Should You Trust Complementarians?

I could not help but notice that the only people who really cared about the Nashville Statement, crafted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, were those involved and their supporters. The rest of the world, including the rest of Christ's Church, rolled their proverbial eyes and concluded that, with this Statement, at last the relevancy of the majority of conservative evangelical leaders and Religious Right fundamentalists has officially ended. What is the Nashville Statement? This Statement is a collection of fourteen confessions and denials that most conservative evangelical leaders harp on Sunday after Sunday: the entire LGBTQ-context is an abomination unto God and women belong at home, in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. I don't trust complementarian evangelical leaders.

I ask you: Should you care what complementarian evangelicals teach? Allow me to attempt to convince you why their dogmatism, and their "preaching hard truths," amounts to little else than a grandiose gong, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. There is a truth that these complementarians operate under which, if exposed, will instrumentally cause you to lose fear of their authoritarian tactics: an exposé that begins with the reality of perspective.

"Perspective is king." I learned this fact of reality in college by brilliant English professor Dr. Matt Mullins. I have never forgotten this life-lesson, as well as one other he constantly reiterated, "Everything is rhetoric." But even the particular view that perspective is king is a perspective. We may imagine (rightly, I think) that this perspective is self-evidently true to reality but it is still a perspective. Someone could argue that observation is king, or facts are king, or objective truth is king, or illusion, or delusion is king -- that perspective assumes a secondary role in our reality. But those, too, are perspectives and, hence, perspective reigns as king over every single facet of our moment-by-moment and quite inevitable reality.

I often warn against someone insisting that he or she dogmatically maintains the "biblical" view on any given subject. For example, complementarians like John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth edit and co-author a book entitled, Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity. Did you note the adjective: biblical? These men promote biblical Christianity and Open Theists represent unbiblical Christianity. Consider also Kevin DeYoung's book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? DeYoung assumes that he presents what "the Bible" really teaches about homosexuality. Really, Kevin, you are going to tell us what "the Bible" really teaches about homosexuality? Did God directly speak to you and give you the correct interpretation of what "the Bible" really teaches about homosexuality? This tactic is pure manipulation and that is a fact.

To the average person, untrained in detecting manipulative rhetoric, he or she might imagine that these "biblical" scholars are merely promoting the ideas and the theology of various authors of Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Wrong! These complementarian evangelical men are presenting to the public their perspective of what they think various authors of Hebrew and Christian Scripture represent, and nothing more, absolutely nothing more. What is worse, though, is that they know it: they know about epistemology, and they know about hermeneutics, and they still communicate with their audience as though they teach "the whole counsel of God" from "the Word of God" and that what they teach is "biblical" theology. That is a lie; and this lie is affecting the way people think and live.

Men like John Piper, Al Mohler, and Kevin DeYoung (and many more among them) are guilty of an outdated and faulty hermeneutic called naïve realism, which, in its most simplistic form, is the idea that anyone can read a text, intuit its intended meaning, glean an appropriate and accurate conclusion, merely by reading the words "in context." This sophomoric method of interpretation neglects the base reality of already-established presuppositions that influence their particular conclusion that they naïvely think is purely "biblical." Dr. Stanley Fish, from his book Is There a Text in This Class?, argues:
What we have here then are two critics [viewing the exact same text] with opposing interpretations, each of whom claims the same word as internal and confirming evidence. Clearly they cannot both be right, but just as clearly there is no basis for deciding between them. One cannot appeal to the text, because the text has become an extension of the interpretive disagreement that divides them; and, in fact, the text as it is variously characterized is a consequence of the interpretation for which it is supposedly evidence.1
In other words, when a disagreement arises in interpretation, appeal cannot simply be made to the text as though the text "so clearly" teaches what either party insists. "Well then," you suggest, "perhaps the context will help us interpret rightly." Wrong. Dr. Fish insists the contrary: "Nor can the question be settled by turning to the context . . . for that too will only be a context for an already assumed interpretation."2 He argues that, "in the light of an already assumed interpretation, the word [or phrase or sentence in question] will be seen to obviously have one meaning or another."3 This, then, informs us as to the quality of scholarship of an individual. When appeal is made to context in order to substantiate or validate a notion, and expressions such as "without a doubt" or "obviously" are chosen to support and validate that notion, then an inner warning signal should be sounded in your mind to question what was just communicated. Dr. Fish helps us understand why.


What I find comical, especially from conservative complementarian evangelicals, is when a statement of belief is expressed as "so obvious" and, yet, that belief seems "so obvious" solely to the one communicating it: "Whenever a critic [or a teacher or a preacher or a biblical scholar] prefaces an assertion with a phrase like 'without a doubt' or 'there can be no doubt,'" argues Fish, "you can be sure that you are within hailing distance of the interpretive principles which produce the facts that he presents as obvious."4 What is "so obvious" to one person may be an entirely foreign concept to another. So who is right? Can we know?

We understand that all knowledge is not equal. Mathematical knowledge, for instance, maintains formulæ that is objectively true: 1+1 will always equal 2. We can learn and know a language; but we understand that rules for language and spelling experience changes. We can learn and know a particular unproven theory; but we cannot be absolutely certain regarding any particular unproven theory because we, as finite creatures, do not possess absolute knowledge -- a perfect perspective -- and, hence, cannot be purely objective.

When I write on this site I do so knowing full well that I am communicating according to my own perspective. I can communicate what I think I know, why I know what I think I know, but not with such certainty on all matters so as to be an absolutist. I even used the word "facts" above; I did so because, from my perspective, the approach to biblical interpretation from complementarian evangelicals ignores the basics of hermeneutics. This inevitably leads to naïve, fundamentalist dogmatism, such that demands obedience from an audience by use of words that attempt to force someone into submissive belief: "biblical," "what the Bible says," "what the Bible really says," "obviously," "clearly," etc. I have learned too much about hermeneutics and interpretation to trust or to believe complementarian evangelicals, like Al Mohler and John Piper, and those involved with the Nashville Statement.

Evangelicals like Al Mohler, or John Piper, should agree with the overall tenets presented here but they will never own these facts. Why? Because men like Mohler et al. consistently espouse their views with unparalleled certainty, appealing to their views as being merely biblical, merely "what the Bible teaches," and they are content to think and to communicate within their own isolated echo chambers. They teach in an intentional and specific manner solely to perpetuate their own interpretations and rhetorically manipulate others into believing that what they espouse is God's truth. Rather than confess, publicly and in writing, that their views are what they think authors of the Bible are conveying, theological hubris drives them into a dogmatism that is naïve, unprincipled and undisciplined.


1 Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 340.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 341.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.