Yes, Christianity has a masculine feel. But maybe that should change...


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

A couple of posts caught my eye today:

Lindsey Hankins, a PhD student and expert on the gendered rhetoric of martyrdom, wrote an excellent piece for Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog in which she notes that John Piper has “stepped squarely into an age-old thread of Christian thought.”

 (Here she shares some classic quotes from Aristotle, Chrysostom, and Tertullian that cast women as ontologically inferior to men)  

“...This notion of masculinity as equal or synonymous to holiness has clearly lingered on to the present,” she  writes. “Against Piper’s hope that this ‘masculine feel’ he wishes for Christianity would, as divinely instituted, be for the maximum flourishing of both men and women,’ historically this has manifestly not been the case.  When holiness is equated to masculinity, it is rather difficult to side-step notions of femaleness—or ‘femininity’—as ontological inferiority....”

“...The fact of the matter is that Piper is ‘on to something’ insofar as he is rather seamlessly capitulating to a long-standing tendency in church history.  When women are intentionally excised from the biblical narrative, Piper is right, Christianity sure starts to sound masculine.  What the church needs now is not by any means a ‘masculine feel.’  The church has had this broken and un-balanced “feel” for millennia and far from producing a “flourishing [for] both men and women” it has too often been complicit in a systematic de-humanization of half its constituency.  When masculinity becomes the virtue par execellence the value of what it means to be a woman or “feminine” is mortally undercut.  What the church desperately needs now is a prophetic voice reminding us to value both men and women as equally and wholly made in the imago dei. At the risk of sounding patronizingly obvious, this can not happen when the biblical text is intentionally re-written to exclude women and it can not happen when one aspect of God’s view of humankind is exclusively staged to norm the other.  Christianity ought to have a cruiciform feel, not a masculine one.”

 Perhaps an even more telling post, however, came today from Tim Challies, himself a strong complementarian who forbids women from reading Scripture aloud in his church

In his post on the topic, Challies admits that he isn’t sure what he thinks about Piper’s most recent comments, and confesses that “I find that I am not entirely comfortable making Christianity more masculine than feminine in its nature... There is certainly a masculine feel to Christianity; but does this masculine feel necessarily exclude an equal female feel? ” 

And this part is telling:  “It seems inevitable that if men are to lead the church,” Challies says, “there will be a masculine feel to the churches they lead.” 

Exactly.

When women are forbidden from exercising any form of leadership in the church, Christianity takes on a masculine feel.

 It reflects only part of God’s nature. 

It utilizes only half of the Church’s resources. 

It elevates one gender above the other.

And it has for centuries. 

The question is not—does Christianity have a masculine feel?  It does! Few would dispute that. 

The question is—should Christianity have a masculine feel? Should things stay this way?  Does patriarchy really represent Christ’s ultimate vision for the Kingdom? 

As Chris Smith at Englewood Review of Books put it last week:

 “We bear the baggage of a long history of thinking and abiding in a masculine-dominated fashion similar to that described by Piper.  However, we must be clear, this sort of patriarchy is a part of the old order of things that is passing away.  The Kingdom of God is a new order in which there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female (Gal. 3:28).... However comfortable we are with powers of the present age, and however handsomely they have benefited us, they are doomed to failure in the resurrection of Christ, and the promise of their failure is the promise of our own transformation into the image of Christ.  We do not need to execute these powers, just as Christ did not do so, but our job is simply to proclaim that they are doomed and to patiently and lovingly work toward embodying a different way of life together in our local church communities.”

Yes, Christianity has a masculine feel. 

But must it?

Perhaps it is time for a change.  

One would think that a truly complementarian perspective would make room for a Church in which both masculinity and feminity function together, in harmony, not hierarchy. 

***

[Note, because I know someone will ask: In my book, and in the weeks to come, we'll look at Paul's references to the women of Ephesus and Corinth to see if his specific instructions to those churches override an egalitarian perspective or negate the significance of  female prophets, teachers, disciples, leaders, and apostles elsewhere in Scripture.]

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