Whenever I hear the word “submission” I am immediately transported back to my childhood home. We were staunchly rooted in a conservative, Christian tradition, and my family prided itself on having a high view of Scripture. There were a number of beliefs affected by this high view of Scripture (which, for the record I still hold to!), but few made their way into the everyday vocabulary of my family more often than submission. We were instructed to see complementarian gender roles as one of the foundational building blocks of a godly family, and ensuring a healthy sense of submission was front and center when building that foundation.
Whether through sermons or wedding vows or Christian books, we have been conditioned to see different primary roles for husbands and wives. Many churches teach that a wife’s role is one-way submission to her husband. Sometimes we are vague about what submission means, but feel strongly that there is hierarchy in marriage and that it is of utmost importance. The apostle Paul’s letters are often the basis of these teachings. Yet, is Paul advocating hierarchy in marriage, or is he encouraging mutuality?
As I grow older, I relate to the Bible as I do my long term friends. Some friends I can remember in their teens, then twenties, and thirties. I remember the struggles we have faced over the years, the victories we have celebrated together, and how our values have grown and changed over time.
I recently wrote a book about marriage. It is a mix of personal narrative, cultural commentary, and biblical reflection. As it turns out, you cannot write about marriage from a Christian perspective without addressing texts such as this one.
Many Christians, certainly most egalitarians, are familiar with Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (NIV). But as well-known as this passage is, it’s still common to wonder what mutual submission actually looks like in practice. Here’s my take on it.
In mid-December, an article was published on the Desiring God website titled “Husbands, Get Her Ready for Jesus.” Written by a Philadelphia pastor named Bryan Stoudt, this piece argues that husbands have a responsibility to challenge and correct their wives in order to keep them on course through the path of sanctification.
When the curtain on male headship is pulled back, it shrinks from the light of logic and truth. Consider the most recent defense of male headship by John Piper. He offers three reasons why he believes it will endure, but in pulling the curtain back, we find each deeply flawed.
Sometimes Paul gets a bad rap. The slave narratives are replete with sentiments from former slaves who loved Jesus but hated Paul, because slaveholders regularly quoted Ephesians 6:5, "Slaves, obey your masters." What the slaveholders didn't bother to quote was the rest of the passage, which goes on to say, "masters, do the same things to them" (6:9). That is, if slaves have to obey their masters, masters must also obey their slaves!