Feminist Sensibilities as an Issue for Christian Apologists

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote that Christians should “make good men wish that Christianity is true, and then show them that it is.” Both tasks are severely neglected by the Church.

It seems we’re surrounded by people who hope that Christianity is not true. The major media, at least, often express suspicion of Christianity. Sometimes, to be sure, the media go further and deride Christianity. But they seldom deride Christianity with arguments that its central truth claims are false. Rather, they deride its attitudes and practices.

Attitudes differ from beliefs (except in the technical philosophical sense that a belief is a “propositional attitude”). What, for example, do Christians believe about the status of women—in society, at the workplace, at home, in marriage? To be candid, Christians don’t agree in their beliefs about these matters.

Setting that aside, though, popular opinion seems to be that Christianity is patriarchal, and, so, old-fashioned and demeaning of women—therefore unattractive. This perception may be rooted in observation, personal experience, vague ideas about what the Bible says, confusion induced by deteriorating social mores, and so on. Contributing factors are sure to be complex and inter-related. But the bottom line, for many, is, “I don’t want to have anything to do with a religion where women are treated differently than men.”

This is one significant place where Christianity has a public relations problem with the watching world.

And yet, I believe that if New Testament teaching was better understood and also more consistently practiced, the reputation of the Church would improve dramatically.

Of course, there are dimensions of Christianity that will always appear foolish to outsiders. But the apostle Paul, who spoke of this dilemma, did not encourage foolishness, and he didn’t cultivate indifference about how Christians are viewed by others. The “foolishness of the cross” (of which he spoke in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31) is a matter of perspective. With a shift of perspective, the event of the cross becomes a thing of wonder, a magnificent expression of divine love, something that urges profound gratitude.

So Christians should not make excuses for behavior that offends simply because “that’s about all you can expect from unregenerate people.” Rather, Christians should take to heart the grim reality that they, too, engage in sinful behavior, that they are to examine themselves, and that they are to confess their sins. (See 1 John.)

The most direct path of self-examination for this purpose is to review relationships we have with each other. That includes relationships between men and women, as well as relationships between women who think of women’s roles one way and women who think of them another way.

There has been much irenic discussion about this among theologians and Bible interpreters. Bible translators have been devoted to rendering the biblical text in English, so that translation is faithful to the text and responsive to changes in English language usage. A spectrum of opinion awaits the earnest inquirer into “the Christian view of women.”

One critical aspect of the issue, however, has been neglected, and that is the perception of Christianity and Christians by non-believers. Christians who are serious about the Great Commission should consider soberly the topic in relation to witness. If we are to commend the faith to others, it must be the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This includes most basically the message of the gospel. But associated with the basic message is a whole perspective on reality, including the nature of our shared humanity and our place in God’s world.

We may find that a generation of Christian women is moving now into responsible adulthood with a mixture of conflicted ideas and feelings about this topic. It’s my impression that there has been very little overt teaching and mentoring of young people (guys and girls) about issues related to roles and such. But this does not mean that they have not processed whatever data they do have, and that they do not have ideas about “where the Church stands.”

I suspect that many in this new generation of adult Christians, both men and women, are disoriented by the current state of discussion and bewildered by some of the behavior they observe.

Biblical literacy has ebbed dramatically, and this has special significance for male/female issues. It would be easy to suppose that what the Bible teaches must be, more or less, what is exhibited by all or most Christians. And it would be understandable if efforts to understand Scripture on this complex subject was hampered by inadequate preparation to read and study Scripture skillfully and independently.

The Church may be confronted with a growing generation of women who were raised “in a Christian environment,” and who find it hard to reconcile all that they have observed about roles with what their instincts (informed by prevalent cultural messages) tell them is fair and just. So attrition among women within the Church is a real possibility.

If I’m right, then the task of apologetics—of demonstrating the rationality of Christianity and its aptness for finding meaning at the deepest level of human desire—is not limited to showing that Christianity is true, on the basis of reasonable argument, but also showing that Christianity is attractive in the way that it makes sense of life. And that cuts to the core of individual identity. And individual identity is intimately tied to maleness and femaleness.

I’m not writing a treatise, here, about how Christians should resolve the issues. I’m not offering my verdict on what the Bible teaches. I’m simply suggesting that the subject needs to be considered from a fresh angle.

I hope to hear from readers—both men and women, but especially women—about their experiences, impressions, internal conflicts, and whether perception of “the Christian view of women” is much of an obstacle to acceptance of Christianity.

Notes:

  • Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century. Like everyone else, he used the noun “men” to refer to men and women. It’s important to keep this in mind, since I quote him at the beginning of this post, and this post is expressly about male/female issues and Christianity.
  • For a scholarly study of the symbols used in biology to represent male and female organisms, see William T. Stearn, “The Origin of the Male and Female Symbols of Biology, Taxon, Vol. 11, No. 4 (May 1962), pp. 109-113. The first page is available here.
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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

5 Responses to Feminist Sensibilities as an Issue for Christian Apologists

  1. Pingback: Apologetics and Gender Roles - ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

  2. J.W. Wartick says:

    An excellent post. I think that this is exactly what a lot of people miss when they think about this issue–how are we representing Christianity? I don’t think it is a good argument against complementarians to suggest that they are misrepresenting Christianity, but I do think it is a point to consider. WWJD?

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  3. Pingback: Apologetics and Gender Roles « ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (in Christ Jesus)

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  5. Dorothy says:

    Hello

    Waht a great read. I am a graduated from Seminary and a woman. I had the opportunity to be exposed to the little of Women in the History of Christianity that was offered. The little nibble whet my appetite to help others to learn women have been a part and will continue to be a part of Christianity and what should we do with them?

    There should not be a war of the sexes trying to accomplish the same mission. There is only one enemy–Satan– and his biggest rick was in the Garden of Eden when Eve was blamed for the fall more than he was. He was the original instigator and she was his first victim. The victim is usually blamed.

    Christianity should never rewrite its history to include women in any other way; just study the role of women in its totality.

    My blog is dedicated to raising and exploring what does ot mean to be a called and fulfilled Christian woman within the boundaries set forth in the Scripture.

    The lack of education will lead to the downfall of a nation, but through the grace of God, not Christianity.

    I also launced a new facebook group: People Against Misrepresentation of God that is a fun way of looking at how Christians example their religion.

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