Last night our class discussed the Jewish generation within which Jesus conducted his ministry. Though diverse, the broader culture was thoroughly saturated in a biblical worldview. They were passionately seeking the glory of God, the vindication of his name, the arrival of his promised one, and the return of God’s presence among his people.
Corrupted ideologies, however, distorted their biblical vision in various ways. That generation took a three-year long look at Jesus of Nazareth and, with the exception of a handful of followers, concluded that the best course of action was to deliver him over to their foreign occupying oppressors and have him subjected to an excruciating and humiliating death.
It’s important to remember that it’s easy to use Scripture and be passionate about God’s glory and yet get it wrong.
It’s easy to miss the corrupting and distorting ideologies that determine one’s use of Scripture. This is especially the case when interests of power and control are in play.
A few days ago, John Piper stated that Christianity has a masculine feel to it and that this is by God’s design. Further, this is for the flourishing of all humanity, both women and men.
I think that John Piper’s claim is oriented by destructive ideologies, distorting his conception of Christian gender relations.
The pattern of his claim follows that of the paternalistic dynamics of imperialism. To simplify, imperial powers, sustained by an unshakable faith in the rightness of their cause, arrive on foreign shores with the best of motives—to “enlighten” the benighted natives.
They know what’s best for these people and have come to bring culture and civilization—to bring them up to speed. “This is for your good. You’ll thank us.”
Hidden from view, however, are the many ways that arriving contingents consolidate and maintain power, usually backed by military resources.
The legacy of imperialism is one of disaster, devastation, exploitation, and oppression.
As it happens, the ideology of imperialism also shaped the strategies of the early modern missionary movement. Missiologists have come to recognize that missionaries were inappropriately exporting and imposing Western culture when they thought they were spreading the gospel. They assumed they were doing good, doing the will of God, bringing about the flourishing of those on “mission fields.”
But they were unwitting agents of cultural imperialism.
Piper’s claim matches the dynamics of imperialism: “It is God’s will that power is consolidated in our hands, and this is for your good. We know what’s best for you, and we have the best of intentions.”
Such moves are usually followed by exploitation, oppression, and domination.
It makes perfect sense that Piper would draw upon J. C. Ryle, who advanced through England’s elite institutions during the glory days of the British Empire.
Piper’s claim also resonates with fundamentalist impulses. Fundamentalist leaders typically hearken back to a “golden age” when “things were as they should be.”
Piper’s culturally-constructed vision of masculinity and the complementary roles for women and men come straight out of an idealized vision of the Victorian era. Once again, the reference to J. C. Ryle plays a strategic role.
Further, because fundamentalists long for clarity and order, scholars note that a common feature across all forms of fundamentalism is the suspicion of women and the perceived necessity of guarding against women exercising power. Fundamentalists seek very clearly delineated boundaries between femininity and masculinity.
Again, the results of such postures toward women are exploitation, oppression, and domination.
I think that John Piper believes that he has the best of motives, that he’s being sincere, that he believes he’s advocating a vision of gender roles that brings about universal flourishing.
But he does not realize that his use of Scripture is oriented by these corrupted ideologies. His distorted vision of Christian gender relations can only bear bad fruit.