When the Church is surprised by Piper. [What is a woman worth?]

Last week, John Piper spoke out against women teaching in seminaries.

People rose up. Of course they did. I’ve been so heartened to see a groundswell stand against the sheer absurdity of saying that a woman shouldn’t teach Greek translation—and more profoundly, that men won’t wildly benefit from sitting under the wisdom and teaching of women as they prepare to shepherd churches full of women. Men desperately need the unique wisdom and voice God has given to their sisters—the full flourishing of God’s sons requires and even depends on the full flourishing of his daughters. Some of the most conservative men I know not only spoke out, but used their platforms to publish pieces by women refuting Piper. I won’t waste time or space reiterating what others have beautifully said, but I have been thankful to watch it.

What I’ll do instead is confess to being wildly caught off guard—not at all by what Piper said, but by the seeming disbelief from the evangelical community. There seemed to be a genuine sense of surprise that Piper would say what he did. Which, I didn’t understand, because Piper has been saying these sorts of things about women for years.

I say this with a heavy heart, and genuine respect and gratefulness for John Piper. Over the course of the past ten years I have devoured many of his books, and listened to hours of his sermons. Few people have more profoundly shaped my understanding of missiology. I love Jesus more ardently because of the life and ministry of John Piper.

And.

For years, Piper’s teachings on God’s design for women have grieved me to my core.

As a small example, I give you two excerpts from “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”, a book Piper coauthored with Wayne Grudem in 1991. I have neither the inclination nor the emotional stamina to comb through the whole book again, so I’m simply giving you two of the passages that sprang to mind years after my first, disheartening reading:

“It is obvious at this point that we are on the brink of contradiction-suggesting that a woman may hold a position of leadership and fulfill it in a way that signals to men her endorsement of their sense of responsibility to lead. But the complexities of life require of us this risk. To illustrate: it is simply impossible that from time to time a woman not be put in a position of influencing or guiding men. For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man that neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised. It is not a contradiction to speak of certain kinds of influence coming from women to men in ways that affirm the responsibility of men to provide a pattern of strength and initiative.” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pg. 41-42.

He continues:

“The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal, directive leadership of a female superior. J. I. Packer suggested that “a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary” puts strain on the humanity of both (see note 18). I think this would be true in other situations as well. Some of the more obvious ones would be in military combat settings if women were positioned so as to deploy and command men; or in professional baseball if a woman is made the umpire to call balls and strikes and frequently to settle heated disputes among men. And I would stress that this is not necessarily owing to male egotism, but to a natural and good penchant given by God. Conversely, if a woman’s relation to man is very personal, then the way she offers guidance will need to be non-directive. The clearest example here is the marriage relationship. The Apostle Peter speaks of a good wife’s meek and tranquil spirit that can be very winsome to her husband (1 Peter 3:4). A wife who “comes on strong” with her advice will probably drive a husband into passive silence, or into active anger.” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pg. 43

Here, we see Piper setting the boundaries of female leadership by establishing what will offend male leadership, as if the flourishing of one gender inevitably comes at a cost to the other. He instructs women to be careful not to offend the delicate sensibilities of men even in how they offer them directions to the freeway, and encourages wives to Jedi-mind-trick their husbands as opposed to being direct with them. [Also. Housewife. Secretary. My heart.]

I once told a pastor friend of mine that Piper had said these things in his book. That pastor refused to believe me until I took screen-shots of the pages and sent him the evidence in irrefutable black and white.

For me, this begs a necessary question. John Piper is as well-known and well-respected as they come in evangelical circles. With as much influence as he wields, why do we not know what he thinks of and teaches about women? How has this gone unnoticed at best, and, dare I say it, un-cared about at worst? Friends, something is rotten in Denmark. Why doesn’t what one of our most esteemed leaders teaches about half of God’s Church matter more to us, and what does our complacency say about what we believe a woman is worth? I gently submit that surely, if his teachings on masculinity were as anemic and twisted as his teachings on femininity, it would not stand. There would be a reckoning.

We excuse it because it’s John Piper. We excuse it because somehow, we have been content to relegate women to the sidelines as an “issue” that we’ll “figure out when we have the bandwidth”.

I am so genuinely dismayed at what we have let stand. The cost to God’s kingdom is incalculable, and the body of Christ is limping because of it. I am so genuinely sad at how small and fragile and anemic we’ve made God’s technicolor design for his daughters. I am irrevocably convinced that we have grieved the heart of God Himself as half of his beloved bride has been silenced and relegated to the margins. Something has gone badly wrong. Jesus elevated women. He drew them out, taught them, and then charged them to go incarnate him to the world as they battled back the darkness and advanced God’s kingdom. He  used them in bold, weighty, revolutionary ways that placed them squarely in the middle of what He was up to. Women have never for a second been tangential to God’s plan. The way that Jesus treated women was so radical, his design for them was so counter-cultural, so purposeful and breathtaking and GOOD—Jesus has always, always been the best news for women. The way that women are treated and discipled and unleashed in our churches should simply be a reverberation echoing through the ages of the way Jesus showed us with his whole life 2,000 years ago.

Women matter deeply to God, so they should matter deeply to us. How their gifts are developed and deployed matters deeply to God, so it should matter deeply to us. How we steward the gift of God’s daughters in his Church matters so very deeply to God, so it should matter so very deeply to us. What our leaders teach about them matters. Do you know what your pastor’s theology of women is? The pastors you podcast? The authors you read?

All of this matters.

Comments

  1. Michelle Stewart says:

    Almost every make human leader was raised, primarily, by a mother who influenced their morals, standards, and life expectations more than any other influence they will experience. I’d like to interview Piper about his own mother’s role in his ministry; I’m pretty sure he won’t say that she gave him directions to the interstate.

    • ashleypdickens says:

      It’s interesting to process where Piper draws the line between godly authority and influence exercised by women, and authority and influence that he would call extra-biblical. The argument feels like it quickly falls apart.

  2. Audrey Ryan says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly and this post was such a refreshing and life-giving read, so thank you. I have recently read 1 Timothy 2 and been struggling to understand what is meant by the words about women. Do you know how I should look at this passage in scripture and have you been able to wrestle through this particular passage? I’d love some wisdom on it as I read it and was very discouraged and afraid as some of it is contrary to my beliefs about women, Christ, and the Church. Let me know, thank you!

    • ashleypdickens says:

      Hi Audrey–I’m so glad that this was encouraging for you! I think most women in the Church have wrestled with 1 Timothy 2. A number of different resources have helped me to better understand that passage–the first being the rest of the Bible! Everything God says about women and the way that Jesus treated women were both so counter-cultural. I’ve certainly read a number of explanations on that passage specifically, and authors like Carolyn Custis James have been helpful as I’ve learned. [I can’t recommend her book Half the Church to you enough!]

  3. Thank you. As a pastor in The Wesleyan Church, I am proud that the very first meeting of the women’s rights movement was held in one of our churches in Seneca Falls, NY. I have asked friends who agree with Piper why Paul’s words outweigh God’s actions in the rest of scripture (Deborah, Huldah, the women at the tomb, Phoebe, Priscilla and many others). I don’t understand why it is so important to deny women equality in the kingdom. For me, it is an issue of value and worth. When the church limits women, it is a declaration that women are less valuable to the kingdom and ultimately to God. I believe that Paul has something to say about this too (Gal. 3:28).

    • ashleypdickens says:

      Wes, thank you for this. It is ALWAYS so encouraging to me to meet–virtually or in person–pastors who champion women like Jesus championed them. What a gift to the Church!

  4. Nina Klein says:

    Oh Ashley, how the world needs to hear this right now. This post is so beautifully written but not mean spirited, but I genuine and filled with truth. These have been my thoughts for years. May God use & multiply your voice.

  5. Hi Ashley,
    I love Piper too. I’m with you on this, dear one. I have too much theology in my head, and have had many, many discussions on this issue. It’s TIME. It’s well over time for women to move in their gifting and take their places. In humility and strength. The gospel changed everything. Jesus changed everything and we need ALL HANDS ON DECK.
    (Btw, Leslie Eichhorn flipped this over to me.)

    • ashleypdickens says:

      Nancy, thank you for this! I don’t know Leslie but I’m honored she shared this with you. I see the tide shifting in the Church and while some days it feels painfully slow, it IS shifting and that’s encouraging. At the end of the day, when we’re discouraged with the Church we need only look to Jesus. What a guy.

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