Can You Affirm the Bible and Egalitarianism?

Wade Burleson is a Baptist pastor in Enid, Oklahoma who recently observed that both complementarians and evangelical egalitarians profess to have a high view of scripture. Burleson also noted a comment made by complementarian author Mary Kassian that evangelical feminists “compromise” the Bible—a comment which appears on the home page of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

In response to Kassian’s remark, Burleson asks the following question:

“I would like to sincerely ask Mary – and other complementarian evangelical friends – a very serious question. Is it not possible to be a conservative, evangelical Christian who believes in the infallible and sufficient Word of God and come to egalitarianism through a study of the sacred text?”

The short answer to the question is “yes.” It is possible, and it is indeed common for people who affirm the truthfulness and the authority of the Bible to adopt interpretations that in effect contradict and undermine their otherwise orthodox affirmation. In other words, it is possible for professing Bible-believers to be inconsistent.

But in giving that answer, we have to remember that the debate between biblical feminists and complementarians has never really been about who professes to affirm the Bible. There are plenty of egalitarians who profess fealty to the sacred text. That’s not the issue. The question is whether they are fulfilling their stated allegiance to the text when they adopt egalitarian interpretations and practices. As a complementarian, I have to conclude that they are not

What do we make, therefore, of those who hold egalitarian views? Can an egalitarian be saved? I would answer, “Yes, of course.” As far as I know, I was an egalitarian when I was saved. Can an egalitarian promote his views without harming himself and those he influences? No. Can an egalitarian knowingly suppress the Bible’s teaching on the matter and still be called a Christian? I am not prepared to pronounce judgment on any individual, but at least one mark of a genuine Christian is the willingness to submit to biblical truth (1 John 4:6).

In saying this, however, there’s no double standard. All serious Christians have to test themselves continually on this point. Does my understanding of God’s word comport with my stated commitment to the same? Christian growth and discipleship require us to be about the business of taking every thought captive and making it obedient to King Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5). As I look back over the years of my own life, I cannot even begin to count the number of times that I have seen erroneous interpretations of the text give way to sound ones. At no time would I have said that God was indifferent to my error on account of my commitment to inerrancy. After all, what kind of a disciple professes a high view of the Bible while consciously undermining what the Bible teaches? Not any kind of disciple that Jesus would recognize (Matthew 7:21).

What does all of this have to do with the gender debates? Those of us involved in the conversation must not be content merely that the other side professes a high view of scripture. If my complementarian understanding of the Bible is wrong, then I am doing damage to myself and to others whom I influence with my views, and I need to be corrected no matter how loudly I profess inerrancy. If the egalitarians are wrong, then they are doing damage to themselves and to those whom they influence, and they need to be lovingly corrected now matter how vociferously they may profess allegiance to the text.

Burleson says that egalitarians “believe their views to be completely biblical.” I’m sure that they do. But that is quite beside the point. The question is whether their views are biblical, and I believe that the weight of the evidence shows that they are not. How are we going to resolve this impasse? It’s not going to be by glossing over the differences or by affirming everybody’s views as equally valid evangelical options. They are not. Somebody’s right, and somebody’s wrong. Love requires us to be honest about that (Proverbs 27:6).

25 Responses to Can You Affirm the Bible and Egalitarianism?

  1. Joel Patrick February 27, 2008 at 4:07 am #

    Denny, you said, while addressing the issue of egalitarianism:

    “After all, what kind of a disciple professes a high view of the Bible while continuing to undermine what the Bible teaches? Not any kind of disciple that Jesus would recognize (Matthew 7:21).”

    Let me see if I am understanding you correctly. Based on Matthew 7:21 (Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father…”) you have concluded:

    1 Jesus does not recognize as disciples those who undermine the Bible
    2 Egalitarians undermine the Bible
    3 Therefore, Jesus does not recognize Egalitarians as disciples?

    And, I suppose that we could draw the further implication, then, that no egalitarian will ‘enter the Kingdom of heaven’ since no egalitarian is a disciple of Jesus.

    Did I go wrong somewhere?

  2. Ben Stevenson February 27, 2008 at 7:32 am #

    Joel,
    I think that is an implausible reading of what Denny is saying. As he says he that he has changed his views, we would have to conclude he is saying he only became a true disciple the last time he changed his views.

    I think the point is not that we have to 100% correct to be a true disciple, but that a disciple recognises the importance of getting theology right – therefore we have to be continually analysing our views to see that they conform to what Scripture teaches.

    Someone who truly follows Jesus won’t be completely right on every issue, but they also won’t say it does not matter whether I follow him accurately or not, and that I can feel free to carry on believing what is wrong.

  3. Spanky February 27, 2008 at 8:18 am #

    I would most likely call myself a Complementarian, yet I have struggled with confidently interpreting Paul’s instructions on female teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12-15.

    I recently read a complementarian’s response to how he interprets this passage, and he said that he holds to the “plain reading of the text.”

    What baffles me about his answer is that a plain reading seems to say that women will be saved through childbearing.

    In other words, if the text could be read so plainly, why is there so much disagreement over what it means, even among those in the same camps?

  4. Joel Patrick February 27, 2008 at 8:50 am #

    Ben,

    I understand that Denny’s comment was the context of speaking about his own ‘erroneous’ past beliefs, but, in general, his post places all those that (1) affirm the Bible and simultaneously (2) ascribe to egalitarianism, in the camp described by the ‘non-disciple statement’ because they (1) affirm the Bible and (2a) Undermine the Bible (inherently, because they are egalitarian) and, thus, can’t be serious disciple’s of Jesus.

    Further, I hear Denny on the one hand admitting that theology isn’t easy (he himself has had to struggle through erroneous past beliefs) and yet on the other hand, point a critical finger at others because “I believe that the weight of the evidence shows that [egalitarians] are not [biblical].”

    Ok, so Wade Burleson says he thinks it is and Denny says that he thinks it isn’t… not a very informative post. It is frustrating because the post was ended with “love requires us to be honest about [when people are wrong], and yet, love also requires that when we do so, we do it lovingly.

    The post seemed like one big straw man because Burleson asked “Is it not possible to be a conservative, evangelical Christian who believes in the infallible and sufficient Word of God and come to egalitarianism through a study of the sacred text?” and Denny chalked it up to being “about who professes to affirm the Bible” (Burleson) vs. those who actually do affirm the Bible (Denny).

  5. Mike Bird February 27, 2008 at 8:54 am #

    Denny,
    1. You and I both believe that paedobaptists are wrong. Would you use the same rhetoric against them? To paraphrase yourself: “Wouldn’t it be a strange ‘orthodoxy’ that affirms the Bible in one breath and denies it in the next by advocating paedobaptism?”. You could apply the same argument to nearly any issue. Why does bad interpretation = no orthodoxy? I think you are drawing the lines between the guys with the black hats and the guys with the white hats too thick and too fast.
    2. What about diversity within complementarianism? Would you say that a church that allows a woman to lead worship or to hold the office of associate pastor, but not senior pastor is a “strange orthodoxy”? Would you purge such persons from CBMW? Why or why not?
    3. Burleson is not advocating a wishy-washy, let’s just hold hands and be friends approach, but if we believe in a theological prioritizing then some matters are going to be primary, secondary, and adiaphora. For me this debate is “secondary” evidenced by the fact that no creed or confession (until the BFM2000) to my knowledge, made complementarianism a confessinal item.

    Just my thoughts.

  6. Matt Svoboda February 27, 2008 at 10:22 am #

    Mike,

    I agree with a lot that you said, but I have to say something about your third argument. I agree that it is a secondary issue, but not because no confessional prescribed to it before. No confessional prescribed to it before because it was a nonissue, EVERYONE WAS A COMPLIMENTARIAN. If you look through confessional history you will see that people added in doctrines when there present culture was attacking the issue. So, feminism arose and then we felt the need to say where we stand, simple as that!

    Primary issues are issues that make someone a Christian. SO yes, complimentarianism is a secondary issue, but so is Baptism! You can be a paedo-baptist and be saved… My point is just because it is a secondary issue doesn’t mean we should not address it publicly and point out that the other view is false! If we love truth than we hate what is false!(Galatians!) Egalitarianism badly distorts the Scriptural teaching on the roles of man and woman. We ought to expose it for being false. In a loving way? Of course, but also boldly!

    Sorry I went so long.

  7. Chris Wilson February 27, 2008 at 10:56 am #

    Denny,

    Great points, but help understand this a little better.

    I think what you are saying is that there is only ONE right interpretation of Scripture. Anyway, this is what I have always believed. First of all, is this correct?

    Second, if this is correct, how do we get to that one, true meaning consistently? You mentioned that none of us is correct in ALL our beliefs, so how do we know which areas are in error?

    Third, is there an explicit biblical basis for saying there is only one interpretation? Whether the issue is complementarian/egalitarian or Calvinist/Non-Calvinist how do we make a case for the truth without merely stating our opinion about our interpretation being the correct one?

    Please, help a brother out!!!

  8. Denny Burk February 27, 2008 at 11:11 am #

    Dear Charlie,

    You are asking the critical hermeneutical question that every Bible-reader must reckon with. My short answer is that the only valid meaning of a text is the one that the author intended at the time that he wrote his text. The job of interpretation is to understand the author’s meaning. For more on this, here are some resources that will help you.

    Popular Level

    Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible (Baker, 1994)

    More Technical

    E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (Yale University Press, 1967)

    Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text (Zondervan, 1998)

    Thanks,
    Denny

  9. Brett February 27, 2008 at 12:20 pm #

    I can easily turn this around and say that promoters of “just war” are not fulfilling their stated allegiance to the text when they adopt this view.

    Denny believes his view to be completely biblical. I’m sure he does, but that is beside the point. The question is whether his view IS biblical, and I believe the weight of the evidence shows it is most certainly NOT. Though, I guess it’s possible for professing Bible believers to be inconsistent.

  10. Euphranor February 27, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    Brother Denny,

    What access do you have to the authors intention other than the text? It seems to me all you have is the text, so what is the point of bringing up intentions?

    Regarding your main point in the post: When you say “otherwise orthodox” you imply egalitarianism isn’t orthodox, but in fact, orthodoxy has nothing to say about the matter. That is like saying someone is orthodox except their view on mode of baptism or the supper…it just isn’t that settled a matter to be orthodox. To be baptist, yes. To be Christian (which is to say, orthodox), then no.

    “Am I wrong? Am I wrong?” (from a movie, just for humor :)).

    Peace and kickflips,
    Euphranor

  11. Faimon February 27, 2008 at 12:50 pm #

    A couple of questions:

    1) What does it mean to ‘affirm the Bible”? This is a very imprecise construction and I don’t even really know what it means.”

    2) You and I have discussed this is the past, but I mention it again. You wrote in #8: “My short answer is that the only valid meaning of a text is the one that the author intended at the time that he wrote his text.” What author? Are you unable to draw theological conclusions from Hebrews because the authorship is unknown? Further, in the case of many of the biblical books, the only testimony to authorship is the text itself. Therefore, the hermeneutic is not author-centered, but text-centered.

  12. Faimon February 27, 2008 at 12:51 pm #

    Oh, and I forgot:

    3) Who is Charlie?

  13. Daniel Davis February 27, 2008 at 2:43 pm #

    Euphranor –

    yes, we focus on the text, but without a care to the author’s intention, we can make the text say just about whatever we want it to say.

    authorial intentions are almost always clearly available in the text because that author would be following the writing conventions of his day. so, yes we must focus on the text, but the true meaning of the text is not divorced from the author’s (and Holy Spirit in the case of Scripture) intention.

  14. Daniel Davis February 27, 2008 at 2:49 pm #

    faimon –

    knowing the author is not the issue. knowing the author’s intentions is the issue, and those are derived and known from the text that he has written.

    quoting Euphranor:

    “What access do you have to the authors intention other than the text? It seems to me all you have is the text, so what is the point of bringing up intentions?”

    i have know idea who euphranor is, but i can clearly tell that he is calling into question denny’s commitment to authorial intention, saying that we only have the text to work with, not some ethereal “author’s intention” that we may or may not know.

    so clearly, i cannot choose the wine in front of you…

  15. Lance February 27, 2008 at 2:59 pm #

    Incontheivable!

  16. jerem z February 27, 2008 at 5:57 pm #

    Classic statement:
    “After all, what kind of a disciple professes a high view of the Bible while consciously undermining what the Bible teaches? Not any kind of disciple that Jesus would recognize (Matthew 7:21).”

    Well if the Bible was around when Jesus’ ministry was transpiring then this statement would make sense. I do not know John, Peter, Luke, and James were all sitting around debating the high view of the Bible.

  17. Euphranor February 27, 2008 at 5:57 pm #

    Daniel,

    You say: “yes, we focus on the text, but without a care to the author’s intention, we can make the text say just about whatever we want it to say”

    It isn’t the authors intent that keep us from error. You say intent is found in the text. Where? All I have is the text. So if you find intent in the text and I just the text, isnt my view more simple, not having to postulate something we know not what?

    So what keeps us from error, if not the authors intent? You raise a good point, and I think this issue is what leads many to the intent position because they think it provides some objective boundery for interpretation. It is rather the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14) Who leads us into truth that is consistent with other scripture and with the creeds. We should take great care for the text, its arguments in light of the rule of faith, the grammar and syntax, but that is the text. Intent is something behind the text which isnt accessable to the church. So yes, in love and with respect I am taking issue with the notion of intent, but not specifically with brother Denny’s position.

    You from your glass and I from mine.

  18. Brandon February 28, 2008 at 10:25 am #

    I think this whole issue revolves around the first few posts above. The question is less “is the egalitarian position correct” and more “what is its overall import in the grand scheme of church life?”

    Personally I do think the issue is important but often overrated. It hurts be to see seminary professors and pastors ruthlessly slamming egalitarians as if they where guilty of gross heresy (or a salvific issue). Newsflash, grace and love will be more persuasive to those who disagree and better looking to the outside world. Interpretative humility is lacking. We must be able to delineate a difference between primary and secondary issues because of the urgency of guarding the church from genuine heresy.

    I’m not saying the gender issue is unimportant, only that we must have a proper prioritizing of the issues coupled with humility and love. And perhaps complementarians (like myself) can learn a few things from our egalitarian brothers and sisters. Certainly our position needs refinement in light of the abuses of male headship in the history of the church. Craig Blomberg offers an interesting, provocative, and overlooked complamentarian position in new edition of Two Views of Women in Ministry. Hopefully a civil conversation will be attainable.

  19. Daniel Davis February 28, 2008 at 11:43 am #

    Euphranor –

    you fell victim to one of the classic blunders!

    or not.

    i myself am finding common ground with you. we have the text and we have the Spirit who guides us to the truth. i don’t think this negates the concept of authorial intent, however.

    if we do our work well and submit ourselves to the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, we will come to the true meaning of the text, which i contend is exactly what the human author meant when he wrote it.

    i would say the intent is accessible in the text rather than behind it.

    at the least, we are both committed to the text and submitting ourselves to the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit – i’m good with that. it also appears that we are both committed to searching for the truth of the text…you limit it there, i find that truth to be commensurate with the author’s intent.

    am i mistaken here?

    and here is where i laugh…and fall over dead as you run off with the girl…alas

  20. Daniel Davis February 28, 2008 at 11:44 am #

    to add: the Holy Spirit will not lead us to something that was not originally intended through the human author – this is part of what i am trying to get at.

    sorry, forgot dead men can’t talk

  21. Euphranor February 28, 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    Daniel,

    Why not? I think the Spirit can lead us to truth not intended by the human author. Paul says in Galatians 3:16 that Moses referrence to the seed is Christ. Luke records Peter (which authors intent are we concerned with here?) in Acts 3:25 the seed is “your fathers”. Paul doesnt seem concerned with what Moses intended, only that Christ is the seed.

  22. Lance February 28, 2008 at 4:16 pm #

    To ask what the author’s/Author’s intent was/is seems to me an important and valid question, especially in epistolary literature.

    I.e., I don’t think Paul wrote churches, simply because he was trying to pass the time. He had reasons, which can be discerned by studying what he wrote.

    If we don’t have some understanding as to the reasons the author composed the letter, then how can we say we understand what he means by verses and passages within the letter?

    If we don’t seek to understand the author’s/Author’s intent, we may as well say that any interpretation is valid (“What does this mean to you?” rather than, “What does this mean, period?”)

  23. Denny Burk February 28, 2008 at 5:02 pm #

    To all,

    I made some changes to the original post, the most significant of which is the addition of the following paragraph:

    ‘What do we make, therefore, of those who hold egalitarian views? Can an egalitarian be saved? I would answer, “Yes, of course.” As far as I know, I was an egalitarian when I was saved. Can an egalitarian promote his views without harming himself and those he influences? No. Can an egalitarian knowingly suppress the Bible’s teaching on the matter and still be called a Christian? I am not prepared to pronounce judgment on any individual, but at least one mark of a genuine Christian is the willingness to submit to biblical truth (1 John 4:6).’

    I hope that helps to clarify a little bit.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  24. Brandon February 29, 2008 at 2:16 am #

    Denny,

    First off your new paragraph begs the question. Of course a mark of a Christian is submission (no pun intended) to biblical truth, but you are assuming you view. Keep in mind what you said earlier: “I cannot even begin to count the number of times that I have seen erroneous interpretations of the text give way to sound ones.”

    Indeed, this is the case with all Christians. We are in a constant state of theological change, in order to (ideally) align ourselves closer to Scripture. Thus we must have patience with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not far along and are stumbling over non-salvific issues. In our case I don’t think it involves branding egalitarians “liberals” (a highly charged term, akin to heresy) or “feminist” (also loader with emotive tones) as Kassian does. Moreover, she is not helping create an atmosphere for loving dialogue when she writes that egalitarians have fundamentally different “natures” (strange choice of Pauline terminology) than complentarians (i.e. oil and water). Rather our goal should be to speak the truth in love. Often I fear we speak the truth in arrogance. Wade Burleson raises some good points.

  25. Brett February 29, 2008 at 9:52 pm #

    Can an complementarian promote his views without harming himself and those he influences? No. Can an complementarian knowingly suppress the Bible’s teaching on the matter and still be called a Christian? I am not prepared to pronounce judgment on any individual, but at least one mark of a genuine Christian is the willingness to submit to biblical truth (1 John 4:6).

    Proof-text oh proof-text, on my what a proof-text.

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes