You, Me, and the Heavenly Three?
Popular Christian psychologist Larry Crabb has a new book out, Fully Alive, with the subtitle "A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes." Though I haven't read the book, I did read his recent Christianity Today interview about it, and I can tell that this new book (his 41st) contains more of what has earned Crabb the respect and popularity of a large audience. He speaks with sensitivity, creativity, and a manifest desire to help people flourish—in this case, setting believers free from gender stereotypes that diminish them.
But I am disappointed that Crabb has chosen to make a direct link between his teaching on gender and the doctrine of the Trinity. He describes masculinity as moving toward others, or "a relational style of seeing a situation that needs to be dealt with." He describes femininity as "an invitational way of relating to other people." Both ways of relating, he says, are built into humanity precisely because we are in God's image. He asks, "How do women reflect something about God, and how do men reflect something about God?" His answer: The moving-and-inviting dynamic is part of "how God gets along within himself," that is, part of the Trinity. The two elements of the relational dynamic are as follows:
One, God the Father moves toward and into the Son, and gives all that he is to the Son (Heb. 1). Two, the Son invites and receives all that the Father gives him. Then the Son moves this right back to the Father. So I see a Trinitarian dynamic of moving into and inviting.
To reflect the image of the triune God, then, is to express this relational masculinity and femininity, thus "dancing with the Trinity."
Leave the Trinity Out of It
Crabb's description of what it means to be masculine and feminine can stand or fall on its own merits. He supports it with scriptural argumentation, psychological observation, and practical application. But I wish he'd leave the Trinity out of it. Specifically, I wish he didn't connect gender to the relationship between the Father and the Son.
The main reason is that Scripture itself does not explicitly link gender to Trinity, or the masculine-feminine dynamic to the Father-Son dynamic. Genesis does say that God made man in his image, male and female. And as progressive revelation develops, we learn that the God of Genesis has in fact always been the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, making it perfectly legitimate for Christian readers to re-read Genesis in light of what God makes known later. Re-reading the Old Testament with Trinitarian lenses really does bring out things that couldn't have been seen the first time through.
But even when you combine the fact that humanity is in God's image with the fact that God is triune, you don't get any further guidance about how God's triune nature is reflected in humanity. In the absence of such guidance, anybody who gets excited about a Trinitarian image of God in humanity is left to their own resources, and has to speculate freestyle.
Crabb is not alone in the project of trying to discern some kind of Trinitarian vestige in the nature of humanity. To pick the most exalted example, Augustine of Hippo sketched out a brilliant correspondence between the three persons of the Trinity and the three faculties of the human soul: memory, understanding, and will. Augustine may not have talked about "dancing with the Trinity," but his way of connecting our highest knowledge of God with our most inward experience of our selves was theological dynamite, inspiring a thousand years of spiritual writing in the West.