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.

The Great Compromise – Is Willow Creek Community Church Still Egalitarian?

Since I will be writing extensively on the patriarchal elements of my church, Willow Creek, here I present a short summary and comparison of egalitarianism and patriarchy as it relates to my church.

“Willow Creeks says it’s egalitarian, but it doesn’t act like it.”

I had no idea at the time what the warning meant, a warning given to me by a fellow Chicagoan and CBEer (Christians for Biblical Equality). I decided to become a member of Willow Creek anyway; I was hoping the warning was misinformed. At the time I was looking for an egalitarian church and I placed my hope in Willow Creek’s egalitarian roots. I was also drawn by Bill Hybels’ teachings, he not only regularly spoke egalitarian principles and invited egalitarian men and women guests to preach, but he also spoke compassionately about immigrants, that is undocumented immigrants—a rarity among evangelicals. Bill and Lynne’s compassion toward the poor and vulnerable—including the undocumented immigrants in our neighborhoods and in our country—gave me comfort to make Willow Creek my home church. But, the warning still lingered in my mind. The year was 2007.

In time, I have come to find out for myself what the warning meant.

Willow Creek was founded as an egalitarian church—meaning both men and women are full participants in community and in all levels of church leadership. No leadership position was denied to a woman on the sole basis that she is a woman. We’ve had many women as Teaching Pastors, the most recent was Nancy Beach. Nancy is no longer Teaching Pastor nor member of Willow Creek.

Today, Willow still has egalitarian founding members leading the church. Our church has women in all levels of leadership, we have women elders and women in senior positions such as Executive Pastor. Women are always on stage, we have women speak and we have women participate and lead worship. We have women teachers and pastors. We have a strong ministry for local and international dis-empowered women that runs under the umbrella of our Compassion & Justice ministry. All of which communicate to our audience our strong pro-women value.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is the patriarchal core.

Patriarchalists differ in the role of women at home and in the church. Some patriarchalists have a more restrictive view, they don’t let women on stage at all nor allow women to hold any type of teaching position. Other patriarchalists have a more expansive view on women in leadership, the women are allowed to teach, lead worship, and hold senior leadership roles alongside the men—as long as the women are not ordained nor hold positions of authority; Tim Keller’s church falls under this type of patriarchal church.

The one restriction that all patriarchalists adhere to is that women cannot have any position of authority over men regarding doctrine. This translates to women denied positions of Senior Pastor, Elder, Teaching Pastor, or any other position that carries with it authority and decision-making responsibly of doctrine over the whole church. This core belief is non-negotiable for patriarchalists, this core belief is what defines modern day patriarchy, this core belief puts men over women in defining and settling disputes regarding scripture—in many cases, it puts men over women in settling any dispute what so ever. Defining and settling what scripture states and ultimately what God says and who God is on behalf of the community of believers, and respective biological families, becomes a decision made only by men.

The patriarchal core within Willow Creek

Despite our pro-women advocacy, Willow Creek has a patriarchal core in its leadership. We have no women Teaching Pastors. The women teachers are in children, women, care or financial ministries—all ministries which are acceptable to the patriarchalists who adhere to the expansive view. We have one woman in one of the satellite churches who teaches bible and doctrine to adult women and men, she has a master’s degree in biblical studies. However, she has no title and is a volunteer, she is not a paid staff member. At another satellite, and in the last year or so, a woman has been hired to oversee discipleship. However, her title is not “teacher” nor “pastor”. Her title is “director”, which is an acceptable title for expansive patriarchalists. The women who speak from the South Barrington stage speak only to give administrative announcements and to participate in drama and music ministries—all ministries acceptable to expansive patriarchalists. We have one or two women each year give a weekend message. For the last three years that Midweek bible teachings have been under the supervision of our new Teaching Pastor, Steve Carter who replaced Nancy Beach, and under his leadership we’ve had no women teachers at Midweek. However, he has brought to Midweek patriarchal guest teachers who lead patriarchal churches, some of which are his friends and one of them is scheduled to speak at the Global Leadership Summit in 2015.

Our Executive Pastor is a woman, but her responsibilities are administrative, not doctrinal—an acceptable role for expansive patriarchalists. We have women pastors in the Compassion & Justice ministry—also another ministry expansive patriarchalists are accepting of women in leadership since they categorize this ministry as a care ministry with no authority or decision-making responsibilities over the church’s doctrine.

The only women in our church who have doctrinal oversight are our women elders. However, their role is limited and weakened when “ensuring the church’s teachings and practices reflect accurate biblical theology“. The elder board runs as a governance/policy board and they “delegate to qualified others” many of their responsibilities, including doctrinal responsibility, to paid staff members. Expansive patriarchalists are accepting of women as advisors but not as decision-makers when it comes to doctrine; so, moving to a governance board appeals to expansive patriarchalists because it removes decision-making responsibilities from the elders, specifically women elders, and places those responsibilities on the paid senior staff members who currently are all men who address church doctrine. Even if the board were to not delegate it’s doctrinal responsibilities, the only woman elder who has the gift of teaching is someone whose experience in teaching is financial stewardship, not church doctrine. Based on the brief biographical portraits made public for each elder, it’s impossible to recognize which, if any, elder has the capability to address heresy, specifically heresy propagated by [some] patriarchalists such as the Heresy of [Christological] Subordinationism.

Patriarchalists infiltrating Willow Creek

For years we’ve had patriarchalists infiltrate our church in staff and even in senior leadership positions. I will be writing extensively on those senior leaders I know who teach and advocate patriarchalism and will provide public information by referencing sermons or documents on Willow Creek’s website. I will not disclose information given to me in confidence, which means I will not be writing about all the patriarchalists I am aware of, only of the ones I am able to publicly speak or write about. I have plenty of public information and personal experiences which I will write about that point to patriarchal aspects in our church’s leadership.

Shane Farmer, our former Director of Discipleship, was one of those who deceptively subverted our church’s egalitarian position and taught patriarchalism. Fortunately, he is no longer at Willow Creek; unfortunately, he is senior pastor of a church in Denver, Colorado. I will write a few observations of his subversive methodologies which he employed to teach and model patriarchalism; his methodologies are important to observe because they are actually common among patriarchalists who try to subvert-ly and deceptively infiltrate egalitarian institutions. I am aware of a few egalitarians who raised concerns over Shane’s patriarchal teachings and coupled with his disregard of corrective measures and lack of submission to his superior(s) no doubt played a role in his departure.

Starting with the departure of Shane Farmer and more so in recent months, I have observed that Willow Creek’s senior leadership is increasing its efforts to recognize and correct patriarchalism in our midst, starting from the top. Currently, patriarchalism and even forms of scriptural inaccuracies are traced to our current Teaching Pastor, Steve Carter. As stated previously, in the three years Steve has been at Willow Creek and overseeing Midweek teachings, he has not invited any women teachers but has invited several male patriarchalists to teach. And even though Steve has corrected many of his own patriarchal and inaccurate teachings—no doubt under instruction and correction of his supervisor(s)—he manages to continue to promote forms of patriarchalism in his messages. As Teaching Pastor he plays a significant role in the teaching of doctrine and appears to be first in line to take the senior pastorate after Bill Hybels retires. His position as Teaching Pastor, patriarchal tendencies and deficiencies in understanding scripture have made Steve Carter the primary person I will be writing about in this website.

If Willow Creek were perceived as a patriarchal church, then I would not be writing about Steve Carter nor any other patriarchal aspects at Willow. I would not even be a member of this church. It is because Willow Creek is perceived as an egalitarian church and because I became a member with the understanding that it still is an egalitarian church, despite the warning, that I will be writing extensively about Steve Carter and other patriarchal elements at Willow Creek.

We as egalitarians must come to terms that a church that is egalitarian in perception and on its cover but is patriarchal at its core, is a church that is not egalitarian, but patriarchal. It is a pro-woman and benevolent patriarchal church, at best; but not an egalitarian church.

By accident or by Choice?

Did the current patriarchal core at Willow Creek come about by accident or by choice? Both.

By accident, the lack of discernment and training among staff to distinguish between egalitarian and patriarchal, specifically hierarchical-complementarian, teachings and practices has allowed patriarchalism to infiltrate Willow Creek and even be accepted as ‘egalitarian’. Such is the deceptive aspect of benevolent patriarchy known as hierarchical-complementarianism as advocated by gender-hierarchicalists among the New Calvinists and also most recently among the emergent.

By choice, Willow Creek believes in the fellowship of egalitarians and patriarchalists to worship together as one church. However, to patriarchalists women in senior leadership who have authority and decision-making responsibilities regarding doctrine that affects adult males is a serious offence to their patriarchal doctrine. It’s an offense they are not willing to bend on. Having a patriarchal core at Willow Creek’s leadership is an appeal to patriarchalists as a way to avoid offending their patriarchal doctrine. But as stated earlier, an egalitarian church on the outside with a patriarchal core is not an egalitarian church, but a pro-woman and benevolent patriarchal church at best—and that is an ambiguous and deceptive concept.

Composing a patriarchal core in an egalitarian church in order to appeal to patriarchalists is what I refer to as “The Great Compromise” at Willow Creek.

This is the message, in my own words, that Willow Creek is sending to the women by us having a pro-women and benevolent look with a patriarchal core:

Girls, ladies, women,

We at Willow Creek love you. We love our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters. We know the pain and suffering you are going thru. The world has been violently cruel to you. You can find safety and encouragement in our church from the harsh reality of your everyday life. We seek to empower you and release you to do good works God has prepared for you in advance, here and abroad, for his kingdom and for his glory. And, we will do everything we can to teach the men to cover you and protect you.

However, none of you, not a single one of you, will ever be good enough, mature enough, righteous enough, knowledgeable enough, worthy enough to stand next to our men in a position of authority and decision-making over church doctrine. When it comes time to decide what the bible says, who God is, what God wants us to do as a body of believers, and to disseminate that information to the whole church, and your respective biological families, that decision will be made by only men. You women, not a single one of you, will be part of that decision-making process.

Edited: 6.17.15

“We women are too emotional, that’s why we can’t be leaders.”

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“We women are emotional, that’s why we can’t be leaders.”

According to the senior pastor’s wife at a Calvary Chapel (a gender-hierarchical church influenced by New Calvinism), “we women are emotional, that’s why we can’t be leaders.” This was in the 1990s, but today emotiveness is still used to disqualify women from leadership, even in egalitarian churches that have been heavily influenced by the gender-hierarchicalists and New Calvinists such as my church, Willow Creek Community Church.

At my church, emotiveness has been used to disqualify women from leadership, but not men. Egalitarians are known to be passionate about their mission to dismantle patriarchy and this passion is easily mistaken for bossiness, emotiveness, anger, bitterness and the like and are quickly dismissed for leadership. Passionate egalitarian women in my church have been advised to get mental health therapy.

We currently have a teaching pastor who has a strong and passionate voice projection. Many people are actually turned off by it because it is interpreted as scolding, demeaning and emotive. However, many more people are attracted to it because he sounds authoritative, not bossy, emotive, angry, or retaliatory, but strong and authoritative.

Many a person in my church who is turned off by a passionate egalitarian during a one-on-one conversation is drawn by a strong, loud voiced preacher from the stage. When an egalitarian principle is taught, the teacher is accused of pushing a political agenda. Ultimately, for the patriarchalists and pseudo- and neo-egalitarians the offense from the egalitarians is not in the voice projection, format, or medium of the message but the offense is in the message itself, in the message of mutuality and equality between men and women.

Back to the subject of women and emotiveness…

Gender-hierarchicalists encourage and even enforce women to be “gentle in spirit”, that is, gentle and soft spoken in word and attitude and personality—so they won’t be judged as emotive or bossy or incompetent or threatening. The hypocrisy and double standard of this belief is that at the same time, they encourage and value the strong authoritative voice of men, which they recognize as an essential trait of leadership and do not perceive as emotive, bossy, weak, or inferior. Therefore, women are disqualified from leadership because they are expected and required to be gentle and soft-spoken, which automatically prevents them from possessing the strong authoritative projection expected from a leader. Therefore, the requirement imposed on women to be gentle in spirit becomes a tool to keep them from leadership. (See article in Psychology Today on the “soft spoken” woman. See also article with endnote links, “Research Reveals How Stereotypes About Leadership Hold Women Back“)

There is one exception when [some] gender-hierarchicalists accept a woman with a strong voice—whether she’s preaching the gospel to the non-believer or running as a Republican vice-presidential nominee—when the woman PROVES HER SUBMISSION TO HER HUSBAND , or to her male authority figure, and she must do so prior to approval to speak by the [male] gender-hierarchicalists. At the Calvary Chapel I attended, I observed egalitarian women with a strong voice be categorized as non-submissive and even bossy. At the same time a gender-hierarchical woman with a strong voice was permitted to do ministry and even lead ministry as she pleased—that’s because she had proven her submission to men by verbally acknowledging that the men are the leaders who have authority and that she herself as a woman has no authority except the authority given to her by the male leaders. The egalitarian women had not made such a confession of the trickle down man-to-woman model of authority. Even though the egalitarian women believed in submission to authority and practiced it, because they didn’t confess to the trickle down man-to-woman model they were either barred or limited in their leadership involvement, in addition to being ostracized by the leadership team. During this season of events and due to the treatment of [some] egalitarian women, in solidarity over five egalitarian women and their families left the church. All of these women and most of their husbands who left had been in significant leadership roles.

To require a strong authoritative voice as a key trait of leadership disqualifies mature* women from leadership and enables churches to replace these qualified women with immature men who are not qualified to be leaders nor teachers.

*Mature/maturity is defined as the wise application of biblical knowledge and understanding; a person’s character that reflects the fruits of the Spirit and the aspects of righteousness of God, and builds up the church and facilitates life into the community so the church may fulfill its intended purpose set by God.

The following event took place at my church, Willow Creek—a church founded on strong egalitarian principles but in recent year has been strongly influenced by patriarchal infiltrations. The names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Janet and Dana are both active members and volunteers at my church, Janet was telling me that Dana has the gift of teaching. At the time, I had not met Dana so I asked Janet to explain to me what it is that makes her say Dana has the gift of teaching. Janet never mentioned Dana’s understanding of scripture; she only described Dana’s strong voice projection. I immediately realized that Janet’s understanding of teaching and leadership requires a strong voice projection—a requirement many people expect from a leader to the extent that understanding of scripture is secondary or not required at all.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the current practice of placing a man with a strong authoritative voice in a position of leadership or teaching even though he consistently shows a high degree of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and misapplication of scripture that is hurtful and destructive to the life of the community. To require a strong authoritative voice as key trait of leadership disqualifies mature women from leadership and enables churches to replace these qualified women with immature men who are not qualified to be leaders nor teachers. Such a practice is extremely dangerous for Christian community and biblical understanding because such a practice enables immature leaders to create their own ‘gospel’ —which is no gospel at all.

The teaching pastor at my church once stated, “God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” Jesus had followers who were peasants without formal biblical education and he prepared them both on 1) scriptural understanding and application and in 2) God-ly character and he did so with his disciples in silence before his disciples were released as leaders to speak about Christ and the gospel. Later and still today, the Holy Spirit continues what Jesus started to help the believers understand and apply scripture and reflect God’s character. God does not place in leadership a person who is arrogant or weak in scriptural knowledge because these traits are clear biblical dis-“qualify”-cations for leadership and teaching. Sure God qualifies the called, but the called is not placed in a position of leadership until he or she has met in silence the qualifications required to be a leader who speaks about Christ and the gospel.

A called person in a place of leadership is someone who has already met qualifications on biblical understanding and application and God-ly character. Paul’s ministry trajectory is another example of learning in silence before being released to speak about Christ and the gospel. Even though Paul was a highly respected biblical scholar as a Pharisee, after he converted to Christianity he spent three to fourteen year in quietness before he was released as an apostle. Paul, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, had to meet the biblical understanding and application and also the God-ly character requirements before he was released to speak about Christ and the gospel as a leader in the church. All leaders in the church have to meet those two requirements before appointed as leaders.

Mark Driscoll’s ministry trajectory is an example of the devastating effects a leader and his church has on the community when one or both of those requirements are not met. The subject of character, specifically in the form of arrogance and deceit, has been highlighted as the main reason for Driscoll’s fall in ministry. Unfortunately, his own elders didn’t consider Driscoll’s character flaws valid reasons to remove him from leadership. In many Christian circles arrogance is not considered a character flaw deserving the disqualification of a man from leadership, even though arrogance/pride is what made Lucifer and one third of the angels fall from heaven. Regarding Driscoll’s theology, his theology is patriarchal and misogynistic which provides the food and nourishment to his arrogant, prideful, and deceitful character. (See Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth, 1 Corinthians, to read on how Paul addresses leadership, maturity, scriptural and gospel knowledge and aspects of character among the members and the leaders.)

Patriarchalists like to use Kind David as an example of a man weak in character who was used by God in a leadership capacity to show patience and acceptance of a man in church leadership who has flaws in character. What these patriarchalists fail to recognize is that King David would have failed Paul’s qualifications for ministry. King David’s 500 wives is one reason he would not have qualified to lead a church. We cannot point to the character of an Old Testament leader who has been highly influenced by the patriarchal practices of his neighbors and make that character the source for comparison or approval of church leaders with flawed character. The New Testament leadership qualifications have higher standards and are free of patriarchal influence, in many respects they correct Old Testament character flaws that infiltrated into the people of God when the people embraced the practices of their patriarchal neighbors. By the way, King David’s character flaws and the similar character flaws in his heir son, King Solomon, facilitated the breakup of the kingdom, so his character flaws eventually did have grievous consequences for the people of God.

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What are some ways that we can address leadership trait expectations among members of our congregations and leadership in order to expand the church’s embrace of mature women as leaders in all capacities and avoid the danger of placing immature men in leadership?

Edited: 6.15.2015

Smart, Not Smarter

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After a movie, two single friends, Robert and Elsa, are having dinner at a restaurant (their names have been changed to protect their identity):

Robert: Women today are so dense! I would very much like to meet someone with half a brain.

Elsa: Would you like to meet a woman with more than half a brain?

Robert: [puzzled by Elsa’s question] But, of course. I meant to say AT LEAST half a brain.

Elsa: How about a woman with a full brain?

Robert: [even more puzzled and unsure where Elsa was going with her line of questioning] Uhm, sure. I would like her to be smart, if that’s what you mean.

Elsa: How smart?

Robert: [casually shrugging his shoulders] However smart she is will be fine by me.

Elsa: How do you see the two of you interacting when an important decision would need to be made?

Robert: We would talk about it and together we would make a decision.

Elsa: If during the discussion she would make a suggestion about the final decision and you found her suggestion to be wise, then you would go along with it?

Robert: Oh sure, absolutely!

Elsa: What if you two found yourselves making more decisions based on her suggestions than on your suggestions? Would you be ok with that?

Robert: [pensive and after a few seconds] No. I wouldn’t.

Elsa: Why not?

Robert: Because that would undermine my role as the leader and it would emasculate me. As the leader, I need to be the one doing more of the decision-making for us.

Elsa: So, you would like to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be smarter than you?

Robert: [with a deeply pensive and sad and disappointed and shocked look on his face and facing downward toward the table] No. I guess not…

“So, [Robert] you would like to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be smarter than you?”

Elsa was able to get Robert to confess what so many people, men, pseudo-egalitarians, neo-egalitarians and even some egalitarians are not willing to acknowledge. A smart woman is preferred over a dense woman, just like a smart man is preferred over a dense man. The difference is that society places limits on women’s—but not on men’s—intellect in dating, marriage, and the church, both consciously and subconsciously. This limit is one that girls learn to “submit” to at an early age when they start to become interested in boys. A limit that women place on themselves as adults when they dumb themselves down in order to accommodate men like Robert. A limit in intelligence, wisdom, and giftedness advocated by gender-hierarchicalists who instruct women to “step-down” so the men can “step-up” both in the home and in the church.

A smart woman is preferred, but she cannot be smarter than the man.

In order for the woman to accomplish such a feat she must regularly monitor herself to not surpass the man who is the reference point of her limits. Sadly, far too many women find themselves in this predicament in dating, in marriage, and in the church. In fact, women carry this self-monitored debasement with them into the workforce and society at large. Not to mention, the media does a superb job in reminding women and setting expectations of their place as the inferior sex and serving as partner to the patriarchal church in debasing women so that men may rise and remain dominant.

At the time when Robert and Elsa had the above conversation they were attending a gender-hierarchical church, a Calvary Chapel in Los Angeles county, where the following event took place. A male member of the church, who was also an elder, just graduated from a well known university in Southern California where he received the honor of the top student in the school of engineering. The senior pastor dedicated a Sunday service to teach on the value of this man’s accomplishments and the significance of his witness and evangelism as Christians live out their faith before the world. The following year, the same honor of top engineering student from the same university was awarded to a member of their church. What are the odds of that?! Certainly, the senior pastor would have topped his sermon from the previous year now that two of their church members had received the top engineering student honor. However, there was no sermon. There was not even a mention from the senior pastor or from anyone on stage during the church service of the second student who had received the same scholastic honor. There was only a quiet celebration party for the second student at a nearby coffeehouse and the senior pastor and his wife showed up for a few minutes. Why the disparity?

The second award winner was a woman.

A double-standard of praise was clearly at work, and even research on the subject confirms that society’s patriarchal conditioning leads people to give praise to men and deny it to women even on identical accomplishments.

This gender-hierarchical church has a history of struggles with educated and intellectual members on many fronts. First, women could not be “smarter” than men because the men would feel “emasculated” and their authority would be at risk of being usurped by the women. Second, intellectual women could not be publicly praised because other women in the church, particularly stay at home wives and moms (many of whom had no education beyond high school—if that) would “feel bad about themselves”. Third, educated and intellectual men and women, were advised to not freely discuss their backgrounds when meeting new people because “people’s jobs do not define who they are”. This principle is a great point, but the underlying reason was to avoid making the non-educated members and visitors “feel bad about themselves.” Of course, this advice was selectively dismissed by the pastor when he publicly praised the male honor student, then chose to abide by it one year later when he kept silent about the female honor student.

Perhaps, the pastor did not intend to practice a double standard of praise and chose to not publicly praise the female honor student for numerous of valid reasons. Perhaps after his public praise of the male honor student he received negative feedback and was reminded of the principle to not make people “feel bad about themselves” on the subject of education and intellect. On the other hand, members in the church practiced various forms of double standards regarding education and intellect between men and women as already mentioned above, such as the requirement that the women could not be “smarter” than the men in order to avoid emasculating the men and avoid usurping the leadership of men, such were the concerns of Robert and he was not unique.

Consider this detail that indicates the senior pastor in most likelihood chose to practice a double standard of praise. In fact, this additional detail, to some extent, aligns the senior pastor with Robert. Both the senior pastor and his wife attended the quiet celebration party for the female honor student. The senior pastor’s wife showed up thrilled and her bright smile made it clear she was a proud ‘mama’ of the female honor student. She stayed for an extended amount of time in joyous fellowship with the party attendees. The senior pastor, on the other hand, did not have the same enthusiastic and proud smile. He greeted the attendees, congratulated the honor student, and remained in the party only a few minutes not interacting much—which was not his typical personality. Maybe he had other business to attend to? Maybe he felt guilty because he had not publicly praised the accomplishments of the female honor student as he did the prior year when he praised the accomplishments of the male honor student? Maybe, he felt awkward in comparison to such a brilliant woman? Actually, that is quite common among men particularly in gender-hierarchical churches, including male pastors in comparison to their female congregants. It is that awkwardness in men that drives women to debase themselves. It is that awkwardness in men that requires women to not be as ‘smart’ as men. By the way, the female honor student went on to perform even greater accomplishments in the field of science…and she no longer attends that church.

Now what?

People in marriages and churches frequently navigate educational and intellectual differences in a healthy way that does not create separation, division, or inferiority. Instead, they practice mutual praise, admiration, and support. Unfortunately, others do not navigate educational and intellectual differences well and as a result, division and even antagonism is fostered.

What are the key character traits that help us stay in loving community with people who are different from ourselves and allow us to foster an environment where everyone in the group is valued?

Edited: 6.15.2015