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Tuesday, October 07, 2008
"True" Femininity?
The following comes from Part 1 in a Q&A with Jani Ortlund on the Gender Blog at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Jani wrote Fearlessly Feminine: Boldly Living God's Plan for Womanhood.

GB: How would you define femininity?

Ortlund: Femininity and masculinity lie at the very core of humanity. God created us male and female, so if I don't understand the difference, it is very hard for me to embrace my own uniqueness. John Piper really helps me with this. He says this: At the heart of true femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships. I take those three words—affirming, receiving and nurturing—as the core of femininity. I affirm those around me. I receive leadership willingly, lovingly, joyfully. I receive others into my sphere, into my home and then I nurture them. From conception all the way through life, we as women are to be nurturers. So that to me is at the core of femininity. Beyond that, throughout all of Scripture, God paints for us a picture of what a woman looks like. From Eve all the way through the book of Revelation, we see women and he says, "This is the kind of woman I honor and lift up and this is the kind of woman I discipline"' I want to be on the honoring side, so I look to Scripture for that.

Don't comments like, " I receive leadership willingly, lovingly, joyfully" imply that women are somehow excluded from leadership on the basis of their gender? E.g., a female leader is "unfeminine"? What does Ortlund do with women who have the spiritual gift of leadership (see Eph. 4)? Or is this gift exclusive to men?

"From conception all the way through life, we as women are to be nurturers. So that to me is at the core of femininity."

An accurate statement? A biblically sound model? What do you think?

There's more. Check out the CBMW Gender Blog here: http://www.cbmw.org/Blog

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posted by Euodia at 7:45 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 10/07/2008 08:11:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    "I receive leadership willingly, lovingly, joyfully"

    Isn't this something that everyChristian should be doing?

    There's something holy about (consensually) submitting to (healthy) leadership.

  • At 10/07/2008 10:09:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    No, I don't think this is accurate either from a scientific or Biblical perspective. My own take on the women referenced across scripture is that most often they are women of rather questionable background or behavior...women independent, scrappy, ingenuitive and courageous. They were a lot more than "nurturing". I think being nurturant is an admirable quality but it is amazing that this is broadly attributed to the heroines of the Bible. Data on femininity and the qualities associated with it do not single out nurturing as the only or the most important one either. One of the qualities most discussed in the literature is actually the feminine or womanly quality of relationality. Finally, let's remember that feminine and masculine traits are present to varying degrees in both men and women. Men can be incredibly nurturing too. Fortunately for us all, we are far more complicated and wonderful beings than this unidimensional proposition. Why would God create us with such apparent diversity if only one quality is to be prized and honored by God?

  • At 10/08/2008 06:38:00 AM, Blogger Deb

    "I affirm those around me. I receive leadership willingly, lovingly, joyfully. I receive others into my sphere, into my home and then I nurture them."

    Sounds like something ANY Christian, male or female, should ascribe to being. Not particularly a "feminine" description. But, let me go back to my Woman Cave and think about it. ;)


  • At 10/08/2008 06:51:00 AM, Blogger Tami Martin

    When you ask someone to define a word they've used, you can usually tell that they don't know what it means when they use the word itself as the definition.

    In this case, to define femininity in relationship to masculinity this way says that there is nothing unique about femininity. It's just a mirror for masculinity. You know those folks can define what it means to be masculine. They have actual character terms to use. It makes no sense to me at all that so many buy this definition of feminine with NO qualities of its own.

  • At 10/08/2008 07:16:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    I just re-read this whole bit. Last night, I was watching the presidential debate as I read it and responded. I see I missed a couple of points as a result of my divided attention. Tami, you are right on in your assessment regarding the approach that has been taken to define femininity. This is a throwback to what women's studies scholars have rejected for the past three decades: femininity is NOT to be defined by masculinity and especially, masculine traits are not to be the gold standard by which all else is evaluated. There seems to be a unidirectional emphasis at work here that comes from that "woman as helpmate" line of thinking. As though affirmation, nurturance and acceptance should not be a gift offered equally and freely between a man and a woman. It is frustrating and concerning to see the backwards movement in this regard.

  • At 10/08/2008 10:12:00 AM, Blogger wit4life

    It's interesting to relate this issue with the study of the Trinity, as I have to study and research that currently.

    If we could experience unity and love as God does, there would be unity and hierarchy without subordination. (You may recall Augustine's work on this) Sounds oxymoronic, but it's true, as we see in the divine economics of God (vs. the ontology of God) This was carried of in the purposed work of Christ and the Holy Spirit then, and now, in and through the church. Equal in essence, power, and different in function.

    I think women can and should be leaders as their giftedness allows.

    The other perspective is that feminine qualities gift women naturally to help/lead other women better. And nurturing is a natural gift to women. This may be true, but I think in a generality laid on too thickly.

    Sadly, our Christian economics of leadership and christian community may have abuses, and not reflect the beauty and love we see reflected in model shown within divinity.

    Shall we then *all* do Paul's words, and submit to each other in love? Yes, please. We should, indeed. God, help us. God, make us one. Make us Holy as you are Holy.

  • At 10/08/2008 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    I really can't stand absolutizing statements like this. What about the women who aren't nuturers (or the men who are). These are character traits, not gender traits.

  • At 10/08/2008 04:45:00 PM, Anonymous elle

    The four women mentioned by Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah's wife (Bathsheba)--three gentiles and a woman who plays a prostitute in order to get pregnant. And to "uncover the feet," as Ruth does to Boaz, has some less-than-pure connotations. If the biblical ideal was women who never bucked the system or challenged the powers that be, then Matthew definitely missed that memo.

    Understandings like this seem to mistake Churchianity for Christianity, but then again, they'd probably say I'm a heretic...

  • At 10/08/2008 06:13:00 PM, Blogger la_fleur_epuisee

    I'm increasingly convinced that all these books we Christ-followers write defining biblical womanhood (or even further, definining "essential femininity") is beside the point and distracting. That's not to say that we shouldn't be grappling with our gender roles as they relate to our contemporary cultures and scriptures, but how-to manuals and manifestos strike me as unavoidably limiting.

    Why don't we refocus our attention, like several commenters have mentioned, on what we should ALL be doing -- mutual submission, love for God and neighbor, and the use of our unique gifts? It seems to me that such a focus allows for women and men--married and single--to utilize their gifts and talents in obedience to the Great Commandment without struggling to fit into pre-determined boxes.

    I'm also struck by how western, middle-class, and white many of the assumptions of these books tend to be, and how steeped in values systems of comfort, nuclear family insularity, and individualism that are--as far as I can tell--antithetical to the gospel.

    So there.

  • At 10/08/2008 08:54:00 PM, Blogger Euodia

    Great comments, all!

  • At 10/08/2008 11:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Lots here to agree with! Especially, the comment that books like these tend to be distracting and beside the point. I know Paul's "there is no male or female in Christ" verse is used a lot, but I can't help thinking that this is exactly the kind of thing he wanted to prevent: how to manuals that contribute to hierarchies and works oriented faith.

    I like this sentence better:
    "I give and receive leadership willingly, lovingly, joyfully." :]

  • At 10/09/2008 06:31:00 AM, Anonymous elle

    "I'm also struck by how western, middle-class, and white many of the assumptions of these books tend to be, and how steeped in values systems of comfort, nuclear family insularity, and individualism that are--as far as I can tell--antithetical to the gospel."

    You're so right. One of my closest friends (white, American) lives in Haiti and has become really uncomfortable with the language of call because she says it's too much of a luxury for most of the world and too independent for the rest. With whom and from where we read the text matters a lot.

  • At 10/12/2008 10:55:00 AM, Blogger Joe

    It really rubs me up the wrong way when I hear all this talk about 'womanhood' and 'manhood' and 'roles'. It's just a way of male church leaders seeking to make women do what they want and to stop women from doing their God given calling in the Body of Christ,i.e be leaders and teachers and evangelsits and pastors etc etc etc.

    I always ask the question, when Jesus returns and establishes His Kingdom, what will humanity be like? I believe we will all be equal with no-one 'head' over anyone else. If that is what the future will look like, surely we are to model that future reality now in the Church!



  • At 10/13/2008 01:42:00 PM, Blogger Euodia

    ((I like this sentence better:
    "I give and receive leadership willingly, lovingly, joyfully." :]))

    Same here.

  • At 10/14/2008 03:42:00 PM, Blogger Jessica Smith

    I truly believe that all (man and women) carry traits of God the Father. Ish and Isha in the Greek meaning Ish-for man, and Isha-man with a womb. Each of us are made with talents, gifts, and characteristics that are as unique and as different as the snow flakes that drift downward on a cold blistery day.

    Are we to honor each other, love one another, weep with those who weep and be joyful with others in their joyful times? Yes, The Apostle Paul encourages this very thing. To live in unity as the Body of Christ, uplifting one another, until His return.

    So all this to say, that even being a woman, we reflect the nature of God, yet in a very personal and special way.

    There is a difference between submission and being taken advantage of. I submit to those who are in authority over me, no matter what gender they are. Being taken advantage of and thought of to be a certain way in ministry, or as a woman is not Biblical.

    ~Jessica Smith

  • At 10/14/2008 09:20:00 PM, Blogger kirsten

    i have such a hard time understanding why so many are bent on defining femininity in relation to masculinity, and why there is so much emphasis on Christian men & women embodying what these things mean. these traits are at least in part defined by the culture one inhabits. i'll never forget listening to a speaker in college about a decade ago who quite emphatically stated, "God wants men to be masculine and women to be feminine." what does this even mean? i'm still not completely sure. and honestly, i'm not certain that what God is primarily concerned with is that His children are being "masculine men" and "feminine women".

    i would add my voice to those who are saying that every Christian should "receive leadership willingly, lovingly, joyfully" and with fear and trembling, be good stewards of the unique giftings God has planted in each of us for His own specific purposes. likewise, the Church should not permit antiquated notions of those virtues specifically designated as "masculine" or "feminine" to hinder anyone from living out of the giftedness God has given them.

  • At 10/17/2008 03:55:00 AM, Anonymous Sarah

    I'd love to see a response to this that includes scripture.

    Being as though her claim asserted scripture, I had assumed a counter claim would be rooted in scripture as well.

  • At 10/18/2008 11:57:00 AM, Blogger W

    In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

    Galatians 3:28-29

    "In 1987, a group of pastors and scholars assembled to address their concerns over the influence of feminism not only in our culture but also in evangelical churches. Because of the widespread compromise of biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood and its tragic effects on the home and the church, these men and women established The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

    In opposition to the growing movement of feminist egalitarianism they articulated what is now known as the complementarian position which affirms that men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function.

    In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men."

    --Excerpt from the intro page on CBMW's site

    You want to know what I think? It's awfully fishy that CBMW's "complementarian" position just so happens to exclude women from leadership roles in church. It sounds a bit like separate but equal. Separate but equal has been tried in the United States and it was nothing of the sort even from the very beginning. Same with CBMW.

  • At 10/18/2008 08:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Make no mistake about it: CBMW was formed specifically to refute Christians for Biblical Equality. They have yet to effectively do so, though I suppose they do get points for trying. The best thing they do, IMO, is often supplying the proof that their entire platform is proof-texted, right in their own articles' footnotes. And notice that they post NO dissenting opinions to their official party line.

    And then, there are plenty of Christians (those who claim Christ, at any rate) who consider CBMW "sold out" to feminism; they're considered not patriarchal enough to suit the hard-core patriarchalists.

    That's something else to consider about so-called "biblical" patriarchy, in all its many packages: it's all over the map, with only some degree of abridgment of freedom for women in common. There is absolutely no consensus on what "biblical womanhood" and "biblical manhood" entail, among the proponents of these concepts.

    By contrast, biblical equality is so very simple; its basis is found in contextually sound scriptural study. You just don't find the circular reasoning and wide variance of interpretation in biblical equality that you do in "complementarianism." CBMW would have us believe otherwise, but it's really quite revealing to see how many people claim to be "complementarians" who say CBMW's version of the abridgment of freedom for women is not reflective of their beliefs. I guess it's a case of everyone under that umbrella deciding whatever they want to believe when it comes to what freedom men should enjoy but women should not.


  • At 10/20/2008 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Glass-Turner

    I'm a Christian feminist for life who doesn't mind being shown chivalry; I don't expect a man to hold a door open for me when my arms are full, but if he does, I appreciate it.

    Of course, I appreciate it if a woman holds the door open.

    I am convinced now, more than ever, that being created male or female is a beautiful thing; and that women and men should not confine themselves to some folks' perception of biblically defined gender roles.

    I understand that many people who take that view aren't trying to bully; nonetheless, the basic evidence points to the fact that there were, and are, women gifted with leadership. Why, then, would God give gifts of leading to women if it were merely a masculine trait? I know some women have been wounded by extreme forms of feminism, and take solace in the notion of biblically mandated gender roles.

    I, for one, look forward to hearing stories from women who exercise their gifts and talents without restraint - freely, joyfully, and for the blessings of others.

  • At 10/20/2008 03:52:00 PM, Blogger himmiefan

    Don't waste your time reading anyting from CBMW. Bunch of nuts who really don't "get" Christianity.

  • At 11/15/2008 09:31:00 PM, Anonymous Beth

    I believe living outside your own, individual area of giftedness -- regardless of gender -- results in your life being less fulfilling to you, less meaningful to others and disappointing to your Savior.

    He gives the gifts He chooses to each of us. Our decision is how we will steward them. How tragic if something as insignificant as our chromosome pairing could limit our answer to that high call.

    I have served in churches where that has not been the sentiment and, frankly, have struggled with the guilt that comes from feeling like I was not "right" because my gifts called me into leadership outside the home. But, God has confirmed for me repeatedly that He, alone, is my judge; I am accountable to Him for how I use my gifts -- not to any man (or woman). And, the fruits from my life have borne witness to God’s pleasure with the path I have taken.

    There is so much that needs to be accomplished to see the harvest brought into the storehouse in these last days. Can we really afford to limit how and where the workers labor? If it honors God and furthers His cause, can it possibly make a difference who's accomplishing it?

  • At 11/25/2008 02:02:00 PM, Blogger Shauna

    Could you look at a paper I wrote for my writing class about women? Thanks!


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