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Girl power and God's purpose for gender


WORLD Radio - Girl power and God's purpose for gender

Tough girls? Gentle boys? In response to a listener question, Kelsey and Jonathan look to the redemptive narrative to explore today’s changing gender expectations.

KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. We’re here to come alongside you as you disciple kids and students through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.


KELSEY: Together, we want to model conversation and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. We would love for you to send in your questions for us to address in future episodes. Please send your questions to newscoach@wng.org. Today, we have a listener question from Julia Hickey.

JONATHAN: This was a wonderful question with so much thoughtfulness and balance. I’ve had to make a few edits reading it here just for length, but I think this captures the heart of it. Julia, you can email your complaints if I butcher your question.

So Julia writes: “I have something I’m interested in hearing some wisdom on. And that is the current emphasis on girl power and girl strength. I am all for girls knowing their strengths and giftedness. As a female, I am well aware that women’s voices in general have often been silenced or been background noise to the story of history. I’m convinced that the conversations happening concerning men and women and how we must value and work together in the church and society are absolutely essential.

“In contrast with these positives, I’m aware that there’s a propensity to extremes within the human experience, and that currently there is a huge emphasis on valuing girls and empowering and investing in them by virtue of their gender. Sometimes this is fitting and good and balanced. And other times, I perceive it seems to be an extreme reaction that elevates the traits of femininity and downplays masculinity, unless masculine traits are embodied in a female.”

Julia goes on to touch on the way traditional visions of masculinity have often led men and boys to hide their emotions, and how men are now being more encouraged to let themselves show vulnerability. She also raises the question of whether women and girls today are being encouraged to be “tough” or “emotionless” as a way of achieving worldly status. But I think her question really focuses on what she refers to as “the gender dynamics we see emerging in the present day between the expectations of boys and girls.”

KELSEY: Gender is at the front of the mind for parents and educators right now, and with good reason. It’s a huge topic with multiple facets, some of which we hope to get into today. But we realize this is going to require multiple episodes and great care and attention, thoughtful responses, and good questions. So today’s question gives us a chance to lay some foundations and ask some basic questions of our own about what it means to be male and what it means to be female.

JONATHAN: Julia is observing that culture seems to be putting this huge emphasis on girl power, girl strength, and maybe deemphasizing the strength of men. In my own observation, I do see more recent portrayals of characters in media, especially female characters, who break with traditional media portrayals. I think of characters like Captain Marvel, or Luisa from Encanto, the strong sister. Her main trait is being super strong. And then there are these cultural figures right now, like Andrew Tate, who was recently arrested—his whole thing is responding to these changing gender stereotypes with this vulgar hypermasculinity. So there is something going on right now with gender shifting, changing in people’s perspectives.

KELSEY: You’re going to notice as well, as we mentioned from Julia’s question, that power is often equated as a masculine trait, and that for women to be given leadership roles, they have to—for some reason—take on this “masculine” version of power-wielding, or being a power broker, or being a non-emotional presence in order to be in leadership. Which is, again, for some reason plastered as a more “masculine” version of gender expression.

JONATHAN: So we’re seeing what Julia is seeing. We’re adding our own observation of a pushback from other parts of culture hunkering down in those gender differences, coming at it with a hypermasculine masculinity and a hyperfeminine femininity. But before we even begin to analyze this, I think we need to go back to the source. We need to look at our observations from scripture. So Kelsey, when you look at what scripture has to say about men and women—the expectations for men and women—what do you see?

KELSEY: So, one of the first questions I ask of myself while I’m wrestling with this material with my older children is: Where do we see gender and sexuality defined in scripture? And as a second question: What limits and freedoms do we find there regarding how we express our identity? I think one of the other things I need to use as a tool, that helps me across that arc of scripture to make my observations, is once again that redemptive narrative tool. So I have to start at creation.

JONATHAN: I’m just going to mention: Kelsey has a fantastic blog post on the News Coach site—that’s at gwnews.com/newscoach—an article simply titled “Redemptive Narrative,” where she explores this tool in more detail. It’s a great overview of what we mean by the redemptive narrative. If anybody hasn’t read that, I would highly recommend it. It’s a great blog post.

KELSEY: Thanks. So just as Aristotle’s five common topics give us five different locations in which we might talk about a subject matter, the redemptive narrative gives us four different locations. And those locations are creation, fall (or rebellion), redemption, and restoration (or glory, or consummation).

I love to run these things across those four topics, to help ground me in the overall narrative of scripture. And I highly recommend that you engage those practices and try them at home. Sit down and ask: Okay, what were men and women, male and female, like at creation? What was the Lord’s design for male and female?

One of the things I observe is, of course, the creation mandate, where after God makes male and female, He also says man should not be left alone. And I would say that could even be interpreted as humanity should not be left alone. Just as each of the creatures has partners, man needed a partner. Humanity needs to be in partnership. And in that partnership, we were given that creation mandate. So what does the creation mandate say?

JONATHAN: Fill the Earth and subdue it.

KELSEY: Go. Fill the Earth. Subdue it. Flourish.

JONATHAN: That “go” is important for any parents who don’t want to see their children get married and go away. God said it—you’ve got to go. I’ll see if I’m still saying that when my daughters are old enough to marry, and I don’t want to see them go.

KELSEY: What a rub that is. So go fill the Earth, subdue it, flourish, multiply. The very beginning intention is for us, male and female, to cause the flourishing of creation and to fill the Earth, to multiply in order for that world to be filled by more image bearers.

JONATHAN: And that’s something that could only happen with men and women. To create populations, you need both men and women. But then, the next part of the redemptive narrative . . .

KELSEY: Well, we’ve got the fall, of course. And so we see, when man took into his hands this decision to go against the command, the one negative command that was given—the “do not eat from this tree” command, that the outpouring of this curse is the continuation of those patterns that were established in his rebellion against the Lord’s order.

JONATHAN: Can you quickly expound on some of those patterns of the rebellion that fall under this curse?

KELSEY: Adam was firstborn of creation. Think of a firstborn child. I’m thinking of my 18-year-old right now, what it means for her to operate as firstborn. There are these natural needs for her to help in leadership in our home. She leads her younger sisters. Firstborn of creation, Adam, defaulted on his role. He did not lead his wife, second-born of creation, in the right response to the Lord’s command. So he defaulted on leadership. Eve took leadership into her hands in some ways that contributed to their fall as well. We can get into all manner of different theological discussions about that. We’re just going to be succinct and say that both patterns were broken in this one action. And we see in the curse of Genesis 3, that same pattern was now pronounced as, “You’re going to be living with the brokenness of this for the rest of your days. Your interaction with the land is going to be toil, your interaction and child labor is going to be painful. Your relationship towards one another is going to be desperate and also contrary to one another.”

JONATHAN: Tracking here with the redemptive narrative, we see that in creation, before the fall, men and women were created with good differences. After the fall, we see even more differences. But some of these differences now come not out of created purpose, but out of brokenness and curse.

KELSEY: No wonder we have striving and divisiveness. It is the continued outpouring of this curse. Now—we can’t stay there, thank the Lord. He didn’t leave us there. He pursued us. He pursued a solution. And He restores us in the continued outpouring of that solution.

So what was that solution? The perfect Son of God submitted to the will of the Father, and He also led His church through His acts on Earth in His ministry, and through His submission to death on the cross. So He both led and submitted, the perfect human being, restoring what it meant, fulfilling what it meant to be fully human—and doing it for both male and female in His actions.

JONATHAN: To quickly summarize what we see in scripture: We see that men and women were created different for a good purpose, to fill the Earth. We see that, in the fall, men and women abdicated their responsibilities. And now we see even more differences in the genders. But we also see those fallen tendencies. It’s not all good differences—there are also things that go against our created purpose. And we see that Jesus brings fulfillment and grace, so that we can live out our differences without fear.

One thing I see when I take our observations from scripture and I put them up against what we’re seeing in culture: I see this tendency in the world—yes, to sort of flatten gender, to take stereotypes of what men are and what women are, and swap them. We’ve seen that the foundation of gender is not in stereotypes, or even our personality tendencies, but in God’s design for us in creation. But I often see people who sense culture challenging the idea of gender—I see these people want to cling to stereotypes and tendencies as the marks of men and women.

KELSEY: I also see that this flattening and equalizing, trying to make equitable the genders, is in an attempt to find value, or to prove value. “I’m equal to you. I can do the same thing as you, so I have equal value.” And again, we’re going back to saying—from the very beginning, we were named as different, male and female, different and very good. So we’re trying to make sure we’re saying value was derived from the Authority who proclaimed it.

JONATHAN: I would add that, yes, we have equal value before Christ. And that is where we stand. We have equal value in creation. But culture has sometimes created this unequal value. Women have been treated as lesser throughout history. Even in Jesus’ day, there was an expectation of women being lesser—an expectation that Jesus shattered in the way He interacted with women. And so there is a good project, as I think Julia pointed out in her question, of giving the actual value that God gave to women back to women in culture. Affirming their dignity.

But what I’m also seeing more and more today is not just a striving after equality of dignity, but a striving after equality in lack of accountability. In the past, when women were even more devalued, there was also a tendency for men to get away with awful stuff. It was easy for men to sleep around, be prideful and vulgar, and to even be lauded for it. I see so much today, instead of people saying, “Okay, let’s hold men more accountable”—that’s happening—but instead of people saying “Let’s hold men more accountable. Men shouldn’t be allowed to do those horrible things,” it’s almost like women should get to do those horrible things too, and be lauded for it. We’re taking those negative tendencies that came out of the fall—not our created differences, but our fallen differences—and trying to be equally fallen.

KELSEY: Parents and teachers, you might ask your children: “Where do you see that going on?” Help them to draw out their observations. We’ve made these observations from what’s going on in the world and we’re trying to line them up with the plumbline of scripture. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing that the church hasn’t always lined up with the plumbline of scripture as well. It has adopted some of those intentionally opposite sides of the spectrum with gender expression in order to seek to be countercultural. What do you think about what you’re seeing there?

JONATHAN: I definitely see that. We’ve talked about the way culture is putting a stake in negative gender stereotypes, and instead of seeking equality of dignity, it’s seeking equality in these stereotypes. But there are also stereotypes that have made their way into the church, that don’t really come from scripture.

I had a friend from school. His mom taught him how to cook in secret, because his dad didn’t think that’s something men should do. That’s not in scripture. I’ve had another friend whose family shunned her because she chose to wear jeans. I also have other female friends who have had to grapple with the fact that their interests are things like sci-fi and fantasy, and the world is telling them those are things boys should like. And unfortunately, even in the church, there’s sometimes this language of “These traits are masculine; these traits are feminine.” And “If you do these things, you’re more of a man; if you do these things, you’re less of a man.” Rather than the idea that—no, our masculinity is rooted in God making us a certain way. And there is room for all sorts of difference in that while still saying, “No, I am a man living in God’s purpose.”

KELSEY: I love what you said earlier. I feel like I’ve heard my father say something similar, going, “I was born as a man, as a male, that’s not in question. There’s no rub of what I like rubbing back against who I was born to be.” I appreciate this recognition of design, living out the beautiful and unique version of manhood that you are. I love how that reminds me I get to live into the design, the beautiful and unique version of womanhood that the Lord has made me to be.

So we’re operating in that place now we would call “analysis,” where we are discerning what we can affirm and what we need to challenge. And that’s not merely in the world out there. We’re seeing plenty of things we can challenge, and should challenge, even within the realm of the church. We have made our own false cultures. I want to be so careful, again, about how we define “culture,” because we should be culture-makers. But sometimes we make cultures that really are false and not glorifying to the Lord, not shaped after the pattern of scripture. So we pull it back to an accurate, biblical, and lovely understanding by running it through that lens. and affirming things through the lens of scripture, and challenging things that really don’t show up there, or that are even commanded against, or warned against.

JONATHAN: Just to summarize a little bit where we’ve been here: The world around us seems to be trying to affirm this diversity of personality types by either flattening gender stereotypes or exploding out into multiple different genders. But we, as Christians, can encompass all those differences in just the two genders, because our gender doesn’t hinge on cultural traditions or tendencies or personality traits, but on God’s created design and calling.

KELSEY: He works with such a beautiful broad palette. When He created His creation in the first place, just think of the diversity, the bounty. He works from the same huge palette when He’s making His diverse humanity. Just ask that question—what do we see in the cultures, in the varied human expression around the world, next door to us, and all based out of male and female that went out and filled the world?

JONATHAN: So going back to some of the specifics of Julia’s question. First off, she talks about women and girls being valued for their gender, and whether there’s an imbalance that will eventually turn back into an imbalance of men being more valued, just kind of this swinging pendulum. Are we outsizedly giving value to one gender over another? It seems like so much of the cultural dialogue right now is affirming women, and to affirm man can almost be frowned upon. Is that something you see as well?

KELSEY: I do. And it’s really grievous to me. And one of the responses I would want to affirm is, that this is a hard thing we are observing and engaging. And it needs to be worked out with tenderness and care, with fear and trembling as it were. We look at this world, and there are so many pressures on our children. How can we name them as very good?

JONATHAN: I think there is a world of difference between giving somebody dignity to lift them up, versus taking dignity away from somebody to level the playing field. The world around us doesn’t always acknowledge that difference, especially the world outside the church.

Elevating women to a place of honor—certainly. You could argue that, when a certain group of people—whether it’s a gender or a race or nationality—has been devalued in culture, there needs to be a time of building them up and giving them greater value, to honor them and restore something more like God’s image of them. But there’s also an idea that floats around that, to elevate women, you need to devalue boys, or tell boys they don’t have a voice, or they are somehow less important. It’s not their turn. Again, instead of now making the world look more like that created picture of equal dignity, we’re actually making it look less like that picture of equal dignity, the idea that that’s somehow fair—which may be a very human idea of fairness, but not a picture of God’s good created purpose.

KELSEY: When you were starting to describe that, an immediate image came to mind from the Bible Project. When you use the word “fair,” it plays into this perfectly. It’s the video where they visually help define the godly concept of justice. And instead of our human tendency to kick someone down a level in order to raise ourselves up, the visuals in there are a lifting up to the level you’re on. If you are currently in a place where you are feeling the blessings and benefit of your status, or of your gender as it were, that you use your position to pull someone up, rather than to protect your position by stomping down, or to claim a position of dignity by stomping someone to a lower level. So please check that out. What a great visual you can discuss with your children.

JONATHAN: We’ll find that and link to it in the resources in the show notes. But the other thing I want to touch on from Julia’s question is—what do we do when we see women being celebrated for having traits that are seen as traditionally masculine, and men being celebrated for traits that are seen as traditionally feminine?

I’m going to suggest something here. But Kelsey, I want to see what you think. To me, it seems like goodness doesn’t become bad if you are a certain gender, and sin doesn’t become good if you’re a certain gender. Pride, lust—those things have sometimes been lauded in men. But they don’t become good if women do them. They weren’t good when men did them. Kindness, gentleness—those things have been sometimes seen as feminine. They don’t become bad if men do them. Actually, they’re good things we see in Christ.

KELSEY: They’re produced by the Spirit in us, in fact. So I would lend my amen to your observation. Vice or sin is not made good when one person enacts it versus another one. And virtue is not any less strong and beautiful because it’s expressed by one individual and not the other. In fact, we are all called away from vice and sin and into virtue, or the fruit of the Spirit, which includes peace, gentleness, kindness, self-control, all of those things. I’m not going to list them all. You know what I’m talking about. These are the beautiful things that the Spirit is cultivating in us, and that we are called to help cultivate in our children by speaking to them with grace and love and truth, and to work out these challenging areas carefully and tenderly with them.

We need to ask them questions. We need to get down on their level and see what they are wrestling with, or what they are loving. And equipping them to do their cultivating work in the world. We talk about what it means to be those who are called to nurture. That’s not merely a feminine aspect. We are parenting. We are nurturing those who are coming along behind us, and seeking to cultivate Christlikeness in them. So let’s give them a lot of space as they learn, with a gentle hand, giving them guidance, so that they would feel safe to come and to speak to us of the challenges they’re facing in their lives, in their own individual experience of themselves. But also, as they make greater and greater forays out into this world, where they’re hearing these challenging things, and that you want them to run back to you to ask you questions, and to wrestle with those things together.

JONATHAN: I feel like everything you’re saying comes right back to that point in the redemptive narrative of redemption, that we’ve been given grace.

KELSEY: And we get to be agents of restoration, speaking that grace—not only to our children, but hopefully to their peers, and outward into the ends of this Earth as we go, again, and make disciples of all nations.

JONATHAN: Coming at it from that perspective, the way we defend gender—for lack of a better term—isn’t as much of a defense as it is a celebration, a stewardship. It’s not something we have to desperately cling to. It’s something we can have confidence in, because it’s part of God’s good creation.

One thing we want to start doing at the end of every episode is to leave you with some practical questions and conversation starters you can use with your kids or teens to begin probing whatever issue we’ve been talking about. So Kelsey, today we’ve been talking about the concept of gender. What questions could parents or educators ask their kids to begin exploring this topic?

KELSEY: Always, I would recommend rooting your discussions in scriptural process. So to begin with, we might ask: What is a biblical view of gender identity? And where do we find it described in scripture? Or shorthand: Define gender identity according to scripture.

How and where can we find gender expression defined in scripture? And how do identity and expression differ?

What do we learn about God and His design when we study these things? Where do you see His creativity? What do you notice about what is prohibited and what is permissible?

How are men portrayed in secular culture? Where do these portrayals align with biblical expressions of manhood, or what expressions can we affirm through a biblical lens? Where does the secular world’s portrayal of womanhood align with the picture painted in scripture?

What positive examples of the complimentary nature of men and women do you see in television or movies? By contrast, where do we see a broken expression of manhood and womanhood in the world, and sadly, even within the church?

These are just some beginning launch points that you might have. For more resources, including questions you might take home, and employ in your home or the classroom, in a Sunday school setting, I highly recommend a discipleship book by Gary Yagel. Dr. Gary Yagel is prominent in men’s discipleship in the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America, in particular. He wrote a book, Anchoring Your Child to God’s Truth in a Gender-Confused Culture: Helping Our Children Embrace Their Calling to Godly Manhood or Womanhood. This is aimed at parents, to equip them for more of those conversations.

JONATHAN: So before we end, we’ve been a lot of places this episode. Just to summarize the where we’ve been: We started with the redemptive story, the redemptive narrative. We saw that, in creation, man and woman were created different, both necessary to fulfill God’s calling to humanity. And we saw that, in the fall, that relationship was broken. Men and women now have these sinful tendencies within themselves, in which Christ has created a path to healing and redemption. And now we are in this age of grace, where we have freedom in Christ to work out what it means to live into our calling as men and women. And we’ve looked at how that relates to culture, that some people want to take those sinful tendencies, those things that come from the world, and find gender identity in them. And that either works out in grasping to stereotypes or flattening gender, or getting rid of the concept of gender, or it might even look like pushing down one gender to try to elevate the other. But in Christ, we can celebrate women who don’t fit stereotypes, and men who don’t fit stereotypes, because their manhood and womanhood is not in the world, but in God. We can bring both to equal dignity, both being image bearers, being co-creators, under God.

The one part of the redemptive narrative we have not touched on, though, is restoration.

KELSEY: We see so much of the promise of restoration in the book of Revelation, where we see a glimpse of what is ahead of us. Revelation 19:6-9: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’”

When we get to see the Lord, face to face, we are going to be made as we truly are meant to be. And we will feast with Him, His bride, as He is the bridegroom, welcoming us into that restored place of humanity before God, jointly. What a beautiful prospect. Parents, teachers, mentors of children: You get to tell this story. He’s given us all that we need in His word for encouraging those children in front of us, for your own hearts to be encouraged. Let us encourage you: He has equipped you for the work.

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