Beautiful Difference: The Complementarity of Male and Female


Andrew Wilson is Teaching Pastor at King’s Church London, a member of the NewFrontiers network of churches. At the end of last year, he published a very interesting article on the roles and relationships of men and women from a theological and practical perspective, on the Think Theology blog that he and other NewFrontiers leaders contribute to.

In the first part of the article, he argues that the complementary difference of women and men is the consistent teaching of the Scriptural narrative, and this has both theological and pastoral importance in church and society. I think that he offers a compelling argument here, and includes links to important primary research, and so I reproduce this section with his permission and without further comment from me.

In the second half, he goes on to argue that, because of this complementary difference, men have a distinctive or unique place as guardian-leaders of the people of God. I don’t find this second part at all persuasive, and in a later post I will (rather than reproduce his text) offer a commentary on his argument from the biblical narrative which I believe points clearly in the other direction.


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and empty (tohu wa’bohu), and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God separated the light from the darkness, the day from the night, the waters above from the waters beneath, the sea from the land. He distinguished between the sun and the moon, fish and birds, livestock and creeping things and wild animals. As he breathed his life into human beings who bear his image, he differentiated between male and female. He marked off the days of work from the day of rest, Cain from Abel, the holy from the common. God’s work of creation is, among other things, a series of distinctions that bring order to what is formless (tohu), and life to what is empty (bohu). The Jewish Havdalah prayer which ends the Sabbath puts it like this: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who distinguishes between sacred and profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the other nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labour.”

Complementarity—“a relationship or situation in which two or more different things improve or emphasize each other’s qualities”—is written into creation. There is a fit, a mutual enhancement, a beautiful difference, at the heart of what God has made. The cosmos is made up of all kinds of complementary pairs, with male and female serving as a paradigmatic example: that is why cosmological complementarity is reflected in some human languages (der Tag/die Nacht, le ciel/la terre, el sol/la luna, and so on). The Jewish-Christian vision of sexual complementarity, as such, reflects our vision of cosmological complementarity—and ultimately, behind it, the beautiful difference of Creator and Creation, God and Israel, Christ and Church, Lamb and Bride.

Complementarity is thus markedly different from two other ways of thinking about the relations of created things. On the one hand, Jews and Christians do not believe that male and female are identical. We are not exactly the same, any more than are heaven and earth, or day and night. Genesis 1 is a story of order and life coming through separation, distinction, two-ism rather than one-ism. When the distinctions collapse, there is no life. Life comes through beautiful difference: when the heavens interact with the earth, in the form of sun and rain and soil, you get plants and animals, whereas identical pairs are as barren as a cave (earth above and earth beneath) or Jupiter (sky above and sky beneath). Given the connections between sexual and cosmological complementarity, it is not surprising that abolishing the distinction between heaven and earth is connected to abolishing the distinction between male and female.

A comic example is provided by the contrast between the Jewish Jesus, reflected in the four Gospels, and the Gnostic Jesus we find the Gospel of Thomas. The real Jesus is clear in his response to the Pharisees’ question on divorce: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Matt 19:4). The Gnostic Jesus sounds as flowery and incoherent in his blurring of distinctions as his modern counterparts do:

When you make the two into one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and the above like the below—that is, to make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female—and when you make eyes instead of an eye and a hand instead of a hand and a foot instead of a foot, an image instead of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom] (Thom 22).

Without distinctions, creation collapses into a squishy mess. Complementarity is not identity.


On the other hand, nor do Jews and Christians believe in the alterity of male and female, as if we are thoroughly different sorts of beings. We are not wholly same, but neither are we wholly other—and we must be careful that in our bid to ensure that sex distinctions are not erased, we do not cause them to be exaggerated. Men and women bear the image of God together, and our identity is far more fundamentally defined by our humanity than our sex. We are humans first, males or females second, and in Christ, the divisions that do exist within our shared humanity come crashing down: Jews are reconciled with Gentiles, masters serve their slaves, and male and female are united in Christ and made heirs together of the gift of life.

For a number of philosophers, both ancient and modern, the differences between male and female do not express complementarity and harmony, but otherness and conflict. Men and women are destined to strive with one another for mastery, not just at an individual level, but within civilisations as a whole: Western thought is male, linear, climactic and ordered, and involves imposing power over creation, while Eastern thought is female, curved, cyclical and chaotic, and involves surrendering to creation. This might sound familiar, even Christian, to some of us. But if we look closer we can see that it is not one of complementarity but of alterity: of absolute difference, or otherness. It is framed in terms of conflict, triumph, competition, opposition, rivalry, even violence. There is no peace between heaven and earth, or between male and female. There is no love.

In the pagan vision of identity, there is union without distinction; in the deist vision of alterity, there is distinction without union. But in the Christian vision of complementarity, there is union and distinction, same and other, many and one. In Christianity, male and female bear the image of God together, with neither male nor female able to fully express it without the other, and the clear distinctions that exist within creation are ultimately reconciled within the life of the Triune God (in whom we find identity and alterity, sameness and otherness, one and three) and in the incarnation (in which heaven meets earth and Word becomes flesh).

Before the world is created, we do not have primordial strife and violence, but perichoretic peace and joy within the Trinity. Our future hope is one in which heaven and earth come together, with the glory of the one transforming the other (which is why most of the pairs of Genesis 1 find themselves transcended in Revelation 21: there is no moon, no need for the sun, no sea, no darkness, no sexual intercourse, and heaven and earth are beautifully married.) The final destiny of the cosmos, and the marriage of Christ and the Church, reflect neither conflict nor collapse but complementarity, as the glory of the one permeates and suffuses the other. Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!


Complementarity and Creation

Given this theological framework, it should not be surprising that men and women are strikingly different in all sorts of ways that transcend cultural variations. Not only do these differences not disappear in purportedly sex-neutral societies; there is evidence to suggest that some of them actually increase, as people are freed to do what they actually want to do.  (To take one widely reported example, differences in mental rotation between men and women are higher in countries with greater sexual equality.)  The bell curves for men and women are centred in different places, and not just for obvious physical traits (height, strength, hair, and so on), but also for hormonal, psychological and interpersonal ones.

Men are typically more aggressive, competitive, fearless, likely to take risks, promiscuous and prone to violence than women, and testosterone is aligned with higher levels of confidence, sex drive and status assertion.  Women are, on average, more prone to neuroticism and agreeableness than men.  Consequently, men are generally clustered at the upper and lower extremes of society: men are not just more likely to be very rich or very powerful (which prompts all sorts of public debate), but also far more likely to be criminals, killers, homeless, excluded or imprisoned (which doesn’t).

Male groups are more characterised by sparring, fighting, power structures and banter, while female groups are typically smaller, more indirect in confrontation, egalitarian in structure, verbally dextrous, and oriented around people rather than things. Gendered trends can be noticed before children are particularly aware of which sex they are (to take a tragic example, 40 of 43 serious shootings by toddlers in 2015 were by boys), and even in our closest animal relatives (the male preference for trucks over dolls extends to rhesus and vervet monkeys).  Julia Turner, the editor of Slate, commented recently that the boyishness of her twin sons had provided a significant challenge to her commitment to gender as a social construct, offering the fascinating remark that despite her egalitarian bona fides, “There’s a there there.”  To which ethicist Christina Hoff Sommers mischievously responded in The Federalist: “Indeed there is. And it takes a liberal arts degree not to see it.”

I mention all this not to validate any or all of these differences as if science somehow renders them virtuous, let alone to excuse the male propensity to promiscuity and violence. I mention it for four reasons. One: complementarity appears to be hardwired into us as human beings, even from the perspective of mainstream secular scientific and sociological research. The vast majority of human societies have known this intuitively, but in a culture like ours, where most of us have never fought for our homeland, died in childbirth, gone down the mines or settled a frontier, it has become forgotten. Facts, however, are stubborn things. Two: there is an interesting correspondence between many of these traits and the sorts of things we would expect to find if Genesis 1-4 was true, and the man (adamah = “earth”) had been given the task of guarding the garden against attack, and the woman (havah = “life”) had been identified as the mother of all living. Three: at a pastoral level, it can be reassuring to hear that we are not imagining it when we observe, as we all do, that men and women are generally predisposed to different sorts of sins or weaknesses (#MeToo #ToxicMasculinity #HeForShe etc), and disciple people accordingly.

And four: it also sheds interesting light on the (very obvious) biological differences between men and women, and their significance. Imagine an alien visiting earth, and discovering that one sex was taller, stronger and hairier than the other, with sexual organs which were external and faced outwards, while the smaller partner’s sexual organs were internal, and served as the location of both sexual intercourse and pregnancy. Then imagine them discovering that, generally speaking, one was better at forming relationships, holding small groups together and working with people, while the other was more suited to external agency, risk-taking and working with things. Finally, imagine them being introduced to biblical categories for describing the sexes: towers and cities, warriors and gardens, priests and temples, the blood-spattered groom and the pure spotless bride. Which would our alien think was which?


Andrew Wilson is Teaching Pastor at King’s Church London, and has degrees in history and theology from Cambridge (MA), London School of Theology (MTh), and King’s College London (PhD). He is an award-winning columnist for Christianity Today, and has written ten books, including Incomparable, Spirit and Sacrament and Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat.


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151 thoughts on “Beautiful Difference: The Complementarity of Male and Female”

  1. I’ m not entirely convinced by the reading of Genesis 1 offered here. While Genesis 1 certainly acknowledges a binary differentiation of “male” and “female”, which reflects the social world “behind” the text, I suggest that the text itself tends to minimize this difference. Male and female are each (or, more probably: together) constituted in the imago dei, and there is no suggestion of any differentiation of role in the mandate given to them to subjugate the earth as YHWH’s viceregents.

    Reply
  2. As a result of research for my own post on male-female complementary, I was keen to see how Andrew Wilson handled this subject.

    I’m glad that his definition steered clear of any notion of fractional complementarity. Also, the rejection of alterity is important.

    I was somewhat disappointed with the reference to bell-curve generalisations in order to highlight male-female distinction.

    Of course, it’s a temptingly well-trodden approach that suggests that masculine-feminine complementarity (vs. male-female) is nigh-on self-evident.

    The underlying question that needs to be answered is whether this self-evident difference should be a factor that permeates and is considered critical to any and every aspect of human endeavour.

    My answer is an emphatic ‘no’. And the fact that certain differences in male-female psychological traits ‘transcend’ cultural boundaries doesn’t make the case for correlating the biblical understanding of male-female complementarity to notions of masculinity and femininity

    Andrew Wilson writes: “men are typically more aggressive, competitive, fearless, likely to take risks, promiscuous and prone to violence than women, and testosterone is aligned with higher levels of confidence, sex drive and status assertion.”

    He also explains that he mentions this as evidence that: “complementarity appears to be hardwired into us as human beings, even from the perspective of mainstream secular scientific and sociological research”

    He commendably rejects any notion that “science somehow renders them virtuous, let alone to excuse the male propensity to promiscuity and violence.”

    Nevertheless, in this post, there is a subtle drift from male-female complementarity to masculine-feminine (gender trait) complementarity.

    Whereas the former is biblical, the latter is not

    Inevitably, such a train of thought can inadvertently lead others to impose stereotypes that result in disapproval for those who don’t fit that mould.

    And the real issue is when the ensuing broad-brush assumptions affect women who vie for jobs that involve considerable risk-taking and it is assumed despite their track record) that for them to exhibit the ‘go-getter’ mentality is trying too hard to “be a man”.

    Similarly, to assert masculine-feminine complementarity as a moral requirement can lead to wrongful assumptions about men who, for example, become flower arrangers, or who decide to study midwifery

    To extend the Christian teaching on male-female complementarity beyond the specific aspects of life which perpetuate Adam and Eve’s distinctive mission of furthering natural kinship (and its emulation, where appropriate, in wider society) can unwittingly the door to sweeping stereotypes about men and women.

    Reply
    • Hi David,
      Why if the differences between men and women are limited to what you say they are in your last paragraph does Paul say in 1 Cor 6:9-10 that same sex marriage – which amounts to nothing more than a failure to see sex differences – is a sign that one is out of right relationship with God, that one will be in hell for eternity? (See my separate comment for suggestions).

      Reply
      • Hi Philip,

        Same-sex marriage contradicts “the specific aspects of life which perpetuate Adam and Eve’s distinctive mission of furthering natural kinship”.

        SSM has been the legal basis for prioritising the parental intentions of same-sex couples above the child right to know and be brought up by both of its natural parents.

        So, this amounts to far more than a failure to see sex differences. There is plenty of case law to prove that it has been the vehicle for falsely legitimising so-called ‘intentional parenthood’, which has resulted in several instances of deliberate subversion of the child’s God-given right to be nurtured by both of its natural parents, those from whom the child originated.

        The link below reveals the ‘lived experience’ impact of this.

        Matt. 18:6 applies.
        https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/09/6197/

        Reply
        • Thanks for your reply David.

          The 1 Cor 6 passage mentions homosexual behaviour not same sex marriage (of course – the bible never suggests there even is such a thing). I chose to use the example of same sex marriage because I wanted to show that even when there is some kind of commitment in a same sex relationship homosexual behaviour is still a sign that one is living like someone who is not in the kingdom. I can see why doing so might have been unhelpful – you have shown that same sex marriage in which children are obtained from surrogates amounts to separating children from their biological parents. I agree. My choice wasn’t helpful.

          Since there is no passage in the bible which suggests that committed homosexual relationships are acceptable to God, since there are passages which show that marriage must include opposite sexes, and since there are passages which explain the place of sex being only within marriage – we must therefore must conclude that homosexual behaviour in any context violates the heart of God.

          I appreciate the correction.

          But now I return to my challenge to you. What is it about sex differences that defiance of them amounts to being a sign that one is not part of the kingdom?

          Reply
          • Hi Philip,

            Thanks, but , while I’m interested in exchanging mutual encouragement, I’m trying to interested in completing such a challenge.

          • As I wrote below, I’m not keen for it resemble a tennis rally in which either of us repeated tries to return lobbed ‘challenges’ from the other, For either of us to be more ‘exercised’ in trying to answer the other is not mutually edifying.

            I do need to address one issue concerning the Trinity. You wrote below: “There is hierarchy in the trinity”

            In 1 Cor. 11:3, Paul wrote: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

            The phrasing of this verse’s reference to Christ is clarified by Phil. 2:6 – 7): “Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness”

            Heb. 1:8 – 9 quotes Ps. 45:6 -7 as addressed directed to the pre-existent Son of God. “Your throne, O God (lit. Elohim), will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.”

            To declare that Jesus is Lord is to declare Him to be Elohim. So, the persons of Father and the Son express the eternally generative and relational essence of the eternal, all-powerful and all-wise God, even before His act of creation.

            Certainly, there is no hierarchy in God, in the sense of the Son of God’s eternal subordination. The incarnational submission is voluntary and specifically for the mission of redemption, as described in Heb. 10:5-7:
            “Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said:
            “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
            but a body You prepared for Me.
            In burnt offerings and sin offerings
            You took no delight.
            Then I said, ‘Here I am, it is written about Me in the scroll:
            I have come to do Your will, O God.’ ”

            The lesson from this is that the specific God-given mission defines the scope of submission. That means that male-female complementarity cannot be expressed as a broad-brush euphemism for an all-encompassing female deference to male authority, which pays such scant regard to the scope of the God-given mission for which male-female complementarity is actually required.

            That kind of male-female complementarity only leads to an abusive imposition on women and completely is inimical to the gospel.

          • David, I cannot see how you can support temporary submission in the trinity in the light of the following verses:
            1 Cor 15:27-28 ESV
            For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

            And you leave me with questions. Why is temporary as opposed to permanent submission in the trinity a protection against the abuse of women (and presumably children with their parents, employees with their bosses, students with their teachers, the poor with the rich etc)? Our protection rests in God’s love and sovereignty not our position. Is the reason that EVERYONE is appointed to relationships in which we are called to submit is God merely to achieve some temporary end? What end?

            What do you believe is the purpose of describing the immanent trinity in terms of Father and Son? We know it isn’t because the Son was created by the Father. And you say it definitely isn’t to suggest ongoing submission. Why use terms that imply both submission and maleness? Why aren’t the Father and the Son the Sister and the Brother?

            -What is it about behaviour that ignores sex differences (1 Cor 6:9-10) which leads Paul to say that it is a sign we are not members of the kingdom? To have a coherent theology of sexuality you must answer questions like this. You provide no answer in saying that husbands and wives are called to a temporary assignment – 1 Cor 6:9-10 isn’t limited to husbands and wives. If you seek to minimise what you believe to be male and female stereotypes (while not providing any conclusions for passages which demand an explanation concerning male and female differences – such as 1 Tim 2 and Eph 6:4) and if you argue against the permanence of submission – what is the reason for Paul considering behaviour that ignores sex differences a sign one is not part of the kingdom?
            I got in early with my long post – I said that it shouldn’t be enough for people to present only isolated ideas without explaining how their views extend from an overall vision of sexuality – but it seems to have had limited effect.
            To interpret the Bible responsibly we must go not just from small to big (and for that matter only the small parts that support our view) but also from big to small. What is our overall vision? Is the purpose of sex differences utilitarianism – is sexuality a means to an end? Is the naming of the members of the trinity just a cultural blunder?
            My ongoing interactions with David relate to seeking an overall picture of the heart of God in relation to sexuality. If he can express that in a minimum of space we are done.

          • Hi Philip,

            That’s a ‘straw man’ because your asserting a proposition (“temporary submission in the trinity”) that I didn’t set forth.

            Instead, I did state “there is no hierarchy in God, in the sense of the Son of God’s eternal subordination”. That phrase has a distinct theological meaning and provenance (e.g. followers of the heretic, Arius, believed this) which can’t be reduced to your phrase, “temporary submission in the trinity”.

            1 Cor. 15:27-28 refers directly to Jesus’ ascension to heaven (“Sit thou at my right hand” Ps. 110:1). Therefore, it is a prophetic revelation of the heavenly enthronement of the incarnate Christ.

            Therefore, 1 Cor. 15:27-28 is completely consonant with my statement: “The incarnational submission is voluntary and specifically for the mission of redemption, as described in Heb. 10:5-7.

            You resort to another ‘straw man’ by stating: “You provide no answer in saying that husbands and wives are called to a temporary assignment – 1 Cor 6:9-10 isn’t limited to husbands and wives. ”

            I didn’t refer to the calling as a ‘temporary assignment’ (it’s actually lifelong), nor did I limit the scope of male-female complementarity to husbands and wives.

            Instead, I wrote: “the specific aspects of life which perpetuate Adam and Eve’s distinctive mission of furthering natural kinship (and its emulation, where appropriate, in wider society)”

            The mission of furthering natural kinship is not a ‘temporary assignment’ and the emulation of that mission, where appropriate, in wider society (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1-3).

            Finally, you’ve resorted to the tennis tactic of lobbing ‘challenges’ at me. I’m not interested in that.

            Despite your resort to ‘straw man arguments’, you may be convinced that (similar to your lengthy first comment) your replies here are “the best theological” responses that you have written “IN YOUR LIFE”.

            Public self-affirmation is deceptively invigorating.

          • I cannot see David how my asking you questions – pointing out what I believe up to the point I comment to be blank spaces in what you present – or what I believe to be inconsistences – or challenging you – are crimes. Is it a tennis match to work towards a better understanding of the foundations of someone else’s views? I admit that I am not providing much freedom for people to believe things which are aren’t linkable to the heart of God – to specific statements which I believe limit the possible views we can hold – such as 1 Cor 6:9-10. But in endless discussions and disagreement concerning sexuality is this a bad thing? I don’t mind having someone show my view to be wrong – my only aim is to find out what God wants from me – to believe it and do it. If one lives on ones knees one cannot be pushed to one’s knees.

            Your interpretation of 1 Cor 15:27-28 seems to ignore the first two thirds of the second verse – here is the whole second verse):
            “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him”.
            Call me crazy but I think – as I do with other supposedly contentious passages – that the first half of the quoted passage simply means what it says. It means (I am merely repeating the words!) that “THE SON HIMSELF WILL ALSO BE SUBJECTED TO HIM…’. This is not his enthronement although I agree the last part of the verse is. If I am misunderstanding what you are saying about this passage by all means clarify.

            I agree that Hebrews 10 shows that Jesus’ becoming man is voluntary – it doesn’t however prove either that his submission to his father is temporary or permanent. If it did show that his submission was termporary that would mean that his death on the cross was not eternal revelation of God’s character – we’d have to look at it and say to ourselves “don’t forget – the eternal character of God is not about submission unto death”. But who has made the case that the cross IS less than the eternal revelation of the character of God? Don’t misunderstand me – I think that godly love isn’t just sacrifice – the love that exists between the members of the trinity is not sacrificial – they WANT each other – and when we are purified in the age to come God’s love for us will not be sacrifice either. But the cross is still an eternal sign of God being a submissive and servant God. And as I have shown from 1 Cor 15 it also shows the permanent hierarchy within the trinity even as each part of the trinity is of the same essence. The submission we show in living out God’s love is therefore us being who God has always been and always will be.

            And finally after having placed in my very first submission the central tenet that our view as to God’s heart for the sexes be one that would allow us to explain how violating sex differences was a sign that we will end up in hell – you completely ignored this! How can our submissiveness be considered voluntary if according to 1 Cor 6:9-10 behaviour which indicates a refusal to take it up has this consequence?

            And you ignored my question as to why you believe two members of the trinity are called father and son and not for example sister and brother – why they reflect both submission and maleness. This would not be a big deal if you weren’t attempting to say that there is no hierarchy in the trinity – surely having that view requires you to provide an answer to that question.

            The only reason I said what I said to Ian was because I believe his limiting his engagement only to complaining about the length of what I wrote was undermining. Was what I wrote so unworthy – when it’s clear that I at least believe the requirements of a coherent theology of sexes leaves him as things stand with work to do – that he should only comment on the length of my post? I therefore chose to say – in a cheeky way – “No, Ian – I am not merely someone who clogs up the internet. I have a worthwhile contribution to make”. A view that I believe by God’s grace is not controversial. I also think the fact that Ian writes a huge number of words in the average month expressing his views on subjects (much of which I read) shows that he believes that to say things well requires a lot of words. I therefore am hoping that he will extend this belief to when I am the one writing.
            Let at least one thing be voluntary David – please don’t feel any need to provide answers to the questions I believe are outstanding if you do not wish to. I wish you a good evening.

        • The fact that you persist in the ‘straw man’ of temporary submission is evidence of your contempt for truth.

          I have no interest in engaging with further unedifying responses of that sort.

          Reply
          • I’ve read back through our entire exchange. The best I can work out is that you are unhappy with my saying that the Son on earth is in temporary submission to the Father. Although you are ok with quoting Hebrews 10 to show what he is doing, yes?

            Heb 10:7 ESV
            Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
            as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

            How would you like me to describe this “doing your will, O God?” What do you believe that shows about Jesus and at what stage – only during his time on earth – or before as well – or after as well – is it what you think of as trinitarian submission or is it something about him having a human will as distinct from his will as a member of the Godhead? Once you both explain what you believe and what kind of language you prefer to describe that belief I will seek to use your terms. I think I have found it harder to understand because you have been telling me about heresies and also that my way of describing what you believe is wrong – but not saying what you do believe and how I should best describe it. Thank you.

  3. If we re-arrange the landscape in the wilderness does God consider it a violation of his design worthy of eternal punishment? What about if we dye a white flower blue? These are examples of our operating against the design of creation. But there is no reason from scripture to believe that God goes ballistic over such things? This leads us to ask – is there any example of people working against God’s design that provokes the anger of God? And if so what is it about those actions which provoke God’s anger?
    With those things in mind consider the area of sexuality. It’s clear that the Bible condemns homosexuality and specifies that marriage include both sexes. How does God feel when people operate against this design? Does he consider it merely the failure to see the beautiful tapestry of male and female? No, he considers operating against this area of design as the kind of behaviour which Paul says is an indication we will end up in hell:
    1 Cor 6:9-10 ESV
    Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
    To present a theology of sexuality we must account for these things – we must seek to understand the HEART of God in relation to sexuality. I suggest to you that the typical complementarian and egalitarian hasn’t got an answer for these questions – they have failed to line up at the starting line. A coherent theology of sexuality must answer the overarching question – what is God’s heart behind sex differences – and why are sex differences fundamental to God?
    So let me seek to do that. The reason why Paul can so boldly announce that those who act as if ignorant of sexual differences will end up in hell is because it is a sign of something fundamental being ignored – that there is a God ordained hierarchy in respect of God and spiritual matters in creation. That hierarchy is laid out in 1 Cor 11:
    v11 ESV
    But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
    While the passage here is about a cultural issue the reasoning for Paul’s directions to the Corinthians is universal. Alternative explanations of the verse (which come from people who present no overall picture of the heart of God in relation to the sexes) – such as that the word head means source – don’t make sense – because the source of Christ isn’t God. There is hierarchy in the trinity and hierarchy in creation so fundamental that those who refuse to see it – those who act as if God is one but not also three – and that human beings are one but not also two – can only do so because they are wilfully closing their eyes. Said another way those who refuse to see hierarchy between men and women in respect of relationship with God and spiritual matters do so because of their unwillingness to submit to God full stop.

    The second reason why God feels so strongly about sex differences is because God reveals that that only the sexes togehter reflect the image of God. (Before we go any further let me divert to say that if you don’t think that you believe that the church could just as easily be made up of all men or all women – that male and female differences if there are any are nice but not necessary). In Gen 1:27 he tells us:
    So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.
    This means either:
    -that it is only our humanity which is the image of God OR
    – both our humanity and our sex differences are part of what makes us together the image of God.
    – But if it was the former then there would be no reason for marriage to require both sexes to reflect the image of God. It would then only be about some kind of lower issue to do with design – like reproductionn – and I’ve already shown that God doesn’t react to our placing our own imprint on the design of creation as he does with the sexes and with marriage. To those who say despite what I have written (I don’t see how you can!) that marriage is only a design issue – that God wants the two sexes included in marriage in order to provide an environment for children – that should lead us to ask – what then if a marriage included two people of the same sex who managed to find a surrogate? And we would also have to ask what the “jump into bed together” part of marriage has to do with reproduction and parenting. Why shouldn’t two people who don’t jump into bed together but make a Platonic commitment to each other and to being lifelong parents be parents? And since we have got that far why not three people? Or four?
    So my message here is this – to have a coherent theology of sexuality your ideas must reveal the heart of God behind the existence of the sexes. Why for example if you believe that sexuality is only about design and not about things like submission and the character of God being faithfully represented do you believe that operating as if blind to this area of design is a sign you are living as if defying God altogether.
    Returning to Gen 1:27 and sex differences being fundamental to our representing the image of God what is it about the way in which men and women differ which is fundamental to representing the image of God? The answer is that unless the differences are only related to design and not character I’ve already shown that God has not particularly strong feelings about them. So it has to be something about character. I gather a number of things together to determine what I believe it is about the character of men and women that ensures that they only together represent the character of God:
    It is commonly accepted by social scientists that men and women differ as Andrew mentions in respect of men caring more about things and women more about people.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_differences_in_psychology
    But we know that this doesn’t mean that men don’t care about people or women about things. But it is a starting point before we look at scripture
    I then considered bible passages such as the fall and asked myself (with the reasoning Paul gives in 1 Tim 2 in mind) – how can a man and a woman be made perfect by God and yet Paul list women’s being prone to deception as a reason for why women shouldn’t “teach or have authority” over a man? The answer I came up with is that women are oriented differently to men – they are wired to favour relationship over principle. We could just as easily make men look weaker than women because of their orientation with an appropriate example. But we need not focus on the weakness of either – both are strengths.
    Once I had my main idea I looked at other key passages of scripture such as Ephesians 5 where along with mutual submission there are different directions to husbands and wives. Those different directions are revealing – why are men to pout themselves out as Christ does (showing that Christ being male is no accident) for their wives and yet wives are not told to do so? And for wives to submit to their husbands? It’s because of our orientations – what comes more naturally to us and what we must learn with God’s help and from our partner.
    Even simple examples like Eph 6:4 seemed to fit my understanding correctly:
    Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
    Why just fathers? Did those who were exasperating their children all just happen to be fathers?
    So I have concluded that men are wired to favour principle over people and women people over principle. This doesn’t as I just said mean that men don’t care about people or women don’t care about principle. It means that men care about people as part of their caring about principle and women care about principle as part of their caring about people. These orientations aren’t revealed only in passages concerning the sexes – they are present in fundamental biblical doctrines – justice (principle over people but still for the benefit of people) and mercy (people over principle but still a matter of principle). Sex differences are therefore a representation of the justice mercy duality of the cross. So a second reason why God’s heart for marriage is that it include the two sexes is that he wants in marriage to represent the fact that he is justice and mercy, principle and people. This should mean that we should think about justice as not having different motives at different times (sometimes retributive other times restorative) but always seeking to create the conditions under which mercy can be offered – men never in being men operate in a way which is inconsistent with women being extinguished – and mercy must never be without being preceded by justice – otherwise it collapses as it does currently in the C of E into sympathy for wrongdoing. So the hierarchy in respect of spiritual matters in 1 Cor 11 – has as part of it that God can ensure that justice precedes mercy – that mercy operates in the context created by justice – that there always be both.
    So to all those who will no doubt comment here in response to today’s article and the one which Ian is going to publish – your challenge is to present an OVERALL picture of sexuality and God’s heart behind it – not to tell us how you interpret particular verses. And may we ensure both here and elsewhere that those who present ideas about the sexes which amount to something less than a revelation of the heart of God be required to do so.

    Reply
    • I’m sorry the sentence that said:
      “men never in being men operate in a way which is inconsistent with women being extinguished”

      should mean:
      “men in being men should never operate in a way which extinguishes women’s role”

      Reply
    • Hi Philip,

      I want to focus on a specific set of statements that you’ve made here.

      Concerning Eph. 5, you asked rhetorically: “ Those different directions are revealing – why are men to pout themselves out as Christ does (showing that Christ being male is no accident) for their wives and yet wives are not told to do so? And for wives to submit to their husbands?”

      You asserted that: “ It’s because of our orientations – what comes more naturally to us and what we must learn with God’s help and from our partner.”

      In support of this, you cited the asymmetry of Paul’s admonition to just fathers in Eph. 6:4: “Why just fathers? Did those who were exasperating their children all just happen to be fathers?”

      Even though you’re careful to clarify that “This doesn’t as I just said mean that men don’t care about people or women don’t care about principle. It means that men care about people as part of their caring about principle and women care about principle as part of their caring about people”, I still disagree with your conclusion that: “men are wired to favour principle over people and women people over principle.”

      To focus on the heart of God means that any scriptural injunction begins with God’s design.

      As with other God-given signs and emblems, the sign of marriage is a foreshadowing and perceptibly silhouettes divine intent.

      In terms of God’s glorious eternal purpose to reveal His sovereign grace, we read that Christ is the “Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.”

      The other aspect of that glorious eternal intent is the the church, the united body of Christ’s redeemed and faithful followers. Paul reveals this eternal purpose by writing: “ His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

      So, the starting point for Paul’s differing instructions to the husband and wife is that, while marriage is the bond that founds natural kinship, it was designed from the beginning to symbolise God’s eternal purpose fulfilled through Christ and the Church.

      To conclude that the differing instructions for the husband and the wife are because “men are wired to favour principle over people and women people over principle” is a stereotype that does not really focus on the heart of God.

      I’m happy to continue this exchange of thoughts as long as our respective points are made concisely.

      Reply
      • We are told in Revelation that Christ and the church are the groom and bride and in Ephesians we are told the reverse – that the groom and the bride are Christ and the church. But if I told you (with made up words!) that a raput was a type of marei and that the most advanced member of the marei family was a raput that doesn’t necessarily (or in the case of my made up example definitely does not) tell us what either of these things even is! We therefore must ask questions like “does the Bible tell us anything about what grooms and brides are like?” in order to understand Christ and the church. And in order to understand what it means to be a bride and groom “what does the bible reveal about Christ’s relationship with the church?” And that is all I have sought to do – to ground things.

        So I hope that’s clear – when two ideas each interrelate with the other we must ground each of them through some independent means to get past answers which are merely – “that’s how God wants it so just obey without engaging your heart”. We need to understand what these things tell us ABOUT GOD, about what he is like – which is something different to – even if overlapping with – his design plans.

        And so again I return to my challenge to you – you appear to be saying (please forgive me and correct me if I have misunderstood) that people violating sex differences is grievous because it violates marriage looking like Christ and the church. And if the church violated its relationship with Christ you might say that it was grievous because the church is intended to be the bride and Christ the groom – but do you see that by referring each to the other you haven’t got down to what it REALLY IS about God that lead God to compare these things in this way? And so I ask you to clarify if despite the examples I gave in my first comment you believe that all design violations greatly anger God or just some? How do the violations that anger God differ from the others? Why is homosexual behaviour a different type of violation in the eyes of God than dyeing a white flowing blue?

        Reply
        • Hi Philip,
          This is an interesting exchange. However, as exchanges go, I’m not keen for it resemble a tennis rally in which either of us repeated tries to return lobbed ‘challenges’ from the other, For either of us to be more ‘exercised’ in trying to answer the other is not mutually edifying.

          You wrote: “when two ideas each interrelate with the other we must ground each of them through some independent means to get past answers which are merely – “that’s how God wants it so just obey without engaging your heart”.

          While you’re clearly not a revisionist, the statement echoes their argument that reasoning in support of marriage orthodoxy is circular. So, on p. 96 of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Theology of marriage report, we read:
          “Opposition as expressed in the quotation from the Church in Wales Report (para. 59) is becoming circular. Clearly, if marriage is defined as an exclusive lifelong relationship between one and one woman, same-sex partnerships will not count as marriage. But the matter under consideration is whether we are bound to that definition, or whether there is benefit in expanding it.”

          And it would be a valid criticism if the aforementioned divine symbolism of marriage was cited as an answer for the question: “why is same-sex sexual activity immoral?”

          In fact, if the Pharisees had asked Jesus: “Is divorce immoral?”, His critics would have criticised the apparent circularity of declaring: “beginning it was not so.” (Matt. 19:8).

          Instead, the issue at the heart of the question that He considered and answered is not morality, but authority and it is similar to the issue at the heart of the question that we are considering.

          The issue at the heart of asking “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” is a question about the supreme authority of God’s unrevoked original intent for mankind.

          The Pharisees cite Moses’ authority and Jesus trumps that with God’s unrevoked original intent for mankind, as revealed in creation; that God intended marriage as a lifelong male-female union.

          Equally, I am not considering the morality of male-female complementarity, but, instead, its basis in the supreme authority of God’s unrevoked original intent for mankind.

          That argument is neither more circular, nor in need of independent corroboration than Christ’s answer to the Pharisees.

          Reply
          • I don’t understand why you question my approach David – although I also didn’t understand every sentence you posted.

            I am not saying that the fact that marriage is described as Christ and the church and Christ and the church is described as marriage is circular. I believe there is definite intention in each referring to the other – it is so we won’t think that one is a mere shadow of the other – the spiritual and the human relationships are both primary. My only belief was that we might need to look wider than the strict words used to describe each to understand the nature of both – understanding being that we are able to see what they reveal about God’s character.

            And I’m not saying that God does not have a right to tell us what is what in respect of sexuality – we don’t have the right to consider God to have authoritatively spoken only when we determine that his reasons for speaking are worthy in our eyes. I’m only saying that when God tells us what is what we should seek to understand the heart behind his demands – or otherwise be left unable to know how to rightly obey. If I find out that you like U2 and I get you some U2 albums (not sure how one does that these days) and only later do I find out that the reason why you like U2 is not because you like their music but because when your put their music on your dog stops barking, that’s pretty important information, yes? It might mean that next time I give you dog biscuits. Every single command in scripture is like that – we have no idea what it really means until we can see the spirit behind it. Simply saying God chose it to be part of his design isn’t enough to know how to live it.

            The reason I have continued to return comments of yours as if this was some kind of tennis match is I don’t want the central point I made in my initial submission to be submerged – that no-one should be considered to have a theology of sexuality until they can describe how bible teaching on sexuality is a revelation of God’s heart (I tried to that this is distinct from stating his design decisions or rules – that not all of God’s design decisions rigidly reflect his heart – for example we could I suggest swap all of the world’s land and sea with each other if we had the means and it would have absolutely no relationship to the character of God!).

            I hope that I have said enough to convince you if you were not that we should examine the Bible with the goals I have outlined and that there is a need to have beliefs in respect of sexuality which amount to a revelation of God’s heart and character – something more than design. If not I’m happy to leave it here.

            Have a good weekend.

          • I wrote a reply nearly twenty-four hours ago and it has not been posted. Not sure what happened.

            A two sentence reply – nothing I have said should be understood to mean that I think that Christ and the church being linked to marriage or marriage being linked to Christ and the church is unhelpfully circular – it helpfully shows that the human relationship and the divine relationship are both primary – neither a poor shadow of the other.

            And nothing I have said should be interpreted to mean we must determine how God’s design conforms to his character and consider that character worthy before we consider God to have said something authoritative – I am merely saying that we must push further to see which aspects of God’s design are rigid because of their relationship to his heart – sex differences being one – and which are not (we are for example free to dye a white flower blue).

      • You’ve caught me on the wrong night for that to be enough Ian.

        My first submission tonight was the best theological submission I have written IN MY LIFE. God intended to make me better than usual – pointing out the incongruity of saying that sex differences are merely one of the glorious contrasts of creation – when the Bible says that failing to see them is a sign you are going to hell.

        I seems I got my argument down to five lines Ian. People are now free to choose between the long and the short version.

        Phil Almond – I loved your submission.

        Have a good weekend people.

        Reply
  4. My view on men-women in marriage and ministry can be found here: On Fulcrum thread ‘Paul’s concern for the women in Timothy’s churches: Notes on 1 Tim 2.8-15’

    Phil Almond
    August 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Below is Ian Paul’s comment and my response:
    Ian Paul
    February 10, 2018 at 5:21 pm
    Phil, yes, I have, and I think you are mistaken on just about every point. Take this paragraph:
    In the Ephesians passage husbands are called upon to model their relationship with their wives on Christ; wives are called upon to model their relationship with their husbands on the church. These involve self-sacrifice, love, nourishment, cherishing by Christ towards the church and husbands towards their wives, and involve being subject to Christ by the church and being subject to their own husbands by wives. Because the Christ-church, husband-wife analogy is so closely coupled, and the notion of Christ’s authority in Paul’s thought is inescapable, the notion of the husband’s authority is likewise inescapable.
    This is clearly *not* a closely coupled analogy, since Christ is the saviour of the Church. In what sense is the husband the saviour of the wife? If Christ exercises authority over the Church, and the Church is to be obedient to Christ, and there is an analogy in marriage, why does Paul conspicuously avoid ever using the language of authority and obedience of husband and wife, when that is the commonplace of Greek and Roman understandings?
    Why is there in Greek and Roman thought the absence of the use of ‘head’ in reference to authority?
    And why is the only mention of authority in marriage in Paul (1 Cor 7.4) very precisely symmetric, with husband and wife exercising mutual authority and submission to one another?

    1.
    Philip Almond
    February 13, 2018 at 9:13 am
    Ian
    These are my responses to your posts.
    “First, the thrust of Paul’s concern in Eph 5 is that husbands learn to love their wives (that is the dominant focus of the section), presumably rather than lording it over them as would be culturally acceptable?”
    Ephesians 5:21 to 6:9 is a connected line of exhortation about relationships, about marriage (5:21-5:33), about parents and children (6:1 to 6:4) about masters and slaves (6:5 to 6:9). We have to follow Paul’s whole line of thought in 5:21 to 5:33 to grasp what he is saying, not just assert what the dominant focus of the section is.
    “And it is odd to think that Christ does not in some sense submit to ‘the church’ in the light of Jesus’ stark proclamation (in the context of disputes about power and leadership) ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’. This idea is picked up by Paul in Phil 2 as Jesus’ self-emptying. So the most natural way to read kephale in Eph 5 is that husbands need to learn what it means to empty themselves, and give themselves up for their wives, as Christ did for the church, isn’t it?”
    I have responded to this in my post to Christine (February 10, 2018 at 9:17 pm). Also, we have to see what Paul says about the implications of kephale for both husbands and wives which I will now try to do as I comment on your
    “This is clearly *not* a closely coupled analogy, since Christ is the saviour of the Church. In what sense is the husband the saviour of the wife? If Christ exercises authority over the Church, and the Church is to be obedient to Christ, and there is an analogy in marriage, why does Paul conspicuously avoid ever using the language of authority and obedience of husband and wife, when that is the commonplace of Greek and Roman understandings?”
    I will assume it is common ground that in 5:23 ‘The wives to the(ir) own husbands as to the Lord’ (Nestle-Marshall literal) ‘be subject’ (‘The wives be subject to their own husbands as to the Lord’) is obviously implied from 5:22. I will also assume it is common ground that in 5:24 ‘so also the wives to the(ir) husbands in everything’ ‘be subject’ is implied.
    The exhortation to wives to be subject to their own husbands as to the Lord in 5:22 is ‘because a man is kephale of the woman’. ‘But as the church is subject to Christ…’ in 5:24 is clearly (implied) because ‘as also Christ is kephale of the church’. This implied link between kephale and subjection is supported by Ephesians 1:22 ‘and all things subjected under the feet of him, and gave him [to be] kephale to the church, which is the body of him, the fullness of the[one] filling all things with all things’.
    You assert, “This is clearly *not* a closely coupled analogy…”
    But I hope you would agree that it is the first part of an analogy: Christ is kephale of the church; because of this the church is subject to Christ. The husband is kephale of the wife; because of this the wife is subject to her husband.
    Now for the second part of the analogy.
    Christ is saviour of the body. The body, his body, is the church of which we are members. Christ loved (and loves) the church as described in 5:25-27. The husband and wife are one flesh. Husbands are exhorted to love their wives as also Christ loved the church and to love their wives as their own bodies. In loving his wife the husband loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it as also Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. Again, the analogy is there. Christ loved (loves), gave himself for, cherishes and nourishes the church, his body, to present the church to himself glorious, holy and unblemished. Husbands are exhorted to model themselves on Christ in how they behave towards their wives: loving them as their own flesh, their own bodies, cherishing them, nourishing them, and (usually metaphorically) dying for them – all for their wives physical, moral and spiritual well-being (the equivalent of ‘saviour of the wife’). What a challenge and rebuke to some husbands, including me. Note the analogical language: ‘as also’ (5:23), ‘so also’ (5:24), ‘as also’ (5:25), ‘so…also’ (5:28), ‘as also’ (5:29), ‘also…so’ (5:33). The whole analogy seems closely coupled to me.
    “If Christ exercises authority over the Church, and the Church is to be obedient to Christ, and there is an analogy in marriage, why does Paul conspicuously avoid ever using the language of authority and obedience of husband and wife, when that is the commonplace of Greek and Roman understandings?”
    Paul uses the same word ‘being subject’, ‘is subject’ for both the Christ-church and the husband –wife relationships. I point out in my essay that
    ‘In the New Testament there are 34 instances (various tenses etc.) of the verb ‘hupotasso’ which is the word translated ‘is subject’ in Ephesians 5:24. One is Ephesians 5:21, of which more later. 4 are about wives being subject to their husbands (the correct understanding of which is at the heart of the disagreement), 1 is about women learning ‘in all subjection’ and the context of the other 28 makes clear that ‘being subject’ involves the notion of authority and/or obeying or disobeying that authority’.
    ‘For so then indeed the holy women hoping in God adorned themselves, submitting (same word as in Ephesians) themselves to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord….’ (1 Peter 3:5-6)
    ‘Obey’ and ‘be subject to’ are not so far apart in conveying the idea of authority.
    “Why is there in Greek and Roman thought the absence of the use of ‘head’ in reference to authority?”
    I don’t know. But kephale is clearly linked to authority in Ephesians 1:22 and in the passage we are debating. The Biblical context is much more important than secular usage. Christ has authority and we are commanded to be subject to his authority.
    “And why is the only mention of authority in marriage in Paul (1 Cor 7.4) very precisely symmetric, with husband and wife exercising mutual authority and submission to one another?”
    As I say in the essay
    ‘Secondly our view of Ephesians 5 is challenged by appealing to 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. This clearly means that with respect to making love the husband-wife relationship is one of mutual submission. Does that, as some would see it, mean that the husband-wife relationship is symmetrical with respect to authority in all respects? No, because, as a Reform paper pointed out in the Awesome-Reform debate, this would imply contradiction between 1 Corinthians 7 on the one hand and Ephesians 5:22ff, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1ff. “Such a dissonant reading of Scripture is not to be preferred”.’
    And note the Colossians, Titus and 1 Peter references.
    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • To take just one example from this long list: ‘Christ is kephale of the church; because of this the church is subject to Christ. The husband is kephale of the wife; because of this the wife is subject to her husband.’

      No, because kephale does not mean ‘have authority over’, so does not imply subjection.

      Reply
      • Ian. Thanks for engaging in this discussion. I see that I expressed myself badly in what I wrote just before writing ‘Christ is kephale of the church; because of this the church is subject to Christ. The husband is kephale of the wife; because of this the wife is subject to her husband.’ Sorry about that. Let me try again. In 5:22-23 the wives are exhorted to be subject to the(ir) own husbands (‘be subject’ is clearly implied from ‘being subject to one another in [the] fear of Christ’ in 5:21) ‘because a man is head (kephale) of the woman as also Christ [is] head of the church, [him]self saviour of the body’. It is because a man is kephale of the woman that wives are exhorted to be subject to the(ir) own husbands. This means that kephale does imply subjection.
        Phil Almond

        Reply
  5. I’ve yet 2 read all the comments but I was surprised – & I know this is off topic – that having waxed lyrical about God’s wonderful creation he then describes monkeys as our nearest relatives. ! He might be related 2 monkeys. I’m not!

    Reply
  6. Andrew Wilson writes: “men are typically more aggressive, competitive, fearless, likely to take risks, promiscuous and prone to violence than women, and testosterone is aligned with higher levels of confidence, sex drive and status assertion.”

    Perhaps this suggests that women are better suited to lead churches than men?

    Reply
  7. Ian why don’t you let Andrew Wilson post his entire statement instead of excising the part you disagree with and commenting adversely on it?
    I know it is your blog but it seems odd to exercise this selective censorship. Publishing it would not stop you commenting and would allow your readers to make up their own minds about his arguments.

    Reply
    • Agreed James.
      The whole of Wilson should be reproduced, otherwise any comment on it could not be properly weighed, as it may be selective to advocate for a predetermined position, by Ian.
      Of course we could all look at Wilson’s article, but it would not be so easy to see the full flow of point and counterpoint as there would be in Court pleadings!

      Reply
      • I’ve already answered that point, in advance, in anticipation, Ian.
        You’ve set out that type of methodology, many times in other scriptural contexts. Why not now?

        Reply
      • Because you have hosted a discussion on his ideas on your site, and it is much easier to follow his ideas – and your criticisms of them – if they are here on the one site instead of readers toggling back and forth. That is how courts operate: all the evidence is presented in one place for readers to make up their own minds.
        Otherwise it looks a bit tendentious.

        Reply
  8. I think the most natural way to understand scripture is through the complementarian lens that Andrew Wilson describes. From Genesis to Revelation I see male and female in the image of God, with subtle but undeniable differences hardwired into us, though each sex uniquely and gloriously expressing an aspect of God’s nature for the joy of us all. Reading through the pastoral letters at the moment gives an unescapable impression, in my view, of complementarity in early church organisation.

    I won’t buy that men and women are interchangeable until I see roughly 50% of men and 50% of women training as and applying for jobs as roofers, nurses, HGV drivers, secretaries, electricians, carers, bricklayers and primary school teachers. I do not mean to say at all that any of these careers should be closed to either sex, just that they naturally attract one or the other in significant disproportion and probably always will.

    Reply
    • But ‘complementarian’ is mostly used in church circles not to mean ‘equal and complementary’ but ‘in a hierarchy’.

      I agree with this part of Andrew’s article that female and male are not identical or interchangeable, and that biblical understanding of difference is counter to either identity or alterity.

      But their remains a question about whether male and female roles are thus circumscribed, particularly when it comes to questions of leadership.

      Reply
      • “But their remains a question about whether male and female roles are thus circumscribed, particularly when it comes to questions of leadership.”

        Indeed. Nevertheless, as the Rochester report acknowledged, there’s a further question that the late Rev. Peter Toon wisely articulated about the ‘reformation forward’ approach that the Church of England adopted to discover an answer to that question.

        As the LLF process unfolds, CofE evangelicals will come to rue the day that they capitulated to the presumption behind that approach:

        ‘In its present form, Anglican ‘reception’ is not an appeal to the sureties of the past, or even to what has been.

        Instead, it is an appeal to what might be someday, with the associated permission to test or experiment with the proposed possibilities of the future. This kind of ‘reception’ is, thus, a novelty in itself. It is no longer a ‘reformation’ (an effort to achieve the original, pristine form). Rather it is a ‘reformation forward,’ so that the true form of the Church may not have been seen or achieved yet.

        That is not, however, an eschatological consideration, according to which we are not completely sure of what Christ will make of us. Rather, it is an inversion, an experiment to determine what we will discover of Christ and his Body, the Church.

        In the end, one is faced with this question: Is there justification provided in the Scriptures for a principle of experimentation?
        No previous effort at reformation or renewal has looked to the future, rather than to the settled past. It may even be said that the reformation forward is contrary to every basic principle of church polity.

        For the experiment to proceed, it must be permitted by human authority. But until the experiment succeeds, it cannot be known if the human authorities granting permission have the divinely given authority to allow the experiment.”

        Reply
      • Thanks Ian. It is indeed a big question. If one holds that Paul’s assertion that “the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11.3) describes a hierarchy of importance then it is unsurprising that the complementarian view is cast as hierarchical.

        But in fact there is absolute unity in the Trinity; each Person is fully God, the Son is begotten, not made, equal in power and glory, so 1 Cor 11.3 surely describes the Son voluntarily and joyfully assuming a different role in the godhead “though he was (and is) in very nature God.” Pressing this into a “who’s in charge?” mold seems unhelpfully reductive to me.

        The complementarian view in my understanding flows from this Trinidadian theology. I see male headship in marriage as a humble and Christ-exalting taking of responsibility to pray, to protect and to cherish, and female submission to joyfully accept and support such.

        And I find it hard to argue honestly from the pastorals in particular that male and female is just a non-issue with respect to roles and offices in the church.

        Reply
      • Which is why you should produce the whole of his article instead of just half of it, so we can evaluate his ideas objectively.
        I have gone to the site and read the entire article, where essentially he argues that the role of “episkopos” or “presbuteros” in the New Testament church was to be “guardian”, “defender” and “father” in the family that is the Church.
        This is an interesting convergence of charismatic evangelical thought with the traditional Catholic and Orthodox understanding of the priesthood: to be the spiritual father (not mother) of the family and it is one that this evangelical has a lot of sympathy with. Is this not how Paul understood his role toward his churches and to Timothy and Titus?

        Reply
  9. There is theory, and there is empirical experience. Sadly, some religious theorists – who have no experience of being ‘different ‘ in terms of identifiable gender identity – just have no understanding of the wide range of sexual attraction scientifically observable, not only amongst rational and spiritually aware humans – but also in the animal world. To close one’s eyes to this FACT is to deny the realty of the lives of many vulnerable and conscientious Christians.

    Reply
    • Father Smith is absolutely right.
      There are people who start off life as males, become females and then return to being male. As Father Smith knows, it was the New Zealander Dr John Money who did all this with that Canadian boy-then-girl-then-man David Reimer. A fascinating demonstration of gender fluidity, no?
      Then there are those who are constitutionally, from birth, born with sexual attraction to children and they suffer great discrimination in our society and they are denied the chance of fulfilment just because of their God-given nature. I am sure Father Smith would condemn this bigotry. Then there are those born – no doubt for genetic reasons which we will one day identify on the genome, with sexual attraction to the same sex, while others from birth are bisexuals and cannot be monogamous because they need partners from both sexes to be fulfilled. The empirical evidence fro Science is very clear and it refutes the bigotry of the New Testament.

      Reply
      • Bisexual people cannot be monogamous because they need partners from both sexes to be fulfilled.

        This is not just utter nonsense. It is offensive utter nonsense.
        I think you are a priest. If so, I worry about your pastoral responsibilities if you think this is accurate.

        Reply
        • You express strong emotions, Penelope, but no reasoning- because if you did, it would lead you to a conclusion you would find uncomfortable.
          Father Ron Smith is an Anglo-Catholic priest in his 90s in Christchurch, New Zealand who identifies as gay and has for many years urged that homosexual and bisexual desires are part of God’s good creation and positive will for some people, although he concedes that this has never, ever been part of Catholic teaching.
          In my own work, I have known at least two cases where bisexuality has impacted marriages.
          In the first, a mother with teenage children told me that her husband, a curate, had left her (and his church post) to take up with another man. He was seeking sexual and emotional fulfilment. Do you think he should have renounced his sexual desires or not?
          In the second case of a couple very well known to me and with whom I worked closely, the father and active layman with teenage children left his wife (who is now ordained herself) to take up with a man he was strongly attracted to. Should he also have renounced his sexual desires?
          Then there is the well known case of prominent evangelical leader Roy Clements who left his wife and family to take up with a young man who had become his assistant. Did he do wrong in following his desires if, as Ron Smith claims, “God made him that way”?
          The logic of Ron Smith’s position is that the existence of a wide range of erotic desires in humans, along with beliefs about ourselves (e.g. that our “real sex” or “identity” may be different from our bodies and chromosomes) must be the positive will of God because they are found “in nature”.
          Is Ron Smith correct in this conclusion which I have logically extended to show it actually applies to bisexuality? Has he not also shown that sexual attraction to children is “natural ” – as Peter Tatchell urged years ago?
          Please tel me where the error in Ron Smith’s thinking lies.

          Reply
          • Tone policing James?
            If you attend to me response you will see that I did not comment on Father Ron’s post.
            I am, rather, shocked that you persist in the long outdated belief that being bisexual means that people are attracted to both sexes at the same time and therefore cannot sustain fulfilling monogamous relationships.
            The cases you cite do not demonstrate the severity of your egregiously mistaken belief. Marriages and relationships do break up because of infidelity, usually with a partner of the ‘opposite’ sex. Should we then proscribe heterosexuality as being intrinsically unstable?
            You have written nothing to convince me that your beliefs about bisexuality isn’t fraught with the potential to harm.

          • James. I have a Christian friend who happens to be bi-sexual. She has been willing discuss this openly in the context of current debates of sexuality. Her experience is that bi-sexuality is widely misunderstood and that – though prejudice, ignorance or both – it is often assumed that bi-sexuals will be more promiscuous, and will ‘need’ more than one partner (see your claim above). All it actually means , she says, is that she has had more choice over who she fell in love with and faithfully committed herself too.

          • If David you think that acting on same sex attraction is sin then I think it would be helpful for neither you nor your friend (unless when reporting the exact words your friend used you indicate that you would not express it in the same way) give the impression that experiencing same sex attraction amounts to “having more choice over who” we “fall in love with and faithfully commit” ourselves to.

            We have a choice as to who we fall in love with. It’s not different as heterosexuals. A man may be attracted to his daughter’s girlfriend but we know that with God’s grace he has the capacity to choose not to indulge it to the point where he would say that he was in love with her.

            And (sorry I’ve seen your name on the forums but I don’t know your views off the top of my head) if you do believe that acting on same sex attraction is not a sin can you please chime in to indicate that? Thanks.

            PS I’m not “getting you back” for your criticism of my comment! – I thought it was worthy criticism – I just thought this was important.

          • I have my answer without your help David.

            You have written a book “Love Means Love: Same-sex Relationships and the Bible”.

            I haven’t read the book but I don’t think if it rejected acting on same sex attraction that the title would start with “Love Means Love” when God is love. I therefore conclude your choice of language was deliberate.

          • David writes it is often ‘assumed’ that bisexual people will be more promiscuous.

            The whole idea that anyone would need to ‘assume’ anything when the statistics are already out there does not add up.

            Nor does the whole idea that people should chatter and take up stances on such matters without ever first having checked the statistics! What else is there for any stance to be based on?

            Do the statistics really show bisexual people to be more, equally, or less promiscuous on average, compared to the norm?

          • There’s another thing that can be called ‘love’ too – feelings of love. Which are indistinguishable from feelings of desire. Which are animal instincts. And therefore pre-moral (or sub-moral).

            Even if that spanner were not in the works, there is a second. Love would still not mean love, because the English single word ‘love’ covers for 4 quite different Greek words which cannot be merged or fudged together. Therefore what we have is the simplistic sloganeering which finds one incredibly short slogan which is broadly correct from one angle (though leaves much undiscussed) and refuses to budge further. This kind of tactic is exactly what one encounters in (for example) life demos, where there are no prizes for guessing which ‘side’ comes forth with arguments and reason and which with pre-rational or sub-rational slogans and songs, both of which beg numerous questions. So naturally the govt favours the pre-rational.

          • @ James

            “Sexual feelings are actually a continuum in most people…”

            How did you discover that, and does “most people” include you?

            “…most homosexual persons are actually bisexual in their feelings with different levels of attraction.”

            I’d be interested to know on what evidence that pronouncement is based.

            With regard to Roy Clements and Jeremy Pemberton, you appear to be assuming that they are bisexual men, rather than homosexual men who, as a result of social and religious pressure, had unwisely shoe-horned themselves into orientation-discordant heterosexual relationships. Again, I’d be interested to know on what evidence that assumption is based.

          • In your final 2 paragraphs, James, you question what some people have already given evidence about – their particular sexual attraction – which just happens to be different from your own!
            No self-appointed ‘expert’ (like yourself?) is qualified to give evidence of other people’s experience of sexual attraction. This is one reason why prejudiced people – usually conservative heterosexuals – often have difficulty in believing that anyone could possibly consider themselves other than part of the majority (heterosexual) community.
            Until the majority (heterosexual) community was ready to listen to the experience of people with non-heterosexual feelings as part of their given identity and experience; there was little sympathy for their situation. Because certain Biblical passages contained what appear to be condemnatory indications of any sexual activity outside of baby-making, those whose own sexual activites are solely directed towards that objective must find it very difficult to read passages like those contained in The Song of Songs – which speak of sexual feelings not necessarily connected with procreation.
            I did not ask to be gay. Nor did I ever consider heterosexual activity as something I was ever drawn to. I guess that makes me ifferent from ‘the norm’ – but something I have learned to live with – both in the community and in the Church – despite the Church’s continuing bias against my intrinsic sexual identity. Now that the Church has woken up to the reality of certain lives that are differently oriented, sexually, there is less persecution and public calumny offered to LGBT+ people.
            From what I have learned – in some instances been told – I understand that there are many instances of gay people who have entered into heterosexual marriage because it has been expected of them – rather than because of an innate sexual attraction for their chosen spouse.
            I am heterosexually married, not because of public expectation, but because I was in love (not sexually) with a widow with two young children who needed a spouse/father figure. This marriage was presided over by my local bishop who – like my prospective wife – knew of my sexual orientation beforehand, and agreed that this could a call from God for us to be married. We have now been married for 37 years and I have no intention of leaving her for another partner. We contracted this partnership in full knowledge of the circumstances involved.
            Our sexuality, though given, still has to be subject to personal discipline. I guess that , in the case of bisexual persons they, like the majority of heterosexual people, need to make a choice as to whom they marry. Your false isolation of either bi – or homo-sexual people as being more promiscuous than heterosexual people is so obviously not borne out by statistics that it is hard to take you seriously in any of your arguments here. Reality about sexual orientation, for some people – especially when blinded by outdated ‘religious’ prejudice, must be hard for them to take; but not as hard for them, as for the people whose lives they want to discriminate against.

            Jesus, in the Scriptures, was only shown to even speak about ‘eunuchs’ – in terms of those unable to procreate (intrinsically ‘gay’?) – in the words of Matthew 19:12, when he says that “There are eunuchs from their mother’s womb”. That is one verse of Scripture I know by heart!

          • Fr Ron. Can I thank you for being prepared to share your story so openly here. Thank you for the evident integrity of your faith and commitments.

        • It’s important that Penelope’s comments be understood within the context of her wider beliefs. If for example she believes practising homosexuality is sin that would be a helpful framer for this discussion, yes? It would mean she believed that whether or not those attracted to both sexes experience simultaneous attractions or not they would be required by God to resist attractions to the same sex. That would surely places Jame’s beliefs about the nature of bisexual attraction into a less than critical context.

          As best I understand her views (she should feel free to correct me if what I say is incorrect):
          -she believes the Bible is the word of God
          – she hasn’t attempted to deny that Leviticus 18 shows that homosexuality is sin and that the New Testament refers back to it.

          She has however shown signs of not being fully committed to these views because she has also given support to same sex marriage in the church.

          I cannot see how it would be fair to consider attempting to understand people’s statements from the context of their entire position to be some form of mistreatment of them – quite the opposite.

          Reply
          • Philip Penelope challenged one particular claim by James. “Bisexual people cannot be monogamous because they need partners from both sexes to be fulfilled.” I agree with her. This has no basis in fact. To challenge this has nothing to do with our views on homosexuality, whether we think the bible is the Word of God or what we think Lev 18 says. The claim is simply wrong and based on a common misunderstanding of bi-sexuality.

          • Fair enough. I can see that in as far as it currently reaches my comments weren’t adding to the discussion. I apologise.

          • Penelope apparently does not do irony and did not grasp that I was playing advocatus diaboli in my reply to Ron Smith’s views ( which she chose to comment on) in taking his heretical beliefs to their logical conclusion ( a reductio ad absurdum) ,
            For the record:
            1. The pastoral cases I mentioned – of bisexual men leaving their wives and children to follow their desires – are true.
            2. Those men acted sinfully. So did Roy Clements. The fact that they felt these desires is no justification for acting on them. I often wonder what their children think of them. I know how their wives suffered,
            3. Sexual feelings are actually a continuum in most people and most homosexual persons are actually bisexual in their feelings with different levels of attraction. Many of the leading advocates of gay relations in the Church of England, like Jeremy Pemberton, were themselves married for years and raised families before leaving them. “Bisexual ” is not a special sub-genre of human beings, as Ron Smith seems to believe.
            4. All of us (I hope) believe that some sexual desires are not good and should be resisted. That was the point of my comments on sexual attraction to children (which Penelope ignored). The paedophile says: “I was born that way so it is natural to me.”
            At this point the gay advocate gets a little anxious because he or she sees where this going: this is precisely the same argument she has been making for homosexuality or bisexuality. She asks herself: “How can I tell a person his sexual feelings are sinful? Where would that lead to?”
            And of course that argument is fallacious, as are the things Ron Smith has been advocating for many years now. He calls himself an Anglo-Catholic but is profoundly confused about the Bible and the Church Fathers – and worst of all, about the nature of sin itself. Do you think we are going to say of a famous apologist revealed after his death that he was a serial adulterer, “Oh, his orientation was obviously polyamorous?”
            No, we are shaken by a double life and we tremble at our own weakness.

          • James

            What part of I am not addressing Father Ron’s comments do you not understand? (Though, I do not find them to be at all heretical.)

            I was responding to your failure to understand bisexuality. I have no doubt that the stories you cited are true. However, most instances of infidelity are with members of the ‘opposite’ sex, yet we do not condemn nor proscribe heterosexuality; only those heterosexual acts which are faithless. Separating from one partner and marrying again is not confined to gay men. Nor is it a sign of sexual sin and infidelity. Some straight bishops have done it too.

          • Hello Philip

            David is, of course, right. My concern is with James’s egregious misunderstanding of bisexuality which leads him to suppose that simply being bisexual is immoral because it means bi people cannot sustain faithful, stable relationships.

            However, if you would like context, I am quite happy to provide some. I do not believe being straight, bi, gay, pan, asexual…is sinful. What we do with our sexuality can be sinful: betrayal, faithlessness, coercion, abuse, male headship….. this is as true of straight sexuality as it is of other orientations.
            If someone is bisexual it matters not a jot whether they partner someone of the same or a different sex, so long as the relationship is equal, mutual, faithful and consensual.

            I do not believe that the Bible is the word of God. Christ is the Word of God. The Bible points to the revelation; it is not the revelation.
            I do not believe that Leviticus 18 and 20, nor that the trigger texts in the NT condemn something called ‘homosexuality’. They proscribe certain male same-sex acts for reasons which we do not fully understand.

            I do believe in equal marriage in church. I do not think that ‘the gays’ should be expected to drink from a separate water fountain. Though I sometimes wonder why gay people should want to embrace a patriarchal institution – unless it is to transform it from within!

          • I appreciate Penelope’s clarification of her wider beliefs.

            Two quick things:
            – Even if I conceded for the sake of ongoing discussion (I don’t concede in real life!) to Penelope’s idea that Jesus should be called the Word of God and the Bible not – Penelope still said that she believes the Bible points to Jesus. But what does that mean? For the Bible to point to Jesus every word of it would have to reliably point to him. If any part of it can be considered unreliable in pointing to him all of it is unreliable. If we attempt to set some criteria for what parts of the Bible should be considered reliable in pointing to Jesus and what parts not what would guarantee the reliability of the chosen criteria? Maybe Penelope would like to give some insight into how she sees this working. Is it possible for a perfect Jesus to shine through perfectly when an imperfect Bible stands in the way?

            Or is the Bible perfect – just not the word of God? If so consider that Jesus acted as if every single word of the Old Testament was authoritative and he also called it the word of God.
            John 10:34-36 ESV
            Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”?

            Paul wrote a huge portion of the New Testament and Peter refers to his letters as scripture (giving it the same authority as the Old Testament which Jesus calls the word of God)
            2 Pet 3:16 ESV
            He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

          • My sentence that read:
            “Or is the Bible perfect – just not the word of God?”

            should have read:
            “Or is the Bible perfect – just not called the word of God?”

            Let me add too what I should have clarified – I certainly don’t believe that relationship with God is governed by our mind – reading the bible and relating to God aren’t one and the same – instead our mind is subject to God speaking to our spirit – the mind comes into submission with what the Spirit testifies to our spirit – and sometimes calls us to question what we believe God was saying to our spirit. But:
            – I believe it is called the word of God
            – it comes down to what pointing to Jesus means – whether or not it points authoritatively.

          • Philip there are a number of things that just don’t make sense and follow in what you say.

            “For the Bible to point to Jesus every word of it would have to reliably point to him.”

            How is that true? The bible is a vast collection of different genres and types of writing. How is poetry ‘reliable’? And if a history book happens to get one detail of an event incorrect, how does that make the whole of the narrative unreliable? That just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

            “ If any part of it can be considered unreliable in pointing to him all of it is unreliable. “

            ‘Pointing to’ means bearing witness. Some people can be unreliable in particular details in bearing witness in court, for example. But if they happen to have missed one particular detail in their witness, it does not follow that the whole of their bearing witness is unreliable. Paul might have got some details wrong. He might have let his one views interfere with his witness. You are wanting to claim something about texts and human behaviour that eliminates the human element. It’s a kind of ‘God of the gaps’ theology that just doesn’t make sense.

          • Good morning Philip

            I am here, so I would rather you spoke to me than about me.
            I have read scores of books and articles about the possible meanings of arsenokoites. Like many, I conclude that it means (literally) male bedder, to indicate male fucker. It does not mean ‘homosexual’.

          • I asked a question – I gave my reasons for asking it – as someone who also believes the bible points to Jesus (but who has reasons which I gave for calling it the word of God – see previous post) I wondered what the reason for Penelope’s choosing to make a point of saying this was – was it only to say that there is no reason to call the Bible the word of God – but everything else about what she and I should expect from the Bible is the same?

            If I have asked my question in a less than perfect way I apologise. Consider it a fact finding mission – I believe there is real benefit from not arguing about sexuality and sex differences without seeing what lies at the bottom of people’s pyramids. The fact that you consider my question flawed shows that perhaps there are in fact different ways people might understand the phrase “the Bible points to Jesus”.

            For what it’s worth my view has always included a minimum standard – that if the Bible has errors we must be able to trust that they don’t interfere with its intended purpose – that we might know and love God. This doesn’t mean the Bible can be substantially historically incorrect – the credibility of Christianity rests on recorded events having actually occurred.

            On the question of poetry not being able to be reliable I don’t get the issue. If I write:
            I love God like a summer’s day
            He always make me feel this way

            (aren’t you glad I didn’t write the Bible?!) everyone knows what we need to be able to rely on – what that particular kind of writing is seeking to convey about God. Or at least they would if it was the Bible!

            The reason I raised arsenekoitai was because Penelope indicated that she believes that same sex sexual activity isn’t by its very nature sinful. It was in her mind only sinful if it took on particular characteristics. I couldn’t see how that could be the case in the light of arsenokoitai – 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:10 (in my initial long post here I sought to present a theology of sex and sex differences which relied on the belief that the Bible shows that behaving as if denying sex differences alone is without any other mentioned characteristics an indication according to Paul that one is not a Christian. And then there is 1 Tim 1:10.
            So I sought to draw out arguments concerning the mean of that word. And as a result of Penelope’s confirming she sees the meaning of the word the same as me (although she may intend that the word not reflect attraction that is allowed to become desire is included – but if so how is that men end up sleeping with each other?) I am confused as to why she holds her views about what makes same sex sexual activity sinful.

          • Penelope, you say that the word does not mean ‘homosexual’. Points against this that need individual attention (I assume at all times that we can take for granted that your proposed position on the translation is correct, given especially David Wright’s demonstration of the rootedness of Rom in Lev, and given secondly that if you are going to coin a word it is imperative that the word’s meaning be transparent from its component parts):

            (1) ‘Homosexual’ is by definition an English concept, so of course Greek thought will not map perfectly onto it. Big deal. That does not get us very far.

            (2) ‘Homosexual’ can refer both to behaviour and to preferred or desired behaviour (i.e. ‘orientation’).

            (3) Moreover, there is a lot of overlap between the two, obviously.

            (4) Indeed, behaviour could be seen to be a subset of orientation.

            (5) Indeed, the chief and overwhelming subset.

            (6) But even in a parallel universe where the word ‘homosexual’ referred to orientation only without reference to behaviour (and what sort of orientation does have no reference to behaviour??) then by virtue of referring to ‘orientation’ it is referring to ‘desire’, since they are much the same thing. And Paul has his sights set on ‘desire’.

            So the main question is – what on earth are you doing speaking of orientation as though it had *no* connection to behaviour? Far from having none, it does not even have a small amount of connection, it has a very *large* amount of connection. Behaviour is the main way that orientation is proven. It is also the bulk of what orientation is and how it manifests. These hair-splitting distinctions would be bad enough within a single language, but you want us to accept them while also mixing and matching (for convenience) between languages.

          • “This doesn’t mean the Bible can be substantially historically incorrect – the credibility of Christianity rests on recorded events having actually occurred.”

            Yes, I agree. But in much of his letter writing Paul isn’t expressing historical information. He is expressing views about behaviour and process. His letters are therefore often expressing opinion. It is therefore of less consequence than history. Opinion might be disregarded when further information or reflection comes to light. Paul might not express the same opinions 2000 years later in very different circumstances.

          • Perhaps Andrew might like to give us greater insight into the way he views – and therefore we ought to view – scripture by listing examples in Paul’s letters which have zero edification value because:
            – the advice falls short of being an expression of principle OR
            – it cannot be understood within the context it is given
            – it is absent of any reasoning or motive which could have universal application.

            I’ll start things off – by naming the only example that came to mind.
            1 Tim 5:23
            (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)

            But then I realised that the verse reveals that our physical well being should be of some priority as believers.

            I hereby hand the floor to anyone who has examples. If we find sufficient ones we can then consider whether this requires us to draw a distinction between the reliability of the Bible and the reliability of Jesus.

          • Christopher

            Orientation has no necessary link to behaviour. Celibate clergy and religious may be straight, gay, or bi; they are also sexually abstinent

          • Hello Philip

            I am still here.
            Same-sex sexual activity is immoral if it is faithless, coercive, abusive.
            Other-sex sexual activity is immoral if it is faithless, coercive, abusive.
            No consensual, mutual, age-appropriate sexual act is immoral in the context of faithful, stable adult relationships.

          • Christopher

            I should have added that a man may be a male bedder (to put it politely) without being a ‘homosexual’. Prisons, wars and public schools are good examples of same-sex behaviour being indulged in by straight men/boys.

          • Perhaps Philip Benjamin would like to tell us how he knows for certain that Paul would express himself and his opinions in exactly the same way today as he did 2000 years ago. He wrote letters to particular situations. We have already felt it right to change his strictures about women teaching and speaking in church, and being bishops. It’s common to think he was wrong in his directives about the imminent last times.

          • We don’t need to know what Paul’s opinions are today. We only need the Holy Spirit of 2000 years ago to help us to understand as he helped Paul to understand – to teach us his will as we sit in front of scripture as he did with Paul as he sat in front of scripture – and also away from scripture as he did with Paul. Nobody cares what Paul thinks. Every follower of God who lives after Jesus has the in dwelling presence of the Spirit to lead them into all truth (John 16:13) – the truth is an outflow of a Person – a Person with a consistent single character – the Spirit is the Truth in dwelling us. We can’t lose!

            I am now completely confused about what Penelope is saying about arsenokoitai. I thought she thought that it meant men of any age having sex with men of any age. Isn’t that what she meant by male bedder? But then there is a post about prisons, wars and public schools. She said she was being polite but I hope that she will be frank enough for us to get to the bottom of what desires and actions she believes is condemned by 1 Cor 6:9-10 in respect of same sex sexual activity – how her beliefs on that passage allow her to say:

            “Same-sex sexual activity is immoral if it is faithless, coercive, abusive.
            Other-sex sexual activity is immoral if it is faithless, coercive, abusive.
            No consensual, mutual, age-appropriate sexual act is immoral in the context of faithful, stable adult relationships.”

            Is it so difficult for people to simply say what they believe? I have asked Penelope if she would clarify what she means when she says that the Bible isn’t the word of God but it points to Jesus who is the Word of God and so far Andrew has taken over that challenge – but then not done so – he hasn’t shown an example of a single passage from scripture in which a distinction need be made between the reliability of the Bible and the reliability of the Jesus to whom it points. Anyone is welcome to contribute. For a passage to be of no edifying value I suggest:
            – that the advice must fall short of being an expression of principle OR
            – that it cannot be understood within a wider context OR
            – that it is absent of any reasoning or motive which could have universal application.

          • “Andrew has taken over that challenge – but then not done so”

            Andrew has clearly done so. You simply don’t accept it. I even gave you examples, which you simply ignore.

            The Word of God is his son Jesus Christ. The bible bears witness to him. Like all witnesses, it is human and fallible and doesn’t grasp the complete picture. Paul gets that point quite clearly – see 1 Cor 13:12

          • We’re getting closer.

            No, Andrew hasn’t supplied any examples. He has said only this:
            “We have already felt it right to change his strictures about women teaching and speaking in church, and being bishops. It’s common to think he was wrong in his directives about the imminent last times.”

            But those who felt it right to make these decisions aren’t Andrew and they aren’t what we think of as a system of biblical interpretation – they were a church denomination or denominations. The question is what interpretations did Andrew make and what relationship do they have to his beliefs? And the same with the last sentence – “it’s common to think Paul was wrong in his directives about the imminent last times”. Again I’m not interested in what other people think right now – I’m interested – if Andrew is moved to support either of the beliefs he mentioned – to find out how his system of beliefs contributed to his conclusions. What bible verses were involved and how authoritative did he conclude them to be at revealing God’s character and will? Is there in his mind still a way to authoritatively know and serve God? And is there anything about his approach which is distinctly different in seeking the meaning of verses to a typical evangelical?

            As part of getting insight into that he’s supplied a verse which outlines a principle – that we know God now as looking in a mirror – that our revelation is dim – but that we will know God face to face in the age to come. This leaves me with two questions:
            – how did Andrew come to the conclusion that this verse itself was absolutely authoritative – so authoritative that he could use it as a principle that was rock solid enough for what to expect from every other verse of the Bible?
            – the devil is in the detail – when we nod our heads to 1 Cor 13:12 we may all be thinking different things. Is the dimness one of intensity – can we correctly understand God’s character and will and experience Him via the Spirit now – but just less intensely – yet enough to hold us accountable – or does the dimness prevent us from knowing his character and will and therefore undermines accountability? If it ever does undermine knowing God’s character and will is there ever any reason to believe that at other times it does not – as for example Andrew appears to believe about the 1 Cor 13:12 verse?
            If it’s only some passages what is it about such passages which make them more dim and others more clear? Perhaps he has examples of passages that are definitely reliable and others that are definitely not (but only if all passages don’t share the same status). Only with answers to these questions can we get a sense of why Andrew feels the need to differentiate between the Bible testified to us by the Spirit now – and the Jesus we will see face to face in the age to come.

            Of course those who believe the dimness is only of intensity still believe the Bible is fully authoritative for differentiating God’s character from any other character – and for accountability.

          • “What bible verses were involved and how authoritative did he conclude them to be at revealing God’s character and will?”

            Nothing is authoritative Philip. Everything is provisional. We are human. God alone is God. If we knew authoritatively then we would also be God. The early Church Fathers (they were all male) pointed out that we could not speak of God with authority, but if we must try then words were helpful to us but not descriptive of God.

            Why would I use just bible verses? I also have human reason, tradition and human experience. So I’m afraid I find your post simply confusing and claiming some kind of authority that just can’t exist. Paul’s pointing out this provisionality in 1 Cor 13:12 Do I regard that verse as having a special authority? No. It’s just common sense and matches conclusions drawn from tradition, reason and experience.

          • “But those who felt it right to make these decisions aren’t Andrew “

            Andrew, like Ian Paul, was involved in making those decisions and spoke in the debates about them and voted in favour of them actually.

          • Andrew says “Nothing is authoritative Philip. Everything is provisional”.
            Provisional means subject to change. What kind of change would make the truth of the Bible suddenly mean something different? The truth of the bible isn’t changed by OUR changing circumstances – we need only seek to understand it in ITS context to successfully apply it to our own.

            He says “We are human”.
            But he said that nothing is authoritative. If nothing is authoritative the existence of God is not a given – we must therefore fall back to the default position – that we are an arrangement of chemicals.

            He says “God alone is God”.
            Plenty of people would disagree with the Christian God alone being God. Which part of his beliefs are sufficiently authoritative for him to say that?

            He says “If we knew authoritatively then we would also be God”.
            We can draw from this statement that we would ALSO be God that whilst he says we cannot authoritatively know about God he believes we can authoritatively believe both that there is a God and he authoritatively knows. Despite saying above that nothing in the Bible is authoritative. Sounds like at least some bits are after all – the bits that he needs to maintain his worldview.

            He says “The early Church Fathers (they were all male) pointed out that we could not speak of God with authority, but if we must try then words were helpful to us but not descriptive of God”.
            How are words about God helpful to us if they aren’t descriptive of God?

            He says “Why would I use just bible verses? I also have human reason, tradition and human experience”.
            By all means use human reason – and tradition and human experience with care. But look to Bible verses too – because it’s undeniable that they are at least in part the product of human reason, tradition (record of how God acted in the past) and human experience.

            He says “So I’m afraid I find your post simply confusing and claiming some kind of authority that just can’t exist”.
            My position confusing? I’ve been seeking to examine his position and I’m finding it confusing – impossible to identify. If I had to sum up his beliefs it would be that he believes in the authoritative statement that nothing is authoritative – unless of course he needs a particular part of the Bible to be authoritative to support his worldview.

            He says “Paul’s pointing out this provisionality in 1 Cor 13:12. Do I regard that verse as having a special authority? No. It’s just common sense and matches conclusions drawn from tradition, reason and experience”.
            So the verse doesn’t tell us the nature of how we see now? Only our tradition, reason and experience tells us how well we see God? Well why did he mention the verse in an earlier post to explain why nothing is authoritative?

            He says “Andrew, like Ian Paul, was involved in making those decisions and spoke in the debates about them and voted in favour of them actually”.
            But of course I was only seeking to point out that a group made the decisions not Andrew alone to point out that by saying this he had revealed nothing about the method by which Andrew reaches conclusions.

          • “…by saying this he had revealed nothing about the method by which Andrew reaches conclusions.”

            On the contrary, I have made it absolutely clear that I use the Anglican method of working with scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

          • Reply to Penelope Cowell Doe:

            “Separating from one partner and marrying again is not confined to gay men. Nor is it a sign of sexual sin and infidelity. Some straight bishops have done it too.”

            How is it not a sign of infidelity on the part of at least one of the two people in the first marriage? Marriage vows are intended to be binding for life. That they may be broken, whether by gay men or bishops, is another matter – infidelity has still taken place.

          • Hello Laurence.

            Quite. Although James seemed to imply that only bisexual men can be unfaithful to an other sex spouse.

        • @ Penelope Cowell Doe

          Thank you for explaining the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behaviour with such simplicity and crystal clarity that any attempt to obfuscate it is patently futile.

          Reply
          • Ian
            I am now so lost about where answers will appear.
            I agree, very unlikely that the Jesus of the gospels would be interested in same-sex relationships. He wasn’t really invested in other-sex relationships either. Non kin, barren women, eunuchs and children are to inherit the kingdom.

          • But, as you know, the question is not ‘was Jesus interested in SSR?’ but ‘Did he agree with the premiss ‘permanent-faithful-stable good, gender mix irrelevant?’. There is not the slightest NT evidence he or Paul did other than disagree with the second half of this. *That* is the question for you to address.

          • Christopher
            There isn’t much evidence that Jesus, or Paul, invested much in sexual relationships of any kind. For Paul, marriage was a remedy for lust (and no mention of the goods of procreation). For Jesus, marital bonds and blood kinship were to be left behind. The ascetic, the eunuch, the barren and children, those who hate mother and father are the inheritors of the Kingdom.

          • Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that that were correct. Still you have for no reason changed the subject to ‘what did they think about it’ to ‘how much store did they set by it’. Return to the question you sidestepped: ‘what did they think about it’.

            What they did say was diametrically opposed to SSR.

          • Christopher

            We have no idea what they would think about it. The Jesus of the Gospels is silent. Paul, probably, condemned some same-sex acts. We do not know why. Were they considered idolatrous? Were they trangressing gender boundaries? We cannot know for sure. What we do know is that he had nothing to say of stable, faithful same-sex relationships. Nor should we expect him to. He had nothing to say about digital church either.

          • This is nonsense, because you keep importing a word or concept (‘some’) which is not in the text.
            It is the very idea of swapping the appropriate desire for women for the inappropriate desire for men that exercises Paul. Or so the text says.
            There is only one alternative: that Paul was exercised by a subset but failed to say that it *was* a subset or to give any indication of that.
            But there is not the slightest chance that he was exercised by a subset. Because the sin he has chosen he has chosen deliberately as paradigmatic of Gentile depravity. There is no way that a recondite or subset sin could play that role. Only a general sin and one that frequently came up as a candidate (1 Cor, 1 Tim) could play that role.

            So you have to import a ‘some’ where no ‘some’ exists (trying to change the text, which is dishonest and motivated) and then also have to do a second improbable thing: suppose that Paul would have chosen a subset sin (rather than a general sin) as paradigmatic, as something to highlight at length. Two points to address, or concede?

  10. How interesting that only one woman has commented so far.

    The original post points to Biblical divisions : “And God separated the light from the darkness, the day from the night, the waters above from the waters beneath, the sea from the land.”

    And then “The Jewish-Christian vision of sexual complementarity, as such, reflects our vision of cosmological complementarity—and ultimately, behind it, the beautiful difference of Creator and Creation, God and Israel, Christ and Church, Lamb and Bride.”

    As someone who has not studied theology, can I make two points? 1) day and night are only stark divisions if you describe them as such; they actually merge into each other; 2) if the sexual division in the human race is being compared to the second list, in which God is always on the left, usually portrayed as masculine; and faulty creation is always on the right (and God made them “male and female”), do you wonder that women might feel theologically short-changed?

    PS 43 shootings by toddlers????? Is it that the boys are violent, or that irresponsible maniacs are teaching their sons how guns work rather than their daughters?

    Reply
    • Penelope. Thank you for your perceptive and theological questions here. As you illustrate the binary language here needs great deal more subtlety than it gets here.
      You note the lack of women’s voices – which, whatever the reasons, is the norm in discussions here. But particularly given this topic I really would welcome reading the response of someone like Elaine Storkey to these articles. Can I encourage Ian to consider this? The working principle these days is summarised as ‘talking with not about’.

      Reply
  11. I just find this fascinating – “Then imagine them discovering that, generally speaking, one was better at forming relationships, holding small groups together and working with people, while the other was more suited to external agency, risk-taking and working with things”.

    Surely that is a great argument for men and women to work together in leadership – in fact such a good argument that we would need some really unarguable biblical data not to go that way – and aren’t so many of the issues surfacing in the evangelical world right now to do with an excess of risk taking and a lack of actual relationships that treat people as people rather than tools for the leader to use in his project?

    Reply
  12. Philip Benjamin’s long comment offers a hierarchical reading of 1 Corinthians 11:3 (my translation: “the Messiah is the head of every man, and the man is head of woman, and God is head of the Messiah”). In my book I offer eight reasons which show that 11:2-16 is not about hierarchy (Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts, IVP, 2019, pages 122-127). Seven of them are directly from Paul’s words in this passage.
    The fundamental interpretive challenge here is to show how Paul successively uses each of the three couplets in his train of reasoning from 11:3 to 11:16. The hierarchical reading cannot do this. A non-hierarchical reading can.
    Philip Almond’s comment on Ephesians 5:21-6:9 proposes that Paul is there writing about a hierarchy of authority. However, a convincing reading needs to grapple with (1) Paul’s apposition of ‘saviour of the body’ with ‘head of the church’ in 5:23, (2) the theme of saviourhood, not lordship, in 5:25-33, (3) Paul’s use of Genesis in 5:31, and (4) Paul’s use of ‘but’ (Greek ‘alla’) as the first word of 5:24, to signal a strong contrast between v23 and v24.
    The hierarchical reading does not fit these features. See pages 50-60 of Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts.

    Reply
    • Hi Andrew
      Have you read my Fulcrum essay? One of Ian’s criticisms is “This is clearly *not* a closely coupled analogy, since Christ is the saviour of the Church. In what sense is the husband the saviour of the wife? If Christ exercises authority over the Church, and the Church is to be obedient to Christ, and there is an analogy in marriage, why does Paul conspicuously avoid ever using the language of authority and obedience of husband and wife, when that is the commonplace of Greek and Roman understandings?
      Why is there in Greek and Roman thought the absence of the use of ‘head’ in reference to authority?
      And why is the only mention of authority in marriage in Paul (1 Cor 7.4) very precisely symmetric, with husband and wife exercising mutual authority and submission to one another?”
      I argue above in my reply to this criticism that it is a closely coupled analogy: Christ-Church/Husband-Wife. In a post above Ian has defended his criticism and I have replied by correcting my wording. The ball is in his court and in yours.

      Phil Almond

      Reply
    • Hi Andrew,
      I take the view that if we wish to argue for an interpretation of one passage of scripture we must explain how that interpretation fits into our overall picture of God’s heart for the sexes. If we don’t have an overall picture it doesn’t prevent us from commenting at all but others should know this when approaching our interpretations. When interpreting the bible we should be working not only from small to big but also from big to small. Please read my initial long post – in it I argue this in more detail and also explain why some explanations for God’s heart behind the sexes are not coherent. For example I explain why saying that the purpose of marriage including both sexes is for parenting/populating isn’t coherent. And why we must explain why violating sex differences is for Paul (in 1 Cor 6:9-10) a sign we are not even a Christian.

      The only exception I can see to presenting our overall picture – or saying we don’t have one – is if our comments are narrowly confined to pointing out the inconsistencies of someone’s position without in doing so venturing into concepts that relate to our own views.

      I’m not seeking to shut you down – it’s the opposite – I want people to engage meaningfully here – I am only requesting that we be able to locate your opinions on particular bible passages in relation to your overall views. Without an overall picture of your views we have no way of knowing either the nature of your views or what they rely on for their foundation. Other comments on this forum list bible verses which they believe show specific submission of wives to husbands – they don’t believe they need 1 Cor 11 to hold such views.

      Reply
    • Hi Andrew
      In response to your “(4) Paul’s use of ‘but’ (Greek ‘alla’) as the first word of 5:24, to signal a strong contrast between v23 and v24” I comment:

      I agree that the adversative ‘alla’ is sometimes very significant as in Romans 5:14 but I don’t see a strong contrast between 5:23 and 5:24 in the overall context of 5:22-24:

      “The wives submit (implied from 5:21) to the(ir) own husbands as to the Lord, because a man is kephale of the woman as also Christ [is] kephale of the church [him]self Saviour of the body. Alla as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to the(ir) husbands in everything”

      Phil Almond

      Reply
  13. Some of this seems to be reheating a debate that came to the fore in 2016, which Andrew Wilson sought to summaries here:
    https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/submission_in_the_trinity_a_quick_guide_to_the_debate

    And Alastair Roberts here:
    https://alastairadversaria.com/2015/05/31/the-eternal-subordination-of-the-son-social-trinitarianism-and-ectypal-theology/

    As an aside, but not really, as a husband in a covenant of Holy Matrimony, is it easier for me to be like Christ, in loving- serving and sacrificing and more, or my wife to be like the Church in loving responsiveness, respect and more? And yet we are both to transformed into the likeness of Christ! Neither of us can be self-sanctified.
    The question of headship is not a one of what?, but how?

    Malachi 2

    “13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?[f] And what was the one God[g] seeking?[h] Godly offspring. So guard yourselves[i] in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[j] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[k] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

    Breaking faith.

    V 15 is remarkable, God the Holy Spirit joins in instrumentally in a tri-partner covenant union of oneness in believers marriage!! A unity in diversity.

    Reply
  14. So far as this moves into questions of the Trinity and relationship within (Eternal Functional Submission of the Son [EFS] or Eternal Gegeneration [EG] and the way that the relationship has been extrapolated into male and female relationships, within and without marriage, some of the comments seem to be reheating an intense debate that came to the fore in 2016, which Andrew Wilson sought to summaries here:

    https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/submission_in_the_trinity_a_quick_guide_to_the_debate

    And Alastair Roberts here:
    https://alastairadversaria.com/2015/05/31/the-eternal-subordination-of-the-son-social-trinitarianism-and-ectypal-theology/

    As an aside, but not really, as a husband in a covenant of Holy Matrimony, is it easier for me to be like Christ, in loving- serving and sacrificing and more, or my wife to be like the Church in loving responsiveness, respect and more? And yet we are both to transformed into the likeness of Christ! Neither of us can be self-sanctified.
    The question of headship is not a one of what?, but how?

    Malachi 2

    “13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?[f] And what was the one God[g] seeking?[h] Godly offspring. So guard yourselves[i] in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[j] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[k] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

    Breaking faith.

    v 15 is remarkable, God the Holy Spirit joins in instrumentally in a tri-partner covenant union of oneness in believers marriage!! A unity in diversity.

    Reply
  15. Not to trivialise, but oh, it’s all so very messy…

    I thought this was a good article regardless. I have read some of Andrew Wilson’s books and enjoyed them thoroughly, and I have even had the pleasure of throwing him some questions in person (in a time before Covid) when discussion panels and seminars were a feature of the NewFrontiers annual conference.

    I don’t have much to add to the comments that isn’t repetition of what others have said, but I agree (broadly) with Ian in that I think this part of Andrew’s argument is generally very good, even if I am a lot more skeptical of the hierarchy/headship arguments that follow it.

    My only other comment would be that we could all do with being more careful about words. I have been a lot more careful about using the term ‘complimentary’ without clarification since David Shepherd made an excellent case for it at the 2nd Festival of Theology, and we are in danger of talking around each other when we use the same words to carry radically different weights.

    Thank you for posting.

    Reply
  16. Great piece! I think this is such an important issue for the Church, especially concerning the subject of human sexuality. If the Church is to maintain that marriage can only be heterosexual, it must provide compelling reasons for that. Gender complementarity is now, I believe, the most important, underlying and distinctive purpose of marriage as the Church rightly allows infertile people to marry so reproduction is no longer a unique purpose of all marriages.

    I very much agree with your view that men and women are equal but different and complementary (emotionally, psychologically, biologically and socially). I also agree that both men and women may equally exercise headship. However, I’ve been struggling to fit this position with St. Paul’s assertion that man
    ‘is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man’
    (1 Corinthians 11:7)

    On at least a surface reading, this verse appears to imply that only men are themselves fully made in God’s image, seemingly conflicting with Genesis 1.

    Love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks so much again.
    Ben Somervell.

    Reply
  17. Hi Ben
    The translators differ on Genesis 1:27
    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (ESV)
    So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them. (NIV)
    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for your helpful and insightful reply. Interesting, I didn’t realise that. That resolves the apparent tension between 1 Corinthians 11:7 and Genesis 1:27. However, I’m still struggling personally to see how 1 Corinthians 11:7 (man ‘is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man’) fits with either complementarianism (men and women are equal in personhood and their divine image-bearing but were created for different roles, especially regarding marriage, family and particularly the Church), or egalitarianism (men and women are equal in their divine image-bearing, personhood and roles). 1 Corinthians 11:7 instead seems to, at least on the surface, imply a more patriarchal view of the genders, suggesting that only men bear (or directly bear) the image and glory of God. Love to hear your thoughts on this.

      Thanks again.
      Ben Somervell.

      Reply
    • Hi Ben
      Thanks for your reply. I will have to think carefully before I reply to your question about 1 Corinthians 11:7. I stand by my case set out on Fulcrum. I need to add that, indeed, man ‘is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man’. I don’t see any conflict between that truth and my case. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that two things are true even when we cannot grasp how they can fit together.
      Kind Regards
      Phil

      Reply
  18. Two passing comments
    There is irony in finding an article repeating arguments for male leadership and headship being followed by an article about (yet another) example of a male leader abusing trust and power. We are also about to read some other very uncomfortable reports of more such examples from among trusted conservative evangelical leaders. Perhaps we are not asking the right questions yet.
    More positively – I am loving the picture at the head of this article. The woman is leading – poised with gentle strength, as she raises a fallen man. A parable?

    Reply
  19. I find your analysis a little simplistic David:
    1 Ian, above, has already, in part, answered a point in relational to faithful evangelical leaders. There are many more as you well know.
    2 There are and have been many no profile male leaders who have not broken faith.
    3 Manipulation, domination and control are not exclusively male traits! Neither, lying nor cheating. It’s a consequence of fallen humanity.
    I only have to recall a meeting in the NHS where a woman was proud to proclaim she would regularly employ manipulation to achieve her goals!

    Reply
    • Hi Geoff. I did not offer any analysis. But I suggested the more is needed. Male identity and physical, mental and emotional health is very poor in western society. And that ends taking seriously in churches facing up to appalling levels of historic abuse by male leaders. We need to ask why.
      Meanwhile – what about my second comment?

      Reply
      • Hello David,
        I know of only One, Jesus the Christ, who raises fallen man, a dead weight!. We need to ask why?
        And dance normally reflects the differences between male and female physical stature and strength, such as in overhead lifts! Come to think of it, while certainly I’m no follower of dance, I can’t recall a female lifting a male overhead either with or without his bodily momentum.
        Meanwhile, how about answering my third point, that I illustrated from the NHS? Maybe it is conceded by you. This is pertinent as you allude to the following article about RZ.
        In that regard, my first and second points are pertinent. Again, as they don’t seem to fit your narrative, they remain unanswered: conceded.

        Reply
        • Geoff. Dance, like life itself, is about a lot are than physical strength. Why are you going on about heavy lifting? What story is being told in that picture? That’s what I was reflecting on. Well you have suggested one insight. “I know of only One, Jesus the Christ, who raises fallen man, a dead weight!”. Well I love the thought that that woman dancer is imaging Christ. Thank you.
          (And before you keep chasing me for your unanswered points … yes of course women are fallen too. And I am in no doubt some are found lurking in the NHS. That is simply not the point I am making here.)

          Reply
          • It’s amazing., David. You ask me to answer what you think is an unanswered point, but protest when I return the compliment.
            Ah, Yes, David. Woman as helper (a contributor in the fall) but not Saviour. Complementary, but equal, but different, (including physicality).
            Female manipulation, domination and control, lying and cheating is not only in the NHS. That was an illustration, (remarkable in this particular case for its openness, corroborated by unswerving pride). That is not the point I’m making. It is noticed in the Church, everywhere and, would you know it, even in scripture!

          • It might be helpful – if David has sought to develop his own theology – heart vision of God – for the sexes and sex differences – that he share it. It can avoid a lot of to-ing and fro-ing which still doesn’t get to the foundations of what we think.

            One thing I would like to understand is whether he sees men and women as different and if so to what purpose. And whether he sees the Bible condemning behaviour which ignores sex differences and if not why not (there are verses which people commonly think do show condemnation).

            I would imagine David would say that when it comes to sexual attraction we must honour people’s exercising their attraction to both the opposite and same sex since there is a real difference between the two sexes. But whilst also saying that men are so different from women that they are dangerous as leaders yet women not when it comes to marriage and functioning in the church I would expect that he would say the opposite – that men and women should be thought of as interchangeable for reflecting the image of God in marriage, and functionally interchangeable for the purposes of parenting.

            As part of presenting a theological vision it’s also helpful to explain if we believe the Bible is or is not the word of God – why with reference to key passages which others may believe condemn particular behaviours we believe that all our ideas about the sexes are consistent with ideas in the Bible. And if so which parts of scripture we consider key planks in our beliefs.

          • Geoff and Philip. I’m happy to wait for Ian’s promised critique of Andrew Wilson’s belief that men are unique guardian-leaders of God’s people. I don’t believe that either – but then I am married to a bishop …

      • You may be happy to wait David but Ian’s article won’t change the need for your beliefs to extend from an overall theology of the sexes for you to have integrity. Ian’s choices have no bearing on that.

        I hope that Ian won’t appear to provide justification to those who believe that to we have said anything actual in criticising other people’s worldviews without presenting our own (he won’t in reality of course – but some will pretend he has) unless as I explained elsewhere we are only pointing out inconsistencies in someone’s approach without having to introduce ideas to do so. It is normally the same as having said anything at all – we are merely hiding the inconsistencies in what we say in the absence of the information we provide. You are already making comments David which reflect a worldview you haven’t justified anywhere – for example you were when you said that your Christian friend testifies to having more people “to fall in love with”).
        So – over to you David. Your beliefs aren’t Ian’s.

        Reply
        • Sentence should read:
          “I hope that Ian won’t appear to provide justification to those who believe that we have said something actual in criticising other people’s worldviews without presenting our own”.

          Reply
  20. Geoff … I feel I wind you up when we engage. It is not my intention I assure you. But yes, we do come from very difference convictions to a number of runnings issues.
    But please note I would never mock your church or your beliefs. I would be so grateful if you could resist mocking mine. Your brother in Christ.

    Reply
    • Me too, you, David.
      The points I made were not mockery of you. Though if you show me where, I’ll stand corrected.
      To add -neither do other churches have an office of Priest, (e.g. New Frontiers of which Andrew Wilson is part). A gap opens up. Is there any correlation with regard to those two points?
      Is there any correlation with those two points and the CoE’s self-contentious positions on gender and the LLF? Just asking. And even on House of Lord’s Bishop’s voting on abortion?
      As it happens, I’m really not too sure why Ian seems to seek to trespass onto New Frontiers territory other than to shore-up and justify the CoE now settled stance. But that is to trespass onto Ian’s intentions.

      And, I trespass here. I’m not a scholar but a pleb.

      Yours in Christ,
      Geoff

      Reply
      • Thanks Geoff. Tired after a long day but – ‘That’s no answer to the points, David, as is your wont.’ I explained why I was pausing my contribution to the discussion. I felt as if my good faith in coming to engage here was being questioned. ‘It is only a CofE brand’ – this is the church I love and long for and have ministered in all my life. Thanks for listening.

        Reply
  21. ‘The beautiful complimentarity of male and female’ was not an obvious factor in the entire biblical narrative – from the patriarchy of the O.T. to the N.T. preference for male disciples. Despite Paul’s declaration of the ‘equality’ of male and female, the Church for centuries did not
    recognize this reality. “God made them male and female”. NOT: “God made them M or F.” -Determined misogynists have always found problems with this interpretation

    Reply
    • Problems of understanding – more so those who steadfastly refuse to see the plain sense meaning – a golden rule of interpretation.

      Reply
    • The ‘beautiful complementarity’ is a 19thC fairytale.
      Popularised by JPII.
      A modern romanticisation of scripture and tradition.

      Reply
        • Christopher
          I love romance. But I don’t subscribe to the sub platonic unbiblical notion of complementarity.
          Nor would any of the biblical authors understood our very modern concept of romance.

          Reply
        • If it’s unbiblical, then how about (a) the attraction spoken of in ‘bone of my bone’ etc, (b) the concept of one flesh – both (a) and (b) speak of being made for each other. (c) Men and women are designed to dovetail in such a manner that their union produces babies that are formed from the combination of both. If that is not complementary I do not know what is. (c) is obvious not only to the biblical writers but to everyone. I don’t understand how half-intelligent people can deny such a basic truth.

          Reply
          • Christopher
            Flesh of my flesh is the earthling’s recognition that their companion is human and not one of the animals God has also created to be companions.
            Sexual reproduction does not require romantic attachment nor ‘complememtarity’. As Tina Beattie said: even the dogs in the street do it.
            And rather strange that no one read complementarianism into the Genesis texts until the 19thC.

  22. The format of the comments section of this blog soon becomes unwieldy and hard to negotiate, and it becomes difficult (or even impossible) to make replies to replies or even to locate them. I hope Ian will consider switching to a simpler format. These are a few concluding remarks in reply to the remarks my earlier words provoked from Penelope, David Runcorn and Ron Smith.

    1. I have no doubt that each of us is speaking out of good faith, but evidently we cannot all be correct. On each side we believe the other(s) to be counselling grave moral error. They charge me with psychologically harming people with same-sex desires by counselling them not to express these physically. I charge them with leading people into grave sin against the word of Christ and his apostles. It is as serious as that. Which of us is being faithful to Christ?

    2. None of them has responded to my assertion that the mere presence of a sexual desire (of any kind) in a human being proves that that desire is of God or good or needful of expression. Why have they not responded to this? Because it undermines their fallacious assumption (one which has no basis in the Bible at all) that same-sex desire is from God and is God’s express intention for certain people. They know just as well as I do that some desires are good and some are evil, but they refuse to join the dots on this one. (And being an adult doesn’t make consent to certain sex acts moral, just non-criminal in the post-Christian world. Adultery used to be a crime. It hasn’t ceased to be a sin.)
    Let me put this clearly: Ron Smith has repeatedly stated his BELIEF that God specifically and intentionally “creates” certain persons to have same-sex erotic attraction, that homosexuality is part of God’s good, positive creation – and as far as I understand David Runcorn, this is what David believes and teaches as well.
    Ron and David are seriously mistaken on this point, which is entirely at variance with the Bible and Christian tradition.
    David’s error is worse because he still wants to claim for himself the name of “evangelical” but he offers a biblical exegesis that is mistaken and contradictory on many levels and against consensus. He is understandably reluctant to see that he has gone down the same road as Dave Tomlinson because he follows the same hermeneutic.
    Ron Smith, on the other hand, makes no bones about it: he repeatedly says in many, many places the Bible is just wrong, factually and morally, and the good and correct bits have to be retrieved somehow. No evangelical – or traditional Catholic – will ever say that.
    Did God “create” certain people to be sexually attracted to children? Isn’t paedophilia “innate” and “natural”? Or does it develop? They completely avoided this question, for obvious reasons.

    3. All of them missed the underlying point that I was making about bisexuality, so let me spell it out here:
    There is NO SUCH THING as a ‘bisexual identity’ as if this constituted a class or sub-genre of human beings. If a Christian man says: “I feel sexual attraction to both sexes”, the response of the pastor should be: “Well, so what? Fall in love with a woman who will have you and marry her. Be a faithful Christian husband.” He does NOT say: ‘You are so lucky, all those men you could love as well!”
    And mutatis mutandis for the Christian woman that David Runcorn mentioned.

    The cases I mentioned (Pemberton, Clements, and the two families I had dealings with) all involved men who were married to women, loved their wives and raised children, and then in mid-life their same-sex erotic desires rose powerfully to the fore, and they left their wives and children. I know what John Stott counselled Roy Clements to do, and I would have said the same.

    4. I don’t debate theology with Ron Smith and Penelope because trying to interact with their psychologically based liberalism is like nailing jelly to the wall. That is the nature of their humanistic liberalism tinged with some Christian themes like ‘love’ and ‘grace’ (but not with others, like ‘judgment’ and ‘holiness’).
    Penelope is on record as saying she doesn’t think one-night stands are immoral. Maybe the hypocrite Ravi Zacharias convinced himself of that too.
    Ron Smith, once a conservative Anglo-Catholic, is on record elsewhere in this blog opining that “Jesus knew he wasn’t as good as God” – echoing a former Episcopal Bishop of Washington who said ‘Jesus knew himself to be a sinner in need of forgiveness’.
    I cannot debate these notions any more than a football team could take on a bunch of hockey players.

    Reply
    • Hello James,
      Apologies for interloping and I do not desire to weaken the full weight of your combined comments but your last sentence chimes with this:
      I read this today of Alexi Navalny, Russian opposition leader and trained lawyer. At his current trial for defamation he is reported to have said this to the judge, “Every second of this trial makes no sense from a legal point of view… Your Honour, do you by any chance know a good recipe for pickled cucumbers as it makes no sense talking legal matters to you.”

      Reply
  23. “None of them has responded to my assertion that the mere presence of a sexual desire (of any kind) in a human being DOES NOT prove that that desire is of God or good or needful of expression.”
    – is, of course, what I intended to write. Another reason why Ian should use different software for his site: so that we can go back and correct typos, something this software doesn’t allow.
    (Yes, Ron Smith does actually believe that whatever sexual desires occur “in nature” are good and created by God. And, as far as I can tell, so does David Runcorn. This is a very, very deficient understanding of sin in both of them.)

    Reply
    • Exactly. This is a basic point. After all, human nature has not infrequently been a synonym for endemic depravity. Surely Ron and David know that both good and bad are found in ‘nature’. And consequently that something’s being in nature is of little moral import.

      As for all desire being a good thing, the counter-examples are legion.

      It is less that these are ecrrors than that they are such basic errors.

      Reply
    • Perhaps, James, people don’t reply to your assertions because they are tired of being misrepresented, disrespected, caricatured, traduced, and lied about. And, furthermore, having their beliefs described as ‘deficient’, when, like mine, they are informed by scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I find James’s description of my faith as humanistic liberalism, deeply offensive. I find his narrow, publicist Protestantism, devoid of theological nuance and pastorally both vacuous and harmful, but I have been too polite to say so.
      Despite James’s claim, I have articulated clearly that all sexual activity which is abusive, coercive, non consensual and faithless is immoral. I don’t believe that all sexual desires are good and created by God – nor, I am sure does Fr Ron. I do, however, believe that homosexuality and bisexuality are as much a part of God’s good creation as is heterosexuality. And that homosexual desire can be as chaste or as disordered as heterosexual desire.
      Of course, there are bisexual identities. Once again James shows his pastoral ineptitude. People do not respond well to being told to find someone of the opposite sex as a mate; they tend to form an attachment to the person. Thus, someone who is bisexual may fall in love with someone else of either sex/gender; there is no inherent virtue in it being someone of the ‘opposite’ sex, nor are they any more likely to be unfaithful to that partner than a straight person
      might be.
      Unlike James, I have no prurient interest in the details of Jeremy Pemberton’s first marriage. I do know that his marriage to Laurence is a model of conjugal love: faithful, mutual, loyal, gracious, generous. Would that all straight marriages could be such beacons of generous and supportive love and care.
      James is also wrong in his assertion that I never speak of God’s judgement. Perhaps because, although I believe that some sexual sins are very grave, I also know that God’s judgement will fall on other grave sins, such as greed, inhospitality, racism and patriarchy.
      Lastly, of course, James’s statement that I am on record as saying that I don’t think one-night stands are immoral is yet another egregious misrepresentation of my beliefs.

      Reply
      • But you do think one night stands can be OK in God’s eyes, Penelope. And you don’t think the Bible is God’s Word Written, something every Anglican affirms in the liturgy.
        As I said above, I can’t really debate pick ‘n mix theology or religious humanism.

        Nonetheless, my remarks were not to you but to Ron Smith and David Runcorn who are ordained Anglican priests as I am. They can answer for themselves.

        Reply
        • In certain circumstances James. Yes.
          But, not being an ordained priest I knows my place.
          It would be terribly nice if you didn’t talk about me though.
          Fr Ron has already answered. David many not care to.
          I hope and pray that you do not have pastoral responsibilities for people with variant sexualities and genders.

          Reply
      • Thank you, Penelope. As every reasonable people understand; polemicists – whether for good or ill reasons – can often be blind to the truth of the difference between fact and fiction. I concur with you statement here:
        “I don’t believe that all sexual desires are good and created by God – nor, I am sure does Fr Ron. I do, however, believe that homosexuality and bisexuality are as much a part of God’s good creation as is heterosexuality. And that homosexual desire can be as chaste or as disordered as heterosexual desire.”

        Sexual desire is an appetite implanted by God – otherwise it would not be present in the human condition. What we do with that appetite is part of our human moral and social responsibility.

        Reply
  24. I for one would happily trade Penelope’s latest reply for her laying out her beliefs using scripture. It would save a lot of heartache – offence – words which don’t really get to the heart of what we believe.

    Reply
    • That’s highly unlikely.
      See Penelope’s comment above, today at 9:45 pm. It does all add up however for anyone who is so minded to trawl all her comments to put together the evidence. Even the comment above lends some support to James comments.
      We speak a different language so far scripture and its authority is concerned. That its plain, evidenced, both here and in many other post comments.
      What is significant also, to me, from a couple or so years ago, is Penelope’s indebtedness to Queer Theory as a lens of interpretation incompatible as it is with Christianity.

      Reply
      • That is right, as far as I can tell, she is partly beholden to “Queer Theology”, most prominently represented in Britain by Liz Stuart of Winchester, former Roman Catholic who became a bishop of the “Open Catholic Church” (I don’t know if it still exists).
        “Queer Theology” does look to me like a kind of Neo-Gnosticism”, a recurrent event across the history of Christianity. The iterations are a bit different each time but the procedure is largely the same: take the language and some of the themes of the New Testament ( but only some – the Incarnation and the Cross will always be a stumbling block), separate them from their matrix in the Old Testament, then rearrange them to say something a little different.
        Irenaeus wrote a wonderful piece on the methodology of Gnosticism but the roots of it are found already in New Testament times.

        Reply
        • Robert George’s article in First Things, December 2016, on “Gnostic Liberalism”, is a very good account of the neo-Gnostic sources of contemporary sexual liberalism from which “Queer Theology” has drawn some of its principal ideas.
          Definitely a cuckoo in the nest of Christianity.

          Reply
  25. If I remember correctly, Penelope has taught Queer Theory, and was discomforted when an atheist professor adherent in the USA, Rossaria Butterfield renounced it, leaving it behind on her conversion to Christ.
    I’m not at home and don’t have the resources to look it up, but at that time I was taken aback at how far the tendrils spread, a theory far beyond, theology to family, human relationships and more.

    Reply
    • Hi Geoff and James

      Penelope is still here and is vastly amused by your cisheteronormative panic over queer theory.
      Just remember that we have a Saviour who prioritises queer people over cishet families.
      La!

      Reply
  26. We are all human beings, and we live in a world where babies die because of malnutrition, people sleep on the streets, old people suffer dementia, the poor are oppressed by the rich.

    We have one over-riding imperative: to open our hearts to the love of God, and extend that love to others. That involves sacrifice and givenness: in relationship to God we are hugely helped by God’s sacrifice and givenness to us; in relationship to our neighbours on this planet, the challenge is to follow the way of God – of Christ – and give ourselves, open ourselves to others.

    Whether male of female, that’s the imperative. Arguments about who should sit at the head of the table, or next to Jesus… about who should have headship… about male/female dynamics… these seem rather abstract debates, as do most of the comments in this thread, and I’m simply not sure they advance our fulfilment of the primary commands, and our givenness to God and one another, very much at all.

    We love talking about things, but is a lot of this distraction technique, from the very real call God makes on our lives, to actually let ourselves be ‘given’ in the service of love… and being baptised with the baptism Jesus was to be baptised with, by which he meant the Cross?

    Personally I think there are vast ranges of character, temperament, inclination, expression in what it means and feels like to be a woman, and what it means and feels like to be a man. Femme females, tomboys, butch women, home-makers (though men should be home-makers too), mechanics, mothers, footballers, pilots, prime ministers… women can have all kinds of dispositions. Men are no less diverse.

    I think it reduces discussion to generalise too much. Instead of straining so many gnats, maybe we should just say: ‘All of these, and so many other expressions of men and women, encounter a world that is crying out in need. And we’ve been clearly told about the imperative of love, and let’s get on with it.’

    If and when we do, we must know, that God wants to journey alongside us all along the way, to help us discover so much grace, so much kindness, and we each have blessing awaiting us in our response and the people we meet, if only we dare to open to love, and let ourselves be used as little conduits for the mercy and power of love.

    Reply
  27. Susannah
    I agree that what you posted is a great imperative. But the Bible gives us another great imperative: to obey God and Christ in all aspects of our lives. Many of the posts on this thread are disagreements about how we should obey in Christian marriage and Christian ministry.
    Phil Almond

    Reply
  28. What are the Christian Gospel indicatives on which imperatives are based?
    How are they known, discerned?
    Which God? How is He and his purposes known?
    That is the nub of it.
    If there is no baseline agreement on indicatives (and there isn’t – there is a chasm, a world of difference) there is no hope of agreement on imperatives, and we are further apart than at first blush.

    Reply
    • Do you not agree that an old person, suffering from dementia and dying, needs reassurance, kindness, maybe a hand to hold? In such cases and many others: Love is love.

      Reply
      • That’s not an answer to the points I raised. It is little more than a type of humanism. Care and compassion, sure. Love isn’t God.
        The ultimate, timeless, reassurance is the Gospel of Christ, of a life of resurrection, through the Holy Spirit, of eternity with Him and Father.
        Ian Paul’s later article broaches the topic “Is it true to say God is love?”

        Reply
        • Speaking for myself, I think we talk too much, and do too little.

          God is love. Love is the language of God. Most of it practical.

          Whether a person is a Christian or not, I believe that where they open to love towards people in need, God is involved at the heart of that love.

          From my experience of nursing dying people, most of them aren’t seeking theological dogma. They just want someone to hold their hand. Simple as that.

          And at such a time, I’ve experienced God drawing really close, in the privilege of that moment.

          If I may say so too, it has been a privilege to work alongside humanists, Muslims, Hindus, and yes, Christians. The quality of the love I’ve seen in them is of the substance of God. “When did I…?” as Jesus pointed out.

          I believe God honours the love they give to others. I believe God sees, and understands their hearts. As for all the words and words, with which we try to demarcate ‘what should a woman be?’ ‘what should a man be?’ forgive me if I’m quite indifferent to much in the threads here. I respect sincerely held views. But I’m still left thinking: shouldn’t we spend more effort, following Jesus, actually ‘doing’ the love out there in the world? Giving ourselves in the service of love?

          But it’s easier to talk about it. As far as I’m concerned (and I’m as much a failure at it as anyone) the imperative is practical love. Telling people about Jesus can be part of that, but it’s only a part of what we’re called to do.

          God bless you and be with you.

          This is my last comment, or I’ll be contradicting myself!

          Reply
          • That will be from contradicting your underlying indicatives, will it? Something you may malign as (unquestioning, unthnking?) dogma, unless it’s your own, now fixed dogmatic mindset!??? And from where did they, the indicatives, come?
            There is no better way to draw this to a close: indeed, be blessed in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit.

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