Does Piper’s “Masculine Christianity” Undermine Women, Men and the Scriptures?

Rachel Held Evans (a blog that many of you would love) opened with this on a post entitled, “John Piper wants a Masculine Christianity. What do you think?”:
On Tuesday, at the annual Desiring God pastors conference, popular evangelical pastor John Piper spoke on the importance of maintaining what he calls a “masculine Christianity,” arguing that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” … She directed us to see more of his comments here.

Although I joke a good bit about John Piper and have criticized some of his blog posts and tweets in the past (the obvious ones, like his explanation of why the bridge that tragically collapsed in Minneapolis and the “Farewell Rob Bell” tweet), he still holds a special place for me. In the mid 90′s, his books were helpfu, kinda like Dave Matthews Band. Sure, I don’t listen much to DMB anymore but he’s still part of my life soundtrack.

I’ve changed a bit over the years but Dr. Piper and I still have some similarities:
Though I’m not a hyper-Calvinist, I do believe in God’s sovereignty.
Though I’m not Baptist, I think baptism is an essential sacrament and I love John the Baptist.
Though I’m not a complementarian, I am happily married to a woman (and I think she is happily married to me ;)
Though I’m not from Minnesota, I think their accent is cool “Minnasoooda” – Beautiful.
So as you can see, we have a great deal in common.

Despite all our seemingly identical views, Piper’s complementarianism has always thrown me. One thing is to have a conviction about it but I’ve always been surprised by the enormous amount of effort that he and his friends have placed in trying to “put women in their place.” They may not be “saying” that but that’s what I’m “hearing.” That’s what struck me regarding Rachel’s post – why is he still talking about this? And what more must a woman do to be treated respectfully in the Church today?

The statements that Piper is making causes great concern for me because in my estimation, he is undermining three important aspects:
1. Clearly he is undermining women. You can spin it however you want (“This benefits women”, “This is divinely ordained”), complementarianism is undermining.
2. But he’s also undermining men. Many of them having been born from women, wed to them and countless others know a woman, maybe even two ;) Seriously it undermines men because the distance created in these battles only creates more lonely men. This is completely antithetical to Genesis 2:18 (“It’s not good for man to be alone …”)
3. It undermines the Scriptures in their original context. Allow me to repeat and clarify – the original Scriptures in their original context, not the English translations being read and understood in our modern day western contexts. But I will be the first to say that we all contextualize (whether we realize it or not).

Rachel asked for men to post about the female imagery of God in the Bible. I rarely respond to these types of posts but this conversation keeps coming up online and offline so here I am. So, the first that came to my mind is the imagery of a nursing mother describing the tenderness of God in Psalm131:2 – “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.” If I were to contextualize it to a young father such as myself, I suppose I could alter it to, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child that I was able to quiet by playing the Thomas the Tank Engine dvd.” You think that’s odd? Picturing a masculine God nursing is quite disturbing, right?

The second is Isaiah 42:14, ” For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” God going through laboring does not sound very masculine. Perhaps we could change it to “For a long time I have kept the safety switch on my power, I have determined to hold my ground, but now I will cry out like a dragon. I will breathe fire and roar!” Not only does my translation remove this female imagery but I’ve also made it a little more Hollywood friendly. Your welcome.

I imagine I was standing outside the Church, it’s very realistic that I would see this as a crusade against women. Had it none been for my evangelical background and a life-long history of dealing with literalists, I would be utterly confused. But what may also be confusing is that although we don’t fight crusades anymore with violent swords, today we use rhetoric, which can be seen as a different type of attack. Is it possible that so many men respond to Piper’s words in fear of being seen as less manly if they don’t? It reminds me of the bullying tactics we’ve all experienced in our childhood and adolescents.

A few years ago, I was in a context where I asked fellow ministry leader types (mostly men with a few women in attendance) if anyone actually made decisions in their marriage without consulting their spouse. I’ve been married for 12 years and I realize that’s not a long time but I have never uttered the words, “God has ordained me as the man of the house, I make the decisions, and I have decided …..” I asked if anyone else had.

No one said they did and no offered or suggested that my question was loaded and offered an alternative. The possibility remains that everyone was intimidated by my bullying. It’s a reality that every 5’7″ pastor thinks of every time he hops out of his mini-van. But I remember in that moment thinking, “When it comes down to it, I don’t know any real complementarians personally.” They say they are and it may because they want to identify themselves with a position they believe is more Biblical or whatever. I see chauvinism, I see unhealthy dynamics and healthy dynamics but I just don’t see complementarians function the way they say they do.

Perhaps when Dr. Piper prays, he imagines a more masculine God, I’m ok with that – that’s his conviction, his prayer, his mind’s eye. If I am being honest, as much as I try to see God as Spirit, I probably do invoke a masculine presence as well. In meditating about this earlier, I probably do picture God to be more olive-skinned. Is it because Jesus is Jewish? Is it because I’m Egyptian? Why do I picture God speaking in English?

When the day comes to meet God, I will not be disappointed if God has Asian, Hispanic or Anglo features. The imagery that I/we use to describe God is only that – descriptive language. Descriptive language is limited and if you think about it, it can only aid the soul so much.

As has been said numerous times, the Scriptures use masculine language because it was a reflection of the ancient culture. It’s very similar to why God uses our languages to speak to us as opposed to forcing us to learn some theological language. Forget circumcision and baptism, you want an easy way to identify the chosen, make them learn the divine tongue. If you can get past my sarcasm, I think there’s a point worth considering.

While I too would like to see more men in our churches today, I don’t think complementarianism has much to offer in aiding that. Thus, I don’t get too excited when I hear people complain about the “feminization” of the church. Those statements tend to sound like campaign slogans to me. Seems to me you take the missing desire of the church and create the anthem of your choosing. Want more traditional music? Here you go – “The Church today has lost one of its true God-given treasures, its history, it’s rich tradition, it’s hymns!.” Now I think that sentence is true to some extent. But so is this one: Want more progressive music? – “The church today has lost its pioneering spirit. The Church used to champion the arts, now we offer cheap imitations while being stuck in the past.” I find there is truth to that statement as well.

Is it possible that part of the weakness of today’s church is that it’s being operated as a collection of single dads running things? Now I liked My Two Dads and “Uncle Jesse” in Full House as much as the next person, I just don’t think they are an adequate model for leading the church. Perhaps more on that topic another time but this is very much part of the conversation.

Among my favorite aspects of the Scriptures is that despite a male-dominated middle eastern culture, the role and value of women have always been ahead of their time culturally in the Bible. Why do some in evangelicalism want to oppose that? There are so many issues obviously linked to this (women in ministry, just how much leadership, “The head/the source debate”, Paul’s understanding, etc. I’m including a 5 minute NT Wright clip below. I’d also like to recommend Scot McKnight’s ebook Junia is Not Alone. For less than a latte, you can have a better understanding of the New Testament’s teaching on women. That’s incredible for $3.)

I close with this question. Bob Dylan asks in his classic song, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?” If I may apply that sentiment to my post here, “How many must a woman walk before we can celebrate her in the way God intended?” Let us examine our hearts and our theology, do our positions undermine women, men and the Scriptures?

Comments

  1. I think this whole thing, the warped theology and the odd hermeneutic gymnastics they take to get there, are to protect men’s employment. They are afraid of competing with more qualified, more driven, more professional women.

    When you’re a dude who makes all the rules of course you want to automatically limit 50% of the competition. What would happen if they stopped “teaching” and started listening?

  2. Adam thanks so much for reading and leaving this thought.
    With you on the hermeneutic gymnastics.

    I’m not assuming this of all complementarians, but I think they believe they are more concerned with compromising their conservatism, or possibly their views on inspiration, and fall down that “Slippery Slope Monster” they’ve been warned about.

    The woman behind the pulpit has become a dreadful symbol to them that they would see it as a defeat of so much of their work which again. If I am understanding them correctly, they believe they are bringing glory to God by keeping women out. They don’t acknowledge that they are hurting women because of their views on submission. As you know, it’s a very scary tactic. From the outside, it just looks so awful.

    Further, I would think some don’t respect women enough to even regard them as competition, which is quite shameful. I’m sure I can speak for you that we’ve both served with amazing servant-hearted women throughout our ministries.

    It would be cool though if they stopped teaching and started listening. Thanks again for reading Adam, see you around.

  3. Isn’t that all just veiled language of fear? Wrapping crappy hermeneutics up in Christian language to try to convince people that men are superior to women? I mean… we know that it isn’t true, right? Women have the same mental capacities as men. They can teach as well, preach as well, lead as well… on and on. Anyone who doesn’t think so… well, you’d be hard pressed to find a man in a congregation who doesn’t know it.

    The scales are tipping. Many, many conservative congregations are ending gender discrimination. These guys are all right on the edge of falling into a slippery slope of fundamentalism. They need to look at the data and adjust accordingly.

  4. It would be an easier solution if it was simply a veiled language of fear wrapped up in crappy hermeneutics (and I agree it is crappy and lazy hermeneutics).

    I have found that those guys agree that women have the same mental capacities. They’re stuck on the belief that God “called” men exclusively to this headship position (based again on the hermeneutic).

    I do agree that the scales are tipping – love what you said there. I see this in my own context and I am privileged to be serving with women pastors on our staff. They have and are continuing great work in our church.

    While much work needs to be done in many conservative congregations (including ours), I too Gen Xers and Millennials doing a better job here (and let’s give credit to the pioneering Boomers, female and male) . My fear is that we will lose too many of them while we sort it out.

  5. Great post. But. I’m still struggling with you not much listening to DMB anymore. :-)

  6. Thanks Bill, I appreciate that from you. I need to catch up on your recent posts. Will do soon.
    Regarding DMB, it’s an odd thing really. I’m listening to them in college and it’s a real fun time in my life, I don’t know, somewhere they lost me.
    Catch you later.

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