Several generations ago, J. Gresham Machen published a book entitled Christianity and Liberalism. “Liberalism” in this title referred to the newly popular liberal Protestantism that was capturing the hearts, churches, and seminaries of the main-line Christian establishment of the time. And in this book title, one could easily see what Machen demonstrated inside the book: Liberalism and Christianity were two different religions.
Telling it like it is – in the manner Machen did – has not characterized complementarian leaders over the past 40 years. But, perhaps that is beginning to change.
In the blog Mere Comments sponsored by the good folks at Touchstone Journal, senior editor S. M. Hutchens notes that The Gospel Coalition has acknowledged , even if timidly, that egalitarianism is a “gospel issue.” Hutchens quotes them from their website:
In God’s wise purposes, men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways. God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.
I think Hutchens stretches a point a tad. The Gospel Coalition places the statement quoted above in a section of its doctrinal standards, under a heading styled “”Creation of Humanity.” This is a good start, insofar as they declare, at least in the case of the Gospel coalition which they have formed, that a criterion for participatinig in that coalition is to affirm, teach, and defend the Bible’s revelation about the nature and relationship of the sexes. But, I concur with Hutchens that such clarity about egalitarianism is a relatively new thing among evangelical leaders generally, who heretofore seem to have been happy to ignore the egalitarian virus.
In the comments to this blog at Mere Comments, Hutchens provides a succinct summary of American Protestantism’s collapse from the old Biblical Criticism virus of the late 19th Century, and the parallel disaster within 20th Century evangelicalism as it succumbed to the egalitarian virus. Concerning the text-critical views of the Bible – that the Bible is NOT what it presents itself to be: God’s words – and the liberalizing process that resulted from this errant view of the Bible, Hutchens observes:
The process began in earnest in the 1860s and 1870s in the United States’ mainline denominations, which by the 1930s had become dominated by it. The movement was from a religion in all these groups that would be considered “conservative Evangelical,” to today’s mainline liberalism. In the early 1920s J. Gresham Machen observed, and correctly, I believe, that this liberalism is simply not Christianity, but another religion appearing in Christian habiliments.
According to Hutchens, the evangelicalism of the 20th Century was devastated even more quickly by the egalitarian error:
The same is true of egalitarianism. It is a new religion, as theologically comprehensive as liberalism, and every bit as unChristian. It begins, of course, in anthropology, with beliefs about the equality of men and women, but of necessity reaches from there into Christology and thus to Trinitarian theology, since all are connected at the Christological root. Evangelicalism, which had by the 1970s begun to replace an increasingly moribund mainline Protestantism, at the same time began to absorb egalitarianism, which de-Christianized it as thoroughly as liberalism had de-Christianized the former, and much more quickly.
More quickly indeed. If the 19th Century demise of evangelical Protestantism ran from the 1860 to 1930 (a period of 70 years), the current wave of egalitarian infection has taken half that time to produce the same result: an evangelicalism decidedly past its theological shelf-life. What’s even more dismaying is that orthodox evangelicals who ought to have known better back in the Seventies utterly failed to diagnose the disease and its toxic effects.
So, though it is late, statements like one finds at The Gospel Coalition are welcome. And even more welcome are words by Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louiseville, Kentucky:
We have to understand that this is not an intramural debate. Quite frankly, that’s the way we’ve been treating it for too long. We’ve been treating it like the kind of conversation dispensationalists and covenant theologians may have with one another. We treat this as the same kind of discussion that Ligon Duncan and I might have over whether or not infants ought to be baptized. We treat this as the kind of situation where brothers and sisters in Christ who agree on all of the main things now get together and talk about some issues of interpretation where “we just happen to disagree.” That is not what is taking place.
What we have to ultimately understand is that the Gospel itself is patriarchal. It has to do with the Fatherhood of God, a Fatherhood that is not abstract, a Fatherhood that is not theoretical, a Fatherhood that the entire Bible lays out as a God who is giving a covenant inheritance to his Son. A story line you see all the way from Adam who gives birth to Seth who is in his image and in his likeness, a Fatherhood you see when God says to Pharoah, “You have my first born son in captivity; let him go.” First Timothy 2 really looks like male headship. . . . It is not just the individual texts; it’s the whole trajectory of Scripture, but the whole trajectory of Scripture leads to patriarchy, it leads to the Fatherhood of God, and it leads to the headship of men, not an evil headship, but a loving, self-sacrificial kind of headship. . . .
Finally, a further encouraging straw in the wind is that Dr. Moore’s comments were delivered at a Different by Design conference sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which in the past has often bent over backward to avoid saying the things that Dr. Moore says in this address. If their sponsorship of Dr. Moore in this regard amounts to a repentence from earlier timidity to acknowledge egalitarianism as an unChristian faith (no matter how many Christian habiliments it displays, or no matter who among the evangelical glitterati are duped by it), such repentence is welcome indeed.