My Complements…

The good folks at Christians for Biblical Equality provided me with a copy of N. T. Wright’s 2004 talk, “Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church.”

Wright introduces his talk by making some observations as an “outsider” to the American Evangelical way of framing the issue and holding the debate. In particular, Wright hesitates about the language we’ve adopted to demarcate our “sides.”

“Complement is too good a word to concede to the other side.”

That was the heart of his concern.

Women should be admitted to the ministry, not on the grounds that in all things they are the same as men, but on the grounds that in many ways we evidence tendencies toward difference.

The presence of both is what makes the church stronger.

10 thoughts on “My Complements…”

  1. The big question, of course, is whether any such complementarity between men and women is taught in Scripture with normative significance. Almost everyone will agree that men and women are different, and complement each other in interesting and helpful ways. But not everyone will agree that certain sorts of these complementary differences between men and women are divinely intended as normative, thus making it a sin to obscure those particular sorts of gender-based complementarity. So Wright affirms complementarity, but rejects the notion that leadership is one of those attributes which God intends to be evidenced in normatively complementary ways by men and women (i.e., men, but not women in leadership). But does he affirm other sorts of normative gender-based complementarity for Christians? Or is complementarity itself the norm/value, but with ever-changing more explicit content or behavior, varying across cultures and times? That’s the more complicated question, it seems to me.

      1. My basic concern is with complementarians who also want to be egalitarians. I take Wright to be in that camp. By your summary, I assume that he wants to say that both men and women can be in leadership, but men and women also have complementary gifts that they exercise in leadership. So far, so good. I don’t have any problem with that. But that raises the question of those ways, if at all, that God may intend a _normative_ complementarity between men and women. If leadership is not an area where there are different norms that govern the way that men and women operate, are there any other areas where complementarity dictates normative differences between men and women? If so, what are they? What, in the purposes of God, should either men or women _not_ do, simply because they are male or female? That’s what I mean by normative complementarity. I have a harder time finding compelling Scriptural warrant for these claims.

        Another way of putting the question: is “complementarity” a _descriptive_ category for talking about the differences between the genders, or is it _prescriptive_? I wasn’t clear from your exposition of Wright where he came down on that question. And if complementarity is a prescriptive category, then what exactly does it prescribe that is normative across all times and cultures?

        Hope that makes a bit more sense.

        1. Is this a fair representation of your question: Self-professed “complementarians” argue for a prescriptive set of limitations and requirements based on gender–do “egalitarians” who want to affirm “complementarity” have any parallel claims to make?

        2. ‘…men and women also have complementary gifts that they exercise in leadership. So far, so good. I don’t have any problem with that.…’

          I think I have a problem with that — not with complementarity (though that can lead to unacceptable generalisations — not all women are the same as each other), but with the idea of leadership. We need to egt our ideas of leadership from Jesus’s washing the disciples’ feet, and the lessons he drew from that. ‘I am among you as one who serves.

  2. Makes me think of Carol Gilligan’s book from the 80′s called “In a Different Voice.” Do you know it? It sparked all kinds of discussion related to gender and equality.

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