Kevin DeYoung has written a concise, readable and accessible explanation and defense of the complementarian position. He states, “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” (p. 15). To this thesis he adds, “One of the burdens of this book is to raise up a new generation of cheerful and unflappable Christians who will celebrate a vision of manhood and womanhood that is not only biblical but in a profound sense natural as well (p. 133 – emphasis his).
DeYoung believes that the Scripture presents definite patterns of male leadership and female submission. He is careful, however, to distinguish biblical understandings of male/female roles from cultural and/or abusive ones. His view is clear, “The truest form of biblical complementarity calls on men to protect women, honor women, speak kindly and thoughtfully to women, and to find every appropriate way to learn from them and include them in life and ministry – in the home and in the church.” He further elaborates, “As a complementarian, I believe that God’s design is for men to lead, serve, and protect, and that, in the church, women can thrive under this leadership as they too labor with biblical faithfulness and fidelity according to the wisdom and beauty of God’s created order.” He knows the position he supports may sound archaic or even sinister but he does not back down (p. 64).
In order to develop and explain biblical complementarism DeYoung marches the reader through Scripture, giving careful attention to the so-called “household code” texts of 1 Corinthians 11 & 14; Ephesians 5:21-33 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 3:1-13 which most directly undergird the complementarian paradigm. The author begins with a quick overview of the Old Testament, starting with 15 observations drawn from Genesis 1-3 (pp. 25-33) and then pointing to five patterns for men and women. These patterns reveal that men were the recognized leaders throughout the Old Testament (pp. 36-42). The few exceptions in which women took leadership are recognized, but in no case did these women exercise the authority and leadership which God ordained exclusively for men (pp. 36-42). Turning to Jesus, DeYoung recognizes that Jesus often was countercultural in His honorable treatment of women, yet chose only men as apostles and never rejected the principles and patterns found in the Old Testament (pp. 43-47).
In chapters four through seven the author turns his attention to the key New Testament texts that are at the heart of the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Concerning the difficult teaching in 1 Corinthian 11, DeYoung answers six exegetical questions (pp. 50-58), most important of which is the meaning of “head.” He lacks dogmatism on the issue of head coverings but strongly supports authority (as opposed to source) for the interpretation of the Greek word kephale (head). Women prophesying in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 is understood in a variety of ways by Bible scholars, but DeYoung distinguishes it from teaching the Word (pp. 59-62). Ephesians 5:22-33 is viewed by the author as God’s good plan for marriage including the loving leadership of the husband and the willing submission of the wife to that leadership (pp. 63-74, 103-105).
DeYoung gives careful attention to the important 1 Timothy 2:8-15 instructions (pp. 75-87). In summary he writes, “Thus, verse 12 could be summarized: ‘God desires women to be silent and submissive in the church, which means that women should not be pubic teachers over men or exercise authority over men.’” He notes that the offices of elder and deacon in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 is exclusively limited to men (pp. 89-98). While believing a vast amount of ministry is available for women in the church he is unconvinced that the office of deaconess is found in the passage.
A short, but insightful discussion of slavery in Scripture concludes that the type found in America would have been outlawed in both Testaments (pp. 105-109). Returning to women, DeYoung recognizes that women engaged in ministry of various kinds throughout Scripture but not as spiritual leaders and teachers of men (pp. 109-111, 157). Twice he writes, however, that the exhortation is not for women to sit down but for men to stand up (pp. 98, 120) – excellent exhortation. Men and Women in the Church concludes with an appendix rebutting the strange ideas of John Dickson who tries to prove that preaching and teaching are not the same thing, so women should be allowed to preach in the church (pp. 140-152).
DeYoung accomplished what he set out to do – provide a readable and biblical understanding of how God wants men and women to serve Him in the church (and in the home). While readers, even those in the complementarian camp, might quibble over some of the details, this reviewer deeply appreciated DeYoung’s countercultural boldness and clear exegesis of Scripture and would be in agreement on all major points.
Men and Women in the Church, a Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction, by Kevin DeYoung (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021) 170 pp., paper $19.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel