Egalitarianism (feminism) leads to Liberalism: Why I’m for Abolishing the Whole Egalitarian/Complementarian Logic

images-1Last week Justin Taylor asked his readers to consider Wayne Grudem’s argument from seven years ago, that “egalitarianism leads to liberalism.’ He recited a long paragraph from Grudem’s book and then asked his readers to consider the “valid points” in Grudem’s logic. To me Taylor’s blog post , along with a series of other exchanges between Andrew Wilson, Scot McKnight, and D.C. Cramer, explains how both egalitarians and complementarians are caught in the same logic: the logic of hierarchy and the difference-sameness binary. To me this logic is an exercise in missing the point. And it keeps all parties from seeing just what is at stake in the New Testament church’s recognition and facilitation of women in leadership (alongside men) in full authority in the church. I’m for abolishing the whole thing: the entire logic behind both egalitarians and complimentarians. Allow me to explain.


1.) THE NEW TESTAMENT CALLS FOR OVERTURNING (THE LOGIC OF) HIERARCHY: The NT church is not about whether women should be “over” men or men “over” women. It is about eliminating the “over” entirely (this is the point of 1 Tim 2:12). It is about abolishing the politics of anybody being over anybody and instead we come together mutually under one Lord and the organization of authority is centered in the recognition of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit at work regularly in the body of Christ under the one head – Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 12, Rom 12:3-8, Eph 4:7-16). This is the new community. Since God has poured out this Spirit on men and women alike (Acts 2:17ff) there is no discrimination in this authority. This is not a democracy, this is a pneumatacracy under the rule of one Lord. We are all invited, women and men, into the new community God is creating as a foretaste of his kingdom. If we wish to live out this new community, women must be equally invited into leading as men.

Too often however the complimentarian/egalitarian logic thwart this dynamic. The “complementarian” approaches to leadership keep hierarchy (and thereby patriarchy) in place thereby being unfaithful to eschatological reality that is the church. “Egalitarian” approaches to leadership often (unintentionally) become the means to ensconce “male dominant” ways/structures of leadership and then invite women into them. Egalitarians find themselves arguing for “equal” access into a leadership as presently conceived (i.e. in patriarchy/hierarchy) never dealing with the hierarchy in the system. But the NT calls for the abolishment of the entire thing. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Mark 10:42-43.



Hierarchy/patriarchy is a remnant of sin (“and he shall rule over you” Gen 3:16). The patriarchal logic is overturned in the new relationship in Christ (“… submit yourselves one to another in reverence –submission to Christ” Eph 5:20)) where we are reconciled to each other and live in mutual submission one to another (where the husband is to also submit to the wife “giving up his life for her.” Eph 5:25). In the church and in marriage patriarchy has been abolished. But this is not to be mistaken for eliminating difference. Paul is forever reminding the over-enthusiastic excessive Corinthians that they are still married, that sex still matters (and the women is asked to recognize her femininity and her relationship to her husband as head before the congregation by wearing a head covering while prophesying 1 Cor 11:2-16). Women are to remain women and men, men. Women are not to become men, but instead bring all of what it means to be a women to the community in the full exercise of her new found authority in the body of Christ. “In Christ” therefore, there is still gender difference culturally and within marriage (much of this difference is worked out contextually within the various cultural challenges presented to each gender). The struggle in the New Testament is to maintain gender difference in marriage (that has not been abolished only transformed) in the midst of women’s full authorirty n the new Kingdom. This is where the majority of references occur in NT where Paul is calling for women in church authority not to abuse that authority within their marriages. This new dynamic of mutual submission in difference under one Lord both preserves difference while making us one.

Too often however the complimentarian/egalitarian logic thwart this dynamic. Complimentarians often miss how the NT church is calling for a new reconciled “mutually submissive” relationship between genders, not a maintaining of hierarchical management of gender roles. They assume giving up this “hierarchy” eliminates gender difference. Not so! Instead the genders maintain difference but enter into a mutually submissive relationship under and to one Lord. On the other hand, egalitarians often unintentionally diminish gender difference and the roles within marriage. Any sense of male headship at all is viewed as anathema. Yet in the NT these roles are not eliminated (for instance “the headship” of the male in marriage), they are transformed (headship becomes a form of service and a role lived in mutual submission ala the Triune roles within the Godhead). As we can see then, both complimentarians and egalitarians keep the prior logic of either maintaining gender management under hierarchy/patriarchy or eliminating gender difference making management of gender difference irrelevant. The New Testament calls for a new logic of maintaining difference in mutual submission and reconciliation between the genders in the “in between times (before marriage is done away with Mark 12:25).



There is a tradition of ordaining women under these terms that is not based in the logic of either complimentarian or egalitarian thinking. It neither denies gender difference (on the logic that some texts are culturally obsolete) nor sustains hierarchy. Rather we follow Jesus into the cultural revolution of the Kingdom God He is ushering in. We do not restrain women from ordination based on a parallel understanding of men and women’s roles in marriage functioning in the church. There is an overlapping of the ages which must be honored. And women are encouraged to be women and men be men all the while respecting their marriages if indeed they are married (I have an extensive paper on this available on our church – Life on the Vine – website).  Nonetheless, even more so, all are invited to participate fully in the new authority of the Kingdom God is bringing in through Christ. These impulses have been carried out best within the Holiness/Charismatic Traditions (who base their life on the new work of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit in the church) and the Anabaptist traditions (which see hierarchy as abolished within the New people of God as founded in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Somehow these traditions get marginalized in these discussions. And us Anabaptist Holiness people get grouped in with the “liberals” ala Wayne Grudem because we affirm the full authority of women in the church. Hopefully this post makes way for another way.



Posted in Uncategorized
43 comments on “Egalitarianism (feminism) leads to Liberalism: Why I’m for Abolishing the Whole Egalitarian/Complementarian Logic
  1. Zach Hoag says:

    Dave, I think you’re putting forward a “mutualist” kind of perspective which has been what most resonates with me because it retains difference and mandates equality at the same time.

    What I’m wondering is, how do you see the power/privilege aspect of this at play in churches, and are feminist voices necessary to confront that? As I’m learning from friends, I think those voices are necessary (prophetically). I think the unseen power structures may be able to persist in a mutualist environment simply because they have not been confronted strongly enough. What do you think?

    • davidfitch says:

      I’m game with all that. I certainly feel the feminist critique in all its forms is necessary and welcomed … and other critiques as well … if no other basis than on “mutualist” grounds. I think Anabaptist-Holiness feminism is the way of the Kingdom however. Within traditional feminism I wish there was more Zizekian-esque awareness how the various critiques feed the existing regimes of power with all the malformation, greed and ego that go with it. We need a negation of the negation.

      And also, it goes without saying that mutualist environments can nurture abusive power structures … but, if the logic is carried out, if we practice truly mutualist mutual submission relentlessly painstakingly, the false powers will be revealed and shrivel up and die.

    • I resonate with your question, Zach. I’ve found liberative approaches profoundly helpful in diagnosing/deconstructing, but then ultimately falling short when it comes time to reconstruct.

      So yes, I think I’d welcome the prophetic voices to the table while still affirming this “mutualist” vision that Dave’s putting forth here for more constructive (and NT-resonant) work in the church.

      Good stuff, both of you; thanks!

  2. Scott Eaton says:

    Dave, I like this piece a lot. But doesn’t ordination itself create a sort of hierarchy? I’m wondering if talking about ordination doesn’t undercut your argument a bit.

    • davidfitch says:

      Not at all Scott. Apart from Constantinian manifestations, ordination is an induction, facilitation into “service” not hierarchy. I think even the Roman tradition can recognize this (as the current and newest pope kinda of plays off of). Ordination does recognize authority but it is authority carried out in submission one to another, as one gift among many. The gifts do recognize boundaries for authority as well and Paul does see certain gifts as “prior” to other gifts (like the fivefold in Eph 4 or the ordered giftings at end of 1 Cor 14). For all of these reasons I see ordination as contextual, deeply historical and incarnational.

  3. Ya know, the “egalitarian” label never felt right to me. My mother was an ordained/licensed minister in the Mennonite Church USA… but I don’t think she was equal to the men… nor were the men equal to her. They each had their own giftings, their own failings, their own contributions to the greater whole. It’s not being “equal” that matters, it’s, as Zach said, being mutual… and as David said, that whole mutual submission thing.


  4. Jonathan says:

    I can’t find the white paper on the Life on the Vine website…

  5. Dan Jr. says:

    Thanks for this. My unease with feminism has been the zero-sum game it unintentionally perpetuates. I’ve participated in traditional feminist pushes in progressive churches. My wife and I have never felt good about the imbedded cynicism and wrestle for power that inevitably goes down. The form and the mode unknowingly mimicked the fundamentalism down the street in the baptist church. My other struggle with feminism is that it takes its motive-cues often from “reactions to abuses” instead of the earnest desire to come under the narrative of Scripture. I’m convinced that anger ruins our supposed progress. Abuses need to be courageously confronted, but after years of being in this fight I’ve observed that decisions often made in response to abuse often trigger a counter-move, stimulating more collateral damage.

    I know I’m biased (I’m a white male) but many of the woman in our communities leadership are subverting both the ideology of feminism and misogyny. Are there still dynamics to be addressed…yes. I wish there was a fool-proof formula to creating a mutualist environment but I’m witnessing the slow magic of a cluster of woman who are healed, secure, discerning and not ticked off. They model submitting to men as well as leading men and we seriously challenge our men to do the same.

  6. Regan says:

    Really great article and explanation. You put into words how I feel in a way I couldn’t have. Thanks. I’m sharing this.

  7. Bobby Ray says:

    Egalitarianism and feminism are not synonymous. That is one of the most over-simplistically false claims going around theological circles; and its indicative of the sort of lack of imagination and theological group-think theologians stuck in the ivory tower of their of theological preferences are guilty of far too often.

    There are all sorts of theological traditions influenced by feminism that do not ultimately divinize equality. Mine being one of them.

    Believe it or not, I’m not an egalitarian…even though my thinking has been shaped by egalitarian thought and I certainly prefer it to just about every stream of complementarian thought.


    I’m a man-feminist because history plainly shows male-power to be one of the most epidemic sins of the relational brokenness of the world. However, I simply have an understanding of feminism through a sort of conservative theological lens that does not see “equality” as what Jesus or Paul was going for; but powerlessness.

    The world of theology continually makes the limited options conservative/liberal, complementarian/egalitarian; but the dualism of this ethical dilemma is the problem. As a person committed to non-violence, I cannot allow myself to be sucked into a “lesser of two evils” sort of situation. Which if I were, I would certainly prefer to be an egalitarian ethically and a complementarian because it gives me certain “. But Jacques Ellul once wrote something that changed how I see gender relations forever:

    “Religious people who can think only in terms of rivalry, superiority, equality, and inferiority thus bring against Jesus the charge that he is making himself [G-d's] equal. They are incapable of imagining that a man, Jesus, can be [G-d] with his Father, and that the vocation of all of us is to be [G-d] with the Father.”

    • davidfitch says:

      Bobby Ray,
      Your argument is with Grudem here right? You know that I know feminism does not equal egalitarianism? There is however a string and long tradition of feminism grounded in egalitarian politics to which I am riffing off of here because it is what Grudem’s argument is based on. So if you have an argument with somebody, it’s with Grudem. Anyways, I hope I’ve clarified some things

      • Zach Hoag says:

        I think maybe the title was a bit confusing as it outlined Grudem’s view with a conflated “egalitarianism (feminism)” phrase, which made it seem like Dave was equating the two throughout. I do think feminism probably has some things to say to the idea of biblical “differences”, but this is a great argument if it pertains specifically to political egalitarian thought.

  8. Mary says:

    I am just curious – I notice that you are co-pastor at a CMA Church – a denomination which has a clear stand limiting the roles of women in leadership. I have noted that one of your other co-pastors is a woman, but just wonder how all of this works within the CMA community, and whether you have any struggles dealing with their position.

    • davidfitch says:

      Well for one, Life on the Vine disavows the notion of a senior pastor. That changes the need to address the prohibition that a woman cannot be a senior pastor. How we’ve worked this out, and in conversation with whom has been an ongoing local discernment. But we’re not the only ones pushing through on these discernments in C&MA (look at the newly elected C&MA president’s home church for example – Salem Alliance Oregon). Likewise, C&MA Canada now ordains women. I’d be glad to discuss all the developments within our local body over the phone etc.

      • Mary says:

        Thanks, David! I am encouraged that the good folks of the CMA are at least engaging this issue. I had a CMA colleague in my last pastorate (I’m ABC, BTW) who made sure I knew his position – and that of his denomination – though we had a cordial relationship.

  9. David, I think I could affirm almost everything here and still practice something that would look a lot like soft-complementarianism in my church (something similar to what Kathy Keller proposes in her e-book, which is basically what we do at the moment). A lot would then come down to ecclesiology and our view on the role/function of elders in our church.

  10. Jennifer says:

    A side observation…

    “Women are to remain women and men, men. … ‘In Christ’ therefore, there is still gender difference culturally and within marriage (much of this difference is worked out contextually within the various cultural challenges presented to each gender).”

    One of the biggest challenges I see is working out gender differences culturally in a society which is culturally pluralistic.

  11. Jeff says:


    Thanks for the post!

    Could you give some gender differences you see? Scot McKnight, via Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, seems to suggest there is very little to no differences between male and female, other than sex.

    McKnight also appears, per our class this week (Women in Ministry) to be opposed to “role” language. Instead, he suggests “task” or “duty” language, which in his estimation both man and woman possess the potential to fulfill equally.

    Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

    • David Fitch says:

      I do see .. following McIntyre … that all societies develop roles (in the dramatic use of the term). It cannot be helped. Such roles cannot be avoided within the genders and marriage. They are worked out over time within cultural frameworks. They are influenced by biology. Over time they are proven. The Story of God has such roles but we must go about describing them carefully because throughout Scripture the stereotype Western nuclear family stereotypes don’t fit within Scripture. Nonetheless, I think there is a “division of roles” similar to the way there is in Trinity, in which perichoresis makes sense.
      … to discern these I suggest we start with the idea of “head” … and how it is overturned in Eph 5:25 as a patriarchal thing and turned to a posture of service out of mutual submission.
      But there is no way I’m going to go essentialist to an extreme here … rather … I think we ought to go into each context and discern how the roles between men and women have developed and carefully discern/uproot sin and allow God in Christ to convert that cultural form into redeemed gender relations.
      … to say there are no differences between men and women in marriage to me is a disaster … but to do the opposite and make such differences hard and fast essentialist can create just as many problems.
      Hope this helps

  12. Scot McKnight says:

    Jeff, not quite what I said. I said she argues social scientists cannot determine essentialism when it comes to gender.

    I don’t like “role” language; I said in Blue Parakeet that “mutualism” is the gospel language for relationships so I fight being called an “egalitarian,” though sometimes I would agree in part with their contentions. So, I’m not an “egalitarian” but a “mutualist.”

    Fitch needs to use a dictionary. I’m sicking Claude on David.

    David, Anabaptists do away with hierarchy? I’m thinking about Hubmaier and Menno into the 20th Century … really? Simple dress wasn’t exactly the ending of hierarchy, eh?

    • David Fitch says:

      Scot … did I call you an egalitarian? Maybe I implied that, but I’ve always been uncertain as to how you come down on the political categories of egalitarianism. Nonetheless, thanks for the clarification.
      On the Anabaptist question, I could care less what crazy historical figures in the strange past of Euro Anabaptism did (we all know they did alot of crazy thinhgs). I’m interested in working from the categories of Yoder forward (although the history helps at times … so I’m not totally consistent on this). So I’m following Yoder on these ideas and the hsitorical figures he draws from which I don’t have space to detail here.
      Blessings on the class … and keep Saferite in line :)

      • Richard Yale says:

        >>On the Anabaptist question, I could care less what crazy historical figures in the strange past of Euro Anabaptism did (we all know they did alot of crazy thinhgs). I’m interested in working from the categories of Yoder forward (although the history helps at times … so I’m not totally consistent on this).<<

        Woah! Although I am an Episcopalian of a particularly Catholic bent I have been endeavoring to appreciate and incorporate Anabaptist thought and tradition. But this astounds me. If Anabaptist thought produces wackadoodle figures in history we simply disavow them?

        What this suggests to me is that Anabaptism as discussed by so many today is not a living tradition, as much as an ideology. It is an ecclesiological idea. Thus it seems to be just another form of Enlightenment theology.

        • I think the implication is fellows like those involved in Muenster (… not EXACTLY the best of Anabaptist folks… All theological/ecclesiological traditions have these outliers..and we can say that all those outliers are given a wide berth… As an Anabaptist/Mennonite, I acknowledge this part of my historical tradition… but I do so as to point out that this is an outlier, not representative.

          Keep in mind, also, that the term “Anabaptist” was as much a pejorative term for the radical reformers of the 16th century as “Christian” was for those weirdos running around Antioch in the 1st century. So, the term “Anabaptist” in historical accounts is a VERY broad term used to classify anyone who “rebaptized”.

          Meanwhile, Anabaptist as has become the theological tradition that survived is more embodies in Mennonites, Amish, Bretheren in Christ, Mennonite Bretheren, Hutterites, etc… It is from these theological streams that folks like Fitch and Holsclaw and McKnight and Boyd who claim Anabaptism (or Neo-Anabaptism) draw from, not from the statistical anomalies.

          As for it being Enlightenment… I disagree… as a traditional Anabaptist, while there is some of the intellectual and rationalization of modernism embedded in the Mennonite church, this is not necessarily consistent with the historical tradition. Emphasis for Anabaptists is not on modernistic Enlightenment systematic theologies, but in a radical faith lived out in a risky following of Jesus.

          There… the “token” Mennonite in the conversation has contributed. :-)

          • David Fitch says:

            Thanx Robert for adding clarity, sense and balance … to my all too cavalier quip. .. and getting to what I was actually trying to say!! I seriously don’t see a one clear historical tradition of Anabpatism … and indeed it is the revival and renewal of the tradition by Yoder .. and the continuing development of that stream … that makes most sense for today …
            … and P.S. I’m glad to see Richard pipe in with good words… of course even Hauerwas found many many good things within the Anglican tradition for navigating the future!

        • DC Cramer says:


          David’s comment does not represent many (most?) Anabaptist-Mennonites who are deeply concerned with their “living tradition,” (historical crazies and all). Indeed, most Mennonite institutions of higher learning have more full-time historians than theologians or philosophers, precisely because they were/are more concerned about being faithful to that tradition than succumbing to an a-historical ideology. That’s not to say that the latter doesn’t happen even in such contexts, however.

        • Richard Yale says:

          I appreciate the replies. You clarifications are helpful. And my concerns are more aimed toward those who appropriate “Anabaptism” as a set of prinicples, and just apply them to their own ecclesiological constructs or congregations, rather than actually joining in a submitting to the actual tradition. When Brian McLaren says in Generous Orthodoxy that he is an Anabaptist/Anglican, but does not actually enter into the actual life of an Mennonite or Episcopal congregation, then I think the result is to render either tradition into some ideal. And that seems to be more akin to Enlightenment epistemologies, rather than submission to and participation in a tradition. That is what I meant by “Enlightenment” in this context.

          But I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher.

          • To be honest, I find folks like Fitch, McKnight, and Boyd to be more Anabaptist in their theological practices and thoughts than many Mennonites I know because they have examined the theological tradition and have brought it forward into the current context rather than continue in old traditional forms. I’ve found many Mennonite congregations and folks who look and sound more like pacifist Presbyterians than Mennonites.

            So, while I agree that it makes sense for folks seeking Anabaptism to actually engage with Anabaptists such as Mennonites, I think even that needs to be done cautiously as there are Anabaptist Mennonites and non-Anabaptist Mennonites…and the label “Mennonite” is not always the way to tell the difference.

            To that end, invoking someone like John H. Yoder is actually engaging Anabaptist theology in a way that may not necessarily be found in Mennonite congregations. I would suggest reading books by John Roth and Paul Lederach as they are other good, Mennonite Anabaptists worth learning from. But this does not mean that to be an Anabaptist one must be Mennonite (or vice versa). I’m sure that, if I were called to minister at a Lutheran congregation, I would still claim Anabaptism. And I have a friend who is a catechized Roman Catholic who calls herself a Mennonite Catholic (or Catholic Mennonite) who is in the RC tradition but still claims a deep Anabaptist perspective.

  13. Tim Westergren says:


    You were right when you said that this blog is too brief to make your case. The brevity causes you to summarize points in language that is ambiguous, lending ammunition to those who perceive a closet egalitarian behind your Third Way.

    For instance, just after positing the alternative of “pneumatocracy” to the normal logic of hierarchy, you conclude the paragraph: “We ARE ALL INVITED, women and men, into the new community God is creating as a foretaste of his kingdom. If we wish to live out this new community, women MUST BE EQUALLY INVITED into leading as men.” The passive verb construction that I´ve highlighted in both sentences obscures the very Spirit´s role in bringing this about. It would be better to say: The Spirit invites all of us, men and women (and all classes, all races, all conditions) into the new community that God is creating as a foretaste of his Kingdom. If we wish to live out this community, the Spirit will lead whomever he gifts, independently of gender, into leadership in the church.”

    Here is my perspective, if we are aiming for Spirit-led Christian community, our task is to foster a quality of mutuality (living out the NT “one-anothers”) and trust that allows for the early adapters as well as the resisters to concede to what the Holy Spirit is obviously doing in our midst. He will occasionally cause paradigm shifting experiences (the infilling of the Spirit of Cornelius and his household) to shake the church out of it´s blinders, but HE chooses how and when and where.

    If you argue for a Spirit-driven Christian community, then we need follow his lead and not force our will (even if what we desire is God´s desire). Thus, “women must be equally invited into leading as men” is a loaded phrase on your part and falls back into the E/C language that you so clearly want to abandon.

    There are other places that need editing, but I am on my way to HMA and don´t have time right now. (E.g., “There is an overlapping of the ages which must be honored” amBIGuos! )

    I agree with your baseline (New Community, HS Rules) but the blog is too leaky to convince those entrenched in a casuistic hermeneutic of the NT. Be careful with your verb tenses; they matter!

    Hope to see you during our home assignment year. Too bad that Spain FF didn´t work out. TDW

  14. David Fitch says:

    Tim, helpful comment.
    You’re right that the blog format states a case as concisely as possible and fleshes out frameworks, definitions, etc in the comments. I think and use “egalitarianism” in a political framework that has history in political framework of modern enlightenment. It is not to be confused with a simple phrase like “equally invited.”

  15. Tim Westergren says:

    Yes, you´re right. But my concern that a simple phrase like “must be equally invited” smacks of human imposition and not the Spirit´s moving on the church toward a new paradigm. it´s important to say that the Spirit invites. That´s all.

  16. DC Cramer says:


    Thank you for this post and for drawing attention to this issue. I think you are basically right that Anabaptist-Holiness folks often get marginalized in these discussions, which is unfortunate. The irony of your post, though, is that you mention both Scot and myself in the “egalitarian” camp that is “caught in the same logic” as complementarians, when both Scot and I are card-carrying Anabaptists! (In fact, I grew up–and am a liscenced minister–in the Missionary Church, which has a number of unofficial connections with the C&MA and I now attend a Mennonite church.) Indeed, what I offered in my original article was a purely negative critique of Grudem’s logic, not a positive endorsement of any “logic of hierarchy or difference/sameness binary.” In fact, in a previous article in Priscilla Papers, I make the same critique of hierarchy that you make here and even use Yoder (Body Politics) to make it! (As an aside, I am doing doctoral work on Yoder at Baylor at the moment; and, as yet a further aside, I would caution calling Hubmaier and Menno “crazy historical figures” and treating Yoder as though he wasn’t a bit crazy himself, but that’s another discussion.) All that to say, I appreciate your perspective but would be cautious about lumping all egalitarians/complementarians together, which basically creates yet another binary: egalitarian/complementarian logic versus Fitchian logic!


    • davidfitch says:

      Yeah, D.C.,
      I was mainly reacting to the Justin Taylor rehash of Grudem’s “Egalitarianism leads to Liberalism” argument. As I read back the post now, I see how it could look as if I was lumping you and McKnight into egalitarian thinking. It did appear to me that you were defending egalitarianism – even tho you weren’t, you were just proving the Grudem argument faulty.
      I am mainly interested in escaping that logic because I find it continually frustrates progress on this issue within the evangelical churches I most hand with. So, we need to dialogue more. And yes, I need to do the same with my colleague McKnight!

      • DC Cramer says:

        For the record, I’m not disavowing egalitarianism; I’m just disavowing the notion that it has to be considered in binary opposition to complementarianism. Both “isms” are generalizations that paper over internal differences as well as some similarities between the two. So, for example, both I–as a low church, non-hierarchical Anabaptist–and, say, a feminist Episcopalian might be considered “egalitarian” in as much as we both argue for women to have equal access to whatever church roles men have access to; but, the Episcopalian will view those roles much more hierarchically, while I will view them more charismatically (that is, in the biblical definition of spiritual giftedness a la Yoder’s The Fullness of Christ). At the same time, I might agree with a C&MA complementarian that roles are based on spiritual giftedness, even though she will hold that men are particularly gifted for certain roles, while I won’t.

        All that to say, I use the label as a necessary shorthand but try not to calcify it into a rigid meaning. I know Scot has chosen the term “mutualist” to describe his view over against “egalitarianism,” since the latter has become too “political.” But, also with Yoder, I’m not as concerned with developing a new vocabulary, since in the long run any term (e.g. “evangelical” or “missional”) can be co-opted for political purposes. In my experience, the “egalitarian” group Christians for Biblical Equality does try to foster respectful dialogue and is open to the kind of internal differences I described above, which is why I continue to support their ministry.

  17. Richard Yale says:

    As an Episcopalian/Anglican, I really haven’t been following this debate among my Evangelical sisters and brothers. But I do want to push back on the usual anti-hierarchical trope that I hear often. Does the NT truly overturn hierarchy? Certainly it comes roaring back by Ignatius of Antioch. Is it truly a result of Constantinianism?

    Rather than seeing hierarchy as a “remnant of sin” I would want to explore the thought that, as Cappadocian thought suggests, that their is a hierarchy within the trinity, the Orthodox idea of “taxis” within the Godhead, which is lived in mutual kenosis. As I have suggested, protologically the trinity is hierarchical, eschatologically, it is kenotically resolved in complete mutuality.

    I think we see this hierarchy in God expressed in the submission of Jesus to the Father, and the Spirit being given by Jesus, who speaks not on his own, but declares the things of Christ. (John 16:12ff.)

    It is not that hierarchy is a remnant of sin, it is that it is tainted by sin. It needs not abolition, but redemption. Paul does not abolish hierarchy through pneumatological ecclesiology, he points to his redemption.

    Hierarchy happens. It is unavoidable. And anti-hierarchical organizations are most prone to abuse by the charismatic dictator than a number of formal hierarchies that have checks and balances woven into their constitutions.

    Sometimes I wonder if the anti-hierarchical ideology owes more to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment than the New Testament.

    Just asking.

    • David Fitch says:

      Come on Richard!@! Even the Pope realizes hierachy is our servanthood and submission one to another is in!! He refused to wear the vestments!! :) :) P.S. read The Politics of Yahweh by John Nugent for an fine overview of this theme from Genesis to Revelation.

      • Richard Yale says:

        Pope Francis would be one example of my thesis. He is hierarchy living kenotically. He is an adherent of Lumen Gentium, after all, so he hasn’t disavowed hierarchy.

        Is my problem here more semantic, or are we on two different pages theologically?

        Give this simple country priest a hand here…

        • David Fitch says:

          I think we’re trying to sort out – when it comes to the Euro traditions shaped by medieval Christendom – what it means to reshape hierarchies in the face of lost Constantinian “power.” So I think it’s a little bit of both …I do find the tranformation of hierachical habits in the RC hierarchy by Francis to be worth watching. And I love the “simple country priest” appellation!

  18. David,

    Yes it is. I applaud you dismissing the whole complementarian/egalitarian logic. I don’t know if I would be a “mutualist” or not but I find its language more compelling than the dualism of the complementarian/egalitarian logic for sure.

    About a year ago, I wrote a three part series called “Why Women Should Still be Quiet; Why Men Shold Too” that essentially understands 1 Timothy 2:8-15 as something that holds up women as models of public worship (mutualist worship?) rather than worship depicting the inherent “role” of women to submission to foil some notion of male primacy before G-d. I came to this reflection after reading some of the spiritual writings of Kierkegaard where he made similar claims that learning in quietness, silence, and in singleness before G-d is a model for worship being set before 1st century women because the Gospel set then free from something that might look like an imperialistic male cult that looks like a “gender Caesar.” The issue Paul seems to be addressing is not ministry but worship; therefore recognizing cultural markers that distinguish male from women was important because they are being ordered to be fully themselves in the presence of the one true G-d who set them free from a cult mentality; whether that cult be male primacy or “equality.”

    And so, I’d say that Grudem is right when he says egalitarianism leads to Liberalism; however, complementarian thinking leads to Liberalism (if not Gnosticism) if it is nuanced in such a way that justifies a male imperial cult; because the context of relations in terms of Christian worship is always depicted in terms of destruction of the self-justifying religious efforts of a cultic religious mentality.

  19. A. Amos Love says:


    I’m with when you say…
    “I’m for abolishing the whole thing:
    the entire logic behind both egalitarians and complimentarians.”

    I really like the beginning of your number 1…
    “The NT church is not about whether women should be “over” men or men “over” women. It is about eliminating the “over” entirely”

    BUT – Think there is a better way to end the first paragraph of number 1. You write…
    “If we wish to live out this new community,
    women must be equally invited into *leading* as men.”

    How about – If we wish to live out this community of believers described in the Bible,
    men must be equally invited into *serving,* and being known as “Servants,” as women.

    Because -Jesus taught His Disciples – NOT to be called Leaders.
    For you have “ONE” leader – Jesus… Mat 23:10 NASB

    And ALL of His Disciples, called themselves “servants,” NOT one was called – Leader.

    If you’re serious about “OVERTURNING (THE LOGIC OF) HIERARCHY?”

    Do you also have to be OVERTURNING (THE LOGIC OF)? And doing away with?
    The Human “Title/Position” – pastor/teacher/leader/reverend? – Because…

    If you’re “The Shepherd” – Then the pew sitters are – The Sheep?
    And you have “Hierarchy” – The Shepherd – Sheep divide – Whether you want it or not…

    If you’re “The Teacher” – Then the pew sitters are – The Students…
    And you have “Hierarchy” – The Teacher – Student divide – Whether you want it or not…

    If you’re “The Leader” – Then the pew sitters are – The Followers…
    And you have “Hierarchy” – The Leader – Follower divide – Whether you want it or not…

    If you’re “The Reverend” – Then the pew sitters are – Well?- Mis-informed???
    And you have “Hierarchy” – The Reverend – To be revered – With a Title NOT in the Bible.
    And – The Mis-informed divide – Whether you want it or not…

    How come? We do NOT believe Jesus? When Jesus calls Himself…
    The “ONE” Teacher? The “ONE” Leader? The “ONE” Shepherd? ;-)

    And All His Disciples called themselves “Servants.” – “NO Hierarchy.” – LowerArchy

    Seems, egalitarians and complimentarians, are in a dispute about who gets to have the…
    Power – Profit – Prestige – Honor – Glory – Reputation – Recognition etc…
    That comes with todays “Title/Position” – pastor/leader/reverend. :-(

    The only one with the “Title/Position” – shepherd/teacher/leader/reverend – Is Jesus… ;-)

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Voice – One Fold – One Shepherd – One Leader – One Teacher

    {{{{{{ Jesus

  20. Thanks for this piece, David. I’ve been feeling grumpy with the “egalitarian”/”complementation” language for a while – both words hold out such a promise of hope, but deliver such compromise.

    This piece has inspired me to write about this topic for a magazine article. Thanks for wrestling with the more complex theology aspects!

    - Kathleen

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Egalitarianism (feminism) leads to Liberalism: Why I’m for Abolishing the Whole Egalitarian/Complementarian Logic"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
  • No tweets available at the moment.

Follow Me on Twitter