Tag Archives: male and female

“Biology Is Not Destiny”: The Feminist Case Against Male Superiority

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Moderator: We are now entering the last phase of our dialogue on the subject of gender relationships in society, church and family. Only two presentations to go. In this our eleventh session, our representative of secular feminism Gloria will respond to Abraham’s presentation of neo-patriarchy. Please welcome Gloria to the podium.

Gloria: Thank you. There are so many things I’d like to address in Abraham’s talk, it’s mood of condescension, it’s male-normative perspective, and it’s exaggeration of female vulnerability. My suspicion is that Abraham’s rational and theological arguments are mere rationalizations of the prejudices I just mentioned. I will let the audience decide. Despite my suspicions, I will limit my assessment of Abraham’s talk to its philosophical aspects.

As I see it Abraham’s case rests on his rational analysis of the natural characteristics of women and men. Men are physically stronger and temperamentally more aggressive than women. Women become pregnant, carry babies and provide them with milk from their bodies. These factors make women vulnerable to male exploitation and dependent on male protection. According to Abraham, these facts of nature will necessarily manifest themselves at the social level and, consequently, they justify the social, ecclesial and familial inequalities present in traditional societies. To be fair, I should point out that Abraham admits that particular arrangements will differ from society to society and from age to age. Nevertheless, it is clear that Abraham denies that these natural inequalities will ever be neutralized completely at the social level. Nor should they be, in his view.

Far be it from me to deny the basic facts of biology. Nor do I deny that biological differences will manifest themselves in society. In a one-on-one, unarmed encounter, men have the advantage over women in a fight to the death. And in primitive, warrior societies where the survival of the tribe depends on its effectiveness in battle, I admit there are good reasons for the traditional division of labor between men and women. And I understand that the warrior class (males only) will also demand to be the tribal leaders. Nor do I dispute the overall reasonableness of this demand, since leadership in that setting is about conducting war or perpetually preparing for it.

Like his hero Aristotle, Abraham recognizes that women and men are equal in native intelligence. I think he would also admit that if human minds did not live in bodies or if they could be transferred to unisex humanoid robots, the differences would be overcome. So far so good, but our agreement ends here. From this point on Abraham’s argument goes terribly wrong. The facts do not warrant the conclusions he draws from them. Though he admits that modern technology has made the physical differences between men and women less significant in the sphere of work and war than in the past, he still seems to think that the superiority of the naked male body for war and work (hard physical labor) creates a moral imperative for society to mirror this relationship of superiority and inferiority in all dimensions. Perhaps his belief that God created nature lies behind his assertion that the order of nature possesses the force of law. Some such metaphysical belief must be at work here.

I begin at a different place and argue for a different result. I argue that equality of intelligence between men and women, which Abraham also accepts, creates a moral imperative for us to strive for equality in all other areas. Biology should not determine ethics. Or, as one of my feminist sisters said, “Biology is not destiny!” Unlike Abraham, I do not believe in divine creation. Evolution creates facts but imposes no moral obligations. Hence I do not believe that the factual biological order possesses any moral force. In sum, Abraham allows biological inequality to blunt the moral force of intellectual equality. I argue that it should be the other way around.

I envision a society where technology eventually makes all—or nearly all—work depend on knowledge rather than muscle, thought instead of testosterone, and where law roots out all irrational bias against female knowledge workers. As to areas of work where muscle still determines productivity, I believe society should not allow profit to be the sole determining factor for allocating social goods. The moral imperative of intellectual and moral equality should rule out of court any bias against women in hiring for such labor intensive jobs.

Concerning Abraham’s contention that women continue to need male protection, it should be pointed out that everyone, men as well as women, need police protection against violent criminals, male or female. Men murder other men more often than men murder women. Society as a collective is neither male nor female, and it is stronger than any one man or gang of men. Society has replaced big brothers and fathers as the protector of women. Modern family law has replaced the will of father as the law of the household and has outlawed domestic violence, marital rape and other abuses of women.

In response to Abraham’s theological arguments, I have little to add to my case against Sarah’s theological use of the Bible. In response to Sarah, I argued that the Bible cannot be made to support feminism; such support would be redundant in any case. Feminism doesn’t need any help from religion. Indeed Abraham represents the Bible more accurately than Sarah does. Sarah is grasping at straws. Abraham is correct to argue that the Bible supports patriarchy rather than equalitarianism. But I am not moved by either argument, for the Bible holds no authority for me. The arguments between Sarah and Abraham about biblical interpretation seem to me much ado about nothing.

Moderator: Thank you Gloria. I appreciate your contribution to this dialogue. It was invaluable.

Note: The twelfth and last part of this series will be posted on Tuesday, January 24. Sarah will present her response to Abraham.

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Is the Bible Irretrievably Misogynous?

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to the ninth session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Gloria will reply to Sarah’s defense of evangelical egalitarianism from a secular feminist perspective.

Gloria: Thank you Moderator for this opportunity to present my evaluation of evangelical egalitarianism. I am a secular feminist. I am skeptical about the existence of God or anything like God. On the whole, I don’t think being religious on an individual or a social level supports humanistic values or enhances human life. Indeed, I think religion is a dangerous force. It has on rare occasions been harnessed for good, but for the most part it has not been good for women. This is not the right occasion to make an argument supporting my negative view of religion. I just want the audience to be clear about the position from which I shall evaluate Sarah.

Sarah claims to agree with the feminist principle I stated in my original talk, that is, “It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.” And she seems to agree with the practical program of secular feminism as well, that is, of reforming every practice that falls short of full equality between men and women. Sarah does not make any rational arguments for the feminist principle and program. She seems to accept as them as self-evident to any right-thinking and fair-minded person. But then she supplements and supports the feminist principle and program with arguments from the Bible. Why drag the Bible in to support something that is self-evident on the basis of reason and experience? I find this move unnecessary and actually detrimental to the cause of feminism for several reasons I shall explain below.

(1) The Bible itself is an object of disagreement and controversy. If the principle and the program of feminism are self-evident to any right-thinking and fair-minded person, why attempt to support them with arguments from a source that is not universally held to be authoritative? Sarah claims that the Bible gives evangelical feminism moral truth that is not available from reason and experience. As examples of these new truths she mentions two ideas, that human beings are created in God’s image and that they will be raised from the dead to eternal life. It’s true that the Bible makes these claims, but they seem to secular feminists unlikely and unknowable. Only someone who accepts the Bible as a divine revelation can take these arguments seriously. What a leap of faith that is! It’s not only redundant but introduces unnecessary ambiguity. It takes the focus off the self-evidence of the moral principle of feminism and places it on the complicated and doubtful process of exegesis and interpretation of the Bible. Sarah’s appeal to the Bible actually weakens the case for women’s equality! It makes it seem dependent on the improbable theory of divine inspiration.

(2) The Bible doesn’t really teach feminism. When we secular feminists read the Bible we don’t hear a message of equality. We hear a message of male privilege and superiority. The Bible is obviously male centered. I actually think Abraham is more realistic and honest about what the Bible actually says than Sarah is. Sarah attempts to reinterpret the anti-woman texts in ways that subordinate them to the (few) texts that affirm women in some way. But such interpretative maneuvers seem artificial, complicated and sophistical. They are unconvincing and give the impression of arising from wishful thinking. Sarah forces the texts to say what she already knows to be true on some other basis. Hence working so hard to reinterpret the Bible in a feminist direction turns out to be as implausible as it is unnecessary. So what if the Bible teaches male superiority! Even if it were possible, it’s not worth the trouble to retrieve the Bible for feminism. Let it go, Sarah.

(3) Using the Bible to support feminism gives the appearance of cynicism. Now I don’t wish to question the religious sincerity or conscious motives of all evangelical egalitarians, but I admit that I am somewhat suspicious of their strategy. Why strain so hard to make the Bible into a feminist text? Is it merely because so many people hold it in such high esteem? Is it that Bible believers will never accept feminism unless they can be made to think the Bible supports it…even if it doesn’t? Or, is evangelical egalitarianism merely a cynical strategy with a purely pragmatic goal? Well, for my part I am fine with that as an interim strategy. Whatever it takes! But in the long run people will have to make a choice between the Bible and egalitarianism. They are not compatible.

(4) Evangelical egalitarianism accepts many moral teachings that are incompatible with the feminist principle and program. Sarah claims to accept the feminist principle. But her view of the Bible forces her to argue that some things ought to be forbidden simply because the Bible teaches that they are immoral. Evangelicals hold that non-marital sexual relationships, abortion, homosexual relationships, divorce, gay marriage, and gender fluidity are immoral and ought to be forbidden. Many of these moral rules target women and prevent them from exercising moral autonomy to the same degree as men. Again, we see how anti-progressive the Bible is.

Secular feminism is a much more efficient route to gender equality than evangelical egalitarianism. It doesn’t need to apologize for the Bible’s retrograde teachings or spend its energy attempting to make the Bible say something it plainly doesn’t say.

Moderator: Thank you Gloria for this succinct statement critiquing evangelical feminism. Next time we will hear Abraham’s take on Sarah’s defense of evangelical egalitarianism.

 

The Myths of “Male Privilege” and “Women’s Experience”

 Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to the eighth session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Abraham will conclude his critique of secular feminism.  Abraham, could you make your next two points a bit briefer? We are running short of time.

Abraham: Okay. But you are the one who asked me to address issues I had not planned to speak about.

 Moderator: Touché!

 

 “Women’s Experience”

 Abraham: (2) Gloria asserts that “women’s experience” is an authoritative source of truth. According to her, when women feel oppressed and think they are being treated unfairly, men should accept their perspective as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands. Sarah agrees. I disagree.

If the subjective feeling of being unjustly treated is a moral norm, why limit it to women’s experience? Men have experience too! And if women’s experience can be used to instruct men about their moral blindness, why can’t men’s experience instruct women in areas where women are morally blind? If women’s experience can refute men’s views of women, why can’t men’s experience refute women’s views of men? If women can insist that men accept women’s experience as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands, why can’t men insist that women accept men’s experience as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands?

Unless there is an objective standard of moral truth, justice and goodness, appeals to experience lead to a stalemate. One person’s desires are set against another’s with no objective standard by which to judge between them. But if there is an objective moral standard, neither women’s experience nor men’s experience can be used as a moral norm. At best, they are beginning places for a discussion about how to achieve a mutually acceptable approximation to justice and goodness in this relationship.

 “Male Privilege”

 (3) Gloria asserts that:

 Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil.

Gloria here begs the question. She assumes that “male privilege,” that is, giving a right to men that is not given to women, is always wrong. But this is the question to be decided! It cannot be assumed! I can be brief in my response to this assertion, because I have already demonstrated in point (1) above [Posted on January 06] that in some situations giving men a privilege not given to women is the rational and right thing to do. Hence male privilege is not always wrong! We need to deliberate in society, church and family about when it is appropriate. There are no easy answers!

One last point. The whole discussion focuses on male privilege. What about female privilege? Aren’t women given some rights withheld from (or irrelevant to) men? Don’t women want to be treated differently from men in some cases? But if male privilege is always wrong, female privilege is always wrong as well. Does anyone think women would be better off in a society where they must compete with men under the exact same set of rules?

Moderator: Thank you Abraham for your thoughts. Next time Gloria and Abraham will present analyses and criticisms of Sarah’s presentation of evangelical egalitarianism.

Programming note: Gloria’s response to Sarah’s presentation of evangelical feminism will be posted on Friday, January 13. The title of that post is “Is the Bible irretrievably Misogynous?”

Is the Feminist Principle Irrefutable?

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to the seventh session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Abraham will continue his critique of secular feminism. He will now address those points of criticism on which Sarah and Gloria agree but with which he disagrees.

Abraham: I have been eager to get to those points! I think you’ll find my comments surprising and illuminating…and maybe a little annoying. And since I am a fictional character, I shall speak with unusual candidness and without fear of retribution. I will organize my comments around Sarah’s three points of agreement, just to show you what happens when you agree too readily with secular feminism!

(1) Gloria articulates her basic principle in these words:

It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.

Sarah can’t see anything wrong with this principle, and I would hazard a guess that most of our audience when they heard it simply nodded in approval without a critical thought. Clearly, the qualifying phrase “simply because she is a woman” is the determining factor that elicits the chorus of “Amen! Amen!” to this principle. Why does this assertion seem so beyond dispute? Why does no one even think of questioning it? The reason is simple. And Sarah put her finger on it when she asked, “What motivation other than irrational prejudice could anyone have for disagreeing with this principle?” Irrational prejudice! Nobody wants to be accused of that!

When we hear the phrase “simply because she is a woman” we analogize it to such phrases as “simply because of the color of his skin” or “simply because she is blond” or “simply because of the size of her nose” or “simply because of his height” or “simply because of her blindness.” In these examples we contemplate a totally irrelevant factor being made the basis for discrimination among people. Its irrelevant nature is the reason we view it as irrational. It is irrational to make a decision based on something unrelated to the matter in question. We would not think highly of the intelligence or character of a person who made such life-changing decisions as whom to marry or whether or not to undergo cancer treatment by flipping a coin! However, in some situations, even such factors as skin color, blondness, nose size or height or blindness may be rationally related to a decision that must be made. Use your imagination!

Likewise, being a woman may not always be a factor unrelated to the matter at hand. To say that a particular person is a woman asserts something of her much more significant than skin color or height. Designating a person as a woman says that she possesses a set of specific physical and psychological qualities that differentiate her from men in rather dramatic ways. Clearly, the word “simply” in the phrase “simply because she is a woman” is misleading, perhaps intentionally so. There is nothing simple about being a woman! Or a man! And because women as a class possess these differentiating qualities, it may be rational, and therefore moral, in some cases “to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.”

 It may be rational, for example, for society to prohibit women from using the same public bathrooms as men or to play on the same football team as men or to wrestle or box on the men’s Olympic team or to join a college fraternity. My point is not that it is never irrational prejudice that motivates someone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman. Sadly such prejudice exists. My point is that it is not always irrational and prejudiced to do so. Hence societies, churches, and families must deliberate and make decisions about the conditions that make it appropriate to distinguish between the rules for the behavior of men and those for women. These matters cannot be settled in advance by such sweeping rules as the one asserted by Gloria and accepted so unthinking by Sarah.

Moderator: Thank you Abraham. Good evening.

Blog Programming Note: Don’t miss the conclusion of Abraham’s talk. Look for it on Tuesday, January 10. It bears the provocative title, “The Myths of “Male Privilege” and “Women’s Experience.” You don’t want to miss it!

The Debate Continues: Evangelical Versus Secular Feminism

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Moderator: We now have before us three views of the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. It’s time to listen to what each of our speakers thinks of the others’ presentations. This evening evangelical egalitarian Sarah will respond to Gloria’s presentation of secular feminism.

Note: Gloria’s original statement was posted on Ron Highfield’s blog on December 3, 2016. You may wish to refer to the original as you read the critiques.

Three Points of Agreement Between Sarah and Gloria

Sarah: Thank you, Moderator, for the opportunity to reply to Gloria from an evangelical egalitarian perspective. I will begin with the places where I agree with Gloria’s presentation.

(1) In her opening paragraph, Gloria asserts the following principle:

 It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.

I agree wholeheartedly with Gloria. What motivation other than irrational prejudice could anyone have for disagreeing with this principle?

(2) I also agree that women’s experience serves as an important source of truth for constructing the ethics of gender relations. Because of their experience of oppression and abuse, women can see oppressive structures and abusive relationships to which men are blind. Even if men come to agree with the principle of equality, they need women to help them see specific areas where they are privileged.

(3) If male privilege is morally wrong, it stands to reason that any theory that justifies it is also wrong. Hence, for the most part evangelical egalitarians agree with Gloria’s call for reform:

Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil.

In sum, as an evangelical equalitarian, I agree with secular feminists when they stand against male privilege, assert the equality of women, and call for reform that institutionalizes equality.

Moderator: Thank you for this precise statement of agreement. It will help us achieve our goal of getting as clear as possible on the most basic agreements and disagreements between these two philosophies and facilitate our making an informed decision between them.

Sarah Critiques Secular Feminism

Sarah: Clarity is also my goal. So, let me state this clearly: I am not secular feminist. And I am grateful for the opportunity to explain why. I am an evangelical Christian. I believe that God is the creator and ruler of all things and that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. I don’t know whether or not Gloria is an atheist, but it’s clear that she leaves God completely out of her theory. She grounds all her principles and values in human existence and experience. My specific disagreements with her arise from this fundamental difference. In the following I will address five places where this fundamental disagreement comes to the surface in what Gloria says.

(1) As I admitted above I agree with Gloria on the injustice of rules that keep women from doing what they want to do just because they are women. But Gloria goes on to make a much more radical and deeply troubling statement. She says,

Anything that is possible [to a woman] should be permissible. Secular feminists recognize as legitimate no law of nature, no social custom, no political legislation, and no divine law that forbids a woman to do what is possible for her.

I understand why Gloria would make this argument. Patriarchal society forbade women to do many things they were perfectly capable of doing: vote, run marathons, become doctors, serve as police officers, soldiers and fire personal, preach in churches, and many others. But she goes too far when she equates the permissible with the possible. Many things are possible that are immoral, unjust and illegal; they should not be permitted for women or men. In order to free women from rules that derive from the false idea of male superiority, Gloria denies the legitimacy of any rule that does not derive from her own will. In effect, she denies the objective distinction between right and wrong. This move makes as much sense as slitting your throat to cure a headache. It’s effective, but the side effects make it impossible to enjoy the cure. For if there is no objective distinction between right and wrong, then male domination of women is not objectively wrong either! In contrast to secular feminists, evangelical egalitarians believe in a God-given moral law that roots justice, love and the equality of men and women in the eternal divine being and will.

(2) My second objection is closely related to the first. It concerns the source and nature of the dignity of women. In an astounding claim, Gloria declares,

The dignity of the [woman’s] self does not derive from any value system outside the self, from nature or God or society. Its dignity is self-grounded. That is to say, I am related to myself and I am worth something to myself. I value myself more than I value the whole world. Given the power of the self to create its own identity and establish its own dignity, it makes sense for the self to assert its right to determine itself and liberate itself from all external frameworks and forces.

This statement contains so many extraordinary claims I hardly know where to begin with my critique. Gloria rejects being created or loved by God as relevant to the dignity of woman. Instead of finding her dignity in her relationship to God, she grounds it in her subjective feelings of self-worth. And then she demands that other people make way for her to act as she pleases and become what she wishes. The problem with this view is that our subjective feelings of importance and desires to live and act as we please cannot legitimize making objective moral claims on others. For other people have their own feelings and desires that they may assert against our claims. And in Gloria’s system there is no objective law or arbiter to adjudicate competing claims. Unless human dignity has an objective and universal foundation, it can found no rights or claims against the state, social institutions or individual human beings. Because there is no universal authority to which all parties can appeal and are willing to submit, efforts at persuasion are doomed to fail and coercive power becomes the final arbiter between competing wills.

(3) I said above that I agreed substantially with Gloria about the role and importance of women’s experience in this discussion. However she seems to view men wholly negatively. As a Christian I do not view men as irredeemably evil. Men too are made in the image of God. They can repent and learn how to treat women as equals.

(4) My fourth critical observation concerns Gloria’s statements about the practical program of secular feminism. She says,

Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil. We also demand that every framework, order, institution, and structure that blocks or inhibits the realization of women’s potential be reformed or abolished…And since these institutions are heirs of a long history of oppression, they cannot be left to reform themselves. There must be an aggressive public policy of affirmative action to move rapidly toward equality.

While I agree that institutions need to be reformed in an egalitarian direction, I think Gloria’s rhetoric labeling patriarchal ideas “false, anti-human and evil” crosses a line. Such rhetoric arises from deep anger and fuels the fires of hatred. And her obvious willingness to use government coercion and possibly violence to compel the recalcitrant shows that her philosophy of self-assertion, outlined in objection (2) above, is at bottom a will to power that sets itself above the distinctions between good and evil and right and wrong. In its secret heart it harbors the kind of metaphysical and moral nihilism that would be willing to destroy itself and the whole world to taste one second of revenge on its enemies.

(5) Gloria’s assessment of the Bible is distinctly uncharitable:

Bible, that ancient patriarchal and misogynous text that ought to have been relegated to the dustbin of failed mythologies long ago but is still revered by uneducated men and the women deceived by them.

Gloria’s disparagement of the Bible and those who love it betrays a striking lack of empathy for past cultures and an appalling ignorance of the central message of the Bible. Evangelical egalitarians do not believe the patriarchal aspects of the Bible are essential to the its ethics. There is even an internal dialogue within the Bible in which patriarchy is overcome and replaced by equality. We can see this most clearly in Jesus’ teaching and in Galatians 2:26-28, which I quoted in my original talk:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This text shows that evangelical egalitarians have a great advantage over secular feminists in criticizing male superiority and advocating the equal dignity of women. We can ground our program of equality in divine authority. We can challenge Christian men (There are hundreds of millions of them!) to live up to the ethical demands of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Secular feminists’ assertions of dignity and demands for respect, once you see through their deceptive rhetorical form, boil down to expressions of subjective feelings and wishes with no authority at all.

Moderator: Thank you Sarah for this analysis and critique of secular feminism. Next time we will hear from Abraham who will speak from a neo-patriarchal perspective.

Why The Doctrine Of The Trinity Cannot Be Used To Support Egalitarianism Or Complementarianism Or Any Other Ethical Teaching

In the contemporary debate about the relationship between men and women, in church, home, and society, disputants on all sides appeal to the doctrine of the Trinity for support. In this post, I will argue that the doctrine of the Trinity is the wrong ground on which to fight this battle. Any theological argument made on this issue must be based the economy of salvation and not on the inner mystery of God’s being. The doctrine of the Trinity points toward that mystery but it does not make it clear to the eye of reason. Hence it cannot be used for further deductions.

The doctrine of the Trinity asserts that God’s eternal being is one essence in three persons. This assertion is the terminus of a line of reasoning that moves from God’s saving action in the economy of salvation to God’s eternal being. In a post on the Trinity from May 7, 2016, I outlined this process:

The doctrine of the Trinity arose in three stages. First, Jesus and his disciples confessed the one God and the Christian church never revoked this confession. There is only one God. However once Jesus had risen from the dead and was confessed as Savior and Lord and the Spirit had been poured out on the church, it became obvious that the one God acts for our salvation through his Son Jesus Christ and in his Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the revealer of God and the Spirit sanctifies us and unites us to God. The Christian experience of salvation and communion with God involves three who act as one. We are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We pray to the Father through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. Everywhere you turn in the Christian faith, ritual, and practice we find the three united in one. Thomas Torrance calls this stage “the evangelical Trinity” (The Christian Doctrine of God).

Second, Christian experience and faith raise questions that demand explanation. At this stage, the church recognizes that the work of Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and Revealer and the work of the Spirit as Revealer, Sanctifier, and Giver of life can be accomplished only by God. God acts in the economy of salvation and revelation as Father, Son, and Spirit. In relating to Jesus and the Spirit, we are relating to the true God. When we are united to Christ we are united to God. When we are touched by the Spirit, we are touched by God. In the economy of salvation and revelation we relate to the Father as God, to Jesus Christ as God, and to the Holy Spirit as God. Torrance calls this stage “the Economic Trinity.”

The third stage moves to the ontological or immanent Trinity. The truth of Christian faith and practice depends on the saving and revealing work of Jesus Christ and the sanctifying and life-giving work of the Spirit (the first stage). And the validity of the work of Christ and the Spirit depends on the divine character of that work (the second stage). The final stage asserts that God is triune not only in the economy of revelation and salvation but in God’s own eternal life. Unless God really is Father, Son, and Spirit in eternal truth, we could not receive the revelation and salvation in Christ and the Spirit as a real revelation of the Christ-character of God, of the love of God, of the real presence of God. There might be a different God hidden behind the masks of Christ and the Spirit. The doctrine of the immanent Trinity simply states that what God reveals himself to be for us in the economy, God is in his own eternal life. It is not speculative. For it does not explain the how and why of the Trinity, only the that.

The three stages stand or fall together. If we think God might not really be Father, Son, and Spirit in eternal truth, we would have cause to doubt that God is really at work or genuinely revealed in Christ and the Spirit; and if we doubt that God is really at work and revealed in Christ and the Spirit, would have cause to doubt our salvation, our union with God and our sanctification.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is not a metaphysical theory of God or of the nature of being derived from the idea of God or being. It is a Christian teaching only because and insofar as it is implied in the way God worked in Jesus Christ. It should be confessed because it is implied in the act of faith in Jesus as savior and lord, which is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus. But the doctrine of the ontological Trinity is not comprehensible by reason. It’s not like a logical or mathematical truth in that once you understand its terms, you can see its inner and absolute necessity. Even when you understand its terms and see that it follows logically from a combination of two or more truths of faith, you cannot see its inherent necessity and meaning. Hence this doctrine cannot become the foundation for another line of reasoning that attempts to draw out ethical or ontological truths that were not present in the original faith assertions.

The controversy about whether the doctrine of the Trinity supports an egalitarian or a complementarian or a hierarchical view of the relationship between men and women can never be settled. The disputants always argue in a circle by using their conclusions as interpretive lenses through which to “see” their views in the doctrine. And the reason for this futility is simple: the doctrine of the ontological Trinity points beyond our reach into the incomprehensible mystery of God. I find myself sympathetic to Vladimir Lossky, who in his The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church objects to such thinkers as John Zizioulous (Being as Communion) and Juergen Moltmann (The Trinity and the Kingdom) who want to see in the doctrine of the Trinity an ontology of being or ethical truths that could become bases for further insights into the nature of the church or the ethics of society and interpersonal relationships. Lossky argues that the assertion of the ontological Trinity is designed to drive us to encounter the mystery of God. I advise taking Lossky’s cautious approach rather than the bolder approach of Moltmann.

So, if you want to construct a theological ethics of male/female relations, look to what Jesus taught and suffered, to what he did and what happened to him, and to the apostolic teaching about what his suffering and resurrection means for the way we live at home, society, and church. But don’t try to squeeze something out of the doctrine of the Trinity that you cannot find already present in economy of salvation enacted in Jesus Christ. Such speculations give the impression of being ungrounded and arbitrary. They persuade only those who need no persuasion. And they do an injustice to the doctrine of the Trinity and risk missing the encounter with the divine mystery.

 

 

The Doctrine Post-Christian Culture Loves to Hate

Today I want to bring out two truths implied the Christian affirmation that God created “all things visible and invisible.” (1) We tend to locate God’s act of creation in the long past and apply it only to the first creatures. Most Christians are semi-deists; they think God acts in the world but only on occasion, in what are called miracles. But the doctrine of creation asserts that God is Creator in all time and space and of every creature that comes into existence. The world is God’s constant act of creating. God acted just as much as creator in giving you and me existence as he did in saying “let there be light.” We are just as dependent on God for our existence as was the first creature that came into being from nothing. We can allow this thought to inspire us to celebrate God’s love, grace and faithfulness or create in us resentment that we “owe” God so much, that we do not create ourselves and are obligated to obey his commands.

(2) Everything God made is good, and God made everything. There is sin and evil in the world, but the world itself is not evil. The affirmation that “everything is good” means that each and every creature was created for a purpose that serves the final end for which God made the world. There is no such thing as an evil entity, that is, a creature that should not exist and cannot be used for good. Sin and evil are misuses of created things, which are good in themselves. Accepting the Christian view that God created all things good should compel us to look for God’s wisdom in the created order of nature and seek God’s will concerning how to use the creation for good.

But there have always been those who deny the goodness of creation and suspect the Creator of malice. In the early centuries of Christianity (1st through 4th Centuries), some forms of Gnosticism including Manicheanism taught that a world as bad as ours had to be the work of an evil god. They rejected embodiment, passions, sex and eating meat as evil. They were not just vegetarians or vegans; they considered eating fruits and vegetables murder, unless you performed the proper ceremonies to free the spirit trapped within. The goal of this religion was escape from entrapment in the material world, and its practices and ceremonies were designed to facilitate this escape.

I see in contemporary culture some troubling analogies to the Manichean rejection of creation and the Creator. Perhaps this sounds implausible. After all, we live in a pleasure seeking, sensuous culture, not a world-denying one. Let me explain. Modern culture began with a general dissatisfaction with the evils attributed to the ancient social order. Thinkers sought first to persuade and enlighten their way to utopia. Revolutionaries found this method too slow and ineffective and turned to violent revolution to remake the social order. Both of these methods are still being used, but some unwanted conditions cannot plausibly be attributed to unjust social structures or to the physical malfunction evident in disease. Some are bound up with creation and the created order.

I am thinking of Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Jesus reaffirmed this created order in Mark 10:6-7: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” We must be clear that both male and female are made “in the image of God.” Both are fully human and they are made for each other, to complete each other. Woman is not woman apart from man and man is not man apart from woman.

But there are distinctions that constitute the maleness and femaleness of each. It seems to me that if we really affirm the goodness of the Creator and the order God made, we will embrace and celebrate our maleness or femaleness and the mutually defining the relationship between the two. God made males with certain distinguishing characteristics. These characteristics are “good,” that is, they can be used for the good purposes for which God designed them. (They can also be misused.) God made females with certain distinguishing characteristics, and these characteristics are also “good,” that is, they can be used for the good purposes for which God designed them. (They, too, can be misused.) One set of characteristics is not better than the other, because what makes them “good” is their God-given purpose, not some humanly imagined ranking of goods. Hence men and women should seek their proper dignity and identity not in relation to humanly constructed social orders, which always reflect the fallen and sinful human condition, but in relation to God. Envy and competition, distain and domination or pride and shame arise from ignorance or rejection of the goodness of the Creator. Every gift is to be used for others. The Creator’s work should never be the occasion for pride or shame.

Contemporary culture does not think or speak this way about male and female, nor define the goodness of maleness or femaleness in terms of God’s purpose in creation. Instead, it speaks of “gender” (indeed of multiple genders), which it considers a socially constructed reality, and spreads it out in an infinite continuum. Increasingly, the dominant culture denies the “for each other” nature of male and female with its God-given goal of becoming “one flesh.” In place of a God-created natural teleology it substitutes individual preferences, male for female or female for female or male for male or both. Instead of accepting and celebrating God-created nature, it celebrates the human act of defying confining natural structures and asserting a self-liberated self. At the heart of the gender revolution lies a Manichean-like rejection of creation and the Creator. It seeks escape from entrapment in the confining male-female distinction (the “binary gender” construct) and mutuality, not by practicing asceticism and engaging in mystical ceremonies as the Manicheans did, but by willful acts of self-recreation, rearrangement and redirection. But the fundamental heresy is the same: creation is not the good work of the benevolent Creator to be embraced and celebrated but a condition from which to escape by any means possible.