Michael Horton and Doug Wilson have begun a conversation about gender roles that is not to be missed. Horton began the discussion last week in a short article in Modern Reformation titled “Muscular Christianity.” Doug Wilson responded on his blog just today in a post titled, “Michael Horton, Gender Stereotypes, and Me.”
I won’t summarize the whole argument, but here’s the gist of it. They are both complementarians. They both affirm that God assigns different roles to men and women in the home and in the church. They also agree that these differences are rooted in the order of God’s creation. They are disagreeing, however, over the extent to which cultural norms govern and inform our fulfillment of these roles. Michael Horton warns against culturally-derived hyper-masculine expressions among the “young, restless, and reformed.” Doug Wilson pushes back, arguing that culture must inform how we live out our God-assigned roles as men and women.
Horton and Wilson are great writers and thinkers, so these essays are great reads no matter which side of the question you fall on. Having said that, I want to add one observation to the conversation.
In 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul argues for male headship (1 Cor. 11:3), and he does so on the basis of the order of God’s good creation (1 Cor. 11:8-9). Yet in the midst of laying down this creation norm, Paul also references a number of particular issues that are conditioned by cultural considerations. The one that immediately comes to mind is the bit about hair length.
The passage overall is concerned with men and women inhabiting their proper roles, and a part of that means looking the part. Men should look like men, and women should look like women. And so Paul says, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?” (1 Cor. 11:14-15).
There are a number of thorny exegetical questions in this passage that I am not even going to begin to unwind in a blog post. Having said that, one thing is clear. In the Corinthian assembly, hair-length mattered. It was a feature of one’s appearance that communicated something about a person’s masculinity or femininity. If you were a man, there was a way to wear your hair and a way not to wear it. If you were a woman, there was a way to wear your hair and a way not to wear it (whatever that was).
Though ancient statues from that day may leave us some hints, we really know very little about what “too long” or “too short” might have been for the Corinthians. These are norms that were set almost entirely by cultural influences. Nevertheless, Paul seems to be commanding the Corinthians to show some deference to those cultural norms in fulfillment of the roles God had assigned to them. So here is an instance in which the apostle Paul himself says that God-ordained gender roles must be lived-out with an eye toward cultural expectations of masculinity and femininity.
There are other texts that we could go to that illustrate this same principle (e.g., Deut. 22:5), but let’s leave it at just the one for now. The point is that we have to live out our gender roles in the culture that we find ourselves in. The apostle Paul probably never wore trousers. But that doesn’t mean that he was less masculine for wearing something that would probably have looked more like a dress to us. His own culture informed the way he obeyed God, even though the creation norm remained an ever-fixed mark. He had an eye to his culture’s impressions about masculinity and femininity. I don’t think we can do any different.