Egalitarian & Conservative?

June 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Silencing-WomenI was once a complementarian, but my views were formed in the isolation of a conservative Baptist church where I was never introduced to an alternative. Like many people who were born and raised in a similar environment, exclusively male leadership as a biblical and theological concept was never taught implicitly or argued for publicly as much as it was merely assumed. It has not been assumed by me for quite some time now.

For the past fifteen years I have worked my way through both a Masters and a Doctorate degree (admittedly, I am a bit of a slow learner). I was ordained and subsequently served as a church planter, a pastor, a college chaplain and currently, a missionary. Throughout this journey female leadership in the church has been an issue that I have wrestled with constantly in academic as well as pastoral environments; in the classroom as often as in coffee shops and counseling sessions.

To be honest, I have tried desperately to hold on to the complementarian views of my youth. I am a constant consumer of the blogs, books, sermons and podcasts produced by the godly leaders at The Gospel Coalition, who site unambiguously in their confessional statement, The distinctive leadership role within the church (is) given to qualified men.” I recently read Kathy Keller’s book Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles (if you have a Kindle, send me your email and I will loan it to you), and likewise have worked my way through the writings of a number individuals who are far more educated and eloquent than me included C.S. Lewis and Elizabeth Elliot. And yet, I remained convinced that the bible supports an egalitarian view of gender.

Wells of ink have been poured out through the ages over the issue of female leadership within the church. Most recently John Piper, Andrew Wilson and Tom Schreiner brought the debate to social media once again through a series of online articles centered on the question “Should a woman preach next Sunday?” It is not remotely possible for me to summarize the weaknesses and/or merits of each view in a single article without devolving into shallow caricatures that do neither justice. But I can encourage you to search the links I have provided above in order to find some of the best writing from those in either camp. If you need more, just drop me a line through twitter or email and I will be happy to send additional links your way.

What I would like to focus this conversation on instead however is the reality that I have grown increasingly uneasy with the way in which the term egalitarian has somehow become associated with those who self-identify as theologically “progressive” or “liberal.” So much so in fact that I have debated writing this piece for a number of months for fear that it might cause some of my own colleagues to bristle.

I am unsure if this is simply an issue of “guilty by association,” given that many of denominations who ordain women have also taken a theologically liberal stance on issues such as inerrancy and same-sex marriage, or if it is just a sign of the growing influence and popularity of complementarian leaders such as Tim Keller, John Piper and Matt Chandler (like TGC, the Acts 29 network that Chandler leads states “The office of Elder/Pastor is restricted to men”). Most likely it is a combination of the two.

Nevertheless, the point remains that there seems to be less and less room within the Evangelical world today to hold an egalitarian view without having to quickly qualify it in a million different ways- “I am an egalitarian, but I don’t…” Eugene Cho writes about this very experience in an article tracing his own journey to an egalitarian view. Others who share his new theological perspective are notable scholars and leaders such as Ray Bakke, Gordon Fee, Scott McKnight and the Anglican legend, N.T Wright.

All this is to say that being egalitarian and conservative are not contradictions. Those holding an egalitarian view are not on some slippery slope towards tossing out the absolute truthfulness and authority of scripture or just a step away from ordaining practicing homosexuals. Neither should there be an unfair assumption that an egalitarian outlook will automatically lead somehow to a dismissal of the exclusiveness of Christ, the existence of a literal Hell or a denial of the resurrection.

I believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. I believe that all of humanity is born into sin and thus is separated from God and I believe that only the true gospel has the power to save. And I believe that women as well as men are called to share that story. What I don’t believe is that to hold these views together creates any sort of contradiction.

In my next post I will interview Carmen Fowler LeBerge about her invitation to preach at the annual General Assembly for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in June. While you wait, find out more about Carmen HERE