Vapid Womanhood – the rotten fruit of patriarchal doctrine

In 4 Ways to Overcome the Feminization of Boys, Owen Strachan wrote that the actions of the passengers who subdued a heavily armed gunman on a train traveling from Belgium to France (BBC – France Train Shooting: what we know) reminded him “of the duty we have to train boys to take risks and lead in self-sacrifice for the good of others.”

Mr. Strachan* says nothing about training girls to take risks and lead in self-sacrifice for the good of others, though. For him risk-taking and self-sacrifice are manly characteristics and Jesus is the one who set the example for men to follow in pursuing their risk-taking self-sacrificial lives:

He does no violence to the God-created nature of manhood. Instead, he redeems manhood, and channels to ends that glorify the Father. Men find in him the example they desperately want. They discover a warrior-savior who is so manly that he feels no insecurity over weeping over the death of his friend (John 11:35).

Jesus redeemed manhood? Mr. Strachan provides no reference to a Bible passage to support this claim. Then again he couldn’t, because there is no Bible passage supporting such a notion. After all, Jesus did not come to redeem manhood. Jesus redeems people. (Galatians 3:13-14, 1 Peter 1:18.)

Pink and Blue sets of Spiritual Armor

The main problem with Mr. Strachan’s spin on the train rescue is that the traits and characteristics he claims are specific to men are actually traits and characteristics the Bible shows in women as well. His unbiblical efforts not only don’t build up men in any way the Bible teaches but also serve to create vapid women if they accept his ways, which can be summarized: Men, go out and take some risks! Oh, and you women should empty yourselves of any desire to be risk-takers and let manly men take those risks for you.

The Bible has much more to offer women and men. For example, regarding Mr. Strachan’s reference to Jesus as a warrior we can look to Paul’s teaching on the armor of God and take note of the complete lack of gender/sex restrictions or distinctions.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12-13.)

Paul goes on to list the armor – the helmet of salvation, shield of faith, sword of the Spirit, and more. (Ephesians 6:14-17.) Nowhere does Paul say this armor is for men but not women, so if Jesus set an example as a warrior then it’s an example for both women and men in the kingdom of Christ.

Some might say, though, that the armor of God is for spiritual battles while Mr. Strachan is talking about physical action. First, spiritual and physical matters are not dichotomized in Scripture. They are intertwined and joined so that what we do is always part of spiritual reality. (E.g., see what Paul had to say about sexual intercourse and spiritual reality in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16.)

Second, we can look at Biblical examples of men and women who took action in various ways. David defeating Goliath might be the most famous example, but it’s not the only one. And sometimes men God acted in ways that had disastrous consequences.

Consider Lot, Abraham’s nephew. When the mob outside his house demanded “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them,” Lot went out to face the mob long enough to offer them his virgin daughters to “do what you like with them.” The daughters escaped only by the intervention of God. (Genesis 19.) Then there’s the Levite – a man set aside for service in the tabernacle of God – who sent his concubine out to another threatening mob. They raped her all night long, and she was dead by morning. (Judges 19.)

Lot and the Levite were decisive men, and their actions are horrifying.

Women of Action: examples for all men and women to follow

Lot and the Levite don’t stack up well against others in the Bible, but they look especially bad in comparison with women who took decisive action and were honored by God for it.

  • Zipporah – When her husband Moses was in danger of suffering God’s wrath, Zipporah grabbed a knife, circumcised their son on the spot, and saved Moses’ life, claiming him as her “bridegroom of blood.” (Exodus 4.)
  • Deborah – When Israel descended into a period of evil, Deborah answered God’s call to lead the nation, holding court to decide disputes among the people and mediating God’s will for the leaders of Israel’s army.** (Judges 4.)
  • Jael – When the general of the army attacking Israel fled for safety, Jael killed him by taking a mallet and driving a tent stake through his brain while he slept. (Judges 4.) Israel sang her praises. (Judges 5.)
  • Rahab – When the Israelites sent spies to scout the enemy in Jericho, Rahab hid them from the soldiers and sent them safely back to their own lines. (Joshua 2.) She is an honored ancestor of Jesus. (Matthew 1:8.)
  • Abigail – When David and his men traveled the countryside with no permanent camp as a base, Abigail provided everything they needed despite her husband’s refusal to help David and his army. (1 Samuel 25.)

These are women who took risks and led through self-sacrifice, and the Bible celebrates them all.

Mr. Strachan, on the other hand, would teach women not to do anything like these courageous acts and instead leave risk-taking sacrifice to men. I hope he’s not depending on men like Lot.

Following the Example of Women who Follow God

To say that the Godly examples of courageous faith these women gave us don’t count, to say that only boys should be trained to take risks, to teach that only men are meant to lead through such self-sacrifice – all of that is to deny Scripture itself and leads to vapid womanhood.

Yet it’s not women themselves who are vapid. What’s vapid is the rotten fruit of patriarchal doctrine. It’s so rotten, all that’s left is the stench lingering in the air.

But in Jesus, we have the sweet aroma of freedom to follow him and his ways regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. After all, Jesus did not come to redeem manhood so that men could lead women.

He came to redeem women and men for himself.


*Owen Strachan would call himself a complementarian and not a patriarchist. He teaches that when it comes to families, churches, and the world at large, men are to lead and women are to follow. That’s patriarchy.

**Some conclude the only reason Deborah became Israel’s leader is because no man would do it; no passage in Scripture supports that conclusion. To the contrary, God works through women the same way he works through men, by his choosing.


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79 Responses to Vapid Womanhood – the rotten fruit of patriarchal doctrine

  1. Great word vapid. Should be used more often. There is one good good fruit of patriarchal doctrine. Where women of God have been refused the opportunity to grow in ministry in their church at home, they have flooded the mission fields to do the difficult and dangerous pioneering work that the men of God valiantly fighting culture wars at home have been deaf to.

    • Tim says:

      It’s a serendipitous result wouldn’t you say, Darrach? (Serendipitous and vapid both should be used more widely!)

      • Serendipity certainly sounds like a word Ned Flanders could popularise.

        • Gwenn Smith says:

          I love that you brought up the mission field primarily being reached by women. One of our “favorite” people (Piper) said while on a panel (of men) a while back that women shouldn’t be in the mission field. A fellow pastor and panelist upbraided him (another great word that doesn’t get much use). In essence, he said then why don’t you go? And why don’t you start reversing this trend by telling men to go? If I can find the video, I’ll post the link, but it’s long.

    • Dalaina May says:

      Slow clap. While I wish I could argue with this and talk about all the bad@ss men I know overseas, the reality is that numerically they are overwhelmed by bad@ss women. What’s the number now, 6 to 1? 8 to 1? And in the scariest places, in my experience, it’s the women who will go first and go alone. Who are the vapid ones exactly?

    • AymieJoi says:

      What’s particularly interesting is that these women missionaries more often than not teach and preach to men, which these same complimentarians and patriarchal adherents say they can’t do. But I guess it’s ok as long as they’re not teaching and preaching to white men in the Western world. (And don’t even get me started on the number of female Sunday School teachers teaching little men in their most formative years, who suddenly are no longer qualified to teach once those little men reach some arbitrary age set by culture, religion, individual churches, etc.)

      Thank you, Tim, for writing this. We women can talk and write about it all we want, but nothing will change until men take a better look at Scripture as a whole instead of cherry picking what makes them comfortable and furthers their agenda. (Disclaimer – I’m by no means a feminist, I’m just tired of Christian women being told to sit down and shut up as if they aren’t made in the image of God, and gifted by the Spirit in the same exact ways men are. I’ve checked, and the lists of spiritual gifts do not have an asterisk or footnote saying they’re only for men.)

      I also wholeheartedly support the increased use of both vapid and serendipitous. 🙂

    • Gwenn Smith says:

      I found the video that I referenced in my earlier comment. At about 33 minutes in, the facilitator identifies the panel as all being complementarian — all male, you notice — then asks for their input on single women in the mission field. A group of men … not necessarily missionaries. Piper speaks right away. Watch Michael Oh’s expression change (just to Piper’s left) as Piper pontificates about what he deems appropriate for single female missionaries to do.

      • Gwenn Smith says:

        They are ultimately complementarians, and seem to all believe that men should be in leadership roles. But I love how Michael Oh turns the focus back on Piper and others.

  2. Emmy says:

    Thank you for this, Tim. I followed the link to Mr Strachan’s article in your post before I read the post itself, and even though I only skimmed what Mr Strachan had written, it left me feeling hollow inside. When reading complementarian texts, I often get the impression that they see “manhood” and “womanhood” as such diametrically opposing concepts that it’s hardly even possible to still find both of them under the common heading of “humanity”. It’s as if “Jesus was a man” is more important than “Jesus was human” (pause for thought: I mean, just look at that. God with us. The mind boggles!). And if you decide to go down that road, it’s not an overly long stretch to suggest that, well… whoever believes in Christ is saved, but perhaps some are more saved than others? Of course that’s complete nonsense, but it saddens me to the core of my being that some people reason the way Mr Strachan does. So thank you again for your post, because you bring these things into the light where they’re seen for what they are.
    Grace and peace.

    • Tim says:

      It’s as if “Jesus was a man” is more important than “Jesus was human”

      That’s exactly the impression I got from reading his post, Emmy. It’s like he’s saying Jesus came to us as a man in order to do things for men that he did not do for women, that is, he redeemed manhood by being a man. But that also means he either did not redeem womanhood or he did but was able to do it without also being a woman. If the latter, then he didn’t need to be a man to redeem manhood either.

      As I said in the post today, Jesus redeems people. And that’s true whether they are men or women. That’s because – as you point out – women and men are both human. Jesus came to us as a human in order to redeem us, not as a man to redeem manhood.

  3. Bev Murrill says:

    I love this post and … vapid is such a fantastic word to use. Vapidity is such a boring characteristic.

    I remember when I ‘d been leading a church with my husband in Australia for about 5 years. A young man got saved and we began to mentor him but (as it turned out) he was also being taught by another source because one day he casually said to me that men and not women are called to be intercessors. That was a new one on me, so I asked him why. His (deep and considered) reply was ‘because men’s hands are built to grasp the sword, and not women’s.

    Wait! What?

    Dear God… spare us!

  4. Jeannie says:

    Tim, I especially appreciated your point about how some men in Scripture took “manly,” decisive action and it was sinful and/or disastrous. We could also mention Peter, who jumped forward to defend his master by chopping off a soldier’s ear. To be consistent, Strachan would have to approve of Peter’s risk-taking, other-defending action here — but Jesus didn’t approve of it.

    Ultimately Strachan & co. seem to think that what sex we are is the most important thing about us as human beings — which has no Biblical basis.

    • Tim says:

      Peter’s sword wielding is a great example of wrong action, Jeannie. And think of the woman at the well who took a risk by going back to the village and telling everyone about Jesus. That’s the type of risk-taking that God honors.

  5. Loura Shares A Story says:

    I also think the use of the word “vapid” is apt in describing this theology. Women who don’t think are the goal of teachings like Strachan’s. Vapid indeed, like The Stepford Wives.

  6. Leah says:

    You preaching good Tim!!! That’s all I can say.

  7. April Fiet says:

    Thank you! This is great!

  8. Dee Parsons says:

    What a great post, Tim! I have planned to combine this screed by Strachan with another by John Piper sometime next week. Strachan, Piper and others read into the Scripture whatever makes it work with their developed comp theology. Even Carl Truman disagrees with them.

    • Tim says:

      Carl Trueman and Aimee Byrd are two influential comps who think Piper and Strachan have gone off the deep end on gender/sex doctrine. I’m looking forward to your take on this next week, Dee.

  9. Don Johnson says:

    What if one of the heroes was a woman? Then it would not fit into Owen’s preferred narrative and he would almost certainly choose not to discuss it, at least in a positive light.

    Another concern with Owen’s narrative is he needs to spin it. It seems clear from the statements of the heroes that they were concerned for their own lives and decided to act in concert to avert a disaster. It can be noble to act to preserve one’s own life along with the lives of others when faced with the potential of an evil act.

    • Tim says:

      If my sister had been on that train car I think she’d have been sitting on the gunman’s head while the other guys held down his arms and legs.

  10. I’m reading this while listening to a song called ‘The Same Love’. Coincidence? I think not.

  11. Tami says:

    Great article! One thing… I’m pretty sure Zipporah circumcised her and Moses’ son. The way you have it worded makes it seem like she circumcised Moses.

  12. “Jesus did not come to redeem manhood so that men could lead women. He came to redeem women and men for himself.” Right on! There are so many quotables in here. I like that you point out the fruit of patriarchy as vapid womanhood. Patriarchy is so focused on manhood it rarely acknowledges the damage done to the other sex.

    I totally agree that “spiritual and physical matters are not dichotomized in Scripture.” The physical/spiritual delineation is an Aristotelian concept, which Paul unfortunately draws on at times and so opened the door for Aristotelian philosophy into the Christian imagination starting with the Victorians. Jesus, especially with his deep understanding of the Hebrew scriptures, did not separate our physical existence from spiritual reality and always sought to help us understand the two as coexistent, intertwined, and inseparable.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the added insights on the false dichotomy, Liz. The people promoting patriarchy doctrine don’t see that they are layering a social/cultural construct onto scripture.

  13. Pastor Bob says:

    In today’s Risk Aversive Society it may be worth stepping on a few toes. In the area I live now, I grew up not far from here. We went to school in the snow, we played in the snow during recess, we threw snowballs -and more!

    Now we close schools around here for a SMALL amount of snow, NO snowballs ever, fear of small falls, we played “Dodge Ball,” got dirty, played in all kinds of places, and grew up strong.

    We no sue for all kinds of problems, we fear being sued for someone being offended at truth, we acquiesce to evil, and we suffer for it. One in four planes was brought down before doing major damage by the same courage that the “train “3 showed.

    It may be worth rattling a few doors to help (make) people see where we should be in some areas. The writer my be writing -shall we say -tongue (pen) in cheek. Not as important as we are in a place of risk avoidance -why? (Should add, you are right good sir!)

  14. Ruth says:

    He is so full of himself it’s s wonder there’s any room for his lunch! Honestly, how can this silly, egotistical man keep on comparing himself and his friends to Jesus, just because He took the form of a man to save us in humility and agony. A cheek of the highest order to reduce Christ to a glorified edition of a patriarchal human male. Thankyou Tim for pointing out the foolish from the wise. True men, I think acknowledge that we are created equal with each other.
    I do like your comment that your sister may well have sat on this lunatics head! I could have kicked him in the knee caps…..wonder what other women imagine they would do???

    • Tim says:

      “… cheek of the highest order to reduce Christ to a glorified edition of a patriarchal human male.” That made me laugh, Ruth. And as for my sister, I should add that she’d have been sitting on his head after she’d helped wrestle him to the ground.

  15. Bronwyn Lea says:

    Ugh. That is just such a cheap shot to hone in on the French train incident and make it something about manhood. I am reminded of one of the pieces from Rachel Jankovic published at Desiring God (Piper’s home page!) in which she talks about motherhood and the courageous self-sacrifice it calls for as we lay down our lives for the flourishing of those in our care, and how that in itself embodies the gospel to a watching world. We aim to do as Jesus did, whether male or female, and it calls for ALL the courage we can muster.

    • Tim says:

      It was a cheap shot, Bron. He coopted their actions not as an illustration for a gospel message but as a direct example of what he says is a gospel man. Blech.

  16. Angie says:

    Great post! I like the word vapid, too. I haven’t read all the comments, yet, so I don’t know if it has been mentioned. Strachan doesn’t disassociate from the word patriarchy but embraces it.

    “Evans [Rachel Held Evans] claims that complementarianism is patriarchy, and here she *stumbles upon the truth*… the *patriarchy* of marriage models the patriarchy of the Godhead. (*emphasis added)

    “For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy and is now called complementarianism.”

  17. fikalo says:

    This is great, and thank you for writing it so well.

  18. Dalaina May says:

    Can I just say that this made me pretty angry? If I had hours to tell you about women I know that put themselves (and by extension, their families) in harm’s way by directly assaulting dangerous evil for the sake of Jesus and his children… You’re telling me that courage and self-sacrifice is a man’s world when there are things in my job in which I have to move through multiple layers of anonymity to keep my throat from being sliced by criminal who would prefer to see me shut up? Vapid indeed. Come out of your safe little office, Mr. Strachan, and I will show you what bravery actually is.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t know that Mr. Strachan has actually thought through what his position means for women around the world in the lives they live each day. The need for courage and quick action is not restricted by gender ever.

  19. Yay, finally got to read this . . . the headline alone 🙂 you’ve trumped all my words for the whole year. Anyway, I’m gonna’ use the “H” word. Strachan’s statements aren’t just offensive, they are heretical. And also, dude . . . ignorant.

    • Tim says:

      He really does have a willful ignorance of the way the Bible depicts women of action so favorably. Not ignorance as in unaware, but ignorance in that he ignores them. Ignoring women is bad. So is ignoring Scripture about women.

  20. Oh, and lovely post Tim. Thank you as always.

  21. I’m sorry, and one more thing . . . church people, stop messing up wonderful humanitarian stories about real heroes by commenting on them.

  22. Jennifer says:

    This was a very fascinating post, and one that I needed to hear. I recently engaged in a very long discussion about complementarian theology with a very “pro-male headship” pastor. The discussion was quite pointless, and even more frustrating because he believed that every time a woman did anything (Deborah, for example), she did so because there were no worthy male leaders left and that she had more error in her actions/more trouble stepping up to the plate than a man would have had. This was, of course, all derived from the Genesis 3 chapter and the various Pauline texts about how women should not have authority and that “women are more easily deceived than men” (the pastor’s words).

    I have struggled with this concept a lot, because it seems to me that the Bible is very contradictory, sometimes appearing to give credence to patriarchal authority and other times not. I am still learning how to read the Bible and am only beginning to look at its deeper meanings. But it does not make logical sense at all for me, as a woman, not to take 100% spiritual responsibility for myself. Why in the world would God want half of his heirs to be vapid and incapable of bearing full spiritual fruit?

    And I’m interested in understanding more about how “gender” plays itself out in the spiritual realm. If spiritual and physical matters are not dichotomized in Scripture (as is suggested in earlier posts), is there such a thing as a male spirit/soul or female spirit/soul? Or, is there perhaps some level of delineation here, considering the verse about how in Christ there is no male or female? Or how in heaven there is no marriage but that people are like the angels? Or how Paul uses feminine terminology when he talks about how he nursed along immature believers? Or how even God in the Old Testament occasionally associates some very maternal images with himself? I’d like to understand the exact line here between physical realities and spiritual truths. Thank you.

    • Tim says:

      Jennifer, I wonder if that pastor could actually point to an instance of the Bible woman struggling due to being a woman. Deborah? No struggles in the text. Huldah? Same. Rahab? Still none. It’s the same over and over. There is no indication that God chose them because men weren’t available, and no indication that being a woman caused a struggle.

      As for the spiritual and physical connection in our lives now, I think it will remain in the new creation. It will be even more seamless than it is now. I don’t think the spiritual aspect has maleness and femaleness, though. Jesus and Paul say sex distinctions are not part of the spiritual reality.

      • Jennifer says:

        Hi, Tim. Thank you for your response! The pastor believed that women in the Bible had more error in them than if a man had done the same job, so I don’t think he can be convinced otherwise if there is no evidence to suggest his thoughts had any merit. I was very surprised when I went back to read the story of Deborah for myself and found nothing about God using her as a substandard replacement, although I did not understand why Barak was told that the honor of defeating Sisera would be given to a woman based on his own course of actions.

        Also, thank you for further explaining the physical/spiritual dichotomy. I will keep that in mind as I continue to read more.

  23. sandi says:

    So, talk about vapid… apparently feminism is the reason truckloads of christian women are gobbling up 50 shades of grey?

  24. Kirsten says:

    Thanks Tim. There is a scene in the Return of the King where Eowyn is defending Merry’s right to fight in battle (and actually her own) and she says “Why can he not fight for those he loves?”. I often feel robbed of that spiritual fight as well. I want to fight for those I love – my kids, my male and female church members, etc…” but women are told that God would prefer a man to go to battle and we should sit and be quiet and leave it to the ‘elders’.

  25. Anonymous2 says:

    On a related topic, one of the the ironies about upholding vapid women as their ideal, is that patriarchal communities hurt themselves when the promote early marriage as their highest goal.

    If courageous confident young women are automatically considered “unmarriageable,” young introverted men who truly *prefer* energetic, passionate, world-changing women are in trouble. Their pastors have pushed out or silenced the very women whose personalities complement theirs.

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