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90/10 rule for marriage

On the way back from our recent trip to Adelaide, Arthur and I listened to this talk by Matt Chandler of Village Church on sanctification in marriage. The ‘sanctification’ bit is pretty thin on the ground, as is his exegetical work at times. And the first 10 mins of the talk were just annoying – too much talking about how controversial what was coming up was, not enough actually getting on with it. However, I was encouraged by the spirit of this talk.

Matt Chandler’s a complementarian. Regular readers of this blog will know that Arthur and I avoid that label not so much because we disagree with the view but because the picture and execution of it is often so far removed from the generosity and partnership of marriage in the Bible. But these are exactly the characteristics that Chandler seeks to capture in his exposition of 1 Peter 3.

Here are two things I liked about the bit to women:

  • it wasn’t prescriptive about role or limited to a certain type of woman (other than being married)
  • it gave practical suggestions for how to change things you’re unhappy with without being domineering; interestingly, he happily suggested that wives could ‘gently lead’ their husbands to lead the family

Here are two things I liked about the bit to men:

  • the call to see your wife flourish and to proactively work for that; in fact, Chandler’s definition of a man who manages his household well was not that his wife falls into line with him but that her gifts are being enlivened.
  • it expanded the male role – Chandler was clear that playing Transformers with your kids when you get home exhuasted from work and then doing the dishes is every bit as manly as working hard all day.

But there was one idea I hadn’t heard before that was intriguing. Chandler admits he didn’t get it from the Bible – he has just found it useful. It’s this: 90% of the time, Christian couples agree but 10% they don’t and after discussion, prayer, etc in a complementarian marriage, the husband makes the call. Even if he is totally considerate of his wife, this still gives him the trump card and the power in the relationship. For this reason, Chandler says, because he makes those decisions, he lets his wife win every other decision – how the home is decorated (even his study!), what couch they get, what movies they watch, who they have over for dinner parties, where they go on vacation, etc.

Now, I do have some problems with this view. For a start, I wouldn’t want to make all those decisions – marriage is not about getting my way so sometimes I want to watch Arthur’s (boring/weird) movies! And there’s a lot of pressure if you’re making those decisions on your own – it can even be an excuse for the husband to buy out or be lazy. Also this view does smack of a tit-for-tat kind of idea.

But what I like about it is the reluctance to use power for one’s own gain. Chandler’s point is that he wants his wife to feel that her opinion is valued, honored, even deferred to in the majority of things in their marriage. He doesn’t feel that his ‘headship’ needs to be expressed in micro-managing every decision. He trusts his wife and is willing to go with what she wants even when it doesn’t suit him. Now, that doesn’t sweeten the fact that submission is still on the cards, but it does self-consciously attempt to steer husbands away from controlling their wives or abusing the position that God has given them. It puts service and deference front and centre.

Like I said, I’m not sure I agree with the idea or its execution, but I like the spirit that stands behind it.

Categories: Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

6 replies

  1. Interestingly we just did Ephesians 5 at church and Andrew said that being head of the house had nothing to do with decision making… He cited the decisions couples make in 1 Cor 7ish about whether or not to have sex as the example as to why headship does not mean decision making…

    Food for thought!

  2. Ephesians 5 talks about everyone being subject to each other in love, the wife being subject to the husband, and the husband sacrificing himself for his wife. In other words, the husband’s headship requires him to put his wife’s wellbeing before his own. If he uses his power (assuming he has it, not being a complementarian myself) in any other way he is not acting on Paul’s instructions. I think this kind of negates the 90/10 rule because in the 10% he would decide to do what’s best for her, as he would also in the 90%. But then maybe sometimes he would let her talk him into doing what’s best for him even if she has to lose something as a result, because otherwise he would be depriving her of the opportunity to love. To paraphrase Monty Python, “this redistribution of power is a lot more complicated than I thought”.

  3. Hi Chris – Arthur resists decision making as a definition of headship too but I’m yet to hear a complementarian define it positively and practically any other way. Did Andrew have any suggestions? Arthur talks about being the first to serve which I think is what Chandler’s trying pick up on here even though his motivation is different.

  4. I appreciate Chandler’s spirit here too. He gets so close to speaking of mutual submission!

    Tamie, have you spent much time looking into the word translated ‘head’ (kephale)? I was surprised to find out how many scholars (past and present) have found that “source” might be a better understanding for us than “head.” Christ is the source of man, man is the source of woman. The only historic source we can look to in order to justify “head” in the sense of leadership is the LXX (according to the TDNT). Paul seems to refer to the “order” chronologically rather than hierarchically. I think this shifts our focus from who is in charge to unity and mutual submission. In Corinthians Paul, after a similar exposition to Eph 5, says that God is the source of Christ, Christ he source of man, man the source of woman and that men and women are in need of each other because God is over both of them.

  5. Hey Joey – yep, I’ve been aware of the debate for some time. It’s a favourite point of my old minister than κεφαλη means source. We just looked at it in my 1 Corinthians exegesis course. I think that both head and source are within the semantic range of κεφαλη. Which one it is (or whether Paul’s making some sort of double allusion) is another matter! :)

  6. I don’t like the word ‘headship’. When that word is used in the place of ‘head’, we actually play into the complementarian mentality. Headship in the english means~ a position of authority, chief or leader. We know that the proper definition for the greek word kephale (in the context of male and female relationships) is still being debated today. As Ephesians 5 was metioned in one of your comments above, I believe that it is really important to note that Paul is speaking metaphorically not literally. He uses the head and body metaphore to show us the oneness that exists between the Church and Christ, and the oneness that should exist between the husband and wife. If Paul was trying to teach us who was the *boss over* he would have used another metaphore like this, ‘the husband is the head and the wife is the tail’. I think then there would be no doubt about what Paul was saying.

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