Subordinationism at Willow Creek

This article addresses the connection between the heresy of Subordinationism and Willow Creek Community Church.

What is Subordinationism?

Subordinationism is a contemporary heresy against the Christian theology of the Trinity. It is similar to the fourth century heresy of Arianism.

Arianism denies that Jesus Christ is God, either that he is not deity at all but a created being or that he is a lesser god. In both, Jesus Christ’s lower status is based on his subordination to God, or Father.

Subordinationism recognizes the equal deity status of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in essence or being but allocates subordination in function or role. The deceptive and ambiguous aspect of such differentiation is that essence and function are directly related. That is, if a person is subordinate in being then that person is also subordinate in role.

Early Christians rejected any form of subordination within the Trinity and recorded their assertion in the Athanasian Creed.

Most of us in the USA are familiar with the Segregationists’ motto, “separate but equal” that was used to justify segregation of colored people from whites in the South. In fact, most of us are aware of the deception of that motto:

separate but equal Elliot Erwitt North Carolina 1950Photo by Elliot Erwitt, North Carolina, 1950

The motto from the Subordinationists is similar and just as deceptive and ambiguous as the motto from the Segregationists, which is, “equal but different”. Wayne Grudem calls it, “ontological equality but economic subordination,” or equal in being but subordinate in role” (Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 251).

The origin of the heresy of Subordinationism is traced to George W. Knight, III, “This chain of subordination [between Father and Son in the Trinity] with its implications is apparently given to help with the objection which some would bring to the headship of man in reference to woman.” (see page 6/86, second paragraph of the article from his book, New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Male and Female with Special Reference to the Teaching/Ruling Functions in the Church.)

This statement from Knight also gives clarity as to the reason why the heresy was created, which was to give biblical support for the subordination of woman to man and husband. In order for Patriarchalists to strengthen their position to make women subordinate to men they infused subordination into the Godhead and unintentionally created a heresy. Subordinationists deny that they created a heresy. Egalitarians have been calling out the heresy and even some Patriarchalists oppose it as well. Not all Patriarchalists are Subordinationists, but all Subordinationists are Patriarchalists.

Scripture contains references of Jesus Christ’s equality with God and also references of his human humiliation and submission. His humiliation and submission is viewed as voluntary and temporal, meaning only while he was on earth. However, Subordinationists extrapolate Jesus Christ’s voluntary and temporal submission into the realm of eternity and simultaneously change the relationship into a relationship between Father, the ruler, master and decision-maker, and Jesus Christ, the obedient and sometimes ignorant subordinate—all within the realm of eternity. And here is where the heresy lies: subordination of Jesus Christ in eternity. A term Subordinationists use to describe their position is, “Eternal Son”. Meaning, Jesus Christ has always been subordinate as the Son, not just temporally but also eternally.

The term “eternal Son” is meant to reflects the deity, unity, and equality of the Son to the Father, consistent with the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. Under this connotation, the Son is viewed as an equal extension, or begotten, of the Father, unlike and in contrast to a slave or hired help. However, Subordinationists take the implied secondary and subordinate connotation of sonship and apply it to the Son and carry that subordination into eternity. Simply put, the term “eternal Son” has been sabotaged by the Subordinationists. A term meant to reflect the deity, unity, and equality of Son to Father is being used by Subordinationists to make Son subordinate to Father in eternity. When Subordinationists infuse subordination into the term that acknowledges and provides understanding of the Son’s deity status then they are unknowingly undoing and attacking the deity status of the Son.

Proponents of Eternal Son in Eternal Subordination

Proponents of Subordinationism are distinguished by three common traits. One or more of these traits are usually found in their churches’ or organizations’ statements of faith. Sometimes Subordinationism is even found in their sermons, see example of Andy Stanley below. The combination of the three traits gives a clearer picture of Subordinationism. The three traits are not always found together, but the Subordinationists listed below are linked to all, or most, of the three traits.

The three traits of Subordinationism are:

Trait 1: Father is uniquely described with commandeering words such as “orders“, “disposes“, and/or “Ruler“, and his fatherhood is included within the Trinity, meaning he “Ruler“s and commands the other two persons of the Trinity. Correspondingly, Son’s obedience is described in eternity, not [just] temporally from eternity. Again, this term has been sabotaged by Subordinationists, a term meant to reflect the deity, unity, and equality of Son to Father is used by Subordinationists to apply subordination to Son in eternity. The term with the infused connotation of subordination becomes the venue thru which subordinationist traits 1 and 3 are applied to the Son in eternity. (John MacArthur, James MacDonald, The Gospel Coalition, Andy Stanley, Bryan Lorrits, Albert Tate)

Trait 2: Son is described as having been Son eternally, not [just] temporally. Subordinationists use the term “eternal Son” to reflect this claim. Subordinationists describe that Son was “begotten” within eternity. Again, this term has been sabotaged by Subordinationists, a term meant to reflect the deity, unity, and equality of Son to Father is used by Subordinationists to apply subordination to Son in eternity. The term with the infused connotation of subordination becomes the venue thru which subordinationist traits 1 and 3 are applied to the Son in eternity. (John Piper, John MacArthur, James MacDonald, The Gospel Coalition, Crawford Lorrits, Andy Stanley, Bryan Lorrits, Albert Tate)

Trait 3: Distinct” “office” or “function” is mentioned within the Trinity. This mention is in reference to the economic or functional difference or subordination in Grudem’s definition “ontological equality but economic subordination,” in other words, “equal in being but subordinate in role.” Note: Egalitarians subscribe to the distinction of the three “persons” of the Trinity consistent with traditional and orthodox Trinitarian theology. However, Subordinationists apply distinction to the “office” or “function” of the three persons of the Trinity for the purpose of ascribing subordination between the members of the Trinity. (John Piper’s former church Bethlehem Baptist Church, John MacArthur, James MacDonald, Crawford Lorrits, Andy Stanley, Bryan Lorrits, Albert Tate)

Trait 2, “eternal Son”, and trait 3, “distinct”, by themselves are not necessarily reflective of Subordinationism. However, the combination of all three traits are used to undergird Subordinationism. Combining all three traits among the members of the Trinity leads to the understanding that Father and Son are equal in being but different in function—specifically, that the Son is subordinate. That is, Father functions as ruler so he commands and directs the Son and the Son functions as the subordinate or helper and obeys and assists the Father in all eternity, not just in the temporal. The parallel between husband and wife, or man and woman, is that husband and wife are equal in being but different in function—specifically, that the wife is subordinate. That is, the husband functions as ruler so he commands and directs the wife and household and has ultimate decision-making authority and the wife functions as the subordinate or helper and obeys and assists the husband, perpetually. A similar relationship is applied to men and women in community.

The leading proponents of Subordinationism are listed below with links to references noting the subordinationist traits or defending or promoting their position of Subordinationism, Wayne Grudem and George W. Knight, III have already been mentioned above. Note that all, if not most, of these Subordinationists are linked to all three traits and the combination of the three traits gives the clearest picture of Subordinationism:

Wayne Grudem, Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

George W. Knight, Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “The Subordination of Christ and the Subordination of Women” (founders and council members include: Wayne Grudem, John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, George W. Knight, III, Mary Kassian, Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, among others)

Southern Baptists, Albert Mohler, Mary Kassian: “gender equality with male headship”; SBC Voices: “The Eternal Subordination of the Son Is the Historic Doctrine of the Church.”

John MacArthur, Reexamining the Eternal Sonship of Christ (Trait 2, Trait 3)

John MacArthur’s church: Grace Church, What We Teach, (Trait 1)

John MacArthur’s college: The Master’s College, Doctrinal Statement, (Trait 1)

John Piper’s former church, Bethlehem Baptist Church: Congregational Affirmation of Faith (Trait 3)

John Piper’s ministry: Desiring God, Affirmation of Faith, (Trait 2)

John Piper’s college: Bethlehem College and Seminary, Affirmation of Faith, (Trait 2)

The Gospel Coalition: Confessional Statement, (Trait 1, Trait 2) (founders and council members include: John Piper, Timothy Keller, Don Carson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, Crawford Lorrits, Albert Mohler, among others)

Crawford Lorrits, Speaker at The Gospel Coalition and father of Bryan Lorrits, Fellowship Bible Church, Doctrinal Statement, (Trait 2, Trait 3)

James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, Illinois, Doctrinal Statement (Trait 1, Trait 2, Trait 3)

James MacDonald, Walk in the Word, Doctrinal Statement (Trait 1, Trait 2, Trait 3)

Many other Christian groups and denominations are adopting the eternal subordination of the Son, in the comment box below this article feel free to comment on groups you know who hold to Subordinationism. I look forward to your comments to find out who also is a proponent of the eternal subordination of the son.

Subordinationist Guest Speakers at Willow Creek

The following Subordinationists have spoken at Willow Creek Community church and/or Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit (GLS) in the last two years. The traits of Subordinationism are reflected in either their churches’ statements of faith or sermons.

Andy Stanley, North Point Church, What We Believe, (Trait 1, Trait 2)

Andy Stanley, 2013 GLS message, (Trait 1, Trait 2, Trait 3, from time 18:45 to 23:05)

Bryan Lorrits, Fellowship Memphis, What We Believe, (Trait 1, Trait 2, Trait 3, Bryan is son of Crawford Lorrits who is council member of The Gospel Coalition)

Albert Tate, Fellowship Monrovia, What We Believe, (Trait 1, Trait 2, Trait 3, statement of faith is identical to statement of faith of Bryan Lorrits’ church)

First Connection: Calling out Subordinationism

The first connection between Subordinationism and Willow Creek is Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, Willow’s founding elder and an Egalitarian, who was the first person to recognize and oppose the heresy by writing against it. Bilezikian includes in his book, Beyond Sex Roles, the essay, “Hermeneutical Bungee-Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead.”

Bilezikian compares Subordinationism to the Arian Controversy, “an ontologically stratified, split-level Trinity leads him [Letham] straight into the trap of Arianism. In a vain attempt to rescue himself from this danger he gives lip service to the coequality of the members of the Trinity while, astoundingly, denying this equality in the same breath….The confusion is flagrant: “coequality” in the form of an “order of subsistence”—which means an ontologically structured hierarchy. It should be either equality and no hierarchy, or hierarchy and no equality.” (pg 8/64).

Additionally, Bilezikian states, “The Scriptures qualify his subjection in the following manner.

“Christ did not take upon himself the task of world redemption because he was number two in the Trinity and his boss told him to do so or because he was demoted to a subordinate rank so that he could accomplish a job that no one else wanted to touch. He volunteered his life out of sacrificial love. Being born in the likeness of man, he also took the form of a servant and as such became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Scripture describes this process in these words: “He humbled himself ” (Phil 2:8). He was not forced to become a servant; he was not compelled to be obedient; he was not dragged to his death against his will. The Bible puts it tersely: “He humbled himself.” Therefore it is much more appropriate, and theologically accurate, to speak of Christ’s self-humiliation rather than of his subordination. Nobody subordinated him, and he was originally subordinated to no one. He humbled himself

“A second qualification pertains to Christ’s humiliation. The Bible also teaches that the humiliation of the Son was an interim or temporary state. It was not, nor shall it be, an eternal condition. Christ’s humiliation was essentially a phase of ministry coincidental with the need of his creatures. From all eternity, and in the beginning, Christ was with God, and Christ was God, and he was in the form of God. He was equal with God, but the time came when he did not consider his equality with God a privilege to clutch as his own. Rather, he let go of it and took the form of a servant. It was something new for him. Being in the form of a servant was not an eternal condition. He took it up. He became obedient unto death. Prior to the incarnation there had been no need for him to be obedient since he was equal with God. But despite the fact that he had the dignity of sonship he learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:8). Obedience was a new experience for him, something he had to learn. It was not an eternal state. When Christ came into the world he said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (10:5, 7).

“The frame of reference for every term that is found in Scripture to describe Christ’s humiliation pertains to his ministry and not to his eternal state.” (pages 3-4/59-60)

Subordinationism was birthed and is propagated among Patriarchalists and Egalitarians have been the leading opponents in order to preserve historical Trinitarian theology within evangelicalism. Kevin Giles is also an Egalitarian and currently the leading scholar debating and correcting Subordinationists’ claims. Even thought Subordinationists, such as Grudem, claim equality in essence in the Godhead, Giles points out in “The Eternal Subordination of the Son of God and the Permanent Subordination of Women” that, “The problem arises with the word “eternal.” If the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father, and cannot be otherwise, then he does not just function subordinately, he is the subordinated Son. His subordination defines his person or being. Eternal functional subordination implies by necessity ontological subordination. Blustering denials cannot avoid this fact.”

The eternal subordination of the Son is considered heretical in that it changes Christian understating of the Trinity and dismantles the Christian understanding of the process of reconciliation and redemption. In other words, the understanding and process of salvation thru the saving work of Christ is altered and dismantled by Subordinationists.

Grudem’s and Subordinationists’ claim of the eternal subordination of the Son is widely popular in the US and other parts of the world and has “taken over the more conservative side of evangelicalism” (Giles). However, many Christians around the world are baffled as to why a group of evangelicals in the USA are tampering with the Trinity.

According to Giles, “The issue is not really the Trinity at all. What has generated this novel and dangerous doctrine of the Trinity is “a great cause,” the permanent subordination of women. For some evangelicals “the woman question” is the apocalyptic battle of our age. They are convinced that the Bible gives “headship” (“leadership,” in plain speak) to men. If this principle were abandoned because of cultural change the authority of the Bible would be overthrown and the door would be opened to homosexual marriages, the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and believe it or not, the obliteration of sexual differentiation. To bolster support for this “great cause” the doctrine of the Trinity has been redefined and reworded to give the weightiest theological support possible to the permanent subordination of women. Every evangelical who has written in support of the eternal subordination of the Son is committed to the permanent subordination of women in the church and the home. This agenda is what drives them to advocate the eternal subordination of the Son.”

Second Connection: Subordinationists Speaking at Willow Creek

In the last few years several Subordinationists have spoken at Willow Creek Association’s (WCA) Global Leadership Summit (GLS) such as Andy Stanley, Bryan Lorrits, and Albert Tate who is scheduled to speak at the 2015 GLS. A Modalist spoke at the 2010 GLS, T. D. Jakes, The Potter’s House, Belief Statement. Modalism is also a heresy that denies the traditional and orthodox theology of the Trinity.

Technically, WCA is not a church but it is associated with Willow Creek Community Church and serves primarily Christian churches around the world. So its non-church status is not an acceptable explanation for its frequent invitation of heretical Christian preachers. Andy Stanley, at the 2013 GLS, gave a horrific portrayal of Subordinationism. In short, he portrayed Jesus Christ, in the realm of eternity after his Ascension, as an ignorant son who needed Father to correct his mistakes and shortfalls when selecting the “guys,” that is men, not women, to establish the church. (from time 18:45 to 23:05). Stanley’s subordinationist portrayal has been one of the most demeaning and degrading and heretical portrayals of Jesus Christ known in evangelicalism. And this heretical portrayal of Jesus Christ took place on the stage of Willow Creek Community Church where the GLS takes place.

Subordinationist guest preachers are moving from the GLS into Willow Creek Community Church. Albert Tate is scheduled to speak at the 2015 GLS and he recently spoke at the church, Willow Creek Midweek message, March 25, 2015. Tate gave a horrific portrayal of the Samaritan woman, describing and mocking her as a woman who had a “ministry for men” and as a “lady of the night.” Equally disturbing, the audience of Willow Creek Community Church laughed at his degrading jokes. Tate on a few occasions mentioned the importance of cultural context for understanding the passage, specifically regarding the relationship between Jews and Samaritans. Yet, he reflected ignorance on the cultural context of women in patriarchal communities and the effects of patriarchy on women and their livelihood. Tate portrayed the Samaritan woman from the typical patriarchal perspective as a “prostitute,” and completely ignored the cultural context that made her a subordinate and sexual subject in a patriarchal community. The Samaritan woman had one of the longest theological conversations with Jesus recorded in Scripture. She reflected theological knowledge and she was a witness and preacher of the gospel—which is the highest calling given to believers. But to Tate, she was just a prostitute to mock.

The Willow Creek audience showed lack of understating for the severity of Tate’s message and portrayal of the Samaritan woman. This observation points to the need for Willow’s leaders to take on the responsibility of discernment and prudence in whom they invite as guest speakers.

Steve Carter, Teaching Pastor, is the overseer of the Midweek bible study at Willow Creek South Barrington campus. Due to the recent history of Patriarchal and Subordinationist (heretical) guest speakers at Midweek, Steve is not aware of the problem of Subordinationism and its implications, doesn’t view Subordinationists as threats to sound doctrine and biblical community, and/or he agrees with Patriarchalists and Subordinationists (heretics). In the past I have written articles in this blog detailing Steve’s patriarchal tendencies, see “Steve Carter and Patriarchal Gender Essentialism at Willow Creek“, and also “The Great Compromise – Is Willow Creek Community Church Still Egalitarian?” Steve, in the recent past, has made degrading statements about women in the form of patronization. In the three years that he has been overseer of Midweek he has not invited any female preachers or teachers, neither female outside guests or female leaders and church members from within Willow Creek. If Willow Creek’s Teaching Pastor, Steve Carter, who is second only to Bill Hybels in theological oversight and the one who most likely will take on the senior pastorate when Bill retires, is a Patriarchalist and sympathetic to Subordinationists, then Willow Creek is not only compromising with Patriarchalists but is also compromising with Subordinationists.

Third Connection: Willow’s Statement of Faith

The third connection to consider between Subordinationism and Willow Creek is the church’s statement of faith, Willow Creek Community Church: What Willow Believes: Our Core Beliefs. The statement of faith contains one sentence that is similar to one of the traits of Subordinationism, which is the use of the term “eternal Son” (Trait 2). This is what Willow’s statement of faith contains:

God: “We believe there is one true, holy God, eternally existing in three equal persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit….”

Jesus Christ: “Jesus Christ, the eternal second person of the Trinity, was fully united with a human nature by a miraculous conception and virgin birth. He lived in perfect obedience to the Father, voluntarily paid the price for the sins of all people by dying on the cross as their substitute….”

The Christian Life (The Holy Spirit): “People in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ are to live in holiness and obedience as they submit to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity….”

Instead of stating “eternal Son”, the term has been changed to “eternal second person.” An important distinction, maybe, but an unnecessary and redundant mention since the eternity of the three persons is already mentioned in an earlier paragraph. Why the redundancy? Under the paragraph of the Holy Spirit there is no redundancy of the Spirit’s eternal nature. So why the redundancy and similarity to the term “eternal Son” under the section of “Jesus Christ” which is a trait of Subordinationists? Again, the term has been sabotaged by Subordinationists, “eternal Son” is meant to reflect Son’s deity, unity, and equality with Father, but to Subordinationists this term contains the connotation of subordination of Son in eternity.

References to Father, Son and Holy Spirit as first, second, and third person have traditionally not contained a hierarchical connotation. In light of the redundancy of the term “eternal” applied to the “second person” in Willow’s statement of faith, does Willow Creek ascribe a hierarchy or secondary connotation or role, specifically in eternity, to Jesus Christ?

Is Willow Creek trying to appeal to and compromise with Subordinationists without completely giving in to the term and theology of “eternal Son”? Has Willow Creek given into Subordinationism and is including its own subordinationist language into their statement of faith with the term “eternal second person”?

Now What?

Willow has already made known to be willing to compromise with Patriarchalists by having a male-only core leadership to have doctrinal and theological oversight of the church, see my article, “The Great Compromise.” As mentioned above, Willow Creek is inviting Subordinationists to speak at both GLS and the church and seems to be willing to be open to Subordinationism with the redundant and unnecessary [and possibly hierarchical] term “eternal second person”. Maybe, Willow Creek has already given into Subordinationism?

Willow Creek has Patriarchalists among our church members, staff, and senior leadership. From those Patriarchalists, we have church members who clearly articulate Subordinationism by quoting Grudem’s “ontological equality but economic subordination” as part of their Trinitarian theology. Our senior leadership is sympathetic to Subordinationists as reflected by the consistent invitation of Subordinationists to the GLS and now also to the church. Who among the Patriarchalists at Willow who are in senior leadership are also Subordinationists?

To what extent is Willow Creek Community Church willing to appeal to and compromise with Subordinationists and how will that appeal and compromise affect Willow’s leadership, staff, community, evangelism, doctrine, and theology?

Recently, an egalitarian at Willow described the Son as “submissive” to the Father in eternity. Submission and obedience are not synonymous. But, they do overlap and Patriarchalists and Subordinationists do not distinguish between the two terms. I strongly advise fellow egalitarians to guard themselves from being dragged by the Subordinationists in conversation to describe or delineate the submission of Son in eternity. Discussion about the submission of the Son in eternity is dangerous talk because to Patriarchalists and Subordinationists submission is equivalent to obedience….and obedience of Son in eternity is the heresy of Subordinationism. Instead, I urge egalitarians to remain anchored to the heart and purpose found in the early Christian creeds (Nicene and Athanasian) which is to emphasize the deity, unity, and equality of the Tri-une God.

no dogs negros mexicans   no women 2

Update: August 10, 2015: Added clarifying statements on the term “eternal Son” and how it is used by Subordinationists to carry subordination of Son into eternally. Added examples of Subordinationism found at Willow Creek.

Steve Carter and Patriarchal Gender Essentialism at Willow Creek

As stated in previous articles in this website, I will be writing extensively on Steve Carter’s patriarchal teachings and modeling. Steve Carter is Willow Creek’s Teaching Pastor and appears to be first in line to take the Senior Pastor position after Bill Hybels retires.

In this article I will address gender essentialism as taught by Steve Carter during weekend messages on September 27 & 28, 2014 titled The God I Wish You Knew Guides Us. I have two reasons for choosing this weekend message for my first article that describes Steve’s patriarchal teachings.

First, Steve has been on staff at Willow Creek since Fall 2012. On numerous occasions he has taught and modeled patriarchalism and even though he has corrected many of his teachings in subsequent messages—under the instruction and correction of his supervisor(s)—he continues to teach and model patriarchalism. Either, he is subvert-ly and continually teaching patriarchalism, or he doesn’t know he is teaching patriarchalism which is why he continues to teach and model it and why he continues to be corrected.

Second, during this weekend’s message Steve taught a clear and obvious form of gender essentialism common among patriarchalists.

What is gender essentialism?

Gender essentialism ascribes differing aspects and traits of God to men and women. That is, men and women reflect the image and character of God differently. In patriarchal doctrine, the character and image traits ascribed respectively to men and women are generally exclusive. Meaning, men reflect certain aspects of God that women do not and women reflect certain aspects of God that men do not.

The aspects of God reflected differently and respectively or exclusively by men and women lead patriarchalists to assign gender roles appropriate for the respective image and character traits for men and women. As an example, patriarchalists ascribe traits of God’s righteousness to men, therefore men are better suited to be leaders since they are better fit to reflect God’s attributes of righteousness. Another example, women reflect the nurturing aspect of God, therefore they are more suitable to raise and nurture children and are the appropriate parent to stay at home and care for the children.

These two examples of patriarchal gender essentialism and gender roles are common among patriarchalists. Many other examples exist and the assigning of character traits and gender roles between men and women varies among patriarchal communities. What is common among all patriarchalists is that they use their own version of gender essentialism to place men in the leader and decision-making role and place women in the subordinate and inferior role. Gender essentialism becomes the tool patriarchalists use to subordinate women. The benevolent patriarchalists—or hierarchical-complementarians who prefer to call themselves ‘complementarians’—make great effort, and in good faith, to value their women in their subordinate and inferior roles. Unfortunately, that effort turns into insulting, degrading, and patronizing of their women—in the near future I plan to write on that subject and how that occurs at Willow Creek.

Other examples of gender essentialism at Willow Creek

Gender essentialism has been taught at Willow Creek before and continues to be promoted by Willow’s marriage ministry. Dan Allender, after speaking on marriage and intimacy at a weekend service on February 6, 2011, was invited to teach a one-day conference also on marriage and intimacy in January of 2012 titled Intimate Mystery Conference (the recording might still be available at Willow’s Seeds bookstore, a similar conference recording is available directly from Dan Allender). Currently, Willow’s marriage ministry promotes two of Allender’s books on marriage.

Allender’s psychology and theology of gender is based on patriarchal gender essentialism. Allender teaches in Intimate Mystery Conference that “men, more than women, reflect the heart of righteousness of God.” He also teaches (in Willow’s weekend message of February 2011 and in Intimate Mystery Conference of January 2012) that women, not men, suffer from the problem of control. Meaning, women—not men—seek to control other people. On several occasions in Intimate Mystery Conference Allender made reference to “controlling mothers” as a problem needing to be addressed. He never mentioned “controlling fathers”; that’s because “controlling fathers” don’t exist in his psychology and theology of patriarchal gender essentialism.

Allender teaches also that women reflect a “gentle strength”, a description of women commonly made among patriarchalists, a description of women I remember hearing often at the Calvary Chapel which is a gender-hierarchical church, a description of women I have heard from members and leaders at Willow Creek, and a description that has even been used in Willow email newsletter announcements to describe women speakers. Patriarchalists commonly use the word “gentle” as a description of women to remind women that they are to be sweet, nice, innocent, pure, soft-spoken, weak, quiet, non-threatening, submissive, subordinate, inferior, and non-authoritative in their demeanor, specifically when addressing men, and most importantly when exercising “strength” before and toward men—this is exactly how Allender made the illustration in his Intimate Mystery Conference. (see my previous article on women and emotiveness which includes links to pertinent research).

Steve’s teaching methodology of narrative

Before detailing Steve’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender essentialism we must first look at his teaching methodology of narrative. Steve teaches via narrative. He tells stories and gives examples to illustrate points, so when he teaches he doesn’t always articulate specifically and explicitly what his teaching is. Preachers often employ the narrative when teaching. In fact, Jesus often taught via narrative with his use of parables. The narrative format has become a subtle and subvert way for patriarchalists to teach and model patriarchal principles without being explicit. When Steve taught and modeled patriarchal gender essentialism during the weekend message of September 27 & 28 of 2014 he did so without using the term “gender essentialism” and without specifically stating that men and women are essentially different in how they reflect God’s character. Yet, that is exactly what he taught and modeled using the teaching tool of narrative or story-telling.

Steve and gender essentialism

During the weekend message of September 28, 2014, Steve spoke about his daughter and how he sees God thru her. The descriptions Steve verbalized in how his daughter reflects God are: “dancing”, “playing”, “purity”, “freedom”, and “innocence”. All five words are typical associated to women in the patriarchal theology of gender essentialism.

“Dancing”, “playing” and “freedom” are associated with women’s care-free way of life for not being in a place of responsibility and decision-making. While the men are working, leading, and stressing over their responsibilities, the women are care-free and able to enjoy life whether it be at the spa or studio in joyful fellowship with their female friends. In another occasion, during the weekend message of May 26, 2013, Steve’s association of women and “dancing” led him to insult, degrade, and patronize the leadership of Miriam by reducing* Miriam’s leadership to no more than a “dancing” cheerleader type of “girl”—and he actually used the word “girl” to describe Miriam who at the time would have been over 80 years old.

“Purity” is a buzz word for the patriarchal sexual purity movement that emphasizes sexual abstinence for girls before marriage, an emphasis of sexual purity that is not always emphasized for boys in patriarchal circles. As for “innocence” coupled with “purity”, a common fantasy, desire, and/or expectation for patriarchal men is to be sexually involved with the hot and sexy women but then settle down and form a family with the “innocent” and “pure” “girl” who the man can bring home to meet the parents. “Purity” and “innocence” are requirements for women looking to be married in patriarchal circles. Egalitarians don’t oppose women associated with dancing, playing, exercising freedom, purity, and innocence. The degradation occurs when these descriptions are used with the purpose to subjugate and incarcerate women into patriarchal gender roles.

To contrast, in the same weekend message Steve mentioned his son and pointed to his athletic aspect of “running”—as opposed to “dancing” used for his daughter. The most grievous contrast Steve made is when he described his son as reflecting God’s righteousness in the form of unconditional “love”, grace, and mercy. Steve did not mentioned any of these words specifically, except the word “love”, but he taught and modeled this association in narrative form by telling the story of his son expressing “love” for their dog, Bernie. “Love” is a prominent, if not the primary, attribute of God’s righteousness. Grace and mercy are also prominent aspects of God’s righteousness. As mentioned before, the attributes of God’s righteousness are commonly assigned to men in patriarchal gender essentialism and are used to qualify men for leadership while at the same time used to disqualify women for leadership since in their patriarchal understanding of gender essentialism women reflect little to no image of God’s righteousness.

What Steve taught and modeled using narratives about his daughter and son is a patriarchal gender essentialist association of

women with “dancing”, “playing”, “purity”, “freedom”, and “innocence”

and

men with God’s righteousness in the form of unconditional “love”, grace, and mercy

The evil of patriarchal gender essentialism

The attributes of God’s righteousness are considered the primary character traits of God, including but not limited to unconditional love, grace, mercy, compassion, and justice. The evil of patriarchal gender essentialism is to attribute God’s righteousness to primarily or only men and then use that association to acknowledge men as better image bearers of God and therefore elevate men as leaders and make women subordinate to men.

There is nothing inappropriate to associate women with dancing and purity and the like. Just like there is nothing inappropriate to associate men with God’s righteousness. The problem is gender association to the point of exclusivity and then use those associations to decide who is the leader and decision-maker and who is the subordinate. What about emphasizing purity and innocence to the men? Men as much as women need to practice purity and innocence. What about associating women with God’s righteousness and qualifying women for leadership and decision-making roles, inclusive of the area of church doctrine?

Steve mentioned a women’s prayer group, doesn’t that indicate his support of women in leadership?

Toward the end of the same weekend message of September 28, 2014, Steve mentioned the role a group of women part of a prayer ministry played in his decision to accept the invitation to be on staff at Willow Creek. At the time of that incident Steve was pastoring at Rock Harbor, a patriarchal church in Southern California. While considering a decision to move to Willow Creek he was challenged by a member in his small group at Rock Harbor to talk to the women in the prayer ministry. Steve spoke to a woman in the prayer group and received confirmation for him to accept Willow Creek’s invitation to be on staff to teach and oversee evangelism at Willow Creek.

In patriarchal churches prayer groups are primarily made up by women. It is not a ministry that carries authority; it is a ministry that serves primarily as support to the male leaders. Prayer ministry takes seriously the biblical mandate to pray for our leaders, and in patriarchal churches those leaders are men. When I was in the Calvary Chapel, a patriarchal church, I attended a prayer meeting led by a pastor’s wife and she spoke a prayer that went something like this, “Lord, we ask you to raise the men in our church to be leaders, to lead our ministries, and to lead our church with boldness and godly character.” There was no prayer for the women to be raised as leaders, the prayer for women went something like this, “…and help and guide us women and wives on how we can be of support to the men as they lead our church.” In patriarchal churches, women in prayer groups practice their patriarchal gender role of assistants, helpers, supporters, and cheerleaders to the men who are the leaders.

The illustration made by Steve during the said weekend message regarding the women in the prayer group fits this patriarchal gender role for women. An illustration that would have reflected a more egalitarian and mutual view of women as advisors or as decision-makers would have been an illustration of him and his wife discussing the pending decision to move to Willow Creek and together made the decision to move or not. But he didn’t present that illustration, in fact he never spoke about his wife nor her role, if she had any, regarding his decision to accept Willow’s invitation to be on staff. The absence of a dialogue with his wife in the decision-making process, especially for such a significant event, is reflective of a patriarchal marriage. Maybe that dialogue did take place, if it did, he didn’t mention it. At that time during the message, the point Steve was illustrating was how God guides us thru other people, and he chose to mention the women’s prayer group as a confirmation for his staff position at Willow Creek. Steve’s self-promoting and self-validating illustrations during his weekend messages have been occurring since his arrival 2.5 years ago. That is a subject that requires its own space. I will address it in detail in a future article.

To be clear, I am not devaluating prayer ministry; I have high regard for it. I am simply describing how in patriarchal communities the prayer ministry has been reduced* to a place where women practice their gender roles as assistants, helpers, supporters, and cheerleaders to men in leadership.

What’s next?

In this article I have addressed only Steve Carter’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender essentialism as image bearers of God. In future articles I will address Steve’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender roles and his insulting, degrading and patronizing view of women in leadership.

The corrective

I am committed to noting any correctives Steve gives to his teachings. During weekend service of May 24, 2015 Steve gave a short corrective to his patriarchal gender essentialism as detailed above for his weekend message of September 28, 2014. In the May 24, 2015 message he described a woman practicing “forgiveness” toward the man who killed her son. Forgiveness is an attribute of God’s righteousness which Steve associated with a woman. This is not the first time Steve has corrected himself. His more obvious corrections are for his patriarchal and patronizing portrayal of Miriam’s leadership, for his patriarchal blaming of Eve for the Fall, and for his reductionist* teaching on the Holy Spirit (this Midweek message is no longer available on the Willow Creek website). In the near future I plan to write on each of these three problematic messages in detail and note the correctives Steve gave for each.

*Reductionism/Reductionist is defined as the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it. – per Dictionary.com

Edited: 6.18.15