enGendered (Book Review)

What is the essence of human gender?  Right now this is a question at the forefront in our culture.  Turns out it’s not so easy to give a solid answer.  Just as Diogenes pointed out to Plato that man cannot be defined as a “featherless biped” when he plunked a plucked chicken down in front of his teacher—tongue in cheek for sure!—so also the vexing question of “what is human gender” is tying folks in intellectual knots nowadays.  Sometimes it’s enough to just say, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”  But when activists and ideologues begin wounding people with rhetoric and pushy agendas, it’s time to take the question seriously.

Pastor and author Sam Andreades has written an influential book that has moved the gender conversation forward in a unique way.  In enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship, the author proposes that people discover the beauty and distinctiveness of human gender in asymmetrical (i.e., male-female) relationship.  Through his pastoral interaction with people involved in the homosexual lifestyle (some in long-term relationships) in Greenwich Village in New York City, Andreades came to realize that folks who came out of gay relationships and entered as Christians into male-female marriages were in a unique position to provide information on whether relational asymmetrical sex differences make a significant difference.  Later the author wrote a doctoral thesis based on his DSM (“Does She Matter?”) Study that simply asked former homosexual men whether “she” matters, and if yes, how so.  But his book enGendered is more than a compilation of the findings derived from that study.  He also does much biblical, theological, sociological, and worldview thinking to situate his sociological data in a thesis that asserts men and women can only find genuine expression of the masculine and feminine genders to the degree they are intimately engaged in asymmetrical relationship with one another.  To summarize the testimonies of the DSM men, “Yes, she most definitely matters!”

While this is a book that certainly speaks to the contemporary discussion our culture is having regarding homosexuality and gender, it is not a “LGBT studies” book.  The main focus of the book is discovering how God gave gender to human beings as a gift for the purpose of cultivating deep relational intimacy.  But arriving at a biblical theory of gender that also has potential to resonate with people of both sexes and all persuasions is hard work.  Andreades is acutely aware of this difficulty, which is why he uses an overarching metaphor of trailblazing into the woods.  The book is divided into three parts: each taking a further step into the mystery of gender.  Here is the Table of Contents and a representative question that each chapter seeks to answer.

Part 1. The Way through the Thicket: Who We Are and Where Relationships Come From

1. We Have Lost the Trail of Relational Love (“I am a lesbian. Does Jesus accept me ‘Just as I Am’?”)
2. The God of Closeness Has Shown Himself (“What does God have to do with my love life?”)
3. Gender Is Hard to Talk About for Good Reason (“Why do I feel embarrassed saying women are different from men?”)
4. They Are Equal in Power and Glory (“Doesn’t the Bible denigrate women?”)
5. Gender Matters in Relationship (“Jesus never talks about homosexuality, does He?”)
6. Sex Differences Form the Platform of God’s Gift (“I thought boys were better at math, but then why is my wife a nuclear physicist?”)

Part 2. The Trail Markers: Embracing Asymmetry for the Other

7. The Grand Asymmetries of Gender Give Us Specialties (“Where is my job description as a husband in this marriage thing?”)
8. The Asymmetry of Origin: The Man of the Solid Ground and the Woman of the Resting Rib (“What do you want me to do, stay home and bake cookies?”)
9. The Asymmetry of Order (Part 1): The Firstborn (“Can’t I find a woman who is not so high-maintenance?”)
10. The Asymmetry of Order (Part 2): The Promoter (“If we’re equal, why should he be in charge?”)
11. The Asymmetry of Intent: The Commissioned and the Empowerer (“Why can’t she get off my back about reading to the kids? I don’t feel like it.”)
12. Gender Specialties: Banishing Independence (“What’s wrong with cross-dressing?”)
13. Culture: The Clothes of Gender (“Should I be worried that my friend Peggy spends all her spare time on football?”)

Part 3. The Inner Wood: The Dynamics of Getting Close

14. The Purpose of the Genders: A Gift to Foster Intimacy (“It isn’t possible for a homosexual man to enjoy sex with a woman…is it?”)
15. Deeper Still: Dynamics of Intergendered Intimacy (“How could depending on her make me more me?”)
16. Sex: Respecting the Platform of Distinction (“Why would God keep my gay friend from experiencing true love in a monogamous lifelong relationship?”)
17. Continuum of Closeness: When Gender Does and Doesn’t Matter (“Should I refuse my company’s offer of CEO because I am a woman?”)
18. The Immense Invitation (“How close can we get?”)

Appendix 1: A Theology of Gender
Appendix 2: The Structure of Judges: We Need a King

Inserted between a few chapters are creative, reimagined, and faithful-to-the-original Bible stories of people working out a particular challenge in their relationships with the other.  Each vignette is vague enough that even informed Bible readers may not recognized the particular story until the name of the key character is revealed at the end.  The author calls these narrative snippets “scenic overlooks from the Bible.”  Here is the list along with the associated Bible references.

  • The Big Frolicking Circle on the Deep (Prov 8:1, 22-31)
  • The New Bride and the General (Josh 15:13-19)
  • The Weightlifting Woman and the Despot (Jug 9:50-57)
  • The Approaching Daughters and the Old Man (Num 27:1-11)
  • The Jealous Husband and the Accused (Num 5:11-31)
  • The Anointed in the Nick of Time Interrupted (1 Sam 25:1-42)
  • The Undefeatable and His Promoter (Acts 18:24-28)

A few things struck me as important points while I read enGendered.  First, it’s a shame that when a thoughtful and knowledgeable Christian has something constructive to say about gender, his/her voice is ignored by opponents.  For a Christian to dissent with the radical gender revisionists, it will be nothing but whistling in the dark—at least as far as most people who consider themselves progressive or liberal about these sorts of things are concerned.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  If we’re going to have a genuine discussion about important issues, our society needs to stop being offended—even scandalized—at the expression of a contrary position.  Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean he is a homophobic bigot.  That’s not reasoned argumentation.  It’s just schoolyard bullying.  Ironically, the formerly oppressed have become the oppressor!

Second, I remember attending a talk by Professor Dale Kuehn a few years ago where he lectured on Sex in the iWorld.  During the Q&A he made a pensive throwaway comment that stuck with me: “I’m not sure what gender entails, and my students are bright enough to know it cannot be founded in cultural practices.  But…I think it must have something to do with a man being a protector.”  That was all he offered, then moved on.  And since then I’ve pondered how to talk about gender to nonconforming folks.  Andreades expounds an answer to what it means to be masculine and feminine, grounds his position in the Bible, and explores how the Bible’s teaching makes sense of reality—even in everyday life, especially our relationships.

Third, this book is academically informed.  This is more than a little significant for a couple of reasons.  Andreades has consulted and cited secular research from the field of sexuality, gender, marriage, and family.  He’s read, digested, critiqued, and synthesized secular books, journals, and papers.  He’s also up-to-date on conservative and Christian research.  All this lends enGendered an honest and believable feel.  Here is a man who is truly attempting to understand real people, the nature and cultural expression of gender, and the complex variability of human relationships.  And he’s trudging forward with a pastor’s heart—trying in real time to shepherd the hurting, broken, confused, and questioning into a place where they will experience the fullness of joy in God’s design for gender.  The other significant aspect regarding the academic side of the book is how the author gently informs the reader that sexuality and gender are not settled questions in the world of research (be sure to read the endnotes—there is much more than bibliographic references to be gleaned from them).  After years of spilt ink and spoken words, there is still profound differences of opinion and debate regarding the interpretation of relational, psychological, and sociological data.  This uncertainty is intentionally hidden from the average American because the mainstream media disseminates only one perspective–and in such a triumphalist manner–that what the masses are really being fed is essentially one-sided activist and ideological propaganda.  So it’s enlightening to know that behind the academic curtain the experts and researchers have not reached any kind of consensus on gender, and they realize decades of more research, publishing, discussion, and debate need to happen if we’re going to achieve an agreed-upon super-majority consensus.  The moral of this story: Don’t believe everything you hear or read, so educate yourself with different perspectives to gain a better understand of the relevant issues and arguments.

One final side-note.  There has been some criticism (see the review by Aimee Byrd linked below) of the author’s use of terms that highlight distinctions in the personal relationships in the Trinity (the First, the Second, the Third).  Some conservative Christians who identify as confessionally-oriented have expressed unease with Andreades rooting gender roles in the Godhead.  Such critics find the (supposedly) heterodox doctrine of ESS (Eternal Submission of the Son) in Andreades’ Trinity-gender analogy.  I’ve not weighed in on the infamous online ESS debate of 2016-2017 because it appears to me that most people (including me!) are not smart enough to see another orthodox perspective than their own.  But if you understand a little what I’m referring to (most people will not recognize anything about this obscure debate), then I encourage you to not discount the teaching on gender found in enGendered because of objections from ESS critics.  Why do I say this?  Because it’s clear to me that some portion of the ESS debate can be explained by the distrust of systematic/confessional theologians for exegetes and biblical theologians.  More than a few suspect that a lot of misunderstanding is fueling the controversy.

In summary: enGendered is an excellent, informative, pastoral, biblical, culturally-sensitive, and ground-breaking study on sexuality and gender studies.  Anyone who seeks to knowledgeably talk about these pertinent, timely, and complicated issues needs to wrestle with this book.

Resources

Publisher’s webpage: About the author, book, and table of contents

Interview with the author about the book

Audio interview with the author about a Theology of Gender (stream or download)

Affirming Gender (the author’s website)

World Magazine articles by Sam Andreades

enGendered Study Guide

Harvest USA blog articles on gender

Read chapter 8 of the book: “The Asymmetry of Origin: The Man of the Solid Ground and the Woman of the Resting Rib”

Reviews

Amazon

Books at a Glance

The Good Book blog

Goodreads

Gospel Coalition

Mortification of Spin (Aimee Byrd)

Affirming Gender (Sam Andreades’ reply to Byrd in Part 1 and Part 2)

Western Seminary

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