Confessions of a Conflicted Complementarian
April 5, 2011 | by: Wendy Alsup | Category: Commentary
I was raised in conservative Christianity and had visions of what my life would look like if I made the good Christian choices that good Christian girls were supposed to make. I thought a lot about the Proverbs 31 wife and didn’t chafe against the expectations.
Then I collected a closet full of bridesmaid gowns with no wedding dress in sight. For a time, I was convinced that I would never get married, which in my construct of the Christian woman, left me void of any hope for meaningful existence. It was the darkest time of my life.
Finally Married! (But. . .)
I did get married before I worked that all out in my head but was faced with similar depression when I miscarried our first child and then struggled through a season of infertility. Once again, my view of God’s plan for women didn’t transcend marriage and children, and I was shaken as I faced the prospect of life without them.
After I had kids, I looked around at the godly women in my life. So few looked like my earlier naive notions of the good Christian woman. Were their life circumstances mistakes? Were they doomed to substandard application of Biblical instructions to women because of the way their life had turned out?
Complementarianism to the Rescue?
During this time, I sat under much teaching on women’s issues, mostly from a complementarian perspective. I embraced it, but I found that Paul’s analysis of the law in 2 Corinthians 3:6 was correct: “who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Though teachers and authors painted Biblical instructions to women as beautiful things, speaking of them with an upbeat, happy tone of voice, I just felt condemnation. It wasn’t because I didn’t value what I did in my home or thought my children and husband were a lesser calling than ministry outside of my home. It was because I couldn’t do those things on my own. Presenting Scripture’s mandates to women as good things to happily embrace in and of themselves is death. The law kills.
Scripture’s Ideals Haunted Me
Some of my friends appear to be able to keep the law on their own, and they admit to me that their problem is awful pride. However, I couldn’t do it on my own. Scripture’s ideals haunted me. They hung over my head, and I felt condemned by the way they were presented to me by well meaning teachers.
Apart from the gospel.
Christ paid my debt to God, but he didn’t just bring my spiritual bank account to zero. Christ’s righteous life was then credited to my account. I went from being a prisoner with a sentence against them they could never pay off to a child of the king with all the resources that come with that position in God’s household.
My Head Lifts
In Christ, instead of feeling condemned by the law’s standard, I can lift my head. I can look at Scripture’s words to women, even the annoying Proverbs 31 wife, not with condemnation, but with hope and inspiration. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Yes, that is a great ideal. No, I can’t make it happen myself. Instead of hiding from God in condemnation or despising her as an unattainable standard, I turn to God in my need and find grace and mercy. In Christ, I can boldly access my Father in heaven and avail myself of his resources. My friends at other stages of life and those experiencing painful circumstances different from mine give testimony of the same hope in the gospel.
Personalizing Paul’s Prayers
I am learning to personalize Paul’s prayer at the end of Ephesians 1, “God, open my eyes to the hope of my calling, my inheritance in you, and the power at work in me—the very same power that rose Christ from the dead. I can’t do this on my own, and any virtue that blesses my friends or family is purely by your grace. Help me. Apart from you, I can do nothing.” Then, when I go to bed that night and actually note some way I did bless my family or my friends, I know exactly who accomplished this thing for me, and I can praise him for his glorious grace, not myself for my self discipline or innate wisdom.
It’s only meditation on the gospel and then availing myself of my access to the throne of grace it provides that I move from condemnation to hope on any issue.
In my next post, we’ll consider how my experience of desiring God further shaped my understanding of gospel-centered womanhood.
Wendy Alsup is a wife and mom who loves math and theology. She is the author of Practical Theology for Women and By His Wounds You Are Healed. She blogs at www.theologyforwomen.org.