Evangelicals gather for two-day conference on complementarianism

June 3rd, 2016 / By: Sharayah Colter | Staff Writer / comments

Evangelicals gather for two-day conference on complementarianism

Southwestern Seminary women’s studies professor Candi Finch (second from right) shares her views on women in ministry during a panel discussion at CBMW’s pre-conference at T4G. Photo by Sharayah colter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Twenty-seven leaders in the evangelical community gathered to address attendees of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s (CBMW) Together for the Gospel pre-conference April 11-12 in Louisville, Ky. The conference, themed “The Beauty of Complementarity,” was designed to give attendees a chance to hear from an array of voices on complementarianism—the theological viewpoint held by Southern Baptists and many other evangelicals that distinguishes men from women in regard to roles and functions while ascribing equal value to both genders. 

The conference topic was not without controversy, with a large portion of those posting to the official social media hashtag #CBMW16 criticizing CBMW organizers for promoting patriarchy and limiting women’s involvement in certain church and family roles. Speakers, however, stood firm in their alignment with complementarianism, citing biblical texts that shape the view and noting their recognition that the issue of gender roles is one wrought with controversy.

“As we gather in this room, I am reminded how counter-cultural this very event is,” Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said at the outset of his 15-minute talk.

CBMW tasked Allen with addressing complementarianism and the disappearance of men. Allen cited statistics demonstrating that men no longer dominate the workforce, that one-fifth of able-bodied men are unemployed, and that 60 percent of both college- and master’s-level graduates are female. While these statics are telling about society and culture, Allen said what he most wants to examine is the state of the home and church.

“Regrettably … we acknowledge and we see around us that practically speaking, many of our churches are practically bereft of male leadership,” Allen said. “And many churches abide in a subtle fog over what biblical manhood should look like. In many of our churches, biblical men are like corks of testosterone bobbing in ponds of estrogen.

“We have to acknowledge that pop evangelicalism has not done much to help. Even within the church, much of the emphasis on manhood has not been very helpful at all, and it sends us—encourages us—toward two different erroneous poles. One of these poles has said in essence to be a better man, to be a better Christian man, men should become more like women: more thoughtful, more caring, more romantic, always mindful of expressions of romance and dutifully carrying them out. The other pole, alternately, at times sounds much like a beer commercial, frankly, glorifying machismo, gruffness and honoring the strong arm. Through this, the church must recover biblical manhood, Christian masculinity—what we might think of as ‘sanctified testosterone.’”

Allen went on to offer five practical ways to foster the reappearance of biblical manhood in the church and home, including frankly telling a church when a qualified man is not available for a position rather than playing “word games” in changing titles so that a woman can fill the role out of pragmatism. 

Trillia Newbell, a freelance writer and author who serves on staff with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, gave her testimony to the group of how she came to leave feminism and embrace complementarianism. Newbell said she grew up a liberal “holiday Christian” who was fully pro-choice and held Oprah as her role model.

Newbell said after she was saved in 1998 at the age of 19, God changed the entire course of her life. 

“Something radical happened to my perceived notions of rights when God captured my heart with his gospel. Nothing was the same,” Newbell said. “As my heart began to be transformed, so was my worldview.

“I don’t have a strong desire to fight with the world or to fight with feminists or anyone. My desire is to proclaim Christ. He gave me new life, and I know that he can do that for anyone—anyone listening, anyone out there, anyone you’re reaching out to. He does it. He transforms hearts. He transformed mine.”

Courtney Reissig, author of The Accidental Feminist, also gave her testimony during the conference, explaining how the Lord turned her once-rebellious heart toward a complementarian mindset. She described the journey to complementarianism as a “bumpy one,” and recalled that while her Christian family practiced the Bible’s teaching in that respect, she did not grow up knowing the term. Ultimately, God used her family and his Word to solidify in her mind an understanding that all humans are created equal as image bearers of God but that men and women have distinct roles.

Heath Lambert, executive director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and associate professor of biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also spoke, reminding attendees of the words of Psalm 119:37: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things.” Tying the verse to the current trends, even among pastors, of looking at pornography, Lambert talked about how counter-complementarian the specific sin is.

“If you look at pornography, you are not a complementarian,” Lambert said. “Everything about pornography undermines everything about complementarity.”

During a panel discussion, Southwestern Seminary’s Candi Finch, a theology professor in women’s studies, was asked what gender role-related issues arise in the classroom where she trains women for future ministry. 

“I’ve been distressed of late because while I’m excited that we’re encouraging women to do what they are biblically encouraged to do, I think some complementarians have gone too far,” Finch answered. Referencing 1 Timothy 2, she addressed those who claim that “as long as a woman is not authoritatively teaching, she can do whatever she would like in the church.”

“They’re saying as long as she is not the pastor, she’s not the authoritative teacher. That’s not what that Greek word didasko means. There’s not authoritative teaching and unauthoritative teaching,” Finch said, adding that such a distinction is unhelpful and unbiblical.

Also speaking during the pre-conference were Gavin Peacock; Thomas White; Danny Akin; Grant Castleberry; Anthony Moore; Sam Allberry; John MacArthur; and John Piper, one of the CBMW’s founders and co-editor of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a foundational book on complementarianism. Video of the sessions can be viewed at cbmw.org.