Almost a year ago I released my controversial book. What a rollercoaster of emotion and action it has been! With one amazing prize—but you will have to read till the end to see what it is.
Days before my book launch, I felt so scared. Before I even wrote it, I had obsessively studied the matter. I’d become sure—totally sure—that Scripture, read as a whole and interpreted properly, does not subordinate women to men. As I wrote my book, I did my best to dot my i’s and cross my t’s—with over 800 footnotes to show for it.
So, my fear was not the publicizing of untruth. It was “the fear of man”—literally the fear of men. What would all my friends who still believed otherwise think of me?
My book, though respectful of those with a different interpretation, was audacious. I had, after all, chosen “The End of Patriarchy” as a byline.
So I went for a walk on the beachfront and prayed, “Who am I to challenge other husbands and other pastors to reconsider the way they see their women?”
Instantly (and this doesn’t happen all that often to me) I heard heaven’s chastising whisper: “They are not ‘their women.’ They are my daughters. They are your sisters.”
And just like that, steel came into me, though I didn’t realize how much I’d need it.
There were some early wins.
A month before publication, I had received rave endorsements from leading biblical scholars around the world—Dr. Craig Keener, Dr. Mike Bird, Dr. Cynthia Westfall and others. I had never expected praises like this from theologians whose opinion, everyone knows, counts. It meant my book would probably have a wider reach than I had first envisioned.
When I uploaded my work to Amazon, it quickly went to number one in new releases in “Christian anthropology.” In the months following, a few times it climbed to the top of the bestsellers list. Kevin Giles, one of the most prolific authors on the subject, kindly wrote a review in which he said it was the best one on the complementarian–egalitarian debate. (Though, to be fair, he had not read Andrew Bartlett’s Men and Women in Christ.)
Emails poured in from all over the world. Church leaders who were reconsidering the matter thanked me. Women who had all but given up on faith because of their dislike of the apostle Paul (based on a misunderstanding of his words in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy) had their love for Scripture renewed. Husbands told me they were apologizing to their wives. Some marriages were rescued. People recounted story after gut-wrenching story about the experienced reality that is the underbelly of complementarianism, which seeks to—in the recent words of John Piper—“confront women who intend to be pastors” and “confront men who are unwilling to lead their wives.”
Having just begun to lead a male-female equal church, I got to see my book’s ideas in action. I taught a series on this as a kingdom value. I watched godly, gifted women rise up, not eager to displace men but delighted to stand alongside them. I sat in leadership meetings where women weighed in and I marveled that all those years we’d left it to only guys to decide. I listened to women preach with compassion and thunder. Us men, not threatened but rejoicing, felt the spiritual authority in the women. This is Africa, after all, where the lionesses roar alongside the lions to show the strength of the tribe.
Danny and Jamie Shulz, co-pastors of Sun City Church in the US, told me that they were using my book as their primary theological resource in a ministry called WeCoLead, in which they assist the many Priscilla-Aquila-type couples who have been called to plant or lead churches together. My book also got into the hands of leadership teams of extremely influential churches across the world—I wait to see what changes will come.
Having written my book also gave me permission to engage in the worldwide conversation about women in the church that is underway, so I endorsed a critique of Andrew Wilson’s article, ‘Beautiful Difference: The Complementarity of Male and Female.’ I also couldn’t resist countering Kevin De Young’s outrageous article entitled, “Death to the Patriarchy?”
The drama in the US on the topic of female leadership is without parallel—I have watched in horror this last year as the Gospel Coalition and leading male scholars continue to attack (that’s the right word) women who stand up to male domination or make sound biblical, sociological and historical arguments against their own being marginalised and subjugated. Though I may or may not share every perspective of these godly, courageous women, Kristin Du Mez, Amy Byrd, Beth Moore and Beth Allison Barr, for example, I suspect are in for a heap of heavenly rewards!
But I have had some drama of my own in my own country.
Long-time friends in the complementarian camp mostly did not read my book. The very few that did disagreed with it evidently. I wasn’t surprised. I wrote an Appendix in my book on why I expected this—“Why facts may not change your mind.” But still, I was disappointed.
When I posted to Facebook a link to my sermon on Pastor Priscilla, a “friend” went after me with stunning, albeit misguided, confidence. “There’s absolutely nothing in the text to suggest she was a leader of any kind,” he said in comment after comment.
But the main drama was a fast-growing church group publicly marking me as a kind of false teacher.
I first realised they were onto me when one of their staff mailed me asking me what kind of heresy my book was. I suggested she read it and see. But she said she trusted her leaders too much to read it. Any way, she was very happy in her subordinate role in marriage and glad that she’d never have to carry “the beautiful burden” of church leadership. She also called me out on writing a book that appeals to broken women. That run-in shook me—call me naive, but I had braced myself for pushback from men, I didn’t expect it would come from women! But the real bomb was on the way.
Then came this church group’s “review” which was shared worldwide. Written by a pastor of a church near to mine, it tore into my book. At first, I thought to take it on the chin. But then church leaders from other patriarchal churches rallied around this review—one on Facebook said that I should consider this review as “a warning.”
I welcome critical reviews, but this one was wide of the mark. So I decided to review the review. Step by step, I demonstrated that the author had 1) profoundly missed my reasoning, and therefore severely misrepresented it; 2) repeated the same weak and well-worn arguments in favour of complementarianism, which I used to put forward myself until I studied the Scripture more closely and which I had refuted in my book; 3) failed to engage with my exegesis of the most critical texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12 as well as the presence of female leaders and teachers in Scripture, especially the New Testament; 4) and appeared to have read only about two fifths of the main body of the book and none of the footnotes or appendices.
The author responded and admitted nothing. Sidestepping everything in my review of his review, he now recommended to everyone that they watch a video by Californian Youtuber, Mike Winger, which he claimed showed up where “Terran went wrong on women leaders in the New Testament.” (Winger had not even read my book.)
This was all more heat than light, I realised. So I took some time to recoup.
Peter the apostle promises an increase of God’s glory to those who pay a price for doing God’s will. Similarly, Charles Spurgeon said that he kissed the storm wave that drove him up onto the Rock of Christ. As much as I did not enjoy the drama, I realized that—if I processed it well—it could be a gift.
Since I became a Christian in high school, I’d not experienced any persecution. But now it was upon me—not from people far from God, but from brothers and sisters in Christ. I underlined all those verses that speak about the reward for enduring opposition. I searched my soul anew: Do I find my identity in the approval of people or of God? Can I enjoy my life and stay my course even though others I long esteemed wrongly accuse me?
I received my most meaningful critique from Andrew Bartlett who’d written a book with the same conclusion as mine. We became friends—one of the great blessings of this last year. I made improvements to my book and uploaded those to Amazon.
Regarding the online Priscilla debacle, after re-researching the matter, I realized how much stronger the case for Priscilla as church leader is than I had put in my book and sermon. So I created a video teaching of my discoveries—which was used in an international conference on male-female equality in the church.
Alarmingly, the church group that had “reviewed” my book, in order to defend their subordination of females, doubled down on a heterodox version of the Trinity. It’s one thing getting the doctrine of women wrong (a secondary issue), but it’s far more serious to get the doctrine of Christ wrong (a primary issue). So I wrote a scholarly article to explain the error to help other churches around the world to avoid the same mistake. Many have thanked me for this.
The other result of the drama is that I was motivated now to respond to Mike Winger whose videos have been watched by 100s of thousands. I teamed up with Andrew Bartlett. We have started to respond to each of his videos. We have reached out to him personally, too. Determined to add only light, not heat, we do our best to listen to him well and to remain cordial in tone. Here’s Bartlett and my responses regarding Genesis 1–3, Old Testament women and New Testament women, part A and part B. For the moment, this may be the most fruitful public sample of a conversation between complementarians and mutualists.
The way the church sees women impacts the whole of society. In the last chapter of my book I lament the tragedy that when a church holds to the subordinate status of women, they too often forfeit their ability to speak into a society in which women suffer violence because of a worldview in which women are less than a man. What a privilege, then, to —as a result of my book—be invited to create video teaching content for 1000s of high school boys on gender stereotypes, gender-based violence and gender equality.
But the greatest reward was on its way.
Whatever the personal cost is of having an entire group of churches against you, was more than compensated for by the joy of helping another equally vibrant group of churches turn a crucial corner.
Julie and I were invited to attend the recent national leaders conference of the AOG Group (a grouping of 67 vibrant and many large Assemblies of God churches in South Africa.) Following the death of the group’s leader a few years ago, the brave but wise team of younger leaders decided to revisit the matter of female ordination.
Having stumbled across my book, they purchased two copies for every church—so that both the pastor and his wife could read it simultaneously. “Can you accept the message of this book?” they asked.
The answer from these pastors was a resounding yes.
After they interviewed me for an hour, we watched a video montage of photos of women of all ages and ethnicities captured in full flight as they ministered behind pulpits or in leadership teams. After that—in front of my water-blurred eyes—they ordained some women who are called and gifted by God.
No sulfur of God’s judgment fell. Instead the sweet pleasure of God filled the place, for we were witnessing many Priscillas and Deborahs being released into their callings for the strength of the church and the glory of God.
I leaned over to Julie and whispered in a crackly voice, “If it was just for these women, I’d be happy to go through the whole ordeal of changing my mind and writing my book again.”