Introduction to a 7-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality

Jared Wilson of the Gospel Coalition recently posted an excerpt from a book that caused some virtual Evangelical fireworks. Though I’m late to the party, I’d like to address some important issues that I perceive to be at the root of the controversy.


While I was on holidays last week, blissfully unplugged from internet access, and not-so-blissfully huffing and puffing to propel my bike up the side of a mountain, the Gospel Coalition and a host of Evangelicals in the blog-and-tweet o’sphere were doing a lot of huffing and puffing of their own.

It all started when Jared Wilson, of the Gospel Coalition, posted an excerpt from Doug Wilson’s book “Fidelity:  What it Means to Be a One-Woman Man.” Apparently, Jared  used Doug’s quote to argue that the perverted sex in the book, “50 Shades of Grey” is due, in no small part, to a denial of true sexual complementarity.

The excerpt included these statements:  “. . . however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.” “True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.”  Doug has elsewhere said, “It (sex) is, and remains, something a man does to a woman.”

Is Sex something a Man does to a Woman?

Several bloggers, including Rachel Held Evans, were outraged that the language was insensitive to women who had suffered sexual abuse and rape. Jared Wilson clarified his position. Doug Wilson defended the quote. Doug’s daughter offered a rebuttal. Rachel Held Evans followed up.  Her-meneutics, and other prominent blog sites waded in on the discussion. Some bloggers, including Rachel, petitioned the Gospel Coalition to take the post down. (Which has since happened.) Hundreds of commenters had their say.

. . . and to think that all this was happening while I was fiercely blinking the drips of sweat out of my eyes and questioning why my bike manufacturer didn’t give me another bank of gears.

In any case, I got an email in my inbox from Rachel when I arrived home, requesting that I—as a complementarian woman—bring my perspective to the table. (Umm… Party? What party? Did I miss something?) I’ve since read all the blog posts and many of the comments. I think there’s been enough debate about whether or not Wilson’s choice of words was inflammatory, whether or not his viewpoint was misunderstood or misrepresented, and whether or not the outcry to recant and take down the post was justified. So I’m not going there.

Questions about Complementarity

But in reflecting on the controversy, I do want to address what I see as an important underlying issue. As I see it, much of the controversy revolves around the nature of a complementarian relationship. The discussion raises some valid questions: Does complementarity promote a unilateral, one-way type of relationship? Is sex something a man does to a woman? Does complementarity require female passivity? Does the language we use when we speak of complementarity accurately reflect the nature of a complementarian relationship? Is complementarity incompatible with reciprocity and mutuality?

These are good questions. And perhaps they’ve not been addressed by complementarians as well as they could or should have been. So even though I’ve arrived late–just as the mess is being swept up and all the attendees have ice bags on their heads to deal with the post-party headache–I want to use the occasion as an opportunity to launch an authentic conversation; and hopefully, provide increased clarity.

Complementarity, Reciprocity and Mutuality

Rachel asked me to answer these questions: Are authority and submission “erotic necessities”? What does it mean to carry male-female roles over into the marriage bed? What makes complementarian sex different from egalitarian sex?

I feel I need to address the former issues in order to adequately address the latter. So starting with my next post, I’ll embark on a series entitled “Complementarity & Mutuality.” I’m planning on at least 5 posts- perhaps more. Look for them every other day or so. Over the course of the series, I’ll address the relationship between complementarity and mutuality, and try to answer some of the questions left on the table after the big bash. I’ll probably get to Rachel’s questions by about part 4, when I’ll deal with complementarity and mutuality in the context of covenant sex.

You’re welcome to pull up a chair and join in.

This Post is Part of a 7-Part Series

Are authority and  submission an erotic necessity?  Does complementarity create one-way relationships? Is sex something a man does to a woman? Those were the hot questions that prompted this 7-part series on complementarity and mutuality. You can browse through the articles on the post slider below, or head over to see all the posts in the series.

Complementarity: No One-Way Relationships Here [Intro]

Does complementarity create one-way relationships? Is sex something a man does to a woman? Those were the hot questions that prompted this 7-part series.

Complementarity: Mutuality is the Cha Cha [Part 1]

Complementarity fosters mutuality. Complementary male-female roles take us from doing a march to doing a dance. Cha Cha Cha!

Complementarity: The Red Pill or the Blue Pill? [Part 2]

Complementarity versus mutuality is oft presented as an either-or scenario. But that’s a false dilemma. It’s a pill we don’t have to swallow.

Complementarity: The Game Winning Plan [Part 3]

Though different, men and women have mutual obligations toward one another. Complementarity AND mutuality are part of God’s game-winning plan.

Complementarity: Sex in the Shadowlands [Part 4]

Living in the shadowlands means that everything good -like sex- points to something even better. So just imagine the fireworks that are still to come!

Complementarity: Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex [Part 5]

Christ’s ideal for sex is exceedingly stringent. So stringent, that it left his disciples’ jaws dropping on the floor. So what are the “erotic necessities” for God-Glorifying sex?

Complementarity: More Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex [Part 6]

Complementarity provides the context for the best pleasure-filled fulfilling sex a human might experience. It’s the winner. Bar none. Hands down.

Complementarity: Seeing the Forest for the Trees [Part 7]

When it comes to complementarity, it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, but it’s also important to keep the thesis nailed to the church door.