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Friday, July 26, 2013

"Fully Alive" (Larry Crabb)

TITLE: Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes
AUTHOR: Dr Larry Crabb
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (224 pages).

What happens when a man or a woman is most fully alive to his calling as a man or a woman respectively? More than that, what does it mean to be a man/woman of God for the glory of God; to be created male or female; meaning of femininity or masculinity? What happens when two fully alive persons interact on the "Bridge of Connection?" Crabb writes that any meaningful connection must stem from the great truth of the identity of the Triune God, on how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit relate with one another. Crabb takes a four-part perspective to free oneself toward becoming fully alive in our sexuality.

First, we need to go to the very core of our being to discover what it means to be feminine and masculine. Crabb makes a keen observation on patriarchal culture of certain churches that are so harped up on "role of women" and does not place equal emphasis on the "role of men." He goes back to the beginning, asking a more pivotal question of what it actually means to be in Christ, and the reason for our existence. Any spiritual formation must be relational, and any Christian spiritual formation must be relational in Christ. Genesis clearly states that we are created in the image of God. It is because God is relational, the key to understanding our sexuality is in our relational abilities, not our role capabilities. We build community using the best of our gendered uniqueness. We are not meant to build commodities where our gender becomes a means to material ends. More than that, our relationship building and community developing will reveal more and more our gendered uniqueness. For example, what makes a woman feminine is neqebah, (means punctured, open), that it is "to invite, to neither demand nor control." Feminity is essentially invitational, and that begins by inviting God in. It is also a willingness to give. Submission (ezer) is to be open to help by someone stronger. Submission involves wise discernment with gentleness, and not reflexive obedience.  For men, the Hebrew word is zakar, which is to "make an impact." The Greek word used is arsen, which is to lift or to carry. If relational femininity is about revealing the "invitational beauty of God," relational masculinity is revealing the "incarnational beauty of God."

The second part of the book deals with the place of fear that robs us from living out our gendered selves. There are fears that affect both male and female. Crabb describes the four personas that inhibit women from their truest selves: the defensively deranged woman; the prematurely satisfied woman; the angrily hardened woman; and the visibly troubled woman. The problem with men is their fear of "weightlessness" that when they are not doing things, they feel useless. Along with it is loneliness, doubts, and despair. Three kinds of weightless men are described: the shallow; the secularized; and the spiritually addicted. The shallow will find unfulfillment in relationships. The secularized do lots of stuff but without God's power.

Part Three of the book gives us a bigger idea about the source of the problem by turning the picture over to see what an unfeminine and unmasculine person looks like. There is that self-centered relating that destroys community. There is the tongue that invites glib words, slander people, spreads gossip. Unfeminine or unmasculine behaviour often invites a reciprocal response. For example, a wife who went into depression becomes unable to satisfy the sexual desires of the husband, who subsequently dabbled in pornography. The complex web of dysfunctional behaviours invite insecurity through inability to help the wife; reluctance to risk failure; and deceiving oneself to think that sexual fantasies can be a "safe" channel without breaking marital vows. For both male and female, the core of the problem is the deception that we can live without God. Such a person feels that God is impossible, impractical, irrelevant, and unnecessary.

By Part Four, readers will begin to sense what the author had in mind right from the start: Spiritual Formation. Through Christ, we are formed from female to feminine, and from male to masculine. Spiritual formation is about disconnecting ourselves from worldly stereotypes toward Godly awareness and reality of our gender beings. When we meet God, we will begin to realize our created desires for community and holiness. Such a process is slow and often long. The three starting blocks are conception, conversion, and confession. The tell tale symptoms of anyone growing in spiritual formation are:

  • Noticeable end to Self-Centeredness
  • Desire to walk the narrow road of obedience
  • Recognizing our weaknesses but reinforcing our hope in Christ
  • Sensing the work of the Spirit in us
  • Living and Loving the Abundant Life
The book ends with an epilogue written by the author's wife. It is a fitting end to a book that tries to rescue men and women from being trapped in worldly stereotypes, and to free them to be the men and women that God had intended them to be. 

So What?

This is a very liberating book, true to its title. It addresses our human sexuality in a Christ-centered way. At the same time, we are reminded of how vulnerable we are to worldly expectations and stereotypes that often trap us and prevent us from growing properly as persons. A key idea is that we are more gendered than we often think. It is not a choice of sexual preference that we can make. Another idea is that we are not what we choose, but we are what God has created us to be. The trouble with choices is that making a personal preference can mean choosing something totally out of sync with our very gendered identity. It brings confusion into an already confused world of sexuality. It confuses roles. It confuses our sense of identity. It confuses our relationships with one another. Most importantly, the book reminds us of the need for spiritual formation, which cannot begin by reading manuals or books, attending conferences or talks, but starting with our relationship with God. The book shows a framework that hopefully will propel readers toward discovering their own spiritual formation paths, in Christ.

I like the way that the author starts with the biblical definitions of gender. In order to get a sense of who we are, we need to be freed away from the worldly stereotypes often labeled on what men or women are supposed to be. Crabb argues passionately that we all need to go back to what the biblical vision of gender is. The spiritually addicted try to dominate over other men through whatever resources they have in order to gain respect. Thankfully, Crabb leads us to the fourth kind of man that we ought to be appreciative of: sincerely struggling man. Such a man is like Augustine or Paul who confesses their weaknesses so openly and bravely.

I also like the way that Crabb brings all back to Christ centered lives. We are all made either male and female. The problem is, we are living in a world that is confused and out of that confusion, we are molded to fit the stereotypes and expectations that are often unbiblical, unhelpful, and untrue to our calling. The road ahead is, seek Christ. The Bible says in Genesis that "male and female he created them" to be. The world instead claims "male and female we chose to be." Society has elevated personal freedom even to the point of choosing one's sex and sexual preferences! For some, they have also tried to create their own sexuality in their own image, far away from God's intended creation.

While I enjoy the way Crabb has described the feminine and masculine aspects, I think there is still much room left untouched. What about transvestites? What about homosexuals? What about people confused about their genders and sexualities? Perhaps, Crabb can add some of his thoughts in another edition, if it gets published.

Nevertheless, I am happy to recommend this book as another great resource for spiritual formation.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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