Three new books, two published already and one soon to come, have deconstructed complementarianism. Not that complementarians are going to fold up and go home and confess their wrong and become egalitarians. That’s not likely to happen (until Jesus comes).
No, I’m talking the ideology of complementarianism that arose in response to the ERA and became centered in John Piper and Wayne Grudem, then institutionalized in the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It’s problem is not just the word “Biblical” but how both “manhood” and “womanhood” were defined.
Now the three books, and I will briefly mention them and their contribution to the deconstruction in the order of their appearance. First, Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne shows that the complementarian movement rides on the wave of masculinist, militaristic, and politicized conservative American evangelicalism. Thus, whatever Bible was invoked was shaped by a politicized movement centered in James Dobson. Complementarianism then was not simply the biblical text’s hierarchical arrangement but a peculiar, mid century American convergence. Second, William Witt, Icons of Christ: A Biblical and Systematic Theology for Women’s Ordination, which begins today as a new series. He, too, shows complementarianism is not how the Bible actually framed relationships of men and women. Yes, it’s expensive and worth every dime. Buy it for yourself for Christmas and wrap it up for yourself. Surprise the family. Third, Beth Allison Barr’s book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, which will show how the theory of what a woman is to be and do is shaped, not so much by the Bible but by other historical factors.
I.e, “biblical” foundations are eroding in the ideology of complementarianism. Admitted or not.
By the time Barr’s book is published there will be three solid punches to the nose of complementarianism. I’m not saying such persons will change their mind but I am saying these books have to be answered on new terms and some fatal flaws will have to be faced. (I'll add a fourth: when Ryan Burge’s book, The Nones, comes out, the politicization of American evangelicalism will be even clearer.)
Image: Cover Photo
Witt’s book is the most complete study on the topic of women’s ordination since Phil Payne’s big book and Cynthia Westfall’s study of Paul and women, but this book is far more a systematic and history-of-the-church kind of study.
It’s relentlessly careful. It will be the go-to book for years to come. It’s a game-changer. It should be in every theological library and on the intelligent pastor’s shelf. He’s Anglican and facing the winds of the complementarians.
Here is his intention for the book:
In this book,I intend to make a theological argument for the ordination of women to the ecclesial ministerial office of presbyter …
The office of presbyter would be distinguished from such lay ministries by its permanent rather than occasional character, a certain sort of authority that pertains to office as opposed to other forms of service, presiding over the gathered worship of the community, and a designated setting aside by the greater church usually denoted by such sacramental gestures as the laying on of hands. This distinction between church office and lay ministries is important to make clear that the argument concerns not whether women can exercise some sort of ministries within the church, but specifically whether women can be set aside and ordained to the office of Word and Sacrament.
Witt knows there is a social context to all this, and I have given a few simple observations about this already, but here’s his statement:
The issue of women’s ordination cannot be separated from these other cultural changes. It needs to be asked whether the ordination of women is a logical corollary of the equality of women in the church now recognized by all historic churches, whether it is rather a mistakenly drawn implication of the same, or, indeed, whether it is an aberration, one of the problematic consequences of postmodern culture, perhaps an example of the influence of modern unbelieving secularism in churches.
Theology is ever changing so notice this statement of his:
It also needs to be recognized that these four positions - (1) Evangelical Prot-estant opponents to women’s ordination, (2) traditionalist Catholic opponents to women’s ordination, (3) liberal feminist theologians, and (4) orthodox Evangelical and Catholic egalitarians – all represent new theological developments in response to cultural changes of the last couple of centuries.
All four positions agree in acknowledging an equality and dignity of women in the churches that was lacking in previous centuries, and (whether acknowledged or not) is indeed a new development and a new theological stance.
… those who continue to oppose women’s ordination have not simply preserved the historic tradition of the church. Because of the necessity of simultaneously acknowledging a new theology of women’s equality that had not existed previously while persisting in resisting the ordination of women, both Protestant and Catholic opponents of women’s ordination have had to develop new theological rationales in opposition to women’s ordination.
Protestants, evangelical or otherwise, and Catholics differ on how the whole subject is approached:
Protestants tend to understand the purpose of ordination as having to do with authority, preaching, and teaching, and their arguments focus on the exegesis of Scripture. Accordingly, the kinds of anti-ordination arguments they use generally focus on three related issues in biblical interpretation: (1) hierarchical relations between men and women (men are in charge, and women are not); (2) whether women should preach in the pulpit, and (3) whether women should teach men. Protestant arguments tend to be exegetical, appealing to biblical passages that (1) seem to affirm a hierarchical understanding of the relation between men and women; (2) forbid women to speak in church and (3) forbid women to teach.
Catholics understand the purpose of ordination as having primarily to do with celebrating the sacraments (particularly the Eucharist); they do not object in principle to women exercising authority in the church or to women preaching or teaching. Catholics tend not to be concerned as much with exegetical issues involving Scripture, but rather focus on the tradition of the church and arguments regarding sacramental theology. Their arguments generally focus on (1) the tradition of the church; (2) the conditions of valid sacramental ordination; (3) issues of biblical exegesis, including questions concerning the function of the Old Testament priesthood; the relation between Jesus and his apostles; the kinds of roles women exercised in the church both in the Bible and in the history of the church.
Here’s the start to our series. Join us by purchasing the book so you can follow along.