This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Batman Tragedy and an Evangelical Controversy

It's nice when, after you've finally decided to wade into an Evangelical brouhaha, the controversy suddenly dissipates.

Last week, I was alerted to an article written by Jared Wilson, a member of The Gospel Coalition. The article was written as a response to the popular Fifty Shades of Grey books and was supposed to show how a complimentarian understanding of the roles of men and women is a powerful antidote to the degrading relationships described in those books. Complimentarianism is the view that men and women are equal before God and have distinct roles in the church and home.

The article was poorly executed. I won’t go into the specifics because Jared has apologized and removed it from The Gospel Coalition’s site. Suffice it to say, some of the language utilized to describe the sexual relationship between a husband and wife felt harsh and domineering to many readers.

Egalitarian readers of the article—those who would argue that there should not be a distinction in roles on the basis of gender—were upset. Many went too far, accusing Jared of advocating marital abuse when his intention was clearly the opposite. Jared seemed to be doubling down, arguing that the critics weren't understanding his point.

I was reluctant to enter the discussion. I really like Jared and felt like much of the criticism crossed the line and didn't address the essence of what he said. At the same time, I was concerned about the picture of complimentarianism that was being painted by one of our own. I had decided to venture into this conversation when suddenly it was over. As I said, Jared apologized and most graciously accepted his apology. 

Controversy over (mostly).

So why am I wading into the conversation?

I fear that the term "complimentarianism" is being compromised. In our current discussions, we are using words like "leadership" and "headship" to emphasize the very character traits Scripture warns us against in Genesis 3 at the fall. Put simply, men, our job is not to "rule" our wives! When I use the term complimentarian to describe my position, I fear that people misunderstand what I mean.  They—complimentarians, egalitarians, patriarchs—all impart secular views of authority and leadership and import them into the discussion.   

I want to advocate a different understanding of leadership and authority, and, therefore, complimentarianism.  It is an understanding based not only on Paul's words to husbands in Ephesians 5:22-33 but also Jesus' words in Matthew 20:20-28 on leadership. To do so, I don't want to use the imagery of a CEO or a coach or a father to describe the role of a husband. Instead, I want to use some of the violent images from Aurora, Colorado.

The tragedy in the early hours of Friday, July 20, 2012 at a theater showing a screening of the new Batman movie was horrific. In terms of casualties, it is the worst shooting in U.S. history. One aspect of the story that is garnering more attention today is the similarity in the stories of three of the twelve fatalities. A quarter of the people who perished in that theatre were men shielding their girlfriends from the bullets of a madman. 

These men who died were not perfect men. You can read their biographies and learn of their frailties. But all of them, at that last moment when it really counted, flung their girlfriends to the ground and sacrificed their lives for them. Even the left-of-center website Slate noted the “ingrained” impulse in men to protect women thatwas brought out in the tragedy.

This is the image of complementarianism I wish to communicate to my sons and other men in the church. Our role is not to be served by our wives. Our role is to sacrificially give up our lives for our wives on a moment by moment basis.

This means not only throwing our bodies on top of them as a deranged shooter is on the loose. It means doing the laundry, cleaning the house, caring for the children, cooking dinner, being quick to apologize and a million other tiny things. 

Men, love your wives as Christ loved the church.


  1. Grandson, you put it so succinctly you brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so very much for "weighing in" and expressing your views. I love you. Grammy

  2. Pastor Bennett,

    I'm sure we are actually pretty close to agreement on the subject, but I do have a couple of comments or thoughts.

    1. It seems through the narrative of scripture that God holds the institution of family accountable based on the federal headship of men (Abraham, Noah, Achan,etc..). Even the people of Israel as a nation were accountable on the basis of the King (both Judah and Israel), the representative of the Nation. Paul himself makes the application on original sin on the basis of the decisions of the Federal head Adam and likewise the redemption of the elect on the basis of the work of Christ the new Adam and federal head.

    So it seems that your conclusion of a sacrificial love as the example of leadership is connected to covenantal federal headship and thus men. Which is probably the basis of Ephesians Ch. 5.

    2. "In our current discussions, we are using words like "leadership" and "headship" to emphasize the very character traits Scripture warns us against in Genesis 3 at the fall." Can you elaborate on this?

    3. What would be an example of this, "They—complimentarians, egalitarians, patriarchs—all impart secular views of authority and leadership and import them into the discussion."

  3. Always good to hear from you LeeInd. Here are my quick thoughts:

    #2: Part of the curse is that a husband's tendency is to have a domineering relationship to his wife instead of serving her (Gen 3:16). Instead of seeing leadership as an office for serving, husbands are tempted to see it as an office for seeking our own way. So Gen 3 warns us of this tendency and we fail to heed that warning.

    #3: I would say models that don't begin with Matthew 20:20-28 as their paradigm for what leadership is fail in this regard. When I say "they," I don't mean every person in each of those groups. I mean each group has members who are tempted to view terms like "leadership" in secular terms. The egalitarian rejects complimentarianism for the wrong reasons, in other words. The complimentarian fails to rightly define their position.

  4. Actually, I just read what I wrote. Let me amend something. Most committed egalitarians would still reject my understanding of complimentarianism even if they understood it completely. That is because I still believe that the husband leads. I just think that what "leadership" means is different than the meaning projected upon the term by many egalitarians.

  5. Sir,

    I have a problem/question... you make the statement, "In our current discussions, we are using words like "leadership" and "headship" to emphasize the very character traits Scripture warns us against in Genesis 3 at the fall." In Eph 5:23 we see Paul use the word "head" referring to headship which he then goes on to show as sacrificial love with Christ as the ultimate model. Numerous passages have the idea of leadership in them if not directly stated. In your statement it somewhat came across that we should stop using these terms. What are your thoughts about us instead reclaiming these terms to their biblical meanings?

  6. Phil,

    I don't think we should stop using those terms. My problem is not the terms themselves but rather the meaning we sometimes give them.

    Keep the terms, use them Biblically.