Gender, The Gospel, and Our Gatherings [Part 1]

The world is more confused than ever about the distinctions between men and women and why they even exist. Do those differences matter? Are there problems if we neglect them? And what does gender have to do with our Sunday meetings? To help us answer those questions and learn why God’s design for men and women is good, true, and beautiful, we’re joined in this episode by Josh Blount, a pastor at Living Faith Church in Franklin, WV, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on issues related to gender. This is part 1 of a 2 part podcast.

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David Zimmer: Hello and welcome to the Sound Plus Doctrine podcast. My name is David Zimmer.

Bob Kauflin: My name is Bob Kauflin.

DZ: And we have a very special guest with us today.

BK: We do. He’s not really with us. He’s virtually with us.

DZ: True. Yes, he is. Over Zoom.

BK: Yeah This is Josh Blount, dear friend one of the pastors at Living Faith Church in Franklin, West Virginia. Josh, it is so good to have you with us!

DZ: Yes.

Josh Blount: Thank you for letting me be here. Grateful for the opportunity, guys.

BK: Well, I can think of no one else we would want to have to talk about the topic.

DZ: Yes.

BK: We’re covering in this podcast. Which is Gender the Gospel and Our Gatherings title that you came up with because we were saying, what are we gonna call this? How do we… This is a podcast that generally we aim at people who plan and lead and participate in some leadership form although not always in the gatherings of the local church. And you are joining us for the Worship God conference One in Christ.

DZ: That’s right.

BK: In July 24th-27th in Louisville, Kentucky. Both as a main speaker, you’ll be talking about our union with Christ and our identity, but then you’re also doing a breakout on Keeping Sane in an Insane World. You have done a lot of study on this topic. In fact, last year you became a doctor. Should we call you doctor?

JB: Oh, no, no. Please, no, please, no.

BK: Okay. [laughter], Dr. Blunt [laughter] I feel like I’m going to get a checkup. [laughter] okay. We won’t call you doctor, but you got your doctorate and you finished your dissertation. Tell us the title of your dissertation.

JB: [laughter] Alright. So, as we were saying before I went full Puritan with this title, every keyword I could pack into the title. So my title is “This Mystery is Profound, the Eschatological Marriage in Isaiah Revelation, and Ephesians 5, with Implications for the Church’s Witness in Human Gender Identity.” And that barely fits on the spine of the [laughter]

DZ: Wow.

BK: It just rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it?

DZ: Wow Yeah, it does.

JB: It Just rolls off. Yep. Yep.

BK: Okay. So first question why did you pick that topic?

JB: Yeah, great question. It was not what I came into my doctoral studies planning to write on. I went to Westminster actually thinking I was gonna write on the late David Powlison and his model of sanctification. Been deeply impacted by his writings. And I wanted my dissertation to be on something that would serve the church. I did this while I was full-time as an associate pastor in Living Faith here in West Virginia. And as I told our pastoral team, as we talked about in church I’m committed to doing something that will actually serve my pastoral ministry, not a sideline into ancient Ugaritic or something for it. If you have listeners who do that, that’s fine. I’m glad somebody does it. But that doesn’t serve my congregation.

BK: We thank God for all those people who are researching ancient ugaritics.

DZ: Yes, for sure.

JB: Right? Yeah. I know it’s a big segment of your audience.

DZ: Huge.

BK: Where would we be without them?

DZ: Seriously, our biggest fans. Go on.

JB: That’s right. That’s right. So for various providential reasons, the Lord closed the door on writing on that topic. Still something I’d love to explore one day, ’cause Powlison has impacted me deeply.

BK: Can I… And let me just say, if you’re not familiar with David Powlison, you should read anything written by him. He is one a dear… He was a dear brother. He’s could be beholding his Savior’s face right now. But his writings on the workings of the heart and the gospel and how that all works together. They’re just life-giving. They’re biblically sound and you would be blessed to read anything he’s written. So, sorry, go ahead.

JB: Yes. No, I fully support that endorsement. In various… In God’s providence, that door closed and I did an independent study on the topic of gender roles which basically independent study means you proposed, here’s all the books I’m gonna read. I’ll write a paper at the end of it. And a professor works on the project. I had been for probably six to seven years prior to this reading on things related to sexuality and gender, just from a burden. I think the Lord laid on my heart that I wasn’t prepared to answer questions from people in my church or people that I loved about. First, at that point, it was same-sex attraction. And then as the transgender movement hit the infamous tipping point that became more of a subject. And the more I read, the more I thought, this is an important area, I feel a burden to try and help the church think about this.

DZ: Yes, thank you.

JB: And from that independent study had the germ of an idea that became my dissertation. I just kept following that thread, basically through my doctoral seminars, and came to the point of writing, decided that’s what I wanted to do. So that’s how I ended up circuitously and I would say largely driven by pastoral concerns that just so many people that I care about were being affected by the things taking place here. I wanted to think about it as hard as I could and do my best to serve the church on that topic.

BK: Yeah. And you’ve done a number of seminars on that topic. So I’ve two questions in my mind. One is, could you summarize the effect the point of your dissertation? That’s one. The other is we’re gonna get to how this affects our gatherings. But why is this so important for Christians? Obviously, it’s a hot topic.

DZ: Oh, man.

BK: And you have people on all sides. The truth side, the compassion side trying to hold those two together. Everybody says they’re on the biblical side, but they seem to be disagreeing. And so what was the thrust of your dissertation? ’cause I don’t think I’m gonna read it. I might [laughter], but.

DZ: I’ve been to his breakouts, so I’ve kind of read it.

BK: Okay. Okay. [laughter] Yeah. For those who might not read it.

DZ: Yes. Please elaborate.

BK: What are the succinct points that you’d want people to know from all your study?

JB: Yeah. Well, I think the heart of what I was trying to get at is the phrase which I… The best part of the title, which is This mystery is profound, taken from Ephesians 5. My basic argument, which is not novel, but was trying to make it in one concentrated place is that the pattern of the relationship between Christ and his bride is the pattern for human marriage and therefore human sexuality and our understanding of what it means to be male and female. So working from that statement in Ephesians 5, this mystery is profound. And then the way Paul reads that all the way back into the Genesis narrative, he quotes the very institution of human marriage and says, “I am saying this refers to Christ in the church.” So I wanted to demonstrate that that’s not an isolated phrase since that’s actually one of the main structures of scripture.

JB: So that’s why I looked at first the book of Revelation and the picture of the church, the people of God as a bride. And then the picture of brides and a bride and mother for the feminine portrayal, the people of God in the book of Isaiah, which I think is one of the themes, one of the places that Revelation is picking up on and using. So I was just struck by the fact that in studying scripture and thinking about marriage God is overwhelmingly portrayed in masculine terms, a king, a warrior, a judge, a husband, and a father. And that language is never reversed. There are a couple of places about five or six where God speaks. I have compassion like a mother. That’s the general structure of those text. But the distinctions are carefully nuanced that God never reveals himself as the mother of his people or the bride.

JB: There’s masculine language, but that’s matched by a parallel abundance of feminine imagery for the people of God together. It’s not the only category, but I just wanted to explore why is it that that structure is so pervasive, non-reversible, and how does that relate to the fact that human marriage has a definite shape that influences how we think about what it means to be a man or a woman? So that’s kind of the argument in a nutshell.

BK: Wow.

JB: From Ephesians 5, expanding context and thinking about other parts of scripture, I’d say to the question about how it landed on me, I’ve had guys ask me that. At one level there was no massive transformation in… I’ve never thought of this before. I’ve been taught, thankfully, by God’s grace, well, about the priority of being a husband, what Godly… Being Godly husband and masculinity looks like. But I think the main takeaway is realizing how deeply this matters.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Yes.

JB: Seeing that it’s central to my identity even matters Now I have three kids one boy and two girls realizing that the way my wife and I live together as husband and wife the way that that husband and wife pairing then becomes father and mother and the gift of children. They’re learning what it means to see a husband and a father and a wife and a mother modeled in the way they understand their identity. As a boy grows up and first learning I’m like dad in a way that I’m not like mom, but I come from both of them. The I that is who I am is shaped by these two different complementary relationships. Seeing that through Scripture and that God has actually intended that structure, human family as a way to give a language what it means when Christ says, I am the husband of my bride.

JB: And when God says I’m a father to my sons and daughters. My ordinary family life is part of the language that God is using to prepare my children, hopefully Lord willing to participate in that family of God. So the ordinary roles of husband and father and the way they’re related together, they really matter. That’s the most personal takeaway of studying this. And in a paradoxical way, I think it helped me say when it’s time to put the dissertation down and go home and be with my kids, it’s actually more important to go wrestle on the floor and spend time with them than labor to get another source into the dissertation, because I’m modeling and creating the language that they’ll come to understand God in Christ’s role in salvation.

DZ: Yes.

BK: Wow. That’s fabulous. I may want to read this [laughter] after all.

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: This is just a question I want to ask because it may be on some listeners’ minds. What about people who never get married? How does that… How are they affected? How do they think of themselves? I mean, I don’t wanna spend a lot of time on that, but yeah, just curious what your thoughts are.

JB: Great question. I think it’s one of the ways in which the picture of the church as the household of God, a language that Paul uses regularly throughout the pastoral epistles especially. The way that language in light of these structures of human marriage, the marriage between Christ and the church, why it becomes so precious to you, this is technical language, but, or unusual language, but ultimate and penultimate. Penultimate is the technical word that means one under the ultimate. Human marriage is penultimate for all the glory and the blessing that having a spouse and children is, human marriage is penultimate. It will one day fade away. But the bond between Christ and his church is ultimate. That is final reality. So the person who is single and lacks the important and ordinarily part of our experience, human family, if you lack that from God’s providence death we have a number of widows and widowers in our congregation.

JB: When sin changes that status. If you lack that, but you have the reality. Union with Christ and belonging to the family of God you have what will last for eternity.

BK: Wow.

DZ: Yes.

JB: I can’t help but think of a… As I say that of a man in our congregation who through difficult circumstances has lost his wife and his daughters in recent times. And it’s been a hard, a really hard experience. He just told me recently on a Sunday with tears in his eyes I feel like I lost my family, but God gave me back the church family, and he went on to describe specific relationships.

DZ: Wow.

JB: That he said have replaced what he lacks in a way that he didn’t think was possible. I think that’s a picture of the way in which singleness now, though often is accompanied with pain. I don’t wanna romanticize that experience. But when I was joined in covenant with my wife, that covenant was sealed with the words ’till death to us part. And the bond that we have with Christ is not sealed with those same kind of words. [laughter] “he that believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live again.” A single in Christ participates in that reality.

DZ: Yes.

BK: Oh, that is so, so encouraging. Wow. So thank you for answering that. And it just, it reminds me of the dangers I would say of idolizing the family. Perhaps idolizing marriage. So you see it at churches, I think can present it in such a way that it does seem like the ultimate I mean, yeah. Like this is, this is the fullest, fullest life, but that’s not what God says. It’s to have a wife is a good thing. He finds favor from the Lord. There’s a lot in Scripture about the blessings of marriage, but it’s not the ultimate thing. I was just reading in Mark this morning how Jesus was telling the scribes they’re not given to marriage in heaven. And so any… [laughter] I know this is… We’re kind of rabbit trailing here.

DZ: I love it. Oh, we could ask any question to Josh. He’s here.

BK: But yeah I know we got Josh.


BK: How can churches in that regard not emphasize… How can they emphasize the blessings of what you’re talking about, but not do it in such a way that.

DZ: You’re idolizing it.

BK: Yes. Idolizing… Penalizing those who maybe aren’t married or divorced or whatever. Any thoughts on that?

JB: Yeah, that’s a great question. The cheating answer whenever you’re talking about how do you do it in the life of the church, preach the word of God and the whole council of God, but with.

BK: Amen.

JB: The structures in mind.

BK: Next question.

JB: As you come to that, there’s opportunity to say marriage is important. You preach Ephesians 5 and you’re speaking of the centrality of marriage in our identity and the massive call that wives submit. Husbands love your wives, all that places on our life. But if you keep preaching and you get to 1 Corinthians 7, let him who is married live as if he is not married. There’s a way in which the whole council of God does protect us from excesses. And we need to know the particular temptations, both of our church. If you’re in a place that idolize… I’m slightly reluctant on the language of idolizes because it’s too strong.

BK: That’s probably too strong.

JB: Yeah. Sorry, go ahead.

BK: So that’s probably too strong. It can be idolatrous lead in that direction.

JB: And in our own experience, I mean, I was later in life when I got married, and there was a temptation to idolize and think I’m not living my fullest potential if God doesn’t provide me a spouse. So in our personal experience, I think that that is a real danger. There’s some voices in this conversation that are, I think in some ways use the language of idolizing the nuclear family in an uncareful way, that then sometimes the conclusion from that is, we really shouldn’t teach what the Bible says about men and women, which I think is a way of then avoiding the emphasis of Scripture.

BK: Thank you for…

JB: But a regular diet of preaching that the whole council of God does show both the significance of marriage in the way that marriage is relativized. One way I think that we could often miss though in the ordinary life of the church, is the way that the Lord’s supper, if we think about it rightly the way the Lord supper both affirms and relativizes marriage. So if you think about what happens when we come to the Lord’s table together, there is behavior that bars you from participating in that fellowship. If you were to a serial adulterer, if you are unrepentant in sexual sin, you cannot come to this table. A church that’s ordered rightly says that behavior is inconsistent with life in the kingdom of God. But there’s another way in which, when my wife and I come to the table, marriage is relativized because my wife doesn’t come to the table through me.

JB: I’m not turning around and distributing the elements to her. I’m not the mediator for her access to the presence of the Lord. We stand there as brother and sister in Christ, and we participate together in that life that my existence as a man, her existence as a woman does have ramifications. There are ways to live that bar you from this, but it’s not a structure in which she comes through me, we come together to the table. And in a way, we could often miss as we do that over and over as singles, as widows, as widowers, as those who are young children, but who have made a genuine profession been baptized. As we stand there together, we’re saying there is a covenant that transcends even this bond of human marriage. We’re here all as brothers and sisters in Christ.

BK: That.

DZ: Excellent.

BK: Is fantastic. Now, you have done so much reading on this, it’s a burden of your heart, you were able to articulate concerns so well. What concerns would you have for believers who want to kind of check out of this conversation and what counsel would you have? Who just wanna say, you know what, it’s just not that big a deal. Let’s be the church and let the world do what it wants to do. Why is this something… Why would we even have this on the Sound Plus Doctrine Podcast? Answer that question, Josh, why are you here?

JB: Well, you may get to the end and say maybe we didn’t wanna do that. [laughter] But here’s what I would say to those who who want to check out of the conversation, which I get it. You want to create controversy, walk into a coffee shop and say, God made men and women, and see the results that ripple throughout the… Through the coffee shop. This is not a popular topic. Sometimes when I was writing my dissertation in public places, I’d feel a temptation to reach over and turn the book whatever research topic, turn it upside down so the average person walking through doesn’t see the title.

BK: Thank you for sharing that.

JB: Here’s the challenge, though, two things. There’s a famous quote about Luther, I don’t know if it came directly from Luther, but about the person who professes courage in Christ, but doesn’t fight at the one point at which the battle is being raged that person’s really not being courageous for Christ. So that perspective that if this is the place where the world is pushing hardest against us, and there are many ways in which on this topic, the world is trying to force us into its mold, if we say, well, let’s just ignore that conversation, we’re not gonna be faithful to Romans 12. Do not be conformed to this world. I think we’re naive if we think we can live with our heads down and not be shaped by the prevailing cultural winds.

DZ: Absolutely.

JB: It’s not an isolated part of human experience that no one’s talking about. And if you ignore it, there’s no loss. Even down to what are the kids shows that your kids are streaming? What message are they presenting about gender? This is not a neutral issue anymore. So if we back off on this, we back off on the place where we’re most vulnerable to being shaped by the world. I’d say the second piece of it is if we give up on this in light of what we were saying earlier about marriage as a pointer to the bond between Christ and the Church how that influences our gathering. We begin to lose one of the main categories of language that God gives us to understand the shape of our covenant with Christ. God doesn’t just say, I’ll make a covenant with him and then leave it up to us to imagine what that covenant looks like.

JB: He reveals that in primarily, not exclusively, but primarily in the terms of a bond between a husband and a wife which then includes the elements of king and sovereign. There’s ways in which those metaphors get lumped together. But if you back out of all that conversation and let the world set the terms then we’re losing one of the primary vehicles God’s given to reveal to us the kind of love he has for us. I tell my church when you teach on Ephesians 5 or a text like that, use that as an example. One of the things I don’t have to do is tell you a bunch of ancient Near Eastern background for marriage or family structure. Even though yes, there’s differences between marriage here and marriage in Ephesus, there really is a universal structure of man and wife, husband, father, wife, mother the structures of human life that really is a universal language for all the ways that yes, it varies in some capacity, culture to culture. It’s not up for us to reshape. And that’s one of the ways that God… That language becomes a universal revelation of the character of God and how we relate to him. So we lose that if we just let Western culture set the terms by which we think about gender.

BK: That is so good. Here’s another question that is related. I think we’re gonna have to do two of these, I think.

DZ: Yeah. Exactly.

BK: We haven’t gotten the gathering [laughter] but one of the… I’d be curious if in your dissertation this came up, one of the questions that often comes up is the question of worth, value, equal worth, value, different role. How does that all fit together in your studies? Have you come to clear thoughts that would help someone who’s saying, well, no? If you distinguish between these things, you’re really saying one’s more important than the other.

JB: Right. Yeah, that’s a great question. And that it becomes one of the ways that we have to think carefully about this. Now I think there is an intrinsic beauty and worth when we explain the Bible’s vision and the way it’s meant to be. One of the things about our modern age… I’m paraphrasing something my advisor said to me once, so credit to him for the pithiness of this statement. But the modern world is concerned with equality, bear equality. We want everything to be equal. The problem is that makes everything the same. The Bible’s not concerned in that way with equality, it’s concerned with harmony, and there’s a much greater beauty when differing things fit together in the appropriate way. There’s a beauty that’s greater than the sum of mere flat egalitarian equality.

JB: And I think there’s something about that as we think about the value and the distinction, that we don’t want the world to set the terms that the only way things can be equal in value is if they’re the same.

BK: Wow.

DZ: Yeah.

JB: And most of us recognize, if you step back from the controversial areas, part of the beauty of life is the way in which things are not the same, and yet they’re wonderful in what they are. Just the fact that God orders the world according to seasons.

BK: Yes. Amen in seasons.

JB: Spring is spring, summer is summer [laughter]

BK: Sorry, all you Floridians [laughter]

JB: That’s right.

BK: And here in Louisville, Kentucky.

DZ: Well, yeah.

BK: And Texans and everybody else, and [laughter]

JB: All the ways in which a thing being the thing God had made it to be is beautiful. That’s a broader paradigm than just gender roles, but it’s part of the background and how we think about that. Now it is, I think it is important to recognize that at one level, and from one perspective, the Bible clearly affirms there is neither male nor female. That’s Galatians 3:28 is the text. It’s one of the places where in those neither slave nor free Paul explicitly includes male and female. The wrong conclusion to draw from that is that male and female don’t matter in any way. The right conclusion is that in the way that Paul is describing it, there male and female don’t matter, which is how it relates to the benefits of salvation and justification by faith alone.

BK: Wonderful.

DZ: Yes.

JB: There’s no distinction, male or female, any human category in the way we access God the Father through Jesus Christ. The benefits of the gospel are available to all classes of human beings. The wrong conclusion. And then to say, all classes of human beings look exactly alike, function in the same way. ’cause there we lose that beauty of harmony that God gives us. And it just won’t work. No matter how much ideological freight we want to give to that. For one, if everybody attempts to live that way, there won’t be another generation to pass the gospel on to, in basic terms, unless male and female exist in the covenant of marriage in God’s intention, then there’s not another generation. And every person who rails against the gender binary does have a mother and father, you can’t escape it. The world works the way God intends it to.

DZ: Yes, it does.

JB: But rather than merely stating that as an assertion, we can celebrate the beauty of that.

BK: Yes.

DZ: Yes. And I think you maintained the beauty of those complimentary roles through in all of your teaching that I’ve heard. And I’m sure in the dissertation, I just love that there’s such a draw. You’re wooing us with the beauty of what God has done and why he’s designed it this way. It’s not contentious, it’s actually perfectly designed. And I just think you do that well, Josh.

BK: Yes. Yeah. I’m just getting so stirred [laughter] by this conversation. Man, we have good guests [laughter] okay. Well, you mentioned earlier the Lord’s Supper and how our understanding of gender the gospel and our gatherings affects that. We’re gonna have another podcast where we’re going to get more into our gatherings. And also I’m gonna ask you about just if someone’s dealing with this in a more familial way or in their church, just any counsel you would have for just how we relate to others on these topics. Because you do it so beautifully, Josh. So winsomely, so biblically so wisely. And that’s a part of the conversation as well. So thank you for joining us. It is such a privilege to have you with us. And we are looking forward to next time. And if you’re listening, hope you can join us.

JB: Thanks guys.