Friday, February 10, 2012

Christians for Biblical Equality, Houston Chapter Conference: April 27-28

If Ronnie and I were still living in Fairfield, Texas (the small town where we spent the first five years of our marriage and ministered throughout my time in seminary), I would definitely be making the trip down to Houston to attend the Houston chapter conference of Christians for Biblical Equality, to be held April 27-28, at Heights Church of Christ, 1548 Heights Blvd, Houston, Texas. I really like their conference theme this year: "A New Creation, A New Tradition: Reclaiming the Biblical Tradition of Man and Woman, One in Christ." And, I love that Dr. Todd Still, one of my favorite professors from Truett Seminary, will be one of their guest speakers. They're even going to include personal stories of women's and men's journey to biblical equality, which you can submit online here. How cool is that?

If you are in Texas or the surrounding area, consider attending this conference to fellowship with other men and women who are taking a stand for male and female complementarity and equality in Texas. Check out the schedule for the conference here and you can register online here. Or, if you can't attend this year, maybe consider making a financial contribution to CBE.

P.S. They're also doing a Prayer Walk for Women on March 28 that you can join, whether by hooking up with other CBE members in Houston, walking with friends in your own neighborhood, or simply praying on your own. Check out the details for that event here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our Journey to the "Canterbury Trail"

This past Sunday (February 5) was Ronnie's first Sunday as the new youth pastor for St. George's Episcopal Church in Dayton, OH. This new position is important for us because it does two things: (1) it allows Ronnie to continue utilizing his gifts in ministry, while getting paid for it (win-win), and (2) it allows Ronnie to begin working full-time on pursuing ordination in the Anglican Church. Yes, you read that second point correctly:
Ronnie and I are becoming Anglicans.

This may come as a shock for some. Honestly, it's still something of a shock to us. (For others, this will confirm that feeling they had all along that there was something not quite right about me!) We were both baptized in Baptist churches, we have four degrees between us from Baptist institutions, and we have been working within the Baptist tradition (specifically, Southern Baptist) for a combined total of 32 years. So, what's with the transition? Well, it's kind of a long story. In the following post, I'll do my best to sum it up for my readers.

First, Ronnie and I have fallen in love with the liturgy of the Anglican tradition. We became convinced of our need for a "thick" liturgy during our time of spiritual turmoil after our painful departure from a church in Cincinnati. In this period, our prayers failed us and our spirits could not "rise to the occasion" in the concert-style contemporary worship services held at many churches in our area. Instead, we needed something deeper, older, and more enduring--something that could "carry" us in times of doubt and distress. Once we began work at Aley Church in Dayton (a United Methodist congregation), we discovered their "traditional service," with its hymns, choruses, written prayers, creeds, responsive readings, multiple Scripture readings, and a high view of both the proclaimed Word and the Lord’s Table. These elements filled the deep need we had to connect with our more ancient faith and quickly became cherished parts of our worship of God. Now that we've found the beauty of a thick liturgy, organized around Word (Scripture) and Table (Eucharist), we want to be a part of a communion that sees them this way, too.

Second, our theology of the sacraments has changed in a significant way over the past few years. After much study we have determined that baptism and communion are more than memorials or simple signs, but are actually effective in some manner by God’s grace. That is to say, the sacraments effect grace, through God's power, in the life of the open-hearted recipient. We think this is in keeping with the pattern of God from the very beginning of creation: to use material, earthly things to do his work. This sacramental theology is most fully expressed, of course, in the Incarnation of the Son of God in Christ. Just as God became flesh in Christ to reveal himself and bestow his grace, so also God uses earthly things like water, bread, and wine to bestow grace today. Thus, the created order is not opposed to God, but actually being redeemed by God and used to reveal his presence.

Our developing sacramental worldview and specific conclusions about the sacraments of baptism and communion led us to baptize our children this past summer. William and Emmelia were baptized by our pastor, Matt Scholl, at Aley Church on June 12, 2011. At the time, we knew this was a major step, one that would separate us from our Baptist brothers and sisters. But, we felt convinced it was the next step for our family.

This is not a post about infant baptism versus believer's baptism, but because this move is such a departure from our upbringing, let me take a few paragraphs and explain our reasoning. In sum, our change of mind about baptism was based upon our reading of Scripture and our understanding of the practice of Christians throughout church history. A quick survey will show that the practice of infant baptism is undeniable from at least the third century onward. The Christian faith was passed directly from the Apostle John to Polycarp then to Irenaeus, then to Hippolytus, who was baptizing infants in AD 215. If Hippolytus’ baptism of infants was something new and aberrant, there would be some evidence of this in the historical record, but there is not.

From what we can tell from the Scriptures and other historical evidence, baptism in the early church was an outward sign of inclusion in the Christian community, bestowing the mark of Christianity and grace of God upon the recipient. Baptism publicly demonstrated membership, signifying among Christians what circumcision did among Jews: inclusion among God’s people. In the Old Testament, circumcision was for infants and children as well as adults, which marked them as members of God’s covenant. When Christians began practicing baptism as their symbol of inclusion, it is reasonable to assume that they followed the Hebrew tradition and baptized the infants and children of believing Christian parents. And, the NT never teaches otherwise. Of the ten baptisms mentioned in the NT, five include families or “households.” We are never told the ages of those in the household, but it is very unlikely that these ancient families left their children out of the sign of the new covenant.

As we all know, sometimes people within the Christian community, those who possess the sign of the Christian faith (baptism), still go on to reject the faith, whether in word or by deed. This was true also of Jews in the OT, who the Prophets were constantly telling to “circumcise your hearts” so that their inward spiritual life became consistent with the outward sign. So also today there are those in the church who have the sign of baptism but lack an inward reality of Christian faith--both adults and children. But, as we see it, delaying baptism until adolescence or adulthood tends to cause more problems than it solves. Adults and teenagers still abandon the faith after their baptism. Meanwhile, we think the people of God have largely misunderstood the meaning of baptism as a corporate sign in the NT. We think this leads to increasing individualism ("all I need is Jesus") and undermines Christian community.

Now that our children have been baptized, we are seeking to raise them in such a way that they never know a day apart from Christ. So, we teach them to pray, worship, study, sacrifice, serve, and witness as Christians from the very beginning. We intend to treat our children as real Christians and expect them to live that way. William and Emmelia were baptized upon our profession of faith, with the promise that they will be raised in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. Also, they will be admitted to the Lord’s Table. William already receives communion with us now.

Getting back to why we're becoming Anglican... The third reason for this shift is that through interaction with Christians from a variety of traditions we have become increasingly frustrated by the theological narrowness of the Christians and churches within the Southern Baptist Convention. Certainly, there are exceptions to this, but our experience is that this tends to be the norm. So we have been looking for a tradition that allows us to maintain our evangelical convictions (high view of Scripture, centrality and supremacy of Christ, emphasis on personal faith and formation, commitment to evangelism, etc.) while providing freedom for differences of opinion on secondary and tertiary issues. Along with this, it has become important to us to be a part of a tradition with a truly global scope. The center of Christianity is no longer the West, but has shifted to the South and to the East. We want to be a part of a tradition that embraces this reality.

The final aspect of our journey won't surprise most of my readers. The truth is, Ronnie and I have been disillusioned with the Southern Baptist Convention for a long time and for a variety of reasons. I won't go into too much detail here because I don't want to be misunderstood as casting aspersion on our SBC brothers and sisters (many of whom are still good friends!). But, for a long time, we've felt that the SBC, in general, is an environment that is no longer suitable for us. For me, in particular, I have long recognized that the SBC and many SBC-aligned institutions are not only unsupportive of my vocation as a theologian, but sometimes even openly antagonistic towards it. This is no place in which to chart a future in ministry! Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the ways in which Ronnie and I have changed and nuanced number of our theological positions (some described above) prevent us from honestly characterizing ourselves any longer as "Baptist," let alone "Southern Baptist"--at least not in good faith. So, we've concluded that it is time to move on.

Now all of the above points don't necessarily lead to the Anglican Church on their own. But, we have spent time investigating the various traditions, praying together and with friends, and seeking counsel from wise advisors. In light of our sacramental theology and decidedly Protestant outlook, the options for us are relatively limited. And, since we were introduced to the Book of Common Prayer through our immersion in the liturgical traditions we felt led to seriously consider the Anglican tradition. This past summer, we spent two weeks with a good friend who is an Anglican pastor in Virginia. (Interestingly, he is also a former Southern Baptist pastor.) This time of sharing, prayer, and discernment resulted in us being affirmed in our inclination toward the "Canterbury Trail." This is the path we've been on ever since. When we found a suitable Episcopal church in our area looking for a youth pastor, it seemed that God had opened the right door at the right time.

So, where does this leave us? For now, Ronnie is working for St. George's Episcopal Church. He has found a kindred spirit in the rector there, who is a classical Protestant and has an evangelical spirit. Under his tutelage, Ronnie hopes to be ready for the examination process for ordination within a year and a half. The tricky point for us is what organization he wants to be ordained through. At the present time, we think the Episcopal Church in the United States is too liberal for us. (Or, perhaps, we are too conservative for them!) There are a number of options outside of the American Episcopal Church, but I won't go into the details about those here. Suffice it to say, we are seeking wisdom and discernment regarding what organization we are to join.

Furthermore, our current plan is that following my completion of the Ph.D. program at the University of Dayton (hopefully within the next two years!), Ronnie will lead a church plant in an urban location that is yet to be determined. In preparation for this, we have started a non-profit organization, McGowin Ministries (snazzy name, huh?), to which friends and family may donate to our future church plant. We pray and trust that over the next two years, God will make clear the city we will relocate to following my graduation.

So, that's the story, my friends. This is the path we find ourselves on today. Please be in prayer for us as we pursue the best route for our family over the next few years. I'm happy to field questions about this transition from my readers. I can't promise I have full answers, but I will do my best!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Response to John Piper's "Masculine Christianity," Part 2

This is Part 2 of my response to John Piper's proposal of a "masculine feel" to Christianity and Christian ministry. If you haven't already, please read Part 1 here. At the end of my first post, I said that I find Piper's conclusion--that God has ordained Christianity to have a "masculine feel"--is ultimately inappropriate given his premises. That is to say, I think Piper is drawing a false conclusion from his broad (and contestable) observations about the apparently androcentric (=male centered) nature of salvation history. And, in my view, his notion of a "masculine Christianity" is highly problematic and it founders for a number of reasons. Before I say more, let me remind my readers of the last paragraph of the excerpt I provided in Part 1. There, Piper says the following:

What I mean by “masculine Christianity,” or “masculine ministry,” or “Christianity with a masculine feel,” is this: Theology and church and mission are marked by overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ, with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, and contrite courage, and risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community—all of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the feel of a great, majestic God, who by his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, inclines men to take humble, Christ-exalting initiative, and inclines women to come alongside the men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.

First, I want to suggest that the traits Piper lists above as constitutive of "masculine Christianity" are most certainly not limited to men and, therefore, aren't really "masculine" at all. Let's set aside for a moment his reference to "male leadership" and review the elements of Piper's description: the spirit of Christ, tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, sacrifice for the sake of leading, protecting, providing, humility, and initiative. Although he frames these attributes within the context of "male leadership," I contend that all of these things are easily identifiable within the lives and ministries of godly women. In fact, I see these characteristics especially operative in the life and work of mothers (the most feminine of womanly vocations for Piper and his sympathizers!). At their best and healthiest, mothers caring for their children are tender-hearted and strong, courageous, decisive, sacrificial, and protective. Mothers evidence the spirit of Christ, take risks for their children's betterment and well-being, and take the initiative for their care and provision. In all honesty, it seems to me that to suggest these attributes are the special purview of men just seems silly.

Second, despite his sincere attempts to be thoroughly "biblical," Piper can in no way prove from the New Testament that God intends the Church and the Church's leaders to be "masculine." Indeed, you will never find an instance where God, Jesus, or the Apostles instruct anyone or the church as a whole to be "masculine." (Scot McKnight has a helpful explanation of the possible relevant texts on his blog here and in the comments.) You will, on the other hand, find lots of instruction regarding the need to imitate Christ and pursue a life of cruciformity. Indeed, a further reason the description Piper provides above can't possibly be limited to Christian men is that Christian women will evidence the same or similar traits precisely because they are traits of Christ himself. Those who are putting off their old nature and "putting on Christ" grow to look like him, whether they are males or females. Now, this is not to say that men and women aren't different. I believe they are. (See below for more discussion of this point.) But, the special traits Piper is assigning to masculinity, in particular, are being read into the Scripture and not drawn from Scripture. He is proposing an admonition from God for a "masculine Christianity" that simply does not exist.

Third, the concept of masculinity with which is Piper operating, both in this instance and in almost every other example of his work on this topic, is its undeniably embedded in 21st Century North American evangelical Christian culture. This is something that a man as educated and widely read as Piper should understand and grapple with in his work. In general, and not just in this instance, I find it strange that Piper thinks that the character traits he puts forth as constitutive of "manhood" and "womanhood," or masculinity and femininity, are eternally ordained by God and universally applicable to all. (Please note, I am not contesting the realities of humanity as male and female or the existence of masculinity and femininity, as such. I am contesting the notion that Piper's limited description of masculinity [along with that of other hierarchical complementarians] is adequate or accurate. Indeed, I contend that it is neither.)

What Piper offers in his gender theology, instead, is a notion of masculinity that is thoroughly formed by his cultural situation as an evangelical in the 21st Century United States. The truth is, Piper (and other hierarchical complementarians) is proposing a picture of masculinity that has been constructed--and not primarily from the Bible (as if one can read the Bible without cultural biases in the first place). It has been constructed, I think, largely in response to a number of cultural instabilities and perceived threats in our contemporary environment: the perceived success of secular feminism and liberalism in the nation as a whole, a drastic economic downturn (that has seen thousands of men put out of work and lose their homes), diminished American power and respect around the globe, and a perceived threatening "foreigner" in the White House, who seems to embody many of evangelical fears about the degenerate state of the U.S. as a nation and the perceived insecure place of Christians within it. In light of apparent cultural instability both within and outside of evangelicalism, teachers like Piper (along with Mark Driscoll, et al) are seeking to construct sharp distinctions between the genders and "gender roles" as way to re-establish cultural stability. (This observation is not unique to me, but is made by a number sociologists of religion, including Julie Ingersoll in her book Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles. I am grateful to my friend and colleague, Katherine, for pointing out the elements of cultural instability that are likely behind Piper's claims.)

Even if you don't buy my suggestion that social instability is likely behind this push for clearly defined gender norms, I still contend that despite his sincere desire to provide a universal norm of masculinity to which all men can look as a guide for life, Piper's gendered theology (especially as espoused through the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) mostly trades in gender stereotypes and middle class American nostalgia. Investigation into notions of masculinity from other places and periods of time would reveal significantly different pictures, all of which were also highly dependent upon their contexts. For example, in the Victorian period of American history, it was women, not men, who were viewed as naturally spiritual and more suited for a life of Christian virtue. Women were the "angels in the home," guardians of Christian morality and the moral pillars of the nation. Indeed, women were encouraged by preachers and politicians alike that it was their duty to set the example and in so doing, they would save the world through their piety.

Now, some of this sort of language is still heard today. Stereotypes die hard. But, there is a significant contrast, I think, between the Victorian emphasis on the importance of female spiritual leadership and today's evangelical emphasis on male spiritual leadership. My point is this: masculinity and femininity, as they are defined by Piper and his sympathizers, are largely cultural constructs, as dependent upon the circumstances of our day as anything else.

So, what exactly is my point? In the end, I would argue that defining with any precision what constitutes the essence of femininity and masculinity is highly problematic. Again, this does not mean that I am suggesting that there is no such thing as masculinity and femininity. I believe there are real differences between males and females. I think these differences are somehow rooted in our sexed bodies (which are marked by sexual differentiation, except in rare cases). But, I also think these sexual and gender differences transcend mere materiality to include something of our very being, or essence. But, what exactly those differences are... I think this is something of a mystery--indeed, a "profound mystery," as the Letter to the Ephesians puts it (Eph 5:32).

The first chapters of Genesis reveal that human beings are made in God's image, male and female, as complementary partners in the filling and subduing of the earth (Genesis 1:28). But, I think to go much beyond this move into unwise theological speculation. One can certainly speak of the proper duties put upon mothers and fathers to care for their children, or husbands and wives to love and respect each other, or men and women in the church to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." But, to move from these instructions regarding practical Christian living to ontological statements about what constitutes the uniqueness of maleness and femaleness, masculinity and femininity, is wrongheaded and unhelpful. Even the brilliant and verbose theologian Karl Barth, who is not known for keeping quiet about much of anything, argued that the essential differences between the sexes was something to be experienced in relationship and not defined by theologians. To do so, he said, goes beyond the bounds of proper theological reasoning because it exceeds God's revelation in Christ.

All this is to say, I think delineating the concrete details of masculinity and femininity is a largely speculative enterprise. It is unwise to move from the things that many women do (i.e., mothering, nurturing, supporting, etc.) and things that many men do (i.e., working, providing, protecting, etc.) to then conclude that all women and all men, always and everywhere, are designed by God to be fundamentally defined by these things. Of course, Piper does not say such things explicitly in the message that is the subject of this post. But, these assumptions about "biblical manhood and womanhood" are in the background of his remarks and he does operate with the assumption that what constitutes masculinity is universally true, (easily) recognizable, and unchanging. These assumptions, I would argue, simply cannot stand up to scrutiny.

I think what really bothers me about Piper's message is the way in which he seems to push aside the beauty of male-female complementarity (something he supposedly champions!) for a vision of Christianity in which the male subsumes the female. He seems to be forgetting Genesis 1:27-28, in which the image of God in humankind is depicted as male and female and where both male and female receive the command to "be fruitful and multiply," as well as to "fill the earth and subdue it." What was affirmed in creation is reaffirmed in the New Covenant. Male and female remain God's image in humankind. One is not derivative of the other and one isn't dominant over the other. Adam did not constitute the essence of the human race at the beginning of creation; neither do men constitute the essence of the new human race in the new creation.

Finally, I would contend that Piper and those in agreement with him are in hot water, theologically speaking, for two reasons. First, since it is God who has made humankind male and female, then it is also God who know what rightly constitutes masculinity and femininity. When humans reify cultural norms and stereotypes and proclaim that these elements are the essence of "biblical manhood" or "biblical womanhood," I think they are bordering on idolatry--presuming to make "graven images" of the mystery of God's image in humankind (as male and female). But, even if such a theological move isn't as serious as I have suggested, at the very least the mystery of humankind as male and female should be approached with reverence and humility, leaving behind machismo, bravado, sentimentality, nostalgia, and stereotypes of all kinds.

The second reason that Piper is venturing into problematic territory is that his insistence on a "masculine feel" for Christianity and the Church flies in the face of hundreds of years of Christian tradition regarding the Church as the Bride of Christ. In fact, his assertions seem truly bizarre in light of pervasive nuptial (=marriage) imagery of Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride, which has been pervasive in Christian history, particularly through monasticism and mystical theologies (i.e., Bernard of Clairvaux). How to square Piper's "masculine" Christianity with the decidedly feminine depiction of the Church as Christ's Bride is something that exceeds my theological skill. Perhaps he'll explain that one at next year's pastors conference.

This post has turned out longer than I anticipated, so I need to bring it to a close. But, before I do, I need to say this... In truth, I don't contest the heart of Piper's message about the nature of the church's work. If we take out the "masculine" language, I can wholeheartedly agree with his sentiment. I think theology, church, and mission should be marked by overarching godly 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, protecting, and providing for the community. I think our great, majestic God, by his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, wants us to take the humble, Christ-exalting initiative and work together in joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work of ministry. What I contest is the idea that these things are explicitly masculine in nature or that they mean the Church as a whole is to be defined in majority masculine terms.

And, in the end, that's what is so sad. Piper is taking a matter that is not central to the Gospel (gender differentiation), adding to it extra-biblical, culturally bound notions of what constitutes masculinity and femininity, and then reading Scripture, theology, and church ministry through this lens. In my opinion, this is bad theology and a truly unfortunate direction to chart for the many pastors looking to him for guidance.
Note: Those who are uncomfortable that I'm calling into question the possibility of such a thing as "biblical manhood and womanhood" or are simply interested in reading what I've said in the past about this problem are invited to read this post from 2008, which goes into more detail than the above post would allow.

My Response to John Piper's "Masculine Christianity," Part 1

The Internet has been abuzz this week about John Piper's message at the 2012 Desiring God Pastor's Conference, in which he claims that God intends for Christianity and the Church to have a decidedly "masculine feel." You can follow the link to hear Piper's remarks in their full context or visit the sites of other bloggers to see fuller excerpts of his message. (Scot McKnight provides the fullest account I've seen thus far.) For my purposes, I'm not going to consider the message in full. I think what follows is a sufficiently long enough excerpt to reveal Piper's point and allow for a measured response (which I will provide in two parts):

God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33).

From all of this, I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And, being a God of love, he has done it for the maximum flourishing of men and women. He did not create women to languish, or be frustrated, or in any way to suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy, in a masculine Christianity. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families where Christianity has this God-ordained, masculine feel. For the sake of the glory of women, and for the sake of the security and joy of children, God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.

What I mean by “masculine Christianity,” or “masculine ministry,” or “Christianity with a masculine feel,” is this: Theology and church and mission are marked by overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ, with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, and contrite courage, and risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community—all of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the feel of a great, majestic God, who by his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, inclines men to take humble, Christ-exalting initiative, and inclines women to come alongside the men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.

Before I offer my response to these claims, I feel that I have to admit that the topic of this sermon and the hubbub surrounding it wearies me. I'm weary of this sort of argumentation and the conclusions drawn from it. I almost didn't write this post. In reality, I don't want to. But, I do feel a responsibility to respond when I see particularly false or damaging theology--and in this case, I see both. And, in the name of defending myself and my sisters in Christ, I humbly offer the following response to Piper's "masculine Christianity."

First of all, we should note that in the way he has constructed his argument, Piper's conclusions about God giving Christianity a "masculine feel" flow from some important claims about the overarching narrative of Scripture--a narrative that he also gives a decidedly "masculine feel." First, he asserts that God has revealed himself "pervasively" in masculine terms, including becoming incarnate in a man.

These points are difficult to contest and I see no reason to do so. Scripture does speak of God almost exclusively in masculine terms. There are a number of important instances where God is revealed in feminine terms, but these places stand out precisely because they are out of the ordinary. Moreover, no one can debate that Jesus Christ was a man. What I find strange about these observations, however, is that Piper does not even try to contextualize these points. There is a fairly obvious reason why the God of the Old and New Testaments is revealed in majority masculine terms: Israelite culture and religion was dominated by men, most if not all of the literate Israelites were men and, as a result, their stories were written in masculine terms. Furthermore, the Son of God became incarnate as a man in the context of a first century Jewish community in Roman controlled Palestine. To have becomes incarnate in a woman would have been ludicrous, to put it baldly. No woman could have garnered the kind of authority and following that Jesus did, as a man. Within the Israelite faith, males were the "public," establishment spiritual leaders. Certainly, there were important female leaders (and such instances, I think, point to the fullest intention of God that men and women share leadership in God's Kingdom), but these were abnormal in the Israelite narrative. As a result, even apart from theological reasons why the Son of God would be incarnate in a man, there are good cultural and historical reasons that must come into play, as well. Once some context is provided for Piper's masculine characterization of the Israelite narrative, one realizes that he is moving from description of the situation to prescription without any justification for the latter.

Second, Piper suggests that there is some significance in the fact that God named humankind as a whole "man" (=adam) before differentiating "man" into male and female. This statement is rather strange, even if true based upon a bare reading of the text in Genesis 1. What exactly is Piper getting at? Because humanity is called "man" prior to being differentiated into male and female, "man" is somehow the standard for humankind as a whole? Is Piper suggesting that man is the paragon for what is human and woman is human only in a derivative way? Nevertheless, this point has no bearing whatsoever on the supposed masculinity of Christianity. Yet again, Piper doesn't take into consideration the cultural reasons why adam would be the foundational name for humankind. (Nor does he seem aware of just how counter-cultural the Genesis 1 creation narrative is in light of ancient near eastern views of women. He seems to be arguing for a solidification of male normativity for humankind from a narrative that is, in my view, designed to subvert such a notion!)

Third, Piper observes that the Hebrew priesthood was reserved for men, Jesus chose twelve men to be his apostles, and the apostles taught a standard of male-only leadership for the churches. Again, I don't contest the first two points. But, even so, Piper seems to entirely overlook the presence of notable female leaders and prophets in the Israelite narrative (i.e., Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Judith), as well as "the Women" that were known to be close associates and supporters of Christ's ministry (not to mention Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles). Furthermore, the case for "male-only" restrictions in early church leadership is not even close to "open-and-shut," as Piper assumes. Doubtless, he would explain away the notable women of the early church whose importance is revealed in Scripture, even if we have to read the New Testament very closely to find it. (Of course, being at a Desiring God Pastors Conference, there is little doubt that Piper can assume he is surrounded by pastors who are already convinced on this matter, so there's no real need for him to argue this point.) But, the women are there. And, there are many reputable, orthodox scholars who strongly contest the "masculine" picture he is painting of the early church.

Nevertheless, why am I belaboring these points? These issues are not Piper's central claim, of course. And, he has argued for these points in more detail in other locations. They are "old news" for those familiar with Piper's brand of patriarchy. But, I think it is important to recognize that while he suggests through his rhetoric that these premises naturally lead to his conclusion--that God intends Christianity to be "masculine"--the truth is that the logic does not follow. Piper is drawing conclusions that do not follow from his premises. Even if he is right about all of the above points, even if it is God's ordained purpose for all male leadership in the churches and male headship in the home, it does not thereby follow that God intends for masculinity to be the "feel" or overall "tone" of the Church's ministry and mission. In fact, to be perfectly frank, I find this claim so spurious that it borders on laughable.

Why this claim is so laughable and how it is, in itself, based upon highly problematic notions of "masculinity" will be the subject of my next post. Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Bride of Christ should be... Masculine?

I hope to post something in-depth about this later, but until then, here's a gem of an article about John Piper's recent claim that the church of Christ should have a decidedly "masculine feel." Really? I'm not sure where to begin in explaining why this is bad theology... Until I'm ready to say something more, feel free to read the article and leave your comments.

P.S. The titles that I restrained myself from using for this post included, "John Piper suggests sex change for Bride of Christ" and "John Piper says Bride of Christ should be mannish." Sometimes, I crack myself up...