We have another post today from philosopher Robin Bunce about the Future of Complementarity conference run by Think Theology. Today we get some insight into Andrew Wilson’s views. Andrew runs Think Theology and is a New Frontiers pastor. Robin is a historian of ideas based at Homerton College, University of Cambridge. He has written on politics and contemporary culture for the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the Independent, and the New Statesman. The other posts we’ve published about the conference can be found HERE.
On the last day of THINK 2018 Andrew Wilson made a bold statement. Speaking of ‘application’, of what the church could look like, he said, ‘the future of complementarity involves seeing the church as a family and as a household, rather than a corporation.’ He acknowledged that ‘the framework we’ve imbibed from the culture is much more a corporate one, not only in the church but actually even in the family, in the way we make decisions in our everyday lives.’ I agree wholeheartedly with Wilson that for years many complementarian churches and families have functioned like corporations. But I think he’s wrong about the cause. Wilson attributes the corporate character of complementarian churches to the influence of contemporary culture. In reality, corporatism is a necessary consequence of complementarian theology.
Greg Haslam’s book Moving in the Prophetic: A Biblical Guide to Effective Prophetic Ministrycontains an excellent example of corporatist complementarian theology. It’s also typical of complementarian theology in the period between 1994 to 2016, in the period where Wayne Grudem’s heterodox doctrine of the Trinity was allied to a gender theology of equal personhood but different roles. Moreover, its indicative of how the leaders of Newfrontiers, at least the leaders who tried to articulate their views on gender coherently, understood their theology. Indeed, Haslam was highly regarded within Newfrontiers as an authority on theology, as a person who thought rigorously, and argued coherently – and rightly so. At the time the book was published, Haslam was no longer part of Newfrontiers. Nonetheless, the bulk of the book was written whilst Haslam was an Elder in a Newfrontiers church, and after leaving the movement in 2007 he remained on excellent terms with Newfrontiers’ leadership. What is more, the book was dedicated to Terry Virgo, Newfrontiers’ founder, and Virgo reciprocated with a glowing review of Haslam’s book.
Haslam’s book concerns prophetic ministry. His chapter on women and men is crucial, as it explains the best way in which to allow God’s prophetic power to flow through the church and the home. Haslam argues that the submission of women to male ‘headship’ is essential to this process. God’s power, Haslam argues, flows in a linear and downward direction, through a hierarchical structure in which there are clearly defined roles. If the hierarchy is disordered, or if people do not conform to their gendered roles, God’s power is impeded. In fact, Haslam claims that failures of submission and ‘headship’ are ‘invitations for demons to infiltrate’ families, the church and the world.
According to Haslam, the hierarchy starts in the Godhead, where Jesus submits eternally to the Father. The Spirit, in turn, submits eternally to the Son. This hierarchical relationship in the Godhead is mirrored in the submission of women to men in the church, and in the home. Together, men and women have authority over non-human animals. The fall, Haslam argues, came about because this divine structure was subverted. He writes,
‘[t]his was a divinely planned and created order implying hierarchy, and designed to safeguard God’s perfect paradise from the encroachment of uncleanness . . . as long as God’s arrangements and personal authority were respected by Adam and Eve. If this authority structure – God, the man, then the woman, – was respected and observed in their joint task of dominion over the animals (including the serpent) and the rest of the created order in God’s world, then the evils that have invaded our planet . . . would never have been allowed to enter.’
So, Haslam understands the family, which he says is the model for the church, as a God given structure, in which authority is exercised according to a hierarchy implied by gendered roles. Crucially, this emphasis on hierarchy and rigidly defined roles sounds much more like a corporation than a family. Haslam does acknowledge the equal value and dignity of women and men, but this never deflects him from his central claim that ‘[i]n the home, as in the church, there is a God-ordained authority structure . . .’
Haslam’s description of female and male roles is corporate in the extreme. He describes the role given to Adam thus: ‘initiator, chief executive officer, director, inspirer and visionary.’ So, for Haslam, in a complementarian family the husband should be CEO. Clearly, for Haslam, the family is a corporate hierarchy. Haslam acknowledges that women can exercise authority of all kinds, when correctly authorised by their husband or Elder. Nonetheless, he warns ‘[w]herever divinely ordained authority structures are denied or overturned, the emasculation of men and the unseemly domination of women over men is the result… Witchcraft, control, intimidation and manipulation begin to distort male/female encounters, creating ugly caricatures of God’s beautiful initial design…’ For Haslam, a truly equal partnership between women and men is unthinkable. He argues that hierarchy is unavoidable. Consequently, we must choose between men exercising Godly ‘headship’, or female domination, which opens the door to demons.
With the rigour for which he is justly celebrated, Haslam’s argument shows that a theology which starts from gendered roles, necessarily leads to a conception of family and church which is hierarchical and rigidly structured. In fact, Haslam’s description of church and family is more corporate, and less flexible than any of the formal structures that I’ve ever worked within. To take one example, I have never come across a corporation that suggests that failure to work within its structures opens the door to demonic activity. Yet, for Haslam when a person disregards authority, this ‘becomes a landing strip for the demonic to gain a foothold in his or her life.’ The metaphor is mixed, but the message is clear.
Wilson is right, complementarian churches and families often tend to work like corporations. But this is no accident, nor the result of the prevailing culture. Corporate culture is a direct result of the hierarchy implied in the gendered roles central to complementarian theology, a theology that presents Adam as CEO and Eve as his subordinate. If complementarity is to escape the trap of corporate church and family life its advocates will have to be honest about the theological roots of the church culture they rightly reject.