Sexual Complementarity

Session 1

The Pursuit of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Thank you so much for coming. I am so encouraged to see this many people here to think about something that is very, very important. I’d like to pray and then have you look at a text with me before we launch into these sometimes complex and very relevant issues for your life. Whether you’re single or married, whether you’re young or old, you’re all male or female. And so, how you live that out, at whatever age, is a large part of who you are as God made you. So this gets real close to your very core identity.

Acquainted with the Sacred Writings

Let’s go to 2 Timothy 3 just for an introduction. I’ll give you a little autobiography and take Second Timothy as my starting place. It’s a very familiar text when it gets to verses 16 and 17, but it’s not as familiar if you go back up to verse 14, so let’s do that. Second Timothy 3:14 says:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it…

Now, who’s that? Look at 2 Timothy 1:5:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

I think that’s who Paul’s talking about, so then go back to 2 Timothy 3:14.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

That would include the good works of pastoring a church, or being a husband, or doing whatever we do as godly men and women. The Bible is sufficient to make us competent and able to do the good works the Lord calls us to do and do them in a way that pleases him.

The Memory of the Righteous is a Blessing

The thing I want to do, by way of leaping into my own autobiography, is to simply emphasize the words “knowing from whom you learned it, and how, from childhood, you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise…” I grew up in a home for which I give continual thanksgiving. I was writing an email to comfort my daughter-in-law, who lost her baby about seven weeks ago, along with my son, Abraham, and I wrote about crying. I said to her, “Don’t worry if you don’t cry one day. You’ll cry in 30 years over Felicity, so don’t worry that you’re leaving her behind. You’re not, because I, at age 62, who lost my mother at age 28, can cry any day I choose about that, or not.”

Grief is a strange thing. All I have to do is put together a sequence of thoughts in my head and I will begin to cry about my mother. I could think of little baby Karsten, my oldest son, sitting on her knee in the kitchen at two years old, or discovering, just after her funeral, that my wife was pregnant with Benjamin, my second son, who would never know her. And if I think of one or two other memories, I'll cry. So I said to her, “Don’t fret. Felicity will always be there. You’ll never minimize her. There will be days that you’ll say to her, ‘You’re very happy today in Heaven, and I’m very happy here. Let’s not cry today,’ and that will be good. And there will be other days where you’ll say, ‘You’re very happy in Heaven but I miss you very much,’ and you’ll cry, and that’ll be good.”

I grew up in a home where I loved Ruth Piper, my mother. My father was a traveling evangelist, as some of you know, and he was gone for, let’s say, two thirds of the year. He was in and out. My life was one sequence of sad farewells when Daddy left and glad reunions when he came home. Here’s the impact it had on manhood and womanhood.

I was brought up, basically, by my mother. When Daddy was away, she did everything and taught me everything. They had a little laundromat one time and she ran it and taught me how to run it. She taught me how to cut the grass. She would say: “Overlap and let the edge of the grass run down the middle of the lawn mower; otherwise, you’re going to leave skippers. Pull up the Bermuda grass by the roots; otherwise, it’s going to come back in a week.” She taught me how to paint: “Start at the top and go down, not at the bottom and go up on the side of the house.” She taught me how to make french fries because we had a big, oil french fry maker: “Make sure the oil is boiling before you put them in; otherwise, they will get soggy.” And she taught me how to make pancakes: “Make sure that you don’t flip it until you see bubbles around the edge of the pancake.”

My mother taught me everything. I would fold socks. I learned how to knit, though the extent of my crochet was bathroom rugs and potholders. But my mother taught me everything she knew. I did everything, both male things and female things. She handled all the finances, all the checkbook things, and paid all the bills. Daddy was never around for any of that, and when he came home, you would think she would be in charge. Here was a woman who was, in my judgment, omnicompetent. I never grew up with the slightest notion that woman was inferior to man, except perhaps, in raw physical strength, because my mother was manifestly competent in everything she did, probably better than Daddy in most things.

That’s the home I grew up in. I watched that happen repeatedly. But when Daddy came home, everything joyfully shifted without any frustration. He would walk into that house and my mother would go immediately into support Daddy mode, extol Daddy mode, and respect Daddy mode. She would sit at the table. She wouldn’t lead. Daddy would say, “Let’s pray.” If Daddy wasn’t home, Mommy would say, “Johnny, pray.” But as soon as he was there, Daddy was saying, “Let’s pray.” Daddy would say, “Family, it’s time for devotions.” Daddy would say, “It’s time to go to church.” Daddy would say, “Let’s go out to eat.” Daddy was the one opening the door. Daddy was the one working on the garage door. Daddy was the one calling the waitress over. Daddy was the one doing everything by way of initiative and leadership, and my mother was loving it, probably wishing he were home more often.

Personal Roots of Complementarity

As a little boy, I didn’t taste the pain of this marriage. Now they’re both gone. They didn’t let me in on how hard it was to not have a man around until later. My mother was five feet, six inches tall. I reached that height at about age 13, and then I grew more because I’m five feet, nine inches now. So I towered over my mother; or at least, I felt like I did. There she was with a 14-year-old boy that was six inches taller than she was, and he was a mouthy kid. She needed a man around with this boy.

They told me later how she would cry to Daddy on the phone, saying, “I need you here. I don’t know what to do with this boy.” My daddy told her, “Be sweet and be firm.” I think she wove that together about as good as it could be woven together. I have been spanked by my mother with masculine force, and my mother served me more sweetly than I’ve ever been served by anybody in the world, rubbing my back at night because I was so sad. I had these awful phobias about speaking in high school and a terrible case of acne. I didn’t think anybody could like me, but I had my mom, and she was at my side all the time. So Ruth Piper is just huge in my affections, and I know when I read 2 Timothy 3:14–15 I think of her.

I never remember seeing my mother read a book, except one. She was a Bible lady, and if she had a book in her hand, it was a black book. She quoted it to me endlessly after I left home and while I was at home. So I believe that the roots of my understanding of biblical manhood and womanhood are in the Bible — I’ll try to make that case with you — but the reason I have seen it clearly is that these truths were mediated to me by Bill and Ruth Piper, who, in a most remarkable way, pulled it off.

I don’t know how many of you grew up in homes where your mother and your father sang. Noël and I, when we’re driving on vacation, don’t sing in the front seat for our kids to hear in the backseat. But my mother and father sang a lot. They would just start singing. They harmonized beautifully, and it was symbolic of the way their lives complemented each other.

If you wonder what the word complementarity is, it’s spelled with an “E” in the middle instead of an “I”. Compliment with an “I” means that I say nice things about you. Complement with an “E” means I complete, finish, or add something that makes you more whole. When we speak of sexual complementarity, we mean the coming together of a man and a woman in such a way that they complement each other. They complete each other. They add to each other. Both are bringing things to this relationship that uniquely make something one flesh, different than they are individually. My mother and my father, I believe, represented that in a most remarkable way.

I think one of the most valuable things was that I grew up in a home where I knew my mother’s submission was not based on lack of competency. So many people hear the word submission and they assume it must be rooted in a woman’s inferiority, or a woman’s lack of competencies to lead, protect, provide, or whatever else, but it’s not. I’m going to argue that it has nothing to do with it. These realities of headship and submission, as we’ll unfold them, are not rooted in our competencies. They’re rooted in our God-given nature. We can kick against that all we want, but in the end, we will be the losers, not God.

So I thank God for Ruth Piper and how she modeled for me an omnicompetent woman, who could do most things as well or better than my dad, and then, when he was around, joyfully affirmed his leadership and his initiative. To see those two things was a great gift to me, and I thank God publicly for it.

The Importance of Complementarity

Now, in the outline of what we’re going to do, we begin with why this issue matters — this issue of male and female and the differences between us. I have a lot of things to say here. I’m not sure how long this is going to take, but there are all kinds of reasons. Some of them are in the little booklet that you have, and some of them aren’t. We’ll go through some of these, and I’ll give you the reasons why I think this issue is so crucial today.

Setting the Stage

Why does the issue matter? I was born in 1946. I’m the oldest of the Baby Boomers, and I was a teenager and a college student in the 1960s. The 1960s and the 1970s were the great heyday of the emergence of radical feminism. It has waned and been chastened in our day but hasn’t, by any means, gone away, as you’ll see from some current illustrations. Here’s a quote from social historian, Jerry Muller of Catholic University, to give you a handle for understanding the way the words gender and sex are used in academic women’s studies around the country. I think this is still the case. Here’s the quote:

The influence of lesbianism is perhaps the prime reason for an increasing focus on “gender” defined as the social and cultural construct of sexual identity. The key assumption behind such work is that, while men and women are biologically differentiated, the characteristic qualities of maleness and femaleness are largely artifacts of culture and arbitrarily imposed cultural constructions at that. The emphasis on the relative importance of gender, as opposed to sex, then, is intended to challenge the assumption that differences between men and women are either natural or immutable.

There was a while where this course was called Gender Complementarity. I don’t know how that happened. I don’t like that use of the word gender for this reason: Gender is a grammatical term referring to he and she, and what gender a pronoun has, for example. However, historically, gender has not been used to refer to sexuality, male and female. It became used that way for these kinds of reasons. Sex seemed to carry the loaded message that we really are innately different. That’s a bad thing for a lot of people. Gender didn’t carry that sense because gender is an arbitrarily imposed cultural construction. You have to decide whether you want to use the word gender that way and join the chorus of those who might feel that way, or whether you want to use the more loaded word sex. Here’s the conclusion of that quote:

In other words, in contemporary feminist usage, gender refers to what we are by social conditioning and sex refers to what we are by nature, and the shift in focus from sex to gender more and more assumes that maleness and femaleness at the root level of personhood are negligible realities.

Our plumbing, whether there’s hair on our face, and whether our voices are high or low, are irrelevant realities. Regarding personhood, there are only negligible differences. Things pertaining to our deep nature, not just what you can point to with your finger, they would say, have no significant differences.

Already in 1972, Charlotte Bunch argued like this. This is about as radical as it gets. I’ve never seen anything like this. She’s probably very marginal, but you can see principles on the margins:

Heterosexuality separates women from each other. It makes women define themselves through men. It forces women to compete against each other for men and the privilege which comes through men and their social standing. Lesbianism is the key to liberation, and only women who cut their ties to male privilege can be trusted to remain serious in the struggle against male dominance.

That’s breathtaking. She’s saying the fact that people orient heterosexually in life is inherently bad for women, and therefore, lesbianism is the only way to true liberty, where you do not have to have a man. You can, just as well, have a woman.

Breathtaking Ignorance

When I was in seminary, I had Paul Jewett as a professor at Fuller. He’s gone to be with the Lord, and I do believe that. He wrote a book, as you see here, Man as Male and Female, in 1975. I graduated from Fuller in 1971. This book arrived on my desk when I was professor at Bethel in 1975, and I read it with great interest because it was written by one of my former and very good professors. He was a very brilliant and an excellent theologian in many ways, but I was deeply saddened by what I read in this book.

In it, he set the pattern to be followed for three decades, and I would say four now. He said on the one hand:

Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth.

I think that’s right. I don’t think you can bore into yourself and arrive as a generic person, neither male nor female, as if you’re androgynous. I don’t think you should try to do that. I don’t think you can do that. It would have the effect of saying that deep down people are neither male nor female, but just a non-sex person. I don’t think so. He continues:

Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth; it conditions every facet of one’s life as a person.

Now, he said that, and that’s an amazing admission, given what he’s going to say next. He says that he shares the uncertainty of those who do not know “what it means to be a man in distinction to a woman.” He confesses that all human activity reflects a qualitative distinction, which is sexual in nature, but then he states, “In my opinion, such an observation offers no clue to the ultimate meaning of that distinction. It may be that we shall never know what that distinction ultimately means.”

So, on the one hand, we are sexual beings to the core, and on the other hand we don’t know what that means. That thinking liberated him, then, to argue for the ordination of women as pastors and elders in local churches, because we don’t know whether it means something that would make that wrong. It is a breathtaking ignorance to say we are, to the depths of our being, male and female but we don’t know what we’re talking about. When I read that, I thought, after all your years in the Bible, your conclusion is agnosticism with regard to maleness and femaleness? That’s not very fruitful. I just can’t believe God would leave us there, and my experience in the Bible is that he didn’t leave us that ignorant. I was very sad and very disappointed.

That was Paul Jewett setting the pattern which now, for 40 years, has been repeated in book after book. I got weary of it after a while. I read so many on the egalitarian side against what I consider myself to be, which is complementarian. The difference is basically that egalitarians say that what you are by nature doesn’t determine the fitness of your role, only your competencies do; whereas complementarians say, “No. What God made us by nature is significant in determining what we do with our lives and how we relate to men and women.” So Paul Jewett set the pattern there, and following him have been a whole slew of people.

Artificial Role-Playing or God-Given Role?

Here’s just a couple of very gifted women, whose books I have read. This is Gretchen Gaebelein Hull from 1987:

Biblical feminists lovingly ask the Christian community to abandon artificial role-playing and to be sex-blind in assessing each individual’s qualifications for ministry.

That’s a standard feminist, egalitarian exhortation. She is saying that you should not, when considering a person for eldership, take into account maleness and femaleness. People should be sex-blind in relation to who the pastors and elders are.

Let me put in a parenthesis here about the use of language. I get angry. This is a sinful tendency on my part, since the Bible says, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20). Amen. I repent. And then I get angry again. Some anger is holy and some is not, and I’m always repenting, but I get angry at this kind of use of language because it’s manipulative. It’s clever. You find it all over the newspaper. You find it all over political speeches. Oh for a politician who’s just straightforward and not doing any of this. I’ll show you what I mean.

Now, what she wants to do — and this is totally appropriate for her to do within her framework — is to say, “I don’t believe you should take sexuality into account in assigning roles in the church.” That’s fine. Let’s argue about that. But look at the language. She says, “Biblical feminists lovingly ask the Christian community to abandon artificial role-playing.” Why do you use that word? Why do you put the label on me of artificiality and role-playing? Why don’t you just say it in a way that we can be on equal ground of conviction here? Why put an ugly, demeaning word on my position?

This is what I call the fallacy of the excluded middle. You know what that is in logic? You look at whatever position you have and then, in order to defend it, you describe your alternative as way over in the extreme. So instead of saying, “I’m in favor of being sex-blind, and these people think you should sensitively and wisely take sex into consideration,” you say, “They want artificial role-playing.” That means the middle is excluded.

Undiscerning readers get sucked into that. They read that and think, “Well yeah, of course we don’t want artificial role playing, so she must be right! There’s no other alternative here.” That happens all the time. I’m beckoning all of you, in this little parenthesis about language, to grow up in the way you read the newspaper, the way you listen to the radio, and the way you hear sermons. When you hear people doing that, be suspicious of them. They’re doing something devious. They’re not treating their opponent in a way they would like to be treated. If you find me doing that in this seminar, you come up to me between times or afterwards and say, “Didn’t you do what you said she shouldn’t do?”

Here’s another example. Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen expresses her confidence in the Bible’s main thrust. She says:

The Bible’s main thrust is toward the leveling, not the maintenance, of birth-based status differences.

That word status is loaded, right? It has a connotation of putting yourself forward and saying, “I want a certain status in the church, so if I call for all male eldership, I’ve got a status problem. I want men to have status.”

Well, I hope and pray that’s not what’s going on in my head or my heart, but she puts that label on it, so that you can’t disagree with it. You’re either a status lover or you’re with her in the leveling of distinctions. We have dozens and dozens of books that have been written in the last 40 years, arguing against making male and female a significant criterion in role determination. The argument stated positively is to be sex-blind and be sex-leveling, and they don’t take into account whether a person is a woman or a man in whatever jobs they have. I would say that’s the most common view in the church in America today.

You will be, in many groups, simply considered a passé, fuddy-duddy leftover of a bygone, male dominated, chauvinistic era if you take my position and say, “I really think it matters that you’re a woman or a man in which role you assume in a marriage or in the church or in the world.”

Cultural Confrontation

Now that we mentioned the world, let me get on my soapbox here for a minute, because I’m really upset about this. It just happens that I’ve got this seminar going on here, and so let me just spout off for a minute or two about this. I have a copy of World Magazine here. It came this week. When you write an article, they send you magazines, so I’ve got an article in here.

The title I gave my article was Coed Combat and Cowardice. I want to read it to you. It’ll only take about five minutes to read it to you, and you’ll be able to see what I’m all worked up about. This will be very illuminating at least for where I’m coming from in our nature governing, not just the way we behave in marriage, and not just the way we relate in church, but also some of the ways we relate in wider culture, like the military.

Coed Combat and Cowardice

Here’s the article:

If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying that no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea.

Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women. Back in the 1970s, when I taught in college, feminism was new and cool, so my ideas on manhood were viewed as a social construct of a dying chauvinistic era. I had not yet been enlightened that competencies, not divine wiring, governed the roles we assume. Unfazed, I said, “No!”

Suppose, a couple of you students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark; and suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you; and suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could — should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does. And after he’s on the ground, then she can take him out, but he’s proved himself to be a man, and she’s proved herself to be competent, and collectively that is what society does, unless the men have all been emasculated by the suicidal songs of egalitarian folly.

God created man first in order to say that man bears a primary burden for protection, provision, leadership, and when man and woman rebelled against God’s ways, God came to the garden and said, “Adam, where are you?” not, “Eve, where are you?” When the apostle described the implications of being created male and female, the pattern he celebrates is: Save her, nourish her, cherish her, and give her life.

God wrote manhood and womanhood on our hearts. Sin ruins the imprint without totally defacing it. It tells men to be heavy-handed oafs or passive wimps. It tells women to be coquettes or controllers. That is not God’s imprint. Deeper down, men and women know it. When God is not in the picture, the truth crops up in strange forms. For example, Kingsley Browne, law professor at Wayne State University in Michigan has written a new book called Coed Combat: The New Evidence that Women Should Not Fight the Nation’s Wars.

In an interview with Newsweek, he said, “The evidence comes from the field of evolutionary psychology. Men don’t say, ‘This is a person I would follow through the gates of hell.’ Men aren’t hardwired to follow women into danger.”

If you leave God out, the perceived hard wiring appears to be evolutionary psychology. If God is in the picture, it has other names. We call it the work of the law written on their hearts (Romans 2:15). We call it true manhood as God meant it to be. As usual, the truth that comes in the alien form of evolutionary psychology gets distorted. It’s true that men aren’t hardwired to follow women into danger, but that’s misleading. The issue is not that men are being led into danger. The issue is that men are being led into combat by women. It won’t work.

Men are hardwired to get in front of their women, between them and the bullets. They are hardwired to lead their women out of danger and into safety. Women, at their deepest and most honest selves, give profound assent to this noble impulse in good men. That is why coed combat situations compromise men and women at their core and corrupt even further the foolhardy culture that put them there.

Consider where we have come. One promotion for Browne’s book states, “More than 155,000 female troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. More than 70 of these women have died. Those deaths exceed the number of military women who died in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War combined.” Who do we thank for this collapse of chivalry? Browne suggests, “There are a lot of military people who think women in combat is a horrible idea, but it is career suicide to say it.” In other words, let the women die; I still have my career. May God restore sanity and courage once again to our national leaders and defenders, and may he give you a voice.

Collapse of Clarity

That was my rant in World Magazine last week, and I feel very strongly and very sad about it. I thought, if we went to a draft — and this will be one of the huge issues if we ever go to a draft — what percentage legally, constitutionally, must be women if you force young people into the Military? The answer has to be that it is 50/50. Of course, the generals won’t have it, but why won’t they have it? Now we’re into a big argument over nature and over workability. But suppose they were able to pass it — I’d go to jail before I’d let my daughter do that. Now, she may not let me. She may be a conscientious objector or something else, but that’s how strongly I feel about it. I would stand between her and combat and tell her, “They can’t make you do this. It’s against God’s way, so we’ll just all go to jail together.”

James Dobson has been a wise and helpful defender. Here’s an amazing statement that he says. I think James Dobson was right when he said:

Feminist resistance to making manhood and womanhood significant in behavior and role determination is partner to some of the most painful social and spiritual issues of our day.

In other words, the collapse of a clear sense of what manhood and womanhood is affects many social ills today, for which we are paying very dearly as a culture.

Settled Conviction

I’m still on this first point of why all this matters. Most of you young people will probably marry and have children. Consider this question. Right now you might be navigating the waters of college life or professional life with vague notions of what it means to be male and female. You just kind of feel vague about it. You’ve got some instincts that you tend to follow, but if somebody asked you, “Define womanhood,” or, “Define manhood,” you would be hard pressed to do it.

Now, you can get along on your instincts now, but ask yourself this question. Imagine that in five or ten years you now have a little girl and a little boy in your home. That little boy or little girl is going to turn eight, nine, ten years old, and they’re going to come to you with a question like this: “Mommy, Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?” You’d better have an answer for that.

What makes the question pointed is the last phrase, because if I didn’t include the last phrase, I know what the answer would be for almost every feminist. If the little boy only asked, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man?” Feminists would say, “Be mature. Be strong. Be honest. Have integrity. Be responsible,” and they’d give exactly the same answer to the daughter because that’s what it means to be a man and a woman. But that’s not the question kids are going to ask, so that won’t be a helpful answer. They’ll say, “But Lydia can be that, and Johnny can be that. I want you to tell me what it means to grow up and be a man and not a woman. What’s the difference?” If all you can give them is plumbing answers, you’re asking for trouble.

I think we’re in a situation in the last 40 years, where almost nobody can answer that question. Paul Jewett certainly couldn’t. He’s one of the smartest men I have ever met. He said, “I don’t have a clue what the root differences are between male and female, other than body shape, hair, and all that stuff.”

I really do hope to give you an answer that you can memorize and think about and root in the Bible, but before I do that I have one more witness as to why this matters. It’s the witness that you would expect a Christian Hedonist to get to eventually, only I’m going to let Larry Crabb say it, instead of me. This is a chapter from a book called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

This is helpful to give to people because this has in it 50 typical questions, all kinds of questions that people ask about this issue. I use this most often, when I have to get into debates with people. I say, “Now, what did I say about that 20 or 30 years ago?” I go and remind myself what I said in answer to that question.

We asked Larry Crabb when we put this little thing out separately, “Do you believe in this? Did we get this right, Wayne Grudem and I?” He wrote this:

The more deeply I move into the lives of people, the more clearly I recognize the unique struggles and joys that come with our existence as male and female. When we blur the distinctions between the sexes or trivialize them into shallow stereotypes, we limit our opportunity for enjoying the creative brilliance of God. In my judgment, one of the central needs of western culture in our day is a clear definition of masculinity and femininity. More personal and social problems than we suspect have their roots in the failure to live in the richness of our unique sexuality.