By / Aug 18

We’re beginning to see the refugees of the sexual revolution, yet some don’t even know they’ve been harmed. For 50 years, women have been told that they have ultimate control over their bodies and can abort a living child inside them. That kind of generational messaging will take years to overcome and correct, similar to those who suffer from substance abuse addictions or have fallen prey to the predations of a sexual abuser. But just as it has affected women, the sexual revolution has been disastrous for men.

How abortion has deceived men

For the same length of time (and arguably a decade longer with the introduction of the pill in the 1960s), men have been given the chance to indulge their sexual desires without the responsibility that comes from exercising it correctly. And there are a number of men who have been just as deceived as women. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning the precedent of Roe and returning the responsibility of legislation to the states, doctors are noting an increase in the number of men who are seeking vasectomies. The change from previous trends is that these are not middle-aged, married dads with multiple children, but rather young, unmarried guys with no children. Some urologists are reporting a doubling of the number of patients seeking vasectomies who meet these requirements. When asked why now, they have responded by saying that the Dobbs decision caused them to get off the fence and make this decision.

Some will look at this and see a generation of men who are not content to let women shoulder the burden of sex and pregnancy, who are being responsible. And yet, when judged by some other trends, there is an obvious self-interest in the procedure. On one dating app, mentions of vasectomies in the profiles of men have increased five-fold in the last year. While some of these men may be declaring that they are unable to have children so future partners know, it boggles the mind to think that the young men on the site are not proclaiming that they pose no danger of unintentionally impregnating someone. Once again, the sexual revolution has convinced an entire generation that they have ultimate control over their bodies (a reality possible now through medical and technological advancement), and they are free to indulge any desire they have without the consequences. 

A commitment to sexual freedom rather than responsibility

This is not to say that vasectomies and permanent procedures of birth control are sinful. Evangelicals have consistently upheld that these can be undertaken, though often with the acknowledgement that it is necessary to inquire to the motivations for the decision to determine whether it is permissible or not. 

However, the uptick in men seeking vasectomies after Dobbs reveals that their ultimate allegiance was to their own convenience, not responsibility to their sexual partner. Prior to the court’s decision, these men could rely on the woman to either prevent pregnancy or seek an abortion. Once the sexual act was done, so was their responsibility. However, in many states that is no longer an option, meaning they must take additional steps to prevent their connection to a child. The commitment to sex without restrictions is clear here. Rather than abstain from sex, they would prefer to have a medical procedure to permanently prevent children (procedures for reversal are not always successful). This is the logical next step in a culture which sees children as a problem to be avoided rather than a blessing from God

One of the most revolutionary things that Christians can do in our current cultural moment is to have children, love them, and show the world that they are a gift rather than a problem. There is a reason that those who struggle with infertility speak of the deep longing that lies unfulfilled. Part of what it means to fulfill the mandate given to humanity in the Garden is to “multiply” and fill the Earth with those made in God’s image. In contrast to a culture that sees children as only a burden, Christians must offer another word.

The decadence of our culture would have us believe that instant gratification freed from responsibility and limits is the ultimate desire. However, even the secular world is recognizing the limits of such a sexual ethic. If consent and a positive attitude toward sexuality without restrictions are all that are required for fulfillment, then this should be one of the most sexually-satisfied ages in human history. And yet, pornography usage stands at all-time highs, showing that men and women would rather seek pleasure alone and in a fantasy world than with another real person. And even when they do engage in sexual activity with others, the sense that something is missing is often noted by even the most committed sexual libertine. 

There will be a flood of refugees from the sexual revolution in the coming years, and many more who are so deceived that they don’t even realize what has gone wrong. Christians must offer a hope that the restrictions created by God are not for our displeasure, but rather are protections, and that the pleasure that comes from sexual activity is also tied to good of procreation and children. To attempt to achieve one without the other is to sunder what God has joined together. The post-Roe world offers Christians the chance to say that not only in how we care for the babies born because their mothers have chosen life, but also in how we approach the topic of children generally. If we see them as a burden to be avoided, we are no different from those who would see them as a burden to be eliminated. 

By / Jun 6

Editor’s note: Among many of the most pressing ethical issues of our day is deep confusion over what it means to be human. From questions over abortion and racism to technology and sexuality, human anthropology lies at the heart of contemporary cultural debate. In light of the ongoing sexual crisis seen throughout our society, certain realities that once seemed common sense to most are being challenged in what is a failed quest to define our own existence and live independent of God’s created order.

As part of the ongoing research efforts at the ERLC, the following article, as well as the corresponding piece, “What is a woman?”, offer a detailed look at these central questions in light of theological anthropology and philosophy. Each article is followed by a response from the corresponding scholar in hopes to further robust dialogue on these important questions of “what is a man” and “what is a woman” rooted in truths that cut to the heart of the important ethical questions being posed today.

To pose the question “what is a man?” a few decades ago in the United States, and to pose it now in most parts of the world, the inquiry would be met by a snicker or look of puzzlement. The question “what is a man?”—and its counterpart, “what is a woman?”—was/is so obvious that even if no formal definition might be forthcoming, everyone intuitively knew/knows the answer.  Such is no longer the case in some societies today. Thus, the question is here re-proposed. To answer it, I will first summarize two common answers—one historical, one contemporary—then defend the following definition: 

A man is a human being created in the divine image in the male-type of humankind and who inherently expresses the common human capacities and the common human properties in ways that are typical of and fitting for a man.

A historical answer  

Following Prudence Allen’s historical study, The Concept of Woman, I describe in four parts a dominant Greco-Roman philosophical perspective on what is a man, offering for each part an example from Aristotle.1Sister Prudence Allen, The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 B.C.—A.D. 1250 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985). Allen herself presents the diversity in this Greco-Roman perspective; Plato, for one, differs significantly at many points from it. Aristotle is highlighted because of his influence on Thomas Aquinas and, through him, Roman Catholic theology. Allen traces the widespread acceptance of Aristotelian sex polarity in latter medieval Christianity (pp. 361-407). 

First, sex polarity is the dominant view: men and women are not equal but significantly different, with men being superior to women. Aristotle believed that men and women are opposites as contraries; furthermore, as a pair of contraries, the woman must be the privation of the man. Specifically, women are inferior to men and are identified with matter (rather than form), passivity, and the lowest elements. Oppositely, men are superior to women and are identified with form (rather than matter), activity, and the higher elements.2Allen, The Concept of Woman, 89. 

Second, men are superior to women because men possess the ability to produce seed (sperm), and this “particular aspect of human materiality is . . . the key to all valuation of sex identity.”3Allen, The Concept of Woman, 4.  Aristotle rejected the correct double seed theory that both male seed (sperm) and female seed (ova) are necessary for reproduction.4Allen notes that the philosopher Empedocles (c. 450 B.C.) “was one of the few [philosophers of medicine] before the seventeenth century to have proposed the correct theory of reproduction, namely, that the mother and the father each provide one-half of the seed needed for the production of the fetus.” Allen, The Concept of Woman, 33. Instead, he affirmed sex polarity based on his (incorrect) view that the woman provides no seed in generation because she, as the privation of the man, is by nature colder than the man, who is superior to her. As the colder privation of a man, the woman is a deformed man. 

Third, men are superior to women because men are more highly rational than are women. Human nature consists of both body and soul, which itself consists of two parts. The first is the rational aspect that corresponds to reason; male identity is tied to this higher function of the soul. The second is the irrational aspect that corresponds to the appetite; female identity is tied to this lower function of the soul. According to Aristotle, men and women alike have a rational capacity. In the man, however, his higher power of reason exercises authority over his lower/irrational powers; thus, men have superior reasoning capacity.5Allen, The Concept of Woman, 109.  By contrast, in the woman, her higher power of reason is without authority over her baser powers; thus, women have an inferior reasoning capacity. Therefore, they are “capable only of true opinion and not of knowledge . . . and cannot be wise in the same way as men.”6Allen, The Concept of Woman, 103. Accordingly, being inferior epistemologically, women cannot engage in philosophical pursuits nor participate in public life. 

Fourth, men and women have different functions and thus have different virtues, with men’s virtues being superior to women’s virtues. Specifically, men rule and women obey, and this is according to nature, not just convention.7For the contrast between nature and convention, see Allen’s discussion of Aristotle and the Sophists. Allen, The Concept of Woman, 43. For Aristotle, because ethics involves a capacity to reason and engage in philosophical argumentation, and because of a woman’s inferior reasoning capacity (which is without authority in women), she is not capable of virtuous activity in this realm. Rather, to be virtuous, a woman must place herself in obedience to a virtuous man (who, as naturally superior, rules her) and express her virtues—e.g., compassion, silence—in the private context of her household and friendship.8Allen, The Concept of Woman, 111.

In summary, this dominant Greco-Roman historical perspective offered this answer to our question: a man is a person who is significantly different from and superior to a woman because he is formed rather than deformed, rational rather than irrational, active rather than passive, hot rather than cold, publicly rather than privately engaged, and is the sole contributor to reproduction. Tragically, this framework has exerted and continues to exert a widespread influence, particularly in Western societies, for over two millennia. One appalling consequence is the dishonoring and demeaning of women. This historical answer is a dreadfully wrong answer. 

A contemporary answer 

In response to evangelical feminism, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood proposed the Danvers Statement (1988) with Wayne Grudem and John Piper editing Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (1991). While not directly answering our question, the latter work defined manhood. Modifying that definition for our purpose, RBMW’s answer is that a man is a person whose “heart of mature masculinity” is characterized by “a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”9John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991,2006), 29. Henceforth, RBMW. This answer stands in conjunction with another modified definition: a woman is a person whose “heart of mature femininity” is characterized by “a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”10RBMW, 29.  Five observations follow, but first a clarification is needed. 

RBMW articulated these derived definitions in the context of a repeated and biblically grounded affirmation of the equality of men and women in terms of essence. For example, men and women alike are created in the divine image; thus, even if role differences between men and women exist, by nature the sexes are equal. This perspective is a far cry from and much needed corrective to the historical answer presented above. 

The five observations are: First, the definition focuses on a man’s roles: leadership, provision, and protection.11The Danvers Statement underscores this focus: “Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart” (Affirmation 2). Second, these roles are primarily (though not exclusively) for a man who is a husband. Third, RBMW noted that this “roled” approach is a secondary matter, with the more fundamental matter being a man’s nature (though it did not treat this latter aspect).12As for points 2 and 3, RBMW offers, “We are persuaded from Scripture that masculinity and femininity are rooted in who we are by nature. They are not simply reflexes of a marriage relationship. Man does not become man by getting married. Woman does not become woman by getting married.” RBMW, 21. One wishes that the book would have developed those two concepts beginning with nature. An improper approach is to define a thing by listing its roles, activities, and functions. Rather, a proper definition is about the nature or essence of that thing. For critiques of this “roled” approach (and, by extension, other “roled” approaches), see Jordan L. Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Femininity from the Morgue: A Defense of Gender Essentialism,” Southeastern Review 12.1 (Spring 2021): 15–35; Patrick Schreiner, “Man and Woman: Toward an Ontology,” Eikon, vol. 2.2 (Nov 20, 2020). Fourth, the definition of a woman is formulated in relationship to the definition of man.13This observation is the center of many critiques of the RBMW approach. For example, David C. Freeman, “The Search for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Preliminary Response to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” Alliance Studies at Ambrose University College (November, 1999), available at https://online.ambrose.edu/alliancestudies/  Fifth, these points underscore the fact that RBMW, while well-meaning for the context it addresses, does not penetrate below the surface to actually define manhood and womanhood in terms of nature or essence. Thus, the derived definition of a man is reductionistic. 

An essential answer

The need to properly define a man by focusing on his nature leads to the definition presented at the outset:14My thanks to Gracilynn Hanson for her work on female-gendered embodied image bearing, from which my definition is adapted. “Establishing a Framework for Female-Gendered Embodied Image Bearers in a Redemptive Context” (PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2022). 

A man is a human being created in the divine image in the male-type of humankind and who inherently expresses the common human capacities and the common human properties in ways that are typical of and fitting for a man. 

A brief justification follows:15For further discussion, see Gregg R. Allison, Embodied: Living as Whole People in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021).  First, God created human beings in his image, and those made in his image are either male or female (Gen 1:26-27). In other words, there is the general kind—humanity, or humankind—of which there are two types: male-gendered image bearers and female-gendered image bearers.16For simplicity sake (and while recognizing the contemporary bifurcation in the use of these terms), in the following discussion, the terms “gender” and “gendered” are synonymous with the terms “sex” and “sexed.” Second, there is no such thing as a genderless or agendered human being; rather, God created his image bearers as either men or women. He did not begin with some kind of generic human being then add on genderedness as a secondary characteristic or type. Everything about human beings as divine image bearers is gendered. 

Third, the ground for the distinction between these two types is biological. Men and women are fundamentally different because of chromosome, hormones, and other physiological particularities (e.g., genitalia; skeletal, muscular, and brain structures). Thus, a man is a human being who is characterized by a penis, testicles, the production of sperm, a general range of testosterone to estrogen ratio (T/E2) that is different from that range in women, a general range of muscle mass that is different from that range in women, and more.17Helpful contributions include J. Budziszewski, “The Meaning of Sexual Differences,” and Paul C. Vitz, “Men and Women: Their Differences and Their Complementarity; Evidence from Psychology and Neuroscience,” in The Complementarity of Women and Men: Philosophy, Theology, Psychology, and Art, ed. Paul C. Vitz (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2021), 9-34, 182-215. In discussions of biological differences, some people offer objections from the (alleged) ambiguity of intersex conditions. For responses to these objections, see Tomas Bogardus, “Evaluating Arguments for the Sex/Gender Distinction,” Philosophia 48 (3) (2020), 873-892; Preston Sprinkle, Embodied: Transgendered Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2021); do Vale, “Gender as Love”, 312-27. From this biological foundation flows a man’s capacity to impregnate women and his potential of being a father.18Appeals to biology are often part of a “natural law” argument in discussions of manhood and womanhood. For example, Patrick Schreiner, in “Man and Woman”, offers a short treatment of biological sameness and difference between the two sexes. In part, he relies on J. Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (Wilmington, DE: Ignatius Press, 2011). Interestingly, various implications are drawn from this natural law argument. In the example that was just given, because of biology, a man possesses the potentiality for fatherhood and a woman possesses the potentiality for motherhood. For further development, see Budziszewski, “The Meaning of Sexual Differences,” 25-29. As a second example, because their reproductive organs are more on the “outside” of their body than are the complementary “inside” organs of women, men are more externally oriented than women, who are more internally oriented. A third example centers around potency: biologically, men are relatively strong, and women are relatively weak, which translates into men being leaders, initiators, protectors, and warriors who are courageous, aggressive, and fearless. As Schreiner explains, “Men are typically (though not always) initiators, builders, and protectors of communities, while women are formers, nurturers, and sustainers of community.” Schreiner, “Man and Woman,” 76. A fourth example draws the following implication for husbands and wives: “the logic of asymmetry operates, and the relationship is profoundly advanced, when partners differentiate: namely, the man by responsibility-assuming and secure-making and mission-defining, and the woman by promoting and strong-helping and rest giving.” Sam A. Andreades, enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship (Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2015), 133. The large range of implications drawn from biological realities of men and women should caution us to be circumspect about the consequences we locate in human nature.   At the same time, this position is not what is generally considered to be gender essentialism in the sense of biological essentialism or determinism.19In agreement with Fellipe do Vale, grounding a definition of man in biology does not reduce human nature in general nor the nature of man in particular to biological factors. Nor does this point imply that the answer to our question is that a man is completely explained by biology. Fellipe do Vale, “Gender as Love: A Theological Account” (PhD diss., Dedman College of Southern Methodist University, 2021), 145. As he explains (pp. 148-49), biological essentialism destroys human freedom and moral responsibility, and dismisses the influence of culture and context on the expression of one’s gender (soon to be discussed).

Fourth, God created men and women alike with (1) human capacities: rationality, cognition, memory, imagination, emotions, feelings, volition, motivations, purposing, and more; and (2) human properties—gentleness, courage, initiative, nurturing, patience, protectiveness, goodness, and more. These are common capacities and common properties;20Some of these properties would be the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and Christian virtues (e.g., wisdom, humility). there are no particular capacities and properties that belong exclusively to men or to women.21Note that these common capacities and properties illustrated differ from biological attributes described above. At the same time, given the divinely created design of embodied genderedness, these common capacities and common properties must and will be inherently expressed in gendered ways that are appropriate to men and appropriate to women. Men typically and fittingly express these commonalities in male-gendered ways, and women typically and fittingly express these commonalities in female-gendered ways. 

Fifth, articulating what these “typical and fitting” expressions look like is notoriously difficult. Three errors must be avoided. The one is to so differentiate male and female expressions that the properties expressed become two distinct properties; for example, male goodness and female goodness.22My thanks to Marc Cortez for suggesting this problem in an external reader report. The second error is to so stereotype these expressions that men and women who don’t “fit the mold” become confused and doubt their maleness and femaleness. The third error is to consider “typical and fitting” to be anything that cultural context allows.  

As for the first error, the trajectory tends to end up in a double-columned chart with the headings “characteristics of a man” and “characteristics of a woman;” each column is populated by properties that belong uniquely to men or uniquely to women. To illustrate, the common property of nurturing inevitably falls under the second category as we simplistically view that property in terms of mothers breastfeeding their babies. While the biological foundation necessitates that only women can nurture in that manner, men are not thereby excluded from possessing the common property of nurturing. An example is a man who coaches Little League baseball, affirming his players’ progress, developing their batting skills, and correcting errors and meltdowns without belittling his team. 

As for the second error, and relying on Robert Spaemann’s Persons: The Difference between ‘Someone’ and ‘Something’, “Persons are not roles, but they are role-players, who stylize themselves in one or another manner.”23Robert Spaemann, Persons: The Difference between ‘Someone’ and ‘Something’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996/ET 2006), 84. For our purposes, then, “man” is not a role, but “a man” is a role-player; as such, he expresses himself within a culturally-stylized framework. In one context, a man wears a ten-gallon hat and cowboy boots, loves to hunt and fish, smokes cigars, attends NASCAR races, and drives a monster truck. In another context, a man wears an apron and chef’s hat, loves to cook and bake, sips San Pellegrino, attends operas, and rides around in a convertible MINI Cooper. We err when we insist on stereotyping expressions of maleness, elevating what is contextually stylized to a universal sign of being a man. According to a famous proverb, a man is one who has planted a tree, written a book, and fathered a child. Improperly understood and applied, this maxim means that the vast majority of XY-chromosome human beings are not men. That conclusion, of course, is absurd. 

As for the third error, affirming that male expressions are contextually stylized does not mean that just any expression is “fitting” for a man. Scripture clearly draws the line. To take one example, a key expression that is culturally influenced is clothing, and Scripture denounces cross-dressing as an abomination to the Lord (Deut 22:5). This law is not only a sartorial rule; it gets to the nature of a man, who is to express himself appropriately as one whom God created to be a man. For a second example, Scripture prohibits “soft” or “effeminate” men, probably a reference to those who play the passive role in sexual activity with other men (1 Cor. 6:9). A man who postures himself and acts effeminately is crossing a biblical line.24The application of this point becomes of concern due to the constantly changing clothing industry and what it proposes for clothes for men and women. For example, is it “fitting” for men to wear bow neck blouses or cropped sweaters? As difficult as application might be, developing a list of proper and improper clothes is a time-consuming and never-ending task and may not turn out to be as helpful as one might expect. Fellipe do Vale offers an interesting discussion from an Augustinian framework of love; see, for example, his development of love and secondary goods like clothing. “Gender as Love”, 257-58. 

In summary, we return to our essential definition:

A man is a human being created in the divine image in the male-type of humankind and who inherently expresses the common human capacities and the common human properties in ways that are typical of and fitting for a man. 

This definition has important overlap with Jordan Steffaniak’s recent proposal of the causal type of gender essentialism.25Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Femininity from the Morgue,” 22-23, 31-33. Steffaniak presents five variants of essentialism; do Vale rehearses four types. “Gender as Love”, 147-54. He opts for an eschatological kind essentialism, modified by the Augustinian love framework.   This is the view that human essence or nature is the ground—the fundamental cause—from which flow human characteristics. While this proposal does not directly address our question, a definition derived for our purpose is that a man is a person who is biologically grounded and ordered to express the common human virtues in a masculine way. To put this notion in a broader context:26Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Femininity from the Morgue,” 32.   

Human beings of either sex can practice every virtue indiscriminately. Men are not designed to practice protection whereas women are designed to practice nurturing, as if it is a scale of extremes with men and women on opposing sides and only physically capable of pursuing certain virtues. Men and women can pursue all the same virtues—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, self-control, etc. However, biology does determine that men have differing levels of capability than women to display particular virtues and differing levels of potentiality to display them.

His illustration echoes an earlier one: “For example, a mother is ordered to express nurturing in a different way than a father upon the birth of a child. Since only the mother is capable of breastfeeding a child, she is given to a form of nurturing that the father is not. While the father can display the same amount of nurturing, he cannot display the virtue in the same ways. Therefore, the social characteristics can be shared by both, but each sex has the potential to display them differently.”27Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Femininity from the Morgue,” 31.  

The advantages of this essential definition of a man include: making a clear break from the disconcerting Greco-Roman framework; moving the discussion from a focus on secondary matters like roles and grounding it in nature or essence; encouraging more work on the metaphysics of manhood and womanhood; removing the stumbling blocks of stereotyping male and female roles, behaviors, responsibilities, vocations, and other matters that stem from cultural and ecclesial preferences, traditions, and prejudices rather than from Scripture; and directing future work to champion the pursuit of Christlikeness. As Spaemann, in his presentation of persons as role-players, urged Christians, “take on the only true role that a human being can play—‘putting on Christ.’”28Spaemann, Persons, 85. He appeals to Augustine, Confessions, 8.12.29 (which cites Romans 13:13-14).  This expression (Rom 13:14; Gal 3:27) is typical and fitting for men—and for women as well. 

A response to “What is a man?” from Katie McCoy

It’s been said that the simplest things can be the most difficult to explain, and that no more so than the definition of a man or a woman. 

Gregg Allison’s response to the question “what is a man?” navigates through cultural and ecclesial misunderstandings, weaving together natural theology, historical philosophy, and contemporary critique as well as avoiding the simplistic vernacular that, in some quarters, has compounded confusion in evangelical discourse. 

Allison’s definition and defense emphasize the ways in which male and female are corresponding parallels, both biologically and relationally. First, the historical survey of male-female polarity illustrates the effect of Aristotelean thought on Western culture and Christian historical theology—an influence that has led to misguided claims about the differences between male and female in rationality and capacity. These mistaken views further illustrate the connection between one’s knowledge of biological development in utero and one’s understanding of substantive equality between male and female personhood.

Second, the appraisal of the relational definition in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the seminal work in complementarian theology, demonstrates the misguided emphasis on roles. We may make allowances for the historical context in which RBMW was written and the cultural ideas to which it responded. But we must acknowledge the ways in which the work has imposed, as Allison describes, a “reductionistic” definition of man and woman, one that so emphasizes roles that substance of gender is often conflated with the expression of gender.

Critiquing one’s own “camp” is never easy and often misinterpreted. I must express my appreciation for Allison’s thoughtful interaction, and my hope that he and likeminded theologians will expand upon these points. At times, theological discourse on gender has overstated “roled” relationships and advocated specific virtues or dispositions for specific genders. Consequently, its extrapolations have devolved into ascribing “particular capacities or properties” of character to specific genders rather than emphasize the gendered expressions of those capacities or properties. 

As Allison notes, stipulating how a man communicates these traits is “notoriously difficult.” He skillfully avoids the tendency toward gender essentialism by grounding male and female differences in biology but rejecting a biological determinism that ignores cultural influence. Still, given that human beings are irreducibly male or female, while also being personally more than their maleness or femaleness, how ought we to understand the relationship between the gendered self and the sexed body? 

In Theology of the Body, John Paul II identifies this in the “nuptial meaning of the body,” or “the communion of persons” that exists in the marital union. Thus, man understands his identity as a man through his similarity to and difference from the woman, and vice versa.  “Femininity is found in relation to masculinity and masculinity is confirmed in femininity. They depend on each other.”29John Paul, II, Theology of the Body in Simple Language (Philokalia Books, 2008), 16. John Paul II discusses at length how the celibate person also fulfills the nuptial meaning of the body by being “married” to God (168, 173). However, given the metaphor of human marriage between a human male and human female (Eph 5:22-33), this lacks the fullness of the relational meaning of gender for the unmarried man or woman.   Yet even this locates the substance of masculinity and femininity exclusively in the relationship between husband and wife. In a definition that would exclude even the Apostle Paul, no wonder Christian theology feels so gridlocked on this question.

I would welcome Gregg’s additional research on this perennial issue and hope he will expand his commentary on the relationship between man/woman and male/female. 

Read “What is a woman?” by Katie McCoy

  • 1
    Sister Prudence Allen, The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 B.C.—A.D. 1250 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985). Allen herself presents the diversity in this Greco-Roman perspective; Plato, for one, differs significantly at many points from it. Aristotle is highlighted because of his influence on Thomas Aquinas and, through him, Roman Catholic theology. Allen traces the widespread acceptance of Aristotelian sex polarity in latter medieval Christianity (pp. 361-407).
  • 2
    Allen, The Concept of Woman, 89.
  • 3
    Allen, The Concept of Woman, 4. 
  • 4
    Allen notes that the philosopher Empedocles (c. 450 B.C.) “was one of the few [philosophers of medicine] before the seventeenth century to have proposed the correct theory of reproduction, namely, that the mother and the father each provide one-half of the seed needed for the production of the fetus.” Allen, The Concept of Woman, 33.
  • 5
    Allen, The Concept of Woman, 109. 
  • 6
    Allen, The Concept of Woman, 103.
  • 7
    For the contrast between nature and convention, see Allen’s discussion of Aristotle and the Sophists. Allen, The Concept of Woman, 43.
  • 8
    Allen, The Concept of Woman, 111.
  • 9
    John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991,2006), 29. Henceforth, RBMW.
  • 10
    RBMW, 29. 
  • 11
    The Danvers Statement underscores this focus: “Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart” (Affirmation 2).
  • 12
    As for points 2 and 3, RBMW offers, “We are persuaded from Scripture that masculinity and femininity are rooted in who we are by nature. They are not simply reflexes of a marriage relationship. Man does not become man by getting married. Woman does not become woman by getting married.” RBMW, 21. One wishes that the book would have developed those two concepts beginning with nature. An improper approach is to define a thing by listing its roles, activities, and functions. Rather, a proper definition is about the nature or essence of that thing. For critiques of this “roled” approach (and, by extension, other “roled” approaches), see Jordan L. Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Femininity from the Morgue: A Defense of Gender Essentialism,” Southeastern Review 12.1 (Spring 2021): 15–35; Patrick Schreiner, “Man and Woman: Toward an Ontology,” Eikon, vol. 2.2 (Nov 20, 2020).
  • 13
    This observation is the center of many critiques of the RBMW approach. For example, David C. Freeman, “The Search for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Preliminary Response to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” Alliance Studies at Ambrose University College (November, 1999), available at https://online.ambrose.edu/alliancestudies/ 
  • 14
    My thanks to Gracilynn Hanson for her work on female-gendered embodied image bearing, from which my definition is adapted. “Establishing a Framework for Female-Gendered Embodied Image Bearers in a Redemptive Context” (PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2022).
  • 15
    For further discussion, see Gregg R. Allison, Embodied: Living as Whole People in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021). 
  • 16
    For simplicity sake (and while recognizing the contemporary bifurcation in the use of these terms), in the following discussion, the terms “gender” and “gendered” are synonymous with the terms “sex” and “sexed.”
  • 17
    Helpful contributions include J. Budziszewski, “The Meaning of Sexual Differences,” and Paul C. Vitz, “Men and Women: Their Differences and Their Complementarity; Evidence from Psychology and Neuroscience,” in The Complementarity of Women and Men: Philosophy, Theology, Psychology, and Art, ed. Paul C. Vitz (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2021), 9-34, 182-215. In discussions of biological differences, some people offer objections from the (alleged) ambiguity of intersex conditions. For responses to these objections, see Tomas Bogardus, “Evaluating Arguments for the Sex/Gender Distinction,” Philosophia 48 (3) (2020), 873-892; Preston Sprinkle, Embodied: Transgendered Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2021); do Vale, “Gender as Love”, 312-27.
  • 18
    Appeals to biology are often part of a “natural law” argument in discussions of manhood and womanhood. For example, Patrick Schreiner, in “Man and Woman”, offers a short treatment of biological sameness and difference between the two sexes. In part, he relies on J. Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (Wilmington, DE: Ignatius Press, 2011). Interestingly, various implications are drawn from this natural law argument. In the example that was just given, because of biology, a man possesses the potentiality for fatherhood and a woman possesses the potentiality for motherhood. For further development, see Budziszewski, “The Meaning of Sexual Differences,” 25-29. As a second example, because their reproductive organs are more on the “outside” of their body than are the complementary “inside” organs of women, men are more externally oriented than women, who are more internally oriented. A third example centers around potency: biologically, men are relatively strong, and women are relatively weak, which translates into men being leaders, initiators, protectors, and warriors who are courageous, aggressive, and fearless. As Schreiner explains, “Men are typically (though not always) initiators, builders, and protectors of communities, while women are formers, nurturers, and sustainers of community.” Schreiner, “Man and Woman,” 76. A fourth example draws the following implication for husbands and wives: “the logic of asymmetry operates, and the relationship is profoundly advanced, when partners differentiate: namely, the man by responsibility-assuming and secure-making and mission-defining, and the woman by promoting and strong-helping and rest giving.” Sam A. Andreades, enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship (Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2015), 133. The large range of implications drawn from biological realities of men and women should caution us to be circumspect about the consequences we locate in human nature. 
  • 19
    In agreement with Fellipe do Vale, grounding a definition of man in biology does not reduce human nature in general nor the nature of man in particular to biological factors. Nor does this point imply that the answer to our question is that a man is completely explained by biology. Fellipe do Vale, “Gender as Love: A Theological Account” (PhD diss., Dedman College of Southern Methodist University, 2021), 145. As he explains (pp. 148-49), biological essentialism destroys human freedom and moral responsibility, and dismisses the influence of culture and context on the expression of one’s gender (soon to be discussed).
  • 20
    Some of these properties would be the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and Christian virtues (e.g., wisdom, humility).
  • 21
    Note that these common capacities and properties illustrated differ from biological attributes described above.
  • 22
    My thanks to Marc Cortez for suggesting this problem in an external reader report.
  • 23
    Robert Spaemann, Persons: The Difference between ‘Someone’ and ‘Something’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996/ET 2006), 84.
  • 24
    The application of this point becomes of concern due to the constantly changing clothing industry and what it proposes for clothes for men and women. For example, is it “fitting” for men to wear bow neck blouses or cropped sweaters? As difficult as application might be, developing a list of proper and improper clothes is a time-consuming and never-ending task and may not turn out to be as helpful as one might expect. Fellipe do Vale offers an interesting discussion from an Augustinian framework of love; see, for example, his development of love and secondary goods like clothing. “Gender as Love”, 257-58. 
  • 25
    Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Femininity from the Morgue,” 22-23, 31-33. Steffaniak presents five variants of essentialism; do Vale rehearses four types. “Gender as Love”, 147-54. He opts for an eschatological kind essentialism, modified by the Augustinian love framework.  
  • 26
    Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Femininity from the Morgue,” 32. 
  • 27
    Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Femininity from the Morgue,” 31. 
  • 28
    Spaemann, Persons, 85. He appeals to Augustine, Confessions, 8.12.29 (which cites Romans 13:13-14). 
  • 29
    John Paul, II, Theology of the Body in Simple Language (Philokalia Books, 2008), 16. John Paul II discusses at length how the celibate person also fulfills the nuptial meaning of the body by being “married” to God (168, 173). However, given the metaphor of human marriage between a human male and human female (Eph 5:22-33), this lacks the fullness of the relational meaning of gender for the unmarried man or woman. 
By / Feb 14

There is a rhythm to the account of creation in Genesis 1. The work takes place over six days, with a repeated refrain coming at the end of those days: “God saw that it was good.” God is evidently not inattentive to what he is making. He doesn’t start one aspect of creation and then turn his attention to the next project. He finishes each act, steps back (as it were), and appraises it. As he assesses each day’s work of creation, he can be fully pleased with the outcome. So again and again we read, “It was good,” “It was good,” “It was good.”

That is, until we turn up. At the end of the day when God has made humanity in his image, male and female, he says something different: “It was very good” (Gen. 1:31). The difference male and female image-bearers make to his creation is to lift it from “good” to “very good.” Needless to say, it is not a track record we maintain through the rest of the Bible; but the fact remains, there is a deep fundamental very-goodness to the way God has designed us to be, and our being made as men and women is at the heart of it.

Of course, whenever we talk about God’s design for men and women, significant questions rush to the front of our minds. What exactly does it mean to be a man, or to be a woman? What should it look like? Or feel like? These are not abstract questions. Each of us has some story of how we experience our own sex. Each of us has some sort of instinct about what we are supposed to measure up to and whether we have reached it or remain woefully short of it. Much of how we feel about ourselves, along with our social confidence and our mental health, can ride on this. It matters.

And it is confusing. It feels as though there are so many potential and available answers to those questions, and they don’t cohere. What a man or woman should be like not only varies from culture to culture but enormously within cultures, from one generation to the next and one region to the next –– even from one locker room to the next. I’m not sure I know how to answer all those questions, but I find that two simple observations about the Bible give me the basic coordinates I need to start thinking about it.

More alike than different

The first observation is that the vast majority of what God has to say, he says to us as men and women without distinction. It is obvious to point out, but despite the best marketing strategies from publishers, there is not one Bible for men and another for women. The same Bible is given to both. And all the words within it are for both men and women to read. Even the parts addressed to men are still meant to be read by women, and those addressed to women by men. So whatever differences there may be between us, we must not exaggerate them. We are not different species. It is not the case (to use the language of a hugely popular book from several years ago) that men are from Mars and women from Venus. However much we may mystify, surprise, or delight one another, we are far, far more alike than we are different.

In fact, the very first interaction between a man and a woman in the Bible highlights this very point. We’ve already seen the repeated refrain in Genesis 1 of “It was good,” “It was good,” and finally, “It was very good.” But even more jarring than the addition of the word very is the addition of the word not in Genesis 2. In this close-up account of the creation of Adam and Eve, Adam is at this point on his own. And this time, as God steps back he declares this not good: 

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gen. 2:18)

The man on his own is inadequate and insufficient. He needs an appropriate other. “Fit for him” here also carries the sense of “corresponding to him,” someone who will be his match. But God doesn’t then immediately create the first woman. Instead, he brings out various creatures before Adam for him to name. And by naming, he doesn’t mean giving each single creature its own personal name; he means taxonomy –– giving each kind of creature its appropriate name. So this involves carefully examining the nature of each species and kind so that he can give it a proper designation. Doing this only brings home to him that each creature is distinct from him. The conclusion? “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:20). The not-goodness of his original situation has not changed. On the positive side, Adam now knows what to call everything; but on the negative side, he is still without a necessary counterpart.

What first leaps out at Adam is not all the things that are different between Eve and him but the very fundamental way in which she is like him. There are differences. He’s not oblivious to that — evidenced by the one-flesh union they quickly enter into. But more fundamental than the obvious differences between men and women is the more fundamental likeness. Our human commonality precedes our sexual difference.

So our shared likeness as human beings is seen in that the vast majority of what God says to us in the Bible, he says to us as men and women without distinction. We’re not directed into separate rooms; we share the same holy Scripture. There may be ways in which we think or behave differently, but this should not be stressed at the expense of how alike we are.

Different and complementary

The second observation is that while it is essential to know that the vast majority of what God says is said to us without distinction, it is not true of everything God says. So while we have obvious differences of biology, the fact that at times we need to hear slightly different words from God indicates these differences extend beyond biology. It does not seem to be the case that, biology aside, men and women are indistinguishable from one another.

How we identify what these deeper, nonbiological differences are requires great care. With an issue so sensitive and far-reaching, we want to make every effort to go only as far as the Bible goes –– no further and no less.

It is very easy for Christians, often without realizing it, to go further than the Bible says. We each have our own deep sense of what constitutes true masculinity and femininity, and we can all too easily assume that sense has come from the Bible, especially if we’re holding it in contrast to what a wider, secular culture around us might be saying. But what seems obvious and instinctive to us about the nature of men and women might reflect our own cultural prejudices more than what the Bible actually says.

We want to say what the Bible says; we also want to say it only to the extent that the Bible says it. Sometimes we can take a genuinely biblical idea and run with it in a way that the Bible itself never does. What we end up saying might not be contradicted by Scripture and may well be consistent with one aspect of what the Bible says, while not actually being biblical. The Pharisees give us a number of examples of how easily this happens. They rightly took the Old Testament law seriously. But they often mistook their application of God’s law for the law itself. So those who didn’t obey the law in the exact way that they did were regarded as disobedient.

I suspect the same often happens when it comes to discussions of what Christian men and women are meant to do or be like. Principles found in Scripture get applied in prescriptive ways that exceed the scope of the original text, and anyone who disagrees is accused not of disagreeing with the application but with the Bible itself. I’ve seen this sort of thing numerous times, particularly in the conservative churches from which I have come. I think of one church where, in mixed prayer meetings, women were discouraged from praying at the beginning because it would discourage men from taking the lead in prayer. I can imagine (just about) this being well-intentioned to start with (perhaps seeking to apply 1 Timothy 2:8 –– “I desire then that in every place the men should pray”?), but by the time I encountered this practice, it had already been hardened into a rule about what men and women should do: men should always be first to pray in a mixed gathering; women should always hold back and wait until the men have prayed first.

So those of us (I include myself) who believe that Scripture teaches that only certain qualified men should serve as pastors or elders in the church need to be careful not to then take this teaching and start applying it to contexts the Bible never speaks to, such as women leading in certain secular contexts. Or those who take the Bible’s teaching to husbands and wives and then end up prescribing from this which spouse should be doing which tasks in the modern home.

Saying what the Bible doesn’t say or overextending what it does say are both forms of adding to Scripture. But we must be equally careful not to subtract from Scripture. And if (in my experience) adding tends to happen more in conservative churches (perhaps an unintended consequence of wanting to take the detail of Scripture seriously), then (also in my experience) subtracting tends to happen more in less conservative churches (perhaps an unintended consequence of not wanting to be bound by rules and conventions that aren’t biblical). Either way, all of us are in danger of both.

The fact is, it is clear from Scripture that differences between men and women are not just physiological. And while we mustn’t over define what these differences are, neither must we deny they exist at all. This is especially important given that it is increasingly common to think that being equal must mean being the same in every respect –– that equality cannot properly exist where there is any kind of difference. But the Bible challenges this way of thinking. Our very difference is what makes each gender distinctly glorious. We can’t simply hope to swap out a man for a woman, or a woman for a man, and assume it will make no difference.

Content taken from What God Has to Say about Our Bodies by Sam Allberry, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

By / Oct 20

The National Commission of Military, National, and Public Service recently released their two-year review with the recommendation that all Americans, regardless of gender, may be expected to serve in the event of a national draft.

Southern Baptists affirm that men and women were created with distinct physical and psychological differences. Women placed in combat would be a risk to themselves, to the men around them, and consequently, to our nation.  Men are psychologically prepared to protect, while women desire to nurture. Asking a woman to take the place of a man in protecting a nation is not only dangerous, but dishonors the role of men and women.   

Men and women are equal in value but distinct in their roles. Genesis 1:27 notes that God created men and women in His image; they are equal in value, but they were also created with specific and complementary characteristics for different roles. Furthermore, 2019 SBC Resolution on Expanding The Selective Service To Include Women notes that government coercion of women signing up for the draft “would be to treat men and women interchangeably and to deny male and female differences clearly revealed in Scripture and in nature.”

The U.S. draft has historically been filled by men. In March of 2020, The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service published a review on the status of military and public service of young Americans, complete with policy recommendations including an updated military selective service process. The newly recommended draft would require women to sign up for the draft. If the commission’s suggested policies were implemented, women between the ages of 18 and 26 would be compelled to register for the national draft. Should there be a national emergency requiring a more robust military, both men and women would be drawn by a lottery system and forced to serve. No distinctions between the roles of men and women’s potential placements were made. There is also no recognition that women are often the nurturing parent needed at home; intact families are necessary for a healthy society. 

Southern Baptists wish to express deepest gratitude to those courageous men and women who have served, as noted in the 2016 SBC resolution on Women Registering for the Draft. We are grateful for all women who have chosen to serve their country in the military, but make the distinction that forced service is both dishonorable and unbiblical. 

By / Sep 2

We live in a pornified culture. From popular television shows to music, and even billboards along the highway, pornographic images and language are pervasive. As it becomes more normal and increasingly ubiquitous, we may wonder: is there any hope for unseating pornography from its cultural position of power and influence?

Ray Ortlund, with his signature optimism, answers with an emphatic, yes! In his new book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, Ortlund pens a letter to young men charging them to do just that — to take up the noble cause of dismantling the pornography industry by the power of the Spirit and with the grace of Jesus. The Death of Porn is unique from start to finish. I suspect it will be a spark that ignites a movement lasting for generations. Ortlund recently talked with us about this and more. Read more below.

Your latest book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, as the title suggests, tackles the topic of porn. What compelled you to write this book?

I wrote this book because so many of the magnificent young men I know are held back by this one thing: porn. I long to see this generation of men set free, men rediscovering their dignity and purpose, men perceiving women with the same God-given dignity and glorious purpose. And if enough men dare to believe in their true greatness, we will be at a turning point — the death of porn, the birth of revival.

It’s a unique book in that it’s written as a series of letters from you, “an older man” (your words), to your reader, presumably a younger man. What inspired you to take this approach?

I was inspired by a letter from way back in 1791. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wrote a letter to a young politician named William Wilberforce. It was the last letter Wesley wrote before he died. He called Wilberforce and his friends to give their lives to bringing down the slave trade in the British Empire. And they did. It took a lot of courage and many years. But they succeeded. And now it’s time for the young men of this generation to fight for the freedom of everyone being exploited by the predatory porn industry.

The Death of Porn is a book that seeks to help liberate men and women from the chains of pornography, and it does that primarily by pointing to Jesus, our union with him, and the call he places on our lives. Why is remembering Jesus, and remembering who he’s made us to be, a more effective antidote against the pull of pornography as opposed to the “white-knuckling” approach that we often encounter? 

No one is helped by being pressured, cornered, or shamed. The only way we really grow is the opposite — by being dignified, included, and lifted up. I believe that with all my heart. After all, the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:7). So let’s move all our chips over onto the square of God’s grace, and let’s find out what only he can do for us — and through us — in this desperate generation!

The tone of the book is overtly optimistic. Considering the cultural behemoth that is the pornography industry, why should Christians share this optimism? Can we really bring about the death of porn?

Short answer: Yes! If the risen Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, then we have no right not to be wildly optimistic. I only hope that my book is optimistic enough, given what Jesus can do.

Longer answer: Our risen King loves to inspire social justice. For example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s launched schools, hospitals, libraries, orphanages, and labor unions. It awakened Christians who addressed prison reform and poverty and slum housing. They could have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Nothing ever changes in this world. Why even try?” But what cowardice that would be! What a betrayal of Christ himself! The fact is, those brave Christians did make their world a better place. 

Now, in our time, our risen Lord is calling us to be his new resistance movement in a world of injustice, saying a loud no to the porn industry — stigmatizing it, marginalizing it, diminishing it — and saying a loud yes to the worth of every man and every woman. Let’s give our lives to the liberation of this generation, not because we can foresee our chances of success, but because we can see the worthiness of the cause. And we know that Jesus loves to flip impossibilities into actualities!

You talk a lot in the book about nobility. How would you define the term nobility, and what does nobility look like in practice?

Our God-given nobility is a major theme in the Bible. For example, “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isa. 32:8). There is nothing second-rate in Jesus! All he is for us, all he brings to us, is noble, uplifting, worth reaching for.

Here is what the biblical word noble means: a heart that’s all-in. Not a perfect heart, but a generous heart that cares for others, including every victim of porn.

In practice, it looks like a Christian man reaching out to one other man — any man who wants his freedom back. And that Christian guy nobly shares his heart, his honesty, his vulnerability with that friend. And together those two men begin a journey into a new impact they’ve never dreamed could be theirs. It starts small, but it makes a big difference, because the risen Jesus is right there with those two men. 

To that point, one of the practices that you advocate for in the latter half of the book is the act of confession. You say, “We don’t overcome our sins by heroic willpower. We confess them to death” (89). How does the act of confession diminish the power of sin and the shame that it brings?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer nailed it: “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.” We never do well, when we cover up our sins, hidden in the secrecy that shame demands. 

But when we dare, by faith in Christ crucified, to confess our sins to a faithful brother, we are no longer alone. We step out of the shadows of denial and start walking in the light together (1 John 1:7). We can finally turn to God in prayer and find healing (James 5:16). Any man who lives in ongoing confession will never be alone again. It is so freeing!

As the book’s subtitle suggests, you are not just calling your reader to a life of personal purity, though that’s certainly included. You are trying to convince your reader that “we can make a world of difference.” You say, “Jesus is calling you to build a new world of nobility, to the furthest extent of your influence, for the rest of your life” (103). Can you talk about that?

Porn is a justice issue. Yes, our personal character is on the line. But even more, our social conscience is at stake. Jesus is not saving isolated individuals here and there. He is creating a new community of beauty in this world of brutality. We, in our life together, are his liberating counterculture, and his “holy city” will last forever (Rev. 21-22). He is calling every man in this generation to join with him in building his new world right here, right now.

Relatedly, in the final chapter you offer practical ideas on how to build this world of nobility. As a father of three boys, one of them really hit home for me. You tell the reader to “educate the rising generation in our history and our stories of nobility,” and then you say something striking: “if you don’t fill their imaginations with greatness, porn will fill their mind with ugliness. Our kids long for nobility. God has planted it deep within them. Teach them how to be at their best” (107)! For fathers and mothers and mentors helping raise children in our day, how important is this? Where’s a good place to start?

We grownups can and must invest in our children for their long-term future. How? For starters, let’s read to our children. Every evening after dinner, rather than watch TV or look at our phones, let’s cuddle on the sofa and read good books to our kids. Let’s read aloud the great stories of the Bible — even acting them out together! Wouldn’t that be fun? And let’s read to them The Chronicles of Narnia, the legendary tales of chivalrous knights, the heroic stories of valiant soldiers and sacrificial mothers and courageous reformers and brave explorers. Okay, there’s a time for silly books. But let’s make sure our kids fall in love with the inspiring stories! They’re going to need all the inspiration they can get, when they face the future as adults.

Undoubtedly, there may be some reading this interview who find themselves in the throes of pornography addiction, experiencing shame and wondering if they can put this addiction to death in their own life, much less the society at large. What would you say to that person? How would you encourage them to move forward?

Yes, some readers are thinking that very thing right now. I’m glad to say this: You are not alone. You are not beneath God’s grace. You are not such a spectacular sinner that you can defeat the risen Savior. But there is one hard step you must take. You must call a faithful friend right now and say, “Can we get together? I’m not doing well, and I need help.” And the two of you get together this week. And you pour your heart out. And with your faithful friend, you begin a new pattern of weekly get-togethers for honesty, prayer, and healing (James 5:16). Yes, it can be embarrassing. But your outpouring of confession and sorrow is where the Lord himself will visit you with his powerful grace. Your new beginning is just a phone call away. It’s how you can start a new life — in transparency, honesty, openness. Jesus himself awaits you. So, make the call?

Your book’s dedication page is one of the most beautiful and hopeful I have ever read. When you think about your grandchildren’s generation, knowing the culture they’ll encounter as they grow up, what are your hopes for them?

I hope, most of all, that my grandchildren will feel deep within how good God is, how glorious he created them to be, how bitterly distasteful all sin is, how life-giving Jesus is, how powerful Christian community is, and how they can advance the cause of Christ in their generation. What will matter far more than what they own is what they believe. If my grandchildren, and yours, will believe the gospel in its totality, they will not just cope; they will flourish. And the world they hand down to their children will be a better place, for the glory of God.

By / Aug 10

Every four years, the summer Olympic Games take center stage. And while impossible-to-believe feats of strength and athleticism, camaraderie, and sportsmanship regularly wow its global viewership, the Olympic platform has sometimes also thrust prevailing social and cultural issues to the foreground. In some ways, the Tokyo Olympics may have done so more than ever.

As a prime example, one of the cultural issues that took center stage this summer was the transgender debate, seen most notably in the participation of Laurel Hubbard, a 43-year-old weightlifter from New Zealand who competed in the women’s heavyweight competition. Though admittedly reluctant to be a mouthpiece for the transgender community, Hubbard, who formerly competed in the sport as a male, has garnered a great deal of attention and sparked significant controversy by participating in Tokyo’s games.

Much of the conversation on this particular controversy revolves around the question of fairness. Namely, is it fair for a person who has undergone a so-called gender transition, especially from male to female, to compete athletically in their “new” gender classification? But while the issue of fairness is critically important in sports and athletics, the truth is that fairness is downstream from the real crux of the issue. At root, the issue at hand is whether we, as a society, will continue to recognize and accept objective truth. 

A web of delusion

We are suffering from a self-deception of our own making. The widespread acceptance of transgenderism reflects the fact that our culture has traded objective truth for subjectivism. In effect, we have crowned the self the ruler of truth. And in the midst of this, Sir Walter Scott’s memorable line, “Oh what a tangled web we weave,” has become uncomfortably poignant. Our culture has woven a destructive web of delusion, allowing feelings to supplant facts and preferences to replace realities.

Human beings do not decree what is or is not true. We are not God or gods. As limited and finite beings, our duty is much more modest. We recognize truth. We share truth. We stand for truth. But we do not fashion or alter what is true. And in our culture today, perhaps our hubris and propensity for exceeding the boundaries of our own authority is nowhere better displayed than with regard to gender. 

Rejecting reality

In the case of Laurel Hubbard, we are witnessing the downstream consequences of our culture’s rejection of objective truth. Hubbard’s example demonstrates just how quickly we’re beginning to encounter the consequences of decades of emphasis on self-supremacy and self-actualization. 

Any rational person can acknowledge that it is generally unfair to ask biological females to compete against biological males in physical athletic competition. This is especially true when the activity is weightlifting. The reasons why are self-evident but bear repeating. Males and females are distinct. Among other things, males and females have different musculoskeletal makeups: “Muscle size and bulk is less in women, due to the effects of the normal sex hormones. Men, given their greater levels of testosterone, have larger and stronger muscles, with a greater potential for muscle development.” Importantly, these physiological distinctions are not able to be altered apart from serious medical intervention — and even then clear differences persist.

The decision to allow Hubbard to compete against biological females because of Hubbard’s current female “gender identity” reflects just how deeply we’ve imbibed this cultural delusion. There is no doubt that Hubbard, and many others, experience true feelings of gender dysphoria, “a condition where a person senses that their gender identity (how they feel about being male or female) may not align with their biological sex and experiences emotional distress as a result.” Indeed, such people deserve tremendous mercy and compassion. But validating an identity that is not merely flawed but antithetical to Hubbard’s true identity is neither merciful nor compassionate. It is a rejection of reality and a repudiation of the concept of objective truth.

Eroding the foundations

When it comes to sex and gender the answer is not to capitulate to the winds of culture. Instead, it is to affirm that which is apparent by observation, attested via biology, and most importantly revealed in Scripture. It is no accident that the first pages of our Bible clearly describe God’s pattern for human beings in the words “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). And it is equally important for Christians to affirm that gender is inextricably linked to sex. Regardless of whether a person may “feel” like a man or a woman, their gender is not determined according to feeling but according to a fixed and objective reality. Only males are men; only females are women.

Athletic competition reveals these distinctions acutely. Men and women typically compete in separate categories to ensure a fair and equal playing field. One need not subscribe to the Bible’s view of anthropology to recognize this. We can recognize the injustice of allowing biological males to compete against biological females because alongside our innate sense of fairness is our perception of these biological distinctions. 

Beyond sports, we can only guess just how damaging the eradication of these boundaries will be for both individuals and our society as a whole. What we do know is that this widespread rejection of objective truth will continue to erode the foundations upon which our common life is built. As Christians, we must strive resist the tides of culture and hold fast to the truth about what it means that God creates human beings as either male or female. These distinctions are critical, not merely to preserve the wonder that captivates us at the Olympic Games but to honor the pattern of God’s design for those he created to reflect his image back into all creation.

By / Aug 12

Extended years of singleness seems to be a growing trend in our culture, whether we like it or not. Due to a variety of reasons, most young men and women aren’t getting married as soon as they’d like to.

As a 27-year-old single girl myself, I can relate to the struggles, sorrows and difficulties that accompany those extra “unwanted” single years. Although I haven’t lived these years out perfectly, I’ve learned a few things that have been extremely beneficial to me during this time.

Whether you are single or married, I hope these tips will encourage you—or help you encourage the singles you know—to live with intention and purpose during this time.

1. Don’t view singleness as an “in-between” stage

There have definitely been times in my own life that I’ve viewed these single years as a season to be “endured.” I viewed marriage as the good stuff and singleness as the bad stuff. I wanted the single season to end as quickly as possible so that I could move on in life and be a real and purposeful adult. Thankfully, God has helped me to see that singleness isn’t an “in-between” season that I should endure, but an important and valuable season of life.

I want to encourage you, as a single, to embrace this season of life. God has you in this season for a reason. Don’t waste these valuable years waiting for marriage to come your way. Take advantage of the time God has given you. and make the most of this season.

2. Get out of your bubble of single friends

In our society, there is a huge push to stick with our own group of people. Teens hang with teens. College kids hang with college kids. Singles hang with singles. Married people hang with married people. Older people hang with older people. There isn’t a whole lot of encouragement to mix up the groups and spend time with people in different seasons of life.

I personally think this is a terrible mindset and one I hope never to embrace. Instead of restricting your friends and groups to “singles only,” try mixing it up a bit. Spend time investing in those younger than yourself. Spend time with your grandparents or the elderly couples in your church. Spend time with young families or couples who have been married for several decades. Get outside of your normal friend groups, and start investing in and benefiting from those in different seasons.

3. Choose gratitude during this season

Nowhere in Scripture do we see singles given a special “pass” to live in discontentment and ingratitude. God commands us to give thanks in all things, despite our circumstances. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Gratitude is a choice. It’s something that you have to choose to do, despite how you feel.

I love how Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth puts it in her book, Choosing Gratitude,

I have learned that in every circumstance that comes my way, I can choose to respond in one of two ways: I can whine or I can worship! And I can't worship without giving thanks. It just isn't possible. When we choose the pathway of worship and giving thanks, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances, there is a fragrance, a radiance, that issues forth out of our lives to bless the Lord and others.

4. Use these single years for God’s glory

Single people have so much potential to make an impact for the kingdom of God. We typically have energy, youthfulness, flexibility and the time to be used in ways that married people can’t. Instead of twiddling our thumbs waiting for “the one” to come our way, let’s live with purpose and intention. Let’s take advantage of this incredibly unique season and live with eternity in mind.

As I say in my new book, Girl Defined: God’s Radical Design for Beauty, Femininity and Identity, “When forever comes, only the things you did for Christ will truly matter.” Let’s choose to be single men and women who truly live with that in mind.

5. Actively look for opportunities to serve

There are so many needs in our churches and communities that desperately need to be met. There are young boys and girls that need godly role models. There are elderly people in need of love and companionship. There are single moms who could really use help in a million different ways. It doesn’t take long to find a need. We need to start actively looking for opportunities to serve. We need to stop waiting for God to bring opportunities to our doorsteps and start making big efforts to love and serve those God has placed around us.

By God’s grace, let’s live with purpose and intention during this season. Don’t wait for the “greener grass” to come your way. Choose to live out every day for the glory of God.

By / Feb 19

I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s magnificent biography of the 41st President of the United States, George HW Bush, a book I thoroughly enjoyed, from cover to cover.

Bush’s election to the presidency in 1988 was the first presidential election I paid attention to. I was ten years old, already a budding politics and history nerd. We huddled around the radio in our family room that November night (our family did not own a TV) and waited to hear the returns.

George HW Bush was in the arena during much of the pivotal history of the 20th century. His father, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. Senator. He volunteered to fight in World War II and became a fighter pilot whose plane was shot down over Chichi Jima. He and three others survived, but not after he finished his bombing mission, parachuted into the waters of the Pacific, and was rescued by a Navy submarine. When he returned home, Bush married Barbara, built an oil business in Texas, then got involved in politics. He won a seat in Congress, then ran for the Senate and lost. He served in a variety of roles in government: Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador to China, and Director of the CIA. He was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was considered for the Vice-Presidency twice: in 1968 with Richard Nixon and in 1974 with Gerald Ford. He ran for President in 1980, lost to Ronald Reagan, and then was asked by Reagan to join the ticket. He served as Vice-President for 8 years before seeking the presidency and winning in 1988. Born just after World War I, Bush lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam Korea, the turbulent 60’s, Watergate, the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, the fall of Communism, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, 9/11, the digital age, and much more. He saw two of his sons become governor and one become President. His life is a fascinating prism through which we can study the 20th century.

Reading this book was a pleasure on many levels. I enjoy, thoroughly, biographies, especially political ones. But more than this, I came away with several reflections on leadership and life. I thought I’d share a few with you.

1) You don’t have to be a monster to be a consequential leader. There is a narrative, fueled by the stories of men like Steve Jobs, that to be effective, one must be a tyrant: thoughtless, selfish, ruthless. Even among Christian leaders, this idea exists and is rewarded. George H.W. Bush demonstrates that you can lead at the highest levels of society and still be a kind and decent man. For Bush, his decency was something he was taught by his mother, but nurtured throughout his life by discipline. He refused to hold grudges, to settle scores, or to not be kind. He was prudent and deferential, often subsuming his own ambition for the good of those he served and for the good of the nation.

As I read this book, it reminded me of the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians: gentleness. It’s a similar trait described in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. Gentleness, is not weakness. It’s not avoiding conflict or about being nice. It’s a steady disposition and a genuine concern for those who are affected by your decisions. It’s modesty, a kind of selflessness. Today common decency is neither taught nor rewarded. This is why men who are both powerful and gentle are hard to find. But for Bush, a man who led well, it was in abundant supply.

2) Sometimes your best and most lasting work will go unnoticed.  When the history of the end of the Cold War is retold, giants like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, Vaclav Havel and others are often (rightly) given credit for its demise. What goes unnoticed, however, is the vital role Bush played. It was during Bush’s presidency that the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified and during his presidency when many former Soviet Republics gained their freedom. The end of the Cold War could have had a bloody end, but for Bush’s careful diplomacy and steady leadership.

Bush also assembled a coalition to push Saddam Hussein out of Iraq and presided over a hugely successful mission. His refusal to take out Saddam at the time seemed weak, but, in history’s hindsight, seems prudent given the struggles the U.S. has had in restoring stability in a post-Saddam Iraq.

There were many other similar crises over which Bush presided, both at home and abroad, that went unnoticed, but were evidence of careful leadership. And yet, until recently, most have not considered Bush a consequential president. He’s often lost when people discuss the 20th century’s greatest leaders. This reminds me that much of good leadership is done behind closed doors, when nobody is paying attention, on matters that often seem unimportant to the outside world. If our sense of service is fueled only by getting credit for what we do, by being noticed, we’ll not lead well. But if we are committed to faithfulness, wherever we lead, our leadership will have more lasting impact.

3) You can lead well and still love your family. To study the Bush family is to study a family deeply devoted to each other. George Bush often wrote touching notes to his children during times of crisis. He was, for them, a source of encouragement and strength. His kids adore their father. To hear Bush talk of his love for Barbara (He calls her “Bar”) is to hear a husband who deeply loves his wife, over the many seasons of life. George HW Bush was an ambitious, accomplished man and yet he didn’t sacrifice his kids.

As a husband and father, reading this book was, at times, sobering and convicting. It forced me to think through my faithfulness to my family and to ask hard questions of myself. Sadly, many good leaders are a mess at home. It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way.

4) There is no substitute for experience in leadership. It struck me, as I read this book, that George HW. Bush may be the last President elected with a long record of public service. He may have, arguably, been the most experienced person to hold that office. This served him well, especially on foreign policy as he leveraged relationships with government leaders he had forged over decades.

Today such a resume is considered a liability, not just for Presidents but for leadership positions at all levels, including in the church. We are a culture obsessed with youth, with charisma, with raw talent. There is something to be said, of course, for young leadership. Maturity is not always tied to age. Sometimes young leaders have a prudence and vision beyond their years. Paul told Timothy to not let the church he served “despise his youth” (1 Timothy 4:12).

However, we should wise not to make youth and attractiveness the singular desirable quality in those we seek to lead us. In those moments of crisis, when leadership is difficult, those who’ve led before often have a reservoir of life experience to guide them.

5) Men plot and plan, but God is gathering history to himself. I have this thought after every Presidential biography I read. Reading history only reinforces to me the sovereignty of Christ over history. Bush’s life is no exception. But for a few inches left or right, he could have been killed while being shot down at sea in World War II. Had Richard Nixon made Bush a White House staffer instead of ambassador to the U.N, Bush’s career may have ended with Watergate. But for a few choices and mistakes and turns, he might have defeated Ronald Reagan and won the presidency in 1980. Had former President Gerald Ford accepted the offer to be Reagan’s running mate in 1980, Bush, the second choice, may not have ever been elected president 8 years later. Had a few historical events gone differently or not happened at all, we may have never known who George HW. Bush is.

The sovereignty of God, over history, shouldn’t drive us to either fatalism or passivity. We should live out our God-given callings with intentionality and purpose, but knowing that in the swirl of history, both in the world and in our own personal lives, there are no accidents and no coincidences. Nothing happens that doesn’t pass through the hands of a wise and perfect God.

Update: I can’t believe I forgot to mention that I’ve been to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas on the campus of Texas A&M. I highly recommend the visit.

By / Jul 3

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – Declaration of Independence, 1776

Millions of men and women have fought to gain and preserve the unalienable rights found in our Declaration of Independence. To many, they still embody the spirit and principles upon which our country was founded and for which we should strive.  

As we approach Independence Day 2015, the irony is that millions have and continue to sacrifice these freedoms in service to our nation in order to make sure they are secure. The real price of freedom for men and women in the Armed Services, their families and loved ones is their sacrifice of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which may be for a time or a lifetime. Men and women in uniform have dedicated and risked their lives to serve our country and preserve the freedoms they may never fully enjoy.

The Oaths these soldiers take place them in voluntary submission to the authority of the President of the United States and the officers and non-commissioned officers appointed over them. Their lives are not their own. They have limited their liberty in order to preserve a greater “liberty for all,” which is a picture of what Jesus Christ has done for us in the gospel.

The marriage vows their spouses take bind their lives inexorably to this submission in mind, body, soul and strength. Their lives too, are subject to the will of the nation’s leadership, which affects where they live, how well they live and at what cost.  

Service to one’s country is not without advantages or purpose. Nevertheless, the pursuit of happiness is greatly impacted by orders, separations and injuries—seen and unseen—and even death. Service men and women make these commitments freely, their spouses agree, and their children and families are then impacted with or without their consent.

So, how then can the Church pray for the ones we pause to celebrate and who often forfeit their lives by defending the freedoms we enjoy?

  • Pray for safety and security: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  
  • Pray for the Lord’s hedge of protection around their marriages and families.
  • Pray for wise leadership and honorable decision-making from civilian and military leaders at all levels. Pray they will not waste their most precious resources, our sons and daughters.  
  • Pray for the salvation of those who have yet to know Jesus as Savior and Lord for all eternity.   
  • Pray for Christians to be salt and light in their families, units and the far reaches of the globe where they are often called. Pray their courage will not falter in word or deed when confronted with evil in its many forms.  
  • Pray for healing from the wounds of war. Many are easily visible, especially as you visit a military medical facility, such as the Navy Medical Center, The Center for the Intrepid, and Walter Reed Military Medical Center. Many wounds, such as Traumatic Brain Injury or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, are not visible but can be just as lethal. Pray for these men and women to be filled with hope, for without hope we all lose the will to live.

In addition praying, how can the Church serve our service members? In order to serve them, we must identify them. Almost every county or parish in the United States and its territories have someone who served in the military. While less than two percent of the population is serving currently, more than 43 million veterans are alive in this country.

Do you know the veterans in your church? In your community? Do you know their needs? Is there a way the church can meet those needs?

I believe there are four things that the church could offer that would be beneficial to service members, veterans and their families.

  1. Acknowledge them. I believe they want and deserve to be respected. We ought to recognize their service and acknowledge their sacrifices and not just on national holidays.  
  2. Use their gifts. Most of these Christians have valuable leadership skills the church needs, whether short term (active duty folks may only be with you briefly) or long term (veterans settled in your church or in your town). These brothers and sisters, who have been tested on the battlefield and in a life of service, have much to offer. Look at them with an eye to the gifts and talents they bring to your church for “such a time as this.” Paul didn’t stay anywhere for more than a few years, yet look at what he accomplished. If the service member, veteran or family member is not ready to lead, then disciple them intentionally. And if they do not yet know Christ, share the gospel and live it out.
  3. Become aware of their needs (all types) and find ways of meeting them. Some possible needs the church could meet would be help acquiring employment, counseling and support (financial, logistical, emotional or spiritual).
  4. Love them. Get to know them, and without judgment, get to know their stories. Be a friend. Open your homes. Love them “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” I am not talking about the mushy Hollywood version of love or the self-serving kind either. I mean the kind of love that endures, meets these heroes where they are, and unselfishly gives to meet their needs whatever they may be.  
By / May 27

It’s not uncommon to hear how much women need to continue to make strides in our culture. Even actresses in recent years have used their acceptance speeches as platforms for praising the changes in roles women now play in television and film, while also acknowledging that there is still a long way to go. Some see the continued gender disparity in the upper echelons of business as evidence of a need for greater change. Some see the questions women are asked on the red carpet as evidence of a need for greater equality among the sexes.

But women have made a fair amount of progress in the last fifty years. And for all this progress, we are now seeing not a greater equality among the sexes, but a greater gender gap as men are the ones lagging behind women in some fields. Women now outnumber men on college campuses by over thirty one percent. Women, who were less affected by the Great Recession, are now a majority in the workforce.

Who should advance: men or women?

In her 2012 book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin chronicles the lives of women in varying life stages and circumstances, and shows how, in many ways, women are faring much better than men in our current society. For a long time they were gaining on men, now they are outpacing them all together in education, ambition, and even in the home. Rosin sees this shift as a good thing.  In her book she provides a way forward for both men and women to embrace this change, namely men need to adapt to a world where they are no longer on top. As a feminist, she views the end of men not as cause for alarm, but as a win in a long-fought battle. But I’m not so sure.

With the rise of the feminist movement, has come the advancement of women. And this isn’t all bad. It’s a good thing that women are excelling in college. It’s a good thing that women are able to explore their options in the workforce. It’s a good thing that women are valued for their contributions to society. It’s not good for men to be alone, after all (Gen. 2:18). As Christians, we believe the image bearers go together. To be a Christian woman means being pro-women, absolutely. But it also means being pro-men. When God created Adam and Eve, he created them both in his image with purpose, value and dignity. We should be concerned when we live in a world where women are gaining at the expense of men, and vice versa.

These issues matter to me personally. I have three sons. With my husband, I am raising boys to become men in a world where men (and boys) are greeted with low expectations. Either men are expected to be doormats who never interfere with a woman and her life (unless she asks, of course), or worse, they are expected to be sexually aggressive and dominant. We don’t need to look very far to see that the portrayal of men in our culture is a buffoon at best and a sexual deviant at worst. Christians should want no part in either portrayal.

The battle of the sexes isn’t the real battle

In my book, The Accidental Feminist, I attempt to show how feminism actually wasn’t the answer to this quest for equality. Despite the celebration from Rosin (and many others) that feminism has secured the status of women in society, feminism didn’t answer the deepest issues women faced, namely that men and women have been in a battle since Genesis 3.

The battle of the sexes need a resolution, but can’t be won in a reverse sexism of sorts. Only the word of God brings us back to reality, and shows us that the answer to feminism, sexism, oppression, and even the fights we face with the men (and women) in our lives only find their defeat in the promised seed who crushes even the most disgusting sin we war against (Gen. 3:15). The battle really isn’t between men and women, but between the forces of darkness that have plagued us since the serpent asked “did God actually say?”

I am concerned about the end of men in our culture, just as much as a I am concerned about the end of women in oppressive regimes all across the world. I am concerned that men are met with low expectations because women have deemed them useless and irrelevant, and I am concerned about the little girl who is trafficked in Thailand or abandoned in Romania.

Any ideology that exalts one gender to the exclusion of the other is not honoring to God’s created design—namely that we bear his image (Gen. 1:26-27). Our humanity matters, and our maleness and femaleness matters. If men go the way of the Dodo Bird then we lose something precious about the image of God. And I don’t want to live in a world where that happens for men or women.