Menu iconFilter Results
Topics: Danvers, Eikon, The Nashville Statement

Advocates, Not Merely Adherents: Lay-of-the Land Observations and Challenges for Complementarians

April 2, 2024

Editor’s Note: The following article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Eikon.

My first encounter with the Danvers Statement and CBMW was in the late 1990s. I was a young man in college, and I was at my church, a rather large Southern Baptist church, and I was talking to a staff member in his office, and I saw on his bookshelf a big, thick, blue book that said Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. There were two names on it: Wayne Grudem and John Piper. I had heard the latter name, not the former. But I had never heard of the topics to which that book was addressing. And I asked the staff member, “What is this book about?” And he said, “Well, it’s about complementarianism,” and I responded, “What in the world is that?” And he began to unpack it just a little bit to me that summer afternoon, and I stood there really mystified by the whole reality. I grew up in a conservative home and a conservative church, and I knew that generally, men were supposed to lead in the home, and in the church, and that women were not to preach, but little more than that.

As a college student in the late 1990s, the whole topic struck me as an awkward anachronism, a doctrinal hot potato, an angular, often inconvenient truth to which we were to hold. But I sensed then that men and ministers both would speak of these things only when necessary, and then do so only uncomfortably. And when it was necessary to speak to them, it would usually be with some glib, throwaway line along the lines that, “When we got married, I told my wife I would make all the major decisions, but in 30 years of marriage, there has never been a major decision!” That was my encounter and my understanding of complementarianism in the late 1990s.

Then you move into the early 2000s, and a huge surge of awareness — thanks to CBMW primarily — took place. The TNIV pushback even had leading voices arguing for a return to the phrase and the concept of “biblical patriarchy,” a call to recover that term. That concept and the room seemed set. And it seemed as though this renewal of Reformed theology, the New Calvinism, that complementarianism was really part and parcel of that movement. Yet over the past five to ten years, it seems to me that we have had a swing of momentum: self-inflicted wounds; moral failings by leaders; crudeness and rudeness on social media and other places; militant egalitarianism that is always on the hunt for a complementarian to shoot down. All of this and more presents those of us who are complementarians with significant challenges.

Then we come to my own denomination — speaking of challenges — the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In recent years, the issue has become fever pitch. It really burst just a few years ago when Beth Moore tweeted in the lead-up to Mother’s Day that she would be preaching. And that set off a conflagration. Then, of course, more recently, Rick Warren announced an exegetical breakthrough, not just permitting women to preach and to lead in the church, but necessitating they do so.

Before us now is the Law Amendment that many of you have heard about, and read about — an admittedly blunt instrument, but seemingly a necessary one. And some of those opposed to it are making the argument that sounds something like this: “This is a red herring in our convention, because only a handful of churches are in danger of being afoul of the BF&M 2000. But if we adopt it, we will alienate an intolerably high number of churches that would then be outside of the BF&M 2000.” Well, which is it? We are a free church denomination, and we understand that swapping inconsistent nomenclature is part of that cooperation. We seek to find reasons to work together, not to come apart. But our response should be to educate, not to excuse, to reaffirm and rearticulate, not to shrug off, not to say things like, “On the one hand, these issues are rooted in the created order, but as long as we do not violate it too often, then it is no big deal.”

Four Observations on the Lay of the Land

In what follows, I will make four observations as I see the lay of the land, and then bring six words of challenge to card-carrying complementarians.

1. America is spiraling into greater darkness than any of us fully realize.

I was in the United Kingdom recently for our acquisition of a Spurgeon collection at MBTS. I was in the London area in a car with a minister from there. We were at a red light, and to the left of the light was a large building with a sign. On the sign was a man — clearly a man with large muscles and a beard, exuding masculinity in every way by the muscles and the facial hair — wearing lingerie. The minister said to me, “You know, Jason, America has exported that to us.” It struck me at that moment not only was he right, but he was tragically so, because until very recently we were on the receiving end of such exports: Europe sent us their nonsense. Now we are sending ours to them. We used to be the arsenal of democracy. We used to export virtue. Now we are the arsenal of hedonism, exporting perversion.

2. The greatest threat to complementarianism is not that we fail to persuade the culture, but that we fail to persuade our own families and churches.

In the lead-up to America’s interest in World War II, FDR famously observed that to be the President in these times required that the President be the Educator in Chief. And for us in the room who love our sons, daughters, spouses, congregations, and extended family, my great concern is not so much that the culture will not hear and heed, but that our own loved ones and our own churches are not hearing from us, and thus not heeding accordingly the clear teachings of Scripture.

3. There is no mushy middle.

Stop trying to find the mushy middle. If you want to see people looking for it, you do not have to attend a feminist conference these days. You just have to attend ETS. But there is, in the final analysis, no mushy middle. That phrase first hit me over a decade ago when I had just moved to Kansas City. I was visiting a couple of regional institutions that were in proximity to MBTS, and I was attempting to get to know those presidents. I did so partly out of curiosity and partly to be cordial. Well, one such institution I visited had a female president, and on her office wall she had a picture of the Last Supper. But the scene was unique because the Last Supper portrait portrayed all the apostles and our Lord himself as women. Of course, I asked her about the painting. And she said, “Oh, it is no big deal. It is just a reminder that God loves women ,too.” And I thought to myself: there are other ways to express this sentiment. We continued to talk candidly about her faculty, which I pointed out was clearly to the left of the denomination they were under. She said, “Jason, my plan is to hang out in the mushy middle as long as we can.” That is, of course, dishonorable, but it is also no longer tenable. There is no mushy middle.

4. We aren’t doing a good job of arguing for biblical complementarity on the merits.

Whenever these issues pop up in the social media sphere or any other sphere in which we find ourselves, we are inclined to give acknowledgment and support of these issues, but to always come with a caveat. We say something like, “Well, he should have said it nicer. Could have had a better tone. Yes, but . . . I wouldn’t have said it that way.” We have got to find our footing and argue for the issues on the merits themselves.

Six Challenges for Card-Carrying Complementarians

Now that I have shared four observations, I have six challenges for card-carrying complementarians.

1. As leaders, we must die to the idol of reputation.

The quicker that we die to the idol of reputation, the better position we will be in to honor the Lord in our ministries and to honor the Lord in our theological and biblical standards. If you care what random people at ETS think, you are not in a good place. If you care what random people at SBL think, you are in a really bad place. The Lord is kind and knows my heart. At the end of the day, if I am honorable before the Lord, my wife, my family, the elders and fellow members of my church, and my close colleagues — that is who ultimately matters. And it does not matter one bit what people on social media think or what people who are pre-committed to hate complementarianism believe anyway. And the quicker we get to that place in our lives, the better we will be. My challenge to you is to die to the idol of reputation.

2. As leaders, we must resist the temptation to engage in what I refer to as rhetorical Hagarism.

What is rhetorical Hagarism? We know the story in Genesis 16, where God had made a promise to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham would be the father of a great nation. That promise was looking rather dim, given their advanced age. His “helpful” wife Sarah came up with a plan. She brought a woman, Hagar, to help God out. And we know the tragedy that followed. At times we are tempted to feel that if we could just say things a little nicer, a little better, a little sweeter, if we could just get the tone perfect, then the culture will understand; then the broader evangelical world would understand. Yes, we are to speak the truth in love, brothers and sisters. But we must understand that, given the issues we stand for, given the topics and textual debates that CBMW speaks to, there is no tone that is perfect for our culture or for what falls under the label of evangelicalism.

As leaders, we must defend these biblical views on the merits. It is God’s design, and it is good. It is good for marriage. It is good for the family. It is good for the church. And yes, it is good for society. Otto von Bismarck famously said, “Political genius is hearing the hoofbeat of history and then leaping to catch the passing horsemen by the coattails.” Our culture has made the leap and, in the main, evangelicalism has or is making the leap. Let us be the ones who cheerfully, confidently say, “Heavens no! We are not going to make that leap, because to make that leap would be to divide God’s word and to dishonor God himself.”

3. Prioritize our own families and churches first.

Over the culture and more broadly, the social and political realm, I believe any renewal will come by building from the inside-out and from the bottom-up. Evangelicalism and all that is crammed under that label these days has mostly lost its mind. What we need is for sons and daughters to see dads that love and lead their families and their churches, to see godly men who preach the word and graciously lead, who hold forth these texts and these truths — not with timidity and embarrassment, but with confidence and with comfort, knowing it is God’s standard and it is good.

4. Be willing to let our confessional commitments define our coalitions and not vice versa.

We must have the theological self-confidence to be okay with letting our confessional commitments define our coalitions, to love the truth enough to speak it and to believe it, and to contend for it, while understanding that not everyone is going to agree with us. Even erstwhile brothers and sisters are not going to be okay with this. Winston Churchill famously chided Neville Chamberlain in the context of the Munich appeasement by saying of Chamberlain: “He had the choice between war and dishonor. He chose dishonor; he shall have war.” We may have the choice between dishonor and division in our own denominational/ecclesial circles. Let us choose honor because division will likely come regardless.

5. Fight for personal holiness.

There is a crudeness in our culture, a comfort with sin, a perversion that is around us and often amidst us. And I beg of us not to normalize that, not to celebrate that, not to choose as normal entertainment that which dishonors our Lord. Because doing so compromises our own integrity and our own inner desires, whether we realize it or not. We must guard our lives. Every moral failing, every crude comment, every unkind tweet gives our critics a club with which they hit not just us, but our church and the Lord himself. Let us be the first and loudest to advocate for personal holiness, to guard our marriages, to honor the women in our lives, to cherish our wives, to protect our daughters, and to appropriately uplift and honor the women in our lives and in our churches.

6. We must differentiate between adherence and advocacy, and not settle for the former.

I really want to drive this final point home. We are called to be advocates, not just affirmers. We are called to be articulators, not just adherents. Compromise usually begins with silence. It ends with disavowal. And we must have an ear for the silence. Yes, each of us will have different ministry passions or commitments. But we must keep before us an ever-present awareness that these issues are being threatened by the day, in our families and in our churches, and we must be those who are willing to confidently and cheerfully speak and advocate to these great truths, especially as codified in the Danvers and Nashville Statements. Silence often is deafening.

This really resonated with me a few years ago when I was given a referral for a potential faculty member of an accomplished scholar who teaches at a well-known but thoroughly evangelical, thoroughly egalitarian institution. And this person was looking to leave and came to me, highly recommended by a friend in ministry. And my friend said, “You should consider hiring X. He can sign all of your confessional statements.” At Midwestern Seminary, we have the Baptist Faith & Message, the Chicago Statement, the Danvers Statement, and the Nashville Statement. My friend assured me that this scholar could sign all of them.

Well, we did not really have an opening for this scholar. I was not looking, but I was really curious. I thought, “How do you teach at this egalitarian institution for all these years and happily exist there, if you really can, at the same time, eagerly, wholeheartedly, sign our statements.” So I did a little digging, just out of personal curiosity. I looked at books and articles this scholar had written, tweets that had been shared, sermons and lectures that were given. And for the life of me, I could not find anything from his public ministry anywhere that indicated an adherence to our statements. As someone making hires at a conservative, evangelical institution, there is no way I am going to hire some person — though they give a great assurance that they affirm our statements — who has never been moved throughout a long public ministry to ever advocate for these great truths. Such a person might be where they need to be when their job is on the line. Such a person will not be where they need to be when the institution is under fire over these issues.

Rufus Fears has famously said, “The difference between a politician and statesman is the politician has an antenna and a statesman has a compass.” God has given us a great compass: the Word of God. Scripture speaks so clearly to these issues as summarized so beautifully and so clearly in the Danvers Statement and the Nashville Statement. Let us be men and women who are hopeful and cheerful, yet confident and clear about these great truths that we hold so dear. And may we be faithful to not just adhere to them, but to advocate for them in this generation.

Dr. Jason Allen is the President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Editors Note: This article is a transcript of Dr. Jason Allen’s CBMW Banquet Address at the 75th Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. It will appear in the Spring 2024 issue of Eikon.

Did you find this resource helpful?

You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.

Donate Today