A reply to Rachel Held Evans (a guest post from my wife!)
I have to admit, when I first read this article from the Christian Post, I groaned. I could see the reaction from certain circles already. Then I read the full transcript and saw what Piper was saying (and how the CP article was not very helpful).
I was going to keep out of the inevitable outrage, but then Rachel Held Evans called on men to respond in writing to Piper.
I showed Piper’s article, and Rachel’s post to my wife, Peta (without giving comment) and asked for her thoughts. She was actually a little incensed, and so I encouraged her to write a response. With her permission, I’ve posted it here (my first guest post!) and added a few cents of my own at the end:
This is a strange way to talk about the Bride of Christ.
And it is a dismissive, hurtful way to speak about women, who Piper seems to have forgotten were also created in the image of God, were appointed by God as leaders at critical times in the history of Israel and the Church, and were the first to whom Jesus appeared when he inaugurated his new Kingdom on Resurrection Day.
I find it very odd to read these words after reading the transcript of John Piper’s talk. As I was reading I felt secure and supported as a woman. I understood that in each point, as Piper was talking to MEN he was reminding them of their God-given responsibility without dismissing my ability as a woman.
For example in the first point about a masculine ministry:
1. A masculine ministry believes that it is more fitting that men take the lash of criticism that must come in a public ministry, than to unnecessarily expose women to this assault.
Therefore, a masculine ministry puts men at the head of the troop with the flag in hand and the trumpets in their mouths, so that they, and not the women, take the first bullets
The point here is not that a woman couldn’t endure such assaults. No doubt a godly woman could. The point is not that women can’t endure criticism, but that godly men prefer to take it for them, rather than thrust them into it.
Piper rightly states that women are able to endure the assults of public critisicm that goes alongside of being the main minister in a church. HOWEVER he says ‘Men, you should WANT to protect your women from this.’ Just as it never diminished me as a person to allow my brothers to do the heavy work with my dad I am not diminished as a person when I allow my husband, father, brother, or minister to stand up for me.
The very next paragraph Piper states that ’we feel a sense of fitness and joy when a man steps up to risk his life, or his career, with courage ‘
How many movies are made with exactly this purpose in mind?
In the next point, Piper elaborates with:
The point of saying that the remedy for doctrinal indifference is a manly affirmation of “sharply cut doctrines” is not that women cannot or should not make such affirmations. The point is that long, hard, focused, mental labor should not be shirked by men.
I find this to be an interesting, almost insulting, point to make to a conference of Pastors – it seems to me that Piper is suggesting it is often the case that men DO shirk this!
In his third point AGAIN Piper refers to the fact that women ARE able to do this BUT men should step up to their responsibility
But the point, again, is not that women cannot, or should not, fight sin with as much urgency as any man. Nor is the point that she is unable to see these things in Scripture, bring them out, and press them on the conscience. She is fully able to do that. The point is that the theme of Christian warfare and other rugged aspects of biblical theology and life should draw the men of the church to take them up in the spirit of a protective warrior in his family and “tribe,” rather than expecting the women to take on the spirit of a combatant for the sake of the church.
In commenting specifically on the style of preaching involved in his ideal ministry Piper says again:
Again the point is not that a woman is not able to speak this way. The point is that godly men know intuitively, by the masculine nature implanted by God, that turning the hearts of men and women to God with that kind of authoritative speaking is the responsibility of men. And where men handle it with humility and grace, godly women are glad.
I see time and again throughout the article that Piper is merely telling men of their responsibility and in a sense saying ‘step up to the plate’.
I do not see Piper has at any point said that women are ”second-class Kingdom citizens”, and I do feel supported and celebrated by John Piper in his clear call for men to shoulder their responsibilities.
It’s important to note that this was NOT addressed to women, nor was it supposed to indicate what a woman’s role should be.
However in point 7 Piper clearly states his desire for women to be involved in ministry – it may look different for women and men BUT in every family it is evident that we all have different roles.
7. A masculine ministry publicly and privately advocates for the vital and manifold ministries of women in the life and mission of the church.
The aim of godly leadership is a community of maximum joy and flourishing for everyone within—the women, the children, the men—and maximum impact on the world for the glory of Christ. It’s not about the privilege of power, but about the burden of responsibility to enhance the lives of others.
Ryle was outspoken in his zeal for women in the various ministries of the church. He drew attention to Romans 16, where 11 of the 28 names mentioned are women, and said,
The chapter I have mentioned appears to me to contain a special lesson for women. The important position that women occupy in the Church of Christ—the wide field of real, though unobtrusive, usefulness that lies before them . . . I cannot go away with the common notion that great usefulness is for men only, and not for women. . . . It should never be forgotten that it is not preaching alone that moves and influences men. . . . Humanly speaking, the salvation of a household often depends upon the women . . . [and] men’s character is exceedingly influenced by their homes.
There are countless needs in the community, and needs on the mission field, Ryle says, that cry out for the ministry of women.
There are hundreds of cases continually rising in which a woman is far more suitable visitor than a man. She need not put on a peculiar dress, or call herself by a Roman Catholic name. She has only to go about, in the spirit of her Savior, with kindness on her lips, gentleness in her ways, and the Bible in her hands, and the good that she may do is quite incalculable. Happy indeed is the parish where there are Christian women who “go about doing good.” Happy is that minister who has such helpers.
The aim of a masculine ministry is the fullest engagement of every member of the church in joyful, fruitful ministry. The aim of leadership is not to be the ministry, but to free the ministry, according to God’s word, by the power of God’s Spirit, for the glory of God’s name
I have to say the first thing I noticed (naturally) was the bold words in her quote which Rachel has taken offence to. May I suggest that readers of this post note the following words in that same quote (my emphasis this time):
“Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel,” Piper continued.“And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female… He does not intend for women to languish or be frustrated or in any way suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy in this masculine Christianity. From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel.”
Now, my two cents:
The first alarm bell went off for me when I read:
I think it’s important for those who are advocating an exclusively masculine Christianity to see that not all men agree with them.
Rachel made this comment about ‘exclusively’ masculine Christianity to me on Twitter as well, but didn’t respond when I asked her where Piper said anything about it being exclusive. I cannot see that he made any such claim, and this indicates to me the possibility of bringing certain prepositions to the table. Indeed, read what Piper’s wife Noel tweeted:
Masculine ministry done right creates a space where women flourish, where an appropriate feminine feel develops.
In a well-defined community, men are free to be appropriately feminine & women free to be appropriately masculine.
Assuming they are both on the same page, it seems very difficult to maintain the accusation that Piper is promoting ‘exclusively’ male Christianity. No, I agree with my wife: I think Peta has drawn out the very important point that Piper is showing what Christian “masculine” leadership looks like for men: taking responsibility and stepping up to the plate to serve and free people, men and women, to serve God.
I personally wouldn’t have used the terminology, and as much as he has tried to redefine it, the baggage seems to have very clearly stuck, and he’s now being lambasted with critiques of an idea which I don’t see him to actually be presenting. He writes, for example:
He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.
And, of course, this is liable to serious misunderstanding and serious abuse, because there are views of masculinity that would make such a vision repulsive. So here is more precisely what I mean. And words are always in adequate when describing beauty. Beauty always thrives best when she is perceived by God-given instincts rather than by rational definitions. But we must try. What I mean by “masculine Christianity,” or “masculine ministry,” or “Christianity with a masculine feel,” is this:
Theology and church and mission are marked by overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ, with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, and contrite courage, and risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community—all of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the feel of a great, majestic God, who by his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, inclines men to take humble, Christ-exalting initiative, and inclines women to come alongside the men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.
(Emphasis mine) I agree with that – if the label he’s given it is misleading, then throw away the label.
Rachel has written:
This isn’t about egalitarianism or complementarianism, by the way. It’s about the basic value and dignity of God’s daughters.
I think my wife has done a great job of showing that Piper is in no way disparaging the value and dignity of women (on the contrary, that he, like Ryle, point to the ministry of women recorded in scripture). It is then, it seems, simply about Rachel’s objection to complementarianism. Piper is promoting the idea that God has called men to take the headship responsibility, and that seems to be what she is objecting to.
And that’s fine – there are a number of secondary issues that people can disagree on. If one is disturbed by the practice of infant baptism, then they should join a church that practices believer baptism. If you don’t subscribe to the complimentarian understanding of scripture, then don’t go to a church that operates with such a view. But surely we can all do each other the courtesy and grace to try and understand what someone is saying before rallying the troops against them, can’t we?
More importantly, Peta should guest post more, right?
- complimentarian | debate | egalitarian | gender | guest post | john piper | peta | rachel held evans