Editor’s note: The following letter was sent out to our mailing list as part of our Fall fundraising campaign. If you would like to donate to the ministry of CBMW, you may do so at cbmw.org/give.
Dear friend of CBMW,
The Lord gives a special kind of joy and “alert peacefulness” when you’re outnumbered five to one and yet the Lord is with you because you’re defending the truth of his Word. That’s the way I felt 34 years ago at the meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Atlanta (in December 1986).
The theme of that year’s conference was “Manhood and Womanhood in Biblical and Theological Perspectives,” and six speakers were scheduled for the plenary sessions. I was one of them, but the other five were all strong evangelical feminists (Gilbert Bilezekian of Wheaton, Catherine Kroeger of the University of Minnesota, Walter Liefeld of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Aida Spencer of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and David Scholer of Harvard), and they had all taken public stands against any unique leadership roles for men in marriage or in the church. To make matters worse, the program specified that, after each presentation, the other five plenary speakers would give responses. I was also outnumbered five to one in the responses!
The discussions were lively, to say the least. There were arguments about the meaning of the Greek word kephalē (“head”) in Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church,” the meaning of hypotassō (“be subject to, submit to”) in Ephesians 5:24, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands,” and the meaning of authenteō (“exercise authority”) in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” My opponents in this debate had “reinterpreted” all of these terms, giving them new meanings that were unjustified by the facts of ancient word usage and unknown to previous centuries of New Testament scholars.
I felt that the Lord was on my side and gave much grace in the discussions. And I sensed that many in the audience were with me and that the imbalance in speakers did not reflect the dominant views of most ETS members. One evening, I met secretly (because of the hostility we felt toward our position) with John Hughes, Wayne House, James Borland, and other friends to discuss what could be done to oppose the aggressive evangelical feminism that was sweeping through the ETS. As the conference was concluding, I stood up to make an announcement: If anyone would be interested in an organization that would uphold both equality and differences between men and women in marriage and the church, please speak to me or to my friend Wayne House (then a theology professor at Dallas Seminary). And so began the organization that would come to be known as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).
Little did we know at that time the immense role that CBMW would play in the church not only in the United States but also throughout the rest of the world.
In 1987, still meeting secretly, we finalized wording on the Danvers Statement, which remains the widely-accepted (and widely-opposed!) defining standard of faithfulness to biblical teachings about manhood and womanhood in marriage and the church.
In 1988, we held a press conference in connection with the ETS meeting at Wheaton College and announced the existence of CBMW. We also coined the term “complementarian” to represent our position that men and women are equal in value and personhood but different in roles in marriage and the church. Also in 1988, we began a quiet effort to show up and vote at the lightly-attended (and often boring) annual business meeting of the ETS, and for the next 20 years we had a significant influence in electing complementarian officers to the ETS leadership.
In January of 1989, we published a two-page ad in the center of Christianity Today magazine announcing the formation of CBMW. The ad printed the Danvers Statement in full and listed numerous Council members and board of reference members. We received over 1000 responses by mail (this was pre-email), apparently an astounding response for a single text-heavy ad. People would write us saying, “I wept when I saw your ad. I didn’t know that people held this anymore.” We began to sense that this was a big issue and that God was surely blessing our work. (Some of you reading this letter today have probably been on the CBMW mailing list since you responded to that first ad.)
In 1991, CBMW promoted the publication of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and me, a book with 26 chapters by 22 different authors. It provided a detailed academic defense of a complementarian position, with chapters from some of the leading scholars in the evangelical academic world. It still remains influential today, 29 years later. It has been the target of multiple responses in books with titles such as Recovering Biblical Equality and Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (!!), but, in my judgment, its detailed arguments remain overwhelmingly persuasive.
In 1992, we found that, by a vote of readers, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was named “Book of the Year” by Christianity Today. Readers had voted it to be the book that had the most significant influence on the evangelical world in the previous year. (That was the last year that Christianity Today would decide their “Book of the Year” based on readers’ votes. Hmm.)
In 1994, I was among three leaders of CBMW (the other two were Ray Ortlund and Mary Kassian) who met privately with three leaders from the evangelical feminist organization Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) to draft a joint statement opposing the evil of abuse within marriage. We agreed on the wording of a strong statement that had been drafted by Mary Kassian, and we planned to release it publicly in a joint statement. But then we learned that the CBE board had rejected our agreement and they would not join us in the public statement. We ended up publishing the statement ourselves.
In March of 1997, World magazine published a startling report that the popular NIV Bible translation was planning to introduce gender-neutral wording that would make sweeping changes to the NIV. A huge controversy resulted, with CBMW playing a large role in opposition to gender-neutral wording such as changing “father” to “parent,” “son” to “child,” “brother” to “friend,” and “he, him” in place of “they, them.” in place of “he, him.” (We only objected to those changes in verses where the original Greek or Hebrew text had a male-specific meaning, but those verses were numerous.)
The long-term result was an increasing awareness of the importance of accurate gender language in Bible translation, and the growing popularity of translations such as the English Standard Version (2001) and the Christian Standard Bible (2009) that retain accuracy in gender language.
In 1998, supporters of CBMW played a major role in revising the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the “Baptist Faith and Message.” The revisions included strong new statements on marriage and the church that upheld a complementarian position and were consistent with the principles of the Danvers Statement.
In 2000, CBMW sponsored an influential Dallas conference on marriage and the family, cosponsored by FamilyLife under the leadership of Dennis Rainey.
In 2017, CBMW president Denny Burk recognized the need for a public statement of biblical principles regarding homosexuality and transgenderism. Under the auspices of CBMW, he led the effort to draft and revise and eventually publish the Nashville Statement on August 29, 2017. It was initially signed by over 150 Christian leaders. In the face of enormous cultural pressure to the contrary, CBMW once again clearly articulated a careful, courageous, biblically faithful statement of principles that expresses thoughtful and loving opposition to the current LGBT-movement and provides a standard to which pastors, churches, denominations, and parachurch ministries can look for guidance.
In addition, from 1988 until 2020, CBMW has continued to carry on a faithful ministry of publications and conferences, faithfully promoting biblical manhood and womanhood and influencing thousands of pastors, churches, and parachurch organizations, as well as numerous denominations. Many other denominations, independent churches, and parachurch organizations have adopted principles that reflect agreement with the Danvers Statement.
Surely the Lord has blessed the ministry of CBMW. Back in 1986, it seemed to many Christians that the whole evangelical world was capitulating to the flood tide of evangelical feminism that was sweeping through our churches. There was no focal point of opposition to feminism, no defining standard that summarized what the Bible really taught about manhood and womanhood. But CBMW provided that standard and encouraged thousands of Christians to hold firm to the teachings of Scripture.
My impression today is that, largely through the influence that God has granted to CBMW, a biblically faithful, complementarian viewpoint is once again the dominant viewpoint among Bible-believing evangelical Christians. We no longer have to meet in secret, as we did in 1986 and 1987 when we were making plans for CBMW. National news organizations, both Christian and secular, regularly call CBMW president Denny Burk for comments on events in the news. CBMW has now published three issues of Eikon, a new, high-end academic journal for studies in biblical anthropology, and this effort will no doubt lead to further influence in the academic world. The CBMW website, CBMW.org, has an enormous number of resources on biblical manhood and womanhood that are accessed by people around the world.
Since our first public announcement in 1998, CBMW has stood firm in its advocacy of faithful biblical teachings on manhood and womanhood. There is no other organization like it, none that plays such a defining role in its clear advocacy of a complementarian position. The Lord has given much blessing to CBMW during the last 22 years, and by his grace the organization has remained faithful to God and to his Word.
That is why Margaret and I, in our 51st year of marriage, continue to give financial support to CBMW year after year. I hope you will consider generously supporting CBMW as well.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.