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Right beliefs do not always lead to healthy cultures.

I’ve been watching the discussion about complementarianism – “new wave” and “old wave.” It’s interesting to see how new and old waves interact with each other, build on one another, correct each other, and warn each other.

As I read the comments on some of these posts, I wonder if there’s an aspect in this conversation that has been overlooked. It’s not about the specifics of complementarian viewpoints, but the kind of culture that sometimes grows up around complementarianism. It’s a culture that goes beyond the books and pamphlets that affirm godly manhood and womanhood in an age where gender distinctives are often minimized; instead, it is a culture of silent or exaggerated expectations that crush people who color outside the extra-biblical lines.

When I say the culture of complementarianism seems “crazy” at times, I mean two things, one good and one bad.

Good Crazy

First, there is a level of craziness that comes from being outside the mainstream of American life. Just quote Ephesians 5 on television today and you’ll look crazy, but this is a craziness that we should embrace.

The image of men and women, equal before God, embracing their unique roles, where men graciously lead their wives in love, and women willingly lay aside rights and power to graciously submit to their husbands – this is a picture of the gospel. Husbands and wives, in fulfilling their different responsibilities, shine light on different angles of Christ’s work. Christ, though equal to the Father, submitted to His will. In love, He gave His life for His Bride.

Furthermore, complementarianism isn’t the only (or main) aspect of Christianity that seems crazy to a lost world. There’s our belief in absolute truth, in salvation apart from works, our affirmation of Jesus as the only way to God, our belief in eternal hell, and our view of sexuality. We’ll always be tempted to tone down the crazy, but once we shave off the distinctive edges of Christian truth, we trade the power of the gospel for a bowl of postmodern porridge. There’s an element of “crazy” in complementarianism that ought to be embraced and celebrated in the same way we embrace the craziness of the gospel itself.

Bad Crazy

But there’s another kind of crazy that we shouldn’t be so crazy about. It’s the craziness that sometimes grows up in the culture of complementarianism. I’m talking here about culture, not the beliefs.

Culture is a lot harder to pin down and define, and yet culture communicates, sometimes more than our statements. In some churches that affirm a complementarian view of manhood and womanhood, a culture develops that goes beyond the complementarian beliefs into a skewed version of manhood and womanhood that we did not discern from the Scriptures, but from previous generations of American culture.

Some examples…

Last year, I wrote a blog post intended to encourage stay-at-home wives (like my own), and I got a lot of emails from puzzled men and women who felt I had overlooked the guilty consciences of working moms. I quickly discovered there are a number of people who are sensitive to this discussion because they’ve endured scorn and judgment for having a dual-income home. Here is a sample:

My wife has been a working mom for the first years of our marriage, and although we expect to bring her home from work upon the arrival of our next child at the end of this year, she’ll probably keep working on a very part-time basis.  You can imagine in our environment that we often face explicit or implied criticism/judgment that she is a working mom.

Notice the reference to the environment of their church. The idea that it is never appropriate for a wife to work outside the home is not something you’ll see in the best scholarship of complementarian thinkers and leaders, but it is an expectation that grows up in the culture among some complementarian churches.

(As a side note, in the Romanian villages I served in, the idea of women seeing their role as either inside or outside the home didn’t make sense. Families did whatever it took to put food on the table, which meant the women were just as active outside in the garden and fields as the men were. The kitchen duties were split, depending on whatever item was going to be cooked. The man was the head of the household, but the roles were not as specific or limiting; neither were these activities extrapolated as timeless specifics for everyone everywhere.)

There are other elements of crazy culture we should be aware of:

  • a reticence or hesitance to affirm and celebrate women’s contributions in local church ministry, particularly contributions that are more up-front and visible.
  • a warped vision of manhood that focuses on calloused hands and physical labor and ignores other kinds of work.
  • the assumption that marriage is always better than singleness, so that singles feel like their identity is wrapped up in not having a spouse.
  • unwillingness to celebrate any evidence of gospel ministry or fruit among those with a more egalitarian viewpoint.
  • an unexpressed expectation that the godliest women have quiet and introverted personality types, and cannot be assertive and outgoing.
  • a competitive tendency that leads to unhealthy individual comparisons and rushed judgments, rather than extending grace to one another.
  • a spectrum of “holy” and “holier” choices with regard to a child’s education (from public school all the way to homeschooling).

I could go on.

The human heart is constantly seeking to justify itself. Too often, we as Christians are trying to one-up each other by grasping for a sense of superiority over our brothers and sisters because of the extrabiblical laws we’ve created and now keep.

It’s the culture of complementarianism that needs to be renewed and restored. Because there’s nothing crazier than taking a beautiful picture of the gospel and making a new law out of it.

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129 thoughts on “The Crazy Culture of Complementarianism”

  1. Alan Cross says:

    While I agree with the position theologically, I often wonder if the Complementarian movement is a gospel-oriented movement or a cultural movement in response to the massive egalitarian shift. Nothing wrong with responding to the culture, but the more that one responds to error instead of being fueled by the gospel in a positive trajectory, the more that one tends toward legalism and soul strangling comparisons and rigid expectations – or “bad crazy” as you say here. The gospel and ethic of Jesus is always life giving, positive, and creative. When everyone is bound up in fear of doing it wrong and they are looking over their shoulder, something else is at work, and it is not New Covenant Christianity, I don’t think.

    1. Lou G. says:

      Amen, Alan! I have observed the same thing as well. Thank you.

  2. Esther says:

    I could make a lot of comments, but I’m in a rush, so let me open up the floor on this point: “a spectrum of “holy” and “holier” choices with regard to a child’s education (from public school all the way to homeschooling).”

    “Holy” and “holier” seem like the wrong categories here. I prefer “badly informed” and “well informed.” When it comes to schooling, this isn’t just an issue of, “Well we’re all making informed judgments and it’s really apples and oranges to what’s good for you maybe isn’t good for me.” That’s actually not true. Am I saying you should badger friends in the church who’ve opted for public schooling? No, I don’t think it’s necessarily your place to give them a hard time. However, we do need to be very clear-eyed about the dangers of public schooling, and I don’t think it’s illegitimate to pray that friends and family who’ve made that mistake would come to realize how much safer and better homeschooling is for their kids. This doesn’t have anything to do with “holier than thou.” It’s an urgent and genuine concern for children’s well-being.

    1. Rachael Starke says:


      Unfortunately, that argument just replaces one set of straw men with another. It’s presumptuous to say “well, if they were just more informed like me, they’d make a different choice.” It’s also, if I can say it gently, patronizing.

      1. Esther says:

        I’m not offended if you think I’m patronizing. That’s to be expected. However, I do in fact know whereof I speak, so I don’t think this is just “your opinion vs. mine.” This is like telling conservative voters, “You’re just patronizing to believe that liberal voters must be either doing something wrong or badly informed.” I can only say, look at the facts!

        1. Brooke says:

          You are never, ever, ever called to strip the light away from the darkness. As a Christian who attended public school and made it a ministry, even as a teen, I feel your opinion is dangerous. I would never advocate for every child to be in public school–some kids are easily swayed by culture, some of you are zoned for more dangerous schools, but to blankety state that it is a “mistake” is wrong. I learned how to kindly and articulately share my beliefs with my teachers who taught lessons that clashed with Biblical beliefs. I’m not afraid of people who believe differently than I do because my parents did a great job of grounding me in truth from home. And then there are friends who’s lives have been eternally impacted because we went to public school. We would not have interacted with these kids otherwise. This isn’t a mistake. My parents, who are missionaries, sought God’s will and landed us in public schooling. And there was fruit.

          Please be careful in instructing others on your opinion verses what is clearly instructed in scripture. And please keep in mind we are never to so shield ourselves from the world that we have no influence in culture and no longer serve as a light.

          1. MK says:

            Re: public schooling, it is astounding to me how Christian parents can even contemplate sending their children into the mouth of Moloch(gov’t schools).

            Yes, years ago, they maybe were not so blatantly bad and dangerous. Now, they are wicked beyond belief.

            A family should do whatever it takes to keep their covenant children out of the gov’t school system. There are many good options for ENTIRE schooling curricula via the internet(testing/records/grades/diploma). A parent need only be a guide with these options, not a teacher.

            No excuses. Your children are God’s heritage. Treat them as such, even if you must downsize/work harder/suffer/have less stuff/hire a tutor/ask your church for help in humility, etc.

          2. Esther says:

            One situation that can be difficult to address is when there’s a rift in a marriage—one spouse pulling one way, the other pulling another. I’ve encountered this personally, and it’s very awkward and difficult. I don’t feel like I can in good conscience give a lecture to the spouse who wants to homeschool but isn’t being given a choice, especially when it’s the woman.

      2. John Bruner says:

        When it comes to the issue of public schooling or homeschooling, it is not a question of a moral right or wrong. Rather, it is a matter of preference (whether or not you would say it’s an uninformed preference) and should be treated as such. On one hand you state that, “You shouldn’t badger friends in the church who’ve opted for public schooling” and then immediately assert that those who have opted for that have “made a mistake”.
        This seems to be a personal and private decision that doesn’t seem to border on morality. To massage morality into it though can lead to exactly what Trevin referenced – a holier than thou tone.
        As someone who supports homeschooling as well, I hope these words come across as gracious pushback as opposed to negative rebuttal.

        1. Esther says:

          The way I see it is that Trevin and others are trying to put the homeschooling debate into theological categories, when in my opinion it’s not really a theological debate. Why is it that instead of merely saying, “Well, you think it’s a mistake to send children to public school and I just disagree with that,” you must go further and say “You’re sanctimonious” or “You’re holier than thou”? Why can’t we simply disagree without engaging in theological name-calling?

          What I meant by saying we shouldn’t badger friends in the church is that we need to get along with people, and it’s socially awkward to be constantly saying, “Oh just FYI, you’re feeding your kids into the maw of the beast! Love ya anyway!” To say the least. However, privately badgering a personal friend is very different from my publicly stating an opinion on a blog forum.

        2. MK says:

          “This seems to be a personal and private decision that doesn’t seem to border on morality.”

          Really? Jim has two mommies/get’cher morning after pills here, girls/if they don’t take, we’ll get you to the abortion mill/ revisionist history slamming historic Christianity/ boys and girls rutting in various ways during the school day/ drugs/ coddled bullies/ wicked and irrational ‘self-esteem’/ shoddy academics.

’re right. Not a matter of ‘morality’ at all. ;)

        3. EricP says:

          Do you have any evidence of these things?

          1. Esther says:

            Every one of these trends is something I’ve read about in public articles, or heard about from people who’ve been there. So… the evidence is there, you just might want to take off your Democrat-blue glasses to see them.

          2. EricP says:


            I’ve been voting Republican longer than you have been alive. I remember watching the Iran hostages circling overhead during Reagan’s inauguration.

            What I mean is do you have links to schools using “Jim has 2 mommies”, schools giving out morning after pills, schools taking children for abortions, children “rutting” in school, how self-esteem is wicked and irrational, coddled bullies, use of drugs/alcohol of homeschool college students vs public, success in college science majors, success in college in general, or career earnings (or some other metric)

            It’s easy to spout semi-poetic accusations. It takes work to actually prove it.

          3. Esther says:

            Well, okay, but you’ve obviously swallowed some blue koolaid, at the least.

            Quite honestly, yes, I could probably dig up links that at least come very close on all counts. (For example, I’ve read about schools where the children were being forced to read kids’ books about children with two mommies, children cross-dressing, etc.) However, some of them may date back a while and hence no longer be available. So a) finding every article I’ve ever read on this issue would be incredibly time-consuming, since I’ve read so many, and b) some of the links may have expired, thus further wasting the time I spent hunting them back down. You better believe I’d do the work for a friend making a difficult choice who actually needed information. You, sir, are just a snarky Internet troll. And I have a life. So go do your own research.

          4. EricP says:

            It would make a good blog (or maybe one already exists). If you really dug into it, you could write a book.

    2. Melody says:

      Esther I’m going to tell you this again. You are not God. Quit trying to play God with people’s lives with your opinions. They are just your opinions. You cannot tell people if they should have children and you certainly can’t tell them how to raise the children that God has entrusted THEM to raise.

      1. Esther says:

        “Esther I’m going to tell you this again. You are not God.”

        Why, thank you Melody. I shall have to write that down. ;-)

        1. Chad says:

          Does your homeschooling include a course on tact?

          1. Esther says:

            Tact is not one of my strong suits. Paul seems to have struggled with it too.

  3. Marty says:

    Your blog is always interesting, thoughtful and helpful, Trevin. I wondered as I read today’s what “rights and powers” women lay aside as opposed to simply assuming a different marriage role than men? Thanks for your writing ministry.

    1. SM says:

      I had the same question as Marty and an additional one. Specifically, what “rights and powers” were the women in the original audience granted that they were “willingly laying aside”?

      It seems as though you are considering a culture that develops in, around, or out of complementarianism but have not considered the very real, historical patriarchical culture in which the scriptures were written. The very scripture you referenced, Eph 5, appears to be a Christianized version of the Greco-Roman household codes. The actual corrective is not teaching a husband how to lead or exercise authority over his wife but is instructing that his obligation in Christ is to *love* his wife.

      1. Karen says:

        Exactly. Women didn’t have any rights to give up in late Antiquity. Most men didn’t, either. I’ve read household codes of that period and the only difference between Ephesians and those codes is that Paul writes TO women instead of about them, and that he instructs husbands to love their wives. Husbands weren’t expected to have any emotions toward their wives at all, especially considering that most marriages were business transactions between families with no regard toward the spouse’s feelings toward each other. (Read about the Emperor Tiberius’ marriage to Augustus’ daughter as one excellent example.). Complementarianism. Makes an idol of 1950’s sitcom marriages and Victorian fiction without actually analyzing the texts on which it is allegedly based.

        1. MzEllen says:

          It seems that (since idolators will not see the kingdom of heaven) and that since you just said that Complementarians are idolators – you don’t even think we’re saved? It surprises me to see it being so close to articulated, but it doesn’t surprise me that it’s there.

  4. John Wylie says:


    Thanks for the article. There is definitely a legalistic side to complimentarianism and I think that this side of the perspective so dominated the discussion for years in our nation that it gave birth to the egalitarian movement. It is really sad when a church or members of a church feel they should criticize what a husband and wife decide concerning the wife working or putting the children in public schools.

    And Esther while I appreciate the loving spirit of your comments and I thought your approach was very disarming and commend you for that, but would you please at least consider that choosing public schools is not always a “mistake” for everyone? I actually have theological reasons for putting my children in public schools. I think whatever the educational choices we make parental involvement and guidance is the key.

    1. Esther says:

      John, I believe you genuinely want what’s best for your children. But with all due respect, I believe that either you’re simply unaware of the extent to which the public schools have been corrupted or your chosen school must be truly out of the ordinary. If your theological reasons involve some idea of letting your children be “salt and light” (an argument I hear often), then I think that’s a mistake. Maybe you don’t see it that way, but I think a powerful objective argument could be made that it is.

      1. Are you saying that the Gospel isn’t strong enough to withstand a secular environment?

        1. Esther says:

          It’s not really a question of how strong the gospel is. It’s a question of whether a child is able to survive a powerful system designed to distance him from his parent’s influence and mold his ideas/morals/beliefs during his most formative years. The truth of the gospel is not in question. The ability of a young child to resist daily temptations of thought, word and deed against all that is good, true and beautiful is.

          1. I think you underestimate the faith and character of young people (and teachers, too.)

          2. Esther says:

            Actually, I believe one of the tragedies of the public school system is the brainwashing not only of good students, but of good teachers. For example, consider the teacher at Newtown who, even while bravely protecting her children, couldn’t bring herself to pray with them. Instead, she said the sort of thing she’d been trained to say. “Those of you who believe in prayer… pray.” Without question, she was a good teacher and a good person who loved her kids. And yet I think it’s terribly sad to see the effects of her training and brainwashing even in what she believed to be her final moments. This is a sign that the system is corrupt, when even good people feel that there are things they CANNOT do, even at a moment when such things scream out to be done.

          3. I think criticizing the words of comfort spoken by a heroic Newtown teacher is offensive. Is Christianity reduced to picking over the word choices of a woman in one of the most horrific situations imaginable? It seems to me as that’s evidence that Trevin is onto something here.

            As for the teacher’s words, wake up: this country is more diverse than ever. It’s not about a corrupt system any more than it’s a corrupt neighborhood . She was trying to comfort the children, and like it or not, telling all the kids to pray would not have comforted all of them. That’s why she said it.

          4. Esther says:

            I wasn’t saying she had to. I was saying that she’s presumably a Christian, and it would have been completely appropriate for HER to pray out loud, in front of the children! “Dear God, please protect us right now and give us peace. We need you Lord!” But apparently you seem to think that would have been offensive.

          5. don’t think it would have been offensive at all. But her goal was to comfort all of her students. Praying out loud would have comforted some, confused others, and alienated others. Think of it this way: if she had prayed to Allah or Shiva, would you or your child have been comforted?

          6. Esther says:

            Well, I give up, because you just don’t seem to get it. Bit by the looks of your blog I don’t think we could find common ground on that many things anyway, so we’ll just agree to disagree. Have a nice weekend!

        2. Esther says:

          Also, it needn’t involve only an ideological attack/temptation. It can be physical too! Are you aware, for example, that school bus drivers are forbidden to intervene physically even if an innocent child is getting beaten up? Sheer physical bullying is a rampant, uncontrollable problem in the public schools, and the people who should have the power to stop it (bus drivers, teachers) have had their hands tied by irrational regulations. Besides all the other factors, do we want to send our children into that environment?

          1. I would suggest that you venture into a school during the day. It’s not the horror show you assume. Sure. there are bullies and bad apples, but there’s also intensive anti=bullying campaigns and an affirming environment in most classrooms. Most high schools have a decent-sized Christian student population and Christian teachers, too. Elementary classes are far more nurturing and supportive of students than they used to be.

            What you need to keep in mind is that young people need to experience adversity. They need to experience temptation and challenges to their faith, so they can learn how to respond to them. ANd the easiest way to teach them is to do it while they’re under your roof.

          2. Esther says:

            You can say that there are anti-bullying campaigns, but the fact remains that teachers and other people in positions of authority are very frequently NOT given the leeway and resources to provide proper protection to their kids. We have documented cases of children who were beaten to a pulp while responsible adults who could have intervened did nothing, because they were constrained by the regulations. Meanwhile, the system DOES crack down on innocent things, like T-shirts with a symbol involving a weapon, or children with food or toys that involve or evoke weaponry, soldiers, etc. When a girl can be beaten almost to the point of death on a bus because the driver was not allowed to stop it, but a boy is investigated for eating his poptart into something shaped like a gun, doesn’t this indicate that there’s something very wrong with these people’s priorities?

            “What you need to keep in mind is that young people need to experience adversity.” If “adversity” means being educated on the finer points of sex at the age of ten, being physically and/or verbally assaulted, and being brainwashed/bullied into keeping one’s religious and moral convictions to oneself, then I disagree that young people need to experience that sort of adversity in order to become mature, well-balanced, godly citizens of this world and the next. On the contrary, I believe such things will hinder them in that goal.

          3. Hannah says:

            As a former school bus driver from just a few years ago, we are not only not held back from defending students who are being beaten, we are required to act for the safety and wellness of children. I’ve seen many drivers stand in the way of harm, verbal or physical, for their students.
            I also have two friends who are teachers in a public school system with the goal of praying for their students and acting with kindness and understanding towards them. It’s a gift and a calling and gives me hope to see light in dark places.

          4. Esther says:

            Hannah, are your friends permitted to lead a class in open prayer, encourage them with Bible verses, and similar activities? If so, then their public school must be very unusual. In most places, that would be considered a violation of the separation of church and state.

          5. Nate says:

            Esther, you may be painting in broad strokes. My wife is a public elementary school teacher, and bullying is a really important issue for the school. If she suspects any sort of taunting (much less outright bullying), she is to take action and report it immediately.

      2. Debbie says:


        Why do you think the theological reason of salt and light is a mistake?

        Salt and light is not an idea, it is functional identity for the child of God regardless of age. Matthew 5. For those of us who purposefully send our children to public school as the Spirit graciously (not badly) informs, salt and light is also not something we “let” our children be; it is what they are. God help us if we try to not “let” them be what they are however well intentioned our desire to influence and protect.

        To the issue at hand, this conversation on complementarianism has been an incredible help to me. What a breath of fresh air. Thanks, Trevin and everybody who has written on this subject.

        1. Esther says:

          I think that ultimately, we are called to be salt and light to the world at large. So it’s not the fundamental concept of salt and light that I have a disagreement with. It’s the use of that idea to justify sending children into what I believe is a very toxic environment, physically, emotionally and spiritually, on the assumption that they’ll not only be fine themselves but also be able to speak their beliefs openly enough to win souls. Particularly when it comes to the public schools, all the odds are stacked against them on all counts. And waving them away by saying, “God can do anything!” is not the answer. God never told us to check our common sense and gut intuitions at the door.

          1. Debbie says:


            People like you intrigue me and I’ve known my fair share. You appear to have incredible confidence in your understanding of public education. I’m so curious, what is your experience with public schools, how do you know so much?

            I would challenge your understanding of salt and light. Jesus did not call his disciples to go BE salt and light. He said “You ARE the salt of the earth….You ARE the light of the world.” As we are following Christ and serving the Gospel in our life rhythms, we are salty and shiny. :) It’s not something we do, God does it through us right where we are.

            I don’t send my children to public school to win souls or to be salty and shiny. I send them there to learn. We have experienced none of the things you mention, but I have seen some of my homeschool friends experience those things; I also have homeschool friends who flourish at home. And God did tell us to check our common sense and gut intuitions at the door and trust him wholly, not leaning on our own understanding. Proverbs.

          2. Esther says:

            I will assume that you’re asking me these questions in all seriousness. Here is my serious answer.

            First, though I personally have never attended public school, my mother can attest that even her first years in a Christian school (a Christian school!) were some of the most miserable years of her life due to the large presence of non-Christian students (which is typical in many Christian schools). The atmosphere was cold, mean-spirited and cliqueish—and not in a “holier-than-thou” way, but in a perfectly average, elementary-school kid way worthy of the most secular public school. She was emotionally bullied for her clothes, her height, her glasses, everything.

            Among my friends, a family I was close to had a son in public school who was relentlessly bullied and picked on. When the kids challenged him to fight, he said that he was a Christian who didn’t fight. The other children threw his words back at him and continued to beat him, brutally. The parents had to withdraw him from the school and put him in a charter school, which can sometimes be an improvement over the public school system.

            My neighbors also had a child in public school. When he tried to stand up for other children being picked on, he himself was repeatedly beaten up.

            As for my experience of crime in highschools, I can tell you it’s rampant in my own local highschool. And we’re talking ordinary suburban neighborhood, not city. I’m personal friends with the neighborhood watch officer, who regularly tells stories of drugs, assault and battery, and other crimes that take place there.

            As for the educational effectiveness (or lack thereof) of public schooling, I knew another family whose girl was in third grade and not learning to read properly because of the faddish, ineffectual methods being used (including the encouragement of children to “spell” without vowels). We lent the mother a book called “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” written by an old-style atheist liberal who nevertheless had the pedagogic common sense to recognize the fundamental superiority of phonics training. After a brief period where the mother worked through the book’s exercises with her daughter at home, herself, her daughter had sky-rocketed to the top of the class after almost despairing of the subject entirely.

            As to the negative effects of peer pressure, I can also remember as a small child noting the way that my young friend who went to school behaved to her sister. She would invent imaginary “clubs,” from which her sister had been “crossed out.” Where did she learn this talk of “crossing people out of the club,” at only six years old? From other six-year-olds at her school.

            Another example in this area: I know a little girl who’s no more than eight or nine, who can already repeat the lyrics to songs I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Again, where did she learn them? From her friends at school, of course.

            That’s not even accounting for the numerous, well-documented examples of educational negligence (or worse, positive education in things students emphatically don’t need to know), dictatorial regulations, wildly misplaced priorities, brainwashing, Christophobia, negative peer pressure, bullying, and sheer idiocy in this system that I’ve read about in public articles available to any alert citizen who can read. But I’m quite sure you would be bored sick were I to gather and link them all here, and in any case I would be exhausted before I had got through all the ones I could think of.

            A final thought: I’ve seen Christian parents who go on forums and write, “Well, I have this many daughters, so statistically this percentage of them is pretty likely to lose their virginity by such and such age. I’ll just tell them what I think and hope they listen to me, then given them birth control if they still reject me.” I ask, why the resigned tone? It’s because the parents are sending the children into the sex-saturated culture of the public schools, where losing one’s virginity before graduation is expected, nay celebrated.

            You quoted the Proverbs verse and interpreted it to mean that God never intends us to use common sense when making a decision, ever. Are you quite sure you’ve never applied common sense in your life, to any area whatsoever?

            I hope that answers all your questions thoroughly enough.

          3. A couple of thoughts,Esther:

            1) You can make pretty much any job, town, r institution sound hellish if you only seek out negative stories. The fact that you’ve never et foot in a public school says a lot. As others have said, that’s your choice. But what would you think of an adult who never attended church refusing to do so on the grounds that they’ve heard terrible things about it?

            2) It sounds like you only travel in home schooling circles, so you only hear the bad stuff. Try talking (and listening to) parents and students who attend public schol and are thriving and enjoying it.

            2) Charter schools are public schools.

            3)Studies have shown that whole language learning is more effective in the long term than phonics. Phonics does help enough students that it’s worth keeping around, and most schools still teach phonics only or phonics coupled with whole language.

            4) Why Johnny Can’t Read came out 58 years ago. Educational research and instruction has changed drastically since them. Citing Why Johnny Can’t Read is like citing a 50’s medical journal as a reason to avoid doctors.

            5)I noticed on your blog that you spend a lot of time posting videos and discussing secular music you enjoy. I think it’s great that you enjoy those artists. But why is your flexibility okay and others’ flexibility in their musical choices not okay? I mean, one of the bands you posted online was the Doobie Brothers. Good band, but do you know what a doobie brotehr is?

            6) Educational negligence happens among homeschoolers, too. I know a homeschooling parent who proudly states that she only teachers her daughters to meet the minimum state academic requirements. Her reasoning is that she believes that a more rigorous homeschooling education will eventually raise state expectations and standards for homeschoolied kids, and she doesn’t want to make her job harder.

            7) What good is being a light if your children don’t associate with nonchrisitan kids that they can share their faith with?

            8) You kids need to experience peer pressure so they know how to handle it. And eventually they will experience it. If you wait until they attend college or the workforce, then thy’re going to be unprepared and they may lose their faith or give int temptation at that way. Many many young people leave Christianity because they’re startled by the wide variety of beliefs that other people have had and they want to experience as much of the sinful behavior they missed out on as possible to “catch up” with all the “fun” they missed out on.. Even though many of their adult public schooled peers will have learned to avoid these temptations and have no interest in them.

            9) The statistics the online parents you’ve talked to cite will apply to your kids as well, no matter how you aise them.

          4. Esther says:

            CV, sorry I can’t respond to all your comments, but I’ll pick out a few of the funniest ones.

            “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” Your answer is… just funny. Sounds like you have a knee-jerk distaste for everything old. Did it ever occur to you that children were given excellent educations BEFORE the 21st century? And that perhaps there are certain time-tested methods which have been proven over and over again? I wonder, do you take the same “out with the old” approach to other worthwhile things, like literature, art, or music? Or theology, perhaps?

            See, your problem is that you assume education is the sort of thing that “evolves,” like medical study. Prime example of chronological snobbery. I suppose you also think everyone believed the earth was flat before Columbus informed them it was round. By the way, you still haven’t explained my friend’s drastic result with the book or her misery in the public school class.

            Sorry, you’re right that charter schools are a kind of public school. Nevertheless, people often distinguish them from the majority of public schools because they do have some distinguishing features—like greater freedom from bureaucratic procedures and a greater emphasis on academic excellence. This is because of the private business element (hmmmm, makes you think!)

            Educational negligence among homeschoolers. I’ve personally also heard of one or two isolated “un-schooling” cases like that. They make up a tiny minority and they are not representative of the homeschooling movement as a whole, which is noted for its academic rigor. Maybe you could find some other way of explaining why homeschoolers have kicked tail at national competitions and college entrance exams.

            On the statistics about children who lose their virginity… bull-hockey. That parent was getting that statistic from a general survey of families and kids across the nation. Let me know when they do a similar study focusing just on homeschoolers, and then we’ll talk about that statistic. Meanwhile, no, you’re actually just wrong.

          5. Debbie says:

            Esther, I absolutely did ask that question in all seriousness. It’s not my first day at this rodeo and I knew there was more to you than meets the eye. You are bold, consequently you have the potential for great influence. You have empathy for others coupled with a strong sense of justice, good things that I identify with in my own life. However, 20 years of marriage and 18 years of parenting (I have 4 children) has also taught me that holding a tight grip on my own point of view and driving a lifestyle agenda do little if anything to glorify God. A life like that will cause a person to be ineffective and irrelevant in things that are truly important. What God has given in his word, I strive to hold in a tight hand. Everything else I fight to hold loosely so that God can lead through conviction and freedom, even in the lives of those closest to me – my kids. And I do so at my husbands direction! (Sorry, had to throw that in to stay connected to the larger conversation.)

            As to your question about applying common sense, when I have to work too hard to “apply common sense” to a situation I eventually come to the realization that I am debating with God in an area of my life where he desires to grow me. When I make a snap decision too quickly, I find that I am succumbing to fear and a desire to control my environment. These are things that I have found to be true for me after failing miserably for a long time, but I always called it “common sense” and “gut intuition.” God’s word is the filter, not my common sense. Having said that, I believe that true common sense prevails with little effort or stress. That’s what makes it common.

            Brushing a broad stroke only works well on a wall with some good paint, not in life. Hard, sinful things happen in public schools. They also happen in Christian schools, churches, organizations, grocery stores, parks, highways, neighborhoods, and even homes…anywhere sinners gather, which is all of us. This is never a reason to neglect or avoid shining the light of the Gospel in those places.

            Godspeed to you as you seek him above all else. Have a great weekend!

          6. EricP says:


            I agree with what you say, and I’m in a similar situation (17 years, 15 years, and 3 kids). Bringing it back to the main conversation. You say you do so at your husband’s direction.

            My secular friends would cringe at thought, and even when I held stricter complementarian views I would never say I directed my wife. I’d like to dig deeper into that comment to try and understand it better. (I know it was kind of a throwaway comment, but still)

            In theory, it seems like you would only be able to make the decisions your husband allows you to make. What if you two disagree with what scripture says? Do you defer to him? As the spiritual head, it seems like you should.

            In practice, though, what is it really like? I guess what I’m trying to dig out is do you say “complementarianism” and I say “egalitarianism”, but we both end up acting the same way anyway?

          7. Debbie says:


            This is one of those lost in translation moments. My husband lives a calm and steady Christlike example. It’s kind of like this: because of the way he directs himself (uses his rudder) by holding important things tightly and non-essential things loosely, I want to go that way too. Verbally, he refuses to tell me what to do in regard to the course of my life which includes everything from church ministry to home management. He would consider this interfering in my relationship with Jesus. He doesn’t want to do it all, so he does not have an opinion. He has preferences, but again, he holds those things loosely. I remember early in our marriage I started asking permission for everything on the unbiblical advise of an older Christian woman, godly though she was. My husband finally said to me, “I don’t care, make a decision!” That’s a good piece of spiritual headship right there! :) It was a benchmark moment and we have never looked back.

            Regarding spiritual things, I am the more studied and knowledgeable mainly due to my upbringing. That has presented it’s own difficulties but he has a solid understanding of scripture and how to live in light of that and in ways that compel me to respect him and value his judgment. Most of the time, I have to ask for his opinion! Neither of us hold biblically unclarified things in a tight fist, so we have never had an argument where “submission” was required. We have had some great conversations though. Actually, I think these types of “submission” moments are rare in a marriage where the Gospel rules.

            Honestly, I think we get too bound up with the words submission, spiritual head, etc. These indicate function and position not value. We have to stop thinking like this, I believe. So, yes, I think we do end up acting the same way regardless of the label we have. I consider myself complementarian due to the issue of eldership and pastor (the position not the gifting) in the church. I believe that men should lead in this capacity.

            Which brings me to a conversation about all this that I have not heard yet…How does complementarianism affect men who do not “appear” to be strong leader types?

        2. EricP says:


          Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Let me start with your question on men who do not appear to be strong leader types.

          I had never thought about them, so I took some time this weekend and thought about men who might fit this category. The first two I thought of are divorced, but I don’t know what role if any leading/submitting contributed to it. I think it would be either bad for the couple or bad for the man. If the wife follows someone who’s not leading, then the couple suffers. If the wife takes charge, the man might get frustrated or feel guilty.

          I think we need to be very careful how we say things. First, Christians must be able to follow them clearly. Second, we do not want to confuse the world. If the unsaved hate the church because of the gospel, so be it. If they hate us because we can’t communicate clearly, we have a problem.

          Ephesians 5:21-5:33 causes a lot of confusion and conflict. It starts with “submit to one another” and ends with “husbands love your wives as yourselves and wives respect your husband.” To me, those are the key to understanding the passage.

          As for church leadership, I think it lies on weak scriptural ground. If it pushes away the unsaved, then I think we’re better off without that restriction. In the end, I see it as a “minor issue” and a cultural issue that we should not divide over.

          There are 3 incidents that made me change my mind about women pastors.
          1. Seeing gifted women pastors preach and seeing them pushed towards the more moderate branches. A woman who has a conservative view on scripture and feels called to serve is put in a bad position.

          2. Seeing my church jump through hoops to avoid women being given the title of pastor. If a man lead something, he was “pastor of” youth, worship, children’s, etc. If a woman took over, the title changed to “director of” but nothing else changed. The men as pastors would get paid. The women as directors would have to volunteer.

          3. I was helping in a Sunday school class of 3 year olds. The main teacher was absent, so the pastor’s wife came into help. She had 3 kids and was a gifted teacher. She was keynote speaker at many women’s retreats. I was a relatively young Christian with no experience with kids. Yet I was male, so she insisted on deferring to me to lead the class.

          I’ve found sometimes you need to do what you say to realize how little sense your statements are making. Sometimes, you need to ask someone different from you to repeat back what you say to hear how it sounds to them. When I realized how “Hate the sin, love the sinner” sounded to people, I never said it again. The same goes with “women submit to your husbands” or “only men can be pastors”. Christians say it meaning one thing, but my secular friends only hear “women are inferior”

        3. Debbie says:


          What I love about the Ephesians passage you referenced are the bookends, mutual submission and mystery. Those things really expose the brighter and bigger picture in all these conversations, namely that we have a debt of love to one another and we don’t have to know it all…and should admit that we do not. You are right, of course, on communicating clearly to those who do not know Christ as well as to those of us who may be weak in spiritual understanding. I fear it is a bigger problem than we would like to admit.

          Let me explain my intent on “men who do not appear to be strong leader types.” I apologize for being vague. I know what Trevin’s crazy culture of complementarianism is, I’ve experienced the good and the bad. In the midst of this conversation, I began to wonder about those men who do not necessarily exhaust themselves in Bible study, etc. However, they do seek the Lord and read the Bible, but find the application of it in living a quiet life, honing their craft, and providing for their family. One is not better than the other, it’s the way a person is built and in line with God’s direction for that life, I think. It has been noticeable to me over the years that these men tend to be overlooked for leadership roles and many times may feel inadequate to even pursue it because they lack that scholarship. It’s not always the case, but still I wonder how it fits into the conversation especially if they are married to women who may pursue Bible study and leading more passionately in line with a gifting. We all know couples like this.

          You list 3 incidents, points taken. There are some women leading incredible ministries who have greatly enriched my understanding of scripture and my desire to seek God more fully. I won’t mention them for obvious reasons. :) I would suggest that you might consider that pastor’s wife did a very honoring thing to defer to you in leading that class. Clearly I don’t know the intent there, but as one of those ministry “directors,” seeing men invest in the little ones is heart warming. When new believers start serving the body, the next step is always to grow in the doing of it and take on weight for someone else’s spiritual growth and understanding….even if they are 3 years old! Man or woman.

          I am holding the complementarian label in an open hand, but I am still holding it.

          1. I just wanted to pop in and say that I appreciated you two’s (EricP and Debbie)’s conversation… the tone, thoughtfulness, etc. :)

            (that’s all!)

          2. EricP says:

            Ok. I understand your strong leader type question now. I think the reasons are the need to groom elders (“able to teach”) and a lack of non-elder leadership positions. At my church, most elders are in their 30’s and 40’s. They have a demanding full time job and multiple children at home. After 3-6 years, they need a break. Hence, we have a “pipeline” of elders.

            My church has 4 non elder pipeline ministries — worship, emotional crisis (mourning, divorce), meals, and handyman projects. The first three are female dominated. The last one is a new addition and has been great for men. There are no leadership positions available (if worship is male, it is a pastor)

            Maybe your church is different. Are there specific leadership opportunities you are thinking of?

            Second topic, being honored by the pastor’s wife. Yes, honor was one of the feelings I felt. Along with a little bit of terror. It also showed me that I needed to work on leading spiritually. I feel like egalitarianism lets men off the hook. A pastor once explained 1 Peter 3:7 as two ships in a storm with the husband ship positioned to shelter the wife ship. That’s what I strive to do, provide a safe haven for my family to thrive.

          3. Debbie says:

            Paul, thanks. The alternative is just not an option anymore. I’m not really that old, but I am getting too old for that. :)

            EricP, My mind is still a bit fuzzy on the whole thing…I guess I have spent mental energy on it b/c I’ve seen may spiritually oriented men placed in leadership positions. Sometimes they don’t know how to lead effectively, but they look good, sound right, etc. Meanwhile we have men who know how to lead well b/c they are doing it everyday, but they are missing the deeper biblical scholarship. I’m not talking about elders here, obviously those qualifications are necessary. I think I have considered it b/c it has been true in the past where much of this crazy complementarianism began. Can you tell I’ve been working through the childhood issues. :) It’s not true everywhere and the structure of many churches is changing in this regard, thankfully.

            Thanks for the conversation, so nice to broaden perspective.

          4. EricP says:

            Thanks Debbie for the nice conversation. It gives me hope for online forums when I can pleasantly exchange ideas and learn something new.

            I keep swinging and missing at your men question, but let me try one more time. I think you are saying that after a certain level of biblical training, leadership ability should be used to determine who leads. This sounds to me like the distinction between elders and deacons in Acts. I haven’t seen a strong “deacon” position in a church I belonged to. (not talking title, but description in Acts) I also really haven’t seen strong evangelists in a church. They seem to be more associated with para-church organizations. Maybe the same is true with deacon types?

            I’d like to dig at “deeper biblical scholarship” if you have time. There seems to be a limit in scholarship in the evangelical circles. You reach certain topics like complementarianism and scholarship seems to get stuck on the plain reading of Ephesians, 1 Peter, etc. If you go outside (Catholic, liberal, or academic sources), there’s a fount of information on Roman, Greek, and Hebrew customs, thinking of early church fathers, and deep dives into the roots of the original language. I struggled for a long time with the “plain reading” vs. informed from other sources. It doesn’t help that many times, people use other sources to try to argue against things they don’t like in the plain reading. Still, I think there is value especially in reading how other Christians through the years have read the verses.

          5. Debbie says:

            “I think you are saying that after a certain level of biblical training, leadership ability should be used to determine who leads.”

            Kinda-sorta-maybe. :) Personally, I believe everybody is leading someone, and should, even in small ways and at all ages…being a disciple while making disciples. What I have seen happen is this, those men who are interested in spiritual things to the degree they give it a significant amount of time in their lives are often pushed/placed forward to lead when they just don’t know how to lead (yet) or refuse to lead gently or graciously. I see many churches doing more leadership training/coaching now than when I was growing up which is a wonderful thing. A good example is the executive (or something like that) pastor position in larger churches, whose job is to manage systems and different ministries in the church at a pastoral level. Obviously, smaller churches would be unable to do that sort of thing. Having a wealth of biblical knowledge and insight is great, but I am unsure if it should qualify one for management over other people in the church. I guess I’m more about practical leading in nuts and bolts terms.

            Re deeper biblical scholarship, this is one of those “tribe” issues in my experience. It’s easy to lord knowledge over those who don’t have it, and it’s easy to make fun of scholarly types because they can’t do anything. I say whatever the passion of a person, pursue it and give grace to the one who loves something else, who fits somewhere else. It’ll be different, but not in value to the kingdom. The diversity of gifts is such a beautiful thing and it stinks that we make it ugly in our desire to achieve.

            “I think there is value especially in reading how other Christians through the years have read the verses.”

            AGREED. Context is king, it matters and gives a more well rounded perspective. Then again, I love history so I am a little biased.

  5. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    Here’s a thought I had while reading what you said here, and I quote:
    “The image of men and women, equal before God, embracing their unique roles, where men graciously lead their wives in love, and women willingly lay aside rights and power to graciously submit to their husbands – this is a picture of the gospel.”

    Is that the gospel image we see?
    Or do we see husbands called to lay aside their rights and power to graciously serve and love and sacrifice for their wives AND wives called to lay aside their rights and power to serve and submit to and be use their God-given strength alongside their husbands?

    In other words, how do we place our emphasis? Is it a biblical one or a cultural one. If the emphasis in your “good-crazy” is more cultural than biblical, could it contribute to the “bad-crazy?”

  6. Michelle says:

    Thank you! I had begun to shun the idea of complementarianism because of the “bad crazy” issues you addressed here. As a woman who works outside of the home, has kids in public school, and an assertive personality, I’ve often been judged harshly. I also work in ministry, yet my contributions tend to be overlooked by many people because of my gender. Biblical womanhood has become synonymous in many circles with the quiet, unassuming homemaker who has no other role than wife and mother. It’s nice to see that someone out there understands the real issues – and that I don’t have to give up my biblical understanding of womanhood to fit into some contrived cultural viewpoint.

  7. Esther says:

    Also, maybe Trevin could clarify this for me: “Unwillingness to celebrate any evidence of gospel ministry or fruit among those with a more egalitarian viewpoint.” Does he mean that we should celebrate fruit in some area besides gender roles from egalitarians? For example, that we should celebrate N.T. Wright’s contributions to Resurrection apologetics even though he holds an unbiblical view of Paul’s teaching on gender? If so, then I agree. But we should reject any “fruit” that springs from the area where a given scholar/writer/pastor is confused about the Bible.

    1. Nell says:

      You are doing a great job of illustrating the problem. You are biblical and NT Wright is not!

      1. Esther says:

        If I’m understanding Trevin’s meaning correctly, he and I are actually in agreement on this issue.

  8. Luma Simms says:

    Bingo! You get it! It’s culture and tone. Working on a draft about this very thing.

  9. Thank you so much for this, Trevin.

    I would like to point out, though, that while the “best” thinkers and leaders may not imply some of these misconceptions, some of the most well-known and influential absolutely do. This problem has been partially motivated by the written and spoken words of well-known writers and leaders who speak for the complementarian movement, which may be why so many are so eager to abandon it.

  10. Esther says:

    Okay, so that I don’t get stuck on the homeschooling thing ( :) ), I wanted to ask another general question. Is Trevin observing these trends sprinkled throughout the entire complementarian subculture, or is he really noticing them primarily in a sub-sub-culture like, say, the Sovereign Grace network?

    I ask because my own Christian community might be viewed as a pretty typical, very conservative complementarian one. And I was scratching my head over several of these points, because I’ve never observed them in my own community. For example, “an unexpressed expectation that the godliest women have quiet and introverted personality types, and cannot be assertive and outgoing.” I’m neither quiet nor introverted. Yet I have many friends in my community, and I’ve never encountered even the hint of an unspoken expectation that I’m not truly feminine because I’m assertive and outspoken! My mother is the same way.

    Now, I will admit, my experience is unique in that while I live in an evangelical COMMUNITY, I don’t attend an evangelical church. I attend a very small, quiet Anglican parish where I prefer the worship style. There are no families and only about twelve people in all. Nevertheless, if this trend were as pervasive in the complementarian culture as Trevin seems to imply, I should think I would have encountered at least some traces of it in my larger community.

    Maybe this is something Trevin has personally encountered from his own experience. But FWIW, I’m not sure what he’s talking about.

  11. John S says:

    Agree with cautions of the article, thanks. I hope our church, and the Church, doesn’t become 100% homologous.

    However, I know of a dual income couple who left our church primarily because of the culture. (I don’t know if anything was said or not, for example I’ll say not). Most all but not all of the folks in our church have a belief that moms should run the home and train the kids, best done full time at home. If that culture itself offends someone what are the people to do? Should they go out of their way to say it’s fine and good to have both parents work – not just accept but affirm in a disingenuous way? Should some couples have their wives work full time against their better judgment because it will make others who are different feel more at home?

    I talked with this couple numerous times, never knew they were struggling with it, never brought up the subject let alone held it against them, never treated them different than anyone else. One day they just left, because of the ‘culture’.

    I could be more on the lookout for those who are ‘different’ in some way and go out of my way to include and make them feel welcome. However this can creep some people out as well, some folks want to be treated the same not as some special case. If I talk to them about the issue I can’t lie and act like I think both options are equally good. I can accept it and leave it alone and relate to them the same as everyone because i don’t think it’s sin. So I feel like I did that and they still left. Personally I don’t think they would have stayed unless there were more couples like them. It’s like the job question – how can I get experience if no one will hire me unless i have experience?

    I guess my question is, how does one fully accept an ‘outsider’ to a culture if that person defines the culture in their own mind?

    1. Alan Cross says:

      Does complimentarianism require stay-at-home moms and homeschooling? Is that just a natural by-product of the perspective? Can you affirm male headship while your wife works outside the home? Can you send your children to school and still be a godly family? If the “culture” of stay at home moms/homeschooling is so strong in a church that a dual-income family feels like they don’t belong or they are in sin, I wonder if the church is built on the right thing? Unless Scripture says it is sin, should our church culture be so strong in one direction that anyone who is different basically has to leave? While your church didn’t say this (and credit must be given there), you are also asking if you should try and affirm a different perspective from your culture. I would say “yes” if your culture is so strong that someone questions if it needs to be said. Unless your church really does think that stay-at-home/homeschooling is the most godly way to go about things and everything less than that is falling short of God’s glory.

    2. EricP says:

      Did you specifically talk about culture? Did you note that they were different? Was she the only wife that worked?

      The problem with homogeneous cultures is that you don’t realize when you insult/hurt other people. One thing you can do is bring culture out in the open and create a safe space for them to discuss it.

    3. Lou G. says:

      John S. – I find it troubling that there are so many churches that have confused Biblical Complementarity with this:
      “a belief that moms should run the home and train the kids”
      First of all, if the man is the head of his household, it is never acceptable to say that the home is the dominion of the wife alone. The father is just as responsible (and moreso) for the raising up of the children and he must not delegate his responsibility to his wife. 20th and 21st century Christians have been making this mistake since the Industrial Revolution (see Nancy Pearcy’s chapter in Total Truth).

      In addition, this view goes against the reformed doctrine of vocation. Women and men were created to share in the dominion mandate as partners. The reformed doctrine of vocation declares that every Christian is called to be a holy priesthood and to serve out our callings in all the various areas for vocation – church, society, government, home, work, etc… The Bible never says that men have vocational callings in all areas of life and that women must be relegated to the sphere of the home. Again, this is a post-industrial revolution perversion that our churches need to repent of.

  12. I really appreciate your handling of this Trevin, but may I suggest that it’s impossible to divorce “beliefs” from “culture?” Culture arises out of a belief system and so we really have to analyze what we have been communicating that has lead to the culture we are now facing. I am deeply committed to a conservative reading of gender–headship, the whole lot–but I think the disconnect is not simply in what has been said, but in the way it has been said and what has NOT been said. We can’t simply blame the culture of complementarianism–something led to the creation of that culture.

    1. Wendy Alsup says:

      You worded this better than I could have, Hannah. This was the heart of my first book (which was not about complementarian stuff at all)–Practical Theology for Women. The theology we really believe always plays itself practically, and we can look at the practical outworking as a better indicator of our true beliefs than the things we SAY we believe. When the crazy part of the complementarian culture manifests itself, it is reasonable to say, “What are the foundational beliefs that cause this application?” Honestly, I think there are fairly distinct differences in the different waves if you will of complementarian thought. I think personally that, going forward, either patriarchy will separate itself from complementarian thinking, or complementarian thinking will become synonymous with patriarchy, and some new word (not that anyone needs a new word) will become associated with this new wave among those who have convictions on complementing genders and the imago dei that are distinct from egalitarian thought.

      1. Rachael Starke says:

        What Wendy said about what Hannah said. :)

    2. Beliefs drive culture… but misapplication of beliefs can drive culture, too. We may believe the right thing but apply it (e.g., faulty logic) wrongly. Perhaps that’s, in some way, believing wrongly or misunderstanding it, but at least “on paper,” it looks like the correct belief but misapplied. :)

      1. Absolutely. I hope it didn’t sound like I was questioning whether or not core concepts are correct, but that there could be false views in the larger body of thought that have lead to the problems we face. It’s not so simple as to say that our core views are being “misapplied.” If nothing else, we have allowed them to be misapplied in some weird assumption that promoting a conservative reading of gender was worth the risk.

        Also, when we are handling doctrine, we must be very aware of the paradoxes in play. When we ignore or diminish an opposite tension–e.g. when we emphasize differences and do not equally speak of similarities–our message becomes skewed and we end up communicating something that is not true even though there is nothing wrong with our core presuppositions per se.

        1. Yes, I think we are basically agreeing with each other, but perhaps looking at it from slightly different angles. You could say that you can’t divorce beliefs from culture, but the culture could come from misapplication from the beliefs.

          In other words, you could look at the beliefs and say “hey, yeah, I agree with all that” and yet disagree with a culture that says the same thing about the same beliefs due to misapplication, misunderstanding, corruption, or whatever.

          That and I think we CAN act in a way that is contrary to what we believe. A simple and controversial ;) example would be something like environmental issues; many would say “we were placed on the earth to care for it” and yet use phrases, when defending actions that accused as being wasteful or what have you, like “well it’s all going to burn anyway.”

          Seems there are multiple that I might look at that disconnect – I could look at it and note that there’s some other beliefs that are actually held that are leading to those actions… or, look at it and say that they aren’t actually following what they [say they] believe. Or misapplication… or perhaps two beliefs (world will be remade; we are told to care for the world) in tension and we apply one to the exclusion of the other…

          Ultimately, and this is where I think we are in agreement (and I suspect Trevin as well), we do what we do based on what we *really* think; however, from the outside, since I can’t see the heart and see what one really believes at any given moment, it looks like a disconnect. :)

  13. EricP says:

    I looked up complementarianism and egalitarianism. It looks like the difference boils down to:
    1. Should the husband make the decisions for the family?
    2. Can only men be pastors?

    Key verses are: Galations 3:28 vs. 1 Tim 2:9-15 & 1 Cor 14:34.

    Is that right?

    1. I think the emphasis would generally be:

      Complementarian – A person’s function/role in the church and home is ultimately determined by his/her sex.

      Egalitarian – A persons’ function/role in the church and home is determined by the gifting and calling of the Holy Spirit, regardless of sex.

      1. EricP says:


        That’s a good summary. Complementarian sounds like a fancy word for patriarchy — the man leads, the woman raises kids. The man can be a pastor, the woman can lead female bible studies.

        The biblical argument for it appears to hinge on a “I command” from Paul to Timothy. That’s worrisome because Paul at other times says “The Lord, not I” and “I, not the Lord”

        I think people can argue for each of them but should do so on their merits.

  14. Ed Stetzer says:

    Powerful word, Trevin.

    I once heard that a class on biblical manhood talked about going to a gun range because that is what real men do. I am still trying to figure out what men did for all those years before guns were invented.

    It’s too often more about being like a modern version John Wayne than an eternal version of Jesus Christ.


    1. JohnM says:

      Well, there were bows and arrows. Sticks and stones before that. Never was an excuse for not doing real man stuff. :)

    2. Rachael Starke says:

      I just got my license to carry (with commemorative NRA Chick pink hat) and found out I can shoot well enough to be a sharp shooter. Should I be seeking counselling about my obvious gender confusion?


      1. Esther says:

        I don’t think so. Real men shoot AND encourage their wives/daughters to shoot.

  15. JohnM says:


    Your reference to outlook of the Romanian chuch stuck out for me: “The man was the head of the household, but the roles were not as specific or limiting..”. Exactly. What I mean is:

    1. That succinctly expresses something I’ve been looking for the right words to say.
    2. It really describes patriarchy – and why not just call it that?
    3. It makes the point that our alternative to a contrived gender egalitarianism (feminism really) is not necessarily something equally contrived, nor is does the alternative have to be something rigid and absolutist.

  16. david carlson says:

    Trevin – it is more than just recognizing the crazies, one has to confront them — abusive groups like Quiverfull. To often many words are written against egalitarians, but nothing against crazies operating under your umbrella. Deal with the log in your own eye, then feel free to criticize ot6hers

    1. Esther says:

      Again, I think David is expressing a phobia of his own. I personally know many quiverfull people. They’re not abusive, they’re open and kind and loving. I’ve never heard them utter a bad word about families who aren’t quiverfull.

      1. david carlson says:

        really, so telling girls they can’t go to college and instead should marry and bear children is your idea of non abusive? I call that crazy.

        1. Esther says:

          The vast majority of my girlfriends have gone to college. Also, while some of my friends listen only to Christian music, I enjoy secular music along with many of my friends. If and when I get married, I should certainly that my husband will be able to appreciate great music of all kinds.

          I’m just curious, what world are you living in? Is it related to ours?

          1. EricP says:


            I’m confused. You are giving parenting advice and marital advice despite being neither wed nor (I presume) being a parent.

            You consider listening to secular music as something that is acceptable. Why not give others the grace to determine what they think is acceptable? I haven’t seen any activities in the comments that should require hard and fast rules for everyone to follow.

          2. Esther says:

            What marital advice? I expressed a hope about my future husband’s taste in music.

          3. EricP says:

            The point of the blog is complementarianism, which primarily comes down to the husband/wife relationship. By defending complementarianism, you are giving marital advice.

          4. Esther says:

            So you’re telling me that because I’m a young unmarried lady who’s researched and thought a lot about these topics… I can’t offer my opinion? Gee, that’s rather restrictive and chauvinistic of you.

          5. EricP says:

            I’m saying you have a very strong opinion for someone with no experience. I won’t try to argue out of it. I’ll just say continue to think and learn. You might change your opinion. It’s a part of growing up.

        2. Esther says:

          *should certainly HOPE

        3. JohnM says:

          So telling girls they can’t go to college and instead should marry and bear children is your idea of…Abusive?? I’d call that crazy!

          For the record, both of my girls went to college – on my coin. That doesn’t mean I see fit to casually throw around the charge of “abusive” because some people hold more restrictive views. Not very fair to girls who suffer real abuse either, that casual use of the word.

      2. david carlson says:

        btw, listening to secular music – that’s verboten also. Why doesn’t your husband have more control over you?

        1. Esther says:

          Sorry sir. Wrong blog. The sexist trolls convention is down the hall on the left.

          1. david carlson says:

            Exactly – that is Quiverful.

          2. Esther says:

            I think you’re projecting. Bottom line is, I know these people and that’s not what they’re like.

  17. MzEllen says:

    Just a thought…

    If “new wave” complementarianism resonates more with egalitarians than with complementarians, you might want to check out where the “new wave” is going.

    Usually the “new wave” is merely the “old wave” of something else.

    1. JohnM says:

      Good point MzEllen. And it gives me one more reason to not wear the complementarian label in the first place :)

    2. Lou G. says:

      Actually, “new wave” complementarianism, if you read Wendy’s and Kevin’s original postings, doesn’t resonate more with egals at all. New Wave is essentially the original before all the cultural additives. (I do think Kevin makes one good point on the exegesis on Genesis, but otherwise, Wendy and Kevin were pretty closely in agreement).

  18. MzEllen says:

    @Esther –

    I homeschooled my daughter, and I work in a public school.

    You said, “. Prime example of chronological snobbery. I suppose you also think everyone believed the earth was flat before Columbus informed them it was round. ”

    As both a home-schooler *AND* a public school teacher, I can assure you that you are showing your own brand of snobbery and would come across as more approachable (assuming that’s what you want) if you dropped the name-calling and accusatory language.

    1. Esther says:

      MzEllen, from poking around the archives of your blog, you seem no less feisty, blunt or accusatory than I am. You won’t hear me giving you a hard time for it either. Since you appear to be my ally in this culture war, why don’t we both let each other go on our merry feisty ways?

  19. Lou G. says:

    It’s funny how these types of articles often draw out strident pro-complimentarian woman who will argue fairly forcefully against both men and women who disagree with their views. Seems sort of contradictory for an ardent complementarian woman to authoritatively instruct and correct men in the church whom they disagree with on this topic.
    On the other hand, the typically gracious and well-formed discussion comments by new-wavers is refreshing.

    1. Esther says:

      Complementarian women need only answer to the men whom God has placed in their lives as authority figures. In other words, men they respect. Sir.

      1. EricP says:

        That seems selective. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” Other complementarian women I’ve talked to would agree with Lou’s interpretation — women are not to instruct men under any circumstance.

        I don’t believe that, but I’m a chivalrous egalitarian, so I don’t have to.

        1. Esther says:

          There’s a difference between becoming a spiritual guide and mentor to a man in person and criticizing the ideas of men we interact with on the Internet! Also, there’s a difference between my writing a blog post that criticizes a favorite pastor and my being in a position of authority over that pastor, where he’s answering to me and being instructed under me. I’ve written things critical of people like Tim Keller, John Piper, and other well-respected male leaders in the Church. That does not mean that I believe God has given me spiritual authority over them, or that it would ever be appropriate for them to literally have to answer to a woman as their superior in ministry. But I’m just a nobody offering free opinions on a blog.

          1. EricP says:

            And I’m just a nobody teasing you. :)

          2. Esther says:

            Right! So you snark at me, I scratch you right back. Isn’t the blogosphere wonderful?

        2. Akash Charles says:

          chivalrous egalitarian?!!

          you do realise that is an oxymoron as the whole point of chivalry is gender differences and the whole point of egalitarianism is there is no difference anyone should do whatever they want

  20. Douglas says:

    “a spectrum of “holy” and “holier” choices with regard to a child’s education (from public school all the way to homeschooling).”

    So, is the author suggesting that the major categories for education all have equal spiritual outcomes? This is demonstrably false. While unbending rules can be problematic, surely some educational choices are better than others when it comes to passing on the faith. One might thus term them “more holy” on average.

    We live in a very materialistic society. It is hard to sacrifice one’s income to pay for private school or have a mom at home. While there is a danger in judging those who don’t have that choice, the bigger danger for Americans, IMO, is condoning the larger Christian culture’s unwillingness to make the spiritual and educational needs of their children a bigger priority than a nicer house or car.

    1. EricP says:

      Please show your work.

  21. Ed Stetzer says:

    Dear Trevin,

    Please shut down this embarrassment of a “discussion.”

    Great post– shame that it degenerated into foolish arguments in the comments. I hope people listened.


    1. Sally says:

      Well said Ed Stetzer…

  22. Leslie says:

    Wow! Great article, but I think we’ve seen the illustration of “crazy culture of complementarians” in the comments section of this blog.

  23. MzEllen says:

    I guess….if the Egalitarians don’t think they have their own “bad crazy” category…I’ve seen it.

    A few years ago I did a little study on how many denominations started down the “egalitarian” path, and within a couple of decades were having the “homosexual conversation.” There were a few who did not.

    One church I have the “opportunity” to step into a couple of times a month started out solid Baptist. One “liberal” (egalitarian) minister later, they had backed out of the denomination. Last month…they hosted an “alternative prom” (for our LGBT teenagers), a fundraiser for their “choice fund” (so members can pay for abortions) and a “Reverence for Life” Sunday (where people can bring their animals (including toys) to church so the pastor can pray for them.

    I think I’m happy where I’m at.

    1. Leslie says:

      I would probably agree, churches who chase after an egalitarianism ideal are the mirror image of the “crazy complimentarian culture” Wax references in the post.

      The healthiest churches I have been a part of have a fair degree of complimentarians and egalitarians and people who could not care less in their midst and they, well, manage the tension. Most do so by making sure Christ is central, and so this arguement fades into the background.

  24. Joel says:

    Ed: I don’t see any obscenities, and the ad hominem is relatively tame, so let the people talk. It’s one of the great things about blogs.

    Esther: I don’t like being attacked, such as is the case when I attempt to engage postmoderns in debate, but I do like directness, so I think you’ve done well here. But I guess you and I are rare birds these days.

    1. Esther says:

      Thanks Joel. The milquetoast, raised pinky crowd tends to grate on me as well.

      1. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness … self-control, meekness, mutual respect, deeming others more important than yourself…

        I do not think one should call those “advocating” for gentleness, meekness, and respect names such as milquetoast or describe them as a raised-pinky crowd. Especially (presumably) fellow-believers.

        Previously, you mentioned tact, and more or less excused yourself from it by referring to Paul. It seems that that may be a valid excuse if the topic were similar. But nobody here is proposing a different gospel (Galatians) nor is acting hypocritically (again, with regard to the gospel… the incident with Peter).

        I happen to, in fact, be a “complementarian”… but even so, if an unbeliever poked his nose in on some of the conversation here (and perhaps they have), he would not walk away with what Jesus wanted them to walk away with: wow, they really love each other.

        1. Gerry Brown says:

          True, Paul. Nor would they have witnessed any semblance of complementarity. People like Esther are walking and talking contradictions.
          There is nothing great about his discourse, Joel. It is truly shameful.

    2. Esther says:

      Also, not to name drop but Joe Carter is an acquaintance of mine—we get along great and he loves my writing style. So go figure.

  25. DJ says:

    Great blog. I grew up in the South, and went to seminary in the south. In my own seminary experience, i was persuaded to the complementarity. Yet i was disturbed. I did not have a name or categories for it so thank you for giving me those to work with. I had just always found it odd that masculinity was defined in almost John Wayne terms and femininity in Victorian loosely referenced with scripture of course. Even had a professor go so far as to say hierarchical and complementarian have no functional difference. When I pushed back on such ideas by showing the industrious hard-working nature of proverbs 31 woman and almost all women in scripture (that exemplified submission). I was balked at. When I showed how manhood is scripture revealed men should seek relational and emotional depth as well as Elements of empathy passion, and other (female trate) and no else of aloof indifference, and john wayne attitudes, I was balked at. When I suggested and i suggest to you the answer was in our doctrain needing to have Christ’s Character as our example and imitation to balance the implication. Think of a house being build. Gender is outlined in scripture like the frame stage of a house. Christ’s character is the walls and all those Aspects like furniture and pictures that makes four bare walls into a home. He changes everything. Men should cry women can have stonge personallitys and all can know their place and still be themselves as they grow in christlikeness. What do you say to that?

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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