Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Gospel and Gender

Friends of mine have been irked by John Piper's prescriptive tone and roundabout reasoning when it comes to applying gender differences to real life. A breezy quote from Carl Truman illustrates how some are feeling about modern evangelical Complementarianism:
"I rarely read complementarian literature these days. I felt it lost its way when it became an all-embracing view of the world and not simply a matter for church and household.   I am a firm believer in a male-only ordained ministry in the church but I find increasingly bizarre the broader cultural crusade which complementarianism has become."
I know what they mean, I remember Amy reading something from Douglas Wilson to the effect of 'the maximum involvement outside the home Wilson would recommend for wives would be running a flower shop.' This type of thing is why CBMW runs the risk of appearing lopsided, prescriptive and middle class-ish.

However the problem is that if we follow Trueman we are left with very little to say about gender, and then marriage, let alone society! Wilson rightly observes that Trueman creates a little conservative village ("male-only ordained ministry in the church") that has nothing to say about the big wide world. You see this worked out in the modern conservative arguments against gay marriage. It's primarily about the children and a few problematic verses from Paul and the Old Testament. Surely there is larger case that arises from the theological ideas of Scripture? Surely there is a theological basis for gender differences? Isn't the scope of the gospel larger than Sunday morning? 

There's also an urgent need for a comprehensive but accessible evangelical theology of gender. Without a doubt the scholarly work has already been done and an outline of what needs to be said is easily sketched, but there's a gap here in Evangelical communication, we need memorable summaries informed by evangelical scholarship. Preferably something that provided detail for the outline below and that has interacted with both sensible and outrageous secular material on gender. 
  1. Gender, culture and philosophy
    1. The existence of a transcendental meta-narrative
    2. The coexistence of ideals and diversity
    3. Culture as part of creation
    4. Gender as 
      1. An ideal and expressed in diversity
      2. Cultural expressions of the ideal and cultural expressions of the diversity 
  2. Gender as a concept
    1. Observable
      1. Biological sex
      2. Anatomical expression
      3. Historical record
    2. Culturally expressed
    3. Existentially experienced
  3. The unique characteristics of male and female
    1. Biological differences
    2. Cultural differences
    3. Existential differences
  4. What about gender is lost in the fall?
  5. What about gender is gained in restoration?
  6. How does the 'Image of God' express gender?
    1. Generally in Adam
    2. Specifically in Adam and Eve as gendered beings
    3. In the incarnation of Jesus
  7. Marriage
    1. How are gender differences satisfied in marriage?
    2. How does marriage contribute to social stability?
    3. How does marriage contribute to social capital?
    4. Marriage as a theologically illustrative (but not descriptive or prescriptive) model of God's interaction with us
    5. The pastoral implications of marriage as an illustrative model
  8. Boundaries
    1. Differences between human and animal gender
    2. Clarifying ambiguous gender
    3. Recovering from changing gender
    4. Sexual relations and gender
    5. Divine pronouns
  9. Issues and Responses
    1. Complementarianism and 
      1. Women in work
      2. Women in secular leadership
    2. Egalitarianism and
      1. Maintaining gender distinctions while arguing for leadership equality
    3. "Gender is whatever you want it to be"
    4. "Gender is rigid but can be changed"
    5. "Gender is primarily about identity"  


Steve Isham said...

Who do you know, Luke, who would be most wise and able to write a considered response to this list? Maybe you should send this to him/her as an outline for a book. (Or delve for answers and write it yourself.)

Christina Baehr said...

I'm assuming Rosaria Champagne Butterfield has some helpful thoughts in her new book, 'Openness Unhindered'.
I'm quite concerned that in rejecting many silly, unbiblical gender stereotypes, we are throwing the baby out with the bath water. Example: "I don't like Barbies therefore all gender is a construct." Obviously, I'm using a reductio ad absurdem here.
I think Barbies are an example of an unbiblical gender construct, but I don't therefore reject all gender roles because of my frustration with stupid ones.
I like Wilson's thoughts on the creation roles of male and female: dominion and glory, respectively, with women coming last in the created order being seen as a kind of crowning achievement. ;) I'd have to see a more defined quote from him on the flower shop idea in order to assess it. I have heard him argue in a completely different direction - that if more homeschooling mothers sent their kids to classical schools, they'd be released to spend more time transforming the larger community!

Luke Isham said...

Hi Dad,

Not sure, although Rosaria Butterfield's new book would be a good place to begin the research.

Hi Christina,

You get the gist of the 'flower-shop comment' in this Ask Doug clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TMXqrtfA10 Although in his defence, like Piper in Piper's original comments, he's not being prescriptive. Yes, I want to keep the concept of 'gender roles' and also establish what an acceptable range of Biblical gender roles looks like, without getting tied in knots and coming across in the way I've perceived Piper and Wilson came across. Maybe I want my cake and to eat it as well! The American public square is trying to do exactly this at the moment with the 'women in all combat positions' issues, should there be gender roles in the military and what if any is there basis?

Thanks for posting!