What are role distinctions based on? Is it God’s idea for husbands to lead? What if a husband is wrong? Should a wife still submit? Doesn’t complementarianism put women at risk? And where does it say women can’t preach?

I’m grateful to have my friend and elder, Brian Robinson with me to discuss the topic of “complementarianism”, or the idea that God created men and women equal in value, but gave them distinct roles (especially authority) in marriage and in the church. We’re looking back to Genesis 1-3, and all we learned in our True Story of the Beginning series, plus we’re looking to other New Testament passages which point back to Genesis, for guidance on this difficult topic.

Brian Robinson is a seminary student at the Institute of Public Theology, and an elder at my church, Crossroads Bible. He’s married to Grace, and together they have three boys.

Guest: Brian Robinson

Bible Passage: Genesis 1-3, I Timothy 2:11-14, I Peter 2:23-24, I Peter 3:1-2, I Corinthians 14:33-35

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Music: Cade Popkin Music 

Brian Robinson

Brian is a seminary student at the Institute of Public Theology. He is husband to Grace, and father to their three boys. Brian also serves as an elder at Crossroads Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI.

Complementarianism Definition

Complementarianism is a rather new term. It’s used to communicate the belief that God created men and women with equal worth and value, but with unique roles. There are many faithful Christians who hold an egalitarian view: that there should not be a distinction in roles.

Several of the podcast episodes in my “Recommended Listening” below have to do with Complementarianism. In particular, I found this episode on the Knowing Faith podcast to be helpful. Also, I listened to most (but not the six hour one!!) of the “Bible Thinker” podcast series on Women in Ministry, and was so grateful for Mike’s exhaustive approach. (He did what most of us don’t have time to!) I particularly appreciated:

Come back next time, to hear my conversation with Cheyenne Werner about embracing Complementarianism, as women, in a Church setting.

Taking Down Fences

Brian mentioned the illustration by G.K. Chesterton, in response to reformers. Here’s a quote, which I’ll summarize.

Some people see a fence in the middle of the road and say, “I don’t see use for this. Let’s clear it away.” But then a wiser friend says, “If you don’t see why it’s useful, then I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me what its use is, you might be able to convince me to help you clear it away.”

The point is that when we find a fence, common sense tells us that it didn’t just sprout up and grow there. It wasn’t set up by a sleep walker. It’s highly improbable that it was put in place by escaped lunatics. So, it’s logical to conclude that somebody had good reason for putting this fence here, and until we know that reason, we shouldn’t take it down. Even if we see no reason for the fence, it’s quite probable that we’ve overlooked something.

Now, some bypass this logic, assuming that their fathers were fools. And perhaps it’s true, but if so, the folly seems to be hereditary. (wink) We don’t really have any business tearing down a “fence” until we understand the purpose it served. It’s true that we might find that the fence served a bad purpose, or that it’s purpose is no longer valid. But if we stare at the fence as a senseless monstrosity which someone put up just to get in our way, then we (not the one who put up the fence) are the ones who are delusional.

So why are we talking about fences, in the context of complementarianism? It’s because we see that commonly held beliefs are becoming invalid among Christians.

We hope you’ll open the Bible for yourself and consider what God had in mind when he told the story of Creation the way he did.

Complementarianism in Genesis

Here are some of the hints at complementarianism (or role distinction) in Genesis 1-3:

  • God didn’t create Adam and Eve at the same time. 
  • Adam and Eve are not created the same way. 
  • He creates a helper “fit for him”. (Not the other way around.) Their bodies were distinct.
  • God gave Adam the command about the tree before Eve was created. 
  • The serpent approaches Eve, not Adam. (Whatever God orders, Satan disorders.)
  • God calls out to the man (not the woman), when he came looking for them after they ate.
  • Adam named Eve.

The pattern in the Bible is for God to do something, and then explain what he has done. So the commentary in the New Testament helps give weight to these hints we see in Genesis. Paul consistently refers back to the Genesis story as the basis for his instructions for women in the church. (See I Corinthians 14:33-35 and I Timothy 2:11-14.)

And Egalitarian Genesis Story

If the Genesis story matched an Egalitarian perspective (supporting the idea of no differences), I suppose it would read like this:

God created the man and women both out of the ground, giving them bodies that were similar in every way. He breathed life into both of them at the same time. He gave them both the instructions about the tree. When the serpent came, he talked to both the man and woman, and together they decided to eat the fruit. When God came looking for them, he said, “Adam and Eve, where are you?”

Does anyone else think this story is a little less interesting than the true story in Genesis 2-3? I think life would be less interesting, too.

I hope that this conversation has been interesting and challenging to you, in some way. Whether or not you and I agree on the interpretation of these texts, I hope you’ll continue to open your Bible, drink in the Story, and live like it’s true!

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