“God ordains that [men and women] assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.”
These words, from The Gospel Coalition’s Foundation Documents, articulate the theological view known as complementarianism. Every member of TGC’s Council subscribes to this belief. Yet the practical outworking of complementarianism can look pretty different from church to church, even those that hold the same core theology.
Three TGC Council members—Danny Akin, Kevin DeYoung, and Darryl Williamson—sat down together to answer the questions, “What must complementarians agree on? Where can they disagree?”
- Confessions of a Reluctant Complementarian (Rebecca McLaughlin)
- Male and Female He Created Them (Tim and Kathy Keller, John Piper, Don Carson, and Kathleen Nielson)
- 4 Dangers for Complementarians (Gavin Ortlund)
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: Today’s podcast is a roundtable discussion with Kevin DeYoung, Darryl Williamson, and Danny Akin, on what complementarians all agree on and what disagreements are found within the position.
Danny Akin: Evangelicals came together, in particular, John Piper and Wayne Grudem, kinda, spearheaded what is known as the “Danvers Statement” on biblical manhood and womanhood. And it was certainly responding to, and even, I guess, you could say reacting to drifts, theologically, that were trying to wash out differences between men and women. Not only in terms of what they do but even who they are. And so the statement was formulated. And, I think, it’s very biblically faithful and theologically rich. And it emphasizes very strongly that men and women equally bear the image of God, and yet God has different assignments for men and women, in particular, in the home and in the church. And then from there, there are a number of practical observations that are made as to how this would flesh itself out. But that’s the genesis, I think, of what we know today as the complementarian movement in a complementarian theology.
Kevin DeYoung: Yeah. And Darryl, how would you understand if you were going to a church and the church somewhere said, “You know, we’re complementarian.” What would you expect to find there in their theology or the way they do things? What are some of the common denominators?
Darryl Williamson: I think the first thing, of course, is just the understanding that God has created men and women equally. That we are the same before him, that we have the same, and this is called a spiritual rank and privilege. We all have possessed the Spirit in our hearts because he dwells in us. We all have the same experience of being redeemed. We’re the same before the Lord. I think what we would clarify is that God has, in fact, created men and women differently. They have a different mission, they have a different role. Husbands are to lead in the family. It doesn’t mean that women can’t lead. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t gifted to lead. It just means that in God’s economy, men are called to lead in the family. The same is true in the church. Is that the pastoral authority, biblically, belongs to men. Now, we don’t, again, doubt women’s ability to teach or to lead. The giftedness can be the same. But God has his way, and he’s called men to exercise pastoral authority in the church.
DeYoung: So leadership in the home and in the church are, sort of, the sine qua non of complementarianism. So flesh that out a little bit. Ephesians 5, so that the wife submits to the husband and we’d wanna put all the necessary guardrails on that, what kind of submission we’re talking about. It’s a gracious thoughtful submission. I always say it’s a submission freely given, never a submission forcibly taken. It’s not the husband saying, “You must submit.” It’s the wife freely giving that. And the husband laying down his life in that leadership. And then in the church, what does that mean? What should complementarians agree on? What are some of the things that we would say that is an assignment, or a role, or an office that God has given to qualified men?
Akin: Well, as Darryl said a moment ago, when it comes to the office of the elder, the pastor, the overseer, whatever terminology you use and all of those are found in the Bible, that is an office restricted to men. It is not, again, a sign that women are inferior, it is simply God’s ordained established government for the church. So a woman can do many things in the church, but she could not serve in the position of the elder, because the Scriptures are quite clear. That office is an office that God has restricted to men.
DeYoung: So we’re talking about office. So I think we kinda have some sense of what complementarianism should mean at its base level. About the family, about the home, about the office of pastor, elder, overseer. So what are things that we disagree on? And we may even, you know, disagree on the things we can disagree on or agree on. So I would say . . . and just see if this sticks on the wall with you guys. I would say 1 Timothy 2, that the woman should not teach or have authority over man. I would say that’s not only about an office but it’s about a function. And so while I might have a woman share an announcement on Sunday or, you know, woman on the praise team might read a Scripture or say a prayer, and brothers would disagree even with that, I would not have a woman preach in my church. Even if I said she was under the authority of the elders. And we would think too about Sunday school classes. Just thinking, okay, is this a couple facilitating a class? Is it a mixed Sunday school class? What are the ages we would. . . You know, we wouldn’t just say, “Here’s a class on Romans during the Sunday school hour and one of the women is teaching it.” Where do you guys draw the lines and do you have brothers who draw it in some different places?
Williamson: I think what you just described is a great place where disagreement emerges. I think there are some brothers who feel like faithfulness to Scripture would be that women would never teach in an environment where men are receiving. And then there are others, and I think I tend to be in this camp, that there are times when leadership may feel that a woman’s voice needs to be heard. Whether it’s something major or something small. And so, for example, I’d said years ago, when Elisabeth Elliot was still alive, that if she was in town and she came to our church, we would love for her to share with our fellowship on a Sunday morning. I could not imagine not wanting to allow that to happen. And so I think, there are very clear places where we can see things in a very nuanced way, differently. And, I think, it’s important for us to not to wrestle around those things but to discuss. Since we’re fallen, we have this tendency to build walls. It’s just kind of what we do. It’s just kind of . . . we like to stand strong in our principles and push away everything that’s not fully aligned with those. And I think that if we aren’t careful, we can marginalize women and we can put them in a place where they’re not being developed, they’re not being equipped, they don’t feel valued in their giftedness. And in some cases, their calling, without violating of course, the exegetical guidelines that we have that they should not function as an authority over men.
Akin: What I would say, building what Darryl is, consistently, the teaching has to be by men. There may be exceptional occasions. And this is where, I think, 1 Corinthians 11 has to be dealt with. I don’t think, guys, all complementarians deal with 1 Corinthians 11 very well, where it says that under authority, a woman may pray and prophesy. Now, what does prophesy mean? We need to have another session for that. But it, obviously, she was speaking in some form when the church came together. But it would not be normative. It would not be, yes, a woman is standing up week after week, exegeting the Scriptures, doing biblical exposition before the whole congregation. Now, I think the Scriptures ruled that out. But I do think there could be those occasions. They’re not the norm. And I think the 1 Corinthians 11 even indicates it’s not the norm. Where a woman may have a role like an Elisabeth Elliot coming in or another woman in your church speaks to a specific kind of situation or issue. But she’s not up there week after week, after week, after week. That position God has, in his divine economy, restricted to men.
DeYoung: So I don’t need to get the last word. But, I think, we see here even among the three of us, some very shared principles and convictions and some ways the flesh out in churches would be a little bit different. You know, if we were the three pastors I’d say, “Okay, let’s talk about that Elisabeth Elliot situation. Let’s figure it out.” And then may approach a little differently. I think, maybe the last thing just to leave us with is that there’s, kind of, two impulses that different men will feel. And both of them are right and we just need to understand that we feel them in different ways. One is, sometimes there’s a sense of, “We have to guard. We have to guard against the culture pressing in.” And then there are other people saying, “Yes. But we need to guard against our tendency to, you know, ignore the gifts of women or not treat women as sisters in Christ as they ought to be.” And both of those are necessary impulses. To guard against error and at the same time be sensitive that, “Hey, there’s an overreaction here that’s not helpful either.” And in that space of trying to get those two things rooted in Scripture, we’re gonna sometimes agree and sometimes have some disagreements.