Home Christian News Is Supporting Female Church Leaders a Gospel Issue? Evangelical Leaders Clash

Is Supporting Female Church Leaders a Gospel Issue? Evangelical Leaders Clash

denny burk
L: "A Young Woman and Her Little Boy" Bronzino, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. R: "Apostle Paul" Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If people reject complementarianism, are they on their way to rejecting the authority of the Bible? This question is the focus of an article written by pastor and professor Denny Burk that engages the theology of Pastor Thabiti Anywabile and authors Beth Allison Barr and Kristin Kobez Du Mez.

“A quick glance at the historical record shows that the offspring of egalitarianism have not fared well over the long haul,” wrote Burk in an article published Monday, Jan. 24. “For example, two of the most lauded egalitarian books over the last year are written by authors who deny inerrancy (here and here). An embrace of egalitarianism often goes hand in hand with a denial of inerrancy. More and more this embrace goes hand in hand with an affirmation of LGBT. These trajectories are not new. They are well-worn paths that discerning Christians will be wise to avoid and that faithful pastors will lead their flocks away from.”

Complementarianism is the belief that men and women have equal value but different God-given roles, with men being the leaders, particularly in the home and the church. Egalitarianism is the belief that men and women are equal in value and do not have different roles based on their gender.

The “lauded egalitarian books” Denny Burk refers to are “The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth” by Beth Allison Barr and “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation” by Kristin Kobez Du Mez. Barr responded to Burk’s article on Twitter, saying, “Guess who is saying something untrue about me again…[because] he still isn’t listening.” Du Mez responded as well: “Do we really have to keep doing this?”

Denny Burk: Complementarianism Is a ‘Second Order Doctrine,’ But…

Denny Burk is Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, a school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Ky. He is also an associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The mission of CBMW is “to set forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God, because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.”

Burk opened his article by referring to a controversy from last week surrounding Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C. After a clip circulated of Anyabwile referring to a pastor as “he” or “she,” Tom Buck and Owen Strachan criticized him for endorsing women in church leadership. 

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Anyabwile pulled no punches in defending himself against those critiques before explaining his views on the matter. “I happily accept the *Bible’s* teaching regarding qualified male leadership in the church. It is our practice at our church,” he said, adding “I am *not* a misogynistic, culture-warring ‘pastor’ who thinks women preaching and pastoring is ‘a gospel issue.’” 

Burk used this incident as a springboard for his argument that “We must uphold everything that the Bible teaches, no matter where it weighs-in on our doctrinal hierarchy. If you believe the Bible teaches male headship, you are not free to disobey or dishonor that teaching. We must always speak and live as if we believe the Bible to be true.” 

He did not say that complementarianism is essential to the gospel, but Burk argued that those who reject it are on a slippery slope to compromising the Bible’s authority. He cited an essay by SBTS president Albert Mohler titled, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.” In it, Mohler offered three categories for evaluating the importance of different biblical beliefs. The most important of these are the “first order doctrines.”