Putting The Comp/Egal Debate In Its Place

Aimee Byrd and Laura Martin are two of the most thoughtful writers I read. They tackle hard subjects relating to faith and doctrine, family and relationships, culture and society. They have taught me much through their scholarly and yet extremely readable posts.

So I turned to them to help me with something. I wanted to know how they would express their priorities when it comes to gospel and doctrine? Read along for the question I posed and their excellent answers, and enjoy the type of fellowship we should all strive for in the family of God.


Good morning Aimee and Laura:

I have an idea for a post about loving Jesus and pursuing good doctrinal understanding of God and his word. You each write well on this and cover a number of doctrinal issues with good solid support; it also just so happens that one of you is complementarian and the other egalitarian. You have both taught me so much on developing good doctrine and I’d like to show my readers that the comp/egal discussion is secondary (or tertiary, or quaternary) to coming together in rightly understanding Christ.

I am hoping to use your insights as part of the post, showing that differing on doctrine should not get in the way of pursuing God alongside our brothers and sisters. You would each answer two questions (a take off on John Piper’s statement about Calvinists and Arminians).

Laura: 1) Would you agree or disagree with this statement: “I’d rather enjoy time with a complementarian who loves the gospel than an egalitarian who loves egalitarianism.” 2) Why?

[Laura’s response:]

1. Yes!

2. Our faith is ultimately about Jesus Christ and His work for us – which is the Gospel. Yes there are other important issues, but the Gospel is and should be paramount. Please see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. This is the core of our faith. Note that the verses following are about eyewitness testimony to these core truths, and NOT about the role of women nor a whole slew of other possible issues or concerns.

I’ve encountered those on both sides of the comp/egal divide who have elevated their beliefs about women above Jesus. Likely they would disagree with that assessment, but their actions and behavior tell me otherwise. They give the cold shoulder or even refuse to interact with those who have opposing views on women. Really? How can this be? They have, in essence, added on statements to the 1 Corinthians passage making things the Gospel that are not the Gospel.

If we can’t unite around our love and commitment to Jesus and the Gospel, then we have elevated something above Him.This doesn’t mean we won’t disagree on some issues (the role of women and otherwise) and it doesn’t mean these other things are not important, but lets keep the main thing the main thing. Which means I’d rather enjoy time with a complementarian who loves the gospel than an egalitarian who loves egalitarianism!

Aimee: 1) Would you agree or disagree with this statement: “I’d rather enjoy time with an egalitarian who loves the gospel than a complementarian who loves complementarianism.” 2) Why?

[Aimee’s response:]

1) Agreed!

2) While I value complementarianism and I find it important for worship, it is a secondary issue.

There are certainly profitable times to have sharpening conversations about God’s design for women and men, but I think this quote alludes to the tendency of some to prioritize the egalitarian/complementarian debate over the good news of the gospel. Then we move from being helpful and edifying, to just wanting to be right.

What I’ve seen happen sometimes is that we reduce men and women to what they can and cannot do, and we become very one-dimensional. I want to discuss the gospel message with the same focus as Scripture has: God, not me! And I have had many enriching conversations with egalitarians about how Jesus is Lord in both his person and his work. For that I am very thankful.


Did you notice that they each gave essentially the same answer?

In fact, I think Aimee and Laura are able to write so well about doctrine and faith and the gospel because they don’t bother dwelling on secondary issues. Their example helps me put these secondary issues like the comp/egal debate in their place: a far distant second (or third or fourth) to the good news of the gospel


 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:15-16.)

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29 Responses to Putting The Comp/Egal Debate In Its Place

  1. Adam Shields says:

    I would have been surprised if they would’ve given a different answer. we all know that that’s the theologically correct answer.

    How that works out reality, that’s where comes down

    • Tim says:

      It was kind of a loaded question, wasn’t it? But the purpose was to load it up for discussion, and I think they did a great job explaining why people in various camps are all able to come together in Christ. I remember telling Aimee once about the supposed comp/egal split, “Divide schmivide. We’re all one in Jesus.”

      • Adam Shields says:

        We are all one in Jesus. But I think that plasters over some issues where it is ok to divide. Not to the extent that we reject the Christianity of those that disagree with us, but to the extent that we allow others to express their Christianity in ways we are not comfortable with.

        Your last post I think is an example of this, you did not say, “Divide schmivide Wilson and all the rest of us are one in Jesus Christ.” You called out Wilson’s poor theology, history and showed how it affects his ministry and why those that accept much of the rest of his theology uncritically should rethink that.

        And there are many on both sides that have similar (if not quite as extreme) views around the issue of women in ministry.

        I am all for viewing the body of Christ as a whole. I am all for speaking well of other streams of Christianity, even if you are not completely sure of their theology. But I also think there is a place for saying, ‘I can’t hang out with you right now.’

        I deleted my RSS feed of Challies blog last week. Much of what Challies says I think it right and good and I in no way question his Christianity. But Challies has a blind spot about Catholicism. He listed Pope Francis as one of the great ‘false teachers’ in a series of blog posts. And many of his commenters go even further.

        I know it is partially my issue, but my blood just boils when I see misinformation (and vitriol) being spread. So I have voluntarily said, I will just stop reading Challies. I will miss out on some of the good stuff, but I will also miss out on some of the stuff that makes me nuts.

        Again, I don’t think that Challies is ‘a false teacher’ or not a Christian. I just think he is wrong on this point. But because of my own issues (and the fact that I am not going to change anyone’s mind by commenting on a blog), I see very little reason to interact in a non-corporeal way via the internet.

        I would not make a decision in the same way about a friend that I regularly saw in person. But there are times when I have pulled back from a person because that person’s issues were more than I could handle. I stopped going to a men’s prayer meeting at my church because it was more about conservative politics than prayer for instance.

        • Tim says:

          Adam, you’ve expressed my own thoughts and conclusions on the subject as well. There are some bloggers that I have stopped reading for the same reasons you’ve mentioned: it’s not that they are heretics but that a particular issue that I disagree with keeps coming up and it drives me nuts to have to sift through it all the time.

          So yes, there is a time to take a stand on an issue with a sister or brother and say I cannot agree with you and I can’t stay quiet on it. I was just reading a passage on this last night, as a matter of fact, and if I’d read it sooner I might have been able to work it into this post. It’s where Paul is giving the Thessalonians some advice on dealing with those who aren’t pulling their weight, but I think it applies more broadly than that:

          Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.)

          There is a lot packed in those two sentences: take note of what others are doing (and saying as well, I would think), don’t associate with those who are not obedient to the word of God, do not treat them as an enemy but as a fellow believer to be handled gently for their own benefit.

          I’d like to think that’s how I always handle these differences, but I know I blow it sometimes in dealing with those I disagree with.

  2. Bronwyn Lea says:

    And this is why I read your, Aimee and Laura’s blogs 🙂

  3. Adriana says:

    Tim, This post evoked deep emotion in me. In fact, I stopped reading to wipe a few tears when I got to the part where Laura Martin said , “Yes!” Yes, she’d rather enjoy time with a complementarian who loves the gospel than an egalitarian who loves egalitarianism. I was moved and grateful to read Aimee’s response as well. (I’ve felt judged by women from both camps at times.)

    I love ALL my sisters!

    Laura and Aimee, I admire your gifts and your love for Christ! I’ve been enriched from reading both of your blogs. Thank you for this beautiful post! ♥

    • Tim says:

      Adriana, I have to confess that I was hoping to touch hearts with this post so your tears are frankly what I was aiming for in a way. Aimee and Laura truly are gifted writers for the body of Christ and the world God has placed us in.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Thank you Adriana. What I really like about this is that it doesn’t call for a superficial engagement. I am a complementarian, and I don’t have to pretend that I’m not. But I am thankful to have Christian friendships with egalitarians, and have been helped by some of their arguments on this matter. But I too have been judged by both camps, either for my complementarian stance, or for not being complementarian “enough.” I think it is an issue that can separate us in worship some (just as the original quote regarding Arminians and Calvinists), but not in Christian fellowship.

      • Tim says:

        The idea that I am not ___________ enough (whatever the issue is) to satisfy others makes me wonder sometimes if there’s a checklist I somehow missed seeing. Oh well, Jesus is the one who has taken and passed every test I ever need to worry about!

  4. Jeannie says:

    This is a great idea for a post, Tim — and thanks Laura and Aimee for your replies.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Jeannie.The idea came to me when a commenter recently accused me of pandering to the “effeminate” portion of the church (whatever that means) because I’m egalitarian. I figured the best way to deal with nonsensical statements like that was to talk about the commonalities of the gospel for all believers and not get hung up on secondary matters.

      • Adriana says:

        I’ve thought of this idea several times and I don’t know why I never mentioned it too you, Tim. Maybe this is the post I most needed to read? Regardless of how you came to it, I’m glad you did it!

        Pandering to the “effeminate” portion of the church? Hmm. That’s funny because I doubt anyone would notice if I primarily read and learned from Christian blogs written by men. I wish more men would follow your example — they’re missing out on some amazing and profound insights!

  5. Before I started hanging out on Twitter, I had never heard of the Comp/Egal debate. And I must say that it makes me head ache sometimes.

    Thank you so much for this post, Tim. Because what is most important is living and offering the Good News of Jesus in a becoming manner. I know I’ve blown it too many times. Thank God for His grace, forgiveness, and restoration!

  6. Well done, Tim, Aimee and Laura.
    However,with all due respect… the whole “we should just agree to disagree” thing doesn’t work for me at all. it’s fine when you’re talking theory but when it comes to practical issues, it gets a bit tougher.
    First of all, the term “complementarian” is a euphemism for hierarchical patriarchy–in which a man is more valued than a woman simply by the accident of being born a man–not due to his gifting, experience or calling. Egalitarians don’t teach that there is no difference between men and women, but that together, as two complementary pieces, they reflect the image of God. (see Gen. 1:27)
    Because if you take the hierarchical patriarchy view (which is what complementarianism truly is), this kind of thinking is what you get: Institutions of higher learning (supposedly) prohibiting women from teaching men, even in the classroom: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/may/should-christian-colleges-let-female-faculty-teach-men-bibl.html?paging=off and churches that counsels women to stay in abusive relationships (see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/2013/01/some-humans-are-more-equal-than-others-john-piper-abuse-submission/)
    I love Jesus more than I love being an egalitarian. But a philosophy that says women should endure abuse or won’t let half the church use their gifts is not okay with me–and is not biblical. And I don’t think it is what Jesus (or Paul, for that matter) taught at all. I think if you love Jesus you would first off not misrepresent his views as espousing hierarchy of any kind. (see Gal. 3:28).

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the insightful perspective, Keri. My hope in posting this was to show that there is a lot to learn from people like Laura and Aimee, whether one agrees with their views on the limited issue of the comp/egal debate.

      Both Aimee and Laura write principally on matters that have nothing to do with the narrow line of comp/egal doctrine, which is a major benefit for God’s people yet some would reject either Laura or Aimee out of hand if they knew of their stance on the gender issue.
      So it’s not a matter of agreeing to disagree (that was not at all my intent, anyway), but that Christians should not let strong feelings on gender doctrine keep us from learning much from our sisters and brothers who write on other topics but happen to fall into one camp or the other on the gender issue.

      As I mentioned in reply to a comment above I’ve been the subject of that too often, where someone rejects what I say about everything because they reject my position on gender doctrine. Neither Laura nor Aimee do that with their readers, and theirs is an example I wanted to highlight here and which I hope to emulate.

      • And I certainly don’t reject the writing of either of these two fine women. I respect them both. And I think they both have some great insights (and terrific writing) on any number of topics. I guess I’m trying to point that this issue has implications for a lot of other issues, that impact a lot of our theology. (for example, our view of the trinity, our escatology, our understanding of community and the Body of christ, our understanding of spiritual gifts and calling, etc). it is not a separate issue that we can box off in a corner. That was all I’m trying to say.

        • Tim says:

          I agree completely about not boxing it off. All doctrine is interrelated because, as the Shema says, The Lord is One. Reliance on the Spirit of Christ for discernment is the only way through.

  7. Laura says:

    Hi Tim, I was on an international trip when this posted and I pretty much disconnect from the internet when I travel. Thanks for this article, and your (and others) kind remarks about my writing. I’ve been “accused” of not being egalitarian (which I find amusing) because of taking a diplomatic approach at times. I agree with Keri’s concerns and thoughts. But for me this is not about “agree to disagree” – as the role of women is very important and we can’t ignore it. I agree with Keri’s statement that we can’t box this issue off in a corner. But I’ve just found that a hard-line approach turns people off, but a more mild approach can build bridges. Begin where you agree. Find middle ground. It is there if you look hard enough. This opens the door to dialogue…

    • Tim says:

      Thank you so much for helping make this whole post and discussion possible, Laura. I love your conclusion about beginning where we agree. We might find that if we really explored every common point there would be little time left to debate what we don’t agree on. After all, for those who belong to Jesus our commonality is huge because it is Christ himself that is our common solid ground.

  8. I think most mature Christians are going to answer that they would rather spend time with someone who loves the gospel. But it’s just not that simple in the day to day living it out. If the question was would you rather serve Christ with someone who loves the gospel or someone who loves egal/comp, it becomes a lot more problematic. Spending time with someone carries little to no significance in terms of how people exercise their spiritual gifts. Serving with someone or even worshiping with someone does.

    I suspect people who are heavily comp would struggle to answer my question the most since they are firmly opposed to women exercising many spiritual gifts. They know on one level that the gospel is supposed to be supreme, but they also openly say and write that that gospel itself is threatened by egalitarianism/feminism (which they use interchangeably). How could they serve with someone who they think is serving in violation of the gospel itself?

    I think it also depends on your background. I moved from comp to egalitarian after a lot of study and provoking experiences. I find it almost impossible to think of being in a comp church because it feels like surrendering my freedom in Christ and limiting the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. It has been such a painful journey that the thought of putting myself back in the midst of it is frankly distressing. Most of my close friends are still comp, but we just don’t talk about it.

    Interesting discussion!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Sallie. I think the issues you’ve mentioned are ones, sadly, that people in each camp have experienced.

    • Dawn says:

      Sally, your last paragraph was very well said, and I feel the same way. I am so “at home” in my current church where no gifts or service opportunities are limited by gender. I can’t imagine going back.

  9. Lydia says:

    Sorry Tim, that is a trick question to my mind because Jesus Christ is about relationship. Not just doctrinal thinking. What is your definition of the “Gospel” and how is that definition either pink or blue? The Gospel word is thrown around these days to mean anything: Gospel marriages, Gospel kids, Gospel quit smoking programs.

    “I’ve encountered those on both sides of the comp/egal divide who have elevated their beliefs about women above Jesus.”

    This would not need to happen on either side if women view themselves as full inheritors of not just salvation/justification but in sanctification as Galatians is talking about. Even the slave was a full inheritor. Many pastors/teachers out there deny this fact. They claim it only applies to salvation. What sad people they are.

    People might choose to “focus” on that aspect more because there are some who see women having a sort of earthy mediator in a male so that becomes an issue when it comes to living out salvation in their eyes…… but first and foremost we ALL have the indwelling Christ if we are true believers. He cannot be separated from who we are in Him as full inheritors. I hope men see it this way for themselves, too. We have no mediators between us and Christ. People focus on either comp or egal because it was made an issue for them. There should be no confusion. Part of it is many churches stay stuck at the Cross and refuse to proclaim we CAN live out the kingdom here and now reflecting His love, mercy justice to the world. Being the light. Instead, They are sin sniffing cultures and the rules become part of the “Gospel”. They don’t separate these issues from the Gospel.

    I think a false dichotomy is set up here. Gospel or comp/egal. If someone is an egal it is none of my business. If one is a comp, it is none of my business. It should not be an issue when the Body comes together. It is not the pastors business, either. A woman in Christ is free to choose with whom she worships. If they won’t allow women to read scripture aloud in worship (Piper) she can leave them to that bizarre interpretation what they deem is the fruit of the “Gospel”.

    None of it has to do with our personal relationship to Christ unless we allow it to

    My mom has what I think was the right answer. Go out and serve Him with your gifts, period. Ignore all the silliness. Just do. You might find yourself in some strange places. She was usually in a place where they were so desperate they did not care if you were a pink polka dotted female. She did it all. . But then, her mom did post grad work at Moody back when they allowed such things. The irony is that back when women had fewer cultural rights they were actually freer to operate in the Body in some denominations.

    I have a cousin and her husband who had to come off the SBC mission field in West African after 15 years because they in good conscious could not sign a paper that said women could not teach men. See, her husband was often planting churches in the Bush and she, an M.Div herself, was conducting worship services back at their home church when he was gone and there were some men attending. This was verboten. So to be honest and not sign the paper they had to leave. That is making it a “Gospel” issue. So, you go and use your gifts elsewhere. Period.

    • Susan aka VelvetVoice says:

      Lydia, I think you have it just right! Don’t let it be an issue and it won’t be. The funny thing is, it never bothered me until I started getting close to Christ, then the organized church objected.

  10. Laura says:

    Tim, I just saw this by Rachel Held Evans, and it reminded me of your post: “You’re not ‘contending for the gospel’ when you disagree with someone on gender roles. You’re just disagreeing with someone on gender roles.”

  11. Reblogged this on Hannah's blog- Narnia in real life and commented:
    The gospel is what matters…
    And it’s a good possibility that both are “right” and we have different personalities and experiences that make us prefer one or the other. I will say this no one should tell you you must take their stance, that’s problematic. I didn’t even know what these terms were until March of last year, although I knew their practical definitions and the various degrees of the complementarian view. 😄 If I thought I had to be complementarian even of the lightest sort it would make me feel unable to breath, but someone else it may make them feel secure. I certainly think people should not treat their view as the only biblical one. I think there is more protection against abusers with the egalitarian view, at least for me, he would never want a partnership or to come alongside or any of that.

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