The two dominant positions on women in leadership are evangelical feminism or egalitarianism (equal and therefore the same) and complementarianism (equal but different). There is also the globally widespread position of Islam and others, in which women are seen as both different AND unequal.
Some of the prominent proponents of complementarianism (my position) are Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Mary Kassian, and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. The two best and most comprehensive books on the subject are two big ones, Wayne Grudem and John Piper’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and Wayne Grudem’s brand new revised and updated Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth.The chart on pages 54-55 of the latter book summarizes 5 major positions going from left to right (in the physical and theological and political senses of the terms), with complementarianism not on the right but in the middle. I think that’s an important point because complementarianism is decidedly NOT chauvinistic. If it were I would never accept it.
It’s entirely possible to fully elevate and respect women and their equality with men (Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”) while recognizing the biblical call to male leadership. As the father of daughters I routinely stood against some of the chauvinistic assumptions I saw and still see among some old-school evangelicals. I’ve been very proud of my daughters as I’ve seen them take vitally engaged roles in their marriages. Either is capable by gifting, character and walk with God of leading women and men alike in their churches. But both respect the biblical teaching, and do not aspire to the roles of elder or pastor. One leads women’s ministry in her church, the other elects to focus on home schooling her sons (hence influencing males and perhaps future church leaders at the core level) and occasionally speaking at a women’s retreat. Both would make excellent teachers of the Word but both look to their husbands to fulfill that role. As a result they have both helped their husbands to aspire and thrive toward a leadership role they would never have taken had our daughters stepped forward and suggested that their gifting and intellect made them the natural leaders of the home.
Church and home leadership are tied together closely in Scripture and in life. Historically, many churches have been women-dominated and that has kept many men away, or on the sidelines. The church easily is seen as a woman’s interest and becomes women’s work, and men settle in to hunting, sports, cars and business, and take their sons with them. The church, with all its women, will take care of itself.
Women in leadership is a huge issue and there are related biblical issues at stake in a culture where male leadership in the home is really suffering and children are not growing up with Christian dads who know how to lead. Moms are the spiritual leaders of the home, and often the financial leaders and every other kind of leader. One of the things that concerns me is that in order to get to Evangelical feminism people must accept a new way of interpreting the Bible that ultimately undermines the text. Those who make the arguments for female elders and pastors must not just reinterpret key texts, such as 1 Timothy 2, but ultimately come to the conclusion “the Bible as written is not relevant to today, we must update it in light of our current level of enlightenment.” Others are more honest and direct: “The apostle Paul was wrong.”
There is a very short hop to a hundred other things, including the legitimacy of homosexual marriage, because once biblical passages related to male leadership in home and church can be reinterpreted it’s easy to reinterpret nearly anything. And that’s exactly what’s being done. Evangelical feminism as a movement has gone far beyond its original design to blur any distinction between the leadership roles of men and women. Its proponents are actively involved in redefining the meaning of marriage and legitimizing homosexual unions and the right to adopt and raise children. You can’t always judge a movement by where some will take it, but the pattern of biblical interpretation and the undermining of biblical authority is ultimately toxic (the teaching of the biblical text is made to not matter—we simply change it to fit our current beliefs).
Countless passages of Scripture are being reinterpreted by evangelical feminists to the point that—surprise—it now appears that the Bible has said all along exactly what we happen to believe right here and now as a culture! I’ve read these sometimes stunned at the sheer dishonesty with the biblical text. In some cases people are sincere but blind, in other cases it’s so blatant I wonder if it’s just dishonesty. The strategy seems to be “if I come right out and say the Bible is wrong many Christians won’t listen to me, but if I reinterpret it however I wish, they will say ‘Cool, well if that’s what the Bible says, I have no problem with it.’”
What I first believed years ago when reading evangelical egalitarianism, that it is a clear path to theological liberalism, has tragically become evident. I know people personally who have walked that path, and it all started with a sincere desire to make the Bible say what our culture is saying. But that never stops with the male-female leadership issues in home and church. Once you can dismantle and disregard Scripture in one area, there’s no stopping you in other areas. Eventually you’ll likely believe that the Bible has some good general thoughts but is not to be trusted in specifics, that the biblical account of creation is false, there is no hell, that all people are saved in Christ and there’s no reason to evangelize, etc.
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Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.