Review: Men and Women in the Church

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. – 1 Tim 2:15

Act like men, be strong. – 1 Cor 16:13

What does it mean to be a “man”? What does it mean to be a “woman”?

When thinking about our culture’s current confusion on the matter, considering the Biblical teaching regarding gender roles in the home and church can feel like one is trying to defend gramophones as good stereo systems–did you ride here on a dinosaur? Further, even among conservative evangelicals there has been a growing rift on this issue. How are Christians to respond?

Enter: Kevin DeYoung

DeYoung has a knack for writing clear, concise, and helpful books that magically are under 200 pages. He does all of this, somehow, without leaving the reader feeling like they just were served a tic-tac for supper. His newest book, Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction, is no different.

Tom Schreiner’s endorsement of the book states that this is now the “first book” he will recommend on the issue and it is hard to disagree. This will be a book I will hand out liberally to the members of my church.

Overview

DeYoung explains: “In simplest terms, this book is about the divinely designed complementarity of men and women as it applies to life in general and especially to ministry in the church.” DeYoung believes that men and women are both made in the image of God and thus are equal in dignity and worth, yet are designed for distinct complementary roles in life. At the end of his book DeYoung asks the reader to imagine how they would answer their son or daughter: “Daddy, what does godliness look like for me as a boy?” “What does godliness look like for me as a girl?” Is there any difference? DeYoung continues, “Godliness for my sons and my daughters will look the same in all sorts of foundational ways, but it will also look different in a host of other ways.”

The whole of the book is seeking to flesh out how those two distinct paths are not one and the same. Of course, DeYoung also tackles the particular “hot button” issues in evangelical circles: male-eldership in the church and male-headship in the home. But this book is not fixated exclusively on these two issues; these two issues just so happen to be the most obvious and unavoidable test-cases that demonstrate one’s whole theology of gender and sex.

The book is broken up into two parts. The first section is an overview of the major Biblical texts that deal with gender while the second is a response to common objections and questions. The major Biblical texts that DeYoung interacts with are Genesis 1-3, 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:33-35; Eph 5:22-33; 1 Tim 2:18-25; 1 Timothy 3:1-13, as well as a broad overview of the Old Testament’s patterns of gender roles and of Jesus’ interactions with women and men in the Gospels.

DeYoung demonstrates that over and over again the Bible does not portray men and women as androgynous beings, indistinguishable in every way despite some different anatomical ornamentation. There are unique things women are called to that men are not called to and vice versa. Therefore our responsibilities, inclinations, and even our appearances should show these unique identities. As Paul does in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, DeYoung spends a considerable amount of time in Genesis and grounds a good deal of his understanding from the details of the creation, vocation, blessing, and sin of Adam and Eve (see 1 Tim 2:13-14; 1 Cor 11:8-9). His insights on Genesis alone are worth the price of the book.

DeYoung has a number of helpful insights from the Pauline epistles. Paul’s picture of marriage in Ephesians 5 demonstrates that husbands and wives are not symmetrical in their roles; husbands are to love their wives as Christ does the church, and the wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. 1 Tim 2 and 3 demonstrate that women are not permitted to teach men or exercise authority over them, thus they are excluded from the teaching office of elder. And 1 Corinthians 11 demonstrates that men and women ought not push cultural boundaries about what is normative for expressing masculinity and femininity: men should look like men and women should look like women.

The second half of the book responds to the garden-variety objections, from Galatians 3:28 (‘there is neither male nor female’) to Ephesians 5:21 (‘submit to one another’) to the typical charge that the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, like its teaching on slavery, is culturally outdated (Additionally, DeYoung’s short reflection on the New Testament’s approach to slavery is a wonderful little bonus!). There are plenty of other common objections that DeYoung succinctly responds to with respect, gentleness, and firm Biblical answers.

In his 9th chapter “Growing Up as Boys and Girls” DeYoung’s experience as both a pastor and a father (to nine children!) really shines. DeYoung summarizes how he would answer this question for his own children with the acrostic ABCDE

A – Appearance (masculine vs. feminine)
B – Body (male vs. female)
C – Character (strength vs. beauty)
D – Demeanor (exhortation vs. nurturing)
E – Eager Posture (leadership vs. helping)

A brief look over those may lead one to balk: you’re saying women can’t be strong? Men can’t be nurturing? No, DeYoung makes numerous helpful caveats that show that these are not binary “on-off” switches–Paul describes his care for the Thessalonians like a mother nurturing her newborn child (1 Thess 2:7-8). But, DeYoung’s point is that when Paul needed a picture of “nurture” he used a mother to describe it, not a father, because a mother’s demeanor is usually more nurturing than a father’s.

Evaluation

Repeatedly throughout the book DeYoung makes the point that what he is arguing for is less of a “women, sit down” and more of a “men, step up” approach. On the whole, the book hits that balance very well. I so appreciate that DeYoung acknowledges from the get-go that we should be hesitant to rely on our own personal experiences as totalizing or emotional anecdotes as being an accurate basis of truth. Instead what we get is a careful and precise expounding of what God’s Word says.

Some points in the book I found most helpful were the exegesis of Genesis 1-3, and especially the unfolding of 1 Corinthians 11. DeYoung does an excellent job of demonstrating the impropriety of Christians attempting to blur gender lines in their appearances/clothing all while admitting that gender appearances are heavily influenced by culture. Further, his list of responses to common objections will likely become a handy “go-to” resource for many.

My only criticism of the book likely comes from one of its greatest strengths: its brevity. I would have liked to see DeYoung’s interaction with 1 Corinthians 11 to be a little more in-depth (what does the phrase “because of the angels” (1 Cor 11:10) mean?). He also makes several points about the significance and importance of children and bearing children in the book and how that should affect how we think about gender roles. I would have loved for an entire chapter devoted to this.

Conclusion

At the end of his book DeYoung labors to demonstrate the equality of men and women while pointing to their differences in roles. Unfortunately, many complementarians make the choice of men to lead in the home and church to sound like an arbitrary choice that they are somewhat embarrassed by.

DeYoung writes: “Suppose you have two identical basketballs—one you reserve for outdoor use and one you set aside for indoor use. The “rules” of complementarianism are not like the arbitrary labeling of two basketballs. They both work the same way and can essentially do the same thing, except that God has decreed that the two basketballs be set apart for different functions. That’s a capricious complementarianism held together by an admirable submission to Scripture, but in time it will lack any coherent or compelling reason for the existence of different “rules.”…But suppose you have a basketball and an American football. They are similar things, used toward similar ends. You could even attempt to use the two balls interchangeably. But the attempt would prove awkward, and in the long run the game would change if you kept shooting free throws with a football or kept trying to execute a run-pass option with a basketball. The rules for each ball are not arbitrary. They are rooted in the different structure, shape, and purpose for each ball. It’s not the nature of a basketball to be used in football. In other words, the rules are rooted in nature.”

Men and women are not the same. And the differences between them are not arbitrary or merely cultural inventions. We must teach our churches and our children that God has specially designed men and women differently for our good. We reject and ignore that design to our own peril.

DeYoung has written a simply superb book. If you care about a clear, winsome defense and explanation of complementarianism, then look no further.

This review was written in conjunction with Crossway’s Book Review Program. I received an advanced copy of this book from Crossway.

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