The following is a lightly edited transcript.
Let me read a few verses from Genesis. Nobody would have used the word “gender” 20–30 years ago pertaining to sexuality as it is being used today. It was a grammatical word, not a social word, but now it is a social word, and there are all kinds of reasons for that in terms of contemporary culture. But nothing is more important or maybe there is something more important — second in importance probably to the cross and how manhood and womanhood are defined by the church in its relationship to Jesus. Second importance would be that God created you male and female. So let me read that.
God Created Both Male and Female
Genesis 1:26–28: “Then God said, Let us” — I think that’s a hint at the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion.” The reason you exist as male or female is because God decided to do it that way. So if that’s not the most important thing in the world to know about who you are, it’s second most important.
A few years ago, I said to Matt Chandler, “You’re cool. I’m not cool. I’m old, you’re young. You’re thirty-something and you’re cool and you have a huge church and young people love to listen to you talk. You got a beautiful wife and kids and you really seem to be in sync with what’s happening. Yet, you hold this view of manhood and womanhood that I do and it’s not cool and it’s really out of step with American culture. How did you get to be that way?” He gave me a very short answer. He said, “The big blue book.” That was his answer — the big blue book, which was very encouraging to me.
Wayne Grudem and I, in 1990–1991, edited this book. This book had been around for 24 years and it’s called, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wayne and I and lots of others were fighting this battle in the 1970–1980s and it was bloody. I don’t get called anymore like I got called names in those days. My view was said to be obscene.
“The reason you exist as male or female is because God decided to do it that way.”
It was a bloody twenty years or so, and I didn’t expect to win that battle and in a sense you don’t win any battle in the world. You just get more or less people who agree with you or don’t agree with you. You hope you’re being faithful to the Bible and that if people see that, not because of who you are or who Matt Chandler is, but because they see it and embrace it and they build their lives around it. So it’s a little backdrop to how long this has been a burden to me.
Wayne Grudem and I were lone voices in some sense, calling for what we now call complementarianism. Just a big awful word, but what can you do? The word complementarianism was created to position ourselves between two extremes, which we saw very prevalent in the world and in the church and to this day. All over the world, these extremes exist. You’ve probably tasted them. The one extreme would, I hardly want to put a name on it because I don’t want to tar anybody things that they don’t believe, but it would be the more feminist, the more egalitarian view of minimizing sexual differences. Minimizing them so that they would say something like, “Don’t put me in any box as a woman. Don’t put me in any box as a man. I’m just human and I don’t want any door shut to me and I don’t like any of those emphasizes of distinction.”
So we didn’t think such a view was biblical. We thought there really are differences and those differences in the Bible are taken seriously, and God’s glory and human happiness and flourishing and ministry and mission will go better if people line themselves up with God’s way. So that’s one extreme we were trying to distance ourselves from — the kind that minimized and discounted deep differences among men on the one side and women on the other.
The other extreme, of course, would be an abusive, domineering, machismo that results in women being demeaned, hurt, or marginalized. You’ve grown up in a culture where that is so automatically disapproved of, you may not be able to feel how huge that is in the world. I mean there are whole cultures, whole religions that so abuse, mistreat, and demean women as women, today. Not just historically — like we made mistakes or something, but they exist today — it exists now.
So we didn’t want to be associated with that either. That’s not what we are saying. That’s not what we mean. Even though a person like me will be viewed by a feminist as way too traditional and demeaning, I revel in the truth that Christianity, as it has moved through history, has always been good for women. Without God, men are cruel. Men use their superior strength and everybody knows men have, in general, superior strength. Is it not amazing that in the Olympic games there’s not one event where men and women compete with each other. Why is that? Must be really galling to a lot of feminists, but everybody knows, that is not fair. Because men have just, by no virtue in themselves, have chromosomes that set them up to be able to throw things farther, run faster, and lift more weights and that sort of thing. And men use that terribly without God or without the fumes left over from God’s influence on a culture that they don’t know where it comes from.
Asking and Answering the Right Question
So here was the question that I was asking and I never got a good answer. I’ll ask you. If you’re somewhere different than I am on this issue, come up and give me your answer at the end. I didn’t want to make the debate mainly around what things can women do and what things can men do or not do and just line it up a list, this is women thing, this is men thing — I didn’t want to set it up that way. Here’s the question I asked to set it up the way I wanted to set it up. I would ask evangelical feminists: How would you respond if you have a nine-year-old and she comes to you and says, ‘Mommy, what does it mean to grow up to be a woman and not a man?’ Or if you have a nine-year-old son who says, ‘Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?’”
That question is posed that way for a reason because if you start saying to her, “Well honey, it means you grow up to be strong and mature and look nice and be intelligent and a person of integrity and to be articulate and to be useful in society etc.” Now if I were listening, I’d say, “Whoa that’s not what she asked because that applies to men too — all of them. She asked, ‘Mommy what does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?’ So don’t answer anything that applies to both. That’s the question that will not be answered.”
Without an answer to that question, you know what happens? Generations come to be, you’re probably one of them, who are not able to say who they are as male and female. They don’t know. If you say, “It’s easy. Women have periods, women have breasts, women don’t have facial hair, women can sing soprano. It’s easy.”
You women know and you men know if that’s all it is, it is not very important. It is very important and that’s not all it is and you know it’s not. You know that being a woman is being a woman down to the bottom of your toes and you know that to be a man is to be a man down to the bottom of your toes. If you try to say no its just plumbing, just hormones, just XY, XX, no, you know better. It’s demeaning, that’s demeaning to manhood and womanhood to say its just plumbing. We’re just all hermaphrodites with different plumbing. That is just so far from what the Bible portrays as the beauty of male and female.
So that was the question I asked to try and set it up that way. I never got a good answer. You never find feminists writing books in answer to that question. It’s very hard to answer for one reason. It’s not easy so I will try to answer it.
By the way, pornography is an abuse of women, guys. Prostitution is an abuse of women. Sex trafficking is an abuse of women. If you think it’s in the nice egalitarian American cultures, it’s not prevalent, you’re blind as a bat. If you look at pornography, you’re a sexist. They’re somebody’s daughter, a parent with a broken heart. She’s outselling herself like that and you’re on it loving it. So it’s here in the room and in America and not just in Islam where they stone them, if they have sex when they shouldn’t. It’s here.
“If we don’t teach what it means to be a man or a woman, it doesn’t result in a nice neutral equality. It results in distortions.”
If you don’t try to steer a course between the gender leveling nullification of differences over here, abuses of women over here, if we don’t position ourselves biblically between those two extremes, then we won’t be able to raise a generation with anything but confusion. If we don’t teach little boys and little girls what it means to grow up and be a man and not a woman or a woman and not a man, it doesn’t result in a nice, neutral equality. It results in distortions.
They are all over the place. They are in the movies all over the place and they are in real life all over the place. Where men will try to figure out what it means to try and be a man and they’ll do it with a gun. They will do it with laying her as many times as they can to be a man. They would say, “What else could it mean? I can do it and do it. All the guys are doing it. That’s what it means to be cool. That’s what it means to be a man. I got a knife and I got a sexual organ.” And what will she do? What will it be? What does it mean to be a woman in that culture?
‘A Grand Thing’
So here’s what I want to do. I want to say a word about humanity — just being a human. Then I will tell you a story that I made up to illustrate complementarianism, and then close with a couple of texts. Because this message is just, even though this is a big, fat book. It’s still in print if you want to pursue it.
Agatha Christie, the crime novelist said, “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely, miserable. Wracked with sorrow, but through it all, I still know quite certainly that just to be alive it a grand thing.” I just want to say Amen. Haven’t you sometimes, this is so sweet, stood at a window, you’re looking out, maybe on a campus, maybe it’s at a cabin somewhere. And totally unbidden, unexpected it comes over you — I’m alive. I’m a human being. I’m not alive like a tree or a rabbit. I’m alive. I can relate to God. I can relate to people. I have feelings. I have thoughts. This is a wonder. Then you stir in and he made me female or he made me male. He did this. He, God Almighty in love and infinite wisdom made me woman or man. And it should sweep over you as a grand thing. I feel so bad if any of you wishes you were something else.
The transgender stuff that is going on today is so sad. It is so sad. We live in one of the most selfish times in history. Could you imagine doing that just because you want to? Just because you feel, feel more like being a man than a woman or vice versa. I thought that is the apex of selfishness. So it is very real in this culture and I just want you to be good with who you are in God’s creation.
Womanhood and manhood are a grand thing. Ask the Lord to bring your feelings into line with what He made you physically. And it may be a lifetime of struggle. It might. But it is the way of fulfillment and eternal joy. So that’s what I wanted to say about being human. God simply made us and he made us marvelously, and to be human as male and female is an astonishing thing. A grand thing as Agatha Christie said.
A Story of Complementarity
I want to tell you a story. I made this up so it would work. I’m going to position you in my church. I tried to do it here — to recreate the story so it would work in Milwaukee in relation to these sessions but the timing wasn’t right and I don’t know where you eat, and I know my neighborhood at home and I know what happens. So this story is to illustrate some things about complementarianism and I think a word picture is worth a thousand words.
We have a guy and a gal who are around twenty years old. They are standing, waiting to come to worship service, big crowd, everybody is standing around. They don’t know each other. But say they are in Campus Outreach together and they’ve kind of spotted each other. They just happened to be standing next to each other and he says to her, doesn’t even know her, they kind of see each other, “Are you sitting with anybody?” She doesn’t say yes. She says no. They sit together in worship. Now the dance has begun. They’re sitting together in worship and they notice how each sings. They notice how each listens. They notice the engagement. They’re just totally tuned in to this other person’s response to God and the preaching and everything else. And both of them like what they see.
So the service is over, they’re walking out and he says, “Got any plans for lunch? I’d love to treat you.” They go down to Maria’s Cafe. It’s just a few blocks away. Neither of them have a car, but they can walk. Now at that point, she is totally free to end the dance. He made it easy for her. This is a good line, guys. Let me give you the words again. Do you have plans? That gives her an out right away, she can bail on this without any embarrassment. She’s in charge at this moment. He took initiative, At this moment it’s her call. And it’s over and he knows it's over. It’s over because she could have said, “I do but I think if I made a call I could change them.” So she took charge and she delivered a message. He gave her permission to bail. She didn’t take it. She would like that.
Now they’re walking to Maria’s and he learns on the way there that she’s got a black belt in martial arts. And she’s one of the best in the state. Well at 19th and 11th Ave. two men accost them and they say, “Pretty girl you got there. We want her purse and your wallet. Now.” You know the neighborhood and you reach for your wallet. You say, “Let’s just give them the purse and the wallet.” And then they say, “She’s really pretty. We think we want her too.” Now at that moment, this might enter his mind: “She’s got a black belt in martial arts.” This is the crux of the story and she could probably take these guys out, but not in a million years will this young man step behind her and say, “Take them.” Not in a million years.
“God simply made us and he made us marvelously, and to be human as male and female is an astonishing thing.”
So he takes her elbow like this and really squeezes it. She’s got no choice at this moment. He really squeezes her elbow and he just moves her back and he says to these guys, “If you touch her, you will do it over my dead body.” And they knock him out just cold. He’s just gone. And he wakes up in the ambulance and she sitting beside him and those two guys are flat on the pavement. A crowd has formed, policemen are there, the ambulance is there. He’s coming into the ambulance and she’s got one thought.: “I’d like to marry a man like this. Not necessarily him; I don’t know if that’s going to work out. It’s too early. We were on our way to our first lunch. But what he just did says a lot.”
Not About Competency
The main point of the story is that manhood and womanhood and the rhythms of the dance are not competency based. She’s clearly more competent at self-defense — way more competent. That did not decide the matter for him, and it shouldn’t have. If you disagree with that, we’re probably going to split our ways here. I’m saying here to every one of you guys: Superior competencies in a woman does not discharge you of certain manly things to do even though you can’t do them very well. I would say the same thing about devotions in marriage. In a scenario where the wife is a college graduate and the husband graduated from the eighth grade and can barely read, the husband still ought to take the lead. This is not mere competency based.
She wants you to step up and say let’s read and then ask her to read because she can read. The question is who says “let’s” most often in this family? Is she always saying “let’s, let’s, let’s” and you’re just sitting there all the time because you don’t have any competencies? No way. That’s not what she wants from you. Of course, she wants to use her gifts but she wants you to lead and take initiative. So the central part of the story is the dance, the rhythm is not competency based. There are things built into him and built into her that make the rhythm and the dance different than if they were switching roles. There are a couple of other sub-lessons.
Men Take the Lead
He took the initiative standing there. She didn’t say to him, “Are you sitting with anybody?” He said to her, “Are you sitting with anybody?” You should do that, guys. Secondly, he suggested that he treat her to lunch and he suggested a place. It’s a little signal about what it’s going to be like to live with this man. He’s not a leach. He’s a provider. Even if she’s going to work and make more money than he is. She might. I’m not against that. The point is: Is there a special sense of responsibility right here with me? In relation to this one, I’m stepping up. I’m offering to take her to lunch. I’m going to foot the bill. I’m going to be a protector. I’m going to protect her.
So now you’ve got initiative. You got provision and you got protection. And those are my three definitions of mature manhood. And I haven’t even talked about the Bible yet. I realize that. So that is probably where we need to go. So there’s my story, just to illustrate that mature manhood is a God-given sense that the primary responsibility — that word primary is so important, not sole, not only, but a primary responsibility — that a man feels not as a right but as a burden and a responsibility to carry through.
Believe me, guys and women, to be the head at home is not easy. And if you think, “I get to be the that,” you are crazy. You have no idea what you’re signing up for because what you’re signing up for is every time there is a dispute, every time there’s a breakdown, every time something goes wrong, you own it and you take it forward. And you can’t lie there and bellyache that it’s her fault. To be the head is to go ahead. I tell you it’s the hardest thing in the world to be a husband and love like Jesus loved. To be a head like Jesus was a head.
So, mature manhood is a God-given sense and primary responsibility, not a right. A primary responsibility lies with him for leadership and initiative and protection and provision — primary responsibility, not sole responsibility for provision, not sole responsibility for protection, not sole responsibility for initiative and leadership, but primary. At any moment I feel the burden that it’s my call to move forward as a couple. And his most common stance will probably let’s talk about what needs to be done with these kids or with the finances or where we go to church or whether we buy a house. He says let’s and she doesn’t constantly have to say we need to talk, we need to talk and he’s doing nothing. That’s not the way it goes.
Here’s a way to remember it. If there’s a problem in the family between them or between the kids, and Jesus knocks on the door and showed up, and she comes to the door and says, “What are you doing here? I thought you were in heaven.” Jesus is going to say, no matter what the issue is, “Is the man of the house here, I need to talk to him. I’ll talk to you soon, but first I got some things to deal with the man.” I think that’s the way it would go. He’s got big issues with her. She’s a sinner. I’m a sinner. Noël is a sinner. Two sinners saying “I do” — that’s trouble. It is and it has been, it’s been very hard and wonderful. No naïve notions here. Two sinners living together for 47 years is a miracle. It’s pretty unusual these days and I have one person to thank and that is God because she didn’t walk away and I didn’t walk away and that’s a miracle.
‘We Made It’
I’d just love to stop here and talk about marriage. When you get married, you can fall in love a hundred times. I promise you, which implies falling out a hundred times, and if you bail on the marriage on the second or third falling out, you will miss the greatest things of them all.
“Mature manhood is a God-given sense and primary responsibility, not a right.”
I dream of being 80, and my wizened wife and my wizened face, wrinkled everywhere, saggy, and there’s just nothing impressive at all about this couple. They’re homely, they’re saggy, they’re balding and gray, and they’re sitting in Duluth at a restaurant by Lake Superior across from each other and just ordered some croissant or something. You’re sitting there and you look at her and you get the deepest joy you can imagine under God and say, “We made it.” Don’t you want to be there for that? I’m asking you. Don’t you want to be there for that? That’s a great thing.
Complementarianism in Scripture
There’s a zillion questions that you have right now, and I totally affirm your asking them, and I wish you had five hours to talk about them because these are huge issues with many unanswered questions. I’m just throwing out a vision for you. Let’s read a few verses and I’ll make some closing comments. Ephesians 5:22–33:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
That’s just a paraphrase of Jesus’s statement, love your neighbor as yourself. Love your wife as you love your own body. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” Then he quotes Genesis 2:24, pre-sin, pre-fall:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:32–33)
That’s the most important passage on manhood and womanhood in the Bible. Let’s make some quick observations.
1. The Drama of Christ and His Church
First, marriage is a drama — a dramatization of Christ’s relationship to the church. That’s the meaning of marriage. Find a spouse that believes that with you. It’s the most important thing to believe together. What we are doing and saying, “Till death do us part,” is modeling the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. That’s breathtaking. Nothing is higher, nothing more holy, nothing more dignified, nothing more beautiful than two people modeling in this fallen world, the covenant between Christ and his church. That’s the first observation.
And I base it on verse 32. This mystery is profound. He just said they leave mother and father and join one flesh. The mystery is profound: Marriage refers to Christ and the church. It’s clear you cannot marry an unbeliever. But you also can make a lot of dumb mistakes inside the household of faith by marrying people that don’t get that. They don’t get that. Don’t go there. Be single the rest of your life. Singleness, by the way, is a very high calling. That’s another whole seminar I’d love to talk about.
I wrote a book on marriage called This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence because there’s no marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30). So it’s a momentary thing. Little brief window here where you get to married. And I got two chapters in there on singleness — that’s how important I think singleness is in the church today.
2. Imitating Christ and the Church: Headship and Submission
Second, in the drama, husbands take their cues from Christ and the wives take their cues from what God wills for the church. And I base that on verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” That’s the heaviest responsibility any man could take on. Not being right, huffing and puffing and demanding. He died for his church that she would be splendid. I’m still learning this. I’m still learning this at 47 years. You want her to be splendid? Die for her. Die to desire, die to anger, die to resentment, die, die, die. That’s headship.
“Marriage is a gift. Staying married is a divine gift — a work of a miracle.”
And then verse 22: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” That should make every woman treble as she ponders marriage. Can I find a man that I could trust with that? I think to submit basically means, “I’m going to partner with you and affirm your leadership.” That would be the way to say it.
You say, “What does it mean for me to submit?” It means: I’m loving this man’s leadership. I’m linking arms with him. I’m going to use my gifts as God gives me an opportunity and I’m delighting in his initiative and his leadership. And I’m affirming him. Take it, let’s run together in this, I’m right with you. Lead on. And of course, it can go haywire in a hundred ways. He can become abusive and then leadership is not leadership anymore it’s just ugly. That’s ugly and what woman wants that? No woman wants that. Marriage is a risk, that’s why Jesus said, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given” (Matthew 19:11).
Marriage is a gift. Staying married is a divine gift — a work of a miracle. You fall in love with somebody. You should get on your face together and plead with God to give you the grace of loving each other — not necessarily liking each other at all those moments, just loving each other to the end. “Till death do us part.”
3. Initiative, Provision, and Protection
Third, the primary responsibility for initiative, provision, and for protection are laid primarily at the foot of the man. Verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” That’s the man’s job. If your wife isn’t flourishing, it may be your problem. That’s why Jesus knocks on the door and says, “I want to talk to the man of the house,” because if the wife is angry all the time or depressed all the time or antsy to get out of this house and this marriage all the time, he’s going to talk to the guy first. He’s going to talk to him first and then her.
And the other two namely protection and provision, I see in verse 29. I’m telling you where I got my story. See what I’m doing? I got my story from the Bible and then I made up the story. Verse 29: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” And I think that implies nourishing provision. He takes care of her — she feels cared for. He’s not sitting around expecting me to care for this family. He’s up and at it. He’s going to make something happen here. We may have to partner together to put bread on the table because they’re both making minimum wage and we live in a difficult time, but oh how she loves his thinking and praying and talking and leading them both together to make this provision possible.
And the last one is protection and I think that’s in the word “cherish.” He cherishes her. It’s like if you hit your thumb while chopping wood. I’ve been chopping wood for the first time. Somebody gave me a big load of wood behind my garage. We have a fireplace, and I’ve never chopped wood before. So I have an ax that’s rusty and has not been used for thirty years and I’m out there loving this. I don’t know what happened but I dinged my thumb, and I can just barely move it still. And so I take care of that thumb.
We all do this. You get hurt and you will love your body. And in the same way, you will take care of her, you will cherish her. If she gets a threat of being hurt, you’re on it. You’re just on it, and she feels good about that. And she will feel good that her husband does not let other things hurt her, but cares for her.
So complementarians say biblical headship is the husband’s the divine calling to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection, and provision. Biblical submission is a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.