Is Complementarianism at the very center of orthodoxy?

Recently Scot McKnight wrote about his concerns over what he calls the “NeoReformed” (part 1, part 2). According to him, these ardent Calvinists “are more than happy to call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who doesn’t believe in classic Reformed doctrines, like double predestination.” Whether or not that is the case, he also observes something else that is equally alarming:

“And here’s another issue: the NeoReformed are deeply concerned with complementarianism and see it as a test case of fidelity. Fine, argue your points, but complementarianism is hardly the center of orthodoxy. You wouldn’t know that by the way they write or talk. Some see it as the litmus test of evangelical orthodoxy these days. This grieves me. Don’t we have more significant battles to wage?”

Denny Burk objected to this, without commenting on the merits of McKnight’s label, saying that complementarianism is not understood by the “NeoReformed” to be “the center of orthodoxy” or at “the heart of their doctrinal priorities.” Nevertheless, he goes on to say that egalitarianism is a threat to the auhority of the Bible. To me, this smacks of double-speak because it seems to be the case that to deny complementarianism is to deny the authority of Scripture–which of course, puts the very “center of orthodoxy” at stake!

There is some evidence to back up McKnight’s complaint. For example, the Together for the Gospel statement reads:

We affirm that the Scripture reveals a pattern of complementary order between men and women, and that this order is itself a testimony to the Gospel, even as it is the gift of our Creator and Redeemer. We also affirm that all Christians are called to service within the body of Christ, and that God has given to both men and women important and strategic roles within the home, the church, and the society. We further affirm that the teaching office of the church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings and that men are to lead in their homes as husbands and fathers who fear and love God.

We deny that the distinction of roles between men and women revealed in the Bible is evidence of mere cultural conditioning or a manifestation of male oppression or prejudice against women. We also deny that this biblical distinction of roles excludes women from meaningful ministry in Christ’s kingdom. We further deny that any church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel.

The message could not be anymore clear: if you deny such an order exists between man and woman you undermine the church’s witness to the gospel. For decades evangelicals of all stripes, complementarians and egalitarians, have found unity in the gospel message of Christ. But with this statement, there can be no unity in the gospel as egalitarians are subtly denounced as undermining it. And there is nothing more at the center of orthodoxy than the gospel itself.

Al Mohler reviewed Wayne Grudem’s book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? and came to this conclusion:

Nothing less than the future of the Christian church in North America is at stake in this controversy. Evangelicals no longer have the luxury of believing that this controversy is nothing more than a dispute among scholars.

If the future of the church in North America is contingent upon the repudiation of egalitarianism, then the advancement of complementarianism is (and ought to be) “the heart the NeoReformer’s doctrinal priorities.

If complementarianism’s understanding of hierarchy is essential to the Christian worldview (as Mary Kassian argued in her book Women, Creation, and Fall, p. 45), then how could it not be in dispute that the NeoReformed see complementarianism as a litmus test of orthodoxy? If they deny that it is they should qualify or even recant some of the things said above.

One Response

  1. thanks for posting this and the links to McKnight.

    I got here from your comment on Denny’s ‘dancing at weddings’ blog. I found McKnight’s posts about the resurgance of Calvinism very useful.

    As an Anabaptist and a Canadian I’ve been noticing the whole Calvinism thing. It’s actually had some impact in my own denominaion.

    anyway, thanks. and nice blog 🙂


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