God at the Centre
Dr. Fellipe do Vale, the 2023 Emerging Public Intellectual is exploring what it means to be human and ordering our lives around our love for God.
5 min. read
October 3, 2023

The Emerging Public Intellectual Award, hosted by Redeemer University and sponsored by Acton Institute, Cardus, the Center for Public Justice, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), the Henry Institute at Calvin University and the Mouw Institute for Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary, is intended to recognize and foster emerging talent, those working in the Christian academy who excel in both academic and public spheres and whose work impacts the common good.

Dr. Fellipe do Vale, the 2023 EPI winner, spends his time swimming in the deep waters of the intersection between theology and gender. In his work, he explores the sensitive yet critical questions around how to understand the relationship between our embodiment, our loves and the complex social and cultural realities of our day. Do Vale is assistant professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He holds a PhD in religious studies from Southern Methodist University, master’s degrees in both systematic theology and church history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a bachelor of arts in philosophy and gender studies from Calvin University.

“Fellipe do Vale’s work applying Augustine’s theology to questions of gender and identity provides a serious resource for young adults as they begin to explore these questions and creates a seed bed for discussion from a distinctly Christian perspective,” says Emily Crouch, program director for Shared Justice at the Center for Public Justice and selection committee member. “Do Vale is really thoughtful and careful in the way that he writes–and speaks–and this thoughtfulness paired with work over such a live question in our culture is a large part of the reason he is receiving the Emerging Public Intellectual Award this year.”

We’re not called just to love, but to order our loves and to have loves that are rightly oriented around a chiefly and supreme love for God.

Do Vale looks to find a way beyond the deadlock that exists in gender debates. He believes it is a critical part of discipleship for Christians.

“I think that gender identity is all about the organization of social goods around a sexed body in the effort to manifest an identity, and in ideal circumstances, the identities shaped by these goods would be perfectly aligned with the sexed body. Yet, we see in Scripture (Rom. 8:23, Phil. 3:21) that this is hardly ever the case, and in some way or another, our bodies are experienced as wrong due to the effects of sin and the coming redemption of the body. Gender and the sexed body must go together, must be friends, and that is a long, painful and crucial aspect of discipleship.”

Taking cues from Augustinian theology, do Vale finds clues about human identity from a theology of love. “How do we understand human identity? What does it mean to be human, not just abstractly but in the sort of messy day in, day out things that we encounter every day? Augustine’s answer is: ‘We are what we love.’” But love, for Augustine, isn’t just something that is spontaneously generated, it’s also something that has a grounding in God.

“We’re not called just to love, but to order our loves and to have loves that are rightly oriented around a supreme love for God above all,” do Vale continues. He contends that if gender is part of our identity and our identities are formed by what we love, and if what we love is meant to be oriented around God, we suddenly have this deep and vital connection between gender and God. “It’s a vital contribution to the life of our discipleship. It’s not just something that God has left us in the lurches about. It’s something that we are called to care deeply about insofar as it has everything to do with how we live to God.”

Digging deep into these concepts, do Vale has written a book due out November 21 called Gender as Love: A Theological Account of Human Identity, Embodied Desire, and Our Social Worlds. In it, he first maps out the landscape discussing what people are saying when they talk about gender and why those answers may not be completely satisfying. He has found that there are two tasks: “We have a descriptive task. We have to say what gender is in all of its messiness, brokenness, goodness and clarity, what gender feels like when we step outside the theology class and it hits us in the face. When we go and watch the Barbie movie or when we go to the mall … And then we can ask the normative question: Is that how it should be? Is it right that things are this way? And that’s where that ordering of loves comes in.”

Do Vale feels it’s important to see gender in our particular context before we determine how to respond as Christians. “When we encounter this world of gendered goods that’s already out there, what is our Christian task? What does wisdom, discipleship, love of neighbour or responsibility to our bodies look like? We don’t have to make gender up from the ground up … Which is both, I hope, an alleviation–we don’t have to say here’s what gender is in all times and all places–but it’s also a much harder task because it’s the task of discipleship, it’s the task of moral agency, it’s the task of wisdom and resembling Christ in all that we do.”

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