Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts on "Masculine Christianity"

Masculine Christianity. It’s something we’re hearing about from some church leaders, a call to recognize that God intended the faith to have a masculine character. It also comes with the conviction that the headship of men is vital to adherence to scriptural fidelity. It’s all there in our book, some would say, and if we take another view, we do so at our own peril.

I appreciate the desire to be faithful to the scriptures. However, that faithfulness has to be engaged with the larger narrative of our biblical story, a story that has a tendency to turn most of our preferences on their heads.

Our story opens up in a garden, where the first humans and the entire created order live in the unhindered presence of God. There is no hint of dominance or superiority, but instead the two humans are “one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The woman is initially referred to as a “helper,” but that doesn’t necessarily imply subservience. After all, God will later be called the helper of Israel.

Our story ends in a city—the new Jerusalem—where the tree of life of Genesis 2 reappears, this time in the center of the new creation of Revelation 21 and 22. All the drama and intrigue of the city have been transformed into the place of God’s intentions—intentions for the entire creation that were demonstrated in Genesis 1 and 2.

But everything in between goes to hell in a handbag.

In Genesis 3 the sanctity and protection of the garden is destroyed, resulting in a curse upon the world. Now dominance emerges, with the man bowed by the burden of his labors and the woman bowed to the man. But, as Jesus would later say, when questioned about the flagrancy of divorce,

“. . . From the beginning is was not so.” (Matt 19:8b)

The Bible’s entire context is the brokenness of Genesis 3. From the roller-coaster ride of the men who ruled Israel to the religious and military oppression of Jesus’ day, we see the people of God and the entire world living outside of God’s intentions.

The story, however, repeatedly runs cross-grain to the brokenness of the world that is partially characterized by the dominance of men over women:

•A woman rises to judge Israel (Judges 4)

•The faithfulness is Israel is demonstrated through the lives of two women (Ruth)

•The exiled Jews are saved from genocide by the faithful efforts of a young woman (Esther)

•A woman is the first to hear that the Messiah will be born, and she will be his mother (Luke 1)

•Women are the first to discover that Jesus’ tomb is empty, and the first to encounter him as the resurrected Lord (Matt 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20)

•One of the earliest Christian outposts established by the apostle Paul was led by Lydia, a businesswoman in Philippi (Acts 16)

Paul is often credited with asserting the masculinity of the Christian faith. However, Paul is also the master of contrast. In Romans 1 he contrasts the open revelation of God with the rebellion of human beings. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-11 he describes the status quo of the Jewish traditions, with women required to cover their heads and to submit to the headship of men. He even speaks of a priority of creation, with man created before the woman.

But, characteristically, Paul takes a quick turn with the word “nevertheless” (v. 12), and offers another contrast:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. (1 Cor 11:11-12)

Paul gives us a picture of the world as it is—a Genesis 3 reality. Then he offers up the preferences of God—a trip back to the garden of Genesis 1 and 2. It is this same, masculine Paul who would also write,

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)

Perhaps Paul would look at our story and recognize that the reality of our Genesis 3 existence would tragically accommodate and allow a Christianity that is dominated by the masculine. But he might also, along with Jesus, declare that it was not so from the beginning.

Our story does not call us to languish in the reality of Genesis 3, but rather to flourish in the intentions of God in Genesis 1 and 2. God’s intentions for men and women is that they would both bear his image:

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

The call is not for a masculine Christianity, but instead for a Christianity that is fully human. It is a call to refuse the brokenness of Genesis 3 to dominate our story. It is a call to embrace the larger, expansive, redeeming preferences of God.

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