Earlier this year, Bob Yarbrough and Don Carson spoke at the EFCA’s theology conference: “Understanding the Complementarian Position: Considering Implications and Exploring Practices in the Home and the Local Church” (The Gospel Coalition has a helpful summary). Not only can you listen to all of the mp3’s of the conference, the EFCA released a 47-page PDF too, which essentially summarizes how Yarbrough and Carson both frame the Complementarian perspective. This is probably some of the best scholarly work of this perspective that you can find.
Interestingly, William Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis was brought up. This, of course, makes perfect sense since his work is probably one of the most influential books in the realm of hermeneutics for those who take an Egalitarian approach. At any rate, when Carson was asked about Webb’s work, he stated that he did not find Webb’s arguments convincing (no surprise there). He provided some good thoughts on the issue of slavery and then pointed people to the following two articles (read Carson’s response here):
Thomas R. Schreiner. “William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: A Review Article.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 6, no. 1 (2002): 46–65.
Wayne Grudem. “Review Article: Should We Move Beyond the New Testament to a Better Ethic? An Analysis of William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47 (2004): 299–346.
I really appreciated the tone of Carson and Yarbrough’s talks. On more than one occasion I’ve heard Egalitarians describe Complementarians and Complementarianism describe Egalitarians in ways that are very concerning. Obviously Carson and Yarbrough have concerns that what is labeled “Complementarian” is often equatable to simply telling women “No you can’t.” In fact, the 47-page PDF reports the following:
“By way of application, Dr. Carson first asserted that anyone who holds a complementarian position and who presents it primarily as a way to put women down has misunderstood the tone and structure of the biblical teaching… Local churches must seek to work out what this biblical complementarianism means in their own situation. As with male headship in the family, how this is fleshed out in churches can vary a great deal… Carson admitted that he has his own preferences, but at the end of the day he would not want the hard cases to be an excuse for overturning what the Word of God says. But he also wouldn’t want the Word of God to become some kind of legalism. And somewhere between those two you have to make some judgment calls… If complementarianism means nothing more than saying no, then it is as ugly as interpreting “headship” to mean nothing more than keeping a woman down when we’ve been constrained by Paul to love our wives as Christ loved the church.” (p.43)
My only disagreement is with the approach that Yarbrough gives as an “Evangelistic Reason” for keeping the traditional Complementarian view. He is reported to have argued that “to ordain women is ultimately to alienate many if not most unchurched men” and goes on to ask,
“Why should we think that men who typically live in tension with their wives in marriage are going to subject themselves to the oversight of women ministers? To put the matter bluntly: in many marriages, wives try to control or at least change their husbands, and men refuse to be bossed. Unchurched men in particular are not apt to look favorably on ecclesial practice that puts women in the same position over the household of faith that they chafe against in their everyday home lives. They will simply avoid the church even more than is already and tragically the case.”
I personally wouldn’t use this line of reasoning to argue for Complementarianism because it all depends upon the man in question. I actually know quite a few men who would be more comfortable in churches if there was more women involvement. In fact, statements like this kind of overlooks what many Egalitarians who happen to be men are actually saying. It’s just too subjective of an argument. If you are talking about a Presbyterian social environment, sure… it makes sense. But within post-modern social settings, Complementarianism is discussed in a much different way (trust me, it comes up regularly in discussions I take part of).
Anyway, Don Carson is excellent. Even when one disagrees with his conclusions, he’s just plain fun to listen to or read (for me, I find myself in agreement with him far more than in disagreement). So, if you are interested in the type of Complementarianism that I find compelling, this is a great place to begin. It might not answer all of your questions and it might not convince you, but it’s much better than some of the arguments made within the blogosphere.
HT: Andy Naselli.