Monday, February 23, 2009

The Philosophical Complementarian Problem

I spent time yesterday on the Lord’s Day returning to the work I’ve spent an entire month away from—and a work that beckoned me after being away for so long. Picking up Sarah Sumner’s work entitled “Men and Women in the Church,” I suddenly remembered that the issue of women in ministry remains the passion that stirs my soul. It sure feels good to return to the work I love so much!

In this post I am gonna address a new perspective on the issue itself. While I have spent quite a lot of time defending the Scriptures in their acceptance of women and their giftedness, I have not addressed other issues in this debate. Starting with Sarah Sumner’s book, I will address what I call “The Philosophical Complementarian Problem.”
Sumner, in writing on the underlying philosophical differences between egalitarians and complementarians, writes,

“I don’t claim to see every aspect of this debate in perfect detail. But I can name one reason for the gridlock that results when complementarians and egalitarians try to talk about church order. Their philosophy of order is not the same. Generally speaking, complementarians are Scotists and egalitarians are Thomists. Understanding the difference between these two philosophies of order is vital to interpreting the debate” (“Men and Women in the Church,” 274-275).

What are the views of the Thomists and the Scotists? And how do they differ from one another? Let’s read more Sumner:

“While Thomists insist that God’s commands and God’s creation correlate directly with one another, Scotists believe that God’s commands need to correlate with nothing but God’s will…egalitarians, being Thomists, assume it is obvious that God’s plan for women accords with nature and reason. Complementarians, being Scotists, don’t see that as necessary. By contrast, they assume that it is obvious that God’s plan for women doesn’t have to be connected to anything else in God’s design” (275).

In short, Thomists assume that God’s will is revealed in nature and reason; Scotists, on the other hand, believe that God’s will need not be revealed to us—that, by necessity, it only has to reside in the mind of God.

I’m one to agree that God was not obligated to reveal Himself; I mean, after all, He is God, and is free to do whatever He chooses. If He didn’t will to reveal Himself, He didn’t will it. Revelation of Himself was entirely His call.
But He DID reveal Himself to us. And Scripture is full of evidence against the complementarian’s philosophical perspective.

Consider Psalm 98:2 (ESV):

“The LORD has MADE KNOWN his salvation; he has REVEALED his righteousness in the sight of the nations.”

When the Lord came to the aid of His people, as He did all throughout the Old Testament, God did not just secretly transport His people out of the troubling situations; He PHYSICALLY delivered them! Think back to the Red Sea. What did God do? He parted the Red Sea, let the Israelites walk on dry land, and then He DROWNED the Egyptians, Pharaoh and his army!

What about all their enemies in the land—the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, etc? God rescued His people out of their hands—but the Israelites had to take up arms and go to war (and God PHYSICALLY rescued them!).

Look at Isaiah 40, a chapter about the coming comfort for God’s people. In verse 3 we read:

“A voice cries: ‘in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God…’

Who was the voice of the one in the wilderness? John the Baptist (Mark 1:3). And who was He shouting about? The LORD.

Look at Isaiah 40:5—
“And the glory of the LORD SHALL BE REVEALED, and all flesh SHALL SEE IT together…”

Not only would God’s glory be revealed in Christ (as the Gospels signify), but also everyone would see it! Christ’s coming in the flesh as Son of Man would be something tangible, something that humanity would witness with its own eyes!

John the Beloved writes this of Christ in his Epistle of First John:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have HEARD, which WE HAVE SEEN WITH OUR EYES, which WE LOOKED UPON and HAVE TOUCHED WITH OUR HANDS, concerning the Word of Life—the life was MADE MANIFEST, and WE HAVE SEEN IT, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was MADE MANIFEST to us—that which we have SEEN and HEARD we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:1-3, ESV).

So God’s will was PHYSICALLY evident on earth in Christ. Doesn’t sound to me like the Scotist view.

Not only was Christ revealed tangibly as a sign of God’s will, but even creation was revealed physically to show God’s existence:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For WHAT CAN BE KNOWN ABOUT GOD IS PLAIN TO THEM, BECAUSE GOD HAS SHOWN IT TO THEM. For his INVISIBLE attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, HAVE BEEN CLEARLY PERCEIVED, ever since the creation of the world, IN THE THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20, ESV).

Note that here in Romans 1 we have creation reflecting the glory of God (as does also Psalm 19). What I love about the passage above is that “God’s invisible attributes” (the things about God that humanity couldn’t see) God chose to PHYSICALLY reveal so that humanity could see and observe them. What attributes did He make known to mankind? “His eternal power and divine nature.” Without God showing us these things, we would still be “in the dark” about who God is. And without seeing God, every person in humanity could cry ignorance.

But God has made Himself visibly known to humanity—through His creation. This is what we call General Revelation. All the world can see this demonstration of the nature of God. God also reveals Himself through His Word—and we call this “Specific Revelation.” This knowledge can only come from God’s Word.

There are a host of other passages of Scripture that demonstrate to us God’s desire to make Himself known; and I will continue to bring those passages up in the following days. The point of this post, however, is to demonstrate that the God of the Bible is a God of revelation, not a God of disguise. If the Scotists are looking for a God who masks Himself, they’re looking in the wrong place (the Bible) to find Him.

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