Evangelical Christians face a threefold challenge concerning sex. First, many evangelicals have split over the issue of women in pastoral ministry. Second, gender identifies and gay marriage have challenged traditional evangelical understandings and caused yet another rift in the church. Lastly, transhumanism promises to soon create another theological chasm: ought Christians to remain in their natural bodies, or can they augment themselves via technology?
Are we stuck in schism and statemate? How might we address these questions? As strange as it might seem, we already have powerful answers to these potent challenges. Scholasticism, a method to understand the truth, has provided us with the framework to understand these challenges and overcome them. Before explaining why that it is, it is worth surveying how the above three challenges typically work out in the church.
Cynthia Westfall interprets passages like Galatians 3:28 as setting a course for gender equality in terms of roles. So women may preach and pastor. Others, like Thomas Schreiner, see Galatians 3:28 as overcoming societal schisms by becoming one in Christ. Yet this oneness still allows for gender roles. So women may not pastor.
The debate over specific texts such as Galatians 3 ends up restricting the question to: can a woman pastor or not? It is an important question. But the current debate unintentionally limits the discussion to key, controversial texts (e.g., Gal 3:28; 1 Tim 2:9–15). To be clear, biblical texts should lie at the centre of the discussion. But I am arguing that we have more tools to approach these texts than usually are used in debates like these. I want more biblical exegesis, not less.
The debate over being “affirming” or “non-affirming” of LGBTQ+ Christians works similarly, albeit with a larger set of arguments. First, some argue from the biblical text for the affirming view such as Matthew Vines. Others rebut such an argument. Yet a second argument often follows. It goes something like this: does a biblical interpretation harm others? If so, then reject it. Again, to defeat such an argument, the other side interprets specific biblical texts.
Interpreting texts stands at the centre of Christian ethics. So prosecuting the case according to Scripture is entirely the right thing to do. Yet even here the debate could engage with other biblical data or more specific ways of understanding the biblical data at hand.
While this debate lies in the future still, we already see it in the vaccination debate or in nutrition. Many feel that natural (no vaccinations, no processed food) methods lead to better results. Augmenting our body with chemicals hurts it. Others claim that these things can only benefit our body since they were designed to do so.
I am not sure where the fault lines will lie here exactly. But once we can augment or transform our bodies, I am sure biblical texts will stand at the centre as they should. Yet despite this, Christians will invariably argue back and forth over the text. So how do we get closer to the truth? And how can we be more convincing?
I think the answer lies in developing our exegetical toolset. In this case, I mean using the tools that scholasticism has bequeathed the church.
Despite its reputation for being a theological movement, scholasticism merely signifies a method to read the biblical text (or to think about truth at any level). It is not a system of theology. Like the historical-grammatical method encourages studying history and grammar to understand a text, so scholasticism fine-tunes how we can distinguish truth from falsity.
During the Reformation, a set of scholastic theologians stood against the Reformers. Luther railed against them. But I am not talking about these people. I do not mean to identify a category of people by using the term scholasticism. Scholasticism merely refers to tools for thinking. Most reformers used scholastic categories to help them understand truth (e.g., John Calvin, Peter Martyr, Franciscus Junius, Girolamo Zanchi, Richard Hooker, etc.). Anytime phrases like “efficient cause” or “final cause” get bandied about, we can be sure that scholastic jargon is afoot.
Scholasticism relies on basic assumptions like a blue fish cannot be both blue and not blue at the same time, God created the world and it has order, and truth is objectively real. God did create an orderly world where can recognize that absurdities are, well, absurd. A human cannot be both the moon and human. The law of non-contradiction is a real law.
It also understands creation to have purpose. After all, since God created the world with order (Gen 1; 1 Cor 14:33), we can discern this order in creation. For example, an eye is designed to see. If your eyes can see well, they are good eyes. If your eyes become damaged or lack the ability to see well, they are bad eyes.
Since eyes are designed for seeing, then when we do improper things with eyes, we do them harm. If someone wants to put hot sauce in their eyes for the sake of thrill, we may tell them: “you should not do that or else you could damage your eyes.” We all know that damaging an eye’s ability to see is wrong.
Sure, we can do anything with our body. We can cut our skin despite its purpose of protecting our innards (among many purposes). But we intuit simply that this denies the purpose of skin. It should protect our muscles and organs. It is bad if it does not.
Therefore, we agree with what Scripture reveals: namely, that everything has a purpose. An eye sees. A mouth eats and talks, and the ear hears. Put more formally, the power of vision is to see, the power of ingestion is to eat, the power of hearing is to hear.
Every power that we possess has some purpose. And this represents the kind of thinking that the scholastic method uses. Such categories just make sense. Their purpose, after all, is simply to point out what is true with accurate language. And so we affirm that powers have purpose.
The Purpose of Sex
So does sex. God created humanity with a specific purpose: to be fruitful and multiply and rule the earth (Gen 1:28). We can do so because we are created by God and in his image (Gen 1:27). Yet we can do this only through union with the opposite sex: male and female he created them. Hence, Adam units to Eve (Gen 2:24).
The power to procreate and to unite not only flow from the biblical text but makes sense of the world around us. Why do men and women have their respective sexual organs? Why does union (marriage) provide the material context for procreation (family, siblings, structure, etc.)? It is because we are made for procreation and union.
These powers are built into us. We do not need to act on these powers to have them; a man or woman without children or marriage still has the potential to be a father or mother. The act may fulfill the power, yet the power is truly there in everyone.
What nature cannot tell us clearly is what revelation tells us. Procreation and union have a spiritual fulfillment (Eph 5:32). Union with a spouse signifies the reality of union with Christ. Procreation then seems to flow from God’s image as a human way to create as God does and to nurture as he does.
However we view the exact relationship here, we can affirm that everyone has the power to procreate and to unite—even if biology, disease, or singleness prevent one from acting on this power. The power is a real feature of humanity. When it sadly does work as we would hope (as in the case of infertility), as one author has noted, this sense of loss further cements the reality that we do in fact have powers of sexuality with meaning.
Gender Roles, Orientation, and Transhumanism
If sex is designed to have meaning and purpose, as Scripture and reason clearly indicate, then we can use this insight to deepen our understanding of Scripture. Galatians 3:28, for example, may show our unity in Christ but in the language of the great reformer Franciscus Junius, “grace perfects nature; grace does not, however, abolish it” (Mosaic Polity, 38). Hence, sex-specific distinctions reach their perfection through grace but remain in their mode of existence, namely, as male and female.
If sex encodes meaning, power, and purpose into itself, then acts which conflict with its purpose such male-on-male sex wrongly use a body’s power. We can certainly be affirming with someone without affirming someone’s wrong use of his or her sexual power. We can warn people from pouring hot sauce into their eyes because that could damage what we know to be good: clear eyesight.
If sex has powers and purpose, then any augment to our body that gainsays this purpose, we should reject. I am not sure what these will be yet. But time will tell. Time marches on. Truth, thankfully, does not. So we can be ready with immutable truth to answer questions about mutable bodies.
More can be said. But at least here we can say: sex has purpose and meaning. And it is good to fulfill that purpose, not to impede it.
Mark Matthias says
Well, perfect, Wyatt — Truth is the Rock and it insists we “do what we read”. Of course, it easier said than done but no one will be able to say no one told us.
Yes, scholasticism is invaluable in determining truth, but one caveat is the prince of this world. Therefore, added to, for example, such pristine logic (which is a pleasure to read) is the democratic freedom of the devil whose liberty is functional due to our fallen nature, such that evil is clearly more appealing that perfect beauty, cf. 1 Samuel 8:6-9. And Romans 8:5, for example, would advise us to “do what we read” which is not to live by the flesh — the devil knows a ripe field is one who fears him and not God.
No question that theology is born out of passionate study of Scripture with the help of the HS…John 16:8, or else we haven’t a prayer to do what we read. When one male looks at another in a way one would normally look at a female, I am convinced he becomes defiant thinking he has a right to believe as he sees fit, yet he knows not who is whispering in his ear, as it were in the Garden, and without the HS he will be able to resist…So I have no doubt just as all of the Law and Scripture amount to One thing (Luke 10:42; John 13:34; Galatians 5:14), heartfelt belief in Jesus with the automatic indwelling and engagement of the Spirit gets it done such that the simple logic Jesus repeatedly gave us, can easily be seen by those believers.