In his new book “enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship,” PCA pastor Sam Andreades has an ambitious, pastoral goal: to explain“the importance of gender in relationships.” Like so many pastors, Andreades, for years, has counseled engaged couples. Over time, he says, he’s developed dozens of good resources: books that delve into communication, sex, the role of marriage in sanctification, and finances. But none, he realized, dealt with gender.

And yet, in the New Testament passages that deal with marriage Andreades found that “distinguishing gender is just about all the authors talk about!” Throughout the New Testament, Andreades says, we see God telling His people “to make gender distinction a main point of relationships.” There must be a reason. And, in these distinctions, there must be a rich blessing as well. And yet, many of us have missed them. byFaith spoke with Andreades, hoping to learn more about God’s purpose for gender differences and specialties.

Men and women have been living together and relating to one another since the creation of Adam and Eve. Why, in 2015, do we need a “theology of gender”? 

Orthodoxy always proceeds upon heresy. Against, and because of, the falsehoods of Marcion and the Gnostics, the church delineated the canon of the New Testament in the third century. How did we come to understand who Jesus Christ was? The Apollinarian, Nestorian, and Eutychian debacles drove our now treasured Chalcedonian formulation in the fifth century. More recently, our theology of revelation was particularly developed in response to the Enlightenment, when European culture challenged the Bible’s authority. There are many other examples. For that matter, Paul tells the Corinthians right out that heresies (or divisions) are necessary for the church to make manifest the true among us (1 Corinthians 11:19). So I think all the hoopla about same-sex marriage and contention about women in ministry is God’s way of goading the church back to the Scriptures to think rightly and more deeply about the meaning of gender.

As with the development of any heresy, truth is uncovered along with the error. There are legitimate questions being asked today about women’s issues and why a monogamous union between two men is wrong, and “traditional family values” answers don’t cut it. God is now allowing the agony of heresy on these matters to spur the church on to manifest creedal truth on this crucial aspect of creation — what it is to be a woman and what it means to be a man. I doubt my book is the final word on it, but I hope it helps spur the conversation.

You provide a brief word study in Chapter 5, explaining what the Bible means when it tells us that the two — male and female — become one flesh. You summarize by saying that “according to Jesus, God’s creation of gender is the necessary cause of marriage; that marriage happens as an expression of gender distinction.” Can you talk about that? 

I was just pointing out that when Jesus explains marriage to the Pharisees, He quotes Genesis 2: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother … and the two shall become one flesh.” (Mark 10:7-8, Genesis 2:24). But to explain the “therefore” — that is to say, why people get married — Jesus goes to the earlier and completely separate passage about the creation of gender: “God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6, Genesis 1:27). This sentence actually summarizes the more detailed account in Genesis 2 of the beginning of gender. By deliberately making that selection for the “therefore,” Jesus tells us that gender distinction is the reason for marriage. Marriage is not the only purpose of gender, but, if people get married, gender difference is why it happens. In other words, gender matters in relationship. That is why romantic monogendered unions are not God’s way for us.

When we tell people that we cannot endorse monogendered (or same-sex) marriage, it is not because we have a phobia of people who experience same-sex attraction or because we have hatred in our hearts for those who are different than we are. It is because, if we are to be married, God wants to do something in us by marriage through gender difference. And intergendered relationships are the only way to do it.

You tell readers that biblical gender is a call to use our sex differences to serve one another; that “gender is not just something we are, but something we do.” Can you tell us how we “do” gender? 

I’ll try. There is a lot there. First, it is helpful to distinguish between the physical differences of male and female and the gender differences of masculine and feminine. The latter is part and parcel of being uniquely made in God’s image, a feature of His last and crowning work. The former are the dusty part of us, the sexual natures we share with animals, the lower-order stuff God repeated from other works on the first six days of creation.

When we look at male and female, the physical differences, we find a great deal of similarity and nondiscrete differences. That is, besides genitalia, sex-specific traits are often not all that dependably specific. They are definitely there statistically, but the distributions overlap. Girls are usually much more adept at language skills and recognizing emotion in another person’s face, but not always. Boys do on average perform better at math in school, but there are plenty of exceptions. You can see this in every male-female “difference,” from skin thickness to frequency of sleepwalking. God made us this way on purpose.

For one thing, He just seems so tickled by the variety.

But also, He wanted men and women to be able to relate to each other, and this difference with overlap means that we can always connect in some way. I say in the book that, without it, women wouldn’t just be from Venus and men from Mars. Women would be from Venus, and men would be from MACS0647-JD, the farthest known galaxy from Earth in the universe. The situation would be far worse than the bafflement that we often feel at each other. We could not even comprehend each other.

Just as importantly, though, we are led by this understanding to respect limits in sex-specific traits, appreciating them but not confusing them with gender. A woman who excels in mixed martial arts is not less of a woman, any less than a man with an eye for decorating is less of a man. It is essential for the church of Jesus Christ to realize this and embrace the exceptional, for the church’s benefit as well as the individuals’. When the exceptional young are excluded — be it from family, church, or society, developmental problems hinder them long into their lives — and the excluders themselves are also stunted. God gives us the exceptional for the growth of us all. When we encounter a woman who loves rugby and video games, we should happily watch to see how femininity is expressed in her ties with others. When we meet an emotionally sensitive man, or one who likes show tunes and follows directions by landmark instead of compass, we should espy God’s image in how he obeys the Lord in relationship.

That brings us to one of your often-used phrases: “the grand asymmetry of gender specialties.” What does that mean? And why is it relevant today? 

The Bible is clear that women and men are created equal in God’s image. We must emphasize that to prevent abuse. But the Bible is just as clear that we love each other differently, asymmetrically, if you will. The Apostle Paul’s close reading of the Genesis 2 narrative, where Adam and Eve are distinguished and gender is created, highlights three differences. These yield three calls to specialize in our close relationships with the other gender. These calls are repeated and demonstrated throughout the Bible. Answering them forges intimacy in our relationships today.

For example, the different way in which Eve and Adam are brought forth creates what we could call the asymmetry of origin. In the poignant moment of their meeting, Adam spoke and secured Eve with a name. He grounded her. Meanwhile Eve, at that same moment, returned Adam to the place of profound rest from which he had been wrenched when his rib was yanked from him. She was a home to him. Quite practically, we can do much for each other by making these our goals in marriage. The ways to do it will vary with the people, providence, and purposes of God. But a wife is called to, and is uniquely empowered, to bring rest to her husband. A husband is called to make his wife secure, and he can do it better than a thousand “Oprah” episodes.

When you discuss gender asymmetry from the woman’s perspective, you talk about her specialty as “promoter.” Promotion, you say, is the positive work behind all the telling of women to be quiet in church that Paul does. This is a contentious issue. Why is it that Paul tells women, in some instances, to be quiet? 

There is no doubt that at places Paul tells women to be quiet in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:12). For that matter, Peter tells women to be quiet too (1 Peter 3:4). Why is that? I contend that it is not because there is anything inherently good or godly about women being quiet. It is not because women are less able to speak well or because they are not as smart about church things or because they don’t have good things to say. Paul indicates in other places that we need to hear women’s voices in church. That is why he praises the Corinthians in that same letter for breaking the traditions of synagogue and Roman public gathering by having women publicly prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:2, 5). The church does a very poor job of honoring women as equal image-bearers when they are discouraged from participating in worship services.

Why then does Paul tell women to be quiet at times? Again, gender distinction is about relationship. What brothers do as men is supposed to be for their sisters’ benefit. Likewise, what sisters do as women is for their brothers. Being quiet in certain contexts (such as, in the Corinthian church, for the judging of prophecy) is sisters giving something to their brothers. The gift promotes the guys, ushers them forward to take a representative role for the community. It is not only a gift; it is also a push. Where women are willing to forgo speaking in like situations, men tend to grow up.

When you talk about the asymmetry of intent, you make the statement: “You cannot be happy in life if your life is about you. You cannot be happy in a relationship if your relationship (marriage) is about itself.” What does that mean?

The most important gender asymmetry, and yet the one that seems so utterly lost in our day, concerns how God brings us together in relationships to further His Kingdom. This is explicitly stated in the Genesis 2 narrative. God is said to create man for the purpose of a mission. The Creator entrusts the masculine with humanity’s commission of gardening and taxonomy, the first instance of physical and intellectual dominion-taking (Genesis 2:7, 15). God says explicitly that He is making woman to empower that mission (Genesis 2:18). When we fail to grasp that our marriage has a purpose in bringing in the kingdom of Heaven, we devolve into fighting about who does more work, whose career is more important, or who should be taking out the garbage.

One time a guy I played Ultimate Frisbee with confided in me that as a couple, he and his wife were stagnant. They had gone a ways in this marriage thing, but, he sighed, they had just come to do things by rote. Their evenings had lost the excitement of the initial romance. “What can we do to have some excitement as a couple?” He asked me point-blank, “What is our problem, Sam?” It was not hard to untangle. My friend had yet to realize the paradox — if the point of your relationship is your relationship, you will make yourselves very sad. If it is about God’s work, a commission you are actively discovering and pursuing, you invigorate the relationship. It is a paradox, but one that is easily verified.

In your discussion of gender specialties you tell readers that there may be times when God asks us to limit ourselves in our gifting for gender purposes. What does that look like? 

The biblical mandates provide a lot of flexibility in how different couples in different periods through different cultures fulfill their gender for one another. But sometimes our very personalities or gifting seem to go against these specialties. A woman who is very good at evaluating factors and being decisive might ask, “Why should I promote my husband to decide on this home relocation when I am the better decision-maker?” Or, a man who doesn’t have the gift of teaching may ask, “Why do I need to bother with the kids’ spiritual education when that is not my forte?”

These are good questions. The answers come in realizing how much God cares about advancing our marriage relationships. That happens by sometimes letting gender trump gifting. When you do, you do something very deep to each other. The result is a vitalizing intimacy.

In the book I give examples of Scriptures where people allow gender to trump gifting, and we can see plenty of modern examples. In the beginning of their couplehood, Edwin, a great cook, limited himself in kitchen to allow Sandra to be distinguished in giving him rest. As he put it, “We felt like we needed to do that in those early days, as part of us growing into who we were as men and women.” They have since found other ways to express securing and giving rest, even more deeply, but that was the first way.

These choices are works of meekness — not doing what we could do or saying what we could say, for a greater cause. It is important to recognize that when we practice meekness, God brings about opportunities to use our gifts anyway, often in surprising ways. There is a resurrection on the other side of such a death. If you lose your life for Christ’s way of relationship, you will find new life in that relationship. Usually the things that make us the happiest in life tend to sneak up on us.

At the end of the same chapter, you provide a plainly stated definition of manhood and womanhood. Those definitions may surprise some readers. Can you give them to us and explain them? 

You know, those definitions come toward the end of Part II of the book and are meant to be a prize to the reader for the work of going through the thought beforehand. Traversing some important points first helps those definitions make sense. So, if you’ll allow me, Richard, I’d like to leave that vista as a reward for those willing to hike the trail with me.

What I would offer here, though, is some advice to anyone who would like to try to say what a real man is. Or a true woman. The advice is this. Any attempts to come up with resilient, invigorating, and lasting definitions of manhood or womanliness apart from the Bible are doomed to failure. A real man cannot be someone who likes football, frequents the hardware store, is aggressive, brave, or has a lot of chest hair. A true woman cannot be someone who is weak, sensitive, likes to shop or knit, likes to defer, or chooses romantic comedies on Friday night. Such definitions will crash on the rocks of cultural particularity on one side, or grind on the hard place of the overlap of sexual traits on the other, or scrape to a stop in the narrow straits of individual preferences or experiences. No wonder academia gives up and relegates gender to a cultural construct. But to do so also shipwrecks our understanding of God’s call. Instead, the Bible’s genius avoids all these and takes us to the heart of who we are and why we were made. Reject its wisdom to your own isolation. Accept it, and your relationships will grow in Trinity-mirroring intimacy.

Sam A. Andreades is senior pastor of Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. Previously, he was a pastor for 10 and a half years in Greenwich Village, New York City. He is the founder of Higher Ground, a New York City ministry serving those with unwanted same-sex attractions. 

About the author, Richard Doster

Richard Doster is the editor of byFaith. He is also the author of two novels, Safe at Home (March 2008) and Crossing the Lines (June 2009), both published by David C. Cook Publishers.