Christian Twitter blew up last week as John MacArthur, a prominent Bible teacher, said that Beth Moore, another prominent Bible teacher, should “go home” primarily because he disagrees with her regarding whether an unordained woman can teach the Bible during a Sunday service. Hardliners on both extremes have caricatured the other side or claimed misunderstandings of both parties. More middling voices have entered the fray, trying to argue for nuance or liberty. But most of the dialogue/monologue I’ve seen speaks in regard to Evangelicalism-wide issues that are beyond my control. My hope is to speak to an issue that is within the scope of my influence: how I, as a father of three daughters, should raise them in light of this “go home” mentality that’s present in some sectors of Evangelical life. To that end, I offer these 10 personal resolutions:
Resolved, to give the benefit of the doubt to women who minister in public. In order to create a healthy environment for my daughters to serve and minister, I want to lead by avoiding caricatures of women who minister and write and serve the church. This would involve more than avoiding slander but also avoiding quick sound-byte caricatures and denigration-by-meme behavior. Instead, I will treat my sisters as innocent until proven guilty of heresy (by confessional standards, not the whims of Twitter). Benefit of the doubt is an aspect of Christian love (1 Cor. 13:7), but it also mitigates against the reality that a large swath of Evangelicalism assumes that women doing public ministry are guilty of false teaching until proven otherwise, and the slightest amount of information that confirms such suspicion will be cited as gospel-truth.
Resolved, to avoid supporting ministers who demean orthodox women. Not every strong complementarian has spoken harshly or dismissively of orthodox sisters in Christ, but those who do will not be quoted favorably by me or given any honor in my household or teaching. While there is space for confronting heretics with boldness and with tears, women who differ with us on secondary matters should never be rebuked as if they have violated primary doctrines of the faith. In order to avoid sending mixed signals to my daughters, men who use positions of power to make these sorts of attacks will be marked and avoided.
Resolved, to support and promote women who minister well. I want my daughters to hear the names of well-aligned women in ministry such as Nancy Guthrie, Jen Wilkin, Jackie Hill-Perry, Trillia Newbell, and many more frequently mentioned in our household. I want them to see orthodox women who aren’t fully aligned with us on secondary and tertiary matters treated with respect and welcomed into the dialogue and bookshelves of our home.
Resolved, to use the Bible and doctrinal statements more than labels such as “complementarian.” While the label “complementarian” has been hijacked by those who see no role for women leading outside the home and church and those who see no vocal ministry for women where men might be able to listen (albeit inconsistent in that practice themselves), I find more stable teaching in the Bible and more helpful systematization in doctrinal statements. Instead of a complementarianism that only portioned off “some teaching” in the Danvers Statement and reserved gender distinctions in the home and for pastoral office in the BFM2000, we find a more restrictive version from its most vocal proponents. Instead of a sort of complementarianism that welcomed an R. C. Sproul who advocated women teachers in many aspects of church life, we find a more sectarian ideology that has calcified an array of male-only avenues of service in the church.* Instead of the Paul who found room for women who prophesied and prayed publicly (1 Cor. 11), encouraged them to participate in mutual teaching in the gathered local assembly (Col. 3:16, cf. v. 18), wanted them to “teach what is good” (Titus 2:3), and relied on them for critical and vocal ministry roles in local churches (e.g., Rom. 16:1–2, 7; Col. 4:15), we find a small window of women’s ministry that primarily relies on a singular interpretation of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 in exclusion from the rest of the Pauline canon. Instead of a Jesus who included women in his ministry in important ways and extended a call for all his disciples to make disciples, baptize, and teach, we find a truncated Great Commission that allows women to only participate in ⅓ of its activities. If the latter is the new meaning of “complementarianism,” then I will not publicly use that label to define my theology even though I assent to the Danvers Statement.
Resolved, to show unequivocal support for the abused and disenfranchised. As women young and old are frequent targets for abuse and inequality, I want to live in such a way that demonstrates that no quarter will be given to injustice or abuse. My words and actions must convey that my daughters can turn to me for support first upon the occasion that they might receive harassment or abuse.
Resolved, to encourage my daughters to use their gifts to the utmost in the home, the church, and in society. Outside of the case that can be made for the male-only pastorate and a unique kind of authority and teaching that comes with that office, I see no biblical restrictions that would restrict my daughters from selflessly exercising their gifts in every sphere of life. To that end, I will do whatever is in my power to help them walk in the Spirit and serve the church in a variety of ways in a variety of spheres.
Resolved, to coach and disciple my daughters to be meaningful disciple-makers and thoughtful theologians. Although never yet having been ordained, I have been blessed with opportunities to pursue doctoral studies in theology, to teach on the mission field, to contribute to published theological works, and even to speak as a lay leader in mixed audiences. Speaking as a dad, these are all opportunities that I hope and would be honored if one or more of my daughters may aspire to in order to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether they function as disciple-makers and theologians from the home, in the workplace, in the academy, or in the church, I intend to impart whatever training I can in order to make them successful at those tasks.
Resolved, to defend my daughters from misuse of Scripture. I’ve heard 1 Peter used to support requiring a woman to remain with an abusive husband. I’ve heard adult women (but not men) told that they need to submit to their dads until they marry. I’ve heard pastors extend gender roles into the workplace, arguing that women shouldn’t have leadership roles in business and government. As a father, I must proactively dismantle those misapplications of the Bible and help my daughters develop a strong heremeneutical toolkit necessary for them to apply the meaning of Scripture properly.
Resolved, to leave a legacy of healthy, biblical masculinity that neither caves to present culture nor idolizes stereotypes from other eras. I can finish a basement, hit a target, and split wood with the best of them, but I never want my daughters to associate these behaviors with masculinity. I want them to know see in their father a masculinity that restrains power and serves the powerless. I want them to see a dad who loves their mom and loves Jesus. In these ways, I want to counter cultural assumptions (old and new) about how men should behave and live according to the supra-cultural norms of Scripture.
Resolved, to never give the impression that the domestic sphere is the best place for a woman or of lesser significance than other spheres. Complementarians frequently claim or imply that the domestic sphere is the best place for women to minister (“go home”); egalitarians frequently claim or imply that the domestic sphere is a lesser calling (“why would a woman have to give up a career to raise children”). Instead, I want my daughters to know that all spheres belong to God and, as such, are good places to serve others. Should God lead them to use their gifts primarily in the home, that’s a wonderful calling. Should God lead them to use their gifts in the business world, in the church, in the academy, in government, etc., this would be an equally wonderful calling. In no way should women exclusively feel the responsibility of domestic ministry.
Note: I’m fully aware that I have and will fall short of these ideals. I want my friends to know that they may call me out when I do. I’m also fully aware that a group of evangelicals will take issue with being “too soft” on 1 Timothy 2, and I suspect that another group will be upset that I’ve made mention of any gender distinctions in the home or in the church. To both parties, I welcome respectful dialogue on your differences and welcome the opportunity to refine my views on this issue. Grace to you.
*Update (1/30/2020): The teaching video by R. C. Sproul that I initially referenced in this article has unfortunately been removed by Ligonier and the following statement has been posted in its place: “This content has been removed at the request of the Sproul family. Ligonier Ministries cannot account for the date or occasion of the comments, which makes providing a context difficult. The original content was a lecture that was likely delivered in the 1970’s or 1980’s expressing views that do not accurately represent Dr. R.C. Sproul’s later views on the subject.”
Following this statement, they include four links to sources related to the subject of the role of women in the church. I would just like to point out several observations about the suggested resources and this retraction:
- Of the two alternate resources written or spoken directly by Sproul:
- Neither retracts what Sproul taught in the original video regarding the ability of women to teach/preach the gathered church in a Sunday service less the “juridical authority” in back of such spoken ministry.
- Both underscore what Sproul taught in the original video regarding the particular kind of authority Sproul understood to be off limits to women, namely “juridical authority.”
- Both deal more with issues of ordination to pastoral office, which has not been the focus of the intra-complementarian debates. But even here, Sproul clearly treats the ordination of women as a secondary issue–one that doesn’t demand separation.
- Of the two alternate resources written by others:
- The first (published while Sproul was still editing Tabletalk) is certainly tighter than Sproul’s original video position, noting that “women are barred from preaching and teaching in worship.” The author then goes on to cite one of the key claims of Sproul in the original video, namely that the authority in the passage is “juridical” or “governing” in nature. We are left to wonder whether Sproul left the devotional note by the contributor (obviously not Sproul) unedited while disagreeing with it, or whether he let it stand because he had changed his position over time.
- The second (published this year and after the death of Sproul) represents the current orthodoxy of the more restrictive camp of complementarians.
- The date of the teaching is hinted at as diminishing the accuracy of Sproul’s beliefs. While we want to give space for peoples’ theology to shift somewhat over time, we should note that (a) the 1980s were the breakout years for Sproul’s ministry, the decade in which he published The Holiness of God, and (b) as indicated related to the previous sources, Sproul never clearly or publicly indicated a retraction or even a modification of his position.
- The allegations of “the Sproul family” is intriguing. While they certainly can appeal to private conversation that R. C. Sproul never published regarding his “later views on the subject,” I tend to question the source for several reasons. First, in the 2016 Q&A video that is referenced, Sproul had a late-in-life opportunity teed up to set the record straight on whether a women could speak, teach, or preach in a church. Instead he dealt only with ordination and “juridical authority.” Second, if “the Sproul family” is indicative of self-identified “Christian patriarchalist” R. C. Sproul Jr., I wouldn’t put too much stock in this allegation.
- Lastly, and most importantly, this retraction is case-and-point of what I originally claimed in this article, namely that a movement is currently afoot to purge the ranks and create a monolith of “complementarianism” that never existed. Until any further evidence comes to light to the contrary, we should see this move as a bit of 1984 historical revisionism and an unfortunate move to censor modern theologians’ access to the progress of Sproul’s theologizing.