C.S. Lewis said that we are more easily beguiled and led astray by statements that are mostly, but not entirely, true. An inaccuracy is made more potent by being comprised largely of truth. This is often the case when it comes to popular Christian literature on what it means to be male or female.
For example, one prominent evangelical leader says that the essence of femininity is submission to God. This sounds right, doesn’t it? As devoted Christian women, we long to please God and so we strive to be submissive. Yet, Jesus was totally submissive to God. Does that make Jesus feminine? Aren’t men supposed to be submissive to God too? Perhaps we are misguided because such comments are partially true.
Confusion over gender is a very real problem, as noted by one CBE academic. After disguising the fruit of the Spirit (mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23), this professor asked her class to identify the attributes as either feminine or masculine. Can you guess what they said? They said all are feminine attributes. Should not all Christians, both male and female, be known as bearing the fruit of the Spirit? Why do we seem so eager to delineate these attributes along gender lines?
Another popular Christian leader, John Eldredge, has written a book called Wild at Heart. In his book, he tells us that men have a desperate desire to find “a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue.” Men, he says, are born with a lust for adventure, “with all its requisite danger and wildness.” While men must know they are powerful, Eldredge claims women must know they are beautiful, that they are “worth fighting for.”
Here is another example of attributing to one gender alone what we all share as human beings. To be human is to be born with a God-given desire to be joined to something larger than oneself. However, at times we seem more interested in our gender than we are in being Christians.
While perhaps not everyone craves a wild adventure, Dorothy Sayers suggests in her book Are Women Human? that all human beings are born with an innate desire for meaningful work. I think we would all agree. Both Scripture as well as history are replete with examples of men and women who have invested their lives in purposeful activity, in the great adventure of serving the living God. Both men and women have been given gifts to participate in the largest battle of all — the building of Christ’s church. And in so doing, both men and women rescue a great beauty — the gospel. Regardless of the risks, both men and women have counted their lives as nothing for the sake of Christ’s church.
This is one reason I delight in bringing to life the contributions women have made throughout the history of the church. Maybe I should call my lectures “Brave-Hearted Women,” in an effort to tell the entire story — that to be a Christian, regardless of race, class or gender, is to embark on a gospel adventure of epic proportion. We are all risk-takers for Jesus by virtue of being called by his name. By rehearsing the contributions women have made on the mission field, as scholars, Bible translators, martyrs, administrators, church leaders and reformers, we provide a glimpse of what humans can achieve when born of the Spirit!
Through telling the story of brave-hearted women, I see a power unleashed. By recalling the contributions of those who have used their gifts faithfully, we cast vision that empowers others to do the same. Moreover, even a short sample of church history brings a reality check to such notions that men alone possess leadership gifts; that men alone have served as Bible scholars and translators; and that men alone have a passion for adventure. From the pages of history, we learn that both men and women preached the gospel and died as martyrs. To be created in God’s image and born of the Spirit is to be endowed with abilities for that great adventure, and these gifts, we are told by Paul, are never delineated along gender lines.
We are all brave-hearted if our lives are submitted to our Lord Jesus. We can all hope for an epic journey because our Lord leads us to the cross — the greatest epic of all!