Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Preview of forthcoming Article

My good friend Jim Hamilton and I working on an article for the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and we have sent out a survey as a part of our research. I have been somewhat surprised by the results and what those results reveal about evangelical opinions concerning women in ministry. The task that Jim and I have is to set out the state of the gender debate among younger evangelicals.

Our work is still not finished, but we have identified four positions on the spectrum of evangelical opinion. We believe that the fundamental issue that differentiates opinions on this question is whether or not a principle of male headship obtains with respect to ministry roles. Thus we distinguish four positions: (1) hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice, (2) hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice, (3) no hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice, and (4) no hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice. As a preview to our article, I will briefly explain each of these and give an example from those responders who gave us permission to quote their survey answers.

1. Hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice. This is the traditional complementarian position. Evangelicals who hold to this position affirm male headship in principle and in their ministry practices. Ray Van Neste is an example of one who falls into this category. He answered “no” to the following questions: “Would you allow a woman to serve as an elder/pastor?” and “Would you allow a woman to preach from the pulpit with men present?”

2. Hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice. Typically, Complementarians in this category oppose women’s ordination but allow women to lead men in various ways within the ministries of the church. Mark Driscoll falls into this category. In response to our survey, Driscoll sent us his church’s position statement on women in ministry, which says:

“At Mars Hill we seek to encourage women to use the abilities that God has given them to their fullest extent in anything from teaching a class to leading a community group, overseeing a ministry, leading as a deacon, speaking in church, leading worship, serving communion, entering into full-time paid ministry as a member of the staff, and receiving formal theological education – or basically every opportunity in our church but the office of elder/pastor.”

3. No hierarchy in principle/hierarchy in practice. Those who fall into this category are egalitarian in principle, but nevertheless still have qualms (“maybe a gut instinct”) about ordaining females as pastors. No one who answered our survey who falls into this category gave us permission to quote them on the record.

4. No hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice. Those who take the view that gender is not relevant to the question of who can do what in ministry argue for it in a number of ways. One common way is to dissent from a complementarian reading of 1 Timothy 2:12. Wade Burleson’s response to survey questions fall into this latter category.

Question: Would you allow a woman to serve as an elder/pastor?
Burleson: How do I ‘allow’ anything like that in the church? It is the church’s decision, not mine. I would definitely cooperate with churches that made this decision, but I’m not sure my church would ever call a woman elder.
Question: Would you allow a woman to preach from the pulpit with men present?
Burleson: Without hesitation
Question: If yes, could you give a 3-5 line rationale for allowing what Paul prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12–15?
Burleson: Paul prohibits Timothy from allowing a woman, recently converted from the pagan cults from teaching in the assembly. . . To prohibit a woman, at all times and in all places teaching men would violate other passages of Scripture where those very things were done by women.

The spectrum of opinion is broad, even among evangelicals. For more on this issue, look for Jim and my article coming out this fall in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.


  • Chad

    It sure sounded like Mark Driscoll fell into that first category. What part of his statement put him into “no hierarchy in practice”? His answers were the same as Ray Van Neste – Double “No”.

    If you really need to, you can ask Bill Hybels about Mark’s view of women.

  • Matthew

    I would presently have a hard time placing myself. On the one hand, Paul and Peter, in multiple letters to multiple audiences teach some form of male leadership. On the other hand, I believe that in her chapter in Discovering Biblical Equality, Groothuis (sp?) made a compelling case that “equal in being, unequal in role” is a problematic formula.

    I was raised complementarian, to an extreme. Women were expected to know their place. I have continued to see shades of this attitude my whole life, often with the men unaware of how they are coming across. They don’t realize how much superiority they express against women. I am speaking of your basic Bible and Community churches.

    There is a sentiment that some who defended slavery were conservatives who felt that anti-slavery advocates were giving in too much to culture and that the Bible needed to be defended. They believed the Bible defended slavery.

    What if we are making a similar error in gender roles? What if in an attempt to defend the Bible we are holding to the worst of First Century culture? Is it possible that we are as misguided as those who used it to defend slavery?

    If I could articulate a position that captured the spirit of the male leadership passages on one hand, and yet avoided the problems of the equal in being, unequal in role formula, I would be happy. I can’t, therefore I am stuck.

  • bj

    Do you feel that it is a violation of biblical standards for a woman to address the body of Christ from the pulpit in any circumstance? For example, if on a Sunday morning a church has a woman missionary visiting and she gives a report of what’s happening where she serves.

  • Brian W


    Check out Scot McKnight’s stuff at He addresses this issue while keeping his biblical commitments.

  • mike

    I am complimentarian, and thus the idea of equal in being and different in role. I do not believe that the person with a seemingly less important role is truly less important, we see a related example in 1Cor when Paul speaks of gifts and explains that there are many members and yet one body, and God has chosen the seeminly weaker members to have more honor. I believe that the wife that encourages and loves her husband is just as vital as the husband who preaches every Sunday.

    I think our mindset is wrong, we particularly as westerners, associate rank in position with value as a person, these however, are apples and oranges.
    Is the CEO’s value as a person any greater than the general manager? Does their rank define their worth? I don’t think so, what about a serial rapist that never gets caught, when that person comes to lead a team of people, is he a better person? Does our position get us anywhere with God? Will the CEO have a better chance at salvation? Likewise, I find it impossaible to believe that a womans worth in the eyes of God is diminished because a PERSON might look down on her becuase she is not a leader.

    One must also think that a husband in the biblical sense is a servant, not subserviant, but a servant leader, just like Christ is to us. Remember Jesus took the position of a servant, He sacrificed himself to save a worthless group of sinners like you and me!

    Lets not let the abuses of God’s system keep us from practicing it, in the way that He meant for us to do so.

  • Matthew


    I agree with your basic idea. But… Take your example of the CEO. The rank is separate from who the person is. The CEO might be male or female, white or black, old or young. He or she was not born CEO and he or she may or may not die CEO.

    The problem with the equal in being, unequal in role formula is that a woman, by virtue of being a woman, is subordinate to her husband and to her pastor, and probably to most every male in the congregation. Because she is female, she is not allowed to lead or teach. This is because of who she is, that is, her personhood. She is female, therefore, she is subordinate. This is different from your CEO. The CEO could have been a gutter bum, or president of the US, unrelated to personhood. However, a woman is assigned a subserviant role regardless of her education, work ethic, personality, ethnicity, age, etc. She is born female and will die female. Therefore she is unequal in being, unequal in role. And the truth is, in ways that are not obvious to us as males, she is often slighted and treated differently in the church based on that inequality.

    Sorry if this sounds combative. I don’t mean it that way. I am just trying to deal with the real-life ramifications of our belief system.

  • Kris

    I am with Chad(#1 commenter)I agree how does Driscoll’s statement make the church he leads “no hierarchy in practice”?

    I have to use my grandfather in the following statement, my dad decided to leave our family when I was 8;

    My grandfather was clearly the hierachy/head in my family. But that didn’t keep my mother and grandmother from “preaching” to my brother & sister, or I. We still knew who had the last word when it came down to it!

    Could we be confusing “preaching behind a pulpit” or preaching period with the actual authority/authorities in the church being male?

    IOW how does allowing a woman to preach occasionally behind or in front of a pulpit voliate the biblical responsiblity of men being the final authority that comes with the responsibility that God sets forth in both the family and the church? This doesn’t mean the woman is the pastor/shepard/elder with the responsibility/authority over men, women,or children in the local assembly does it?

  • Denny Burk

    Chad (#1) and Kris (#7),

    I take your point, and so does Jim. I think they are valid critiques that will be cleared up in the article.

    The labels “hierachy in practice” and “no hierarchy in practice” represent the endpoints on a spectrum. When we apply the label to Driscoll in category two, we only mean to say that he falls on the “no hierarchy in practice” half of the spectrum. We do not mean to say that his position is on the end of the spectrum.

    I think this will be clearer in the article. Can you think of a better way to describe the “no hierarchy in practice” half of the spectrum? We are open to correction and suggestions. We certainly don’t want to mislead.

    Thanks, brothers.


  • Mike Bird

    This “hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice” seems like a pejorative term. It’s like you’re saying that folk like Driscoll are not “real” complementarians or else that they are compromizers (if he’s so bad should he be at TGF then?). If I’m reading too much into it tell me! But these guys do believe in hierarchy, but they implement it differently from your view. Driscoll believes in Husbandly headship and that IS hierarchy in practice. He would prohibit a woman from being a senior pastor, again, this IS hierarchy in practice. It might be better to say “modified” or “reduced” hierarchy in practice, rather than say “no hierarchy” in practice. I think you could make some serious enemies if you continue to use these terms Denny, and you need to ask whether it is worth it! Unless you want to invoke the ire and outrage of all complementarians who do not apply hierarchy in the exact same way you do, I suggest you re-think your naming of the categories. Grace. MB

  • Matthew


    I think Denny is more interested in a taxonomy of positions rather than a debate about individual positions, so I hope not to hijack his thread and start one.

    Your question was, can someone be equal with someone else in personhood, even if they don’t occupy roles that correspond 1:1? But I see the question as rather, what does it imply about equality of personhood when one person, based upon their ontology (maleness or femaleness, an attribute they are born with, live with, and die with) can NEVER occupy the roles of another person?

    I believe I would place myself in #2, except, perhaps, with a different name. I believe the NT teaches some form of male leadership, but I also feel that we should be doing everything we can to dignify and give women opportunity to exercise their gifts rather than pushing them aside based upon ontology. One of my concerns is that while many of us would decry a John Wayne attitude towards women (for example, he tossed one girl over his knee and spanked her – great fun if you are the man, degrading if you are the woman), we are more guilty of implicitly treating women as inferior than we realize. If someone interrupts me or ignores my opinion, I have the choice whether to be more assertive or just let it pass. But my wife does not have that choice. If her opinion is pushed aside, then if she were to try to be more assertive, then she would be forever sidelined as a rebellious, assertive woman.

    Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to think out loud. Sorry for the length, and like I say, I am not trying to wage war. Just trying to arrive at my own position vis-a-vis others’.

  • Chad


    I believe you typically do a good job at this – just simply define what you mean by hierarchal. If you have a spectrum, define it by characteristics and behaviors (both beliefs and practice). It is misleading to say someone believes something, but their practice shows otherwise.

    Is hierarchy limited to preaching? Does extend to leadership? What about in the home as opposed to the church setting? What about serving as a deacon/caretaker? I would suspect that these are part of that definition.

    Pictorally, you could use connected 4 squares inside a larger square. It would show the four groupings and the differences between them. You could also use a Venn diagram showing overlapping characterics and beliefs.

    I assume you’ll post the article on your blog when it is finished. I look forward to reading it.


  • mike

    I think when it all comes down to it, no analogy will really fit perfectly, however my CEO anaolgy can be compared to the son of a CEO or the son of a carpenter. One will be given more oportunities, this says nothing about the value of the person.

    However if we look at Paul’s logic, it is undeniable that he views the creation order as vital at interpreting male head-ship. The woman was created for the man, as a help-meet, a helper comparable to him. This statement alone insists that one ackowledge that a woman although created comprable to a man, is never-the-less under him in authority. Just like Jesus is under the Father in authority but equal to Him in being, so the woman is under a man in authority but equal to him in being.

  • bj

    Maybe I should expand my question in #3?

    “Do you feel that it is a violation of biblical standards for a woman to address the body of Christ from the pulpit in any circumstance? For example, if on a Sunday morning a church has a woman missionary visiting and she gives a report of what’s happening where she serves.”

    Would such a happening mean that a church/a pastor does not practice hierarchy? Thanks!

  • bj

    I am genuinely curious as to what others think re a woman addressing a congregation. This is something I am working through, searching Scripture and seeing what biblical principles apply in these situations. Any input would be helpful. Am I simply not seeing a very obvious answer, and thus no response? Just wondering. Thanks!

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