The Complementarian Emperor is Shamefully Underdressed

Have you ever noticed that complementarians often manage to assume an air of superiority when they write and speak? Well I have. They seem to think their interpretation of the Bible is the Bible, that the Word of God is so clearly on their side of the gender issue that one must go to great lengths and keep one eye closed to miss the intended male over female hierarchy.

Perusing complementarian literature, it’s easy to find the likes of the following

“At the core of this topic lies the fundamental issue of biblical authority. If we write off, ignore, or distort the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, then we are bound to do so with everything the Bible teaches. Indeed, the Bible is so clear on male-female distinction…….. ….If we can wrest egalitarianism from the Bible, we can pervert it to say anything we wish.”1

I can think of few kind things to say about such nonsense. The best I can do is to assume well-meaning but misguided intentions and total blindness to the biblical bankruptcy of their own position. But it’s difficult to be that charitable.

These guys would have us believe that in all their alleged proof texts, Paul and Peter are teaching the same hierarchical complementarianism espoused by  John Piper and Wayne Grudem, and that it came from the creation story. That last part is absolutely essential to their argument, that’s why they keep kicking what is obviously a dead horse.

Because if Paul and Peter are teaching gender hierarchy as the complementarian guys say, here’s the question: Where did they get it? Where did it come from?  Logically there are only two options: they either started it as a new thing, or they got it from someplace else.

Obviously, they can’t have Paul and Peter initiating new doctrine that subjugates the women to the men.  First of all, nobody would believe that, and more importantly, that doesn’t fit the teaching style of either apostle. The apostles were careful to build on the established foundation. But where is that foundation?

Jesus didn’t breath a word about gender hierarchy, but that’s not necessarily a big deal. Jesus didn’t address every possible topic because He didn’t need to. It’s fine that He didn’t mention it, as long as the foundation is laid elsewhere. But that is exactly where the gender hierarchists go embarrasingly astray.

The creation story is where they turn, naturally, and it ought to be there, right? If it’s God’s good plan and all like they say. Every important biblical concept begins with the foundations laid in the first few chapters of Genesis. And look at the many clear and unambiguous statements in Genesis 1-2!

God was the creator.  1:1, 2:4
Everything God created was originally good. 1:31
Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God. 1:26-27
God created marriage.  2:22-24 and blessed the sexual union of man and woman. 1:28
Men and women were told to fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over the animals.  1:28
Plants were given for mankind to eat. 1:29.
Etc, etc, etc.

Clear. Concise. Compelling.

And according to complementarians, this is also where God set up specific “gender roles” in which man would rule over woman in a hierarchical relationship with man as the leader/ initiator / responsible party and the woman as the submissive assistant and only one rung lower than the man on the authority ladder.

Ok, so how about a clear, unambiguous statement to that effect? Nope, sorry. No can do. Can’t help you there.

But what we DO have, are, according to Denny Burk, some “evidences”  Or as Raymond Ortlund says,  “A series of more or less obvious hints,”2

OK, so let me get this straight. You guys are telling me that God subjected one-half of the earth’s population to the other half at creation, an action that affected 100% of the people who ever lived, something more common, in fact, than marriage and sex, and yet God can’t spare a single sentence in the creation story to tell us this? Aren’t you the same guys who were just telling us a moment ago how clear the Bible is on this subject?

According to these self-proclaimed guardians of biblical truth, this gender hierarchy stuff is major doctrine. These guys consider it so essential that they made it a litmus test for membership acceptance into the Gospel Coalition. Piper ominously warns us that, “Egalitarianism must always lead to an eventual denial of the Gospel.”3 There’s that air of superiority again, with a little fear-mongering added for good measure.

Well I have a newsflash for you purveyors of the clear and obvious biblical truth of gender roles: You don’t establish major doctrine like that on “a series of more or less obvious hints.” You need an unequivocal statement of fact- especially in a foundational passage that is literally filled with such factual statements.

And you want to know the part that must cause them unbearable anguish? The clear and unambiguous statement they need is right there in Genesis 3:16, but they can’t use it because it’s clearly connected to the fallen condition of mankind, not the blissful state in Eden.4 So instead of finding their proof text, they are forced to admit that 3:16 describes a fallen state,  and publicly lament that the fall left us with a perversion of God’s original blessed and wonderful design for male leadership.5

So supposedly God gave us a clear unequivocal statement when it comes to male rule as a curse, but when it comes to male rule as a blessing He beat around the bush.

Sorry guys, that’s shoddy exegesis and this brother isn’t buying it. And frankly, if what you’re teaching wasn’t so damaging to the church of Jesus, I’d laugh at the foolishness of what you consider a great argument. It’s ridiculous.

Well, Ok. The complementarian crowd came up empty in the creation story. Perhaps later? Moses, maybe in the 10 commandments, or some other law in the pentateuch? Surely God would have told Moses to put something about it in the law, since it’s such an important part of God’s wonderful plan, right? One would think. But no. Missed it there too.


“How well Your Majesty’s new clothes look. Aren’t they becoming!” He heard on all sides, “That pattern, so perfect! Those colors, so suitable! It is a magnificent outfit.”

Maybe Job? The Psalms? Song of Solomon? Isaiah? Those all sound like possibili……well…no, actually. Nothing. Not a word in the rest of the Old Testament about this major doctrine of joy.6

And then we get to Paul, and these complementarian dudes immediately see very clearly that he’s teaching gender hierarchy. Because there were some “more or less obvious hints” dropped 1500 years and 1070 chapters previously without a word about it in between. Gotcha.

Good grief! They have no scripture! They really don’t- because Paul and Peter can’t be teaching hierarchy if it’s not supported elsewhere, and neither the Old Testament nor Jesus teach gender hierarchy to support such an interpretation.

Complementarianism is bankrupt because it has no coherent biblical foundation. And yet they claim biblical superiority to the point of infallibity, cast aspersions on egalitarians, and incite fear in the church over abandoning their corrupt system.

This is why I find it difficult to be charitable in my judgment. By and large, these guys tend to be very bright and well educated. How can they be this obtuse?





  1. Preface to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2006 edition  (xi-xii)
  2. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991 edition, page 88
  3. Preface to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2006 edition  (xii)
  4. This was not always the case. For centuries patriarchal teachers used Gen 3:16 as their proof text, partly due to a faulty translation of the Latin Vulgate by Jerome. For a fascinating historical account, see Susanna Krizo’s book, When Dogmas Die, esp. Introduction and Chapter 1.
  5. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991 edition, page 410
  6. An exception is the ungodly Persian King Xerxes in Esther chapter 1- not the role model they wanted I am sure.

The Impetus of Patriarchy

I read an interesting article at The Good Men Project about: The Hazards of Manhood

Despite some obvious political leanings away from my preferred direction, the article nails some important aspects about manhood and my gender’s incessant quest to attain it, which I think are absolutely true.

“Most American men know perfectly well the qualities they must display to be considered fully creditable as men: power, competitiveness, and toughness.”

That’s the prize, right there. You have to be “considered fully creditable as a man”. And the unspoken understanding of many is that you don’t just get that from having X and Y chromosomes and reaching adulthood. You have to earn your manhood, so as to be seen manly by those around you. If you can feel it, all the better, but in the very least you need to be seen that way.

“They compete for promotions, putting work first in their lives, lest they be seen as wimpy or wussy—sexist code words for “feminine” or “womanly.”

The thinking behind this: If you’re not a man, then you’re a woman. Female is the default gender. Little boys and little girls are virtually indistinguishable with their voices, body hair, and skin, but some of us grow out of that, attaining manhood. The rest remain in that lesser condition. So you can either “wuss out” (be a girl), or you can “man up” ( be a man).

And as the article above tells us, far too many men spend a lifetime reaching for that goal but never feeling they obtain it. (This is absolutely true, and one of the powerful selling points in the message of John Eldredge’s best seller, Wild at Heart.)

“This kind of manhood striving is driven by a contradiction: To be a real man in U.S. society, one must have or display power—the capacity to exert control over one’s self and the surrounding world—but the fact is that most men in a capitalist society have little or no power. For most men, striving for manhood status is an attempt to evade this contradiction, to escape the psychic pain it causes.”

And there you have it.

And if that’s true, that is ultimately what drives patriarchy: Men living in the pain of not “being the man”, which is believed to be “displaying power to exert control over one’s self and one’s world.”

As John Piper said, “Men are hard-wired to lead”.  And by that Piper means that if he is not leading, he is not being manly. Listen to John:

Ok wait. Let’s think this through…. The only difference between a “Complementarian” Christian and an Egalitarian Christian is that the Complementarian places men in authority and leadership roles over women.

And in the video above, when it comes to answering a little boy’s question, “What does it mean to grow up and be a man, and not a woman?” – John Piper says that Complementarians are the only ones of the two that can answer that question. Apparently the only difference between men and women that Piper can see and articulate is that men lead, women follow. So John Piper’s masculinity is inseparably linked to his authority and leadership of women.

This is made clear in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “The Meaning of Masculinity” (2006 edition, pp36-45) and several other places. Piper says that mature masculinity includes a sense of responsibility to lead. (p36) “Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative.” (P 39).

And if a man can’t do that in the neighborhood, or the factory, or the office, or at the club, where can he do it?

At home. In the church, where he can still build his patriarchal kingdom and rule over his subjects. After all,

“A man’s home is his castle.” – Sir Edward Coke, 1628 AD

The church and the home are among the final bastions of officially sanctioned male power. This is true for a number of reasons, among them tradition and faulty Biblical interpretation. But from this brother’s perspective, there is another, more compelling reason.

I believe that fueling the reluctance to change or to even look deeply into the issue of male/female equality is, in the heart of many men,  fear.

Often people think it’s about selfishness or control,  and sometimes it is. But I don’t think most guys in the church are like that. It’s usually not a case that they’re bad men. Quite the contrary, most Christian guys just want to live their life, raise their kids and grandkids, serve the Lord and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end. But many men, even the strongest ones, have a deep and abiding fear of not measuring up. I suspect that fear and insecurity drives John Piper and his theology of “Biblical Manhood” and his feelings that his manhood is being compromised whenever he is in the presence of a woman he feels is less than lovingly deferential to his “authority”. And I believe that theology plays into one of the worst fears of very many men: The fear of not being seen as manly.

Can you imagine Jesus deriving his personal sense of manhood from his authority over and leadership of women? Neither can I.

We shouldn’t be drawing our theology from our fear of inadequacy, nor let such fear hinder our quest for the truth.