Friday, November 12, 2010

The New Calvinism and Complementarianism

Dan, over at City of God, asks "Must New Calvinism Be Complementarian?" He writes:
Another thing that was fascinating about that Fitch post that keeps giving us material over here at City of God was the mention again of the complementarian view of gender relations as being integral the New Calvinism. . . . Is there any particular reason why the New Calvinists are so strongly in favour of complementarianism? Is there space to be an egalitarian and still hold to at least some aspects of Calvinist theology?
In answer to the last question, of course there are convinced Calvinists who are also egalitarians. But the other question is more interesting: "Can the "new" Calvinism legitimately be combined with egalitarianism?"

Egalitarianism is the fancy name for the importation of secular feminist ideas into Evangelicalism in order that we Evangelicals might feel less tension between ourselves and the secularized, neopagan culture around us. As the culture drifts further and further away from Christian influence, it becomes increasingly violent, anti-women, anti-children, selfish, hedonistic and individualistic. Second wave feminism, beginning in the 60s with writers like Betty Frieden and Gloria Steinem, is partially responsible for this cultural decline. To try to accommodate to such a trend is suicide, which is one reason why liberal Protestantism is dying. The United Church and Anglican Church are in the process of going out of business slowly. Why Evangelicals would feel impelled to follow their example is baffling.

The sexual revolution, with which second wave feminism is inextricably bound up, is a failed Utopian experiment. Sexually transmitted diseases, broken homes, emotionally neglected children, abortion as birth control, the hook up culture on campus, increased levels of rape, pornography, the normalization of homosexuality - all these serious problems have come out of the naive faith of the 60s that if we just relax all rules and break down inhibitions then we won't be "up tight" and will find "freedom." The traditional family, monogamy and sexual restraint were seen from a Marxist perspective as limitations on the freedom of the individual to realize himself and attain freedom.

Previous struggles for equality of women, which have been undertaken for centuries as Christianity gradually lifted women to the highest status they have attained in any previous culture in history, produced real progress in male-female relations. But all that was attained before feminism took its fatal Marxist turn in the 60's. Since then, the hard-won, Christian-inspired, gains of Western civilization in this area have been swiftly eroded and actual women and children have suffered tremendously because of the breakdown of the family. If present trends continue, that suffering and misery will only worsen. The feminist narrative of horrific oppression up until the sexual revolution and steady emancipation ever since is laughably inaccurate and ideologically driven. Who could possibly be convinced by it on the basis of facts alone? Horrific oppression of women characterizes Iran and Saudi Arabia, not 1950s North America.

The New Calvinism sees no reason to throw out 20 centuries of traditional exegesis regarding the role of women as elders in Church or the role of wives and husbands in marriage. There are certainly better and worse traditions to be sifted through and improvements to be made around the edges. But this traditional exegesis has proven to be compatible with a high view of marriage, a high view of women and a high view of children. The new exegesis in support of the sexual revolution and feminism has not so far proven itself to be able to maintain the progress made by Christians using the old exegesis. So, naturally, the New Calvinism finds it unconvincing so far.

Many of the churches that ordained women in the 70s and 80s are now ordaining practicing homosexuals. The Evangelical churches that followed the trend but twenty years later are now discussing homosexuality in exactly the same way that the liberals were doing 20 years ago. So what assurance do we have that the embrace of feminist ideas can be combined with a rejection of the sexual revolution? Is it really likely that churches will be able to embrace feminist ideas and still maintain a high view of family, marriage, child-rearing and sexual restraint? It does not look like it; the most sensible response is to take a wait and see attitude.

The Roman Catholic Church, at least in its hierarchy, has stood fast against second wave feminism and the sexual revolution. This has allowed Catholic scholars the time and space in which to construct a new, biblical feminism (if that word can be redeemed from its negative connotations, which I personally doubt). This new, post-sexual revolution feminism is rooted in traditional theological anthropology and exegesis and it rejects the individualism, the body-soul dualism and the lack of self-control that characterizes the sexual revolution of the second half of the 20th century.

As a Reformed thinker, I find Catholic moral theologians in general, and John Paul II and his theology of the body in particular, to be the most interesting conversation partners in discussing the way forward in matters of sexual morality, the family and marriage. I can't muster any enthusiasm for the old, stale, Marxist, philosophically modernist thought of liberal Protestantism and their Evangelical imitators. It all seems less than serious to me compared to the depth, beauty, profundity, and fruitfulness of the theology of the body.

So what incentive is there to abandon complementarianism and embrace egalitarianism in the present context? The future of Christian theological reflection on male-female relations clearly lies with some sort of complementarian approach, perhaps not exactly what we have now but nevertheless building on the past and not rejecting the tradition in a wholesale way as modern feminism does. From my perspective, the real question is not "Can the "new" Calvinism be combined with egalitarianism?" but "Why on earth would anyone want to try?"

No comments: