Review: Jesus and Gender: Living as Sisters and Brothers in Christ

Review: Jesus and Gender: Living as Sisters and Brothers in Christ

Jesus and Gender
Published: 2022-04-06
Page Count: 288
Loving one another as sisters and brothers in Jesus Many Christian women and men carry heavy burdens. Much teaching on gender relations, roles, and rules binds the conscience beyond what Scripture actually teaches. Gender has become a battleground for power. But God created men and women not to compete for glory but to cooperate for his glory. In Jesus and Gender, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher paint a new vision for gender--Christ's gentle and lowly…

What do you do when you tire of labels that you feel are misrepresented and therefore poorly understood? You might champion for a new label that you can define yourself.

That’s sort of what Elyse and Eric have done here. In an attempt to move away from the large swaths  of material that is written about being Christian men and women, they adopt (though, they admit, are not the inventors of) the term ‘Christic’ to describe the out-workings of their theology. It’s fine to do that. I never love it when people try and do that. I’m reminded of many years ago when there was a concerted effort in some circles to distinguish between ‘Christian’ and ‘Christ follower’. I get what they were trying to do, but, definitionally, the terms mean the same thing. And some words (like ‘Christian’) I would argue are worth fighting for.

Definitions aside, this is an incredible book that unpacks how Christians ought to live as sisters and brothers in Christ. It is vast in what it covers. It is accessible and applicable. It does everything you would want a thoughtful book on this topic to do.

Elyse and Eric recount how they were inspired by Michelle Lee-Barnewall’s book, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian. (Having now been introduced to that book, I’m currently working my way through that, too). The premise of Jesus & Gender (drawn from Lee-Barnewall’s book) is that the old debates around what it means to be biblical men and women have been framed poorly. The debates have centred on questions of ‘rights’ and ‘authority’, and especially focused on two questions – What are women allowed to do? What are women not allowed to do?

Jesus & Gender says that there is a better way. Drawing on the example of Christ given in Philippians 2, Elyse & Eric propose that, instead of asking “Who gets to be the boss?” type questions, we should ask “How can I live a life of self-emptying love?”.

For me, it was a rather new and refreshing take. I confess I’ve not spent a lot of time considering the topic previously. I was, somewhat by association, influence by people like John Piper. I’ve read (parts of) Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I’ve found as much in that to disagree with as I’ve agreed with. But I hadn’t really had the means or opportunity to think deeply about the matter until now.

This book provides an excellent – and tempered – critique of the views espoused in Piper’s contribution. It’s a thoroughly Biblical and thoughtful contribution. It walks step-by-step through some of its chapters to unpack how Christ ought to be the primary means of shaping how we understand being a man or woman, and a brother or sister in Christ.

Who wrote it

Elyse is an American Christian author and speaker, with training in Biblical Counselling.

Eric is an author and songwriter, and the Pastoral Ministry Director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa.

Why I read it

I think I stumbled upon this when looking for things to read on gender, and it appeared to be highly rated, with some promising endorsements. I have discovered the the topic of gender is a rather narrow (and somewhat neglected) field of theological study. And some of what is written can, at times, feel closer to ‘culture war’ material than thoughtful theological reflection. So I appreciated discovering this one.

What I liked

This book is excellent. It is a compelling, convicting and definitive book on the subject. It deserves to be more widely read.

While exploring complex issues, the book remains readily accessible to the average reader right throughout. It’s well reasoned and takes a step-by-step approach through some important passages that outline the Biblical imperative to self-emptying love as demonstrated and modelled by Jesus.

I really liked this paragraph that appears later in the book:

The first thing we should note is that the Scripture never tells the husband to “be the head of your wife.” Not even close. Nor is the husband ever exhorted to “lead” his wife or be the “spiritual leader” in the family. Some extrapolate “lead” from the wife’s call to submit. But that is simply an extrapolation. Others extrapolate “spiritual leader” from Paul’s admonition to love one’s wife as Christ loved the church “with the washing of the water by the word” (Eph 5:26). But again, these are merely extrapolations, not the clear intent of Paul’s letter.

This provided me with thoughts and words I had been struggling to bring together. But it left open a gaping question in my mind. Only moments earlier, they had quoted Ephesians 5:23, which says

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

I was left wrestling with trying to hold Ephesians together with their comment. Is the husband the head, or not? Has their whole argument fallen apart?

So, I reached out. I tried to articulate what I thought they meant, and found a way to contact the authors to ask them if I had understood them correctly. They were wonderfully kind in following up my question, when they had no need to do so. Big thanks to them both for their generosity!

So what answer am I left with?

Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:23 is not a command but rather an illustration. That husbands are not told/commanded to ‘be’ the head, but rather to ‘image’ Christ in a particular way as a ‘head’. And therefore, husbands aren’t necessarily leaders in a marriage, rather Paul is simply illustrating that husbands and wives each image Christ in a marriage in different ways (husbands as head, wives as bodies). The illustration is there to both suggest that we are united in our task to image Christ, but distinct in that we do it differently. And we are left with much freedom in terms of practical application for this. That’s where I land at the time of writing this. But don’t hold me to this view in future!

What I didn’t

The book shies away from attempting to unpack some of the most controversial passages on gender. I was hoping to find some detailed exploration on 1 Timothy 2, but it was not to be found. However, that’s perhaps more a personal disappointment than a sign of a flaw in the book. I think what they write is good and compelling, and didn’t need an extended comment on that particular passage.

Major Takeaway

This quote sums up well the position of the book:

But Jesus was neither a feminist nor a patriarchist; nor was he complementarian or egalitarian. He simply wasn’t interested in trying to build a worldly kingdom or attain a position of power for himself. And he never encouraged anyone else to do so, either.

And a great example of how they land:

What we are saying is that any stereotypical straightjacketing of gender in any way is harmful, exasperating, disheartening, and completely unbiblical. Our children don’t need to be taught how to be masculine or feminine. This isn’t Sparta or Athens. This is the New Jerusalem, and our children need to be taught the lifegiving, soul-nourishing freedom of justification through faith alone.

Who should read it

It’s written in a way that is well accessible to many Christians, and deserves to be read widely. For anyone looking for a book on the topic of theologically unpacking gender, this is a must read.

3.5Overall Score

Jesus and Gender

What do you do when you tire of labels that you feel are misrepresented and therefore poorly understood? You might champion for a new label that you can define yourself. That's sort of what ...

  • Difficulty to read
    Straight forward, accessible and interesting.
  • Overall Rating
    An excellent contribution that deserves a wide reading.

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