January 19, 2017
I’ve heard good things about Sam Andreades' book engendered: God’s Gift of Gender Differences in Relationship and was excited to read it for myself. Andreades is modest but thorough in building his case that “ the issues of homosexuality and whether women and men should behave differently are cut of the same cloth: the role of gender in relationships” (9). I do think that he is on to something there, and Andreades makes some significant contributions to the way we talk and think about gender. I was particularly on board when reading part one. And yet, as he got more into the specifics of asymmetry in gender intimacy, I began to have some mixed feelings about his teaching. In some areas I was really bothered. I hope to interact with both here.
First, I enjoyed Andreades’ writing. His illustration of trying to write about gender and relational love being like walking through a dense forest full of thickets, trying to navigate your way to the waterfalls while avoiding the rattlesnakes, was wonderful. He presents himself as a guide, albeit one that gets caught in many thickets along the way. This is a disarming way to approach the topic. It also sounds like a good, pastoral approach.
Along with engaging prose, Andreades writes from experience. He’s a pastor in the PCA, the founder of G.A.M.E. (Gender Affirming Ministry Endeavor), and has counseled and learned from many Same Sex Attracted (SSA) Christians. He even conducted his own study with what he calls mixed orientation couples, which are intergendered marriages where at least one partner experiences SSA. Excerpts from his interviews pepper the book. So this author is someone who is invested in pastoral care for people who have a lot of questions about gender. This led him to see some of the holes in his own theology of gender.
I love how he opens up discussing the significance in Genesis stating from the very beginning that man and woman were both made in the image of God. He explains that this was “big news in the ancient world” where there was a clear hierarchy, women being on the bottom just slightly better off from slaves (43). He highlights how this is further revealed even in the earliest books of Scripture. I’ve never thought much about how Job would be a place to look for support, but Andreades notes how we see no difference between inheritance of Job’s daughters and sons, that the daughters are the only siblings named in the book, and the brothers included their sisters in their feasts. The author continues to contrast the outlying culture’s philosophy and treatment of women to the Old Testament’s showing, “The God of the Bible is as concerned with women’s honor and glory as bearers of the divine image as it is with the men’s” (43).
He includes a great quote, “Open your Bible at random and you will notice something striking: Female characters abound. And it’s not simply a lot of women, it’s a lot of strong women.” And then he calls out as those who devalue the gendered contribution of women by erasing all gender distinction, as well as churches and families who treat women as inferior:
Here are two tests to measure women’s status in your setting: 1) If a woman feels the need to self-censor any female issues or feminine attitudes in order to be taken seriously, your practice is skewed and unbiblical in how it distinguishes gender. 2) If women are marginalized by the structures of operation, we have a great deal to answer for to God, since we are disobeying the very first chapter of the Bible. (49)
In valuing gender distinction, as well as upholding its value in relationship, Andreades makes the helpful observation that whenever the Bible is directive in gender-specific actions it is within the context of relating to one another, not something inherent in the individual. Therefore, “we mustn’t confuse cultural preferences with gender” (38). There are many men and women who don’t fall into the typical attributes that we want to identify with masculinity and femininity, and Andreades makes a case for why this is so and why this overlap is a display of God’s beauty and variety in creation. He even goes as far as saying “a woman who excels in mixed martial arts is not less of a woman” (65) “Let us rather applaud the wisdom of the Bible’s teaching, not defining gender in terms of essential characteristics” (61) (Aimee puts book down and does happy dance).
Caught in Some Thickets
Andreades then introduces the term asymmetry to get into more detail about how gender distinction factors into our intimate relationships. This is a term that I could really like, one that I wanted to really like. But this is also where I began having some real disagreement. First, the author uses the faulty exposition of Gen. 3:16, popularized and greatly influenced by Susan Foh, teaching that women’s desire is to rule over men. After that, I began struggling with some of the “specialties” he assigns women and men in relation to one another:
In marriage, a husband is to specialize in taking prerogative for his wife, and the wife is to work at promoting her husband to that position of headship. He is to provide security for her as she gives him rest. He is to help her discern God’s call to them, and she is to divinely enable them for their task. (78)
This is where I began writing more in the margins. Andreades is on his way to the waterfalls here, but got caught in some thickets. I don't believe that the primary application of headship is for the husband to specialize in taking prerogative for his wife. Are there times when the responsibility of the head of a household to carry out God’s mission in their family will call for the husband to lovingly step in and contravene his wife’s prerogative? Yes, sometimes. But the goal here is one flesh union, which is an aligning of both of their prerogatives in their mission. This requires intimate knowing and consideration of one another. (To be fair, I did think Andreades did a much better job later in the book when explaining headship as representation.)
Furthermore, yes, I promote my husband, and affirm the importance for a wife to have a favorable disposition to his responsibility as head of the household (I know I have critiqued a lot of John Piper’s teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood, but disposition is a term he has used in teaching that I do find helpful), but the way these specialties are listed here sounds a bit one-sided. I prefer working from the biblical interpretation of ezer as necessary ally, provided by John McKinley. This alludes to the work that a woman does as an ally to the man, not merely promoting the man and giving him rest. Sure, I want to provide rest for my husband, but I’m not so sure that is some sort of feminine specialty. However, I do feel like making a house a home may be what Andreades is getting at with rest, and women do tend to specialize in this. But I’m not convinced the wife is to be primarily focusing on promoting her husband’s headship as she is to serving as an ally, with her own gifts, to their joint mission. There is also a sense in which the husband is to promote his wife, as he is to lay his own life aside for hers.
While carefully affirming that enGendered isn’t about who works the most hours outside the home, who makes the most money, or who has which gifts, Andreades continually frames biblical and anecdotal illustrations under these categories of prerogative/promotion and security/rest. But what I found was that these terms are waxy, easily interchangeable in how the wives and husbands serve one another. Almost all of the examples, of the women or men, could have received either label. For example, he quotes Prov. 14:1, “The wisest of women builds her house…” as an example of giving rest. But isn’t this also an example of providing security? And if Jael were a man, no one would interpret her specialty in action as giving rest to the people of God. Did she do that? Yes. But she also conquered an enemy in doing so. She took initiative, prerogative, and provided security. The author says that in relationship, “a man can lead a woman into sacrifice and a woman can propel a man into transformative engagement” (124). Amen, but this also works the other way around.
While giving many co-laboring examples that are enriching, it was continually disappointing to have all this filed under giving rest and prerogative to the man. So, after great encouragement by strong women like Deborah, Abigail, and Jael, Andreades concludes, “As we realize these distinctions in our close relationships---he identifying and pursuing the mission and she empowering it---we flourish” (129). But these women also undoubtedly played a part in identifying and pursuing the mission.
So I was torn by the author’s wonderful depictions on one hand, such as that “submission is an active process of discerning God’s will,” and his hierarchical naming of specialties (115). His teaching that “specialties are things we all might do sometimes, but the specialist focuses on especially doing them” was enriching (132). Here Andreades uses the example of how we all have androgen and estrogen hormones, but males and females have them in significantly different proportions. His chapter on Banishing Independence was also helpful, even when I was pushing back some. But all in all, I find John McKinley’s distinction of woman designed to be a necessary ally more helpful to build from. Rather than give a couple specialties to try and file all the women in Scripture under, he sees from Scripture seven practical ways women have served as allies to men in God’s mission, and in which they were opponents to man if they did not.
The Rattlesnakes on the Path
This leads to what was most troubling about the book. One of the main premises Andreades uses to teach this hierarchy of specialties is by examining the hierarchy in the Trinity. He wants us to learn gendered intimacy by examining Trinitarian intimacy. enGendered was published in 2015. I wonder if the author would have changed his mind on his language usage if he would have written it after the Trinity debate, because it needs much more qualification. And aligning gender paradigms in comparison to the Trinity is just not helpful. Andreades compares male headship to the authority of the Father. As he teaches equality and asymmetry, he points to the authority and submission within the Trinity, never making any distinction ontologically. He speaks of “Christ lean[ing] into the asymmetry between God the First and Himself” while quoting the references of him doing the Father’s will (184). Andreades even goes so far as to say that “Christ, in relationship to God the First, models the wife for us. He submitted to the will of the First, surrendering to a lower and vulnerable place when he had every right not to. There is no way around His feminine act” (187). And, “In what is held out as the most intense relationship of the universe, a functional adoption of headship and submission rests atop a fundamental equality. The Second Member of the Trinity, equal in power and glory, voluntarily submits (e.g. John 5:30; 8:28) in promotion of the First Member, and the First voluntarily assumes authority (e.g., Matt. 24:36; John 12:28) for the honoring of the Second’s concerns” (190).
Since this review is already painfully long, and much has already been written on this problem, I will simply quote Liam Goligher. “Even to hint at hierarchy (functional relations of authority & subordination) in the Trinity is to strike at the heart of God as one being.” We need to be very careful in our language. At this point Andreades stumbled on some rattlesnakes.
Lastly, and super-briefly, while Andreades did make some wonderful points about how men and women were made to depend on one another, and that intimacy with the opposite sex does bring out our gender, I wished he would have also discussed our same-gendered relationships that bring out a sisterhood and brotherhood aspect and gifting in our genders as well. Manhood seems to depend on taking charge and securing women, while womanhood is expressed in promoting men and granting them authority (see p. 140). To that I simply do not agree.