Tag Archives: Gender Roles

CBMW 2014

How Complementarian Teaching Shaped My Life

Editors’ note: We hope you’ll join our friends at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at their inaugural national conference on Tuesday, April 8, from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST. Addressing “A Brave New Movement: CBMW and the Gospel,” speakers include The Gospel Coalition Council members John Piper, Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, and Albert Mohler, along with many others, such as Melissa Kruger and Trillia Newbell. Learn more about the purpose and need for such an event in the following article, written by CBMW conference coordinator Grant Castleberry.

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When I was in the Marine Corps, I remember once hanging out with some other officers during the day as we escaped the heat. We were all telling funny stories about that day and taking a few minutes to cool off in the air conditioning. Then one of them tossed a Playboy magazine to me and told me to check out a certain girl. I refused to look. When they all asked why I wouldn’t look, I quoted Job 31:1: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin.” One of them, quick-witted, replied, “I don’t think she’s a virgin.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at his joke. “But all the same,” I said, “I will not look at any woman’s body besides my wife’s.” They all nodded in an understanding way, but in the moment that followed, we all realized something: we did not share the same standard of morality. Awkward silence followed.

CBMW 2014I think many Christians have similar experiences as they strive to live out the ethics of the kingdom of Christ in today’s culture, especially in regards to sexual purity and gender roles. They run head on into opposition to the gospel and to Scripture from people they love and care about. In reality, things have not changed all that much over the centuries. In the Graeco-Roman world, when the New Testament was written, the ethics of Christ’s kingdom regarding sexuality and gender were also seen as counter-cultural. That’s what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 regarding purity:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.

Peter goes on to say that Christian women are co-heirs with their husbands in Christ in 1 Peter 3:7, a thought that would have been seen as revolutionary in that culture:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

So I am not surprised when people who do not know Christ do not conform their lives to God’s standard for gender and sexuality. And in some sense, it is easy to understand how even young believers or confused believers, living in a sensual culture, can fail to understand God’s standards for purity, gender, and marriage. It’s a process for all of us as we are conformed into the image of Christ.

Here are a few things I learned in my journey to understanding what it means to live out the ethics of Christ regarding sexuality and gender, a view that I have come to know as complementarianism.

1. Christ was worth my singleness.

Christian singleness can be difficult. I say Christian singleness, because our culture champions singleness as a time of sexual freedom and experiential adventure. But the Christian single is called to sexual purity and to not cohabit with someone other than his spouse. In my early 20s I remember facing the reality that I probably would not get married for a long time. I was 24 years old in 2008, and I was staring a two-year tour of duty in Japan in the face. That worried me—until one night in April. I was traveling for a buddy’s wedding. I had recently bought Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and decided to bring it along on the plane. While on the flight, I read the first chapter by John Piper on singleness. I was cut to the core by Piper’s exhortation to maximize singleness. I was moved by the accounts of singleness by people who necessarily didn’t feel “called” to be single. As I watched the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico outside my window, a new thought dawned: I must leverage my singleness for the glory of Christ.

That’s exactly the type of life Jesus is getting at in the parables in Matthew 13. Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a treasure that a man finds hidden in a field. The man sells everything he had to buy the field and possess the treasure. Jesus’ point is that he and thus his kingdom are worth our all, everything we have to give, including our singleness.

2. When you do it God’s way, marriage becomes a lot easier.

When I got married, many people told me that marriage would be a lot harder than I expected. Some told me that the first two years especially would be tough as my wife and I got used to living with each other. In one sense those warnings were true. It is difficult to always strive to serve someone more than yourself. But at the same time, we have found that striving to serve God and each other in our God-designed roles in marriage has made our marriage relationship much better.

What does that look like? We agree that it is my job to:

  • love and serve her as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25-28);
  • joyfully provide for her and our children (Gen. 2:15; 1 Tim. 5:8);
  • be the self-sacrificial leader of our family (Eph. 5:22-24; 1 Tim. 3:4).

We also agree that her role in our marriage is to:

  • primarily be my helper in everything that God has called me to do (Gen. 2:20);
  • be the primary caretaker of our young children (1 Tim. 2:15; Tit. 2:5);
  • follow my leadership as long as my leadership conforms to God’s will (Eph. 5:22-23).

We do not fulfill our roles perfectly; we need the gospel daily. But we have found that as we strive to serve each other in our respective roles, our relationship grows stronger. In other words, when you do things God’s way, you open up the door for God’s blessing.

3. Someone must be held accountable.

I learned early on first as a yell leader at Texas A&M, and then as an officer in the Marine Corps, that a leader is always accountable. When I was a series commander at Parris Island, one of my drill instructors fell asleep while driving early in the morning, crashed his car into a telephone pole, and sustained severe injuries (he has since fully recovered). The entire company had been working on little sleep for days. This accident could have happened to any of us.

But I’ll never forget the conversation with my battalion commander the next time I saw him. In a helpful way, he reminded me that I was accountable for this Marine’s accident because he was in my command. He pointed out how I had not ensured that he was properly rested and how I had kept the drill instructors on the base late the night before for a meeting. He concluded the conversation by saying, “Lieutenant Castleberry, you are accountable for everything that happens in this series, whether you know about it or not.” I wasn’t offended. I knew then what it meant to be a leader.

It is the same way in marriage. God holds men accountable for what happens in their marriages, whether they want to be held accountable or not, because it is clear that God expects men to be the leaders of their households (Eph. 5:22-24; 1 Tim. 3:4). That’s why when Adam and Eve sinned, God addressed Adam, even though they were both standing before him (Gen 3:9).

4. Our differences should be celebrated as we pursue Christ together.

Men and women are different, but we both bear the image of God (Gen. 1:27). We represent God’s rule on this earth in our differences. And in the new heavens and new earth we will finally break through the trappings of sin to experience creation as God intended.

It is also encouraging to realize that in one sense, the kingdom is already here (Luke 10:9; 17:21). It has already broken through into our present reality, even though it is not finally consummated. Together, men and women, we have been redeemed by a God who is transforming us into the image of his beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Therefore let us press into what God has made us to be.

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Learn more from CBMW executive director Owen Strachan about the upcoming conference, then register to reserve your spot on April 8.

Gospel-Centered Manhood: The Cultivator

How does work fit into a man’s life? Young men in particular hear conflicting answers to this question. Is it a measuring stick for my self-worth? Is it the means to earn a good life for my family and me? Is it a way to actualize my interests and talents? Or is it just an unpleasant necessity in the pursuit of enjoying myself?

The question matters because our view of work affects both how we live and how we relate to God through it. If it’s a measuring stick, we’ll sacrifice anything for it and risk attending more to it than to God. If it’s an unpleasant necessity, we’ll work as little as possible and see work as a curse. If it’s for self-actualization, we’ll only really apply ourselves to things that seem compelling to us. Adopting a wrong vision for work will lead us away from God; but seeing God’s plan for it, especially when we’re young, will lead us to receive work as a gift and undertake it in a way that honors God and brings us joy.

Men especially need to see God’s vision for work because God made us cultivators from the beginning. In Genesis 2, “Man” (Heb. ‘adam) is named for the earth (‘adamah) from which he was made, while “woman” (ishah) is named for the man (ish) from whom she was made. Adam was specifically given the command to “work and keep” the garden (Gen. 2:15), which are words of service and protection. The curse assigned Adam in Genesis 3 deals with his relationship to the soil, emphasizing that cultivation was part of his calling before the fall. 

This doesn’t in any way imply that women cannot or should not work; but it does mean that men have a special responsibility for cultivating the soil. The cultivator works the soils of his life that he might bless others with the fruit of his labor.

Just as we only understand love (or holiness or anything) from seeing it in God, so we only understand cultivation by seeing how God relates to the soils of the world.

1. God works the soil of creation to nourish life.

The Genesis 1 account shows God bringing form and fullness to tohu wabohu, “formless and void” (Gen. 1:2). He makes an ordered world that can support life. God values life, as his blessings on animals and humans show (1:22, 28). He subjected the creation to decay because of humankind’s sin (Gen. 3:17-18, Rom. 8:20-21); but decay isn’t his final will for the world. In general, God wills that the creation produce fruit to nourish physical life and human culture (e.g., Deut. 28:1-12, Rev. 22:1-2).

As cultivators, we are called to participate in bringing growth and health out of creation. As Tim Keller writes in Every Good Endeavor, in cultivation “we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling, and subduing. Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and ‘unfold’ creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development” (59). When we grow a garden, take care of an animal, or even develop our own physical or mental talents, we cultivate the creation in a way that potentially aligns with God’s will.

And while we can cultivate all kinds of soils, the most significant one we must learn to cultivate is gainful work—that which bears “fruit” for us to live on. Men are called to work in a way that lets us and our families eat if we are able to do so. It’s good to cultivate skills or talents we’re passionate about, but these things must be subject to the soil of gainful employment.

Our teens and 20s offer us great opportunities to discover and develop our talents and passions. It’s a blessing to get paid to do something you love, so use your years to cultivate your talents toward gainful work. Talk to people about jobs you’re interested in; study and practice to develop yourself. But watch out for things that absorb too much time or energy and lead nowhere: rest and recreation are important parts of life, but they’re not meant to govern it (Prov. 12:11).

These years are also time to begin cultivating a God-honoring approach to work. Since God has shaped you to work, begin looking for ways to enjoy what you do. You may start out loving work or hating it; but diligence is an acquired trait, and it is glorifying to God (Col. 3:23). We can also learn to work in a way that doesn’t defraud or dehumanize others: lying or taking credit for others’ work can grease the skids of our reputation, but God hates that kind of practice (Deut. 25:15-16).

2. God cultivates the earth to provide for others from it.

God has no need of anything in creation; rather, he uses it to provide for human and animal life (Ac. 17:25). He gives plants (Gen. 1:30) and animals (Gen. 9:3) for us to eat, showing his providential care for us (see also Psalm 104). Jesus assured his followers that God knows our physical needs and meets them (Matt. 6:25-33), not guaranteeing plenty (cf. Hab. 3:17-19) but illustrating God’s providing love.

Likewise, God calls the cultivator to work to bless others. Jesus assumes that earthly fathers provide for their children (Matt. 7:11). Paul decries someone who refuses to provide for his family as a denier of the faith “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). If he has a family, the cultivator is responsible to work for their physical needs.

But God wills that we use the fruit of our labor to bless people beyond our family as well. He wired provision for the poor into the fabric of Israel’s life (Lev. 19:9-15, 25:8-55) and held them accountable for failing in it (Isa. 58:1-10). The New Testament community was marked from the beginning with provision for the poor among them (Ac. 2:45; cf. Eph. 4:28). Jesus’ parable of the “rich fool” denounces a man who hoards wealth for himself instead of sharing it with others (Lk. 12:13-21).

You may feel years away from being able to bless others with the fruit of your work—most of us start out with pretty crummy pay and may depend on others for our livelihood for a while. Indeed, we may have times where we are poor and rely on the mercy of others. But there are almost always people with greater needs, and the heart of giving is more important to God than the amount we give (Luke 21:1-4). We can tithe, help support missionaries, or give to meet others’ needs with even a few dollars a month.

3. God cultivates the souls of his people.

Both the Old Testament (Jer. 2:21) and also the New Testament (Jn. 15:1-11) use agricultural imagery to describe God’s relationship to his people. “Harvest” and “fruit” language in the New Testament apply almost exclusively to salvation (Matt. 13:1-30) or sanctification (Gal. 5:22-3). Salvation-cultivation the major work of God in the present age (Jn. 15:1, 1 Cor. 3:9).

We must carry out our work under the salvation-cultivating work of God. We can keep a Sabbath to prevent work from consuming our worship and becoming an idol. We can (and must) preach the gospel to ourselves as workers: our identity rests in Christ alone regardless of our job. The unemployed and poor also belong to God in Christ, and no job makes us more valuable to God.

Regarding others, we can share the gospel with nonbelieving co-workers, encourage Christian ones, and pray for both. We may prioritize family or friends over a better-paying job opportunity. We can look for ways to be salt and light in our workplaces and in the “soils” of our hobbies, sharing the love of God through work and play.

And finally, we can let the difficulties of work lead us to the cross. You will fail in some way in working, and it may be tempting to hide your difficulties in shame. Discuss these struggles with other men; pray for one another as workers. And look to Christ, who really has accomplished the most significant work in any of our lives. His death, resurrection, and ascension offer assurance that we are “perfected for all time” (Heb. 10:14) and will live in God’s new creation for eternity.

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Gospel-Centered Manhood: Three Correctives

The Complementarian Woman: Permitted or Pursued?

I recently had an exchange with a young church planter who wanted my thoughts on how to address the needs of women within his church. He told me it was clear what women are permitted to do from a doctrinal standpoint, but that he was not comfortable that his responsibility to women ended with simply identifying that list.

I asked him to think about that word—permit. It is a word women in complementarian settings hear with some frequency, and how our male leaders use it shapes our ability to contribute to church life. The challenge for any pastor would be to consider whether he is crafting a church culture that permits women to serve or one that pursues women to serve. Because a culture of permission will not ensure complementarity functions as it should.

Consider the analogy of marriage. Most pastors would counsel a young husband that he must pursue his wife to keep their union strong—that he must make a study of her needs and wants, that he must celebrate her strengths and find ways to leverage them for the good of their marriage. They would warn against the dangers of passivity. I submit that similar awareness is necessary on the part of male leadership in complementarian churches. A culture of permission can communicate passivity and dismissiveness to our women. They long to be pursued.

The negative implications of a culture of permission become clear if we overlay them onto other areas of ministry. Imagine if we swapped the language of pursuit for the language of permission in our church bulletins:

  • If you need community, you are permitted to join a community group.
  • If you battle addiction, you are permitted to go to Celebrate Recovery.
  • If you are interested in serving, you are permitted to serve in the nursery.

Now consider if we applied the language of pursuit to the way we speak about women’s roles. We would have to alter our speaking—and our thinking—rather dramatically.

  • It is one thing to say women are permitted to be deacons, and quite another to actively seek out and install women in that role.
  • It is one thing to say women are permitted to pray in the assembly or give announcements, and quite another to ensure that they have a voice on the platform.
  • It is one thing to say that women are permitted to teach women, and quite another to deliberately cultivate and celebrate their teaching gifts.

I am not certain when it became common to speak of permitting rather than pursuing women to serve, but I admit that it grieves me. Yes, there is that well-worn verse in 1 Timothy, but it seems a shame to let one occurrence of a term dominate our language and practice. It may be that permission vocabulary persists because of the unfortunate woman-as-usurper stereotype that sometimes underlies complementarian thought.

And I can’t help but reflect on how far removed that vocabulary is from the words of Adam at the creation of Eve: “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Adam’s words are a hymn of thanksgiving, a joyful acknowledgment that one has arrived whose contributions will bring vital and necessary completeness to the imago Dei. It is a hymn intoned not in the language of permission but in the language of pursuit. 

How sweet a thing when a woman of apparent ministry gifting elicits from male leadership not “Oh, no,” but “At last!” God help complementarians if we spend our energies fastidiously chalking the boundaries of a racecourse we never urge or equip our women to run. I have to think that egalitarians would grow quieter in their critiques if we could point to more women within our ranks who convincingly demonstrate equal, complementary value in our churches.

Women who flourish in ministry can point to not just female leaders who affirmed them but also to male leaders who championed and cultivated them. That has certainly been my story. Glenn Smith asked me to shepherd and teach women even before I knew the depth of my desire to do so. John Bisagno affirmed and mentored me when I had no idea what I was doing. Mark Hartman taught me the beauty of a well-run ministry. Matt Chandler and Collin Hansen gave me a voice. And every day for 20 years, Jeff Wilkin has spoken unmitigated blessing and encouragement to me. Would that all women in the church could know such grace.

So here is the suggestion I offered to that young church planter: Do you desire to leverage the equal complementary value of women in your church? Don’t give us a chance to ask permission. Get out ahead of us. You approach us with what you intend to empower us to do. End the culture of permission and you will dispel the stigma of submission. We are not usurpers, we are the possessors of every capacity you lack and the celebrators of every capacity you possess.

Brothers, don’t permit us. Pursue us. 

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For further reading: see Thabiti Anyabwile’s insightful thoughts on this subject in a series of four posts:

Women Are Worthy

My name is Fabienne. I’m a woman. And I’m complementarian.

I’ve been complementarian for about six years now.

There. I said it.

Being a complementarian means that I believe men and women are made differently. I think we are designed for different roles to reflect different parts of the character of God.

As I recently shared, I think it’s time to speak up. Because despite what some may think, this belief hasn’t played out in being chained to the kitchen sink or pushed to the corner. Rather, I’ve seen women empowered and valued.

Common Misconception

When I first heard the conviction I now embrace, I’m pretty sure I wanted to throw up. And whenever the nausea passed, I was left with a nagging sense of embarrassment.

I believed the common misconception that to be complementarian meant embracing a destiny of sitting in the corner being docile and quiet. And I was embarrassed because I’m just not the quiet and docile type, and I couldn’t help but notice that teaching, prophecy, and knowledge aren’t always the most beneficial skills during the church bake sale.

Thank the Lord that I work for a church that demolished those misconceptions for me.

I work for a plurality of male leadership inside a complementarian church, and every single day I come to work in one of the most intellectually challenging jobs I’ve ever had. I manage strategic leadership in several areas, I am frequently asked for wisdom and counsel (which is crazy if you know me), and my teaching gift was not only identified by my male elders, it was developed and continues to be championed by them.

If not for their complementarian intervention, I wouldn’t be close to the woman I was made to be.

If my complementarian male co-worker hadn’t challenged me to go deep in theology and deeper in the Word I would still be shallow in my faith. If my complementarian male boss hadn’t empowered me to make a difference in our staff, church, and nation, I wouldn’t have joined the fight, found a voice and—God forbid—I might have wasted my life.

My leadership doesn’t ask me to sit down because I’m a woman. They ask me to embrace my design because they believe the kingdom of God needs all types of image bearers.

Not JV

I’ll be honest: when I first heard the invitation to lead in a “female” role, I heard a call to settle for the junior varsity.

When my pastors would ask me to dream about the training we need for the women in our church, I would hear them telling me to focus on the secondary crowd while they lead the real folks. They weren’t delegating that task because it was less important; they delegated it because they believe that men and women are different, so I might have something to add to the conversation because of the way I’m made.

Women under my leadership struggled for a long time—not because the men in the church didn’t value them—but because I didn’t value them. I was too busy wanting to play in the male sandbox to see women right in front of me who desperately needed the very gifts and design that God placed in me.

I honestly think I fought for the right to do everything the guys did because in dark and deep places in my heart I believed that what they did was more valuable. I didn’t believe that a stay-at-home mom was as valuable as a CEO. I didn’t believe that emotional sensitivity was as valuable as an ability to direct and lead others.

What if part of the clamor to have access to male roles exists because deep down in our hearts we’re the ones who don’t think men and women are equal? What if we’re the ones who think male roles are more valuable than female roles? What if we’re the ones who believe the lie that if we get “stuck” doing ministry with women we won’t have the power to influence or change the church?

As I’ve focused on developing women in our church I’ve learned a few things:

  • Women aren’t dumber than men.
  • Women can go as deep theologically as men.
  • Women can be a part of changing the world.
  • Women are hungry for women to start taking them seriously.
  • My male complementarian leadership never thought otherwise. I did.

The Word and Women

I spend a lot of time with women. On most days a parade of women’s faces and voices is moving through my mind—reminders and echoes from various conferences and Bible study groups. Having recently visited a number of women’s groups in England, I’m currently hearing echoes of strong words, articulated with that invigorating British combination of joviality and definiteness. It was a joy to be among various evangelical groups, and to witness both the hunger for God’s Word and also the training up of women to meet that hunger. They’re in a context where women’s issues are hotly debated, and where their complementarian position is generally scorned.  They’re studying and teaching and sharing the Bible with all their hearts. They’re doing it with the encouragement of pastoral leadership committed to biblical instruction of all God’s people. I learned a great deal from my sisters in England.

It’s interesting to return from that context into our ongoing American conversation over gender roles. What strikes me is that we women (just like all human beings everywhere) do best when we focus on taking in and giving out the comprehensive revelation of God’s Word. If it’s really true that the Bible is made up of God’s breathed-out, living and active words, then there’s nothing more important, during this short span of time before we meet God face to face, than hearing and believing and sharing and delighting in his words of life to us.

Any time we pull out one strand of Scripture and concentrate on it, apart from God’s full revelation, we can so easily get into trouble. Women love to talk and think about women. And we should! We must! However, if we focus too exclusively on that theme, it tends to grow into the overarching one that interprets everything else we read and think. We might do better, all of us, to aim for a consistent focus on Scripture’s main theme. I don’t have that theme in a nutshell, but it might be something like: God redeeming a people for himself, through Jesus Christ his Son. However we summarize it, surely we Christians would put Jesus Christ and his redemption at the center of the Bible’s whole revelation. The question I must ask myself is whether that theme is at the center of my thinking.

Environmentalists . . . parents . . . artists . . . women . . . all of us, whatever our specific concerns, tend to look for the strand of the Scriptures that relates to us. The danger comes any time I go after making my own story (or women’s stories) central, as opposed to making sense of my story (or women’s stories) within the larger story of God’s redemption in Christ. Take the scriptural word submission, for example. If I focus on that word and that principle itself, I can get in all kinds of trouble. I can blow up the word into all sorts of rules and scenarios that Scripture itself never addresses. Or I can diminish the word into a shriveled-up relic, ignoring Scripture’s plain command. The word is given to us and explained to us in the context of Christ and his church. The principle is shown to shine throughout the Scriptures from the very first woman onward, as the story of the first man and woman keeps appearing, a reference point never left behind. I believe we women can learn about submission in the best way by studying the whole Scriptures, and by learning to love Christ as he is revealed to us and speaks to us through the inspired Word.

Spirit-Filled Power and Clarity

Christ’s love is revealed to us in a book. I don’t mean to trespass into the territory of bibliolatry, but I do mean to affirm the Spirit-filled power and clarity of the God-breathed Word. The principle of Scripture’s perspicuity (clarity, or understandability), for which the Reformers fought and died, is crucial. God’s Word is neither too vague nor too complicated to be understood clearly by God’s people. In Nehemiah 8, all the “men and women and all who could understand what they heard” stood for hours listening and learning from the Levites, who “helped the people to understand the Law” and “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” The people went away rejoicing, “because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Neh. 8:1, 3, 7-8, 12).

I love it that the women are mentioned in that magnificent scene from Nehemiah, where the remnant of God’s people who’ve returned from exile to a broken-down city recommit themselves to being a people of God’s Word. They are holding on to God’s promises when all the visible signs of those promises have been cut away; they’re left with the promises themselves, the words. And so in that scene they listen really carefully, for hours. They study the words to understand what God is saying to them.

That’s what we need to do, isn’t it? Women, like all of God’s people, need to listen really carefully to all of God’s Word, book by book, from beginning to end. We need to learn how to read it, so that we can rightly evaluate the voices around us that would tell us what it says or doesn’t say. We need to seek and live under the leadership of godly preachers and teachers who love and reverence God’s Word—not just “out there” in cyberspace but in local, biblically committed congregations. Within the community of God’s people we need to study the Word book by book, learning how to grasp the main point of a book and how that main point shapes everything in that book from beginning to end. What’s the main point of the book of Titus, and how does each passage within that book fit into the whole? What is the book of Judges all about, and what do we learn from it about the Bible’s unfolding story of redemption? We need to read the stories of various women, like Sarah, or Ruth, or Jephtha’s daughter, in light of the whole books in which they are found and in light of the Bible’s overarching theme. We need to teach and model for the younger women around us how to read and study the Word. We need to share with other women not just a message of encouragement for women, but a message of redeemed life in Christ for every person who believes in him, according to his Word.

It’s all about the Word. It’s our God-given lamp to light our paths. I’m still hearing those English women’s sturdy voices in my mind, talking about studying the Bible. They reminded me again that, until we get to see Jesus face to face, we get to live on his Word.

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Register for The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference to study with Kathleen Nielson, who will teach a workshop on “Getting into Shape: What Difference Does the Shape of a Passage Make?

Don’t Be Sidelined by the Gender Debate

I am a woman with gifts. God has given me gifts to serve others, gifts to love others. But I haven’t always thought or lived with that conviction.

When I became a Christian one of the first things I began to learn about was spiritual gifts. Prior to becoming a Christian anything I was talented in was really for me and about me. So I was academic—it was to get good grades. I was athletic—it was to exercise to feel better or look good. Whatever it was, it was for me.

When I joined my church I was given a list of ways I could serve. But I did not initially respond with eagerness. I remember my friend telling a worship pastor that I could sing. “No!” I pleaded. “Don’t make me sing!” Then one Sunday a pastor announced a need for children’s ministry. I had time to serve in this area, but again I just wasn’t all that excited because the commitment would take away from “my time” in the service.

As I grew in Christ and my understanding of the church, ministry, service, and love it became increasingly evident that my gifts weren’t about me at all. I began to develop a theology of service and a conviction, thanks to the apostle Paul’s example, to count any gain as loss and rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Piper on Spiritual Gifts

In 1981, John Piper preached an instructive sermon on spiritual gifts that explains my conviction. He shares:

If you were reading through the New Testament, the first place you would run into the term “spiritual gift” is Romans 1:11, 12. . . . Writing to the church at Rome, Paul says, “I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” The translation “impart to you some spiritual gift” is misleading because it sounds like Paul wants to help them have a gift, but the text actually means that he wants to give them the benefit of his gifts. “I long to see you, that I may use my gifts to strengthen you.”

The first and most obvious thing we learn from this text is that spiritual gifts are for strengthening others. This, of course, does not mean that the person who has a spiritual gift gets no joy or benefit from it. . . . But it does suggest that gifts are given to be given. They are not given to be hoarded. “I desire to share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” What does strengthen mean? He’s not referring to bodily strength but strength of faith.

Piper goes on to explain how to strengthen one’s faith and the general purpose of spiritual gifts. Point is, they are not our own. Spiritual gifts are the gift of God to the body of Christ for building up and strengthening others. Ultimately we glorify God by exercising spiritual gifts.

Piper concludes:

And there is nothing more thrilling, more joyful, more meaningful, more satisfying than to find our niche in the eternal unfolding of God’s glory. Our gift may look small, but as a part of the revelation of God’s infinite glory it takes on stupendous proportions.

Anything I have I count as loss, yet I still have the opportunity to strengthen others. What a kind God! But for some of us there appears to be a potential stumbling block to serving—we are women.

Everyone Serves

Until recently it never occurred to me that I was a woman serving. I simply thought of myself as a person attempting to be a servant. I have never felt sidelined as an active member in the worship team, children’s ministry, and campus ministry and evangelism.

I realize my experience may not be shared by all women. Perhaps you not been able to serve for various reasons. Maybe you desire to serve as a pastor and chafe against passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12, where the apostle Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.”

No matter your interpretation of this much-debated passage, Scripture also teaches us that if God has put you in a church, he wants you to serve. It is no small thing that God has gifted you for the benefit of the whole church! Paul’s description of the body and its various parts shows you are a valuable, and dare I say, needed part of the church (1 Corinthians 12).

The debate over gender roles can distract women from serving with all their might in the church. It’s tempting to focus on one aspect of church involvement closed to women rather than rejoice over the hundreds of ways we can and should be serving. If I am not a pastor, does that mean my service means less? Not so, according to Paul, who teaches us to take joy in working hard for God in every way he has gifted us, for the benefit of the body and to God’s glory.

God helped me put to death my selfishness and go hard with everything he has enabled me to do in the church. My ministry is important, but not because of my gifts or because I mostly serve women and children. No, it’s important because my gifts come from God to bless others.

Don’t be distracted by the debate. Serve. Serve the church. Serve God. The workers are few, so let’s be among those few.

If you need some ideas and inspiration for how to get involved, check out the helpful and extensive list compiled by Piper.

Complementarianism for Dummies

A little while ago a reporter asked me to define “complementarianism.” She didn’t know what it meant. And that’s not entirely surprising.

The word “complementarity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, but is used by people to summarize a biblical concept. It’s like the word “Trinity.” The Bible never uses the word “Trinity,” but it undeniably points to a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Though the concept of male-female complementarity can be seen from Genesis through Revelation, the label “complementarian” has only been in use for about 25 years. It was coined by a group of scholars who got together to try and come up with a word to describe someone who ascribes to the historic, biblical idea that male and female are equal, but different. The need for such a label arose in response to the proposition that equality means role-interchangeability (egalitarianism)—a concept first forwarded and popularized in evangelical circles in the 1970s and 1980s by “Biblical Feminists.”

I’ve read several articles lately from people who misunderstand and/or misrepresent the complementarian view. I was at the meeting 25 years ago where the word “complementarian” was chosen. So I think I have a pretty good grasp on the word’s definition.

So I want to boil it down for you. In emulation of the popular “for Dummies” series of instructional books, I’ll give you a “Complementarianism for Dummies” primer on the intended meaning of the word.

1. It’s complementary . . . not complimentary.

The word “complementarian” is derived from the word “complement” (not the word “compliment”). The dictionary defines “complement” as follows:

Something that completes or makes perfect; either of two parts or things needed to complete the whole; counterparts.

Complementarians believe that God created male and female as complementary expressions of the image of God—male and female are counterparts in reflecting his glory. Having two sexes expands the view. Though both sexes bear God’s image fully on their own, each does so in a unique and distinct way. Male and female in relationship reflects truths about Jesus that aren’t reflected by male alone or female alone.

2. June Cleaver is so 1950s and so not the definition of complementarity.

In our name-the-concept meeting, someone mentioned the word “traditionalism,” since our position is what Christians have traditionally believed. But that was quickly nixed. The word “traditionalism” smacks of “tradition.” Complementarians believe that the Bible’s principles supersede tradition. They can be applied in every time and culture. June Cleaver is a traditional, American, TV stereotype. She is not the complementarian ideal. Period. (And exclamation mark!) Culture has changed. What complementarity looks like now is different than what it looked like 60 or 70 years ago. So throw out the cookie-cutter stereotype. It does not apply.

3. A proletariat-bourgeois-type hierarchy has no place in complementarity.

Feminist theorists maintain that male-female role differences create an over-under hierarchy in which men, who are like the privileged, elite, French landowners (bourgeois) of the 18th century, keep women—who are like the lower, underprivileged class of workers (proletariat)—subservient. Complementarians, however, do not believe that men, as a group, rank higher than women. Men are not superior to women. Women are not the “second sex.” Men have a responsibility to exercise headship in their homes and church family, and Christ revolutionized the definition of what that means. Authority is not the right to rule—it’s the responsibility to serve. We rejected the term “hierarchicalism” because people associate it with an inherent, self-proclaimed right to rule.

4. Complementarity does not condone the patriarchal, societal oppression of women.

Technically, “patriarchy” simply means a social organization in which the father is the head of the family. But since the 1970s, feminists have redefined the historic use of the term and attributed negative connotations to it. Nowadays, people regard patriarchy as the oppressive rule of men. ”Patriarchy” is regarded as a misogynistic system in which women are put down and squelched. That’s why we rejected the term “patriarchalism.” Complementarians stand against the oppression of women. We want to see women flourish, and we believe they do so when men and women together live according to God’s Word.

5. Complementarians believe God designs male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus.

Now that we’ve cleared up some misconceptions and false terminology about complementarianism, it’s time to give you a basic definition. Essentially, a complementarian is a person who believes that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus. That’s the bottom-line meaning of the word. Complementarians believe that males were designed to shine the spotlight on Christ’s relationship to the church (and the LORD God’s relationship to Christ) in a way that females cannot, and that females were designed to shine the spotlight on the church’s relationship to Christ (and Christ’s relationship to the LORD God) in a way that males cannot. Who we are as male and female is ultimately not about us. It’s about testifying to the story of Jesus. We do not get to dictate what manhood and womanhood are all about. Our Creator does. That’s the basis of complementarianism.

If you hear someone tell you that complementarity means you have to get married, have dozens of babies, be a stay-at-home housewife, clean toilets, completely forego a career, chuck your brain, tolerate abuse, watch Leave It to Beaver reruns, bury your gifts, deny your personality, and bobble-head nod “yes” to everything men say, don’t believe her. That’s a straw (wo)man misrepresentation. It’s not complementarianism.

I should know. I’m a complementarian. And I helped coin the term.


Editors’ note: Learn more from Mary Kassian in this interview with Jennie Allen as they discuss the freedom of boundaries and the difficulty of submitting to sinful men.

Boundaries Are for Your Freedom from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.


Debatable: Is Complementarianism Another Word for Patriarchy?

[Note: “Debatable” is a new feature in which we briefly summarize debates within the evangelical community.]

The Issue: Is complementarianism another word for patriarchy? Egalitarians and many complementarians agree: It is indeed. But a recent debate attempts to determine whether this should be acknowledged as a timeless biblical norm or rejected as an outdated cultural standard.

Position #1: Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Seminary, recently said at the Together for the Gospel conference that complementarians should practice what they preach:

What I fear is that we have many people in evangelicalism who can check off “complementarian” on a box but who really aren’t living out complementarian lives. Sometimes I fear we have marriages that are functionally egalitarian, because they are within the structure of the larger society. If all we are doing is saying “male headship” and “wives submit to your husbands,” but we’re not really defining what that looks like . . . in this kind of culture, when those things are being challenged, then it’s simply going to go away.

Position #2: Rachel Held Evans, an author and blogger, agrees but says complementarianism is losing because it is “nothing more, nothing less” than patriarchy:

1. They are losing ground because more and more evangelical theologians, scholars, professors, and pastors are thoughtfully debunking a complementarian interpretation of Scripture and doing it at the popular level through books like The Blue Parakeet (by Scot McKnight), Discovering Biblical Equality (by Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon Fee), How I Changed My Mind About Women in Church Leadership (by a who’s who of evangelical leaders), through evangelical colleges and seminaries that celebrate women’s giftedness to lead and are producing record numbers of female graduates, and through organizations like Christians for Biblical Equality.

2. They are losing ground because their rhetoric consistently reflects a commitment to an idealized glorification of the pre-feminist nuclear family of 1950s America rather than a commitment to “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood”—terms that many of us recognize as highly selective, reductive, and problematic. This reactionary approach often comes at the expense of sound biblical interpretation. . . .

3. And they are losing ground because, at the practical level, evangelicals are realizing that complementarianism doesn’t actually promote complementary relationships, but rather hierarchal ones.

Preemptive Response to #1: As Denny Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, notes on his blog, Moore addressed the issue of patriarchy in a 2006 article, “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians Are Winning the Gender Debate“:

If complementarians are to reclaim the debate, we must not fear making a claim that is disturbingly counter-cultural and yet strikingly biblical, a claim that the less-than-evangelical feminists understand increasingly: Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy. This claim is rendered all the more controversial because it threatens complementarianism as a “movement.” Not all complementarians can agree about the larger themes of Scripture—only broadly on some principles and negatively on what Scripture definitely does not allow (i.e. women as pastors). Even to use the word “patriarchy” in an evangelical context is uncomfortable since the word is deemed “negative” even by most complementarians. But evangelicals should ask why patriarchy seems negative to those of us who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God and Father of Jesus Christ. As liberationist scholar R. W. Connell explains, “The term ‘patriarchy’ came into widespread use around 1970 to describe this system of gender domination.” But it came into widespread use then only as a negative term. We must remember that “evangelical” is also a negative term in many contexts. We must allow the patriarchs and apostles themselves, not the editors of Playboy or Ms. Magazine, to define the grammar of our faith.

Scoring the Debate: Evans wins the debate—but only with the strawman version of complementarianism she created. For example, she asserts that complementarianism is like the “relationship between a boss and a subordinate”—an analogy that would strike most complementarians as offensive and absurd.

Evans also offers several non sequiters—such as that she and her husband share chores together and that she enjoys football more than he does—as evidence that her marriage is “functionally egalitarian.” Many chore-sharing husbands and football-loving wives will be shocked to discover they’ve been engaging in egalitarian activities.

Evans’s understanding of egalitarianism seems to be as confused as her view of complementarianism. In truth, “functionally egalitarian” marriages should more aptly be described as “dysfunctionally complementarian.” A husband who refuses his male headship role is not creating equality in the marriage but transferring the headship role to the wife. Hierarchy is not removed, only replaced by an unbiblical reversal of the creational norm.

Evans claims that complementarianism is patriarchy, and here she stumbles upon the truth. She doesn’t appear to recognize, however, that the patriarchy of marriage models the patriarchy of the Godhead. In contrast, the “functional egalitarianism” that Evans prefers models our culture’s obsession with autonomy and disdain for authority. It is an ideology particularly suited to fulfill the masculine desire—first exhibited by Adam—to shirk our responsibility as servant-leaders and transfer our God-mandated role to our wives.

Of course, this debate is neither new nor likely to end anytime soon. Evangelicals can always find an authority who will provide them with an authoritative justification for shirking authority. Such poor exegesis, however, can become habit-forming—and therein lies the true danger. As John Piper has said, you don’t have to be a complementarian to be saved. But, he adds, when you start resorting to “the kind of gymnastics” needed to find egalitarianism in Scripture then “sooner or later you are going to get the gospel wrong.”

Defining the Terms in the Debate:

Complementarian – An example of the complementarian view of marriage can be found in the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message (2000):

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood notes that “Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission—domestic, religious, or civil—ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin.”

Egalitarianism — According to Christians for Biblical Equality, egalitarianism holds that “all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity, or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world.”

Rachel Held Evans defines the term as: “Christians who identify as egalitarian usually believe that Christian women enjoy equal status and responsibility with men in the home, church, and society, and that teaching and leading God’s people should be based on giftedness rather than gender.”

(Image Credit: The Rooted Church)