on Piper’s complementarianism

I used to pride myself in the fact that I was not one of those apparently many other women who would “bristle” at the sound of “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord”.  Submission, for me, truly was a glad submission.  This is what God says!  This is His design!  This is God’s will for our mutual happiness, peace, and joy!

Things are different now.  I bristle when I hear the word, whenever I hear about authority and submission in the context of a man and woman, husband and wife. There is a noted cognitive dissonance that wasn’t there before.  Something inside of me wants to scream against it.  Something inside of me, deep down, mourns.

I do not fully understand why this has happened.  My husband and I have struggles, but I am happy in my marriage.  Is this my inner feminist finally coming out to rear her ugly head?  That statement alone reveals the places I have been, the ways I have been taught, the messages and information that over the years, I have absorbed.

Is it too much to say that submission is a loss?  A loss of status, loss of power, loss of strength, a loss of unity?  What once was joined together must now remain bluntly separate.  “Your desire will be for you husband, and he will rule over you.”


My current mental obsession is reading about complementarianism.

The whole thing started back in the 1970’s.  Caught in the wake of feminism’s so-called second wave, conservative evangelicals became increasingly concerned with the infiltration of feminism into the church.  It is important to understand that for conservative evangelicals, the word “feminism” or “feminist” carries with it, for good reason, an ocean liner of baggage.  With society telling women they no longer had to settle for being held back, and the church members beginning to ask more questions like why women weren’t allowed to be pastors, evangelicals rightly inferred that the integrity of the inerrant Word of God was at stake.

Two camps ensued.  You started to see books and two-inch thick manifestos like John Piper’s and Wayne Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (a book I have read and reread for years), in which Piper and Grudem officially claimed the term “complementarian”.  The reason I say claimed instead of coined is because some people insist that Piper and Grudem stole the word from the other camp who would become known as egalitarians.

Complementarians believe that man and woman are equally created in the image of God.  In addition to their equality in human dignity and worth, complementarians also affirm the distinctions that exist between the two genders and the subsequent “roles” God set forth in His Word.  These roles and distinctions are commonly described in terms of authority and headship, with the man as the head of the home, and men as the ones to serve as pastors in the church.  In contrast, you have those who are called egalitarians.  Egalitarians also believe that man and woman are equally created in the image of God.  They affirm there are distinctions between women and men.  The difference is that egalitarians do not believe these distinctions place any kind of “role” limits on one or the other in the home or church.


I once told my husband that I didn’t think I could handle it if it ever came out that John Piper was involved in any kind of scandal.  While I don’t agree with every word he’s written, I believe his heart is pure and true.  Over the past five years or so, I have watched as Protestant church leaders continue to topple.  Affairs have come to light.  Abuse cover-ups have happened in places of high leadership.  Men once prized and respected have stepped down from their positions or been asked to leave.

There are certain men you just believe in.  There are certain men where you can’t help but feel this unshakable confidence (however naively) that this could never happen to them.  John Piper.  Tim Keller.  Those are the only two men I can think of.

There’s been talk in recent months about what many refer to as “The Billy Graham Rule.”  At the beginning of his ministry, as he stood on the brink of unprecedented fame, he and his friends dispersed to their separate hotel rooms to pray.  When they came back together, together they penned what they would jokingly refer to as “The Modesto Manifesto”.

People say the Billy Graham rule was penned out of fear.  Fear of women.  Fear of temptation.  Fear of “having the appearance of evil”.  I could not disagree more.  Men have been wrongly accused before, and women have wrongfully reached for men before.  The story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife is a prime example.  The Proverbs are full of warnings to men about adultery.

Billy Graham did not fear women.  I wouldn’t even say (though he might beg to differ) that he feared himself.  Billy Graham feared God.

No, not everyone is in his position.  I don’t think a hard and fast rule must be widely applied to all married men and women everywhere.   But marriage is important enough to have safeguards.   We shouldn’t laugh or scoff at such things.  The Lord looks on the heart, and the heart of Billy Graham was tied with the Psalmist’s, “I sought the LORD and He answered me, He delivered me from all my fears.”


Complementarians believe in marriage.  One man.  One woman.  One God uniting them together into one.  Submission is more than just a reordered fixing of the fall’s malfunctions, more than God’s first use of the law to curb a woman’s “sinful” and sinful resistance to man.  Submission is the way she displays God’s image, sharing in the cross of Jesus the Christ.  Submission tells the story of Hope for the world.

I don’t mean to be dramatic.

This is what God says.

This is His design.

This is God’s will for our mutual happiness, peace, and joy.

6 thoughts on “on Piper’s complementarianism

  1. Rebekah – sounds like you needed to write this one. 🙂

    This one got me pondering – so off to google:

    “Complementarianism is a theological view held by some in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere. The word “complementary” and its cognates are currently used to denote this view.”

    “Christian egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal or level), also known as biblical equality, is a Christian form of egalitarianism. It holds that all human persons are created equally in God’s sight—equal in fundamental worth and moral status.”

    I find it interesting (quite encouraging!) that a “theological view” is commonly held (by some) across different faiths. Other than one thing: the bible (and all “sacred texts”) can be – and are – used to justify any “theological view”.

    My own view? Does it really matter – and does it draw us closer to God?

    Because something else I read in the bible is that should my own behaviour (or opinions?) that are “okay” between me and God cause another’s faith to waver, I should be the one to change my behaviour (and opinions?). Is that submission or love?

    I think my conclusion is for each to avoid positioning their own “theological view” above others’ “theological view” so that we all might find we have more in common than difference!

    (a by-product of which might be to cease all these little “but I am only a frail human being – a sinner saved” abuses of power, privilege and celeb-like “theological positions” when more “dirty washing” comes to light)

    Feels like I needed to write that as well!! 🙂

    • Paul, thanks for your comment. I always appreciate your thoughts. Yes, I think I really did need to write that one, and yes, it sounds like you did too! I’m glad you did!

      I love that it sent you to Google. That happens to me a lot when I read. And
      I’m with you in believing we humans really do have more in common than we do difference.

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