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gender

February 02, 2009

At my church last night I preached a message that was part of a series we are doing on various points of theology. The topic I had to address was biblical manhood and womanhood. It’s something of an uncomfortable topic to have to preach and one we, as Christians, are too often intimidated by. I sought in this message to emphasize the freedom and the delight in God that come to us when we understand and even celebrate the differences between men and women—when we understand what God tells us about biblical manhood and womanhood.

I guess I am very traditional (and hopefully biblical) when it comes to gender roles within the church and within marriage. I believe that God has called men to lead their families and to lead their churches. I believe that God has made men and women, husbands and wives, to be complementary—to complement one another. And in so doing he has given us the privilege of reflecting him in his Trinitarian relationship. Here we see the Father always leading, the Son submitting to the Father but exercising authority over the Spirit, and the Spirit always submitting to both Father and Son. We learn from the Trinity that we can be equal in value and worth and dignity, even while having different and subordinate roles. And this is the way God intends the church and the family to function.

The subject of freedom was much on my mind as I considered the topic. It was my conviction as I prepared this message that there is greater freedom for those who understand the roles God has assigned to men and to women than to those who deny that such roles exist. This may seem to go against the societal grain. We are told, if not explicitly at least implicitly, that there is more freedom in a lack of rules or a lack of boundaries than there is with their presence. Freedom comes, we are told, when we live without rules or when we cast off the old rules.

I do not believe this. I believe that we are free only when we live within the boundaries given to us. Here’s a silly illustration I used for this.

Imagine a country in which there were no traffic laws whatsoever. There were plenty of cars, but no rules about how those cars can be driven. No speed limits, no minimum age requirements, no safety standards, no “no parking” signs, no dotted lines down the middle of the road, no stop lights, no drunk driving laws. Every person would have freedom to do whatever he wished to do. I could drive on the left and you could drive on the right. I could park in the middle of the freeway and you could drive 100 miles per hour past a grade school. No one could rightly tell either one of us not to.

What kind of freedom would this be? Sure, we would all be free to drive however, whenever, wherever we wanted. But this freedom would be devastating and terrifying. I would have no real freedom to travel from Toronto to Ottawa; I would undoubtedly not make it far before finding myself in some kind of accident. We would be free to get killed in all kinds of original and awful ways. Freedom comes when we have rules and when we obey those rules.

Adam and Eve had freedom, didn’t they? They had true freedom—the freedom not to sin. And yet they also had rules. Or one rule, anyways. They were free to live before God but only if they lived within the boundary he gave them. You know how the story went. And human beings have been fighting boundaries ever since.

So I guess I see biblical manhood and womanhood through this lens. We experience a kind of freedom in submitting to the rules God has given us—the rules that tell us how men and women should relate and especially so within the church and within marriage. This opens up to us the freedom to live as he would have us live. It opens to us a freedom to understand the beauty of seeing things and doing things in God’s way. It allows us to see that, for all the supposed wisdom of men, God’s ways really are better.

July 05, 2008

Here is yet another little quote drawn from that great big book I’ve been reading. In his Old Testament Theology, Bruce Waltke is careful to prove that gender roles and differences are rooted not in society and culture but in creation. He shows that, though men and women have been created equal, man was to take the leadership role in family and in the church. This is not a result of the fall into sin but a part of the created order. This brief quote stood out to me as an example of godly submission and one that is, of course, exceedingly counter-cultural. Here we see submission not as suffering but as a glorious and meaningful expression of faith.

Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement that she would be with child, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said,” models for Christian women an obedience she offers out of her freedom, her independence, and her thoughtful commitment so that her submission is meaningful and glorious, not a passive resignation to her fate.

May we all learn from Mary’s example and submit well to those God has placed over us.

July 02, 2008

I have recently been reading Bruce Waltke’s (rather large!) Old Testament Theology and came across this quote. It seemed appropriate in light of all of the attention being give to The Shack and its distinctly feminine portrayal of God. Waltke argues here that it really does matter how we think of God and how we address Him.

God, who is over all, represents himself by masculine names and titles, not feminine ones. He identifies himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, not Parent, Child, and Spirit, nor Mother, Daughter, and Spirit. Jesus taught his church to address God as “Father” (Luke 11:2) and to baptize disciples “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). God’s titles are King, not Queen; Lord, not Lady. God, not mortals, has the right to name himself. It is inexcusable hubris and idolatry on the part of mortals to change the images by which the eternal God chooses to represent himself. We cannot change God’s names, titles, or metaphors without committing idolatry, for we will have reimagined him in a way other than the metaphors and the incarnation by which he revealed himself. His representations and incarnation are inseparable from his being.