I wonder if you have ever noticed that Christian books authored by women tend to be written for women, while Christian books authored by men tend to be written for both men and women. Books authored by women tend to have feminine covers, while books authored by men tend to have neutral, not masculine, covers. In general, men write with a voice that reaches both genders, while women write with a voice that reaches just one. This perplexes me. It troubles me.
I am complementarian. I believe God has designed men and women to have distinct, complementary roles in the home and the church. While men and women are equal in nature and worth, God means for them to function differently in these key areas. Within the home, God expects the husband to lead and the wife to freely and joyfully submit to his leadership. Within the church, God expects all members to minister to one another using every God-given gift but that only qualified men will hold the office of elder. I have searched the Bible, I have read extensively, and I am confident this is God’s will for his people.
Yet I gladly read books written by women. This is true whether the books are written specifically for women or whether they are written for a general audience. This is true whether they speak to issues related to Christian living, theology, or Bible-teaching. In every case I am glad to read them and glad to learn from them.
For some Christians, this is obvious and unremarkable. Yet for others, including many complementarians, this may come as a shock. Some Christians hold that a proper understanding of gender roles demands that women must not write theological works at all or, at the very least, that men must not read them. I disagree. To the contrary, I believe we can and must encourage women to write these books and that men can gladly and confidently read them for the benefit of their own souls.
No Exclusive Gift
Though there are a couple of roles God gives exclusively to men (elder, husband), there are no gifts he gives exclusively to men. Instead he dispenses his gifts to men and women alike. By gifts I refer to the spiritual gifts God grants to each of his people so we can use them for the benefit of other believers. Every Christian has gifts, and we do well to discover and express them.
As far as I can tell, there are no gifts reserved exclusively for either gender. There are reserved roles, but not reserved gifts. If men can be gifted in leadership, so can women. If men can be gifted in teaching, so can women. Likewise, if women can be gifted in hospitality or administration, so can men. The expression of the gifts may differ, so that female hospitality may look different from male hospitality, or female teaching may differ from male teaching. But the gifts themselves are not exclusive to one sex or the other.
No Exclusive Ability
As gifts are shared across the sexes, so is ability. As God gives gifts to both genders, so does he supply the ability to use those gifts. Women can handle the Word of God every bit as capably as men. Women can accumulate knowledge to the same degree as men and with the same degree of precision. God has made us equal in this way. While the Bible does refer to women as the “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7), it refers here only to physical strength, not strength of character or intellect.
No Exclusive Wisdom
Men and women are equal in gifts and equal in ability. They are also equal in wisdom. Both men and women are able to learn, to understand, to interpret, to apply. Both men and women can know the facts of the Christian faith, both can have a deep knowledge of Scripture, both can have insight that allows them to apply this knowledge to life’s circumstances. Women can be theologians in the same sense that men can be theologians—they can have a deep knowledge of God, his Word, his will, his ways. In fact, when the book of Proverbs personifies wisdom it does so in the character of Lady Wisdom, not Sir Wisdom.
One Exclusive Role
God gifts men to teach, he makes them capable, and he fills them with wisdom. He expects they will use their gift, their ability, and their wisdom for the good of others. God gifts women to teach, he makes them capable, and he fills them with wisdom. He expects they will use their gift, their ability, and their wisdom for the good of others. What distinguishes men from women in the church is not gifts, ability, or wisdom, but role. For his own purposes, God has determined that men will take the leadership role in the church, including the public teaching of the gathered congregation. There is no indication that he has made this determination on the basis of gifting, ability, or wisdom.
Your church probably has some gifted male teachers. If these men meet the biblical qualifications related to character, they may (or could or should) be your elders. Your church probably has some gifted female teachers. It is both possible and likely there are women in your church who have all the character and all the gifts of your pastors. While God does not open the office of elder to these women, the church should still encourage them to use their teaching gift, and it should generate opportunities for them to do so. One way some gifted women express their gift is through writing.
I believe this a valid expression of the teaching gift whether those women write exclusively for women or whether they write for men and women. Why? Because this writing ministry does not usurp the authority of husbands or elders. Their books pose no threat to a husband’s or church’s leadership. They do not challenge a complementarian understanding of the Bible. These authors are simply expressing their God-given gift as a means of blessing God’s people.
So I encourage Christian women to write and to do so with confidence that this is an affirmation, not a denial, of complementarianism. I encourage Christian women and their publishers not to restrict themselves to women’s versions of books on important subjects. They can write to all of us. They should write to all of us. We all can benefit from their gifts, their ability, their wisdom.
And I encourage Christian men to gladly, humbly, confidently read books by women. I encourage pastors to gladly, humbly, confidently read books by women. Don’t read them with fear or suspicion, don’t read them to simply screen them for your wife or your congregation, but read them to learn, to grow, to know God better. Trust that God dispenses gifting, ability, and wisdom to men and women alike.
Let me circle back to where I began. I titled this article “I’m Complementarian and I Read Books By Women.” But on further reflection, perhaps it’s better to say “I’m Complementarian So I Read Books By Women.” My theology doesn’t just allow it. It demands and celebrates it.
Some Favorite Books
Here are just a few of the books written by women for a mixed audience that have been especially helpful to me. I have deliberately not included books written specifically for women, though I’ve benefitted from many of those as well.
- Total Truth and Finding Truth by Nancy Pearcey. Pearcey’s books have been a tremendous blessing and challenge to me. In many ways she has helped carry the spirit of Francis Schaeffer into a new generation.
- 1 Peter by Karen Jobes. I’m with D.A. Carson in believing this is currently the best commentary on 1 Peter.
- The Feminist Mistake by Mary Kassian. Though many of Mary’s books have been written specifically for women, this one is for both men and women and has been very helpful to me in better understanding feminism.
- Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson. This was one of my favorite books of 2016 and a powerful challenge to put pride to death.
- The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield. Butterfield’s book was tremendously helpful in better understanding homosexuality and the sense of community it builds.
- Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noël Piper. This is a powerful collection of short biographies about faithful women who joyfully served their great God.