Albert Mohler on Complementarianism, Blind Spots, and the Importance of Positive Affirmations of Women in the Church

As I’ve shared in past blogs related to women and church leadership, the widespread perception among both unbelievers and believers in our culture is that conservative Bible-believing churches—especially those that are also politically conservative—are the last bastion of cultural chauvinism, dedicated to stereotyping, subjugating, and minimizing the equality, worth, intelligence and gifting of women. We are thought to foster disrespect and, indirectly, abuse.

Unless we intentionally show this isn’t true—and demonstrate an authentic (not merely superficial) respect for women as intelligent and gifted students and teachers of God’s Word—many of our girls and young women will drift away from the church, or turn to churches that may not be faithful to God’s Word. Others may stay but never discover and use their gifts. Furthermore, there’s a large segment of culture we won’t reach. We shouldn’t ever violate what Scripture commands in an attempt to be relevant, but we should exercise the freedom to do what Scripture allows to grant women the widest and deepest and most meaningful roles in Christ’s body.

God has given spiritual gifts to Christian women, just as He has to men (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). They’re to use these gifts to serve the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10). God sovereignly distributes them and it is clear in Scripture there are women granted the gifts of prophecy, teaching, exhortation, etc. Their ministries are essential to the life and growth of the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).  (I share some further thoughts on women and church leadership here. And see this article for a helpful description of complementarianism.)

Albert Mohler had some good things to say related to all this in an interview with The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Below are a couple of his answers I appreciated. You can read the full interview here.

CBMW: What are the blind spots within complementarianism that we must do better to address?

Mohler: I think one of the most dangerous blind spots or challenges for complementarians is being very clear that complementarianism does not mean male superiority. It just doesn’t. It instead affirms different and distinct roles for men and women in church and in the home. But it is not grounded in male superiority; it is grounded in various arguments in Scripture, some based in creation, but the fundamental issue is that there is a stewardship of authority and a stewardship of responsibility that is assigned to men — and not just to men, but to husbands and fathers in the home and the church, specifically to those who are called to spiritual leadership in the teaching office. So it’s wrongly understood to imply that every man in the church has authority over every woman in the church. That’s simply not true. 

Another blind spot I think we have to watch is failing to correct abuses that come in the name of complementarianism. Any time you talk about a structure in creation in which there are different assignments of authority and responsibility, then evil men can use such arguments to their own sexual, physical, and narcissistic inclinations. Consequently, complementarians who are not careful can allow not only men to believe that they are in a position of some male superiority, but girls and women to believe that what is being taught is female inferiority. So I think we’ve learned over the course of the last several years that this is not a hypothetical danger, and it needs to be articulated very clearly. 

CBMW: When complementarianism arises as a topic, it is often caricatured with a defensiveness on what women cannot do, rather than what they can do. What must complementarians do to better project a robust, joyful complementarianism that is not defined (rightly or wrongly) by negation?

Mohler: I think we have to recognize the historical context that produced negation. This is the perpetual predicament of those who defend biblical orthodoxy: we’re often in the position of having to say, “The Bible doesn’t teach that.” The reality is that any coherent position includes both affirmation and negation, and we should just be honest about that. 

An affirmation of biblical truth, which would include the affirmation of complementarianism, has to be rooted in a joyful biblical theology that is grounded in God’s purpose in creating human beings in His image, His purpose in making us male and female, instituting marriage, and the gift of sexuality. We must also remember that men and women are to be partners, according to Genesis, in the great work of bringing order and human flourishing; the Bible could not begin more clearly with a positive affirmation. 

The Bible also deals with negation, but all of this has to be set within a joyful biblical theology. Neither complementarianism nor trinitarianism or any other theological truth can be presented without the necessity of being clear about what the Bible teaches and what’s incompatible with biblical revelation. And if complementarians have failed to demonstrate a joyful biblical theology that begins with the celebration of the goodness of what God has created and the rightness of that order and the beauty of humanity as made in God’s image and the glory of the assignments given to men and women, then shame on us. But this is also a reminder that our theology has to show up not only in arguments, but in a comprehensive affirmation of biblical truth joyfully presented to the people of God.

Finally, here is something Denny Burk wrote that I think is helpful and fits with what Mohler is also saying:

A friend recently said to me that complementarians often run the risk of minding the fences while ignoring the field. What she meant was that we can be so focused on boundaries that we forget the wide places in between. And it is in those spaces that there is great freedom and opportunity for both men and women to have meaningful ministries within the church. Yes, there are clear boundaries in scripture for men and women in ministry, but this does not negate the opportunities for ministry that God gives to men and women. No Christian—male or female—should ever feel they are without a ministry. There is plenty of room to roam in the field, and the boundaries help us to see that.

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Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries