Blessed are the fringe-dwellers.

Jesus’ time on earth was book-ended by two seminal events: his birth and resurrection. Lately, I’ve been mulling over the wild and weighty implications of the fact that he chose to first announce both to the most unlikely people imaginable: his birth to shepherds, and his resurrection to a woman.

When Jesus was born, shepherds were a bottom-dwelling class of reviled people–maligned and despised. The Mishnah, Judaism’s written record of the oral law, described them as “incompetent”. Shepherds had been stripped of their civil rights and were not allowed to hold public office or serve as witnesses in court. Members of polite society refused to buy goods from them under the cruel assumption that what they were purchasing might very well, in fact, be stolen property. Shepherds were filthy. They spent long months away from people and smelled like the sheep that they tended. Their grueling work was disdained. They were ostracized and relegated to the very fringes of their society—noses pressed to the glass as they stared longingly at a world that wanted to erase them.

And women. Women in ancient Israel were nearly less valuable than the sheep the shepherds tended to—and were considered to be property every bit as much as their animal counterparts. Given no authority, they belonged first to their fathers, and then to their husbands. Like shepherds, they were considered wholly unreliable and banned from testifying in court. They were not to be spoken to by men they were not related to—and were considered dirty and untouchable one week out of every month of their adult lives. They were barred from learning—in fact, one gem of a Rabbi in the 1st century wrote, “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman.” Noses pressed to the glass, they stared longingly at a world that wanted them silent and subservient.

And then Jesus split the sky wide open as the joyful scandal of the universe unfolded. Carried in the womb of a poor, teenage girl when he could have entered the world any other way. The exhilarating news of his birth announced first to dirty, lonely shepherds on a hillside—the very people hungriest for good news of great joy. Reviled by the weary world around them, they were chosen to proclaim with the angels themselves that the Savior of the world had finally, finally come. God chose angels and shepherds to herald the birth of the newborn King, and in so doing, he restored their dignity and worth. Good news for all the people, indeed.

After his resurrection, Jesus chose to appear first to a woman. The breathtaking honor of this undoes me– Mary Magdalene’s testimony wouldn’t have been permitted in court–and yet, Jesus trusted her with the most revolutionary, cosmos-altering news the world has ever known: I’m alive! The curse has been undone. I have kept my promise. Jesus didn’t stop there–he then commissioned her to go tell the men. He has roared in the face of death and crushed its head. He is risen! He restored the credibility, authority and honor a patriarchal society had stripped from her.

Jesus showed fringe dwellers that they were unassailably worthy because they bore the image of God himself. His whole life showed us an unraveling of injustice and oppression and pain that will one day be complete when He comes back. The lame walked, the blind saw, the hungry were fed and the marginalized were sought out and redeployed. Every minute of his time on earth—from his birth to his resurrection, demonstrated the very gospel he’d come to proclaim and showed a watching world that everyone on the fringes belonged in his upside-down kingdom.

Jesus showed us that blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who known the splitting ache of grief. Blessed are the silenced, the ignored and overlooked—those barred from influence and authority. Blessed are the hungry, the blind and sick and dying.  Blessed are the poor, those who know the world is profoundly broken and are begging God to intervene. Blessed are those who know pain, oppression, abuse and savage loss. Blessed are those wracked by systemic injustice, the fatherless, the refugee, the widow, the lonely. Blessed are women and shepherds—everyone relegated to the fringes. He has called you his very own and yours is the Kingdom of God if you will only receive it.

Hallelujah. What a Savior. Let’s be like him.

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.


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.

On resolutions. [I blame the Instagrammers.]

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Burn the Capes: A Plea for Authenticity

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A Word to the Church After the Election.

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