Roles – Another Andelin Connection?

Knight may have been the first to use "roles" for both humanity and the Trinity, but I was pretty sure he was not the first to use it regarding men and women.

On first hearing though, the concept of roles may sound reasonable. We readily accept that people have different roles such as those found in the military. But you quickly run into a logical problem. A person may have the rank of private, but he/she may be promoted up the chain of command. Likewise an officer may be disciplined and demoted. Thus role is not inherent to the person. However in the complementarian argument, it is. 

 

In the first chapter of The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity, Kevin Giles traces the origin of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) in evangelicalism.1 He cites The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women by George Knight III as the source of this error. Published in 1977, this book lays out the concept of men and women having inherently different “roles” based on the God-given differences between men and women. In order to support this view, Knight redefined the Trinity as a “chain of command” in which the Son is subordinate to the Father and likewise woman to man. So if the Son is always under the authority of His Father and yet God, then a woman can be always submissive to man and yet be fully human. Thus you have the perfect trump card. If God is like this, what Christian woman would question that and not want to be like Jesus? You may have gotten what you want regarding human relationships but you’ve just denied historical orthodoxy as found in the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. Knight’s teaching eventually found its way into the writings of Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, the chief complementarian proponents of ESS.

On first hearing though, the concept of roles may sound reasonable. We readily accept that people have different roles such as those found in the military. But you quickly run into a logical problem. A person may have the rank of private, but he/she may be promoted up the chain of command. Likewise an officer may be disciplined and demoted. Thus role is not inherent to the person. However in the complementarian argument, it is. As Giles notes in his previous book, The Trinity & Subordinationism:

 A parallel cannot be made with the complementarian-hierarchical view of women. In this case, because a woman is a woman, and for no other reason, she is locked into a permanent subordinate role, no matter what her abilities or training may be. Who she is determines what she can do; her sexual identity determines her role… Once we ask why this is so, we must infer some permanent inability in women. It has to be understood that a woman essentially lacks something given only to men; in some way she herself is a subordinate person. Introducing the sociological term role in this argument for the permanent functional subordination of women does not negate the fact that women because they are women and for no other reason, are subordinated. Against its usual connotations, the word role is recast in essential terms. Cleverly worded phraseology cannot avoid this fact. If a woman’s role is not essential to her nature or being, then it can change. If it cannot change because it is basic to her nature or being as a woman, then it is not just a role she performs… The assertion of equality remains just that – an assertion… Construed in this way there is no way to meaningfully maintain the claim that women are created equal.2

ESS creates a double problem. It messes with the ontology of God and the ontology of Man. The doctrine of the Trinity has been divided into Persons with inherent differences in their essence – the Father having authority and the Son being submissive. But in turn, humanity has also been subdivided as well with authority as an essential attribute of men and submission for women.

Giles writes that “Before Dr. Knight wrote, the modern word “role” had never been used to speak of the essential difference between men and women or of the essential difference between the divine three.”3 Knight may have been the first to use that expression for both humanity and the Trinity,  but I was pretty sure he was not the first regarding men and women. Guess what I found in Fascinating Womanhood ©1963 by Helen Andelin?4:

This is not meant as a criticism of Kevin Giles at all. How-to women’s literature was probably not in the scope of his research since he was focusing on the Trinity. But I doubt this is mere coincidence. If the publisher is to be believed, Andelin sold more than 3 million copies of her book not to mention what was sold via self-publishing. Her influence also spread through the Fascinating Womanhood classes that were taught around the country. Never underestimate the power of the dark side culture and its ability to infiltrate our thinking. I also think there is another aspect of Andelin’s teaching that has wormed its way into Christian teaching on men and women, but that is for another post. Stay tuned.

1. The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity, Kevin Giles, Cascade Books, 2017, pp. 8-14
2. The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate, Kevin Giles, InterVarsity Press, 2002, pg 182.
3. The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity, pg. 9
4. Fascinating Womanhood, Helen Andelin, Bantam Books, 1992 edition, original copyright 1963, pg. 100.

Persis Lorenti is an ordinary Christian. You can find her at Tried With Fire and Out of the OrdinaryThis article appeared on her blog and is used with permission.