The year was 1963. I married Don Sunukjian that summer. President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed a couple miles from where we lived in Dallas. And Betty Friedan founded the Women’s Liberation movement in the United States by publishing The Feminine Mystique.
Ms. Friedan identified “the problem that had no name,” the dissatisfaction of American women with their role as a wife and mother. She, along with Gloria Steinem, launched the modern female equality movement that today is so much a part of our culture that has almost ceased to be a separate issue any more.
The culture was restless in the ‘60s. And that restlessness was present in the church, too. Women lined up on both sides of the raging debates about the identity and purpose and worth of a woman—debate issues such as, a woman should be in the home rearing her children or a woman should be educated and in the work force; or, a woman is different from a man or a woman is just like a man.
Christians are often misled by the voice of our culture. The world system, led by Satan, gives identity, purpose and worth to a woman only as it is purchased or earned. It has to be bought. And the currency is beauty—a very important currency for women—or talent, intelligence, ethnicity, wealth, education, or even rebelliousness. The world system, our culture, awards identity or worth based upon accomplishment.
Like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, I was seeking to live out my true identity. Like other thinking women, I was trying to understand the almost cataclysmic changes that were going on in the culture. I wanted God’s perspective on my truest worth. I didn’t want to be misled by my culture.
The question became, what does God, my Creator, say about me as a woman? And how can I draw my identity and worth from what God says and not from the lies of the culture? God tells us that he made women and designed us in his own image—that we are like him in crucial ways: we have will, emotion, creativity, relational skills, and decision-making abilities. And we are female, not male.
He created woman, first of all, with inherent worth when he made her. Genesis 1:27 says that we were created in his own image and in his likeness. The two words, image and likeness, seem to be somewhat interchangeable, and expand the meaning and emphasis rather than add a fresh aspect to the account.
Every woman has as great a worth as every man. Suppose two people are in a terrible car wreck. Is the driver of more value than the passenger? Of course not, how very ridiculous that would be. The paramedics are trying to save any life they can with no regard at all for who was driving and who was riding. They give care to the person who needs it most, because both have equal value.
What if the passenger is bi-polar or has blue eyes… does that mean she gets treatment first? You can see how silly this argument is.
And yet, it has been used historically. When the Titanic went down in 1912, the available lifeboats were designated for use by the first-class passengers, even the male first-class passengers! I was shocked when we visited a Titanic museum and learned this fact. The survivors are listed by the category of their tickets on the ship! Very few third-class passengers survived because the ship’s officers mistakenly thought they had less value than the first-class passengers. What prejudice in favor of wealth.
Women and men have exactly the same worth—they are made in God’s image with equal value. Together they more fully reflect the God who created them than does either alone. Out of nothing (Hebrew word bara) God created male and female in his own image and likeness.
God not only gave women inherent worth, he also gave them assigned worth by giving women something important to do with their lives. He assigned them to be fruitful, to be rulers over the earth, and to be partners with their husbands. Let’s look first at the assignment to be fruitful.
In Genesis 1:28 God says to be fruitful, to increase, and to fill—three words that speak of enlarging one’s life and influence. The Genesis author uses three different Hebrew words—parah, rabah, male—to express the meaning of growth. Here the meaning is primarily growth through procreation. And we should not overlook the importance of this in a woman’s life. Becoming a corporate executive, a famous author, or a skilled scientist are not careers of more value to God than being a mother. He created women to reproduce, and we should find great satisfaction in cooperating with his plan to do that. But it also extends beyond physical motherhood into reproducing ourselves through adoptive motherhood, fostering needy children, nurturing nieces and nephews, teaching Sunday School, and babysitting for friends’ children. He wants us to invest with people, especially the young. God, who is himself fruitful, plans for his people to be fruitful, too.
Another assigned role that gives that worth to women is in the task of subduing the earth and ruling over it. The earth was made to serve us (Psalm 115:16), and, therefore, we are to subdue it, starting with clearing out the clutter in our car, and taking charge of the way our rooms and houses are kept. We gain satisfaction and self-accomplishment from ruling. And that’s because God put it in our DNA—we were made to rule. So start with your own domain and move out from there to ruling the world. We will rule in eternity, too—Rev. 2:26 says “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations….” so this is practice for eternity.
And third, God assigned worth to women through being a partner to a husband. At a time when half of our country’s people age 16 and older are single, I still believe that God created a woman to find much of her assigned worth in marriage. The first Woman was hand-made by God from the side of Man to be a helper suitable-to-him, ezer knegdo. The word “helper” (ezer) is a strong word, one that is even used of God himself. It means being able to assist someone in accomplishing his goals, to strengthen another, to encourage a man in his life-long task and calling. And knegdo means that this helper is very much like the man, but different in crucial ways so that she can partner with him. She is the counterpart that makes procreation possible—without Eve, Adam could not produce children and populate the earth. God saw that it was not good for man (ish) to be alone 2:18 so God made a counterpart to Adam, a partner to help him. Adam responded with jubilant words: this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. He was delighted, thrilled; overjoyed would not be too strong. He called her (issah) in verse 23. And women since have found a sense of worth and value in their partnership with their husbands.
But perhaps the greatest evidence of the worth of a woman is that God our Redeemer considered us valuable enough to send his one and only Son to redeem us from our fallen condition because he loves us. It cost God everything to save us, but he did it because he considered women of such great value.
In spite of our sin, God wanted relationship with us and he provided the way through his own Son’s sacrifice. He sent his Son to the cross because of our worth to him. We were dirty, hungry, playing in the dirt, ignorant of God and his purposes, ungrateful, and unresponsive, and yet he loved us first. He sent his Son to be pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and it is by his wounds that we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
It took the wounds of the Healer to make women whole. And that has to mean women have worth, great worth.
Women are of great worth in God’s eyes. Seeing ourselves, and others, as God sees us is living in truth. Not “truth” that our cultures decrees, but God’s truth. Yes, women are sinful, frail, and shameful at times, but we are made in his image with inherent and assigned worth, and with a value so great that the Lord Jesus himself died for us.
Thanks be to God.
The Peace and Love Hippie Hostel is one of Paris’ most budget-friendly, a dingy sanctuary for under-showered backpackers. It was there that I met Derrick. Derrick didn’t believe in organized religion. Derrick didn’t believe in unorganized religion. Derrick believed in marijuana, and that marijuana alone gave life meaning. One factor that drove Derrick to find meaning in chemicals rather than Christ was, quite frankly, Christ’s people—the church. In Derrick’s own words, “Whatever the world can do, Christians can do ten years later and worse.” He went on to cite Christian music, movies, literature, and church trends that struck him as derivative, contrived, inauthentic, shallow, and kitsch. The big irony was how so many of these Christian endeavors were aimed precisely at being relevant to guys like Derrick. The harder the church tried to be relevant, the more irrelevant she became.
THE RELEVANCE QUESTION
Behind this irony lies a question that is both good and dangerous. It is what we may call the “Relevance Question,” which asks: What would it look like for us, as believers, to be relevant to unbelievers? We don’t want the Derricks of the world to see us as a quirky tribe of xenophobes. So in answering the Relevance Question we usually come up with a projection of what we think those unbelievers out there are like. Once we think we’ve got a good grip on the tastes and preferences of our unbelieving target demographic, we take the Relevance Question further: we reinvent how we do Christianity so that what we’re selling coincides with what they’re buying. As perceived demand shapes what we supply, innovative church models begin to emerge. We make Jesus relevant again.
Or do we?
Not according to Derrick and the many like him. With the Relevance Question as the first step in our journey, our final destination is irrelevance. Sure the Relevance Question has its place (e.g., Paul didn’t speak Hebrew on Mars Hill or cite the Stoic philosophers in the synagogues). The Relevance Question is a good question; it is just not to be the first question. When relevance is our first priority we end up powered not by the Spirit of Christ, but the spirit of the age. There is a more fundamental question we must face squarely together. Before asking what relevance looks like to this or that culture (or subculture), we must first ask “Who is the Jesus we exist to reverently worship and reflect with our lives?” Let us call this the “Reverence Question.”
WHEN RELEVENCE TRUMPS REVERENCE
I briefly highlight four effects of putting the Relevance Question ahead of the Reverence question:
1. We alienate anyone who doesn’t fit the bill. If we start with a drive to be relevant to postmoderns, then we become instantly irrelevant to anyone who still puts faith in science, still values logical propositions, or holds out hope for objective truth. If we assume that postmodernism is in the oval office of ideas in Western culture (and that’s debatable), there are still protesters in the streets who voted for the other guy. Don’t all these people need the Gospel too?
2. We play a never-ending game of follow the leader. Like every other “ism” created by human minds, postmodernism’s days are numbered. One day the polls will come in and some new “ism” will be sworn into office—post-postmodernism. Eventually we will realize that our postmodern church is yesterday’s news, ask the Relevance Question all over again, and dream up a post-postmodern church. In this train-of-thought, the church has made herself the caboose, always trailing distantly behind culture. What’s even more of a problem is that culture itself has become the engine, pulling the church caboose along. Shouldn’t Jesus be our engine, and His Word the tracks we follow into the future?
3. We present a torn portrait of Jesus to the world. Postmoderns, so we are told, value the image over the word, mystery over certainty, questions over answers, the relational over the rational. So the relevance-driven church follows suit. If post-postmodernism one day swings the pendulum back toward reason and objectivity, then what happens to the relevance-driven church? She packs her candles and icons in storage, swaps out story-telling time with serious study time, and replaces open questions with closed answers. Yet Christ is simultaneously relational and rational. He used words and images, mysteries and certainties, questions and answers. When we begin with the Relevance Question, we allow cultural trends to determine which few aspects of our multidimensional Christ the church expresses. Shouldn’t we be displaying a wider spectrum of Jesus’ radiance to the watching world?
4. We lose sight of the chief end of everything. The chief end not only of man, but of everything—waterfalls, education, subatomic particles, romance, art, science, food, sleep, golfing, mountains, humor, tears, etc.— is to glorify God. Driven by the conviction that “the aim and final end of all music is none other than the glory of God” Johann Sebastian Bach created some of the most original, powerful, and beautiful music ever composed. Imagine, however, if he saw the “aim and final end of all music” as being relevant to a culture that likes music. What if the primary factor determining where Bach’s dots fell on the score sheet was not glorifying an infinite God, but merely making something that people would like? Do you think that his music would have been as powerful? Me neither. There is a profound difference between the art motivated by adoration for God and that motivated by the approval of people. Shouldn’t worship be the deepest motive behind every thought we think, word we speak, and sound we make?
BECOMING TRULY SEEKER-SENSITIVE
In sum: live a life of authentic reverence for Jesus and you become relevant to the watching world. Live your life to become relevant and you become both irreverent to Jesus and irrelevant to the watching world. Let me say again, the Relevance Question is a good question; it is just not to be the first question. Before we ruminate on how to reach seekers, we must focus on how to revere the Great Seeker, the God who seeks worshippers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). You exist “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12-14), “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you” (2 Thessalonians 1:12), that your life and mine would shout together Paul’s anthem “to Him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36)!
God’s role as a divine warrior is most likely one of his more neglected characteristics. Some today have gone so far as to reject any talk today about God being a divine warrior, viewing it as tired metaphor that should be retired. But most Christians have simply stopped thinking of God as one who fights. Not only does it not seem to mesh well with the picture of the peaceful Jesus but it is also out of step with most of contemporary culture. In spite of these concerns, looking at the martial actions of YHWH in the Old Testament (YHWH is a transliteration of God’s name in Hebrew) can help us understand better the God that we serve.
One of the most important aspects of YHWH as a divine warrior is why he fights: to combat injustice and bring order to the world. The first major battle YHWH fights in the Old Testament is against the Egyptians in the exodus (the topic of my dissertation). YHWH does not fight them because he hates the Egyptians, but to rescue Israel from Egyptian oppression. Many other examples could be given from the Old Testament of God rescuing his people when they called out for help in the midst of oppression.
While the idea of a divine warrior might seem quaint to many today, I think that we have retained the concept but changed its form. The basic idea of a divine warrior is calling on someone outside the “system” to come and fix a problem inside the system. The Israelites saw no way within the system of ancient Egypt that they would be rescued (for example, the law courts would rule on their behalf to stop their oppression), so they appealed to their God, a divine warrior who was greater than the system. Today, action movies provide a way to dream about various solutions to the problems of our contemporary world from “outside the system.”
The 2012 movie Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise, portrays the adventures of a former military policeman who brings justice to an innocent man convicted of murder by finding the true criminal through legally suspicious means. The tagline illustrates the desire for a divine warrior: “The law has limits. He does not.” When the system (in this case, the legal system) does not work, we desire someone or something outside of it to fix the problem. The scene in Iron Man in which Tony Stark rescues the civilians from the terrorist attack is a similar dream about solving a contemporary problem from outside the system. We may not call on divine warriors today, but many of our solutions for injustice sound suspiciously like divine warriors, such as American military strength, the UN, or technology in general (watch the original Star Trek TV series from the 1960’s for the belief that science can solve most of the world’s problems).
Even though our systems often work quite well, we still see a world that is badly broken. We can partially heal this broken world, and I am excited to hear stories about Christians doing just that (including many Biola graduates!). However, ultimately we need a divine warrior to come and permanently end injustice and bring order to our broken world. The end of our Bibles portrays just such a picture: Jesus the divine warrior returning to earth in glory (Rev 19). As we are surrounded by injustice and cruelty, we look forward to that day when the divine warrior will come to set everything right.
“Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18 NASB).
Why is sexual sin singled out as uniquely damaging to the body in a way that other physical actions are not? Substance abuse, gluttony, cutting—these are all harmful acts to the body, but they do not do what sexual misconduct does, according to Paul. Typical responses from students to explain this exception are that sex involves the whole person, or maybe because it involves someone else. The same could be said for illegal drug use, so there must be something more.
A theology of the human body indicates that the purpose of the body is for relationship with God, creation, and other people. The body is our bridge to created reality (Francis Schaeffer). Through the body we are vulnerable to pain and threat, and through the body we communicate, respond, work, and experience life in the world.
Sexual misconduct, of the sort that Paul rebukes at Corinth (where the men were going to temple prostitutes), somehow violates and damages the body in a way that other actions do not. The exception seems to be because of the body’s purpose for relationship. Sexual misconduct takes the body and joins it to anther person for a short-term or otherwise illicit relationship apart from the commitment of marriage. The body’s purpose in sexuality is to facilitate a man and woman living as “one flesh.” Sexual misconduct denies that purpose, and cuts the body off from bonding to another. Sexual misconduct disorients, frustrates, and confuses the body from fulfilling its God-given purpose in physical bonding.
Physical bonding through the body is the means that serves the goal of marriage as a “one flesh” relationship. Sexual misconduct separates the means from the end. This devalues the body’s purpose to be of only a little worth in the person’s life (for gratification of desires) and nothing more. This, I think, is why sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body like no other sin.
The separation of means from the end or purpose in sexual misconduct is like bulimia nervosa, in which the afflicted person separates the means of consuming food from the end of nourishment for the body. With sexual misconduct, a marriage is not served, and the commitment of an enduring “one flesh” relationship is not supported.
The separation of means from ends is also why pornography, masturbation, and sexual fantasy (lust) are harmful. The person indulging in these practices has separated the body’s purpose as a means to relationship from the end of serving that interpersonal commitment of a marriage. These forms of sexual misconduct resemble the binging on food that often accompanies bulimia. Just as these practices of physical bonding make it no longer about committed marriage relationship of “one flesh,” so also bulimia makes the eating of food in a binge not about nourishment at all, but about control and enslavement to appetite.
This does not mean that sexual sin is the worst of all sins, just that it is a sin that particularly damages the body. The designation of sexual sin as the darkest of all sinful categories, perhaps because of this biblical passage, seems to have contributed to unhelpful shame about sexual misconduct, and proper sexual conduct as expressed in marriage.
 Gregg R. Allison, “Toward a Theology of Human Embodiment,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 13.2 (2009): 4-17.
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