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I imagine that most of the regular readers of this blog are convinced complementarians. For that reason I don't usually reiterate the biblical arguments for male leadership in the church and in the home. But from time to time it's probably wise to re-visit the issue. First, because the cultural pressure is decidedly against complementarianism. We need our spines stiffened by Scripture more frequently than we realize. And second, because there may be those reading this blog (or those you know) who struggle with this issue and are looking for help. There may even be mild egalitarians open to being persuaded.

Over the next few days I want address complementarianism by examining what John Stott says about the issue in Chapter 12 ("Women, Men and God") of his book Issues Facing Christians Today (4th Edition, Zondervan, 2006). I choose John Stott because: 1) I have the utmost respect for his ministry and general handling of the Scriptures, and 2) I know solid evangelicals who find his mediating not-quite-egalitarian-not-quite-complementarian view very attractive. As a general rule, when Stott speaks, evangelicals should listen. So if anyone could present a strong case for women elders and pastors, or something less than full blown complementarianism, surely John Stott could.

But in actuality, a close examination of Stott's exegesis shows just how weak the middle-of-the-road position (not to mention the egalitarian position) really is.

Framing the Debate

Stott frames the gender debate, as he frames most debates, as an opportunity to find the golden mean between two extremes. On the one hand, women have long been oppressed by a male-dominated society so we must try to "understand their hurts, frustration and even rage" (325). In other words, we must listen to women. On the other hand, we must listen to Scripture too. The goal is to avoid denying the teaching of Scripture just to be relevant while also avoiding insensitivity to the people most affected by these issues.

Of course, every Christian should eschew insensitivity. That's a fine caution. But when Stott goes on to quote approvingly (for two pages) several feminist authors, while also bemoaning the fact that there aren't enough women in Congress, you get the distinct impression that Stott is going to try hard to make sure Scripture is not too offensive to those with feminist sensibilities. Because Stott sets out to steer a course between Scripture and women's pain, he commits himself to avoiding any conclusions that might add to that pain. Whether this middle path is the right path remains to be seen.


Stott, with typical clarity and organizational skill, focuses on "four crucial words" (327). The first word is equality. Not surprisingly, Stott starts in Genesis, arguing from 1:26-28 that neither sex is more like God than the other or more responsible for the earth than the other (328). He goes on to show how Jesus honored women and treated them as equals. Later, Stott deals with Galatians 3:28. This passage, he says, does not eradicate all differences between men and women, but rather is a statement about our standing before God. The context is justification. All who by faith are in Christ are equally accepted by God and equally his children. No sex is superior or inferior to the other (332).

So far so good. But under this heading of equality Stott also makes a number of dubious claims.

1) In referencing some of the maternal language about God, Stott concludes that God "was simultaneously Israel's Father and Mother" (329). I understand that Stott wants to do justice to the passages "which speak of God in feminine--and especially maternal--terms" but he's not careful in how he does so. To recognize that Scripture sometimes uses maternal metaphors is not the same as saying Yahweh was Israel's Mother. Naming is different than analogy or metaphor. God is a Father who gave birth to Israel and loves us like a nursing mother. But this does not make God “Mother” any more than Paul would have been called “Mother” after comparing himself to a gentle nursing mother among the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2:7).

2) While Stott rightly points out that "the domination of woman by man is due to the fall, not to the creation" (330) he fails to make explicit that the desire by woman to rule man is also a result of the fall (Gen, 3:16; 4:7).

3) Most critically, Stott understands Pentecost to have caused the undoing of the effects of the fall and a restoration of creation-equality between the sexes. This point will loom large in the rest of his argument. Stott believes that what was perverted by the fall was recovered by redemption in Christ such that the original equality was re-established (332). I have no problem at all affirming the creation-equality of the sexes, but I'm not sure it was eradicated and then re-created. The relationship between men and women faces difficulties, and always will, because the whole creation still labors under the curse. I don’t think Stott’s Pentecost argument can carry the freight he wants it too.


We now come to the second word: complementarity. Stott once again starts off on solid ground. He affirms that "equality of worth is not identity of role" (333). But then he quickly adds the caveat that "we must be careful not to acquiesce uncritically in [the] stereotypes" (333). After two paragraphs of this caveat (including a favorable quote from Betty Friedan) he turns to Genesis 2:18-22 where we see men and women are "equal but different" (334). They are equal in dignity and yet possess distinctives.

Just when you think Stott will explain those distinctives, he quickly retreats again to explain that defining these distincitives is very difficult. He rejects Mars and Venus kinds of stereotypes. He denies that there is a certain masculine personality. Eventually he turns to Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen and her notion that "Christian men must be ready to substitute biblical notions of responsibility and service for the dubious ideals of the male code of honour that keeps reinventing itself, Hydra-like, in every generation" (336). After more criticism of "the honour code of the warrior" Stott finally comes around to his definition of complementarity: men and women both guard shalom. "Here we come back to the complementarity of men and women as well as to their equality, for it is only when we recover the face that the creation and the cultural mandate is given to both, and when men reject the concept of unlimited economic growth, that we will create the space for the gifts of women, the importance of family life and the rightful place of the gifts of God to the world of shalom" (336). In the end, Stott concludes we should not think of "opposite sexes" but neighboring sexes.

What happened here? Stott never talked about the pertinent scriptures in Genesis 1-3, that Adam's name was given for humanity, that Adam had responsibility for naming the animals, that Adam was created first, that Adam was held responsible for couple’s sin, that Eve was designated a helper for Adam and not the other way around. Instead of finding his definition of complementarity in the text, Stott goes out of his way to make sure we don't have too rigid of a view of gender distinctions. And he concludes by urging us to guard shalom together as neighboring sexes. He's done nothing to demonstrate how men and women are different and everything to back away from the implications of the differences he says he affirms. His commitment to a vague, overarching equality has blinded him to the glorious particularities of complementarity.

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55 thoughts on “Go Big or Go Home: Why Complemegalitarian Doesn’t Work (1)”

  1. Kevin,

    Some questions for you: when you write of the “glorious particularities of complementarity” what are you talking about? Are these things that are derived from knowing “Adam’s name was given for humanity, that Adam had responsibility for naming the animals, that Adam was created first, that Adam was held responsible for couple’s sin, that Eve was designated a helper for Adam and not the other way around?” What does that entail? Does it entail Mars and Venus kinds of stereotypes? Does it make them “opposites” (what does that even mean?)?

    I was expecting your dissatisfaction with Stott’s reasoning to come from his reluctance to define the difference between men and women as one where roles of authority and submission are determinant. Instead, you seem to be dissatisfied with his reluctance to say men and women are like polar opposites that fit neatly into different domains of life. Yet, there is nothing in the above account that implies this, unless you read cultural stereotypes from the 1950s into the word “helper” or find John Gray’s ideas latent in Genesis 1-3. I don’t see anything incompatible with the texts you cite and Stott’s ideas

  2. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Adam, perhaps I wasn’t clear in my last few paragraphs. My disagreement with Stott is not because I wanted him to say more about John Gray (I’ve never read him) or because I think men and women are polar opposites (though I think they are “wired” differently). My dissatisfaction is, as you intimated, with Stott’s reluctance to see that the picture of manhood and womanhood in the first chapters of Genesis, not to mention in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Corinthians, is one of equality in the context of headship and helpmate, humble authority and intelligent submission, loving leadership and gracious respect. Stott settles for saying men and women are not identical, without venturing to explain from the texts he cites what that difference entails.

  3. Ben O'Toole says:



    You did a nice job here of pointing out some of what, to most, seems like sound exegesis by a trusted name. Yet Stott does not present an honest treatment of the issue from Scripture and I believe his bias is clear. Sadly, I have found the same from other scholars (such as Fee, whose claims are even more dubious). I look forward to your follow-up posts.


  4. Kevin:
    When you say “Stott’s exegesis shows just how weak the middle-of-the-road position (not to mention the egalitarian position) really is,” are you painting with too broad a brush here charging that all egalitarian positions are weak? While one may not agree on all the finer points of Phil Payne’s research (which I’ve cataloged here) or countless others, it’s doubtful on a close reading they are viewed as “weak.” Indeed, arguments used by complementarians of the Grudem/Ware stripe using eternal subordination of the Son to substantiate women subordination have serious concerns.

  5. Thanks for clarifying, Kevin.

    I agree with Paul too. I read an essay by Richard Hess called “Splitting the Adam” that puts to rest the idea that the human race was named in such a way that God wanted it to reflect something masculine (“Adam’s name was given for humanity”). The main point is that a gender specific pronouns do not imply a gender specific natures. “Table” in Spanish is “la mesa”–it does not follow that tables are feminine or “feminized.”

  6. Michael says:

    Kevin, great article series. And much needed today in the church.

    Can you explain “the creation-equality of the sexes”? Is Adam not “more responsible” pre-Fall, as the head, the leader so to speak? I understand their equality before God in the sense of communion with Him, but I thought there was a difference in roles.

    Regarding Stott’s views, what does the fact that “women have long been oppressed by a male-dominated society” have to do with the Bible? To use this as a basis for finding a middle road is akin to saying the Scripture is equal to modern views, and since they are equal we can easily find a middle path. Can a middle path be found to heaven and hell? Can a middle path be found to righteousness and unrighteousness?

  7. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I’m not sure what exactly Stott means when he argues that the original equality is re-established in redemption. But the practical outworking seems to be a minimizing of any role distinctions.

  8. Greg says:

    Thank you for writing this Kevin. I really resonated with your first paragraph. You can count me as one who is looking for help!

    I started as a convinced complementarian but as I have read more and more about the egalitarian point of view I have been really surprised how committed they are to exegesis and the authority of Scripture. They seem to share your concern that we need “to have our spines stiffened by Scripture.” It has been confusing because often times I feel like egalitarians can make better arguments from Scripture than I can make.

    Finally, the whole discussion has opened my eyes to the importance of providing women the opportunities to use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them. It sounds to me like Stott wants to emphasize this as well.

  9. Tony Mator says:

    It might be useful to point out that the Apostle Paul’s view argument for the distinct roles of men and women was not based on the fall but on the creation. This is a crucial fact that Stott seems to be ignoring.

  10. ted says:

    Hess is motivated in much his scholarship to affirm women in ministry because his wife is a pastor. As someone who has talked to him about this issue I have found him to paint with a broad brush around evidence from Genesis 1 that points to ontological differences between men and women. Even at the most basic level of the genders being unique and distinct from each other.

    In addition Adam I am not sure how you would make a compelling case that the exegesis of Payne is anything but weak. It requires page after page of telling you that the text does not say what it says, which will always be the fundamental flaw of the egalitarian position.

    I know this is where the cultural specific argument of Towner on 1 Timothy usually comes into play but this is deeply troubling. Because if Paul was saying that women should be restricted from teaching in this context because some of them were making trouble, than he is advocating that stereotyping. For example if I had two people over the age of 80 in my church who were teaching heresy in my church and my reply was “no more people over 80 are allowed to teach.” Everyone would realize this is bad leadership when you do not exclude an entire gender, race, or age group from teaching because a few are causing problems. If you accept the exegesis that all restrictions on women are only cultural and not universal than you run into the above problems.

  11. MRS says:

    I tend to agree with DeYoung on this point, but as someone who is in a very conservative church with a woman on staff as a minister, it’s hard for me to see the problem. Could anyone explain to those of us in conservative churches with female pastors – what are we doing wrong and what are its implications?

  12. Bob says:

    I just don’t see what is to gain with the complementarian view? Why is this an important issue? Why do males still feel the need to hold females back? I’m sorry, but I strongly disagree with this. Looking at this in a gender way, not every male and female are created the same so how in the world are they supposed to act the same? Some males aren’t meant to be leaders and some females are and vice versa. And also why is Christianity a religion that wants to hold people back?

  13. bob schultz says:

    “We need our spines stiffened by Scripture more frequently than we realize.” Love that. I just posted that quote… “by Kevin DeYoung” to my facebook status if you don’t mind.

  14. Anthony Mator says:

    *Why is Christianity a religion that wants to hold people back?*

    Eerily similar to what the Serpent asked Eve in the Garden.

  15. Bob says:

    Anthony, I have a problem comparing women to the serpent in Genesis. To be honest I see your point with the statement I made. But comparing these two, woman and the serpent, you are saying/implying that if a woman is a pastor she is sinning and could/would end up in Hell. This sounds a lot like the Puritans to me and Anne Hutchinson. How are we alright treating women like second class citizens by telling them there are things they can’t do because they are a woman and not a man?

  16. ted says:

    Bob this is typical ploy made by egals to try and frame the argument as comps wanting to treat women as “second class” citizens. Bottom line is that no comp. is for that, and it is manipulative to suggest otherwise. This is a matter of roles that the Bible has prescribed for men and women to more fully reflect his glory and image to a broken world. Your problem Bob is not with Kevin or anyone who has commented, but with the Bible.

  17. henrybish says:

    Thanks Kevin, this post/analysis is really helpful.

    MRS Could anyone explain to those of us in conservative churches with female pastors – what are we doing wrong

    Well the first obvious thing is that it is not obeying Paul’s command in verses such as 1Tim2:12 which prohibit women from teaching/exercising authority over men, which is what the job of a pastor/elder entails.

    With regards to why is this a bad thing, at a basic level, even if we do not fully comprehend why God thinks something is bad, we are foolish to reject His judgment and go with our own sense of right and wrong instead. Does God know best or not?

    But to be more specific, one implication is how a congregation with a female pastor will view the authority of scripture – when they read the verses that prohibit women elders (such as 1Tim2:12-14) they will think ‘since we have a female pastor there must be a good reason why we don’t obey those verses today’ and so when they come to other difficult verses (such as those prohibiting homosexuality) they will be open to using the same thinking to dismiss them. Ultimately the authority of scripture is eroded, the congregation will not really feel as though scripture is authoritative if it says something. To find out more on the negative consequences of egalitarianism read Wayne Grudem’s book ‘Evangelical Feminism, A New Path to Liberalism’.

    Hope that helps.

  18. henrybish says:


    I don’t understand your comment: How are we alright treating women like second class citizens by telling them there are things they can’t do because they are a woman and not a man

    Are you saying that someone’s worth is dependent on the position they hold? Using this reasoning, are all the members of a congregation who are not/will never be elders of less worth in God’s sight because of it? Why does not being an elder suddenly make a person a ‘second class citizen’? I don’t think that is very fair to the millions of men and women who will never have the opportunity to be an elder because they are not gifted for it. Ones position (or lack of) does not make one of less value/worth, unless you judge by the worlds way of judging.

  19. henrybish says:


    Also, regarding your comment: How are we alright treating women like second class citizens by telling them there are things they can’t do because they are a woman and not a man

    One could say the same argument about homosexuals: How are we alright treating homosexuals like second class citizens by telling them there are things they can’t do because they are a homosexual and not a hetrosexual

    The simple answer is that if God has given certain boundaries that we must operate within, then we are not free to disregard them. And according to 1Tim2:12 and other verses women may not teach or exercise authority over a man.

    We should ask God to help us receive this teaching and see the goodness of it and also the shamefulness of violating it.

  20. Brad says:

    Hi Bob,

    Here are some resources that might be helpful. They are from the egalitarian perspective. I think you will find their vision of mutuality and equality both Scriptural and appealing.

    – Man and Woman, One in Christ
    – Women in the World of the Earliest Christians
    – What’s With Paul and Women?
    – Abusing Scripture
    – The Blue Parakeet
    – Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of
    Cultural Analysis
    – The Journey Back to Eden
    – Beyond Sex Roles
    – Christians for biblical equality –

  21. Cathy says:

    I am sorry, but as a woman I am completely offended by being equated to both Satan and homosexuals. They are both abominations in God’s eyes. I have to say, I am a lousy housekeeper, mostly because I am quite handicapped. However, until recently I was a good accountant. I did have men that were “subordinate” to me. I guess I was sinning? I was also married to a man that could not run a lemonade stand let alone a household. If I had submitted to him, we would have been living under a bridge. I did divorce him, how could I stay married to a mad I did not respect? Now I am married to a Dutch man, raised in Rotterdam, and he is Christian, and we agree that both of our sides are given in important issues, and only if we cannot compromise his “side” wins because I trust him completely and love him with all my heart and therefore I have no problem with this. By the way, I taught boys in Sunday School… perhaps my teaching in church was a sin too?

  22. Wesley says:

    I never cease to be amazed at the wildfire that arises from certain issues being brought up, even within the church! But of course, that does not mean they should not be brought up. I dunno about anyone else but i find it difficult a lot of times as a reformed, comp. to really listen and respond gracefully and winsomely to egalitarian arguments. no offence meant, but a clear example being Cathy’s clearly egal. response to the issue. I find it diffcult to even know where to being with something like that, let alone put away pride and really hear where she may be coming from.
    God knows, we already have a bad rap as reformed guys for being argumentative and grace-less in our dealings with other brothers and sisters. I pray for us in all our dealings with egals. and Armins. that we uphold the authority of the Word and not water-down doctrine to suit culture, but also that we would speak and deal with our brothers and sisters in gracious, life-giving ways, that seek to enlighten and come alongside and not beat down into submission. That we would adopt the attitude of Spurgeon when he was asked how to reconcile the Calvinists and the Arminians and he simply responded, ‘why would i need to try to reconcile friends?’ God’s peace –

  23. jsembler says:

    Not that this is not an important issue, and its one that I have wrestled with in my own exegesis of Scripture and in the conversations that are going on within my denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but I am pretty sure this is why the church in America is NOT GROWING. How can we be the church for our neighbors, co-workers and unbelieving friends when we are so caught up in who is right and who is wrong? I don’t know about you guys, but I am more concerned with my lack of doing the latter than my desire to be right on the former.

  24. Andrew says:

    I think it is important that people actually read the chapter by Stott that is being examined here and not simply take Kevin’s description of it and selective quotes. For example, the section regarding the feminine descriptions of God are much more clearly argued than Kevin acknowledges and to me he brushes them off far to easily. (I realise it is a blog and so has to be a short review but there are dangers in this.)

    What Stott also recognises is that women have often been looked down on in the church and made to feel like second class citizens. Would Kevin acknowledge that this is the case and that it goes on in some churches today?
    Perhaps before we talk about the place of women in the church and society we need to acknowledge and seek forgivness for this? Is that not where we need to begin rather than being so quick to claim our headship?

    I’m also struck by the lack of comments from women. Presumably it is in part because as church leaders we are mostly men – how about we ask our girlfriend/wife/sister to look at the blog and Stotts chapter and give their view? It would be interesting to see what their perspective would be.

  25. henrybish says:

    In light of Wesley’s comment I guess the implication is that some of us (me?) are coming across as argumentative? So for myself I apologize if my tone has not been as it should, maybe I should make more effort to sound kinder? I honestly am not intending to sound nasty, I just like a vigorous discussion. Is that bad?

    Maybe I am misusing this scripture, but what place does Acts 18:28 have for when we discuss things?

    NIV says Apollos ‘vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate’
    ESV says ‘powerfully refuted’.

    Are we allowed to do this?

    Re Cathy and your questions about teaching boys, how does it apply in the secular world etc.. there are good answers, but these 2 booklets are a great place to get these answers, they can both be read for free online too:

    But short answer for one of the Q’s, children (boys) do not class as men, Paul is referring to public instruction of adult males, not boys. Mothers/women teaching children etc is very different, I think Timothy learned his faith from his mother and grandmother.

    I would like to ask you Cathy, if it is true that the Bible teaches these things, would it make any difference to you?

    And btw I think you misunderstood my point about homosexuality. I was saying that Bob’s charge of complementarians treating women like ‘second class citizens’ could equally be leveled at all of you here who do not permit homosexuality in your churches. But with both instances is it wrong of me to say that if the Bible pronounces a verdict on these things then who are we to argue with God? Please don’t get mad at me, I didn’t write the apostle Paul’s letters.

  26. Sue says:

    Wow. No one even mentioned the rather obvious point that 1 Tim. 2:12 says that a woman must not control or dominate a man. Neither is any church leader, male or female allowed to do that. Someone should read the note in the NET Bible online and ask why this verse is not translated in accordance with the one recognized meaning of that word. Egalitarians are reading the same Greek as complementarians but they are not reading the same English Bibles.

  27. E.G. says:

    A great book on this subject, from an egalitarian, evangelical viewpoint is Scot McKnights “The Blue Parakeet.”

  28. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Here’s the Danvers Statement on Biblical Distinctives between Males and Females.

  29. Joe says:

    Wow, I never knew Stott held those views. I guess one always has to be discerning and regard the content before the name on the book.

  30. dcljoy says:

    Kevin De Young, you said :
    “My dissatisfaction is, as you intimated, with Stott’s reluctance to see that the picture of manhood and womanhood in the first chapters of Genesis,”

    Are you sure you are not reading into these chapters in Genesis what you want them to say? This is how you come across to me.

    Certainly, I have a great respect for John Stott, for his integrity and his deep knowledge both of what the Bible says and means, and the deep knowledge of God he has acquired after a life lived in His service.

    It seems off-hand to say the least, to dismiss what Stott says because it does not fit with your own position.

  31. Bill Kinnon says:

    Perhaps before you have your “spine stiffened by Scripture” you might want your heart broken by it. I’m afraid your arrogance, Kevin, never ceases to amaze me.

  32. “2) While Stott rightly points out that “the domination of woman by man is due to the fall, not to the creation” (330) he fails to make explicit that the desire by woman to rule man is also a result of the fall (Gen, 3:16; 4:7).”

    First of all – I want to affirm that I am also a sincere admirer of John Stott. He has a strong reputation of being a solid theologian and a firm Evangelical – but he has also had the courage to admit to his own convictions in regards to Conditional Immortality (re: Interternality of Hell) (see also John Wenham, for another firmly Evangelical theologian who also held this view). That takes tremendous courage.

    Second of all – I want to clearly state that the doctrine that you are referencing/defending is an old school doctrine [and often a “Reformed” sacred cow, that – outside of those who still want to cling to it – is regarded as purely isogetical (read into the scripture) and is a throw back to a time in our culture where women genuinely were seen as second hand and inferior to men (especially in its more perverse form: archetypically expressed as the subservient, domicile southern housewife, subject to a domineering husband’s whims and prejudices, i.e “women belong in the kitchen and barefoot and pregnant.” I view the doctrine that there is an inherent drive in every woman to dominate every man as absolutely repugnant and hamstrung to outrageous cultural aberrations that are themselves shameful and demand repentance. I only agree that there is potential for an archetypical “Jezebel Spirit” but there is no more potential for it to manifest then any other equally bad archetype in the male side. What this doctrine functionally does is state that a woman is more fallen then a man and that ere proper place is tucked away – out of sight and out of mind somewhere behind him. This is perverse and unbiblical and the most outrageous feminist antics!

    The issue is that much of what we see and continue to see in regards to what is called “Feminism” is a reaction to an abusive and perverse Patriarchalism. The issue is that there is a biblical or repristinated (if you will) form of that – and then there are forms of it that have been isogetically perverted by prevailing culture. I have the same view of the doctrine outline above as I would if I read a theologian from the Civil War era arguing that Blacks are not fully human and trying to do so from the scripture.

    If you have any desire to advance a biblical sense of masculinity and complementarianism – then the first step is repentance from all the garbage that has been drug up from the histo-theological continuum and acknowledge grievous dereliction of exegetical foundations. Repentance begins with the church – and it needs to start here with this.

    It strongly figures into my own systematic theology that there is an assertion of biblical servanthood patriarchalism that is appropriate to be believed and lived-out by the believer – but I frame that biblically and exegetically and when unpacking it – I will never make any bones about clearing the field and being blunt about what I feel is a grotesque perversion (I would even say demonic [because it is a brokenness of a sacred thing]).

  33. Emily Wright says:

    In response to Matthew Lipscomb’s second point I would like to point out that disregarding a position because it is old is illogical and has been called “chronological snobbery” by C.S. Lewis and others. Also disregarding a viewpoint because it is not widely held is known as the logical fallacy of “appealing to the masses”. These types of arguments are often leveled by secularists at biblical traditionally held views such as the sanctity of marriage, the authority of Scripture and headship in marriage and the church. Throughout Scripture we are commanded to hold views that will not be those of the world around us (Matthew 7:13-14).

    Matthew misstates the implication of the curse after the fall of mankind, as interpreted by complementarians, by suggesting that it is the desire of ALL women to dominate ALL men. In fact it is that a wife may sometimes desire to throw off the scripturally mandated submission to her husband (Genesis 3:16 and Ephesians 5:22-28).

    The command of submission given in Ephesians 5:22-28 is not culturally acceptable. However, little thought is given to the statement that “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church”. That is a far more difficult command to obey than submission, considering the vast depth of Christ’s love.

    Biblical complementarism is not a position of male domineering in the church and the family, but a position of humble, gentle, selfless, Christ centered leadership and responsibility. Both the leadership of the husband and the submission of the wife are God’s design and are there in part for our sanctification. To reject God’s order based on the views of our sinful culture or our own stubborn thoughts is to put ourselves above the Word of God claiming that we know better than the Creator God!

    As a woman and wife I often find this command of submission difficult but I believe that God’s word is inerrant, His ways are best, and that obedience to the biblical design of complimentarianism leads to great blessing and sanctification. We have only to look at the culture around us to see that egalitarianism and complemegalitarianism are flawed and ineffective.

  34. Sue says:

    I would like to briefly share one little piece of information which I feel saved my life. If you are subject to abuse of any kind, verbal or physical, if you submit, the abuse will increase. This is certain.

  35. Dear Emily,

    I am in complete agreement with you in regards to your assertion in regards to doctrine that is ‘bashed because it is old.’ Everything that you say is correct. I get into trouble with some because of my positions on alcohol, which line up with Luther and Calvin (see the book ‘Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church’ [] and ‘God Gave Wine, [] ). A true and faithful examination will show that Alcohol has been a part of the Church for 1900 years – and only within recent history did the teachers of certain mostly southern denominations suddenly think that it was wrong for a Christian to drink alcohol, they ‘jumped social’ when it came to that issue doctrinally; much like other “liberal” churches do with Homosexuality – they allow a social/cultural situation to change doctrinal formlations. This is a bit of a digression – but it illustrates my point that I am agreeing with you in so far as just because it is old does not make it wrong, but also it may in fact be wrong because it is “new”. We do live in a time when Biblical fidelity potentially evokes vitriolic condescension. Many of my close friends are so trained in their mindsets to hate alcohol that it is not even possible to have a biblical and theological discussion of the violence and subversion that that doctrine does to a genuine biblical worldview. I acknowledge that I may have lost some people who might be reading this, which I even first used the world “alcohol.” This illustrates a point that I wish to make to Sue. Sue, I would want you to know that I doubt that there is any capacity on my point to readily understand the pain that you may have experienced. I say this – because it is important to me that you understand that I am not trivializing or ‘pooh-pahing’ your experience. What I would want to tell you is that it is important that you understand that, at the end of the day, you cannot build a doctrine or a theological-directive based on your experience (or culture for that matter). Your experience and your reason, for that matter, may be “frames of references” but they are not foundations. They must always be presupposed to what the Scripture says. Once you begin interpreting scripture based on your experienced or your own presuppositions (I.E. ‘my dad was an alcoholic and abusive to me, therefore, the bible must condemn alcohol; see here were it does’ – or – ‘my husband abused me more when I submitted, so submission cannot be biblical’). The Biblical foundation must be preeminent as a foundation for everything. I do not want to sound harsh – but if you can find a place where you can surrender yourself to the beauty of that foundation – then you can free yourself of forever second-guessing the strength that it provides you by interjecting the experience of what you’ve gone through.

    As I said in the original response – I do believe that, as part of the curse, a woman may be drawn easily into an abusive relationship; and that she may struggle with finding a man who will participate in the covenant of marriage with her by initiating her submission and responding to it by a servant-hood submission himself. I do want to clarify that the way this works with the man – is that he will just expect and demand that submission, just as easily as the woman will not search out a servant-hood minded man who wants to really walk out what it means to ‘Love like Christ’ to his wife. I will go as far as to say that yes the man is the head – but that headship is more costly to him then it is to the wife – insofar as she submits to him – but he has to ‘die’ for her. That is a strong statement and the cost on the man’s side is not adequately articulated by those who want to just preach the one-sided submission argument; which is exactly what it is – if the man’s “dying for his wife” point is left out or glossed over to the point of being totally useless.

    Emily, you said:
    “Matthew misstates the implication of the curse
    after the fall of mankind, as interpreted by
    complementarians, by suggesting that it is the
    desire of ALL women to dominate ALL men.”

    I do not believe all Complementarians teach that – my contention was that SOME do.

    When Kevin, in his own original statement, says:
    “he fails to make explicit that the
    desire by woman to rule man is also
    a result of the fall (Gen, 3:16; 4:7).”

    it seems to me that this is EXACTLY what Kevin is saying, and unless I contextually missread what he is saying – this is what he *is* saying.

    If this is true, which I understand it to be – then it is Pastor DeYong who has gone too far (which I contend that he has) and not me.

    Kevin seems to want to take the hard core position – which I believe is wrong, abusive, culturally isogetical and has spawned equally wrong, abuse and antibilbical forms of Feminism as a theo-cultural backlash. Addressing that backlash cannot be fully and adequately addressed without repenting of the doctrinal error that served as it’s progenitor. That was my point.

    And I stand my my rebuke of it.

  36. Sue says:


    I construct my life as a single woman and am not attracted to the beauty of submission, nor do I see it as having any doctrinal relevance in my life.

    There comes a time in a woman’s life when a man is no longer capable of being the object of submission. It is like a dream that evaporated and will never come back, nor do I desire it. It ceases to exist, experientially or doctrinally. There is no injunction on the single woman to submit. It is perfectly acceptable for a woman to remain single, according to the gospels and Corinthians. There is no reason to be under a man again, nor to I desire to rule a man.

    I have full responsibility to my children in every way, and it is a sin not to fulfill this responsibility. Doctrinal foundations can go fly a kite, I will not sin against my children.

    From my age looking back all of this is flesh bound perversion and I can only put in a word for women who later on looking back may remember it. If you submit to one selfish word or thought on the part of your husband, you encourage that selfishness to grow. You contribute to sin. If you become the judge of your husband’s spiritual life in order to decide when to submit, you become judge and jury and will destroy your husband.

    A wife can choose either to destroy herself, or her husband. Conversely the couple can enter into mutual and reciprocal relations.

  37. Sue says:


    You say,

    “As a woman and wife I often find this command of submission difficult but I believe that God’s word is inerrant, His ways are best, and that obedience to the biblical design of complimentarianism leads to great blessing and sanctification. We have only to look at the culture around us to see that egalitarianism and complemegalitarianism are flawed and ineffective.”

    One of the saddest realities is simply this. Submission to male leadership will not save your marriage, nor improve it. It is no guarantee of anything at all. Statistically, atheists have a better track record for marriage.

    John Gottman has undertaken the most rigourous studies of marriage and has this to say,

    “In one study that Gottman and Krokoff described, the interaction of couples at home, as well as in the laboratory, also was studied. They found that a set of marital interaction patterns related to happiness and positive interaction in the home concurrently, but were predictive of deterioration longtitudinally. In particular, an agreeable and compliant wife was dangerous for improvement in marital happiness. It seemed that it is necessary for disagreements to be aired in a marriage, and that is usually the role of the wife in this society. …

    In fact, we were led to suggest that anger is a resource for the long-term improvement of the marriage, particularly the wife’s anger. …

    Gottman and Krokoff (1989) suggested that positive verbal behavior and compliance expressed by wives may be functional in the short run, but problematic in the long run.” What Predicts Divorce? page 131

  38. Emily Wright says:

    Sue you said: “One of the saddest realities is simply this. Submission to male leadership will not save your marriage, nor improve it.”

    What is the Scriptural basis for this comment? I would add that the complementarian model is a two-way street. If both spouses are not committed to each other and obedience to Scripture the complementarian model will difficult. That is not to say that submission, even to an unbelieving husband, is ineffective. There are many documented cases where a wife has become a Christian and henceforth decided to submit to her husband. Seeing the change in attitude accompanied with his spouse’s witness has actually brought husbands to faith in Jesus Christ. The actions of these wives are in line with Scripture (1 Peter 3:1-2).

    I would encourage you to examine the hierarchy of your appeals to authority. Scripture trumps all appeals to psychology. Furthermore, the Gottman Krokoff study does not prove your point about flaws in the complementarian model. It provides evidence that couples who deal with issues that arise between them have more fulfilling, longer-lasting marriages. It provides no evidence that the complementarian model is in any way wrong. The study only serves to confirm what Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-20. Any couple who does not deal with sin in their marriage is violating the command of Christ in this passage. Submission does not mean that a wife has to endure the sin of her husband without comment. Any couple who takes a complementarian viewpoint yet does not deal with conflict in light of Scripture is not living according to the word of God.

  39. Dear Emily,

    I won’t argue with you in regards to what you said about your responsibility being to your children, nor will I argue with you that you should be earnestly seeking someone else. There will be, of course, a difference of views among some of us conservatives in regards to whether you should remain single or even if you are allowed to remarry. My personal belief is that there is some truth to be gathered from the metaphor of Christ throwing our transgressions into a sea of forgetfulness. I tend to think that we are wont to remind God of what He has in his Mercy, Grace and Love constrained his Knowledge of to the point of forgetfulness thereof (Charles Spurgeon: “Omnipotence constrained is Omnipotence surpassed”). This, on the other hand, is not to be confused with some kind of Antinomian (“no rules”) thinking – that is too far in the other direction. The mediating factors are repentance and contrition for the sin committed: in this case the severance of the covenant between you and your husband.

    The thought that I had, while reading your words, was that I would sincerely encourage you to not place anything before your identity in Christ. Don’t say I am an “American” Christian, or I am a “Woman” Christian. It can be a dangerous thing to presume an identifying existential marker before your faith. God has a vision for your life – and it is not a head-in-the-clouds statement to say that you can find your identity in Christ. Having come from brokenness, it may, for you, be easier to actually do that then it would be for other – who may themselves be prone to becoming wrapped up in the existential (personal identifiers) entrapments that life offers. On a personal note – I’m Autistic (Aspergers) and I’ve always struggled with, for lack of a better way of explaining, understanding what other people were thinking. I’m just on a different frequency – as it were. When I came to terms with my brokenness (my ‘bad wiring’ as I’ve described it) – I actually felt a release in ceasing to try to be understood by every one. I realized that it would forever be a genuinely impossible task. It was easy to surrender and to acknowledge that the identity that I have is one that is in Christ – not in the eyes of those who see me – because for me, that “image” has always been broken and distorted – if not fleeting. Giving up what was so hard for me to even try to find was easy. I know who I am in Christ – regardless of how others see me as a single guy, as an aspie, as a geek, republican, pentecostal, whatever. That’s the simplicity of a surrender that I’m talking about. Just be still and know that you are accepted and loved and ultimately only defined as who you are (both in this life and the next) by both his work (on calvary) and his intent (his will for you life).

    In Christ,


  40. Emily Wright says:


    I think you meant to address your last blog post to Sue.

  41. Yes, that was my intention. Sorry for any confusion.



  42. e-Mom says:

    Too many comments to wade through here, and this may have been mentioned. One thing that might have affected Stott’s view women’s roles is his celibacy. He never married, so he never had the opportunity to experience the Scriptures–and the differences between men and women’s needs–at close quarters.

  43. Sue says:

    Yes, I think that Stott, as a single man, probably was not into the gender stuff that is so popular these days.


    Thanks for your comments. You express yourself well. One thing I have learned is that we are all of us a little different in our own way, but most of us cover for it. The things that make us unique go far beyond just being male or female. I hope you are able to appreciate the gifts that you have as a result of your personality type.


  44. Sue says:


    When I say that submission to abuse causes the abuse to increase, it is like saying that walking in the water will get your feet wet. There is no other possibility.

    You appear to confirm this when you say that one must deal with sin. The choice then is to be judge and jury of the husband’s sin, or to enter a more reciprocal relationship. Fortunately the scriptures provide endless verses and guidance for reciprocity in relationships. There are dozens of verses which exhort this kind of behaviour.

    The study does not prove there are flaws in the complementarian model, as long as this model does not require that the wife suppress or submit without first expressing her anger. As long as anger is accepted as the normal reaction to what is going wrong, then the study is good with complementarianism. I am not sure myself whether a woman’s anger is allowed.

  45. Emily Wright says:


    I never mentioned that submission to abuse is ever required. Abuse is a horrendous sin and I do not believe that biblical submission requires wives to meekly endure it.

    Again, in light of Matthew 18:15-20 approaching someone and humbly pointing out where they have sinned against you does not make you judge and jury but obedient to Scripture. We are called to neither sweep things under the rug nor burn with anger. Rather we called to humbly attempt reconciliation over our sins and the sins of others.

    The expression of human anger is often sinful: “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20. Therefore, we should be cautious in anger laying it before the Lord so that we neither burn with unrighteous anger nor refuse to address issues of sin. Therefore, I believe that in some circumstances a woman’s anger may be justified and in others it may not be. To distinguish a woman must put her feelings before the Lord in prayer.

    I hope that I have responded to the things mentioned in your post. With differing opinions we could likely debate for an extended period of time but at the end of the day it comes down to whether or not we believe and obey Scripture.

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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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