On Challenging Tertullian

I’m sure Tertullian was a really nice guy. More than that, I’m sure he had a lot a great things to say. How else do you become, in the words of theologian Justo Gonzalez, “the founder of Western theology?!?”

So maybe we could chalk it up to a bad day, or just say that he he’d had some unhelpful influences in his life. Or perhaps he’d had a particularly bad dating run lately. Whatever the reason, ol’ Tertullian was the one who wrote these words to women:

“You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam.”

Ouch, right? Sounds bad, and it is bad. It’s also representative, of a school of thought of which Tertullian was one pupil. And here’s the thing, if you ask me, that school was in session before Tertullian, and, significantly, we’re all enrolled in it today.

With this blog, I want to challenge Tertullian. Or, more to the point, I want to challenge the system of male privilege. I want to think about it, understand it and then discern how Jesus would have me respond to it. And I invite you to join me.

I want you to know what you’ll be getting into, so I’m going to come right out and share where I’m coming from here. Simply put, my thesis is this:

Male privilege exists in our culture and is something that benefits men like me. Since Jesus calls me to surrender everything I’ve got to his leadership, that’s as true for my privilege as it is for my car, house, etc. And as I willfully and joyfully surrender this privilege and invite Jesus to use it, I get to see him empower the women around me and advance his mission in my context.

To engage this thesis, I’ll be blogging here on Mondays and Thursdays, and on other days when the mood strikes me. I’ll be thinking through current events, my life, some theology and I’ll be exhorting us all to grapple with the reality of male privilege. Along the way we’ll have some fun as well.

So if this sounds good to you, please join me. I’ll welcome your comments, particularly if they’re civil.

And, who knows, maybe we’ll get Tertullian to show up and explain himself!

How about you? When you hear the words “male privilege,” what questions come to mind?

7 responses to “On Challenging Tertullian”

  1. Gary. W says :

    There was an insightful great piece in Slate last week by Hanna Rosin, author of “The End of Men.” Things are changing–dramatically so in favor of women. Sure, some things remain the same, but how much of our own “male guilt” is being projected on the situation rather than taking an objective look at the trajectory we’re on? Here’s a quote from the article:

    “Men’s wages have been stagnating, and by some measures declining, as women’s economic fortunes continue to rise. The wage gap has been slowly closing for women, but the education gap has not been closing for men. We can focus only and eternally on the fact that those lines have not yet crossed or even converged in many professions. But isn’t that vantage point a bit narrow? Why does we’re-not-there-yet mean we’re not headed there?”


    I would argue that we’re headed toward a parity unseen in human history–so rather than wring our hands over the issue, we should take a step back and look at the big picture.

    • rdixon1365 says :

      Hey Skills. I’ll check out that article more closely, but my take would be that when it comes to the larger culture both are true. We are heading in the right direction (toward parity) AND we’ve got a ways to go, as I’ll try to demonstrate in the coming weeks/months. That’s the larger culture. When it comes to the church, I might argue that only the second statement is true, but more on that later as well. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Gary W. says :

        Fair point…the church is trailing the larger culture (and in many ways fighting against it)–there’s a culture war mentality rooted in American evangelicalism that often leads to outright rejection of any positive change that comes from outside the “circle of trust.”

  2. Ryan says :

    Thanks for doing this, Rob. I’m often overwhelmed by the scope of this topic, and tend to get tripped up in my hesitancy to comment or weigh in out of fear of saying something “wrong” out of ignorance or emotion, but not talking about it is not talking about it, and it should be talked about. Here’s to more voices …

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