Being Human 3

In my last post on Being Human After Darwin I commented on Francisco Ayala’s essay on the characteristics that make us human. The suggestion is that our “humanness” is not at its root reducible to chemistry, physics, or even biology. Rather the things that make us human are abstract properties related to mind and to culture. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before, not simply in our biological composition, but more importantly and more profoundly in our knowledge, our understanding, and our culture, in the knowledge of good and evil, in the awareness that things could be better. We are human collectively and in the context of culture. Sure – one can look for chemical, physical, and biological roots that give rise to our capacity for culture and abstract thought, but there has been something of a phase transition. We are not simply smarter animals. Exactly how this came about I don’t know – or I should say I don’t know the mechanism used to bring this about. However it happened it is, I think, an important part of the biblical concept of humans created in the image of God, part of the mission, purpose of God in creation.

One of the commenters noted:

While these and other characteristics are highly relevant and interesting, I would say, as others have on this thread, that our uniqueness and essential humanness is that we are image of God. I would further say that image of God is not based on any particular capability or function. Thus, our humanity is not a function of any thing we possess in and of ourselves but is wholly derived from the one who made and sustains us. To put it in theological terms, we are most basically covenantal beings. In saying this I’m not locating image of God in an immaterial soul or spirit at the expense of the material/physical.

Tying our humanity to image of God allows for something that the merely descriptive accounts don’t consider. It accounts for the intuitive sense that there’s a way to be human we don’t live up to. This sense is demonstrated in our reflexive reaction to conduct we deem immoral or repulsive: “how could a human being do such a thing?”; “he behaved like an animal”, etc.

This is a good way to summarize the topic. Science can only get us so far as we try to understand ourselves. This isn’t a knock on science. We are fully embodied creatures and science can and will explore the connection between brain and mind. There is much to learn. But while science can address cause and effect, it cannot address purpose and it cannot address the role of God who made, sustains us, provided a function and a mission. It cannot comprehend or address the concept of “image of God” that provides the core part of our essence as humans. But I also think that there are human characteristics that shed much light on exactly what this means.

This leads to a rather significant set of questions. Does our view of what it means to be human change “after Darwin”? Does this have an impact on our understanding of, not theology, but anthropology?

And, in a rather abrupt right turn: Does it impact our understanding of the women in ministry question?

Note added: as many have suggested, this post really has nothing much at all to do with science, evolution, or Darwinism… it is a post that connects with our discussion of humanness that arose in the context of Dr. Ayala’s essay. It also connects a stream of thought that runs from there to our discussion on many posts that relate to gender and gospel.

I rather expect that this question will inspire a rather vigorous debate, but first let me frame the question a bit. A few weeks back Scot posted a simple question for the Gospel Coalition (here). He asked “How close to the gospel is complementarianism? And I think it turns around too: How close is the gospel to egalitarianism?” The post was followed by a long conversation that meandered over many issues, only occasionally touching on the actual question posed. Several posts since then have focused on related issues.

The idea that we complement each other, as men and women, and more broadly as human beings, is indisputable. In the one absolute – most women can give birth, all men cannot and the related corollary with a role for men holds as well – men and women are complementary in procreation and fulfillment of the command to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). Many of the distinctions though are more subtle – and carry with them exceptions. Men tend to be larger and stronger. Men tend to be more aggressive – or perhaps it is better to say that aggression tends to be manifest in different ways. In the Myers-Briggs analysis only one trait – thinking vs feeling – has a significant correlation with gender, men tend to be thinkers and women feelers. Of course something like 25% of us, both male and female, are exceptions to the general rule. 1 Corinthians 12 is a great discussion of our complementarity. Complementarity is the rule within a family, within a church, and across any human society.

The factors that make us human – from compassion to creativity, abstract thought, moral sense, culture, mission, and purpose, ambition and ego – are neither male nor female, but strictly human. Procreation is not a property of our humanness – animals do just fine in the same fashion. Partnership, companionship, team work, family, marriage, these enhance our humanness. Gen. 2 institutes and ordains marriage.

But complementarianism within our church is something completely different. Complementarity in this context is a biologically defined, God ordained, hierarchy. It is tied up with power and control and cultural norms. It is justified by what seems to me a selectively excessive literalness (read Scot’s The Blue Parakeet for some idea of what I mean here by selective literalness).

I struggle with this whole discussion within our church on two grounds.

First, no matter how abstract or academic the discussion starts it always devolves to an intrinsic justification based on superiority and inferiority of the basic “animal”. There is a touch of the Jewish prayer – I thank God for not making me a woman… Very few are willing to stop at a simple arbitrariness based on scripture, required by inerrancy; it has to be justified by biology and the end result is human characteristics transformed into masculine characteristics.

Second, within our church a demand for rights, power, position, leadership, prestige, has no place. Preaching, teaching, prayer, and prophesy are not rights but callings and gifts. Scheming to wrest control and acquire power destroys our church. Demands for “equal rights” also destroy our church. There is always a touch of this in the conversation every time it comes up on this blog. Change will come, (if it is to come), when people (men and women) simply do what they are able and called to do and follow God’s leading. We are called to follow Christ, not to demand. (I rather expect this comment will raise the most ire.)

I’ll be blunt – to attach complementarianism to the gospel in any fashion is to distort and damage the gospel message. Complementarianism devolves to rules. But God will use our efforts anyway. To attach egalitarianism to the gospel message is to distort and damage the gospel message – it takes the focus off of Christ and onto us, and this has dire consequence. Egalitarianism devolves to rights. But God will use our efforts anyway.

What do you think – does the way we think about the essence of our humanity and its ground in the sustenance and image of our creator have an impact on the discussion of “women in ministry”?

If you wish you may contact me directly at rjs4mail[at]

If you have comments please visit Being Human 3 at Jesus Creed

This entry was posted in Humanness, Science and Faith, Theology, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.