Imagine being part of a church that wasn’t confused, reluctant or reticent about complementarianism, but rather embraced it. Imagine being so convinced of what God says that you’re able to express it confidently in what you say and do. Imagine being so compelled by the goodness of what God says that you express it positively in church life. This is the vision set forward in the new book, Embracing Complementarianism by Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher. In this episode of the CCL podcast, we consider the practicalities of complementarianism in our second episode with Priscilla & Aquila Centre Director and Moore College lecturer Jane Tooher on the matter.
Links referred to:
- Embracing Complementarianism: Turning Biblical Convictions into Positive Church Culture
- Review: Embracing Complementarianism (Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher) by Chase Kuhn
- The Priscilla & Aquila Centre
- Part 1 of Chase’s conversation with Jane Tooher
- Our 2023 event line-up
- Support the work of the Centre
Runtime: 31:37 min.
Please note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
Chase Kuhn: Imagine being part of a church that wasn’t confused, reluctant or reticent about complementarianism, but rather embraced it. Imagine being so convinced of what God says that you’re able to express it confidently in what you say and do. Imagine being so compelled by the goodness of what God says that you express it positively in church life. This is the vision set forward in the new book, Embracing Complementarianism by Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher. Today on the podcast, we consider the practicalities of complementarianism in our second episode with Jane Tooher on the matter.
CK: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn. I’m coming to you from Moore Theological College in Sydney, and once again, I’m very thankful to have my colleague and friend, Jane Tooher on the podcast. Jane is a lecturer at Moore College, teaching Ministry and Church History, and she also directs the Priscilla & Aquila Centre, which helps men and women think about partnering in ministry together.
Jane, welcome back!
Jane Tooher: Thank you, Chase! Great to be back.
CK: It’s great to have you back for Part 2 of our conversation about your new book, Embracing Complementarianism. I really enjoyed the first half of our discussion and am looking forward to getting into this half.
Equality between the sexes
CK: You’ve defined complementarianism as,
Simply put, complementarianism is the belief that God made men and women equal and distinctive: equal in value and dignity, and distinctive in certain responsibilities and roles.1
So as we begin this discussion, I want to dive in the deep end by talking about equality. I find often people want to talk about men and women together, and equality is the hot button issue. What does it mean for men and women to be equal? How do you begin answering that question?
JT: Well, men and women are created in the image of God, and by the fact that we’re both created in the image of God, we’re equal. Every single human being is equal in that sense before God. We’re equal before God, and Jesus Christ died for male and female, so in that sense, we’re equal in creation, equal in redemption and equal in salvation. We’re equal in terms of worth and dignity and value.
We talk a lot about equality and can think about it in worldly terms and that we should do exactly the same as everyone else is able to do. But the Bible is not so much concerned about that type of equality. Equality, yes, but in the eyes of God. But that doesn’t mean sameness. That doesn’t mean we do exactly the same. The Bible, I think, is more concerned with unity: male and female together are the image of God, are united before God, build the church and reach the lost.
I think unity is a really important thing that we don’t necessarily talk a lot about when we’re discussing these issues of men and women. Definitely we have equality, but is it the equality the world defines? It’s not the sameness. If we keep talking about equality as sameness, that denigrates women and men. Do I have to be exactly the same as a male? Does a male have to be exactly the same as a female? No! I delight in being a woman, and although there’s a lot of similarities with being a man, there’s a lot of differences as well. I don’t want to be a male; I’m a female. God has created male and female.
CK: That’s great.
Equality vs equity
CK: I realise how much of this is a cultural problem for us today in modern times, especially in the Western world. You’ve taught a lot on feminism and we won’t get into a long discussion about feminism, but you mentioned in our last episode that many of your girlfriends have been educated in a certain way: they’ve been told they can do anything they want and be anything they want. I’ve personally pastored women who have been in some of these schools, where they’re saying, “There’s nothing that a man can do that you can’t do. There’s no role that a man can have that you can’t have.” They were seeing this strong push towards equality. I love the way that you’ve said how this compromises the distinctive, wonderful, good nature of being a woman, as separate from a man.
JT: Yeah, so definitely there is a rightness of equality. But how we define that is really important. I think we need to talk a lot more about equity: recognising that there’s differences, but we can appreciate those differences. I don’t think we do that enough.
CK: Yeah. I guess that’s probably where equity is really good in distinction from equality. How do you help people think that way—that is, in terms of equity?
JT: I think being really clear before what we actually mean about equality. I think it can be hard to speak against equality because it sounds like everything about equality is right. But what do we mean about it? When you say “equality”, are you actually meaning “equity”? You recognise you’re not exactly the same as a male (if you’re female) or a female (if you’re male); is it that you want equity? You want to be treated in the right way for who you are—for the limitations, weaknesses, gifts and strengths you have, compared to someone else. So I think being treated with equity is sometimes better than equality.
CK: Yeah, that’s a very helpful nuance. I think people will hear exactly what you’re stressing. I’m trying to think of a practical scenario that works.
JT: There’s that cartoon with the people looking over the fence. They want to look over the fence to the sports game. These people are different heights. Some people are like you: you’re much taller than me. You’re a foot taller than me. You don’t have any problem looking over the fence. So if you treat us with equality, I can’t actually look over the fence: I’m 5 foot 4 on a good day. [Laughter] I need a box.
But treating people with equity means I get a box to stand on, whereas you don’t need that box. Whereas if you treat us with equality, I don’t get a box. Does that make sense?
CK: Yeah, very helpful. And to try to pretend you don’t need the box—that you stand should-to-shoulder with me at the same height—would be wrong.
JT: Yeah. Just like you’re wearing glasses at the moment: treating us with equality—
CK: Yeah. You’re not wearing glasses. In other words, you’re recognising my weakness.
JT: Yeah, yeah! It’s just not treating that person holistically—who they are—and also whether they’re male or female as well. So equity is often better.
Equity within one’s gender
CK: It’s really good to say too that it’s not just a male/female thing. But as I think about my male friends or you think about some of your female friends, the same applies.
JT: Exactly! Just like the two examples we gave in terms of height and sight, it’s not just male and female, but different personalities and different gifting within being female or male. There’s differences. We need to treat people with different gifts and how God has formed them and made them, and their different weaknesses and strengths and everything.
CK: That’s lovely. It’s a beautiful vision. I think about the way I try to enact this in my own home: I have four kids. I have one son and three daughters. They’re very different. He as the male is very different than the three females. But the three females are quite distinct from one another. There are interesting similarities sometimes between the male and one of the females, and there are very sharp differences sometimes between just the fact that he is male and they are female. But within the females themselves, there are often more subtle, nuanced differences, and sometimes even dramatic ones.
JT: Yes, and that’s fantastic, isn’t it.
CK: It’s a beautiful!
JT: I have a similar testimony: I’m one of six kids. There’s three boys and three girls. It’s weird saying “boys” and “girls” when they’re middle aged adults! [Laughter] But yeah, definitely: there’s clear differences between me and my two sisters, and our three brothers. But there’s big differences also between us three sisters. That’s a really great thing!
CK: It’s lovely.
JT: It’s wonderful.
CK: It’s part of the way that God made you as a beautiful whole as a family.
JT: Exactly! That’s why it’s really important, as I said in the previous episode, that we have a really robust theology of gifting. Each individual that God has created brings different gifts to the church. So different females have different gifts from one another; different males have different gifts from one another. We need to use those gifts for the building of the church.
CK: That’s lovely. I just preached through Romans 12 over the last three weeks at college. One of the things I was confronted by is that Paul calls us in Romans 12 to have a real sober mind about our place in the body. What I think he’s trying to say there is that we take the place that God has given to us, which is good place, and that actually frees us from having to be somebody other than who we are. I don’t actually have to be the same as my male colleagues. I don’t have to be the same as my female colleagues. Nor do my male colleagues or female colleagues need to be the same as me. We are actually all quite distinctive. Each has a place in the body that God has purposed for us.
The body of Christ embodied
CK: One of the thing you draw on in your book really helpfully is the way that we can reframe how we think about our place in the body as something being embodied in reality. You say,
There are differences in roles, and there may be differences in personality traits, but these are undergirded by equality of value and significance before God. We must therefore long for our churches to be places that embody such equality. We say “embody” here because it is not enough to say we’re equal or even to recognise that we’re equal; it must be lived out in our life together, embodied in reality.2
That’s a very, very challenging statement! How can we begin to pursue this? And how can we begin to pursue this in terms of how we think about taking up our gifts and using them in the church?
JT: Yeah, I think a lot of it really needs to come from the church leadership if it’s going to be seen in formal structures, like up front in the Sunday service, or if it’s going to be seen in leadership structures with small groups, Sunday school, youth groups and things like that. Obviously it’s the church leadership that directs those leaders and appoints those leaders, so they need to be wanting to live out this embodiment, in a sense.
But also each individual congregation members takes responsibility as well. They’re ministers, so they can be living this out, taking responsibility and taking initiative even if they feel like, “Well, our church leadership is not doing that much.” Hopefully also you’re able to initiate conversations with your church leadership structure about doing it.
Again, it comes back to what we were saying in the first episode about the church leadership taking time out and thinking about how can we have much deeper and broader complementarianism? How can we live that out more fully for the benefit of our church?
CK: That’s great, and I think you really helped stress there the ways that we unconsciously make certain activities and roles seem like they may be the only activities and roles, rather than, as you just said, a broader vision for how gifts get enacted in the body. I think that’s so helpful.
Complementarianism and service
CK: On the flip side of that, though, I think you offer a really helpful challenge about thinking about roles and service. You stress that there is a tendency today for people to think about service as a way of self-realisation or self-actualisation. You say,
we’re not after a Christian version of individual “self-realisation”. Our culture encourages people to “be who you are” and “be all you can be”. The Christian version just adds God: “Be all God wants you to be”. While there is some merit in that, it only encourages us to think individually. Whereas in the church, our desire should be to be who we all are together in Christ, and all that he wants us to be. We want to realise our corporate identity.3
I find that a huge paradigm shift and a huge confrontation to our culture’s way of acting and what creeps into our churches. Explore this with me.
JT: Just something related to that: when talking about the ministries of women, there can be a tendency to use language like, “Oh yeah, this ministry empowers women.” There can be this slow creep so that it actually ends up being about me, rather than this Christo-centric ministry—ministry about Christ and glorifying God. That might sound shocking, but it is amazing how quickly that can be the case when it ends up being about me and not about God or other people. Ministry’s not a self-improvement club. Yes, we do want to help people, identify their gifts, maximise their gifts and grow in their gifting. But ultimately, that’s not why we have the gift. Just like you’re saying about preaching sermons on Romans 12, we have these gifts for the building of the church and the service of the church. So having that much more corporate mindset and a God-centred mindset, we have this for the benefit of other people.
CK: I find that so confronting. I want to pause just for a minute and say how significant I think this is for our churches today. People are told, “You must do this in order to become who you are.” I claim a right to that and say, “I must do this” or “Empower me to do this I won’t be empowered”. The gospel says, “Lay aside that concern in service of others. Pour yourself out in service of others.” It’s hard to take that on balance, because we want to say, “Historically, women were mistreated and held down.” Finding a way to incorporate our sisters is really significant.
JT: Definitely! We’re definitely not saying women need to be a doormat. We’re definitely not saying women should accept abuse. None of that! Exactly what you were just saying: we want women to find different ways of being involved, not just behind the scenes at a church, but visibly.
I think that even though ministry is about serving and sacrifice to other people, I think it’s really important for the leadership of the church to have women up front and to be talking about the ministries that they’re doing, because so often, their ministries, like the ministries a lot of men are doing, are behind the scenes. I think that just helps the broader congregation to actually get to know their brothers and sisters in Christ—especially their sisters in Christ—to see what they’re doing so they can be praying about and talking about them.
Say if a pastor or someone interviews a woman up the front about the ministries she’s doing, he is signalling to the congregation, “This is really important. This is of worth.” It’s not just that the sermon is important or leading the service is important or leading the music is important. It’s not just the upfront things. But it’s that all this ministry all throughout the week is really important for us as a church family. So he may interview her about the one-to-one ministry she’s doing or her leading a small group Bible study or teaching Scripture/Special Religious Education in Schools—all this ministry that most people may have no idea that this woman is doing. I think that is really, really powerful.
We can think that doesn’t sound like much. It sounds pretty insignificant, whether you have that interview or not. But that’s actually really profound. It’s really powerful for the potential for good and what he’s signalling by doing that.
CK: As we take a break from our program, I want to direct your attention to a few resources to help you as you continue to think about men and women in the church together. The first is the new book we’ve been speaking about today by Jane Tooher and Graham Beynon, entitled Embracing Complementarianism: Turning Biblical Convictions into Positive Church Culture. The book is recently published by The Good Book Company and I cannot recommend it highly enough. In fact, you can read my review of the many strengths of the book on the Moore College website.
Second, while you’re on the Moore College website, you can click on the link to the Priscilla & Aquila Centre or go their directly at paa.moore.edu.au. Jane Tooher serves as the Director of this centre, which seeks to provide resources to encourage the ministries of women in partnership with men. There you’ll find a wealth of media that should help you and your church as you seek to embrace complementarianism.
Now let’s get back to our program.
The involvement of women in church life
CK: I love that you way offer practical suggestions for the upfront ministry. You give some tips on how to offer a Sunday spot, and you offer many of the things that you’ve just suggested. But in the balance of trying to reserve particular kinds of ministry for men, you also show that even where we may reserve, say, eldership for men or eldership-type roles of preaching, for example, to men, that that doesn’t exclude women from helpfully participating in that work. So even when you have eldership meetings and decisions, you really encourage the consultation of women as they’re making those decisions. As you have preaching for men, you invite the feedback from women or even the input in advance from women. You invite even perhaps creative spots for application out of a sermon from women. So there’s a much broader, more creative, lovely way of involving women, both up front and even behind the scenes in ways that continues to communicate value. But not just value, actual need—real need for input.
JT: Yeah, definitely. I’m used to leadership structures with male elders or leaders where I would be in that context a lot of the time anyway. I would be giving a lot of that input and they would be wanting input from me.
In church structures where maybe it’s more typically Reformed church denomination or Presbyterian or an independent church, where there’s elders—male-only elders—I think exactly it’s as you say. Graham talks about this in the book, presenting some examples of what he’s done where he’s actively sought out female input in things like the preaching program or other pastoral issues or situations. God has given a lot of churches a lot of mature Christian women. If you never ask for their wisdom, why is that the case? Do you think it’s going to threaten your leadership? Do you think it’s not being obedient to the word of God?
CK: You’re cheating yourself is what you’re doing.
JT: Well, not just yourself, but the whole congregation as well.
CK: The whole church. That’s right.
JT: I think it’s really good to have the wisdom of mature Christians, and that includes females.
CK: Very, very much.
What success looks like as a church
CK: Well, you’ve targeted pragmatism as a real risk to ministry. I think this flows on from what we’ve been talking about: we can be tempted to forsake principles in pursuit of results. This can be really problematic especially when we have misguided understandings about what constitutes success in church. Where do you think we misunderstand what successful church is, and how do you correct that in a healthier direction, biblically?
JT: I think we can think church is successful if it’s big and people are excited about being there. All those things are good: it’s great to have a big church. It’s great to have people who are excited about being there as well. But is there depth?
I think if we are running a church on biblical principles, that won’t be popular sometimes, because we will be much more against the grain of culture. That’s really difficult for some people to accept, whether it be on issues to do with the ministries of me and women, or issues to do with sexuality, judgement, hell, sin. These things might not palatable for a number of people.
Over the last decade or so, there are many examples within the Christian church of people moving further and further left, and not accepting God’s good word. It comes back again to our doctrine of Scripture and whether it’s sufficient, whether it has clarity, whether it’s necessarily for our lives and whether it has authority. It does: it has all those things. This is why coming back to the principles of Scripture is really, really important.
CK: You’ve shown how pragmatism gets the best of us in these things. I think one of the things you said in the book, too, is that we often they just—
JT: We think it’s working, because a lot of people are coming or whatever—
CK: Quality programs, big kids ministry—
CK: —and whatever else. But if all that’s happening at the expense of good relationships and vibrant relationships that are deepening, and you don’t say this in the book, but you’re meaning not just relationships that would happen in any other domain, but relationships that are characterised by gospel truth. That is, we are together because of Christ, not because we would naturally interact anywhere else in the world. But we are here because of Jesus. And even as men and women, we’re together as brothers and sisters. That’s, I think, remarkably different than the world.
JT: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Relationships between men and women in the church
CK: Moving on from that, as we think about interacting as men and women and doing that in the interests of church growth, as in deepening our relationship with Christ, how can we relate better? There’s this bad joke that men and women should just do their own thing. Is it wrong to have men and women’s ministries? Is it wrong to just have men’s Bible studies and women’s Bible studies? Can men and women have friendships in the church without things going the wrong way romantically? These are longstanding questions that are often put negatively against complementarianism.
JT: Yeah, they do. I think all of Scripture, but the New Testament in particular, gives us some helpful teaching advice on this. We can see, first of all, the way Jesus related to women: he didn’t not relate to them. He didn’t avoid them. He was godly and he treated them with respect. He called out their sin: he treated them as individuals responsible before God. But he was never not godly with them. Furthermore, he called his disciples to be godly with women as well.
I think if you keep on using the language of men and women are to avoid each other (not that people would necessarily say it that extremely, but we can do that at times), it’s actually disrespecting men as well, because you’re treating men almost like they’re animals, as if they don’t have any self-control over their sexual urges. We need to treat both men and women with respect, but also take friendship and being a Christian brother and sister really seriously.
Paul talks to Timothy about the way he is to relate to younger women with all purity, as well as older men and older women (1 Tim 5). Because of someone’s sex and age, we are to relate to them in particular ways.
I think there’s also real warnings in Scripture and throughout the Old Testament, though, about how we are created as sexual beings. We need to take that seriously and realise that that can become more of a gradual thing in terms of often you don’t just choose to commit adultery with someone one day and you do it. We can be making excuses over a course of time. So we need to take those warnings seriously as well. So people can get angry at the Billy Graham rule and things like that. But we need to be above reproach—especially those of us who are in ministry leadership positions.
I think when we’re secure in ourselves and our relationship with God, we have really good friendship with the opposite sex. I have really good friendships with the opposite sex. Depending on your age, situation and marital status, that can be easier at times. But all of us need to be careful, while at the same time, not avoiding.
The dynamics also change: when it’s a one-on-one, that’s very different to even just three people. So I think friendships can be explored, but I think we need to be very, very careful of exclusiveness and making excuses to be spending time with someone of the opposite sex. If both of you aren’t single, that’s a real warning bell.
CK: How about men’s and women’s ministries?
JT: So definitely there’s a time and place for men’s and women’s separate ministries. I think there’s a real benefit to that in terms of things like pragmatics. It might be that in the daytime, there are young mums around. Some of them might not be planning to go back to paid work outside the home; some of them are. But in this situation and stage in life, they’ve got this opportunity of time, so it makes sense that, for example, you would have a women’s Bible study Tuesday mornings at your church, which a lot of churches do around the world.
The dynamic also changes when it’s just a single sex ministry. Women will say things in a Bible study group when it’s just women that they won’t when it’s a mixed group. The same is true with men. So there is a time and place for that.
We’ve got to remember there are strengths and weaknesses to that model. When it’s a men and women’s group, which I’m in this year, that brings enormous strengths that the single sex doesn’t. Neither is right; neither is wrong. But if you think, “I’m complementarian because we don’t have a female as the senior pastor and we don’t have women preaching in our church, and we have women’s Bible studies,” that’s actually not complementarianism. [Laughter] Complementarianism is much bigger than that.
I think also just in terms of single sex ministries, there are particular seminars that may be helpful for single sex. It’s more likely potentially that some people will feel more free to say stuff, depending on the seminar. So if the seminar was on something like pornography, you might have part of it with men and women together, but then part of it separate so people can be honest.
CK: Or you can be more targeted in your application.
JT: Yes, exactly! In the Christian subcultures that you and I are in, we can default too quickly to the separate ministries of men and women. But have we asked the question, “Would this ministry actually be done better with men and women together? What would be the strengths and weaknesses of that?”
CK: That’s very helpful.
JT: That touches on our Sunday gatherings: we get stuck in this rut of this normal type of liturgy, and we’re not that creative in using women—or even men—in the congregation up front. Is it better to be using more men and women from the congregation up the front at times, doing discipleship spots or whatever it might be?
One step towards embracing complementarianism
CK: As we round off our conversation, with so much practical input from you, say somebody is taking this to heart right now, the first thing they can do, of course, is get your book and read it, which I really recommend again. [Laughter] But if you could give someone just one step to move forward in the right direction this week, what would you encourage them to do as a very generic way of thinking about embracing complementarianism?
JT: A lot of our hearers will be in small group Bible studies. If you’re in a mixed group, are you hearing the voices of the men and women in the group, or is it typical that a couple of people dominate? That could be one thing that you could do.
Another thing you could do—sorry, you only asked for one!
CK: I’ll take multiple. It’s fine!
JT: I just thought after making that suggestion, a number of people won’t in mixed sex Bible study. Just ask someone of the opposite sex in your church do they feel like being a male is celebrated at your church? Do they feel like being a female is celebrated at your church? If so, how? If not, why not? Things like that.
CK: Just to get the conversation rolling.
CK: That’s good.
JT: You’re both congregation members, so you may feel like you don’t have much authority to change things. But doing this means you’ve heard what someone else thinks about how your church doesn’t necessarily or, in the view of this person, doesn’t celebrate what it means to be male or female. Then maybe the two of you can talk about it with your church leadership.
CK: Do you feel valued and celebrated as a man—as a male? As a woman, do you feel valued and celebrated as a female?
JT: Yeah. I think that’s really important. Both those things are being threatened today. Our world is finding it difficult to define what a woman is, which is crazy, sad and depressing. It’s actually really evil: God has created male and female, and that’s really, really good. There are complexities for different people, but a lot of people are wanting to wipe out the language of womanhood. It’s really tragic.
CK: Jane, I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve shared with us already. Again, I hope this will whet the appetite for people to go and get your book, read it, and read it together with people in their church so they can keep thinking more and more about embracing complementarity as a church.
JT: We have discussion questions at the end of each chapter that will help with that.
CK: That’s excellent! Thank you so much, Jane.
JT: Thank you, Chase!
CK: To benefit from more resources from the Centre for Christian Living, please visit ccl.moore.edu.au, where you’ll find a host of resources, including past podcast episodes, videos from our live events and articles published through the Centre. We’d love for you to subscribe to our podcast and for you to leave us a review so more people can discover our resources.
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1 Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher, Embracing Complementarianism: Turning biblical convictions into positive church culture, London: The Good Book Company, 2022: 9.
2 Ibid, 45.
3 Ibid, 90.