Image for On Gender and the Bible: Where Does Egalitarianism Lead? (Part 9)

On Gender and the Bible: Where Does Egalitarianism Lead? (Part 9)

Photo of Bobby HarringtonBobby Harrington | Bio

Bobby Harrington

Bobby is the point-leader of Renew.org and Discipleship.org, both collaborative, disciple-making organizations. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has an M.A.R. and an M.Div. from Harding School of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of more than 10 books on discipleship, including Discipleshift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman), The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick) and Becoming a Disciple Maker: The Pursuit of Level 5 Disciple Making (with Greg Weins). He lives in the greater Nashville area with his wife and near his children and grandchildren.
Photo of Renée SprolesRenée Sproles | Bio

Renée Sproles

Renée Webb Sproles is from Murfreesboro, TN, where she directed The School of Christian Thought for five years at North Boulevard Church. She is a 15-year homeschool veteran. She is also a founder and co-director of the Discipleship Tutorial in Murfreesboro, where she has taught government, economics, personal finance, health, study skills, English grammar, and writing. She is the mother of two grown children, Houston and Emma, who is married to Thomas Goodwyn. With her husband, David, Renée has co-taught parenting classes for 20 years and currently teaches a marriage and family class of 100 students each week. Renée is the author of On Gender: What the Bible Says about Men and Women (Renew, 2019).

Books which propose a “third way,” whether Christian or secular, can easily come across with a bit of arrogance. Many of you are too liberal and the rest of you are too conservative, but I’ve figured out the perfect balance between the two, they seem to say. However, with secular philosophies like Critical Theory and egalitarianism increasingly making their way into churches, the need arises for clear boundaries, sound hermeneutics, and a well-articulated theology. And a well-articulated theology will find itself eschewing unbiblical extremes on either side.

In our previous articles, we showed how Scripture teaches what we are calling a soft complementarian viewpoint (see Part 123456, 7, and 8). This is a view that rejects both rigid patriarchy and egalitarianism. Egalitarian ideals dominate our culture while rigid patriarchal ideals are less and less common, so in this article we will explore the influence of egalitarianism and the long-term implications for those who adopt this posture in our homes and churches. Despite the positive impulse behind some egalitarian readings of Scripture (which often help address the injustice of a rigid, patriarchal complementarianism), the ideas driving egalitarianism can lead to harm in multiple ways.

We see two erroneous ditches—to the right and to the left—and both have to be called out.

No longer can Christians assume that the majority of evangelical churches are in agreement with each other on the issues of gender, sex, and more. Again, the ditch to the left is increasingly worrisome to us and that will be the focus of this article.

We are especially concerned about the argument against complementarianism often used these days that isn’t exegetical at all; it’s the accusation of misogyny, literally, a “hatred of women.” It’s the assumption by egalitarians that, beneath our exegesis, there’s a desire for men to stay in charge and even oppress women. This accusation of misogyny perfectly matches the dominant spirit of the age, whether we call it cynicism, Critical Theory, the hermeneutics of suspicion, or something else. Sadly, there can be truth to this accusation that some men, for personal reasons, like the idea of male preachers or male elders in the church or male headship in the home because they just really like being in charge.

But such mindsets are not the basis of how God wants us to live.

The Word of God is our basis as disciples of Jesus. We take every thought and seek to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Our desire is to uphold a biblical view that makes it clear that we are all being challenged to a higher, better ethic based on the New Testament’s writings that help us to follow Jesus, regardless of the shortcomings of our traditions or personal tastes. Our own ideas will lead an unravelling of churches if we’re not following God’s plan for us.

Let’s start by saying, that, at first glance, a purely egalitarian position sounds like good sense. Even good news. Our culture has conditioned us for it. An egalitarian favors equality: people should get the same, or be treated the same, or have the same authority.[1] It can just feel right to embrace these exact ideas in our churches and marriages.

But a straightforward reading of Scripture with good exegesis (e.g., see Article 1) offers a more nuanced way. It recognizes equality of personhood, noting that men and women equally reflect the image of God, while also maintaining differences for the sexes in marriage and ministry. It affirms a proper view of hierarchy based upon Christ’s example as a suffering, loving, servant-like head. It upholds God’s created order and the obvious biological differences between the sexes.

Making egalitarianism the lens for reading Scripture will lead us down a different path.

Unchecked egalitarianism will promote the interchangeability of men and women and even challenge the concept of authority with a call to mutuality. As we will show, equality is a good impulse, but it goes bad when it is used to override other scriptural principles. And bad ideas create victims in various ways.

To summarize the thesis of this article, we have an important tag line to note. On May 14, 2016, John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, tweeted two sentences that we find profoundly apply to unchecked egalitarianism.

“Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have victims.”

In this article we will look at the bad ideas and victims of egalitarianism by noting that:

  • Egalitarian philosophy emerges from a secular worldview and it struggles with all hierarchies.
  • Egalitarian ideals deny God’s created order and design for men and women.
  • Egalitarian hermeneutics lead to progressive Christianity.
One more note as we begin: Some evangelical egalitarians might read what we write here and say, “That’s not me. I recognize gender distinctions. I’m not a progressive. I affirm biblical sexuality.”

And it may be true; you may very well not go as far as we will be describing in this article. However, the impulses and consistent advocacy of these egalitarian principles will likely take you this way over time. We must sadly admit that the dominant culture often out-disciples the minds of leading thinkers, and we all must humbly recognize the potential to be dominated by impulses which can lead us away from Scripture’s norms. This is true for Christians who tend toward unchecked egalitarianism as well as those who tend toward rigid patriarchy.

This is why we all need to return to Scripture and the way of Jesus and humble ourselves before his authority.

For a deep dive into the relevant texts on gender which call us ALL to a higher ethic and better way, please check out the rest of this series: Part 123456, 7, and 8.

In light of current cultural trajectories, it’s time to ask this question very seriously: When you use egalitarianism as the lens through which you read the Bible, where does it end? What happens when exegesis meets unchecked egalitarianism?

I. Egalitarian Philosophy Emerges from a Secular Worldview and It Struggles with All Hierarchies

Egalitarian concepts emerged in philosophical and political circles in the 1700s and are just now coming to dominate most aspects of Western civilization. The initial impulses have great merit with a focus on equal treatment of each individual. In fact, equality of persons as made in the image of God finds direct support in biblical teachings, and we can celebrate anywhere we see this principle lived out.

Yet unchecked egalitarianism, grounded in a developing secular philosophy, is now becoming a trump-card consideration used to override additional biblical principles. And sadly, Christian egalitarians are now arguing that what the Bible teaches is in step with this advanced secular egalitarian thought.

For example, a careful reading of John Mark Hick’s Women Serving God shows an advocacy for men and women achieving egalitarian ideals: equal status, equal power, equal opportunities in all that is done in the gathered church—but in a way that rejects biblical hierarchies as something distasteful.

Servanthood seems somehow antithetical to clerical authority and hierarchy.[2]

In fact, Hicks infuses secular ideals, without acknowledging their source, with Jesus’ teachings on service, humility, and the importance of using one’s giftedness.

Infusing secular ideals with Jesus’ teachings seems like a smooth mix appropriate for this cultural moment. But is it scriptural? And where does an unchecked egalitarianism lead?

Bizarrely, the egalitarian and individualistic ideals in Western civilization are in the midst of working themselves out and are now being mixed into Critical Theory and the new cultural Marxism. These ideals continue to evolve and merge, being fueled by the new focus on human emancipation from all perceived forms of systemic oppression. Critical Theory derives its ideas of power, justice, and equality from postmodernism and soft forms of Carl Marx’s ideas. Critical theorists place the blame for all that’s wrong in the world at the feet of unjust social structures and systems. According to Critical Theory, these systems maintain power by truth claims.

According to the oppressor-oppressed dynamics which are core to Critical Theory, even soft complementarians are misogynists.

That is, they believe that our view at Renew.org is, in reality, based upon the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women—even if we painstakingly arrive at our position not through personal preferences but through careful Scriptural exegesis.

With this cultural force at work, it is unsurprising that egalitarians often unconsciously believe that it is not Scripture but personal animus that drives soft complementarians. Until we soft complementarians turn from that bias, they believe, we will continue to mistreat women because our beliefs are inherently oppressive to women.

As Tim Keller notes, Critical Theory, when adopted, “makes forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation between groups impossible.” Unchecked egalitarianism teaches us to think that the only way for justice to prevail is for egalitarians to overthrow complementarians—and biblical exegesis must fall in line.

These beliefs can unconsciously drive us.

As an example, Scot McKnight is known to us as a good biblical scholar. But he is increasingly attacking and condemning complementarians through his posts in Christianity Today with a zeal and passion that is troublesome.[3] We wonder if he is being overly influenced—without realizing it—by the impulses of an unchecked egalitarian cultural pressure? His writings make one feel like he wants no fellowship with complementarians (even though the vast majority of Christian scholars and traditions throughout history have embraced this view). Surely, he does not really mean it this way, but it seems like he thinks complementarian views are a great heresy in the church that must be stamped out with righteous indignation.

The point of this post is not to focus directly on the dangers of post-modernism and Critical Theory, and how they subtly influence all of us. That work has been done by Pluckrose and Lindsay and others.[4]

But egalitarian ideals are taking us into a cultural drift to political and philosophical postures that are not taught by Scripture.

And these postures clearly set egalitarians up for anger and resentment of soft complementarians. It will continue to lead to conflict and all sorts of problems, especially as they seek to put increasing pressure on soft complementarians like those at Renew.org.

A disciple of Jesus should be careful adopting human philosophy or using it as a hermeneutic to interpret Scripture. As Paul told the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

While we are focusing on unchecked human philosophies, let’s take a few moments to discuss one focal point that challenges egalitarians and exposes a deep flaw within their ideals: the issue of hierarchy.

A hierarchy is a human structure in which some people have more authority or power than others who are in submission to them.

In the church, egalitarian philosophy finds itself in conflict with hierarchies found in Scripture like male headship in marriage (Eph. 5:3), a dad’s leadership in families (Eph. 6:4), and elderships in churches (1 Tim. 3:1ff). The concept that men have unique roles and responsibilities toward their wives and families and especially churches is anathema to most university elites, cultural influencers, and evangelical scholars like Hicks and McKnight.

Notice how, in his discussion of the communion table, John Mark Hicks seems to conflate hierarchy itself with the hunger for power over others:

“The table of Jesus is not about power and control. It is not about clerical authority. It is not about prerogatives and status. It is not about hierarchy. It is about mutual service and ministry. The table is where we serve each other.…unfortunately, the table—like leadership in the worship assembly—has become the place for hierarchical positioning.”[5]

Hicks is not alone in this apparent distaste toward hierarchy within the church. Scot McKnight would rather Christians stay away from using words like authority and submission even when referring to our view of Scripture’s role in our lives. McKnight is right that the goal of Scripture reading should be love, but why deemphasize the authority-submission dynamic in the process?[6]

Philosophical ideals have consequences and many are having a difficult time understanding how hierarchies and mutual service can exist together.

But here is a reality check on these ideals: it is impossible to eliminate hierarchies in a functioning large community or institution.

Governments require authorities, companies require bosses, schools require principals, and cities require police. These are all hierarchies without which it is impossible to function. Stated differently: we need to have people in charge over others in order to have functional institutions, and that necessitates hierarchy.

Wise and discerning disciples of Jesus will find on the pages of Scripture several hierarchies which were established by God. As we have shown (Part 123456, and 7), the Bible supports hierarchies for the church (1 Timothy 2:12-3:16) and the home (Ephesians 5:21-22; Colossians 3:18-19). The Word of God also teaches that this is God’s plan for government (Romans 13:1-7). So, we must admit, in step with the Word of God, that hierarchies cannot be inherently wrong. At the same time, hierarchies can be broken or misused by sinful humanity and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).

Once we place the option of godly hierarchies back on the table, we see that Scripture teaches that hierarchies shouldn’t be eliminated but redeemed by the ways of Jesus and his example.

Notice carefully what Jesus teaches in Matthew 20:25-28:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the 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, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus does not say that authority or hierarchy is bad. Instead, he notes that with authority comes responsibility. Jesus teaches that disciples with authority in a hierarchy are to be servants and slaves of those they lead.

Jordan Peterson has masterfully argued recently—to the chagrin of egalitarian—that even lobsters biologically exist in hierarchies.[7] If it is true in such simple life forms as lobsters, surely it is a part of the biological wiring of God’s created order.

We believe that hierarchies and our roles within them were given by God as His best for us. They are hardwired into human life as part of God’s created order. Yet an unchecked egalitarianism will teach us to reject them as oppressive.

This leads to our second major concern with egalitarian philosophy.

II. Egalitarian Ideals Pit People Against God’s Created Order

God created us as men and women. God made us equal in personhood to reflect His image to the world, but he made us differently, as men and women. This is simply stating the facts of Scripture, which are confirmed by biology.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:24-25)

When a man is united to his wife, there is sexual union which is a beautiful picture of equality and complementarity. To be blunt, only men have penises and only women have vaginas. We are not the same, but we complement each other; a man’s penis is designed to enter into a woman’s vagina that is designed to receive it. God uses this union to bless the complementarity of men and women for physical enjoyment of each other and the replication of human life. It is a beautiful picture pointing to the created biological differences that God designed in males and females.

What does it tell us about the advancement of egalitarian ideals in our culture to note that what we have just described as the uniquely God-given relationship for men and women is now contradicted—and with hostility—by a culture that promotes homosexuality, bisexuality and gender change surgery? This rejection of God’s teachings is the logical consequence of a commitment to consistent egalitarianism.

Consistent egalitarianism is not static.

If it becomes the primary lens through which you read the Bible, it will lead you down a trajectory which will eventually dominate biblical exegesis and even seek to override the created order itself. Rather than reading the Bible in order to understand the author’s intended meaning, unchecked egalitarianism will simply make the Bible part of the trajectory it reads into history.

In fact, a “trajectory view” of scriptural interpretation is required of Christians who embrace egalitarianism. For example, it is very easy for the Christian egalitarian to follow this train of thought: The Bible permitted slavery and we know that is wrong; it promoted patriarchy and gender roles and we know those are wrong; it promoted heterosexuality only and we know that is not the only way.[8]

Some evangelicals make “trump cards” of passages like Galatians 3:28 (“nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”), calling them seed texts, paradigm shifts, or “blue parakeets,” and then use them to flatten hierarchies—even if the biblical trajectory would suggest that Galatians 3:28 defines who is a Christian, and the later Pastoral Epistles, which sets forth qualifications for elders, shows us “how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household” (1 Tim. 3:15).

We have said all of the preceding to explain this: an unchecked egalitarianism does not stay static but will eventually run into conflict with the created differences God made in men and women.

An unyielding commitment to egalitarianism is leading us to try to live in contradiction to how God made us and what he teaches in Scripture.

Our culture’s sexual interchangeability and even perversion expresses the unchecked egalitarian philosophy behind it. God made differences in men and women, and He teaches us to uphold these differences for our good and His glory, not to erase them.

Let’s look at God-given biology to explore, in a cursory way, what we are talking about at this point. Here are 10 God-given physiological differences between men and women that can affect how we approach life and each other:

10 God-Given Physiological Differences That Can Affect How We Approach Life and Each Other

1. Hormones

Men have more testosterone and women have more estrogen. Our hormones make differences in not just in our bodies, but in how we approach life. Many of these differences are shown below.

2. Physical Size

Men typically have proportionately more muscle mass, more bone mass, and a lower percentage of body fat than women.

3. Physical Strength

Estimates vary wildly, but the average estimate is that men have about 30% more upper body strength than women do. It has been estimated that only 1 in 20 women is as strong as the average man. In spite of the current obsession in movies and TV to feature women as the physical superiors over men, this is not the normative role God created for women.

4. Sexual Response

Men tend to be more naturally aroused by sight; women are more naturally aroused by the emotional environment around the opposite sex. A greater area of the female body is susceptible to sexual stimulation than the male body. We are sexually different.

5. Eyesight

Men have better depth perception, distance vision, and sight in lighted environments. Women have better night vision, better visual memory, and can see more of the red end of the color spectrum.

6. Brains

Hard science demonstrates differences between men’s and women’s brains.[9] Women excel in several measures of verbal ability—pretty much all of them, except for verbal analogies. Women’s reading comprehension and writing ability consistently exceed that of men, on average. They out­perform men in tests of fine-motor coordination and perceptual speed. They’re more adept at retrieving information from long-term memory.

Men, on average, can more easily juggle items in working memory. They have superior visuospatial skills: they’re better at visualizing what happens when a complicated two- or three-dimensional shape is rotated in space, at correctly determining angles from the horizontal, at tracking moving objects and at aiming projectiles.

7. Physiological Response

Men are less sensitive to cold temperatures. Women have better senses of smell and taste. They have 50 more cells (neurons) in their olfactory bulbs—the part of the brain responsible for processing smells. Women also usually have more taste buds than men.

8. Sickness and Death

Women are thought to have more resistance to disease due to the fact that their adrenal glands produce more cortin than men’s do. The only three diseases that women die from more often than men are breast cancer, female reproductive disorders, and benign tumors. Otherwise, every other disease, including cancer and heart disease, kills men at a higher frequency. On average in the USA, women live five years longer than men do.

9. Aggression

Biologically, males have more testosterone, and it leads to more aggression. Men have more physical fights, commit more violent crimes and murder others more often. Fully 93% of prisoners in the USA are men and men commit 90 percent of homicides. And they turn on themselves more often; the male suicide rate is 4.5 times higher than in women.

10. Behavior

Note five of women’s distinct traits (compared to men) from biologically-based statistical studies (not environment).[10]

  • Empathy
  • Interest in people over things
  • Preference for female-typical toys
  • Sexual disgust
  • Vulnerability to depression

Five of men’s distinct traits (compared to women) from biologically based statistical studies (not environment).

  • Risk-taking
  • Sex drive
  • Task-oriented leadership
  • Mental rotation ability
  • Physical aggression

These traits, highlighting our complementarity, are hard-wired into us. We were created to be different so we can cooperate, not compete with one another. We will thrive when we live in step with those differences.

David P Schmitt, Ph.D., writing in a recent Psychology Today article called “The Truth about Sex Differences,” put it very well.[11] He said, “It’s an elemental fact that people increasingly don’t want to hear: Sex differences in personality and behavior are real. And they have a profound effect on many aspects of health.”

Remember, ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have victims.

We are not seeing health in men and women when it comes to our unchecked egalitarian culture.

We are seeing greater and greater dysfunction as our society continues to live out these ideals. Three areas of particular carnage are sexuality, marriage, and men.

#1 – Sexuality

Sexual egalitarianism is the philosophy by which we have thrown off our Judeo-Christian heritage in the area of sexual ethics. Accordingly, there are no recognized roles or authorities or constraints, such that homosexuality, bi-sexuality, and many other forms of non-heterosexual sexual behavior are encouraged as being healthy. Polyamory (three people in a sexual relationship) is becoming more and more common. Each individual is free and equally at liberty for any role. In an egalitarian sexual landscape, you are free to choose anything as long as it is with another freely consenting adult or adults.

Sexual egalitarianism is making its way into our churches as well. According to Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, more and more Evangelicals now support same-sex marriage and homosexuality.[12]

#2 – Marriage

Given the focus on the sameness of the sexes in an unchecked egalitarian world, the norm of lifelong, happy marriage is becoming increasingly less popular.[13] The number of young adult men saying that “having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in life” has decreased to less than 30%. The majority of all children are now born outside of wedlock in the USA. Even the idea of dating is in trouble: 12th graders who have never dated increased from 15% forty years ago to nearly 50% recently.

#3 – Men

Egalitarian ideals are causing our society to have more and more problems with men. Masculinity itself is often treated as a negative thing and characterized as “toxic masculinity,” although there are many noble, God-given traits God designed men for which are anything but toxic. Even the American Psychological Association has jumped in to tell men that they must learn ways to act more consistently with egalitarianism.[14] Far too many people are advocating that unique male problems can be solved if men just became more like women.[15]

But what about the fact that men and women are wired differently?

Once we stop and acknowledge that men are created differently than women by God, we see that the cultural scheme is destined to fail. We have consciously and unconsciously been asking men to reject unique visions of masculinity, even a godly vision of masculinity.

This push to mute masculinity is not pushing men in a healthy direction. More and more men are struggling to find their place.
  • One in every five young men are now living at home with their parents into their 30s.
  • Fewer males are graduating from high school than women.
  • Fewer males are graduating from college than women.

All the while, young men are spending inordinate amounts of time focused on video games, pornography, and other activities best described as “fantasy.” A recent article in Healthy Living titled “The Decline of Men” summarized the state of manhood this way:

“I teach at a university and we did a study one time on how commercials during prime-time television portray men,” Dr. Saunders says. “One of them had a man tied to the porch with a leash and collar on him. A car goes by and he starts running toward it before getting snapped back. His wife laughs at him. Whenever a commercial or sitcom depicts a father, he’s always inept, like a Homer Simpson or Al Bundy. Those kinds of stereotypical negative images about what fatherhood is, in and of itself, to me, are part of the decline of men in America and how the culture views men.”[16]

After fifty years of increasing egalitarian emphasis, men are now entering adulthood with less education, less money, less ambition, and fewer achievements than their female counterparts. And they have no unique vision of manhood that helps them to see what it means to be a man in contradistinction to a woman.

We are grateful for all the gains that women have made in our Western society. But we must not over-rate them. As Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers demonstrated in their comprehensive study comparing women from the 1970s with more contemporary women, women too are less happy than they used to be.[17]

Women cannot thrive when men are not thriving.

In the long run, an unchecked egalitarian philosophy will cause more and more damage to women too. If it is not based on God’s created order, and contrary to it, then it has to cause damage. Think about gender confusion, the decline in dating, the decline in marriage, and the decline in men. Is any of this good for women? Again, the current approach is not bringing about what is best for men and women, marriage and society.

The Wall Street Journal made the question which more and more women are asking into the title of a popular post: Where Have the Good Men Gone? [18] If previous generations of men too often acted out a dysfunctional patriarchy, the current generation of men too often are acting out an androgenous absenteeism.

Modern men lack vision, especially the godly vision of a the chivalrous, Christ-like man.

From the time of Genesis 3:16 on, it has been a woman’s desire to be in relationship with this type of man, but he is increasingly hard to find. This is the kind of godly man the Bible has in view, and this transforming vision for women and children was described in our last post on this topic (Part 8). It presents a picture of how both men and women thrive with a Christ-centered focus on the roles given by God.

We believe that the soft complementarian understanding of sex and gender roles are in step with how God created us. On the other hand, unchecked egalitarianism is not in sync with how God created men and women, and the ideals will do more and more damage in society and the church until they are replaced by God’s vision of how we should live out our purpose.

And it is not just that the ideals are ultimately bad. As we will explore next, the process by which egalitarians re-interpret scripture is also very harmful because it will lead more and more people into progressive Christianity.

III. Egalitarian Hermeneutics Lead to Progressive Christianity

Please note what must happen to one’s view on Scripture to become a thorough-going egalitarian. It requires scholars (like John Mark Hicks and Scot McKnight) and church leaders to re-interpret or explain away at least 8 male authority roles in scripture, 10 entire sections of scripture (including about 120 verses) and to re-interpret 4 key words in these sections to mean something very different than what most Christians scholars thought they meant in the earliest church and for the previous 1900 years.

Stop and think about the amount of scriptural re-interpretation that is involved in what we have shown so far in this series. The sheer volume is substantive and should make any egalitarian pause and seriously question their conclusions.

A senior pastor and church plant leader friend of mine left egalitarianism for complementarianism when this realization fully grasped him.

“I needed a 1,000-page book to help me to explain away all of these passages in a different light,” he said. “And then it hit me: why am I doing that? I was doing that to fit into our culture. I had to explain away scriptural teaching on male headship and explain how it actually teaches egalitarian ideals to fit in with my culture instead.”

He just described the process by which egalitarianism easily leads people, over time, into progressive Christianity (liberal Christianity).

At the heart of progressive Christianity is significant re-interpretation of the meanings of Scripture.[19] Here are five signs that flag a movement in this direction:[20]

  • Feelings are emphasized over facts
  • Essential Christian doctrines are open for re-interpretation
  • Historic terms are re-defined
  • There is a lowered view of the Bible
  • The heart of the gospel message shifts from sin and redemption to social justice

A Christian can be easily drawn into progressivism when he or she seeks to embrace the views of the culture and bring them into the church. And please note, over time progressivism leads away from biblical orthodoxy into apostasy.

But also note that initially most people who are turning to a progressive posture deny where it will end. Their consciences will not let them admit to that outcome in the early phases.

But there is a clear historical trajectory.[21] In Europe, Canada, and now in the USA, fellowships and denominations that become progressive decline and die. Progressives naively think they are creating an on-ramp, helping people to come into the church, but instead they are creating an exit-ramp, by which people conclude they no longer need the church.[22]

You may want to pour yourself another cup of coffee and think about that last paragraph.

The transition toward progressivism starts with a desire to accommodate the cultural of the world, to make it easier to fit in. Again, Scripture and historic Christian understandings are re-interpreted to better fit the worldview of non-believers. Let’s consider the amount of re-interpretation a student of the Bible needs to do to become an egalitarian.

Egalitarians must find a way to explain away or re-interpret the following:

1. Eight Unique Male Authority Roles Created by God in Scripture.

God established the following elements of male headship in Scripture from scratch. We should not read into the text any culture-limiting pressure on God, since pagan cultures often had females in many of the following roles. Yet egalitarians must advocate that each of the follow roles are simply an accommodation to ancient culture, not the true will of God.

  • The selection of Abraham (as patriarchal head) and the unique mark of circumcision displays God’s appointment of male leadership in the Israelite covenant.
  • The twelve tribes based upon the twelve male descendants of Jacob.
  • The appointment of male-only priests in the Old Testament.
  • All God-ordained royalty who led over Israel were men.
  • All the major Old Testament prophets and all the known writers of the Old and New Testament were male.
  • Jesus chose only men to be the 12 apostles.
  • In the New Testament, we read about only men appointed by God as evangelists (Timothy and Titus).
  • In the New Testament, only men served as elders.
2. Ten Major Sections of Teaching in Scripture which Prescribe Male Headship (120 verses total)

The meaning of the following passages must be re-interpreted contrary to the understanding of the orthodox, majority interpretation in the historic church up until our time. Egalitarians re-interpret the key passages, and the following are ways in which egalitarians have re-interpreted them.

  • Genesis 2:4-25 – This does not teach primogeniture (first created) nor an accent on the woman’s role as man’s helper.
  • Genesis 3: 1-20 – This does not teach a corruption of Adam (and man’s) headship role.
  • Ephesians 5:21-33 –This does not teach a unique male authority or the submission of the wife, but a reciprocal mutual submission where men and women’s roles are interchangeable.
  • Colossians 3:18-19 – This does not teach submission of the wife to the husband. The plain meaning in this passage is ignored and replaced by the imposition of the reinterpretation of Ephesians 5:21-33.
  • 1 Peter 3:1-6 – This passage is restructured so that both Abraham and Sarah treat each other as equal “lords.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 – The veil is not worn to show male authority, but strictly to show sexual difference.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 – The silence enjoined on women is just temporary and situational for that unique time in Corinth and not to be applied to other churches.
  • 1 Timothy 2:11-15 – This passage does not really prohibit women from teaching and exercising authority over men, as it seems to say, because there is a unique cultural background in Ephesus that does not apply today.
  • 1 Timothy 3:1-6 – Even though the text describes only male elders, we should expand it beyond the instruction of the text itself to include women.
  • Titus 1:5-9 – 1 Timothy 3:1-6, even though the text describes only male elders, we should expand it beyond the instruction of the text itself to include women.

Well, then what do these passages mean—and how can modern people apply them in the 21st century? These are great questions, and we invite you to read through the previous posts in this series as we take a thorough but accessible walk through these passages.

3. Four Key Words Describing Hierarchies and Roles

To re-interpret the passages which were otherwise clear in these contexts in the earliest church[23] and through most of history, the meaning of these key words in these passages must also be re-interpreted. For those who have not read our previous posts or who may be influenced by scholars like Cynthia Westfall, Thomas Schreiner provides a good and up-to-date summary response to many of the egalitarian ideals on the re-interpretation of these words.[24]

  • Head (1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5) now means “source” instead of “authority.”
  • Submit (Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3) doesn’t really mean what we naturally think but is more akin to mutuality without hierarchy.
  • Helper (Genesis 2 and 1 Corinthians 11) is not something unique to being a wife in relationship with your husband.
  • Authority (1 Timothy 2) is a bad thing, a usurpation.

Consistent egalitarians adopt all of these re-interpretations and they are often very clever in how they do it. What is going on? Are we bothered by this massive project of re-interpretation so that the church can fit in with the secular egalitarianism of our culture?

Again, at the heart of the egalitarian posture is the belief that the teachings on complementarianism in the Bible are just accommodations to ancient cultures. Stated differently, egalitarians claim that the teachings on men and women in the Bible are just ancient cultural practices and they do not apply today.

But isn’t it more likely that they are just reinterpreting the Bible to fit current Western culture?

Recall that, toward the beginning of this article, we said that, if you are an egalitarian reading this, much of what we describe might not be you—but it is the path of unchecked egalitarianism. With that in mind, we encourage you to look closely at your argument that the Bible’s teachings on gender are only referring to ancient cultural practices.

Where else have we heard this argument?

The only-cultural argument is a similar hermeneutic used to justify a progressive Christian posture on many other issues, such as LGBTQ issues. In fact, when the practice of fitting our interpretation to the culture becomes the overriding consideration, a great many doctrines of the Bible will eventually need to be overturned, for example, salvation by grace through faith, Jesus as the only way of salvation, and the fairness of a Final Judgment.

Some of us do not prefer slippery-slope arguments (showing where something leads), but they have their place in helping us to question the big picture on where ideas, practices, and beliefs will lead us. The slippery slope is only a fallacy when the connection drawn is emotional, not logical; we have shown throughout this article the logical connection between ideas. When an unchecked egalitarianism becomes the lens through which you read Scripture, Scripture will be less of an authority over your life and more a sock puppet voiced by secular ideals.

We will say it one last time: Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have victims.

Throughout history, historic biblical teaching has been victimized to help us fit in with cultural assumptions. Sometimes these assumptions have been rigidly patriarchal and have led to a distortion of biblical gender roles and a deemphasis on biblical virtues. Today, the culture’s dominant assumptions are those of an unchecked egalitarianism.

A little over ten years ago, Wayne Grudem published the book, Evangelism Feminism: The New Path to Liberalism where he documented from history how the major denominations that embraced feminism (egalitarianism) in one generation, moved to embrace homosexuality and other progressive postures in the next. He simply made the point that the hermeneutics that lead to egalitarianism typically lead to progressivism. If you would like an even more thorough look at where unchecked egalitarianism will lead, we urge you to read his book and consider the argument.[25]

In the 10th post in this series, we will summarize our argument and the better way that God teaches us to follow in Scripture.


[1] Richard Arneson, “Egalitarianism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, summer 2013, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egalitarianism/#:~:text=Egalitarianism%20is%20a%20trend%20of,as%20equals%2C%20in%20some%20respect.

[2] See “At Table with Jesus,” in Part 5: “From Creation to New Creation: The Balance of the Bible,” in John Mark Hicks, Women Serving God: My Journey in Understanding Their Story in the Bible (John Mark Hicks, 2020).

[3] Scot McKnight, “The End of Complementarianism: Three Books, Three Different Arguments,” Jesus Creed, December 14, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/december/end-of-complementarianism.html.

[4] Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everyone (Pitchstone, 2020).

[5] John Mark Hicks, Women Serving God p. 144

[6] Scot McKnight, Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), 102-103.

[7] Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018).

[8] Thomas Schreiner shows how William Webb’s advocacy on this point is problematical. See his article, “William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: A Review Article,” https://d3pi8hptl0qhh4.cloudfront.net/documents/tschreiner/6.1_article.pdf.

[9] Bruce Goldman, “Two Minds: The Cognitive Differences between Men and Women,” Stanford Medicine, Spring 2017, https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html.

[10] David P. Schmitt, “The Truth about Sex Differences,” Psychology Today, 2017 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201711/the-truth-about-sex-differences

[11] Ibid.

[12] Jeff Diamant, “Though Still Conservative, Young Evangelicals Are More Liberal than Their Elders on Some Issues,” Pew Research Center, May 4, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/04/though-still-conservative-young-evangelicals-are-more-liberal-than-their-elders-on-some-issues/.

[13] For further references on the information below, see Bobby Harrington, “Is Our Manhood in Crisis? An Interview with Robert Lewis (Part 1 of 2), Renew.org, https://renew.org/audio/is-our-manhood-in-crisis-an-interview-with-robert-lewis-part-1-of-2/.

[14] Stephanie Pappas, “APA Issues First-Ever Guidelines for Practice with Men and Boys,” American Psychological Association, 2019, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/ce-corner.

[15] “Should Men Become More Like Women?” New York Times, October 22, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/22/opinion/letters/women-men-workplace.html.

[16] James Combs, “The Decline of Men,” Healthy Living, May 29, 2018, https://www.lakehealthyliving.com/the-decline-of-men/.

[17] Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” http://ftp.iza.org/dp4200.pdf.

[18] Kay S. Hymowitz, “Where Have the Good Men Gone?” Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2011, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704409004576146321725889448.

[19] Michael Kruger, “A Preview of My New Book: The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity,” January 6, 2020, https://www.michaeljkruger.com/tag/the-10-commandments-of-progressive-christianity/.

[20] Alisa Childers, “5 Signs Your Church Might Be Heading toward Progressive Christianity,” My 8, 2017, https://www.alisachilders.com/blog/5-signs-your-church-might-be-heading-toward-progressive-christianity.

[21] See Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861-1986 (Oxford University Press, 1988) and the summary of Dean Kelly’s,Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion by Albert Mohler in https://albertmohler.com/2011/04/25/why-conservative-churches-are-growing-david-brooks-and-the-limits-of-sociology.

[22] See David Young, A Grand Illusion: How Progressive Christianity Undermines Biblical Faith (Renew, 2019).

[23] See Everett Ferguson et al, The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (Routledge, 1990).

[24] Thomas R. Schreiner, “Paul and Gender: A Review Article,” Themelios, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/paul-and-gender-a-review-article/.

[25] Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006).