Monday, April 21, 2008

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start)

“Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God made human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26, TNIV).

When God created man and woman, he made them both—equally and without distinction—in the image of God, and he gave them both—equally and without distinction—authority and dominion to rule over the earth and all its non-human creatures. Notice the text suggests that the image of God entails and justifies the dominion of woman and man over all the earth. God made man and woman in his likeness so that they may rule. Where there is the image of God, there is authority.

Although human sin has defaced the divine image in humanity and skewed the authority that man and woman once shared together, God has provided redemption for us. Because of the cross of Christ, his resurrection, ascension and session at the right hand of God, and his dominion over all his enemies, and because believers in Christ have identified with the death of Christ and are now (by faith, though not yet in eschatological fullness) raised with him at the right hand of God, we too have been given authority, not just over the earth but also over our spiritual enemies. Every believer—equally and without distinction—has been given spiritual authority in Christ.

In Christ, the new creation has come. In Christ all redeemed humanity has authority over spiritual darkness and deception. In Christ all redeemed humanity is authorized and obligated to obey and to proclaim the Word of God to both the church and the world. And our authority to rule and to proclaim rests in the authority of Scripture and the authority of our risen Lord, not in any particular human quality or distinctive feature such as gender. Pragmatic considerations may require that in a particular setting the Word of God be proclaimed by one gender rather than the other. And, of course, a person’s particular spiritual gifts will point to certain ministry contexts and not to others. But the new covenant in Christ sets no universal spiritual limitations (or privileges) that are based solely on gender, race, or any other physical human characteristic.


chaplaindl said...

Rebecca, Thank you for this eloquent, succinct and comprehensive beginning of yet another thoughtful contribution to this dialogue. Regards, Denise

Sarah Scott said...

Thank you for this very well written inaugural post! I look foward to more thought provoking additions. Welcome to the weird world that is the blogosphere!

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Amen and amen! Good to see you are on the blogosphere so soon!

Paul D. Adams said...

Glad to see you in the blogosphere, Rebecca. I look forward to some interesting reading.

What would you say to the charge that biblical egalitarianism is guilty of an over-realized soteriology? That authority between male and female in all aspects of the new creation in Christ is not intended to be shared equally as in the Pre-fall state?

Just thinking...

Deb said...

I must confess that this is my first experience with blogging. Thank you for your thoughtful essay! You have inspired me more than you know.
Thanks, Deb

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Many thanks to all of you for your kind words!

Paul, your question is very interesting--so interesting that I think I will respond to it in another post, which should show up within the next 24 hours. (I'm not as speedy as blogmeister Doug!)

Paul D. Adams said...

Thanks, Rebecca! I look forward to your response and, by all means, take your time!
After all, a timely word is priceless ;->.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful start Rebecca! Keep pressing us with your solid, well-reasoned thoughts on this important topic.


Mike said...

Thanks, Rebecca. I look forward to reading more posts! Doug has always said that you're the brighter of the two of you.
-Mike Sares

Stu Smith said...

Well done, Rebecca. I look forward to returning often. Wonder if you've read and have any thoughts about John Piper's chapter on marriage in "Desiring God." In his view, the Bible affirms the husband's leadership as a servant to his wife, and as a Christian hedonist Piper challenges both husband and wife to find their joy in pursuing the holy joy of their spouse. Warm regards, Stu

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

I read Piper’s book 20 years ago when it first came out. I bought the book because I loved his concept of enjoying God and worshipping God for who he is, apart from what we can get from him. I remember I found the chapter on marriage rather jarring in that the emphasis on male headship seemed out of place in a study devoted to who God is and how to worship him. Of course, the part you mention about husband and wife finding joy in pursuing the holy joy of their spouse certainly fits with the overall theme of the book, and is a delightful concept to keep in mind—and to practice! As for the idea that “the Bible affirms the husband’s leadership as a servant to his wife,” this phrase has often perplexed me, in that is seems to mean more—even something other—than what it actually says on face value. So, instead of pontificating on what I think of this concept, I would like first to hear what you think it means. And I would like to hear from anyone else who cares to comment, as well!

Stu Smith said...

When faced with an issue of theology or of understanding how a biblical passage applies to our lives as Christians, I like to back up and get as broad a perspective as I can on the matter. Often I end up studying the Godhead, because there we can find instructive patterns in how the Father and Son interact (and the two of them with the Spirit).

Piper himself does this, finding in God the origin of holy pleasure. God created us in his image, and the goal of his recreation of us through Christ’s redemptive work is to conform us to his Son’s image, so to him we should look for the template of both our current walk and our eternal destiny.

One pattern that stands out is the reciprocal love among the three Persons. Son obeys and glorifies the Father, who in turn loves and glorifies and exalts the Son. They seek one another’s mutual joy and glory (John 17). All three serve one another, seeking the other’s interest. This reciprocal love forms the basis for how we are to treat one another in the body of Christ (Philippians 2), and it also figures in Paul’s instruction regarding marriage in Ephesians 5.

(Note that reciprocity doesn’t necessitate equality of function. It’s clear the three Persons are equal in essence and divinity, though the Son remains in function subservient to the Father, both in his mission on earth and thereafter.)

With these thoughts as background, I don’t find the word “leadership” as relevant or helpful in describing the husband’s role as the word “servant,” because that is how Jesus described his role. His willingness to die for us is the example all Christians are to follow by taking up the cross daily. I fall way short of this mark, but his example does inspire me to keep reaching for it, particularly in how I relate to my wife. Leadership may well be one way of expressing this servanthood, if we construe it to mean taking initiative in service of another. Indeed, Jesus was a consummate leader (this word fits well his action as “author,” “pathfinder,” or “trailblazer” of our salvation in Hebrews 2:10). Stephen Covey’s definition of leadership points to another intersection with servanthood: “Communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”

Your insightful phrase “leaders together” is an appropriate tag to apply to this kind of leadership, and so it is with much appreciation for your own great worth and potential, I’ll sign off. Stu

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

I agree with your description of leadership, with the emphasis on “servant” rather than on “leader.” Downplaying hierarchy and encouraging cooperative leadership is, I think, the more biblical way to serve the church. But I have found that, tucked away under the bland and benign rhetoric of “roles” and “distinctions” and “servant leadership” there is usually an intended meaning of “final decision-making authority.” Indeed, I believe John Piper is a strong advocate of a woman’s submission to her husband’s authority; this is what he calls servant leadership. But I would prefer, as the saying goes, to “call a spade a spade.” I believe words should be chosen and used primarily for clarity of meaning, not chiefly for their power of persuasion. Now regarding the question of the eternal subordination of Christ, I believe the witness of both Scripture and logic is against it. But that is a complex question. I hope to have a post on both the authority issue and the Trinitarian subordination issue in the not-too-distant future. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I do appreciate your reflections.