Christianity Today recently interviewed Larry Crabb about this new book, Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes. Crabb draws on the dynamic between Father and Son within the immanent Trinity to get at the distinctives of masculinity and femininity. CT then published a response from Trinitarian scholar Fred Sanders, a complementarian who argues for the decoupling of Trinitarianism from gender discussions. (You can read a fuller discussion from Sanders here, or watch this dialogue with Kevin Giles.)
Denny Burk’s response to both Crabb and Sanders matched my own, so I thought it’d be worth reprinting his introduction:
I am in hearty agreement with Fred Sanders’ critique of Larry Crabb’s new book on gender. The connections that Crabb makes between Trinitarian doctrine and gender roles seem to be entirely speculative and not founded in what the scriptures actually say. In short, Crabb’s paradigm is unmoored from the Bible, and Sanders has shown the flawed basis of Crabb’s thesis.
Having said that, there’s one detail in Sanders’ critique that I would take exception with. I’m reluctant to mention it because I’m a big fan of Sanders. He’s one of the bright lights of evangelical theology and has produced some remarkable work on the Trinity. If you haven’t read his 2010 book on The Trinity, you need to. He’s one of the good guys, and I’m glad he’s on the team making the case for classic Trinitarianism.
So what’s the disagreement? It’s these lines from Sanders’ critique:
I wish [Crabb] didn’t connect gender to the relationship between the Father and the Son. The main reason is that Scripture itself does not explicitly link gender to Trinity, or the masculine-feminine dynamic to the Father-Son dynamic.
Sanders not only rejects Crabb’s argument, but he also rejects as unbiblical any attempt at connecting Trinity to gender relations. This I think goes too far. Nevertheless, I seem to be hearing such statements a lot lately—not just from Sanders. I’m hearing it from both sides of the evangelical gender debate. On the complementarian side, Michael Bird/Robert Shillaker have warned that the analogy between gender and Trinity breaks down and is often pressed merely to advance a theological agenda. On the egalitarian side, John Stackhouse has argued that the analogy is “a bad theological move to attempt—by anyone, on any side of this issue.”
I understand the reasons why people are wary of theologizing about gender via the Trinity. First, such theologizing can quickly become speculative and disconnected from Scripture (as in Crabb’s book). Second, there is the danger of forcing the Trinity onto the procrustean bed of one’s views on the gender debate. In both cases, this central doctrine of the faith becomes the handmaiden of a second tier theological issue. I am completely sympathetic to that concern. The gender debate is so pitched that the tail can get to wagging the dog really quickly.
Nevertheless, such abuses should not diminish the fact that the analogy between gender roles and Trinity derives not from mere speculation, but from the Bible.
You can read the whole thing here. (Hint: It’s about 1 Cor. 11:3.)
For a multi-author look at this question, see the forthcoming book from Crossway, edited by Bruce Ware and John Starke, One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinctions of Persons, Implications for Life.