The Grand Design: A Review

It’s time to pay attention to what’s being taught in the name of complementarianism.

I believe that the view of complementarianism taught by Strachan and Peacock in The Grand Design is a dangerous distortion of Biblical truth. They start with a faulty and unorthodox understanding of the Trinity. They build on that foundation a narrow and unhelpfully limited view of the nature of men and women. They elevate their understanding of gender roles to the level of a first order doctrine. They distort the gospel.

 

Continuing some research I’ve been doing, I recently read a new book, The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them, by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock. I didn’t read the book intending to review it. However, given the recent debate over the Trinity, I decided it was a good example of why this debate is so important. All of our beliefs and doctrines are interconnected, and necessarily so. What we believe about the Trinity will influence other aspects of our theology, and that is clearly illustrated in this book.

The book blurb on Amazon describes The Grand Design:

The world has gone gray-fuzzy, blurry, gender-neutral gray. In a secularist culture, many people today are confused about what it means to be a man or a woman. Even the church struggles to understand the meaning of manhood and womanhood. In The Grand Design, Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock clear away the confusion and open up the Scriptures. They show that the gospel frees us to behold the unity and distinctiveness of the sexes. In Christ, we have a script for our lives. Doxology, we discover, is in the details.

The authors are Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock. Owen Strachan is Associate Professor of Christian Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, President of the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), and son-in-law to Bruce Ware. Gavin Peacock is a former professional soccer player, Pastor of Calgary Grace Church and Director of International Outreach for CBMW.

This last month there has been an important debate going on over the Trinity and specifically over the nature and roles of the persons of the Trinity. On one side of the debate there are those who hold to the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), also called Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) or Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission (ERAS). These would include Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Owen Strachan, Gavin Peacock, and others.

On the other side of the debate are those who hold to the formulations found in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. These would include Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd, Todd Pruitt, Liam Goligher, and many others. There have been many articles written the last two weeks. There is a helpful list at Bring the Books if you would like to read up on the topic.  I’ve written before about ESS and why I think it’s wrong: here and here.

At the heart of the debate is whether it’s correct and appropriate to speak of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son as one of eternal authority and submission. While orthodox theologians have traditionally taught that there is equality in the nature of the persons of the Godhead, they have also taught that there is a voluntary submission of the Son to the Father in the Son’s role as Mediator. This is the distinction between the ontological (the nature of who God is) and the economic (the roles each person plays in the work of creation, salvation, etc.).

Those who teach ESS/EFS/ERAS believe that authority/submission is an eternal aspect of the very nature of God. This is a departure from the historical, orthodox formulations of the Trinity as explained in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and Westminster Confession of Faith.

This is important because what we believe and teach about the Trinity is foundational to our faith and understanding of the gospel. But it is also important because of the applications being made from this foundation. Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup explain in their article, “The Eternal Subordination of the Son (and Women),” that authority/submission in the Trinity is being used to ground authority/submission of men and women.

This is where The Grand Design comes in. In The Grand Design, Strachan and Peacock ground their understanding of the complementarity of men and women on a relationship of authority and submission in the nature of the Trinity. The result does damage to the doctrine of the Trinity, distorts the gospel, and damages the understanding of men and women and how they should interact.

In The Grand Design, Strachan and Peacock teach that God the Son is by nature subordinate to God the Father:

The Son does the Father’s will: “I do exactly as the Father commanded Me,” Christ said in John 14:31. He submitted himself to the Father’s will (John 6:38). This posture of submission to fatherly authority did not begin the day Jesus came to earth. The Father is the authority of Christ, and always has been. The Son joyfully carries out the plan of his Father. The persons of the Godhead are not impersonal, with only titles to differentiate them. They are living persons, and their own love has structure and form. The Father as Father has authority; the Son as Son obeys his Father. (71, emphasis mine)

And

The Father is the Father because he sends the Son. The Son is the Son because he submits to the Father’s will. The Spirit is the Spirit because the Father and the Son send him. There is no Holy Trinity without the order of authority and submission. (89, emphasis mine)

This is dangerous because if the Son is by nature subordinate to the Father then He is not equal to Him, and if the Son is not fully divine, we’re all lost.

Having explained the authority/submission structure that they believe is inherent in the Godhead, Strachan and Peacock move on to apply this structure to men and women. The purpose is to be able to say that women are equal in value to men but also subordinate to them.

Just as there is equality of value but difference in authority and role in the Trinity, so it is with husband and wife. (71)

And,

Husbands are called to exercise leadership over their wives patterned after Trinitarian order (God the Father’s authority over the Son): God –> Christ –> Husband –> Wife (1 Cor. 11:3). A husband also exercises this headship due to creation order: the woman was made from the man (1 Cor. 11:8-9), thus giving the man primacy of leadership in the Garden as he names her “woman” and “Eve” (Gen. 2:23; 3:30).( 91)

In both of these quotes, the book mentions husbands/wives, not men/women, but as I’ll demonstrate later, Strachan and Peacock expand these ideas to encompass all men and women. Now to be clear, I believe that husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives and that wives are called to submit to their husbands. I also believe that ordained leadership of churches should be male.

The difference between what I believe and what this book teaches is one of essence versus relationship. It’s one thing to teach that a wife should submit to her husband. It’s another thing to teach that men are by nature leaders, and women are by nature submissive to male leadership. When you teach that women are by nature submissive to men, it has a profound effect on how you view men and women and how you expect men and women to behave.

According to The Grand Design, men were created to be:

Leaders

Men are called to be leaders by very virtue of the fact that they are created male. This is not a competency issue. It is an issue of God’s design. (46)

Providers

Men were made to work and physically provide. A lazy man who is not alert does not deserve to eat (2 Thess. 3:10), and those in his care will suffer. And he who stays home and watches the children while his wife goes out to work is not fulfilling his manly mandate. It doesn’t matter if she has more earning power; it’s about God’s design for manhood. There may be a season where a wife must step in to help, or a man may have disabilities that preclude him from certain labour. For men in general, however, the inclination to provide should be there. The biblical man’s job is physical provision. (50)

Protectors

Biblical manhood protects women, loving them through gracious leadership. Instead of taking from women as unsaved men do, godly men provide for women in appropriate ways, with the apex of this duty coming in marital provision (1 Tim. 5:8). (45)

Women were created to be:

Submissive

As we have seen, however, biblical submission is beautiful. It is a central feature of biblical womanhood. It is vital to understand that a woman’s role as a helper, her reverent attitude and her submissive response are tied together in God’s sovereign purposes from creation (as we’ve seen) but also in redemption. (82)

Respectful

Women are called to a posture of deep respect. (79)

Quiet and Gentle

Wives, for example, know that they are uniquely called to have a “gentle and quiet spirit,” a spirit that takes special expression in a marriage (1 Pet. 3:4). This teaching certainly applies most directly to married women, but we cannot miss the fact that any woman training her daughter in a godly way—knowing that marriage could be in her future—would teach her to develop by the Spirit’s power such a posture. We cannot think that it is only when a woman gets married that she seeks to exhibit such godliness. (146)

Helpers

What specifically was the woman created for? She was a “helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18, 20). This was the unique role given by God to Eve. Adam was not created as a helper for Eve (Gen. 2:18-22 cf. 1 Cor.11:9-11). As noted in Chapter One, God created male and female equally in his image. He made Adam first but it was not good for him to be alone (Gen. 2:18). He needed someone to help him to complete the commission to be fruitful and multiply and rule over creation (Gen.1: 28). The woman was to help him do this by producing children with him and filling the earth with the presence of God’s image bearers. She was the man’s second in command. So Eve functions as Adam’s helper by virtue of creation. (65)

Life-givers

For their part, women are life-givers. Women give physical life to humanity, a task so great and so significant it cannot be quantified. God has highly esteemed women by making the survival of the human race hang on their care and nurture. There is immense fulfillment and meaning for women in this truth.( 69)

Again, I do not disagree that in the economy of marriage husbands are called to lead, provide, and protect. I also agree that in the economy of marriage wives are called to submit to their husbands’ leadership, to be helpers for their husbands, and to be life-givers, if the Lord sends children. However, I do not believe that it is Biblical to use these marriage roles to define the nature of men and women. If you doubt that this is what Strachan and Peacock are doing, please consider these quotes.

Whether a man is single or married, this biblical vision for manhood stands. (44)

And,

Manhood and womanhood are not limited to the home and church because they are not states you can switch off when you step into in a secular world. (113)

And,

Christian women have a far higher goal than that which our world sets for them: to glorify God as a woman. This involves being a helper—first in the context of marriage, and then as a principle to apply in her broader life. (76)

And,

In the bigger and everlasting family (household) of the church we all relate to each other as brothers and sisters meaning that gender-specific behavior is relevant. When we train men and women in same-sex settings, we help them understand better the very nature of manhood and womanhood. We call men to lead like Christ and we call women to respect and trust like the purified church (Eph. 5:22-33). (111)

The problem with teaching that the roles of husband and wife are actually the nature of men and women is that it stereotypes men and women, and it is contrary to Biblical examples of what men and women should be. The Biblical picture of men and women is much fuller and much harder to reduce to bullet points.

Deborah was a leader. Lois and Eunice lead Timothy to the faith. Ruth provided for Naomi. Believing women are told to provide for the widows in their families (1 Timothy 5). The Hebrew midwives, Jochebed, Miriam, Pharoah’s daughter, and Zipporah all protected Moses.

All believers all called to submit to God, to our church leaders, to civil authority, and to each other. Believers are also called to respect their church leaders and all those to whom respect is owed (1 Thess. 5:12, Romans 13:7). Psalm 131:2 encourages us all to have a calm and quiet soul. The Lord describes himself as “gentle” using the same word as the 1 Peter 3 passage (Matt. 11:29), and gentleness (same root word) is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). God describes Himself as our helper in many places. Appropriately fathers are also considered life-givers (Prov. 23:22). It does take two to bring life into this world.

Because Strachan and Peacock believe that the authority/submission structure is inherent in the Trinity and in men and women, authority and submission become the lens through which they understand Scripture. This shows up in their understanding of the Fall:

Adam should have protected his wife, rebuked the serpent, and exercised his God-given dominion over a beast that creeps on the ground. He was given this powerful role in Genesis 1. But he does no such thing. He hides instead of leading and protecting his wife. As a result, the beast takes dominion of mankind, and then Eve leads Adam. The order of creation instituted by God is reversed, and the man and woman sin against the Lord, and death enters the world.( 34-35)

And,

He abdicated his responsibility to lead his wife when the serpent usurped the created order by approaching her first and not Adam. The roles reversed. She bit, he was passive, they both fell, creation was fractured, and relational crisis ensued. (43)

It also distorts the application of the Bible to believers. Verses that are clearly for all believers are applied to either men or women depending on how it fits their paradigm. It’s the Procrustean bed of theology: what doesn’t fit, gets chopped.

His words in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 apply to all believers, to be sure, but they have special significance for men, who are called to lead God’s people, and thus are called to lead in exhibiting the five traits we explore below. (47-48)

And,

Even as he calls all believers to maturity, Paul recognises that there is a specific way that a man should act, with manly bravery. (54)

And,

A reverent woman is not assertive, loud and obnoxious. She is appropriate, meek, modest, and self controlled, bringing honor to God, not attention to herself. (77)

Because they believe the characteristics of authority and submission are part of the very nature of men and women, Strachan and Peacock don’t restrict their understanding of the complementarity of men and women to the church and the home. They believe that there are certain jobs in the workforce that a woman shouldn’t do because she’s a woman.

Christian womanhood should have meaning in the workplace as well as the home and church. This means you express your femininity in all of life in all relationships. So young women should think carefully about what kind of job they might be working towards. Will it demand a masculine, directive aggression that goes against the grain of femininity? A woman’s challenge is to avoid a thin, quasi-womanhood, which doesn’t embrace the fullness of her feminine vocation and presents what Elisabeth Elliot calls a “pseudo-personhood.” … Surely, there are ambiguities on the matter of women in the workplace. I would suggest, though, that there are certain jobs which would at some point stretch biblical femininity to such an extent that they would be untenable for her (or reversely a man). An army sergeant for instance—barking orders and directing men or a female referee in a football match. (74)

They also believe the length of our hair is important:

Women and men should grow their hair different lengths, according to the Apostle Paul. “Long hair,” he teaches, “is a disgrace” for men but the “glory” of a woman (1 Cor. 11:14-15). The man and woman united in marriage must not look the same or blur their roles in marriage. The man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man (1 Cor. 11:9). (123)

And they give descriptions of what it means to them to be masculine and feminine that have more to do with Western, middle-class cultural constructs than Biblical teaching.

We want our boys to pursue strength, to look adults in the eye when they talk, to shake hands with a firm grip, to welcome physical challenges, to take responsibility in the home, to wear clothes that are not feminine, to play games that are masculine, to jump to their feet when a woman needs assistance and offer it discreetly and courageously, and to appropriately and within reason pursue personal appearance and behavior that is not feminine. We do not want boys to talk to girls like they are are “bros,” to embrace other boys as if they are their wives, to be snarky and passive aggressive in their humor, and to shirk from responsibility and leadership. (138)

And,

We want our girls to pursue femininity, to develop a sense of social grace and decorum, to avoid being catty or enticing in their demeanor, to welcome opportunities to develop domes tic skills, to wear clothes that are not masculine but are modestly feminine, to welcome physical exertion but avoid manly com petition, and to appropriately and within reason pursue personal appearance and behavior that is not masculine. We do not want girls to treat boys like they are “girlfriends,” to look to boys for meaning and self-worth, to be aggressive in their approach, and to shirk from a uniquely feminine manner. (138-139)

Lastly, the view of complementarity taught in The Grand Design distorts the gospel. Strachan and Peacock teach that complementarity, as they define it, is an essential doctrine. “[C]omplementarity cannot be ‘take it or leave it’” (142). They teach that if you understand the gospel, you will agree with them on their version of complementarity. They teach that their understanding of complementarity IS the gospel.

The gospel creates a passion for and understanding of complementarity. You cannot divorce the two; you cannot separate one from the other. If you are to love the gospel, you cannot help but love the Christ-shaped vision of manhood and womanhood that the gospel creates. The two are one. (166)

This is extremely dangerous. While I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ in His role as Mediator voluntarily submitted to the Father, that husbands are to be Spiritual leaders in the home, that wives are to submit to the leadership of their husbands, and that ordained leadership in the Church should be male, I do not believe that complementarity is equal to the gospel.

I believe that the view of complementarianism taught by Strachan and Peacock in The Grand Design is a dangerous distortion of Biblical truth. They start with a faulty and unorthodox understanding of the Trinity. They build on that foundation a narrow and unhelpfully limited view of the nature of men and women. They elevate their understanding of gender roles to the level of a first order doctrine. They distort the gospel.

I’m so very thankful for the light that has been shed on the bad doctrine being taught regarding the Trinity. It is imperative that our teaching on the Trinity be orthodox. I hope that there will be continued scrutiny of how ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching has trickled down through the complementarian movement. Men and women are hurting. Families are hurting. Churches are hurting. It’s time to pay attention to what’s being taught in the name of complementarianism.

Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She is also a homeschooling mother of 3 boys and member of a PCA church. This article first appeared on her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation, and is used with permission.