Thinking through the Sexual Reformation

Recently I noticed a review of Aimee Byrd’s new book, A Sexual Reformation. It took the form of questions offered by Ryan Speck, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Missouri. I found his questions a helpful opportunity to clarify my reflections on the theology and typology of the Song of Songs and its ethical implications. Speck’s questions, which I slightly restate for clarity at points, are numbered and my responses are in bold-italics. 

  1. Furthermore, even as Byrd emphasizes the beautiful truth that marriage is an analogy of Christ and the Church, she corrupts that analogy with her agenda, marring this beautiful Gospel picture. For, she tells us that the bride in the Song of Songs has the dominant voice and is ‘the teacher.’  If the Church (pictured by the bride) has the dominant voice in the Song, does Christ (the husband) have a lesser voice?

In expounding the metaphors of the Song of Songs, the church is not seen as “dominant” over and against Christ as submissive to the church. Rather, the metaphors magnify the love of Christ as he condescends to bring you and me to the belonging that should be represented by temporal marriage and mirrored in the local church. The union that the church shares with the Second Adam is a union and communion of persons. It is a love that dignifies you and me, that brings us to behold the triune God as he is within himself in the intertrinitarian embrace.  This union that the church has with the Second Adam mirrors the relation of the persons within the Trinity. I suggest that you confuse the metaphors. In the Song, the Shepherd-King prefigures the Second Adam who has come in the flesh, not just to redeem his people but to make his bride one with himself.  In the final and enduring picture that outlasts the shadows offered by our marriages and in the order of the local church, you and I are both the bride. It should bring us great joy that the Song of Songs tells us that he beholds us, desires us, delights in us, has bound himself to us in life and in death, and that he wants to hear us.  Aimee’s book asks, “If you rejoice to be heard by Christ, do you reflect that by desiring and evoking the voice of your wife, your daughters, and the women in your congregation?” 

  1. Likewise, if the woman is the “crown of creation” above man (p. 44), then is the Church the crown of creation above Christ (cf., 1 Cor. 11:3; Col. 1:15-18)?

I think that you are confusing categories again. There are organic connections between Adam-Second Adam-all men (males)-husbands-NT elders, and I would add the earth. These perhaps are more straightforward for us. The point being made by Aimee is that there are organic connections to be made as well between Eve-Mary-all women-wives-the church, and heaven. The church is a heavenly congregation, born from Zion above (John 4:4).  This shouldn’t sound too speculative given that Eve is explicitly called “mother of the all-living,” just as Adam is told that he has come from the dust and will return to the dust. Mother Zion is the heavenly realm of the living, not the earthly realm of the dying. When Aimee calls Eve Adam’s telos, she is referring to the heavenly Sabbath goal of an earth-traversing congregation led forward by a federal head. Eve represents to Adam the reward of his obedience, the city, and more importantly his union and communion with the self-contained triune God, which is his inheritance if he perseveres. The Second Adam came as a wilderness-traversing man, a covenantal head, to do what the first Adam failed to do. The Second Adam perseveres for the joy (city-bride) set before him.   

  1. If the woman is the telos (p. 48) of the man (contrary to 1 Cor. 11:9), then is the Church the telos of Christ—not His own glory (e.g., Rom. 9:21-23)?

Heaven (Sabbath rest) was the telos of the first Adam (Gen. 2:2; Hebrews 4), and it was the goal of the Second Adam who continued in obedience, passed under the sword, took from the tree of life, and ascended the Mountain of God with us in tow. 

  1. If the man sees his ultimate purpose in joining the woman (p. 48), not the other way around, then does Christ see His ultimate purpose in joining the Church?

The Second Adam came to bring his bride in union with himself into the glory and joy that was purposed for her before the foundations of the world. So, yes, the Second Adam came to join himself to his church, redeem her life from death, and bring her to his mountain-temple-dwelling. 

  1. If the man represents earth and the woman heaven (p. 108), is the church heavenly, while Christ is earthly?

The first Adam came from the earth and became a living being; the second Adam was from the first Adam and became a life-giving Spirit. The Second Adam succeeded where the first Adam failed. He spearheaded the heavenward ascent of his bride and received his inheritance in her in our Mother above.  

  1. In John 4:10, however, our Lord Jesus specifically tells the woman that this living water is a gift (something she does not have merely by being a woman), and the One standing before her—Jesus Christ Himself (and He alone)—could give her that water! Christ is the living water, not the woman.

Perhaps your problem is with metaphor in general.  Of course all things are from him and through him and to him, who is before all and in whom all things hold together, but that doesn’t negate the use of typology in Scripture.  Christ is not the only type. The story of the Samaritan woman builds on connections between women and wells in the Old Testament (Rebekah and Rachel). Women, marriage, and tents are linked as well with the story of Sarah. If we have made the explicit and final connection between woman and the heavenly Zion in Revelation 21, then we will have no problem with the “mother of living” being the location of the “river of life” and the “tree of life.”  The woman functioned similarly to a sacrament in the garden, her presence implying a promise. That promise was the glory realm of confirmed life and blessedness. 

  1. Further, if a husband is not authorized to “tell [his wife] what to do or to rule over her” (p. 119), is Christ not authorized to tell the Church what to do and to rule over Her?

The picture of the garden and the first Adam is not that Adam failed to rule over Eve, but that Adam failed to guard and keep the garden sanctuary from the unclean serpent, continue in obedience to God, and spearhead her heavenward ascent. Eve similarly failed to be the help he required. What the first Adam failed to do, the Second Adam accomplished. He continued in obedience amidst temptation, overcame the serpent in the wilderness and at the cross, rose, and was taken up, securing the ascent of his heavenly bride (Eph. 4:8). We do not need to dig deeply in the gospels to see that the Second Adam in his humiliation was meek and lowly, gentle among us, that he did not rule over us with an iron rod, but rather exposed himself to the rod of his and our enemies. The ascended Christ reigns over all in order to bring his people, his bride, to the end he has secured for her in the redemption he has accomplished (Eph. 1). The husband pictures Christ in his humiliation, not exaltation at the Father’s right hand ruling over his enemies. His bride is not his enemy.   

  1. Likewise, the Church does not give power to Christ by submitting to Him. Christ has power over the Church (e.g., Mt. 28:18-20; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:8), and He commands the Church to submit to Him. So, wives do not grant power to their husbands by submitting to them. Husbands have God-given power over their wives, and wives are called to submit to their husbands. These are the Gospel roles God has assigned to us. By fulfilling these specific, concrete, Biblical roles, we picture the Gospel—we picture Christ and the Church. By reversing or confusing those roles, we dishonor Christ and confuse the Gospel. Some may not like these divinely assigned roles, but that does not alter the Biblical fact or the Gospel picture our Lord commands.

What I believe is lacking in Reformed anthropology is that the man and woman (zakar and nekivah) of Genesis 1:26-28 were made in the natural image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness for God himself, both in the garden and beyond the garden. The nekivah of Genesis 1:27 is not for the man, but for God, who is the substance of her everlasting blessedness beyond what she pictures in Genesis 2 (Isaiah 43:6-7). Secondly, obedience and submission are not synonyms. Children are called to obey; women are called to submit. Husbands are never called to rule over their wives, and in the very place that you would expect to see “rule over” in Paul’s household codes, you find the command to husbands to love and not to be harsh with their wives. The only time “authority” (exousia) in its different forms is applied to the husband and wife is in 1 Corinthians 7, when they are given mutual authority over each other’s bodies. This emphasis on rule is misplaced. God gives the husband no tools to enforce his rule or authority. The state is given the sword; the father and mother are given the rod; and the church is given excommunication. The husband leads his wife, and she submits as unto the Lord. She bears the image of Christ in whom and for whom she has been remade. She obeys her ascended Lord, who is both her and her husband’s authority. She yields to her husband as far as she can as a representative of the bride led heavenward by her faithful federal head. This is not because her husband has an inherent dignity or authority that surpasses her own, but because he symbolizes what has already been accomplished in the Second Adam. His wife is an important sign to him that he has been led heavenward by his faithful federal head. The husband and the wife are to each other agents of sanctification, helping one other to reach the chief end for which they were made. The husband is called to represent to her the wilderness work of the Second Adam, and wife is called to represent the faithful wilderness bride led heavenward.

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