I was watching this recent video where Tim Keller (along with Don Carson and John Piper) addresses why The Gospel Coalition is explicitly complementarian (a nice way to say that they don't believe in gender equality). Why do they see this as something that a group that is supposed to be focused on the Gospel would need to stress?
Keller begins by saying that he does not think the issue of gender roles are directly part of the Gospel, and acknowledges that bringing it up in the context of answering a person's questions of what it would mean to be a Christian could "certainly muddy the waters."
So why the focus then? He says it has to do with how we read Scripture:
"Most of us in The Gospel Coalition feel that many people, in order to make room for an egalitarian position have to do something with the way in which they read Scripture that loosens how you understand the force of Scriptural teaching, and there are plenty of people who loosen it only there and keep it tight everywhere else, but some people loosen it across the board."
In other words, he is claiming that egalitarians "play loose" with the Bible, and are therefore at best inconsistent, and at worst read the Bible in a way that undermines the authority of Scripture and thus misses the Gospel.
The problem with this is that if folks at TGC really want to read their Bibles in that way, then they would need to support the institution of slavery, because in the same way that the New Testament affirms traditional gender roles that were a part of the dominate culture of the time, it likewise affirms the assumption of the institution of slavery. So if you want to make a biblical argument for traditional gender roles, you also need to be pro-slavery. Otherwise, as Keller puts it, you are being "loose" with the text.
The fact is, people who have read the Bible in this way did historically support slavery. The only reason they do not today is because of their acceptance of cultural norms, despite how they read the Bible. Which brings me to my larger point:
As you might have guessed, I think this way of reading the Bible is completely wrong. In fact, I would argue that this way of reading the Bible misses the entire point of the New Testament. Jesus is anything but the defender of traditional values. He is someone who continually turned traditional values on its head, and was so subversive to authoritarian religion that it got him killed. People who argue otherwise clearly are not paying attention to the narrative of the Gospels. Why was Jesus opposed to these traditional values? Because they hurt people, and ignored those who are oppressed and marginalized.
So what we see in the New Testament is a critique of those traditions and assumptions. That is why it is critical to understand the cultural and religious context into which the writers of the New Testament are speaking. Once you recognize this, you can see that the New Testament begins with those assumptions and then pushes at them, challenges them, and moves them towards the way of Jesus, which is all about unconditionally valuing people, and tearing down the walls that shut people out.
Once we catch the subversive spirit of what Jesus and the rest of the New Testament is doing here, we can then see the direction that the New Testament is moving in, and recognize that this is a trajectory that eventually lead to the abolition of slavery, and likewise towards valuing men and women equally.
Again, the issue here is that these are things that lead to oppression, to abuse, to violence against these marginalized groups. Jesus was not the champion of those in power; he was on the side of the least. That violence and oppression is still going on today.
As Rachel Held Evans writes, "Right now, women age 15-44 are more likely to be maimed or to die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined."
That's why she argues that we need to hear, now as much as ever, from women who are affected by this, rather than attempting to silence them as TGC does. I couldn't agree more.
The fact is, the way of reading the Bible that Keller is endorsing has led in the past to justifying the continuance of systematic oppression, and continues to do so today. That's what's on the line: people being hurt. People's needed voices being stifled. That's why this matters so much. That's why this is not just some side issue, but one that is central.
The painful irony is that, as much as TGC wants to "protect the Gospel," when they advocate this authoritarian way of reading the Bible that perpetuates gender inequality, what they are in fact doing is opposing the values of Jesus, and thus missing what the Gospel is all about: good news to the poor and oppressed.
Egalitarianism illustration, Nuno Andre / Shutterstock.com