The most feminine woman might very well be that one slouched at the table, slurping up soup wearing muddy hunting boots and camo vest. The most masculine man might be that one running down the street, fretting about being late for his manicure.

That is according to Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist best known for bringing spiritual direction into his many books and seminars. His most popular title, Inside Out, taught that real change in Christ begins with digging into our own internal muck. Now, in Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes (Baker, 2013), Crabb contends it's time for Christians to look at what Scripture really says about masculinity and femininity and what it means to be made male and female in God's image.

Crabb, a scholar in residence at Colorado Christian University in Denver, spoke recently with Her.meneutics writer Caryn Rivadeneira about gender beyond looks and "roles."

Everyone from Mark Driscoll to Rachel Held Evans is weighing in on gender these days. Why did you jump into the fray? What have both complementarians and egalitarians missed in their understanding of masculinity and femininity?

There's something beneath the issues that Christians fuss about that needs to be addressed. I don't think we understand the question of why God made us male and female beyond the central position of marriage and procreation. Scripture makes it clear (Gen. 1:27) that when God made us, he made us as male and female.

So rather than getting into the egalitarian and complementarian fray and asking what it means to get women who've been put down by society up where they belong, and to get guys who are too bossy and authoritative a bit more humble and more respectful to women, I thought it would be wiser to give some thought to what God had in mind when he made a woman feminine and when he made a man masculine. Both of those questions have been relatively unaddressed.

So how should we define them?

The question needs a bit of theological context: If God made us in his image, then we need to understand who God is and ask, "How do women reflect something about God, and how do men reflect something about God?"

Theologians talk about the immanent Trinity—how God gets along within himself. They make two points. 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.

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I don't think either one of those things is a gendered issue. I don't think Jesus in that sense is either masculine or feminine. But I do believe that God made us male and female so males can reflect one side of that dynamic, and females can reveal the other side.

This is supported by the words for male and female in Genesis 1. Neqebah (female) means one who is open to receive, has an invitational style of relating. And zakar (male) means one who remembers something important and then does it.

Femininity is a relational style—an invitational way of relating to other people that says, "I invite you to come to me. I'm not here to control you. If you move toward me in godly movement, you'll find an inviting and nourishing and supportive, wise woman who's going to be there with you in all the godly movement that you make."

Masculinity is a relational style of seeing a situation that needs to be dealt with. Rather than passively letting someone else deal with it or aggressively taking over and bossing everyone around, masculinity moves gently and meaningfully into that situation.

"Relational movements" and "relational invitations" are my elevator pitches for male and female.

But doesn't this move us back into "roles"—that women must act one way, and men another?

I was raised in a conservative Christian environment where I heard a dozen if not more sermons on the role of women. I never heard a message on the role of men. I remember thinking, Man I'm glad I'm not a woman. Since then, I've come to hate the word role and instead love the word opportunity.

If I could imagine myself a woman, I'd be offended by most of what the church tells me I cannot do and by the culture telling me how I have got to look.

So my concern is not that women can't do certain things. My concern is: In whatever a woman does—whether a physician or pastor or president—is she relationally expressing the invitational nature of God?

Same with a man. Nothing is excluded. Nothing is uniquely available to him. If a man is a president or a surgeon or a pastor, but not doing it in a relationally masculine way, then he's missed his calling and not living out his opportunities to express God.

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You write, "Submission requires wise discernment, not reflexive obedience." Therefore, you say, a "submissive" wife can refuse her husband's request as long as it's done "gently and quietly." And you define "gentle" as "strength under control" and "quiet" as a non-vengeful spirit. This might raise some eyebrows.

Strong complementarians who want to honor the more standard understanding of submission are going to be offended, because they're going to lose control of their wives. And the strong egalitarians are going to say, "Why didn't you emphasize that there's nothing wrong with women preaching and that sort of thing?" And I'm saying, I'm not even dealing with that. Catch me on that later, and I'll give you my opinion.

You call it "relational sin" when men don't move and women don't invite. But what if you're just burnt out—or an introvert like me? I can't invite everybody in. Aren't there valid reasons for women to not be inviting, and for men to not be moving?

Absolutely, as a guy who is called to relational masculinity as moving toward others, this doesn't mean I move toward everyone who wants me to move toward them. I'd be writing letters all day long and flying all over the country having coffee with people.

So it's a question of why. For instance, if a man is not moving toward another out of fear or cowardice, so therefore he either bullies or retreats, that's relational sin.

However, if your lack of movement toward another is a matter of wisdom (if they don't want you to move toward them), that's different. The Lord walked away from people, and he wasn't relationally sinful. He knew that he wasn't called to move toward certain people. Or, if the lack of movement in a man is—like me—because I'm just a tired old grumpy guy sometimes and don't want to move because I'm exhausted, that's not relational sin.

Aren't there times for genders to "flip": for men to be relationally invitational and for women to "move" into others?

Whenever you take on a difficult topic like gender, and whenever you take a position—like I've taken to the best of my understanding of the Scriptures—you want to be careful. I don't want to have airtight definitions, and I don't want to say, "Now women, don't you ever move. And men, don't you ever invite anything."

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But for instance, being a relationally invitational (feminine) woman requires incredible courage, incredible strength. This is not a sweet little woman baking cookies. This is a strong bearer of God's image who is here to save the world. A feminine woman says, "I'm going to put God on display by the way I relate, and this powerful strong wonderful glorious God invites us to the party and that's what I'm going to do with you."

Is "putting God on display" why it's essential that Christians understand what femininity and masculinity are really about?

I welcome the recovery of kingdom theology in the Christian culture. . . . [T]he kingdom of God is not [only] good deeds toward others; the kingdom of God is relating a certain way in a community. We're to bring the relational party. I like to talk about "dancing with the Trinity." That's the kingdom. It's a community, a way of relating.

If we don't understand a man's call to relate in a particular way and a woman's call to relate in a particular way, then we're not going to be revealing the character of God in the way we relate. God's not going to get the glory. And it's rather central in Scripture that the whole point of all that God is doing is for his own glory.

And that's not because he's some kind of cosmic narcissist. It's because his glory is the way he relates. And he likes to display himself because it's for our well-being.

As I see it, my calling is to put divinity on display in humanity, to put the character of God on display by the way I relate to others. And if I've been called to relate in a particular way that the Bible calls masculine and if you've been called to relate in a particular way that the Bible calls feminine, then that strikes me as getting to the very heart of what the Christian enterprise is about.