In the latest edition of his newsletter “The Masculinist,” Aaron Renn dismissed complementarianism as a baby boomer phenomenon that will inevitably die with that generation. Much of the analysis is both interesting and correct, but it also misses a few key points that would help round out the argument and make the conclusion more satisfying.
Two Types of Complementarian
The first confusion in Renn’s piece is that it’s almost certainly mistaken to speak of a single complementarianism. Practically speaking, there are at least two different takes on the complementarian position, one that I see more regularly in Southern Baptist circles, which might be called a “maximalist” complementarianism, while the other, Renn’s “minimalist complementarianism,” is more common in PCA circles. Both have certain problems, but they are problems that run in very different directions.
Maximal complementarianism seeks to speak comprehensively about the roles of men and women in the world, working from both Scripture and nature to develop broad arguments about the ordering of the sexes in society.
To the extent that it actually succeeds in that work, it does well. But, of course, humans are not always very good at separating what is “natural” from what is merely “cultural,” and there are few places where that is more apparent than in the early maximalist complementarians. Indeed, their work has often been defined by a functional baptizing of post-war cultural norms as they related to gender.
In her essay in the seminal book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Dorothy Patterson writes, “keeping the home is God’s assignment to the wife—even down to changing the sheets, doing the laundry, and scrubbing the floors. In Titus 2:3-5, Paul admonishes the older women to teach the younger women, among other things, ‘to love their husbands and children… to be busy at home.”
Certainly the Scriptures describe women as keepers of the household. Patterson is correct there. But note the unjustified movement in her argument. Patterson automatically imports a distinctly modern, post-war understanding of what “workers at home” means into the text and rules out alternative readings without justification. After all, the text she cites from Paul never says anything that would require the wife to be the one who does the particular tasks that Patterson lists in the middle of that sandwich between her first observation and the citation from Titus.
Indeed, when the Bible does get more specific about what a woman’s work looks like, as it does in Proverbs 31, the result is domestic and that could include Patterson’s tasks, but it also sounds quite entrepreneurial and involves making major purchasing decisions, such as purchasing a piece of land.
Thinking historically, we could consider any number of examples—Abigail Adams, for example, clearly was not a modern careerist woman but neither was she the quiet housewife detached from worldly affairs that Patterson describes. She helped manage the family’s finances, amongst other things, and sold a number of things she made in the home to provide extra income. Similarly, we might consider the example of the remarkably learned Puritan woman Anne Bradstreet, who was doubtlessly devoted to her husband and family and their household and yet also fulfilled an obvious vocation she had to the written word, becoming the first published poet in North America in the process. Work in the world and work in the home are not so easily separated, it turns out.
Patterson’s selective use of texts continues later in the essay. Citing Genesis 2:15, she argues that it is the husband’s responsibility to provide for the family. Again, the text doesuse those words, but Patterson never bothers to prove that the text must be fulfilled in the fairly specific and ahistorical way she describes in the essay. There is an odd textual positivism that characterizes a great deal of this maximalist complementarianism in which it is assumed that arguments are proven by mere scriptural citation without ever bothering to move toward interpretation.
In the case of both the Genesis text and the Titus text, it is far from apparent that either text has in view the rigid separation of responsibilities that Patterson simply assumes throughout the essay with the man’s work taking place entirely outside the home in the employ of a business or corporation in order to bring in an income and the woman’s entirely within it and focused exclusively around the life of the home. There’s no reason whatever to think that the biblical texts anticipate the hard line between income-earning work and home life that has followed from the industrial revolution.
In pre-industrial contexts the lines between “work” more generally and “home” would have been far blurrier, such that both husband and wife are building up the household through shared labor. While you could often discern different roles within that shared work, even that is not the same thing as what Patterson envisions, which seems to be a wage-earning husband working outside the home and a wife doing unpaid work in the home managing the household while the husband is away.
Households of this sort, of course, have far more to do with the post-war social order in which Patterson grew up—as a baby boomer, it is worth noting—then it does any kind of clear scriptural endorsement. Indeed, one could reasonably argue that by divorcing a husband’s productive work from his life at home this social order and economy actually undermined a husband’s ability to provide for his family in the other ways that text no doubt has in view—through presence, through relational leadership, and so on. This, then, is the recurring problem with the maximalist wing of the complementarian movement—a persistent tendency to conflate the social order that these baby boomers knew as children with the natural order as defined in Scripture.
We should also note, before moving on, that this normalization of the post-war order often included the tacit normalization of the infidelity and misogyny that often marked post-war family life. Reports have come out in the past year showing serious abuse scandals in both fundamentalist baptist and SBC congregations as well as in Sovereign Grace Churches, all of which played off the cultural ideas about gender held in many of these churches.
Indeed, Dorothy Patterson’s husband Paige has been at the center of controversy due to his misogynistic public speech and credible accusations that he covered up sexual abuse allegations at seminaries where he worked as an administrator. While abuse can happen anywhere and can find any number of rationalizations—the covers given to the abuse by Harvey Weinstein or Theodore McCarrick are obviously wildly different—it would be a mistake to therefore conclude that there is no possible connection between the vision of gender held by these early complementarians, which often amounted to a silencing of women outside of designated social spheres, and the silencing of female victims of abuse.
In contrast to this, the second sort of complementarianism is closer to what Renn describes as biblical minimalism. The representative statement for this group is, as Renn noted, that “women can do anything in the church that non-ordained men can do.”
Generally speaking, this minimalism tends to be far more common in PCA circles, though I would not be surprised if we begin to see it more often in certain SBC circles as well as the rising generation moves into leadership roles. It is not hard to imagine the Gen X generation of SBC leaders, such as David Platt, Russell Moore, and J. D. Greear, all embracing this approach to gender roles and embracing it for reasons very similar to what we have already seen in the PCA.
Yet for all the reasonable concerns with biblical minimalism, on which more in a moment, Renn’s treatment of it is oddly one-sided. In his criticism of the minimalists, Renn never fully reckons with the various factors motivating the minimalism. Some of what drives this trend is, no doubt, the bad reasons he cites in his essay—a fearfulness about offending egalitarian sensibilities, an inner conflict about wanting to be progressive but feeling like Scripture won’t totally let you go there, and so on. Minimalism is a means by which people who can’t get past the Pauline texts can, nonetheless, maintain a certain degree of credibility in the world—or at least that is the idea.1 The result of such minimalism will likely be as Renn describes—a mass migration toward egalitarianism in future generations led by leaders who are not actually egalitarian themselves. Yet this is not the entire story of the minimalist move in reformed evangelicalism.
It is disappointing that Renn doesn’t attempt a more sympathetic account of minimalism, given that he explicitly cites Kathy Keller explaining the rationale for minimalism. Often these minimalists have evangelistic motivations informing their approach to these issues. In many cases, after all, the objections that the unchurched raise to Christian faith have far less to do with what is actually in the Bible and more to do with the practices and claims of Christians that those outside the church have overheard or been taught without any reference to scripture.
This concern provides the context for Keller’s comment: “I do know that in New York City (or any educated and highly secular environment), any practice that we cannot defend biblically is not an option. So the corollary of not ordaining women is to make sure that every role legitimately open to unordained men and women is filled with women as well as men.”
It’s worth taking the time to unpack that line a bit more. Let’s begin with the obvious: Why is Keller saying that? Well, the starting point is that “most of Christianity looks insane to your typical New Yorker.” This raises an obvious missiological problem: How do you make Christianity seem like a live option for New Yorkers, something they could embrace without committing intellectual or existential suicide? In short, how do you think like a missionary in a place like New York?
That question is itself no different than the question any missionary has to ask themselves when arriving in a new missions field. The way that many Christians in New York have answered it as it concerns their work in the city is to begin by defusing some of the false ideas about Christianity and by establishing that the Bible can be a valid source of knowledge and moral teaching. Having done that, you now possess a foundation for constructing moral arguments that would, apart from that foundation, get laughed out of the room.
A second factor in the rise of this minimalism is the need to correct for abuse that often took place in maximalist churches as already mentioned. The minimalists quite reasonably want to correct the excesses that led to the abuse while still upholding the clear teachings of Scripture with regard to gender and church leadership.
The first time I ever heard someone say “a woman can do anything in the church a non-ordained man can,” was while I was in RUF when the campus pastor used that line in discussing gender issues with a discussion group he hosted on Sunday nights. Why did he say that? Because a woman in RUF who had grown up in a deeply abusive church that treated women deplorably was asking the question. This young woman was a gifted musician keen to develop a gift that she believed God had given her and she had grown up in a church that often discouraged women from attending college and simply counseled them to exist in a holding pattern until they got married and started having babies.
These women were not simply being told they could not do things Scripture does rule out for them—serving as pastors, for example—but were being warned against pursuing any kind of non-domestic work or vocation or, often, even cultivating basic competencies in fields that interest them. For many women this creates a painful internal conflict between a longing for good work and a desire to follow Christ. If no one can demonstrate to them that this choice is a false one, then they will choose one of the two options, either of which is likely to end disastrously.
The False Choice: Maximalism and Minimalism
The difficulty we’re left with, then, is a gap between the maximalism of those who would attempt to baptize every imaginable gender-based restriction common in recent western culture via appeals to nature or dubious interpretations of Scripture and the minimalism of some complementarians which can lead to the problems Renn described.
Complementarian maximalism assumes a particular type of world in which the nature of reality calls forth particular responses that are gendered in mostly predictable ways. The problem is that these complementarians often conflated what Dutch Reformed theologian Al Wolters referred to as “structure” and “direction.” The natural order and what humans make as they live in the world are not the same thing, though the latter can be a faithful flowering out of the former.
But, of course, to determine if our direction is in agreement with the structure of the world we have to actually ask that question and think carefully about it rather than contenting ourselves with uncritical assumptions and lazy proof texting. The old maximalists assumed a world in which husbands can reliably find jobs that allow their families to live on a single salary, a world in which women have thick local community, enjoyable domestic work to do, and the competence to do it, such that they can stay home and keep house without being crushed by feelings of isolation and feeling badly overwhelmed by all the work they are expected to do with fairly limited resources. It also presupposes an array of social norms and practices and institutions that implicitly facilitate such a way of life for families by providing a family wage for workers and valuing the home as a cultural institution and place of life and beauty.
This order is basically gone from contemporary America. Indeed, even in the years after World War II the extent to which this order existed is up for debate. And yet absent such a regime, men will often “fail” to provide for their families through no fault of their own and women will often be isolated and asked to attempt the difficult work of managing a house and raising children largely on their own. It is no surprise that such maximalism has failed to gain an audience with younger Christians, to say nothing of those outside the church.
Complementarian minimalism, meanwhile, assumes a different sort of world. The maximalists are mostly operating out of a 1950s paradigm; the minimalists, on the other hand, are working out of a post-sexual revolution capitalist paradigm, which is to say they are working in a cultural context that seeks to erase gendered norms and to make gender and sexual identity into a purely volitional choice, all of which facilitates a high-degree of individual freedom most often expressed through actions that take place in markets.
Minimalism reduces (or at least can reduce) the biblical teachings on gender to a set of positive laws that exist within an otherwise formless space that will be shaped by the free action of those individual people living in the space. It defines the biblical teachings in much the same way that a young business might define its employee code of conduct—mostly there is freedom to do what makes sense save in a narrowly defined range of gestures and behaviors which are addressed by positively stated laws. Put another way, it makes Christian teachings about gender into an employee manual for individual people that is intended to preserve a certain openness in which there is freedom to act largely according to individual preference while still maintaining some structure and form in our identity as men and women.
As it pertains to missiology, this is the trade-off being made: Christian faith is adopting the familiar garb of early 21st century liberal democracy, with a few carveouts, in order to appear more plausible to early 21st century liberal democrats.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is, indeed, a very normal movement in the history of Christian missions. As far back as William Carey and Hudson Taylor Christian missionaries have selectively adopted aspects of the culture they seek to reach in order to build trust and establish relationship. That is all the minimalist move is designed to do. What’s more, the minimalists have faced the challenge of dealing with a generation of burnouts who have seen, sometimes on a regular basis, the abuses and excesses that routinely followed from maximalist forms of complementarianism.
Given these conditions, we should, if anything, be grateful that they have managed to effectively evangelize a rising generation without caving on biblical teachings. The minimalists, after all, did not ask to be tasked with evangelizing a group of people catechized in expressive individualism and deeply suspicious of Christian teachings on gender due to real abuses in evangelical churches that they had witnessed themselves or heard about from trusted friends.
Even so, the dangers of minimalism are real and Renn is not wrong to flag them. But the challenge is to identify a way of speaking about gender that is bolder than the minimalist paradigm and actually speaks to people in the totality of their existence rather than in an artificially narrow church-and-family context outside of which biblical texts regarding gender seem to have no purchase. This task actually takes us closer to the spirit of what Paul says in the New Testament where he is consistently linking norms about gender to nature rather than simply appealing to them as some form of divine positive law.
Hannah Anderson on Nature
In his work on theological ethics The Divine Imperative the German reformed theologian Emil Brunner speaks of how the Sermon on the Mount transforms our understanding of the law. Christ’s words about murder and lust show that the law is not simply a list of positive rules that each exist as discrete entities meant to target very specific behaviors. Rather,
(The sermon on the mount) is meant to show us that even the individual commandment is not something finite, limited, but something infinite, unlimited, that each commandment contains the whole, one, indivisible will of God, the one indivisible commandment of love. This exposition of the commandments also destroys the atomistic view of morality by demonstrating the inner infinity which resides in each ‘atom,’ each individual commandment. It means this: that each commandment requires us to give ourselves wholly to God and wholly to our neighbor.
These moral norms defined in Scripture shouldn’t be understood as impersonal laws or rules; they are, rather, descriptions of reality and, by extension, descriptions of the will of the God who formed reality and breathed life into man.
The moral law, you might say, is a context, it’s a space indwelt by the people of God who give themselves to the way of life described in Scripture. And evil, a rejection of God’s law, is similarly not a positively defined set of behaviors, but is rather the negation of being, of goodness. It is, ultimately, nothing. Thus there is a relationality in creation. Man does not simply exist in a void and adhere to specific rules. He enters into the life of God by faith and participates in the natural life of the world as God made it.
This means that both the maximalists and minimalists err. The maximalist error is to assume a radical separation of a man’s work and a woman’s work, such that the man’s work is chiefly oriented toward providing money and is done outside the house while the woman’s is ordered toward the making of a home and is done inside the house. It assumes, in other words, the essentially compartmentalized world of late modernity in which home is sundered from work and love and vocation are, similarly, kept apart.
In this understanding, marriage is virtually the only place where the worlds of men and women intersect and even in marriage they only really intersect in the marital embrace itself—even the bearing and raising of children is, functionally speaking, largely in the woman’s hands for the simple reason that she is the one who actually births the children and is at home with them.
Yet the minimalists err by failing to sufficiently reckon with the way that nature itself assumes certain things as normal and good such that the scriptural teachings cannot be boiled down to some sort of minimal essence constrained to ordained office in the church and some vague, undefined sense in which wives submit to their husbands as described by Paul. In both cases, the complementarians fail to reckon with what Wendell Berry calls “the great coherence,” the natural order which obliges both men and women to shared though distinct action that contributes to the preservation of that order and realization of the goods implicit in its design.
The challenge before us is how we articulate this reality, how we exist within this “inner infinity,” as it pertains to sex and gender. It is this point that explains why the work of Hannah Anderson is so particularly helpful.
Anderson’s latest book, All That’s Good could well be treated as the capstone of a trilogy of works dealing with the question of how humans can live happy, contented lives that honor God in the world as God has made it. The first book, Made for More, begins the series by raising questions about gender roles that broadly overlap with the issues raised above. Anderson argues that we have been too quick to ask about the specific responsibilities of men and women and have thus glossed over the more basic question of what responsibilities all people have as bearers of the divine image living in God’s world. This expanding of common Christian questions in ways that attend more closely to nature and invite creative answers defined by a theological imagination are trademarks of Anderson’s work.
The second book, Humble Roots, which is one of the best books on humility I’ve ever read, exults in the simple pleasures and virtues of small places, weaving together themes of natural life in rural Virginia with the virtues of Christian piety. This latest work now turns to the question of discernment which is another way of saying it turns to the question of how we can know the good from the bad, how we can evaluate competing claims in the world and select what is good.
Discernment, Anderson says, “simply means developing a taste for what’s good. It’s developing an instinct for quality, a refined sensibility, an eye for value—to know the difference between what’s good and what’s not in order to partake of the good…. In this sense, cultivating the art of discernment is as much about cultivating the individual as anything else.” This work of discernment is vital because, as she notes later, “our life on earth, all the things we experience, all the work we do, all the good things we enjoy, aren’t simply a hurdle to the next life. They are designed by God to lead us to the next life.”
This is the moral context in which Scripture speaks. The moral universe of the divine law is not a set of stand-alone commands which we ought to follow if we wish to enter the Good Place after we die. The world described in the moral law, rather, is reality itself and when we indwell that universe, however falteringly, we are habituating ourselves to reality and to the God who exists behind reality. Our lives in this world are a conditioning for the life of eternity when we behold God as he is.
The Pauline texts on gender, along with the creation account on which Paul’s account is built, fits within this broader context. In other words, the scriptural norms around gender are actually good news. This reality undercuts both the fearful paranoia of the maximalists and the timidity of the minimalists. We do not need to shout a person into affirming scriptural ideas about gender, nor do we need to feel badly about upholding those norms. They exist within a broader moral order that is good and the task of Christian wisdom is to learn how to discern that order and indwell it happily.
In All That’s Good, Anderson writes that, “the question is not whether men and women are different, but whether we truly honor those differences the way God does.” In this sense, the question of gender roles is simply one aspect of the broader question of how we discern what is good in the world and embrace it both as an act of worship to God and service to neighbor.
In his book Intellectual Appetites, theologian Paul Griffiths argues that the world, like the God who made it, speaks to us. It, “questions, forms, and challenges you, the one addressed.” He describes our life as “(living) in a world prior to and independent of yourself, a given world, presented unasked, whose overwhelming presence presses you into a responsive mold whether you like it or not.”
Griffith’s point is similar to what Peter Escalante and Joseph Minich are saying in a recent essay in which they write that “vocation—calling—is arriving from every direction and in all sorts of ways.” Note the natural movement here: We observe the world as God has made it. We recognize that it places certain callings on us, certain obligations to live in a particular way. And this realization, in turn, informs our understanding of both our individual callings and our communal callings as members of various small communities.
This is a deeply Lutheran idea. It was Luther who rightly elevated, as the title of Tim Keller’s book on work has it, “every good endeavor” to the level of a valid Christian calling by which human people glorify God. Often it is observed that this is a flattening maneuver—it obliterates any secular/sacred distinctions that creep into our thinking about work, such that we would view our work as merely being a necessary evil to be endured when one cannot be engaged in formal religious life. But this understanding of vocation doesn’t simply flatten bad distinctions; it expands the horizons of our vocation.
We should not commit the characteristic Roman error of seeing a hierarchy of legitimate work, such that the life of a priest is somehow superior to the life of someone employed in morally licit non-religious work. But neither should we view “vocation” as being primarily a single thing that is typically (or ideally, at least) synonymous with one’s means of earning a paycheck. Indeed, we should probably not view vocation as a singular thing at all. God’s calling to us arrives from all sides—from the plain teachings of the moral law, from the fact of my family and place of birth, from my internal desires and personal giftedness, from my status as a family member, from the design of my body, and from a host of other places as well. This broader understanding of vocation can and should inform our approach to the much-discussed and little-understood idea of “gender roles.” Too often this is spoken of, yet again, as a kind of job description, a list of narrowly delineated duties assigned to a person on the basis of their status in an artificially defined community—in complementarianism’s case, that is the church and, to a lesser extent, the home.
But this is to operate in too narrow a space. The Christian’s calling is as broad as the scope of created reality. This should not surprise us. As Michael Williams has said in his book Far as the Curse is Found, the scope of God’s redemptive work is as broad as creation itself. The problem with complementarianism is that far too often it reduces this deeply natural indwelling of the world in gendered forms into a set of rules about which the two variants of the movement will debate, some winning on some points and the other winning on the rest.
But this is not how reality works and our existence as gendered beings in God’s world resists both attempts to define too many hard-and-fast rules and attempts to artificially constrain the identities imposed upon us by our gender. If there is a cardinal failing of complementarianism, it is found in those last three letters. Even at its best, complementarianism makes an “ism” of something which is natural, which does not need to be systematized and positively defined. It would be better to say that it is entered into, although that entering in has become more difficult than ever in a day defined by such rampant individualism and disregard for nature.
That being said, we might begin to approach the task in this way: God has said that life is good and we recognize this ourselves when we shrink back from death. And because life is good, it ought to continue. For life to continue, there must be men and women bound together at least in a single momentary sexual embrace, else there can be no life at all. And yet though conception directly requires the participation of both parties, the entirety of creating and preserving life calls forth a community of husband and wife and of extended family, all of whom are icons of the love of their fathers and mothers.
For life to continue, in other words, it must be called into being by the existence of communities which are, themselves, products of older communities. This simple fact is reflected in our biology, though our biology is more hint than comprehensive statement. There must be women willing to bear life for nine months, to nurse that life (literally and metaphorically), and to raise it into the membership into which it was born—a membership that spans across generations. And, as Anderson has argued, because this bearing and nursing of life renders the woman uniquely vulnerable, there must similarly be men who use their physical strength (which is naturally superior due to simple biology), energy, and skill (amongst many other things) to nurture and protect the life of their small membership, such that it can go on existing.
The relationship between the genders, the “roles” they fill if we must use that terminology, is not chiefly about individualistic bartering over who does what standalone task. It is, rather, about the ways in which both men and women alike contribute to the common promotion of life and the preservation of human community. It is, in short, an inherently communitarian thing and, like all communitarian work, characterized by complexity.
But complexity is not the same thing as formlessness. Our biology is not simply a quirk which has no relevance to our lives save in the act of procreation. Rather, it hints at the unique gendered ways in which men and women make distinct contributions to a shared work. Man typically has the superior physical strength and he uses this to initiate, protect, and create framework and spaces. Women receive, nurture, and animate, making beautiful and homely, in the old sense of the word, the bare structure usually provided by man. They transform spaces into places, you might say, and they do this in many different realms of life.
In a sermon on marriage, Joe Rigney likens this work, within the context of marriage, to the relationship between a gardener and the garden, noting that the gardener plants seed and the garden receives the seed and turns it into new life; it takes the gardener’s work and makes of it something greater, something the gardener could not do left to his own devices. Similarly, Rigney argues that this creational reality is like a dance or a home with the man providing structure in which the woman’s talent and beauty can be more fully seen and admired. Think of the way a jeweler creates a setting for a stone. No one notices the setting, and yet the right setting exalts the stone. These basic realities inevitably manifest themselves outside the narrow life of home and church and yet they cannot be reduced down to a bare set of maxims, however short or long, detailed or vague. They are, rather, realities to be lived into in the hope that something delightful might emerge from the living.
The River Holds the Life
In her song “The Hudson,” New York singer songwriter Dar Williams describes the role the Hudson River plays in the life of New York City.
The song is worth quoting extensively. Williams begins by singing, “If we’re lucky / we feel our lives / know when the next scene arrives / so often we start in the middle and work our way out.” That experience will be familiar to many. It’s the description of feeling about in the dark, hoping that your hand lands on something solid before you trip and fall over an unseen obstacle. But what is it that helps Williams “feel” her life? It is the river. It is nature:
And the Hudson, it holds the life / we thought we did it on our own / I thought I had no sense of place or past / time was too slow, but then too fast / the river takes us home at last.
Later she adds, “If you’re lucky you’ll find something that reflects you / helps you feel your life, protects you, / cradles you and connects you to everything.”
That “something” for Williams has been the river, but I think that it is more than just the river. Writing in All That’s Good, Anderson quotes Henri Nouwen who spoke of the need to develop an ability to “‘see through’ the appearance of things to their deeper meaning and come to know the interworkings of God’s love and our unique place in the world.”
It is this poetic way of seeing in general and particularly of seeing nature that has often been absent from both the maximal and minimal wings of the complementarian movement. The result has been that the maximal wing has often marginalized women and, less obviously, burdened men with obligations they may well be incapable of bearing under late capitalism. Most grievous, the maximalists have often turned a blind eye to abuse, ignoring it or rationalizing it and in so doing they have contributed to the wounding of countless women. And yet the minimalist rejoinder cannot endure.
The atomized order of 21st century liberalism is fragmenting and unsustainable with its incoherencies presenting unique missional challenges as Christians seek to discern the ways in which Christians can and should adopt the cultural garb of the world it seeks to evangelize. As liberalism’s opposition to nature becomes more apparent, these difficulties will be intensified and the minimalist solution will fail because one cannot preserve Christian practice in the home and family if liberalism is designed, as our iteration of it is, to undermine and destroy both. If the scriptural norms about gender are to be preserved, then we must also preserve the natural order in which those norms are seen to be coherent and lively. If the places that create certain sorts of people are destroyed, then those people will cease to exist.
We cannot finally separate the narrow work of protecting “biblical” gender norms from the much wider range of work that the biblicists have so frequently ignored or marginalized—the work of preserving nature, small communities, and the rituals and customs that provide the context in which people receive the callings given to them by God. Writing near the end of his marvelous book The Supper of the Lamb, the great Episcopal writer Robert Farrar Capon says that, “the road to heaven does not run from the earth, but through it.” We might say the same of the road to wisely indwelling our physical bodies as men and women.