Gender and ministry 4: seeing through eschatological glasses

Let me ask a question:  Do you see hierarchy / subordination between men and women continuing eternally into the new creation? Or do you see it as something imperfect, a result of the Fall, and something that will transcended and redeemed within a renewed creation?

The more you read the NT the more you will likely notice its thoroughly future orientated (or eschatological) nature. Pretty well everything in the present is seen through the lens of the ‘not yet’.  Christians live in the ‘in-between times’, the overlap of the ages between the kingdom come and the kingdom fully realised.

The future has burst into the present in the empowering presence of the Spirit of God. Christians are ‘new creations’ now (2 Cor 5:17). The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost marks the beginning of the end. Until then we live in the overlap of the ages (Gal 1:4; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Cor 5:17; 1 Cor 7:31).

So certain is this future, that NT language frequently speaks of future events as having present consequences. Future judgement is already passed for those in Christ (Rom 8:1-3).  Believers are being saved, will be saved and have been saved (Eph 2:8). They have even already been glorified (Rom 8:30).

The church is an eschatological community whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20).

The Christian life is not a bunch of rules to be followed, but a call to live ‘a life worthy of the future’ in the present.

Think of 1 Cor 7, the great chapter on marriage in that letter. Paul’s consistent approach to different categories of people, whether married or single, male or female, is to set priorities in light of the future.

Or suffering – Christians are encouraged to think of even the hardest times as ‘light and momentary troubles’ when set against a glorious future hope (2 Cor 4:17 ;Rom 8:18)

The examples are everywhere, but you get the drift. Doing NT theology is to do eschatology. The future interprets the present.

So when it comes to gender and ministry, a consistently biblical move is to look at it through the lens of eschatology. And this is what Cherith Fee Nordling does as she finishes her excellent article on gender in The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology.

To boil down her argument: if the final ‘end game’ of God’s redemption is a new community of equals marked by mutual love and service, without hierarchy over one another, then this is the sort of community life we should be living NOW in the Spirit.

Equality is simply equal participation in the gospel and all that entails as a call to self-giving love and service …. Our human dignity, value, and status are no longer based on these distinctions and their privileged status in the old order … because in Christ these distinctions do not define human personhood or position. Privilege is given and exercised for the building up of the whole community, whether by men or by women. This does not entitle women to roles any more than it takes them away from men. All service is cruciform, all service is a gift to be given.

… We become who we are as we live, and die, for others, in service to and celebration of the sexual, gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, and historical distinctions that make us unique in the Kingdom of God without prizing any one of them over the other.

Comments, as ever, welcome


9 thoughts on “Gender and ministry 4: seeing through eschatological glasses

  1. All well and good. But this does not explain why Paul asks women to submit to their husbands – nor, more importantly, his suggestion that women should defer to men because of Eve’s sin.

    • In addition, there will be no marriage in the new heaven and new earth, but that does not mean that marriage is abolished in the current life in the Spirit. There are some things that WILL change after the return of Christ. Biblical principles of marriage still apply!

    • What? Only a suggestion by Paul that (all?) women defer (men make all decisions?) to (all?) men (in all things?)! Presumably because women are obviously more gullible or liable to sin than men?

      With you 100% on your comment Richard

      • Where does complementarianism equal belief in a privilege of one sex over the other? And im not talking about abuse of the doctrine. This quote only serves to bolster the idea in my head that egalitarians are committed to stereotyping the opposite view.
        The idea as i understand it is that there is a DIFFERENCE not a hierarchy between the sexes.

        Rich’s point also remains un-answered. Why allow no difference in gender roles yet allow marriage?

        Also i was listening to Keller sermons on marriage. He defined the difference as this. Men feel they mature as they separate – they desire independence and women feel they mature as they come together -they desire interdependence. Im not really sure what to do with that but i thought i’d throw it in their anyway.

      • Richie, the complementarian view holds to full equality in Christ and distinction in role. But this distinction in role is a form of hierarchy in that certain leadership and authority roles are for men only. As you know, some have a softer form where (for example) women can be elders and preach and lead, but within a leadership team that is led by a man. Others have a harder form where women are severely restricted. There is actually huge diversity in how the complementarian view is applied in practice – which says quite a lot in itself but that is another blog post.

        The ground has been extensively worked over on this issue for at least the last 30 years. I’d recommend reading a good recent debate book The Gender Agenda by Lis Goddard and Clare Hendry. Unpacks two perspectives and how key texts are interpreted in a respectful, relational and helpful way. I’d also recommend How I changed my mind about women in leadership which has personal stories of significant evangelical male leaders and scholars and why they have come to the position they have.

  2. all this gender stuff is hard from my perspective because it’s discouraging to my wife (a pastor)…as a husband how do I encourage her ? of course some people will think that I shouldn’t encourage her as it’s unbiblical

    and how do I engage with some my fellow men who will obviously be thinking that I’m shunning my manly responsibilities by disobeying scripture? Do they think that I’ve sinned?

    • Canalways, important questions.

      I hugely admire women like your wife who have followed their calling from God (often in the face of opposition just because of their gender not because of any lack of ability or faithfulness or Christlikeness) to serve him and use the gift of teaching he has given through his Spirit. And do so in humility and graciousness out of love for the Lord.

      How to encourage? I don’t know the right answer – save to say keep focus on loving God, loving others, on the good news of the gospel and in serving joyfully where he has called you and in how he has gifted you. Follow Jesus’ example …

      On engaging men – within evangelicalism opinions are shifting?. You seem to assume most are not supportive? My experience is that most of my peers and younger men are supportive. There are also great resources engaging with the biblical and theological arguments – that’s a vital foundation. But I wonder if it will simply be women like your wife serving and teaching and leading and pouring out their lives for others who will do most to change things simply by their lives and example? God bless you both by the way!

    • Canalways, I appreciate your thoughts and questions. Might I encourage you to be rooted and grounded in what you know and believe so that when the questions and challenges arise (as they do and will continue to do, I am sure), you will feel secure in God, in being a husband to a wife who is a pastor, and not tossed to and fro by the beliefs of others. Blessings to you both as you journey forward.

  3. yeah, the feeling I get sometimes is that people keep their opinions to themselves about it all but wouldn’t agree with it if pushed… and there’s no two ways about it but the way some of the more Reformed, Evangelical, Bible loving types engage with this issue is akin to bullying. They probably just see as being a strong, assertive leader but it doesn’t seem particularly Christlike to me…and thanks!

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