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Is Christianity Supposed to be Masculine?

Thank God for John Piper

I am grateful for the ministry of John Piper. His book “Desiring God” challenged my thinking as a teenager. His book “Let the nations be glad” provided quotes and hints when I was recruiting student evangelists to travel with my wife and I to go to Albania. The generosity of the Desiring God team kept me in supply of teaching tapes (do you remember tapes?) when we were living on virtually nothing. I appreciate Piper’s emphasis on expository preaching, his commitment to passionate charismatic worship, his concern to demonstrate God’s kingdom in social transformation, his desire for Christians to think deeply about their faith and his advocacy for the church to make adoption part of our mission in the world.

I have many friends who are ardent admirers of Piper’s work, however many of them would be selective about their endorsement of him. For example some love his commitment to reformed doctrine but not the charismatic style of worship he employs. Some love his commitment to Penal Substitution but would not share his passion for racial reconciliation. Many love his commitment to expository preaching but not his use of pre-recorded videos that he shows in place of live preaching in his churches. Many of my conservative Anglican friends are happy to endorse his theology except in the area of baptism not to mention his views on alcoholic abstinence. Others would admire his advocacy for Eternal Conscious Torment while being quietly critical of his church’s commitment to social transformation. In other words not all conservative evangelicals share all of John Piper’s views. They rightfully admire his many gifts whilst respectfully choosing to disagree with aspects of his theology and practice.

I share their admiration and respect their decision to dissent from some of his views, and I beg to do the same. Please read the following comments as a critique of one partuclar aspect of John Piper’s teaching, and not a character assassination of the man himself. I chose not to blog off the back of the headlines that came out of the Bethlehem Pastor’s conference, but now that the full text of Piper’s address is freely available I would like to offer my comments on his concept of ‘masculine Christianity’. They are my comments not those of the Evangelical Alliance for whom I work. As an Alliance we believe there are evangelicals on both sides of the debate surrounding the appropriate roles of women and men in church leadership.

Is God Male?

Piper writes: “God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33).”

John Piper is not claiming here that God is male – that would be to confer sexual identity that is not appropriate for our Triune God. But Piper is underlining the number of times God uses male metaphors to describe himself, suggesting that God uses male metaphors pervasively. Although he does not claim that these male metaphors are used exclusively, he chooses not to mention that God also uses quite a lot of feminine metaphors. Even a quick google search will get you the following:

  • God as mother bear: Hosea 13:8 “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open”
  • God as midwife: Psalm 22:9 “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you . . .”
  • Jesus as mother hen: Matthew 23:37 “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”
  • God as mother: Deuteronomy 32:18: “You deserted the Rock, who bore you. You forgot the God who gave you birth.”
  • God as mother: Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”
  • God as mother: Job 38:29: “From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens… ?”
  • God as mother in labour: Isaiah 42:14 “But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant:.”

Piper seems to imply that because God uses the word ‘Man’ to describe both male and female, masculinity is some how superior. But Steve Holmes Senior Lecturer in Theology at St Andrews University would suggest an alternative understanding:

Both Hebrew and Greek have specific words meaning ‘male human being’ and ‘human being’.

In Hebrew Adam = human being; ish/enosh = male human being; in Greek anthropos = human being; aner = male human being), although in both cases the generic word seems occasionally to be used for the specific meaning. Adam is used in Gen.1:26, where the contrast is with animals, and 1Sam 15:29, where the contrast is with God – the meaning here must be generic; similarly, anthropos is used in a generic sense in Mt 4:19, 12:12; 1Cor. 15:39; Gal. 1:12; …). Finally, this is interesting: ‘Commenting on Gen. 5:2, Rabbi Simeon taught that “God does not make his abode in any place where male and female are not found together; nor are blessings found save in such a place, as it is written: ‘And he blessed them and called their name Man on the day that they were created.‘ Note that it says them and their name, not him and his name. The male is not even called man until he is united with the female”’

No one can refute that Jesus was a man and he called 12 male apostles but what inferences are we supposed to make from this? Should we infer from the fact that they were all Jewish that Christianity should be culturally Jewish in its current expression? Should we evangelicals infer from Jesus’ singleness that Christianity should be primarily single in its focus (with a proof text from 1 Corinthians 11 to offer in favour of its superiority)? The nature of the exegetical process of moving from what was to what ought to be is a difficult one. Prooftexting and ignoring large amounts of other biblical evidence is not sufficient. In my opinion it is a theologically unhelpful step to move from the observation that Jesus was a man to the premise that Christianity should be masculine. This is as flawed as saying because Jesus was a young single Jew so Christianity should be singularly Jewish and youthful.

 

It is also an interesting conflation to move from leadership in the church (1 Tim 2:2) to leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-23), without acknowledging that the flow of the argument begins in the conveniently ignored Ephesians 5:21.

 

Here are Piper’s 8 reasons why Christianity should be masculine. His arguments are based not on scripture but on the life and ministry of JC Ryle. My reflections are also included.

Responding to Piper’s Eight Traits of a Masculine Ministry

“Of all the helpful things that could be said about the life and ministry of J. C. Ryle, the theme of this conference is governing what I will focus on, namely, “The Value of a Masculine Ministry”—which I tried to define at the beginning. What I hope to do is illustrate the nature of this “masculine ministry,” or “Christianity with a masculine feel,” with eight traits of such a ministry from the life and ministry of J. C. Ryle.”

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.

Is Piper implying that women could not or should not endure such assaults? The point is not that godly women can’t endure criticism, but that godly men prefer to take it for them. This sounds chivalrous, like a gentleman opening a door for a lady or a man offering his seat on public transport to a pregnant woman. But it is very hard to find a biblical precedent that would argue that men should offer to take criticism in place of women. This feels like a culturally bound preference being turned into a reason to limit women from taking leadership roles.

Listen how ridiculous this line of reasoning sounds when applied to ethnicity: (As an Asian I’ll pick my own race as an example) “Christianity should have a Caucasian feel because we want to stop Asians from having to carry the burden of fierce criticism. For this reason we should discourage Asians from being in leadership.” Does that sound as patronizing to you as it does to me?

I have met many “thick skinned” women who seem to be able to brush off criticism and many “thin skinned” men who can’t. By the grace of God there is a great diversity of personality types and to label all men as better at taking criticism seems to me reductionistic.

 

2. A masculine ministry seizes on full-orbed, biblical doctrine with a view to teaching it to the church and pressing it with courage into the lives of the people.

Again Piper nuances his position “The point of calling this failure of doctrinal nerve an unmanly failure is not that women can’t grasp and hold fast to the great doctrines of the faith. They can and should. The point is that when the foundations of the church are crumbling, the men should not stand still and wait for women to seize the tools and brick and mortar. And women should expect their men to be at the forefront of rebuilding the ruins.”

Piper rightfully recognizes that there are many women who can grasp and hold on to clear doctrine (brilliant), but he still argues that men should step up and not let the women “seize” the tools first. In my opinion if the foundations are crumbling we need all hands on deck to sort things out. In New Testament times with the apostles still alive God raised up godly women teachers to teach the scriptures and press it home. Priscilla (and her husband Aquilla – unusually Priscilla is named first which many have argued points to her taking the lead in the teaching) were happy to take Apollos aside and make sure he has grasped the foundations of the faith. Junias is a woman who is described as an apostle (See John Stott Message of Romans, IVP for more). Again this expectation that women would want their men to go before them and sort this out reads more like a cultural gender ascription, such as arguing women expect men to go and fix the car or mow the lawn. This reads more like a fundamentalist approach to culture as Os Guiness describes it:

“fundamentalism is not a tradition; it is essentially modern reaction to the modern world… What it does it reassert a lost world, a once intact but no longer taken for granted cultural reality; and in doing so, it both romanticizes the past, with its messiness airbrushed away, and radicalizes the present with its overlay of psychological defiance and cultural militancy.” Os Guiness, The Case for Civility, Harper One, p. 95

There is a danger that instead of engaging with cultural change biblically we just revert back to a romanticized past era. It is telling that these comments are coming in a homage to JC Ryle not a biblical exposition. Ryle’s life is rightfully celebrated but there is no room for the contextualization of Ryle’s example into a new cultural situation.

 

3. A masculine ministry brings out the more rugged aspects of the Christian life and presses them on the conscience of the church with a demeanor that accords with their proportion in Scripture.

This is strange language indeed: “the more rugged aspects of the Christian life”. What about the more tender aspects of the Christian life? What about the more refined aspects? Why are we putting a filter on the whole counsel of God? Do we want a masculine Christianity or do we want Christianity? Surely our aim should be to understand the scriptures as best we can in our cultural context. Is Piper asking me to filter out the parts of scripture which command us to be compassionate, tender, gracious because they might be deemed effeminate? I don’t want to deliberately cut the revelation of God in Christ down so that it echoes my cultural bias or my preference for a certain style of Christianity. Dr Piper is very vocal about his love for the scriptures so I struggle to understand why he would encourage this deliberate distortion of God’s word.

Piper concedes that women could do this, but he claims 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. This language of protective warrior reminds me of John Eldridge’s book Wild at Heart rather than the scriptures which actually happen to have quite enough examples of rugged and fierce women. Perhaps Piper’s words would have more biblical tenacity if he had said “the spirit of a protective warrior like Deborah, or Jael or Queen Esther?”

4. A masculine ministry takes up heavy and painful realities in the Bible, and puts them forward to those who may not want to hear them.

By this Piper finds a way to get to one of the subjects he feels very passionately about. I was at the 3rd Lausanne Gathering in Cape town where Dr Piper managed to make Hell the central theme of his exposition of Ephesians 3. Piper’s point here is that men should spare women the burden of having to talk about hell with other people. Again this has no biblical mandate at all and is more like a cultural preference. Piper usually encourages women to be involved in evangelism and judging on my listening to his preaching I would have thought he would expect evangelism to include a fair bit about hell, so this point makes very little sense unless Piper would prefer women didn’t evangelise and left that to the men too or they should evangelise but not talk about Hell.

5. A masculine ministry heralds the truth of Scripture, with urgency and forcefulness and penetrating conviction, to the world and in the regular worship services of the church.

I understand and respect Piper’s opinion that women shouldn’t preach. I disagree. But in this instance his argument here is not based on scripture but something else. His 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. Piper seems to be arguing that somehow God speaks to men directly through their masculine nature. I don’t think I can find any biblical references to the idea of the masculine nature having a revelatory status – this is about as useful as saying. “Asians know intuitively by the Asian nature implanted in them by God that turning the hearts of men and women to God is the responsibility of Asians and not Caucasians.” No.

6. A masculine ministry welcomes the challenges and costs of strong, courageous leadership without complaint or self-pity with a view to putting in place principles and structures and plans and people to carry a whole church into joyful fruitfulness.

This statement implies that women lack courage or are more likely to indulge in complaint or self pity. This is such an unhelpful slur on women I find it hard to believe he wrote it. In my cultural context I have seen many more women demonstrating these kinds of qualities than men and I don’t think this has anything to do with gender at all.

7. A masculine ministry publicly and privately advocates for the vital and manifold ministries of women in the life and mission of the church.

Brilliant. I agree totally. Piper highlights Ryle’s drawing attention to the fact that in Romans 16, 11 out of 28 names that Paul gives special mention to are women. (He quietly bypasses the fact that one of them is ‘Junia’ most likely a female apostle and Priscilla the woman with the guts to challenge Apollos on his doctrine.) But to say that Christianity should have an overall masculine feel but that includes encouraging the ministries of women is hypocritical. Why should the Christian faith take on a particular gender? Should it also take on a particular cultural form? Say an Asian flavor? Should it take on a class too? Should it take on a middle class flavor? Should it have an accent? No. Surely it should contextualize and follow Paul’s desire to become all things to all people?

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

8. A masculine ministry models for the church the protection, nourishing, and cherishing of a wife and children as part of the high calling of leadership.

 

We want to encourage the family in ministry. We know that many ministers are single so we shouldn’t want to elevate the status of the married above the single. But again the cultural assumptions being made of what a marriage looks like is interesting. Proverbs 30 has a woman doing a lot of providing and nourishing and cherishing of her husband.

Is Christianity supposed to be masculine?

The gospel is good news for all people. If the Christian faith feels predominantly masculine I don’t think that helps us to put into practice the need to contextualise the eschatological identity of the church as the Bride of Christ. (A masculine bride is an interesting conundrum Piper has chosen not to grapple with).

Paul is very clear that the gospel relativises the cultural and gender hierarchies that used to separate the ancient world

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:9-12

For Paul it would seem that a predominantly masculine Christianity would betray the logic that Christ is all and in all. In fact it is interesting that the traits that Paul mentions to describe the people of God here (renewed, holy, beloved, compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient) aren’t those that Piper mentions for his masculine Christianity. Piper’s selective reading of scripture means he could end up promoting a deformed Christianity rather than a fully biblical one. Something I am sure he would not wish to see.

In my church we have several families where believing wives attend church without their unbelieving husbands. There are no men who attend without their wives. This trend in the UK has led many of us to try to wonder why the women are often being attracted more than the men. I am passionate about finding ways to show that the gospel is equally relevant for men as for women, that church is equally welcoming for men and women, and that our faith is as challenging for men as it is for women. However promoting a ‘masculine Christianity’ is not the way forward. If our churches don’t demonstrate the love of God to all people, if we appear more sexist than our culture, if we don’t check whether our cultural assumptions are driving us more than biblical faithfulness then we are in danger of doing great damage to the reputation of the gospel. Something I am sure Dr Piper does not want to do.

I am open to being corrected – please leave comments below.

47 thoughts on “Is Christianity Supposed to be Masculine?”

  1. Hey krish, thanks for a helpful post – I’m sure you have come across this but the Internet monk also has a helpful response – replacing the masculine with responsible ministry which seems like a helpful response as well :)

  2. Dear Krish, thanks for a helpful post, in particular the specific bible references to feminine metaphors for God – I’ve previously only seen the masculine ones quoted – and the understanding of Adam as human being – which I’ve heard before but not seen detailed. It’s great to see a balance of masculine and feminine in one article!
    I’ve also been interested in why Christian religion seems to attract more women than men – in the opposite issue with women in engineering, the issue seems to start early, perhaps in primary schools, with peer pressure, and specifically the lack of female role models in the textbooks. What is the balance of the sexes in early Sunday school leadership? Is our teaching more book-based, and less physical / practical – could we model our children’s (and perhaps adult!) work more on science classes and less on history classes / alter the balance?

  3. Thanks.. a very thoughtful response.. you make some good points. I would question the way you replace gender with race, as i don’t think that’s valid or helpful.
    It would also be worth seeing the q&a which followed as he answers your question about tenderness and femininity, saying that his view makes room for men to be feminine in this way, and for women to be what might be called masculine.

  4. Thank you for that excellent response, Krish. Rachel Held Evans blogged about Piper’s call for “masculine Christianity” over here (http://rachelheldevans.com/john-piper-masculine-christianity) and asked *men* to respond to it (because women’s critiques of it naturally get put down to them being radical feminists) and post links to their responses. I know you weren’t responding to her call for responses, but I took the liberty of posting a link there to your post.

  5. Thank you so much for your gracious and Biblical response to John Piper’s call for ‘masculine Christianity’. I found your use of substituting ‘Asian’ for ‘women’ particularly helpful in highlighting the patronising and discriminatory nature of Piper’s argument. Thank you too for the link to the full text, which shows how much his ideas are based on Ryle rather than (in my view) Scripture. Ryle was a mine of his time and for the first few decades of his life, a woman was legally a possession of her husband or father and eminent Christian men believed that women’s wombs would shrink if they were educated!I think what Ryle has to say about women needs to be read with that in mind.
    Jesus Christ is good news for all people. It shouldn’t be possible to say that it has a ‘masculine’ or for that matter a ‘feminine’ ‘feel’.

  6. I respect both you and John Piper a lot. However, I was reminded of 2 Timothy 2:14 when I happened upon this article.
    “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.”
    Not to say that it isn’t okay to discuss these kinds of topics, but is it really worth our time, as a Body, to disagree on things like this?

  7. Thank you for your thoughtful, thorough, and gracious response. It’s especially encouraging to hear men speaking out to challenge this idea. The “masculine bride” image made me smile!

  8. Krish-

    Clearly Piper falls in a different camp on gender issues than you do, so what’s the big deal? He is arguing for male involvement in church, which considering the number of men currently involved in the American church is spot on. Their is clear statistical research on this. The big point is that Christianity is supposed to have roles for Men & Women. Piper is highlighting the male role on a conference focusing on “God, Manhood & Ministry” in the same way that the Women of Faith Conferences focus on “women”. Not sure why you are so surprised by that!

  9. Krish, thanks so much for this. I struggled a lot with some of the words and comments flying back and forth in the blogging world, and while most of your attention is towards the end of the post, I appreciate your approach. You do a stellar job of explaining how this is an issue with a position not a person, something that I think gets lost in the flurry of tweets and posts on the internet. Thank you for a gracious yet poignant post on the issue.

  10. Thank you for your thoughtful and biblical critique of John Piper’s latest comments. I was troubled by his comments about Christianity being “masculine” and had a lot of the same questions you did (the suggestions that women are not able to “handle” the stresses of life, or the fact that he did leave out examples of godly women in the Bible). I also appreciate your graceful and kind response to his comments. My husband is a pastor and spoke yesterday about people, especially Christians, being “nice”. Many of us place our opinions over being an example of Christ to others. You have not done that here and for that I am thankful.

  11. What a brilliantly fair, reasonable and thoughtful comment on John Piper’s words and the whole concept of ‘gendered Christianity’. Well done! Well done, indeed!

  12. None of this was an issue 40 years ago. The singular reason these issues have surfaced is the advent of radical and militant feminism. While some feel this was a good thing and that women needed to be “freed” from their supposed “bondage”, the toll on our society has been enormous. Women have been freed from the lowly bondage of being loving, supportive wives, homemakers, mothers and caregivers, so that they could enter the workplace and take their rightful place beside any man. This man, with whom they are competing, is already strung out from the workload and stress of the job; now he can add to those issues the disappearance of his wife and the mother of his children from the home. To a point, the church has bought right into this; however, there is nothing Christian or biblical about the concept. It doesn’t even make sense.

    1. Nonsense. We need to share the workload both at home and in the work place. Men and women are equal and God created us equal.

      1. I agree with the idea here, but I think you’re trading one oppressive system for another.

        I believe a husband and wife should each do what they do best. Often, that probably means sharing the workload at home and in the workplace, but it needn’t necessarily.

        If I’m nurturing and like to cook, she likes to clean and organize, and we both have successful careers, then absolutely, let’s each work part time and be at home part time.

        But if my wife happens to be an ambitious careerwoman, and I’m better at parenting and housework, why shouldn’t I stay at home? Or if she’s the better homemaker and I the better businessperson, why shouldn’t she do the housework?

        God creates each of us different.

  13. Piper states: The point is that when the foundations of the church are crumbling, the men should not stand still and wait for women to seize the tools and brick and mortar. And women should expect their men to be at the forefront of rebuilding the ruins.

    And I agree. When the foundations are falling apart I do expect the men to not stand back and let me do the work and I do expect to see my man – husband, father, brothers – at the forefront. I expect them to be there because that is what family does, that is what believers in Christ do. To not is to be lazy and oblivious. I expect to see them there with my mother, my sisters and me. And for my sisters to wait for someone else – their brothers in this case – to pick up the tool and move forward is to be lazy and oblivious.

    Thank you for this balanced and thoughtful response.

  14. Krish,

    As a woman in kids ministry I felt compelled to comment here. I haven’t read through Piper’s piece in as much detail as you but I was a little saddened to see your twitter comments as they simply seemed provocative.

    Piper says early on that women are fellow heirs in the grace of life. Whatever side of the line we are on that is the important point. I feel that the most important role I have is to support my partner who I do believe is my ‘head’. In that I feel happy! We’re both equal evangelists for God’s gospel and have different ministries- but I look to my partner to lead me as I see that model reflected in the Bible.

    I read a lot of Piper’s article and it seems that this masculine Christianity is powerful! I think that is worth commending. At a conference designed to look at masculinity I can’t see the problem.

  15. Should we be upset at Women of Faith for emphasizing women and topics related to women? If not, why would you get upset at Piper for highlighting the male role on a conference focusing on “God, Manhood & Ministry”? I get that women in ministry is a big emphasis for you, but you are grasping at straws trying to make your point in reaction to a conference for men and masculinity.

    1. thanks for your comment, my reading of Piper’s emphasis is that the whole of the Christian faith should have a masculine feel – so this is not just a conference about men in the church but direction setting for the whole church.

    2. Stephen Holmes has written a good response to this – this issue does matter because it has implications doctrinally:

      http://shoredfragments.wordpress.com/

      Incidentally, there are many Christian women who will not support events that are not gender inclusive.
      I can see no good reason why they should be held in an egalitarian world although I can see why the complimentarians are so keen on them. The issues men and women have should be dealt with together because we are in this together!

  16. I think this is such a great discussion, Krish. You have done an excellent job. I love that you are not picking Piper apart, but rather deal with the actually problematic teaching here.
    I am grateful to read this!

  17. “Women have been freed from the lowly bondage of being loving, supportive wives, homemakers, mothers and caregivers, so that they could enter the workplace and take their rightful place beside any man”
    Sorry, but I can’t let this go – I do so hope Mr Retter was being ironic here: most women – and men – will agree that to be the woman he’s describing is not “lowly bondage”, but is a very high calling, as is that of a caring, supportive husband and father.

  18. As for men being more protective etc. He should read Kiplin’s poem. each stanza ends with ‘The female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    As with my family, anyone criticises my family, my beliefs etc, they’ll find I’m much more verbal than my husband. His comment ‘I prefer to let you get on with it, you’re so much better at it than I am.’ In other words, sometimes it’s the man who is protective sometimes the woman, depending on how God made us.

  19. Good blog Krish
    As always, full marks for “graceful disagreement”, a quality we all need to learn. I’ve read the Piper article, I think if he’d used the term “tough” rather than “masculine” he would have got his point across just as well and no-one would have minded so much! I agree it is unhelpful to assign a gender to Christianity but to be fair on Piper I think his talk was more about trying to bring out the necessary “tougher” characteristics in a majority-male audinece.

    Also, I agree there are “feminine” characteristics applied to God in scripture as you have pointed out, BUT… it’s not exactly a 50-50 split! More like 95-5 IMO. Applied to the Church however is a different matter. Being, as you said, “The Bride Of Christ” the female metaphor is more appropriate. (Of course, this means God is the Bridegroom!)

    Anyhow, what I’ve been meaning to ask is this. How do you feel about the interpretation of scripture that that says that male and female are equal in status but different in roles? Particularly the role of “loving and humble leader” given to men and “beloved helper that men should be willing to die for” role given to women? I think there is a decent case for this from scripture although if flies in the face of contemporary wisdom. There again, we should always take care that we are guided by scripture and not the latest trend.
    Your thoughts please
    In love
    Electrogoth

    1. Thanks for your comment I think you are right “tough” would have been a better word than masculine. But I think his comment was deliberate as part of a culture war in the evangelical church at the moment. I believe there are evangelical Christians on both sides of the egalitarian / complementarian debate. I fully respect those that argue there are equal status but different roles and indeed everyone will admit that to some degree: eg reproduction. But I am persuaded that women have a role to play in leadership and teaching in the church.

  20. There are many problems in our churches today. “Too manly” is not one of them. “Too feminine” certainly is. As I see it, Piper (and many others) are just redressing that issue.

    And TBH Krish, I do think it is a little unfair to critique what is essentially a historical paper as lacking Biblical basis. Piper has justified his position Biblically far better elsewhere. Critique that instead.

  21. …and surely finding 7 examples of God referring to himself in feminine terms just proves the rule: God almost exclusively refers to himself in masculine terms.

  22. Thanks Krish – a thoughtful and gracious response. However, I think you don’t quite fully engage with what he’s saying or misunderstand him on a number of points.

    Firstly, Piper isn’t trying to give a Biblical grounding for his gender theology, but to illustrate and approve “manly” ministry from a historical example. Since he’s speaking at a conference on “God, Manhood and Ministry”, he was probably fairly safe in assuming most of those attending would share his theological assumptions. I agree that it doesn’t argue for them satisfactorily, but I don’t think that’s Piper’s purpose here.

    You say that Piper implies that masculinity is superior, but I don’t think he says that. He argues that men have a particular responsibility for leadership, but not that this makes masculinity superior in anything more than a functional capacity. From what I’ve read of Piper more widely, I’m sure he would say that male and female, femininity and masculinity are distinct but equal, and I don’t see anything in his talk to suggest otherwise.

    He’s also very clear that the issue isn’t one of ability, but of responsibility. He’s explicitly not saying that women are any less able to lead or to take criticism, but that men have a particular God-given responsibility to step up to these tasks.
    On point 5, you say “Piper seems to be arguing that somehow God speaks to men directly through their masculine nature”. I think you’ve completely misunderstood him here – it’s nothing to do with any kind of divine revelation, simply that Piper believes that our differences of masculinity and femininity are part of created reality. As such, we can known and discover them in part simply by being human beings. These gender roles aren’t some arbitrary imposition, but work with the grain of how God created us.

    Piper’s definition of “masculine Christianity” does in fact many of those themes of holiness, renewal, humility and so on you mention, either specifically or by implication – e.g. “godly male leadership in the Spirit of Christ”, “readiness to sacrifice”, “humble, Christ-exalting initiative”.

    I also think the comparison with ethnicity is misleading, because being created male and female is basic to our created humanity, and is something that crosses every culture and society. Being Asian is culturally specific; and although each culture gives expression to gender, being male and female isn’t.

    Piper’s definition of masculinity in terms of responsibility is very general, and one that can take many different cultural expressions. There’s also no suggestion that masculinity means being “macho”, eating steak and going out hunting bears with a pointy stick. At the heart of the disagreement is whether the idea that leadership and responsibility are “masculine” is cultural or part of how God designed and instructed us.

    I’m with Piper on this one, though I think the phrase “masculine Christianity” is open to misunderstanding, especially when taken out of the context in which he defines it. Many people have taken it to mean that Piper is recommending a specific cultural norm of masculinity, and although he gives J C Ryle’s life and ministry as an example, his point is much broader and more cross-cultural.

    In the end, both sides in the gender debate want to honour God, follow the Bible’s teaching, and to see men and women flourish most fully – we just disagree on what exactly that looks like! It all comes back to reading the Bible prayerfully and carefully together to try to understand it truly, and to love one another in our disagreements.

  23. Really generous post Krish. I would expect nothing less, my friend. I think one of the great poverty’s in modern Evangelicalism is the general lack of scholarly exegesis when dealing with the context and linguistic nature of these original texts (specifically the OT). Men’s conferences all too often butcher the use of the OT verses and passages in the name of pumping up what it means to be a man, when the focus should be what it simply means to live as a redeemed *person.*

  24. Krish, I appreciate your thoughtful and gracious response which leaves Piper with his dignity while not allowing him to feel that his argument has merit. I appreciate the way you’ve waded in of late as the rise of voices, both Piper’s and Driscoll’s have denigrated those who differ from them.

    Thanks for your strength and meekness, a great combination and one I think Jesus had.

  25. A masculine bride? Seriously, did you really listen to the address and consider who Piper was talking to? He was addressing MEN pastors, and he was encouraging them to have a masculine MINISTRY. He was not saying that the church itself is like a man. In fact, he REPEATEDLY in his preaching refers to the church as “she” or “her,” which makes his call for male leadership in the church all the more logical.

    As for your “feminine metaphors” of God, the key word there is “metaphor.” God is not LIKE the Father. He IS the Father. All of those metaphors are describing how God can in his nature do things that are tender and compassionate (and are thus fitting to be described by the feminine metaphors), but none call into question that he IS Father.

    1. Thanks for your comment Ryan.Ofcourse if Piper had only been encouraging male ministers to be men, then this would not have been a controversial seminar. it was the fact that he was arguing that Christianity should in general have a masculine style /ethos / flavour that prompted my post. By arguing that the term Father is not metaphorical while the feminine words to describe God are metaphorical. are you therefore attributing gender to God?

  26. The Church has little to offer women.
    Of course women should be leaders in the Church, hello! we are not living in dark ages any more. It is not God’s will that women will be discriminated against – but unfortunately, this happens all the time. Most Christian leaders are males, intent on keeping women out of leadership, such is the male ego! The Church has very little to offer women. Flower rota, coffee making, Sunday School teaching- that’s a woman’s lot in the Church. Gifted and talented women are not able to grow in the Church, or realise their role in Christian leadership. How sad! Half of Christian leadership talent is never realised, because of being held back by the other half. Perhaps, if all Christians – regarless of gender – could take their rightful place, the world would be much closer to having been evangelisised!!

  27. I’m very interested by Piper’s use of language in item 5: ‘urgency and forcefulness and penetrating conviction’ – especially the word ‘penetrating’. I get suspicious whenever I hear a man using this word in an argument – funnily enough I never hear it used by women. It alerts me to the fact that there may be a submerged sexual fantasy here, that sex is all about men dominating women. I don’t recall Jesus saying ‘Go into all the world and penetrate it with the Gospel’!

  28. Reading Mark 12 (Sadducees testing Jesus about resurrection by the woman married to 7 brothers argument) I was thinking about what will be carried over to heaven (Kingdom of God?) and what doesn’t.

    Like, it doesn’t seem like marriage relationship will be, nor certain physical parts of my body (if it proves to be like Jesus’ body was), but seemingly nationality will be part of heaven, and perhaps even languages (Revelation). It all got me to thinking, whether gender (masculine or feminine) would be part of the KG.

    Anyway, I’ll have to chase that rabbit trail. In the meanwhile, thanks for your discussion (I would not rank it as a quarrel in the least) and gracious reasoning. I think the world needs more of this kind of evangelicalism!

  29. Thanks for this Krish – just stumbled on it following the links from the more recent women bishops debate.

    What you have written is very helpful, but one quibble, which I think is significant. In comparing masculine & feminine descriptions of God in the scriptures, surely a key thing is to recognize that ‘Father’ is NOT a metaphor. It is God’s name. God is LIKE a mother in some respects, but he IS Father! Jesus IS the Son, not daughter. That distinction is an essential one. It is not metaphorical language.

    I’d be interested in whether you agree…

  30. Dear Julia thank you for your comments, though I do find them insulting not just to women but personally to Fiona. I think you really owe her an apology.
    According to scripture men and women are equal in the sight of God, equal in dignity, equally made in the image of God.
    We are clearly not claiming they are the same – indeed Paul’s language of the body of Christ models for us the fact that we can be different and yet equally important.
    I would ask that you make an apology or I will have to take your offensive comment down.
    Yours
    krish

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