Book Review – Embracing Complementarianism


Turning Biblical Convictions into Positive Church Culture. Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher, The Good Book Company, 2022.

One of the greatest issues of our day is the roles and relationships of men and women in society. Issues such as sexism, gender role stereotypes, feminism in a range of forms, gender inequality and pay gaps, sexual abuse and harassment, equal opportunities for women in education and career, and so on, are daily news items. In such a context, Christians committed to a complementarian view of men and women don’t just seem antiquated but harmful and dangerous. We may well feel hesitant to voice our views, and apologetic for our position.

But in this fine book, Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher state their conviction “that teaching and practicing a more robust complementarianism leads people from a reluctant acceptance to a joyful embracing of God’s word in this area” (12). By complementarianism, they mean “the belief that God made men and women equal and distinctive; equal in value and dignity, and distinctive in certain responsibilities and roles” (9).

If ever there was a time when churches needed help in thinking about how to live and practice that conviction well, it is now; and this book is a unique guide to doing so. Its uniqueness is that it does not merely defend the complementarian position. There are plenty of books that do that, dwelling extensively on the key, controversial Scripture passages that undergird the position. Instead, this book, while interacting with some of the key texts and taking the Bible as the sole source of authority on this issue, aims not so much to defend the position as advance it. It is designed to help people committed to complementarianism think more deeply about what it means for men and women to be equal and distinctive, and how to put this conviction into practice in a positive way.

That is needed, because in many churches committed to this principle, the main discussion too easily centres on what women can’t do. The biblical position, however, is positive not negative. Men and women do complement each other; and so they need each other and benefit from each other. That means churches need women engaged in all kinds of ministries, using their gifts to help and enrich not only other women (as in Titus 2), but men too. Women’s ministry is not just to women, but to the body as a whole.

Churches need to think seriously about what that looks like in practice. This book recognizes that is not simple and views will vary. But it opens up principles about men and women, gender differences, roles and responsibilities in church life, and the dynamics of a healthy church, with a view to helping churches consider how to embrace complementarianism. It works with the view that women will not be preachers or elders. But how can preachers learn from women, how can male eldership teams benefit from the wisdom and insight of women, how can Bible study groups be genuinely complementarian, what about women on staff teams, and how do you navigate the many grey lines?

In just 150 highly readable pages, Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher, provide brilliant insight on such issues. They help us understand and navigate the complex world of gender and expressive individualism in which we live, as well as the world of the Bible and its perspectives on men and women. Tooher and Beynon do not fully agree with each other on everything, so they do not expect readers to all make the same applications. But they open up the issues of complementarian that churches need to be thinking about. Having been in complementarian churches all my life, I think this conversation has been far too late coming, and I wish I had read and thought about this 30 years ago. We need to do better at putting complementarian theology into practice. This book is a great place for church leaders to think more clearly and intentionally about that.