Menu iconFilter Results
Topic: Uncategorized

Younger Evangelicals and Women in Ministry: A Sketch of the Spectrum of Opinion

February 13, 2008

View article (PDF)


Between the extremes of radical secular feminism and androcentric sex­ism,1 there is a spectrum of opinion re­garding what the Bible says about gen­der and how it applies today. This essay will examine that spectrum with par­ticular attention to the positions taken by younger evangelicals. The major po­sitions on the spectrum of opinion will be described and discussed in turn. Our focus is not so much to trace the range of opinions among younger evangeli­cal scholars as it is to describe the range of opinion among practitioners. Here and there we will highlight the authors and theologians who are informing the ministry practices of younger evangeli­cals. We do not claim to be comprehen­sive in our coverage of contemporary practice, but we do hope to trace some of the major currents among younger evangelicals.

Identifying a spectrum of evan­gelical opinion on the question of gen­der can be very difficult because the terminology used to differentiate the positions has become somewhat fluid. On the one hand, many people who claim to be complementarian in prin­ciple overlap with egalitarians in terms of their practice.2 On the other hand, some prominent egalitarian writers have begun to use the term "complementar­ian" to describe egalitarian positions.3 For this reason, Russell D. Moore has suggested that complementarians might want to trade in the moniker "comple­mentarian" for a term that is more de­scriptive of their view of gender-hierar­chy.4

William Webb has suggested a "spectrum of thought" on the gender question in an attempt to frame the is­sues of this debate.5 Webb traces four positions along his spectrum:

Though Webb's spectrum is in some ways commendable, its shortcom­ings render it unusable for our purposes. On the positive side, however, the spec­trum rightly divides between those who affirm hierarchy and those who do not. Since we agree that hierarchy is the fun­damental issue in many respects, we do not mind that Webb has dropped the term "complementarian" in favor of a term that is more descriptive of the po­sition on the left side of the spectrum, "patriarchy."

Nevertheless, the problems with Webb's spectrum are considerable. First, the "secular" at the right end of the spec­trum inadvertently suggests (ironically) that the more biblical/religious opinions reside on the left side of the spectrum. Second, Webb's spectrum indicates that only "egalitarian" models exist right of center. This is manifestly not the case. Mary Kassian has shown that there are some radical feminists who are not in fact egalitarian at all. Rather, they re­gard matriarchy as the utopian ideal of humanity.6 So if patriarchy distinguish­es the left side of the spectrum, then its opposite (matriarchy) certainly dis­tinguishes the right side. Third, Webb is juggling more issues than can be set along a simple left-right spectrum. In fact, the categories he introduces re­quire multiple spectrums: hierarchy/no-hierarchy, secular/religious, patriarchy/matriarchy, and evangelical/non-evan­gelical. Thus, Webb's spectrum fails to provide an accurate description of opin­ions on the gender question.

For this essay, we hope to eliminate some of the confusion by narrowing our focus to evangelicals and by concentrat­ing on what all sides agree is the core of the gender debate among evangelicals: whether or not a principle of patriarchy/hierarchy characterizes the relationship between the genders.7 Differences of opinion can be traced along two inter­secting axes: (1) hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in principle, (2) hierarchy in practice/no hierarchy in practice.

We, therefore, distinguish four positions: (1) hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice, (2) hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice, (3) no hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice, and (4) no hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice. As a descriptive device, this framework can be applied separately to both the church and the home. The fo­cus of this essay will be on how younger evangelicals approach gender relations within the church and its ministries. We are particularly concerned with how it informs their view of women in minis­try.8

Hierarchy in Principle/Hierarchy in Practice

Position number one is the tra­ditional complementarian position. Younger evangelicals who hold this out­look affirm male headship in principle and in their ministry practices. Not only do they affirm male headship in ordain­ing men only to pastoral ministry, but they also practice male headship in the way that they carry out the other dis­cipleship and teaching ministries of the church. So male headship characterizes both ordained and non-ordained minis­tries in the church.

The resurgence of Reformed the­ology among the younger generation of evangelicals has gone hand-in-hand with a resurgence of this traditional complementarian perspective. Indeed, it would not be an overstatement to say that where this resurgence has gained a foothold among the younger genera­tion of evangelicals, so has a hierarchical view of gender roles. We are not making the case for a theological connection be­tween Reformed theology and comple­mentarianism.9 We are merely drawing attention to the phenomenological con­nection between the two, and this asso­ciation has been noticed elsewhere.

For example, last year Collin Han­sen wrote in Christianity Today about the burgeoning Reformed movement in America in an article titled "Young, Restless, Reformed."10 Hansen noted that John Piper "more than anyone else, has contributed to a resurgence of Re­formed theology among young peo­ple."11 Anyone who is familiar with Pip­er and Desiring God Ministries knows that he is just as compelling on gender hierarchy as he is on Reformed theol­ogy. Not only is he the co-editor of the authoritative tome on complementari­anism,12 he is also a frequent advocate of gender hierarchy in his sermons, which are broadcast for free on the internet.13 It is no surprise, then, that the young co-ed whom Hansen interviewed from Piper's church is an unabashed comple­mentarian. For her, gender hierarchy flows directly out of her view of God's sovereignty:

An enlarged view of God's authority changed the way she viewed evangelism, wor­ship, and relationships. Wat­kins articulated how com­plementary roles for men and women go hand in hand with this type of Calvinism. "I believe God is sovereign and has ordered things in a particular way," she ex­plained. Just as "he's chosen those who are going to know him before the foundations of the earth," she said, "I don't want to be rebelling against the way God ordered men and women to relate to one another."14

Thus, Piper's version of comple­mentarianism has had significant influ­ence on younger evangelicals who are caught up in the resurgent Reformed movement. In Piper's own church (Beth­lehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota) male headship is manifest­ed both in ordination and in the various ministries of the church. Only qualified men are ordained to the pastoral office (hierarchy in principle), and women do not teach Christian doctrine to men (hierarchy in practice).15 This hierarchy in both principle and practice reflects a certain interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12, an interpretation that Douglas Moo ad­vocates in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: "We think 1 Timothy 2:8-15 imposes two restrictions on the ministry of women: they are not to teach Christian doctrine to men and they are not to exercise authority directly over men in the church."16

This affirmation of hierarchy in principle and practice also appears in other groups associated with the Re­formed resurgence. Mark Dever, pas­tor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., conceived the formation of a network of Reformed evangelicals known as "Together for the Gospel" ( Piper is a participant in this alliance, along with a host of other Reformed personalities and ministries.17 "Together for the Gos­pel" has a doctrinal statement affirming a strong complementarian position.

We affirm that the Scripture reveals a pattern of comple­mentary order between men and women, and that this order is itself a testimony to the Gospel, even as it is the gift of our Creator and Redeemer. We also affirm that all Christians are called to service within the body of Christ, and that God has given to both men and women important and stra­tegic roles within the home, the church, and the society. We further affirm that the teaching office of the church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the bibli­cal teachings and that men are to lead in their homes as husbands and fathers who fear and love God. We deny that the distinction of roles between men and women revealed in the Bible is evi­dence of mere cultural con­ditioning or a manifestation of male oppression or prej­udice against women. We also deny that this biblical distinction of roles excludes women from meaningful ministry in Christ's king­dom. We further deny that any church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel.18

Four influential reformed leaders pro­duced and signed this statement: R. Al­bert Mohler Jr., president of The South­ern Baptist Theological Seminary; C. J. Mahaney, president of Sovereign Grace Ministries; J. Ligon Duncan III, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi; and Mark Dever. All four of these figures are active advocates of the complementarian cause and have an enormous influence over their re­spective constituencies, large portions of which are younger evangelicals. To be sure, there are many other non-re­formed younger evangelicals who fall into this first category. But the influence of the reformed resurgence on young complementarians should not be under­estimated.

A resurgence of a different sort has also had a profound impact on younger evangelicals on the gender question. Be­ginning in 1979 and ending in the early 1990s, the Southern Baptist Conven­tion (SBC) witnessed a resurgence of conservative evangelical faith. The ral­lying cry of the renewal movement was "inerrancy," but one of the other chang­es that came hand-in-hand with it was a commitment to complementarianism.19 This is significant for the current essay because the SBC enrolls more students in its seminaries than any other denom­ination in America. Thus, the influence of the SBC's seminaries on emerging generations of ministers is worthy of note, and the SBC faculties who teach these young ministerial students affirm a complementarian doctrinal position:

While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. . . . A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.20

While all professors at SBC seminaries affirm this statement from the denom­ination's faith statement, the trustees of Southeastern Baptist Theological Semi­nary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, North Carolina, have taken the additional step of adopting as a guiding document the Danvers Statement on Biblical Man­hood and Womanhood.21

R. Albert Mohler's early tenure at The Southern Baptist Theological Sem­inary (SBTS) saw great controversy as he transitioned the school from an egal­itarian-friendly campus to a comple­mentarian one. The effects of Southern's complementarian shift on a new gen­eration of evangelical ministers are yet to be fully realized. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary also re­veals that where a conservative view of the Bible takes root, often times so too does a commitment to a complemen­tarian view of gender.22 Southwestern has adopted a principled, complemen­tarian policy that only allows qualified male professors to teach the Bible and theology to male students. This policy, of course, has an impact on those who will be considered for tenure-track positions on its faculty, and the policy has not been without controversy.23

The debate about Southwestern's policy has resulted in part from the ad­ministration's application of 1 Tim 2:12 to theology professors. At least part of the dispute centered on whether or how Paul's prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 applies to women teaching men in various set­tings. Opponents of the seminary's posi­tion argued that the Pauline prohibition only applies within the local church and that within the local church it only ap­plies to ordination to pastoral ministry. Southwestern Seminary's stance was that Paul's prohibition applies to theol­ogy professors because professors should meet the same qualifications for minis­try as the pastors whom they train.24

The policy at Southwestern Semi­nary highlights an issue that is yet to be resolved among those who claim to hold the complementarian position. While it is true that all complementarians affirm that male headship precludes women's ordination, not all complementarians translate this hierarchical view into the various ministries of the church and parachurch. For instance, when com­plementarian Eugene Merrill of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) comment­ed on Southwestern's policy, he revealed how DTS has dealt with this question:

Dr. Merrill said con­servative seminaries, includ­ing his own, have struggled with whether the verse in 1 Timothy should keep wom­en from teaching men train­ing to be pastors.

He believes it shouldn't, arguing that Paul was speak­ing about the local church, "not the broader academy, which didn't exist in Paul's time."

Dr. Merrill said his view has gradually prevailed at the Dallas seminary, where a woman is among the Hebrew teachers.25

Thus, the application of 1 Tim 2:12 proves to be the watershed that sepa­rates those who practice gender hierar­chy in the non-ordained ministries of the church from those who in varying degrees do not. And with that, we turn to category two.

Hierarchy in Principle/No Hierarchy in Practice

Many complementarians fall into this category, but not usually with re­spect to their views on women's ordi­nation. Typically, the complementar­ians in this category oppose women's ordination but allow women to practice teaching and leadership gifts in set­tings traditionally reserved for men. We want to be clear that "no hierarchy in practice" represents the end of a polar extreme. Not everyone who falls into this category actually hits this extreme position. "No hierarchy in practice" is merely the name we use to describe this half of the spectrum. There are plenty of practitioners whose ministries mani­fest a measure of hierarchy, and male headship may be more or less upheld in those ministries depending on the na­ture of the teaching and leading done by women in various settings. Comple­mentarians are agreed, however, that the Bible teaches a principle of head­ship that must be observed within the church and within the home.26 For most, the practical implications of this principle are twofold: (1) the office of pastor/elder is only to be held by quali­fied male believers, and (2) the husband is the leader in his home.

As stated above, the application of 1 Tim 2:12 is a watershed for determin­ing ministry practices among evangeli­cals. Two interpretive issues have proven to be particularly critical in distinguish­ing ministry practices among those who profess that a principle of male headship obtains within the church and in the home: (1) the extent of the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12, and (2) the applicability of the prohibition outside the immedi­ate context of the local church.

Many complementarians continue to disagree concerning the extent of the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12. While there is agreement that pastors/elders should be qualified males, there is disagreement concerning what the Bible says about women teaching mixed adult audiences. Some complementarian churches do not allow women to teach mixed adult audiences, while other complementari­an churches do allow it. On this particu­lar point, there is agreement in principle (observing headship), but disagreement in practice (teaching mixed audiences).

To some extent, the disagreement is probably driven by pragmatic con­siderations. But at the same time, the disagreement is also due to conflicting interpretations of 1 Tim 2:12. The text is thought by many to have at least two possible translations/interpretations27:

Translation #1: "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man."

Translation #2: "I do not al­low a woman to teach with authority over a man."

Notice that the first translation prohib­its two things: teaching and exercising authority. The second translation only prohibits one thing: a certain kind of teaching.28 Andreas J. Köstenberger has shown that the problem with translation #2 is that it simply cannot be derived from what Paul wrote. It is grammati­cally impossible to establish this as a le­gitimate rendering of Paul's words.29

Many churches that allow women to teach mixed audiences tend to favor the second translation (or at least an in­terpretation that is commensurate with it). The idea seems to be that a woman can teach a mixed audience as long as she does so under the "headship" and authority of the pastors/elders and her husband. When she teaches under the auspices of those "heads," she is not violating the command in 1 Tim 2:12 which prohibits "teaching with author­ity," because she is teaching while under authority.

The First Baptist Church of Hous­ton, Texas, has a position statement on "Women Teachers" which applies 1 Tim 2:12 in precisely this way:

In his conclusion of I Timo­thy 2, Paul is illustrating his point by using the home (Adam, Eve, and child bear­ing) not Timothy's role as pastor and teacher of the church. We do not feel that women teaching at HFBC events or Sunday School en­croaches upon the headship position of teaching elder, the Senior Pastor, or if she is married, upon her hus­band's role as leader of the home if she has his blessing. The roles in the church and home are still ‘in proper or­der' as teachers have not as­sumed the headship of the church by teaching in a class or event or the role of lead­ing the home.30

We believe that it is problematic to limit the application of 1 Tim 2:12 to the home simply because Paul refer­ences child-bearing in 2:15. Moreover, once this move has been made, there is no reason based on this text to limit the office of pastor to men. Thus, in addi­tion to being incorrect, this interpre­tation creates more problems than it solves. The position statement goes on to endorse the ministry of Beth Moore who is a member and teacher of FBC Houston.

Among the younger generation of evangelicals who hold to this sort of view is Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. Driscoll's influence on other young evangelicals has been considerable in re­cent years through his ubiquitous church planting "Acts 29 Network," which ac­cording to its website has ninety-four affiliated churches in North America.31 Mars Hill Church has published a little book that describes the church's posi­tion on various issues related to church leadership. In this book, Driscoll insists that "Paul's clear teaching" is that "only qualified men should be elders/pas­tors."32 Driscoll comes to this position in part as a result of his understanding of 1 Tim 2:12-14. Driscoll writes,

Without blushing, Paul is simply stating that when it comes to leading in the church, women are unfit because they are more gull­ible and easier to deceive than men. While many irate women have disagreed with his assessment through the years, it does appear from this that such women who fail to trust his instruction and follow his teaching are much like their mother Eve and are well-intended but ill-informed.33

Driscoll's droll interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12-14 is precisely what makes his ap­plication of the text so surprising. Mars Hill Church endorses gifted (but ap­parently "gullible" and "easily deceived") women to lead and to teach men so long as such women are not ordained as pas­tor/elder. Driscoll explains, "The teach­ing here likely also refers to preaching and teaching as done by the elders, as every other time teaching is spoken of in the remainder of the letter it is in refer­ence to the teaching of an elder (1 Tim 4:11, 5:7, 6:2)."34 According to Driscoll,

At Mars Hill we seek to en­courage women to use the abilities that God has given them to their fullest extent in anything from teaching a class to leading a community group, overseeing a ministry, leading as a deacon, speak­ing in church, leading wor­ship, serving communion, entering into full-time paid ministry as a member of the staff, and receiving formal theological education-or basically every opportunity in our church but the office of elder/pastor.35

It is the opinion of the present writers that not only is Driscoll mistaken in his interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12, but also his application of it to the ministries of his church is a non-sequitur. Why would one allow a person from the "gullible" and "easier to deceive" sex to lead and to teach God's people? How could such a person possibly be qualified to teach and to lead when they are so easily brought under the spell of error? We are not ready to concede Driscoll's interpreta­tion of Paul on this point.36 Yet even if we were to grant his interpretation, we believe that his praxis is hardly a legiti­mate implication of his exegesis.

Some reformed theologians pur­sue a similar line in introducing a dis­tinction between the "special" teaching office and the "general" teaching office.37 With this distinction made, women are allowed to teach men. The problem with this among those who practice it is that Paul does not prohibit women from taking up a teaching office over men. Rather, he simply prohibits women from teaching men.

No Hierarchy in Principle/Hierarchy in Practice

Those who fall into this category more often find themselves here than consciously plant themselves on this ground. Egalitarians understand that many traditionally minded people lack a thorough biblical justification for their view that women should not teach men, or that only men should serve as the senior pastor. In other words, these tra­ditionally minded folks do not oppose women teaching men or serving as the senior pastor in principle but because they have never seen it done that way. As Russell D. Moore writes,

Baptist feminist theolo­gian Molly T. Marshall, for instance, claims that most Southern Baptists oppose women in the pastorate, not because of some exegetically or theologically coherent worldview, but because they have never seen a woman in the pulpit. Thus the very notion seems foreign and strange. It is less and less strange as conservative evan­gelicals, and Southern Bap­tists in particular, are seeing a woman in the pulpit—at least on videotape—in the person of Beth Moore, preaching at conferences and in their co-educational Bible studies on a weekly basis.38

On the other hand, complementa­rians might point to those who, in prin­ciple, would argue that there should be no hierarchy, but who would neverthe­less practice hierarchy. This would not only include egalitarians who might tol­erate a situation they would not desire for the sake of unity, but also include those egalitarians who, for all their pro­testations about equality, simply cannot tolerate sitting under a woman preach­ing or teaching. Reflecting this perspec­tive, one egalitarian has written,

Personally, I would prefer to encounter opposition to women in ministry from conservative Christians who stand against my call­ing as an ordained woman based on their understand­ing of Scripture, rather than come face to face with the nebulous opposition of my PCUSA brothers and sisters who say in veiled or direct manner, "Our church is just not ready for a woman yet." This response begs the ques­tion: Why are our churches still not ready, after 50 years, for women in ordained leadership throughout the church?39

In the case of those who are "not ready," their theory is better than their practice (though we would argue that in this case their tacit rejection of their theory is good practice).

This discomfort, which some egal­itarians have admitted, and which some former complementarians are hardening themselves against, may be the reason that the percentage of women pastors—even in denominations that are confes­sionally egalitarian—is very low. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church allows women to serve as pastor, but only two congregations in the EPC have women pastors, and one of those is close to re­tirement.40 A report on the Christians for Biblical Equality website gives the following percentages on women in the pastorate: 41

Percentage of Female Pastors

American Baptist Church


Assemblies of God


Episcopal Church USA


Evangelical Covenant Church


Evangelical Lutheran Church


Presbyterian Church USA


United Methodist Church


Much more statistical evidence of this kind could be cited, but the point is sufficiently clear. As Mohler has writ­ten, "The culture is on the side of those who support women pastors. We live in an egalitarian age. At the same time, that support seems to be more about talk than action."42

No Hierarchy in Principle/No Hier­archy in Practice

Traditional egalitarians fall into this last category. Those who take the view that gender is not relevant to the question of who can do what in min­istry argue for it in a number of ways. Some assert that they have a high view of Scripture, that they see statements in the Bible that abolish all hierarchy (e.g, Gal 3:28). Therefore, whatever state­ments that seem to establish hierarchy may mean, they cannot be contradicting the statements that abolish it. Others acknowledge that there are passages in the Bible that clearly teach a hierarchi­cal approach to gender roles but argue that these passages were for a particu­lar time and place and, like the require­ments for the Levitical cult, no longer regulate what the people of God do. Those who hold this view believe that no hierarchy remains relevant for the people of God, and, therefore, all minis­try functions and positions are open to qualified men or women.

Those who influence younger evangelicals and who fall into this fourth category include David deSilva of Ash­land Theological Seminary; Timothy Larsen of Wheaton College; Robert Pyne of Dallas Theological Seminary; and Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bi­ble Church in Grandville, Michigan. Egalitarian strongholds include Fuller Seminary, North Park College, Palmer Theological Seminary, Ashland Theo­logical Seminary, and the Church of God School of Theology, while promi­nent egalitarians teach at Denver Semi­nary and Regent College.43 Egalitar­ians have a winsome communicator in N. T. Wright, and a researcher at Tyn­dale House in David Instone-Brewer. Without question, large swaths of the so-called "emerging church," especially those associated with the Emergent Village, fall into this category.44

The ascendancy of the egalitarian view in evangelical academia should be duly noted. Indeed, the 2005 Whea­ton Theology Conference theme was "Women, Ministry and the Gospel" and had a decidedly egalitarian tilt. In fact, in the published essays that resulted from the conference, the editors noted that "complementarians might well be frustrated that so many of the essays in this volume . . . have an egalitarian drift to them."45 By all accounts, the confer­ence itself was stacked in favor of the egalitarian view.46

The influence of William Webb's so-called redemptive movement herme­neutic on a new generation of evangeli­cals should not be underestimated.47 In one high-profile case, Webb's argument convinced a prominent young pastor to embrace egalitarianism.48 That pas­tor is Rob Bell of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, a mega-church that boasts over 1,000 members and over 10,000 weekly at­tendees.49 According to one report, Bell became convinced that Mars Hill Bible Church should welcome female elders since "giftedness, not gender, determines one's fitness to hold a church office."50 As a result of Bell's conversion to the egalitarian cause, he led Mars Hill to amend its constitution and statement of faith and to open up the office of elder to women. As of 2004, the church had two women serving on its eight-mem­ber elder board.51 The process that led to the change at Mars Hill was contro­versial, to say the least. It was a process that left many members feeling that the issue was not properly vetted be­fore the congregation. As a result, some members believed that the church was not made aware of the best arguments for the complementarian side. Church member Shawn Lahring described the process as follows:

During the entire thing, they tried to quash the op­position. . . . Publicly they told people that they would be able to voice their opin­ions and get their questions answered regarding the is­sue during the Areopagus meetings. But when people did that, the response was always, "thank you" and no answers were given. The tra­ditional view was not dis­cussed.52

The whole process led Wayne Grudem to comment, "Suppression of any al­ternative point of view is probably the most common way for an egalitarian viewpoint to be advanced in a church… Mars Hill [followed] that pattern ex­actly."53


What shall we make of the land­scape of younger evangelicals on the gender question? Are the polarities rep­resented by groups 1 and 4 necessary and unavoidable? And what of the gap between complementarians who affirm women teaching and leading men (à la Mark Driscoll) and those who do not (à la John Piper)? Some reflections in response to each of these questions are in order.

Timothy George has expressed hope that complementarians and egali­tarians might come together around an agenda of shared concerns.54 We would hope with George that an irenic and open dialogue might continue between the two sides of this issue. To some de­gree, as George suggested, the Evangeli­cal Theological Society is proving to be a useful forum for this engagement.55 Yet we are not so sanguine that such modest steps have done anything to reconcile the polarities of this debate. In reflect­ing upon younger evangelicals, the po­larities are fairly wide. A great theologi­cal and ecclesiological divide separates the resurgent Reformed movement from the Emergent Village wing of the emerging church.56 While most of the young reformed evangelicals are closing ranks around traditional, conservative views of biblical inspiration and author­ity, some in the emerging church are re­vising and moving away from the same. One can hardly envision reconciliation on the gender question as long as the two groups continue on these radically divergent trajectories.

There is perhaps more hope for complementarians who are divided over the proper way to embody bibli­cal patriarchy within the church and the home. We noted on the one hand Pas­tor Mark Driscoll who allows women to teach and lead men within the minis­tries of Mars Hill Church. This practice differs from that which is commended by practitioners such as John Piper, who describes practices such as Driscoll's as "detrimental" to the life of the church.57 Nevertheless, these two men in particu­lar share a basic commitment to comple­mentarian principles and have enough common ground in their shared vision of the gospel to cooperate in endeavors such as "The Gospel Coalition," a gos­pel renewal movement that confesses a strong complementarian position.58 Cooperation such as this bodes well for continued dialogue and (hopefully) growing consensus around the Bible's teaching on gender roles.


1 We utilize Timothy George's terminology to de­scribe these poles: Timothy George, "Egalitarians and Complementarians Together? A Modest Proposal," in Women, Ministry and the Gospel (ed. Mark Husbands and Timothy Larsen; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 270-77.

2 Note the wide variety of complementarians who under certain circumstances allow women to teach Christian doctrine to men, a practice at variance with traditional interpretations of 1 Tim 2:12 and in agreement with egalitarian models of ministry. For a classic expression of the traditional interpretation, see Douglas Moo, "What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men? 1 Timothy 2:11-15" in Re­covering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem; Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), 179-93.

3 Note, for instance, the subtitle of the recent book edited by Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groot­huis, and Gordon Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004). The editors of this vol­ume argue that egalitarians hold a complementarian position, even though they do not affirm any notion of hierarchy within that complementarity (15). Peter R. Schemm Jr. rightly urges complementarians not to cede this term to those who hold the egalitarian position ("Editorial," Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 10, no. 1 [2005]: 5).

4 Russell D. Moore, "After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians Are Winning the Gender Debate," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49 (2006): 573-75. For a complementarian with a different perspective, see Andreas J. Köstenberger, "Of Professors and Madmen: Currents in Contemporary New Testament Scholar­ship," Faith & Mission 23 (2006): 13-14: "Moore's proposal deserves to be taken seriously. . . . While Moore is probably right that ‘complementarian' is not the best term to use as a label for those favoring the husband's and father's authoritative role in marriage and family, in light of Daniel Block's work perhaps ‘patricentric' may be a better word than ‘patriarchal,' especially since it avoids the many negative connota­tions the term ‘patriarchy' carries owing to feminist propaganda on the subject."

5 William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Ex­ploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 26-28.

6 Mary Kassian, The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway), 128: "[Elizabeth] Davis may not have convinced historians as to what was, but she certainly inspired feminists with a vision of what could be. Davis believed that in demolishing patriarchy and establish­ing a world centered around feminine values, humans would once again find themselves entering into a glori­ous reality that would satisfy their deepest longings. . . . Underlying all the equality rhetoric was the hint of an idea that perhaps—just perhaps—woman was a bit more than equal to man."

7 E.g., Pierce, Groothuis, and Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality, 15-17.

8 Egalitarians agree that this is the fundamental is­sue: "the most fundamental divide is over one basic question: Are there any aspects of leadership denied to women and reserved for men strictly on the basis of what one cannot change, one's gender?" (Ibid., 15).

9 Some Reformed evangelicals might argue that such a case could be made, but that argument is well beyond purview of this short essay. We would point out that Roger Nicole is a prominent Reformed theologian who is also a committed egalitarian.

10 Collin Hansen, "Young, Restless, Reformed: Cal­vinism is making a comeback—and shaking up the church," Christianity Today, September 2006, 32-38.

11 Ibid., 33.

12 John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recover­ing Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.

13 An excellent example of John Piper's comple­mentarian advocacy appears in his recent series on the family. The sermon audio and manuscripts are available at

14 Hansen, "Young, Restless, Reformed," 33.

15 Here is a summary of Piper's position: "Men should bear primary responsibility for Christlike headship and teaching in the church. So it is un­biblical . . . and therefore detrimental, for women to assume this role" (John Piper and Wayne Grudem, "An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 60-61).

16 Moo, "What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men?," 180.

17 Here are some of the persons and ministries highlighted in Collin Hansen's article: John Piper, R. Albert Mohler Jr. (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), J. Ligon Duncan III, C. J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries), Mark Dever (9Marks), Joshua Harris, Kent Hughes, Alistair Begg, D. A. Carson, Bryan Chapell (Covenant Theological Seminary), Mark Driscoll (Acts 29 Network), Timothy George, Michael Horton (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals), Timothy Keller, John MacArthur, Tom Nettles, and Philip Ryken.

18 "Affirmations and Denials," Article XVI [ac­cessed 22 August 2007]. Online:

19 For an interesting account of the rise of complementarianism within the SBC from a historian not sympathetic to the complementar­ian cause, see Barry Hankins, Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama, 2002), 200-39. Hankins highlights the role of CBMW board of reference member Paige Patterson and council member Dorothy Patterson in this connection.

20 "Baptist Faith and Message 2000," article VI ("The Church") and article XVIII ("The Family") [accessed 22 August 2007]. Online:

21 Jason Hall, "Trustees vote to affirm Danvers and Chicago Statements," Olive Press Online (April 26, 2004) [accessed 22 August 2007]. Online:; Joy Rancatore, "SEBTS trustees revise state­ments of identity, mission," Baptist Press (Octo­ber 17, 2006) [accessed 22 August 2007]. Online: The Danvers Statement was adopted in 1987 at the founding of CBMW as the organization's official statement of beliefs on biblical manhood and womanhood." See "The Danvers Statement." Online:

22 We should mention that the complementar­ian view has prevailed at all the SBC seminaries, even though we are only highlighting Southern, Southwestern, and Southeastern at this point. We could cite the numerous contributors to this journal in recent years who come from different seminaries within the SBC: Daniel L. Akin (Southeastern), Bruce Ashford (Southeastern), Alan Branch (Midwestern), Robert L. Cole (Southeastern), Russell T. Fuller (Southern), James M. Hamilton Jr. (Southwestern), Daniel Heimbach (Southeastern), David W. Jones (Southeastern), Andreas J. Köstenberger (South­eastern), Mark Liederbach (Southeastern), Rus­sell D. Moore (Southern), Dorothy Patterson (Southwestern), Paige Patterson (Southwestern), Peter R. Schemm Jr. (Southeastern), Thomas R. Schreiner (Southern), Bruce A. Ware (Southern), and Michael E. Travers (Southeastern). Their contribution to this journal is but one strand of evidence of the complementarian shift that has taken place within SBC seminaries.

23 There was a highly publicized dust-up over Southwestern's decision not to grant tenure to a female professor of Hebrew. See Thomas Bartlett, "I Suffer Not a Woman to Teach," The Chronicle of Higher Education 53, no. 32 (April 13, 2007): 10; Paige Patterson, "A Female Professor Let Go by a Seminary" The Chronicle of Higher Education 53, no. 36 (May 11, 2007): 55; Sam Hodges, "Baptists at Odds over Removal of Female Professor: FW: Seminary Case Fuels Debate on Women's Role in Theology Programs," Dallas Morning News, January 20, 2007; "Professor Says Seminary Dismissed Her Over Gender," New York Times, January 27, 2007.

24 This was the rationale given by T. Van Mc­Clain, the chairman of Southwestern's board of trustees: "She did not have tenure and, like hundreds of professors around the U.S. every year, was told that she would not be awarded tenure. . . . The second issue involves the desire of (the seminary) to have only men teaching who are qualified to be pastors or who have been pastors in the disciplines of theology, biblical studies, homiletics, and pastoral ministry. This is in keeping, of course, with the statement of faith of the SBC that clearly says the pastorate is reserved for men" (Greg Horton, "Pastor/Blogger Says Hebrew Prof's Gender Cost Her Tenure at Seminary," Religion News Service [January 23, 2007] [cited 22 August 2007]. Online:

25 Hodges, "Baptists at Odds over Removal of Female Professor."

26 This common ground is reflected in the Danvers Statement: "Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community (Gen 2:18; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Tim 2:11-15)."

27 There is actually a whole complex of issues bound up with the interpretation of this much disputed verse, all of which cannot be rehearsed here. For a comprehensive treatment of the exege­sis of this passage from a complementarian per­spective, we refer readers to Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner, eds., Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005). Kösten­berger has an outstanding grammatical study in this volume ("A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12") which Linda Belleville attempts to refute in "Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15," in Discovering Biblical Equal­ity, 205-23. Köstenberger's compelling rejoinder to Belleville appears in "‘Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15' (Ch 12) by Linda L. Belleville," Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 10, no. 1 (2005): 43-54.

28 E.g., Craig L. Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 363-65: "Verses 11-15 next call on the women of Ephesus not to supplant the male role of leadership in church. Verses 11-12 define this role as one of authoritative teaching. . . . Verse 12, at first glance, seems to make two separate prohibitions ("teach" and "have authority"), but they are probably in­tended as mutually defining (a figure of speech known as a hendiadys)." We are not convinced that Blomberg has given adequate weight to complementarian scholarship in his exposition of 1 Tim 2:12. Köstenberger has convincingly shown through careful syntactical analysis that there is no hendiadys in 1 Tim 2:12. Indeed, his conclusions have been widely endorsed by both complementarian and egalitarian scholars, and we agree that his study should be regarded as "an as­sured result of biblical scholarship" (Köstenberger, "A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12," 84). Douglas Moo has also argued convinc­ingly that the two infinitives do not constitute a hendiadys. Moo argues against Philip B. Payne, an egalitarian, that while teaching and exercising authority are closely related, they are nonetheless distinct, as can be seen from the way that they are distinguished from one another in 1 Tim 3:2, 4-5 and 5:17 (Moo, "What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men?" 187).

29 Köstenberger, "A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12," 53-84.

30 "Women Teachers," unpublished position pa­per from the First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas.

31 See

32 Mark Driscoll, "Church Leadership: Explain­ing the Roles of Jesus, Elders, Deacons, and Members at Mars Hill," Mars Hill Theology Series (Seattle: Mars Hill Church, 2004), 42.

33 Driscoll, "Church Leadership," 43. Driscoll has a penchant for punchy rhetoric. Here is how he ends the paragraph quoted above: "Before you get all emotional like a woman in hearing this, please consider the content of the women's magazines at your local grocery store that encour­ages liberated women in our day to watch porno with their boyfriends, master oral sex for men who have no intention of marrying them, pay for their own dates in the name of equality, spend an average of three-fourths of their childbearing years having sex but trying not to get pregnant, and abort 1/3 of all babies—and ask yourself if it doesn't look like the Serpent is still trolling the garden and that the daughters of Eve aren't gullible in pronouncing progress, liberation, and equality" (Ibid.).

34 Ibid., 40. Craig Blomberg has attempted to defend this position in From Pentecost to Patmos, 362-65. Blomberg tries to link Paul's instructions in 1 Tim 2:8-15 to his instructions on overseers in 3:1-7, such that "The authoritative teaching that Paul prohibits women from taking would thus be the office of the overseer or elder" (363, emphasis his). But Paul has clearly moved from what happens when Christians gather for worship (2:1-15) to the qualifications for overseers (3:1-7). If Paul only meant to say that women were not to serve as overseers, he could have said so, or he could have moved his comments in 2:11-15 to the sec­tion on overseers. Blomberg's explanation, while creative, and commendable in that he tries to base his view on the Bible, fails to convince.

35 Mark Driscoll, "Church Leadership," 47.

36 Driscoll is correct in claiming that his view has a distinguished pedigree in the history of interpretation (Driscoll, "Church Leadership," 43). Nevertheless, Moo raises helpful consider­ations against this tradition (Moo, "What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men?" 190).

37 John Frame, "May Women Teach Adult Sunday School Classes," n.p. [cited 28 June 2007]. Online:

38 Russell D. Moore, "After Patriarchy, What?" 571.

39 Anita Bell, "Thoughts on the PCUSA Denomina­tion in Regard to the Ordination of Women," [cited 27 June 2007]. Online:

40 R. Albert Mohler Jr., "Triumph or Tragedy: A Church Set to Make History," [cited 27 June 2007]. Online:

41 Jaime Hunt, "The Status of Women in the Church: How Various Denominations Have Embraced Women in Leadership," [cited 27 June 2007]. Online:

42 Mohler, "Triumph or Tragedy."

43 Timothy George, "Egalitarians and Complemen­tarians Together? A Modest Proposal," 270. See also idem., "A Peace Plan for the Gender War: How to Love Your Egalitarian or Complementarian Neighbor as Yourself," Christianity Today, November 2005, 51. George says that Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Gordon-Conwell, Denver Seminary, Wheaton Col­lege, and Regent College do not make the gender issue a matter of fellowship but welcome faculty and students who hold differing perspectives.

44 For example, the Emergent Village podcast, hosted by Tony Jones, regularly welcomes female pastors and teachers from the emerging church ( The mainlines have long been egalitarian and are increasingly embracing more radical positions that fall outside of the pale of what would be typically considered evangelical. For example, the United Methodist Church recently affirmed a transgender pastor (Erin Roach, "United Methodists Approve Transgender Pastor," Baptist Press, 6 June 2007 [cited June 29, 2007]. Online: The Presbyterian Church USA is largely egalitarian and is now grappling with whether they will call those who engage in homosexual behavior to repentance. Various Lutheran and Baptist groups face similar questions.

45 Mark Husbands and Timothy Larsen, "Introduc­tion," in Women, Ministry and the Gospel, 10.

46 One of the few presentations that advocated the complementarian cause was presented by one of the writers of this study, James M. Hamilton Jr., "What Women Can Do in Ministry: Full Participation within Biblical Boundaries," in Women, Ministry and the Gospel, 32-52.

47 Webb sets forth this hermeneutic in his aforemen­tioned book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.

48 Jeff Robinson, "Engaged by the Culture: Michi­gan Megachurch Goes Egalitarian," [cited 30 June 2007]. Online: "What drove Bell's seemingly abrupt ardor for egalitarianism? . . . it apparently stems from Bell's drinking deeply from the well of a radical new hermeneutic proposed by William Webb in his 2001 book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Explor­ing the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. In the book, Webb proposed a new method of biblical interpretation he calls a ‘redemptive movement hermeneutic.' Among other things, Webb argues that passages on women in ministry should be read trans-culturally in such a fashion that overturns traditional beliefs about gender roles in ministry."

49 These numbers reflect the church's size in 2004 just after the church shifted to the egalitarian position. See Jeff Robinson, "Engaged by the cul­ture: Michigan Megachurch Goes Egalitarian."

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid. This account of Mars Hill Bible Church's transition comes wholly from Robinson's report. Rob Bell declined the opportunity to participate in our survey on gender roles.

53 Ibid.

54 Timothy George, "Egalitarians and Comple­mentarians Together? A Modest Proposal," 282-88.

55 The Gender Study Group met numerous times at the 2006 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society with both complementarian and egalitarian presenters.

56 Mark Driscoll uses Ed Stetzer's threefold clas­sification to describe the three kinds of emerging Christians: the Relevants, the Reconstructionists, and the Revisionists (Mark Driscoll, "A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church" Criswell Theological Review N.S. 3 [2006]: 89-91). The Relevants are theologically conservative evangeli­cals who are not interested in reshaping theology but in updating worship styles, preaching styles, and church leadership styles. The Reconstruction­ists are generally theologically evangelical but dissatisfied with current ecclesiastical forms. The Revisionists are theologically liberal and question key evangelical doctrines. The "Emergent Village wing of the emerging church" would include some Reconstructionists and all Revisionists.

57 John Piper and Wayne Grudem, "An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers," 61.

58 The "Confessional Statement" of the Gospel Coalition is available online at www.gospelco­ It reads as follows: "In God's wise purposes, men and women are not simply inter­changeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways. God ordains that they 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."

Did you find this resource helpful?

You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.

Donate Today