I recently read “The Grand Design” by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock. This little book was a fast and profitable read. No matter what your view of gender identity or gender roles might be, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to think seriously about the biblical view of such things. The authors take a direct approach, and their candid posture is refreshing. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!
“The Grand Design” is what it claims to be: an “unfurling of the beauty of God’s creative work” and a “savoring of the grand design of God.” If these claims sound ambitious, they are; but they are even loftier when one considers the cuisine through which the authors intend to “unfurl” and “savor” such things. If anything can be said of American society today, it is that distinctly defined gender identity (ontological binary peculiarities) and distinctly defined roles (dualistically matched functionality) is unpalatable (nauseating and inedible). Yet, the authors directly confront the contemporary and standard approach to common cultural consumption.
This book does indeed speak several words of truth amidst the confusion of our age. It offers the reader a chance at a real meal, something better than the unsubstantial and unsatisfying pre-packaged dinners to which we have sadly grown accustomed.
In the introduction of this book, the authors fire booming mortars at the confusion of the day. “Ask a male friend,” the authors challenge, “’What is your manhood for?’” (13). Or, similarly, you might ask a young female, “’What meaning does womanhood have?’ ‘Does it matter at all?’” (14). These questions demonstrate, if the reader is honest, the incredible muddled mess that manhood and womanhood have become in American culture (and likely for much of the ‘developed’ world).
From this starting point, the authors seek to answer such questions, along with some others, from a biblically honest and faithful perspective. In fact, the repeated refrain of this book is that manhood and womanhood are directly related to the Gospel itself, and the distinct maleness and distinct femaleness of human creatures should be lived out as doxology (worshipful expression toward God) among creation. The book travels along a plotted course: (1) explaining biblical Complementarity; (2) explaining biblical manhood; (3) explaining biblical womanhood; (4) applying these ideas to the family, the Church, and the culture; and (5) answering some common criticisms.
As the label suggests, Complementarity is the teaching that the sexes (male and female) are complementary, neither confused nor conflicting. Citing Genesis 2, the authors point out what many other Christians do as well: namely that God has distinctly created man and woman to be the same in value, and God has commissioned man and woman to have unique functions as God’s image bearers. This is expressed in all of life and in every relationship, but especially in the marital union.
The apex of Genesis chapter 2 is the divinely solemnized marriage ceremony. Adam and Eve are united to each other in the prototype marriage relationship and the standard for all such relationships thereafter. Beauty and function are both on display here, and the union establishes a pattern for understanding some things about manhood and womanhood. Particularly (the authors assert), manhood is marked by leadership, protection, and provision; and womanhood is marked by suitable help, respect, and nurturing. Each of these descriptions are kneaded out in chapters two and three.
However, the harmony of Genesis 2 is flipped on its head in Genesis 3. “Adam should have protected his wife, rebuked the serpent, and exercised his God-given dominion over a beast that creeps on the ground.” Instead, Satan, in the form of a serpent, “takes dominion of mankind, and then Eve leads Adam” (39). In this reversal, the disruption of complementary roles begins, and this disruption continues through our own day. Man is inclined towards an abdication of his God-given leadership, appropriate protection, and selfless provision; and woman is disinclined to provide suitable help, submissive respect, and proper nurture.
This abysmal reality is evidenced around us, but the promise of God to rectify what has been ruined shines a bright beam into the darkness. God has promised to send a Savior, who will make all things right, and He did so in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the God-man who perfectly represents all those who love and trust Him. In Christ, all believers are promised a future and perfect recreation, and all believers are presently and progressively transformed into more accurate image bearers. While the image of God in humanity has been marred by sin, and we see this exemplified in both male and female distortions, God is in the business of making things new.
The authors present a biblical case for God’s Grand Design in maleness and femaleness, which extends from the individual to the family, from the home to the church, and from the church to the world. The authors conclude with a challenge to the reader, a challenge to live in light of God’s Grand Design. They write, “Our lives may be required of us in this grand pursuit. The cost of loving and proclaiming the truth may be great. But we must go. We have seen the grand design, and it impels us to go, preach, and celebrate the glory of God in the world of men” (172).
Throughout my reading of this book, I was struck by the direct and honest approach the authors take. This book felt odd to read at times, not because it was hard to understand or that I disagreed with the assertion necessarily. It was odd because the content of the book is such a stark contrast to the very air we breathe today in American culture. Many of the Bible passages cited were themselves a direct assault on commonly held views and practices among many evangelicals today. I often thought to myself, “Saying that out loud would be pulling the pin and dropping the grenade!”
While the book was stinging in this way, it was also quite refreshing to read an honest and Scriptural argument for a biblically faithful theology and practice of gender identity. This alone made it worth the read. Even if I totally disagreed with the authors’ positions, I would still have appreciated the attempt to form a doctrine of gender identity from Scripture rather than societal preference or popular culture.
Overall, I did not disagree with the authors. In fact, I was both convicted and encouraged by this book. I believe that the authors have done a fantastic job of presenting a biblical case that is accessible to any reader, and it is helpful to anyone who seeks to actually consider what grand design the Creator must have in mind for males and females. I would encourage all Christians to read this book, at least to interact with the case made within. Whatever one’s view on maleness and femaleness is, this book is a smart and formidable contribution to the discussion.
Strachan, Owen, and Gavin Peacock. The Grand Design. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2016.