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What Does Nature Teach on Men and Women? Dr. Joe Rigney

Home » What Does Nature Teach on Men and Women? Dr. Joe Rigney

Guest: Dr. Joe Rigney | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Rigney about the differences between men and women, as revealed in nature. Topics of conversation include:

  • How the Bible and nature are not at odds when it comes to understanding gender
  • Defining “man” and “woman”
  • Gender stereotypes vs. tendencies that serve a larger role in familial relationships
  • How this understanding of the differences in gender affects pastoral ministry
  • Resources for further reading on this issue.

Dr. Joe Rigney serves as president and associate professor of Theology and Literature at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He is also a pastor at Cities Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is the author of several books, including The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying HIs Gifts (Crossway, 2014), and Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World? (Crossway, 2020).

 

 

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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:16):

There’s a lot of confusion today about a lot of different things, and one of the most significant places of confusion today is on gender. What does it mean to be a man and what does it mean to be a woman? And we recently saw this blow up in the past year or so when Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson was asked, “What is a woman?” And her answer was, “I’m not a biologist.” As though she could not answer that question. And it just signals the larger confusion in our culture today around ideas of gender, transgenderism—these words that we have now that were not in our lexicon before. But, as Christians, we recognize that gender matters. And God has this in the opening pages of the Bible in Genesis chapter one, that we are made male and female in the image of God. And it matters to God.

Brian Arnold (01:03):

And so we need to think Christianly about these topics of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. And while a lot of ground has been traversed biblically on this topic, I think it’s also important that we think about—what has God done in our nature that demonstrates the difference between men and women? Well, to help us understand this today, we have with us Dr. Joe Rigney. Dr. Rigney serves as president and associate professor of Theology and Literature at Bethlehem College and Seminary. In addition to his work at Bethlehem, he is a pastor at Cities Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He frequently writes for Desiring God, and is the author of several books, including The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, and Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World? Dr. Rigney, welcome to the podcast.

Joe Rigney (01:52):

Well, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Brian Arnold (01:54):

So we always ask our guests one big question. Today that is—what does nature teach on men and women? And you and I have been around long enough, that we have seen this ground, as I mentioned before, traversed a lot through Scripture, and some of those significant passages about that. But fewer and fewer people are looking to the Bible in culture today to identify what a man, a woman is. But you’ve actually moved into kind of the realm of natural theology on this to help answer this question. How did you come to even start thinking about it in that way?

Joe Rigney (02:29):

Well, I think one of the things I began to notice about my own reflection on it, was one, that the Bible regularly argued from creation or from nature in all sorts of ways. So some of the books I’ve written—Things of Earth, Strangely Bright—were about what God reveals about himself through the natural order. So I’d already been kind of, you know, leaning into that world for sort of Christian life and how do we love God and enjoy the world, that sort of thing. But then it dovetailed with realizing that what the Bible says in its commands and in its exhortations about manhood and womanhood, whether in the church or in the home, actually fits with the way that God made the world. It made sense that there was this connection between special revelation and general revelation. And so that was really what kind of led me into it.

Joe Rigney (03:14):

And then what I realized was that I think for a lot of Christians—we fear that the biblical teaching sort of is free floating or arbitrary. And that there’s really a faith-strengthening dimension to realizing that what the Bible says accords with the way God made the world. And so it really…what led me into it was a desire to sort of buttress the faith of Christians by helping them to see that God’s commands, God’s imperatives, fit with his indicatives, with the things that he’s done and made. And that was sort of the connection—that there’s a faith-strengthening dimension. And I think in some ways an apologetics one for the world around us. That the world just is the way it is. God made it that way. And that you can appeal to that. You can have a confidence that when you’re speaking to someone—they live in the world God made, they were made in his image. And that therefore, you’re not speaking into the void, but that there’s something on the other end that you’re trying to tap into, in hopes that God would awaken someone to his Word and his world and his reality in all these different ways.

Brian Arnold (04:17):

And that’s one of the reasons why I’m really grateful for your work, is helping bridge that gap between what the Bible says and what is true in nature are not opposite things. It’s not that God is somehow trying to trick us or something. And you mentioned that he’s not arbitrary. And I had a dear, sweet friend of mine who…that’s where she was struggling on this issue. Is not whether or not the Bible teaches what we call complementarianism, but—well, God just decided to make it that way, so I’ll follow it. But not that there’s anything in nature itself that bears that out. And just for our listeners, who may not know that word—complementarianism is just a biblical teaching that God has created men and women with equal worth, value, dignity in his image, but he’s given them separate roles and functions in this life. As opposed to egalitarianism, which would really remove that kind of distinction between men and women, bringing kind of a sense of equality into every aspect, denying that there’s different roles and functions. Are you fine with those definitions?

Joe Rigney (05:20):

Yeah, I think that works.

Brian Arnold (05:21):

So moving then from from Scripture to natural theology, let’s ask some of these questions, even about human biology and anatomy. What is a man, and what is a woman? I mean, can you believe we’re even asking these questions today? But here we are. So how would you answer these?

Joe Rigney (05:37):

Yeah. So I think…when I think about grounding the biblical teaching in something in nature, I typically make a distinction between what I’ll call creation and nature itself. So creation would be what you learn in the Bible from the early chapters of Genesis. So it would be things like—God made Adam first and then made Eve. God made Adam…or made Eve out of Adam’s side. She created him as a helper. These are all things revealed in the Bible about the original creation of man and woman. They’re really important. The rest of the Bible draws upon them, assumes them, grounds things in them, Paul appeals to it in his letters, things like that. But then there’s this other thing you can call nature, which is more…things that we can know by natural revelation, and that are evident to all people right this minute.

Joe Rigney (06:24):

You don’t need to have a Bible at all to know them. And when I think about that question as applied to men and women, there’s a few things that you know about every human being. You know, that every human being who’s ever existed—Adam and Eve may be excepted, because they were special-created—every other human being was made…was the son of human parents. Or a daughter of human parents. So every human being is an actual son and an actual daughter of human parents. And because—what does it mean to be a son? Well, a son is someone who will grow up to be a father, or is ordered to fatherhood. Is a potential father. A daughter is the kind of human being who is ordered to motherhood, is a potential mother. And that potential is there, even if, because of a variety of reasons, you never actually have biological children.

Joe Rigney (07:13):

So you may never get married, and so never become a father or mother. You may get married and you have infertility, or other things like that, and you may not become a father and a mother biologically. But God has still designed you with that sort of purpose in mind. Maybe one way to think of that is—everyone is meant to be a spiritual father and spiritual mother. God’s built us for that purpose. And that’s basically, at the sort of universal level—every human being is either a son or a daughter, a potential father, a potential mother, a brother, or a sister. And that those realities then, that package, is what constitutes us as men and women.

Brian Arnold (07:52):

So it seems like a lot of people are concerned today, as we talk about these kinds of issues, of gender stereotypes, right? This is the kind of thing that we hear of, somehow this Donna Reed or something picture in their mind, or Leave it to Beaver kind of scene, of this woman in an apron, vacuuming and making sure the chicken is cooked just perfectly for her husband—who’s been at work all day—to come home. And there’s a lot of pushback and rebellion kind of against that view today. So what are some of those specific roles that we would say—we’re not gender stereotyping, this is just true of the differences of the genders. While also recognizing that there’s freedom on some of those issues. So how do you even help people, confused in this cultural milieu today, understand that?

Joe Rigney (08:41):

That’s great. Yeah. So I would begin again with that, you know, we’re all sons and daughters. Sons or daughters. We’re all potential fathers or potential mothers. Those are basic facts. And then, sort of along with those, then what God has done, is have these built-in tendencies and traits that emerge from and serve those facts. So because you’re…you know, men are made to be fathers, God’s designed us in a certain way. And this is where you run into those sort of tendencies, trajectories—the sort of things that you cluster together, often on a bell curve. So there’s outliers. It’s not that every man is this way, but it’s sort of things like—men in general are taller and stronger than women. It doesn’t mean every man is stronger than every woman.

Brian Arnold (09:23):

How dare you, sir.

Joe Rigney (09:24):

But it’s a general truth,

Brian Arnold (09:25):

Right. That’s exactly right.

Joe Rigney (09:27):

And then there’s other things like that. You know, in general, women tend to be more people-oriented, and men tend to be more task-oriented. Now, of course, there’s task-oriented women, and people-oriented men. But again, kind of clustered. And these are sort of real tendencies and traits that emerge, especially as you sort of survey large groups of people, and they’re pervasive across cultures. These are, in some ways, universal. But you can’t…you don’t build as much on the tendencies, because there are outliers. Instead, you realize those tendencies are serving these other, more fundamental, facts. I am…God has built me to be a father, and that’s true of my own children. I have three boys. But it’s also true in my ministry as a pastor. I want to be a father in the church.

Joe Rigney (10:11):

Whereas I think women ought to aspire to be mothers in the church. And then those sorts of…you know, the household of God as a mirror of the natural family become really important, as then you navigate what roles then…how do men and women relate? Well, in the church, it’s going to be brother to sister. It’s going to be father to daughter. An older man is supposed to…Paul says, is to treat younger women like daughters. Timothy’s supposed to treat older women like mothers. He’s supposed to correct fathers…older men, like as a father, with respect and honor. And treat sisters in all purity. And so those familial relations really do kind of form the kind of backdrop that help us and guide us as we think—what are the appropriate and fitting ways—those are important words—that fit the kind of human being I am, either a man or a woman?

Brian Arnold (11:03):

And thinking about that bell curve illustration that you’re using, transgenderism is in some ways a gift on this, as weird as that sounds. I think about something like Lia Thomas, I believe is the name—right—of the swimmer who is a biological male, wanted to compete in women’s athletics, destroyed the competition, and yet swimming against men was like 450th or something like this. Just demonstrating, I mean—transgenderism is going to keep saying to us, over and over and over, that there is something different between the genders. And nature will win out. Give nature time, and it will show itself to be what it is.

Joe Rigney (11:42):

That’s absolutely right. It does show. And there’s an interesting example. This was years ago, I think it was like a Heineken commercial. It was a British Heineken commercial. I don’t know how I ended up seeing it. But it was one of those extended, like four minute sort of commercials. And in it, there was a transgender…there was a male presenting as a female, and doing so in maybe a more effective way than sometimes…that can be. In other words, you might not have…if you didn’t know, you might not have known without being told. But what was interesting, is that in this interaction, that this man who was presenting as a woman had with another man, an older man, who was kind of a more man’s man, that the man’s man began to…would treat this other transgender woman like a woman.

Joe Rigney (12:29):

And it was, it was sort of nature. He knew—this looks like a woman, and therefore he treated her with more gentleness and kindness than he probably would’ve had it been another man. And so, even there, and things like that, there’s ways that we can’t sort of avoid the natural tendencies that men have to, say, want to protect women. Or to orient them in a way that’s different than sort of the masculine, you know, wrestling, direct conflict that men sort of thrive on and enjoy when it’s another man—feels inappropriate. And I think that there’s things like that, that are sort of pervasive, and that culturally there’s massive incentives to sort of deny what you can see with your own two eyes, and your own behaviors. So we have to sort of pretend those aren’t really there. That we’re going to buy into—men and women are just interchangeable, and you shouldn’t treat them differently, regard them differently, orient to them differently. And yet nature, like you said, is really stubborn and will reassert itself.

Brian Arnold (13:26):

One of the many unpopular opinions I like to suggest is—you really don’t get transgenderism without radical feminism of the 20th century. You need to get to that point—what you just said—men and women are interchangeable. Once there’s no difference between the sexes at all, or the genders at all, why can’t a man identify as a woman? Why can’t a woman identify as a man? And now we’re starting to see—well, maybe there is a difference. And I do wonder if there’s any unwinding of some of those other pieces that have led culture astray, just in recognizing this experiment has failed. So one of my favorite things about you, Joe, is your pastoral background and heart as well. This is a live kind of issue for a lot of people in our churches today. I hear pastors constantly telling me that they’re getting more and more young people with gender confusion, gender dysphoria. And how does this thought—of thinking through men and women from a natural theology kind of perspective—guide you in pastoral ministry, and the kinds of advice you give to young people struggling with this?

Joe Rigney (14:33):

Yeah. The first thing it does is actually more in me than it is in relation to them. And it does have to…it comes back to that confidence piece. That they’re…I’m going to deal with reality as God made it, and not reality as the world around me insists on lying about it. And so that gives a kind of settledness. So one of the things I often say…you know, there’s an old story about a preacher who wrote in the margin of his manuscript, his sermon manuscript, “argument weak—shout here” And there’s a way in which—

Brian Arnold (15:07):

<laugh> I’ve never heard that.

Joe Rigney (15:08):

Sometimes in our ministries, when we feel like we might lose the argument, we sort of compensate by trying to elevate our decibel level, right? We’re going to compensate for the weakness of our argument by shouting. And that can come out kind of in that shrill, angsty way, or it can come out in a kind of apologetic way, like a—”oh, I’m sorry that the Bible teaches this, but what are you going to do? You get kind of stuck with it.” And the first thing it does for me in my ministry is give me a settled confidence that the way God made the world is good. And that I believe it’s good. I see its goodness reflected in my own life, in my marriage, in my parenting, in my community. And so that when I’m speaking, whatever I’m going to say to the person sitting in my office, it’s coming out of a stronger confidence that like God is wise and good, and he’s made us. And manhood is good, and womanhood is good.

Joe Rigney (15:54):

It’s good to be a man, it’s good to be a woman. And that it doesn’t have to be this zero-sum competition about which is better, sort of the war between the sexes. Nor does it have to be this folly of interchangeability in order to have…attain some sort of nebulous equality that’s just false to reality. And so, brushing that aside then means I can deal with a person sitting in front of me as a man or a woman, and seek to speak to that goodness. And then what I’m trying to say to them is say—hey, I know that you have these tendencies, you have these trajectories, you have this nature that’s there. And I’m just wanting to say—Jesus reorders it. He blesses it, he redeems it, he wants to guide it and govern it, so that you become a true human being. You become a mother in the church, you become a father in the church, a brother in the church, a sister in the church. And boy, isn’t that great? And isn’t it amazing? And so I want there to be a kind of…what I hope is infectious and contagious joy and happiness that God made it this way. As opposed to that shrillness that comes from an angst about—oh no, we’re losing. Or the apologetic—I don’t ever want to talk about this, please don’t make me.

Brian Arnold (17:01):

Yeah, there’s…I was speaking to a group of youth just a couple weeks ago, about 530 high school and middle school kids. And I had 30 minutes in one of my sessions to deal with—what does it mean to be a person? And in that 30 minutes, I was able to try to go over the image of God, and God’s plan for men and women, and what marriage is, even, in that regard, and then have to hit issues like abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism. <laugh> All in 30 minutes. So it was a lot to handle, as you can imagine. But a lot of students came up after that weekend and said that was the most impactful talk on them, because all they hear constantly is—that’s wrong, don’t do it. Instead of what you just said there, of portraying the beauty of what God has done in creation. That when we submit ourselves to that, we’re actually living in his favor as it relates to our human relationships. And we’re living within the way that God designed it best. God wants human flourishing. So when people think about, you know, Christians being up in arms about this, and how bigoted we are and things—really, it’s love for neighbor. We want to see our neighbors living out God’s plan and design in their life, believing wholeheartedly that that’s going to lead to the greatest joy that they could possibly have.

Joe Rigney (18:18):

That’s absolutely, that’s absolutely right.

Brian Arnold (18:20):

This is an area where you and I probably have some commonality, in terms of taking a lot of body shots on complementarianism and our views on some of these things. So what are some of the most significant challenges you’ve had on this kind of issue, as you’ve sought to lead faithfully in your role at the seminary and also in the church?

Joe Rigney (18:49):

Yeah, I think one thing is it doesn’t…you can explain it as clear as you can. You can unpack it. You can try to make it sound as good as you believe it to be. And some people still aren’t going to be persuaded. And I think that’s true on just the gospel in general, but an issue like this it can feel heavy and hard when you see people who just can’t get there. Or that dig in. I think it gets particularly hard when they twist the Scriptures, and you see the contortions people are willing to go through in order to make it not say what it manifestly says. And so those would be some of the harder ones is when you see people who—man, I think that there would be just such a relief if they would embrace the way that God has designed and made them.

Joe Rigney (19:38):

And I think there is an element of…sometimes people ascribe it more narrowly, you know…where our nature will always be expressed in particularly cultural ways, but the cultural ways could vary from culture to culture. And sometimes those can be sort of more narrow and fixed, and people sort of buck against the cultural script. And they think they’re…and then they abandon nature. And they don’t need to do that. There’s actually flexibility, because God’s wise in how he made the world. So you don’t have to conform to some particular gender stereotype in every respect, in order to embrace what we’re talking about. But when they do reject it, it can be really hard. It’s heavy to see people decide that they’re going to continue to buck against the way God’s made the world and what his Scriptures teach.

Brian Arnold (20:24):

And like you said, the response is not—weak point, shout louder. The point is—live it out faithfully, and it let it be a guide and a model for people. And when they see it, people are going to gravitate towards it, because it’s beautiful and it’s outworking. So again, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us on this topic, especially from the side of nature, which you hear so rarely these days. What are some resources that you would point our listeners to that have helped you think through this issue?

Joe Rigney (20:55):

Yeah, I’ll give you a couple, I’ll give you two quick articles that I’ve written that might help. One’s called With One Voice, and it’s on the relationship between nature and Scripture. That’s a little more theological. But it helps to kind of, what is general revelation, special revelation. So you can go look, just search “Rigney” and “With One Voice,” and you’ll find that article online. And then there’s another one on this issue particularly, called Indicatives, Imperatives, and Applications, which really is getting at that—what’s the foundation in nature and creation, and then how does God’s Word build on that? And so Indicatives Imperatives and Applications. Both those are articles you could find online.

Brian Arnold (21:29):

Joe, that’s the one that I heard a few years ago, is that right? And let me just tell you all—

Joe Rigney (21:33):

That’s right. That’s the address from CBMW.

Brian Arnold (21:35):

It was fantastic. I was riveted the entire time. I found that to be one of the most helpful things I’ve heard on this issue in years past, so thank you for that. Yeah, go ahead with books.

Joe Rigney (21:45):

That’s encouraging to me. Yeah, so the two books I’d recommend is, there’s a little book by the chancellor of our school, John Piper, called What’s the Difference? And it’s a short book on kind of just what, you know, what’s the difference between men and women? That I think gives a good kind of little intro into the sort of what…trying to, as best we can, describe or define the quality of what masculinity is and femininity. So that’s a good, really small book called What’s the Difference? by John Piper. And then the other one is a more recent one by Kevin DeYoung. I think it’s called Men and Women in the Church. Or Men and Women in the Home and Church, or something like that. So Kevin DeYoung. And I would say it’s a little fuller. It’s a little bit bigger, but still geared to a popular level. It’d be a great place for people to go if they were trying to get—what does the Bible teach on manhood and womanhood? And it really brings in both what the Scriptures teach, and how nature factors into that.

Brian Arnold (22:34):

And Kevin is just so gifted with clarity in all of his writing. So I would commend those resources to you as well. Well, Joe, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this today. I think this is one of the most significant issues facing culture today. When we think about the sexual revolution, when we think about LGBTQIA+, these really come back down to the nature of what does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? What has God spoken in his Word? And what has he revealed to us in nature? And I think in understanding those things, Christians can have a very important and impactful witness in this world today. So, Dr. Rigney, again, thank you so much.

Outro (23:13):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we’ve been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you’re called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can’t join us on campus, I’d like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you’ve heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at ps.edu/online.

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