The Eternal Subordination of the Son, Social Trinitarianism, and Christian Orthodoxy

Steve Holmes has a post worth reading, reflecting upon the recent book, One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life. The book in question seeks to defend the ‘eternal submission of the Son to the Father,’ a controversial theological position that nonetheless plays an important role in many contemporary defences of complementarianism. The book presents an assortment of theological, exegetical, and historical arguments for the position, from a number of writers who advocate various—and occasionally opposing—forms of the doctrine.

Holmes is fairly scathing in his treatment of the book, not merely on account of his principled opposition to complementarianism, but also on account of his theological concerns as a leading Trinitarian scholar (I recommend that anyone interested in Holmes’ perspective on the current state of Trinitarian theology read his book The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity). He concludes that the arguments—even the chastened ones—advanced in support of the eternal submission of the Son fail beyond recovery. He wonders why the eternal submission of the Son argument has passed through so many iterations, when it has been disproved every time; one would presume that after a few versions the doctrine itself would have been condemned as beyond salvage. I won’t summarize his arguments here: I suggest that you read his post yourself.

I have also written a lengthy post on my own blog, within which I unpack some of the issues that I believe are at play in this discussion, most particularly the issue of social Trinitarianism. I observe within it that this is a debate that raises challenges that cut across familiar complementarian/egalitarian divides, creating some surprising allies and antagonists.

Based upon my post on my blog, I would like to raise a few possible questions here.

  1. Should we abandon social Trinitarianism, despite the prominent role that it has played in both complementarian and egalitarian theologies?
  2. Can our doctrine of the Trinity illuminate and inform our accounts of society or gender relations?
  3. Is any connection between the relations of the Trinity and gender relations necessarily ‘projectionist’?
  4. How should we handle verses such as 1 Corinthians 11:3?
  5. How do we relate the earthly obedience of Christ to his Father’s command to the life of the Trinity?
  6. Can a doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son be theologically justified or squared with the orthodox tradition of Trinitarian theology?
  7. Do the shifting and varying theological arguments for a complementarian position suggest that rationalization rather than honest and principled theological reasoning is taking place?

Choose the questions that you would like to answer or suggest your own!

Advertisements

Christian Liberty in the Gender Debate

A few weeks ago, Jen Michel posed a necessary and somewhat surprising question in a piece at Her.meneutics, a blog hosted by Christianity Today. Michel, a self-avowed complementarian, had recently returned from The Gospel Coalition National Conference and was struck by the lack of female representation, both among attendees and speakers. “Where do women belong in complementarian organizations?” she wrote.

Michel’s question sparked vigorous, if not predictable, debate in the comment section and was followed up by questions about the relationship between the local church and parachurch organizations. Some took the opportunity to turn the conversation toward the legitimacy of complementarianism as a paradigm in the first place.

I found Michel’s question fascinating because it hit a point of the debate that is often minimized but is essential to our living and working together: How far does Christian liberty extend in gender applications?

On the surface, the issue of Christian liberty may not be obvious in Michel’s question. But when you begin to understand the cross-denominational nature of parachurch organizations like TGC, you also begin to understand how significant a certain level of tolerance becomes. Differences will either be bridged by Christian liberty (as the questions of church polity and baptism are within TGC) or they will become a line in the sand.

But lest we think that this question only extends to conservative groups, egalitarians must also determine how significant gender applications are to them. Should an openly egalitarian organization consider the effect their stance will have on potential participants who are complementarian? Are they willing to put pressure on more conservative brethren simply for the sake of gender applications? Or, perhaps, more difficulty, will they themselves participate with an organization that is more conservative than they are all for the sake of the gospel?

Part of what makes this conversation difficult is that it has been reduced to applications (e.g. Do you or do you not allow women to preach, be ordained,  etc?) rather than a nuanced discussion of how and why you get there. For many complementarians, egalitarians have been reduced to “liberals” and for egalitarians, complementarians are oppressive chauvinists.
And this is where history and understanding denominational differences becomes helpful. The current debate between egalitarians and complementarians began when feminist theology started making inroads into evangelicalism in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, new theology affected practice and soon churches and ministries were wrestling with the question of whether women could (and should) hold positions traditionally reserved for men. With the lines drawn around applications, folks quickly took sides.

Unfortunately, the current iteration of the debate can obscure how often these applications are influenced, not simply by progressive theology, but by denominational differences in church polity, authority, and history. A conservative Pentecostal woman—who has shunned all things worldly—would be surprised to learn that she is considered a “liberal” simply because her church has been ordaining women since the early 1900s.

If gender roles could simply be reduced to a question of orthodoxy, we wouldn’t have to worry about Christian liberty.  But what if, through the process of dialogue, we discover that some folks hold an opposing view AND an orthodox reading of Scripture? Suddenly the question of who to work with becomes much more complicated. If it is not a question of orthodoxy (which it still may be—on both sides!), then how much liberty can we and should we extend to each other?

Do you allow for liberty of practice for those who are more/less conservative than you are? 


Would you participate in an organization that restricted/supported female ordination because you believed something greater was at stake?

What is more important to you personally—differences in application or differences in core beliefs?

#AllTheFeels: What does gendered reason and emotion do to the Church?

After raising the question of men trusting women (and why a tendency towards mistrust might persist) I thought it would be pertinent to explore the topic of gendering reason and emotion, particularly in the Church. As has been proposed in several of the responses from our previous discussion, there does seem to be, at the very least, a stereotype towards women being viewed as untrustworthy on the basis of being more ‘emotional’ than men. We’ve talked a little about passages that reference women as the ‘weaker’ sex, and, while Kristen is probably right that most casual sexism towards women in secular 21st century society isn’t rooted in a particular interpretation of 1 Timothy, I think it is fair to say that post-enlightenment protestant Christianity has certainly encouraged a reason/emotion split, and, importantly, hierarchy in modern thought, and along gender lines. As we move the conversation from a broader look at society as a whole to gendered reason/emotion in the Church, there are a few areas I’d particularly like to explore.

  1. How much should we allow a kind of pseudo-biology to dictate the way we talk about the relationship between women and men and their emotional faculties? When it comes to Christians and the ‘natural order’, I notice a trend of inconsistency in which aspects of nature we denote as ‘God ordained’ and which are not. For example: the same people who tell me that in God’s order, women are the ‘weaker’ (read more emotional) sex and men are more aggressive (and reasonable!) leader figures, and that this is reflected in some loose definition of biology, might not be so willing to acknowledge the ‘biological’ basis for the ‘natural’ presence of homosexuality, or the ‘naturally’ occurring desire for men to have multiple partners for evolutionary reasons. On what basis can we use ‘nature’ or ‘biology’ to justify a particular interpretation of scripture, when we’re dealing with a fallen world? And if we are going to, how far can that take us in seeing women as the more ‘emotional’ sex, often to their detriment? (Jem Bloomfield has written a really excellent post on some of the ‘evo-psych’ involved in this conversation – do read it!)
  1. Is it fair to blame diminishing male percentages in the Church on ‘feminization’ (usually meant almost as a dirty word, with connotations like overly touchy-feely worship songs) even though the overwhelming majority of leaders are still male? Do groups like the ‘Christian Vision for Men’ help matters by trying to make church more ‘manly’, rather than addressing a deeper problem, which is that emotional engagement is seen as a primarily female space – and that this somehow makes it inferior? I’m not necessarily arguing that the ‘Man’s Group’ is a bad thing, but as someone who grew up in a form of intellectual evangelicalism, in which emotional engagement with one’s spirituality was viewed with suspicion, it seems that attempts to make the church seem more intellectually rigorous or tough lead to a short-circuiting of a truly valuable aspect of human experience. I’m curious whether there is any traction in the idea that rather than an overly emotional church, the reason for lack of male engagement is that traditionally it was women who were asked to serve in their church communities – and those are involved stay engaged. Rather than taking men out of the main body of the church to bond and do ‘manly’ activities, community is best built when people serve the body together. This is turning into a broader point than specifically about reason and emotion, but I suppose I want to ask whether it’s fair to, in some way, blame women for something that is actually nothing to do with a ‘female’ trait.
  1. How much is gendered reason and emotion impacting the field of theology? Anecdotal evidence shows a lack of women doing the ‘hard’ or more ‘academic’ areas of theological disciplines, like Philosophical Theology, Biblical Studies, and Systematic Theology, and while it is essentially impossible to justify a position which suggests that men are more academically capable of studying these areas, why is it that women are not drawn to them, or are less likely to go on to professorships in these areas?

I’m aware that each of these questions could be a whole topic on its own, so if one is particularly picked up on and someone wants to write a full post exploring another area, I would welcome your thoughts!

Why Do Men Fail To Trust Women?

In a recent article on the Huffington Post website, Damon Young asks why men don’t trust women. He argues that, even though we may trust women’s character, promises, and opinions on many matters, we don’t trust their feelings. When a woman comes to us annoyed about something, our instinctive assumption is that they are overreacting, even though we may go along with them. While this failure to trust women’s feelings is a problem, Young believes that it gives rise to far more serious issues. In particular, the belief that women characteristically overreact causes men to distrust their testimony on far more serious matters. Young writes:

But, this distrust can be pervasive, spreading to a general skepticism about the truthfulness of their own accounts of their own experiences. If women’s feelings aren’t really to be trusted, then naturally their recollections of certain things that have happened to them aren’t really to be trusted either.

This is part of the reason why it took an entire high school football team full of women for some of us to finally just consider that Bill Cosby might not be Cliff Huxtable. It’s how, despite hearing complaints about it from girlfriends, homegirls, cousins, wives, and classmates, so many of us refused to believe how serious street harassment can be until we saw it with our own eyes. It’s why we needed to see actual video evidence before believing the things women had been saying for years about R. Kelly.

You should read the full article: it raises some important issues, many of which I won’t get into here. Rather, I would like to identify a few factors that I suspect are often involved in men’s failure to trust women. I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

At the outset, I think Young’s emphasis upon men’s failure to trust women’s feelings is an unhelpful narrowing of our focus. For one, even when feelings don’t seem to be part of the picture, women will still often find themselves unfairly distrusted by men. Another problem is that feelings are often untrustworthy: they can lead us to react, rather than respond; they can distort perceptions; they can overwhelm our powers of reason; they will often lack a sense of proportion. It is one thing to take feelings seriously (we really should be doing this); it is quite another to trust feelings (we really shouldn’t be doing that).

A more fundamental issue here, however, is that men don’t give much weight to their own feelings. Throughout our upbringing we are taught to develop greater distance from our feelings—’man up’, ‘take it like a man’, ‘he didn’t cry, like a brave little soldier’, ‘grow a pair’, ‘don’t be a sissy’, ‘don’t be so sensitive’, ‘can’t you take a joke?’, etc., etc. Emotional continence—but perhaps even more often emotional constipation—is something that we tend to develop as a result. The rougher interactions that typically come with male socialization require thicker skins. Even if we presume for the sake of argument that no natural tendencies are at work here, women seldom have the same degree of socialization out of emotionality. The result is that men and women will frequently have very different processes of subjectively perceiving and experiencing the world. This, I believe, is the first obstacle to men’s trust of women: to trust women we will often need to trust persons with a form of perception, experience, and processing of the world that is rather different from our own. This can require a considerable—but necessary—exertion of sympathetic imagination. We might even learn something about the value of our own feelings in the process…

A second obstacle to trust is the fact that women have realms of experience that do not overlap with our own. They see and experience things that we don’t. It is very easy to forget how our vantage point can obscure our vision of certain realities. For instance, we typically overestimate how representative our friends and acquaintances can be of the general population and make very poor judgments about the general population as a result. The men that I know may overwhelmingly be upstanding and moral individuals, but in many respects they are a highly unrepresentative sample of the population. And even here women will often know things about these men’s characters that I may never discover. When women have spoken to me of experiences of sexual abuse or of experiences of street harassment, I have sought to keep these facts at the forefront of my mind. We need to be much more aware of the extreme limitations and parochial character of our vantage points.

A third obstacle that can exacerbate the previous obstacle is that of the confidence gap. On account of the confidence gap, men are frequently over-confident in their perspective, while women are under-confident in theirs. The result can be that a more assertive and confident—yet wrong—male perspective is more convincing to the public than a female perspective that is more hesitant in its expression, though right in its perception.

A fourth obstacle to trust in cases of abuse is that some of the psychological and behavioural effects of abuse can make victims appear untrustworthy. Compared to her abuser, a survivor may lack social standing, seem dysfunctional (drinking to excess, being openly promiscuous, taking drugs, etc.), emotionally imbalanced, have unreliable memories and testimony, and behave in ways that lowers their credibility in the eyes of the public (not reporting the abuse to the police immediately, remaining in an abusive relationship, etc.). In such cases it is worth asking ourselves where the psychological and behavioural effects came from: rather than weighing against the credibility of the victim, they may be the smoking gun of the abuse.

A fifth obstacle to trust in cases of abuse is that we have a profound disincentive to believe certain people are abusers. Upton Sinclair once observed that ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’ The same principle holds when it comes to the survival of your self-image, marriage, family, or church, the reputation of a friend or family member, hero, or idol, favourite TV show, etc. One of the basic reasons why people found it so hard to believe that Bill Cosby was a serial rapist is because they didn’t want to live in a world where Cosby wasn’t Huxtable.

A sixth obstacle in such cases is that even when people have no choice but to acknowledge that the abuse took place, they can stubbornly refuse to accept that the obvious consequences should follow, seeking to give the perpetrator some special pass. It ‘wasn’t rape-rape’. ‘It was a different time’. ‘He clearly regrets it’. ‘Freedom to fracas’. ‘We shouldn’t allow the world to be robbed of this talent’. And so on. David Cameron’s statements about Jeremy Clarkson are a good example of this perverse dynamic in effect. The survivor, on the other hand, can be deeply resented. There is an instinctive sense that, in bringing the abuse to light, they have violently attacked something that was valuable to us. For instance, the woman who reports pastoral sexual abuse is instinctively felt to be responsible for the implosion of the church that follows. The resentment of victims is increased by the fact that they seem like nobodies compared to the people who brought about their own downfall by abusing them. The victim is treated as the perpetrator.

I think that it is important to mention a seventh and final set of obstacles here, even though they aren’t as primary as the others. Victims of abuse can be distrusted because the people advocating for them have often not been trustworthy and, in their well-intentioned desire to emphasize the genuine importance of the issue, have spread misinformation, provoking unnecessary resistance and ideological polarization. The principle of ‘just believing the victim’ has broken down in prominent cases where the stories of supposed victims—which put the safety, careers, and freedom of innocent persons in jeopardy—have been proved false in critical respects under analysis. The huge initial prominence of a number of these cases has been driven by advocates for rape victims operating on this principle (a lower standard of taking all rape accusations with extreme seriousness wouldn’t create such a problem). False rape accusations are exceedingly rare, but the desire to make the problem of rape appear as great as possible will lead people to focus upon extreme cases, the very cases that are most likely to fall apart under critical examination. A similar desire to magnify real problems has led many to circulate unreliable statistics that grossly exaggerate their scale or to make bold claims that most of the evidence points clearly against (e.g. ‘the growing epidemic of violence against women’). There are several statistics that are popular among feminists and women’s advocates, precisely because they make a problem seem huge. When even a moment’s thought could reveal the falsehood of popular claims (e.g.) that have been rattling around for decades in various unsourced iterations (another problem), the credibility of those bringing forward the claims is thrown into question, as is that of those they represent. Similar problems can be caused by an ideological drive to hyperbolize, project extreme pathology, and malign intentionality in a manner that will produce resistance from persons who could otherwise be friendly to the cause. Some of the more extreme forms of language and analysis surrounding the discussion of ‘rape culture’ might be an example here. In addition to often being more accurate, a softer case will probably win more over. A dogged and conspicuous commitment to truth will make our advocacy much more powerfully credible.

I would be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on these. Here are a few questions that I think arise:

  1. Can you think of any additional reasons why men fail to trust women?
  2. What are some of the ways that men can change their behaviour and attitudes in order to trust women more?
  3. What are some systemic and institutional changes that will encourage a greater trust of women, especially in instances of abuse?
  4. How can we be the best advocates for survivors of abuse and raise the profile of these issues in an effective and principled way?

Marriage, Singleness, “Family Values”, and the Church

I’m married. I have 3 children. I’m a pastor. I drive a minivan.

By the standards of “traditional Christian family values” I have all the boxes checked off. When my wife and I were expecting our third child, we had to trade in our dependable, much loved Toyota Corolla for a minivan. I hated the thought of being a minivan dad. I felt like pleated khakis and a fanny pack were not far behind. But one lady in our church actually said something to the effect of “I’m glad you have a minivan now, it sends the right message”. By that I assume it was meant the image I project by driving a minivan is that of a “family man”, and a pastor should be a family man. Anything I can add to that image is to the benefit of my ministry. Apparently some people want their pastors to be dads who drive minivans, have a flock of children and a homemaker wife. But on what is that based? There seems to be the assumption that Christians are supposed to get married and make babies and have perfect nuclear families.

Since this post is meant to get a conversation going I won’t try to be comprehensive or conclusive, but I just want to throw out a few ideas on the subject of marriage, singleness and the Church’s assumptions about the ideal of family life. Most of the PTSS contributors are married, and have children. Sadly, Lore Ferguson had to drop out of this due to time constraints, but she has done lots of thinking and writing on this subject of singleness. Alastair and Hannah M will have to bear the load of the single perspective. But here’s a few of my own thoughts.

When building a case for Christian marriage, many turn immediately to Genesis 1 & 2 (a section which I’m sure will play a significant role in our conversation moving forward). “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.'” (Gen. 2:18 NRSV). And in the previous chapter, we read that after making male and female in his image God commanded them “Be fruitful and multiply” (1:28). So does this mean all humans are meant to be in covenantal partnership with a spouse and make babies? Is there room for singleness in this vision for humanity? A few thoughts which should add nuance to our reading:

Is this descriptive of Adam and Eve or prescriptive for all humanity? There are all sorts of interpretations of the historicity of Genesis 1-2, and our purpose here isn’t to tackle that, as fun as it may be. But my own 2 cents is to read Adam and Eve as representative of humanity at our origins, not literally historical people. Thus, God’s creation of humanity in two genders for the sake of partnership and fruitfulness is for the purpose of human flourishing. But if a specific human doesn’t procreate are they failing to obey God’s command? Or is humanity collectively in view here?

I am not prepared to push beyond the text, and impose this as commanded to all individual human beings; that each and every single person must have a spouse and produce children. Marriage was prescribed for the benefit of humanity, but is it a requirement of all people? We as humans are better off as image bearers in community, but does that specifically require the community of marriage? In other words, is being unmarried the same as being “alone”?

In the New Testament, there is a bit of tension on this front. In a unique passage, Paul gives his own personal advice on the subject: “ To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.” (1 Cor. 7:8, throughout 1 Cor. 7, Paul specifies that he is giving his own opinion, not binding divine commands) It seems there is, according to Paul, some advantage for Christians in remaining unmarried. Paul honours singleness. However, 1 Tim. 3 (which many say isn’t actually by Paul of course, but both texts are accepted as canonical) we read that

Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

Not a popular passage among egalitarians or singles, since on the surface it certainly seems to insist all bishops must be males who are married and have well behaved children. So do we conclude singleness is good, unless you want to lead? But that would obviously be problematic for Paul, who was unmarried. The marital statuses of many of the apostolic community is shrouded in mystery. Peter had a mother in law, and Philip had daughters. There is some consensus that there are married couples in the leaders listed in Romans 16. But it is quite difficult to ascertain exactly what the Apostolic community envisioned with regard to marriage in the Church, and how it played out it the formative years of the Christian community. There seems to be honour given to both singleness and marriage. Paul assumes marriages will take place. Some (or perhaps even most) Christians will marry, and likely have children and ought to conduct themselves in the context of marriage in ways which reflect Christ (how the remarks like those in Eph. 5 are best interpreted is a discussion which I am fairly sure will come up in the future). But Paul makes significant room for singleness as a viable, or even preferable way.

So, what do we do with that in the here and now? The Christian cultural bubble seems to prefer marriage. There certainly seems to be a significant push on young folks in the Christian community to “pair up” and make babies for the glory of God. The “family values” ideal of dad, mom, 3 kids, a house, a dog, a minivan, etc. has become assumed as the vision for Christian life. Those who remain unmarried sometimes receive some funny looks and strange questions (“when are you going to settle down?”, “haven’t met the right person yet?”, etc.) There is pressure in Churches to build ministries to young families. But how many ministries to young singles exist? And are the ones that do exist mainly focused on creating opportunities for singles to meet potential spouses? I suspect that part of the reason I was called to my current pastoral role was because I was married and expecting a second child when I interviewed. A young family man will attract the young families to Church. But this of course denigrates singleness. We certainly wouldn’t consciously exclude singles, but what part do they have in the overall vision of the Church’s mission? (Also, it’s bizarre that folks in the congregation I pastor emphasize young families, when our building is located in a neighbourhood which is mostly made up of folks who aren’t young families).

Also, it’s worth asking, is there a double standard? Are single men finding a different experience from single women? I’d certainly be curious to hear the experiences of both sides on this front. Are single women honoured in their singleness or is it viewed as strange? Do men receive similar pressure to find a nice girl to build a family with? The demographics of my own congregation suggests that singles are not flocking to Church (at least not this one). We have a few, but they are far outnumbered by married couples, widowed folks, and even by divorced people. The number of never married folks is a very slim percentage here. Is that because of the assumed expectation of marriage?

So to summarize and suggest some ideas to cover in our conversation:

1. What assumptions do we see at work regarding the relationship between Christianity and marriage?

2. Can we establish a biblical foundation for honouring singleness in the Church?

3. Has the Church over-emphasized the ministry to the young families demographic?

4. Do we see a conscious or unconscious bias toward having clergy be married?

5. Is there a difference in the experience of men and women towards singleness?

Of Female Ghosts and Haunted Churches – {Bronwyn Lea}

Imagine for a minute that you have just finished the first course of a delicious meal at a family dinner. Seated around the table are your siblings and cousins: those of whom it is true that blood is thicker than water. You love them. You enjoy their company. You are all in on the old family joke about crazy Uncle Bill and his wild habit of trying to ride reindeer every winter. Also, sometimes they drive you crazy. You are all living in different places and phases of life, and sometimes opinions around the table can get heated. Especially on the favorite sticky topics.

But it’s okay. Because you’re family, and love keeps a tight rein on making sure that frustration doesn’t lead to fighting.

This blog, at Passing the Salt Shaker, is that kind of table. We are family, getting together to chew the fat. In particular, we want to talk about the sticky topics surrounding men and women in the church, and how this works out in our faith and practice. We know we will disagree. But we also know we are family.

We are inviting you, gentle reader, to pull up a chair at the table and listen in. We want to talk openly and honestly about these topics, we want to press deeper into Scripture and grow in love and Christ-likeness through these discussions. And the reason we are doing it in public, on a blog, is that we want the world to know that it is possible for families to have heated discussions and still not break fellowship.

Who’s seated at the table? Some of the faces may be familiar. You can read a little more about each of us in our introductions: Hannah Anderson, Graham Ware, April Fiet, Alastair Roberts, Hannah Malcolm, Kristen Padilla and myself. The faces at the table may change, and we’ll have some guests for dinner too, but the idea is this: someone will raise a topic for discussion – something we’ve read or been thinking about… and then we’ll take turns to “pass the salt” along the table, each contributing some thoughts.

None of us is claiming to be experts on the topic. But we’re all interested in the discussion and sticking around at the family table to talk about it.

Being the extrovert that I am, I came to the table itching to talk about Jen Wilkin’s article 3 Female Ghosts That Haunt The Church, which was published by The Gospel Coalition last week. In it, Wilkin warns men in ministry (and those in earshot) to be careful of three pitfalls in dealings with women: treating them as Usurpers, Temptresses, or Children. Each of these, says Wilkin, stems from a fear that women are trying to take authority illegimitately, wield sexual power over you, or are unable to fully follow what you’re saying. She writes:

When fear governs our interactions, both genders drift into role-playing that subverts our ability to interact as equals. In the un-haunted church ,where love trumps fear, women are viewed (and view themselves) as allies rather than antagonists, sisters rather than seductresses, co-laborers rather than children.

In a way, I found it somewhat surprising that The Gospel Coalition, being as staunchly complementarian in its views as it is, published this piece. I was very grateful that they did, though: it seems to me that if women were regarded as contributors rather than conspirators, and as equals rather than as children, a great number of the complaints about patriarchy and abuse would disappear. So much of the mud slinging in this debate happens because we have assumed the worst of our listeners before we even started talking. A space of mutual trust and respect is a bedrock for any healthy relationship, and of course it should be so within the Family of God.

Women have often not been treated with trust and respect, and I think in this article Wilkin offers an insightful diagnosis (the “this might be your ghost if you’ve done the following…” suggestions are particularly revealing) and appeal  (to pursue women trustingly, rather than to “permit” them participation begrudgingly, as she has written of elsewhere.)

When faced with a woman like Wilkin, who is clearly not a usurper (she is a firm complementarian), a temptress or a child, I can see how a man with firm biblical convictions about the ‘place’ of women might let his guard down. My question, however, is this: what if the woman asking the questions doesn’t agree about the place women should hold in the church?

What if, not intending to be a usurper, but from an honest enquiry into what Scripture means, she has questions about whether God might be calling her to teach, or even to preach? What if, having searched the Scriptures, she has come to different conclusions and wants to know whether it’s okay for her (or not even for herself, for another woman whose wisdom and godliness she admires) to teach the Sunday School class, or to officiate communion.

In other words, if there were a real challenge to his viewpoint. Would he, as Wilkin suggests, be able to “banish the ghost of the Usurper”, or would she be considered a real, live usurper just for having asked the question and holding a different view point?

My own experience is as someone who fully believes that women are of great worth and dignity as God’s children and equally responsible and gifted for the word of ministry, but who also believes that the bible speaks to men and women differently in certain parts of the Bible. I am, to put myself in the proverbial pigeonhole, a “soft complementarian”.

The difficulty for me comes in knowing what that actually means in practice. What does that mean in my marriage (my immediate family), and what does that mean in the church (the family of God)? How, in practice, does this work out in the ways I work and serve alongside the men in my church: me, a sister and mother, shoulder to shoulder with the brothers and fathers in God’s household?

I read literature to see how others are working this out in practice, and some of it makes my skin crawl. I am neither Betty Crocker nor Betty Friedan. I am not the bake-cookies-for-Jesus type, but when I ask questions of what I should do with teaching and speaking and writing gifts, I read both complementarian and egalitarian believers whom I respect and love as brothers and sisters in the faith, and am often horrified at how quickly the egalitarian women are dismissed as usurpers, just for having asked the question. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to be made to feel like a guilty complementarian just for having respect for egalitarian questions.

Indeed, I’ve been taken aside and given a gentle talking to on more than one occasion for asking “presumptuous questions”.

Is it really possible in practice to ask questions about men, women and authority in the church and “banish the ghost of the Usurper”, when deep in your heart you believe that anything other than your position actually would amount to usurping?

So, brethren around the table, I’m passing the salt.