Jen Wilkin will be speaking at the LifeWay Ministers’ Wives Luncheon at the upcoming 2021 Southern Baptist Convention. If you’re attending, you might want to know more about her.
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I get lots of questions about particular authors, pastors, and Bible teachers, and whether or not I recommend them. Some of the best known can be found above at my Popular False Teachers tab. The teacher below is someone I’ve been asked about recently, so I’ve done a quick check (this is brief research, not exhaustive) on her.
Generally speaking, in order for me to recommend a teacher, speaker, or author, he or she has to meet three criteria:
a) A female teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly preach to or teach men in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. A male teacher or pastor cannot allow women to carry out this violation of Scripture in his ministry. The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be living in any other sin (for example, cohabiting with her boyfriend or living as a homosexual).
b) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be partnering with or frequently appearing with false teachers. This is a violation of Scripture.
c) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be teaching false doctrine.
I am not very familiar with most of the teachers I’m asked about (there are so many out there!) and have not had the opportunity to examine their writings or hear them speak, so most of the “quick checking” I do involves items a and b (although in order to partner with false teachers (b) it is reasonable to assume their doctrine is acceptable to the false teacher and that they are not teaching anything that would conflict with the false teacher’s doctrine). Partnering with false teachers and women preaching to men are each sufficient biblical reasons not to follow a pastor, teacher, or author, or use his/her materials.
Just to be clear, “not recommended” is a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum are people like Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth and Kay Arthur. These are people I would not label as false teachers because their doctrine is generally sound, but because of some red flags I’m seeing with them, you won’t find me proactively endorsing them or suggesting them as a good resource, either. There are better people you could be listening to. On the other end of the spectrum are people like Joyce Meyer and Rachel Held Evans- complete heretics whose teachings, if believed, might lead you to an eternity in Hell. Most of the teachers I review fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum (leaning toward the latter).
If you’d like to check out some pastors and teachers I heartily recommend, click the Recommended Bible Teachers tab at the top of this page.
Jen is a women’s Bible study author, blogger, and conference speaker, and is on staff at The Village Church as the Executive Director of Next Gen Ministries (TVC’s ministry to “children and students ages 0–18″). To my knowledge all of Jen’s books and Bible study materials are generally doctrinally sound, but I have some concerns about her in other areas. That said, I do not believe Jen falls in the category of false teacher at this time, and I hope she never will. I’ve published a review of Jen’s book, Women of the Word, and here is one reader’s take on her book 1 Peter: A Living Hope in Christ:
“…in the foreword Jen wrote, ‘a paraphrase, such as the NLT or The Message, can be useful but should be regarded as a commentary rather than a translation.’ However, aside from that, I have found no other problems with the book at all. It is an eight week long study of 1 Peter based on the method of Bible study that she writes about in Women of the Word. My favorite thing about this study is that it causes us to focus on what the text is telling us about God. I love how Jen Wilkin is teaching women to study the Bible properly. I wish she would be more discerning about who and what she endorses though. There are so few women who bring us solid teaching and discernment.”
I’ve heard several positive reviews of Jen’s books from other trusted and discerning friends as well.
I’ve looked through all of Jen’s current (2021) speaking engagements. All appear to be women’s conferences or events, and her speaking engagement request form says she is a “teacher who helps women…”.
While this is a good sign that Jen usually does not preach to men or teach men the Scriptures, concerns have been raised that she may be getting too close to, or occasionally crossing this line. For example, Jen’s staff position as TVC’s “Executive Director” of children’s and student ministries, depending on the exact nature of her job responsibilities, may (I am making a reasonable inference, as TVC’s website does not explicitly say) require her to teach Scripture to, or exercise improper authority over young men in the student ministry (which includes students through age 18) and men who teach or volunteer in the student ministry. The title “Executive Director” makes it sound as though she is over the entire ministry and everyone in that ministry is under her purview.
There have also been questions about exactly where Jen stands on the biblical role of women in the church. That she presents herself as, and is known as, a complementarian is very clear. She has stated equally clearly that women are not to hold the office of pastor. But beyond that, in listening to and reading her articles and interviews about the importance of women leading in the church, I’m not really clear on what positions of church leadership she thinks are and are not biblical for women. For example: May a woman guest preach the Sunday sermon as long as she is not the pastor of that church? Teach co-ed adult Sunday School? Preach sermons to mixed audiences at conferences? Indeed, in the video* below (~32:05), Jen says:
“We need [women’s] visible leadership. How visible? As visible as your church’s complementarianism allows.”
This answer is at best, unhelpful, and at worst, opens the door for women and pastors to rebel against Scripture. More and more churches’ so-called “complementarianism” allows women to preach the Sunday morning sermon or serve in any pastoral or leadership position short of head pastor. The biblical answer to this question (aside from the fact that the church should be far more focused on servanthood than leadership) is: Women may serve in any position in the church that does not require them to preach to, teach Scripture to, or exercise authority over men, and which does not violate any other principles of Scripture.
Perhaps, somewhere, Jen has been very clear about biblical and unbiblical positions of leadership for women and I have just missed it. I’m not saying she definitely has an unbiblical stance on these issues, I’m just saying it is often unclear as to what her stance is. (I have attempted, in the past, to contact Jen about this issue and other questions, but have not received a response.)
Adding to this confusion, Jen has spoken at several co-ed conferences leading some to question whether or not she is violating Scripture’s prohibition against women teaching the Scriptures to men. I believe she has crossed that boundary on occasion. Give the first 15 minutes of the video below a listen*. Despite the fact that Jen’s very first remark is that she is not teaching the Bible in this session for pastors and church planters, she almost immediately goes on to quote and allude to the opening chapters of Genesis (and later in the video, other passages) and teach on them. I would challenge you to listen to what she says and ask yourself, “If I heard a pastor give this type of instruction, would I consider it a sermon/Bible lesson?” I think most of us could easily answer, “yes”. *(Unfortunately, the full length video of Jen’s complete teaching session has been removed from the internet. The video below is an excerpt of the full length video.)
(This is also the teaching session in which Jen made her infamous remarks about menstruation helping women to understand the gospel differently from men, which is not only a private and potentially uncomfortable subject to address in public – especially for an audience of men – it’s a patently ridiculous teaching. Menstruation teaches us nothing about the gospel. The two subjects are completely unrelated. Also, aside from Jen, I’ve never heard a single woman say her period helped her understand the shedding of Christ’s blood better.)
In another instance of preaching to a co-ed audience, Jen was one of the featured speakers at The Gospel Coalition’s 2021 Conference. TGC, as many have noted, seems to be on a woke / social justice trajectory. Jen has been featured on TGC’s site numerous times.
Again, one of the reasons it’s especially problematic for Jen to be teaching men, or to even to seem to be teaching men, is that she openly and unashamedly wears the label of complementarian. Boldly proclaiming complementarianism while actually or apparently teaching men muddies the waters and confuses the women who follow her as to what the Bible truly teaches about the role of women in the church. Are there times when it is technically not a violation of Scripture for a woman to speak with men in the audience? Yes (see #7 here). But weigh the impact Jen has on the church by speaking to men against the counter-evangelicultural impact someone of her stature could have by flagrantly refusing to teach men. Which would cause more people to sit up and take notice, set a better example for Christian women, and have a more biblical influence on the church?
Another concern about Jen is that she seems to be increasingly associating and appearing with false or problematic teachers.
In 2013, Jen wrote a blog post entitled, The Next Beth Moore in which she spoke glowingly of Beth Moore, her teaching, and one of her books. She has also had several friendly and/or affirming interactions with Beth on Twitter, and has pointed women to Beth’s writing. Jen has appeared on the IF: Gathering podcast with Jennie Allen (to discuss and promote Women of the Word), and has written a devotional for Lysa TerKeurst’s Proverbs 31 blog.
During LifeWay’s 2018 Abundance conferences, Jen appeared alongside Lisa Harper, Raechel Myers, Amanda Bible Williams, Christine Caine, Jennie Allen, Kelly Minter, Whitney Capps (of Lysa TerKeurst’s Proverbs 31 Ministries), and others.
LifeWay Women Live 2020 Speakers
Jen has also been added to LifeWay Women’s stable of Women’s “Bible” study authors including many of the aforementioned teachers and others. In addition to my normal concerns about someone yoking with false teachers (i.e. the Bible says not to, and disobeying God’s Word is a sin), I am concerned that LifeWay is using Jen (for her reputation for being a doctrinally sound teacher and a complementarian) to lend credibility to the false teachers they promote, and I’m also concerned that Jen’s good reputation is now suffering by being associated with these false teachers.
And in March 2021, when Beth Moore cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, Jen offered this glowing farewell…
In a strange irony, in the midst of unbiblically partnering with these false teachers, in her session, The Gospel and The Future of Bible-Centered Discipleship at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention Pre-Conference (also to a co-ed audience), Jen teaches the following…
[Biblical literacy] guards against false teaching…Basic comprehension-level mastery of the text guards against false teaching. (~30:12)
You know what our [discipleship] formula has been for the last 20 years? [We’ve said], ‘We’re going to keep making [the level of biblical teaching] lower and lower’…It is our high calling, in the face of a biblical literacy crisis, to raise the bar in an age of low expectations. (~43:40…44:39)
And yet, Jen’s level of “mastery of the text” – to the point that she is instructing people in the text and teaching them how to improve discipleship – has not sufficiently guarded her against partnering with women who are largely responsible for the bulk of false teaching aimed at women today, who don’t teach “basic comprehension-level mastery of the text,” and who have continued to lower the bar and perpetuate low expectations for biblical literacy. Jen has associated with, talked to, and listened to the teaching of these women far more than I have, I’m certain. How does she not see this?
And remember when J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, got himself into all kinds of hot water for saying in a sermon, “The Bible whispers about sexual sin.“? He was quoting Jen Wilkin.
Finally, in the same way that the influence Steven Furtick has on Lysa TerKeurst as her pastor is worrisome, I’ve been seeing some things over the past few years with Jen’s pastor, Matt Chandler, and his wife, Lauren Chandler (with whom Jen sometimes appears at conferences), that have given me pause.
Jen is pastored by Matt, and as a ministry leader and staff member at The Village Church, she works under his direction and influence. Over the past few years, Matt has publicly praised or affirmed false teachers like Ann Voskamp, Beth Moore, and Jesus Culture. He has raised some questions about the extent of his continuationism by playing this video prior to a sermon, and with His notorious “pirate ship prophecy“. He allows Bethel and Israel Houghton (Joel Osteen’s former worship leader) music to be used for worship at his church. Matt allows his wife, a worship leader at TVC, to select this music, and to yoke with and be influenced by numerous false teachers. Matt and Lauren and their associations with false teachers have undoubtedly influenced Jen.
In summary, my thoughts on Jen right now are that she is not a false teacher (since she is still generally teaching sound doctrine), but I still find that I’m not, in good conscience, able to encourage you to follow her, attend her conferences, or use her materials due to the red flags that are increasingly popping up with her. (As I said in the introduction to this article, there are better people you could be listening to.) We need to be cautious, watch Jen’s trajectory carefully, and pray for her, that God will deal with her heart and correct her about some of the unbiblical waters she has been wading into
Articles on Jen Wilkin by Elizabeth Prata