Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: Different by Design

The gender agenda is repeatedly being brought to the fore in churches, homes, workplaces and wider society. Christian believers may increasingly be seen as out of step with the culture. Should we just get with the programme? Or should we continue to listen in to what God is saying in the Bible? Carrie Sandom addresses these issues in her new book, Different by Design: God's blueprint for men and women, as she takes us back to the Bible and helps us discover God's plan for the sexes.

The introduction paints a picture of society as it currently stands, seen in the lives of several women and families. Sandom identifies a 'gradual feminisation of the workplace', with an 'over-feminized' and 'emasculated' society. What will be the implications of such female leadership? While arguing that some women have a 'having it all' desire (work, family, leadership etc), she wonders if it is actually what women want. 'Not when our desire to be treated the same as men means we're never really treated as women.'

Her first key point is that men and women are different by design. An example is given of listening in to conversations on the Tube (I didn't even realise anyone spoke on the tube!), and seen in a variety of areas - task or people oriented; waffles and spaghetti; how they relate to friends; how they deal with harsh words and negative criticism; logic and intuition. She then asks the why question. Why are men and women different? Moving beyond the obvious differences in bodies, she argues that the hunter-gatherer / home-maker divide doesn't go back far enough. Rather, we need to return to our first parents: 'Adam and Eve were equal in God's sight, but they were not identical.'

The pattern for God's design looks behind the scenes to the character and nature of God. 'We were made for community... it is a reflection of God's own nature.' The Trinity is then outlined, explained, and used as the pattern we follow in equality, diversity, unity and order. 'The Father exercises loving authority over the Son, who humbly and willingly submits to it.'

The revelation of God's design then takes us on a guided tour of Genesis 1-2. 'The two accounts of creation give us both a panoramic view as well as a microscopic one... They are complimentary accounts, not contradictory ones.' The foundational principles are discussed, such as order (where the days point to the creation of habitat and then the inhabitants), purpose and blessing. In Genesis 2 as the camera zooms in, we find freedom and responsibility, union and completion. On marriage, Sandom remarks (p. 54):

It is a beautiful picture and perfectly illustrates that marriage is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman that changes the focus of all other family relationships. It is a commitment with definite intention and starts with the man taking the initiative. It is to be witnessed by other members of the community and then consummated by their sexual union. He is to love and cherish her as his own body, because she is now a part of him. Similarly, she is to consider herself joined with him in loving partnership even though she remains an individual and distinct from him.

This is marriage as God intended: the coming together of a man and a woman, to form a one-flesh union that is broken only by death. This means we mustn't be naive about same sex partnerships - they do not constitute a marriage. Scripture is clear that a marriage is between a man and a woman. We mustn't be deceived into thinking that pornography and masturbation are legitimate ways of satisfying our sexual longings. We cannot enjoy one-flesh union on our own. And we mustn't be fooled by those who say that sex can be enjoyed without making a public, life-long commitment first. The longing to be united in marriage and to become one-flesh with your spouse is God-given, but God also gives us the parameters for how those longings are to be satisfied.

From there, we come to the rejection of God's design, as the author asks where are the men in church - have they been driven away by the women? We see the pattern rejected in three scenes from Genesis 3: (i) God's word ignored leading to disobedience - 'every temptation to sin in some way doubts God's word, denies God's judgement or distorts God's character.' (ii) God's word upheld leading to judgement; (iii) God's word sustained leading to grace.

In the next chapter, the reader should be aware. The masking of God's design begins with a horrific story of a father sexually abusing his daughter, which is shocking and explicit. This story, as well as biblical examples of sexual brokenness, demonstrate that unity and order always elude us. There's a helpful diagram of the interconnectedness of beliefs on women, sex, leadership etc held by various theological positions.

The restoration of God's design is the chapter we were waiting for from the start, as Jesus re-establishes God's ordering of relationships. His attitude to men and women is discussed, being revolutionary compared to the surrounding society, and yet the author is clear that while women were witnesses to the resurrection, they were not apostles. I wasn't sure of the effectiveness of the chapter, as the jump from men and women to what Jesus did on the cross seemed a leap too far, almost disjointed.

The remainder of the book applies the design to various areas of life, as it seeks to discover the implications of God's design for marriage, the church and the workplace. In the marriage chapter, there's a useful discussion on submission as Ephesians 5 is placed in the context of the whole letter. At one point, there is specific application for women, married or not, which made me wonder if this is primarily (or even exclusively) a book for women. I think it's still useful for both sexes, though.

In the church chapter there are the usual contentious passages about women teaching and having authority. Given that the author works for a church (as an Associate Minister for Women and Pastoral Care), her handling is faithful, and seeks to argue that the scriptures push for men to be in authority over the church family as in the home family, and for men to teach in mixed congregations. This is not to the detriment, though, of the Titus 2 model, where the older women teach the younger women - women certainly have a role in ministry.

All in all, this is a very helpful book which helps us return to the Bible's teaching on gender and sex, with clear Bible explanation, sensitive application and good illustrations. Amidst the prevailing voices of our culture Sandom provides a loud and clear call to rediscover and relate within God's designed differences.

Different by Design is available from Amazon and for Kindle.

No comments:

Post a Comment