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So when people call themselves “traditionalists” with respect to the role of women, esp in ministry, what do they mean? And, are there traditionalists today? Sarah Sumner’s book, Men and Women in the Church, chp. 3, discusses such questions with some interesting results.
Even if both views — complementarians and egalitarians — believe in (what she calls the) primacy of Scripture, neither (in her view) acknowledges often enough the role tradition plays.
Here’s one of her comments: “Whereas complementarians wants Christians to believe that women’s worth is equal to men’s, egalitarians want Christians to believe that women’s rights are equal to men’s.”
I’m keen on what you think of this observation: Do you think it is a fair characterization?
Now her major claim: complementarians are not genuinely traditionalists because they have significantly modified that tradition. To show what traditionalists believe, Sarah sketches Tertullian (“You destroyed so easily God’s image, man.”) and speaks of his “incalculable” influence (41). Then she looks at Ambrose (“men are superior”), Augustine (procreative intent; for friendship men prefer males), and Aquinas (men are shaped by reason, women by sexual appetite). Look,it is easy to find the worst comments and trot them out; this is not Sarah’s style. But, she does show that these leaders said things at a fundamental level about women that have had an enduring impact on how women are perceived. Her bigger point is that these sorts of leaders represent the “tradition” on women in the Church.
Her point: these views are closer to what “traditionalist” means, and no one today — not complementarians — are genuine traditionalists.
Question: does this indicate that the difference between the two views — complementarians and egalitarians — is one of the degree of adaptation rather than one being faithful and the other a departure? Are both really departures?
Her claim: to argue for women’s equal worth is a novelty in the Church.
In her next chp, Sarah weighs in on the issue of “contradiction in the Christian community.” She thinks most evangelicals are “antifeminist” but not “anti-women-in-ministry” (53). Church history shows the impact of women in ministry all along. Alongside that impact is the traditional view, and this creates tension within the Church itself.
So she calls for a paradigm change: account for all the biblical data, magnify the tensions of the old paradigm, and provide additional solutions to old problems.

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