If you’re connected with the great big family known as American evangelicalism, you might have heard of pastor and author John Piper’s recent un-startling announcement that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” This comes as the non-news-story of the day as Brother Piper has been saying something along this line for some decades now.
Still, some folk have poked me into responding. So here’s a response:
Of course Brother John isn’t implying thereby that only men are true Christians or only men are loved by God or only men are created in the image of God. Let’s not waste time responding (as many apparently are) to things he didn’t say and never does say.
Brother John is saying, as he has been saying all along, that men and women will thrive best when they play the roles God has ordained: men leading and women following, men teaching and women learning, men taking initiative and women responding, men doing (I’m resorting deliberately to a vague locution because a lot of the complementarian language is pretty vague in this spot) and women supporting men doing.
As I argue in “Finally Feminist,” however, the fact that God chooses to portray Godself in primarily masculine terms in Scripture does not imply that men ought to play these roles, world without end. Scripture’s depiction of God in generally (but not exclusively–it is important to remember) masculine roles makes sense–in the patriarchal cultural realities of the Bible’s day and of most cultures since–of the theological points God is making about who God is and how God relates to God’s people and God’s world. What relevance that all has to how human men ought to relate to human women is a question to be considered carefully drawing on the whole counsel of God.
Indeed, it is a logical mistake to say that God’s depicting Godself in masculine terms entails that the religion of Christianity ought to be masculine. For Christianity is not God, but is the way we human beings live in response to God. So if God is masculine in this picture, then the way we ought to respond to God would be (as C. S. Lewis notoriously suggested) feminine. And both Testaments image the people of God in those terms: bride of Yhwh, bride of Christ.
One interesting implication of this overly-simple way of looking at things would then be that we ought to have ONLY women lead the church and the Christian family, in order to teach and model for all of us how to be properly feminine in response to our masculine God.
So is John Piper actually opening the door to the feminizing of Christianity and sneakily laying the groundwork for an exclusively female clergy? Is he in fact a feminist wolf in complementarian sheep’s clothing, finally revealing his true colours? It’s fun to consider, but of course he’s not. What he is, instead, is just a brother arguing a bit badly.
Let’s keep hearing John Piper on the good things he has to say. And let’s just set aside those things he says–and we all say such things at times, especially those of us, like him and like me, that say a lot–that really aren’t so good.