function as Elder (it is not at all clear to me that women should be excluded from serving as Deacons).
Second, Dr. Yeh argues that women need women to minister to them. As I have already pointed out, complementarians would agree, and would not deny that women can be teachers/pastors over other women (or children).
Complementarians say that the greatest defense of their position is the Bible and quote verses such as 1 Cor. 14:35 and 1 Tim. 2:12 which say that women should be silent. However, they conveniently leave out verses about women praying and prophesying (1 Cor. 11:4-6) and serving as deaconesses (Rom. 16:1) which I would say involves speech. Let’s not proof-text here, but take the whole canon of Scripture!
This is probably Dr. Yeh’s weakest argument. While it may be true that some complementarians are guilty of this sort of proof-texting, it is certainly not true of many of the better defenders of complementarianism such as Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Biola’s own Robert Saucy, all of whom deal directly with the passages that Dr. Yeh mentions.
In the near future, I hope to respond to Dr. Yeh’s second post (which is forthcoming), defending Egalitarianism from a theological perspective.
Update: Click here to read part two of my response to Dr. Yeh.
Click here to read part three of my response to Dr. Yeh. ‘