The introduction of the word “submission” into a Christian conversation about adult human relations immediately strikes different responses. For some Christians, submission is a happy word describing the proper biblical relation of a wife to her husband or of a woman, whether married or single, to the males in the church congregation.
A study of curricula across 15 evangelical seminaries and of material from the Evangelical Theological Society reveals an almost total absence of women's history, meaning male leaders can rise to high levels while never being exposed to the countless ways women have impacted history and theology.
Etienne Gilson spoke of medieval theology as an attempt to build great “cathedrals of the mind,” mental constructions meant to bring glory to God and to inspire worship as soaring stone cathedrals across Europe have since the same time period. Like any architectural achievement, these mental cathedrals brought together the many pieces of Christian doctrine into coherent and often beautiful structures of thought, building idea upon idea until great theological and philosophical systems emerged from scriptural foundations. This architectural analogy implies something important—it is rarely possible to shift the ground floor of a building without the entirety of the construct tumbling down. Only with great caution and preparation, whereby new supports are carefully constructed before the old are removed, can such a change go smoothly. Unfortunately, evangelical theology finds itself today in a situation where a great shift in a foundational doctrine of Christian theology has occurred—in the doctrine of the Trinity. This shift threatens several important Christian teachings and compromises the basic orientation of Christian ethics. As complementarian theologians increasingly speak of the eternal functional subordination of the Son (hereafter EFS), they move a central pillar of the cathedral of Christian doctrine, unaware that such a change could bring down the entire edifice of Christian theology.
Within the hierarchical camp, there exists a vocal and influential minority of strongly hierarchist scholars who argue that a commitment to egalitarianism does indeed undermine one’s evangelical commitment. But, since many of us either are or at least know strongly committed egalitarian evangelicals, this argument seems strange.
What an understanding of culture’s influence should do is put gross generalizations about the nature of men and women out of reach. Moreover, it challenges us to think about how and why we value particular attributes connected to these gender stereotypes. So often we believe that we are reacting to Scripture or that the powerful feelings we have about particular gender activities are our created nature. Rather, we need to realize that we are exhibiting the cultural context in which we live.
Many contemporary evangelical Bible scholars and theologians, not to mention ordinary lay men and women, are convinced that attempts to use the Bible so as to exclude women from positions of leadership for which their Creator has made them and to which their Lord as called them – whether in society, home or church – is flawed.
Inerrancy is a doctrinal position, a conviction regarding the nature of the Bible. A belief in the equality of male and female, on the other hand, is a matter of the interpretation of the Bible, hermeneutics: “The place of women in the Bible is an interpretive, hermeneutical question. It is not an inerrancy question.”
Why would a woman espouse an ideology that consigns her to a less-than status? Howell and Duncan surveyed 72 women to explore the rationale behind women’s beliefs in the subordination of women to the authority of men.