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IVP casts egalitarian vision within publishing mission

April 19, 2005

InterVarsity Press (IVP) is fairly up-front about its commitments on the gender issue: the organization is committed to publishing books that undergird its viewpoint that all ministerial offices are open to women.

InterVarsity Press (IVP) is fairly up-front about its commitments on the gender issue: the organization is committed to publishing books that undergird its viewpoint that all ministerial offices are open to women.

Perhaps more than anything else, IVP’s publishing vision proves that there is no genuine middle ground on the gender debate: logically and practically, a ministry is either complementarian or egalitarian.

“There is no middle ground or mediating position with regard to the current gender debate within evangelicalism,” said Randy Stinson, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

“Anymore, individuals, churches, and parachurch ministries must take a position on this issue since it determines so many practices within these various groups.”

IVP’s practice, if not its profession, is clearly egalitarian and it has been so from the beginning.

The publishing company was founded in 1941 by C. Stacy Woods as a part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). From the outset, the 20-member board of trustees that holds IVCF and IVP accountable resolved to support complete freedom for women in ministry.

“InterVarsity is not a church but is a parachurch that transcends many specific denominational convictions on secondary matters such as the role of women in ministry–which has never been a creedal statement,” IVP publisher Bob Fryling said. “However, we do have a rich orthodox theological heritage which does govern all that we do in InterVarsity.

“In terms of practice, InterVarsity had to decide at its outset whether or not to allow women in ministry…[Founder Woods] and the board decided to give women complete freedom in ministry within IVCF which has been our position and practice for 65 years.”

But the fact that IVP is not a church by no means excuses it from following scriptural mandates on God-ordained gender roles as they relate to leadership, Stinson said.

“The fact that InterVarsity is a parachurch does not allow them to disregard what the Bible says even on what the organization considers a secondary matter,” Stinson said. “If IVP is engaging in an activity that is governed by Scripture, then it is required to perform that activity within biblical parameters.”

Through the years, IVP has not swerved from a commitment to publish works built on the assumption of complete freedom for women in the ministry. In recent years it has published such egalitarian works as Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William Webb, The Trinity & Subordinationism by Kevin Giles, and Gender & Grace by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen among many others.

Other IVP authors include evangelical feminists such as Catherine Kroeger, who wrote the article on headship (taking a decidedly egalitarian interpretation) in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Kroeger also served as co-editor of The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary.

Webb’s work is among the most troubling as it posits a new hermeneutic that views passages restricting family and church leadership to males as being bound by culture and not normative for today. Webb calls it a “redemptive-movement hermeneutic,” and its postmodern slant has made it attractive to many contemporary evangelicals. (For a detailed critique of Webb’s thesis, see the response by Wayne Grudem at <>)

What some see as innovative in Webb’s approach to Scripture, Stinson views as extremely dangerous.

“While IVP continues to advocate a high view of Scripture, the Webb book is troubling since its proposed solution is to resolve the gender conflict by looking outside of Scripture to discern Paul’s trajectory,” Stinson said.

IVP also publishes diverse treatises in the realm of theology proper, including numerous works promoting open theism by its chief proponents Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd.

Stinson says it is mystifying that IVP publishes books by open theists whose views of God stand outside the realm of historic Christianity all the while declining to publish complementarians who maintain views commensurate with those held by the majority of Christians throughout history.

“It is difficult to understand how IVP can refuse to publish complementarian books by authors like John Piper or Wayne Grudem–because it would undermine the work of IVCF–but is willing to publish books by Greg Boyd and Clark Pinnock on open theism,” Stinson said.

“Doesn’t the low view of God proposed by open theists fundamentally undermine the work of IVCF?”

Last year, IVP published its most thorough defense of egalitarianism (or so-called “evangelical feminism”) a monograph entitled Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. IVP announced earlier this week that it would cease publication of the book due to the felony conviction of contributor Judy Brown for attempted murder (See IVP will publish it in the future minus the chapter written by Brown.

According to IVP’s stated Publishing Vision, the company’s program is two-fold: first, to “equip and encourage people in their faith,” and second, “to produce works that will break new ground or offer a corrective–even prophetic–biblical word to society or the church at large…”

IVP’s doctrinal statement includes eight articles setting forth the orthodox doctrines of God, the Trinity, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the Fall, the value and dignity of all people, the person and work of Christ, justification by faith, the unity of all believers, and the bodily return of Christ.

Fryling points out that IVP’s statement of faith neither affirms the egalitarian position nor invalidates complementarianism.

“Although [the statement of faith] is not a ‘creedal’ statement, it is our working framework,” he said.

“You will notice that it does not invalidate a complementarian view but seeks to support women in ministry in IVCF. In other words, we don’t want to be working against ourselves and since it is practically impossible to say that women can and cannot have ministry within IVCF at the same time, we need and want to support the historic position of IVCF.”

IVP’s Publishing Vision also states the ministry’s desire to “publish across a range of thoughtful Christian viewpoints.” However, given its commitment to uphold the subjective “gifting and calling of women,” IVP cannot publish a work that espouses a straight-forward complementarian view.

“IVP acknowledges and respects the different church traditions and biblical convictions with respect to women’s roles within various denominational and local church structures,” Fryling said. “However, IVP is also committed to the value of honoring the gifts and calling of both men and women within the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at all levels of leadership.”

Fryling said IVP follows three guidelines in making publishing decisions:

(1) IVP will publish books that reflect a diversity of opinion on the topic of gender roles such as its Four Views on Women in Ministry.

(2) IVP will continue to publish books on broader themes than gender roles but that include different convictions on gender roles within their contexts such as Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ by complementarian New Testament scholar Thomas R. Schreiner.

(3) IVP will choose not to publish books that argue only for a viewpoint that would undermine the value of IVP supporting the ministry calling and gifting of women within IVCF.

So what does Fryling see as being at stake in the gender issue? He worries that the debate between complementarians and egalitarians will hinder the outreach of the gospel.

“The reality is there are very healthy and unhealthy complementarian marriages and healthy and unhealthy egalitarian marriages,” Fryling said. “The key to the future for both home and the church seems to be how much we are willing to live in love to one another rather than trying to prove each other wrong.

“A great step forward on this would be to not vilify the opposing position as being unbiblical but in humility to recognize that different, very mature believers come to different convictions that should be discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect for each other and the Word of God.”

But Stinson says much more is at stake with the gender issue than Fryling realizes. “According to Ephesians 5:21-33, God designed marriage to reflect the relationship of Christ and the church. Therefore, if the roles of husbands and wives do not reflect the unique ways that Christ and the church serve one another through loving and joyful headship and submission, then the true meaning of marriage is lost.

“It is clear that Fryling believes that not much is at stake,” Stinson said. “This is not only disappointing, but in some ways alarming. Noting that there are some healthy and unhealthy marriages in both camps assumes that both represent biblical pictures of marriage. The fact is that both positions cannot be correct. One group is necessarily repenting of the very things that the other group is advocating.

“If a marriage is fundamentally opposed to the arrangement described in Ephesians 5, which clearly calls for marriage to be a picture of Christ and the church, it cannot be considered healthy–no matter how nice the husband and wife are to one another.

“We are not just talking about tips on how to get along, we are dealing with a much bigger concern–Christ and the church (Eph 5:32). For Fryling to dismiss the debate, claiming that a focus on the debate may hinder the gospel, utterly misses the point that a marriage lived out according to Ephesians 5 is intended by God to be a picture of the gospel. The egalitarian view flattens out the unique roles of husband and wife and undermines this picture of Christ and the church that all Christian marriages are intended to portray.”

Many evangelicals have argued that opening all church offices to women creates a slippery slope toward embracing homosexuality and there has been a seismic leftward shift, particularly within the mainline denominations, that has largely validated their concerns.

However, Fryling disagrees with the slippery slope analogy, and says that IVP, while fully supporting women in ministry, vigorously opposes homosexual activity.

“Although our practical support for women in ministry has been throughout our history, we have also been unerringly against homosexual behavior,” he said. “We believe that homosexual activity is sinful and have produced more books on that position than probably any other publisher.”

While Stinson applauds IVP’s stance on homosexuality, he says the gender debate is not only about a slide toward homosexuality; it is mainly about obedience to the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the home and the church.

A wholesale commitment to feminism or egalitarianism by IVP or any other Christian ministry sets aside the authority of Scripture, he said.

Said Stinson, “The egalitarian view is harmful to the home and to the church, and it undermines the authority of God’s Word, which, contrary to the assertions of many on the other side of this debate, is very clear regarding the roles of men and women.

“It harms boys and girls who are not being encouraged to exhibit biblical characteristics of their gender. It also, many times, leads to a perversion of one’s view of God since there are many egalitarians who are arguing for feminine God-language and advocating calling God “Mother.” In other words, this is not some kind of casual, intramural debate.

“Furthermore, both sides do not have statistics to back up their concerns. Bradford Wilcox, in his book Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (University of Chicago, 2004), has refuted the unfounded assertion made by egalitarians that complementarianism leads to abuse. Committed, evangelical, patriarchal fathers are the least likely to abuse their wives and children.

“Complementarians can, however, point to trend, after trend, after trend that shows that, while there may not be a direct causal connection, the ideologies of homosexuality and egalitarianism are not completely autonomous.”

Stinson said the debate must necessarily continue because the two sides hold opposite views; both views cannot be in line with the objective truth of Scripture. Stinson urged Christians to employ biblical discernment in supporting parachurch organizations by making certain their views square with Scripture.

“It is no wonder, then, that Fryling would like for all of us to quit declaring the other position as unbiblical,” Stinson said. “This would mean that no one would be called upon to take a clear stand.

“This will not do, and evangelicals are now going to have to decide how they will hold organizations like InterVarsity accountable for their various theological positions. Those who support organizations like this should rethink how their money is being used and realize that even organizations trying to focus on the gospel are also sending other theological messages that are antithetical to the teachings of the Bible.”

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