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Spoiling the Beautiful Difference

Complementarianism is in crisis.
1991 saw the publication of the major complementarian work Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. But 2020 saw the publication of Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. You can guess the content from the title. The author, Aimee Byrd, was a woman theologian writing from within a Reformed denomination in the USA which does not permit woman leaders in churches.
Byrd’s book was reviewed by Denny Burk, a leading North American complementarian. He candidly admits that there is a generation wanting “to exit complementarianism”. He warns: “there’s a generation looking for a doorway, and Byrd provides it.” Her audience “is ready to jump and is just looking for a reasonably intelligent pretext for doing so.”
Terran Williams was a teaching pastor at a large church in South Africa, committed to complementarianism. He was asked to research and write a better defence of their position. When he thoroughly re-examined it, he found he could not defend it from the Bible.
Many are indeed jumping out of complementarianism. Women are finding their full freedom in Christ. Men are seeing women with fresh eyes, as their true co-equals.
But Andrew Wilson has stepped up to try to stem the losses. He is a teaching pastor and elder at a church in South East London, which is part of the Newfrontiers family of churches. We respect him as a good-hearted and well-intentioned brother in Christ. He is deservedly known as an intelligent and thoughtful writer. He is perhaps the leading European theologian of complementarianism.
Wilson rightly criticizes some aspects of this approach. He acknowledges that it has demeaned our sisters, has read post-war middle America into the New Testament, has defended heterodox views of the Trinity, and has wrongly dismissed those who disagree as theological liberals. Nonetheless, he wants to hold the line, arguing that only men should lead in the family and in churches.
He is aware that many Christians who get their beliefs from the Bible are not persuaded by the standard arguments for complementarianism. So, he has tried to do better. He wants to re-focus complementarianism as “complementarity”. And he wants to lay a broader biblical foundation for it. He has done this in an influential article, ‘Beautiful Difference: The Complementarity of Male and Female’. While he touches on male leadership in the family, his argument is mainly directed to justifying men-only leadership in the church (male elders).
The article is engaging, and beautifully written – and in fact there are some important truths here with which we agree. But does it provide sound biblical arguments for restricting church leadership to men? We think not. Contrary to his objective, Wilson’s teaching actually spoils the beautiful difference between men and women. It stops short of full complementarity. While placing no restriction on men, it restricts women in ways that God does not. Please read on to find out where it goes wrong.