Why I think Wayne Grudem is unwilling to accord full respect to women (ERAS part 4)
In his book Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanood Wayne Grudem argues that complementarianism is fair, that it’s obedient to the Bible, and that is best for us as human beings since it truly honors men and women because it honours both their equality and their differences — their equal value to God and their differences in roles. He maintains that complementarianism does not lead to abuse but guards against it because it holds that both men and women are equal in value before God. (52-3)
He thinks that he’s fighting a righteous and vital battle: “the question of biblical manhood and womanhood is the focal point in a tremendous battle of worldviews.” (ibid 60) He believes that he espouses the Biblically honouring middle which is the right balance between two worldviews, both of which violate the Bible but in opposite ways.
He presents this in the table below. At one extreme there is the No Differences view which says that “all is one” (paganism) and since there are no differences, sexuality is plastic and homosexuality and androgyny are fully accepted. At the opposite extreme is the No Equality view which says “might makes right” so males brutally dominate and women are dehumanised. Here is the first page of his 2-page table about the spectrum of world views (ibid, 62). Click on the table to enlarge it.
In the middle column in above table, Grudem diagrams his belief that (eternally) the Father has authority over the Son, and the Father and the Son have authority over the Holy Spirit.
And he diagrams his belief that the husband has authority over the wife because male leadership is evident in the biblical account of creation, Ephesians 5 talks about the husband being head of the wife, and 1 Corinthians 11:3 says “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Grudem’s doctrine of Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission has been challenged by many people (links at the bottom of this post). But Grudem is holding fast to his views. Some influential people (e.g. Denny Burk, Al Mohler) are happy to tolerate ERAS and allow Grudem and his ilk to remain within the camp of ‘evangelicalism’ (what does that word mean anymore?). But thankfully, some influential people are dismayed —
in his wildly popular Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes that the Trinity is analogous to husband (the Father), wife (the Son), and child (the Holy Spirit).
It boggles my mind that so many well-known men within the broader reformed(ish) world are unwilling to refute such nonsense. (Todd Pruitt, link)
I’m sure Grudem thinks that he respects women as much as men, and that none of his teaching is bad for women. But I think Grudem has been focusing so much on resisting and rebutting egalitarianism that he isn’t seeing that his doctrines are not actually at the balanced middle, but are some degrees over on the ‘no equality’ side. ERAS is heretical. It’s outside Nicene orthodoxy. And as Todd Pruitt says, “CBMW has deliberately and repeatedly built its theological support for the complementary roles of men and women upon this deeply flawed doctrine of the Trinity.”
ERAS is not Arianism, but it’s penumbral to Arianism. So I would put Grudem’s views not in the center column but somewhere to the right of centre. Here is how I would draw up that table. (this is just what I’ve thought so far—I’m open to feedback and suggestions on this table). Click on each image to enlarge it.
You can also view my table as a PDF by clicking this link:
Grudem emphasises AUTHORITY and SUBMISSION
Grudem has put a lot of effort into arguing for Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission in the Trinity. As Rachel Miller has shown, he argued for it in his Systematic Theology. And in his book Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth, he asserted that authority and submission are fundamental to interpersonal relationships:
the idea of authority and submission has always existed in the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son in the Trinity. And this means that the idea of authority and submission in interpersonal relationships never began – it has always existed in the eternal relationship between the Father and Son. The doctrine of the Trinity thus indicates that equality of being together with authority and submission to authority are perhaps the most fundamental aspects of interpersonal relationship in the entire universe. (p 429) (link, italics mine)
In the Appendix of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Wayne Grudem wrote:
At this point we must object and insist that authority and submission to authority are not pagan concepts. They are truly divine concepts, rooted in the eternal nature of the Trinity for all eternity and represented in the eternal submission of the Son to the Father and of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son.(464) (source, italics mine)
In his book Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (link), he said
Submission to a rightful authority is a good and noble and wonderful thing, because it reflects the interpersonal relationships within God Himself. (51)
When we begin to dislike the very idea of authority and submission—not distortions and abuses, but the very idea—we are tampering with something very deep. We are beginning to dislike God Himself. (52)
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: As we pick up with today’s segment of Dr. Grudem’s message, he is going to help us understand that this thing of headship and submission in the marriage relationship is not a negative concept. This is not a concept that changes with the culture. This is something that is rooted in the very nature of God. It’s rooted in the Trinity, and the relationship that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have with each other. If we dislike or reject the concept of authority and submission, we are actually rejecting something very precious that’s a reflection of God Himself.
Dr. Wayne Grudem: … The idea of headship and submission never began. It has existed eternally in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity….
And in this most basic of all relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in all attributes and perfections, but authority is just there. Authority belongs to the Father, not because He is wiser or a more skillful leader, but just because He is Father. Authority and submission is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity.
So according to Grudem, authority and submission are:
- intrinsic to the eternal relations between the Father and the Son
- the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity.
- fundamental to interpersonal relationships
And according to Grudem, submission to a rightful authority is:
- a good and noble and wonderful thing
- not based on the gifts or abilities of the one in authority
- something we must not dislike, since to dislike the idea of authority and submission means we are beginning to dislike God himself
What does this amount to for women? It draws the knot pretty tight. As Nancy DeMoss said to Grudem, “When wives don’t submit they are actually rejecting something very precious that’s a reflection of God Himself.”
Grudem’s messages will have the effect of coercively controlling women victims of abuse so they will try even harder to submit to their (anti-)husbands. Recommended article: What is coercive control?
I want to be fair to Grudem and not make any straw man arguments here, so let us look carefully at Grudem’s words I quoted above—
When we begin to dislike the very idea of authority and submission—not distortions and abuses, but the very idea—we are tampering with something very deep. We are beginning to dislike God Himself. (link 52)
Grudem is implying that it is OKAY to dislike the distortions and abuses of authority and submission. And that if we dislike the distortions and abuses of authority and submission, that doesn’t mean we dislike God himself.
Whew! That’s a relief!
But how small that drop of water is to the parched victim of abuse! And how many victims of abuse will even notice it? Very few. In fact, I only noticed it as I was working on this post —and it’s taking me days of intense thought to write this post. Grudem’s caveat will pass most readers by, especially the ones who are being abused by their husbands and are already feeling crushed and straight-jacketed by Grudem’s teaching that authority and submission are divine, eternal, the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity, fundamental to interpersonal relationships; and submission to a rightful authority is a good and noble and wonderful thing, not based on the gifts or abilities of the one in authority, and we must not dislike the idea of authority and submission… And if that sentence was long, I intended it to be so, to give you a sense of how heavy this load of precepts is to women, especially women who are being abused at home or at church.
Grudem’s caveat is like a tiny opening in the thick stone wall of the cell in which her abuser and Grudem’s teaching has imprisoned her. It is an opening to fresh air and justice. If the woman still has strength enough in her legs, she can stand on tip toe and breathe in the fresh air. This fresh air, this lungful of truth, allows the abused woman to dislike the distortions of abuse and submission.
But who judges when authority and submission are being distorted? The wife? The abusive husband? The pastor and elders? No prizes for guessing the answer… it’s the men who will judge. The leaders.
And remember, the leaders teach that “submission to a rightful authority is a good and noble and wonderful thing, not based on the gifts or abilities of the one in authority.” And they usually see abuse as only physical violence. So they’ve handed the man a plea-bargaining card on a
silver divine platter. The woman will usually be told, “It’s not really abuse. You need to look to yourself and your own sin too. Aren’t you being bitter? Vindictive? A resentful gossip? Aren’t you running your husband down? Tut tut. You need to forgive. Be more submissive. Have more faith. By being submissive you will be showing him the gospel without a word. We will pray for you… ”
How can Grudem be treating women as “equal in value to men” when so much of his teaching has the effect of coercively controlling wives to submit to their husbands? How can he be treating women as “equal in value to men” when his teaching gives that plea-bargaining card to men?
Previous posts in this ERAS series: