Julie Belding (editor of the NZ Baptist monthly) says I can do a series on the Theology of Gender, "Men & Women, Sex & God" would be a snappier title - but that might sound too shocking. Good thing I am on sabbatical this semester, I'll have time to write.
There is only one place to start. The beginning. So that's where I'll start. Not with the fearsome, wondrous and mysterious power of sex. Not even with the joy of babies. I'll begin with creation, the beginning of everything.
At the beginning of the Bible stands the majestic week of creation.
A week centred on God and on worship.
At the climax of creation one verse stands out as poetry. The few words that
make up verse 27 (just 10 words in Hebrew) are carefully placed and balanced.
As is usual with Bible poetry each line echoes its predecessor each is expressed
"So God created humanity in his image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them."
Poetic repetition draws attention to the "image of God". This image is found in humanity, male and female. So the text denies that either partner alone images the creator.
Worship is creation's goal, according to this chapter. Worship is relationship (with God), but it also takes place within relationship.
The story in the second chapter of Genesis also stresses the partnership of men and women: 2:18,23. While the third chapter tells how human sin not only spoils our relationship with the creator and with the world he has made, it also perverts our relations as men and women. Because of sin, partnership becomes lust and domination: 3:16.
I'll close the first article saying that any biblical understanding of the nature of men and women and their roles has to take account of their partnership in the image of God.
Anything which reflects less than this cannot be biblical.
Let's explore the female heroes of the Bible. Women as well as men were called by God to leadership among his people. The stories of Bible heroines like the Deborah, the judge, Paul's women co-workers and the female prophets of Acts 21:9 all reinforce this recognition, that the Bible accepts women in leadership and preaching roles, when God calls them to these tasks.
I thought dealing with issues of sex in June might ruffle some feathers. It seems though, that Baptists aren't phazed by that. The odd thing is though, writing about singleness in July really caused a stir.
Some people responded to the pastoral approach I tried to take, delighted that the invisible members of our "Family Churches" were being recognised and addressed.
Others, even though my single friends had read and accepted what I wrote, felt differently!
It just makes me more convinced that we need to take the state and the vocation of singleness as seriously as we do marriage. But when was the last time you were invited to a "Celibacy Enrichment Weekend"?
This month's article returned to Bible notions of the roles of women and men. At last I faced up to the thorny issue of submission.
I set the New Testament passages in context by talking about what Patriarchy really meant. Not rule by men, but the social system, unquestioned in Israel, the Graeco-Roman world and in the Church, in which an elder male is responsible for running an extended family group of women, children and younger males all of whom have their own jobs and responsibilities.
How striking it is, against this background to hear Paul rework the old rules in terms of our new relationships "in Christ".
I closed that article with a section headed Piglets aren't "in Christ"! For me what it says is near the heart of what the series is about.
"How sad sometimes to hear Christian women seeking "liberation" in ways that fail to reflect the creator's dreams for humankind. Too often the cry for women's liberation (even in the Church) reflects the low value of home and family inherent in our cash-is-king Western society. It echoes our society of piglets scrambling for a place at the trough, rather than the newness of life "in Christ".
Even sadder watching men seek biblical mandate for overbearing bossiness that the pagans of our world have learned to reject! Do such men fear the wisdom and the strength of their wives so much that they forget the example of their Lord?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if in Church and family, instead of scrambling for our place at the trough, we all discovered the innovations that the liberty of the gospel brings to our life together. If offer mutual service in Christ (and in imitation of Christ) replaced, standing on our rights.
October's article is a tirade against the well-meaning, but terribly misguided, American pressure group who have ended up perverting God's word to fit their human wisdom.
As I sit to write November's concluding article recent huge support for Promise Keepers rallies hit the headlines. Their understanding of biblical teaching on these issues has been quoted and misquoted by politicians, TV and Newspapers. Bible teaching really is a "hot potato"!
And while I prepare this article for the web, it's the turn of the Southern Baptists to make a declaration about how wives should submit to their husbands. Among us evangelicals this issue won't go away till we really understand what the Bible is about, and learn to understand that the Gospel sets women free just as earlier in history we had to learn that it sets black slaves free.
In the face of this debate (yesterday I was interviewed on the subject by Challenge Weekly) how will I close the series? How about a diary, looking back over where we've been.
And a closing appeal, amid all the pressures of the modern world.
Don't lose sight of the Creator's dream, that as humans in our relationships one with another we reflect the very image of our maker. Nor, amid the fallout of human lust and sinfulness, forget the new relationship we now share, male and female, married and single, together in Christ.
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2002
All material on these pages is protected by international copyright, however I am very willing to consider requests to use all or part of any piece. The use of small quotations is (of course) fine, just give as reference (at least) my name and the URL (e.g. Tim Bulkeley http://eBibleTools.com/angels/).
The other site Tim runs Postmodern Bible - a hypermedia (hypertext and multimedia) Bible commentary project