Though I actively struggle more with the harm done to women in the name of complementarianism as was and is defined by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), the doctrines that concern the Godhead are far worse to me.
I was recently asked about why I signed a petition demanding an apology from CBMW for harm suffered by so many in many different ways as a consequence of their teachings. This is the first installment in a series that will examine the most significant problems that I find with their belief system and worldview.
And their view is important to the whole Body of Christ, particularly to those who are associated with any kind of Christian Fundamentalism or Evangelicalism.
Traditionally, God has been understood to be an immaterial spirit, or of the spiritual realm.
- Spirit transcends gender.
- God chose to reveal Himself to mankind as male.
- Though the concept is a mystery to us, God exists as three Persons who are co-equal, co-eternal, and whole and entire when manifesting as one distinct Person.
- God creatively uses gender to reveal many aspects of Himself and our relationship to Him that we would not otherwise be able to comprehend.
- Analogies help us understand aspects of God that exceed our human comprehension, but they are not direct correllations. (God is likened to a mother hen who gathers her chicks, but God is not, of essence, a chicken. God told Jeremiah that He made him a defended city and a pillar of iron, but Jeremiah remained, of essence, a human being.)
- If you've never read Edwin Abbott's insightful book, Flatland, it can be helpful in explaining functionally why a being in a lesser dimension cannot fully comprehend a being from a higher one – assuming that the spiritual realm transcends the physical. It can help put aspects of the discussion of the mysteries of God into perspective.
FYI Regarding Roles
The terms “operations” or “acts” to describe what God does were more common in the language of theology in years past, as were more faithful to the terms used in Scripture. As language changed over the course of time, the term “role” became more descriptive of contemporary language of our day, but it was more akin to “office” and the functions associated with it. These meanings have been somewhat conflated in our modern usage of them in terms of theology. (Read more HERE.)
You will note that CBMW uses the term “role” as a primary descriptor of their various views concerning hierarchy. Please note that there is no such term that corresponds to one found in Scripture in the way that it is so ubiquitously used in complementarianism. As RK McGregor Wright points out, there is a term that does translate into the meaning of “role” in the way that we use it in English. It is the term “hypocrite.”
the Doctrine of God?
Covenant of Redemption
CBMW borrows from the Calvinist concept of the Covenant of Redemption which postulates that before creation, the Divine Persons who comprise the Trinity consulted one another to divide up the division of labor concerning how they would relate to and thus save mankind.
- This view favors a “social” conceptualization of the Trinity which emphasizes the individuality of each of the Divine Persons. (The alternate concept, the “antisocial” view of the Trinity, emphasizes the unity of God as opposed to the diversity of Persons within the Trinity. Each view has benefits and pitfalls.)
The Eternal Subordination of the Son
Jesus is said to be the “Eternal Son of the Father,” not because of the kenosis, but because of Jesus' own eternal and innate characteristics which are notably different from the Father's.
- In truth, Hodge, Dabney, Mueller, and Berkhof, refute ESS. I own copies of their texts. However, CBMW makes the false claim that egalitarians have endeavored to distort the historical view.
- Despite repeating their mantra disclaimer that they are not in any way suggesting that the Son or Spirit possess a different essence, the bulk of what they teach and their conclusions describe a Christ who is ontologically subordinate (of a different and lesser essence in terms of power and authority).
A leader in CBMW has attempted privately to clarify what “eternal sonship” meant.
- The Father in His "role" as Father is Himself supreme in position, authority, worship, and honor. The Father has a higher position, a higher authority, and he receives “ultimate” worship and honor (which the son does not).
- Bruce Ware attempts to defend this concept in his book about the alleged connection between the Trinity and gender roles.
While they maintain that the Father is Ultimate or Supreme, CBMW maintains that is is wrong to say that the Father possesses more authority, power, worship and honor than the Son.
- They staunchly deny that “supreme” means “more.”
- The Father is the only “Supreme One” in the Trinity because of the eternal nature of the hierarchy which is denied to be based on essence.
- The roles have somehow constrained the non-supreme equal Persons who consist of the “same substance” as the Supreme Father, but they also cannot act against their intrinsic roles.
- The Father commands, and the Son obeys. The Son cannot disobey because of His innate place within the natural hierarchy.
- Only the Father hears and answers prayer from whom all blessing originates, and the Son only mediates and carries prayer to the Father, constrained to do only the will of the Father without a truly viable choice. The Son does not answer prayer but can only do the bidding of the Father because that is who He is. (It is not sinful to pray to Jesus, but it is not theologically correct. He's just the messenger who mediates requests and dispatches blessing, based on the Father's will.)
CBMW maintains that their teachings have been grossly mischaracterized by critics like Kevin Giles, Alan Myatt, among others.
Federal Headship vs. Male Headship
- Some Covenant Theologians believe that federal headship and male headship are synonymous concepts and thus believe that federal headship explains why God revealed Himself as male. Other Calvinists deny that this is the case and understand federal headship as complete separate from male headship. (Not all Covenant Theologians embrace the same understanding of male headship, either.)
The Doctrine of God and Significance in the Gender Debate
- Some Calvinists argue that God's spirit is intrinsically male and is not in any way female, denying that God merely transcends gender. CBMW explains this just ambiguous enough and their logic just fuzzy enough for them to claim that they teach that God is a Spirit (not innately male) so that they can deny one or the other, depending on their audience.
- The subject of later discussion, CBMW also claims that the Jesus Christ serves as the analogous Trinitarian counterpart for women. Just as Jesus is subordinate to the Father, women are said to be subordinate to men. (The only Divine Person who had a human body like ours that was a MALE body is likened to a woman? Yes.) As helpmeet for one's husband who was created for his use, women can look to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 for encouragement in their eternal role of sacrifice.
- CBMW often reiterates Presbyterian RC Sproul's teachings on God's aseity (self sustenance) to support their gender views: All Christian doctrine in some way derives from the Doctrine of God – from an aspect of who He is.
- CBMW uses this concept to claim that gender beliefs and practices are tied directly to the identity of God and are not analogies that tell us something His nature. Gender beliefs and God's identity become inextricably bound to one another in that process.
- In so doing, CBMW transforms gender teachings that have been traditionally understood as intramural debates within Christianity (non-central or non-essential doctrine) into central, mandatory doctrines.
- Those who have attempted to engage in academic and irenic discussion with CBMW concerning their published doctrines are more often than not ignored and demeaned. Some have been “marked and avoided” as false teachers by CBMW. Personally, I would have no interest in the discussion of how another denomination parses out their theology if I had not witnessed the far reaching, detrimental effects of these teachings.
For more information and documentation concerning CBMW's complementarian view, review the embedded links, visit CBMW (starting with their Danvers Statement position on gender), and download Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
For more information and documentation concerning the criticisms of CBMW, just start googling if you cannot find information on this blog or through recommended links (particularly those dealing with domestic abuse and women in ministry). I recommend the following books as introductory ones that will help the reader understand the teachings pertaining to the issues that most concern me personally.
- Woman this is War: Gender, Slavery and the Evangelical Caste System (Jocelyn Andersen *blog)
- A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church (Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood *blog)