Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gender and the New Creation

In his CBMW article "Relationships and Roles in the New Creation", Mark David Walton suggested that the principle of male headship will continue to apply in the new creation throughout all eternity.

He wrote, "Given that gender identity will remain, is there evidence that functional distinctions will likewise remain in the new creation? Will resurrected saints as male and female have gender-specific roles? How will we relate to one another? Will male headship apply? Initial responses will likely depend on whether such questions are approached from a complementarian or egalitarian perspective. Complementarians, who view male headship and gender-specific roles as part of God's original plan for creation (and for the present age as well) are more likely to answer these questions in the affirmative."

Walton gave three foundational principles that guides his interpretation of functional differences in the new creation (emphasis mine):
  1. "The first is simply that the new creation is tangible and real. Resurrected saints will enjoy real life in real bodies in a real place."
  2. "The second principle is that the new creation is, in essence, creation redeemed. All of creation deformed and marred by sin will be reformed as part of the completed work of Christ in redemption."
  3. "Third, in the new creation, resurrected believers are perfected, confirmed in righteousness, and the image of God within them has been fully restored."
He then gave three arguments why he believes male headship is eternal:
  1. Male headship existed prior to the fall. The new creation is a return to the divine order prior to the fall, so it follows that male headship will remain.
  2. Male headship is affirmed in the NT. There are no Bible verses that unambiguously repeals the principle of male headship. Therefore, there is every reason to believe that male headship will remain.
  3. In the new creation, there are those who were husbands in the previous dispensation who, no longer encumbered by the flesh, will at last be able to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25). There are also those who were wives in the previous dispensation who will see in the example of Christ (Phil 2:6-8) the beauty and glory inherent in gracious, selfless submission. With both man and woman perfected and transformed, the new creation will not abandon the order established in God's original creation.
I believe the status of men and women in eternity is a very important topic of discussion, one that is often neglected in recent years. In the blogosphere, there is plenty of discussion about whether women are called to be senior pastors, but hardly any discussion on whether women will be subordinate to men for all eternity. After all, aren't eternal realities more important than temporal realities? What female believers will be doing for trillions upon trillions of years is just as important of a discussion topic, if not more so, than what female believers are doing for a few decades. Same goes for male believers. Moreover, whatever isn't eternally true for women isn't inherently true for women. Likewise, whatever isn't eternally true for men isn't inherently true for men.

Here are my thoughts on this issue:

While I can see how Walton arrived at his conclusions, I do not believe the Bible teaches the eternal subordination of women to men. Nor do I believe that gender is a criterion God uses to determine how much authority a Christian has in the new creation. Here are my three foundational principles:
  1. The new creation is tangible and real.
  2. The new creation is not creation redeemed. What is true prior to the fall is not necessarily true in the new creation.
  3. The new creation is superior to and more glorious than creation prior to the fall.
There are two obvious facts that were true prior to the fall that will not be so in the new creation. Before the fall, people did not wear clothes and yet felt no shame (Gen 2:25). In the new creation, people will be clothed in white (Rev 3:5). Before the fall, marriage existed between men and women (Gen 2:24). In the new creation, there will no longer be marriages between men and women (Luke 20:34-36). If God intended the new earth to be merely a restoration of a pre-fall earth, wouldn't the glorified saints be unclothed? There is no biblical basis to assume a continuity between pre-fall creation and the new creation.

Since there is no biblical basis to believe that the new creation is a return to the divine order established in God's original creation, I believe that Walton's first and third arguments for eternal male headship are rather inadequate. As for Walton's second argument, there are no unambiguous Bible verses that affirm that male headship will perpetuate for all eternity, so the whole premise is pretty much an argument from silence.

For Christians who believe that believers retain their genders in the new creation, I see three possible positions in regards to this discussion topic:
  1. The Bible teaches that women are eternally subordinate to men.
  2. The Bible teaches that women are not eternally subordinate to men.
  3. The Bible does not tell us, but we will find out when we get to heaven.
This brief post is intended to defend against arguments in favor of position #1. Of course, this post is not sufficient in and of itself to show why position #2 is true. That I will reserve for a future post.

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