Read an Excerpt
Tracing the Trajectory of the Spirit A Discerning Approach to Scripture The ball is snapped. The quarterback backpedals into the pocket forming around him. There he sets up and waits, amid Richter scale-level collisions all around. Powerful opponents violently encroach. At the last possible second, he steps forward and forcefully launches a long bomb. The football soars into the sky on a magnificent arching trajectory, moving fast and spinning smoothly.
Downfield, the pass receiver has been zoned in on the ball from the moment it cleared the scrimmage line. Running hard, he instinctively calibrates its velocity, the angle of its rise, and even its spin. His
"read" on the ball is everything. It determines whether he will catch up to it or watch it fall incomplete. With a quick head-fake he shakes the defender, adjusts his route, and strains for a spot in the far corner of the field. The ball is still nowhere near there, but from a quick shoulder glance he's confident that's where it's coming down. Seconds later he leaps high, draws the football to his chest, and tumbles gloriously into the end zone. Touchdown!
A large part of the art of pass receiving is being able to recognize where the ball is going before it gets there. A great receiver can predict a football's trajectory from near the point of release. This book is also about tracing a trajectory--another kind, the trajectory of the Holy Spirit. And it is not about football either, but something quite different and much more important: how men and women ought to stand in relationship to one another. Nevertheless the same principle applies.
We need to "read" the Spirit's trajectory, and recognize where God's Spirit isheaded on the subject of gender relations.
All things considered, Christianity has been good for women. It has not been the mighty agent of gender oppression that it is sometimes made out to be. Still, contemporary Christians can hardly feel smug about the track record of our religious tradition. We live with the uncomfortable awareness that our faith has not been as affirming as it should have been, or as empowering for women as it certainly needs to be from now on.
This book is a call for a paradigm shift in the way many Christians still view men and women. In particular it is addressed to the emerging generation of Christians who wish the church could do more for women, but who until now have reluctantly assumed that loyalty to Scripture compels them to perpetuate a hierarchical view of gender relations. It invites such readers to see the biblical landscape through new eyes. To assist in such reappraisal, it traces the trajectory of the Spirit across the pages of Scripture and the annals of history. It explores the directional impulse of the Spirit, who is slowly but surely bringing us back to the personal wholeness and harmonious relationships that have largely eluded us as men and women since the fall.
A Vision of Equality, Freedom, and Mutuality The thesis of this book is that the Holy Spirit is nudging the people of God today toward a fuller embrace of the gospel vision of gender equality, freedom, and mutuality. What do these three cornerstones of the gospel vision involve? Concerning the first, the church is slowly grasping the truth that women and men, though obviously not identical, are equal in every sense. There must no longer be an asterisk placed beside this affirmation of gender equality, no qualification whatsoever of this foundational truth. Neither men nor women are more or less inclined to sinfulness; we are perfectly equal in our sinning.
Likewise, neither women nor men are more like God; we are peers in our God-likeness, dignity, and potential.
Freedom, the second ideal, means that every woman and man should be able to pursue their calling before God, with careful discernment of gifts and ability, of course, but without any restrictions on what their gender allows them to do. Exactly where such freedom might take men and women cannot be perfectly anticipated in advance; the adventurous experiment still has not reached its conclusion. The point is to wait and see what will happen in an atmosphere of complete Spirit-superintended freedom. It is possible that gender tendencies may emerge (perhaps even ones not totally dissimilar to the status quo). But when freedom is honored, such tendencies will be regarded as observed trends rather than imposed templates, and it will never be considered unnatural or abnormal for a woman or man to deviate from such statistical patterns. Anything less is gender profiling.
The church should be in the vanguard of this Spirit movement, not reluctantly bringing up the cultural rear. Recently Hans Küng insightfully observed:
GENDER EQUALITY, FREEDOM, AND MUTUALITY ORIGINAL CREATION FULL REDEMPTION THE TRAJECTORY OF THE SPIRIT THE FALL GENDER PREJUDICE, OPPRESSION, AND ALIENATION DIAGRAM 1.1. The Trajectory of the Spirit through Time Everything that indisputably manifests itself as un-freedom in the church is not a revelation of the good, clear essence of the church but a revelation of its dark, evil perversion. In the light of the message on which it bases itself, the church in its inner being should be a sphere of freedom. A church which proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ shouldn't bring people servitude but freedom: "For freedom Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5:1).1
We must dare to believe that the Spirit is perfectly able to create communal order and peace without need for one gender to impose rule over the other.
The ideal for gender relations culminates in mutuality. Men and women will not find their fulfillment in estranged isolation from one another. Brotherhoods and sisterhoods on parallel tracks is not the answer. Instead, men and women will find their greatest fulfillment, and their greatest experience of being fully human, in a quality of interaction that welcomes and appreciates the other in a larger unity. The mystery of a mutually enriching and harmonious oneness in diversity, without any "bosses" or top-down control, is what God ultimately has in mind for men and women. Only the Spirit can restore and sustain such a desirable vision; thankfully, nothing more than the Spirit is required for it to become a reality.
The gospel is certainly about more than the healing of gender relations, but it is not about less. It is the good news of Christ's comprehensive solution to all the guilt, power, and horrific consequences of human sinfulness--including the prospect of eternal death. But such a wonderful gospel includes the promise of complete healing of the pain of dysfunctional gender relations. And it is to this particular aspect of the good news that we intend to direct our attention in this book.