Book Review: Male and Female

MALE & FEMALE: Embracing Your Role in God’s Design.

By Jonathan & Christa Petzold. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2021. 166 pages. $15.99.

In my lifetime, the matter of human sexuality has been a perennial hot-button issue—in and outside the church. The world is not lacking for opinions, evaluations, or theses regarding every possible matter of human sexuality. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is no exception. There Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), which provides study documents, opinions, and statements on theological issues for the LCMS has seven reports and three opinions under the “Marriage and Sexuality” heading on the LCMS website, and there are another seven reports and two opinions under the “Man and Woman in the Church” heading. In the past six years, Concordia Publishing House has published five stand-alone volumes on human sexuality: Sexuality Mentality, Ethics of Sex, Sexual Morality in a Christless World, LadyLike, and Man Up!. And now there is another book on the biblically-informed-human-sexuality scene: Male & Female by Jonathan and Christa Petzold.

The Petzolds have written a non-scholarly (i.e., easily accessible) account of biblical manhood and womanhood. The book isn’t condescending nor is it defensive of “traditional” gender roles. It establishes God’s good created order as the foundation for all discussions that follow. What is this good created order from God as it pertains to human sexuality? Answer: male headship and female helpership (I made up the word ‘helpership.’ It is not the verbiage of the book). Male headship is defined as, “utter dependence on the Creator” (emphasis original, p, 30), as opposed to a rugged autonomy that insists upon bossing people (i.e., women) around. Female helpership (did I tell you I made up that word?) is defined as, “God’s gift to the head: to advise him on how to better do his job, to offer vital counsel in decision making, and to call out the head should he fail to take adequate responsibility in his role” (31). 

Male & Female shows how these roles designed by the Creator are good. These roles existed before the fall into sin. The fall into sin has corrupted everything that is created good, and that is especially true for God’s design of manhood and womanhood. God’s good design is now fraught with sin and pain and exploitation. Of course, the solution to the corruption of sin is not to jettison the goodly created roles, but to confess the sins, lean on Christ, and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Male & Female does a masterful job emphasizing just this solution.

Once the foundation of headship and helpership is established, the Petzold’s look at how this goodly created order comes to bear on three areas of the Christian life: marriage, family, and church ministry—with two chapters dedicated to particularly complex and emotional issues: abuse and homosexuality.

Male & Female is a commendable book. It tackles an inherently emotional topic with clarity and grace. It doesn’t waver in its confession, nor does it demonize those who disagree. It avoids the all-too-common “culture wars” while giving an account for why the church (particularly those of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod confession) orders and structures itself the way it does.

For those who, like me, took Dr. Joel Biermann’s class Man and Woman in Christ at the seminary, this book sounds, looks, and feels like that class—Dr. Biermann even wrote the foreword to this volume! You’ll recognize the taxonomical distinctions from Fritz Zerbst’s classic volume The Office of Woman in the Church. The only part of this book that was completely absent from Biermann’s class (back when I took it in 2010) was chapter six, titled “When Things Go Wrong: Conflict and Abuse in God’s Family.” This chapter was exceptional. Indeed, it was my favorite part of the whole book and gave me a lot of new tools to help work through difficult pastoral care situations.

Male & Female is a good book and fantastic resource. It gives an honest and gracious account of the church’s teaching on human sexuality. I cannot speak toward its persuasive power at all, and there were times when I worried that my theological education allowed me to track with the book’s argumentation in a way that a layperson couldn’t. Only a layperson reading the book could tell me if I’m right or wrong.   

I had a few minor objections regarding the book that do not detract from the book’s aim. I refrain from articulating them here lest I fall victim to ‘straining at gnats.’ 

This book has a timelessness to it. It’d be a good addition to church libraries, and I am confident that it will bolster pastors’ and church workers’ ability to understand and articulate the church’s position on this perennial hot-button issue.