A different way forward?

The past several month’s simmering over some of the increasingly pointed rhetoric of a subset of Reformed leaders about the nature of complementarianism and its connections to the gospel, finally boiled over this week. Much of the early gentle stirring and heating was done by women like Wendy Alsup, Persis Lorenti, and Rachel Miller, although I’ve weighed in as well. Several weeks ago, Aimee Byrd, of the rhetorically spicy Mortification of Spin podcast, decided to kick things up a notch and take on some particularly troubling arguments coming out of the most recent CBMW conference, line by line. That led to some more stirring at the MOS site (including a turn by yours truly). Several of us made various attempts to politely invite a response from the CBMW folks, but were met with relative quiet.

Then, last Friday and Monday, Aimee brought out the big guns in form of one Dr. Liam Goligher, to get the bottom of things with a big infusion of creeds, catechisms, a sprinkling of hints about heresy and a passing reference to Islam. That did the trick. Yesterday, both Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem posted responses. Since then the discussion has been going at a fairly decent boil in three different languages – English, Latin and Greek, all in 140 character-sized morsels and longer form blog posts. I’m glad that the theological underpinnings of hypercomplementarian arguments about headship and submission and their tenuous ties to the Trinity are being examined. It’s important. But I’m a little worried that the practical reasons my fellow Blue Stockings began writing about this issue in the first place are getting lost in the midst of all the twenty-dollar words being thrown around. I’m concerned that this is turning into the kind of “theology-in-the-abstract”argument that gives theology, and tussling theologians, a bad name.

That’s why I’m wondering if this lady with only a bachelor’s degree in one language might weigh in with yet one more Latin phrase – one more familiar to the majority of Christians, which serves as the permanent tether between the transcendence of the Godhead, and the finitude of His creatures.

Namely, the imago dei.

The doctrine of imago dei is grounded in the first two chapters of Genesis, which describe with poetic beauty God’s crafting of man and woman, as distinct from the rest of creation. Imago dei is the place where ad extra and ad hominum meet.

For some time now, complementarianism as a term has been struggling under the weight of multiple awkward definitions, caught up in what men and women purportedly must do differently to define who they are essentially. But the first two chapters of Genesis say not one word about those distinctions. The focus of Genesis 1 and 2 is on God’s creation of the world and of humanity as a whole. It’s about men and women’s unified nature and unified work. The focus is on who God is, who we as human beings are, and what we as human beings are to do. The focus is on imago dei.

I’d like to propose that at least a partial solution to the arguments about the definition and implications of complementarianism and its connections to the Trinity, is to throw the term out altogether, or at least subordinate it (ha!) to one that has a closer correlation to the Trinity.

I’d like to offer up “imagodei-ism”, or being an “imagodei-an”,  as that term.

I’d like to propose that, instead of eisegeting gender frameworks from New Testament texts back into Genesis, we begin where God does, and go forward from there.

And to cut off all the usual objections before they begin, let me say clearly that I’m not arguing that we just quit talking about gender, or the institutions of marriage or church or whatnot.

But what I am arguing is that the reason for much of the last couple of years of increasing debate and doubling down on tertiary issues about who can be a police officer and whether Christianity has a masculine feel, is because we’ve missed some of the implications of the primary issue of what it means for all of us, every human being from conception to natural death, to be made in the image of the triune God.

This is not an original argument, by the way. It’s an argument made by a dear friend of mine in a book that I’ve reread every year since it was published. It got some traction, in some quarters. But judging by this week’s conversations, it didn’t get nearly enough.

On Monday, I’ll lay out the book’s arguments, and why I think they’re central to helping us move forward in a more unified way, at a time when unity in the midst of secular social and political upheaval is sorely needed.


13 thoughts on “A different way forward?

  1. I wish that would help, but gender complementarians tend to view man (Adam) as directly imago dei and woman (Eve) as indirectly imago dei through the man or having been made from the man in a more derivative sense – at least according to: http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/male-and-female-complementarity-and-the-image-of-god/
    We have to figure out just what is meant by imago dei before we can argue either way – but as long as there are a dozen different theories – then it doesn’t really change the status quo of: “it means whatever we need it to mean in order to bolster our argument.”


      1. 3GD – care to elaborate? Not sure if you’re agreeing with Jamie, or with CBMW. (You know we’re good either way. Well, maybe. 😉 )


      2. It was in reference to the quoted phrase at the end of her comment.

        From Through the Looking-Glass:

        “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

        Because of my frame of mind due to current circumstances (and without apologies to Forrest), “That’s all I have to say about that [for now].” 🙂


      3. I wasn’t sure what you meant until I saw the explanation, but it’s a good one. I find that there is a lot of double-speak in complementarian articles. In the one I posted, towards the bottom he tells singles that they can maintain the principle of male priority by telling single women to defer to single men in a way that stops short of full submission. In a different article, they talked about the mutual submission of husbands and wives, they don’t submit to each other, but they each submit to their head, women submit to their husbands, and husbands submit to Christ. In this article, he talks about male priority, but has to put a footnote at the bottom explaining what he doesn’t mean by ‘priority’. They keep on using words and saying it can only mean what they choose it to mean.


    1. Thanks Jamie. I had not seen that article so am going to have to read it carefully. It certainly goes a long way to explaining their current perspective.


      1. You’re welcome. I think they saw the issues with the trinity coming, so they thought up a few back-ups to turn to when their big argument gets taken down. Complementarianism is as old as I am, and it’s had a pretty amazing run with the trinity idea being the main thing – but I don’t think they would just give up if it no longer became an option. They have too much invested in eternal male headship and eternal female submission.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s