Over the past 10 to 15 years there has developed within evangelicalism a language about men that is uber-masculine. The shift was aided by the publication of books like Wild at Heart by John Eldredge and the Promise Keepers movement. As men have decried the dangers of being a passive husband and father, the church has men encouraged to be strong and exercise the warrior spirit given to them by God.
Alongside of this development has grown a parallel movement among women. Every hero needs a damsel in distress, so Christian women have gladly assumed the identity of princess. After all, we are daughters of the King. In a culture where chivalry seems to be dead and women are objectified as meat instead of being exalted as treasures, the language of “princesses” comes as a welcome change.
Until recently I had not given much thought to this language. It seemed harmless enough. Last week, however, I ran across an article by Alexandra T. Armstrong that leveled a thought-provoking challenge to the trend of “princess” language. In the piece, Armstrong reflected on John MacArthur’s newest book Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ. What Armstrong found most “unsettling” about MacArthur’s explanation of the Greek word for slave, doulos, is that it refers to
“a person who is the purchased property of another and lacks freedom of will. It does not mean a willing hired servant, for which there are several other Greek words.”
In other words, there’s no soft-pedaling the term. When you read the word “doulos” it means that you were, quite literally, bought with a price.
However, what I appreciated most about Armstrong’s article is what she said next:
“For years I’ve disdained the whole evangelical women’s ministry movement that encourages women to see themselves as God’s petted princesses who don’t know sanctification from spa treatments. Gags me. But slaves? Wouldn’t that be an equally unbalanced identity? MacArthur’s book has started to make me think not.”
Although there are few references to women as “princesses” in the Bible, Scripture refers to Christians as “slaves” 124 times. Does this pose a serious challenge to the way we talk about and think about ourselves as Christian women?
I think that it does. But before I explain why I want to offer a caveat. Whenever using the language of “slavery” in the same sentence as “women” it is important to proceed with caution. There are thousands of women in the world today who are actually in slavery. And given that reality, the Biblical language of slavery cannot and MUST not be read as an endorsement of that practice. Slavery to Christ is in no way akin to any form of worldly slavery, whether it is human trafficking or an abusive marriage. In fact, the two types of slavery are utterly incompatible with one another. A slave master of the world sets himself up against the benevolent lordship of Christ.
Bearing that in mind, let’s return to consider princess language. Perhaps the first and most obvious concern is that it ventures into the realm of humanistic self-help and even borders on vanity. That is not to say that women should not love themselves as God loves them, but to think of yourself as a “princess” is not exactly a moderate category of self-love.
What’s more, it can be difficult to reconcile the extravagant language of princess-hood with the words of Jesus. He certainly loves and values us all, but he also reminds us that the last will be first, that we will suffer as we take up his cross, and that the world will hate us. Hardly the life of a princess. Add to that Paul’s language of “slaves” and we are given a picture of discipleship that is altogether antithetical to the language of being a “princess.”
Does that mean we should do away with the princess identity? I wouldn’t say that. But I wonder if that particular identity is an eschatological category, not a present reality. By that I mean that it is a promise of our perfect place in the Kingdom of God. It is a reflection of how God loves us and values us, but it is not our position in the present world.
We exist between the already and the not yet. We live in a fallen world that does not value God’s people the way that He does. In fact, we live in a world that is impressed by princesses and socialites, watching their every move with baited breath, but is utterly apathetic to the plight of God’s true “princesses” who are suffering persecution in many parts of the world.
Again, that is not to say that women are not valuable, beautiful, and precious members of the Kingdom of God. We are. But the world does not see us that way, so we should not be indignant or feel self-entitled when the world doesn’t treat us that way. In fact, Jesus told us to expect this kind of rejection. Fortunately, we do not have to exalt ourselves and prop up our self-image with such passing, worldly standards. One day we will be taken up into perfection with God, and then will we truly know what it means to be a princess. I suspect that on that day the distance between being a princess and being a slave to Christ will not appear so great.