Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

We’re in a season here in the States faced with an incredible number of powerful men getting exposed for making unwanted and unwarranted sexual advances on women. Of the alleged perpetrators, the list includes of course Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Al Franken, Roger Ailes, Roy Moore, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, and Garrison Keillor. It’s on the left and on the right, liberals and conservatives, politicians and entertainers, from Hollywood to Minneapolis to D.C. to New York City.

It seems like what makes these stories especially tragic, Pastor John, is not merely that these are powerful men who took advantage of less-powerful women. It’s especially tragic because, as men, they are called by God to demonstrate sacrificial care for women beyond what women are called to offer men. You’ve written on this in a recent article, Pastor John. Here, simply debrief your thoughts for us as you see the news.

My point in that article and in this podcast is that the egalitarian assumptions in our culture, and to a huge degree in the church, have muted — silenced, nullified — one of the means that God has designed for the protection and the flourishing of women. It has silenced the idea that men as men — by virtue of their created, God-given maleness, apart from any practical competencies that they have or don’t have — men have special responsibilities to care for and protect and honor women. This call is different from the care and protection and honor that women owe men. That’s my thesis. That’s my point.

Dividing Line

Now, it seems to me that for decades Christian and non-Christian egalitarians have argued, have assumed, and have modeled that those peculiar roles and responsibilities among men and women in the home, in the church, and in the culture should emerge only from competencies rather than from a deeper reality rooted in who we are differently as male and female.

Complementarians, on the other hand, believe that while competencies may shape the details of how our differing roles and responsibilities are worked out, nevertheless God has built in to males and females profound and wonderful, even mysterious, differences, that carry different burdens and different responsibilities.

Talking to Your Children

Let me put it another way. If your nine-year-old son asks you, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?” — or if your daughter asks, “Mommy, what does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?” — it won’t do to answer, “What it means is that when you grow up, you will have maturity and wisdom and courage and sacrifice and humility and patience and kindness and strength and self-control and purity and faith and hope and love, etc.” That doesn’t answer the question. Those traits are absolutely right, but they belong to both men and women.

“Egalitarians define all our relationships by competencies, and I think this suggestion is hurting us.”

The question was “What does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?” And “What does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?” “Is there, Mommy and Daddy, a God-given, profound, beautiful meaning to manhood and womanhood?”

The kids don’t say it like that, but that’s what they want to know eventually: is there a difference beyond mere anatomy? Are there built-in responsibilities that I have simply because I’m a male or a female human being. There is a pervasive egalitarian disinclination to say yes to that question. The egalitarian inclination is to define all our relationships by competencies. And my suggestion or my contention is this is hurting us.

Fifty Years of Denial

This refusal to answer that question or be burdened by it is hurting us. It confuses everyone, especially the children. This confusion is hurting people.

It has moved way beyond confusion. It’s a firm conviction of most of our egalitarian culture that men as men do not owe women a special kind of care and protection and honor that women do not owe men. I believe they do. I believe fifty years of denying it is one of the seeds bearing very bad fruit, including all those sexual abuses you talked about in your question. There are others seeds in our culture, but this is one of the seeds.

Let me just point to a few biblical evidences for believing men as men have special, God-intended, God-designed responsibilities for care and protection and honor toward women that women do not have toward men.

Lest I be misunderstood, of course, there are many situations in which women have responsibilities to care for, protect, and honor men. I’m simply saying that these are not the same. Men have a special, God-given responsibility that comes with being a man, not because of practical competency.

Here are three pointers in the Bible. They each would take a big article to flesh out, but here they are.

The First Failure

When Satan tempted Eve, it says in Genesis 3:6 that Adam “was with her.” In view of everything else I see in Genesis 1–4, and in view of the way Paul handles this issue in 1 Timothy 2:12, I think the author of Genesis, Moses, wants us to see that part of the collapse of God’s beautiful order in the garden was the failure of Adam to speak up.

“One reason Jesus came was to overcome Adam’s failure and cause men to own the special burden to care for women.”

He failed to take some initiative and deal with the devil, to be the leader and protector that God had designed him to be. He failed, and he’s been failing ever since.

One reason Jesus came into the world was to destroy that failure and cause Adam to own up to the fact that he’s got a special burden, a special responsibility, to bear in protecting and caring for and honoring this woman.

Always a Man

In Colossians 3:19, the apostle Paul told husbands, “Love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” Now, that is not the same as saying, “Neither of you should be harsh.” It is a special restraint on typical sinful male harshness and roughness and cruelty that’s gone on for thousands of years.

Colossians’ positive counterpart is spelled out in Ephesians 5:22­–33 in a stunningly beautifully and counter-cultural way. I would argue that in every culture on the planet this is counter-cultural. There’s nothing like it in any culture in the world (unless it’s rooted in this text). There is nothing like the leadership of Jesus and protection of Jesus and provision and cherishing and nourishing of Jesus that are laid on the man as a man — not because he’s more competent, but because he’s a man.

This is not interchangeable with a woman any more than Christ and the church are interchangeable. I would argue from Scripture, from the creation account and other places, that this special burden put on man — this special responsibility toward women for honor and care and protection — does not evaporate when he walks out the door of his home. It’s not as though it were a matter of geography or a matter of marriage alone. Manhood does not cease to be manhood outside the home.

Weaker Vessel

First Peter 3:7 calls husbands to live with their wives “according to knowledge.” Then Peter defines that “living according to knowledge” in two ways. The first one is the one I’m concerned with right now because it’s the one that applies whether you’re Christian or not.

“Manhood does not cease to be manhood outside the home.”

The first one is based on natural differences. The second one — “fellow heirs of the grace of life” — is based on the spiritual uniqueness of Christians.

Peter says, “showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” Now, there are ways, of course, that women are stronger than men, and ways women are weaker than men. And Peter is focusing on men being stronger than women and asking, “How shall a man relate to a woman if she is weaker, more vulnerable to his power?” The answer is, “Honor.”

My point is that this is a peculiar, special honor — a kind of honor God has built into the man as the stronger one. This is not merely mutual honor; this is a special honor flowing from the stronger to the weaker.

This is an honor of a man toward a woman precisely because he’s a man and, in general, men are in the position of physical power and strength over women. God inserts between them in that relationship a special duty, a special responsibility that a man has.

Manly Valor

My point in this podcast is that this divine design for men as men to show a special care, protection, and honor to women is essential for good — for the good of families, churches, society, and for women in particular.

Millions of people in our day would rather sacrifice this peculiar biblical mandate given for the good of women. They would rather sacrifice it than betray any hint of compromise with egalitarian assumptions. What I’m arguing is that we have forfeited both a great, God-ordained restraint upon male vice and male power and a great, God-ordained incentive for male valor because we refuse to even think in terms of maleness and femaleness as they are created by God, carrying distinct and unique responsibilities and burdens.

We have put our hope in the myth that the summons to generic human virtue, with no attention to the peculiar virtues required of manhood and womanhood, would be sufficient to create a beautiful society of mutual respect. It isn’t working.

Men need to be taught from the time they are little boys that part of their manhood is to feel a special responsibility for the care and protection and honoring of women just because they are men.


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