Chapter IV of Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace is outstanding. It is titled “Gender Identity” and deals with the issue of “Trinitarian Identities” and how that plays itself out in regards to “masculinity” and “femininity.” Volf has covered every base of this issue, and has dealt with all the arguments and all the major scholars. It is a great piece of writing. I will get to this later in the post.
This chapter is of great interest to me, especially as I have seen the topic of gender identity, manhood and womanhood, Biblical roles, etc. disccussed a lot in various blogs recently.
I noticed that blogger Tim Challies spent a lot of time talking about the Shepherd’s Conference where Ligon Duncan from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood spoke. Tim also posts a blog titled The Extraordinary Value of Women, though after reading it, it seems more of an argument for how women are only extraordinary as long as they are subservient to men. Challies says, “The message these women collectively give is not about “gender equality”; it is about true feminine excellence.” Though you should read it yourself. Challies is a great blogger and many agree with him on these issues. Returning to the Shepherd’s Conference, Challies says this: “MacArthur suggested, when introducing the speaker, that few Evangelicals are aware of the importance of this issue.”
Is this really an issue? Maybe many are aware of the issue, but really see it as a non-issue?
It’s an issue according to Challies because Our culture is now completely egalitarian and this poses a particular challenge to the church. Christians can no longer be assumed to be instinctively complementarian. On the other hand, we look out at the culture and see even the sons of this age wiser than the next. Another conflicting indicator we get is the infringement of egalitarianism into Evangelicalism. The lines are becoming increasingly blurred so that we now have people claiming to be complementarian egalitarians.
To read more of MacArthur’s views on women in ministry, you can read this Q and A here. Here is an excerpt:
As a footnote to that, perhaps it ought to be said that from a biblical standpoint, there is no tolerance in Scripture for women leaders in the church, apart from women leading other women–older women teaching younger women and leading their children and so forth.
It is so patently obvious that God created Adam and that Eve was made as a helper to Adam. So, man and woman were designed in the way that man leads and a woman helps, and comes under his leadership. What literally sent the human race down the proverbial drain was when woman stepped out from under submission, acted independently and sinned, taking the male role by leading. Man then, went under woman. He wasn’t even deceived! He just sinned because his wife sinned.
Obvioulsy the Biblical viewpoint that I take on this issue of gender is the egalitarian position. Probably one of the biggest reasons I chose Fuller Theological Seminary was because of its diversity. Not just diversity of race, but because of the extraordinary number of women on campus as well. It was not just a campus of young, white men, studying to be pastors (of which I was one of those), but it was a place where women came to study and be prepared for the pastorate as they followed God’s calling in their lives.
To really take a hard look at this issue of gender, I recommend Volf’s book. Here is an excerpt:
So far my argument about gender identity has consisted of two basic claims and one suggestion. I have claimed that (1) the content of the gender identity is rooted in the sexed body and negotiated in the social exchange between men and women within a given cultural context, and that (2) the portrayals of God in no way provide models of what it means to be male or female. I suggested, instead, that the relations between the Trinitarian persons serve as a model for how the content of “masculinity” and “femininity” ought to be negotiated in the social process. Before I explore in what sense the relations between the divine persons can serve as a model, I need to attend to a possible objection.
It could be objected that my proposal is inadmissibly formal. I have formally rooted gender identity in the sexed body and in the interaction between men and women, and am about to suggest how this interaction should take place. The content of gendery identity is left unspecified; anything seems to go. Granted that this content cannot stem from who God is, the objection could continue, should Christians not seek to determine it by listening to what the Bible says? Should we not analyze the biblical statements about men and women, try to reconstruct biblical “manhood” and “womanhood,” and apply it in contemporary contexts? Without denying that we can learn much from men and women in the Bible, I propose that such an approach would be mistaken. Biblical “womanhood” and “manhood”–if there are such things at all, given the diversity of male and female characters and roles that we encounter in the Bible–are not divinely sanctioned models but culturally situated examples; they are accounts of the successes and failures of men and women to live out the demands of God on their lives within specific settings. This is not to say that the biblical construals of what men and women (of what men and women as men and women) should or should not do and be are wrong, but that they are of limited normative value in a different cultural context, since they are of necessity laden with specific cultural beliefs about gender identity and roles.
(Volf, pp. 181-182)
Also, no one is not acknowledging the fact that there are differences between male and female. That we are created differently. But this in no way undermines or threatens their equality and interdependence to one another. In fact, Miroslav Volf summarizes Judith Gundry-Volf’s (yes, her name is hyphenated as I’m sure that is alarming to some of you) position, stating:
Paul has two readings of creation in I Corinthians 11 (Gundry-Volf 1997): the one from the perspective of the patriarchal culture, which finds hierarchy in creation (vv. 8-9), and the other from the perspective of the new life in Christ, which finds equality in creation (v. 12). Paul’s second way erases the difference between genders, as Boyarin suggests. Since woman is “from” man and man is “through” woman, Paul agrues, they are “not without” each other (v. 12). The prepositions “from” and “through” both draw attention back to Genesis 2 and in addition suggest the ideas of begetting (“from”) and birthing (“through”). “In the Lord, ” difference of the sexed bodies is not erased; to the contrary, this difference grounds the interdependence of men and women.
I want to thank the many women that I have had the opportunity to serve with in ministry and whom I continue to serve with today.
For further reading on this issue:
Read Judith Gundry-Volf’s article in Sojourner’s Magazine, titled, “Neither Biblical Nor Just: Southern Baptists and the Subordination of Women.”
And for a viewpoint that I disagree with, read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism by Wayne Grudem and John Piper.
On a completey side-note, I do find it interesting that many that oppose women in ministry use the “loaded” word feminism or feminists to class everything and anything under that is at all related to women in ministry.