Complementarian Doctrine Does Not Take Precedence Over The Gospel

David Platt delivered a sermon in a chapel service at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary last month. He preached:

“The gospel is most clear in the world when a man and a woman come together in the one-flesh union of marriage and unite their lives with one another in a picture of Christ’s love for his church.”

“Let us defend sexual complementarity with God’s word. Let’s defend sexual complementarity with our lives and our marriages … and let’s do this for the sake of the gospel in the world.”

Intriguing. I’ve never heard someone say the ability to present the gospel clearly depends on where one stands on the complementarian/egalitarian issue.

Let’s assume that Mr. Platt’s complementarian doctrine is correct and egalitarians are wrong, though. Would that justify Mr. Platt’s insistence that the gospel’s clarity depends on people living out complementarian doctrine through their marriages?

As Dee over at The Wartburg Watch put it, no one sees a marriage and thinks, “Gee, now I get the gospel. Fred and Mabel are perfect examples. Mabel submits like Christ and Fred rules like the Father. Yep-now it all makes sense.”

Mr. Platt’s position makes no sense because preaching a clear gospel message does not depend on getting the comp/egal debate right.

Preaching The Gospel Clearly

What does it take to preach the gospel clearly? That’s easy. The Bible clearly tells us the gospel message is:

  • to preach Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23),
  • to proclaim the Savior who conquered death and sin and rose from the grave (2 Timothy 2:8),
  • to point to the God who seated us with him in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6).

Paul started his letter to the Galatians with a succinct statement of that gospel:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5.)

There’s gospel clarity for you. It’s God’s grace and peace to us. It’s Jesus giving himself for our sins, rescuing us from evil. It’s fulfilling God’s will, and doing it all for his glory. If you want to preach the gospel clearly, you can start with that passage and never once mention marriage relationships.

I think Mr. Platt knows this. I think he just let his desire to promote complementarian doctrine overcome his ability to present the gospel clearly.

The gospel is not about marriage, after all.

The gospel is about Jesus.


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28 Responses to Complementarian Doctrine Does Not Take Precedence Over The Gospel

  1. Deanna says:

    John 13:34-35 ” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Yes, the gospel is about Jesus and what he has done, and yes, people might be able to see the gospel more clearly by how God works in us and our relationships. As we proclaim the gospel in our words, the truth of his gospel is reflected in how we love each other. But no, marriage is not the highest expression of that love.We are all called to that sacrificial love, submitting to each other!

    • Tim says:

      Good point, Deanna. That chapel message would leave unmarried people scratching their heads wondering how they could present the gospel clearly without spouses to be in a complementarian relationship with.

      • Deanna says:

        Yes that is exactly the message I received, but I didn’t say it that clearly because my singleness hypersensitivity can sometimes cause me to read into things and overreact! But if you saw that too, I’m probably not overreacting!

  2. Jeannie says:

    Yes, I agree with your comment above, Tim, that this approach would leave an awful lot of people in the world feeling that they can’t live out the gospel because they aren’t married. Marriage might be a picture of Christ and his church but it’s not The Gospel.

    • Tim says:

      Jeannie, your last sentence summed up my whole post quite nicely!

    • Stephan says:

      Considering that David is an avid proponent of maximizing singleness for the spread of the gospel (there are literally sermons by that title), I’d say you both are choosing to skew the facts without truly looking at what he believes and professes, clearly, repeatedly. Podcast it, then convince me he said something he didn’t say.

      Let’s stop compartmentalizing which aspects of our lives we can correctly and should spread the gospel with, if we’re married, bring more Glory to His name in (but not solely through) marriage, if single, even more so, don’t seek to be bound if that’s your calling as Paul would say. “So whether you eat or drink or WHATEVER YOU DO, do it all for the glory of God” (I realize the context of this passage). 1st Corinthians 10:31

      Psalms 96:3 says “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. ” so will mere things like eating and drinking bring glory to God? Apparently so judging from the book of Corinthians. How much more so in and through our marriages?!

      If anything we should consider the audience and the context of the society David speaks to…we don’t have a singleness problem in the most godly of contexts. We have a church that’s fully open to sinning unashamedly, while remaining unmarried. Truthfully, the church needs more examples of godly marriages as does the world, not so as to live it rightly in spite of living it apart from him, but as a reflection and living testimony of Christ’s unconditional love for the church and how He be reflected in the way we choose to love one another (and yes this isn’t exclusive to your spouse). We have far too much of the opposite.

      The word of the gospel is first spoken in truth but it rings back empty coming from a world of cultural Christians who believe in a salvation void of what the book of James speaks of, faith with works. Yes my faith extends into and through my marriage and in all things God entrusts me with in this passing life. In an oversexualized society, a faithful and godly marriage for the Glory of God speaks volumes as to the type of love God offers and instills in His people, a love that shows no bounds and is not limited to sexual gratification, but comes with opportunities to show mercy and forgiveness and the type of love that the Christ spoke of in that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”, as I would personally do for my wife.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks for providing your understanding of Mr. Platt’s view on singleness and the gospel. That’s a refreshing take compared to what I’ve heard from a number of comp pastors and teachers who repeatedly give the distinct impression that marriage is a superior state to singleness, in that they constantly talk of people needing a spouse in order to reach their fullest potential as a person of God. There’s a pastor named Evans who is explicit on this, for example.

  3. “If only__________________.”
    I wonder how many of those who presented and attended the conference recently held by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Many of the #CBMW14 tweets I read yesterday lead me to believe that some might finish the above statement, “If only all Christians would realize that our doctrine of manhood and womanhood is the correct one.” In the Peacemaker course currently being taught at my church,, it’s been stated that whatever a person finishes the “If only __” statement with, that desire/demand is likely an idol in that person’s life. As I tweeted yesterday, many of the #CBMW14 tweets I read smacked of gender-role idolatry. And idolatry always cripples the gospel message, never enhances it.

    • Tim says:

      It is idolatry, Ellen. We can turn comp/egal doctrine into an idol, some people engage in bibliolatry, others do it with a different doctrine. But the gospel is none of these things. The gospel is all about Jesus.

      • Ha Ha Ha! I totally messed up my second sentence. It was meant to read:
        “I wonder how many of those who presented and attended the conference recently held by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood would answer the above.”

  4. EricaM says:

    Honestly, the older I get, the more I think this argument is given way too much importance. It’s good to consider how to relate to one another in marriage in a godly way, but most of the time this devolves into a “holier-than-thou” fight.

    Also, I didn’t even think of how that would come across to single people. Then again, a lot of places seem to think being single is some sort of affliction they must cure. (“Have you met my grandson?” etc. :D)

    Also, I think this Lutheran Satire video is appropriate. Pay no mind to the Egyptian deity with the German accent. He gatecrashes on occasion.

  5. Angie says:

    Several years ago when I first learned of “complementarianism” and began to follow this conversation my jaw dropped as I would hear or read about how fragile the gospel was because it depended on husbands exercising authority and wives submitting. It appears to me Platt is working out point six on CBMW’s Mission & Vision: “The advance of the gospel is at stake:

    Ephesians 5 calls husbands and wives to relate to one another as a picture of Christ and the church….involves the humble, sacrificial leadership of the husband and the joyful, intelligent submission to that leadership by the wife…Deviation from biblical teaching on manhood and womanhood hinders the advance of the gospel.”

    I do not believe the gospel of Jesus Christ hinges on how meticulously marriages represent Christ authority and the Church’s submission through husbands and wives, respectively. The gospel is not fragile. As others have said, we reflect the gospel in all relationships when we love sacrificially and treat others as an image bearer of God.

    Good post.

  6. Hope says:

    Tim, I was trained to be a complementarian wife from the time I was very young. I first learned about egalitarianism through you and Jenny Rae Armstrong about a year ago. “Obey” is in my marriage vows. This has been challenging to live out at times, but I always viewed it as a sacrifice I was required to make as a woman. I find myself in an interesting position now that I’ve been enlightened: I can’t really exert my “rights” without causing a lot of conflict and confusion. My husband did married a complementarian woman after all –. How can I blame him for that just because I see things differently now?! I’m grateful that the Gospel of Christ does not depend on me to get the comp/egal debate right. His love reaches farther than I’m able to see with my shortsighted spiritual eyes.

    • Tim says:

      I too am grateful that the gospel doesn’t depend on my getting every doctrine 100% right. What an impossible chore that would be!

  7. Laura says:

    Well, you know I fully approve of your post Tim. : ) Thanks for your on-going support. I posted a link to a DTS chapel message on my blog today on gender roles. The speaker said, in part: “We should not let gender differences become essentialism. The glory of God ranks higher than cultural gender roles!” – Amen!

  8. Well, Tim, I always appreciate your challenges to the modern preacher/celebrities of the world – here, however, I feel Platt’s viewpoint is being misrepresented. Platt would not say that single people are a lesser expression of the gospel, just a different expression.

    And couldn’t we at least agree, that if Platt’s interpretation of Ephesians is correct – that marriage is an enacting of the Divine Drama of Christ and the Church (not the Father and the Son, as an above comment seemed to believe) – then he IS correct in asserting that marriage is part of proclaiming the gospel? Isn’t that just a logical conclusion, given his interpretation of Ephesians (which, by the way, was never interpreted in egalitarian terms until the mid 20th century, which doesn’t prove it correct, but does place a very heavy burden of proof on opposing positions)?

    Also, did Platt ever say there is no proclaiming the gospel without complementarianism? Can you show me where he says that? Surely he would never say that, so that seems to me like a straw-man.

    I wish I’d heard more critiquing his exegesis of the passage at hand than his conclusions – how can we have a discussion without that text being the hinge-point?

    • Tim says:

      Good points, Nick. I’m not only willing to agree, but willing to assume he’s correct in his doctrine. The hyperbolic statement that the “gospel is most clear” in a comp marriage is still nonsense. I’d say the same if an eglitarian said the same thing about egal marriages. Nonsense.

  9. Don Johnson says:

    Comps get the marriage metaphor in Eph 5 exactly backwards, so it is no surprise that Platt thinks as he does, he is simply explaining things as he misunderstands them.

    Paul tells a husband to serve his wife, this was a radical idea in the 1st century and still is in many places today. There is nothing about leading, that is read into the text by comps, a case of eisegesis, it is about serving. But wait. In that 1st century culture, someone who serves is under the one being served in rank, how can it be the case that a husband is to serve his wife? After all, the culture teaches that a husband ranks above his wife. So Paul points to Jesus as our example for the husband to emulate, but Jesus as a servant, who lays down his life. In other words, do not worry about the ranking of the culture for what you as a husband are being called to do. But notice the mapping goes from a husband serving his wife to Jesus serving his body as an example.

    • Tim says:

      “… do not worry about the ranking of the culture for what you as a husband are being called to do.” Precisely, Don. Life under the New covenant is about serving, not who’s leading whom.

  10. Retha says:

    How did someone like Paul manage to spread the gospel? In Platt’s view he must have been highly ineffective, as he was single. Instead of traveling around preaching and writing half the New Testament, he’d have explained the gospel a lot better by staying at home and providing for a wife.

    Or at least, that would be the conclusion if you believe David Platt.

    • Tim says:

      I suspect he’d say that Paul as a single man falls into the same category as the multitude of women in the Bible who have taught and led God’s people. Paul’s an exception to the comp norm of married male leadership, just as the women are.

  11. I thought the Holy Spirit was the one who made the Gospel clear to the listener. I gather you do not need the Holy Spirit guiding you into all truth when you have pastors who can do a better job because they have the perfect comp. marriage.

    • Tim says:

      I think their take is that the Holy Spirit is best able to use comp marriages to promote the gospel, at least according to their logic. It’s such a limiting doctrine, both on people and on God (if that were possible)

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