Part 1 of a 3-part series, presented here, focuses on the radical redefinition of authority Jesus taught and set in motion for his church; it considers the complementarians’ circuitous idea of gender authority.
In recent decades, traditionalists have dug for deeper roots in search of a viable biblical theology on which to support their superstructure of hierarchy. What has emerged instead in contemporary complementarianism is a sociocultural and extrabiblical “theology of roles.” It is this to which we will direct our critique.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
Complementarianism is nothing more than the old argument of “separate but equal” applied to gender roles and dressed in a type of theological clothing. This is the same argument earlier generations used to justify segregation of the races.
For men to move from an identity-fixed to an identity-flexible gender-role model, from macho to mature, from a career-centered to holistic self-definition, from “safe” to sharing friendships, from “give 'em hell” to nurturance and caring, is not easy. The realization that God calls us into relationship with one another, however, should challenge Christian men to try.
I have long deliberated the possible efficacy of another Wild at Heart critique.1 Although many excellent critiques arose in the years after the book’s initial release in 2001, it still sells unusually well, progressively working its way into churches, homes, and minds. The English language version has sold over 4.5 million copies, annual sales exceed 100,000, and it currently holds the #1 Best Seller spot in Christian Men’s Issues on Amazon. To date, the book has been translated into thirty languages. Beyond this, the ideologies of Wild at Heart find expression in subsequent books written by John and Stasi Eldredge, most notably Captivating, as well as numerous contemporary Christian works on sex and gender that display direct influence from the Eldredges’ teachings or promote similar ideas. Hardly a year passes without some popular Christian book on gender or parenting acknowledging the Eldredges and their teachings or listing Wild at Heart as recommended reading. Stephen Mansfield, for example, calls the book “masterful,” listing it first in “The Ten Essential Books for Manly Men,” because it provides men with “the tools for understanding and living out the essential passions of manhood.” For Eldredge himself, such steady reception confirms its timeless truth. It is somehow paradoxically “truer” than before, because “it rings eternal, and universal. God was in it then; he is in it still.”