Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

Bigger Than the Box

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Apr• 15•13

images-6Sometimes we may think that we are the only ones that “get it.” Or, maybe those in our small circle or coalition. Rarely do we think the older generations have the insight that we have developed.

We can easily begin thinking this way when it comes to the biblical understanding of sexuality. This weekend I went to a small conference in Burtonsville, MD. Some of the women in our presbytery have been communicating about supporting one another in the women’s ministries in our churches. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to hear Susan Hunt speak about biblical womanhood–generation to generation.

Susan Hunt is a 73-year-old woman who gets it.

The focus of the first evening was “equipping women to think biblically and live covenantally.” Susan opened sharing an experience she had of a college-aged woman approaching her with a question. She asked how a woman her age can possibly understand biblical womanhood when the surrounding culture  is bombarding her with opposing messages about her design. Susan pointed out to us that there is a lot we can learn from this question. 80% of our younger generation is leaving the church once they reach college age. This young woman should have already been equipped with a solid understanding of biblical womanhood. But she wasn’t. Here were the two questions proposed to us: “Are we leaving our children vulnerable to the world’s approach to sexuality, marriage, and life itself? Are we failing to give the truth to the next generation?” I pictured my own daughters at this age. It was convicting.

Susan explained that our churches may be very good at teaching solid doctrine. We may have expositional sermons and in-depth Bible studies. But if we are not teaching our men and women about the biblical design of their maleness and femaleness, the world most certainly has an indoctrination for them. Are we leaving ourselves vulnerable? Maybe some of the younger generation is ill-equipped because their parents don’t have a biblical understanding of their own sexual design.

But here’s the part where 73-year-old Susan Hunt “gets it.” Before getting into the principles of biblical womanhood, she issued a warning to us. Another thing that happens when our biblical understanding is weak is that we get reductionistic. With intentions to counteract the world’s messages and be biblical women, we can condense biblical womanhood into a set of rules, legalistic moralism. Susan warned us that womanhood is particularly susceptible to a reductionistic/simplistic approach. She encouraged us that biblical womanhood is much bigger than the box. At this point I was ready to give her a standing ovation right there in the introduction. I was so thankful to have a woman of Susan’s wisdom and experience give us this kind of wisdom.

Her teaching backed up her words. I will give you one succulent bite from Susan’s meaty plate. Ephesians chapter 1 provides insight of God’s work before the beginning of time. In reading, we get an understanding of the Trinity. Take a look at what’s happening in these three excerpts and notice how the first half shows a function, and the second half reveals the purpose:

vv. 3-6:   The Father chose us in Christ…to the praise of his glorious grace.

vv. 7-12:  Christ redeemed us through his blood…that we might be to the praise of his glory.

Vv. 13-14: The Holy Spirit seals, applies and guarantees our redemption…to the praise of his glory.

Did you notice something? The three Persons of the Trinity have different functions, but the same purpose. Quoting Michael Horton from his book God of Promise, Susan taught us that , “God’s very existence is covenantal: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in unceasing devotion to each other, reaching outward beyond the Godhead to create a community of creatures serving as a giant analogy of the Godhead’s relationship. Created in the image of the Triune God, we are by nature outgoing, interdependent relationship establishers, finding ourselves in the other and not just in ourselves…”

Yes, women and men are equal—equal in value. But Susan emphasized the fact that equality does not equal sameness. If we try to reduce our design to sameness in function, we are diminishing our ability to reflect the glory of God. And if our approach is to reduce our design to a skirt length or job restrictions, we are limiting our design by putting it in a box that God did not create.

Susan Hunt understands that our design in sexuality is much bigger than the box. She continued to teach us about the beauty of our calling with bold, passionate conviction because she knew it is the glory of God that is at stake. Susan equipped us with the principles behind our design, and then challenged us to be handing this down in our churches. It wasn’t just about my understanding, or even my ability to teach my 13 and 11-year-old. I left with even more resolve to be a part of equipping our covenant daughters while they are in the care of our church. So did the women from the various churches and denominations that attended.

We may think that we have great new things to say about the biblical design of male and female. But 73-year-old Susan Hunt rocked my face off.

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20 Comments

  1. Melissa says:

    Aimee, I’d have been tempted to stand up with you! Sometimes I’ve been overwhelmed by those who seem to think that biblical womanhood demands homeschooling your large family of perfect children, reading certain books, and not working outside the home. As a mother of one, who works full-time outside the home and sends her daughter to public school, I’m often discouraged that I don’t measure up to these standards of biblical womanhood. I need to remember those standards are not God’s.

  2. amariemarton says:

    I agree with Melissa. When I was on a reformed dating site, I saw many men who listed their desire for a “Godly woman” which really meant someone to stay home and homeschool their large brood while never questioning them. So grateful to have met my husband who has a larger view of womanhood. We don’t have children, but he’s constantly encouraging me to seek God and love God more, and isn’t that what true womanhood is all about? I have enjoyed Susan Hunt’s books, and am going to look on-line for some podcasts to listen to of her.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      These are two examples of the importance of teaching biblical womanhood in the church. More often than it may seem, I think that those with good intentions just don’t have a good, theological grasp on our callings.

  3. Tim says:

    Aimee, that box illustration is great, particularly because you can see who’s not in the box: Jesus. Being a Godly man or woman – or pursuing buiblical womanhood or manhood – means focusing on Jesus first and always. Our identity is in him, not in our genders. Susan sounds like a woman who, as you say, gets that. Her call for us to pass sound doctrine on to our kids (and all young people in the church) before they learn the world’s ways is great advice.

    Thanks for sharing her words with us.

    Tim

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Yes, Tim, thank you for pointing that out. Christ is also such an example of how his submissive role to the Father was a beautiful, voluntary action that did not take away from his amazing worth.

  4. Kim Shay says:

    Love it, Aimee. As someone whose daughter is working at getting a doctorate and has no immediate plans for marriage and children, I sometimes feel like she would be excluded from many Christian circles. And I, the mother who stands by and watches am seen as not having been the Titus 2 woman I ought to have. Sometimes, we Christian women operate on a “I like you if you are like me” principle. So thankful for you sharing this.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Yes, Kim, and I have really been recognizing the need for other women in our covenant community of the church to come alongside our children. That is the pledge members make when children are baptized into our covenant community after all.

  5. Doc B says:

    It’s too bad Ms. Hunt isn’t more widely read and doesn’t get to speak more places, because what she says is validated by my experiences. With reference directly to the manhood/womanhood issue, I’ve found that almost no one I speak with, including some fairly erudite folks, can offer any sort of argument against so-called same-sex marriage outside of some variation on the ‘it is yucky’ theme. I fear we’ve already lost this one.

  6. Lisa Spence says:

    Biblical womanhood as a set of rules and legalistic moralism? What?!?

    Ha! Just kidding. So true. I too have great respect for Susan Hunt. I particularly like her book on women’s ministry and the church. I had the opportunity to hear her speak at a break out session at a True Woman event a few years ago. She is the real deal.

  7. Laura says:

    Love this! That was so cool what you (she) said about 3 functions of Father, Son, Holy Spirit for same single purpose!

  8. DragonLady says:

    Love this! Legalistic moralism taught me a bunch of dos and don’ts, but never taught me how to really deal with temptation. It’s only by the grace of God that I didn’t fall into more sin with more devastating consequences than what I did when I was in my late teens/early 20′s.

  9. Chris Lee says:

    Aimee
    Thank you for the post. It was very interesting and thought provoking. In the interest of fruitful exchange, may I offer some thoughts as well?

    You recounted how Susan Hunt mentioned that we can easily “condense biblical womanhood into a set of rules, legalistic moralism.” This is a very significant statement and deserves to be mulled over. I would agree with this statement.

    I think that an equally crucial and, in fact, foundational statement that Susan said was about how “biblical womanhood is much bigger than the box.”

    In my own personal studies, I have found it helpful to understand these types of issues through the framework and basis of a consistent worldview.
    I would say that we both agree upon the general principles of biblical womanhood as found in the Bible. From this, I would say that we both agree that we have the understanding of what that womanhood worldview is.

    I mentioned before how Susan Hunt brought up the concept of how biblical womanhood is much bigger than the box.
    I think that this statement is in fact very crucial to how we approach this issue, and the mindset behind the applications and the applications themselves.

    While husband and wife are inherently equal, I think that what gets left out in a lot of these discussions is how husband and wife are ***positionally and functionally*** different.
    This means that, yes, there are some things that the husband will not do because, yes, that is the wife’s “job” and vice versa, there are things that the wife will not do because that is the husband’s “job.”
    And yes, it is demeaning for a woman to try to be like a man in attempting to be ***functionally*** equal to him and vice versa.

    I have found it helpful not to approach this issue from the standpoint of our definition being broken out of a box, but that this definition is part of our overall worldview which is the foundation from which all of our thoughts and actions proceed. I think that the box analogy is a false analogy that can lead to more confusion.

    From this worldview, the approach should be, how can I maximally fulfill and be maximally consistent with this worldview?
    It is the same approach that we can take with a young man and woman who are about to be married. The question shouldnt be, “How far can we go before we are married?” The question should be “how can I maximally fulfill and be maximally consistent with this worldview understanding of biblical sexuality and purity?”

    A maximalist interpretation of the biblical womanhood worldview normally (but not necessarily always) leads to the woman staying home to order the house and support the husband. We know that the woman is supposed to be submissive. A maximalist approach would then normally lead her to express her submissiveness by supporting her husband at home..
    However, I do recognize that there are other situations where this particular application would be exceedingly difficult (if family situation dictates that the wife needs to work etc…).
    But, this shouldn’t excuse men and women from taking this approach and seeing how they can best accommodate their difficult situation to the maximalist worldview approach.

    I think that a lot of men and women don’t take this maximalist approach because they were never taught to think this way, and also they don’t understand that the positional and functional differences must come into play. In other words, simply because we are inherently equal, this does not mean that we dont take into account positional and functional differences.

    So, really, the approach shouldnt be: God’s design and how you apply it to any and all situations, or somehow breaking it out of some notional box.

    It really should be a maximalist interpretation of our worldview and how this interpretation influences our application of the biblical womanhood and manhood worldview..

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Thanks for your comment Christ, and offering another way to look at the issue. I guess you could say that Susan Hunt offered up as our “maximalist interpretation” the relationship within the Trinity. Being made in the image of God, we were created as covenantal creatures that reflect him. In that way, our equality as distinctive, sexual beings does not equal sameness. We have complementary functions with the same purpose, to glorify God.
      However, I’m not sure that I am willing to say that a maximalist interpretation leads to a woman staying at home. I do believe that it is an ideal way for a woman to fulfill her role as a helper and life-giver, but not the only way–especially when you consider her many seasons in life.

      • Chris Lee says:

        Hi Aimee
        Thanks for the response. Keep up the blog!! We need more “housewife theologians”!!!!

        I certainly agree that we should look to the Trinity as an analogous construct.

        Some (most? few?) people intellectually understand and affirm these differences in position and functionality between husband and wife. However, when it actually comes down to physically applying this understanding, this is where a lot of disconnect happens.
        This also happens in conjunction with what I said about how most people are not taught to think from a “maximalist” worldview vantage point.

        You said “However, I’m not sure that I am willing to say that a maximalist interpretation leads to a woman staying at home. I do believe that it is an ideal way for a woman to fulfill her role as a helper and life-giver, but not the only way–especially when you consider her many seasons in life.”

        I would generally agree with your proposition above. Yes, I agree that it isnt **necessarily** the only way.

        However, my own subjective observations (although certainly not conclusive in any formal sense) have been that most couples don’t really think about these positional and functional differences enough before making specific decisions on how to order their home-life.

        I brought up the issue about the woman staying home as being a tangible outworking of being submissive (positional and functional differences). And in terms of all of the options that a woman in terms of her vocation, this is the most consistent interpretation of the womanhood worldview.

        This really puts the burden of proof on other women who willingly go back to work in examining their own motives and seeing if their motives are as consistent as possible with their worldview ****given their particular circumstances.****

        If there are financial issues, this is clearly a season in which the woman is forced to work.

        If the family can get by without the woman working:
        Is it really in her best interest to dress up for other people at work or her male boss every day instead of her husband?
        Is it really in her best interest to give up her children to day care to total strangers when she has the ability (and loving duty?) to nurture them herself? etc…

        I am NOT saying that women cannot work. What I am saying is that I feel that some (most? few?) women, being heavily influenced by the secular and egalitarian American mindset, havent really thoroughly examined enough the issue enough to make a proper conscious decision.

        For instance, God has blessed us enough that my wife stays at home. She has told me from time to time that she would like to go back to work. Whenever I ask her what her reasons are, they always revolve around making money because she sometimes “feels” that making money increases her self-worth. Her reasons never revolve around supporting me or the kids.
        How has that line of thinking ever been closely examined with the womanhood worldview?

        • Kathleen says:

          Wow, interesting perspective, I would even like to submit that yes, if working outside the house is in order to increase self worth, it is with the wrong heart. But if staying at home is to revolve around supporting husband and children, that will not be enough either and is with the wrong heart. As women we need to serve God in whatever position He calls us. Our worth will only come as a child of God and if we feel like we are slipping into nothingness and the mundane, we need time alone with our Savior (not more ME time). He will give us joy in the opportunities of motherhood/wifedom (laundry, toilets, and the like!)

        • Melissa says:

          I am thankful that God has called Christian women into the workplace. When a woman visits a doctor or an attorney, having a Christian woman in the office is often helpful; the employee can minister to her in a way a man cannot or should not. Christian women in education can minister to our children.

          Perhaps I’m coming across as defensive, but I know women who stay home & don’t adequately care for their families. I believe the condition of our heart – not our employment status – is the better indicator of our Biblical womanhood.

          • Chris Lee says:

            Kathleen
            I appreciate the additional perspective. I totally agree that if staying home is done with the wrong heart, the calling and privilege to do so is now wasted and abused.

            Melissa,
            I am not taking your tone as defensive at all. I would take a little bit of nuanced approach to your second paragraph, but generally, there is much that we are in agreement with.

            Yes, I also agree with your first paragraph.
            I hope that I didnt sound like I was overstating myself, but I was very careful NOT to say that:
            women working = sin.
            I do recognize that there are times when God does call women to do additional duties outside the home.

            In a way, it could be similar to if you had a father who was in the military. Of course, he is called to be the spiritual leader of the household, but he is also called to be in the military and be deployed for months at a time. Does that mean that he should get out of the military because he is away so often and “not guiding” his children? Not necessarily.

            In general, one of my points was that whether or not God has called a woman outside the home to work, I just have observed that most couples (in my informal limited experience) do not really think hard enough about what they are doing in relation to their worldview.
            If they have thought hard/prayed enough and still come to the conclusion that the wife is called to work, then she can work with a clean conscience.

  10. Bronwyn Lea says:

    Great post! Thank you for these ‘delicious morsels’ which I most certainly will savor. I occasionally get to teach groups of women and this is a sage reminder that when making application to “women”, not to put anyone in a box :-)

What do you think?