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Men’s & women’s roles is biblical ‘battle’

EDITOR’S NOTE: A resource list of books, journals and websites follows this article.

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) — While previous generations battled over the inerrancy of God’s Word, a current debate among Southern Baptists deals with the sufficiency of Scripture to define the distinct roles of women and men.

“The big battleground today is not that the Scripture is inerrant and absolutely true — though that’s still a battle ongoing — but among evangelicals and among Baptists the real battle today is whether Scripture is sufficient,” Dorothy Patterson, a theology professor in women’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a founding member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, noted to the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Patterson boiled the debate down to a simple question: “Did God mean what He said [about gender roles], and if He did, did He give any way that we can live that way when it’s obviously not popular [and] it doesn’t seem workable because of the circumstances?”

Complementarian vs. egalitarian

In many ways, churches are continuing to work out the implications of a movement started three decades ago. Concerned by what they described as “the spread of unbiblical teaching,” a group of evangelical leaders met in December 1987 and drafted the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Before adjourning that night, the group voted to incorporate as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) — an organization that continues to be a key voice on the subject of gender issues today. The next day the newly established council — consisting of Dorothy Patterson, Bill Mounce, Wayne House, John Piper, Jim Borland, Tom Edgar, Wayne Grudem, Lane Dennis, Ken Sarels and Gleason Archer — voted to adopt the Danvers Statement, which can be accessed online at cbmw.org/uncategorized/the-danvers-statement.

Grudem wrote in his 2006 book, “Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism,” that the Danvers Statement introduced the term “complementarian” in discussions of male-female equality and roles.

Mary Kassian, whom the council added as a member in 1990, wrote an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website on Sept. 4, 2012, to clarify the definition of complementarianism in a post titled “Complementarianism for Dummies.”

“Though the concept of male-female complementarity can be seen from Genesis through Revelation, the label ‘complementarian’ has only been in use for about 25 years,” Kassian wrote. “The need for such a label arose in response to the proposition that equality means role-interchangeability (egalitarianism) — a concept first forwarded and popularized in evangelical circles in the 1970s and 1980s by ‘Biblical Feminists.'”

Kassian debunked the myth that complementarians consider women inferior to men.

“Essentially, a complementarian is a person who believes that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus,” Kassian wrote. “That’s the bottom-line meaning of the word.

“Complementarians believe that males were designed to shine the spotlight on Christ’s relationship to the church (and the Lord God’s relationship to Christ) in a way that females cannot, and that females were designed to shine the spotlight on the church’s relationship to Christ (and Christ’s relationship to the Lord God) in a way that males cannot,” Kassian wrote.

“Who we are as male and female is ultimately not about us. It’s about testifying to the story of Jesus. We do not get to dictate what manhood and womanhood are all about. Our Creator does.”

Alexander Strauch, in his book “Men and Women, Equal Yet Different: A Brief Study of the Biblical Passages on Gender,” described the disparate views on gender within Christendom as an “emotionally charged controversy that divides churches and denominations worldwide.” Still, Strauch wrote, the gender roles debate is an issue from which no one can hide and one which no one should try to avoid.

Strauch pointed out that each view is represented by a major organization — complementarianism by CBMW and egalitarianism by Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE).

CBE’s mission, as noted on its website, is “to promote biblical justice and community by educating Christians that the Bible calls women and men to share authority equally in service and leadership in the home, church and world.” The group formed on Jan. 2, 1988, led by Gilbert Bilezikian, W. Ward Gasque, Stanley Gundry, Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Catherine Clark Kroeger, Jo Anne Lyon and Roger Nicole.

Interpreting Scripture

Complementarians draw their convictions on role distinctions from the “plain, literal, straightforward teaching of the Bible on gender,” Strauch argues in his book, with Patterson echoing that view, saying a natural reading of Scripture is the most appropriate hermeneutical approach to understanding what the Bible says and means.

“If you read [1 Timothy with a] natural reading of the text, there is no way to get around what it’s saying,” Patterson said.

Complementarian scholars typically cite five key Scripture passages that define gender roles in the home and in the church:

— Genesis 2 describes a pre-fall design for male headship in the home and the designation of the wife as a helper to her husband.

— Genesis 3 describes the post-fall curse that women would have a desire for their husbands, which some interpret as a desire to rule over or overcome.

— Ephesians 5 instructs wives to submit to their husbands and charges husbands with the responsibility of leading and loving their wives — both in emulation of the relationship between Christ and His church.

— 1 Timothy 2 prohibits women from teaching men or exercising authority over them within the context of the church.

— 1 Timothy 3 presents qualifications for overseers (commonly known today as pastors or elders) and deacons, indicating they are offices reserved for men (though some complementarians differ on whether women can serve as deacons).

Egalitarians argue that the institution of gender roles followed the fall and therefore are not what God called good. They propose that Christians should seek to overcome the distortion of roles, equating submission with inferiority.

CBE claims that “the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.'”

Complementarians, however, interpret Galatians 3:28 as pertaining to salvation being available to all people and not role interchangeability.

The egalitarian view that roles are interchangeable is essential to their belief that God calls women to the pastorate, a primary goal of the organization Women in Ministry, founded in 1983 by disenchanted Southern Baptist women at the encouragement of leaders with Woman’s Missionary Union, Christian Life Commission and several Southern Baptist seminaries at the time.

The group changed its name to Baptist Women in Ministry in 1995 and continues to promote women as pastors. Funding schools and churches include Truett Seminary at Baylor University, First Baptist in Austin, Texas, Wilshire Baptist in Dallas, Willow Meadows Baptist in Houston and Calvary Baptist in Waco, Texas.

Baptist Faith and Message

Southern Baptists have set as their statement of faith the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). First crafted in 1925 and revised since, the BF&M delineates what Southern Baptists have agreed to be the theological tenets of their faith, practice and cooperation with each other and serves as a way to “define and defend its beliefs,” according to the study committee that drafted the revision adopted in 2000.

In the BF&M 2000, Article 6 affirms the equality as well as the role distinctions of men and women in the local church.

“While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” it states. There is no stipulation that women cannot serve in non-pastoral roles, and local churches exercise autonomy in their practice of employing women in non-preaching assignments.

Article 18 affirms the equal value yet different roles God has ascribed to men and women, this time within the sphere of the family.

“The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image,” the article reads. “The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. 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. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”

While the BF&M 2000 describes the role of pastor as assigned to a man (1 Timothy 3), it does not include other aspects Scripture addresses such as the instruction of 1 Timothy 2:11 that a woman must not “teach or have authority over a man.” Nor is the debatable role of women as deacons addressed. The BF&M is not intended to be a complete statement of faith or to have “any quality of finality or infallibility,” according to BF&M study committee.

Complementarianism in the SBC

SBC entities are guided by the BF&M 2000, which presents a complementarian view of gender roles. Additionally, several Southern Baptist seminaries have also officially adopted the Danvers Statement as a doctrinal document.

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Provost Jason Duesing, who serves as a board member for CBMW and editor for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said, “As all the seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention have reaffirmed their confessional commitments over the last two decades … those who serve in and attend these schools are not left wondering where the institution stands and thus have great freedom to work within these standards.”

Duesing said observers don’t have to look too far back to see that this was not always the case, and with ambiguity came confusion and theological drift.

“These [doctrinal] statements serve as helpful guardrails that provide the minimal boundaries for cooperation and instruction as the seminaries seek to serve the churches,” Duesing said.

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a CBMW board member, said the seminary affirms both the BF&M 2000 and the Danvers Statement.

“Both personally and at Southeastern, we affirm without any hesitation or reservation that God calls men to a leadership assignment — a servant leadership assignment — both in the home and in the church,” Akin said. “Men and women are equal in essence before God, but there are specific assignments and functions related to our gender both in the home and the church.”

When it comes to faculty at Southeastern Seminary, those positions that closely approximate the office of the elder and pastor are also reserved for men. “So, for example, I would not have a woman teach preaching, pastoral ministries or theology,” Akin said. “I would never hire to a leadership position an egalitarian. I would also never allow an egalitarian to teach a Bible study in a church that I was leading.”

Speaking to an April 2016 conference on complementarity organized by CBMW, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. cautioned attendees to remember that a secular worldview currently shapes the viewpoints promoted on university campuses; what comes out of Hollywood; and what is messaged to the culture.

Referring to CBMW, Mohler said, “It’s a deeply subversive organization in all the right ways. As I tell people, it’s not a conspiracy if you tell people you’re doing it…. We’re just very, very clear about the fact that what we hope for, teach for, pray for, preach for, raise our children for is a recovery of all that Scripture presents as God’s design.”

Among the most popular speakers at last fall’s LifeWay Women’s Leadership Forum in Hendersonville, Tenn., was Southern Baptist Jen Wilkin, who has written blogs on women in church leadership positions but does not argue for women serving as pastors.

More than a decade ago Wilkin began speaking to the practical application of the complementarian viewpoint, writing an Oct. 17, 2003, post for The Gospel Coalition titled “Pastors need women teachers (and vice versa).”

“There is little disagreement among Christians that women can and should teach women,” Wilkin acknowledged. If the gift of teaching has been given to women, she asked, “How might a pastor properly value, cultivate and employ the gifting of women teachers?”

A staff member at the Flower Mound campus of The Village Church, Wilkin went on to offer insight into how women can be a valuable asset in church life and a help to their pastors. She expressed a desire, too, for male leaders who will help train women leaders well so that they in turn can train other women well.

“As those uniquely designed to speak truth to others of our gender, we need you to commit to help us ‘handle the truth’ with the seriousness and skill it deserves,” Wilkin wrote. “In doing so, you follow the example of the greatest Teacher who walked the earth.”

The late W.A. Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was described as a pioneer in utilizing women in ministry, according to a paper Susie Hawkins, wife of GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins, presented in 2010 as part of the Criswell Theological Lecture series.

In addition to hiring women, involving them in lay positions and including them on the platform alongside their deacon husbands who led in prayer on Sunday mornings, Criswell actively sought the input of key women in his church on a regular basis, Hawkins recounted.

“He often prayed with the women staff members, spoke with them frequently and listened to their counsel,” Hawkins said. “And he was equally engaged with the women in the church,” she added, describing his use of a “women’s council” made up of leading women who were invited to meet monthly with the pastor to discuss matters related to the church.

In a Jan. 20, 2016, post for the North American Mission Board’s sendnetwork.com blog, church planter Tanner Turley encouraged a similar approach to including women in key roles and listening to their input.

“One of the best moves I ever made as a young church planter was seeing the game-changing possibilities of ‘recruiting’ a godly, mission-minded young lady in our sending church named Abbey. She, along with our three church planting wives, proved to be invaluable assets for our team that moved to Boston to start Redemption Hill Church.”

Kathy Litton, who serves as NAMB’s national consultant for ministry to pastors’ wives and leads its Flourish.me online equipping community for ministry wives, also has noted the value women staffers bring to Christian ministry.

“Women can strengthen the leadership team at church plants as well as existing churches,” Litton wrote in the comment section for Turley’s post at sendnetwork.com blog. “Their perspective, skills and heart for the lost will expand the perspective of the larger team that might be all male. Together they work to create informed and inclusive ministry to the community around them, which already operates in an inclusive way.”

Julie McGowan, public relations leader for the International Mission Board, told the TEXAN that the SBC entity seeks to conform missionary practices with the convention’s doctrinal commitments.

“On the international field, missionaries serving with the International Mission Board are required to adhere to a complementarian stance in every area of their ministry, including church planting, follow-up and discipleship, family ministry and theological education,” McGowan said.

“In many cultures around the world, only women can share the Gospel with women, and only women can disciple women,” making it essential for women to be able to communicate effectively, McGowan said.

In a local church setting, Patterson said, leaders should recognize the giftings of women and help them find ways to serve their local congregations.

“Churches … have not always recognized the gifts of women and the appropriate ways they work within the Kingdom,” Patterson observed.

“But, all the work in the church is not paid position work,” Patterson noted. “And I think we have not challenged women enough to let them see a vision — remind them again of all those things that we do as Jesus did them — behind the scenes and without compensation, without recognition, but just in ministering to human needs. We’ve kind of lost sight of that as it was exemplified in our Savior Himself.”

Candi Finch, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Seminary, sees Betty Friedan, author of the feminist manifesto “The Feminine Mystique,” as having popularized the notion that for work to be valued, it has to be compensated.

Finch, however, observed in her chapter on the Impact of Feminism on the Home and Family in “The Christian Homemaker’s Handbook”: “Feminists, even those who claimed some fidelity to Scripture, placed themselves as authorities over Scripture and viewed God’s Word as an instrument of oppression.

“Here’s the truth,” Finch, who spends her spare time discipling teenage girls at Hope Baptist Church in Fort Worth, told the TEXAN. “This is a very divisive issue in the church today; even holding a conversation with someone who holds a different view.

“So, how far do you take it?” she asked, answering, “Our goal is to be obedient. So if you’re convinced that this is what the Word of God says, that’s the end — you’re obedient.”

Finch said advocates of both sides have done a disservice to the cause of Christ at times. “They have taken stands in very un-Christlike ways. I can’t control other people, but I can control how I treat them. Just because I believe the Bible says this — and I do — I don’t get to take a stand on this in an ungodly way,” she said.

As complementarians hold to their convictions, Finch said, “We’re always to be ready to give an answer to the hope that we have, but we do it with gentleness and respect.”


Resources for further study of complementarianism and related issues:


1. Biblical Womanhood in the Home edited by Nancy DeMoss (Crossway, 2002). This book calls women to return to godly womanhood with insight from Nancy DeMoss, Susan Hunt, Mary Kassian, Carolyn Mahaney, Barbara Hughes, P. Bunny Wilson and Dorothy Patterson,

2. Divine Design: An Eight-Week Study on Biblical Womanhood by Nancy DeMoss and Mary Kassian (Moody, 2012). This study-style book encourages and challenges women to understand and embrace the design for who God created them to be.

3. Mixed Ministry by Sue Edwards, Kelley Mathews and Henry J. Rogers (Kregel, 2008). Two Dallas Theological Seminary professors team up with a corporate chaplain to explore common and thorny issues, advising how staff and lay leaders can develop healthy working partnerships in their ministries.

4. Womanhood Revisited: A Fresh Look at the Role of Women in Society by Anne Graham (Christian Focus Publications, 2002). With consideration of how expectations of women have changed throughout history, the author considers current challenges to living in cooperation and not competition with men, equal in value, yet different in purpose.

5. Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood edited by Wayne Grudem (Crossway, 2002. This laypersons-focused guide provides understanding of gender role differences.

6. 50 Crucial Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns about Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. This booklet is available as a free PDF download online (cbmw.org/topics/complementarianism/50-crucial-questions), covering main points of the popular and lengthy volume, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

7. Ministry in the New Marriage Culture edited by Jeff Iorg (B&H, 2015). Worth the introduction alone, Iorg pulls together experienced ministers to address biblical and theological foundations for marriage and sexual ethics, with models and methods to guide pastors and laity to address problems they face in a today’s culture.

8. Women in the Church: Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Crossway, 2016). This book relays a definitive statement of the complementarian interpretation of the passage on the role of women in the church.

9. Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say That He Is? by Margaret Köstenberger (Crossway, 2008). This survey of feminist scholars reveals how they interpret Scripture related to Jesus and His view of women.

10. God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey by Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger (Crossway, 2014). With an academic approach and practical application, the authors tackle current issues and accompanying hermeneutical fallacies.

11. Women Leading Women, the Biblical Model for the Church by Jaye Martin and Terri Stovall (B&H, 2009). The book addresses the biblical paradigm for women’s leadership in the church and encourages women as they lead and train other women, engage the culture and involve other women in ministry.

12. Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley (Moody Press, 2008). Drawing from her experience in the feminist world, the author explains the three waves of feminism to show how they hindered God’s vision for women.

13. Women on Life edited by Trillia Newbell (Leland House Press, 2016). In chapters by women from all walks of life, many of them Southern Baptists, the contributing writers make personal application of complementarian principles in their daily lives as mothers, wives of pastors, and activists in the pro-life movement.

14. Women’s Evangelical Commentary on the Old Testament and Women’s Evangelical Commentary on the New Testament both edited by Dorothy Kelley Patterson and Rhonda Harrington Kelley (B&H, 2011 and 2006). These comprehensive foundational commentaries on every book of the Bible are written and edited by women for women, with practical explanation of the complementarian view to equip lay teachers and Bible learners.

15. The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design by Courtney Reissig (Crossway, 2015). This book recounts the journey of a wife, mom and writer from “accidental feminism” to a biblical view of womanhood.

16. The Role of Women in the Church by Charles Ryrie (B&H, 2001). This revised edition of a classic resource combines background on the status of women in early times and offers biblical exegesis related to marriage, celibacy, divorce and ministry in the local church.

17. The Grand Design by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock (Christian Focus Publications, 2016). In a culture where confusion about what it means to be a man or a woman abounds, Strachan and Peacock explore the Scriptures to help readers understand God’s grand design for manhood and womanhood.

18. Men and Women, Equal Yet Different, A Brief Study of the Biblical Passages on Gender by Alexander Strauch (Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1999). This short book was written with those in mind who would like to know more about biblical teachings on gender roles but don’t have time to read lengthy volumes on the subject.

19. Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior (True Woman) by Kimberly Wagner (Moody, 2012). The author explains how women can use their strength to honor the Lord by honoring their husbands and cautions against the temptation to use strength destructively.


1. cbmw.org/journal. Produced semi-annually by CBMW, The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is an academic journal that facilitates scholarly conversation on a variety of issues surrounding gender, family and church as they relate to aspects of Christian faith from church history and biblical study to systematic and practical theology.

2. 9marks.org/journal/complementarianism-the-local-church. For its Winter 2015 issue, the 9Marks Journal focused on ‘Complementarianism and the Local Church.’ The issue, which is 75 pages in length, can be found online in PDF, Mobi or ePub formats.


1. biblicalwoman.com. Biblical Woman, the online home of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s women’s programs, offers a blog and a host of resources and information about education and events pertaining to women.

2. flourish.me, home of the North American Mission Board’s equipping community for ministry wives. The website is a blog that focuses on family, ministry and spiritual growth through the lenses of a variety of writers.

3. womenslife.sebts.edu. Women’s Life is the online home for all things woman at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The website includes blog articles as well as information about education, events and mentoring.

4. cbmw.org. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is the flagship organization for the complementarian movement. Its website helps guide individuals and churches in understanding God’s design for gender, family, marriage and church.