I sometimes get the feeling that Christians aren’t much closer to the meaning of gender than anyone else.
On the one hand, there’s mainstream Australian Christianity, which often acts as if gender doesn’t really exist, or doesn’t say anything much about it, and so disempowers anyone with a gender. It was in this context that I realised I didn’t know what it meant to be male.
On the other hand, there are today’s popular complementarians, such as Mark Driscoll. There’s loads of hard-hitting teaching on men and masculinity, which is very attractive, but on its own can never be a full-orbed vision for gender. It was interesting to hear Driscoll’s Trial: Marriage and Women sermon, which contained relatively little application for women and frequently seemed to revert its focus to men and headship. (I can’t say I find any inspiration in the Driscoll couple either — watch the Q&A from 45.30 onwards.) For all the powerful exhortations for men to love and serve women, is there anything much being said to women?
And what about single people? The Bible talks predominantly in terms of husbands and wives and families, so it’s no surprise to find complementarians talking about husbands and wives and families. In Western societies, however, singleness is unprecedented. And single people don’t get ‘their own’ Bible verses. What have we to say to singles? How are we to celebrate and empower them? How are we to affirm them as complete men and women in Christ, and stop dead any simpering notions that they are somehow androgynous sub-humans?
Transforming men, empowering women
History is the story of patriarchy. But, as Mark Leach recently remarked, the solution to the oppression of women and children is not simply to enhance our care of women and children. This only gets at a symptom of the greater problem: that men are the ones who do the oppressing. We need transformation in the lives of men. And the key is now the Second Adam, the New Man, the True Man.
One goal of this transformation of men in Christ is, of course, the empowerment of women in Christ. But if we’re serious about transforming the lives of men, if we’re keen on men’s ministry and the hard word on Christian masculinity, we should be anticipating the emergence in our midst of women who are more learned, more articulate, more visible — for the very fact that men are equipping and enabling them. I want to empower my Christian sisters as I empower my wife: to think, to think biblically and theologically, to think as a woman in order to live as a woman, not as a stunted bimbo or a ghostly de-gendered entity.
Patriarchy has typically oppressed women through active subjugation. But merely elevating the status of women (as the ‘new complementarians’ have worked at so admirably) can only partly redress this. Women will continue to be disenfranchised unless they have a vision of womanhood. Men themselves should be laying the ground for this — and they shouldn’t let their fears of being usurped get in the way of this magnificent calling.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.