The Christian blogosphere is all abuzz with John Piper’s call for a masculine Christianity in an address about J C Ryle.
There was a big and lively (!) discussion over at Jesus Creed.
Daniel Kirk, has an excellent two part response here proposing a very different, and to my mind a much more convincing, way of reading the NT that gets beyond hierarchy and institutionalised relationships between the sexes.
But reading Piper’s talk, the whole edifice rests on a purely subjective idea of masculinity that even has nothing to do with J C Ryle (apart from the fact that he was once called ‘manly’!!). It seems closer to a 1950s Marlboro man ideal than any description of a Spirit filled Christian in the NT (who shows the fruit of the Spirit: love joy peace patience kindness gentleness faithfulness and self-control].
To me Piper’s construct is frankly bizarre. Nowhere is ‘masculinity’ endorsed as a model for Christianity in the NT.
I’m also appalled by the implications of what he says for women. If Christianity is innately ‘masculine’ and ordained so by God, whatever qualifications follow about women being made in the image of God and being encouraged to use their gifts within the church etc etc, the implication is inescapable that women are second best citizens within the body of Christ.
Sorry sisters, femininity just isn’t and will never be as good as masculinity and there’s nothing you can do about it.
What seems to be happening, especially in America, is an increasingly deep polarisation over men and women in ministry in the church. And for Piper to argue that Christianity is innately ‘masculine’ is to ‘up the ante’ significantly in this already polarised debate.
Why do you think he is being so insistently and unnecessarily divisive?
For it’s one thing to be ‘complementarian’ and argue that certain roles within church leadership are for men, it’s quite another to say ‘masculinity’ is, in effect, closer in some way to who God is – and I think that is a fair conclusion of what Piper says.
Now I’m well aware that those on the God ordained hierarchy side (complementarians) are equally appalled by the egalitarians’ rejection of what they see as clear biblical teaching on the particular roles for men in leadership in the church and home.
What is needed is careful language and a willingness to seek out areas of agreement. A willingness to seek unity and think the best of each other. I confess that I find it hard to do this reading Piper’s talk.
But then I read these marvellous words in the wonderful 2010 Cape Town Commitment from Lausanne III.
Do read what it says below …. and unless evangelicals on both sides of this argument take heed of these wise words, the gender issue, and the vitriol it is unleashing, will increasingly eat away at the already weakened notion of unity around gospel essentials and liberty in matters of adiaphora (secondary importance).
This isn’t to say such adiaphora are unimportant – they are vital in shaping what sort of local church you and I end up belonging to. I would not choose to belong to a church which did not encourage and release women in leadership and ministry for example. But I also would want to affirm as fellow evangelical Christians those who, for reasons I am unpersuaded by, do so choose. I hope that they would do the same for me.
To answer my own question above – it seems to me that Piper and others are deliberately attempting to shift this issue from the adiaphora category to essential category by rooting it in the nature and character of God himself.
So there are close parallels here with recent attempts by complementarian evangelicals to locate women’s subordination to men in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father within the Trinity. An attempt that Kevin Giles has argued is heading in the direction of Arian heresy. See here and here.
THE CAPE TOWN COMMITMENT
3. Men and women in partnership
Scripture affirms that God created men and women in his image and gave them dominion over the earth together. Sin entered human life and history through man and woman acting together in rebellion against God. Through the cross of Christ, God brought salvation, acceptance and unity to men and women equally. At Pentecost God poured out his Spirit of prophecy on all flesh, sons and daughters alike. Women and men are thus equal in creation, in sin, in salvation, and in the Spirit.
All of us, women and men, married and single, are responsible to employ God’s gifts for the benefit of others, as stewards of God’s grace, and for the praise and glory of Christ. All of us, therefore, are also responsible to enable all God’s people to exercise all the gifts that God has given for all the areas of service to which God calls the Church. We should not quench the Spirit by despising the ministry of any. Further, we are determined to see ministry within the body of Christ as a gifting and responsibility in which we are called to serve, and not as a status and right that we demand.
A) We uphold Lausanne’s historic position: ‘We affirm that the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to all God’s people, women and men, and that their partnership in evangelization must be welcomed for the common good.’ We acknowledge the enormous and sacrificial contribution that women have made to world mission, ministering to both men and women, from biblical times to the present.
B) We recognize that there are different views sincerely held by those who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Some interpret apostolic teaching to imply that women should not teach or preach, or that they may do so but not in sole authority over men. Others interpret the spiritual equality of women, the exercise of the edifying gift of prophecy by women in the New Testament church, and their hosting of churches in their homes, as implying that the spiritual gifts of leading and teaching may be received and exercised in ministry by both women and men. We call upon those on different sides of the argument to:
- Accept one another without condemnation in relation to matters of dispute, for while we may disagree, we have no grounds for division, destructive speaking, or ungodly hostility towards one another.
- Study Scripture carefully together, with due regard for the context and culture of the original authors and contemporary readers;
- Recognize that where there is genuine pain we must show compassion; where there is injustice and lack of integrity we must stand against them; and where there is resistance to the manifest work of the Holy Spirit in any sister or brother we must repent;
- Commit ourselves to a pattern of ministry, male and female, that reflects the servanthood of Jesus Christ, not worldly striving for power and status.
C) We encourage churches to acknowledge godly women who teach and model what is good, as Paul commanded, and to open wider doors of opportunity for women in education, service, and leadership, particularly in contexts where the gospel challenges unjust cultural traditions. We long that women should not be hindered from exercising God’s gifts or following God’s call on their lives.