What is a man? What is a woman? Are we essentially the same? If there are more than biological differences between men and women, how should we think about those differences? And how should we live in light of them?
That’s the can of worms we’re opening in this episode of the CCL podcast with English pastor, church planter and author, Graham Beynon. (Graham was in Sydney recently for the annual Priscilla & Aquila Centre Conference, where he spoke on these issues.)
In our discussion, we touch on the socio-psychological findings that chart the observable differences between male and female character traits, and ask what the Bible has to say about this. How does the Bible direct us to act as men and women, and relate to one another in Christian community as men and women?
Links referred to:
- Graham Beynon on “The complementarian jigsaw: Gender, ministry and the local church” Parts 1 and 2: In these talks, Graham looks at the issue of gender in more detail using specific biblical passages.
- Some books by Graham Beynon:
- Find out more about the Diploma of Biblical Theology.
Runtime: 39:39 min.
Tony Payne: Well, if you weren’t at our CCL event on “The elusive joy of Christian community” just the other night, you missed a wonderful evening. And I’ll tell you a little bit later on about how you could catch up on that content if you’d like to. But one of the many excellent questions we were asked in the course of the evening and didn’t get to answer, as it turned out, was this one from Mark of Lismore. He says, “With the rise of the public anger towards male abusiveness, domination, entitlement and privilege, how do females and males stay unified and joyful in the church?”
I think Mark’s put his finger on a real and growing issue and problem—that the issues of sex and gender that are so heated and controversial and divisive within our society more generally do play into the way we relate to one another as men and women in Christian communities, and as we live the Christian life. And the big question underlying all of this—the question that our society is really grappling with and that we need to grapple with as Christians as well—is really what is a man and what is a woman? Are these two labels just cultural constructs? Or do they reflect something significant? Is there something about being a man that is different from being a woman? And if so, how would we identify these differences, and what should we do with those differences? What practical difference would it make to how we relate together to have a better understanding of what it means to be a man and means to be a woman?
Well, that’s the can of worms we’re going to open on this episode of the Centre for Christian Living podcast.
TP: Hello, I’m Tony Payne, and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast, coming to you from Moore College in Sydney, Australia. And our goal in this podcast and in everything we do at CCL is to bring biblical ethics to everyday issues. And the everyday issue we’re going to be digging into today is men and women: in what ways are we similar? In what ways are we different? And what are we supposed to do with that? What difference does that make to our lives as Christians and as Christian communities?
Before we get to that, I just want to tell you about some ways that you can catch up with the event that we ran just the other evening on “The elusive joy of Christian community”. Like all our public events, the audio and the video from the event will be available soon on our website: that’s ccl.moore.edu.au. And you can watch the video or listen to the audio there from our website.
As a new thing, we’re also going to start putting out the audio from our events—an edited version of them—as part of this podcast feed. So you can watch out in this feed over the next month or so—or two—for the edited version of the audio from that recent event.
But there’s something else new that we’re about to try that I’d like to tell you about. We’re about to run just for the first time as an experiment an encore presentation of the event as a webinar. Now, if you’re not sure what a webinar is, it’s essentially a virtual event—an online event where you register, you turn up online at a particular time, and there’s a live presentation there online: I’ll be there live, presenting the material, as well as playing some video from the event. And there’ll be live interaction and questions from you if you’re registered and there at that time. It’s a bit like coming to the event and participating in it live, but it all happens virtually: it all happens in an online space.
Now, if you’re interested in joining this experiment, we’re going to run it and see how it goes. Then get in touch and let me know of your interest: send me an email at email@example.com and register your interest, and I’ll be in touch with all the details. There’ll be further details coming out at as well through our email newsletter. The date for the webinar is Thursday March 28 at 7:30pm. So if you’d like to be part of the experiment, just let me know.
But let’s get to our guest for today’s episode.
Graham Beynon: Hi, I’m Graham Beynon. I’m pastor of a church in North Cambridge—a church plant—and I’m also on the faculty of Oak Hill Theological College in North London.
TP: What Graham modestly doesn’t mention in that little bio is just how many books he’s written! Graham has written on the life and work of Isaac Watts, on church planting, on dealing with money, on the heart attitudes of the Christian life, on experiencing the Spirit, on emotions in the Christian life, and on more besides. He really is quite prolific, and I’ll put some links to some of those books in our show notes.
Graham was in Australia recently speaking at a number of things, including the Priscilla & Aquila Conference here at Moore College. And his talks were particularly focused on the issues of gender and the roles of men and women, and the confusion and difficulty that we’re having with this whole subject—not only in society generally, but in our churches, in our families and Christian communities. And so I started by asking Graham what he thought the central issues really were.
GB: Yeah, I think there’s a number of them. One would be whether there are any innate differences between men and women. And our culture, of course, would almost certainly say “No” to that, and we would see any differences that there are as being constructed through upbringing and environment, and would often push against any “Men should be like this; women like that”: you can be whatever you want, and that—that ends up in a very plastic view of humanity and that merges into some of the transgender debates and so on.
Within the church, of course, we believe God has created us—created us male and female—and so it’s often some kind of owning of a difference between them. But uncertainty is to whether that really is innate in us—are men one thing and women another? How does that work? We also know—a second issue would be—would be the particular commands given for men and women—some specific areas of life in the home—husbands, wives—church leaders, whether they should be male, and so on. So is it that God’s simply given commands for a couple of specific areas? Or does that play out in—in all of life? Are those—are those the tip of an iceberg, underneath which is a whole understanding of gender? Or are they just kind of isolated islands where God said, “Here’s something for there; here’s something for there,” but the rest of life, gender’s not an issue?
TP: The debate about whether the—the differences between men and women are specific to a particular area or—or more generally broad, that’s often played out in discussions in Christian circles. Even within those asp—part—those parts of the Christian world, which broadly accept that there are differences between men and women, for some—some people want to very much partition that into it’s—it’s only really about home and church roles. But there are others who say, you know, women probably shouldn’t be policemen, or something like that. They—it goes further than that.
GB: That’s right.
TP: That makes people nervous. But on the other hand, I get what those people are trying to grapple with. Does what God says about men and women in the home and church—does it have no application further afield? What do you think about that?
GB: Yeah, it is—it is a really tricky area, and I’m—I’m—I’m cautious in making too bold a statement on some of this. I don’t want to go further than Scripture goes.
I guess what I like about the people who want to limit it to home and church is they are working off clear commands in Scripture. You have to wrestle with those and wrestle with how that works out. But we should—we must—we can’t avoid or duck what God says on those areas.
And so, I guess, I want to—I want to put the emphasis on church and home. But it does seem to me to be slightly odd that God would just give the isolated commands that didn’t connect in with the structure of reality in some way. And so, I appreciate those who think that, you know, those are the tip of the iceberg and there’s a broader base to it. And trying to work out how all that connects. But I’m cautious about making applications in the area of life, like “Men should be policemen”.
I do think—what I guess I think is that God has made us different: there are slightly different focuses with—with the men and women—different traits we might want to pick up on. And that often plays out with—with some of the characteristic differences, and we—we don’t want to oppose those; we want to go with the grain, as it were. But I want to be cautious about specifying that too tightly.
TP: You mentioned there traits—character traits. Do you think there are—this is one of the issues—are there male character traits and female character traits? That’s part of the debate about whether there are any innate differences.
GB: Yeah. Well, we’ll—we’ll probably come to Scripture in a second, but a whole number of studies—sociological studies and so on—have looked at that question and have basically said, “Yes, there are.” There’s a whole number of different things you can see: men are more task or goal-oriented; women are more relationally oriented. And when you read through those different lists—women have greater empathy and so on—you—you see something of a description of, you know, the caricature man and woman. But these studies have shown that’s—that is identifiable. On average, there are these differences, and that seems to be true across generations and across cultures. So it’s not just, “Oh, western culture always did this,” or something.
Now that—that’s not a biblical finding, but it’s just an observation in life. And I think we should take that seriously, rather than ignore it.
TP: We’ll come to a second as—as to whether that aligns with the biblical picture of the world. But it’s been very interesting to me as I’ve—I’ve read some of the research into character trait differences between men and women—that—there are—there are clearly identifiable differences, but they exist on a bell curve, as it were. So that, you might say, for example, say the character difference—men tend to be more interested in things; women tend to be more interested in people, which is one of the—one of the findings they’ve had.
GB: Yep. Yeah.
TP: But that exists on—on a—on a statistical variation—
TP: —so that, you know, there are some people who aren’t much interested in things, and there are some people who are interested only in things, and then there’s a differentiation in the middle.
GB: Yeah, yep.
TP: And the male bell curve will just be a little—will be a few points one direction than the female one.
TP: Which—which says something interesting to me about the nature of the differences. There’s—there’ll be overlaps—there’ll be some women—a smaller number—who are actually more interested in things than people.
TP: And there’ll be some men—a smaller number—who are actually more interested in people.
GB: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. If you want to picture it, I mean, thinking about—I often use the illustration of plotting the heights of men and women, because you probably can picture, then, two of these bell curves and on, you know, they’ll be shifted apart: women on average are shorter than men. There’s no arguing with that. But there are some women that are taller than some men. And so on. So there is this overlap. And that is exactly what you’re describing.
So, again, this isn’t biblical; this is just observational on life. There are those—that those two curves are far enough apart to say on average there are real differences. I need to run with that, I think—take that seriously. But we mustn’t make them binary: men are—men are A; women are B—because there is this overlap in the middle, and, as you say, it’s not just a yes/no thing; it’s a—it’s a degree thing. And so even for men somewhere else on the curve, it’s not just I am X rather than Z; it’s a proportion of those.
TP: And we’ll come back to that in a—in a moment. I think we should talk about the Bible and how it relates to this. But just before we do so, one of the interesting things that’s always struck me about this statistical analysis—one of the things—the little light bulb for me—it explains some phenomenon we observe in the world because of how that curve works. So, for example, let’s say men are slightly more aggressive on average than women, as a—as a character trait. But what it means that when you get down to the tail of the distribution, the people who are really aggressive, 90—95 per cent of those people who are super uber-aggressive will be men, because as it tails off, that’s where the tail of the distribution is. Whereas there won’t be many women who are in that super aggressive category at all.
GB: Yeah. Yeah.
TP: Which is why 95 per cent of the people in jail and—are men.
GB: Yeah. Yeah.
TP: And—and some vast percentage of violent crime is conducted by men.
TP: And you—so you can say, “Yes! There is a reason for that. It’s not—it’s not because all men are aggressive; it’s because when you get to the tail of the distribution. Anyway, I’ve been rambling on about statistics. But I think the—the way—that way of thinking about helps to explain why—why more women tend to choose nursing than men.
GB: Yes, and you get more male engineers and so on. Of course, we must—I mean, mentioning aggressive and violence for you to bring our understanding of sin into play. So this is just observational studies: this is observation of life as it is now, not as it was supposed to be. And so, some of those things—maybe women are more empathetic, say, than men—well, that may just be how we are. But some of them will be how sin has distorted who we are. So maybe men were made to have, say—it takes—sort of more task-oriented, take more responsibility, more initiative—that gets twisted into them being aggressive.
GB: And there—and that, then, can become violent. And so you have a kind of baseline difference, distorted by sin, resulting in a different pattern of sinful behaviour. So as you say, 95 per cent of the prison population is male. That doesn’t mean men are more sinful than women. Women do just as much wrong; they just do—don’t do so much that’s illegal.
TP: Exactly. Let’s talk, then, about—about the biblical picture. And we won’t be able to go through passages in detail in this sort of context. And I’ll point listeners to the talk that you did give at the Priscilla & Aquila con—conference where you did go through a number of passages very helpfully in detail, and I’ll give you details in the show notes.
But generally speaking, how did the biblical authors think their way towards this, or think about this question—about the differences between men and women? And what emerges in your reading of Scripture from—about that?
GB: Yeah. So we begin with creation: both made in the image of God, both given the creation mandates together. And—but also created male and female. So there are two types of people: there’s one humanity, two types of human: male and female. Genesis 2: that’s—Adam is given a helper suitable for him. And that suitability—that sort of—the difference there that isn’t—means Eve is not just another man. Clearly part of that is physical and biological, because they need to—to procreate. But I think, there, there is at least the hint or the opening that the—the suitability between men and women is more than just physical. It’s not like an identical person with different body parts. There’s—there’s something asymmetric—two parts of the jigsaw that fit together—that’s—that’s sort of picture given.
But the rest of Scripture, I—I don’t think we’re ever told “Men are to be like this”—task-oriented or something. “Women are to be more empathetic”. We’re never told that. Be very careful not to make a—this sort of caricature a biblical command. But we do see descriptions of women—they’re used as illustrations of compassion or caring. Being a father is used as an illustration of being a leader.
TP: A provider.
GB: And so on. And a provider. Exactly. So there are kind of assumptions made about men and women and what they’re like, which do run in that direction. And I think, again, we need to take that seriously.
TP: But you wouldn’t draw too strong a conclusion from the suitable helper language in Genesis—as if to say, “Ah! There’s an indication of subordination”, for example, or—or, you know, “That gives you a very clear picture”, you know—“men are supposed to really do the work, and the women are—are the helpers”. You—you—in your talk yesterday, you didn’t draw too much from that.
GB: No, I wouldn’t. I—some—some authors would, and it’s worth being aware of that. There’s diversity of opinion in the Christian world on this. I would say that that Genesis 2 passage points to male leadership: there are hints in the text itself. But primarily because Paul looks to Adam’s being born first as the basis for 1 Timothy 2, 1—1 Corinthians 11 and some of the roles he cre—he draws there. So—so, yes, a general leadership role. But not personality traits. I wouldn’t draw that from Genesis 2—1 and 2.
TP: Wisely, in my view. I think it’s possible to overread these things.
TP: I like the way you said that there are hints and glimpses—there are kind—there’s a—there’s a shape or a direction, but it’s not that much explicit. It’s—there’s really not a lot said there. But the picture does get filled out in Scripture of men and women being complementary, hence this—this phrase “complementarianism”—
TP: —which often when I use it in conversation, people say, “What?” It’s just the view that men and women are different—sometimes have different roles, have different tendencies and strengths—but complement and fit together.
GB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
TP: —in different ways.
GB: Yeah. Yeah.
TP: And that wasn’t a question. That was just me making a statement!
GB: To which I agree!
TP: Well, we’ll get back in a minute to the great time Graham and I were having, furiously agreeing with each other. But first, a very quick message from our sponsor. And our sponsor, of course is Moore College. The Centre for Christian Living is an activity of Moore College, and is funded by the college, because it fulfils part of the mission of Moore College. And that is to see men and women come to know God more deeply and to live out that knowledge in every aspect of their lives and to spread that knowledge to the world.
And one of the ways that you can do that more deeply is through the Diploma of Biblical Theology. This is something that Moore College offers. It’s an online Diploma for Christians who are wanting to just deepen their knowledge of God and his word. The blurb that I’ve been give—given here to—about the Diploma of Biblical Theology says that it’s a “one-year, fully-accredited online course” and so it breaks the geographical boundaries because you can learn and engage with this course wherever you happen to be in your local context, and whether you happen to be in some form of ministry leadership in your church or you just want to deepen your understanding of the word, the Diploma of Biblical Theology is a great way for you to do that. For more information or to sample a lesson, go to moore.edu.au/distance.
Anyway, let’s get back to Graham Beynon, and I asked him that—if we accept that men and women are similar in lots of ways, but also different, what are the implications of this?
GB: Yeah, we want to hold onto men and women being similar and different. The similarity means we don’t make them wholly other, we don’t set them in opposition to each other, we’re very careful not to kind of oppose them. We’re fundamentally similar.
But we honour the differences. We respect them. We welcome them. That means we don’t think of male as normal and female as a variant on male. And that has been done, I think, throughout the—throughout history—a lot of societies—and it still happens and happens within the Christian world. Men are the standard, and if women aren’t like that, they are both seen as different but lesser, and they’re looked down on. It just denigrates women rather than welcoming this difference. You see it in areas like ministry: women are honoured for how much they do ministry like men do, rather than welcoming a different perspective or a different way of doing things that fits for them. So we—we welcome and honour the similarity and difference.
But secondly, we don’t call people to a particular gendered expression. We don’t say, “Men, be like this: be masculine. Women, be feminine.” We call people to godliness, not genderedness. So men are to be loving and holy and compassionate and kind, and so are women. I take it that as they do that, their genderedness will mean that’ll express itself in slightly different ways. There’ll be a variety there, which will be great to see. But the commands of Scripture are not to be a certain personality trait. It’s to be called to godliness.
TP: So women are to be bold and courageous.
TP: Yeah. And in—in understanding be men!
GB: Yeah! And men are to comfort each other, you know. So what we might think of as classic traits one way or the other, actually we’re all called to those where they are virtues. They’re not male virtues and female virtues.
TP: You mentioned this in your talk yesterday, and I’ve—I’ve been looking at this verse as well recently—when Paul describes his own ministry to the Thessalonians, he—he uses both motherly and fatherly kind of traits to—
TP: —to describe how he was with them: he was—he was compassionate—
TP: —like a—like a mother with her children—
TP: —he would—he exhorted and urged them and comforted them—
TP: —like a father would
GB: Yeah. Yeah. Yes, he’s like a one—one-man parent, you know. And that’s really fascinating because he both associates certain traits with mother and father, as we’ve been saying that Scripture hints at that, but he also says, “I—I’ve tried to be both to you”. So there’s—there’s both a kind of—this is what they are more normally, and there’s flexibility: men can be compassionate; women can be strong. Of course.
TP: The irony, of course, of making the male characteristics sort of the standard to which we must all aspire and achieve, if we are to be regarded as genuinely equal and—and so on—the—the irony is, of course, and that describes much of what feminism has been trying to do over the last 30 or 40 years—if what you’re saying is true, the irony is it actually dishonours who women really are and makes the male characteristics unnecessarily and unwarrantedly the standard.
GB: It’s part of the inheritance of old school feminism that said, “Yeah, male is normal,” and then argued “Women can be as good as men and do things like men do them.” And that—that always ended up denigrating women. I mean, some recent errors of feminism more say, “No, we’re different and we’re wholly other” and separate them. And that does something else wrong. But I still think that’s a default assumption in lots of settings. So women are looked down on if they are, I don’t know, fair—they’re more emotionally expressive or something, rather than saying, “Isn’t that great!” Might actually—you know, might—men need to learn from something—from that.
TP: It’s interesting: so you were suggesting that—that more contemporary modes of feminism, which are—are more about identity—gender identity—and identity grouping—we are a group with a particular identity because of our gender—
TP: —that that tends to oppose men and women, and make, in one sense—make men more of an other, and—and in—
TP: —in some senses, then, more of an enemy, or more of a—a problematic presence in—in our lives.
GB: Yeah, I think that’s right. I’m—old feminism tended to say, “Be—we can all be like men.” I think newer waves say, “No, we are different.” But then it builds walls between different groups, and the rise of id—of identity politics does that in different ways as well, and then you see—you—you say, “You must regard me in this way,” rather than seeing similarities between people and, as you’ve just centered it—you know, it makes other people the problem.
And so back to similar but different: if we hold onto both of those, we’re—there—there’s something really powerful about that. And as you come across these different expressions in society, you see them, usually, losing one of them.
TP: How in the church do we tend to lose them? Is—is, for example, and I—just occurred to me in terms of you saying separating off into two completely different groups—that often describes the ministries of men and women in many churches—that we have a mens group and a women’s group. Should that, perhaps, not be our default? Is that what you’re suggesting?
GB: Yeah, I do absolutely say that. I think our default setting in church is everyone together. I—it’s family. Men and women are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters—that’s the language used, rather than separating into two groups. The—there can be a helpful place for gender-specific groups. I think that can allow certain things. But that is only, I think, an optional extra—an occasional extra—on top of normal family life, which is together and is richer for being together.
TP: How does this kind of thing play out in—in your church life? How do you encourage men and women to work together like that and for that to be the default?
GB: In terms of structure of church, we—we would say to people a Sunday service and a small group is standard. That’s what we ask of you to be part of the church. And the small groups are mixed-sex small groups, and so that’s where you’re going to be making—developing closer relationships. A lot of the one another-ing will be happening more there. And within Sundays, we would also not want just male dominance, because of male leadership by the male elders; there would always be preaching by a man, but women’s voices are heard and contributions are heard on Sundays as well.
TP: It—it strikes me that separating off into affinity groups, as it were—where—whether it’s male or female, which is the one we’re talking about, or—or rather kinds of affinity groups, as if that’s the basis of our fellowship that we are men together, does strike against a fundamental characteristic of the Christian community, which is we’re only a community—we only have any fellowship because Jesus Christ stands in between us.
TP: It’s—it’s not that you’re a man and I’m a man, so we have something in common. The thing we all have in common—not only by which we relate to God, but by which we—and through which we—relate to each other, is a person—is Jesus.
GB: Absolutely. I’ve got far more in common with a woman who’s in Christ than with a man who isn’t. And any call within the Christian world—like—like the kind of “men together”: I think this has shown some of the Promise Keepers-type background. You know, Christian men, but men together! No! We’re—we’re all in Christ! And the great verse at the end of Galatians 3—that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you’re all one in Christ Jesus—Jesus has broken down those barriers. Those were huge gulfs between people in New Testament times. And it’s just—it is revolutionary to say that—in our own day, to say, “Whatever barriers there are—class, ethnicity, gender—to say, “No, we are one in Christ!” and to represent that in church life, rather than to separate off into what we think is a helpful streamed group or affinity group, as you put it.
TP: The one thing, in a sense, that—that I have to offer you as a Christian brother or Christian sister is the word of Jesus Christ. It’s—it’s the one contribution I can give you, in a sense, as I seek to love you and care for you through—through him and in him. It’s his word and the truth about him and what he calls us to—that’s what I sort of bring to you in our relationship, and encourage you with and help you with. It’s n—and I do it as a—as the person I am with the particular gifting and characteristics of who God has made me to be and my particular experiences—my particular insights. But it’s all through that central word of—of Jesus—that we relate to each other and help and exhort and encourage and care for each other.
GB: That’s right. And you see that in all the “one another” commands—some of which describe family life—that we love and care for each other—many of which describe the speaking—not just teaching each other, but encouraging or exhorting, rebuking, correcting. And you see it in the picture of the body—the church as a body—1 Corinthians 12: each part ministering to other parts for the growth of the whole body and not just individual self-realisation, but the growth of the body as a body. And that everybody is taking part in that—everyone has a part to play. You can’t say to anyone, “I don’t need you for this.”
TP: The image in—in—in Ephesians 4 that uses the same image—is even—almost even stronger, I think, in the way that it envisages the body growing up as a—as a whole into Christ, who is the Head, and from Christ, who is the head—
TP: —as each ligament and part and individual complex interconnected piece—
TP: —does its work.
GB: That’s right. That’s right. Ephesians 4:16 has been a key verse for me. It’s a self-building body. It builds and grows in love from the Christ, the head—that’s where all—it’s all kind of coming from. But it builds itself up as each part does its work. And that means we want everyone playing their parts, and it means women and men will help each other all grow and—and the picture of growth there is not just that I grow individually, but we grow as a body together. There’s a corporateness to it, which really challenges, I think, some of the individualism of our day.
TP: Which is very strong for us, isn’t it—individualism. That’s a whole another subject we should—we could talk about, Graham!
I finally want to ask you about sin—sin being such a—an intriguing topic. In two parts: firstly, how do you think the sinfulness with which we’re all afflicted plays out differently—similar, but different—as men and women. Do you think it does?
GB: Yeah, I think it does. Well, obviously, well, sin, it’s similar, but different: so we will sin in similar ways. We will all be jealous. We’ll all be self-centred. We’ll all get inappropriately angry. But the ways we express that will often be different, because of different personalities and emphasis. And there may be a tendency towards particular areas of sin, because of differences between men and women.
It will also mean we are tempted in different ways to—to sin against the other as a group. So group of men together can start to stereotype women. You know, “Oh, you can never understand them, can you; you never know what they’re thinking. They say one thing; they mean another, and—”
TP: They’re so emotional.
GB: Yeah, so, all of that. But, similarly, a group of women can start to say, “Well, he’s hopeless.” You know, “They’re useless, aren’t they.” And so on. “He never communicates”. Some of that would be reflecting that the husband or the wife or whoever is actually sinful in some way. But a lot of it is actually stereotyping that as a group and other in doing them down, and so we have our own ways of sinning against the other gender. And I think you just—we just need to be really careful with our language there, and the way we view the other group, and I certainly made me much more watchful of some of the attitudes I have and the sort of male-specific ways in which I could sin.
TP: I certainly think that the way men and women are characterised—stereotyped—and gathered into groups today, as we—as we were discussing doesn’t help us in that way. I mean, the worldly thinking in our context means separating into identity groups, regarding as—regarding the other kind of group as—as my problem and possibly even my enemy—
TP: —and—and denigrating and speaking negatively about them.
GB: Absolutely. And—and it’s—and it, you know, the end of that spectrum is things like the #MeToo movement, which, of course, has raised all sorts of areas of male sin, rightly. But could end up characterising men a certain way, and painting them—tarring them all that same brush, as it were.
And in the church, we have the potential for this—this honouring of difference and yet, kind of, holding together similarity—loving each other closely, res—relationships of respect and—and care. You know, what a great community! What a lovely thing! And I think—I think our world kind of gets that would be great. But it doesn’t know how to get there. And too often, withdraws into these identity groups and lashes out at anything that isn’t inside.
TP: That’s sin as a characteristic that—it tends to drive us back into ourselves and see the other as either a threat that I need to repel or possibly as an opportunity for me to serve my interests.
GB: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. One of Luther’s great descriptions of sin is the in—the incurved love. I’m made to love God and love people. Love is to flow out from me. In sin, it curves in on itself. I love myself. And then that all play in different ways in different people, but one way it’s playing out at the moment is, “Actually, I love myself and those like me, and we all now love each other.” And reinforce that and—and other—the—people not like us become the enemy. The gospel, then, kind of uncurls us to—for love to flow out—and that description of—of the church that I just gave would be a description of a place where love is flowing rightly between people who are very different to me.
TP: You’ve talked there, Graham, about the nature of what sin really is. You’ve written a whole bunch of books, and we’ll put a number of your books in the show notes for people to—to discover. But your next project is a—is on this subject, you were telling me: it’s about sin. Can you tell us what you’re working on?
GB: Yeah, I’ve—I’ve been reflecting on sin, reading and begun some writing. I’ve been thinking about how sin deceives us. The nature of sin, I think, lies in deception. Satan’s the father of lies. At the moment, the book is looking like the first half is sin deceives us as to what it is. We don’t understand how horrible and ugly sin is—how distorting—unhealthy sin is—how wrong it is.
I guess, put it this way: if—I don’t think we long for a sin-free world. Which means we don’t really hate sin. Which means we don’t really get sin. It’s deceived us. But secondly, it’s deceived us as to how it works. What does it do? How does it tempt us? What does it tempt us to? I like—like that—say—imagery just got from—from Luther of—of how love curves in on itself. I think that—if I understand that, it actually helps me see what I’m tempted to and why I respond in different ways. That actually helps me see why I sin even in ways I don’t want to. I don’t want to feel grumpy! You know, I don’t—I don’t want to be bad-tempered. It’s not very pleasant experience. Why do I do that? It’s because my love’s curved in on me.
TP: And because someone is preventing me getting the things that I want—
TP: —to get at this moment.
GB: That’s right.
TP: And my response is either anger or grumpiness or—
GB: Yeah. Whereas, in other—sin will do other things: in other ways, it will actually act like tempting bait that looks good. It’s—it—it—it looks like sweets. But actually it’s sugar-coated poison. And I—it looks attractive and I’m drawn to it now, but I need to recognise it will kill me.
So getting into how sin deceives us and how that might help us both in hating sin more. So I want to fight it—I want to be godly. I worry that we have books on sanctification, which are really helpful. But actually our fundamental motivation isn’t that I really want to fight sin, because I don’t think it’s that bad!
TP: Circling all the way back ’round to our conversation earlier and the importance of—of each other and of community, one of the striking verses for me in the—in the whole New Testament is Hebrews 3:13, which talks about the need to exhort one another every day, “lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
GB: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
TP: And the—the importance there that—that sin can deceive us and we can be self-deceived by it: it can lure us and we can be fooled and we can be blind to what’s going on—
TP: —even in our own lives.
GB: Yeah. Yeah. So in the church, to say to each other, “I need you! Otherwise I’ll be deceived. My heart will be hardened. I need you to talk to me—I need you telling me about the goodness of Christ and the truth of the gospel—to point out sin in my life—to push me on down the road. ’Cause left to myself, I’ll be deceived by sin and hardened by sin.”
TP: And as men and women, we need each other to say that to us.
TP: Well, thanks for joining me today for that really fascinating conversation, I thought, with Graham Beynon about men and women—our similarities and our differences, and what unites us in Christ.
I’d love your feedback—not only on this episode, but on any episode that you happen to be listening to in our podcast, or any aspect of the Christian life that you’d like to raise and ask us questions about. We’re starting our first Q&A episode of this podcast very soon, where we’re gathering your questions and seeking to answer as many of them as possible. If you have any questions, please just get in touch and—and let us know. You can send me an email at tony.payne—that’s P-A-Y-N-E— firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks again for being with us today. Thanks to Karen Beilharz for her stalwart assistance in getting all this to happen. I’m Tony Payne. ’Bye for now.