“Just be careful. You don’t want women becoming spiritual leaders in the home or, even worse, wanting to become pastors.”
This was the response from a pastor friend of mine when he heard about a theology blog for women that I had recently launched with some friends. My heart sunk.
My love for theology began only five years ago. I became a Christian my freshman year of college. As a voracious reader, I devoured any books handed to me. With limited knowledge of Scripture, I looked to these books to guide me as I navigated the depths of God’s Word. Unfortunately, not every book was helpful. Throughout the first two years of my Christian walk, I was tossed around by every wind of doctrine that came my way.
I remember when I was first introduced to biblically sound writing. My husband, who was only my friend at the time, introduced me to authors like Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, and Tim Keller. I remember being brought to tears as I read through Desiring God wondering, Why have I never heard the gospel explained this way before?
A right understanding of God’s Word helped me become a better friend, a better daughter, a better employee, a better neighbor, and so on. Even more, these books encouraged me to love the Word, to devour the Word, to sing the Word. Never in my life had I been so overwhelmed with joy.
So naturally, I was devastated by my friend’s comment. Why did he wish to dissuade women from pursuing a better understanding of Scripture? Don’t we believe “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16)? And are we to discredit a passage like Titus 2 that calls older women to teach the younger so that God’s Word is not reviled? Can an older woman effectively disciple another if she doesn’t know his Word herself?
I wondered if it was only my friend who had this perspective, so I did a little digging. I conducted several interviews in which I asked female Christian authors if they’d heard anything like this before. Unfortunately, it was unanimous. They all shared a similar experience.
Where does this thinking come from? Is theology really just for the men?
I Love Complementarianism
Before I continue, I should be clear: I am a complementarian. In fact, I not only think complementarian theology is helpful, I also think it’s necessary. Among other things, it responds to a massive idolatry issue in our culture. We are told that true happiness is found in self-definition, which has led to widespread uncertainty about God’s intention with gender. Perhaps more than ever before, the church must speak up and preserve a biblically robust view of gender. So I do not think women should be pastors or spiritual leaders in the home, and I would be devastated if anyone used this article to argue such points.
But we also need to be careful about application. “As with any movement that gains an audience and influence,” Elyse Fitzpatrick notes in her recent book Good News for Weary Women, “the gender roles movement has also produced unfortunate misunderstandings and excesses.”
Taking a Good Movement Too Far
My friend is not some radical. He serves in a church that claims to be Christ-centered and Bible-driven. He displays an evident love for God’s Word and a desire to be biblical in all that he does. So where did this fear of theologically informed women come from?
I think it was actually birthed out of a good desire—a good desire gone wrong. By the 1970s it became evident that gender distortion had infiltrated the church. No longer were the majority of evangelicals looking to God’s Word first to discover his plan for manhood and womanhood. Instead, they were consulting their own consciences and the outside culture. In response, many believers took a strong stance in order to uphold a biblically informed view of gender. This was a very good thing.
It became unhelpful, however, when some began taking this good thing to an unhelpful extreme. What began as a good desire to see women uphold their God-given roles turned into an unhealthy desire among some to play border patrol, ensuring women stay within the narrow confines of acceptability. While boundaries can be helpful, it also can be easy to draw harsh lines where they ought not be. This is exactly what the Pharisees did when they heaped additional burdens upon believers in order to uphold the law.
Three Reasons Women Need Theology
Regarding women and theology, God’s Word is pretty plain. Not just men were given the first commandment to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind. God didn’t make this calling gender-specific. All his followers love him in this way. Women need good theology, just as much as men do. Here are three primary reasons why.
1. Jesus desires it for us.
If ever there was a time we could have concluded that women were to be chiefly concerned with matters of the home, Jesus turned that notion on its head when he told Martha that Mary—who had the posture of a student—had chosen the better thing (Luke 10:42). He was more concerned with women knowing him than he was with them doing anything else.
We see this desire played out in his interactions with other women, too. He ministered alongside women (Luke 8:1–3), he was ministered to by women (Luke 7:36–50), and he took the time to discuss deep theological truths with women (John 4).
Jesus is not against women living out their biblical roles. He created those roles, after all. But he does want to make one thing crystal clear: worship must come before action.
2. It’s for our joy.
Thinking and learning are necessary components in the path to worship. We can’t savor what we don’t know. We’d never say we loved chocolate if we hadn’t ever tasted it for ourselves. The Bible invites us to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). If we don’t study him, we won’t desire him, we won’t become like him, and we will not enjoy him.
3. It’s for God’s glory.
From the beginning of the biblical story until the final chapter, God makes it unmistakably clear that he is passionate about his glory. This is why we were created. As John Piper observes in his book Think, “The way we glorify him is by knowing him truly, by treasuring him above all things, and by living in a way that shows he is our supreme treasure.” God has given us minds for this purpose, and he has given us his Word as the vehicle through which we can know him. And the more we know him, the more we want to live for his fame and glory above our own.
Privileged to Contend
My friend fears that women would desire to become something other than what God intended them to be. This is misguided. We become whatever we behold. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,” the apostle Paul wrote, “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). In other words, we grow in Christlikeness by gazing at his glory.
Therefore, the only way to prevent a distortion of womanhood is by encouraging women to behold their God—to taste and see that he is good—and to search out his Word to learn of reason after reason after reason to give him praise. We ought to tremble at the thought of encouraging women to do anything else.
We live in a society obsessed with the topic of gender, which means we have the privilege of contending with a listening world for a biblically robust view of womanhood. My hope and prayer is that we don’t settle for shallow, extemporaneous responses to tough issues but instead fight hard to provide a biblically sound, God-entranced vision of gender for his glory and our good.