After Complementarianism?

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #1

Aaron Renn, in his latest The Masculinist (No. 30: " Complementarianism Is a Baby Boomer Theology That Will Die With the Baby Boomers") lays out his case for what he summarizes in the title. I read Renn as one way of keeping a finger on the various pulses withing Broadly Evangelical American Protestantism. This issue of the Masculinist catches my attention primarily because it asserts what I’ve long sensed, and which Renn himself claims to have long sensed, namely that complementarianism is a project long past its shelf-life, but still haunts the theological grocery shelves and doctrinal poverty-pantries of evangelical churches.

There’s much in Renn’s analysis to object to, to quibble with. He makes a Very Big Deal out of gnats, while utterly ignoring boulders. But, this post isn’t for the purpose of criticizing Renn. It is,rather, to pose this question, one which Renn himself hints at an answer, namely “What comes after complementarianism?”

In a Facebook Reformed group, C. R. Wiley points to this issue of The Masculinist, and pulls out this quote:

What then is to be done?

To repeat, I don’t believe there is anything to gain by trying to substantively engaging with complementarianism or its promoters. People have wasted years of their life trying. Nobody really makes decisions based on rational analysis, but the Boomer is particularly impervious to logic. Besides, is it likely that someone who taught and advocated for complementarianism his entire career is likely to change his mind on it? It’s unlikely, and any who do are highly likely to turn towards egalitarianism. Most egalitarians I see have already concluded this. Rather than arguing about the meaning of kephalē, the rhetoric I hear today tends to boil down to, “It’s 2019, people!”

The question is then what comes after complementarianism.

As always, we must discern the truth, align ourselves with it, and speak it. So if you are a pastor who genuinely believes complementarianism is true, then believe it, teach it, live it. The same for egalitarianism.

I have personally concluded that both complementarianism and egalitarianism are modern doctrines that are in significant error and should be rejected.

Renn hints at an answer. What say ye to his question? What comes after complementarianism?

(Tim Bayly) #2

Yikes. Forget preaching. Forget the Apostle Paul. Forget Augustine and Aquinas and Calvin. Forget Renn. Forget you, Fr. Bill. And certainly, forget me.

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #3

And me as well. I consciously rejected the Christian faith at the age of 16. I can actually take you to the very spot where I did this! It’s at a place forever marked in memory, across the street from First Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas. I rejected the Christian faith because I saw that it was utterly incompatible with Darwinian evolution.

Later, I embraced (or re-embraced; God knows) the Christian faith when I met some Christian college students who had recently been discipled by their pastor in apologetics, especially concerning issues of Darwinian evolution and Genesis 1-11. They made their case. All that I had previously learned about the Christian faith now stood convincingly and convictingly before me.

If I were minded to cut Renn some slack, I’d suppose that the sentences you cited are likely true of modern evangelicals, especially the younger ones, the so-called Millennials, whose education has deliberately steered away from things like logic, rhetoric, and a rigorous historical methodology. It’s only STEM subject matter which is amenable to “proof” or “rationality” and so forth. Religion (in Francis Schaeffer’s terms) is wholly an upper-story thing. It’s what one feels that makes a difference, not what’s true.

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #4

Hmmm. Seems I needn’t fear getting trampled by the mob charging forward to give their various answers to the question! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

So, feeling like I’m in a safe space, here’s how I speculate the next few decades will unfold. The whats and the whys:

1. What: Institutional egalitarianism will consolidate its “establishment” character. This means that in seminaries, mission boards, denominational leadership and quasi-denominational associations, and publishing media of all sorts, egalitarianism will be enforced. Anything less than full-throated egalitarianism will be deprived of vote and voice in all these institutions.

Why: This is the trajectory in both secular and religious feminism. At first feminist voices demand “a seat at the table, in the name of simple justice and equity.” They are granted such. Once they have the levers of power in their hands, the same feminists refuse a seat at the table to any dissenters. Any who don’t recognize this pattern in the culture at large or within various religious contexts have spent the last 50 years with their heads deep in the sand.

2. Complementarianism as a viable agenda will completely disappear.

Why: This is where Renn makes his best prediction and validation thereof. In a nutshell, he claims (rightly, I think) that the complementarianism that had its origin in CBMW and its leaders (Grudem, Piper) has failed to produce a second generation of scholars, thinkers, and writers to defend and develop the basic complementarian thesis. CBMW is a think-tank without any thinkers, or thinkers-in-the-wings.

3. Christian egalitarian women will find it harder and harder “to kick against the pricks.” They will find that Christianity is progressively abandoned by males - even more so than is evident today - and their egalitarian convictions will grind painfully against the various temperaments, talents, and drives that are hard-wired into them by the fact that they are created as females.

Why: Creed and creation are meant - by divine design - to complement and mutually energize one another. When they are in conflict with one another - as they are in any outworking of feminist dogma - the feminist/egalitarian lives in a constant state of interior conflict and confusion. The pain resulting from this conflict can only be diminished by one or the other making a retreat of some kind.

Sometimes the egalitarian/feminist forceably diminishes his/her essential sexuality. Women become manly. They behave as men long enough to become essentially mannish in their nature. Yes, genetically they are still female, but spiritually/psychologically they become progressively bent, warped, their sexuality so marred as to become difficult to discern any longer.

Or, if the feminist creed is to retreat within the soul of a feminist, then the feminist adopts all manner of hypocritical postures and behaviors, or otherwise refuses to live out the implications of the egalitarian creed. The best thing, of course, is for the egalitarian to “get woke” and to seek out some non-feminist creed to guide him/her in his/her life as a sexed creature living in relationship with both sexes.

What I describe in the preceding paragraph summarizes the primary “attraction” for the educational materials whose development and distribution I have overseen for the past 30 years. The largest population to respond enthusiastically to what we produce are women (1) who have despaired of the feminist “vision” and abandoned it, looking desperately for something that actually works for them, or (2) younger women who have seen their feminist mothers’ lives crash and burn, concluding it was their feminism which did their mothers in.

What I have witnessed over the past 30 y ears, particularly among Christian women, is likely to be replicated throughout egalitarian evangelicalism in the next generation or two. Said another way, if complementarianism today is breathing its last breaths of credibility, religious feminism will be doing the same 20 or so years from now.

And, so, what will “follow” complementarianism?

The only valid possibility is a full-throated, nonapologetic, comprehensively Biblical patriarchy - both in terms of a full-orbed theology of the sexes and also in terms of viable communities where Biblical patriarchy governs cradle to grave life in those communities.

I say possibility because I see nothing yet on the horizon to suggest such a development will emerge. Remember, those who did not worship Baal in the days of Elijah were so few in number and culturally invisible that Elijah thought he was the last YHWH worshiper left. Yes, the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. But, that promise says nothing about how numerous or effective the Church shall be at any given period of history.

Okay. I’ve stuck my neck out. :flushed: Are any others brave enough to hazard an opinion on what comes after complementarianism?

(Joseph Bayly) #5

I suspect there will be a movement first of non-biblical patriarchy. That’s essentially what some parts of the red pill movement are, and I think it will infect the church, too.

Actually, I think it’s already infecting the church.

(Joel Norris) #6

How so?

Twenty characters.

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #7

I had to google “red pill masculinity” to find a web site expounding the term. Seems that lots of different and disparate movements and groups use the term. I didn’t find any religious ones (I guess I need to get out more). Can you supply me with an example or two?

As far as what I think red pill masculinity might look like within the church, some really weird notions come to mind! But, whatever it is (or becomes) you’re likely on to something here, because . . .

It’s one thing for Christianity to be feminized, in the ways documented by Leon Podles in The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. I think it will turn out to be something different when the gay agenda for the churches gets fully underway.

For now, gay pastors, gay elders, butchy Lutheran lesbian pastors, and “queer affirming” churches are still news items, given exposure by a press that seeks to advance that agenda. Heterosexual men - the sort that wish to burnish their SJW credentials - might hang around such groups.

But, what about the men within denominations which slowly tolerate effeminacy, then homosexuality? My expectation is that the creeping acceptance of gays as legitimate Christians would have the effect of reducing even further, and more drastically, the presence of men within whatever continues to name itself evangelicalism.

You, however, are suggesting an earlier reaction, a “red pill masculinity” invading the churches, before the now-gay-accepting churches are bereft of ordinary men. I hadn’t thought of that one. I’ll be on the lookout for this development.

(Jason Andersen) #8

The only reference to red pill I know of would be from the movie, “The Matrix.” Used idiomatically, it would refer to a person who is willing to finally accept the truth behind a thing.

Or something.

Not sure I understand Jospeh’s usage here, but hey, I’m at least good for the occasional 90’s kid pop culture reference.

Now, please excuse me while I disappear back into the shadows so the adults can keep talking…

(Josiah) #9

Yea, the red pill stuff is from some of the weirder parts of the internet, (the manosphere?)referencing the matrix (I think) and pushing back against feminism in a wierd way.

(Joseph Bayly) #10

Yes the term comes from The Matrix. Yes it’s called the Manosphere also. It essentially refers to finally coming to accept that feminism has set up the world to favor women at the expense of men.

Think about the men whose lives actually have been destroyed by feminism or whose friends’ lives have been destroyed by feminism. Then think about what their first and natural reaction is likely to be as men. You shouldn’t expect them to love women. And if you look around and keep your eyes open, I suspect you’ll see examples of what I’m talking about. Things like questioning whether women really are made in the image of God. Theorizing that polygamy is just fine. I’m seeing more and more of this.

When women finally push men too far, and the men are no longer willing to put up with it, feminism posits that if the men get violent that the women are just as strong as the men and can protect themselves just fine. Realism recognizes that when that day comes it won’t be pretty for women.

(Nathan Smith) #11

So a sinful response to feminism instead of a Christlike response. You can sinfully go along with feminism or you can refuse to go along with it. An unbelieving world is not going to respond in a Christ like way. Red pill responses will just show feminists that they are ‘right.’ Which will push the red pillers to double down.

The only way to break the cycle is a true gospel response for those who have ears to hear.

It’s almost like sin is always crouching at the door, that the woman’s desire is to take the authority of men but that men will end up ruling, one way or another. How could we have seen that coming? (Note - some degree of sarcasm)

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #12

Since the days when CBMW was taking shape, developments show that complementarianism itself is a weak-kneed response to feminism. In a Facebook group where Renn’s blog is also being discussed, Pr. C. R. Wiley offers this definition of complementarianism:

Complementarianism is a half-way house to egalitarianism. It is based on a conservative biblical minimalism with regard to roles in the household and church, but egalitarian outside those spheres. It doesn’t look to creation for guidance, it is more “what is the absolute minimum” when it comes to Biblical gender roles, rather than a full embrace of creational norms as gifts in all areas of life.

Wiley’s observation draws on Renn’s from that blog:

Thirty years on, complementarianism today appears in some ways to be in rude health, but look around and it’s easy to see serious problems. One is the way that complementarianism has extended its position of absolute Biblical minimalism to the point where it is breaking down. By absolute Biblical minimalism I mean that they ask: what is the absolute least amount of deviation from egalitarianism we can possibly justify scripturally?

Renn, and then Wiley, are pointing out that the beginning point for complementarianism is egalitarianism itself. Starting with egalitarianism, the founders of CBMW sought to distance themselves from egalitarianism only by the absolute minimal amount, a minimal distance which they could (supposedly) defend by reference to a handful of verses in the New Testament.

Wiley notes that classical complementarianism does not look to creation for guidance. Nor does it look to the whole counsel of God - the Genesis to Revelation themes, patterns, and precedents of Scripture. Complementarianism has no theology of sex at all! it is, indeed, a half-way house toward egalitarianism.

(Kelly) #13


As my husband likes to point out, if you draw a line where Scripture doesn’t, don’t expect to be able to hold it.

(Jason Andersen) #14

These are great thoughts, Fr_Bill. Very helpful.

Off topic: but I’ve often argued the same logic concerning continuationism. Continuationism is not a historical Christian theology. It’s starting point is Pentacostalism. It’s an attempt, again, for Christians to distance themselves from the great errors that have arisen from Pentecostalism, while at the same time capitulating to the same destructive premises. The end point is always the same.

(John M. ) #15

It’s pretty clear that complementarianism is in the middle of a downgrade crisis. My own complementarian church has made its official position that a woman can do anything a non-ordained man can do, which is to say, anything at all save to serve as an elder or preach a sermon on Sunday.

Apparently the Kellers have found a way around the former prohibition, and I suspect that the latter will be circumvented by women delivering sermons-that-we-don’t-call-sermons. From there it’s just a quick hop to egalitarianism and sodomite “marriage.”

It’s kind of sad to watch. Without a theology of sex, these men (and I mean the whole host of soft complementarians) are just cast adrift in a sea of feminism, pretending to hold on to the Bible.

It might be less sad if this weren’t the second time in four generations that churches are making these mistakes. If they want to see where this wound up, they don’t need to go any farther than the nearest mainline church. It’s not like Machen is exactly ancient history.

(Zak Carter) #16

Or “the elders voted that she could preach a sermon, so she’s still under their authority” is a distinct possibility.

(Jay Tuck) #17

This move is a time honored tradition amongst baby-splitters.

(Ken Lamb) #18

So is this along the line of Doug Wilson’s anthropology that society without morals is bad for women. Whereby an unwritten social contract men won’t pillage, rape and loot, if they are at least permitted a single woman he can rule. I know I’m probably doing no justice to his position or anyone else’s for that matter, but I think rooting the paradigm anthropologically as he did, really guts the normative standard of what ought to be. But perhaps my memory of his article is a little vague, but this was what stood out and what I think most people railed against.

(Tim Bayly) #19

This is simply George Gilder’s thesis in what was originally titled “Sexual Suicide,” later renamed “Men and Marriage.” Excellent book, but as you say, nothing Biblical about it. Explaining men and marriage as men today explain manhood, itself; without God or His Word.

(Jay Tuck) #20

This idea is older than Doug Wilson. I came across it in an important historical anthropology book called The Stand.