PODCAST: What Happens When a Pastor Sets Out to Prove Complementarianism?

by | Oct 5, 2023 | Podcasts, Theology of Marriage and Sex | 19 comments

Pastor Terran Williams Prove Complementarianism

Terran Williams is a pastor whose life was upended when he was assigned a “simple” task.

He was working at a large church in South Africa when he was assigned the task of writing up their position paper on complementarianism. They all believed it, but they didn’t actually have a strong defence of it written up for new members.

So he began to research–and his life changed. This podcast is less about why he changed his mind, and more about the effects on his life and ministry, and I found it absolutely refreshing and hopeful and beautiful. 

I’m so excited to bring you this interview today. I think it’s one of my favourites, ever. Plus Terran is my first South African guest, so you will all love his accent!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Timeline of the Podcast

2:00 Terran comes on to share his story
17:10 Surprises when studying scripture
22:30 The changing mind process
33:40 Cognitive bias and intellectual arguments
43:30 Encouraging stories from Terran’s readers
49:15 His hope for the future of the church
54:00 Positive review to close

Changing views is hard.

That’s what Terran Williams found. When you have believed something your whole life, and it’s been the foundation of your ministry and your marriage, and then you realize it doesn’t have the scriptural support you thought it did–it changes everything.

I loved hearing about WHY Terran thought he was able to change when so many don’t, and how he actually switched his views before his wife did (and she only changed once she read his book!).

And I loved hearing how their marriage has changed as they’ve embraced mutuality. While they would have always been people who acted egalitarian despite believing complementarianism, they now say that it’s so much different, because his wife believes she should have a voice and she should have a partner. And he’s become a much more involved parent.

Just a fascinating discussion! And if you want to find out more about Terran Williams, please check out his book How God Sees Women, which is how I first heard of him (and I loved his story about the Assemblies of God denomination in South Africa!):

It’s free on Kindle Unlimited, too!

What I really appreciated was hearing just Terran’s joy when he describes how his life has changed since leaving hierarchy behind. Honestly, this moved me in a way not a lot of other interviews have. I know we’ve done so many on the why of changing, like with Philip Payne (and that podcast was amazing too!). But this one is about the heart of changing, as Terran describes here:

I remember saying to Julie, “I’ve been a pastor for most of my adult life, and not once did I have to get the permission of a bunch of women to make a decision.” What a wonderful feeling it was. I’m living it. Women have got authority too. They’re exercising their gifts in leadership too. Then the other thing is its emphasis on mutualist marriages. One of the things that struck me in those churches especially when the little children — sometimes one parent is basically outside of the meeting looking after the little child, and men and women would take turns doing this, which was also a new experience for me. In complementarian church, roughly speaking, the woman gets to do that. She takes one for the team. The man’s got to be there especially if you’re a leader. So I’ve also had the joy of seeing real equality in marriages.

Terran Williams

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

Terran Williams Try to Prove Complementarianism Podcast

What do you think? What makes some people able to change, and some resist change? Let’s talk in the comments!


Sheila: Well, I am so glad to bring on the podcast from Cape Town, South Africa, Terran Williams who’s the pastor of Signal Church in the middle of Cape Town city.  So, Terran, thank you for being here.

Terran: Such an honor to be with you. 

Sheila: So I think you’re my first South African guest so this is exciting, and we had a lot of South Africans fill out our survey for The Great Sex Rescue, and for She Deserves Better so I know there’s a lot of people on the continent of Africa who are paying attention to what we’re doing, and I know you and I have sort of had mutual connections.  I’m so glad to have you.

Sheila: I first found out about you from your book How God Sees Women.

Terran: Oh, wow.

Sheila: Which is so good, and everybody — it is like free on Kindle Unlimited.  Terran wants you to read this so I’m going to put a link to it.  Yes, How God Sees Women. It’s really good, and so many of you have questions about submission, and are women allowed to speak in church, and do women need to follow men, and do men need to lead women, and so this book answers it by going through the Bible. So it really gets into what it means to follow Jesus and the biblical passages so I really appreciate that.  But what I really want to talk to you about is how you came to write it because I find your story really fascinating.

Terran: So this was the book I never imagined I would write, and basically a fantastic church in Cape Town — it really is a fantastic church. I joined it when it was about 100 people, and after 20 years, it had grown to 4,000 people, 10 congregations, a real force in the city of Cape Town.  Also found my wife there, which is always handy.  We have five children together, believe it or not, and it’s a multi-site church so one church became 10 congregations under one banner called whatever the name of the church is. So we would have hundreds of people joining the church at the time, and we would explain the values of our church. The one that we knew we had to get past them — because there’s a chance they would leave. We’ve got to tell them up front. Caring is kind. We would explain why only men were elders in these congregations and why in marriages we encouraged men to lead their wives. I would come in to do that part. It would sharpen my communication ability and quite winsome, and I would have five minutes to just pitch it to the new people, and almost always they still joined. Sometimes I’d even get applause because we pitched it as our church being faithful to the Scriptures despite cultural pressure. I certainly drank the Kool-Aid and believed that it was good for you. Then what happened is living in quite a educated part of Cape Town, South Africa, a lot of women in the marketplace, women in leadership, highly educated women in this part of the world. The questions would come. Are you sure this is the teaching of Scripture? Then a couple leaders in our church that were really trusted expressed some of their doubts about our position, which is fine. I mean we were allowed to express those doubts, and they pointed out that we didn’t have a position paper. In other words, we had a five-minute elevator pitch on our position, and we’d done a couple sermons where we said cute things to make it sound like this is awesome. But we didn’t have a well thought up theological defense, and I’d handed over my congregation. I was freed up now to really strengthen our theological muscles so I was asked especially to lean into this question and provide a defense. I basically had extra time on my hands, and I’m a reader. I love to read 20 things on a subject, not just one thing, and I knew that I needed to hear the strongest arguments against our position because you can’t caricature the other side and then shoot it down. You’ve got to present it in the strongest form. Tim Keller taught this to me and in a winsome way, you dismantle it.

Sheila: Right.

Terran: I basically read books. I read Ph.Ds on both sides, and I became an expert in complementarianism for the first time interestingly. I understood complementarianism better than I did. It’s amazing how many complementarian church leaders are actually not that well-versed in their own complementarianism. So I understood complementarianism really well, and I started to understand egalitarianism. It dawned on me that actually the stronger case was with the egalitarian interpretation of Scripture because there’s two things involved here. There’s the exegesis of individual passages, and there’s still some passages that you could go this way or that way. But it was especially the synthesis of all of the passages that I noticed that complementarianism was particularly weak. I got this picture in my mind that I couldn’t shake that complementarianism was — had lots of arguments in it, but each of them was — each argument didn’t stand on its own. It was like a flimsy card, and it was only when you leant all the cards together in a certain way, you now had a house of cards. It was a flimsy house, and then I’ve been realizing this is a fairly substantial thing, the choice of only men to be leaders in a church because I mean you’ve only got men in a room making decisions. That means you’re chopping off the voice of women at a decision-making level, and being a church leader for my entire adult life, those leadership teams make 50 to 100 decisions a year, and you want as much wisdom as you can into that decision making. So as much as we emphasize complementarity, it dawned on me we were cutting up women’s voice at that senior most level, and then preaching —

Sheila: Yeah, because complementarity is supposed to say that men and women together show the image of God or reveal the image of God, but if you’re cutting off women, then you’re not actually believing that.

Terran: That is the great irony of complementarianism. Two places where women might be able to shape things is the interpretation and the preaching of Scripture and the decision making for the church including its pastoral interventions on its own people, and you’ve got women cut out of those two key moments. Back to my story, I realized I had grown, and suddenly that verse in Proverbs meant so much more me. When you hear one perspective on something, you can think it’s right until you hear another view. You realize, “Hang on. There’s more to this picture.” I’m paraphrasing that verse in Proverbs, and I had come into a church where in a sense, you submit to the leadership of the church. You get taught the doctrines of that particular church. You rise up because you subscribe to the party lines of that church, but after 20 years of leadership in a church, I think you reach a point where you’re allowed to rethink some of the things that were taught to us, and surely there should be a corrective in churches when I guarantee that interpretations of Scripture and various passages is kind of codified and ossified from generation to generation when those of us that are passionate about theological study know that there’s so much to be gleaned from hearing diverse takes and later scholarship on passages that we’ve all been grappling with. I realized I had got it wrong so I immediately got hold of two of the other guys who were in senior leadership. I said, “Guys, I think I’ve changed my mind on this one.” They put me into this theological investigation mode. So I didn’t feel bad. It’s not like I’d gone wandering. I’d gone exactly where they’d told me to go. Then these guys actually responded really well. They said, “Wow, well, maybe we do need to go back to the books on this and at least open up our hands and be open to the possibility we’d got this one wrong.” So started I think a year or two-year long process of theological conversations, but I would say those theological conversations were corrupted because — although we maybe set out to say we were open handed, it became evident that the senior leadership of this church actually had already decided where this was going. I kind of hung in there because I was just sure if I could explain to them how we’d got it wrong in this passage, and that passage, and this passage, and that passage, and how we’d completely missed this passage and that passage, and these angles and this conversation, I was sure that if I could just take them through the same intellectual, exegetical, theological journey I’d gone on, I could get us there. It really was one of the most disappointing experiences of my life, and it actually was naïve of me to think — in my book, I speak about the danger of trusting God for a sociological miracle when we’ve got ten senior leaders of this church, congregation leaders. I was hoping for a change. Now I’m trusting that all ten of those leadership simultaneously transition in something that actually was kind of a miracle that I could see the errors in my own interpretation. I basically realized that I’d cut off the branch I was sitting on, and I couldn’t see myself leading in this church much longer because I’d become so convinced that the church that it wouldn’t be only theologically accurate to include women in leadership and giving them the privilege to preach with authority like we gave the men, it wouldn’t only better — theologically correct to teach mutual submission in marriages, it would be healthier. I became convinced that not only was it biblical that it was better, and it was quite a painful experience for me to part ways in that particular church where I’d planned on giving the rest of my life. I understood where they were coming from. Because a lot of churches are enmeshed in denominational movement structures. It’s not as simple as just the leaders of that church changing their view. That would mean a kind of radical ecclesial rearrangement of alliances to other churches, and unless you have some conviction like I had, it’s easy enough to just say — to freeze up and to say, “No.” So I basically ended 2019 in that church, and then I — COVID hit, and I thought I was going to go overseas, but the world became very small. I didn’t even get to go across the road never mind across the sea because of the lockdown. Then I wrote my first book that I put on Amazon. What’s So Amazing About Scripture?: How to Read it Right and Tap Into Its Power. I’ve always been very interested in the interpretation of Scripture, and then the following year, I thought it’s time to write — I’d given enough time away from my previous church to write How God Sees Women. I wanted to now take the reader on the exegetical, theological, personal journey I’d gone through that I’d hoped I could share with the other leaders that I never really got to, but hey, I was going to democratize this information and take it to whoever would read it. I hoped a lot would, and I’ve been delighted how many have.

Sheila: Yes. It is really good. Again I’m going to put links so just go to the podcast notes. There’s links to both of Terran’s books. How God Sees Women and What’s So Amazing About Scripture? You can pick them up. They’re wonderful. They’re inexpensive, and yes, let’s open our minds and our hearts and hear what God has to say. I love it. You’re in a new church now?

Terran: Yeah. So I am in a new church. Two years after the finish of the previous church, I agreed to come — I wasn’t sure this was the church for me. They needed a pastor, and I was visiting with my family. My wife and kids loved the church, and I wasn’t so sure. So I agreed to a six-month interim leadership of this church, part time. After six months, I said, “I’m done. Have you found anyone yet?” They hadn’t found anymore, and two years later, I’m still there. I’ve realized that it was God’s way of getting me to become a permanent leader of this church, and the question I’m sure in everyone’s minds is it a complementarian church? The answer is it’s not. It’s a mutualist church. So I have the joy of being on a leadership team with — half women and half men. There’s two couples, a man and a woman, a man and a woman. There’s a wife whose husband is not on the leadership team. There’s a husband whose wife is not on the leadership team, and there’s a single woman. I experience again and again the richness of diverse perspectives to make better decisions, to handle intricate pastoral situations with the wisdom not just of men but of women. I still remember sending an email — usually you make decisions in person, but I needed a quick decision. I sent this email out to the leaders, and I wanted them to give me a thumbs-up or a no or a let’s wait. The women and the men — they all gave the thumbs-up to this particular decision. I remember saying to Julie, “I’ve been a pastor for most of my adult life, and not once did I have to get the permission of a bunch of women to make a decision.” What a wonderful feeling it was. I’m living it. Women have got authority too. They’re exercising their gifts in leadership too. Then the other thing is its emphasis on mutualist marriages. One of the things that struck me in those churches especially when the little children — sometimes one parent is basically outside of the meeting looking after the little child, and men and women would take turns doing this, which was also a new experience for me. In complementarian church, roughly speaking, the woman gets to do that. She takes one for the team. The man’s got to be there especially if you’re a leader. So I’ve also had the joy of seeing real equality in marriages.

Sheila: That’s lovely. There’s a number of people in your church — well, I know of two anyway who have emailed me or messaged me on Instagram or whatever and told me about you. They all say they just love your church, and that’s fascinating what God’s going to do with that in Cape Town.

Terran: Yeah, thank you. Can I share with you the first time I changed my mind on Genesis chapter 1 and 2?

Sheila: Yeah.

Terran: Because when you’ve been a convinced complementarian, you’ve really made up your mind about Ephesians 5. You’ve made up your mind about 1 Timothy 2. You’ve made up your mind about 1 Corinthians 11. You’ve made up your mind about Genesis 2, and you’ve taught that Adam was the leader of Eve before the fall, not just after the fall. You’ve preached your eight points that you stole from a Mark Driscoll sermon back in the day where he made the same case, and he was drawing it from the John Piper book. You’re so into these arguments. When I was evaluating the matter, I remember being in this very room, sitting at a table just five meters to my left, and writing this list of all the arguments for why Adam was the leader of Eve before the fall, and then studying scholarship and giving the counterarguments and realizing that the controversial arguments were actually on the complementarian side, not this side. The author of Genesis is not arguing for — and not trying to encourage this idea that Adam was the leader of Eve before the fall, and that becomes especially evident in Genesis  3:16 where as the consequence of the fall, he will now rule you. It’s so clear. Genesis 1 you’ve got Adam and Eve co-ruling, then comes the fall, what a tragedy, now he will rule her. I remember going through this list, and in a moment, I realized, “I got Genesis wrong. I got Genesis wrong.” I mean I’ve taught on it. I’ve taught wrongly, and it was actually quite an emotional moment to see that God wanted men and women to be partners and allies and equal and collaborate and complementarity. It’s all in there, and Julie walked past. I was so excited — my wife. So I said, “Julie, Julie,” and I wanted to tell her what I just told you. As I looked at her, words coming out of my mouth, tears came out of my eyes, and then I realized that the power of theology to blind because it was like I saw my wife as if for the first time. I saw her as my Genesis 2:18 ezer kenegdo who was strong where I was weak. Of course, I’d appreciated my wife before, and I wasn’t a — I wasn’t a leader type guy even in my complementarian marriage, but I saw her. I realized how important theology is to change the perception of things, and that’s where I came up with the idea to call my book How God Sees Women. If we could just see marriage like God sees it and see men and women like God sees them.

Sheila: It fits one of my favorite verses, and I may have this Scripture wrong so forgive me. Katie, you can write it on the screen on YouTube or say it if I’ve got it wrong. I think it’s Luke 8:44. It might be 7:44. But it’s when Jesus is dining with the Pharisees and the woman comes in to anoint him. He says to them, “Do you see this woman?”

Terran: Lovely.

Sheila: He’s inviting us. Of course, they saw her because they’d all been thinking about her and thinking about how scandalous this was. So it’s not like they hadn’t noticed her. So Jesus wasn’t saying, “Do you notice her? Do you note that she is here?” He was saying, “Do you truly see her?” He’s inviting us to actually see women, and I find that very emotional. Just that we have a God who sees us.

Terran: And then you connect that verse, I think it’s Luke 13 where Jesus is in a synagogue. It’s one of the rare times in the gospels where Jesus is in the synagogue, and he does a miracle in a synagogue. There’s a woman who’s been crippled for was it 18 years or 12 years? I forget. She’s been crippled for many years, and it says these words, “And Jesus saw her.” Of course, he doesn’t just stop seeing her. She’s buckled over, and he says, “Woman, you are free.” She stands up straight. It’s a beautiful story, but then the next part is so illustrative of the downside of misogyny and patriarchy when it really gets nasty. The synagogue ruler is so irritated with Jesus that he has healed this woman. So just think about that. She’s been in his congregation for over 10 years. She’s been buckled over in pain, and he doesn’t notice her until she stands up straight. She stands up straight next to her brothers who have been standing up straight. Then Jesus reprimands him for basically caring about animals more than about this woman. That’s also where he calls her, “Daughter of Abraham.” If I’m right, there actually aren’t any other historical sources up until that time in Jewish literature of women being called Daughters of Abraham. He pens a name for her.

Sheila: Right, it’s all Sons of Abaraham. Yeah.

Terran: Yes, and just hinges on those words. “Jesus saw her.”

Sheila: Yeah, isn’t that beautiful? Okay, so Terran, let me ask you think. Why do you think you were able to change your mind? Because I know a lot of people can’t get to that point even if — like I’ve heard so many people say to me something like, “Okay, I know all your arguments sound really good, and I know I can’t argue against it. But quite frankly I just don’t want to believe it.” Then they let it go. Obviously they’re risking so much if they change their mind, but you risked — you gave away everything, right? This was your identity. This was the church that you had pastored. It was all your friends. You met your wife there. Your kids had grown up there. This was everything. So that’s a hard thing to do.

Terran: Yeah. I think it had something to do with being in church leadership for 20 years and not just 5 years. You reach a point where you’re also starting to see through the over confidence of youth where you’ve figured out everything, and now you’re running to the world with all your certainty. I’d come to a point in my own study of Scripture where I was comfortable with things that were very clear in the Bible and things that were less clear, and I also — I personally found it quite intellectually exciting that I may have got some Scriptures wrong, and through exposure to superior scholarship I could — somebody could help me. I think something clicked in my mind that I was on that wavelength of openness to unlearning and seeing Scripture more clearly. Before that, I’d really stumbled across how central kingdom is to New Testament theology, and yet for 1900 years, the church had almost lost that as its theological sense. Now all scholarship has come around to, “Wow, we have reclaimed something that was in first century theology that was kind of lost through church history.” So I’d already made some of these discoveries similar to the doctrine of atonement. I’ve fixated on penal substitutionary atonement. Jesus died to absorb God’s wrath on our behalf, and men realizing actually that’s just a small component of a much bigger story. There are other theories of atonement. The importance of Cristus Victor. Hearing somebody who was excited that I may have missed things in Scripture and really hoped that I could — I prayed that God would help me to see what I’d missed. I think I was actually praying that prayer. “God, show me where I’ve got it wrong.” I had no idea what it would be that I’d got wrong. So I think the Holy Spirit had really been softening my mind and getting me open to rethinking things. The other thing is I must admit to a bit of naivete in that I was so established in this church that I couldn’t imagine I could lose my place in it where I had such a large theological say. So I would say the importance of intellectual curiosity and humility in the face of Scripture. I’d tracked with the Southern Baptist throwing Rick Warren out with such over confidence, and I read something Rick Warren said I thought was so insightful. He says, “The difference between a conservative and a fundamentalist, a conservative believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. A fundamentalist believes in the inerrancy of their interpretation of Scripture.”

Sheila: Yeah, I remember that quote too and thought it was so good.

Terran: So I think I was starting to tell the difference in my own life. I wanted to be very sure on the things that Scripture was clear on, and then I wanted to be more curious on the things that Scripture maybe wasn’t so clear on, where maybe I had been over confident in the past through hearing only one side where all along Proverbs say, “Hey, listen to the other side for the sake of wisdom.”

Sheila: Right, while you were going through all of this, what about your wife? Was she tracking with you?

Terran: Fascinating thing is my wife only became fully convinced when she read my book.

Sheila: Oh, wow.

Terran: She remained — for a person if you’ve been living for your whole life, you cannot change your mind in a day when it’s taken years to come to believe in something. Even though I would explain one passage to her and another passage, she still just didn’t see the whole picture. She was just getting it piecemeal. Only when she read my book, she actually edited my book. She’s a writer herself. She had her own ah-ha moment reading Scripture. She actually writes — I asked her to write my forward, and interestingly, I asked her to write an endorsement. I thought it would be quite cute because you’ve got all of these praise for How God Sees Women thing, and I’ve got some top biblical scholars in the world endorsing my book. I thought I’ve got to throw one in from my wife so I asked her to write an endorsement. She thought I was asking her to write the forward, and she came back to me with two pages of this forward. I didn’t have the heart to say, “Actually this wasn’t the little paragraph. I needed somebody that the world knew to write the forward.” And then I read her forward, and that’s how she got the job. She wrote something really beautiful. But she changed her mind when she read the book — fully changed her mind when she read the book. Then the journey is different for men and women. Since I’ve written the book, I have conversations every two or three days with someone from around the world getting a hold of me or coming to see me. Church leaders that are open to changing their mind, and guys who go through this journey tend to speak about the kind of exegetical, theological process. It’s not as emotional for us because we haven’t — we still had the privileges of being in charge. It’s the women who lived as less than or under men realize that in a sense they’d been duped by a doctrine that is essentially a misconstruction of Scripture that they then get plunged into an emotional — layers of emotional processing. Anger, hurt, disbelief. I would say Julie is a particularly robust, positive person so some of my women friends who’ve changed their minds went through a particularly painful process. Julie’s pain was counterbalanced by her robustness and positivity. An interesting thing, when she changed her mind is how she muscled up in our marriage as my equal partner. So although — in your book The Great Sex Rescue, I mean you make the point that most complementarians don’t actually practice it in their marriage. They still make decisions together. We had one of those kinds of marriages, but still the effect that at the end of the day, I’m able to play the trump card — I never did — just caused Julie to maybe hang back and to be deferential. Once it dawned on her that she was my full equal, she came out strong. I had to make some adjustments to realize, “I’ve got an ezer kenegdo. I don’t have an assistant.” That’s how John Piper translates Genesis 2:8.

Sheila: Yeah, I’m about to do a fixed-it for you on that so maybe I’ll have that fixed-it for you run right after this podcast because I just made it.

Terran: Not my assistant. She’s my partner, my strong partner. She quickly played that role and probably just in time because she became the main breadwinner. A lot of guys struggle with that, but my theology adjusted just in time to have no problems at all with the fact that she was bringing in more money than me. I’m really grateful to God. Now we obviously both come to the party financially. The other thing that happened is she then insisted that I play a stronger role in family life because against the complementarian roles puts the woman as the housemaker, the husband supporter, the child rearer. Although I was a properly involved husband, it was just enough obvious examples where we still kind of assumed that she would carry more of the weight. Although I’ve not caught up to her domestic omni-competence, I’m realizing that my doctrine does not hide my ineptness in that area anymore. So it’s been really good for Julie and I to try to team together more in the running of a home and in the raising up of children.

Sheila: Right, and how have your kids been? I mean that must have been a very — it must have been traumatic for your family to have to leave the church where presumably they had friends. I mean I don’t want you to share their confidences because they may not have given consent but just generally.

Terran: Yeah, the children — we all experienced loss, and the children experienced the loss of — also something about being a pastor’s child in a big church. Everywhere you go in this church, everybody knows your dad and your mom. So they kind of just became just our children, and they lost a lot of their friends. I praise God for this new church because they have now found a new community. So I have seen in the same way Julie and I have experienced the restoration. Our children have experienced a restoration. But certainly there’s been a cost across the whole family.

Sheila: Right, right. Would you like some help in going to your pastor, small group leader, women’s ministry leader about some of these issues as you’re thinking about them? We’ve got that help in The Great Sex Rescue toolkit. I put this together. It’s great handouts. There’s so many of them. They’re professionally designed that share in a nutshell our findings from our surveys for The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better. When you take those to your pastor, to your Christian school principal, to your Christian school teacher, whoever it might be that you want to talk to, it gives you an easy way to start those conversations so that you don’t need to feel nervous. So check that out. It’s a pay what you want. I’ve priced it super cheap, but you’re allowed to just enter however much you want to pay for it. We want to make it available to you. We want to make price not an issue, but whatever you donate, that helps support our ministry. It helps us do more stuff like this, to get these toolkits into your hands. So check out The Great Sex Rescue toolkit. The link is in the podcast notes. One of the things that I struggle with and that — because so much of my ministry is like how do we get people to change their mindset — because if we can change our mindset, if we can see God in a different way, if we can understand marriage in different way, we’d see so much more flourishing. So I’m always trying to come up with new ways to explain this. If they’d just see what this verse is really saying, then maybe I’ll be able to convince them. But the truth is that you can’t convince people like you said. Intellectual arguments don’t always do it.

Terran: Yeah, well, there’s so much work being done on cognitive bias. Our minds constantly takes little shortcuts in thinking for emotional — we’re emotionally motivated in what we think is our logical reasoning. One of the most obvious things about human beings is that actually instinctively we’re more interested in tribe than truth. We might claim to really believe in truth, but there comes a real advantage in life to find a tribe of people. Especially leaders of churches have gone on their own journey of trying to find their place in the body of Christ. Finally they’re in a church. They’re in a tribe. They may be part of a movement or denomination. They’re in. This is a precious moment. They’ve worked their life to get to this place, and then they hear a truth claim that they very quickly realize if they were to take that on or go down that road, it could jeopardize their place in the tribe. Most people understandably just freeze up and can’t go there.

Sheila: Right, and in that case, there’s really nothing you can do, right, except for pray, which is important. I probably don’t — I probably should lead with that more because I tend to lead with the intellectual, but I think that’s a hard thing because I know I have so many readers who — they read my books. They get excited. They read your book or Phillips Payne’s book or whatever, and they get excited. They want their church to see it, and they go to their pastor. Their pastor just totally shuts them down. That feels devastating to them because they didn’t even listen to me. So what would you say to that listener?

Terran: The question of you’re in a complementarian church, you’ve started to change your mind or you’ve changed your mind, what to do next? First thing is to pray, to think how you’re going to do this one. I think at some point you’ve got to raise the issue. You’ve got to raise the issue, but you want to raise the issue wisely and well, at the right time. You want a little bit of hesitation. You don’t want to run in there. You don’t want to run in there as an ideologue whose truth over all relationships, and if you don’t — there’s a savviness to your situation. I mean each of us is in a unique situation. Try to interpret that situation. But then you do need to actually sit down with the people who decide what this church believes and say you have real doubts about the correctness of this belief. Would this leadership team be open to reconsidering it or to listening to other perspectives on it? So I think you don’t go in too strong. You try to ask them if they’re open to journey, open to read something on it. Then you get Nijay Gupta’s book or my book, and you get into their hands — or Andrew Bartlett’s book Men and Women in Christ. Hopefully they’re open to that conversation. What makes it so scary is especially it’s often the case women who’ve got gifts of leadership that notice the wrongness of this before other women. What a lot of women do is they go, “Well, I’ve changed my mind, but I don’t want to be a leader so I don’t mind being in this church.” Usually it’s the woman who does have a leadership sensibility or is a teacher because she’s interested in theology. Then she raises it, and the danger of gaslighting. Gaslighting meaning the reason you’re even raising this issue is because there’s something defective about you. The fact that you are questioning this doctrine says about something not being right with you.

Sheila: Well, you’re prideful. You just want power.

Terran: And it’s such an excruciating — thinking of all the women I know who tried to raise the issue and came off second best and made to feel like there was something with them for asking. Having said that, some complementarian pastors have actually been really gracious. They’ve said, “Look here, for these reasons we’re not going to change our mind, but we understand where this is coming from.” There is a gracious way for a complementarian pastor to receive this feedback. I think you’ve got to raise the issue. The question is can you stay in this church? If it’s become — the sun is going to set soon here in Cape Town so it’s shining through the window onto my face. (crosstalk; inaudible) A lot of women end up leavings those churches, but that’s a painful ordeal because these are your people. Yet some find a grace to stay in those churches. So I think the first thing to ask is if you are to leave this church, what church could you go to? Is there a church that you could go to? I mean how many egalitarian churches are there? That’s wonderful they’ve got that right, but what about other things that matter to you? A lot of churches — people in small towns, there might only be three churches that you deem vibrant enough for you to be in, and they’re all complementarian. So your options are limited. So you’ve got to ask if you can’t even see yourself — if there is another church you can go to. I was talking just last night as Julie and I were going to sleep because she knew I was going to probably get a question like this from you. Do I strongly encourage women to stay in their church and just to keep hammering away at this? Maybe in ten years time this leadership team will change. I think in the early days I was a bit too encouraging of women just to stay in there. Just hang in there. Julie says, “Those women are really getting hurt. The ones who deeply believe that the church is getting this wrong, trying to raise the issue. They’ve raised it four or five times. They’re now being misunderstood. Those women, it really messes with their mind, and it can actually be really damaging for them to stay in that church.” Not only damaging for them. It can actually tear apart a lot of relationships if they stay in there too long. So my heart has gone out to women who’ve had to leave churches and not just women. Men — I know a lot of men who objected to this doctrine and tried to do the exact same thing, end up leaving their churches. But the cool thing about the church on planet Earth at the moment is there are millions of churches. I don’t know what the exact number is. I think it’s something like three million churches in the world. I don’t know if I’m thumb sucking that. There’s a lot of churches so if this isn’t the one, you’ve still got decades of life in you. It will be a painful transition. Find a church where the church is getting this right, especially if this is something that means a lot to you. My rule — I give this rule of five. What are the five most important things about a church of you? If egalitarianism — I prefer the term mutualism — isn’t one of them or maybe that’s not enough reason to leave the church. But if it is in your top five, probably it’s not going to work out.

Sheila: Yeah, well, I’ve heard that if all of the people who believed in mutualism got together, they would outnumber the people who believe in complementarianism. It’s just that they’re still filling the complementarian churches. So if you could somehow get us all together, we could have such vibrant churches. Again, that’s one of the things that I really appreciated hearing from the two congregants who got in touch with me was just how vibrant your church is, where people feel like their gifts really matter. I just thought that was such a beautiful picture. Picking up from your story, I think again what I want some of you to hear because I hear your stories every day. I get these emails. I’m going to my pastor. No one’s listening is like Terran is a scholar who studied for years, and people didn’t listen to him either. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It doesn’t mean you didn’t give the argument properly. It doesn’t mean that you weren’t well enough prepared. It’s not like you could have said it better. It’s just that some people don’t want to hear. That’s not on you. That’s not on you. I think that’s why Jesus talks about shaking the dust off our feet so that we can let it go. We don’t need to feel badly about things. Again that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to leave. I don’t think everyone needs to leave. I think that God calls us all to different things, and I know that looking back I think I stayed too long in some of the churches I was in, but I also don’t think that it was wrong to have gone there in the first place. I think there’s different things. We all have different family situations, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. But I just don’t want people to feel like you did something wrong if people didn’t listen because that’s — like you said, people have emotional reasons for believing things. 

Terran: Yeah, absolutely.

Sheila: It’s hard to let go. What are some of the encouraging stories that you’re hearing from people who have read How God Sees Women?

Terran: Well, one of the really encouraging — early ones — so as I wrote my book, my book has done well all around the world, particularly in America. Thank you, America, Canada. Whoo! And the U.K. You guys are buying my book. I was obviously very rooted in the ecclesial church scene of Cape Town, South Africa, and I had a very early, brutal experience of a set of churches here in Cape Town writing a review of my book in which the author had only read two-fifths of my book, misunderstood what he wrote, and had basically attempted terrible exegesis, and succumbing to feminism in the culture. It was just such an unfair critique. I’ve got say critique because there’s lots of things wrong with my book. Eight hundred footnotes, 300 something pages, of course, I made mistakes. You’ve got to find out what they are, but this was just a brutal unfair one. A lot of people didn’t even read my book. They read the review of my book, this unfair critique, and now they made up their minds. So that was a painful experience. God was merciful to me because a few months after that I got contacted by a leader of a small denomination within Assemblies of God. So Assemblies of God is huge around the world, but there’s 67 Assemblies of God in South Africa called the AOG Group. Many of these churches are thousands of people strong. They’re a vibrant denomination. The new denominational leader had — previous one had died. The new guy came in, and he’s married to a dynamic woman who teaches as well as him and who has co-led the church with him. He came across my book. He was so impacted by it that he ordered two copies for everyone of those pastors of these 67 churches. He said, “Guys, can any of you — do any of you think we shouldn’t go in this direction?” And 67 churches something of a sociological miracle — the thing that I said you shouldn’t have so Julie and I were invited to come to their national conference where they interviewed me for an hour. Then they ordained women right there in front of us, and the Spirit of God came upon these — the empowering of God because that’s what biblical ordination is meant to be. Just such a glorious moment, and I thought if I had just written my book for this movement of churches, it was so worth it. I’d take all of the pain, all of the shame, all of — just for these 67 churches. So that’s one of the really encouraging experiences.

Sheila: Oh, that’s so beautiful. I love that, and God gives us these moments I think. They’re not always where we expect either. When you did the original study, you thought it was to change the leaders in your own church, and that’s what you were praying for and hoping for. But instead it ended up being for something else. I think that’s really cool. Now before we go, another project that you’ve been involved in that I’ve really appreciated is you’ve done a lot of responses to Mike Winger’s series. So if anyone — a lot of people mentioned to me that Mike Winger who’s very big on YouTube has been doing a series on women in ministry and in leadership. He says that he was complementarian, but he wanted to do the research and just see where the research led. He believes and he still is complementarian, but you’ve been doing a series of responses and looking at some of his arguments. So if you are interested, I will also put a link to that. I don’t want to go into Mike Winger too much, but why don’t you — anything you want to add to that?

Terran: The story is this one group of churches that wrote an unfair critique on my book on my social media said, “Don’t listen to Terran. Listen to Mike Winger,” and slapped up the links to his messages. Then I find out that so many complementarian churches were basically — this was now a go-to response because anyone in the church could watch YouTube videos for free. Buying a Wayne Grudem book costs money, and somehow people are willing to sit through six or seven three-hour long teachings. So this guy called Andrew Bartlett who wrote a book similar to mine in the U.K. We’ve made friend with each other, and we both said, “Is it happening in the U.K. too?” The U.K. and South Africa, never mind America, Mike Winger was the most noticed, referred to complementarian teacher because he’s so winsome. He’s a likeable man, and he says he wanted to become egalitarian, but the Scriptures. He claims to deal with every egalitarian argument so Andrew Bartlett and I then listened to these talks and went, “This is really shoddy scholarship.” We decided to write piece by piece responses. Beth Allison Barr shared the link on her social media that we were responding.

Sheila: That’s where I found it. That’s where I found out about you originally, yeah.

Terran: You can find it just by searching for “What Winger Gets Wrong with Women in Ministry.” You’ll find it.

Sheila: Yes, and I will put links to those responses as well for those because I do have a lot of people mentioning it. I tend to send them to you so I will put a link so people can see. As we’re ending up, what would be your hope for the church? Where do you see things going?

Terran: So I think until Jesus comes back, there’s going to be some patriarchal churches. My prayer is that there’s far fewer of them ratio wise than there are now. I’ve had the privilege of being invited to write a paper for the Lausanne Conference for next year with three other women from around the world on male/female partnerships in the gospel. So we got to do some fresh research of what’s happening around the world, outside of America. Basically there is a phenomenon underway in the last many decades of these powerhouse women church planters who are planting churches across the Middle East, across Asia, across Africa. I’ve got to interview — in writing this paper some of these people. I’ve got a friend who planted a church in Zambia, in Mongu. It’s called Hope Church and grew to be the biggest church in the region. God gave them a vision to plant churches all over western Zambia I think it is, and then they prayed for the workers. Then women started arriving, walking for days, for hours from neighboring villages, some of them disabled and literally hobbling saying, “God has sent us here. Tell us the gospel, and God’s given us a vision. Spoken to us in dreams to plant churches.” They were so surprised by these women coming to the game. They said it’s like Paul going to Macedonia because he gets a call from the man of Macedonia, gets there, and he’s surprised the man is a woman. It’s Lydia. She opens the door for him. Something of that happening. Then training up these women, and that’s a very patriarchal culture. I mean we speak about patriarchy in western nations, but we know nothing of the patriarchy where women are chattel. They’re still property. So such strong patriarchy — basically these women risk their lives. They’re willing to go across crocodile infested rivers. They are willing to go into tribes where there’s the danger of curses because the occult is strong in Africa coming against them. The men are too scared. The women go, and these women plant these dynamic churches. My friend named six of these women to me that he’s friends with. He’s sent me photos of them. Some of them have planted 20-40 churches. They’re just going, going, going. So while we’re squabbling, the guys reading my book in America, while we’re squabbling about what 1 Timothy 2 says. Others are living in Joel 2, Acts 2, God pouring out his Spirit on men and women, proclaiming Christ. Of course, when you proclaim Christ, people are converted. Then very often the evangelist becomes the hearer of those people. Now you’ve got women in leadership, and I think that’s not going to slow down. I pray that the American theologians have got such an influence on theology in the world although most of the churches outside of America now, it still holds the mic in terms of theology. You go online and you want to study something for free on the internet, it’s going to be some American website content creator. I just pray that we can get better theology to the world that will not slow down the Great Commission. I think the church’s big mistake is to look at women through a few controversial restrictive texts that have probably been misinterpreted rather than looking at women the way Jesus does as his sisters but also through the eyes of the Great Commission that we need men and women who have been taught teaching others, who have been evangelized evangelizing others, who have been cared for caring for others. There is too much happening on planet Earth in the name of Jesus to slow it down with such misguided theology.

Sheila: Yeah, amen. That is a great place to end. So, Terran, thank you for joining us. Again, I will put links to How God Sees Women and to your response to Mike Winger. There’s quite a few response videos and articles. Also to your other book What’s So Amazing About Scripture? So those will be in the podcast notes, and thank you. I really appreciate this conversation.

Terran: Yeah, I’ve loved getting to meet you. I watched so many of your podcasts. I’ve read so many of your articles, read your book. Woo-hoo! A new friend.

Sheila: Thank you.

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Kimberly

    I love Terran! I first encountered his responses to Mike Winger and fell in love with his respectful style. He is so gentle in his disagreement. Even the titles of his posts show it. “What we currently think Mike Winger gets wrong about x” It’s so refreshing to find a Believer disagreeing with someone without calling names and making accusations.. When I found out he’d written a book I had to get it!

    Well, the book blew me away! I had just finished “The Making of Biblical Womanhood” by Beth Allison Barr and wondered if I really needed to read another book on the topic, but I’m glad I did. He really changed the way I thought about things. I was previously pretty much sold on complementarianism. I no long believe the scripture supports that view.

    If no single person in the world ever treats me any differently because of the information in his book I will still be glad I read it, because it changed my perception of how My Father sees me. It changed how I see myself as a result.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s beautiful! It changed how you see God seeing you. Yes!

  2. Jo R

    This Orthodox Barbie FB post has a link to a Rebekah Mui X thread that seems pretty on point to this general discussion. She quotes part of it:

    “In short, current complementarian authors base their doctrine on Aristotle / natural law, biological essentialism, phallocentric / penetrative views of sex, & the same kind of guardianship / paternalism that undergirds ‘benevolent’ slavery.”


  3. Lisa Johns

    I loved the part when he looked at his wife and started to speak, and the tears came out, because he really *saw* her for the first time, as God sees her. I just love that!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It was really lovely!

  4. Naomi Atkins

    What a fantastic podcast! What a joyful, Christlike way he has in presenting his beliefs and arguments. I loved the part as well when he looked at his wife in a whole new way and teared up… What really struck me in this, and in all of the pain I been through is how God really sees me. What joy filled my heart when I realized this is not just an argument I need to present to the world, but I feel “seen” in a new way by God and it’s backed by scripture. Headed to read the book!

  5. Bernadette

    Thank you, Terran.

  6. Angharad

    I suspect there are three things that make people unwilling to change – laziness, pride and fear.

    It was interesting that Terran changed his mind when he started looking at the WHOLE Bible instead of just picking isolated verses out of context. It’s so much easier to defend our beliefs using a few memorised ‘proof texts’ and ignoring anything that doesn’t fit in with our world view, but it takes a lot more effort when we dig into the whole of the Bible and try to see how it all holds together. And it’s also easy to pick out evidence from the world that backs up our beliefs, but it takes more effort to check if there’s also any evidence that might contradict those same beliefs. (For example, the lady who commented on your last post claimed that the high divorce rate in the egalitarian church she was raised in proves that egalitarianism doesn’t work. Which sounds convincing – except that I was raised in a complementarian church which also had a high divorce rate!!! Whatever the reason for the high rate in both churches, it’s obviously a nonsense to use either of these examples to ‘prove’ that a particular view on marriage causes an increase in divorce, because they cancel each other out.) Evaluating our beliefs properly is hard work, and we’re not always prepared to do that!

    Terran also had a humble and teachable spirit that was willing to admit he might have got things wrong. If we are full of pride and self-righteousness at how super-spiritual and ‘right’ we are, we’re not going to want to admit that we might make mistakes, and we can’t change until we are willing to pray that prayer “Show me where I’ve got it wrong”.

    But I also think some people cling onto their beliefs because they are afraid of angering or grieving God if they even consider the possibility they might be mistaken. “Ok, so if I start to question this teaching but it’s true after all, then God will be upset with me because I doubted.” I used to be like this – afraid to reconsider my views because I didn’t want God to be disappointed in me. I found the Psalms really helpful in changing my view on this – sometimes, the psalmist is challenging God so much that I cringe…”um, excuse me, are you sure you should be saying those things?” I think maybe one of the reasons those Psalms are in the Bible are to show us that God is ok with us asking the big questions. He knows our hearts. He knows when we are being deliberately disobedient and when we are just saying “God, I’m not sure about this – have I understood what you’re saying or have I got it wrong?”

    It’s a challenge to me to consider my own beliefs – am I serious about digging deep for truth instead of coasting along on the surface? Am I humble and teachable in spirit? And do I trust God enough that I know He will walk with me through my questioning and lead me to the truth?

    • Nathan

      Also, Jacob wrestled with God. Not exactly the same thing, but close.

      I would hope that God would WANT us to reconsider our own thoughts from time to time. After all, it’s better to make sure that we REALLY understand things as opposed to “pick a belief at random and stick to it no matter what”.

  7. Nathan

    WAY WAY off topic, but I have to say something.

    I just read an article about a pastor in Minnesota named John Piper (likely the same Piper that we talk about here) going off on a rant about how bad it is to drink coffee during a church service. This seems to me just another example of how we sometimes focus too much on minutiae and rules for the sake of rules rather than try to be good people and care for each other.

    At our church, people bring drinks in all the time, and it’s no big deal. A friend of my friend’s brother has a child with autism, and they bring in drinks and snacks for her so she won’t get upset and start screaming.

    Now, I might balk at bringing in a full grill and cooking a full rack of ribs during the service, but as one commenter said to him, we have bigger fish to fry than worrying about who’s drinking coffee during the service.

    End of off topic rant (until the next one)

    • Jo R

      Yes, that’s him. (Same guy who says women should endure a season of abuse and a night of getting slapped around. Who says women shouldn’t be drill sergeants or cops because they’d wind up directing men to their face, which would damage the men’s manhood [and probably the women’swomanhood]. That women can only teach mixed groups while seated, not standing. Yeah, THAT guy.)

      I saw one response to his coffee-drinking comment (in which he also quoted the end of Hebrews 12:28, about worshiping God with reverence and awe) that said something along the lines of “Yeah, let’s keep hiding all the abuse in the church while we root out the coffee drinkers.” (Major paraphrase because I can’t find it now and didn’t bookmark it.)

      • Lisa Johns

        Root out the coffee drinkers — those unrepentant sinners! LOL!

      • Angharad

        If we can’t drink coffee in church because we are meant to be reverent, does that mean we can be irreverent outside of church? Or does it mean that we can never drink coffee because we always need to be reverent?

        • Lisa Johns

          Personally, I find that my reverence increases with coffee.

          • Jo R

            So where does that leave us tea drinkers? 🤔

            Are we irreverent—or maybe actually holier? 🤣

  8. Kay

    The irony for me is that so many complementarians claim “sola scriptura,“ yet they cannot see that they are following the traditions of men and not the whole of Scripture. (Reformed theo bros, I’m looking at you. 😆)

    P.S. I’m hoping to make it to Baker Book House to see you next week. 🥳

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’d absolutely love to meet you, Kay! That would be amazing.

  9. Willow

    I’m glad this pastor went on the journey he did, and that others have been able to find joy in following the same journey.

    But I kept hearing “tells” in his conversation that told me he still, at some deep level, doesn’t think of his wife as truly equal.

    For example, he asks his wife to write a blurb on his book, since he feels he can’t get away with not having his wife say something on a book about women. (Tell #1) She is excited, thinking he wants her to write the foreword, and he doesn’t have the heart to tell her he wanted someone *important* to write it. (Tell #2 – who could be more important in a book about how God and Christian men should see women than the male writer’s wife?) While looking for a new church that is more egalitarian, his wife and kids essentially pick one out for him, but he doesn’t trust her judgment, keeps delaying, then finally, begrudgingly accepts. (Tell #3) When he opts for a mutual/egalitarian marriage, his wife almost instantly out-earns him (Tell #4 – she was capable and/or desirous of earning more all along), while still carrying the vast majority of the household tasks, but he still describes her has having to “muscle up” into an equal role (Tell #5) and, despite these role changes of hers, states that she wasn’t onboard with an egalitarian marriage.

    So he’s clearly on the right path and it seems he wants to believe the right things, his subconscious just still has a bit of catching up to do. It’s good to see people on this path, though.

    • Lisa Johns

      He is open and making continual effort though. I’ll read his book. 🙂


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