Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Leeman on Complementarianism

Jonathan Leeman has an excellent essay in the latest 9marks journal. In short, he argues that Complementarianism is crucial to discipleship. It’s worth reading the whole essay, but I want to highlight one section that I found particularly helpful. It will frame the way I engage the “borders” from now on. He writes:

‘Too often, the discussion about complementarianism gets stuck at the borders. For instance, people get marooned on matters like whether it’s appropriate for adult women to teach high school men. Where’s the line, they ask. But focusing on the borders of what’s licit is a bit like the dating couple who asks, “How much can we do with each other physically? Hold hands? Kiss?”

‘There is a place for such questions, but what’s needed first is a positive statement about how to promote biblical masculinity and femininity among young men and women. The dating couple, instead of asking, “How far can we go?” should instead ask, “How can we serve one another and best prepare the other for marriage?” In the church, likewise, we should ask, “How can we best help these high school women become mature women, and these high school men become mature men?” But that’s a question a church will never think to ask if it doesn’t have a positive vision for Christian masculinity and Christian femininity in the first place.

‘So let’s try again: Is it okay to have adult women teaching high school men? Well, frankly, I’m not entirely sure if it’s licit or not, but I do know I want those high school men to learn what it means for men to take initiative and biblical leadership in the church. And I do want the women to learn what it means to love, affirm, and support male leadership in the church. Therefore, I’m going to be very careful about what models I place before them. In most circumstances, I’m going to have Bible-loving, initiative-taking adult men teach the group as a whole, while having mature women support and assist that ministry.’

This entire issue of the 9marks journal is devoted to the complementarianism and is titled Pastoring Women: Understanding and Honoring Distinctness. Go check it out.


  • russ

    Thanks, Ryan…

    The classic understanding of ‘begging the question’ (a type of circular reasoning) is the avoidance or side-stepping of the question at hand, to then make assertion(s)/statement(s) that assume the question at hand has already been answered.

    Leeman seems to suggest that rather than trying to define the boundaries set up by the Complimentarian system, we should base our actions on the desired result of producing men and women that will be bounded by the Complimentarian system. Do you see the circular reasoning?

    I do understand that he is addressing the ‘borders.’ But quite frankly, that’s where the action is in terms of thoughtful discussion of this issue. That’s were our consistency of position and integrity of interpretation are tested.

    Furthermore, without the specific boundary lines for what women can and cannot licitly do according to the Complimentarian viewpoint, how would Complimentarianism be defined?

    That would be a fascinating question to answer, because, if it could be done, I (who strongly embrace the reality of the uniqueness of male and female and our complimentary relationship in general) might be persuaded to call myself a Complimentarian!

    A Complimentarianism without borders! Sign me up!

  • Derek

    I don’t buy your “begging the question” argument either and here is why: If we accept your reasoning here, we could say much the same thing about baptism. Point is, we don’t start with orthopraxy. Orthodoxy informs our orthopraxy, not the other way around. Leeman says that both matters – but starting point matters too.

  • Derek

    My point with regard to baptism is this- some people get so hung up on the precise orthopraxy on baptism that they forget to return to first principles. I think it is better if my starting point in debating this issue with paedo baptists is to first discuss/establish first principles rather than by saying at the outset, “I don’t see that specific practice in the NT.”.
    That’s why I approve of Leeman’s essay. He says we can and should discuss orthopraxy. But let’s start with the horse, not the cart.

  • russ

    Thanks, Derek…

    It’s interesting… as a sacramentalist, and paedo baptist, I had considered bringing up sacramentalism as a parallel issue in this context when I first read Denny’s post. 🙂

    I guess my response is that if the ‘boundaries’ are not the horse of Complementarianism, then what is?

  • Derek

    I think that the horse, with respect to the comp/egal debate can probably best be determined by how we understand Ephesians 5:23. If we don’t agree that God has established distinct roles and leadership structure in the home and church, we don’t really have a basis for shared orthopraxy. “Are gender roles affirmed by Scripture?” “Do the implications of Genesis 3:16 matter today or not?” – I submit that those are the “horse” or questions we must address first; whether or not a woman can teach high school boys in algebra or even church history is not a matter of first principles.

  • russ

    Thanks for the time Derek,

    I appreciate what you are saying. I still think the Leeman quote is problematic, but I would love to see us focus more on the deeper principles of manhood and womanhood over the restrictive rules that, in practice, seem to dominate the debate.

  • Donald Johnson

    When someone claims that Scripture is clear on some subject but then declines to define the borders, do not believe his claim.

  • Derek

    I am not totally sure I know what actually dominates debate, I guess that depends on your context. In my particular context, I think I understand at least part of what you’re getting at – people who really haven’t really explored the first principles we’ve just discussed and are effectively, complegalitarians – almost making it up as they go along. I’ve actually tried to discuss first principles with these people and they get very fidgety- they don’t like to put their cards on the table. So in this regard, I understand where you’re coming from.

  • Sue

    And wouldn’t significant populations of the world be unreached by the gospel if the single woman missionary were deleted retrospectively?

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