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Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction (Book Review)

November 22, 2021

Editors note: the following book review appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Eikon.

Kevin DeYoung. Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021.

Kevin DeYoung’s Men and Women in the Church lives up to each adjective in its subtitle: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction. Because of those three features — clocking in around 150 pages, faithfully addressing the relevant portions of Scripture, and giving readers guidance for how to respond to the Bible’s teaching — DeYoung’s book deserves to be a go-to resource for anyone wanting an introduction to the complementarian position and the debates that surround it.

The book is divided into two parts; the first is “Biblical Exploration” and goes through different portions and passages of Scripture, from Genesis through the Old Testament, to the teaching of Jesus and the crucial epistolary passages. Part two, called “Questions and Applications,” is shorter and discusses more practical matters.

The book is excellent with much to commend it. For one, DeYoung writes with characteristic clarity and level-headedness; it would be difficult to find evidence that the author lacks a grasp of the subject or that he writes with a shrill pen. Second, there are chapters that would serve as helpful standalone resources. I would highlight the chapter on marriage, which consists of a brief explanation of Ephesians 5:22–33 and some on-the-ground exhortation for husbands and wives. Chapters 4 and 8 stand out in the way they address difficult matters head on — the former addressing questions arising from Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, the latter responding to common objections to complementarian teaching. Rather than just presenting his case in these chapters, DeYoung does the reader a favor by naming the common objections and questions and answering them.

Maybe the most unique contribution DeYoung makes is his consistent willingness to affirm not only the distinct roles that God assigns to men and women, but that these distinctions are rooted in the way men and women are made. There can be a tendency among some complementarians to affirm the distinct roles in a way that makes the distinctions seem arbitrary, as though something like a divine coin flip determined whether it was men or women whom God would call to lead families and churches. DeYoung is convinced that God’s design of men and women informs the stewardships entrusted to each.

He orients his reader to the basis of this complementarity  in the introduction, where he says “this book is about the divinely designed complementarity of men and women as it applies to life in general and especially to ministry in the church” (15). For DeYoung, complementarianism is not merely a name for traditional views about the church and family, but a descriptive view of men and women in general — a view derived from both special and natural revelation.

DeYoung comes back to the implications of natural revelation throughout the book. He concludes the book’s first chapter, which consists of 15 observations from Genesis 1–3, with the observation that men and women won’t find “marching orders” in Genesis, but that there are “creational capacities” that are commended to us that “establish the shape of sexual differentiation and complementarity” (33). In other words, when one begins to grasp the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2 — teaching that predates the fall, predates any cultural setting we might blame, and predates any author being held captive by the assumptions of his time — one will then see the pattern of complementarity in the rest of Scripture for what it is: a natural outworking of the way men and women are made.

While the theme of natural revelation is in the background of much of the book, it comes to the fore in the final two chapters. It’s here DeYoung makes statements like “our physiology corresponds to a divine moral injunction” (121) and “the body is not incidental to our purpose as human beings” (122), and where he encourages readers that “the more we see in nature (partly) and in God’s word (mainly) what it means to be men and women, the better our marriages, our children, our churches, and our society will be” (129).

It’s in the book’s last chapter that DeYoung clearly articulates the need for this emphasis on divine design: “I fear that the ‘rules’ of complementarianism — male headship in the home and male eldership in the church — are sometimes construed as divine strictures absent any deeper recognition of natural theology and sexual difference.” I share this concern. If Scripture consisted only of Paul’s writings, his teaching on men and women would still be authoritative. But thanks be to God, divine revelation is more fulsome. So rather than shrug our shoulders in confusion as to why God assigns the roles he does, we can nod in unsurprised agreement because, given the truths of Genesis 1–3 and the created order, the assignments make sense. Viewed this way, the roles are not mere limitations as to what men and women can and cannot do, they are invitations to live in accordance with the way our wise, good, and gracious God has made us.

Any reader will find things with which to quibble, whether with the necessity of debating Junia’s gender, or any number of practical implications DeYoung offers about women deacons or the involvement of women in corporate worship. But these are minor matters, and when it comes to the practical side of things, DeYoung is quick to qualify that every church is different and will need to make some decisions with contextual awareness.

Pastors and churches would do well to keep copies of this book on hand. Small groups could go through it, a Sunday School class could read it together, and it would be a great resource simply to make available for members. Whether it’s someone looking to dip their toes in the discussion for the first time, or someone looking to bolster their grasp and appreciation for Scripture’s teaching, this book is a trustworthy help.

Matt Damico is the pastor of worship at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.


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