Ligon Duncan and Tim Keller on Women and the Deaconate

The audio from the discussion that Ligon Duncan and Tim Keller had at the 2009 PCA GA concerning the role of women and the deaconate can be found here and here. One of the most significant points in the discussion, in my opinion, was Ligon’s brief exposition of Acts 6. While there is some debate as to whether deacons are in view there or not, Duncan made the observation that men were ministering to women (i.e. the widows mentioned there). This is significant because many egalitarians insist that women need to be the ones ministering to women. Duncan followed up his observation with a strong pastoral note, calling men to care deeply for the needs of the women in the church. It is certainly true that Acts 6 is not prescriptive, but it is certainly descriptive. One cannot argue that there were women chosen from among the seven, but you can most certainly assert that men were. This only serves to strengthen ones understanding of the prescriptive passages.There were many other helpful observations from both Duncan and Keller in the discussion.  I’d love to know what  you think after you listen to it.

You should also look at the aritcles that these men submitted to By Faith Magazine on the subject.Tim Keller’s article “The Case for Comissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses” can be found here. Ligon Duncan’s article “The Case for Our Current Policy on Women Deacons” can be found here.

23 Responses

  1. Nick, I keep wondering were you sit, given your time at 10th, but I think you tone here is both clear and nuanced. As far as just rhetoric goes, however, don’t you think asking for a study commission with women on it is was unintelligent?

  2. Nicholas T. Batzig


    I am in agreement with Dr. Duncan, by and large, and am therefore content with the present position of the BCO of the PCA. That being said, I understand why Dr. Ryken takes the position he does (which is sort of a middle road between Keller and Duncan). I have much to learn, and am trying to think through all of these issues biblically. George Knight have done some very good work on men and women’s roles, as has the Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I think that the resources provided there prove to be a great asset in regard to these matters. I do have to wonder why the men in the PCA who wish to ordain women deacons, and who think women should be allowed to teach men in the church, do not go into denominations that hold those same convictions. I mean, what is a denomination for if not to offer judicial accountability on matters of doctrinal and holy living for the sake of the kingdom?

    I suppose that I wonder about the wisdom of having women involved in a GA appointed study committee in general. If the purpose of a study committee is to study what the Scriptures authoritatively teach on a matter, and the preaching and teaching of the word for the church has been entrusted to qualified men, then why would we need women on the committee (even in an advisorial role)?

  3. Jude

    I’m baffled by something…Keller says that the BCO is binding, he affirms it, etc. Then how does he, and others in his “camp”, justify violating it? Has anyone publicly asked him this, and has he publicly replied? I just don’t get it…

  4. Thank you for sharing this. Many have told me that this is a must listen for multiple reasons.

    @Jude – Keller and Co. follow the BCO inasmuch that the BCO is relatively silent on commissioning deaconesses. His argument in ByFaith makes that clear. (My understanding of the BCO may be skewed.) Their failure is evident in the reality that many congregations opt for commissioning both men and women, and NOT ordaining the men.

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  6. Nicholas T. Batzig

    Terry, once the link is opened to the blog post you simply have to click on the word “Here” and it will take you to the audio. You can also scroll over the word “Here” and right click (if you are using Windows) and pick “save link as” to download it to your computer. Thanks for asking.

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  8. Tim H.

    Nick (and others),
    I haven’t read the ByFaith articles, but I found the audio to be surprisingly unclear. I could see that either man clearly put forth a case of what should actually be going on. Duncan talked about his WIC doing similar work to what Keller’s deaconesses do. Is the question chiefly semantic?

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  15. Shawn Anderson

    Thanks for putting this up Nick.

    I enjoyed the discussion and was challenged by both sides. I also appreciated Keller making it clear that he was not trying to prove that women should serve in the office of Deacon in this forum, because that belongs in the courts.

    What I actually found most shocking was the part where Keller mentioned the RPCNA as a conservative denomination and the crowd bursting into laughter. He had to clarify that he was being serious.

    It caused me to pause and rewind the section immediately. It also caused me to pause and reflect on the terms “liberal” and “conservative” and how the different Presbyterian and Reformed denominations view each other.

    I’m sure there are RPCNA officers/members who think that the PCA is a less conservative denomination as well, but for completely different reasons.

    I think we really need to move beyond this clan mentality. I mean there are many mainline denominations in the US who would even know what PCA and RPCNA stood for, let alone the 10% in which they differ.

    My 3 cents. Thanks again for the links,

  16. As a Christian woman embracing Reformed (Biblical) Theology, and planting churches in unreached people groups for more than thirty (30) years, I want to enter this discussion briefly. My concern is that these arguments seem culturally Americanized to the point of perhaps abandoning the tenants of the Faith, and the fundamentals of the Atonement as embraced by Evangelical thought worldwide. Short of heresy, gender roles in the Church in Afghanistan, for example, where protection from persecution dictates organizational structure, seem laughable when the idea of service through Deaconship simply cannot function by either gender as interpreted; often women serve as pastor, teacher, deacon, elder, and any role and all roles as she is gifted for her sisters that we call, the Church. Genders rarely mix as they risk their lives to “assemble themselves together” in order to spur one another on to love and good deeds for the cause of Christ. With transformed hearts, they hold in their hands the Holy Bible, translated into their own dialect, with no church history to influence purity of faith and practice. It is not possible to discuss Calvinism or the strength of the Westminister Confession of Faith, or more specifically the question of women serving the role of Deacon, with my brothers and sisters there and throughout the developing world.

    I am curious. Where do you place the role of women in the “Church” where there is no Church other than in the Believer’s heart? Risking one’s life as a Follower of Jesus in these cultures press us back to fundamentals for fruitfulness. How would you advise Afghan women and men on this subject? Often one’s mate is an unbeliever. Where is Wisdom and Obedient Love here?

    Perhaps we should be willing to consider a fresh start guided only by the Holy Spirit’s interpretation, not our own. I simply wanted to employ common sense that will return us all to enjoy the unity of pure doctrine which holds up in all cultures that hunger for the simple yet transforming power of the Gospel of our Lord. We are remembering with joy that the “Church” is where two or more are gathered in His Name. I probably stand with Shawn…Doris (Many national men have come to Christ through the witness of an International Christian woman – the primary thing, or is it? )

  17. krisb

    Interesting, Doris, about gender segregation but it did not exist in the church in separate rooms
    hence commands that the apostle paul wrote to certain churches at the time,

  18. krisb

    Many churches say women cannot be elders but can be deacons, an interesting point, suppose a woman family member ministers to you, mother,aunt, etc and you are a teenager, who is submissive/authority?

    I feel also that Paul and timothy are writing based on current events that happened to churches at the time
    while I do not believe the bible changes as many liberal , new age, folks do, historical problem solving,
    is evident in which the book of revelation writes letters to the seven churches, and Paul quotes his opinions not the Lord’s and that the command for instance whether to eat or not eat meat sacrificed, involves a similar reasoning, furthermore, the commands to submit are translated to meant respect as opposed to obey.

    Men are sinners too, and there is no male or female in Christ, nobody of course disputes our flesh and how women are different than men and there may be more appropriate circumstances and roles, however its not so black and white, what do we do about males born with low testosterone who look and act like girls, or females with that x chromosome with unbalanced hormones, childless woman,

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