Theologies of gender have wrestled in debate about theories of authority and submission, equality of gender roles, correspondences to triune relations, and implications about the ontology of women and men. Proponents of complementarianism and egalitarianism continue to argue against each other’s claims with some good results of critical analysis for increased precision and clarity about theology of gender.
Missing from the discussion is attention to the divine imperative of humility for all aspects of a Christian’s responses to God and other people. Instead of the attention to power, roles, and rules that dominate questions of gender theology, humility is the unique activity of God who moves toward his creatures in love and serves us by meeting us on our level. The Creator’s humble service to creatures shows most sharply in the visible self-giving of Jesus (e.g., washing his disciples’ feet as a slave and burdening himself with their evil). Jesus shows that the love of God to be exerted among Christians is humility of seeking the well-being of others. The repeated imperatives that Christians are to love one another can only be lived by following Jesus’s steps of humility.
The pathway of humility with each other as brothers and sisters encompasses all activities in the home, church, and society. Some activities are specific ways that women relate to men by humility instead of control for individual goals. Similarly, some activities are ways that men relate to women by humility instead of control for personal agendas. The path of humility moves the opposite direction from the path to pride and those steps of control and power.
In addition to demonstrating specific ways that women and men are called to relate to each other by humility, I will show that humility clarifies how to understand all the biblical statements about gender in a framework that is better than the authority-submission framework and the equality framework of most theologies of gender. Humility is the missionary motivation of God who has accommodated himself to humanity. Old Testament passages about gender show the accommodation by revealing through the cultural wrapping paper of patriarchal norms of the ancient world. New Testament passages about gender show missionary motivation that Christians must live outwardly in ways that fit the norms of the ancient world—humility of service to nonbelievers for the gospel. Christians must also live inwardly with one another in humility that is different from the ancient norms of authority and submission. For example, all Christians are called to submit to each other in Christian relationships (Eph 5:21), while maintaining an outward respectability of ordered family and social ranks to fit in with the Roman world. I propose that the restrictive New Testament passages about gender are intended for a missionary purpose, not as a transcultural imperative or gender ontology. Special importance to this approach is Cynthia Westfall’s recent book, Paul and Gender.