Solomon challenged my definition of the word complementarian in the last post:
This isn’t true. Complementarianism is a term coined a little over twenty five years ago by Christians who wanted to preserve what they saw as feminist progress while avoiding what they saw as feminist excess. John Piper and Wayne Grudem explained this back in 1991 in the preface to their seminal book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Piper and Grudem explain that their purpose is to push back against the evangelical feminists arguing that there should be no difference between the roles of men and women. However, they are largely sympathetic to the feminist position, seeing it not as rebellion but as the understandable pushback from thousands of years of Christian error (emphasis mine):
…these authors differ from secular feminists because they do not reject the Bible’s authority or truthfulness, but rather give new interpretations of the Bible to support their claims. We may call them “evangelical feminists” because by personal commitment to Jesus Christ and by profession of belief in the total truthfulness of Scripture they still identify themselves very clearly with evangelicalism. Their arguments have been detailed, earnest, and persuasive to many Christians.
What has been the result? Great uncertainty among evangelicals. Men and women simply are not sure what their roles should be. Traditional positions have not been totally satisfactory, because they have not fully answered the recent evangelical feminist arguments. Moreover, most Christians will admit that selfishness, irresponsibility, passivity, and abuse have often contaminated “traditional” patterns of how men and women relate to each other.
Note their adoption of the feminist frame via the claim that traditional marriage is contaminated by passivity and abuse. Here they are referencing their creation of the new feminist sin for wives (the sin of servility to husbands), as well as the feminist claim that traditional marriage is characterized by abuse of wives. They explain that their primary purpose is convince Christian feminists that complementarians have banished the errors of the patriarchal past. Complementarianism is a new vision that incorporates the best parts of feminism while retaining separate gender roles (emphasis mine):
But our primary purpose is broader than that: We want to help Christians recover a noble vision of manhood and womanhood as God created them to be -hence the main title, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Our vision is not entirely the same as “a traditional view.” We affirm that the evangelical feminist movement has pointed out many selfish and hurtful practices that have previously gone unquestioned. But we hope that this new vision-a vision of Biblical “complementarity”-will both correct the previous mistakes and avoid the opposite mistakes that come from the feminist blurring of God-given sexual distinctions.
We hope that thousands of Christian women who read this book will come away feeling affirmed and encouraged to participate much more actively in many ministries, and to contribute their wisdom and insight to the family and the church. We hope they will feel fully equal to men in status before God, and in importance to the family and the church. We pray that, at the same time, this vision of equality and complementarity will enable Christian women to give wholehearted affirmation to Biblically balanced male leadership in the home and in the church.
This is not a call to end feminist rebellion, because they are largely sympathetic to feminism. When complementarians encounter the most overt feminist rebellion they go to laughable extremes to deny feminism and blame men and men alone. This is a plea to Christian women in rebellion to come back without fear of having their feminist sensibilities challenged. You can almost hear the music playing in the background as Piper and Grudem wrote the preface:
Baby come back! You can blame it all on me!
I was wrong, and I just can’t live without you!
A bit further down they reiterate that they have coined a new term in order to avoid what they see as the stigma of traditionalism:
A brief note about terms: If one word must be used to describe our position, we prefer the term complementarian, since it suggests both equality and beneficial differences between men and women. We are uncomfortable with the term “traditionalist” because it implies an unwillingness to let Scripture challenge traditional patterns of behavior, and we certainly reject the term “hierarchicalist” because it overemphasizes structured authority while giving no suggestion of equality or the beauty of mutual interdependence.
This is the origin of the term from the founders of the CBMW, one of the two flagships of the complementarian movement*. The other flagship of the movement is The Gospel Coalition (TGC), founded by D.A. Carson and Tim Keller. Here is women’s studies professor Mary Kassian explaining the origin of the term at TGC:
Though the concept of male-female complementarity can be seen from Genesis through Revelation, the label “complementarian” has only been in use for about 25 years. It was coined by a group of scholars who got together to try and come up with a word to describe someone who ascribes to the historic, biblical idea that male and female are equal, but different. The need for such a label arose in response to the proposition that equality means role-interchangeability (egalitarianism)—-a concept first forwarded and popularized in evangelical circles in the 1970s and 1980s by “Biblical Feminists.” I’ve read several articles lately from people who misunderstand and/or misrepresent the complementarian view. I was at the meeting 25 years ago where the word “complementarian” was chosen. So I think I have a pretty good grasp on the word’s definition.
Kassian emphasizes that the term is designed to conserve the progress of the 1960s:
2. June Cleaver is so 1950s and so not the definition of complementarity.
In our name-the-concept meeting, someone mentioned the word “traditionalism,” since our position is what Christians have traditionally believed. But that was quickly nixed. The word “traditionalism” smacks of “tradition.” Complementarians believe that the Bible’s principles supersede tradition. They can be applied in every time and culture. June Cleaver is a traditional, American, TV stereotype. She is not the complementarian ideal. Period. (And exclamation mark!) Culture has changed. What complementarity looks like now is different than what it looked like 60 or 70 years ago. So throw out the cookie-cutter stereotype. It does not apply.
*These two groups aren’t entirely separate, as there is much overlap among the major movers of these organizations. John Piper is featured in the TGC overview video, and Mary Kassian is a member of the CBMW Council.