John Piper & “Manly Christianity”

John Piper spoke about the “manly” ministry of J. C. Ryle the other day and stated that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”  You can find the full text here, and a news item on his statements here.

Rachel Held Evans called for men to respond to Piper here, and Scot McKnight summarized Piper’s comments here.

I’ll say more about this later.  For now, I’m just wondering what you think about the social-rhetorical, ideological, and biblical-theological moves that are involved in what Piper said.  That is, how does he move from biblical data to theological formulation?  Are his moves “ideology-free,” or are there other things going on as he moves from biblical text to theological vision?

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21 responses to “John Piper & “Manly Christianity”

  • Chris Zajdzinski

    Piper states the obvious…Jesus took on masculine humanity, the 12 Apostles were men, Priest are men, etc,…but he fails to identify the spiritual truth revealed in human sexuality. Created in perfect equality and dignity, our maleness and femaleness reveal (among other things) the Triune God, why he created us, how he promises to relate to us, and his eternal plan of redemption/union for humanity. God told the serpent… “I will put enmity between you and the WOMAN, and between your seed and HERS…” It is the seed of the WOMAN that crushes the head of the serpent.

  • Dan Jr.

    Tim,
    Piper uses a very systematic way of building his case while ignoring those cases in scripture that do not. If you use the Bible like this it’s easy to create airtight sounding presentation. Problem is most people like this approach to communication; its glue is the use of logic.

    So Piper pushes this “masculine feel” by highlighting Jesus was a man, most prophets were men, most disciples were men. My question is; is this more of an incarnation issue than anything? The Bible is the story of God entering into a covenant relationship with humanity. Is it possible that this seeming man emphasis is more descriptive than prescriptive? Does God compromise (that may not be the best word) to take on some of the cultural norms to have positional influence to speak to humanity from within? In a way God allows His words to work through the contextual forms of that time period. It seems to fit the nature of God as a missionary God.

  • Jen

    Holy crap… is what I have to say.

  • Jen

    emphasis on the word crap… sorry for being so gauche, i read his address thoroughly. but considering the bulk of his starting position, it doesn’t warrant any more consideration.

    i don’t think this is helpful for male OR female Christians or for people who define their gender not in black or white terms.

    • timgombis

      Agreed. Not helpful, not hopeful, not redemptive, not restorative. Not in any way life-giving. The way of power-accumulation for the sake of exercising it over others (for their good, mind you!) simply isn’t the way of the cross.

  • Linda

    I find it interesting that pretty much point by point, Piper says that it’s not that women can and should do these things that men are supposed to do as leaders in the church, it’s just that they shouldn’t. Should or shouldn’t, Mr. Piper. Pick one. You are speaking out of both sides of your mouth. Either women should exercise these leadership qualities or they should not.

    My 13-year-old daughter said to me the other day, “I guess it will be hard to find a job [as a pastor] when I get out of seminary.” And I said, “I think it will be much easier when you are ready than it is right now.” Oh, foolish, foolish me. When our evangelical leaders are heading back into the dark ages and splitting evangelicals over women in leadership, it is no wonder that many of us flee to mainline churches. There is a safety and peace for women that does not exist in the greater evangelical church.

  • Jaime Hancock

    I think Piper also misses the point of Genesis 1:28, as do some of those responding to him. Women are not created in the image of God. Men are not created in the image of God. Male and Female together is the image of God. Which I think is why we have to recapture the correct understanding of marriage. A man and woman are to unite to live out the image of God in the world. When this is done well, the unit reproduces in their image and thus join God in the Creation act. This is not just the joining of bodies, but the union of souls (read – nefesh, not Greco-Roman ideas of the soul). And thus the husband and wife who fulfill the image of God together, not only join in the Creation, but they help to also fulfill the command to fill the earth and bring it under the dominion of God. This is what marriage is about. The fact that Piper and other evangelicals can claim to be restoring a biblical understanding of man and woman, while ignoring the very intent and purpose of both, reveals how much the evangelical movement has lost.

    Grace and Peace

    • timgombis

      Exactly, Jaime, humanity as a whole bears and performs God’s image on earth. Prioritizing one gender over another skews this badly with horrible consequences. Very bad Bible reading, indeed!

  • Jane Rowland

    Piper makes a number of problematic moves in this piece.

    He makes a set of theological claims, which he then sets out to validate through an historical example.

    However, his use of Ryle to prove his point shows an extreme naivete regarding proper historical method. Yes, Ryle is a man; yes, he was a forceful minister who stood against things that he disagreed with. But what has that to do with whether or not women should or should not do these things? If Ryle himself was making claims for being a “manly” minister, he might make an interesting case study. But Piper presents no evidence that Ryle was concerned about this.

    Piper starts with a particular understanding of “masculinity” (and femininity) that has more to do with 19th-century gendered rhetoric than biblical accounts, uses Ryle’s life story as a canvas on which he can overlay his views, then claims that he has demonstrated the value of a masculine ministry. From this he argues that while women can do all these things, it is best for men to do them. But how has he shown this? All that Piper has demonstrated is that Ryle fits his (Piper’s) notion of a manly minister. He has not demonstrated in any way his claim that this shows that men are rightly in charge of things

    Another problematic issue is that Piper has pretty much erased women from this canvas. Piper doesn’t even bother to find himself a nineteenth-century straw-woman to compare Ryle with; someone whose “feminine” ministry demonstrates that it really is better to let men run things! His description of Ryle’s life and ministry says almost nothing about women’s abilities or beliefs or roles at the time.

    In fact, the women in Ryle’s life are glossed over in this piece. We learn nothing about the character of his wives and daughters, whether they supported or hindered his ministry, or whether they fulfilled societal expectations of clergy family of the time. We learn that his sons did not follow his evangelical faith, but we don’t know what his daughters believed.

  • Dan Jr.

    I’m all for coaching men to become more rooted in the character of Jesus and challenging them to grow up emotionally. I’ve done a lot of this in my own pastoral ministry over the years.

    But I guess I don’t understand while in carrying that project out a pseudo-enemy must be created. Why does developing men have to be done with a backdrop of demoting woman? Is this a certain type of rhetorical science that to define manhood it has to been done over-and-against something else?

    • timgombis

      Good questions, Dan. I think these strategies have to do with certain militant mindsets about how the church relates to the world. I don’t think they arise from biblically-shaped imaginations of hope, however.

  • John Thomson

    Hi Tim

    Given the enthusiastic and unananimous opprobrium of of Piper’s theology here, I felt he desrved at least one voice in support: I guess I’m the voice.

    Piper believes and I believe that patriarchy is not only the culture and climate of Scripture but is also its contention and confession; patriarchy (or male leadership) is God’s intention for creation. This view as you know depends on a narratival reading of Gen 2 that concurs with Paul’s in the various texts where he refers to male leadership (Eph 5; 1 Cor 11; 2 Tim 2) as creational.

    New creation, although it dismantles post-fall corruptions honours original creation while we live between the ages. In final new creation sexuality seems to be a thing of the past, certainly marriage is.

    Undoubtedly Piper and I will have aspects of our theology shaped by ideology, as do all of us. Certainly the ideology of the West currently is firmly egalitarian. Given that the secular culture is firmly egalitarian and the Christian culture increasingly so it would be much easier for me to be egalitarian; I remain complementarian, as far as I can tell, simply because this is the view I see taught in Scripture – and that despite reading the arguments that have tried to persuade me otherwise.

    PS I write this Tim not yet having read your following post.

  • Tim Liddell

    I wish you’d put links to your quotes. Seem like all you are doing is bashing Piper. How sad.

    • timgombis

      Hi Tim,

      There are indeed links to the quotes. I was not bashing Piper. I simply reported what he said and asked others to think along with me about how he moved from biblical text to theological conclusion. It’s a valuable exercise to think through how others reach their conclusions from Scripture. It’s also just being faithful to Scripture to test all things (1 Thess. 5).

      I was charitable to him in what I wrote and how I spoke of him. When someone speaks about what Scripture says, however, we need to do the work of thinking through how they move from text to conclusion.

      That enterprise should not make you sad!

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