The Gospel OR Complementarianism?: An Unnecessary Dichotomy

"The Gospel OR Complementarianism-- which one are you focused on?" I get asked this sometimes, particularly by eager egalitarians. They'll write something like, "I hear you talking a lot about the role of women but not a lot about the Gospel." Or, "Why spend our energy on the roles of men and women when there are people dying without the Good News?"

These are oversimplistic questions that, in my view, cloud rather than clarify the real issues at stake. We don't have to choose either to focus on the essentials of the faith or to delve into relevant life issues with depth and maturity. It is not an either/or discussion. It wasn't for Christ. It wasn't for the Apostle Paul. It wasn't for Luther. It isn't for Piper. It doesn't have to be for me.

Surely, it is possible to focus on biblical gender roles to the exclusion of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. But we could also focus in so specifically on the basic tenets of the Gospel that we leave disciples immature and incapacitated as they seek out practical principles from Scripture in order that they might live biblically and intentionally. Thankfully, the Bible makes it clear that we are not to "go and make converts"... but to go and make disciples. We can do that, even while sharing and living out the gospel, in a way that allows us to act as "iron sharpening iron" with members of the Body of Christ around us.

Who we're talking to, the purpose of the discussion, and giftings all come into play here.

When we're talking with unbelievers, surely we should speak of God's grace, His goodness, and the Good News. If questions about manhood/womanhood arise, we can offer wisdom and guidance from Scripture.

But when we're talking with believers-- particularly when *I'm* speaking with believing women, while lauding God's grace, goodness, and the Gospel, I'm also going to speak more specifically of matters of discipleship-- the way God's Word practically makes a difference in the daily life of a believing woman and her family. We'll talk about how God's Word affects marriage, career, the view of children, and the purpose of the family. We may examine the messages we hear from our culture & the world around us and how those things compare & contrast with the message of the Bible. We'll discuss how to love and serve our family, how to be pure, and how to meditate on God's Word so that we can competently offer wise counsel to the people around us.

Discipleship begins with and is centered on the gospel of Christ, and continues building on that firm foundation with practical, biblical wisdom, so that Christians can not only "Come," as Jesus called out, but also carry out the second part of His call, "Follow Me". The need for practical teaching, particularly for this wayward generation that is "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth", does not devalue the Good News of our hope in Christ!

When speaking with one who does not know Christ, it is not necessarily essential that I share or speak about specifics about biblical roles in marriage (although it could be something we discuss). What is essential is Christ. His saving power. The way He has conquered death and sin and made it possible for sinners to be reconciled to God.

When speaking with maturing Christian women about our role as wives, mothers, and disciples, though, I don't see how specifics can be avoided for very long.
  • When young moms of my generation ask why they feel so torn or devalued in this new role of "mother", I want to share what I've learned (having walked this road just a few years longer than they may have) about how the things we were told by our society as we grew up are significant factors in not only how we judge these things, but how the people around us view these roles. I try to encourage young women in this position to seek affirmation and encouragement from God's Word rather than from the approval of man. Knowing how God built us and the value HE places on mothers enables us to walk in joy rather than despair, in peace rather than guilt, and free rather than burdened.
  • When a new Christian wife is offended, rather than sharpened, by biblical advice to submit to her own husband, it is evident (to me) that she needs to step back from cultural demands and take on the culture of Christ. We all struggle with the idea that to serve is to be a doormat... but Jesus modeled such a perfect picture of how being a lowly servant of the people around us is honoring to God, and is THE path for the Christian. When we choose to follow Christ, whether we are married are not, we choose the path of servanthood, turning the other cheek, offering the cup of water, and loving even our enemy. The woman who has heard all her life that she needs to "stand up for her rights" needs to remember that Christ made Himself nothing. The woman who has been raised to "demand equality" needs to hear that instead of grasping after equality, Christ modeled humble servanthood.
There is practical, scriptural insight about being a new mom, young wife, and young woman. And it is just as relevant today as it was when it was written, thousands of years ago. I am so grateful for the practical nature of God's Word-- that I can read it and find real answers that help me in my time of need. And for me, I find it impossible to hold in the things that I learn... I am knit together in such a way that I want to share the things God has done & is doing; the things I have learned & am learning... in hopes that it might help others to follow Christ & honor Him more. Which leads me to my next point:

Whenever I do the spiritual giftings "tests", I always come up very strong in these few areas: exhortation, wisdom, teaching (and sometimes prophecy). The way God has built me plays into my own emphasis on these things. I feel compelled by the Spirit to share these things that have made a difference for me, been impressed on my heart from Scripture, and enable me to live more fully for Christ. It is not that I don't concern myself with the Gospel; not at all! Christ's victory over sin is my only hope; and knowing Christ is the very center of my joy!

And yet, once a woman comes to faith, she still has to grapple with daily discipleship-- following Christ as laid out in His Word. It is my delight (and an area where I hope to continue growing in wisdom and discernment) to encourage and help Christian women to follow Christ with great joy and sobreity, and to know and treasure His Word.

If your giftings are in evangelism, mercy, helps, or similar areas, it may seem as if those who focus in on practical issues of discipleship are not Gospel-centered, because the "four spiritual laws", "Romans Road", or the "plan of salvation" are not clearly outlined in each and every conversation or blogpost. However, the Good News of Christ's death, resurrection, and the grace He offers to each person... these things are foundational for understanding anything I share here. It is not either "the Gospel" or "practical Christian living"; it is both/and.

Absolutely I desire for women to know Christ! And after that, I want them to follow Him. I am burdened for the church. Those who call themselves Christians are, too often, struggling in their marriages, following after the world, chasing money, running after personal satisfaction, and they don't realize that the reason they are unhappy is because they aren't following Christ. It is as if Christian women have come to believe that salvation is a one-time event... and not a life-changing trajectory.

When a woman decides to follow Christ, oh, yes-- that decision is amazing! Celebrated in Heaven! It is an incredible day when she who was once lost chooses Whom she will serve. And yet, that choice is not a one-time event. Each day, she must choose Whom she will serve. Each day, she must decide to follow after Christ. And knowing what Scripture says is critical in that decision. Thus, the need for biblical exhortation and discipleship.

BUT! Discipleship is pointless if you don't know Who or what you're following. Serving your husband joyfully won't get you to Heaven. Being a "stay-at-home" wife & mom, being the consumate homemaker, and doing everything "right" won't merit God's grace. As important as I believe it is to understand how and why God has made us different as men and women, Christ alone is our hope! Knowing everything there is to know about biblical roles won't matter a hill of beans if a woman doesn't first know Christ.

If a young, unbelieving woman comes to me with questions, I don't go buy her a copy of "Biblical Manhood and Womanhood", as though salvation comes through knowing and living out your "role" as a woman. My hope is not in complementarianism. My hope is in Christ and His death in my place and His power to raise those who are dead in sin to new life.

At the same time, complementarianism is a helpful framework that gives language and structure for understanding and discussing the fundamental ways that God has designed men & women as different and yet equal before Him. I hope this post helps those who have asked these questions understand more fully my frame of mind when I discuss women's issues. My hope is in Christ. My trust is in His full payment for my sins. I simply find complementarianism to be a helpful way to think about practical life questions in a biblical, systematic way.


Laurie said...

I'm so glad I found this blog!

Laura said...

Good stuff, Jess! I've heard lots of similar arguments about various theological and interpretive issues, and it seems to boil down to, "Why are you worrying about/teaching about/blogging about/talking about __________ when people are dying and going to Hell?"

Do you think some folks are just intimidated by disagreement or think that Christians shouldn't talk about their disagreements?

Anyway, this is great! :)

BettySue said...

Amen! Great wording. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I feel like I have strong convictions on issues of women's roles, but I never share them with women around me. I know that I have many opportunities to encourage my sisters in Christ to find joy in their calling as wives and mothers, but so often I'm too fearful to speak when I hear others complaining about their spouses or about motherhood.

I live in an area of the country where women start having children later in life, so part of the fear is of humbling an older woman, even with gentle words. I'm also concerned that my words will divide or tear down instead of encourage and build up.

I'd love to hear, from you or your readers, thoughts on how we women with these convictions can share them in a way that is full of grace but also true to God's word.


a woman found said...

Wow Jess! Every single time I read one of your posts I'm just like, "This woman gets it!!!" I'm blessed, encouraged and united in thought and spirit with you.

thank you for writing this!

Renee said...

Amen. Amen. and Amen!!!!

Great post as always Jess!

Polly said...

Great post!

Kristen said...

I do not fully agree with you. Yes, most of what you said was good, but when I read your blog, i do not see this. It looks as though you are telling people about the Gospel so that you can disciple them and turn them into complementarians. Where your focus is, there your heart is. Your focus is making what you do as a mom seem important and you read things into Scripture to prove your point. Being a mom is a great job, but I do not believe that all women should have the same role. The world would be so boring if that was the case. Deborah (in the Bible) was a prophet and led Israel AND had a family. I'm just saying that maybe you shouldn't be so adamant to say that everyone should like what you like and feel the way you feel and do what you do. Just as you said that some people are more passionate about Evangelism than Discipleship, there are people that are more passionate about homemaking - like you. It doesn't make it wrong, but it doesn't mean that everyone should have that as their number one priority.

Jess said...

I think what you're seeing there is that I write about the things where I have experience-- and the things that are relevant in my life.

In no way do I want to (or will I) imply that anyone who doesn't get married, raise kids, or live life as I live it is living unbiblically. But for those who are young wives, are young moms, and are striving to learn about hospitality, discipleship, and growing in Christ as a young woman-- those are the women I write to.

You said:
Your focus is making what you do as a mom seem important and you read things into Scripture to prove your point.

And that's just not true, Kristen. What I do as a mom IS important. And Scripture speaks that over again and again. I don't have to read anything into Scripture to walk away with the knowledge that God places a high value on a woman willing to love & serve her growing family. I don't go to Scripture with a view towards, "how can I relate this to my life and how can I make my daily life seem more significant?" I approach Scripture to see what God is saying.

But you are absolutely right when you say that not all women have to do the same things-- and if you or others are called to a lifetime of singleness in order that you might be fully focused on the Kingdom of God (a la 1 Cor. 7), that is a beautiful and godly expression of a scriptural principle. Not one I would disdain in any way!

Even in the Scriptures that talk about that (the fact that an unmarried person can be more single-mindedly focused in on Kingdom purposes), there is the obvious implication that a married man or woman with children has other things on which to focus in addition to the Kingdom. There is no "wrong" to that; it's the way God has designed families.

For those who choose the route of engagement and marriage, God has laid out for them what the marriage relationship should look like, in many places in the Bible. For those who then get pregnant, there are many insights to be found within the pages of Scripture. The woman who does so is not reading anything INTO Scripture. She is gleaning FROM Scripture what God teaches about these things.

Thanks for your comment, though-- as it gives me the opportunity to clarify these things.

Amy said...

Great post Jess. I'm going to have to take one of those spiritual giftings tests. I've only ever assumed what my giftings are. Where do you find them?

Bless you,
Amy B.

Trina said...

Very thought provoking writing Jess, thanks for sharing your heart.

BT and Jessica said...

Well said... all of it- from the post to the responses to the comments!
You make such great points about the needs for discipleship, but also using discernment about your audience!

Sandi said...

I think this is my favorite post to date.

I love how you said in your comment that your not reading INTO scripture but gleaning FROM it.

I've been told I do the same into scripture relating to roles.

Wendy said...

Orthodoxy -vs- Orthopraxy. How can the gospel be complete without either one?? Focus on one alone tends to legalism, while focus on the other alone tends to relativism. The full and complete gospel has both a vertical component AND a horizontal component. If this were not true, the entirety of Ephesians would be heresy. Great post, Jess!!

Sheila said...

Couldn't have said things any better myself! Thanks for another great post!

Herding Grasshoppers said...


Very well said. Your "audience" seems to be primarily Christian women, and your experience is as a Christian wife and a mom. Your writing seems a natural outflow of that.

We are constantly inundated and worn down by the messages from our mixed up culture. We need to spur one another on. My boys and I have been memorizing Philippians 1 and I am constantly challenged by the exhortation in 9-11,

...that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Well done,


Sanders said...

Not only do I love what you write about and the way you write it - but I love that I'm always learning new words when I read your blog! (incapacitated - totally had to look that one up!) :o)

Janice said...

Thank you. I especially like the comment "step back from cultural demands and take on the culture of Christ." There is a need for Christians to understand what culture is and that it is NOT so innocent or irrevelant as most people around us seem to believe. The word of God says there are TWO paths to choose to walk in. The straight and narrow that leads home to God or the broad way that leads to destruction. There's nothing in between!! And that goes for our culture.

Becky S. said...

Amen, amen and amen, sister! I think Kristen stumbled into something in her comment regarding telling people about the Gospel so that you can disciple them. I think that is exactly the point that is sometimes missing in our modern faith culture. As you said in your original post, the Great Commission states to go and make disciples, not converts. To convert without discipling leaves that soul in a worse state than it began, for now they know the truth but have no support for the living of it.

CappuccinoLife said...

Great post!

Honestly, I think people who fault you for "focusing" on complementarianism are people who just don't want to hear it at all, ever, because they don't like it. lol

You are exactly right about your readership, your gifts, and your experience informing what you right. I do the same thing on my blog. It would frankly be silly for me to try and run a blog that is "deeply spiritual" and focuses on nothing but the fine points of theology. That would be a joke.
What I do know and what I can write about is living the Gospel in day-to-day life, nitty-gritty stuff, and dealing with an anti-Gospel, anti-family culture. I see you doing the same thing and I think you're doing a fine job of it!

If someone is annoyed by the amount of time you spend on complimentarianism, why do they bother reading your blog in the first place?? It would be like me going to a feminist blog and commenting "You're wrong"..."You're wrong"..."You're wrong" every time they put up a new post about the evils of maleness. lol Not worth my time or energy.

Jess said...

Amy B.,
Forgive my lengthy silence- I only now saw your question... somehow I missed it the first go-round/read through.

As for spiritual giftings tests, I've taken them (it seems like) my whole life (those little fill-in-the-bubble kinds of tests) but the most helpful thing (for me) was sitting down with another believer to examine the spiritual gifts. We sat down with a good, biblical definition of each of the gifts of the Spirit and carefully considered how GOD uses us. It only took about an hour for each one of us (we swapped out, helping each other think through these things), but it was so very helpful.

So many of the spiritual gifts tests focus only on what you're "good" at. So, maybe you're really great at organizing, but administration may not be your spiritual gift... but often those fill-in-the-bubble tests will then say that your skill set is in administration and leadership, when maybe you just like to find cubby holes for your crafts, ya know? Those things may be just part of your personality and general skills but (and here's the significant difference in my mind:) when the Spirit of God works in you to bless the Body of Christ and minister to the hurting people around you, WHAT does THAT look like? Is it that you have a keen sense of discernment and often find yourself helping people through difficult situations by sorting out what is coming from God and what is not? Is it that you find meaning and grace when you serve others? Do you have a sweet ability to pastor and shepherd people through lengthy, difficult situations with grace and kindness? Et cetera.

So, another believer and I sat down (actually, it was someone I didn't know very well, which was helpful for this particular exercise), and having her ask me questions about how God has used me in the past... what others have to say about how God uses me in their lives... which things I notice God produce fruit from, etc.

This exercise, more than any test, was helpful for really discerning which areas are the most fruitful, so that I can knowingly and perceptively walk in the ways where the Spirit of God seems to work most powerfully through me. Does that make sense?

I hope this is helpful. If I don't hear back from you, I may do this as a separate blog post, because this is a good issue to discuss.

Amy said...

Hi Jess,

Thanks for the follow up...very helpful! I'm going to be praying that God would open up the opportunity to do that with someone. This would definitely be a subject worth discussing further. If you decide to post on it, I'll be looking forward to it.

Thanks so much for emailing to let me know you had responded...I would probably not have gone back to look at the comments any further. :-)

As an aside...I love Wendy's comment on how both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are necessary. I've been going on and on about that one for a while. My brother in law has fallen into the emergent church movement and has been shooting orthodoxy w/ a shotgun ever since. Yet he's frustrated in orthopraxy b/c, although he doesn't realize it, there is no standard guiding him and it's left him confused and (in his own words) lost. A scary place indeed, for he has decided that perhaps the Word of God is isn't infallible and the absolute authority. When there is no absolute truth, there is great fear and confusion. Anyway, I'd be interested in 'hearing' your thoughts on the emergent church as well. Ever consider doing a post on that?

Thanks again for your response Jess. I hope and pray that the new place is feeling settled for you all.

Be blessed,
Amy B.