This is an email I wrote in October 2011. I came across it as I was going through some old files and realized it might be useful to make it public. I am turning it into a blog post here because the issues I was responding to are still very relevant. I have removed personal references, but otherwise, the email is essentially what I wrote at the time. This email was written in response to someone who was criticizing my preaching on male/female sexual issues. The critic of my sermons was moving in an egalitarian direction. I was preaching through 1 Corinthians at the time, so obviously a lot of my sermons in this time frame addressed marriage, sex, gender roles, tc. The sermons in question were preached in July and August of 2011 and can be found on the TPC website sermon page.


Dear --------,


I know it will be best to talk about this in person, but I will go ahead and respond to your email since much of what you say requires a detailed response. I want to thank you for your thoughts and questions, even though I find most of them immensely frustrating. I'm sure a lot of that frustration will come through in my responses, and for that I apologize. Perhaps we can work things out more fully in person. You need to know from the outset that I greatly value you and your friendship. But we do have some differences here, and I'm as concerned about those as you are.


Frankly, I don't think you're hearing my sermon material in a charitable or holistic way or accurate way. Just as important, I think you need to listen with more of a sense of humor. It's also obvious that some of your questions/comments address things I did not attempt to talk about in the sermon; I don't apologize for that since, obviously, you cannot say everything every time you preach, and these are topics I have already addressed extensively in the past. My point was not to repeat old material but look at some issues that had not been covered in the past. Just how wide and deep our differences on this issue go on this topic is hard to say. I thought they were rather minimal until I read your email. I'd like to think they'll be rather minimal when our conversation is complete. But to get to that point, we have a lot of things we need to work through.


I am under no delusion that it is possible to preach on topics of manhood and womanhood, and husband/wife roles, without causing misunderstanding and even offense. In our day, there is a great deal of confusion and disagreement about these things. We have a very diverse congregation, and there's no way to address these topics with depth in a way that "connects" with everyone. To be fully biblical and to be understood in a relevant way is quite a challenge. These topics require a lot of careful thought and nuance. I really believe, under God, that I was faithful to his Word in what I preached and also faithful to meet the needs of this congregation. Obviously, you think I have misled our body. Hopefully, we can come to a point where we are comfortable with one another's positions on these matters. In this email, I'll try my best to give you more insight into where I'm coming from, why I said what I said, and what I meant by it. 

To be honest, everything I had to say in those sermons pretty much came out of G. K. Chesterton. Have you read his book Brave New Family? If so, I'd say that's a good place for us to start the discussion; if not, I'd suggest you read it so that you can get a better understanding where I am coming from. (Remember my use of his poem "Comparisons" in the July 17, 2011 sermon? A right understanding of that poem pretty much sums up this whole issue for me.) I'm also heavily influenced by Frederica Mathewes-Green's collected writings on gender, as well as Carolyn Graglia's Domestic Tranquility, so you may also want to read those books. I also appreciate George Gilder, Werner Neuer, Stephen Clark, and a handful others I could point you to. All of these authors are "moderate traditionalists" in the best sense of the term. They do not demean women, though they especially glorify the "traditional" feminine roles of wife and mother, as opposed to modern career-oriented feminism. That's where I'm coming from. I have no problem with women in various roles in society; I just don't think those roles are as glorious, weighty, or central as a woman's role ministering in her home to husband and children. Motherhood, in the nature of the case, is not something that can be “balanced” easily with other roles, so when a women has children in the home, they should always be her priority.


Another significant influence on my thinking about matters of sex and sexuality is Pope John Paul 2's "Theology of the Body," especially as it has been popularized and developed by people like Christopher West. If you're familiar with the "Theology of the Body," you're bound to recognize its deep and pervasive influence on everything I've taught on these matters for years, e.g., my marriage series from 2007 and the sermons from 1 Cor. 6-7 from 2010, as well as the sermons you're critiquing. I am especially fond of West's book Theology of the Body for Beginners because it's so accessible and has very little distinctively Romanist teaching that Protestants could not embrace. One of the overarching themes of the Pope's teaching is that sex is not what people do, it's what they are. All my language about the depth of sexuality or the sexuality of the soul comes straight from here (though it would be easy to find it other sources, including many historic Protestants). The Pope's main thesis in his lectures is that the body makes visible what is invisible; in other words bodily similarities and differences between men and women point us similarities and differences in the soul (and beyond, since these differences also symbolize Christ and the church and the inter-Trinitarian life of God). I would have guessed you'd be at least somewhat familiar with the "Theology of the Body," but if not, I'd encourage to read up on it, especially as interpreted by West.


Probably the best way to identify the real issues here is to ask you a set of counter-questions, mixed in with some responses to your thoughts/questions. You can answer my questions, as I seek to answer yours, and that will help clarify things.

1. You wrote, "I heard you say that there were male and female souls---that men and women were so different that they had different kinds of souls." In other words, I claimed that men and women have distinctively masculine and feminine souls. Well, yes, of course -- that's what Christians have always believed. Men and women also have distinctively masculine and feminine bodies (obviously). When God made man "male and female " in Genesis 1, he didn't just make male and female bodies, he made male and female persons. But to suggest these "deep differences" means there is no "common humanity" shared by men and women is contrary not only to the Bible and to common sense, but to everything I communicated in the sermons. After all, the whole of one of the sermons on 1 Cor. 11 was rooted in the Trinity which gives us a way thinking about males and females as persons who are diverse-yet-united, distinct-but-equal. Obviously, if men and women both have souls, they share something absolutely fundamental in common, even if their souls have distinguishing characteristics that are reflected in their personalities and their bodies. I could not have stressed male/female equality anymore than I did, as I always have from the TPC pulpit (e.g., appealing in one of the sermons to 1 Peter 3's teaching that the woman is a "co-heir" of salvation with the man). I disagree with any insinuation that I do not preach and teach male/female equality sufficiently, or that the way I preach male/female differences is degrading to women (or men). 


Again, think about the claim being made: To say that men and women have sexual differences, and that those differences pertain not just to the outer person but to the inner person as well, is to make a statement that presupposes the very thing (equality) that you're calling into question. Obviously I affirmed that men and women both have souls and both have bodies and both share fully in the image of God: there's the shared humanity and fundamental equality you're looking for. To go on from that and say that their bodies and souls have sexual characteristics is to say something that has been considered common sense, not just by Christians, but by most of humanity for most of history (though that does NOT mean I endorse all the ways those differences have been understood or practiced in various cultures). The differences between men and women do not entail a difference in worth or value, nor does talking about those differences extensively threaten to cancel out the commonalities that men and women share. To be faithful to Scripture, we have to do justice to what men and women share as human beings as well as to what makes them different. But the fact that sexuality pertains to the soul as well as the body is a truth all great Christian teachers have held down through the ages, as best I can tell. Given that Christians believe humans are a unity of body and soul (or "enfleshed souls" as some theologians like to put it), it necessarily follows manhood and womanhood cannot be matters of the body alone. Humans cannot be carved up in that dualistic way. 


Thus, from a Christian perspective, to say souls are "gendered" should be no more controversial than claiming bodies are "gendered." It's very odd to me that you don't get this. In fact, your comments on the soul raise some very serious concerns for me. Is it your view that sex/gender is only a matter of biology? That it's only "skin deep"? That sexuality, apart from the body, is "plastic"? That men and women are identical in every way except for their bodily biological differences? That sex/gender is not part of the essence of who we are? That the body may be sexual but the soul is not? That we are all neutered or androgynous on the inside? That seems to be what your questions and comments about the soul imply. But my claim in the sermons -- that human beings are either male or female "all the way down" -- is most certainly the historic Christian position and continues to be the evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox view today. For example, German evangelical theologian Werner Neuer, in his wonderful book Man and Woman in Christian Perspective, writes,


A person is a total unity of body and soul which cannot be split into a sexual corpse and a sexless psyche.  The indivisible unity of the inner and outer life, of body and soul, is a fact which is daily experienced, is demonstrated by science, and is borne witness to by the Bible.  Body and soul stand in very close relationship to each other and mutually influence each other.  Since soul and body form an inseparable unity, being male or female characterizes the whole person and not only his or her body . . . A person only exists as a man or as a woman.  A person does not just have a male or female body, he is a man or she is a woman.  Sex is not just one personal characteristic, but a mode of being which determines one’s whole life.


Likewise, T. F. Torrance writes,


The difference between men and women is not limited to the biological sphere in that women have children and women do not.  The difference of men and women affects their entire being.  They think and feel differently so that their whole contribution is different but in a way that is entirely complementary to the other and such that, in marriage, they become ‘one flesh’ or ‘one whole person.’  This is true, however, not only in marriage but also in society as a whole so that whether we are married or not we complement one another, we enrich and fulfill one another, we keep one another. . . 

In affirming with Scripture that God created us either male or female, we are affirming that there is no other creaturely being other than male or female.  Man and woman cannot transcend their sexuality.  They cannot be other than the man and woman that God created them to be.  They are different from each other and although complementary for their own and each other’s fulfillment.  They must not therefore aspire beyond their own and opposite sex to a third and supposedly higher mode of being who is neither man nor woman.

Yet the temptation is present in some quarters to aspire to become a human being who is neither male nor female, except outwardly and externally as if his or her sexuality as male or female was only temporal or provisional.  It is not true to say . . . that the only difference between men and women is that the woman bears children and a man does not, for their sexuality is only accidental and therefore external!  This, in a spiritualized form, is a movement of escape from sexuality and escape from what is really human.  It is an attempt to deny our God-given manhood and womanhood.


I could quote numerous Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars saying the same thing. For example, Orthodox Bishop Kallistos says, 


For myself, I believe most strongly that maleness and femaleness, as gifts from God, have dimensions that are not only biological but spiritual.  I agree with [Orthodox] Professor Kyriaki FitzGerald that the difference between men and women is “a difference of being which is rooted in the very essence of creation and manifested in the particular expression of personhood."


Calvinist-turned-Roman Catholic philospoher Peter Kreeft has also been a big influence on me. You can read his thoughts here: Kreeft says,


Suppose you saw a book with the title "The Sexual Life of a Nun". You would probably assume it was a scurrilous, gossipy sort of story about tunnels connecting convents and monasteries, clandestine rendezvous behind the high altar, and masking a pregnancy as a tumor. But it is a perfectly proper title: all nuns have a sexual life. They are women, not men. When a nun prays or acts charitably, she prays or acts, not he. Her celibacy forbids intercourse, but it cannot forbid her to be a woman. In everything she does her essence plays a part, and her sex is as much a part of her essence as her age, her race, and her sense of humor...


We have trivialized sex into a thing to do rather than a quality of our inner being. It has become a thing of surfaces and external feeling rather than of personality and internal feeling...

The words "masculinity" and "femininity", meaning something more than merely biological maleness and femaleness, have been reduced from archetypes to stereotypes. Traditional expectations that men be men and women be women are confused because we no longer know what to expect men and women to be. Yet, though confused, the expectations remain. Our hearts desire, even while our minds reject, the old "stereotypes". The reason is that the old stereotypes were closer to our innate sexual instincts than are the new stereotypes. We have sexist hearts even while we have unisex heads. Evidence for this claim? More people are attracted to the old stereotypes than to the new ones. Romeo still wants to marry Juliet.

The main fault in the old stereotypes was their too-tight connection between sexual being and social doing, their tying of sexual identity to social roles, especially for women: the feeling that it was somehow unfeminine to be a doctor, lawyer, or politician. But the antidote to this illness is not confusing sexual identities but locating them in our being rather than in our doing. Thus we can soften up social roles without softening up sexual identities. In fact, a man who is confident of his inner masculinity is much more likely to share in traditionally female activities like housework and baby care than one who ties his sexuality to his social roles.

If our first principle is accepted, if sexuality is part of our inner essence, then it follows that there is sexuality in Heaven, whether or not we "have sex" and whether or not we have sexually distinct social roles in Heaven...

If sexual differences are natural, they are preserved in Heaven, for "grace does not destroy nature but perfects it" If sexual differences are only humanly and socially conventional, Heaven will remove them as it will remove economics and penology and politics. (Not many of us have job security after death. That is one advantage of being a philosopher.) All these things came after and because of the Fall, but sexuality came as part of God's original package: "be fruitful and multiply". God may unmake what we make, but He does not unmake what He makes. God made sex, and God makes no mistakes....

Saint Paul's frequently quoted statement that "in Christ there is neither male nor female" does not mean there is no sex in Heaven. For it refers not just to Heaven but also to earth: we are "in Christ" now. (In fact, if we are not "in Christ" now there is no hope of Heaven for us!) But we are male or female now. His point is that our sex does not determine our "in-Christness"; God is an equal opportunity employer. But He employs the men and women He created, not the neuters of our imagination....


Sex is Spiritual. That does not mean "vaguely pious, ethereal, and idealistic". "Spiritual" means "a matter of the spirit", or soul, or psyche, not just the body. Sex is between the ears before it's between the legs. We have sexual souls.

For some strange reason people are shocked at the notion of sexual souls. They not only disagree; the idea seems utterly crude, superstitious, repugnant, and incredible to them. Why? We can answer this question only by first answering the opposite one: why is the idea reasonable, enlightened, and even necessary?

The idea is the only alternative to either materialism or dualism. If you are a materialist, there is simply no soul for sex to be a quality of. If you are a dualist, if you split body and soul completely, if you see a person as a ghost in a machine, then one half of the person can be totally different from the other: the body can be sexual without the soul being sexual. The machine is sexed, the ghost is not. (This is almost the exact opposite of the truth: ghosts, having once been persons, have sexual identity from their personalities, their souls. Machines do not.)

No empirical psychologist can be a dualist; the evidence for psychosomatic unity is overwhelming. No pervasive feature of either body or soul is insulated from the other; every sound in the soul echoes in the body, and every sound in the body echoes in the soul. Let the rejection of dualism be Premise One of our argument.

Premise Two is the even more obvious fact that biological sexuality is innate, natural, and in fact pervasive to every cell in the body. It is not socially conditioned, or conventional, or environmental; it is hereditary.

The inevitable conclusion from these two premises is that sexuality is innate, natural, and pervasive to the whole person, soul as well as body. The only way to avoid the conclusion is to deny one of the two premises that logically necessitate it-to deny psychosomatic unity or to deny innate somatic sexuality....


The resurrection body perfectly expresses its soul, and since souls are innately sexual, that body will perfectly express its soul's true sexual identity...


Sex "goes all the way up" as well as "all the way down". Spirit is no less sexual than matter; on the contrary, all qualities and all contrasts are richer, sharper, more real as we rise closer and closer to the archetype of realness, God....


As we have seen, sexuality, like race and unlike clothes, is an essential aspect of our identity, spiritual as well as physical... The body is not a mistake to be unmade or a prison cell to be freed from, but a divine work of art designed to show forth the soul as the soul is to show forth God, in splendor and glory and overflow of generous superfluity. 


Of course, Kreeft is just following the Pope's "Theology of the Body" which has strongly insisted that sex is not just a matter of the body but of the soul; in other words, sex is not just physical, whether thought of in terms a physical act or physical characteristics. Souls are as sexual as bodies, and the act of sex is as spiritual as it is physical (see my sermons on 1 Cor. 6 for a more extensive treatment of this theme). Maybe you think Pope JP2 and Kreeft and all my other sources are "sexists," but I would beg to differ. It seems to me you're the one out of line with the historic church, not me. (Again, it is easy to find countless Protestant theologians who would agree with this basic point.) "Theology of the Body" is probably the most important document on these issues for the last 25 years; familiarity with it (and the body of literature it's spawned) would answer your question, "What is the Biblical and church tradition authority for this rhetoric of male and female souls?"


Here's the point (if you don't mind me repeating what I preached): Men and women share a common humanity as they bear the image of God together, but God made two types of human beings, and the complementary differences between them are deep and holistic, not superficial. The man and the woman complement and complete each other not just physically, but spiritually. They are equals before God and in Christ, to be sure. But equality does not entail interchangeability. The way the man and woman "fit" together in equal-but-complementary ways is actually the key to what it means for humanity to image the Triune God. I think I am fully traditional on this point, and fully in line with the best of the contemporary church. Gender is not accidental, but essential, to our humanity. I reject the notion that human beings have androgynous souls in gendered bodies, or that sex/gender is really "plastic," which seems to be what you're suggesting. But given the traditional view of the church, what's the problem with anything I said? Do you believe the "inner person" is androgynous? Do you believe we will be androgynous in heaven in the intermediate state (while we await our resurrection bodies)? Do you have historical precedent for your (implied) view that sexuality/gender are only bodily? Is that kind of body/soul dualism biblically defensible?


If you want to know more about how these "deep differences" between men and women relate to the doctrine of God, I would suggest reading  Rev. John Rodgers' excellent position paper on gender issues for the AMIA: (I included this link and a lengthy excerpt in the sermon follow-up notes on the TPC website.) You can also go back and listen to the material on the Trinity and gender from the July 3 sermon, which addresses this issue pretty clearly, in my opinion. Men and women should strive to manifest all the virtues and fruit of the Spirit, but will do so in ways colored and shaped by their gender and their roles, e.g., men and women are both called to be loving, courageous, etc., but we should not assume these virtues will look identical in each sex. (For example, think about how moms and dads love their children in equal but non-identical ways. Moms and dads love their children equally but in a complementary fashion.)


While I assume we both agree that men and women share equally in the image of God, do you disagree with my claim in the sermon that the larger problem in our day is not in recognizing the equality/sameness of men and women but in acknowledging the God-given, God-designed complementary differences between men and women? Isn't that "the need of the hour"? Furthermore, 1 Cor. 11 is a passage that tends to accent and highlight the differences between men and women rather than their commonalities, so that's what I preached. I find it striking, and very telling, that none of your comments on my sermons get into exegesis; that's crucial, because the differences between men and women are inescapable if one deals with the textual details of 1 Cor. 11, which is what my sermons were seeking to do. That being the case, I still had plenty to say about male/female equality in the recent sermons, just as I have in the past.


2. Do you agree that there are divinely and biblically mandated role differences for the man and the woman? Do you believe the husband is the head of the wife and the wife should submit to her husband? I couldn't really tell what you believe about this and your comments on my sermons make me wonder if you are (or have become) a full blown egalitarian. I believe there aresuch differences between men and women, and that our biblically assigned roles as men and women are not merely cultural or arbitrary, but reflect the divine design.


But I want to know from you: If you think there are different roles for men and women, would you say those different roles are arbitrarily assigned or somehow rooted in our respective natures as men and women? If so, what is it about our respective natures that makes us suited for those roles? Do the respective roles assigned to us as men and women tell us anything about the way we have been designed? Are those roles "fitting" or are they just imposed upon us in arbitrary fashion? (This is just the old Scotism vs. Thomism debate, and I fall very firmly on the Thomist side, along with the bulk of the historic church. It sounds to me that you are a Scotist, having driven a wedge between God's design and our duty.)


Maybe a better question for you is this: Is it possible to talk about the differences between men and women while still maintaining equality between the sexes? From what you've said, I get the sense that you think any real differences between men and women make equality impossible. But don't you see how un-trinitarian you're being? Here is how Kreeft deals with this issue -- and it's how I was dealing with the issue in the sermons as well:


The two most popular philosophies of sexuality today seem totally opposed to each other; yet at a most basic level they are in agreement and are equally mistaken. The two philosophies are the old chauvinism and the new egalitarianism; and they seem totally opposed. For chauvinism (a) sees one sex as superior to the other, "second", sex. This is usually the male, but there are increasingly many strident female chauvinist voices in the current cacophony. This presupposes (b) that the sexes are intrinsically different, different by nature not social convention. Egalitarianism tries to disagree with (a) totally; it thinks that to do so it has to disagree with (b) as well. But this means that it agrees with chauvinism on (c), the unstated but assumed premise that all differences must be differences in value, or, correlatively, that the only way for two things to be equal in value is for them to be equal in nature. Both philosophies see sameness or superiority as the only options. It is from this assumption (that differences are differences in value) that the chauvinist argues that the sexes are different in nature, therefore they are different in value. And it is from the same assumption that the egalitarian argues that the sexes are not different in value, therefore they are not different in nature.


3. Given that two of my sermons in question were exegetical sermons on 1 Cor. 11:2-16, I'm curious how you would exegete that text and where you think I was actually unfaithful to the text (since none of your criticisms are actually exegetical). Specifically, what does Paul mean when he calls woman the glory of man in 1 Cor. 11? You heard some of my thoughts in the sermon and disagree with them; what is your take? What's so glorious about being a woman? Why does Paul use that term "glory" to describe the woman and her role? Those are the key questions posed by the text that I was wrestling with. I'd like to see you see wrestle with them as well.

Further: What does Paul mean when he says woman was made "for the man"? What does Paul mean when he calls man the "head" of woman in 1 Cor. 11? What does headship entail? What does it imply about the man's role? How is marriage structured, biblically? Does headship mean there is a kind of hierarchy-between-equals in marriage? Again, these are issues raised by the exegesis of the text I was preaching from. Since you disagree with my exegesis, you must have your own take on the passage. I'd love to hear it. Where did I get the exegesis wrong?


It's very odd to me that you would insinuate that my sermons were degrading to "half the human race." If anything, it's the men, rather than the women, who should be upset with me! I don't know that I could have done more to highlight the glory of the woman's position and role. If anything, I could be accused of preaching "the superiority of women"! I compared the woman to the shekinah glory in the temple, for crying out loud! I placed the greater blame for the fall in Genesis 3 on the man "who was with her." Etc. I can assure you that hyper-patriarchalists/male chauvinists would not like my sermons at all. No doubt, feminists would not either -- but perhaps upsetting people on both ends of the spectrum is a sign of balance.

4. Again, related to male/female roles: What does Paul mean in Titus 2 when he tells older women to admonish younger women "to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed"? What, specifically, does it mean for a woman to be a homemaker? Is it demeaning for Paul to speak of women this way? Is Paul insulting half the human race? Is he telling women they cannot use their gifts? Is it culturally relative, so it's no longer applicable to us? Assuming Paul's words still have force, did my sermons do justice, or not, to this biblical exhortation to women (even though I wasn't preaching directly from that text, it is certainly relevant to 1 Cor. 11 as well Psalm 127-128)? How would you unpack what it means for young married women to be "homemakers"? What's the practical application? And why are women given this role as opposed to men?


Here's my take, and it's really the driving force behind what I preached (and I actually said this in one of the sermons): I think the most effective answer to feminism is NOT beating women down with the biblical prohibitions of what they cannot do (e.g., women cannot be pastors or elders). Instead, I think the biblical antidote to feminism is to give proper glory and honor to the roles God has called women to fulfill. There's more to it than that, obviously, since not all women are called to be wives and mothers (and I have preached on the gift of singleness pretty regularly at TPC since we have a lot of older single women). But I think that's the basic approach the church ought to take in responding to the culture of feminism, and that's what I was doing in the sermons. How do you think the church should respond to feminism? Embrace it or reject it? And if we reject, how and why are we to do so?


It seems to me that the greatest "offense" of my sermon to you is that I praised women who embrace motherhood and I had the audacity to suggest that moms who choose to stay at home with their young children are doing a good thing. I have to admit, I'm still surprised that you think this is demeaning to women; I would argue the opposite. But that seems to be the nub of the issue here. You think I'm taking the congregation in "wrong direction" because I encourage women to enjoy and glory in their roles as wives and mothers. Frankly, I think that's a good direction for us to go in as congregation. It's a counter-cultural direction, to be sure, but I think it's a wise and biblical direction for us to go. I'm curious -- and quite apprehensive -- about what direction you think we should be going. Towards feminism? Egalitarianism?

A further related question: Do you think there are any negative consequences from women putting their very young children in day care, not because of dire necessity, but so they can resume their careers and maintain their lifestyles? What is the role and importance of being a biological mother relative to career? How should the church shepherd in this area? Obviously, you don't think I did it the right way in the sermon; what's your alternative?

5. What do you think of the way John Piper defines masculinity and femininity in the book Recovering Bible Manhood and Womanhood (this is the standard evangelical treatment of these issues; the caps are Piper's):






What are your working definitions of masculinity and femininity? Piper's aren't perfect, to be sure, and they're unpacked much more fully in the book, but they're helpful and they point us in the right direction. I'm curious how you would define these terms yourself. Are you interested in staying within the mainstream of evangelical scholarship on these issues? Who do you consider trusted and balanced authorities on these matters?


When I focused on the man as initiator and the women as responder, I think it was abundantly obvious to a charitable listener that I was talking about those roles in terms of their relationships to one another since I pointed out in the sermon that the male/female relationship in 1 Cor. 11 is a husband/wife relationship. That being said, though I strongly affirmed the headship of the man in the household as a matter of fact, nothing I said suggested women are forbidden to initiate in various ways in various areas of life. I even said in the sermon that the involvement of women in various spheres of life outside the home could be understood as a salutary development that had served to enrich our culture (almost an exact quote from the sermon; see July 17 sermon, starting at the 32 minute mark)! I do not believe women are chained to the home; while the home should remain her priority, she can enter into other domains, provided it does not detract from her central work in the household, and provided she continues to function under the rule/authority of her husband. But what do you think? Do you think the man has any special role of leadership in relation to the woman? And how does that get worked out?


Whatever the case, I made it clear that women can do all kinds of things inside and outside the home. You might want to listen to the sermons again so you'll catch that. But, of course, the more direct point I was making (if I may repeat myself) was that a woman with young children should make the home a priority. What I said needs to be said, and it needs to be said in our congregation, just like any other. Frankly, many people affirmed this by their positive feedback. Did I say everything perfectly? No, of course not; I'm not an inspired apostle. But I think what I was said was a faithful (and hopefully winsome) presentation of a very, very controversial and confused topic in our culture.


6. You had a problem with the stereotypes I used in the sermon, e.g., women predominately cook and do other domestic tasks. I agree, this is a tricky area because there is so much variation among families and cultures and so much of that variation is perfectly legitimate. We have several men I know of in our congregation who cook at least some of the time in their families; I don't know if any of them were offended but no one said anything to me. Let me retrace what I was doing here and see if it helps. 


The specific illustrations I gave in the sermon to unpack the principle of 1 Cor. 11:7b (e.g., a woman transforms groceries into a feast and so glorifies what her husband gives her) were just that -- illustrations. If you go back and listen, you will find I was giving descriptions, not prescriptions. The illustrations do not bind any household to do things just that way; nothing in the sermon made those "stereotypes" into biblical norms. I never said, "Women must cook or they are in sin"; why would you "read" that into the sermon? There's no problem with a family in which, say, the man does the bulk of the cooking (provided the woman is still a "homemaker" per Titus 2). But that being said, my illustrations and generalizations were perfectly appropriate and sensible to most families -- and since virtually no illustration is going going to capture 100% of the audience, I do not regret that. Sympathetic listeners can usually figure that out. If I say "men are taller women," most people know that is a generalization, and finding a WNBA player who is 6'4" does not disprove the statement; the generalization still holds true as a generalization. And so it is with my illustrations.


In our particular context, I think what I said works. Consider the fact that in our congregation it is the women who generally organize meals for needy families. Do you have a problem with that arrangement? Are we in sin as a congregation because we do it this way? I honestly don't even know how it started; my best recollection is that the women just organized themselves to serve in this way on their own. Certainly, it's not something the session commanded them to do. But does our practice mean we're an unhealthy congregation or that we oppress "half the human race," since it implies women make most of the meals? I don't think so. It's the same with most of our feasts; the women circulate lists about who's going to cook and bring what (though we do have men who do some cooking as well, e.g., Shrove Tuesday). Maybe you think that's absolutely horrible that women do the bulk of this work, but if so, why has it never been mentioned? The fact is, most of the meals in most TPC homes (and I would guess in most homes in the city of Birmingham) are made by women. My illustration was just a way of contextualizing Paul's point to our time and place. I was just recognizing "the way things are" to show that the kind of thing Paul is talking about is something we're all familiar with and something we're already doing. I was being descriptive, not prescriptive. If I was preaching in another culture, obviously, I'd illustrate Paul's principle differently.


There is more to consider. In the sermon notes, available on the TPC website from the moment the sermon was posted, I wrote (bold added),

In the church, male/female roles are quite tightly prescribed.  Men are the officers and leaders. Woman can use their gifts teaching outside of the assembly and serving in all kinds of ways. But they cannot teach men in the liturgical assembly and they cannot be governors/rulers of men. In the family, men are heads/leaders as well, but the specifics of the how husbands and wives divide the labor in the home is left to culture, custom, and common sense. The Bible does not say he must mow the lawn and she must cook. There is flexibility for a couple to work out a household pattern that best suits them. In society, there is even more flexibility. While a society that lacks predominant male leadership is probably sick unto death, women are certainly free to pursue a wide variety of vocations....Provided a woman is either single or has fulfilled her familial/domestic obligations, she is free to pursue a career…that suits her gifts and interests. Nothing in the Bible suggest that women in general need to defer or submit to men in general in society. While our culture’s unisex/androgynous model is wrong, many traditional straight-jacket role stereotypes are also wrong.

I've said just that kind of thing numerous times over the years at TPC, e.g., the 7 part sermon series I did on marriage several years ago, which made the point repeatedly, demonstrating that traditional "stereotypes" are not divinely mandated and so we can be flexible in how husband/wife roles get worked out, provided the overall pattern of a husband ruling and a wife submitting are maintained. I think my view of this kind of thing is very clear. The archetypes for husbands and wives are biblical and  therefore fixed; the stereotypes are cultural and therefore have more flexibility. But that doesn't make our particular cultural stereotypes irrelevant, especially when it comes to illustrating how particular biblical principles get worked out.

7. You wrote, concerning whether or not women can "initiate" in the context of the home, "I also do not understand, even within the context of a household, how this squares with the famous and praised woman of Proverbs, who seems to be a leader and initiator within her household and the wider community, making and taking important economic and investment and oversight decisions." How could you have listened to my sermons and come away saying this? I would agree with you on Prov. 31, but I don't think anything in the sermons indicated otherwise. I stressed repeatedly in the sermons that women have gifts and should certainly use them to serve their homes, which is the point of Prov. 31. There was nothing degrading or dishonoring to the gifts, roles, and worth of women in the sermons; just the opposite, in fact. You may even remember that in the sermon on Psalm 127-128, I specifically cited Prov. 31 and talked about what it means for the women to build her home by faith. Do you remember me citing Prov. 31 to make the same point you're trying to make against me? Go listen again; it's the Sept. 11 sermon at the 41 minute mark. Give me a fair and honest hearing, please. The fact that you apparently didn't catch my use of Prov. 31 in the sermon makes me wonder if you're really listening….


You wrote, "Being a passive follower just is not in my experience a positive characteristic." What I wonder is this: Why in the world would you assume that "following" is passive? I certainly never said anything about the women being "passive" in the sermon. I never used the word "passive" to describe the wife; if you put words in the preacher's mouth you can make him say anything you want, but, of course, that's dishonest. The truth is that I used lots of active verbs to describe the role and work of a wife and mother; why didn't you hear those action verbs? The whole point of the sermon on Psalm 127 and 128 was to talk about how both a husband and a wife build their home; they are both builders, albeit in distinct ways.


Again, why do you assume that following a leader is a passive activity? Certainly, this is not anything you got from me or from the Scriptures. Just think about it: When Jesus says, "follow me" he's not telling us to be passive. Nothing could be more active than following Jesus. Likewise, with a wife and mother. She follows her husband's leadership since he is the head. But there is nothing passive about the way she follows, and nothing in the sermons suggested that. She is an active follower -- very active!! In fact in the sermon on Psalm 127-128, I said the woman actually does more than the man to shape the culture and ethos of the home. I talked repeatedly and at length about how she builds and creates a home -- and certainly a work of creation involves some kind of initiation, decision making, etc. Remember the punchline from the sermon: "A woman doesn't just make a home; she is the home." 


8. You asked if the dominion mandate applies to both men and women. I would say, yes, and I think that was abundantly clear in the sermons, taken as a whole, even though I was not specifically addressing Gen. 1:26ff anywhere. The man and the woman work together to fulfill the dominion mandate. In the sermon on Psalm 127-128 and elsewhere, I talked about the man's role as worker and provider, which obviously flows out of the dominion mandate. I even said a man is defined by his work in the sermon from the psalms. The woman also fulfills the mandate, but in a womanly way, a way that is apparently associated with "glory." Again, I don't know how that could have been made more clear in the sermons. The man and woman share equally in the dominion mandate but fulfill it differently; sharing in the dominion mandate does not require androgyny of some sort.


You wrote, "From my perspective, you took the dominion command, given to both men and women, and made it sound as though transforming/beautifying/making more glorious was a sub-role particular to females." Perhaps I did do that in the sermon, though I think it should go without saying that the man has his own kind of glory as well, and he certainly transforms the world "from glory to glory" through his work; other texts speak to that and perhaps I can preach from them sometime. But we still have to deal with the fact that the woman is called the glory of the man in 1 Cor. 11. You can't just criticize my reading of the text or run to another text that says something different; you need to provide alternative exegesis of the text I was preaching from. What does "glory" in this context mean? How does it work? Why does Paul put it that way? What kind of glory does she provide that he doesn't already have? Paul says, “The woman is the glory of the man.” What do those inspired words mean? If my interpretation is wrong, what’s the right reading of the text?


9. You wrote, "Historically, the church at various points in time has been a positive force for the dignity and worth of both men and women, and for a certain measure of 'freedom in Christ' (Christian liberty).   At other times, the church has erroneously placed the authority of God behind culturally-based gender roles which diminished the dignity and equality of women, and were also destructive to men."  And of course, I said the exact same thing in the July 17 sermon. Go listen again; pick up especially around the 32 minute mark; around the 36 minute mark I start talking about many traditional societies were too rigid in their understanding of the woman's role. I also talked about how the church had been "harsh and legalistic about women's roles" (that's a direct quote from the sermon!) and how stereotypes that women should remain uneducated, "barefoot and pregnant," etc. are totally unbiblical. Again, here's what I said in the sermon: "The presence of women in these different spheres of life has greatly enriched our culture and are good developments...The Bible clearly encourages a woman to make the most of her abilities and gifts, including pursuing education...."


I hope your concerns can be mitigated through this email, further reading, and further well as perhaps re-listening to the sermons you are critiquing. Of course, I also hope you can help me with my concerns about where you are on these issues as well. I look forward to your replies to the counter-questions I've raised and to meeting face-to-face.