Biola University – The Trinity and Gender: The Recent Debate Among Evangelicals

This video is a must see. Make some quiet time to watch it, as it is a bit extensive, duration is 2 hours, but, very well worth your time. Not only will you hear a deep, theological discussion about the role of women, which has come to the forefront as never before in the history of mankind, but, you will also hear some outstanding insights into the trinity and how both egalitarians and complementarians have used it to support their arguments, and arguments against using the trinity in order to support arguments on either side of the debate.

This dialogue is between Dr. Kevin Giles (egalitarian) & Dr. Fred Sanders (complementarian).

Dr. Kevin Giles position (notes – first 30 minutes):

the doctrine of the trinity should not be appealed to to ground subordination of women or the equality of the sexes. The doctrine of God should not be confused with our teaching of the relationship of men and women. 

Dr. Giles, however, does not teach that „the trinity is a coequal trinity of persons.”

He also states that: „When we come to an important issue like the relationship of men and women, we should go directly to the Bible. We should follow the normal rules of biblical theology, where the Bible begins on this issue. In this case, it is Genesis chapter 1 and (we should) successively read through the Bible starting with the Gospels in the New Testament, then the Book of Acts, and Paul’s epistles.”

His 7 reasons why the trinity cannot be used to „appeal …to the hierarchical ordering of the sexes” and be the „ground for the subordination or the equality of the sexes”. Further he makes a global argument when he states, „The eternal and immanent trinity, that’s God as He is in heaven is not, and cannot be the ground for the social ordering on earth of any kind. The trinity does not set our social agenda. His 7 objections are:

  1. The idea that the trinity prescribes human relations on earth is a very modern idea.
  2. The idea that the divine life in heaven prescribes life and relations on earth is implausible. Why, we must ask is God’s perfect relationship in heaven prescribed for flawed relations on earth?
  3. Specifically, in regards to the man-woman relationship, to argue that the three fold relationship in heaven prescribes the two fold man-woman relationship on earth, I think is illogical.
  4. 1 Corinthians 11:3 offers no convincing basis for this appeal to the trinity.Some believe where Paul says (that) God is the head of Christ, and man is the head of woman justifies the trinity argument.
  5. The idea of the trinity speaks of the Father ruling over the Son is the denial of the full divinity of the Son and the unqualified Lordship of Christ.
  6. To argue that the Son’s eternal and necessary functional subordination does not imply ontological subordination is unconvincing.
  7. The idea of the Son as eternally subordinated to the Father is rejected by most contemporary trinitarian scholars.

Dr. Fred Sanders position (notes from min 30-min 60):

The evangelical gender debate has basically a two party profile:

  • Those that are interested in the foundational doctrine of the trinity and
  • Those whose primary interest is in the gender discussion and who annex the doctrine of the trinity fin order to provide greater doctrinal or rhetorical leverage.

The trinity is more interesting than the partisan question of whose side it is on and it is worth thinking about for its own sake rather than for its relevance to gender heirarchy… Contrary to widespread presupposition, it is not at all self evident that a theology of the trinity and the theology of human community should be doctrines which impinge on each other. These are two doctrinal tracks which are widely separated from each other in a total theological system which must be articulated according to internal logic. (in answer to Dr. Giles point #2).

The doctrine of the trinity is the highest point of the doctrine of God, occupying a place prior to all the perfections of the divine nature, so that none of the divine attributes can be parceled out among the trinity. None of the divine perfections  can be described in a merely unitarian way without reference to the Father, Son, and Spirit, who are the three who hold each divine perfection.

…The doctrine of the trinity has two poles, in its logical structure, the economic involvement of the Son and Spirit in the history of salvation and the eternal, immanent trinity. Confessing God’s triune being and act in these two ways can doctrinally secure respectively, the divine giving on the one hand, and the divine freedom on the other. So that God is really with us in the incarnation of the Son and the out pouring of the Spirit, and yet, God in Himself is eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A theological account on gender, on the other hand, properly situated, far away from the doctrine of the trinity, across the great divide that distinguishes God from everything else. It is located  in the story of creation, deep inside the territory of theological anthropology , and it is a doctrine which must provide explanatory value for our daily experience of the empirical fact of being human. Theological anthropology is necessarily involved in the drama of good creation, disastrous fall, reconciliation in Christ, eschatological fulfillment.  The doctrine of humanity has to be constructed in a way that makes logical sense in a narrative sequence. Good creation, bad fall. Events that must be recognized in human dignity- good creation. And human misery- bad fall. In our indissoluble relation to our Creator and in our alienation from right relation with Him.

God the trinity is of course also involved in the story. In fact, the same story and the doctrine of the trinity must be constructed from this economic story. But, unlike man, God is the sovereign Lord of His own story. Therefore, the narrative identification that shapes the doctrine of God is not constitutive of the being of God, in the way that the human narrative is constitutive of the human being. Gog would be God without that story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

Though the doctrine of the trinity is widely confessed to be a mystery, a theological account of human gender must also grapple with its own mystery. Seeking makes sense out of humanity’s puzzling coexistence in these two basic forms of male-female. These are two basic doctrines that stand in need of being connected…. It’s gonna take work to relate the doctrine of the trinity, in any way to the doctrine of gender. So, easy, quick answers need to be called under suspicion.

Using the Image of God as an appeal to gender issues

The answer that’s been the largest in the history of theology is that they can be related through the doctrine of the image of God. Now, that’s probably right. But, when you do the work of filling out the image of God in a biblical and theological argument, we discover that instead of this being a direct and self evident route from trinity to human community, it is instead a doctrinal complex of its own, following its own logic and therefore functioning not as a direct  link between God and man, but a very indirect one, involving a long and fascinating detour, if we had time enough in the world. However, when the doctrine of the image of God is misconstrued in a direct line from God to the human community.

It becomes a very abstract appeal. They think they’re being concrete when they make this appeal, but, it is actually very abstract. It’s an appeal of this sort. Divine and human community are related to each other by imaging. Ontologically, by reflection, or ethically speaking, by imitation. As above, so below is the nature of that appeal. And when applied as an abstract principle it has a sort of a mythological structure. It explains the seen in terms of the unseen, by mythological structure- appealing to something unseen as the explanation for something that is seen.

It is the doctrine of God in general, but, the doctrine of the trinity in particular which has suffered a great deal in a direct appeal to an imaging relation between divine and human community. Theologians who start with the assumption that the trinity has an image and that we can identify it in a created structure are constantly running the risk of unchecked projection.

An imaging structure- „as above, so below”, exposes us to the danger of projecting human traits on God. Here are a few examples from recent years:

  1. Theologians have appealed to the image of the trinity to support their view of social, political, and economic order. Latin American theologian Leonardo Boff has elaborated in his book ‘Holy Trinity Perfect Society’, a social vision of equality and mutuuality, which he explicitly grounds in a free, equal, and mutual community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  2. Less well known is the work of Michael Novak, who briefly suggests that the dialectic of unity and plurality in God’s triune being shows in a dim and distant way, the ( –word unknown)  of a political economy, differentiated, and yet one. Or in short, democratic capitalism.

Boff and Novak famously operate with different socioeconomic vision. And, when one of them looks into the mystery of God, he sees socialism, while the other peers into the same mystery (of the trinity) and sees a free market. Perhaps the mystery is serving as a mirror… If one is wrong and the other right, how would we make that judgment? What are the controls and limits that we should urge on these two thinkers who have found mutually contradictory images of the trinity, which ground mutually contradictory social visions to which they were committed to before they began doing trinitarian theology.

Another example, really briefly, is the application of the doctrine of the trinity to the order of the church. This is a pretty famous discussion by big shots such as Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote on the trinity that he perceived a kind of a headship or monarchy in there that really sounds very similar to the structure of the pope as the head of the church, which also, of course, includes other bishops, but, must be in communion with the Pope. Who is responded to by John Zizioulas, who said, „No, no, it’s much more like a network of –(word unknown) patriarchs, sort of how we have in orthodoxy. Then, Miroslav Wolf came along and wrote a great book, detailing exactly how these two arguments were made, ending up with the trinity being either catholic or orthodox, and he said, „No, no it is all baptistry in there, it is all about free association. Catholic theologian, Dr. Anne Hunt spoke very clearly about the danger of projection that emerged from Miroslav Wolf’s project, and from the arguments of his chosen interlocutors, Pope Benedict and Zizioulas. Dr. Anne Hunt says, „One cannot but observe that the conclusions reached bear close correspondence to the particular ecclesial tradition or understanding from which each interlocutor from our survey come to their conclusion….we should be very wary of appropriation of God language in support of our  structures and systems, be it ecclesial, political, or social.

So socialist peer into the trinity and find socialism, capitalists capitalism, the catholics see hierarchy, the orthodox see communion among equals, baptists see baptists, egalitarians see equality, and complementarians see complementarianism.

When we use the image of the trinity strategy, we tend to find what we want to find. Furthermore, there is a notably arbitrary character to which of our convictions and values we decide to locate in the trinity. Why do we find authority structures, but not threeness? Why do we not find relations of origins? That’s what a lot of older christians found. What serves as the criterion, what let’s us know whether the human thing we admire is properly to be understood  as the point of similarity with God, or a point of difference? Because, even in the doctrine of the image of God, you’ve got to recognize similarity and difference, however you parse that.

Perichoresis is this really great trinitarian word, it’s the mutual indwelling which the persons of the trinity have their being in each other constitutively. It’s the way the three are one. The persons in the trinity indwell each other and would not be themselves without such mutual indwelling. But, it’s frequently appealed to as a point of similarity. The wonderful instance of interpersonal unity, which either shows us how human personhood is solely constituted, or serves as a model for wihch we ought to strive for. But, perichoresis, it seems obvious it ought to name the difference between the unity of God and the created unity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one with a unity more absolute than we encounter among created phenomena. They are one with a category bursting unity of mutual insideness that cannot be captured on a venn diagram

Venn diagram or set diagram is a diagram that shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of sets(aggregation of things). Venn diagrams were conceived around 1880 by John Venn. They are used to teach elementary set theory, as well as illustrate simple set relationships in probabilitylogicstatisticslinguistics and computer science (see logical connectives).(Wikipedia)

…that cannot be captured on a venn diagram, that cannot be replicated using the laws of physics and cannot be applied to non physical, created spiritual realities. When Jesus prays, „Let them be one, as we are one,” to interpret this as being perichoretic unity should characterize the church is a serious misunderstanding.

So, I hope it’s obvious how this relates to a conflicting vision of the theology of gender relations of evangelicalism. Both sides do seem open to the charge of having looked into the trinity and found their own image looking back. The complementarians have been the most explicit about the normative character of imaging. And, Dr. Giles is probably right that they pushed first. The complementarians have been most explicit about the normative character: The wife should submit to the husband as the eternal Son submits to the eternal Father (as Grudem-Ware have stated).

But, the egalitarian pdepiction of the inner life of God always sounds suspiciously like a thriving, vibrant, egalitarian community. Take these phrases from the recent Evangelical Statement on the Trinity (see website here and see the reponse here by Daniel Chew and from the Evangelical Theological Society here):

God excercises perfect, cooperative relationships. God models perfect love, respect, cooperation. God exemplifies a unity in diversity that we should emulate between the genders and practice in the global, multi cultural, mutual submission and respectful cooperation of humans…. Deference between the trinity is mutual. All mutually honor and defer to one another.

It seems to me that while some complementarians have been boldest about directly connecting inner trinitarian structure to human power relations, some egalitarians have been most thorough and uncritical in allowing their assumptions about power to dictate the very plausibility structure of what simply must be the case. In both cases we are trapped in a hall of mirrors. You may pretend to model your social vision on what you already know about God, but, as your opponents are glad to point out to you is you’re really more likely to be modeling your notions about God’s inner life in the image of your vision of a just social order.

How is it that such a reversal has come about in out theological thinking? And who will deliver us from this death by anthropological projection? Trinitarian theology can avoid the dangers of projection by eschewing a direct appeal to a created phenomenon as the direct image of an immanent trinity. The immanent trinity can be visualized, because it has provided for us an image of itself. The immanent trinity, God’s eternal existence  as Father, Son, and Spirit has been made known in the economy of salvation. The eternal Son condescended to become the subordinate Son. And the eternal Spirit has been poured out on all flesh by the Father on the basis of the finished work of the Son.

The special, personal presence of the Son and Spirit in the history of salvation, that is the economic trinity, is the one exclusive foundational image of the immanent trinity. Whoever sees the Son has seen the Father, because the incarnate Son lives out among us, a life of identical Son like response as the eternal life of  filial response. He lives with the Father in communion  with the Holy Spirit, above all worlds. There, as here, the Son is the Son. As George MacDonald poetically puts it, “When he died on thecrossHe did that, in the wild weather of his outlying provinces, in the torture of thebody of His revelation, which he had done at home in glory and gladness.

God is not different in our midst, from how God is in the eternal, divine life. The immanent trinity has its own proper image, and its own proper gracious presence in the history of salvation. It is the economic trinity which is the vision of the immanent trinity.

There is a relative independence of these two regions of doctrine, but there is also a relationship.  between the immanent trinity and all manner of human social structures, including the structure of male-female relations in family, and in church. That relationship, though, is not direct and it is not an image. It is the salvation historical reality established by the direct personal presence of the Son and Spirit in the economy of the redemption. The economic trinity, and only the economic trinity is the image of the immanent trinity. This exclusivity cuts in two directions. No other image of the trinity is admissible as a source of revelation, as a basis of theological construction. The psychological analogy of the trinity, the structures of community life, hierarchical or non hierarchical organization of human relations need not apply here. They may have continued relevance as illustration, or apologetic gambit, or pedagogical aid, maybe. But, they cannot used to generate theological accounts of the trinity.

The image of the trinity is not the human soul or the human family. The only image of the immanent trinity is the economic trinity. To elucidate God’s triunity in itself, theology should not turn anywhere, but to the economy of salvation. The exclusivity of the salvation historical image, that is presence of the Son and Spirit also cuts in another direction, calling into question the idea of imitating the trinity and undercutting the many current projects which offer the immanent trinity as the  model society which human societies could imitate. The projects presuppose that christian social ethics should emerge form transforming our common lives into a kind of picture of the immanent trinity.

The immanent trinity, however, already has a picture: the economic trinity. The economic trinity, which is to serve as the model of any mimetic method we might undertake. (As Dr. Giles said: Imitate Jesus, don’t imitate the trinity). God does not rule the world through a formal principle such as: „As above, so below”. He rules the world „as the kingdom comes to earth”: „as it is in heaven, brought by the eternal Son, who makes one identical movement. One filial response to the Father: „On earth, as it is in heaven”. (min 55)

The relation between the eternal Son and the eternal Father:

Is it complementation or is it egalitarian?

Processions in the life of God, procession of the Son and of the Spirit, from the Father, in the life of the trinity are going out- procession. But, they don’t get further away. The Son proceeds from the Father, comes from the Father, but, doesn’t get further from the Father. In fact, the more perfectly He proceeds, the more perfectly He is unified. Which means, every diagram I have ever drawn of the trinity is wrong, because the arrow has to come out from the point of origin and get progressively further from the origin as it goes. But, the relation of the trinitarian life of the living God is weirder than that. I don’t know of any analogies for it. And, that’s another thing that undercuts the image strategy.

Let me try to connect the dots here to our understanding of who Jesus Christ is. So, moving from getting the immanent trinity right, to understanding what this has to do with reading the Gospels and coming to know Jesus Christ, as He is portrayed in Scripture. It says He is the Son, here below, among us on earth, as He is in heaven. And the reason Jesus introduces us to His Father and tells us to pray to His Father is because He is handing over, or He is opening up to us a created participation in a relationship that He has, has always had, He wouldn’t be Himself if He hadn’t always had, and that He is bringing to earth. And so, when He tells us to pray, „Hallowed be the name of God on earth as it is in heaven,” it’s because He is the Son who hallows the name of God. He is the Son on earth, as He is the Son in heaven. Because He is the Son in heaven. The eternal Son becomes the incarnate Son in order to redeem us and make us adopted sons.(min 58:18)

I want to quote Austin Farrer, theologian and pastor who was C.S.Lewis’s priest for awhile. Here’s what Farrer says in an essay on incarnation: We cannot understand Jesus as simply the God who was man. If we do, we have left out an essential factor: The Sonship. Jesus is not simply God manifest as man. He is the divine Son, coming in manhood. What was expressed in human terms here below was not bare deity. It was divine Sonship. God cannot live an identically God like life in eternity and in the human story.” I think what he means by that is: if Jesus were merely just God showing up as man, He would have to have everyone worship Him immediately or He wouldn’t be being God. Right? There would be no hiding it or concealing it, that would be no revelation at all. For God to show up as an identically God like life where He lives on earth exactly the life He lives in heaven, would be for Him to be God on earth in a direct and open way.

But, the divine Son can make an identical response to His Father, whether He makes it in the love of the blessed trinity, or in the fulfillment of an earthly ministry. All the conditions of action are different on the two levels. But, the filial response, a Sonly response is one. Above, the appropriate response from the Son to the Father is cooperation and sovereignty and an interchange of eternal joy. Then the Son gives back to the Father all that the Father is. Below, in the incarnate life, the appropriate response of a Son to a Father is an obedience to inspiration, a waiting for a direction, an acceptance of suffering, a rectitude of choice, a resistance to temptation, a willingness to die. For such things are the stuff of our existence. It is in this very stuff that Christ worked out the theme of heavenly Sonship, proving Himself on earth the very thing He was in heaven. That is, a continuous, perfect act of filial love. (1 hour mark)

At the 1 hour mark starts the egalitarianism vs. complementarianism debate.

Video Published on Dec 10, 2012 by BiolaUniversity

BIOLA’s description on Youtube: A Dialogue between Dr. Kevin Giles (egalitarian) & Dr. Fred Sanders (complementarian).

These two Trinity scholars – with different perspectives on the evangelical gender debate – discuss recent arguments that an eternal „authority/subordination” relationship exists between the Father and Son, and that it is intended as a model for male-female relations.

For the most recent example of this argument, see the chapters by Drs. Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware in „The New Evangelical Subordinationism?: Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son”

Kevin Giles (Th.D. Australian College of Theology) served as Anglican rector/pastor for forty years, and now writes, lectures, and is an associate in his present parish in Australia. He has been a member of Christians for Biblical Equality since its inception. His publications include „The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate” (IVP Academic, 2002); „Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity” (Zondervan, 2006); and „The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology” (IVP Academic, 2012). Kevin’s views on the Trinity and Gender are summarized in CBE’s „Priscilla Papers” 26.3, Summer 2012.

Fred Sanders (Ph.D. Graduate Theological Union) has served as Professor of Theology in Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute since 1999, is a popular speaker and blogger (, and an active member of the Grace Evangeiical Free Church. His publications include „The Image of the Immanent Trinity” (Peter Lang, 2005); „Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology”, F. Sanders and K. Issler, eds. (B&H, 2007); and „The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything” (Crossway, 2010). Fred has produced many scholarly articles, book chapters. and academic presentations on the Trinity, in which he argues for both „order and equality” in the Godhead.

John Piper panel – Complementarianism: Essential or Expendable?

Panel led by Ligon Duncan of, Russell Moore, Greg Gilbert and John Piper from the Together for the Gospel T4G Conference 2012:

Here’s a small excerpt from the discussion where Piper discusses the texts he would use in order to explain complementarianism. For its context, you will find the complete answer down at the very bottom of this post. Piper:

„Now, here’s Adam, why did He create him and then the woman later. Why did He give him the rules of the garden like „don’t eat here”? Apparently he’s had to tell her because she was never told that. And why does he name her and why in the world didn’t he step up to the plate, because it says he was there while she was being tempted and he blew it from the first point and I think, probably, what Paul is getting at when he says ‘the woman was deceived and not the man- is that simply she was taking initiative and dealing with the tempter, and the guy (Adam) was not saying a word, like he should have been, to protect his woman from this tempter and you just walk through 8 or 9 evidences in Genesis 1 & 2 that this is from the beginning what wrecked the world. That the beauty of his headship wasn’t owned by him. Maybe he fell first. In the real fall there, they fell together. She didn’t fall and then he fell, they fell together cause they’re both there at the tree and he’s not doing his role and she’s not doing her role and the whole sin collapse is happening as they reject their roles, which is right at the heart of it.”

Complementarianism: Essential or Expendable? from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Duncan asks Piper: Where did the term ‘complementarianism’ come from?

Piper: Wayne Grudem and I were a part of the production of the Danvers statement, which happened in the late 80’s in Danvers Connecticut, in which we tried to articulate a vision about how men and women are equally, gloriously, in the image of God with that worth and that dignity and yet complement each other in their differences, both in their marriages and in church and in their societies and in such a way that the flourishing of manhood and womanhood happened best when those complementary differences are honored rather than minimized in what we saw happening in feminism and evangelical egalitarianism was a minimizing at best or a nullifying of those differences. And, over on the other side, we saw a historic abuse  of women kind of machismo that would define manhood as mishandling or bossing, or putting down and we said: The egalitarianism- we don’t see that in the Bible. This abuse and beetling of womanhood, we don’t see that in the Bible. This goes on under various names like hierarchicalism , the more traditionalism, or whatever… so we said, „We need another name otherwise we’re just gonna be called traditional, otherwise, there will be no distinction between this”. I don’t remember who thought it up, but it came into being at one of those conversations, „Why don’t we take the word complement, complement with an ‘e’, not an ‘i’, we are not paying one another compliments, we are completing one another – ‘It is not good for man to be alone”, here is a fit. She is a complement for him. That is the origin and the essence of the term.

So, the just of it today is it’s a vision that stirs, we hope, a biblical path between the nullification or minimization of differences that are to be lived out in church, and home, and society, and the abuse of those differences that I think the New Testament has written to correct and it seems to me that in the garden, and then corrected in Ephesians 5, the abuses can be either men domineering or being passive and the women being domineering or being doormats, mindless and coquettish and we want to call women to full, articulate, creative personhood and men to step up to the plate where they kind of Christ-like sacrificial leadership in the home that enables the woman to flourish in all that she is and him to flourish in a Christ like demeanor.

Duncan:  Egalitarianism has been around in evangelicalism from the beginnings of neoevangelicalism. Why, in the late 80’s, did what became the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and what became the Danver’s statement, why did a group of folks get together (to say) ‘It’s important for us to articulate this now’. What was pushing that particular issue?

Piper: I don’t remember, except personally. You (Duncan) probably know culturally. I was teaching at Bethel College between ’74 and ’80 and the speakers that were coming in were increasingly strident in their feminism, so that Virginia Mollenkutt, for example, called our view obscene, in the Bethel Chapel and it was that kind of rising tide of aggressiveness of the evangelical wing that caused me, at least, to say, „I’m going to say something about this because I don’t see any of that in the Scriptures”.

Duncan: Russell (Moore), you are now the chairman of The Biblical Council of Manhood and Womanhood. Given where they were then, can you assess where we are now? Give us an idea where evangelicalism, the culture  is on this?

Moore: Well, what I fear is we have many people within evangelicalism who can check off ‘complementation’ in a box, but who aren’t really living out complementation lives. Sometimes I fear that we have marriages that are functionally egalitarian because they’re within the structure of the larger society and if all we are doing is saying ‘male headship’ – wives submit to your husband, but we’re not really defining what that looks like in a Christ centered way of discipleship in this kind of culture when those things are being challenged, then it’s simply going to go away. People are going to conform to the pattern of this age, which means we have an increasing struggle when it comes to questions that previous generations never had before in the same way. I have had in recent years- a woman came to me once and said, „My husband has told me he wants to be a woman, he wants to have gender reassignment surgery and become a woman. He doesn’t want to leave me, he wants to stay together. Martin Luther never had to deal with that. I can only imagine what he would have said, but he didn’t have to deal with that. Pastors now have to deal with that.

Duncan: Greg (Gilbert) you’re a pastor, what kind of issues do you see going on with regard to what Rusell has just talked about in the local church?

Gilbert: I do a lot of premarital counseling. The functional egalitarianism among the people that I counsel is just all over the place. So, you have men who think that being a complementation and leading their wives really has no feet on it until they come to a decision that they’re disagreeing about. But, up until that moment it is just an egalitarian way of living together without male leadership and headship in creating the atmosphere of the home.

Duncan: A lot of folks have said, „Why include this issue in a conference called Together for the Gospel? Aren’t there wonderful people that hold high views about God, high views of the doctrine of grace that are egalitarian? Why would we want to highlight this, given that it divides some parts of evangelicalism?

Piper: It is a good question because I don’t think you have to be a comlementarian to be saved and so it’s not essential at that level. But, as soon as you move beneath that level and ask: What are the implications of not following through with what Ephesians 5 seems to say or 1 Timothy 2 seems to say; those would be classic marriage/church texts. The implications… let me just mention 2 or 3. The implications, hermeneutically for the Gospel, are significant. If you do the kind of gymnastics that I think you have to do in order to escape Ephesians 5, you’re gonna get the Gospel wrong. That’s an overstatement. You will tend to go in that direction and sooner or later you’re gonna get the Gospel wrong. Second thing: Marriage, as it’s described there is the Gospel, in portrayal. The husband is to love like Christ loves the church and suffer for her, die for her and she is to submit to him, as the church submits to Christ. If you come along and say, „There is no head and there is no submission, you just cancel out the visible Gospel in marriage. And then, I would say, in the church where the Gospel is the pillar and bulwark of the Gospel and if you, at the core of its structure, and therefore deny that man, because of their call of God to be men, should be the leaders here and women should be leaders, it’s going to malfunction along the way. And I would say that in spite of the fact that I know Bible women in China and I know there are major women pastors in charismatic renewal in the global south, I would say: Not withstanding, it is written on male and female hearts to malfunction long term where the church is not being led by strong male proclaimers and leaders, the way Christ would lead. I would say, for those 3 reasons at least, it gets very close to the center in the kinds of things that are around the Gospel, protecting it and making it spread and vital in the world.

Gilbert: I would echo that and just push it again and I think that in order to get to an egalitarian position, you have to bring into your hermeneutic some bad DNA. You have to have some principles and ideas, that tend in a certain direction to corrode the authority of Scripture and once you do that, the corrosion isn’t just going to stop on those particular passages that you want it to stop at. It’s going to move on to other passages until you are eventually sitting right at the heart of the Gospel and letting those corrosive principles work on those texts also.

Moore: You know, in the United States military went into Iraq, one of the images that we saw all over the world was that statue of Saddam Hussein being torn down, because that was a repudiation of Saddam Hussein. Pastor Piper is exactly right. Ephesians ch. 5, Paul says, „This is a mystery”. Marriage is designed to show you Christ in the church, not the other way around. God says, „It is not good for Adam to be alone”, not simply because he needs company. He could have designed Adam to subdivide like an amoeba. But He creates Adam to have someone taken from him, who is like him, but who is different from him and the two become one flesh. Paul says – the mystery is Christ and His church. When you strike at that, and the satanic powers always want to strike at that, you are striking at the very sign and picture of the Gospel  itself and in the fulness of time, the Gospel will not be credible when you raise up children who see the image of the Gospel being torn apart in front of them all the time. The second thing- I don’t think it’s a question of whether or not we have male headship. I think it’s a question of what kind of male headship we will have. We live in a culture right now that is dominated by pagan patriarchy in which there are restaurants that are expressly for men to come in and ogle women. Internet pornography is preying upon women. When you have a male headship that is unhinged from the Gospel or unhinged from Christ like discipleship, women and children are going to be harmed and hurt and that is what we see all around us right now. So, part of what complementarianism is saying is not: Women submit. It is saying, „Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands”. When a wife submits herself to her own husband, or when a young woman who is not yet married submits herself to that future husband whose name she does not yet know, she is refusing to submit to men generally. So she is not seeing her identity in terms of how men view her in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Which is why the apostle Peter, when he is talking about what it means to be sanctified as a woman says: Not what the culture demands of you in braided hair and external appearance, but, that quiet beauty of the heart. That’s a counter cultural statement and if we don’t preserve that and show the kind of male headship that is self sacrificial, that washes feet, that goes to the cross, then we’re going to wind up with the kind of male headship that is satanic to the core.

Duncan: I still see guys going 3 ways. Some guys will lean into the complementation issue and they’ll recognize: I’m just gonna have to be countercultural here. Others say: We’re gonna back burner this. WHy offend folks up front, eventually we’ll get around to it. And then, I still see, maybe because of the dominant cultural bombardment, there are still others that begin to question the issue itself and say: Have we bought into something that’s traditional and cultural  and we baptized it. How do you respond to that when you’re talking to your generation?

Moore: I think there’s a 4th category too, which is to have a kind of hyper masculinity, hyper femininity that tries to push back on it with the caricatured form of masculinity that really could apply in the Bible to Nimrod, more than it could apply to Jesus of Nazareth and to Joseph. I think there’s an overreaction in a sense that really does take some cultural norm and tries to baptize it. But, I think, when people embrace this issue they are forced to become countercultural in this society. To say: I love what it means to be a man , for a Godly woman to say: I love what it means to be a woman- simply to love children and to love families and do what it takes to love families. So, when you see that man who is working 2 or 3 jobs, so he can provide for his wife and children. When you see that mother who is not seeking her own career advancement, but really sees pouring herself into nurturing the next generation, you’re seeing something that looks increasingly strange to the outside culture, but strange in a glorious kind of way, which means we as the church have to stop mimicking the outside culture even with the kind of pictures we put of women in our printed materials. We give this picture that would say that the ‘supermodel shall inherit the earth’. Instead of saying- what we really value is not that Madison Avenue caricature, (but) something else.

Piper: There’s a line of continuity between simple home spun conservative evangelical complementarianism and so called gay marriage. And in those days I used to say, „You’re gonna quote Galatians 3:28 on me „There’s neither male nor female”. „The way you’re quoting it, I know where that’s gonna go”, and they would just scoff at me, just scoff at me. Nobody’s scoffing today. Here’s the question that I found… the questions egalitarians have never satisfactorily answered for me is: If you’re raising an 8 yr old little boy or little girl and you’re mom or dad and that lithe girl says to mom: Mommy, what does it mean to grow up and be a woman? Or the little boy: Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man? It will not do to just talk in terms of plumbing (biological) because that’s not your personhood and it simply won’t do to just say: courage, humility, righteousness, Christ likeness- cause the little kid’s gonna say, „No, no I mean a woman and not a man”. No answer. And that’s the question I would ask these folks (at conference): What will you say to an 8 yr old or 10 yr old when they ask what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman? What separates me, and I don’t just mean body, is there anything that matters? In personhood, is there any rich, deep sense in masculinity? What are you going to say if you can’t give some articulation to complement parity between them and buy and I read book after book  after book in those days when I was trying to fight those battles. They never would address the issue. They always are talking in terms of personhood in  things that cross over in male and female. If you don’t help a man know what it means to be a man it will show itself.

Duncan: Where do you see as to regards of the receptiveness of the complementarian message, in the places where you are?

Piper: I talk at pretty conservative places so it’s not a fair sample. The answer is yes. It amazes me the difference between the 20’s, 30’s crowd today and the crowd I dealt with in the late 80’s. I fought battle after battle with college students who were  viciously opposed and now you have the likes of these young guys who are down here, all of them embracing this and having churches filled with thousands of  young, articulate, educated, flourishing women who are saying ‘yes’ to what they are saying. That’s new. It’s just amazing to me that that’s the case.


Moore: First of all, you have to deal with those biblical texts: Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, 1 Timothy 2. Just in terms of sanctification, there are some things the Scripture gives to all people as persons and then there are specific things for men and specific tendencies that the Scripture warns against: pugilism, quarrelsomeness, and those kinds of things and then specific aspects of womanhood: that quiet spirit, that Titus 2 function and all of those things and specific dangers: „Don’t fear”, Peter says, „that which is  frightening”. So you have to deal with those texts. You also have to deal with biblical complementarianism  in terms of what it is and not in terms of a caricature, whether that’s a caricature from the outside or caricature from people who think they’re complimentarian and what they mean by that is: Woman, get me my chips, which is not Ephesians 5. Complementarianism bears a cross and complementarianism is thinking about what is in the best interest. Male headship is- what is in the best interest  of my bride and of my children and as Christ washed his bride with pure water, when Jesus does that in the upper room, He washes His church, those foundations stones of His church with pure water, the church objects initially. „You’ll never wash my feet”, Peter says. Jesus doesn’t respond with passivity: „Well, try to do something nice…” But, nor does He respond with raw sovereignty. What does Jesus do? He leads and He teaches with His Word, „Unless I wash your feet, you can have nothing to do with Me”. When Jesus is giving Himself up at the cross for His bride, His bride doesn’t want Him to. „We’ll fight for you”, Peter says, „You’ll never go to the cross.” Jesus, always lovingly and gently , but decisively leads through teaching and discipleship in moving forward. So you have to deal with complementarianism in terms of Christ, not simply in terms of who is in charge.

Gilbert: I think the objections I run into with the young people that I pastor most of the time, it’s just a misunderstanding,  an understanding of role between men and women leads to dignity  and I would just shoot at that with everything I have to say: No, God given roles does not speak to God given dignity. Men and women are both created in the image of God; thats just as clear as it can be in Genesis 1 & 2. But, what’s also clear in Genesis 1 and 2 and 3 and then on through the rest of the Bible is that within that context of that equal dignity, God has every right to give out roles to his created people. And He does that throughout the Bible. Sometimes it’s men and women, sometimes it’s different things. But, God as Creator and Lord has every right to give us roles and that doesn’t speak to the dignity of the created person.

Piper: So, the question is (to) help the uncertain with the Bible. Show its in the Bible. I think I would probably start with Ephesians, because I think that’s the clearest: „a woman should submit to her husband and the man should be the head. Even if you don’t know any Greek like Grudem to look up 3800 uses of κεφάλη  (pronounced kefali) for ‘head’, you can just follow the context through on this one and say, „Well, if it means source, source of provision and source of authority, and source of protection and so we’ve got the real deal anyhow, whatever you call it, so I just think Ephesians 5 carefully walks through, beautifies marriage, it’s what every woman wants, a man who cares for her, will be strong for her, lay down his life for her, be strong for her and lead in devotions and open the door, take her to the restaurant and just respect her in every possible way. Then I would go to 1 Timothy 2 and I would say that the two things that a woman is forbidden here: to teach and have authority, or the two things that distinguish an elder from a deacon, governance and teaching, and therefore what he is saying is, elders should be men. That’s the distillation of 1 Timothy 2:12-13 and then he grounds it in the order of creation. Well, what does that have to do with anything… and then you go back to Genesis 1 & 2 and you just walk through there and say, „Now, here’s Adam, why did He create Him and then the woman later. Why did He give him the rules of the garden like „don’t eat here”? Apparently he’s had to tell her because she was never told that. And why does he name her and why in the world didn’t he step up to the plate , because it says he was there while she was being tempted and he blew it from the first point and I think, probably, what Paul is getting at when he says ‘the woman was deceived and not the man is that simply she was taking initiative and dealing with the tempter and the guy (Adam) was not saying a word, like he should have been to protect his woman from this tempter and you just walk through 8 or 9 evidences in Genesis 1 & 2 that this is from the beginning what wrecked the world. That the beauty of his headship wasn’t owned by him. Maybe he fell first. In the real fall there, they fell together. She didn’t fall and then he fell, they fell together cause they’re both there at the tree and he’s not doing his role and she’s not doing her role and the whole sin collapse is happening as they reject their roles, which is right at the heart of it. Those are the 3 places I’d start.

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