A Creation Essentialist Framework for God-Honoring Gender Expression

This is a joint proposal. My co-author is Jacob B. Percy.

In his 2019 journal article, Gregg Allison proffered four theses concerning human embodiment: human existence is created, gendered, particular, and social. He followed up on these ideas in his popular-level publication Embodied: Living as Whole People in a Fractured World (2021). In her 2022 doctoral dissertation, Gracilynn Hanson furthered Allison’s work, proposing an ontological definition of female embodiment as supported by an extensive framework of five parameters considered across seven categories. Finally, in his 2023 doctoral dissertation (not yet available online), Jacob Percy carried forward this scholarly conversation by developing a framework for a biblical conception of gender, which he then utilized to evaluate gender essentialism and the social construction of gender as well as develop what he believes is a more biblically faithful view of gender. His conclusion: “There are no particular capacities or properties, outside of physiological differences, that belong exclusively to men or that belong exclusively to women. Instead, men and women uniquely express common human traits as men and as women” (198–99). We may call this view of gender “creation essentialism.” Yet the question remains: What qualifies as a unique male expression and a unique female expression of those common human traits?

This paper seeks to answer this question—namely, by proposing a framework for evaluating actions of males and females to determine whether they are morally and culturally appropriate expressions of maleness and femaleness, respectively. To that end, we submit that an action is morally and culturally fitting for a man or for a woman if it meets these four criteria:

1. It intends to honor God and promote human flourishing.
2. It does not disobey any time-, place-, and culture-transcending scriptural commands.
3. It does not intend to downplay one’s gender and convey the opposite gender.
4. It is sensitive to the norms and values of the culture in which one resides.

We will advance our argument in three steps. First, we will summarize the creation essentialist view of gender and expound its biblical-theological grounding. Second, we will explicate and defend the fourfold criteria articulated above. Third, we will validate these criteria by means of a case study—that is, we will evaluate a culturally unique expression of maleness (or femaleness) in light of our proposed framework for biblical gender expression.

Our paper seeks to move the anthropological discussion one step closer to clarifying gender in the context of embodiment. Specifically, we hope to clarify what it means to be a man and to be a woman and, as needed, properly locate certain areas of the discussion within other aspects of embodiment (e.g., particularity, sociality). Ultimately, our proposal aims to offer a way of thinking about gender and gender expression in a manner that is biblical, coherent, defensible, and valuable.

3 thoughts on “A Creation Essentialist Framework for God-Honoring Gender Expression”

  1. Pertinent in the Last Days
    Apparently, the postmodern generation struggles to identify uniqueness concerning gender. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood would differentiate function but not value in the eyes of God. This would be interesting.

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  2. Unclear
    I read the proposal several times, & though I believe this is a topic of crucial importance, I’m still not clear what it is saying. It begins with Allison’s essentialism, which is sound, but seems to move toward a societally-defined norm. I’m game to hear it, but I may not like what I hear.

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