Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—Or Christlikeness?
It has become a common trope to argue that the Bible calls us to Christlikeness, not biblical manhood and womanhood. This is a category error. It undermines Christlikeness by turning it into something abstract, gnostic, idealized, even inhuman. It’s also antinomian.
ASSUMING DIFFERENT SHAPES
Christlikeness looks different in different domains. Just consider: Christ offers particular commands to women and others to men; some to masters and others to bondservants; some to fathers and others to children; some to young men, others to old men, and still others to older women; some to pastors and others to church members. He has also ordained that some be born Gentile and some Jew; some barbarian and some Greek.
In each of these locations, Christlikeness assumes a certain shape. It bears different responsibilities, possesses different resources, faces different challenges, seeks various ends. Yet the Lord and Savior of his people has good purposes for each, and for every changing time and season. He means to fashion a body, not produce robots on a conveyer belt.
So, yes, our goal should always be Christlikeness. The harder question is always, “How does Christ mean for me to live here, in this domain, with these responsibilities, roles, resources, and assignments?”
A CATEGORY ERROR
The single question complementarianism tries to answer is, what does Christlikeness mean for a man versus a woman? Do we disciple our sons and daughters—in the flesh and in the faith—in precisely the same fashion? Or has the Giver of all good gifts prepared differing opportunities, challenges, gifts, and strengths for each? Does he mean to display his beauty in the same way or in different ways?
The mere fact of different chromosomal assignments and body types, for instance, suggests we possess distinct stewardships. Christlikeness therefore asks, “How can I best steward that particular assignment?” So with the distinct structures in church and home.
Therefore, to erase “biblical manhood and womanhood” and substitute in “Christlikeness,” first of all, replaces an apple with an orange. It’s a category error.
CHRISTLIKENESS AS ABSTRACT, COLORLESS, INHUMAN
Second, the substitution of one for the other undermines both. If Christ created us “male and female,” he means for us to live out our Christlikeness inside of male and female bodies and inside any rule structures he has established in church and home. He means for us to demonstrate our Christlikeness in these distinct ways, none of which are a threat to our value and all of which contribute to his variegated glory. Yet the substitution turns Christlikeness into something androgynous, gnostic, anti-physical.
It inhibits the incarnational potentiality of Christlikeness, as if Christlikeness cannot distinctly inhabit all the idiosyncratic nooks and crannies of human existence and demonstrate Christ’s dominion there in that specific way.
Instead, Christlikeness becomes a generalized, non-specific, colorless, genderless, and frankly inhuman ideal. To use the language of the philosophers, it melts the many into the one, like a box of crayons melting into brown gray.
CHRISTLIKENESS AS ANTINOMIAN
Third, the substitution is antinomian. This idealized, abstract concept of Christlikeness inevitably rests in tension with any rule structures that God has established for men and women in home or church. As such, these rule structures look arbitrary, unfair, even a little cruel, at least in comparison to the androgynous Platonic ideal of Christlikeness. So at most we concede that the Bible offers these distinct structures, but we don’t explain them, fill them out, or give them any space in our books or sermons.
Instead, we minimize the differences. We say nothing about what those differences might mean for the discipleship of our sons and daughters. Frankly, we’re a little embarrassed by them, which is the sign of our antinomianism.
A STAINED GLASS WINDOW
Yet what if Christlikeness doesn’t look like just one thing? What if there was a male kind and a female kind? A kind for the writer and the singer, the architect and the builder? The nine and 90-year-old? The Nigerian tribal chief and the New York subway driver? The mother and the father? The sister and the brother? The husband and the wife?
Might Christ’s beauty refract just a little differently from each of these angles? Offering a more resplendent display of his glory, like a stained-glass cathedral window instead of the monochromatic glum of a beer bottle?