The new edition of Fathom Magazine just came out, and it’s all in on all things imago dei. There is a great piece on clothing as cultural language, a beautiful poem about peanut butter and motherhood, and also a piece by me on raising Boaz-es in a hypermasculine world. It’s one of the best new magazines for thinking Christians out there. Give them a read and spread the word!
“What is a human being, and what does it mean to be one?”
If popular media trends are any indication, people have been asking that question for a very long while, but we’re not satisfied with the answers. For the last fifty years, Hollywood has been doing a brisk trade in TV franchises like Doctor Who and Star Trek, and comic book movie universes featuring the Avengers, the Justice League, and the X-Men, selling stories that stoke our imaginations, and haunt our dreams, as they explore the boundaries of what it means to be human.
The surge in interest in science fiction and superheroes stories has happened concurrently with the rise of the Digital Age. Both “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek” rose to popularity in the 1960s, during the first wave of mainframe computing. “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, the spinoff that launched so many others, soared to popular and critical acclaim in the early 1990s, during the building of what Al Gore famously named the “Information Superhighway”. The DC and Marvel comic movie empires grew in the midst of the first Silicon Valley dot-com boom, bust, and recovery, as companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook grew from successful start-ups into the technology monoliths they are today.
This trend can be partially explained by the way technology has infiltrated the way movies and television are made. The more technologically advanced the story telling is, the more convincingly real the stories become.
But that’s not the only reason, nor the most important one.
From the invention of the first super computer to the launch of the latest mobile app, the central goal of the technological revolution has been the transcendence of human limits – ones like time, location, and knowledge. Thanks to the wonder of FaceTime and WiFi, we can talk to someone on the other side of the planet in seconds instead of days. Laptops, tablets, and video conferencing systems let us work anywhere, anytime. The (potential) answer to any question is as close as the click of a mouse. And if bad weather and crazed children have you cursing the limits of time, space and knowledge, collectively, just ask Alexa. She’ll have 45 minutes of peace and quiet delivered to your door in a matter of hours.
But not all of our limitations are so easily surmounted.
The most enduring limits of our human state involve our bodily capabilities and the raw materials with which we exercise them. Our physical, mental, and emotional capacities are all subjected to the vagaries of our environment, circumstances, genetics, disease, and disaster. No matter how fully we ever realize our potential, it eventually diminishes and dies, gradually, or in a single, terrible instant.
There isn’t an app for fixing that, at least not yet.
It’s the combined intractability and universality of these limits that produces cheers, and tears of wonder, each time technology helps us get one step closer to conquering one of them. Whether it’s an artificial heart or pancreas or womb, a brain implant that restores hearing or stills seizures, or an exoskeleton that helps a paraplegic walk – nothing is more thrilling than seeing the limits of our bodily brokenness overcome.
This is the place where worldviews collide, and divide.
According to secular humanism (the dominant ideology of technology industry leaders and workers), humans are uniquely evolved organic matter, possessing an intricate blend of features and flaws. The boundaries of our bodies are fluid. We are eminently malleable, and infinitely upgradeable. The meaning of our humanity is as variable a construct as its substance.
The Bible says differently.
The Bible says that humans are wondrously made in the image and likeness of God (Psalm 139:13-16),(Genesis 1:26). Because of this, all of the boundaries of our humanity have meaning, and none of them are neutral. Many of those boundaries are “as designed”. They display God’s character (Genesis 1:31). They enable us to serve each other as we fulfill God’s creation mandate (1 Corinthians 12:14-27). They demonstrably display the differences between the Maker and the made (Psalm 121:4).
Many others are the consequence of our fallenness (Romans 3:9-19), or the fallenness of the world in which we live. (Proverbs 13:23) The common grace of our God-reflecting desire to rescue and heal, and our capacity to create, and the particular grace of the work of the Holy Spirit, help us retrace the boundaries of our humanity more closely over God’s design in some ways. But we are utterly incapable of doing it completely, nor were we ever made to.
That work can only be done by Jesus.
Jesus was with God at the beginning (John 1:2), forming living being from dust, and life-bearer from living being (Genesis 2:7, 21-22). In his incarnation, the limitless one took on human limits (Philippians 2:6-8), living perfectly within them on our behalf. Then he submitted himself to humanity’s greatest limit in death, shattering its hold on us through his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).
Sin is what causes us to see the different boundaries of our humanity – our ethnicity, our socioeconomic status, our gender, – as tools to divide and oppress.
Jesus is the one who covers that sin, not by erasing our boundaries, but by redeeming them, and uniting all of us, as human beings, in him.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
This is the statement the world needs the most. The one it keeps asking for. The one the church still hasn’t written.
For all of its good intentions, the Nashville statement answers questions the world thinks it already has answers for, without sufficiently addressing the ones the world knows that it doesn’t. They are questions the world has been asking for years, ones the church has largely overlooked.
And while the world continues its quest for answers, Silicon Valley has been steadily, effectively reframing the question.
“What is a human being, and what does it mean to be one?”
We’re living in an era of unprecedented human transformation. Does the question really matter that much?
This morning on The Briefing, Al Mohler proposed that people’s responses to the Nashville Statement would fall into one of at least four categories:
- Those certain of its rightness, who would be committed to outspokenly supporting it.
- Those reticent about its rightness, who would be uncomfortable saying it.
- Those uncertain about its rightness, without yet knowing why, who would be uncomfortable saying it.
- Those certain of its wrongness, who would be determined to repudiate it.
I’d like to humbly propose adding a 5th, one that might change the way we consider the other 4:
- Those concerned that its rightness in some aspects, is so overshadowed by its wrongness in others, that it’s impossible to support, in its current form.
This is the group in which I find myself.
It’s important to note the variety of points of disagreement people in this group have raised, as well as the their number:
- The perception of cognitive dissonance with an organization and some of its signers who are comfortable drawing dotted lines around the doctrine of the Trinity in pencil, now drawing bold ones around matters of anthropology in permanent marker
- The perception of cognitive dissonance in a statement affirming biblical orthodoxy in sexuality, coming from the same leaders whose endorsement of a serial adulterer and abuser of women swept him into the Presidency
- The narrowness of the statement’s focus
- The rigidity of its approach
- And its timing, in a season of so much immediate and intense physical suffering, nationally and internationally, not to mention protracted civil unrest.
It’s also important to note how many of the people in the group offering up some, or all, of these points of concern, agree with the statement’s basic assertions about sexuality and marriage,and most essentially, with the affirmation and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ with which the statement ends. (No one that I know of in this group is offering up anything about Article 14 other than “Amen and Maranatha”.)
In other word, this group is not comprised of the usual suspects who drag their soapboxes out anytime the letters LGBTQ start trending on Twitter (although, yes, they’ve shown up this time as well).
These are faithful brothers and sisters of the household of God, whose collective public work, and personal testimonies, make their concerns worthy of consideration.
The preamble of the Nashville Statement asserts that Western culture is in a season of “massive revision of what it means to be a human being.” On this point, almost everyone, from the statement’s ardent supporters, to its angriest critics, are potentially agreed.
A statement that began there, then proceeded from it, could do much clarifying good.
But in its current form, the Nashville Statement seems to be the equivalent of a brick path that’s been unevenly laid down. When so many committed, thoughtful Christians are stumbling over it, it would be judicious to examine the way the bricks were placed, not just assume the only problem is that people aren’t looking where they’re going.
For the last sixteen years, San Jose, California – otherwise known as Silicon Valley, the technology capital of the world – has been my home. I moved here after an introduction via mutual coworker friends at the computer hardware company where I worked turned into marriage. My husband is a third generation Bay Area native who likes to regale me with memories of what San Jose used to look like when he was young. In those distant days, the sun shone through of rows of fruit trees growing in the orchards and farms that were so plentiful the area was known as “The Valley of Heart’s Delight”. Today, the orchards have been largely replaced by high tech office buildings, lined up alongside gridlocked thoroughfares and freeways, the morning sun glinting on recognizable logos like Ebay, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and a thousand startups that aspire to be them. These companies are where my neighbors, my kids’ school friends’ parents, and both my husband and I, all work, designing the hardware, software and Internet infrastructure on which much of the world now runs.
The dominant value that drives Silicon Valley culture is living life without limits. From laptops, mobile phones and apps, to the infrastructure that keeps everything “always on”, Silicon Valley technology companies create and sell the ability to be anywhere, do anything, buy anything, and know everything, all the time. Got a problem? There’s an app for that. Got a question? Just Google it. Need something right away? Amazon can get it to your doorstep by tomorrow (and after their drone service launches, they’ll have delivery time down to 30 minutes).
The more the world buys in to the “anything anytime” way of life technology offers, the more pressure the companies who profit from selling it place on their people to deliver it. Can’t be in meetings at two places at once? Log in to a robot and be there virtually . Are meal breaks cutting into your productivity? Try Soylent. Need to optimize your efficiency? Hack your brain with fasting and “nootropic supplements.” Workforce demands for costly benefits like time off and overtime dragging down profits and production rates? Just replace your people with robots. For all Silicon Valley talks about work/life balance, the reality is that many people in my city teeter continually on the edge of burnout from the relentless pressure.
Christians like me who work in the high tech industry are only just beginning to wrestle with what it looks like to live as faithful followers of Christ in the digital world we are helping to build; all Christians are wrestling with how to live in it. Several years ago, Hannah Anderson offered one answer in a book called “Made For More”. In it, she argued that we will struggle with the various roles and vocations to which God calls us unless they are grounded in our most fundamental identity as human beings made in the image of God. While primarily written for Christian women struggling to separate cultural expectations about womanhood from genuinely biblical ones, “Made For More’s” argument about the centrality of the doctrine of the imago dei to our identity and purpose, directly counters contemporary Silicon Valley dogma that human beings are simply sophisticated iPhone apps to be deployed, consumed, enhanced, then deleted when no longer of use.
In her latest book, “Humble Roots – How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Our Souls”, Anderson extends the conversation about the centrality of “imago dei” by examining one of its most important and transformative implications for everyday life. In her introduction she states, “…looking like God does not mean that we are God. We are made in God’s image, but we are made nonetheless.” (p. 11) Anderson’s assertion is that the key to productive and peaceful Christian living is found, not in fighting our limitations, as the modern titans of technology would insist, but in embracing them, and entrusting ourselves to the One who truly is limitless, not just in power, but in love. Ostensibly a book of lessons in humility gleaned from life in rural Appalachia, the central theme of “Humble Roots” offers a compelling, and profoundly countercultural, vision for what it truly looks like to live as imago dei, in an increasingly imago apparatus world.
The unifying Scripture passage for the book is Matthew 6:25-34, in which Jesus encourages His followers to “consider the lilies” – to look at the natural world and see how it testifies to God’s provision for His children who are made in His image. In “Humble Roots”, Anderson writes a series of meditations on lessons learned living amongst the fields and flowers of rural Appalachia, as the wife of a fulltime pastor who is also a gifted gardener and hobby farmer. Through stories of plowing in winter and sun-ripened tomato harvesting in summer, herbs and local honey, Anderson takes Jesus’ words to heart to look at the natural world and see what God is saying to her, and to us, about the sources of our everyday worries and anxieties, and how to put them to rest.
In the first section of the book, Anderson works to uncovers the root, as it were, of the stress and overwork that plagues so many of us. She locates it in our efforts to pursue productivity and peace on our own terms, and in our own strength. While a “bright red anemone can dance beside a gun’s turret” without a care, we run around in endless circles of business and stress, behaving as though each day’s outcomes is entirely dependent on us, but stymied by the evidence of how little is actually in our control. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 challenge us to acknowledge this reality, instead of fighting it, and to look to Him for the rest all of our work is failing to accomplish. “In chapter 2, “Breaking Ground”, Anderson shows how the weight of the burdens of expectations and effort that we place on ourselves can be compared to the heavy yokes oxen would wear in the agrarian culture of Jesus’ day. When Jesus exhorts his listeners to “take My yoke upon you…for My yoke is easy and my burden is light”, He is not calling us to take on yet one more burden, but to exchange the heavy ones of our own work for the lightness of submission to him. When we set aside the heavy yoke of our confidence in our to live life under our own strength and on our own terms, and submit to the yoke of Jesus, He gives us rest.
As Anderson notes, many Christians approach the pursuit of this needed humble submission the way they approach other aspects of sanctification – as a matter of sheer will. In chapter 3, “Returning to Our Roots”, Anderson shows that the best our self-derived efforts at humility will produce is the nefarious “humblebrag” (pg. 49). In big ways and small, our self-derived efforts to achieve humility through more control, continual self-denial, or a “let it go” mentality, just becomes yet one more burdensome yoke to bear. Just as the vintners tending Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello vineyard only succeeded in growing wine when they grafted vine cuttings from a foreign country onto their rootstock, we need a source of humility that isn’t derived from us, or our efforts. We need Jesus’ humility, the humility that caused Him to set aside His limitless glory and live as a dependent, limited human man on our behalf. “Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus shows us our true identity as people dependent on God for life. And through His life, death, and resurrection, He imparts this humble life to us once again.” (pg. 57) True humility begins when we acknowledge that even our ability to be humble is limited, and we look to Jesus to lay down our efforts, and rest in His.
With this foundation laid, the rest of the book considers how this kind of humility, grounded in equal measures of honest acknowledgement of our limits, and confident faith in God’s provision for them through Christ, “grounds and nourishes our souls”, as the subtitle states. In the second section of the book, Anderson considers the effects this kind of humility can have on ourselves as individuals – on our perception of our bodies, our handling of our emotions, and the relative trust (or distrust) we should have in our own intellect and abilities. In the final section of the book, she looks at how humility can transform the way we move through the world – how we use our gifts and pursue our desires, how we think about suffering (our own as well as what we observe in the world), and how to look at the ultimate symbols of our finitude – sleep and death.
Anderson doesn’t try to cover every possible aspect of life humility can transform, but the areas on which she does focus are ones to which every reader will relate. Indeed, there is an entire cottage industry of books dedicated to helping women overcome their body image issues, or find contentment or so forth. I’ve certainly read my share of them. “Humble Roots” exposes why so many of them failed to have the intended effect. Too often, they encourage us to simply pull at the stems and leaves of an issue, while leaving its roots behind, permitting the toxic growth to begin all again. “Humble Roots” shows how to wield humility like a trowel, to dig under the pride that is at the root of so many of the issues that rob us of joy and cause anxiety, and cast those sins aside for good.
For example, on body image she says this:
“Simply learning to ‘love your body’ will not free you from shame because, at times, your body will feel very unlovable. What will free you from shame is…accepting that you are not and were never meant to be divine.”(pg.89)
On pursuing goals and plans she writes,
“It is precisely through the process of learning to plan that we learn to depend on the God who makes our plans happen. Pride, on the other hand, demands to know God’s will before it will act.” (pg.159)
“Part of humility means trusting God with our plans and submitting to the possibility that they will not be fulfilled. But part of humility also means trusting God with our plans and submitting to the possibiility that they will be fulfilled in ways we cannot imagine…the humble also understand that the possibility of failure is no reason not to work.” (pg. 167)
And on pursuing a godly perspective on our differing gifts and privilege, she notes (with a gentle dig at the premise of a famous best selling book for women on gratitude)
“When we consider our resources, it is not simply enough to count our one thousand gifts. Our one thousand gifts are actually one thousand opportunities: the very means by which God intends to seed His world.”(pg. 149)
With the beautiful prose and thoughtful turns of phrases that are her trademark, “Humble Roots” establishes Anderson as a writer and thinker who communicates theologically deep and culturally subversive ideas in a deceptively simple and beautiful way. As with “Made For More”, supporting quotes and anecdotes from popular works of literature like “Pride and Prejudice” and ”The Fellowship of the Ring”, as well as more scholarly works by Anne Marie Slaughter, Isaac Watts, and others, are sprinkled throughout the book. The stories she tells about her failed efforts to grow pole beans, or her struggles to understand her husband’s expensive enthusiasm for heirloom apples, are refreshingly self-deprecating (as perhaps is appropriate for a book on humility!). And you shouldn’t read the final chapter until you have some Kleenex and a quiet spot to compose yourself after you ugly-cry.
Many examples in the book reference church ministry as a context where the battle of pride vs. humility is constantly waged and frequently lost, which is understandable, given Anderson’s role as pastor’s wife. Consequently, I couldn’t help contemplating the benefits to the church if this book were to makes its way onto the required reading list for people preparing to enter full time ministry. I say “people”, because although Anderson writes to and for women, the insights in this book, as well as her previous one, have universal application. There is a long unchallenged adage that women will gladly read books written by men, but men are reluctant to do the same. Because of the way “Humble Roots” frames humility as a posture of acknowledgement of our boundaries and limits as human beings, I’ve never a read a book with more potential to help men, as well as women, contemplate the ways gender itself is a form of human limitation. A humble willingness to look to, and learn from, the uniqueness of the imago dei through our differences as male and female, would be a beautiful expression of God’s original design in the very first garden He gave His creatures to tend.
A few readers may find some of Anderson’s stories from nature overly lengthy, relative to the spiritual applications she draws from them. And her frequent use of couplets and triplets to emphasize her points may read as somewhat repetitive, at least to pragmatic readers like me, who are most often helped best when an author makes a point once, then moves on. But chapter 7 challenged me to question my impatience. In “Vine Ripened” Anderson compares our preference for fast answers, and neat and tidy solutions to the problems of the Christian life, to a tomato that has been artificially ripened in a greenhouse – red, plump and shiny on the outside, but inside, a “mealy, flavorless mouthful of regret.” The best tomatoes are the ones who have been tended and nourished by months of cycles of sunlight and darkness, and continual pruning and tending. “Humility predisposes us to believe that we always have something to learn.”(pg. 121) In the weeks since I first read “Humble Roots” hardly a day has gone by that I haven’t been brought up short by a new awareness of the pride behind a casual thought or an impatient word, and I’ve been compelled to rehearse what I thought didn’t need repeating.
Therein is the profundity of “Humble Roots”. It calls us to acknowledge our weaknesses, and in heeding its words offers a path to true strength and real rest. A book by a country pastor’s wife from Appalachian hill country offers a better and truer vision for life than a thousand Steve Jobs or Bill Gates ever can. A book that hearkens to Silicon Valley’s own rural past, serves as an invitation to a more beautiful, lasting future, and offers the tools that could build it, if we would but have the humility to accept them, and lay our own useless ones down.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
If you ask my fifteen-year-old daughter about her career goals, she’ll instantly tell you they involve “being invisible.” This isn’t just because she’s an introvert. It’s because she has a passion for technical theater and stage managing, which is, as simply as I can describe it, the art and science of doing the parts of theater that orchestrate what happens on stage, without requiring you to ever be on it. It involves a lot of pushing buttons, and plugging and unplugging cables, and wearing black from head to toe. But the biggest part of the job involves her broadcasting a constant, quiet stream of instructions to a team of light, sound and stage technicians via a headset. And so now I have a problem with her summer job.
Traditional complementarian teaching would consider my daughter’s aspirations to a vocation that involves being a quiet helper of others as commendable, even womanly. What could be more feminine than not wanting to be up front and center, but preferring to work quietly in the background, literally shining the lights on other people on stage? But the complementarianism attached to the latest iteration of the Trinity debate, while affirming my daughter’s natural reserve, would take issue with the requirement that she be giving orders to big burly stagehands about when they should be raising and lowering backdrops. Unless the burly stagehands are women. (But then, they’d take issue with the burly women stagehands.)
This is why challenging distorted theology about the Trinity and its attachment to gender definitions matters.
This is where it matters
Right here, today, as my eldest daughter is getting ready to start her first paid summer job as a stage manager for a local children’s’ theater.
According to the arguments for the stream of complementarianism outlined by the authors of “The Grand Design” (and the increasingly vocal leaders of an aspirationally and aggressively influential organization dedicated to it),
my daughter’s exercise of her emerging abilities to flawlessly orchestrate the actions of a team of men (and women) to bring Frozen to life on a community theater stage, will distort her femininity, the masculinity of every man she instructs, and the gospel.
According to CBMW, my fifteen-year-old girl needs to get a different summer job.
I’ll gladly take suggestions in the comments. But remember that lifeguarding is out, too. (Too much potential for more distortion of her womanhood because of all that yelling at men to get out of the water if she spots a shark).
“Are women human?” Dorothy Sayers asked the world that question in an essay she wrote in 1947. And the evangelical church, at least in the last century or so, has tried to dodge the issue by pulling a Princess Bride – “Skip to the end – say man and wife!” Conversations, conferences, books and blogs about biblical womanhood abound, but not about biblical person-hood. But there are a myriad of problems in considering the practical implications of womanhood, without understanding their foundation in a woman’s humanity.
The most common model for examining, and then defining, biblical womanhood has been to consider the passages where women are addressed or featured prominently, and then to stretch and pull the applications from those texts across as many groups of women as possible, like so much pizza dough on a peel. Women who fit the demographic in question are privy to a plethora of books, memes, and ministries dedicated to the minutiae of obeying a subset of a single chapter of Scripture. For women outside the demographic – those not yet married, not married anymore, or currently without children – the conversation becomes either about making yourself perpetually ready for a particular season, like some kind of womanhood- prepper, or about supporting other women in it – as though womanhood were some kind of spectator sport only certain women are qualified to play, while the rest stand on the sidelines with pink pompoms and cheer.
I found the beginning of a path through my frustrations with the biblical womanhood framework that was simultaneously confining and full of holes, by way of a book called “Made For More”. In it, Hannah Anderson challenges the “identity myopia” of concentrating our definition as women (and men) on segments of life that are narrow in scope, and temporal in nature. In this “nearsightedness of the soul…(w)e can see the details well enough, but we can’t grasp their significance; and when we glance away from them, even momentarily, everything else is out of focus and blurred.” (pg 12) Anderson argues that the clearest lens through which to view ourselves as women, and then walk accordingly, is not one of temporal roles which last only for a season (if they occur at all), but the lens of the One from Whom, through Whom, and to Whom both women and men live, in every moment of life. Womanhood begins with who God is (in His nature), and what He has done (in the gospel), before it is about the things we do for Him as women. “We forget”, Anderson states, “that we can never understand what it means to be women of good works, until we first learn about the goodness of a God who works on our behalf. We forget that nothing about (our works) will make any sense if they are not first grounded in the truth that we are destined to be conformed to (God’s) image through Christ.” (pg. 105)
For years I had lived with a tension I felt deeply but struggled to understand fully – that my mission to follow Christ was somehow mitigated by my gender, that my ability to be like Christ was limited by the fact that He was and is a man and I was not, and that the real working out of my salvation seemed to be mediated through my identity as a wife and mother. In rediscovering the importance of the doctrine of imago dei to my identity, I began to see Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and resurrection, as not merely about my restoration as a woman, but more importantly, my restoration as a human being. Consequently, the living out of my restored humanity as a woman was as equally about reflecting the full nature of the triune God in my womanhood, as it is for a man in his manhood. And to do so faithfully requires a lifelong pursuit of the triune God whose nature is revealed to us in 66 books about one Person, not just a couple of chapters and prooftexts and characters sketches about women.
In that light, the term “complementarianism”, as it has been traditionally defined, appears be as least one cause of the identity myopia so many women like me have experienced, instead of its cure. In its centering on gender roles, the boundaries of our identity are drawn imprecisely around separate, temporal states (adult manhood and womanhood) and what we are to do in them, instead of more broadly but precisely around the shared state of our humanity – a state that is fixed and constant from the moment of conception to natural death. In its narrow focus on headship and submission, complementarianism distills all of the orbits of the collective creation mandate down to two, and to one relational dynamic within them, in that same temporal season of adulthood. No wonder so much of the current debate has been about what the term “complementarianism” doesn’t mean, or about what 51% of the human race can’t do. A term that is bounded so narrowly doesn’t leave too much room inside it for “is” or “can.”
But the term “ImagoDeian” does.
Inside the meaning of ImagoDeian, there is room for:
- The emphasis of Genesis 1 and 2 on male and female’s joint definition as image bearers as the foundation for the way we should see ourselves and every other human being.
- The glory of woman being derived from the way in which God makes her – uniquely forming her from one who is already alive with the breath of God, into one who displays the life-giving power of God.
- The argument that the order in which God made man, then woman, is about man’s incompleteness, not his supremacy.
- The definition of the nature of woman’s completion of man as that of a “necessary ally” instead of the ameliorated “suitable helper”.
- Multiple relational pictures of Christ’s oneness with His people: –marriage, and singleness (as depicted by Paul and by Jesus Himself), and the church as HIs unified Bride.
- The recognition because of the Fall,, our bodies to fall short of the glory they were created to display, through aging, disease, sin, and defects whose causes are sometimes known and sometimes yet to be discovered . Nevertheless, as with every other aspect of our humanity, the dignity of our body is found, not in the measure of its functionality, or the degree of its beauty, but in its very existence, which was initiated by God and for God.
- The primary axis of conformity to the image of Christ is guided by our common living out of the one anothers, the bearing of the fruit of the Spirit, Who indwells men and women in equal measure, and our common living of the life to which we have been called . The secondary axis of our conformity to the image of Christ is guided by the distinctions of maleness and femaleness through which His image is expressed, the contexts in which those distinctions operate (wife, husband, employee, employer, marriage, home, church) and the specific commands God gives regarding each one. These two axes form the framework inside which we exercise our gifts and callings, in the way God directs, through the power He supplies, with Christ’s life as their source, and His glory as their object, the glory of the One in whose image we are all made.
In viewing a woman’s place in the world, and in the kingdom of God, through the lens of imago dei, a host of things – from the context for submission, to the exercise of our gifts in different seasons of life – fall into clearer focus (too many to begin detailing in a post that’s already too long, but that merit an entire series of their own). I agree with Fred Sanders – in general, because that is the way of wisdom, but also in this particular point- that imago dei does not necessarily make the way from the doctrine of God to the doctrines of human society more direct. But I would argue that imago dei can still serve as a type of true north for the twists and turns of the journey, especially as the winds of a dying secular culture blow harder and hotter in our faces. More importantly, it can steer us clear of the potholes and rabbit trails that more imprecise terms can, and have, served to steer so many so far off course.
The past several month’s simmering over some of the increasingly pointed rhetoric of a subset of Reformed leaders about the nature of complementarianism and its connections to the gospel, finally boiled over this week. Much of the early gentle stirring and heating was done by women like Wendy Alsup, Persis Lorenti, and Rachel Miller, although I’ve weighed in as well. Several weeks ago, Aimee Byrd, of the rhetorically spicy Mortification of Spin podcast, decided to kick things up a notch and take on some particularly troubling arguments coming out of the most recent CBMW conference, line by line. That led to some more stirring at the MOS site (including a turn by yours truly). Several of us made various attempts to politely invite a response from the CBMW folks, but were met with relative quiet.
Then, last Friday and Monday, Aimee brought out the big guns in form of one Dr. Liam Goligher, to get the bottom of things with a big infusion of creeds, catechisms, a sprinkling of hints about heresy and a passing reference to Islam. That did the trick. Yesterday, both Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem posted responses. Since then the discussion has been going at a fairly decent boil in three different languages – English, Latin and Greek, all in 140 character-sized morsels and longer form blog posts. I’m glad that the theological underpinnings of hypercomplementarian arguments about headship and submission and their tenuous ties to the Trinity are being examined. It’s important. But I’m a little worried that the practical reasons my fellow Blue Stockings began writing about this issue in the first place are getting lost in the midst of all the twenty-dollar words being thrown around. I’m concerned that this is turning into the kind of “theology-in-the-abstract”argument that gives theology, and tussling theologians, a bad name.
That’s why I’m wondering if this lady with only a bachelor’s degree in one language might weigh in with yet one more Latin phrase – one more familiar to the majority of Christians, which serves as the permanent tether between the transcendence of the Godhead, and the finitude of His creatures.
Namely, the imago dei.
The doctrine of imago dei is grounded in the first two chapters of Genesis, which describe with poetic beauty God’s crafting of man and woman, as distinct from the rest of creation. Imago dei is the place where ad extra and ad hominum meet.
For some time now, complementarianism as a term has been struggling under the weight of multiple awkward definitions, caught up in what men and women purportedly must do differently to define who they are essentially. But the first two chapters of Genesis say not one word about those distinctions. The focus of Genesis 1 and 2 is on God’s creation of the world and of humanity as a whole. It’s about men and women’s unified nature and unified work. The focus is on who God is, who we as human beings are, and what we as human beings are to do. The focus is on imago dei.
I’d like to propose that at least a partial solution to the arguments about the definition and implications of complementarianism and its connections to the Trinity, is to throw the term out altogether, or at least subordinate it (ha!) to one that has a closer correlation to the Trinity.
I’d like to offer up “imagodei-ism”, or being an “imagodei-an”, as that term.
I’d like to propose that, instead of eisegeting gender frameworks from New Testament texts back into Genesis, we begin where God does, and go forward from there.
And to cut off all the usual objections before they begin, let me say clearly that I’m not arguing that we just quit talking about gender, or the institutions of marriage or church or whatnot.
But what I am arguing is that the reason for much of the last couple of years of increasing debate and doubling down on tertiary issues about who can be a police officer and whether Christianity has a masculine feel, is because we’ve missed some of the implications of the primary issue of what it means for all of us, every human being from conception to natural death, to be made in the image of the triune God.
This is not an original argument, by the way. It’s an argument made by a dear friend of mine in a book that I’ve reread every year since it was published. It got some traction, in some quarters. But judging by this week’s conversations, it didn’t get nearly enough.
On Monday, I’ll lay out the book’s arguments, and why I think they’re central to helping us move forward in a more unified way, at a time when unity in the midst of secular social and political upheaval is sorely needed.