Last week, theolgian and evangelist Dr. John Piper caused a bit of controversy by stating at a the God, Manhood & Ministry conference that God intended for Christianity to have a “masculine feel.” One of his arguments to support this statement was that Jesus was a man, not a woman (I’m not making this up). Blogger and author Rachel Held Evans responded with a thoughtful critique, but asked for men to write responses as well. I also thought it would be interesting to get one of my male readers, Tim, to respond as well. Here’s his guest post. (If you need background, follow the links to see what was said.)
The Bride of Christ Isn’t Masculine Enough For Some People
A recent article about reports his apparent concern that Christianity is not masculine enough, and it is up to male church leaders to do something about it.
He pointed to various descriptors of God (Father, King, etc.) as well as the fact that almost all of the biblical leaders anointed by God were men (the article doesn’t say whether he addressed biblical women in leadership like Deborah), and is then quoted as saying, “Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”
Of course, this conclusion ignores a ton of scripture – which I will get to in a moment – but that is just one of the disturbing aspects of his statement. Another is his odd use of language and the illogical conclusions this leads him to. Perhaps the biggest question initially is: what does he mean by “Christianity”?
Does he mean our faith? Does he mean an individual’s relationship with Christ? Does he mean God’s people collectively? Could it be something else?
He never gives a satisfactory definition of that seminal word but, whatever he means, here’s why he thinks it’s important: “the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel.” Then he gives us one of the oddest definitions of “masculine” I’ve ever read.
A “masculine feel”
“When I say masculine Christianity or masculine ministry or Christianity with a masculine feel, here’s what I mean: Theology and church and mission are marked by an overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community.”
So, masculine Christianity is “an overarching godly male leadership.” If he stopped there, at least I’d be able to see a logical connection between his concept of leadership and how this is masculine (although it still doesn’t explain how leadership constitutes Christianity as a whole). But it’s the rest of that quote that shows how badly he has conflated the notions of gender and sex (being masculine and being male are not the same thing, after all).
He says this leadership is marked by “tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community.” But if you ask most people, they’d say being tender-hearted in exercising strength sounds more feminine than masculine. Same with “contrite courage,” I’d bet. Even most diehards would probably admit that risk-taking decisiveness is not unknown among women. But for sure the quality of readiness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of “protecting and providing for the community” would be more easily ascribed to a feminine model than a masculine one.
What he has actually defined here is a leader whose attributes have been understood throughout history as being feminine. At least if we are going by “feel,” (his word) then based on my 50 plus years of reading,historical and modern, I’d say his type of leadership feels feminine to me.
The Source – What the Bible has to say
Another problem with Dr. Piper’s claim that God has ordained a masculine Christianity is that Christianity is not equivalent to church leadership. It is much larger than that, and any attempt to co-opt the word to mean something less is a dangerous business to engage in with God’s word. Biblical Christianity must be understood as at least encompassing everything about faith in Christ and being his Bride.
For example, Jesus had a lot to say about faith in him and he kept it simple:
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”(John 6:40.)
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”(John 17:3.)
That’s it. Christianity is, in the sense of faith in Jesus Christ, knowing the one true God and the one he sent. It doesn’t take any masculine qualities to do that.
And then there’s the issue of being his people, another aspect of what constitutes Christianity. The Bible repeatedly characterizes God’s people as (among other things) his Bride, starting under the Old Covenant (e.g., Isaiah 62:5 and Jeremiah 2:2) and continuing in the New:
“Jesus answered, ‘Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast’” (Luke 5:34-35).
“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete” (John 3:29).
God’s people are the Bride of Christ. Sounds pretty feminine to me. But in case this has gotten too metaphorical for those who find themselves leaning toward Dr. Piper’s position, I offer this scene from the life of Jesus:
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’
He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50).
Everyone who belongs to Christ is his mother, his sister and his brother. There is no way we can put an overarching masculine gloss on that.
And that’s what Christianity is.
Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids now in college, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California.]
Tim, Your critique is right on. I wholly agree with it. I fear that when we start obsessing about whether our ministry is “Masculine” or “Feminine” we are starting to get badly off track. We are all one in Christ Jesus. There is neither male nor female in Christ….
And if we would approach ministry in a way we tried to make it more masculine or feminine we would be approaching it from a wrong place and where would that get us? I don’t think it would get us where God wants us.
We are to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (from Hebrews).
Thanks Tim for your commentary on this subject. This post is really good.
This is such an excellent response, Tim! Thank you. You make many insightful points, but as a “word” person myself, I love how your starting point is the definition of “Christianity” and how from there you move logically (and scripturally) forward. Thank you so much for this!
Keri, thanks so much for inviting me along on your blog here. This has been such an encouragement for me to be able to contribute to your community of readers.
Karen (KSP) and Jane, thank you for your very kind comments.
When it comes to words, Karen, the notion that Christianity should be more “masculine” really doesn’t exclude women, does it? I mean, a woman can have masculine qualities just as a man can have feminine ones. Of course, to say that one needs to be more masculine is nonsense, as I tried to point out, but it is not exclusive to one sex or another. If one took Dr. Piper at his word, he’d end up with a church with both men and women in leadership; they’d just all have more masculine qualities than feminine ones. I don’t think he thought that one through.
Now if he really meant that by his definition of Christianity it should be more male (as I think he did), then he certainly would be excluding women. He’d also (again) be spouting nonsense since, as you say Jane, there is no male or female in Christ. And being in Christ is the core of Christianity from what I’ve read in the Bible.
This is an interesting discussion. So, was Piper referring to Christianity as Christian leadership in the ministry? I could maybe understand where he was coming from a little better there. It seems like his wording may have been a little unclear. Also, I wonder what he was contrasting against. I have read his book on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that he co-wrote with Wayne Grudem and was very enriched by it. I’ll be upfront and say that I hold a complimentarian position. But I believe true manliness would treasure women and view them as equals in the faith. I think much of the problem is the world’s view of manliness.
Tim, you make some good points–I enjoyed reading your article! I admire how you stand up for women—true masculinity.
Thanks for coming over, Aimee. I really appreciate your taking the time to read this, and especially your encouragement for my writing.
One interesting thing about Dr. Piper’s comments, as quoted in the article, is that they did not fit into a complementarian/egalitarian structure that I could discern. That’s one reason I don’t mention those rubrics at all here. Instead, he talks about leadership in the Bible being typically male, and appears to use that as a springboard for arguing that the Bible therefore teaches masculine Christianity as the model for us to follow. It’s a non sequitor for me (along with the other problems I noted in the article here).
Thanks for this response, Tim. I think you hit the nail on the head when you argue that his comments describing Christianity simply don’t make sense. The idea of a masculine or feminine “feel” (the word “feel” itself being subjective and stereotypically “feminine”) overlooks the fact that both the masculine and the feminine were made in God’s image, and both bring glory to Him. I assume that Piper was trying to encourage male leadership, but that was a strange way to do it…
Kim, thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks for your thoughtful comments too. I’d like to assume the same, that Dr. Piper was “trying to encourage male leadership” to be more masculine, but it’s not only a strange way to do so but doesn’t hold up in the long run. His description of leadership not only has so many qualities we would describe as feminine (as I mentioned in the post), his entire premise apparently relies on that “feel” thing; and as you showed us, being feely is sterotypically feminine.
It’s funny, but whenever someone mentions that I’m getting touchy-feely about something it is almost always followed by a joke about how I’m getting in touch with my feminine side. And I’m ok with that.
[…] Christianity continues… Thanks to Rachel Stone for linking to Tim’s recent guest post here on Deep Breathing for the Soul in her excellent article on the Her.meneutics blog […]
I didn’t know of this thing he stated, though I also never read Jon Piper’s books (but know many who have). Things I’ve heard about him seem pretty respectable. “(being masculine and being male are not the same thing, after all).” – I think more people need to know that!
I have heard people complain that Jesus isn’t masculine enough before, but really, He was teaching men how to really be men and honestly, in the culture of today, I’ve noticed how men really are not very involved in teaching their family and being involved in their spiritual growth. Jesus was extremely involved in teaching men how to be, and sometimes he was very bold and to the point. I think about when Jesus told the man who wanted to follow him but asked to bury his father first. . Jesus told him dead on that he had to follow Him NOW. People in general (and men today) seem to want to push aside obeying God and following Him so they can do their own thing. Jesus was nothing like people wanted Him to be, which is basically what he’ll be when He returns full on with his Horse and sword coming from his mouth and things tattooed on his body. I guess that is the image men want to know of Jesus more than a kind man who cried and let people slap him as he turned the other cheek.
Victoria, thanks for coming over and reading the piece, and thanks for such a great synopsis of the difference between what people want God to be versus who God really is. And I like how you put this: “He was teaching men how to really be men”. It’s because the real us can only be found in him, isn’t it?
Victoria, thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation. Piper is a highly respected theologian, and while I disagree with his theology about gender and his statements on men and women’s roles, he’s led many people to saving faith and I do agree with much of what he teaches. Just not this.
Thanks, Tim, for continuing to engage in the conversation.
thank you for bringing this teaching of piper’s to so many who would not have known of it otherwise!
um, not sure if you’re being sarcastic, but we’re glad to welcome you to the blog to offer your insights.
Thanks John. A long time ago a retired colleague told me that in his experience more communication is almost always better than less, so I figured that joining in this discussion might be helpful if I could do it in a gracious manner. I hope I did so, and I freely acknowledge that if so it is by God’s grace alone!
Excellent, Tim. Piper obviously has an agenda behind this sermon, which is sad to me, because he has written so much worthwhile stuff in the past. A lot of his comments about masculine Christianity were unwittingly a slap in the face to what it means to be feminine; it’s hard not to think from his sermon that being feminine is inferior to being masculine.
I liked your question about what Piper meant about “Christianity.” It’s vague enough, isn’t it?
I don’t think Christianity should have a masculine feel or a feminine feel – but a cruciform feel. Rather than dying on the hill of rallying men and women to act and look a certain way (culturally masculine or culturally feminine), perhaps we should make Christ the center and lay our own lives down for others – whatever that may look like in our lives. Perhaps Christianity might have a cruciform feel.
Thanks a ton for stopping by Aubry! The idea of a cruciform feel and choosing a hill to die on make me think that the only hill ever worth dying on is Calvary. After all, as Paul said, “we preach Christ crucified.” (1 Cor. 1:23.) Laying down our lives for others would take the whole “am I masculine (or feminine) enough for Christianity” question out of eth equation all together, wouldn’t it?