Molly writes, in a post at Adventures of Mercy, about her move from a complementarian or patriarchal view of gender relationships to an egalitarian one. This has been a real and difficult change of outlook for her. In a comment on her own post she writes:
I cannot begin to tell you what it has been like for me…just like a death…but yet I have felt like the One stirring up the questions in my heart was not my own rebellion, but Jesus, and most of it coming straight from Scripture. I had been so trained to read Scripture from a patriarchal perspective that I was unable to see it any other way without Divine intervention. Well, it’s either Divine or I’m totally decieved, one or the other, which is something I pray for (for truth and not deception) daily!
Molly certainly has a good point here about “Divine intervention”.
Very often patterns of thinking about the teaching of the Bible become very deeply ingrained, and to change them requires what is technically called a paradigm shift. Sometimes people are able to make such paradigm shifts when presented with overwhelming evidence, but this is rather rare. Even in science, which is supposed to be objective, it is rare for established scholars to shift their personal paradigms to accept a completely new theory; the paradigm shifts which have occurred have more commonly been spread over decades, as the older generation has been gradually replaced by new scholars accepting the new theory.
But with theological understanding there is also a spiritual element. I think most of us would accept this when we consider the personal paradigm shift required for someone to become a Christian. For those with no Christian background this is one of the greatest paradigm shifts that could be made. And it is one which people are rarely persuaded to make by overwhelming logical arguments, although more commonly perhaps they are prompted to shift by evidence they see for themselves of God’s activity. But it is not without good reason that most Christians hold that this paradigm shift can only be made with the help of the Holy Spirit, whose work includes opening the unbeliever’s heart to God’s truth. As the apostle Paul wrote:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4, TNIV)
But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
(2 Corinthians 3:16, TNIV)
Now the paradigm shift which Molly made is small compared with that of becoming a Christian. Nevertheless, I’m sure she is right to attribute it to “Divine intervention”. When “the god of this age” has lost complete control of someone to the true God, he tries every trick in the book to get back into their lives to deceive them and make them ineffective as Christians. Galatians 3:1 is surely a biblical example of this. I know that he has done this kind of thing in many ways in my own life; I am still struggling in some of these areas, and there may be others which I am not yet aware of.
It seems to me that one of Satan’s current strategies to deceive Christians and make them ineffective is… well, I won’t say complementarianism in general, but I will suggest that it is the strident complementarianism or patriarchalism which seems so strong in the USA at the moment, although not so much here in the UK except perhaps in circles connected with Adrian’s (currently dormant) blog.
This kind of stridency seems to go hand in hand with a lack of concern for people and how they will react. In this case, an insistence on patriarchy is surely causing many, men as well as women, to turn away from the Christian faith, potentially to their eternal ruin. But mention this to a strident complementarian, and the response is likely to be that God’s truth is more important than whether people are saved or not. Well, God’s truth is important, but there is no Christian obligation to present it in an unattractive way. I’m not suggesting that complementarians conceal their beliefs, but is there a good reason why they don’t stop being contentious about this issue and instead put their efforts into positive preaching about the great blessings in the Gospel?
In fact the not so good reason for this that I am discerning is that these people have fallen for Satan’s deceitful schemes. Indeed this seems to be part of his worldwide strategy for stirring up trouble by encouraging intolerant and angry fundamentalism among followers of every religion, including atheism. In this strategy 9/11 was a major success, not so much for the original attack as for the over-reaction which followed, including the invasion of Iraq which has simply encouraged all kinds of fundamentalism. But I am straying too far from the subject of this post!
So, how can people be encouraged to abandon strident complementarianism, or fundamentalism of any kind? It seems to me that presenting rational arguments to such people, as I have been doing here, at Better Bibles Blog, on Adrian’s blog etc, is about as effective as bashing my head against a brick wall. But maybe Molly’s paradigm shift shows us a better way. If, as she testifies, it took “Divine intervention” to change her from a complementarian to an egalitarian, then we should, instead of trying to win people by arguments, be praying that God will intervene in their lives and show them his truth. And at the same time we should allow him to intervene in our lives as well and show to us his truth, which may not be exactly what we have been trying to promote with our arguments.
Meanwhile, concerning the complementarian vision of male leadership, Corrie wrote this in a later comment on this same Adventures of Mercy post:
Christ, Himself, turned the leadership paradigm on its head when he told leaders not to be like the heathen but to be like Him, someone who gets on His knees to serve and not someone who expects to be served.
But this aspect of the Christian paradigm is so often ignored by those who believe that leadership is male, especially by men who seem to expect women to be their servants. If these men aspire to being leaders in the home or in the church, they should take to heart Jesus’ own words:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
(Mark 10:42-45, TNIV)
Now it is surely another part of Satan’s strategy to pervert God’s originally designed concept of leadership into the kind of “lording it” which Jesus rejects here. Indeed this is a very ancient strategy which goes back at least to the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:11-18), and probably to the Fall. But this is an issue on which the Bible seems to be unanimous. So, rather than a head-on challenge on the basic complementarian position, it is perhaps a more productive strategy in countering strident complementarians to challenge them with this biblical view of leadership. Maybe men who realise that leadership in the family or in the church requires them to act as slaves, even to give up their lives, will no longer be so eager to claim this leadership for themselves and deny it to women!