Review: Kevin DeYoung’s Men and Women in the Church

In our historic moment, the categories of male and female are no longer assumed. What is a man? What is a woman? Neither is there consensus in the church on gender roles and relations.

But to know yourself and glorify God you must live as a gendered person. Kevin DeYoung is right: Humanity “is, always has been, and will be…comprised of two differentiated and complementary sexes…by God’s good design” (14). We may not diminish the differences between men and women; maleness or femaleness is basic to who you are. But neither does gender distinction suggest value hierarchy: men and women harmonize to show the beauty of being human.

DeYoung’s Men and Women in the Church (MWC) faithfully engages Scripture to provide clear and compassionate answers to critical questions of our day before offering concrete application.

What Is a Man? What Is a Woman?

The Old Testament Introduces the Two Genders

Scripture’s first three chapters are foundational. Its most basic teaching on gender is this: God made men and women in his image, equal in glory, to rule jointly over creation. And yet, while gender is inconsequential for salvation (Gal. 3:28), maleness and femaleness is humanity’s most basic distinction. Man was created first (1 Tim. 2:12–13), and in a different way. Man and woman were created in different realms and given different tasks; the man cultivated the earth, the woman cultivated the family. The man—and not the woman—had to name every creature. The man alone, as the other party in covenant with God, was tasked with maintaining the garden’s holiness.

And gender differences are good! Not in spite of their differences but because of them men and women can experience beautiful harmony and unity. The names “man” [ish] and “woman” [ishah] suggest interdependence. The woman must help the man; he must love, protect, and provide for her. In marriage, the man leaves his family and cleaves to his wife. The two came from one flesh and become one flesh, with the man reckoned as the head and representative of the couple. Tragically, sin disrupted this “very good” world; it activated God’s curse which interrupted the relational wholeness between man and woman, who experienced the curse in different, and telling ways (3:16–19).

The rest of the Old Testament clarifies gender roles and responsibilities. DeYoung identifies five patterns.

  1. Men lead. “From start to finish, the leaders among God’s Old Testament people were men” (MWC 36). The few exceptions like Deborah, Miriam, Esther, and Athaliah were highly unusual, not always positive, and only prove the rule.
  2. Women can be heroic. Male leadership doesn’t demand passive women. The Bible gives many examples of “Proverbs 31 women” who were trustworthy, industrious, entrepreneurial, strong, shrewd, determined, generous, brave, dignified, wise, kind, selfless, and respected. Jael’s warrior-like behavior was exceptional, but not her integrity and courage.
  3. Women help men. The Bible’s excellent women are often praised for the “good influence they exercised in steering, advising, assisting, and coming alongside men” (MWC 39; e.g. 1 Samuel 25, Esther 7). In no way is the term “helper” derogatory or demeaning; God is Israel’s helper (Heb. 13:6).
  4. People twist God-given gender roles. Some of the most notorious women in the Bible are known for their negative influences on their husbands—think Jezebel and Delilah. And God takes pains to publicize how women were abused by men—think Bathsheba and Lot’s daughters.
  5. Women nurture children. Women are more than mothers. But  “caring for children will be one of the main things—and one of the most amazing things—many women will do with their lives” (MWC 42).

The New Testament Doesn’t Change Course on Gender

Jesus was pro-woman to the point of being revolutionary (John 4:27). He ministered to women and allowed them to minister to him. Women play a far more important role in the New Testament than one would expect from contemporary literature. Yet Jesus wasn’t egalitarian. As a man he “literally embodied what true manliness was meant to be—saving, protecting, rescuing, leading, reaching, and serving” and he appointed male disciples to make him known and imitate his example (MWC 46–47).

The New Testament letters affirm that the husband is head of his wife (1 Cor. 11:3). Wives should submit to their husbands by supporting, respecting, and following them (Eph. 5:22); husbands should love their wives by leading them and sacrificing and caring for them (Eph. 5:25). Women are prohibited from “teaching over men and exercising authority over men” (MWC 83; 1 Tim. 2:12). Accordingly, the overseers of the church must be men (1 Tim. 3:2).

How Then Should We Live?

Many people today want to deny or obliterate gender differences. But to be biblical, we actually need to emphasize them, offering our actual bodies to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). What will this look like? DeYoung offers five applications.

  1. Respect the given inclination of your gender. Throughout Scripture God calls men to lead and women to help. Those callings—leading and helping—don’t answer every question in every situation. But they do give both men and women a “posture.” Specifically in marriage, and more generally in other relationships women should be willing to be led and men should be eager to lead.
  2. Glorify God in your body. Our bodies—actual biology, not our orientation or desires—tell us who we are and how we should conduct ourselves, especially in sexual relations. This is why homosexuality is so dishonoring to God. Scripture calls it a “dishonorable [passion],” “contrary to nature,” and a “shameless [act]” (Rom. 1:26–27). Anatomy determines your gender which informs your calling as a man or woman.
  3. Be mindful of your appearance. Because biology says a lot about who we are, how we present our maleness or femaleness matters too. “Confusion of the sexes is contrary to nature…men should not seem to be women or express themselves in a feminine way, nor should women express themselves in a masculine way or appear to be men” (MWC 123). Show by your appearance that gender matters.
  4. Have the right demeanor. Scripture generally describes mothers as “gentle, affectionate, sacrificial” and fathers as “full of exhortation, encouragement, and leadership” (MWC 125; 1 Thess. 2:7–12). There is crossover between the two demeanors (7). But we may not ignore Scripture’s “manly” and “womanly” pattern.
  5. Check your character. Scripture suggests that “The crowning characteristic of a woman is true beauty and the crowning characteristic of the man is true strength.” A beautiful woman is “respectful, pure, and gentle.” A strong man shows honor, understanding, and caring leadership (MWC 127; 1 Peter 3:1–7).

Gender differences aren’t arbitrary, they are God-given. And they are how men and women complement each other as co-image-bearers. Your gender proclaims God’s glory! In love he made you male or female. So to be faithful to God’s design we must wholeheartedly affirm the glory of both genders, retain the differences between the two, and practice what is specific to each.

Men and Women in the Church won’t be popular among those who take their cues from prevailing culture. But God’s word has never cared about popularity contests.

© William Boekestein. All Rights Reserved.

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    Rev. William Boekestein is pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church (URCNA) in Kalamazoo, MI. He is co-author of Why Christ Came and author of many more books, including Stubborn Prophet, Faithful God, and The Glory of Grace.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for this review.

    It made me desire to purchase and read the book. Yet when I went to purchase it, the cost was 18.65 for a c. 150 page paperback edition (a result, I guess, of Bidenomics).

    I decided instead to simply study this review.

  2. Boekestein’s fourth paragraph starts out stongly: “Scripture’s first three chapters are foundational. Its most basic teaching on gender is this: God made men and women in his image, equal in glory, to rule jointly over creation.” But a mere two sentences later, he contradicts himself and says that. “Man and woman were created in different realms and given different tasks; the man cultivated the earth, the woman cultivated the family. ” That seems some very weak lip service to such a foundational and basic teaching.

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