Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Excerpt: God's Image Seen In Gender

For a while now I've been working on writing a book for young men. I feel that this is a subject that has not been given nearly enough attention and I felt led to do my part to make up for the deficit. Basically, I want to write the book that I wish had existed when I was fourteen. I've (finally) finished the first draft and have begun the editing process.

This is an excerpt from my chapter on
Imago Dei. Specifically, I want to explore how our being the Image of God provides us with the basis for sexual identity. I would love to get your feedback on this pivotal section.


Right from the get-go, being created in the Image of God was tied to the genders. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) The only thing called “not good” in God’s creation was the fact that Adam was alone. Without a mate he was lacking something. So God created Woman from Man.

One can hardly have a discussion about gender role without going to the starting point. Genesis 2 is the ground zero of this whole debate. It is this passage that both Jesus and Paul would go to in order to defend their positions on marriage and the roles of men and women (Matthew 19:4-5, I Timothy 2:12-14). And this idea of distinct genders makes perfect sense, seeing that God was making a creature in His own Image.

For what does the Image of God look like? Well, it looks like its Maker – One God eternally existent in Three Persons. The Triune God exists as both singular and plural. And within the Trinity there is structure and unity, submission and love, authority and equality. Therefore, the Image of God is also singular and plural, structured and unified, submissive and loving, authoritative and equal.

This is important because it seems that human being naturally use their view of God as blueprint for their interaction between the genders. For example, the Islamic conception of God is distant and authoritarian and thus many Muslim husbands tend to be distant and authoritarian toward their wives. Modalist denominations teach both that the Father, Son and Spirit are interchangeable and also that the roles of men and women are interchangeable. Likewise, I think it’s no coincidence that the fathers of Mormonism, a henotheist/polytheist religion, practiced patriarchal polygamy. I could give examples all day. Our theology proper directly effects our view of the marriage and the sexes. Christianity is the only faith that provides a balance of equality and authority, form and freedom, unity and diversity.

Just as God exists as one being in multiple persons, so do two human persons become a single organism (“one flesh”). In the Trinity 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 and in marriage 1 + 1 = 1. This is mysterious math of relationships modeled after the Relationship. And just as the divine persons came together to create a creature in Their image, so do man and woman come together to procreate a creature in their image. The other Trinitarian reflections appear in how God designed the genders to relate to one another. Within the Triune Jehovah there is order and others-centeredness but we see the idea of submission within the Godhead very clearly throughout the Scriptures.

God the Son readily confesses His submission to the Father in John 5:19: “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.’” In fact, Christ submitted to the point of death, crying, “Not My will but Thine.” (Luke 22:42 KJV)

Likewise, the Spirit obeyed of both Father and Son. Jesus said, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” (John 14:16). Of the Spirit, Christ says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.” (John 16:13 ESV) On the flipside, Jesus was led by the Spirit while he was on earth (Luke 4:1).

But, we mustn’t get the idea that the Trinity is some dictatorial regime where the Father beats the Son and Spirit into submission and forces them to do His bidding. The Trinity doesn’t contain bullies that push around the other members. To the contrary, the persons of the thrice-holy God relentlessly seek to exalt one another. Look at how the Father treats the submissive Son: “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9) He exalted His name above every single name. It goes on to say that every living thing will bow the knee and confess Jesus as Lord. This is how the Holy Trinity works: some members lead, others submit, all exalt one another.

Likewise, the Trinity is the Trinity in Unity. The fundamental Old Testament confession is, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) The individual persons of the Triune God are not independent beings with their own autonomy and agenda. Rather, they are singular in essence and will. There is One God eternally existent in Three Persons.

This is a very basic summary of how our beautiful God functions as triune, but I hope that it gives you a picture of why gender is such a big part of being created in God’s Image . Just like God, some members in creation lead, others submit but we all exalt one another. At creation, God determined that man would lead and woman would submit, as a reflection of His divine nature. But the headship of the man wasn’t about ruling with an iron fist. It was about loving and honoring and exalting the woman. And within that structured marital relationship, the man and woman are be one flesh (Ephesians 5:28-30), just as the divine persons are One God.

Some people seem to have the idea that God created men and women then arbitrarily assigned roles to them. In actuality, the roles came first, springing out of the divine nature, and then God created two distinct genders to embody those roles. Masculinity existed before male-ness and Femininity proceeded female-ness. What an awesome thing that we can reflect the breathtaking beauty of the Triune Jehovah!

That’s why I find it so disheartening when I see so many men and women attempt to downplay their sexual identity in the name of “personhood” and “equality”. It’s almost as if people are ashamed of their masculinity or femininity. Nowadays, men and women act the same, dress the same, behave the same and can even marry the same person if they wanted to. Gender has become a trivial technicality that is (at best) minimized and (at worst) obliterated. What a slap in the face to a God who made two distinct and magnificent genders for His glory!

John Piper hit the nail on the head in saying, “Confusion over the meaning of sexual personhood is epidemic. The consequence of this confusion is not a happy and free harmony among gender-free persons relating on the basis of abstract competencies. The consequence rather is more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more social awkwardness, and more emotional distress and suicide that come with the loss of God-given identity.”[1]

A God-given identity obtained by gazing at God Himself.


[1] John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” in John Piper and Wayne Grudem (ed.), Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, (Wheaton, IL; Crossway Books, 1992), p. 33

Friday, August 10, 2012

3 Ways to Ruin Gentlemanliness

The treatment of women is a very important issue to me. I firmly believe that our families, churches and cultures need a resurgence of godly gentlemanliness. As men we need to have an attitude of servant leadership that takes initiative and carries the burdens of others. I would like to hereby dub this concept biblical chivalry. However, that term needs a little clarification. By chivalry I don’t mean a list of rules related to ballroom dancing. I’m a sucker for old words with long histories and so I’m simply using this word to describe an attitude which assumes that men and women ought to behave in consistency with their role in every circumstance. This in turn assumes that the man ought to treat the woman in an initiatory, benevolent and sacrificial manner.

The modifier biblical distinguishes this idea from some casual understanding that men and women should treat each other with respect. The right sort of chivalry needs to be grounded in the Bible. Now, this is not to say that the Scriptures lay out some nice, neat list about the dos and don’ts for male-female interaction. If it did we’d all become instant legalists. Rather I’m saying that our interactions with women ought to be governed by a firm understanding of biblical principles, like Complementarianism, the Gospel of grace, loving your neighbor and Trinitarianism.

Though I’ll be using examples like opening doors and carrying luggage, I would encourage you not to get hung up on the actions themselves. I believe that these actions should be done in a natural manner and if you can’t do that then don’t worry about it. Find another means of displaying honoring and appreciation toward ladies. But we must be careful because this is really easy to get wrong.

I distinctly remember the day when I discovered (shockingly) that I would never be a world famous chef. I was a preteen and the rest of my family had gone to run some errands. Being the responsible eldest child that I am, I agreed to make supper for the family. Pancakes were on the menu and thus I proceeded to follow the directions written out for me. With great zeal and anticipation of completing my first coronary masterpiece, I eager mixed the ingredients, poured the batter on the skillet, flipped the cakes (which was the of course the most fun part) and set and the table.

With eager anticipation and I prepared to present my family with the most incredible mealtime experience of their lives. However, as my family began to partake of the pancakes, it became clear that my plan hadn’t quite worked out. My first clue that something was wrong was when my siblings began to make gagging noises. My mom polity declined a second helping and even my dad, whose been known to eat just about anything, couldn’t clean his plate.

Come to find out there’s a difference between baking powder and baking soda. Who knew? Pancakes are good, but not if you do it wrong. Biblical chivalry is the same way. It’s a very good thing but also easy to mess up. That’s why I want to take this time to point to three ways to ruin these (to quote Elisabeth Elliot) “ceremonial acts of sacrifice.”

1. Be partial

In preparing to write this post I posed a question to the gals on Facebook (because that’s just the way we do things these days). I asked them what they thought about this whole issue. I got a lot of good feedback. One of my friends stated that the service of guys made her feel “like I'm the most cherished girl to ever walk the face of the earth. Plus, my respect for one who does so shoots through the roof.” But she was also quick to add, “Especially (note this) if you do so for every girl, no matter how young or old... not just a girl you like. A man who treats all women with Christ-like brotherly love is a man who is highly respected.”

Some guys have the tendency to give special treatment to the girls they like or think are pretty. We tend to be less quick to open the door for the woman we don’t find attractive in either appearance or in personality. However, this is in direct contradiction to our reasons for practicing these acts.

We aren’t to treat women gentlemanly in order to get something from them or impress a hottie. Rather, chivalry is to be an act of sacrifice – of giving something up, whether it be little or big. To be motivated by selfish impulse defeats the entire purpose. Our goal is to make women feel honored. They can tell if you’re showing favoritism and this can do more to degrade them than just standing by and doing nothing.

“But what if a certain woman doesn’t deserve to be honored in that way?” you may ask. It’s a fair question. Certainly many women don’t deserve to be honored. But remember what we’re trying to point to. We deserve absolutely no honor and get Jesus bled and died that we might be His joint-heirs. He honored us despite our gross unworthiness. Thus, you are most chivalrous and gentlemanly when reverencing someone who has absolutely no right to it. Undeserving recipients aren’t a hindrance to biblical chivalry; they’re an opportunity to bring further glory to Christ.

2. Be condescending

In my little informal Internet survey, one of the issues that kept coming up was that women didn’t want to feel as if they were being treated like children. While many expressed appreciation for guys who served them, they continually reiterated that they could do those things.

None of our actions should be motivated contempt for women. We shouldn’t make them feel that we’re looking down on them. Rather, we should make them feel honored and valued. This starts with having a high view of women. As men we must hold the fairer sex in high regard. A biblical view of women will give us that. It will teach us to dismiss the horrific popular portray of women and to see women as our Master Jesus did.

However, it’s not enough to simply know that women are to be honored. They have to know it. Even if our intentions are as pure as the driven snow, we may still be misunderstood. To counter this predicament our actions, countenance and speech must all portray a spirit of appreciation for womanhood and a respect for the individual woman.

3. Be pushy

A relative of mine once recounted an experience he had in college. It happened to be storming that day, and all the students were busy scurrying about the campus trying to get to their next class without getting soaked to the skin. As he rushed into a building, my relative noticed a female college student close behind him, sprinting through the slushy sidewalk with a pile of books in her hands. Naturally, he opened to the door to let her into the building. However, the woman simply stopped in front of the doorway (rain drenching her all the while), frowned and insisted that she was quite capable of opening the door by herself.

What was the man to do? What would be the gentlemanly thing to do? Frankly, I think it was what my relative did. He let her stand in the rain. Now how is this gentlemanly? you may ask. A true gentleman does not force chivalry upon a lady. He doesn’t make her take his seat. He doesn’t make her walk through a door. This is not honoring or respectful of the woman.
You would not feel honored if someone forced you to use their service. We’ve all heard of the annoying great aunt who comes over to “help out” by rearranging all the cupboards, making everyone dress up and just being a general nuisance. Chivalry is to be voluntary gift and the acceptance of that gift must be voluntary as well.

This is a principle that will govern all your interactions with women, including marriage. To my knowledge, marriage is the only God-ordained authority structure that does not include an “enforcement mechanism”. In other words, God does not grant the husband any means of imposing his authority. The state has the sword (Romans 13:4), parents have the rod (Proverbs 13:24) and the church has ecclesial discipline (Matthew 18:15-20) but no such implement is given in marriage. In contrast, the wife is told to “submit yourself unto your own husband” (Ephesians 5:22, emphasis mine). Submission is something that she must place upon herself, not something you are to lord over her. Forced submission is not biblical submission.

This same principle is applicable to premarital interaction as well. No action, no matter how well intended, should be forced upon a woman. Rather, we should humbly offer our services and let them do what they will with it.

But most importantly, we as men must develop the selfless character of Christ that carries the burdens of others and seek to serve those around them. This is the high and humble calling of the Christian and the essence of biblical chivalry.