9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism

Young, Restless, and Reformed pastor, author, and blogger Kevin DeYoung begins his post, “In the conservative evangelical circles I mainly inhabit, there is almost no controversy about whether the Bible allows for women to be ordained as pastors and elders. The people I talk to and listen to are firmly convinced complementarians. That is, they (we) believe that God created men and women equal in worth and dignity but with different roles in the home and in the church.”

DeYoung continues, “At least very least, this means the office of pastor or elder is to be filled by qualified men. The core of complementarianism is not up for discussion.”

DeYoung then offers  what he considers nine important marks of complementarianism:

1. Creation not accommodation. The differences between men and women are rooted in divine design. This is clear from 1 Timothy 2 and from Genesis 1-2. Complementarianism is not about Paul accommodating to a patriarchal first century culture, let alone about us accommodating the expectations of our cultures inside or outside the church. God has something to say about manhood and womanhood. And what God has to say is rooted in what he designed.

2. Function not simply ordination. The first point may seem obvious, like Complementarianism 101, but it’s an important foundation for this second point. If men and women are different by creational design, then we can’t simply quarantine “ordination” and say that manhood and womanhood have no bearing on church ministry or church roles so long as the pastors and elders are men. The issue is not mainly titles or labels or the laying on of hands. The issue is about function. To be sure, complementarians may not agree on where to draw all the lines concerning home groups and Sunday school classes and public worship, but as a starting place for these discussions we have to remember we are talking about the flourishing of divine design, not adhering to a set of narrow and seemingly arbitrary rules.

3. Warmly embraced not quickly checked off. There’s a difference between affirming complementarianism as an act of intellectual throat clearing—“Look, I don’t think women should be pastors either, but…”—and joyfully affirming the vision as good and beautiful and best.

4. Convictional not merely traditional. There’s also a difference between a thoughtful complementarianism based on the exegesis and application of Scripture and a clumsy complementarianism that is little more than the default position of an overly prescriptive cultural traditionalism.

5. Tender not triumphalistic. No doubt, sometimes the troops need to be rallied. In the sexual insanity of our day, the call to courage is surely appropriate. But we need to realize that all kinds of people can be listening in as we talk about biblical manhood and womanhood. Some of those listening are wavering and some are wolves, but some are hurt and some resonate with broken hearts more than with raised banners. We need to be on guard against rhetoric that is all caps all the time. Let us be persuaders, not just pugilists.

6. Principial not personal. It’s human nature: we personalize when we listen and universalize when we speak. Because we’ve gone toe to toe with liberals, we think battle mode is the way to go, always. Or because we’ve had a bad pastor or a brutish boyfriend, we are always slamming the complementarianism we say we believe in. Don’t size up the whole complementarian universe based on a couple of your most painful experiences.

7. Bible and theology affirming not wife and motherhood belittling. We want the women in our churches to read the Bible, study the Bible, and help others understand the Bible. I love that the women at URC are eager to go deep, get good theology, and challenge their hearts and minds. Yes and Amen to women who study the Scriptures. Go ahead and talk about Deuteronomy as well as diapers. And yet, let’s not ridicule the women for talking about diapers! For most women, at some point in their lives, and often for most of their lives, their identity (after being a child of God created in God’s image) will be bound up in being a wife and especially a mother. Moving deeper into the word does not mean moving away from Titus 2.

8. Careful with words not careless. We all use labels. It’s hard to speak of our immeasurably complicated world without them. But if we use negative sounding isms, let’s explain what we mean by them. Let’s not casually label others as “feminist,” “liberal,” “patriarchal,” or “hierarchical,” unless the situation clearly calls for it and we make clear what we mean. A church that has women read the sermon text (a practice I’m not in favor of) is not automatically wed to the spirit of the age, nor is a church which only allows men to teach classes and lead small groups necessarily oppressive and Neanderthal.

9. Leaning against the culture instead of into the culture. The core convictions of complementarianism will not magically seep into our children or into our churches. The cultural breeze is blowing too stiffly against us. Biblical manhood and womanhood must be taught as well as caught. When it comes to the goodness of God’s divine design for men and women, unless we are pushing forward against the forces of sports and media and politics and business and entertainment, we will end up drifting in wrong direction.

I, too, remain a complementarian.  DeYoung’s first two marks are essentially where I lay my head on the matter.

Over the years, on this blog, I’ve put my position on women on ministry to the test, and I’ve always returned to a complementarian position.


This entry was posted in Complementarian, Kevin DeYoung, Miscellanies, Women in Ministry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to 9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism

  1. Jon Hughes says:


    This guy won’t even allow women to read the sermon text. Has he lost the plot?

    • TC Robinson says:

      When it comes to complementarianism (whether hard or soft), we’re constantly forced to rethink and defend this position for the next generation.

      • Jon Hughes says:


        Christians had to “rethink” slavery in the 19th Century. Do you think anyone’s going to take DeYoung’s approach seriously in the 23rd Century? I’m outraged on behalf of Christian women. What would DeYoung do with someone like Henrietta Mears in his congregation? Prevent her from exercising her God-given gifts, and feel good about it because he’s being ‘biblical’?? What’s interesting about Mears is that she was around two or three generations before ours and mixed within conservative Presbyterian circles, and yet had a profound influence on the men-in-leadership around her – not to mention Bill Bright and Billy Graham. She wasn’t known as “Teacher” for nothing, and her teaching influence was not just brought to bear on women and children. I can just imagine DeYoung telling her how much he ‘affirms her’, and then subjugating her in his congregation. This kind of approach does not honour God, and I have no patience with it.

  2. TC Robinson says:

    Yes, the Mears of this world should be allowed to exercise their God-given gifts. Part of the problem is confusing the exercising of gifts with church offices.

  3. Colin says:

    Unlike some of my more “conservative” evangelical brethren in auntie CoE, not to mention my traditional catholic brethren, I have no issue with women in church office, and welcome the fact we now see them as Bishops – overseers to use the terminology of Paul in Timothy. I agree Gen 1-2 is a start point. WE should surely start from the creation intent rather than the results of the fall. Gen 1 simply says God created us male and female – nothing at all about roles, offices, hierarchy etc. I used to find Gen 2 a problem until it was pointed out that the word translated “helper” is also that used to describe God as helper to Israel etc.

    Rachel Held Evans on her blog recently posted an interesting piece, mainly admittedly about male headship and marriage rather than office holders in the church. Also worth reading Ian Pauls Women and Authority in the Grove Booklet series. Inevitably in that series, a bit sketchy in places, but he engages with all the key texts.

    I recognise we need to be clear whether we are talking about exercise of gifts and the holding of offices.

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