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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