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 Bibleâ€”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).