Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Doing Our Part for a Great Commission Resurgence

Over the past several weeks, much noise has been made about the Great Commission Resurgence, a statement drafted by Dr. Danny Akin of Southeastern Seminary, and given wholehearted approval by a host of seminary presidents, former denominational workers, and the current and many former SBC Presidents.

Of course, any manifesto-type document will also draw the ire of contrarians, and the GCR document is no exception to this fact. In particular, it is Article IX that has drawn the greatest amount of criticism, particularly from many who are employed by the denominational system that this article originally described as "bloated." The tone of the article has since been changed, but the essence of its contention remains. Specifically, Article IX calls for the following:

"taking steps toward simplifying our convention structures in an effort to streamline our structure, clarify our institutional identity, and maximize our resources for Great Commission priorities. We should ask hard questions about every aspect of our Convention structure and priorities and pray for God’s wisdom and blessing as we pursue wise answers to those questions. We must be willing to make needed changes for the good of our churches and the spread of the gospel. We believe that North American church planting, pioneer missions around the globe, and theological education are three priorities around which Southern Baptists will unite. Our Convention must be examined at every level to facilitate a more effective pursuit of these priorities."

The specifics of how this will be done are not included in the article, nor have there yet been specific suggestions from anyone in Southern Baptist life on how this can be accomplished. Behind the scenes, most of the "streamlining" conversation has been aimed at state conventions and associations, which in turn has probably caused a few night-sweats on the part of some state executives and Directors of Missions
The most recent offering from California Baptist University professor Don Dunavant sends an ominous warning of an SBC in the same fiscal and directional shape as General Motors if we don't execute our future mission in concert with Article IX. But still, there are no specific actions called for and thus, no satisfying clear picture around which Southern Baptists can unite.

As I thought about the monumental task of defining these specifics, it occurred to me that if I started with my own association, I'd be doing my part. After all, as an employee of the system now under scrutiny I should, as a steward of the resources that churches send my association, be willing to take a fresh look at how we operate. After spending some time observing the lay of the land I agree that hard questions should be asked of our current structure on every level. Its one of the many reasons that mine is among the signatures added to the GCR document. But since I’m not in charge of the International Mission Board, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, or one of our seminaries, I should probably refrain from seeking to reform or restructure them before I've looked closer to home. In fact, I believe one of the reasons Article IX has drawn so much opposition is because there is the perception (whether legitimate or not) that various SBC entities are looking at one another, each making judgments about what the other ought to do in order to “be a good steward.” If all of us were honest, we’d admit that there are plenty of places in our own budgets where the belt could be tightened. As such, it would behoove each denominational leader—at every level—to take a good, hard look in his own backyard, and that is what I plan to do.

Additionally, some general guiding principles should direct discussion of the future. Otherwise, we are likely to end up merely re-arranging deck chairs on the fiscal Titanic! In the next few paragraphs, my hope is to suggest what some of these principles might be, as well as provide a few examples of how one Baptist association in the mid-Atlantic might choose to address the coming realities. Again, I’m not issuing a subsequent manifesto-type document, nor for that matter am I stating definitively where this association is going. Although my Executive Board is privy to this article, we have yet to discuss it in detail, and they are the ones who must make the ultimate decisions in all of this. Most of what follows is the result of a lot of introspection regarding how the association I serve can be more effective. Nevertheless, it is introspection that I think can have practical and beneficial application.

Principle Number One: Start with your own ministry. I’ve hinted at this in the above paragraph. One of the things I appreciate about Danny Akin is that he understands that the seminaries, including Southeastern, are not exempt from the scrutiny that those who drafted the GCR are calling for. My hope is that other seminary presidents hold the same sentiment, as well as the Presidents of both mission boards, and every state convention executive and Director of Missions throughout the Convention. From my perspective, for example, I should be willing to look at my own organization before attempting to critique neighboring associations, or my state convention. In fact, as I write this post, I've just finished a monthly meeting where our leadership commissioned a Futuring Team for just this purpose, and they gave me permission when building this team to stack the deck with those who will lead us into the future. Namely, young pastors.

If every denominational entity would take a good, long, hard and honest look at itself, being proactive instead of waiting around for another entity to streamline (or worse, waiting on CP dollars to continue to dwindle), the streamlining process might not take as long, or be as hard, as some fear. I shouldn’t wait on the state convention or national convention to make decisions that can be made right now. I shouldn’t wait 5-7 years for the state or national SBC to change structures that my organization can change—if needed—in a year or two. The truth is that its much easier to criticize someone else's structure than it is your own. It is also the truth that all of us are likely to find at least a little extra fat that needs trimming in our own back yards.

Principle Number Two: Denominational structures should encourage, and model, Kingdom expansion rather than perpetual dependency. For example, roughly half of my salary is generously supplied through a cooperative agreement our state convention has with NAMB. Additionally, my family’s health care is generously provided by Southern Baptists to do the catalytic work of a missionary who wins converts, raises up leaders, and helps to plant multiplying churches in my area. Such arrangements are fairly standard among Baptist associations and state conventions in regions of the country outside the south, and I am grateful for the support Southern Baptists have given me.

At the same time, this arrangement sometimes troubles me. While I love our partnership with our state convention, NAMB, and thus with Southern Baptists across the nation, my association has been in existence for 11 years now, and still continues to receive financial salary subsidies from Alpharetta. Were we a new church, this arrangement would be considered unhealthy. New churches are--rightly so--expected to eventually reach a place of being "non-dependent" on outside sources of support. Why should denominational agencies be any different? I don’t bring this up to say that all state conventions and/or associations should stop taking cooperative program dollars. I am aware of many places in the country where Baptist work would cease outright if this were the case. What I am suggesting is this; if non-dependency is possible, it should be expected. Being totally self-funded is a reachable goal for my association. And if this is the case, why should we continue to take dollars from the outside that we should be able to generate ourselves within the next five years through planting new, multiplying, and contributing Southern Baptist churches?

Prnciple Number Three: Structure According to Vision, not Money. In short, laying off staff, or closing certain ministries, or absorbing smaller denominational entities into larger ones simply to "save money" is to operate in a mode of survival. At some point, our futuring team will be given our operating documents, policy manuals, and budget statements. But the first meeting will have none of these things. I won't hold these documents back because I'm trying to hide something in the old structure, but rather, because I'm trying to focus them on creating a new one. Those who make decisions about the future should start with a vision from God, not a current budget statement produced by men. To be sure, budgetary considerations can’t be ignored. Still, the question we need to answer is how Southern Baptists can best cooperate and work together in the 21st century, and its hard to answer that question with clarity and focus with documents in front of you that were drafted in the 20th.

Principle Number Four: Visionary Local church pastors should lead the effort, not Denominational leadership. At the end of the day, the Southern Baptist Convention isn't just a two-day business meeting. It isn't mission boards and seminaries, Conventions and Associations. In the end, the Convention is the churches! It is the churches therefore, that must determine how they will cooperate best as they move into the future together. This is exactly why the Cooperative Program was established in 1925--to foster cooperation, not to maintain a bureaucracy.

I've heard the hearts of many local church pastors, including those who have distanced themselves recently from the SBC. None have expressed a desire to isolate themselves, and all have a desire to cooperate with others for more effective Kingdom expansion. Many simply aren't doing it through the SBC because they feel the current bureaucracy inhibits the cooperation to which they aspire. What would happen if these men were allowed--in a very direct way--to inform how cooperation will take place in the future, as well as transform the SBC at all levels in a way that would facilitate this kind of cooperation? When it comes to discussions of restructuring at any level, local pastors shouldn't just be "in the room." They should be leading the discussion.

Principle Number Five: Structure with the recognition that the mission field is everywhere. Since 2007, our association has more than doubled its international mission budget. In addition, we are scheduled to increase this line item by another 13% for 2010. These monies are used to seed and undergird the work of our churches abroad as they work in cooperation with our IMB missionaries in the field. We do this because I firmly believe that each local church has a unique calling to be personally involved in evangelism to the "uttermost,” and believe the local association should be a point of networking and empowerment for them to reach this goal. Over the past four years we have responded to the burdens our churches have developed for different parts of the world by extending our collective efforts from Mexico, into the Caribbean, north into Canada, across the Atlantic to India and East Asia, and Japan. There is more to come because our missionaries need the help, and our churches need to fulfill their responsibilities to the nations.

At the same time, we have also sought to keep attention--and funding--on community ministries, local evangelism, and the planting of new churches in our own area. By the end of the year, four new church planters will be on the field that were not in the field last year, and two of these planters will have launched public worship services, bringing the total number of churches affiliated with Mid-Maryland Association to 56. Our intentions here are motivated by evangelistic urgency and missiological neccesity. Within the geographic proximity of our member churches are roughly 1 million people who do not know Jesus. These souls are no less precious to the Father than those across the ocean who live in a different culture and speak a different language. And speaking of language, more than 60 of them are spoken in our area, but only 6 are represented in our local churches. In other words, we have work to do in Maryland! And because we have much work to do here, our task will be to structure ourselves more efficiently, not sacrifice local cooperation for international cooperation.

However we structure in the future, it must adequately service the new global realities that we face. The mission field is everywhere! We will continue to focus on the uttermost, but never at the exclusion of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

Don Dunavant is probably right, at least in some ways, when comparing the state of our Convention with that of General Motors. But I'd like to close with what I believe to be a better parallel; one that has a much more positive outlook. I'm speaking of course about the Ford Motor Company. Today, they are the only one of the Big Three not wading through bankruptcy court or living off the American taxpayer via a government bailout. Though they certainly haven't been totally "recession-proof," they continue to perform well relative to the current market, and in fact have plans--when others are downsizing--to open a new plant in Detroit.

But this success wasn't due to a lucky reaction to the recession. Ford's current condition of fiscal health is due in many ways to actions taken more than a year prior to the beginning of our country's current financial woes. In September 2006, after five years as CEO of the company his great-grandfather started, Bill Ford voluntarily stepped aside, and the Board hired Allan Mulally as Chief Executive Officer. Mulally, formerly a top executive at Boeing, was charged with restructuring the company in a way that would maximize its performance in the future, and he was praised by his predecessor as being "ideally suited" for the job. It was a good call by the automaker, and to a large extent, Ford's willingness to do what was neccesary almost three years ago probably saved his great-grandfather’s company from facing the same fate as its counterparts at General Motors and Chrysler.

The point? At the heart of any turnaround is a willingness to face reality, coupled with God-given humility. For those of us who seek to serve the purposes of the church, we must add to this humility the capacity to ultimately look beyond ourselves and the sacred cows of our current structure, and look instead to the coming King and His Kingdom. Such humility won't come easy, not for the largest Protestant denomination in North America. But the humble are those to whom God grants grace. And when dealing with the specifics of trying to turn this denominational battleship, we all need His grace more than ever! By His grace, I pledge to do my part in our association. I hope you will do the same.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

One Vice Guaranteed to Kill a New Church

Note: At times this post may seem more like a rant. Just thought you'd like to know in advance.

Planting new churches is, without a doubt, the most high-risk, difficult and precarious thing one can do in ministry. As such, doing this kind of work puts an inordinate amount of stress on anyone who dares to try and call together a body of Christ-followers from what J. Nelson Kraybill called "the alley-ways of neo-pagan Western society."

Because our association is keenly aware of these stresses, we take great care in ensuring, as best we can, that there are no vices present in a potential planter's life that could exacerbate these stresses, finish off his ministry, or even worse, his family. Because of the ease with which some will turn to the liquor bottle in times of stress, we require planters to abstain from alcohol while they are planting. Because of the propensity of any man to allow himself to succumb to sin in our over-sexualized society, we encourage--and pay for--accountability software and other tools that will guard against sexual immorality. Because we know the planter's marriage will be tested and possibly strained we require--and pay for--periodic counseling for our guys in the field and their wives.

We do all these things because: 1. We love church planters and don't want to see them hurt. 2. We love church planter families and don't want to see the wives and children hurt. 3. We love the Kingdom of God and don't want to see it hindered.

Still, in spite of these guards, vices will sometimes slip by us. But contrary to what most believe, most church plants don't fail because of major moral failure. In spite of what the media would have you believe by their constant references to men like Ted Haggard and their seeming refusal--more than twenty years later--to stop talking about Jimmy Swaggart, most men in this line of work are good men who are faithful to their wives, and genuinely love the Lord Jesus. I'm becoming convinced that most young churches don't make it for one reason only: the vice of LAZINESS!!!

Now, that's not to say that every failure we've had is the result of a lazy planter. I've seen guys work themselves nearly to death only to watch their attempts at converting and congregationalizing unbelievers fail. At the same time, I've also had plenty of expriences with aspiring planters--enough in the past few years--to recognize another, barely noticable vice that will eventually result in their personal failure, uneccesary stress on their families, and a gigantic waste of Kingdom resources. Furthermore, I've noticed that this lazy-streak in would-be church planters generally manifests itself in one of three ways:

Seeing the "full-time" option as the only option: To be sure, we fund a select number of guys on a full-time basis because the strategy, the target population, and other missiological implications demand a full-time position. But most who plant churches will do so on a bi-vocational or even "tentmaker" basis. If, for example, you are trying to plant a church among Hispanic migrant workers who work three jobs and make less than $30K, its not realistic to think that you will be able to garner $60K in salary from that congregation once it is established. I can't tell you how many guys I've talked to who simply don't get this. They think working an additional job or two will take time away from the "ministry" when it fact, the right job will put them in the midst of the real ministry for several hours per week.

While planting a church in upstate South Carolina years ago, I started a janitorial contract business, which had me cleaning toilets and scrubbing floors twice a week. Additionally, I ran a paper route during the summer months (which paid very little), taught at the local Baptist college (which paid even less), and managed to finish a doctoral degree. I did all these things because I knew church planting among the people I was trying to reach would likely never result in a full-time salary, and it was my responsibility to support my family.

I don't share all of that to brag, but instead to illustrate why I don't have a lot of patience or sympathy for a guy who thinks the ONLY way he can plant a church is if he can colect a full-time salary for doing it. Jesus died in a bloody mess on a Roman cross for you, as well as for those you are trying to reach. If you aren't willing to get a little poop under your fingernails for Him, or if you think such work is "beneath" you because you have a seminary degree, such attitudes are a sure sign of a laziness that will most likely kill your ministry, and church planting is probably not something you should be investigating.

Financial dependency on your wife: Usually during the initial interview process, I will ask a bi-vocational guy "how do you plan, outside of our financial support, to take care of your family?" If the canddiate says something like "my wife will work and pay the bills while I do the ministry," I generally find a way to end that interview quickly.

Now, I'm not saying that the wife can't work outside the home if she feels the calling and desire to do so. At the same time, if her desire is to stay home and be the caretaker of your children then you, as the head of your home, have a responsibility to do everything you can to try and make this happen. Yet entirely too many men are willing to let their wives work themselves to death in order to financially prop up the "ministry" he's involved in.

These are the guys I'd like to beat with a rubber hose, because they have allowed their laziness to infect not only their ministry, but also their own homes. In turn, they have disqualified themselves from pastoral ministry because their commitment to the church planting ministry clearly outweighs their concern for the well-being of their wife and children. What kind of example are you setting for your children--especially your sons--when you send mom out like a slave to fund your ministry while contributing little to nothing tangible to your own family? What are you communicating to your wife about your commitment to her when you use her as a tool to bankroll your "call" while you play the harlot with your church? Additionally, think about the horrible message you are sending to the other men in your church (if indeed, you have even attracted any real men to your church with this kind of attitude) about the priorties they should be setting related to their own families.

Substituting church growth gimmicks for genuine, Gospel-labor: Tele-marketing, direct mail, slick banners, attractive signs on the highway, messages that communicate to the deepest felt-needs of your target audience, and other so-called "gimmicks" can actually be useful tools in gathering and getting to know the people God has called you to reach. But relying on slick marketng methods alone and assuming quick growth because of them almost always leads to ecclesiological still-birth. Regardless of the mimistry model you employ or the focus group you target, nothing--absolutely nothing--can take the place of the hard work of building relationships and sharing the message of Jesus one-on-one.

This is especially true in rural neighborhoods, and even in "front-porch" communities in highly urbanized areas. The decade-worn belief that "door-to-door visitation is outdated" is largely a myth. If you genuinely want to reach these people, you have to get into their lives, have your kids spend time with theirs at the park, invite them to your home, accept invitations to their homes, live life with them, laugh with them, cry with them, rejoice when they come to Christ, and be willing to deal with rejection if they terminate the friendship because of your commitment to Christ.

I've seen a lot of guys spend the lion's share of their first 6 months on the field in the "office," developing kick-butt vision statements that nobody will read and designing a comprehensive marketing campaign with thousands of mailers--90% of which will end up in someone's kitchen trash-can before its even read. Then three months post-launch, they are still "in the office" trying to figure out yet another way to attract a bigger crowd so that the one they currently have--the one that has been precipitously dwindling since launch day--will have the appearance of vibrancy and spiritual health. The whole time I'm telling them "get out! Get into the neighborhoods. Get into their lives! Build relationships first, make disciples second, and then worry about congregating those disciples!"

There is a reason Jesus uses the farming metaphor so often to describe the labor of the Gospel. As anyone who has ever worked on a farm can attest, it ain't easy!

Problem is, that takes work, and some guys are just to stinkin' lazy to do the work!

I'm convinced that laziness, in one form or another, is what is killing a lot of new churches. Gentlemen, these are the front-lines of ministry. It takes blood, sweat and tears to accomplish what God is calling for in this area. It requires long hours, lots of uncertainty, tons of resilience, mountains of faith, and the tenacity of a marine battalion attempting to secure a beach-head.

So with all of this in mind, if your idea of church planting involves anything less than this--any less effort, please call someone else. There are plenty of lazy people here already among our 10,000 church members, and Mid-Maryland Association isn't interested in accumulating any more of them, especially to plant churches.

But if you are ready to play the man in a big-time way for the One who demonstrated on the cross the lengths it takes to bring salvation to the world, it would be our honor to talk to you, pray for you, fund you, coach you, stand beside you and walk with you through this spiritual battle called church planting.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Equal in Essence, Distinct In Function: A Response to Gordon Fee's Exegesis of Galatians 3:26-28

The following is an article I wrote last month in response to Gordon Fee's chapter entitled "Male and Female in the New Creation," which appeared in the collaborative work "Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy." My hope is that reader interaction would result in a humble and Scripture-centered examination of this crucial issue.

Gordon D. Fee is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College. He is a prolific author and articulate theologian, whose exegetical skills have been frequently utilized, most notably in his contributions to the New International Commentary on the New Testament. He is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, and received his Ph.D. from the University of California.
The classic exegetical argument for egalitarians who believe all ecclesiastical offices and functions should be open to women has its foundation in Galatians 3:26-29. Based on this text, evangelical egalitarians contend that Paul is eliminating all social and ceremonial distinction within the body of Christ and therefore, is eliminating any barrier to service based on the criteria listed in the text. Since the distinction between “male and female” (v. 28) is among the barriers Paul seeks to remove, the classical egalitarian argument has been that to prohibit women from serving as pastors is tantamount to replacing the very wall of separation in Christ’s body that Paul himself sought to tear down.
Evangelical complementarians have historically responded to this rationale by affirming the soteriological implications of gender equality delineated in this passage, while simultaneously contending that the Pauline rationale behind the Galatian correspondence does not address the particular gender functions within the body of Christ. In short, the complementarian hermeneutic of this passage is that while the soteriological principles contained therein require the elimination of distinctions, Biblical principles of ecclesiology place both genders, equal in essence, into distinct functions within Christ’s body. These functions are not described in detail in Galatians because, say complementarians, the primary focus of this letter is not ecclesiological. To discover gender role distinctions in the church, the appropriate place to look is the Pastoral Epistles, which deal more particularly with church order. In short, complementarians contend that while the Galatians passage indeed makes all of humanity equal in Christ, this equality is only truly realized when men and women work within the church, within their Biblically defined roles. More succinctly, Galatians teaches equality in salvation, while the Pastoral Epistiles teach complementarity within the church.
Yet in his article entitled Male and Female in the New Creation, Fee seeks to overturn the classic complementarian argument by asserting that Galatians is in fact a primarily ecclesiological work. His own egalitarian views are in fact informed by his view that “the specifics of this passage itself indicate that this text has to do with Paul’s ecclesiology” (184). The process by which Fee arrives at this conclusion, and an exegetical response to his contentions, are the subject of the rest of this paper.
Fee begins his chapter by introducing the crux of the exegetical debate; namely whether the Galatians passage is “limited to the justifying work of Christ alone, or does it include other aspects of life in the believing community as well?” (172). With this question in view, he proceeds with an isogogical analysis of the surrounding texts as a way of making the case for his view of the primary issue Paul addressed in the letter. Galatians, according to Fee, is Paul’s response to the crisis of “Christian ‘agitators’” who “had infiltrated these Gentile churches insisting that men be circumcised . . .the crucial item of a larger agenda of Torah observance that would have included the Sabbath and food laws as well” (173). On this point evangelicals of both the complemetarian and egalitarian viewpoints agree.
The first point of contention, as Fee sees it, is the particular historical lens through which this text is received. “Traditionally,” he states, “it [the strategy for reading Paul’s response] has been to read it through the eyes of Martin Luther” (173). Fee of course is referring to Luther’s monolithic understanding of Galatians 2:16 as applied to his own 16th century historical context. To view the Galatian correspondence only in this light is, according to Fee, “a slightly skewed reading strategy” (173). While Fee sees the theological concept of justification by faith as a primary theme of the letter, he views this theme alone as insufficient to procure a correct reading of the entire epistle.
As Fee sees it, the larger issue pressed in the letter is that of bringing together Jew and Gentile as one people of God. According to Fee, the bigger crisis in Paul’s mind “has to do with whether Gentiles get in on the promise to Abraham . . .without also taking on Jewish identity; especially those marks of identity that specifically distinguished Jews from Gentiles in the Diaspora (circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws)” (174). In other words, the issue of Justification by Faith is to be viewed within the larger framework of the inclusion of non-“God-fearing” Gentiles among the people of God. To make his case, Paul argues in a two-fold way for the “temporary, thus secondary, nature of the law” (175), and then concludes his argument with the passage currently under consideration, contending that the true heirs of the Abrahamic promise are those who have become “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28b).
After making his case for the primary purpose of Galatians, Fee then proceeds to cast what he sees as the primary issue of this letter within the larger theological motif of the “new creation.” If Jew and Gentile now relate to God on the same terms, then this reality is grounded in Paul’s own conviction “that Christ and the Spirit have ushered in God’s promised ‘new creation,’ which is now awaiting its final eschatological consummation (Gal 6:15)” (177). Fee proceeds from this point to describe new creation theology, and then moves to draw implications of this theological method for the gender issue under consideration in his article. Primarily, Fee contends that new creation theology implies that “equality” not only applies to salvation, but to the entire created order. Thus, “one must begin by taking Paul seriously with regard to ethnicity, status and gender no longer being relevant for constituting value and social identity in the new creation” (179). Furthermore, Fee asserts that this new order has a strong eschatological tone, which would have been “the primary way the earliest believers understood their existence” (179). Such thinking, Fee contends, is largely foreign to the Western mind, which is mostly accustomed to a culture of equality and thus, unfamiliar to a large extent with how radically counter-cultural Paul’s statements would have been to first-century readers. Fee states that the “nature of this affirmation, its counter-cultural significance, the fact that it equally disadvantages all by equally advantaging all—these stab at the very heart of a culture sustained by people’s maintaining the right position and status. But in Christ Jesus . . .all things have become new; the new era has dawned” (180) Fee then spends the next several paragraphs extrapolating from “new creation” texts (such as that found in 1 Corinthians 7) how these implications affected the Christian culture of the first century. Within the body of Christ for example, no preference is to be given for kosher meals, and no disadvantage placed because of one’s status as a slave. Such distinctions “mean nothing in the new creation” (182).
Fee then applies the aforementioned new creation principles to the relationship of male and female, and in so doing, begins moving back toward the text under consideration with this assumption. In the newly created and Christ-centered home, the wife is no longer merely a member of the husband’s home, but is “in relationship to him” (184). Because they are both members of the one body without distinction, Fee contends that husband and wife are, “first of all brother and sister in Christ” (184). Fee’s conclusion on this basis is that “either may prophesy or teach (1 cor. 14:26)—which are matters of Spirit gifting, not gender—as long as some cultural norms that distinguish male and female were maintained (1 Cor. 11:2-16)” (184). In short, Fee’s logic is that if one is not disqualified from certain church offices and functions because he is a Gentile, or because he is a slave, then neither should a woman be disqualified based merely on her gender. He concludes this chapter by asserting that “to give continuing significance to a male-authority viewpoint for men and women, whether at home or in the church, is to reject the new creation in favor of the norms of a fallen world” (185).
Critical Analysis of Fee’s Exegesis
Before noting the many points of disagreement with Fee, it serves to point out the many places where Fee and other egalitarians find much common ground with their complementarian counterparts. First of all, there is general agreement regarding the overall theme of the Galatian correspondence; namely, the call for understanding that the people of God, Jew or Gentile, are all “one” in Christ. Though it is an oversimplification to claim this as the central theme, Fee will find no complementarian in disagreement with the notion that because of Christ, all distinctions, social and otherwise, become of no advantage or disadvantage. Paul’s declaration that “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v.28) emphasizes a truth found in both didactic and narrative literature throughout the entire New Testament corpus; all ground is indeed level at the foot of the cross.
Second, Fee is to be commended for his strong emphasis regarding the essential equality of male and female. In Christ, gender is “no longer . . .relevant for constituting value and social identity in the new creation” (179). Though the Scriptures clearly delineate functional distinctions between male and female in the home and church—distinctions which will be defined and discussed later—Fee emphasizes well that because of the Gospel, one’s gender does not add or take away dignity or value, nor is one gender rendered inferior to the other. Contrary to Fee’s assumptions, complementarian theologians gladly stand with him in this contention.
Furthermore, though he apparently (and wrongly) believes that the complementarian viewpoint is one which generically places men above women, Fee is to be commended for reminding the body of Christ that the Biblical “chain of authority” is never to be understood as all women being subject to all men. Such a contention should serve as a solemn reminder to complementarian thinkers that maleness in and of itself does not warrant authority in the church or in the home. The insipid chauvinism this writer has witnessed in a few evangelical churches is a by-product of this misunderstanding, and those within Christ’s body who subscribe to and apply such a faulty hermeneutic should be strongly rebuked.
Third, complementarians can applaud Fee’s emphasis of the first-century, counter-cultural nature of Pauline thought. “It is difficult,” states Fee, “for us to imagine the effect of Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 in a culture where position and status preserved order through basically uncrossable boundaries, and where attempting to cross those boundaries brought shame instead of honor” (180). Indeed, even in the Pastoral Epistles, in the very texts where complementarians make their case for male headship, Paul insists that women “learn” and establishes a discipleship paradigm in which younger women turn to older, seasoned, and theologically-inclined women for instruction. The Gospel injected into a “male-only” culture like that of the first century gives the due respect and honor to being female, and Fee is to be commended for reminding us of this Pauline value.

Finally, Fee’s emphasis on the “new creation theology” of the New Testament and its place in the Galatian correspondence is a necessary reminder that the Gospel brings the male-female roles and relationships into the appropriate balance by redeeming each and setting it back in its intended place. The final application between Fee and complementarian thinkers is very different. Still, Fee’s emphasis on this truth reminds complementarians that the very male authority Fee rejects is given so that men can better fulfill the responsibilities he affirms, and not for the sake of male authority alone.
At the same time, an honest evaluation of Fee’s work on this passage must deal straightforwardly with several inconsistencies and errors. Primarily, Fee’s assumption that the soteriology of Galatians is secondary to its ecclesiology is simply without basis in the text, and when this hermeneutic is expanded, it leads to more error, such as the assumption that the essential equality of male and female in 3:28 predicates the inclusion of women at all levels of service to the church. To be sure, the soteriological themes of the letter naturally have application in the life of the church. At the same time, the letter is written with an almost exclusive emphasis on the restoration of the Gospel at Galatia. How this emphasis informs other issues such as social distinctions and church life are ancillary, if valid, concerns.
Beginning with verse 6 of the first chapter, Paul sets the most serious tone established in any of his letters. In observing the theme of these verses, MacArthur points out the great danger of Jews who had made only a superficial profession of faith, then quickly reverted to Judaism “and sought to make Christianity an extension of their traditional system of works righteousness” (MacArthur 1987, 13). This Judaizing contention that Gentiles must be circumcised was the worst of heresies in the mind of Paul, who cursed those who would promote such a message because it was “another Gospel” (1:6). Thus, the theme of Galatians “is that true freedom comes only through Jesus Christ” (MacArthur, 14). Likewise, the late F.F. Bruce contends that Paul’s aim in Galatians is to denounce the teaching of the Judaizers “as a perversion of the true gospel of Christ” (Bruce 1982, 19). These observations, along with a straightforward reading of the text itself, demonstrate that the main focus of the Galatian correspondence is salvation. Thus, Fee’s belief that a supposed ecclesiastical emphasis grants equal access to all offices and functions of the church to both male and female is without textual foundation.
Secondly, Fee contends that the complementarian approach to the gender issue is tantamount to full capitulation to the reality of the fall. To accept male leadership “in the home or in the church is to reject the new creation in favor of the norms of a fallen world” (185). This assumption is shared by other egalitarian authors like Richard Hess, who dedicates an entire chapter to the view that God’s ultimate aim is for equality in function as well as essence, and that any hierarchy is the direct result of the fall.
More specifically, Hess believes that “God’s judgment included for the woman hard work alongside her husband in addition to bearing children. She would also have a desire to rule him, though he would end up ruling her” (94). Fee shares this sentiment, believing that male leadership “usurps the work of the Spirit not only in the wife and her relationship to God but also in the church—the expression of the new order and new humanity that is already present, even while it is yet to be” (185).
Yet the history of the fall in Genesis 3 is precisely the reason for Paul’s prohibition of women from holding a position of church authority in 1 Timothy 2. Though Paul’s later comments in 2 Timothy and Titus seem to negate the possibility that he was seeking to prevent women from any and all teaching roles, Thomas Lea well notes that the “normative principle behind Paul’s directive is that the woman should not carry out the role of senior pastor” (Lea 1992, 100). Furthermore, Paul’s invocation of Jewish primogeniture to establish male leadership in the home appeals to the created order prior to the fall. Therefore, Fee’s contention that asserting male leadership is equivalent to accepting the “norms” of a fallen world is actually found to be inverse to the very logic Paul uses elsewhere in the New Testament to establish male headship in the home and church.
Similarly, Fee’s view that Paul’s instructions regarding male headship were grounded in the culture of the first century is also suspect upon closer examination. As regards male headship in the home, Fee contends that Paul’s ideal is total equality without hierarchy, yet in the same breath states that Paul was willing to concede on certain cultural issues. If indeed Paul intends to eliminate hierarchical roles in the body of Christ, one might ask why he would be willing, as Fee suggests, to “yield on certain cultural matters so as not to predicate the shame on lesser things” (181)? Furthermore, Fee’s belief that Paul capitulates in certain areas on this issue is to suggest, even if unintentionally, that Paul himself is “settling” for the norms of a fallen world rather than embracing the new creation that God intended.
In fact, the preferred and more consistent way to view texts like Colossians 3, Ephesians 5, and 1 Timothy 2 is to see them as their author sees them. Although Fee rightly points out that Paul “radicalizes” the household norms of the first century, he mistakenly views Paul’s establishment of household hierarchy as instruction grounded in the culture of that day. In fact, Paul’s own words put this notion to rest, and clarify that the reason for his emphasis on male headship is that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). Thus, Paul’s insistence on male headship in the home and church is not grounded in the culture of the first century, or even in the fall. Instead, male headship is grounded in the created order itself, and understood best through the lens of Jewish primogeniture.
Evangelical egalitarianism, unlike liberal feminism, deserves recognition for seeking to make its case under the authority of Scripture. Egalitarians of an evangelical bent have no desire to capitulate to culture merely for the sake of culture. Instead, they sincerely believe their position to be grounded in a sound hermeneutic of God’s inerrant Word. Egalitarian theologians such as Gordon Fee strongly affirm Scriptural inerrancy, the deity of Jesus Christ, the exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation, the necessity of the new birth, and the promise of the life to come. And like their complementarian counterparts, they care much about the church as God’s vehicle of redemption in the world, and forward their arguments because they firmly believe such arguments will help mold the church into a genuine “new creation” community.
With this in view, there is much on which complementarians can agree with their egalitarian counterparts. There is much that can be accomplished when these two groups work together on issues of common concern. At the same time, this debate cannot simply be treated as a tertiary theological issue tantamount to one’s eschatology or view of spiritual gifts. The issues under discussion in the gender role debate go right to the heart of the created order, and color one’s view of a wide variety of issues crucial to the life and health of God’s church. Those representing the egalitarian viewpoint in Discovering Biblical Equality, including Gordon Fee, also understand the gravity of this discussion. Hence, the forcefulness with which they each make their arguments. This writer considers it a privilege to interact with a brilliant and dedicated brother in Christ. Yet even more important is that a Biblically-sound response be given so that the church can be led as God intends, and consequently, become the community of “new creation” to which Fee aspires.

Bruce, F.F. 1982. “The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians.” The New International Greek Testament Commentary. I. Howard Marshall and W. Ward Garque, eds. Exeter: Paternoster Press.
Fee, Gordon D. 2005. “Male and Female in the New Creation.” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy. Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothius, eds. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.
Lea, Thomas D. and Hayne Griffin. 1992. “1, 2 Timothy and Titus.” The New American Commentary. David Dockery, ed. Nashville: Broadman Press.
Longenecker, Richard N. 1990. “Galatians.” Word Biblical Commentary. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, eds. Dallas: Word Publishing.
MacArthur, John. 1987. “Galatians.” The MacArtuhur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute.