The Bride of Christ Isn’t Masculine Enough?

The Bride of Christ Isn’t Masculine Enough For Some People

A recent article about John Piper 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:

“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.”

A “masculine feel”

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.

***

This article first appeared as a guest post on Keri Wyatt Kent’s excellent blog last February. She wrote this introduction for it:

Last week, theologian 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.)

***

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19 Responses to The Bride of Christ Isn’t Masculine Enough?

  1. David Ramos says:

    Let me begin by saying that I love John Piper. He has played a huge role in my growth – spiritually , academically, and personally. I do think he overstepped his bounds with this quote, and you have countered his argument well. But the context of his statement lends some leniency to his statement – it was, after all, a conference on manhood and ministry. Plus the church has had a multi-millenial tradition of primarily male leadership guiding its growth. All that is to say I hope when readers your, and others, comments they do not sway to far the opposite direction. God makes use and imagery from both genders, beautifully might I add. There are Scriptural and biological complexities we still do not understand that God uses to show his glory. Piper reached in and tried to pull some of these out, only he did this, I fear, at the cost of missing deeper genderless truths.

    • Tim says:

      Great points, David. Dr. Piper’s valuable contributions to the church should be appreciated by all thinking and caring believers.

      Your comment that “God makes use and imagery from both genders” reminds of another article I wrote here on the value of men and women in God’s economy.

      Tim

  2. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this post, Tim. I read the Piper talk and much of the fallout some months ago. My blood pressure has just about got back to normal now 🙂 so I won’t belabour the issue; but I’m glad there is some pushback from Christian men. David’s point above is well taken, too, that we have to put Piper’s talk in context and be fair to him and to his ministry as a whole. Yet I also think it’s appropriate to ask whether the church’s “multi-millenial tradition of primarily male leadership” is a symptom of something gone wrong or a sign of being on the right track. Opinions on this differ, I know. But it’s healthy to question the status quo. Thanks again!

    • Tim says:

      I have to admit that this particular kerfuffle with Dr. Piper would have eluded me if Keri had not asked me to write on it. The broader issue of the church and its position as the Bride of Christ is something I think of often.

      • Nelson says:

        Hmmm, more Piper bashing. I got you now, and passed this on to the person who informed of the more recent Piper bashing. Go feed some squirrels.

        • Tim says:

          Dr. Piper works very hard to get his message out to millions of readers and listeners. I don’t bash him. I criticize messages that deviate from the gospel, such as this horrible patriarchal doctrine.

  3. LLM says:

    Appreciate your post Tim! Glad you did this re-wind. And the comments too! David has good thoughts on balance…don’t want to swing to the opposite extreme. And I like Jeannie’s thought about whether the church’s “multi-millenial tradition of primarily male leadership” is a symptom of something gone wrong or a sign of being on the right track. I can’t help but see it as a sign that things are OFF track. I’m reading Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James. Highly recommend it. She avoids comp/egal debate and focuses more on men and women needing to work together in the church (be a blessed alliance). Restricting and sequestering off women has limited the work of God’s Kingdom. We should be leading together….which would also reflect the masculine and feminine traits of God. Right?

    • Tim says:

      Right you are, Laura. Your comment also reminds me of a conversation a friend of mine had with the former president of his seminary (a school with a decidedly complementarian history, from what I understand). The president emeritus said that his thinking on women in the church had changed over time and he thought it likely that the church in America might have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to the treatment of women and their ability to exercise their gifts.

  4. Pingback: Biblical Womanhood Is Nothing (And Neither Is Biblical Manhood) | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  5. Rick says:

    Ah, Tim, so nice to read your commentary. I have to control my tongue because Piper can really make my blood boil. The argument from antiquity carries no weight with me, I agree with Jeannie, it is a symptom of something gone terribly wrong for too long. Personally I think the church has been far too much like a patronizing Boys’ Club and does not take the role of women seriously. It just disturbs me as well that someone whom we would normally call a bigot in any other context gets a pass because he is one of us, a white evangelical male theologian. It is to me patently wrong to shut down the voice of 50% of the human race. If you read the last chapter of Romans and the book of Acts you see New Testament women preached, prophesied, publicly prayed, taught, evangelized, opened up mission fields, had churches in their homes and gave their lives for the gospel which gives scriptures like 1st Timothy 2 some needed context. I have a last child, a brilliant daughter who has taught me much and I hate to see her marginalized and her options shut down. My thinking is that gender roles become more egalitarian specifically at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is pointedly poured out equally on both genders. As Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” Now there is “no Jew nor Greek; there is no bondman nor freeman; there is no male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Local customs are still important and Paul is a master at navigating the hazards of culture for the sake of the gospel as he does in 1st Timothy but he usually makes clear that he is responding with his opinion (I say, I want) and as he does in 1 Corinthians 7 (I say, not the Lord). Thanks Tim.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Rick. I love how you point out Paul’s careful navigation of “the hazards of culture for the sake of the gospel.” Great turn of phrase!

  6. supercinder says:

    will be sharing this article with folks at my church. I totally agree with Piper’s(grudem, etc.) position. It is interesting for me to read some of this recent pushback and it further strengthens my belief of the Biblical truth of God’s complementary design. All the reasons against Pipers view seem frail and weak in comparison to the weight of, not only the Biblical basis, but the absolute beauty and truth of God’s good design.

    For instance, to say that Pipers description of “masculinity” sounds like feminine leadership, and thus he is at odds with his own theology is completely missing the point: we have a twisted view of masculinity to begin with. The kind of masculinity Piper is describing there is the Bible’s definition of a man of God, not of the NFL or some misogynistic stereotype. It is the description of the manliness of Jesus Himself. Crying, laughing, singing, whipping people, teaching, bearing the cross. This is mirrored in David and other real men of the Bible.

    One thing I find fascinating is the fact that just as we need to understand God’s good plan for (proper)male headship, we also need to understand that our relationship(as the church) to God is feminine. We (guys included) are the virgin bride, and we need to learn our place in that feminine role. We RECEIVE Christ and His gifts(like Rebekah-Gen 24-sight unseen), we RESPOND to Christ(as to a wedding proposal), we will be subject to Christ as our husband for eternity(as I understand). God made His promises to Eve(of the coming “offspring”), fulfilled them to Mary(in Jesus).

    If we refuse to accept the gender roles He has given us for imaging Him to the world and angels, then I suppose none of those types I mentioned(and many more) have any true meaning. As Paul said Ephesians5:32 “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” The mystery of marriage is not profound if there is no design and purpose to our relationship and distinct purposes. God Bless!

    • Tim says:

      You make some good points, supercinder. And whether one is a comp or an egal (like me), Dr. Piper’s call for the Bride of Christ to feel more masculine just doesn’t square with Scripture.

  7. Rick says:

    Supercinder, I would hesitate to hold up Piper as a model for gender theology. John Piper will not allow women to pray from the pulpit of his Baptist church, he will not allow women to read the Bible publicly to the church much less let any woman speak. He will not read a book written by a woman if he feels she is speaking with some authority, he will put the book down. He will not allow a woman speak to him in person about spiritual things. He has said God designed Christianity to have a masculine feel. He recommends that men order for their wives at restaurants, men drive the car and only husbands initiate sex. He regards himself as an expert on gender theology and authors very flawed books on the subject. God is neither male nor female, He created both genders in his image. There are some very good reasons to regard 2nd Timothy 2 as a transient cultural response to a specific situation in the greek city of Ephesus. Paul will teach on things like, the length of one’s haircut, the wearing of head scarves, the length that a man’s hair should be, the wearing of jewelry or pearls, asking questions out loud in the middle of a service, usurping authority from the speaker. Usually he identifies the source of his admonitions, (I say, not the Lord…in 1st Corinthians 7). In Timothy all his prohibitions are “I want, I urge, I suffer not, etc.). I would urge you to go to the article in Christianity today where various commenters debate the issue at length. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/april/hey-john-piper-is-my-femininity-showing.html. I would urge you not to be too hasty in making local, transient cultural admonitions into transcendant universal doctrine. And I would urge you to examine examine the women examples in Paul’s life. First century women prophesied to the church, read the word of God to the church, prayed public prayers, Priscilla instructed Apollos, straightening out his doctrine. The woman martyr Perpetua’s diary inspired many Christians leaders in the second century. Instead of making new law, let’s celebrate the value and effectiveness that women add to the Church. Male and female were both created in the image of God. David says prophetically, “The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng” Psalm 68:11. That was literally fulfilled at Pentecost as the Spirit was poured out on women who prophesied side by side with men. Mary, Lydia and Clohe had churches in their houses. Philips 4 daughters were prophets, Junia was given the title, “apostle”. Let’s celebrate evangelists like Mary Woodworth Etter who brought the nation to its knees in 1880, Amy Semple McPherson who taught, preached and launched a missionary movement which spanned the globe bringing millions to Christ, Kathryn Kuhlmann, who devoted her life to healing and evangelism, Heidi Baker, who led over a million to Christ and launched 10,000 churches in Mozambique and was featured on the cover of CT last year. We’re ALL soldiers and we’re ALL the bride of Christ.

    • Tim says:

      Another good resource on the 1 Timothy 2 passage is Richard and Catherine Kroeger’s I Suffer Not A Woman: Rethinking 1 timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence. They go back to the beginning for a scholarly look at the text, the culture, the politics and the local religion. In order to know what the passage means now, it’s helpful to know what it meant then.

  8. Barb says:

    I’m a few years past the original posting of the blog, but I’m compelled to comment. Piper’s definition, assuming he still holds to it, is very strange. In my 70+ years, I don’t think I’ve ever, even remotely, seen a church or family/community where this was practiced. First, I have no clue what “contrite courage” is. Second, as I read the whole thing, I didn’t know whether to laugh or burst into tears, and you probably don’t EVEN want to know why I was affected this way. HINT: In my darkest of dark days, my former husband had humiliated me with his lies and long-time cheating with another woman, my pastor laughed at me and made excuses for his non-shepherding of women, and almost all my ‘Christian’ friends simply acted as though I didn’t exist. So that’s my comment on Piper’s masculine feel. Would to God it could really happen somewhere, sometime.

    • Tim says:

      I am so sorry to hear of what you went through in your home and the church, Barb. You have suffered more than most in so many ways.

      And as for Piper’s phrase “contrite courage”, if it’s true courage what does one need to be contrite for anyhow?

  9. Ruth says:

    Our church’s new pastor has suddenly excluded women from many aspects of church life and reduced communion to a 5 minute rush up and down the aisles to hand out the bread and wine – well grape juice – he reads a pre written prayer and doesn’t give us time to contemplate and pray. Very rushed and off hand, this may seem off the topic, but he seems complementarian to the roots, and we are an egalitarian group.
    All of a sudden, strong, committed fully involved women have been reduced to shades of our selves in his eyes.
    We however, are just doing our thing and basically ignoring his fairly dictatorial lectures from the pulpit. I must say it impacts on us though, we feel demeaned and sort of cut off at the knees, but we are gathering together and working things through to support our congregation and keep women strong. He may come or go, but we will stay and hold our ministries together as we feel called to do. Never thought what I have been reading about would hit our church this year.
    So glad we have recognised the problem and know there is support outside, and inside our church.
    I might add that most men are unhappy with this sate of affairs, so things may change for the better.

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