A theological perspective

1. Foundations

a. There are two radically different ways of seeing things: we cannot know what things really are (constructivism / post-modernism) and we can know the inner reality of existence (essentialism)

b. post-modernism: preoccupation with how things are known (epistemology); everything depends on perspective e.g. a white middle class male sees the world differently from Third World black woman

c. many contemporary views of gender are constructivist, that is, apart from the most basic facts of anatomy, our ideas of sexuality simply reflect the social, cultural and linguistic factors of any particular time (there are no absolutes)

d. this anthropocentric (man-centred) position is to be contrasted with a theocentric (God-centred) emphasis

e. most major religions put forward claims to know the truth about sexuality that are derived from sacred/inspired writings e.g. Torah, Koran

f. Christianity has always claimed the ability to enter into God’s way of seeing things, whilst this has at times focussed on the authority of the Bible (inspiration) the distinctive  Christian claim is not about a book, but about a person, the identity of Jesus

g. the central Christian confession “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3 etc.) or “Jesus is the Son of God” (Luke 1:35; John 1:34; 20:31; Acts 9:20 etc.) contains within it the belief that in Jesus human and divine life are in perfect unity (2 natures one person) e.g. Col 2:9

h. if Jesus is God-the-Word made flesh i.e. human (John 1:1-14), then he knows reality in both a divine and human way

i. since Jesus is without sin (Heb 4:15 etc.). his experience and understanding of his own human gender is the means by which we may receive revelation of what gender means both to God, and so to us

j. this revelation is possible because we have access to “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) and “the mind of the Spirit” – this consideration leads directly into the eternal basis for gender, the nature of the Trinity

2. Understanding the Trinity

a. the Christian doctrine of God as Trinity is unique in the history of philosophy and religion

b. it is based on the revelation that comes through the history of Jesus Christ, for instance, at the baptism of Jesus there is a dynamic interaction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22)

c. in New Testament terms God names himself in an ultimate way as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and this is the reality into which we were baptised/saved (Matt 28:19)

d. salvation involves our being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4) i.e. communion with God’s own nature

e. therefore when we talk about God as Trinity we have real inner knowledge (intimacy) concerning the relationships inside the Godhead, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

f. all real knowledge of God is a sharing in God’s own inner life (participation/communion/fellowship). Cf. Matt 11:27; John 14:10; 15:15; 17:22.

g. Christians differ from other monotheists (Jews, Moslems etc.) in believing that there is distinction or diversity within the overarching unity of the Godhead, God necessarily exists as three distinct but necessary modes of existing or Persons i.e. Father, Son and Holy Spirit

h. the three Persons of the Trinity are equal in every way (in eternity, dignity, knowledge, wisdom, power etc.) but each exists in a form unique to their own personhood

i. the complementary differences between the three Persons are the basis of their relationships, love and mutual indwelling (perichoresis or absolute intimacy)

j. if God were, for example, three “Fathers”, there would be no inner basis for fellowship

k. similarly, God can only be Father because there is a Son and so on

l. if there were not a plurality of Persons in God, the statement “God is love” (1 John 4:8) would be both meaningless and impossible  (A Lover requires a Beloved. God exists eternally as three Persons-in-relationship.)

m. God loves himself because God the Father loves his Son in the Spirit and so on for all eternity; God did not become love when he created the world, he is essentially love

n. if it is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit that God is love, then God loves being Father, Son and Spirit, this is the necessary basis inside God for the creation of all things in general and human gender in particular

o. if “God on the Inside” (a title book by my own theology lecturer) is a Trinity of Persons, then gender is about “humanity on the inside”

3. Understanding the Image of God

a. God creates for his own glory (Isa 43:7; Rev 4:11), that is, to reveal, express and share his nature

b. the crown of God’s creation is humanity as the image and glory of God (Gen 1:26-28; 1 Cor 11:7)

c. God uniquely fashioned humanity so as to share with them the delights of interpersonal mutuality of a complementary kind

d. this becomes apparent through a careful examination of Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, “Let us make man  in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

e. whatever the original writer intended by the plurals, “Let us make man in our image”, Christians necessarily see this as a reference to the plurality of persons in the Trinity

f. the Hebrew word sequence  for Genesis 1:27 is:

1. And created            God                 man in his image

2. In the image         of God                created he him

3. male and female     he                    created them

God the creator is at the centre of each line, lines 1 and 2 are reverse parallels (chiasm), line 3 is a complementary parallel to line 2, so “male and female” in line 3 explains “image of God” in line 2. The mankind created in the image of God (line 1), finds expression as man and woman.

g. as far as the creation story is concerned, the only difference within humanity is gender

h. all other differences, such as race, are inessential to the existence of humanity

i. our existence as men and women is an intentional God-given gift and not merely a biological phenomenon

j. humanity exists as male-and-female at the sovereign command of God, and this design is “very good” (Gen 1:31)

k. to be human is to exist as a person in one of two particular modes (male/female), which corresponds to the way in which God exists in 3 particular modes, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

l. gender is a transcendent dimension of human being which is a gift of God that marks us out in the image of God and creates the possibility of intimate personal relationships between sexes (sexuality is much wider than “sex”)

m. these relationships encompass the full range of possibilities between male and female: husband and wife, father and daughter, mother and son, uncle and niece, …

n. human sexuality differs from that of the animals in that it involves a transcendent address by the Word if God to humanity that is heard and understood, and conveys the power of God operating at the level of our being which carries us forward to an appointed destination which is for our highest good (heaven etc., see later)

o. manhood and womanhood are emergent properties that depend upon but are not restricted to physical, social, cultural and sociological factors, for all of these are the site of God’s ongoing action in general revelation (God speaks his image into being not only at the beginning of the human race but in its ongoing history.)

God made humans male and female, and makes them one in marriage.

God made humans male and female, and makes them one in marriage.


4. Implications of a Theological Understanding of Gender

a. “male and female” are both “very good” (Gen 1:31), and equally so; to deny this is to deny the Christian doctrine of creation, and the equality of the three Persons of the Trinity

b. the engenderment of humanity is the pinnacle of God’s work as described in Genesis 1, this means that the male-female relationship is the foundation and primary model of humanity’s participation in the image of God as Creator

c. without the procreative ability inherent in the union of the sexes, there would be no human race and so no rule and dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26-28) in all its multiplicity of forms e.g. technology, agriculture, music, painting, invention

d. the modelling and transmission of the image of God (by revelation) was designed to come about (in an unfallen world) through the dynamic interaction of the first gendered couple (Adam and Eve) in their mutual submission to the Word of God (Gen 2:17)

e. in the design of God for marriage (in the Edenic state the husband-wife relationship is the male-female relationship) obedience to the Word by each gender was to be equal but diverse i.e. God spoke to Adam who spoke to Eve

f. the mutual rebellion of the first couple leads to a host of consequences that fracture the fullness of their unity and corrupt the image of God (Gen 3:16-19)

g. therefore in a fallen world competition and conflict between genders is inevitable

h. this perpetuates itself not only in successive generations of relationships (marriage and other) but in fracturing the ego-consciousness of the individual (the distortion of identity formation)

5. Recovering True Gender Consciousness

“If you go through the gospels, you’ll see Jesus operating out of both a masculine and feminine mode.  In fact, he’s perfectly balanced.  He’s very comfortable with his inner world and can speak about prayer and relationships with great sensitivity.  Next, he’ll move into the outer world and you’ll find him travelling to the next place, calling the Pharisees to task, getting involved with people, touching them, healing and challenging.  Then, he’ll move back into the desert, back into his interior life.  That’s his pattern.  He’s back and forth.  His approach is both, and as a result, he calls and stretches us, whichever extreme we’re on.”

““There can be neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  The new humanity that we are pointed toward is not neuter or unisex or oversexed, all of which make love impossible.  In Christ we are whole, one, in union, integrated, wholly holy.  That is the final product of the Spirit making all things one.  It is the consummate achievement of God in Christ who reconciles all things within himself (Colossians 1:20) and invites into the ongoing reconciliation of all things (Ephesians 5:18).”(Richard Rohr).

a. when “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) he took on human nature as it has become since the Fall (Rom 8:3), this includes the state of corrupted sexuality

b. Jesus is our mediator and saviour in all aspects of common humanity, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15)

c. on the cross he took into his humanity the fullness of the consequences of sin (Mark 15:34; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21), this includes all the elements of alienation associated with gender in a fallen world e.g. identity confusion

d. through suffering the death of the cross and his subsequent resurrection, Christ’s humanity is glorified, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26)

e. if Jesus’ humanity has been glorified in all aspects of its existence (e.g. John 17:5; 2 Thess 2:14; Heb 2:9; James 2:1), this means he is the one in whom the meaning of gender has reached perfection

f. the exaltation of the obedient Son of God (Phil 2:5-11) means Christ’s complete union with God

g. by taking our humanity into the very being of God in glory, which is the fullness of the intimacy of the Trinitarian relations, the image of God as male and female is completely healed “in Christ” (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15)

h. it is through our union with Christ by the Holy Spirit that all the dimensions of our gender identity are progressively healed, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17)

i. sanctification, or growing in holiness, is nothing other than becoming more like Jesus, the true image of God, “you have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10)

j. this healing happens to us through an obedient life of discipleship that unites us to the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, “20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20; cf. Phil 3:10)

k. this process is not abstract, but deals with our deepest sensitivities about our personal identity, thereby touching on what to means to be male or female

l. the glorification (perfection) begun in the process of sanctification will be completed at Christ’s return, “we know that when he appears  we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2)

m. this will happen because the return of Jesus brings about the consummation of God’s eternal plan for humanity, the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9; 21:2, 9)

n. in the eternal love of Jesus for his church to the glory of the Father in the power of the Spirit everything that was ever meant to be in all the intimate relationships of maleness and femaleness will come to pass forever in the love of God,

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:25-32)

o. in the End, God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28) and “fill all things” (Eph 4:10), all of creation, through his body and bride the church. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23), this will fulfilling God’s original purpose of creating humanity in his own image, “male and female”.

6.  Some Principles of Application

A: In Contrast to Non-Christian Worldviews

a. medical, social and psychological models of gender, whether at a scientific or subjective level, are not to be given the authority of revealed truth (e.g. notions such as: men have a “feminine side” and women a “masculine side” they “need to get in touch with”; “women are more compassionate than men”; “women are more sensitive than men”) are unbiblical and confuse phenomenology (how people experience things) with the nature of human being in the likeness of God revealed in Christ

b. contemporary trends in Western society to construct sexuality by the use of mass media are to be resisted as ungodly and demonic e.g. the sexualisation of children (> depression, anxiety, loneliness -loss of intimacy)

c. attempts to legislate all relationships between consenting adults as equal in value are to be rejected as destructive and sinful e.g. gay marriage.

d. in this particular case, the full intimate union which constitutes marriage as “one flesh” is impossible between two people of the same gender; attempts to legitimise gay marriage are a violation of God-given personal identity

B: For Christian Living

a. recognise that the distinction between male and female is an irreducible mystery that reflects the ultimate distinctions between the members of the Trinity

b. recognise the goodness of God’s gift of masculinity/femininity and give thanks for it

c. recognise the other gender is not given by God as a competitor but a partner in the vocation of the kingdom of God i.e. dominion over all things (Fear of the other sex is in contradiction with a Trinitarian spirituality.)

d. release this gift of absolute gender distinctiveness in love for others

e. affirm all the positive God-created expressions of maleness and femaleness in both wider culture and the community of faith (Contemporary Western Protestant spirituality has become characterised by a mood that appears “feminised” (not in a godly sense) e.g. emphasis on feelings, inwardness, romantic musical moods, excessively self-protective. Compare this for example with the Psalms.)

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