Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Generational Difference and Complementarianism

Mark Dever has a striking set of observations on a pastor's colloquium which he (and I) attended in which the issue of complementarianism divided the room. While most of the attendees agreed in substance with the idea that only men should serve as ordained pastors, there was a difference in strategy and presentation. Dever went on to observe that "those older than me who are complementarian generally want to downplay this issue, and those younger than me want to lead with it, or at least be very up front about it."

Let me say first of all that I agree essentially with the complementarian position. Having wrestled at length with the egalitarian exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, I find a great deal of it unconvincing. I believe that Paul argues there that when it comes to the authorative transmission of God's Word in the public worship of God's people, God affirms male leadership. This has nothing to do with the respective value of men and women and everything to do with order, both creational and contemporary order. Further, while I affirm that only men should exercise ordained leadership, Paul (and for that matter, God) places a high value on women's ministry gifts and envisions a large role for them in the church's life together (as in 1 Timothy 5:1-16). So, I affirm the basic complementarian position.

That being said, I disagree with Mark's observation. I think in Southern Baptist circles, where professors, church leaders, and others have made this a huge issue for the church, younger men see this as a dividing line for the gospel (when you have someone as godly and smart as Tom Schriener observing in one book that this is the crucial Gospel issue for this generation, it is hard for younger men to differ). However, as one who is a few years younger than Mark and who serves in different circles, the younger men with whom I serve do not see this as the dividing line issue. And frankly, neither do I.

In fact, I think we make a big mistake when we lead with this issue--unconverted, secular people won't understand issues related to creational, family, and church order until they first understand their own great need for Jesus. Once they have been transformed by the Gospel of Jesus, then as they are instructed in God's Word, we can teach them about how God desires his household to be ordered. But to make a matter of family and church order central strikes me as creating unnecessary walls for secular people to leap in order to come to faith in Jesus.

In this regard, J. Gresham Machen is instructive. In his Christianity and Liberalism, he readily admits that inerrancy is not a doctrine required for salvation. That doesn't make it unnecessary; it simply puts it in its proper place. In the same way, complementarianism should not be the issue with which evangelical Protestants lead; rather, the central message of the Gospel of Jesus should be our bond of unity for which we should be zealous. As a 30-something, that doesn't mean that I believe gender issues are unimportant; they are simply not central and essential for being Christian in this world today.


Vitamin Z said...

My take...

1. Could it be that the older pastors have been around the block so many times that they feel like they are sick of getting beat up over this issue? Doesn't make it right to not fight the fight, but it is understandable how one can get worn down and change emphasis after years of abuse at the hands of those who disagree.

2. The young cats have little or no experience at getting kicked around in the church, so they are more than willing to jump up to the front lines of battle on this issue.

jwd said...


Do you really think Dever would preach complimentarianism before the Gospel? Why should "our bond of unity" be "the central message of the Gospel of Jesus"? Isn't the central message of the Gospel that God sent His Son to die for our sins in order to reconcile us to Himself?

Jeff Purswell said...

First: thank you, Dr. Lucas, for your labors in service of Christ, especially in your training of pastors--a most strategic calling indeed.

Second: I’m afraid I must take exception to your comments--it seems to me that they miss the point Mark is making. In your fourth paragraph, I think you make an unwarranted leap by contending that we should not “lead with this issue,” due to the fact that non-believers won’t get it. Mark is not saying (nor does any complementarian that I'm aware of) that we should “lead with this issue”—especially in our witness to the unbelieving world. He is simply saying that the nature of this particular issue impinges upon a number of other issues—specially the way we read and handle Scripture (not to mention the many, often dramatic effects this issue has upon the Christian life). In other words, I believe Mark is fundamentally addressing our responsibility to contend for biblical doctrine (and, in service of this, a sound hermeneutic) among believers, lest the church drift from a biblical order of the church and family, a functional authority of Scripture, etc. Surely there is a difference between contending for truth among Christian leaders (this was the context of Mark's remarks) and the way we present the gospel to non-believers. I'm quite sure that Mark of all people, being a faithful and effective evangelist, is perceptive of this distinction. Moreover, it seems to me that blurring this distinction is unhelpful in helping followers of Christ think carefully about God's word and its application to their lives. Thanks for inviting comments--even those that differ from your own.

Sean Lucas said...

Hi Jeff and JWD:

Perhaps I am mistaken here. But since I was at the event to which Mark referred, I guess I was reflecting on that event as well as Mark's comments.

The context from which I was working was this particular event, which I attended and to which Mark referred. Quite a bit of our time was given to debating a doctrinal statement around which a number of evangelicals were trying to agree in order to provide unity around core doctrines that centered on the Gospel. It was in the midst of that statement that the debate over whether the pastoral office should be limited to men came up. In my mind, in that context, the complementarian issue seemed to be out of place.

The only real thing I was disputing in my post was whether the complementarian issue really is whether "younger minister want to lead with it." Notice those were Dever's words, not mine; that was a direct quote from his post (so, Jeff, he really did say that). All I was simply saying was this: 1) for me, those with whom I work, and those whom I serve, we don't want to "lead" with this issue; 2) that I believe it is a mistake to "lead" with this issue.

And so, it was in that context and in reply to that narrow issue that I made my comments. I really don't dispute any thing that Jeff says--of course we need to contend for biblical doctrine and a sound hermenuetic.

That being said, Jeff and I may actually disagree on what a "sound hermenuetic" may mean, since I believe that baptizing babies is biblical and he may not. And that is why we need to be careful in our contention for the Gospel to keep the main thing, the main thing--namely the broad biblical agreement on central Gospel truths that most conservative evangelicals share. Let's lead with that and not secondary issues. My two cents, sml

Richard A. Bailey said...

Two cents? You might be short-changing your comments a bit, my friend.

JayWoodhamTheMan said...

It is fascinating to me to watch the dynamic you're discussing in action. Just one example: two of Dever's co-belligerents on this issue, Al Moehler and Russell Moore write and blog regularly for Touchstone the "Journal of Mere Christianity." Moehler and Moore are very happy to ecumenically join ranks with the Catholics, Orthodox, and High Church Lutherans who dominate the editorial page of Touchstone despite differences on "secondary issues" like R. Catholic doctrines on Papal Supremacy and Mary as a co-redemptrix with Christ as well as Orthodox views such as a semi-Pelagian understanding of original sin and a not-necessarily penal understanding of the atonement. But let a fellow evangelical who stands foursquare with them on the aforementioned issues advocate for the ordination of women, and the gospel is in imminent danger. Methinks they've lost some perspective.

Patrick said...


I found Mohler's arguments spot-on as it relates to Dever's post on the younger evangelical response to the complementarian / egalitarian issue.