Demythologizing Biblical Manhood and Womanhood


Are gender roles a permanent fact of creation? Is there a Natural Theology of Gender? And therefore man has a unique leadership role in the Church? David Congdon, author of The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology answers a decisive "No" to all these questions. In the following quotation, Congdon reveals the danger of elevating any cultural-historical judgement or norm to a first order dogma, and includes a somber warning to those who do:

Indeed, if mythology is defined as the assumption that a certain configuration of cultural-historical judgements and norms is divinely authorized, then Brent Hege is surely right to point out that the parallel between the debate over the Aryan paragraph in the 1930s and the current debate over LGBTQ inclusion within the church. In both cases a particular understanding of a cultural-biological factor—race and ethnicity on the one hand (e.g., the German Volkstum), gender and sexuality on the other (e.g., heterosexuality)—is elevated to the position of a divinely mandated norm, one that has universal validity. Numerous other forms of contemporary constantinianism are readily apparent. At least among Protestant evangelicals, the debate over gender equality and the inclusion of women in ecclesial leadership has revolved around the question of whether there are timeless creational laws or norms.

Congdon, David W. The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015. 684. Print.

In the footnote to this quotation, Congdon responds to the icon of complementarianism, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, with the following criticism:

John Piper thus declares: "When the Bible teaches that men and women fulfill different roles in relation to each other, charging man with a unique leadership role, it bases this differentiation not on temporary cultural norms but on permanent facts of creation." See John Piper and Wayne A. Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991; reprint 2006), 35; emphasis added. Piper here advocates what we might call a "natural theology of gender," or to use Bultmann's terminology, a "gender mythology." Piper's claim that certain features of culture are actually permanent elements of creation itself is reminiscent of Thielicke's claim that certain mythical concepts are timelessly valid as the "crib" within which God chose to dwell in the incarnation. Piper seeks to objectify a certain gender hierarchy by finding an acultural zone free from contingencies of history. Such a zone does not exist, however, and what he calls "permanent facts of creation" is simply the constantinian essentialization of particular cultural norms under the fabricated guise of a doctrine of creation. Something analogous take place among the "new natural law" theorists who use appeals to an acultural and timeless "nature" as a way of stabilizing and objectifying certain moral precepts. All this is merely an attempt to justify one's own cultural assumptions—that is, to engage in an act of self-justification according to the law rather than the gospel—by securing a certain understanding of the kerygma. In other words, the contemporary culture wars are simply "hermeneutical wars," and as hermeneutical wars they are in fact "missiological wars." What is finally at stake in these culture wars is the question whether the church is truly and without reserve a missionary church.

Ibid. 684n271.

Header Image Source: "Lucas Cranach the Elder - Adam und Eva im Paradies (Sündenfall) - Google Art Project" by Lucas Cranach the Elder - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Hi Wyatt, I’ve been surfing around, thanks for writing all that you have!

    What I can’t understand in Congdon’s comparison between Aryan supremacy and sexuality is the latter (should!) is based out of a twin argument 1) fixed duality of the sexes & 2) marital sex-ethics (and sex-ethics more broadly).

    It’s one thing to question immortalizing specific gender features (ala. Piper & Grudem), but it’s another to realize the consistent differences based in sex and what that actually might mean for gender.

    There is nothing a fairer skinned person can do that a darker skin person can’t do, when recourse is given only to their pigmentation. These are cultural constructs based out of nothing ‘real’ (though we ought to take the derivative cultural meaning seriously). But sexed bodies are the real (grounded in Genesis 2) from whence gendered-culture flows. From this one can talk about sexual ethics. But in Congdon’s reading, to talk of sexed bodies being a real duality, is as if to talk about Human ‘language’ is a constantinian encroachment on dogish ‘barking’ or (more close to home) apish ‘grunting’.

    • As for me, I find Protestantism (generally and widely) unable to defend these assertions well, and evangelicalism’s collapse before gay-equality is inevitable. The only hold outs will be fideistic or bigoted. I’ve proffered from Fabrice Hadjadj on this topic.

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