Sunday, February 5, 2012

Complementarianism: A Defense from a Nobody

I find it important to begin here by pointing out that Roger E. Olson is a scholar for whom I have the utmost respect. Having studied for years under noted Arminius scholar Keith Stanglin, I have learned to appreciate Olson's impassioned defenses of classical Arminianism. More directly, his 20th Century Theology (co-authored with Stanley Grenz) has a place of honor among my contemporary theology texts and is the book I find myself most often recommending to people who struggle to navigate through the quagmire of modern Christian thought. With that political caveat out of the way, however, Olson recently posted an article concerning "extreme complementarianism" which raised my hackles. In it, Olson quickly does away with the "extreme" qualifier, and paints a sweeping picture of complementarianism as a system dedicated first and foremost to the subjugation of women, the depressing them into the roles of children in relationship to men. That's alright, I suppose. After all, everyone should be used to having their beliefs misrepresented for polemical ends. My problem didn't really arise until sometime later when Olson's own hackles were raised by a similarly biased treatment of Arminianism by a Calvinist. When I suggested to Dr. Olson that this may give the impression of hypocrisy on his part, he demurred.

In fairness, his suggestion to me was entirely reasonable: cite well-known complementarians who clearly and consistently present a philosophy of gender economics that contradicts his caricature. Whether or not he would be sincerely interested in such an effort is irrelevant. As a historian, I lack the resources and the expertise (not to mention, in large part, the desire) to offer such a response. I simply do not swim in those academic streams. I don't know who the well known complementarians are nor how they treat their wives. My vision of gender economics comes from a less vaunted source. It comes from being mentored at the feet of couples in my childhood and adolescence who believed "that men and women are both created in God’s image but assigned different roles" without all the nasty baggage of infantilization and domination that Olson imputes to all complementarians. It comes from studying under professors who are complementarians and respected in their respective fields but who would by no means qualify as the kind of "well-known complementarians" who might impress Dr. Olson. It comes from having a strong, intelligent, unashamedly complementarian wife who is in no respect a child relative to her husband.

So without making any claims to prove anything by anyone's standards and without even trying to argue in a way which might convince Dr. Olson, I do hope to undertake here to sketch in brief a reasoned vision of complementarianism which believes that men and women are created equal and different, that the former of these facts is more foundational and more important than the latter, that it is nevertheless possible and necessary to respect economic gender differences, and, finally, that a proper understanding of Christian submission purges the discussion of gender economics from unChristian conceptions of power.

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