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.
Evangelical women face a myriad of messages related to pastoral and teaching roles in the church and academy. Some evangelical churches open their doors to women leaders while others reject the ordination of women and endorse explicitly hierarchical models of gender relations, both in marriage relationships and also in church and church-focused institutional hierarchies. Others even extend male authority to secular arenas, excluding women from exercising leadership or authority over men that is direct and/or personal.
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.
"Partners," as the term is used in this statement, means more than aides or helpers who give assistance from the sidelines. The emphasis is communion, a unity of purpose that links hands and hearts as full members of the team. It stresses full participation, sharing in both the risks and the benefits of the enterprise: "giving and receiving" (Philippians 4:15). It portrays an enduring alliance as long-term colleagues rather than a casual short walk together.
Those of us who defend women in ministry are used to making careful biblical and theological cases, wrestling with the difficult texts as well as the occasional difficult person. We are used to listening earnestly to people who argue against women in ministry with furrowed brows and trembling chins. We aspire to be thoughtful, reasoned, and respectful because, Lord knows, we don’t want to make things any harder for women in ministry.
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.