"I don't think you have to be a complementarian to be saved." John Piper
Complementarianism was one of the crucial topics discussed at the 2012 Together for the Gospel. (link) Ligon Duncan moderated the panel of three, which included Russell Moore (Al Mohler's protege), Greg Gilbert (who is closely aligned with Mark Dever), and John Piper (who made significant contributions to the Danvers Statement which defines complementarianism).
What follows is a partial transcript of some of that discussion that took place in the presence of 7,500 attendees, including pastors and future church leaders.
Ligon Duncan: Let me just start by asking Dr. Piper to tell us where the term came from. How can we articulate what the Bible says about this in a term that is not liable to some of the misuses or misnomers.
John Piper: I don't have a good memory of the timing, but i can tell you what I remember. Wayne Grudem and I were a part of the production of the Danvers statement, which happened in the late 80s in Danvers, Connecticut, and the Danvers Statement is found…at the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website in which we tried to articulate a vision of how men and women are equally, gloriously in the image of God with that worth and that dignity and yet complement each other in their differences both in marriage and in church and in society in such a way that the flourishing of manhood and womanhood happen best when those complementary differences are honored rather than minimized, and what we saw happening in feminism and in evangelical egalitarianism was a minimizing at best or a nullifying of those differences. And over on the other side we saw a historic abuse of women. A kind of machismo that would define manhood as mishandling or bossing or putting down, and we said well egalitarianism, we don't see that in the Bible. This abuse and belittling of womanhood, we don't see that in the Bible, and this goes under various names like hierarchicalism or traditionalism or whatever, and so we said we need another name because we're just gonna get called traditional otherwise and then there will be no distinction between this. And I don't remember who thought it up, but it came into being in one of those conversations that why don't we take the word "complement", that's complement with a "e" not an "i", complement we're not paying each other compliments, we are completing one another, it's not good for the man to be alone here's a woman fit she's a complement for him. That's the origin and essence of the term. So the gist of it today is it's a vision that steers we hope a Biblical path between the nullification or minimization of differences that are to be lived out in church and home and society and the abuse of those differences that I think the New Testament is written to correct. And it seems to me that in the Garden and then corrected in like Ephesians 5 the abuses can be either men domineering or being passive and the women being domineering or being doormats and mindless and coquettish, and we want to call women to full articulate creative personhood and men to step up to the plate with a kinda Christ-like sacrificial leadership in the home that enables the woman to flourish in all she is and him to flourish in a Christ-like demeanor.
Ligon Duncan: If I could follow up with one more question. Egalitarianism had been around in Evangelicalism from the beginnings of neo-evangelicalism. Why in the late 80s did what became the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and what became the Danvers Statement, why did a group of folks get together and say it's important for us to articulate this now? What was pushing that particular issue?
John Piper: I don't remember except personally. (laughter) You probably know culturally. I was teaching at Bethel College between 74 and 80, and the speakers that were coming in were increasingly strident in their feminism, so that Virginia Mollencott, for example, who's gone her peculiar way since those days called our view obscene in the Bethel Chapel. And it was that kind of rising tide of aggressiveness of the evangelical wing that caused me at least to say I'm gonna say something about this because I don't see any of that in the Scriptures.
Ligon Duncan: Russell, you are now the Chairman of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Given where they were then, can you assess where we are now? Give us an idea where you think evangelicalism is, where the culture is on this?
Russell Moore: Well, what I fear is that we have an evangelicalism or many people within evangelicalism who can check off complementarian on a box but who aren't really living out complementarian lives, and so sometimes I fear that we have marriages that are functionally egalitarian because they're within the structure of the larger society, and if all we're doing is saying male headship and wives submit to your husbands but we're not really defining what that looks like in a Christ-centered way of discipleship in this kind of culture when those things are being challenged, then it's simply going to go away. People are going to conform to the pattern of this age, which means we have an increasing struggle when it comes to questions that previous generations never had before in the same way. So I have had in recent years people who have come and said my, a woman came to me once and said my husband has told me he wants to be a woman; he wants to have gender reassignment surgery and become a woman. He doesn't want to leave me; he wants to stay together. Martin Luther never had to deal with that. (laughter) I can only imagine what he would have said, but he didn't have to deal with that. Pastors now have to deal with that.
Ligon Duncan: Al Mohler is famous for saying used to a father sat his son down and said now son when it comes time to get married, it's important for you to marry a good Christian girl. Now he has to sit him down and say now son when it comes time to get married it's important to marry a woman and what that means is, and then he has to explain. Greg, you're a pastor. What kind of issues do you see going on with regard to what Russell just talked about in the local church?
Greg Gilbert: Yeah, I think Russel's exactly right. I pastor a church here in town. It's not a large church at all, but I do a good amount of premarital counseling, for instance. Functional egalitarianism among the young people that I council is just all over the place. So you have men who think that being a complementarian and leading their wives really has no feet on it until they come to a decision that they're disagreeing about. But up until that moment, it's just an egalitarian sort of living together without male leadership and headship kind of creating the atmosphere of the home.
Ligon Duncan: You know, a lot of folks have said why include this issue in a conference called "Together for the Gospel"? Aren't there wonderful people that hold high views of God, high views of the doctrines of grace that are egalitarian? Why would we want to highlight this given that it divides some parts of evangelicalism? I'd like to hear from each of you on that. Maybe I'll start with John.
John Piper: Wow. It is really a good question… I don't think you have to be a complementarian to be saved, and so it's not essential at that level, but as soon as you move beneath that level and ask what are the implications of not following through with what Ephesians 5 seems to say or 1 Timothy 2 seems to say – those would be classic marriage / church texts – the implications let me just mention two or three; the implications hermeneutically for the Gospel are significant. If you do the kind of gymnastics that I think you have to do in order to escape Ephesians 5, you're gonna get the Gospel wrong. Secondly. What? That's an overstatement. You will tend to go in that direction and sooner or later you're gonna get the Gospel wrong. Here's the second thing. Marriage, as it's described there, is the Gospel in portrayal. And the husband is to love like Christ loves the church and suffer for her, die for her, and she is to submit to him as the church submits to Christ. If you come along and say there is no head and there is no submission, you simply cancel out the visible Gospel in marriage. And then I would say in the church…it's the pillar and bulwark of the Gospel and if you at the core of its structure deny that men because of their call of God to be men should be the leaders here and women should be leaders, it's going to malfunction along the way. And I would say that in spite of the fact that I know there are Bible women in China and I know there are major women pastors in the charismatic renewal in the global south. I would say notwithstanding it is written on male and female hearts to malfunction long-term where the church is not being led by strong male proclaimers and leaders the way Christ would lead. So I would say for those three reasons at least it gets very close to the center in the kinds of things that are around the Gospel protecting it and making it spread and vital in the world.
Greg Gilbert: i would echo that and just push it again and simply say that in order to get I think to an egalitarian position, you have to bring into your hermeneutic some bad DNA. You have to have some principles and ideas that tend in a certain direction to corrode the authority of Scripture. And once you do that, the corrosion isn't just gonna stop on those particular passages that you want it to stop at. It's gonna move onto other passages until eventually you're sitting right at the heart of the Gospel and letting those corrosive principles work on those texts, also. It's just a dangerous and unhealthy thing I think.
Russell Moore: You know when the United States military went into Iraq, one of the images that we saw all over the world was that statue of Saddam Hussein being torn down because that was a repudiation of Saddam Hussein. Pastor Piper is exactly right. Ephesians Chapter 5 Paul says this is a mystery – marriage is designed to show you Christ in the church. Not the other way around. God says it is not good for Adam to be alone, not simply because he needs company. He could have designed Adam to sub-divide like an Amoeba, but he creates Adam to have someone taken from him who's like him but who is different from him and the two become one flesh. Paul says the mystery is Christ and His church. When you strike at that and the satanic powers always want to strike at that, you're striking at the very picture and sign of the Gospel itself and in the fullness of time the Gospel will not be credible when you raise up children who see the image of the Gospel being torn apart in front of them all the time. The second thing is I don't think it's a question of whether we have male headship. I think it's a question of what kind of male headship will we have. We live in a culture right now that is dominated by pagan patriarchy in which there are restaurants that are there expressly for men to come in and ogle women. Internet pornography is preying upon women. When you have a male headship that is unhinged from the Gospel and unhinged from Christlike discipleship, women and children are going to be harmed and hurt, and that is what we see all around us right now. So part of what complementarianism is saying is not women submit; it is saying wives submit yourselves to your own husbands. When a woman submits herself to her own husband or when a young woman who is not yet married submits herself to that future husband whose name she does not yet know, she is refusing to submit to men generally, so she's not seeing her identity in terms of how men view her in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability, which is why the Apostle Peter when he's talking about what it means to be sanctified as a woman says not what the culture demands of you in braided hair and external appearance but that quiet beauty of the heart. That's a counter-cultural statement, and if we don't preserve that and show the kind of male headship that is self-sacrificial, that washes feet, that goes to the cross, then we're gonna wind up with a kind of male headship that is satanic to the core.
Well, that's the first half of the interview. More to come…
Lydia's Corner: Ezekiel 23:1-49 Hebrews 10:18-39 Psalm 109:1-31 Proverbs 27:13