Finding my way in biblical manhood and womanhood

Derek Ouellette —  November 15, 2012

The complementarian/egalitarian debate has been a foreign beast to me. Not only has it not been an issue, but I actually never thought about it before last year. I fumbled through writing a few blog articles and lost a few online friends. I find myself mystified and confused and, on the grounds of being a guy alone, unqualified to speak to this subject unless I embraced egalitarianism. Otherwise, I find myself buddy-locked with Mark Driscoll, John Piper and company.

I confess to being irked by RHE mostly because I feel as though, for the most part, she draws the lines sharply in that way and leads an army of Christians who are following suite. As a matter of full disclosure, I’ve waffled somewhere down the middle of this debate – no-man’s land. And I’ve lost friends as a result.

I don’t believe it is out of a bias of wanting to accommodate my preferences that leads me to some degree of complementarianism. Rather I feel the gravitational pull of particular biblical passages, especially when acceptable methods of exegesis and hermeneutics are applied. In fact, the opposite is true. It is because of a bias of wanting to accommodate my preferences that I am as “egalitarian” as I am.

So I’ve taken some passages that complementarians use and say, “whatever it means, it cannot mean that.” I sheepishly confess that I feel like an ostrich when I do that. And so I hope that people much more intelligent than I will offer compelling biblical answers – exegetically – of some linchpin passages of complementarians. And some have been offered and can be accepted. But others have not in my opinion.

So my “picking and choosing” seems to be much more random and bias in my egalitarian leanings than in my complementarian pull.


On a practical level I’m not sure where I stand. People talk about how complementarianism is “forced” and roles are “set.” But when I make an effort toward a more egalitarian practice, it is then that I find myself second guessing everything and asking if I’m being egalitarian enough, or if an old complementarian inside of me has snuck out.

For example, in May my wife and I are having our first child. When the time comes she will be taking a year of maternity leave. Now here’s the thing. She makes more money than I. From a practical standpoint I’ve been told by egalitarians that it doesn’t make any sense for the wife to take the time off when the husband is just as able, and makes less money. A true egalitarian relationship would weigh the practical and relevant points of the scenario and then choose, not based on gender, but on income, gifting and so on, who should take the time off.

For the record, I proposed to my wife that we should share the time off, six months each. But that was right out of the question for her. She will be the one carrying the child, giving birth to the child and breast feeding the child. Therefore, she is going to take the year off to be with the child.

This raises an interesting scenario.

Since my wife seems to be more complementarian than I, if she were to agree that I should take the six months or year off, that would violate her complementarian conviction that it is the role of the woman who does that. But as a good complementarian, shouldn’t she yield to my leadership and what I think is best for the family, which, in this case, is that I take some of the time off because she makes more money and because I am able? But if she did that it would violate her conviction that taking the year off is her role. Either way she violates that complementarian conviction.

The scenario gets more interesting from the egalitarian point of view. I’m being a good egalitarian husband by discussing and asking, not trumping, my wife in this matter and yielding to her wishes. But in doing so I’m not being a good egalitarian because it’s not very egalitarian to have the women take the full time off if the husband is fully capable of sharing in that role when it makes more sense financially for the woman to be working, especially since I am fully capable to taking care of the child.

This is real life. This is the gray stuff the blogosphere has all but ignored because people are unwilling to allow “the enemy” an inch. Because folks like RHE and Mark Driscoll loudly lead polarized tribes.

And maybe I’m alone, but I don’t need liberation from complementarian oppression or biblical footloose. I need someone to liberate me from the drill-press of this debate which has been squeezing me so tight I’m losing oxygen.


I came up for a dose of fresh air yesterday when someone on twitter tipped me off to an article (in fact, a series of articles) written by Adrian Warnock. The article was called Gender: Complenentarian vs. Egalitarian Spectrum. Warnock has a way with words. His writing is very unassuming and he’s a fair-minded thinker. In the article he explores the spectrum of positions in this debate. A continuum flowing from ‘Patriarchal’ to what he calls ‘Extreme Feminism.’

He draws a chart that flows like this:

Did you know that there were more options than RHE and MD? I didn’t. All I knew was that when RHE attacked complementarianism, she was not accurately portraying my views. And that frustrated me. But I couldn’t accept her’s carte blanche. Then I heard someone use the term ‘functional egalitarian’ and I clung to it in an effort to give some identity to my convictions. Warnock’s chart has provided me with a healthy framework to see myself. I finally feel a certain sense of belonging. I’ve been delivered from the squeeze of this tortuous debate. I can breath again.

When I read over Warnock’s proposed character sketches of these views, I’ve found that under the category of “Roles in Church” I am a Moderate Egalitarian, and under the category of “Roles in Home” I am a Soft Complementarian. As I said at the beginning of this post, I waffle somewhere down the middle  of this debate, and now I know where.

In the description of a Moderate Egalitarian under Roles in Church, Warnock writes:

“A moderate egalitarian still recognizes that there are some different instructions that the Bible gives to men and women. They will not despise or ignore the Bible, but they will interpret it differently to any complementarian position… In theory all roles in a moderate egalitarian church will be open to men and women.  In practice, however, there is likely to be a clear imbalance in the way in which these roles are filled. In other words, it is still much more likely that a man will be the overall leader, and that men will do the majority of preaching… Moderate egalitarians may need to approach the biblical text in a different way than complementarians, but many of them will value the Bible just as much, and remain committed to biblical inerrancy.  Gordon Fee is a good example of a moderate egalitarian whose approach to Scripture is respected by many complementarians.”

While I might quibble with a point or two in that description, overall it’s fairly accurate of my practical take on roles in church.

In the description of a Soft Complementarian under Roles in Home, Warnock writes:

“A soft complementarian will see absolutely no distinction between the roles of men and women at work.  They will be likely to be equally happy for a man or a woman to care for children, and in most cases both will continue to work during child-rearing years. At home, any talk of differing roles will be minimal, and the concept of “mutual submission” will be spoken of. There may well, however, be some idea that the husband leads his wife, but it may not be clear what that really means in practice.”

I am amazed at how accurate this depiction describes me and my relationship with my wife.


I can finally see the path I am on. The thorns and thistles in either ditch are no longer pressing, prodding and poking into my sides. This is still an adventure I’m backpacking through. I don’t have it all figured out. But I can finally dance on the journey because I’ve found the best of the middle of the road.

Not because I’m a soft complementarian or a moderate egalitarian, but because I no longer have to choose between the ditches.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • James Palmer

    Thanks for this article, Derek – it’s good to see a bit of the path you’ve been going down with this issue that seems to be everywhere on the interwebs these days.

    I think as of late, this is where I’ve settled for the moment on this issue:

    Christ frees us from religious legalisms. And one of those legalisms is the enforcing of gender roles. That does not mean that everybody should be egalitarian. That means that “everybody should be” is a legalistic phrase that should not be used. I know couples that couldn’t survive without a “husband is the head of the family” mentality, and neither the husband or wife would want it any other way. I also know families where the wife is in a position where she needs to be the spiritual head of the family – my father-in-law has Huntington’s and is getting to the point where he needs constant care of all kinds, and to “enforce” a male-leadership hierarchy, or even egalitarianism, wouldn’t make sense there. And there are couples where egalitarianism is just what makes sense for that couple.

    I think the important thing isn’t to decide what “legal system” everyone should follow, but to look out for the oppressed, and find ways to protect them and to free them from their oppression.



    • Derek Ouellette

      Thanks for sharing that enlightening approach James. I’ll work with that in the future. Right on.

  • Natalie Albertson

    Great thoughts here! I’m excited to read through your journey.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Thanks for the tip-off Natalie!

  • Dave Leigh

    For me personally, as an egalitarian, I don’t see the issue of roles or division of labor in terms of rigid categories. For me, to be egalitarian does not mean fitting into some kind of 50/50 arrangement of responsibilities, necessarily. It is rather the equal standing of both partners to mutually decide who will do what and when. So if a wife likes to cook and both agree she’s the better cook, her being the cook does not make them less egalitarian. What matters is how the decision was arrived at and the ability of both partners to have an equal say in the matter. So, many egalitarians may find they are more comfortable with the “traditional” division of labor or some adaptation of it. If they got there by a path of true mutuality, then they are not compromising their egalitarian values. Likewise in the church, I would much rather see egalitarians ordained than women ordained who are not egalitarians. The fact that a church has a male pastor does not make it not-egalitarian. The fact that we are free from obligatory gender roles does not mean we have to shed them, only that we get to choose.

    From what I’ve heard you say in the past, it seems to me, Derek, that you have a great marriage and a great approach to it. From what you say, your lovely bride has a wonderful spirit of submission. I believe that egalitarianism is not about “no submission” but is about more submission, as it requires the added reciprocal submission from both partners. As you point out, egalitarianism is not always easy. It is, in fact, unnatural as far the fallen nature is concerned. But if we are in Christ, then we are called to rise above our fallen natures and instincts. Both man and woman in Christ are called to Christlikeness and imitation of the example he set in regarding each other as of greater importance than ourselves. For me, egalitarianism is more of an attitude and spirit than about parsing roles.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Thanks for sharing your personal take on this subject. I think many complementarians would agree with you a good deal. It’s not about keeping the letter of the law or following rigid categories for the sake of following rigid categories. It’s not even about parsing roles, necessarily. It’s about an attitude of the heart and spirit and a genuine desire to be obedient to God’s Word.

  • Chris

    Hi Derek,
    Thanks for sharing some indepth analysis on a middle way through the polemical complementarian versus egalitarian and you have to be one or the other. I shared a reference on Scot McKnight’s blog about Craig Blomberg’s article that said that Paul was neither complementarian or egalitarian. In other words, the Bible has a tension of scriptures that leans both ways. Scot wrote back and said that a both/and approach is not possible since these two are mutually exclusive. He did not say it specifically but obviously he interprets all of the Bible or at least the New Testament from an egalitarian viewpoint. I simply don’t believe this does justice to the diversity and flexibility within the witness of Scripture itself. Life is more complex and diverse than these polarized viewpoints.

    • Derek Ouellette

      You’re right about McKnight. He’s been an inspiration to RHE and a big advocate of what Warnock terms strong egalitarianism. His book, The Blue Parakeet [affiliate], advocates for a strong egalitarian reading of the New Testament and his e-book, Junia Is Not Alone [affiliate] seeks to prove that Junia in Roman’s 16 was a female apostle.

      • James Palmer

        I highly recommend reading the book, “Junia: The First Woman Apostle”. It’s a scholarly work, so not quite as accessible as McKnight’s book, but it contains the research that has, for the most part, settled the debate around Junia amongst most Biblical scholars. Whatever Paul’s views on complementarianism / egalitarianism were, the fact that there were several female leaders in the church at various levels demonstrate he wasn’t a legalist about it.

        • Derek Ouellette

          Hey James, I don’t know if you’re directing that to me, or Chris, or both. But I need no convincing. Junia was a woman and an apostle. Again, I appreciate what you’ve contributed to this conversation about legalism. Good stuff.

  • Craig L. Adams

    What James said. And, what David said.

    • Derek Ouellette

      I hope you appreciate how moderate James comment was. As far as Dave’s goes, most complementarians I know could easily offer a hardy Amen! simply by replacing his use of the word “egalitarian” with “complementarian.” It’s one of the failings of the “strong egalitarian” disposition to either see or acknowledge that fact that makes it so unappealing to me.

      • Craig L. Adams

        I liked what James & David said but I am less-than-thrilled with Adrian Warnock’s chart. When an egalitarian ethos becomes rigid, legalistic and oppressive it certainly does not deserve to be called “strong”!

        However, if you find this somehow helpful, fine. I am glad you seem to have found a point of view with which you are happy.

        • Derek Ouellette

          Well I’m not surprised, but would like some follow up. There are four paragraphs under the heading “Strong Egalitarian”

          Since the first two paragraphs are his description of the ethos of a strong egalitarian, please offer examples and quotes to where his characterization sees the strong egalitarian as “rigid, legalistic and oppressive.” ??