Message 3, God's Design for Male & Female (Pre-Conference):
Recent changes to the definition of marriage and shifting standards regarding gender identity have developed at an unprecedented rate. In this session, Dr. Albert Mohler sets forth the biblical teaching on manhood and womanhood, explaining why issues such as gender and marriage are not social or individual constructs but divinely instituted norms for all humanity.
Some of the most bitter feuds in America have been feuds between women who were authors. Evidently, that’s an opportunity for tremendous conflict. One of the celebrated literary feuds was between Clare Boothe Luce and Dorothy Parker. They once met by accident at the opening of the Condé Nast Building. Claire Boothe Luce opened the door — Dorothy Parker was about to come through — and she said, “Age before beauty.” Parker repeated, “Pearls before swine.”
But another one of those feuds was between two women of the left, Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman. And at one point, Mary McCarthy was so upset over something Lillian Hellman had written she said, “Lillian Hellman writes nothing but lies. Every word that she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”
The title of my time with you is “God’s Design for Male and Female,” and every word of that title is controversial, including, most especially, “male” and “female.” But it’s controversial from the start because it actually says everything. Every once in while, a title actually declares in itself basically everything you need to know.
It begins with who defines reality, the very author of that reality. It goes back to the fact that, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and He is the ultimate authority for everything that will follow. And then the word “design.” And, and you would think well if you know anything, anything about the worldview of Scripture, then there would not only be the knowledge that God has a design that is reflected in the totality of His Creation and especially in His human creatures but that, if it’s God design, it’s determinative.
If it’s God’s design, then it’s absolute. And not only that, the biblical worldview reminds us that, if it’s God’s design, it simultaneously displays His glory and is for our good, for human flourishing. And then you get to those words “male” and “female.” I want you to ponder for a moment the crisis point at which we have arrived. When we are witnessing the breaking down even of language.
We’re in the midst of a vast social and moral revolution that’s reshaping the world all around us and it’s reshaping it in ways that are quite visible, sometimes quite controversial. And so, we can see these things. And so, the, the, the sexual revolution that was born earlier in terms of a gender revolution has given way to an entire alphabet soup of revolutions, of which the transgender revolution is the latest representation. But when we see things in the headlines, as thinking Christians, we’ve got to think back to what’s behind this.
So just recently, in suburban Chicago, Illinois, the U.S Department of Education has required, by means of federal coercive law, a school district there in the suburbs of Chicago to allow someone who was born a boy but now identifies as a girl to have free, unrestricted access to the girls’ locker room in the high school, and the restroom, and the changing rooms, and all the rest.
Just after Valentine’s Day, the New York Times ran an article this year on, on the etiquette of how to refer to spouses, partners, people in same-sex relationships, including same-sex marriage. And they raise all the issues, you know, that, that, that husband and wife just don’t work. Oh, and by the way, why do husband and wife not work? Because “husband and wife” implies what cannot be, in a same-sex relationship. But it’s really awkward to have “wife and wife” and “husband and husband,” so they’re trying to come up with something. So they had serious proposals, you know, one person saying, “This is my wusband.”
Now the New York Times was not running this as a piece of even social commentary really or, certainly not as something intended to be humorous. But this is where language is breaking down all around us. Several years ago in Sweden the moral revolutionaries decided to be very clear about the fact that “he” and “she,” those gender specific pronouns, were no longer acceptable in a society that doesn’t accept “binaries.” That’s what we’re being told now — there are no “gender binaries.”
And so they came up not with just “he” and “she,” but what was, in the equivalent of the Swedish language, was “ze.” And, you know that seemed like Sweden. That’s a long way off. It’s cold there and secularized. And so we looked at that and we thought, “Well, you know, secularized, cold Sweden — they may be so confused as to need “ze.”
But, a matter of just a few months ago, an official office at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville — let’s just point out that’s not Sweden — put out a set of suggested policies at the University of Tennessee. They were later rescinded by the President, but that’s not important.
What’s important is that they were plausible, and actually put in place first. And in which it was suggested that a professor’s responsibility is not only to get to know students by name but on a regular basis — as regular as might be needful — to ask of their “preferred personal pronoun.” And one of them was “ze.” I couldn’t help it. Responding to it, I simply said, “Zis is crazy!”
This is, this is the breakdown of all meaning and it is truly horrifying if we understand it because we’ve now reached the point where words that are required not only for the stability of language but for the stability of meaning are now being subverted, and it comes right down to words like “male” and “female,” “husband” and “wife,” “boy” and “girl.”
Now at the worldview level, one of the things we need to recognize is that this is inevitable and it is not going to stop. When I say it’s inevitable, it’s because what we are witnessing, in this revolution taking place around us is a meltdown of all fixed categories. And one of the things we need to keep in mind — in terms of the Christian worldview — is that, once you set loose toxins like this on a society, that can’t be limited to one issue.
And so even some of those who were pressing for the legalization of same-sex marriage, they said that’s all they want — the legalization of same-sex marriage. But what they set loose is something that won’t end with the legalization of same-sex marriage; it will extend, by its own logic, to any number or all number of other permutations that are imaginable.
But what’s at the very center of this is not so much the creation of something new — which we don’t even believe is real but, nonetheless, we understand is now a legal reality — it is the denial of what is actually real. It is not just that, in this culture, there is now something “new” like same-sex marriage, it is that what is being destroyed is marriage.
Christians understanding this from a biblical perspective understand that marriage is not an accident. It’s not a social innovation. It didn’t come along by sociological evolution as a part of God’s gift in creation. We begin the Scripture with that most crucial beginning point of the Christian worldview — “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” — and then we follow through, we recognize that in that very first chapter of Scripture, we have the divine revelation of God’s act in creating the human creature — the creature made in His image.
And, thus, we read in chapter 1, verse 27, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” How basic is that to our human identity? It’s so basic that from the very first mention of the human creature in Scripture, it is a creature that is male or female. Now theologically, that is now so basic that it tells us that we are stripped, biblically, of any illusion that there is some kind of neutrality, or of some kind of plastic ability to turn the one into the other, or to deny the meaning of being “male” and “female.”
Back in the year 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a new confession of faith. And I I’m humbled but very, very, very thankful for that, for that confession of faith because it’s the first time in modern confessional history that a denomination revised its confession of faith to make it far more conservative than it had been before, not more liberal.
I served on that committee and had the honor of drafting a great deal of the language, and in 1999, as we were preparing for this. And then in 2000, when the denomination adopted it we actually placed — in the, the article on biblical anthropology — we, we put in that gender, being male and female, was a part of the goodness of God’s creation.
Now, we really did not have the transgender revolution so much before us; we had the gender revolution before us. We had the rise of ideological feminism in its leading edge then — what was called “gender feminism.” And already there was the denial that there is any ontological or theological significance to being male or female. We were being told that gender is just a social construct; that being male or female, man or woman, boy or girl is simply something foisted upon us — biology not being incidental, but being merely suggestive.
And instead what society has done is to create these entire categories of social construction in which masculinity and femininity, and the social construct of men and women, are now oppressive and they are limiting. And the entire project of modernity, and in terms of creating this new autonomous human being — you can’t say the “new autonomous man,” because there you are falling right back into that binary – the new autonomous person, the new autonomous human, that whole project requires that we be liberated from all constraints, including the constraint of being male and female.
By the way, having just written a book on this and being so engaged in this in the media, I find delight, I just find delight — I hope you find delight — when people can’t stay consistent in their nonsense. No, it’s a matter of absolute delight. You can’t hold to this for long.
And if you’ll notice, if you happen to be around these people, you can’t hold on to “ze” for long because it eventually turns into “she” or “he,” and as un-fluid — as fluid, I mean as unfixed as that is in this contemporary context, you know, people tend to revert to this.
And, by the way, I saw it the other day. I saw this in a statement being made by one of these transgender activists who said that “the oppression of the binary will continue so long as an obstetrician holds up a newborn baby and says, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl.” Instead the obstetrician should say, “Biologically male,” “biologically female.” I’ve just got to tell you that’s not going to work. That’s not going to work.
Why does it not work? It’s because of common grace. It’s because of the understanding that, when that baby is born, this is not just “biologically male.” This is a boy, meant, by God’s grace, to grow to be a man. Or this is a girl, meant, by God’s grace and design, to become a woman.
The biblical worldview begins with the very fact that to be human is to be made male or female. That is the norm. It’s the ontological reality of what it means to be human. And it is also a statement about purpose. And we don’t have to infer that; it is absolutely explicit.
As you continue, we have, in chapter 1, verse 28 — “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Here’s what it takes to be fruitful and multiply: it takes a male and a female. And it’s amazing how that works. No, it is, because there have been human cultures all over the world that did not know Genesis that found their way to children. And it is common grace. You come to understand that every civilization, every society has found its way to understanding the basic distinction between males and females.
And even as, in chapter 2, we have a theological commentary on what is here laid before us in terms of chapter 1, we also have more information from chapter 2 including marriage, which is the institution that God gives to men and women — to a man and a woman — in which it is explained that “therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
And we should be so thankful that we have the inerrant and infallible Word of God — we have the book of Genesis and everything that follows — that tells us exactly what God wants us to know. But we should also note that creation cries out that truth, these truths, so conclusively that every society has found its way there. Until recently. Until recently.
God’s design for male and female goes beyond just what we have here, in terms of the mandate of Genesis 1:28. It goes on to a display of God’s glory in terms of the ordering of the home. And so, when Christians think about God’s design for male and female, we have to begin right where Genesis 2 leaves us — with a man leaving his father and mother, and cleaving to his wife, and becoming one flesh.
And then, in the outworking of Scripture, we have a very clear depiction of how this is to work. And it is rooted in ontology, in God’s purpose in creation, where God, in Genesis 2, tells us that the woman is created out of man, by God’s sovereign creative act, as a complement for him.
Now there’s a lot embedded in that, in terms of an entire theology — complementarity — but here’s a part of what it means: Adam could not be all that Adam was meant to be without Eve. And there’s biological inference to that. There — It would’ve been meaningless —
Let’s put it this way: Adam, before Eve, was male, but was not yet a man, in terms of being able to fulfill even what we have in the creation mandate in Genesis 1, verse 28. And Eve is created — And you’ll notice in chapter 1, verse 27, we are told that God created them; in His own image He created them; male and female He created them. The man and the woman display God’s image, made God’s image.
But as image-bearers, they need one another. They are made for one another, and there is a pattern within the home in which the man is to lead. And, and there is a pattern that is then extended to the church where being male and female, being a man and a woman in Christ, is honored such that there are gifts that are given to both men and to women by Christ, by the Holy Spirit, in order to serve the body of Christ, the church — described, not by accident, as the bride, with Christ the Bridegroom. But there is also a pattern, a design in terms of the church.
And it is very clear that the teaching office is here designated for men. And that is something that is also just so contradictory to the spirit of the age – that God might have a design that is that specific and, by God’s design, that authoritative. That is so countercultural that it is indeed one of the most subversive beliefs we hold.
But we also need to understand that following Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 is Genesis 3. Unless you understand how the Christian worldview works, and how the metanarrative of Scripture takes us to the the fact that, after the fall — here’s where we need to look at each other honestly — after the fall, we should expect trouble.
Now, one of the interesting things along those lines to ponder is this: it took millennia to get to this trouble. There’s all kinds of trouble by the time you get to the end of Genesis 3. But when sin enters — and sin so utterly corrupts — it is interesting to note how progressively sin works its way through a society, even to the point that now we have the denial of any authoritative, binding meaning to man and woman, boy and girl, husband and wife.
We are called to be cultural subversives, deeply subversive in this society. And this is a challenge that comes to this generation of Christians in a way that previous generations did not bear. And this is something we need to keep in mind because we are now facing the challenge of insisting that “male” and female,” that “man” and “woman,” “boy” and “girl” are actually not only meaningful terms, but essential terms, not only to linguistic sanity, but to human happiness and human flourishing. And we’re the people who do know that gender, and the gift of gender — of being man or woman, male or female — is a part of the goodness of God’s creation.
We also know that the scriptural worldview would have us to understand that, even as every life is God’s gift, that every single one of us is known by the creator before we are, we are known not only as a human being, but we are known, by God’s design — for His glory, and for our flourishing — as “male” or as “female.” And that is a part of the identity that God, by His own authority as Creator has given to us.
So it tells us something that in this particular moment — in this period sociologists will call Late Modernity — and in the conditions of Late Modernity, it has come down to this: Who knew? I don’t think our grandparents knew. Who knew? I’m pretty sure the Reformers didn’t know. Who knew? I’m pretty sure Augustine didn’t see this coming. Who knew the Christian faithfulness in the 21st century would require us to use words that previously were not fighting words? “Boy” and “girl.” “Man” and “woman.” “Male and female.”
But as I said in the beginning, it all comes down to the fact that the title of this particular session has to be recognized as every word being a fighting word. So we’re in the fight together not just for intellectual combat in the midst of a worldview collision; we’re in the fight together because it matters.
It matters, first of all, to God who displays and reveals His design for male and female. It matters to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, in terms of our faithfulness. It matters in our families as to whether we display God’s design in creation in its fullness and receive that with joy. And, yes, it matters in our public witness. And who knew that that witness would be, time and again in this generation, to say, “Yes, God does have a design for male and female. It’s to His glory. It’s for our good. Deal with it.” God bless you.