Dr. Larry Crabb offers insights from his book Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes. (Part 1 of 2)
Dr. Larry Crabb: It's so counter-cultural, because we define femininity and masculinity in so many superficial ways, in so many, whether it's behavioral, whether it's appearance-wise, whether it's achievement-wise, but relational femininity, relational masculinity gets to the core of what God is after, because God's a relational being and we're to put His relational character on display.
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Jim Daly: Men and women have been uniquely designed to reveal God's character, and today we're gonna discover what God wants for us and how He makes us feel fully alive, as we talk with Dr. Larry Crabb on today's "Focus on the Family." I'm Jim Daly. Along with me is John Fuller and as we looked around at men and women in the culture today, even in the church, we see a lot of confusion about what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman and yes, these are controversial topics in today's culture, because today's culture is beginning to blur those lines of gender. The Scripture has a lot to say about it and it may be uncomfortable, but we're gonna hit it today with a very special guest.
John Fuller: Dr. Larry Crabb is here with us, as you mentioned, Jim and he's a well-known psychologist. He is the founder and director of New Way Ministries, located here in Colorado. He's written a number of books, and the one that we'll really key in on today is called Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond the Stereotypes
Jim: Larry, it's great to have you back to "Focus on the Family."
Dr. Larry Crabb: I'm glad to be here again. You guys are fun to chat with and there's always good conversation. I appreciate it.
Jim: Well, and last time, so many listeners really resonated with the content that we talked about, and I think today is gonna be equally as interesting, and very controversial. There's so many variants when it comes to, what does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman in Christ, in this world? And I'm lookin' forward to the discussion.
Let's start there. You know, when you look at who's trying to dictate what the definition is, as Christians, we gotta turn to the Word of God and say, "Lord, why did You create us this way?" We didn't come up with this, male and female, and the two shall become one flesh. As a Bible scholar, what do you think God is up to when He makes us man and woman?
Larry: That's the question. (Laughter) And is there really a potential that is largely going unrealized? Is there a real potential for me as a guy, for me as a man, to be fully alive in the masculinity? What does that mean? Does it mean broad shoulders? I'm a good football player.
I make a lot of money. I drive a neat car. What on earth does it really mean to be fully alive as a man, makin' a bunch of money whatever? And to be a woman, what does it mean to be fully alive in femininity? I think God has an incredible vision for that, and I think our joy depends on it.
Jim: Where are we missing it today?
Larry: We're missing it all over the place, and I think we're failing to realize that when God made us male and female, you go back to Genesis 1:26 and 27, which are, of course, the key verses to think about on this.
It seems clear if we agree, and I think we all do, that everything God does, He does for His own glory. And some people think that makes Him a narcissist. Well, that isn't the case at all. If He is committed to what's best, who else could be committed to it than Himself?
Jim: And whose advice would you want to follow?
Larry: And whose advice do you want to follow (Laughter), absolutely. And I believe when He made us as male and female, one of the key thoughts that just struck me like a thunderbolt some years ago, was that He made us male and female to glorify Him. Now what does that mean?
Well, when you start thinkin' about who He is, you realize that when He said, "Let's make 'em male and female," it was the first time in the creation story in Genesis 1 that He said, "Let us." Up until then He said, "And God said, 'Let there be.'" And He made the moon, the stars, the animals and everything else. But when He made people, He said, "Let us."
That's the first hint of the Trinity. That's the first hint of a relational God, therefore I take the position and this can sound kinda confusing, I don't think it is, that when He made me a male and He made my wife a female, He made me to reveal something unique about the way God relates within His own Trinity and how God relates with us. God's a relational God, and He relates rather well. I've often thought the Trinity is the only small group that's ever gotten along really well. (Laughter)
Jim: We often, you know, I think as men, we think of God as purely manhood, purely man, but women possess and they reflect the nature of God equally to what a man does, don't they?
Larry: There's no question about that, and there's no way that we can believe in women being somehow inferior, being less important to God's purposes. And I believe my wife has the unique capacity to reveal something about the relational nature of God that I simply can't reveal as well.
Jim: And I think younger women particularly, are getting a better handle on their role and their husband's role and now with so much redefinition going on about what is a couple, what is marriage, how do we regain, maybe not in the public square—that'll take time—but how do we regain balance within the church so that we understand healthy perspectives between men and women?
Larry: I think one place to start is to drop the word "role." I'd rather use the word "opportunity." Role feels so restrictive, and if the Lord is anything, He's Someone who is One who's come to set us free. The truth will set you free, not stick you into a box where you've gotta deny the deepest part of who you are and shape up according to standards, but it's really a liberation. It's a freedom. So, I much prefer, I think a good starting point is to say, "What is the opportunity of womanhood? What is the opportunity of manhood?"
John: Even as we look around though, Dr. Crabb, the culture says, well, it's an opportunity for me to express who I really am, and that's not what you're saying at all.
Larry: You know, if you say that in a particular way, it is what I'm saying, because who I really am, if I'm a Christian, is somebody who at the core of my soul is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is the relational nature of God. He's the personal embodiment of the love between the Father and Son. And so, I have that within me, so for me to become who I really am at the core of my being as a Christian, is the freedom that is mine to enjoy. So, in that sense, it's true.
But I think your point is very well taken, that when we talk about, "Well, I want to be who I am," be all you can be, that really gives us an opportunity to express our self-centeredness and our determination to use other people for our own well-being. And if my husband's not treating me well, well, to heck with him; I'll find somebody else. If my wife is a pain in the neck, well, then I'll just ignore her and go work more, and that's being who I really am, somebody who doesn't want to hurt. Well, that's no good. That's not what I'm saying at all.
So, I'm saying something very, very different here, but who I really am as a man is somebody who is given an opportunity here to do something that in the core of my soul, I really want to do. It's a freedom to be the man that I'm called to be, but then the question is, so, who is that? And who is that for a woman? These are not easy things to define. That's why I've written this book and tryin' to figure out what the Bible says about it.
Jim: Larry, you're describing hiding, emotional hiding really and in the book Fully Alive, you're talking about masks and how we wear different masks, which is another way of saying, "I'm hiding." Talk about how we hide today as men and women and what are those common pitfalls that we run into that prevents us from becoming fully alive in Christ?
Larry: We have become personas, not persons.
Larry: And that's one way of putting the idea of masks. I put something on top of me in order to get from you what I want to get. I want to hide who I really am for one big reason—this is true of both men and women—is because somewhere in the core of my soul, talk a very big deep word, I'm terrified, that if you saw me for exactly who I am, you wouldn't want me. So, I've gotta figure out what the culture expects of me, what you expect of me, and I gotta put that on.
You know, that's a real struggle for me. I have the word, "Doctor" in front of my name. I'll tell ya, it's really easy to hide behind that and not let people see that Larry, the real guy, my gracious, is he a screwed-up mess most of the time. So, I've gotta hide behind that. I don't have to, but I tend to do that.
And I think our hiding comes out of the fear that if you really saw what I'm like, you're not gonna want me, and because the deepest desire that I'm aware of in my soul is to get from you what I need. Who needs God? I'm gonna get it from you. I'm gonna get you to respect me. I'm gonna get you to love me. I'm gonna get you to [be] impressed by me. So, I'm gonna put on my personas and I'm gonna hide who I really am and maneuver and manipulate in my relationships to get from you what I want.
Jim: And Larry, it's so easy for us to look at the world and point out the errors that we see in the world, but let's talk about us, the Christian community, because as you talk about a veneer—
Jim: --that's one of the greatest dangers. I think that's what Jesus was attacking when He went after the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He said, you know the words, but you don't practice. It's not in your heart.
Jim: And so often, I'm really concerned about the culture, the Christian culture and how we're letting each other off the hook. We're allowing that veneer to be the representation of Christ and it's not core to who we are. It's not in our soul. We think that it is, but we're playing a game, aren't we?
Larry: No, Jim, the way you put it there, that we're letting our veneer become the representation of Christ and my, is that a failure.
Larry: You know, that's isn't the case at all. You know, one of my favorite clichés—I have a bunch of 'em, but here's my favorite one—"We don't grow until we're willing and experience the joy of looking bad in the presence of love." But as long as we're wearing a veneer, then we're basically saying, grace is not essential, because I'm gonna give you the veneer, the mask, the hiding procedure, the hiding manipulative style, that's gonna get you to want me without requiring you to forgive me, without requiring you to accept me at my worst, but just to want me at my best. And so, grace gets eliminated when you start wearing veneers all the time.
Jim: Let's drill into the genders. That's where we started. It's what your book is about, Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women. So, let's talk in that context, 'cause I love to talk about the culture and where we're at in the culture--
Jim: --and maybe we can come back to that a little later. But when we get to men and women, talk about those fears that women have to deal with. What are those deepest fears that women feel?
Larry: We're not gonna understand the deep fear in a woman or in a man, until we understand what God has called a woman to reveal. When you start looking at the text, you realize in Genesis 1:26, when God said, "Let's make 'em male and female," the word for "female" there in the Hebrew is a word that literally means "one who is opened to receive, not closed to control." That's really the distinction.
Jim: That's quite a statement.
Larry: It's a rather large statement.
Jim: And that's all in the term for "woman."
Larry: The Hebrew word is neqëbâh; I'm probably pronouncing it badly. I'm not a Hebrew scholar, but I can read Hebrew scholars, and they tell me that, that word literally means, most literally the word means "punctured," which is hardly a rather attractive word to describe a woman, but the etymology of the word came to mean "one who is opened to receive; one who is willing to say, "There is a beauty in the core of my soul based on who Jesus is, that I am opened to let you see the beauty of how Christ is invitational, how Christ is opened to receive us.
And I'm gonna be open to receive you, which puts the woman in danger, because think of it this way. If I'm opened to receive and nobody comes, if I make myself available saying, "I'm open to receive your movement toward me" and nobody comes, then I have to explain, why did nobody come? Am I not attractive? Am I not desirable? Does nobody want me?
Jim: And it's very interesting and I know this is tender, because of the political correctness in the culture--
Larry: Oh, yeah.
Jim: --but when you look and as we speak about women who have been wounded and hurt—
Jim: --and we even talk in terms of them being vulnerable, that women are vulnerable to those bad relationships. That's what you're saying. A woman is so often open, because she's starving for relationship, that those bad situations can occur. But it's at the very core nature of a woman to be wanting relationships.
Larry: Yes, it is and if she's wanting relationship, which of course, she wants. She's open to receive it, but if she's saying that the reason, the core reason I'm open to receive is to put the character of Jesus on display, who said, "Come to Me, if you're weary, if you're tired, if you're hurting, and I want you to come to Me." A woman who is open to receive in order to get from somebody else other than God, then ultimately, her openness is manipulative.
Jim: That is a powerful statement right there. What I was going to move toward is the beauty of that though. I see that in my own wife. She has such a nurturing heart.
Jim: And unfortunately, so many women today feel that's pejorative, that having a nurturing heart is not a positive.
Larry: It's weak.
Jim: It's weak, but in fact, it is incredibly strong.
Larry: It's powerful.
Jim: And for them to move to more male-oriented expression is not good, because that's our weakness as men, is that we don't have that kind of open, receiving heart to be generous to those around us. That's our pitfall, where women complement us in that way hopefully. Is that fair?
Larry: That's exactly right. That's exactly the point. And I feel the same about my wife. We've been married over 49 years.
Jim: Good for you.
Larry: Well, we met at age 10 and she thought she might have a good deal in me and she (Laughter) has had some questions about that over the years, but we're working out pretty well right now. Now I believe she's a very open woman. But see, that's what I define as feminine, and I think that word "feminine" sounds so negative in our culture today, this frilly and silly and all you do is look pretty, whatever, but that's not what the word means at all.
Jim: How does a woman in today's culture, how does a woman get that biblical understanding and that balance and feel good about it? She can read it and I'm sure her husband can even tell her, but how does she live it? How does she feel it? How does she grab ahold of it and say, "It is okay to walk the nature that I feel in my heart?"
Larry: She's gonna have to fight against the culture, 'cause the culture teaches her just the opposite and she's gonna have to get a vision of what God had in mind. That's the reason that I wrote the book really, to give a vision to men and women for what they could be.
If a woman gets some clarity about what God had in mind when He made human beings male and female, when a woman gets some clarity about the opportunity that she has to put Jesus on display, and if she can get a vision for that and by faith believe that, that's where her deepest joy is going to come from, then she's gonna have to start walkin' this narrow road, which is very, very risky. She's gonna have to live by faith. She's gonna have to acknowledge the fear that she has in the middle of moving in this direction, being open, because it does make her vulnerable and it's gonna be painful at times. It's gonna be difficult.
John: Well, we're covering a lot of weighty content here on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly today. Our guest is Dr. Larry Crabb and you can get a CD or a download of this. You can stream it if you'd like to listen to it again, and I'd encourage you to do that just so you can capture the fullness of what Dr. Crabb is sharing.
And then of course, he's written a book called Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes. And we have that for you. You can call and ask about it, 1-800-A-FAMILY, or we have details at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Larry, let me ask you this. We joke about it in the culture today, but in … unfortunately, in very negative ways about a controlling wife. What is it in the fearful woman who maybe has not understood her role in Christ in what God has created in her in that beautiful way, that to fill the void or to fill the fear, she moves to control? What's happening there?
Larry: To understand that, you gotta look back at Genesis 3. "And after Adam and Eve sinned, God pronounced certain consequences of their sin and on the woman, He said something that initially sounds very strange. He said, "Because you've sinned, because you've eaten the fruit that was forbidden, your desire shall be for your husband." Now that sounds like a positive to me.
Jim: Right, especially for us husbands.
Larry: Yeah, my wife desires me. I'm gonna see her this afternoon. She desires to see me and I'm glad for that; it means we have a pretty good marriage, I think. But that's not what the word means. The word for "desire" is the same word that is used in Genesis 4 when God's talking to Cain and says that, "Sin is crouching at the door and it desires to have control over you."
And one Hebrew scholar, a female Hebrew scholar named Susan Fulla [sp?], she argues and I think convincingly, that what God is saying, now that you have sinned and you've lost your intimate relationship with Me, now you're gonna depend on your husband for everything you want, but he's not gonna come through, 'cause he sinned, as well. So, you're gonna have to take over. You're gonna have to control your husband to see to it he doesn't hurt you. You're gonna have to control your husband to see to it he abides by your wishes. You're gonna have to become a control freak.
Larry: And I believe that's what the text is actually saying and that's what a woman lives with so often.
Jim: Larry, it makes the word so relevant for so many women that are hearing this. I would only imagine that their eyes are opening right now and their hearts are opening saying, that is what's happening in my relationship.
Larry: Yes, she's scared and so, she has to control.
Jim: How does a woman now change that modus operandi? How does she say, okay, I'm hearin' this, but how do I get in a better place with God, to be in a place that feels safe or that I don't have to control?
Larry: Is her goal to feel safe? And if her goal is to feel safe, I suggest she scrap Christianity. If her goal's to be alive and to be all that God's called her to be, then she's gonna be required to take a few risks.
Jim: What do those risks look like?
Larry: Well, goodness, do you have a couple hours on that? (Laughter) I think the risks are very, very real, how many women who are listening right now could talk about a history of feeling invisible, never being seen? I remember talkin' to one woman who was in her 50's, a very godly woman. She loved the Lord, a missionary in a very significant wonderful way.
And she told me the story, which she's given me permission to repeat, that when she was 5-years-old, she was sexually abused by a cousin who was visiting in the family. And after the abuse, she had no idea what was happening. She was a 5-year-old girl. What does she know, but she was hurting. And when the family left, she was sitting on the couch and crying, and her father came up to her, who was a rather rude, brusque kind of a man apparently and said to her when she was crying, a little girl, "What are you cryin' for?" not said caringly, but aggressively. And she got scared and she said, "Nothin' daddy." And then, so he just said, "Well, stop crying" and he walked away.
Now I would argue that at the core of that little girl's soul, she felt invisible. A dad should've been able to see her and say, "Honey, I want to know what's happening in your soul."
Larry: "I want to know what's going on with you as a little girl. Honey, what happened? Why are you crying?" And to sit down next to her and put his arm around her and just to be with her, but he didn't do that. A woman is terrified of feeling invisible. Is there any value to me or am I just useful because I'm pretty? Am I a sex object? Am I just competent and so, I can do certain things and I got a great sense of humor and I can cook really well and I can run corporations and whatever it might be.
But do I as a husband look at my wife and see what is deepest within her? Am I curious about what's happening in her? Do I see her? That's what she longs for. She longs to be visible as somebody of value, because she's putting something about the beauty of God on display. And if I don't have any interest in that, then I'm simply gonna use her and value her for everything other than that, and she's gonna end up feeling just lost and alone, and then she's got to take over and start being more controlling and put on her persona and put on her masks and try to live as a pretty or funny or competent or brilliant or whatever else she's good at, and then she ceases being fully alive as a woman. It's so sad.
Jim: These are deep issues that we're talkin' about today. Let's turn to the man and talk about--
Larry: Oh, let's stay with the women. (Laughter) It's easier. (Laughter)
Jim: --talk about a man's fears, as well. What's happening at the core of his nature, being created male? What was God trying to do, or what was God doing, and what did we fail to fulfill?
Larry: Yeah, boy, that's a topic, isn't it? You know, when I talk about women, obviously, I can't talk about it from a totally personal perspective, because I'm not a woman, but I can talk about it biblically and I can talk about it experientially and living with my wife now for 49 years and maybe having some understanding of womanhood by experience, but far more biblically, but when I start talkin' about manhood, then it gets very disruptive to me.
Jim: Hah, you know all the nooks and crannies.
Larry: I know some of the nooks and maybe not all of them, but a whole bunch of 'em and I more clearly see my failure to be what God has called me to be. But to see a vision of what God has called me to be and then to see how I fail, that's very liberating, because it tells me that at my worst, God doesn't give up on me. God is still working. He's begun a good work, and He's gonna continue it and I'm gonna be able to grow in my masculinity. [I've] been a Christian now for 64 years, and I've got longer to travel, more to reach than I've ever reached at this point, but I have an opportunity to do that and I find it rather exciting in the middle of my failure.
Jim: What's our greatest fear though?
Larry: Well, the greatest fear goes back to what the word "male" means in Genesis 1 and the word there, the Hebrew word is zâkâr, Z-A-K-A-R, and it literally means "one who remembers and moves."
Larry: That's literally what it means. Do I have the courage to move into a complex situation where I feel totally inadequate? And where do men feel most inadequate? Well, oftentimes it's not in their job. It may not be in the sports field. It may not be in their sense of humor and being able to get along socially. Where men feel most inadequate is in the profound elements of "relationality." Do I know how to become intimate with somebody else? Do I know how to relate very deeply with a brother, brother in Christ, with a buddy, with a golf partner, and certainly with my wife? Do I know what it means to relate deeply?
And the core terror that I have is that, if I really move into somebody else at the core of their being, if I really want to know who they are and to bless them, do I have what it takes? I feel weightless. Do I have the weight to make a difference?
My image for that is, you know, I can recall this in our dating days. My wife and I were dating in our teens, and I would take her out for dinner and I thought I was a big hot shot, you know. (Laughter) I'd get in the car that was my dad's, but I'd pretend it was mine and we'd drive out to the restaurant. I've had [the] image. It actually happened this way, but the image is more what I mention here. I get to a restaurant with my girlfriend and I'm gonna pay the bill, you know. And I got 20 bucks in my wallet and the bill is 50.
Larry: How do you feel? I don't have the resources to do what needs to be done. That's a man core terror. Do I have the resources to be what God has called me to be? Do I have the resources to touch my wife's soul? Do I have the resources to help her feel more alive, as a man? Do I have the resources to be close to a friend, to a guy? Do I have the resources to see what's happening in him and to make a difference in his life?
In Mark 10 and verse 6, where the Lord is having a debate with the Pharisees, he refers--I won't give the context; it would take too long—but he refers to Genesis 1, and He said, "You guys are worried about the divorce and who's gonna be your spouse in heaven if you're divorced now. Have you forgotten what He said in Genesis 1?" And then He quotes that He made us male and female, but the word He uses in Greek for word "male" is zâkâr in Hebrew, but the Greek translation that the Lord uses is the word arsen, A-R-S-E-N and it means "One who has the strength to move something from one place to another." Do I have the strength when my wife is hurting, when my wife is feeling insecure, when my wife is struggling with something? Do I know what to do?" You know what the answer is, no. Most of the time, I don't. So, I'll simply say, "Well, I'll pray for you."
Jim: Well, it's interesting, too, I mean, you're talking about the core of inadequacy.
Larry: Yes, that's exactly what—
Jim: You know, the—
Larry: --what I'm talkin' about.
Jim: --as men feel inadequate, we tend to flee the scene.
Larry: And move to wherever you feel adequate.
Jim: Right, our job title, whatever—
Jim: --it might be.
Larry: I'm a much better writer of books than I am a husband. I've written a bunch of books. I know how to write a book. Do I know how to move into my wife's soul?
Larry: I'm not as good at that.
Jim: Wow, that is so honest and so well-said. Dr. Larry Crabb, author of the book, Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes. I've got more questions. I want to ask you next time if you can stick with us—
Larry: Love to.
Jim: --about David. He's a complex figure that committed the big no-no's, yet God, for some reason, loved his heart. Let's talk about that if we can and take it from there. Will you stick with us?
Larry: I'm lookin' forward to it.
John: Well, I imagine you've connected with what Dr. Larry Crabb has been saying today at some level, about fears that men and women have and how we can hide those things emotionally. And you can learn more about those fears, dealing with them well, how you were uniquely created to live without that fear in the book that Jim just mentioned.
Larry Crabb has written Fully Alive and we have that for you when you call. We also have a CD or a download of the broadcast, as well and we'll send that book to you when you make a generous donation of any amount today to support the work of Focus on the Family. Find the book, the CD and other helpful resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . You can donate there or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
And please remember to pray for this ministry. When you hear us on the radio, maybe tell a friend about some of these programs. Dr. Crabb is saying such good stuff for every one of us and I hope you'll encourage a friend to listen in with you tomorrow.
Well, our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, do plan to be with us tomorrow, won't you, when you'll hear more from Dr. Larry Crabb to help you and your family thrive.
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Larry CrabbView Bio
Dr. Larry Crabb is a well-known psychologist, speaker, Bible teacher, author, and founder/director of NewWay Ministries. He is currently the Scholar in Residence at Colorado Christian University in Denver, and Visiting Professor of Spiritual Formation for Richmont Graduate University in Atlanta. Dr. Crabb and his wife Rachael live in the Denver, Colo.