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A friend of mine pointed me to a fascinating, and I think sincerely inquistive, blog post by The Common Loon, called "Is There a Calvinist-Complementarian Connection?" Here's the gist:

As an outside observer of the movement, I've noticed that in addition to Reformed soteriology, one of the key doctrinal distinctives for New Calvinists is complementarianism, the view that male leadership in the church and home is a Biblical imperative. It's no coincidence that influential Reformed/Calvinist (I'm using these terms interchangeably here) leaders like John Piper, Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll are among evangelicalism's most vocal opponents of women's ordination. As a staunch egalitarian, I believe Scripture teaches that God gives the gifts of preaching, teaching and church leadership to both men and women, which puts me squarely at odds with the young, restless, Reformed camp…

If I were capable of passing through the narrow doctrinal checkpoint affirming both TULIP and complementarian gender roles, I would find a community of New Calvinists refreshingly open to a range of positions on baptism, miraculous gifts, the Lord's Supper and eschatology. This explains why a charismatic like C.J. Mahaney can partner with a cessasionist like John MacArthur at the distinctly Reformed Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference, not to mention fellow conference conveners Ligon Duncan, a paedo-baptist (one who practices infant baptism), and Mark Dever, a credo-baptist (believer's baptism). As someone who welcomes evangelical collaboration across denominational lines, I am encouraged by these expressions of unity amid theological diversity.

In light of such ecumenism, it's perplexing to consider why egalitarians are not also welcomed to the New Calvinist table. Complementarianism may not be at the forefront of New Calvinist identity, but it nonetheless serves as a distinct theological boundary not to be crossed.

The Loon raises a number of questions: "Why is opposition to the ordination of women a non-negotiable for New Calvinists? Why does one's persuasion on gender roles carry more weight than one's view of the sacraments, spiritual gifts or the millenium? What exactly is the relationship between Calvinism and complementarianism? Is there something about Reformed theology that is inherently complementarian or is the Calvinist-complementarian connection merely a feature of this particular neo-Puritan stream? Put another way: Is it possible to be a Reformed egalitarian?"

This is a tricky issue for me. For starters, I belong to a denomination that strongly supports the ordination of women to all the offices. Because of a series of "conscience clauses" in our Book of Church Order, I cannot be pressured to support the ordination of women. I am free to preach complementarian sermons and have a church that embraces complementarian principles. But I have to work with egalitarians all the time. If I didn't, I would have hardly anyone else to work with in my denomination! Almost all the pastors I know in my Classis are egalitarians. Some of them are evangelicals with fruitful ministries.

Moreover, my church is not entirely complementarian. Most members are, but some are not. I disagree with them and they with me. But I still respect them. A few are strongly Reformed and egalitarian. They know where I stand and that the church staff and elder board embrace complementarian principles. So I make no apologies for being complementarian, but I am careful (I hope) not to demonize those who disagree. Some egalitarians are just knee-jerk following the culture, but others have studied the scriptures and are convinced that the Bible allows for and encourages women in every kind of ministry.

Back to the Loon's questions. I think you can be a Calvinist and an egalitarian. My denomination-the one I grew up in and have always been a part of-strongly supports egalitarianism. This is very problematic to me. I can understand why some would leave an egalitarian denomination, but I don't think egalitarianism necessitates that one must leave. For the time being, I am content to work with, through, and in my denomination, where both views are at the table (though my view is usually put at a card table somewhere in the basement far away from the corridors of power).

But (you knew there was a "but" coming) I am glad that the network of "New Calvinist" organizations and conferences have made complementarianism a plank in their platform. I can live in a church environment without this doctrinal boundary, but I think it would be better to have it.

Here are a few reasons why (in no particular order and more or less off the top of my head):

1. Historically, opening the door to egalitarianism in one generation leads to bigger errors in the next. I know slopes aren't always slippery, but this one seems to be. Once your hermeneutic allows for egalitarianism, it becomes hard to stand firm on homosexuality. I'm not saying that all egalitarians believe homosexuality is acceptable, only that blurring gender roles and overstating the implications of Galatians 3:28 has often slid, over time, into an acceptance of sexual immorality.

2. The role of men and women is a huge issue for our day. Our millennial views matter, but in terms of ministering in and to the culture, where we stand in gender issues matters more. There is so much confusion on manhood and womanhood, that wherever we can speak clearly and with one voice that's a good thing.

3. Complementarianism tends to signify a number of other important convictions. I don't know any complementarians who don't also affirm inerrancy, penal substitution, and eternal punishment (I'm not counting Catholics because though they don't ordain women, the reasoning has more to do with their view of the priesthood than a complementarian theology of manhood and womanhood). In other words, if someone is a Calvinist and a complementarian I can generally assume a lot about their theology. These are not the two most important issues of the faith, but they are two issues that if embraced in our day, almost always include a lot of other important theological beliefs.

Egalitarians can also believe in the sort of core doctrines listed above, but it is far less automatic. For example, the Common Loon mentions several Calvinist/Egalitarian academics: Roger Nicole, Nicholas Wolterstorrf, John Webster, Mark Husbands, Todd Billings, Bruce McCormack, Richard Mouw, Bill Dyrness, Laura Miguelez, and Donald Bloesch. With the exception of Nicole, how many of these scholars would embrace inerrancy? Some perhaps, but I bet most wouldn't. This doesn’t mean they aren’t worth listening to, but it does suggest that the Calvinist/Egalitarian package is different from the Calvinist/Compelementarian package in more ways than one.

4. Practically, it is very difficult for groups and organizations and movements to make both complementarians and egalitarians happy. If a new movement tried to embrace both views, how would this work? Would women be asked to be part of the leadership team? Would women preach to pastors at their conferences? This would not fly with most complementarians. And yet many egalitarians would see this as a matter of justice (they do in my denomination). Someone is bound to be upset. It is simpler and better for the long-term peace of an organization to take a stand on this issue. Cross-denominational movements can allow for different views of baptism, because they don't ever have to baptize anyone. But such movements will have to make decisions on leadership structures and speaking requests. So going one way or the other on the gender issue becomes a practical necessity.

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123 thoughts on “Why Do the New Calvinists Insist on Complementarianism?”

  1. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    "he charges wives to submit to their husbands rather than to seek mastery over them."

    Nobody thinks the wife should have mastery over the husband. HOWEVER, just as the obedience of a slave does not decrease the liklihood of him or her getting punished, so the submission of a wife, does not in any way decrease the chances of her being abused. Or vice versa, or anything like this, for men or women.

    Teshuqa has been filled with so many different meanings. Sometimes, it is the use that one puts to the meaning. For example, if one says that since women are sinners they should not have authority, that is rather nonsensical since men too are sinners. There is nothing in the entire scriptures that says that men have authority that women don't have.

    The way I see it, the reasons for complementarianism, are related to cultural boundary keeping – a statement that this is who Christians are, and I regard this as, in many ways, a positive impulse.

    But it is mixed with issues of control and power over women. Men write the exegesis and they write it in favour of men. There is absolutely no doubt that this is done. We can see this in the interpretation history of Gen. 3:16, Romans 16:7, 1 Tim. 2:12 and many other verses.

    Actually until the 16th century, teshuqa was translated as "be subject to." Eve was made "subject to" Adam and he would "rule over her."

    That bias sways the interpretation of the text cannot be denied. The more freedom women have gained politically, the more the Bible text needs to be skewed to control women.

    But, women agree and allow this in order to maintain their cultural identity as Christians.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    The difficulty is that Christians have the same rate of violence as the rest of the demographic. And submission does not decrease violence but reinforces it.

    So, if one just restates the ideal, the way things are supposed to be, then those women, and sometimes men, are left without resources, and are abandoned to their fate, in the interests of denying that Christians have these problems.

  3. seekingtheface says:


    Where are you getting the statistics you cite that abuse among Christians occurs at the same rate? I'd be interested to see some more in-depth statistics, since what most surveys call "Christians" is a lumping of the sheep with the wolves.

    In defense of my writings that you have cited, know that the purpose of my article was to discuss divorce and that the case of abuse was addressed as a side issue. I must reiterate that I in no way said that all women, or even most women in abusive relationships should remain and face the abuse. I simply said it was an option through which God might choose to receive glory by a husband coming to know Christ. A woman who stays and endures abuse should do so ONLY because she sees it as the best way to win her husband to Christ, and desires this more than life itself. I would consider this right alongside Jesus and Paul going up to Jerusalem knowing they it would be their death.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I don't think men have the right to even suggest something like this. To suggest that women, the weaker sex, would bring glory to God by sacrificing their bodies to the notion of male authority is truly not on! It can bring no glory to God.

    To suggest that there is some good in this, is not useful or helpful. And the truth is that if a woman tells someone that she has endured abuse for years, the first thing a man says is how it is a character flaw of the women herself that she stayed. She must be a codependent type, some people will say.

    There is no comparable way that men sacrifice their bodies in this society. I can think of no circumstance in NA today where an adult male will submit to weekly beatings for 50 years to bring glory to God. If a man submits to this, then let him talk. Let him describe the glory brought to God through living like this.

    This does not show appropriate respect for women. If there is some woman who endured this for her life time, then let her get up in the pulpit and tell her story, let her give her testimony. I haven't seen that yet.

    Why do men think they know about how to live as a woman. This is the problem with male only leadership. I sometimes think that men and women both Christians, belong to two different religions.

    The problem is that women are too ashamed to say – this was me, I was beaten, and it did not bring me, my husband or my neighbours closer to God.

  5. believer333 says:

    "Where are you getting the statistics you cite that abuse among Christians occurs at the same rate?"

    Barna did some research on it a while back. You can probably search it out on their webpage.

  6. Kate Johnson says:

    For stats on abuse in Christian homes, you can also read Nancy Nason-Clark's research on abuse and Christians. She is a leading researcher in the field today. There is other secular research that shows the same thing. The rate of abuse in Christian homes vs non-Christian homes is about the same – 25%.

    More striking, the divorce rate for non-abused women is 15%, but for abused women it is 75%.
    If we, as Christians, put as much effort in speaking out against abuse as we do speaking out about male headship, we would go a long way into cubing the rate of abuse in our homes. I think that is what Jesus focused on more, don't you? Did He focus on rescuing the abused and protecting women who were being harmed or did He say to those women, "You know, you should stay and be stoned because it will bring glory to God." NOT! There is no glory to God in staying.

    Just a thought after reading these many comments – how does staying live out the Gospel and leaving not live out the Gospel? Don't we live out the Gospel of love and salvation by leaving????


  7. B. Banner says:

    It is always interesting to me hear the idea the hermeneutic that leads to the eqalitarian view would lead to having to shift on homosexuality. I have always wondered how easily we have re-interpreted verses on slavery. That move seemed easy, at least we are now all one the same page.
    I grew up in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America which seems to have become much more conservative on the women issue. To my dismay.

  8. A. Amos Love says:

    Post 1 of 2

    What is acceptable is not always truth.
    What is truth is not always acceptable.

    I wonder; If women seek to be ordained
    are they really looking for equality?
    Or are women looking for power, profit, prestige and prominence?
    Are women looking for honor from men and from women?

    Why not look for equality with Jesus?
    Isn’t Jesus to be our example?

    Didn’t Jesus make himself of no reputation,
    and take upon himself the form of a servant
    and humble himself? Php 2:7

    Are their eyes on man and how man has decided to gain a reputation
    and not on Jesus? (What is Humble?)

    When women are ordained by humans and receive,
    papers and titles, such as, reverend and pastor,
    are they receiving honor from man?
    Are women creating a reputation for themselves?
    Are women now no longer looking for Jesus to be their example?
    Are women now looking to man to be their example?

    Jesus Himself refused honor from men.
    Jesus declared in John 5:41; “I receive not honour from men.”
    He goes on to say, “ How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?”
    Jesus also declares, “If I honour myself, my honour is nothing…”
    John 8:54

    When women greet each other with the use of titles
    are they receiving honour one of another?
    If that title is engraved on a business card or a door sign;
    are they honoring themselves and thus their honour is nothing?
    Doesn’t the Bible call graven images idols?
    Could a title be an idol?

    Doesn’t a title, with it’s power, profit, prestige and prominence,
    appeal to; “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes,
    and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world?”

    If women take a title are they looking for their own glory?
    Jesus said, “I seek not mine own glory…” John 8:50
    “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory…” John 7:18

    If women take a title are they looking for the praise of men
    more than the praise of God?

    John 12:42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers
    also many believed on him;
    but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him,
    lest they should be put out of the synagogue: (congregation)
    43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

  9. A. Amos Love says:

    Post 2 of 2

    “The chief rulers” loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Hmmm?
    Are there any women “chief rulers” around today?
    Are they looking for the praise of men?
    Are you a women wanting to be a leader?

    Why do women not believe Jesus when he said to His disciples in Mt 23,
    Neither be ye called masters: (leader)
    for one is your Master, (leader) even Christ.

    The Interlinear Bible – Nor be called leaders,
    for one is your leader the Christ.

    Phillips Modern English – You must not let people call you leaders,
    you have only one leader, Christ.

    Today's English Version – nor should you be called leader.
    your one and only leader is the Messiah.

    The Amplified – you must not be called masters (leaders)
    for you have one master (leader) the Christ.

    Jesus says, “if any man serve me, let him follow me.” John 12:26
    Paul also says, “to serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:24
    Paul ( Romans 1:1), Jude ( Jude 1:1), Peter, ( 2 Peter 1:1 ),
    James ( James 1:1 ),
    call themselves – servants of Jesus Christ.

    None call themselves “leaders,” only servants. None? None.
    None call themselves “servant-leaders,” only servants. None? None.

    If Jesus told His disciples not to be called master/leader
    and a women calls herself a leader or thinks she is a leader;
    is that women a disciple?

    When those are your choices, leader or disciple,
    which one do you choose?

    And Jesus said unto them, Ye are they
    which justify yourselves before men;
    (Is servant-leader a justification before men?
    Is servant-leader in the Bible?)
    but God knoweth your hearts:
    for that which is highly esteemed among men
    is abomination in the sight of God. Luke 16:15

    Have you ever wondered; What is highly esteemed among men?
    Could it be, power, profit, prestige and prominence?
    Could it be, “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world?” 1John 2:16

    My apologies to the women who read this.
    I apologize for all the men who have done foolish things
    in the name of God.

    Jesus trusted at least five women to deliver the greatest message ever.
    He Is Risen.
    And Jesus upbraided His men disciples for their doubt and unbelief.

    Now, if you think that gives women the right to be called pastor and
    if the Bible is your standard, ask yourself these questions;

    How many people in the Bible are called pastor?
    How many people in the Bible have the title pastor?
    How many people in the Bible are ordained a pastor?
    How many congregations in the Bible are led by a pastor?

    In the defense of men – It’s not really our fault.
    The Bible says when God operated on Adam,
    “He caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam,”
    It never says He woke him up again.

    Please forgive us.

    Titles become idols and
    pastors become masters.

    Be blessed in your search for truth.

    In His Service. By His Grace.

  10. seekingtheface says:


    The Bible doesn't use the word pastor because it's an English word. Instead the Bible says overseer, elder, or bishop. All of which are equivalent with our English use of pastor.

  11. Kate Johnson says:

    when men seek the same "office" are they also looking for power and prestige????

  12. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I don't want to be a female leader, I want to have a female leader.

    Just as men want leaders of their own sex, so do women. And women want female leaders to have equal authority to the male leaders, for rather obvious reasons.

  13. believer333 says:

    Actually, Sue you are a female leader. The words proistemi (stand before in the sense of leading and guarding) and hegeomai (leader) certainly apply to you who have walked before us in research and study of God's Word and pointed us toward more accurate understandings.

    I am also a leader in my church. And I know many women leaders in various responsibilities and avenues of leadership. IMO there is no problem with honoring these women. I wouldn't want to be honored with the false humility and false praise that many male leaders delight in. And in fact ordination was not a part of Scripture to us. That came later and became elevated further than simply recognizing a person's gifts and freeing him or her to operate more fully in them. That is all most women I know want – to be recognized with gladness for the gifts they have and be welcomed to operate more fully in them.

  14. M.W. says:


    Excellent and thoughtful discussion. You know, Elizabeth Elliot was a wonderful woman of God. She was also, strangely enough, a complimentarian.

    I arrived on this forum to learn about this issue. I wanted to know the truth in whatever form it comes in. As an educated woman, and a Christian, I often wonder why Christ came as a man. How could he relate to me? In truth, men and women are not completely different (we suffer and we rejoice). Yet, we are different. You only have to be married for a short time to realize that men and women think differently. LOL. I think that that’s OK. Why should we think the same anyway? My other question was then, why would God create men and women to think differently?

    I began to realize that maybe we work together better because we are different. We can love each other because we share a common humanity, and we can assist one another because we are different. Anyone that insists that we are the same, mentally, in every way, is naive.

    The Bible tells us, Christians in general, not just women, to do and live in some very backward (perspectivally) ways. “Blessed are those who mourn,” “Blessed are the persecuted,” “turn the other cheek,” etc. In fact, much of it is down right lunacy! A man who turns the other cheek in this world is gonna get a smack in the other one every time! A woman too. If we follow these ridiculous teachings, were going to be abused and cursed for it, every time.

    Well, I guess what I’m saying is that I can’t always make complete sense out of the bible’s teachings, but I do feel the way Peter did when Jesus asked if he wanted to leave. He replied in desperation, “Where else would we go? Who else has the words of life?” I come to the bible to find the truth, in whatever form it takes. I don’t care if I am abused for it (it will hurt, as all abuse does–just ask Stephen). I want the words of life, even if they seem all wrong.

  15. mouthpiece says:

    I just happened on to this site and read a few posts and decided to contribute my own two cents. To be clear, I am a heterosexual male and a complementarian. The argument could be made that I am biased or ignorant. I do however have no brothers and no sons. Instead, I have a sister, a wife and four daughters all of whom I consider to be marvelous and invaluable people.

    Nonetheless, I have a strong confidence that there are unique, God-given roles for men and women that include a place of headship for men and a place of submission for women. Some random comments on what I read above:

    1) I want to be very careful to distinguish in my thinking about any subject between what the scriptures teach and what makes logical sense to me. I see the complementarian view as very logical, but even if I didn’t, I would not feel free to ignore what seems to me to be the plain teaching of the scriptures in order to follow my own logic.

    2) I don’t see what the relative incidences of abuse among Christians and non-Christians has to do with anything unless it is assumed that submission actually leads to abuse. Some twisted form of submission might, but certainly not the kind of submission the scriptures teach. My wife is submissive to me, but I guarantee you she would not put up with any abuse from me.

    3) I still think that the real rub on this issue is the assumption in our culture that to be the head is to be superior and to be submitted is to be inferior. That is certainly the way that the culture would think. It is the way that we naturally think. But the problem is that neither God nor the Bible has put much stock in the way we naturally think. Instead, he has said that the way we think is foolishness to him. Many of Jesus’ teachings run diametrically opposed to what is to us just common sense. Why have we singled out the teaching about the unique roles of men and women for rejection as being contrary to reason?

  16. brian says:

    I have been hearing alot of harsh statements from the reformed/Calvinistic community about the “new” Calvinism over the last year. Seems like its pretty much 3 issues the “traditional” reformed, is complaining about this “new”Calvinism.

    1)that they not “truly” reformed cause they don’t follow the “traditional” a Presbyterian/reformed church government. Well lets see the particular baptists did not have “reformed” church government. They were just as bit as Calvinistic as the Presbyterians and congregationalists. Either do the congregationalists, but one would be hard pressed to say that Johnathon Edwards was not Calvinist.
    2)The new Calvinism is not truly “Reformed” cause they may not in some churches follow the “traditional” reformed confessions like the Westminister Standards or Three Forms of Unity or neither of London Baptist confessions. This is totally not true. I have seen some “independent/bible” type churches confessions of faith over the years and their pretty calvinistic
    3)that these new Calvinists are too “spirit-filled”,”fruits of the spirit”. Well im sure the first Great Awakening was that way and it was very Calvinistic

    I guess my point is just cause a church or a movement is not your “type” of Calvinism. That doesn’t mean they are not true blue Calvinists. I mean if u follow the 5 points”Tulip” in your theology, you are considered Calvinist.

  17. Rose says:

    I think it might be helpful to approach this issue from the angle of asking what sort of authority do complementarians think men have over women? It is one thing to think that the Bible excludes women from the office of teaching elder, it is another to think that they are excluded from leadership teams of para-church groups and from speaking at conferences put together by such teams. It is interesting that complementarians will describe their leadership as “shepherding” or “headship,” but rarely do you hear it described as “servant.” In my experience this movement involves a grasping of authority that God has not given to anyone. They have a very different approach than Christ who emptied himself of what properly belonged to him to serve his people.

    I also find it interesting that these groups tend to focus on Christ’s role as Savior, even equating Christ with his cross to the neglect of his resurrection and Lordship. Go through “Sovereign Grace Praise” and count how many of these songs extol Christ as Savior and how many exult him as Lord. Compare this to the rate at which these two roles of Christ are praised in the Spirit-inspired Psalter. I rarely have trouble with how their views are described in their carefully hammered out pronouncements, but how they are put into practice and less carefully taught troubles me greatly. In many cases, I believe they are actually usurping the authority of Christ, in their homes, in their communities, and in their churches. I always thought this was a Baptist element of the “New Calvinism,” but apparently the old Calvinism embraces it as well. Beware. God does not share his glory with anyone.

  18. IPBoo says:

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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