I recently posted an article in which I argued that John Piper’s ill-formed and poorly argued prohibition on women teaching in seminary reveals that he is sexist, i.e. prejudiced against the female sex and gender. I did not anticipate that my argument would receive resistance from egalitarians.
One individual named Henry Imler replied:
Heirarchy [sic] within the Trinity is trash (innovation Grudem & Piper introduced to frame their argument) Complementarianism is trash; espousal of its views is trash; its lived practice is trash.
As best I can guess, Imler assumes that a condemnation of Piper as sexist on the terms of complementarianism somehow entails a morally culpable tacit endorsement of complementarianism. But this is clearly false.
Here I’m employing the very pedestrian form of argument known as assuming arguendo, the discursive device of assuming premises for the sake of argument and then showing problematic consequences based on those premises. This makes it all the more surprising that Henry Imler, an assistant professor of philosophy and theology, should seem to completely misunderstand the argument.
Another response came from JR Forasteros (who wrote a great book that I endorsed last year). JR wrote: “I’m really way over allowing for Complementarianism. Also misogyny. Also garbage theology.”
First observation: JR also seems to misunderstand the form of assuming arguendo. I’m only, as JR puts it, “allowing for complementarianism” in the sense that I demonstrate Piper is sexist even on complementarian principles.
Second observation: this is simply a terrible way to open a meaningful and potentially transformative dialogue with a complementarian. (I admit it: I am assuming that one might want to open a meaningful and potentially transformative dialogue with a complementarian.)
So I replied like this:
“Yesterday I participated in an ecumenical service with Catholics for Christian Unity week and I sat beside Father John for lunch. I’d like to think I have more to say to his views on gender and ministry than ‘garbage theology.’”
The bottom line is that if we really value those with whom we disagree, we should invest the time in finding ways to dialogue with them which will bring about transformation. Using harsh rhetoric—whether or not it is accurate—is likely to have the opposite effect. To quote Dale Carnegie for the umpteenth time, “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.” And while I love Carnegie’s quote, let’s be clear that this ain’t some sophisticated psychology: it’s simply emotional intelligence 101.
As we continued our exchange, JR made it clear that he was dissatisfied that I had not explicitly condemned complementarianism in the article. But that is a baldly unreasonable standard. As I pointed out to JR, a Trump-critic can write an article critiquing Trump’s brazen violation of the emoluments clause without being obliged to add, “Oh, and he’s also an amoral, narcissistic demagogue who is seeking to undermine the foundations of democracy.” Indeed, to state what should be obvious, adding such an inflammatory declaration would likely ensure only that the Trump supporter would miss your persuasive and measured critique of the man with respect to the emoluments clause. Again, I ask: are we concerned with seeking potentially tranformative conversations, or not?
That which is true of Trump is also true of Piper: one can critique Mr. Piper’s appallingly sexist barring of women from the seminary faculty without being obliged to add a generalized critique of complementarianism.
At first blush the failure of my interlocutors to recognize (or acknowledge the legitimacy of) the common discursive tool of assuming arguendo is surprising. The same can be said of JR’s invocation of such an unreasonable demand as that any critique of some aspect of complementarianism must include a critique of complementarianism simpliciter.
So, what gives?
I assume that both individuals are familiar with assuming arguendo and do not think that critiques of an aspect of a view require a critique of the view simpliciter. Thus, my best attempt to explain the stridency is that they are both passionate about this topic and this passion has distorted their objectivity, leading them to an uncharitable and incorrect reading of my article and an imposition of unreasonable and inconsistently held discursive standards.
To be sure, I’m sympathetic with such passion, but ironically enough, I don’t think it serves the interests of egalitarians because rather than stimulate those transformative conversations, it merely entrenches divisions.
I noted above that my argument has one significant virtue: it is far more likely to foster meaningful dialogue with the complementarian than tossing epithets like “Complementarianism is trash!” and “Garbage theology!”
I will conclude, however, by noting that my approach in this article has another specific advantage as well. By defending the place of women on seminary faculties, I defend the single greatest catalyst for the adoption of egalitarian views, i.e. the practical encounter with women expressing their gifting in pedagogical and leadership settings. In my experience, nothing is more effective at changing minds than this.
About Randal Rauser
Randal Rauser is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta. He is the author of many books, including What’s So Confusing About Grace? (2017), Is the Atheist My Neighbor?: Rethinking Christian Attitudes toward Atheism (2015), The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (2012), and You’re Not as Crazy as I Think: Dialogue in a World of Loud Voices and Hardened Opinions (2011). Rauser blogs and podcasts as The Tentative Apologist at randalrauser.com.