As I’ve been looking at more of Pastor Doug Wilson’s books I’ve noticed that some time around 2004 (perhaps earlier*) he added a new chapter to his theology of marriage. According to Wilson’s new theology, headship and submission doesn’t apply in the sphere of the home. In the sphere of the home the roles are reversed. Wilson explains in Chapter 3 (The Wife as Ruler) of the book linked above:
As the apostle Paul is urging young women to marry, he lets a very interesting comment fall in passing. “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Tim. 5:14). The word translated here as “guide the house” is oikodespotein. The wife is to be the ruler or despot of the home. This means that when she tells you to take your shoes off at the door, you will take your shoes off—and cheerfully.
He reinforces this in Chapter 4, titled An Honored Guest (emphasis mine):
A wife therefore has true authority over her home which no one, including her husband, can take away from her. She must be obedient to him, as this verse states, but this is a clearly delimited obedience. This can easily be misunderstood or misrepresented, but it is still necessary to emphasize. In a certain sense, a husband (as the head of his wife) is an honored and permanent guest, but he should learn to see himself as a guest. He wipes his feet at the door, he eats what is served to him, and he seeks to conform to the pattern established by her—as she in her turn seeks to honor him. He has authority—where Scripture gives it. She has authority where Scripture gives it…
[In the sphere of the home] he is to delegate and then do as he is told. But as in everything that Christians do, such “telling” is to be done with grace. A peevish wife is no more scriptural than a cantankerous husband. A wife has authority over her husband’s sex life (1 Cor. 7:4). She has authority over his food (Prov. 31:14). She is responsible for his clothing (Prov. 31:21). (She is supposed to stay out of his fishing gear though.) Is the husband the head of his wife the way Christ is the head of the Church? Absolutely. Is he the boss man? Not even close.
Aside from a passing reference to this on one of Wilson’s blog posts last year, I had never encountered this theology. In doing just a bit of searching I haven’t been able to find the same concept being promoted by the usual complementarian suspects. In an article from 2007, the CBMW explains that while the wife has authority in the home, it does not supersede headship (contrary to Wilson):
…the wife has a ruling function within the household. This is most clearly expressed in 1 Tm 5:14, which states that wives are expected to “rule their households.” The Greek word here is oikodespotein, to “house-rule.” The verb despotein is related etymologically to the English word “despot.” The wife’s role thus involves a real governmental function. Although the husband is head of the house, the wife functions under him as someone who rules the house. Chrysostom describes her as a “second authority.”(13) In other words, the husband’s headship over the house neither relieves the wife of responsibility nor makes her passive. Nor does it make her a simple servant in the house. Instead the wife’s subordination to the husband expresses an order of authority with the wife’s ruling function carried out subordinate to the husband’s.
The word oikodespotein is also used in the 1997 CBMW article Saved Through Childbearing?, but like the previous CBMW article it does not offer Wilson’s innovation. It is possible that alternate forms of the word** in question would pull up articles that adopt Wilson’s new theology of marriage, but so far I haven’t found anything that suggests the CBMW has gotten on board with this view. Likewise, I haven’t been able to find any reference to this in Matt Chandler’s Village Church, John Piper’s Desiring God site or The Gospel Coalition. From what I can tell, Wilson is over a decade ahead of the complementarian curve in this regard. So far, this idea seems to only be popular with Wilson and Christian feminists.
If you have any background into the origin of this theology, please let me know in the comments.
*I can’t find any reference to this in Reforming Marriage (1995) or the follow up book Federal Husband (1999). The first book I’ve seen that references this idea is My Life For Yours (2004). How to Exasperate Your Wife is from 2015, but it appears to be a republication of Wisdom is a Woman (2004).
**I’ve also searched using the word “oikodespotes“.