MASCULINE CHRISTIANITY? … Stick That Up Your Piper

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I know its probably wrong but I do get a certain perverse pleasure when someone intelligent says something really stupid but one recent pronouncement gave me no pleasure just a feeling of annoyance. At the moment the resurgent Calvinist movement in the States is making a concerted effort not just to spread its 5 point Calvinism but also its very particular view of male headship. John Piper has recently added his weight to this effort to, in their view, role back the feminisation of the church. At a recent conference Piper said

“God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.”

You would get the impression from that statement that Christianity is a testosterone fuelled faith with a macho ethos. There is no doubt that when it comes to metaphors for ministry in the New Testament there are many male metaphors. I also wouldn’t dispute that there has been perhaps an overpowering “feminine” feel in many congregations which have intimidated some men. However I do think, as I inferred before, that Piper’s statement that Christianity is to have an exclusively “masculine feel.” It is frankly wrong, and for someone who claims to be an accomplished biblical scholar and theologian, stupid to make such a claim. I can make no claim to be a biblical scholar but even I know that the New Testament is far more balanced than the current crop of Reformed preachers are admitting when it comes to talking about gender and the church and its ministry. We see this both in the Gospels and the NT letters, so its embedded in the New Testament.

Jesus himself explains his ministry through a feminine, motherly image

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Luke 13:34

I find it fascinating and significant that Jesus uses the tenderness and the bravery of a mother hen gathering and protecting her brood as a sort of parable of his own ministry. Its a decidedly feminine metaphor and one which Piper doesn’t even pay lip service to. Surely if it had been Jesus’ intention to create a movement with a “masculine feel” he wouldn’t have used this particular metaphor to explain the overall purpose of his ministry? What I mean by this, is that this metaphor is not a minor one but one which Jesus’ use seems to show that it was central to his own self understanding. To miss this motherly metaphor from any description of Jesus understanding of his own ministry would be to do it a major disservice and yet it seems to me that is exactly what Piper does. If Jesus is at all determinative for how we understand Christianity then it cannot have an exclusively masculine feel to it.

Its not just in relation to Jesus that Piper seems to ignore evidence contrary to his masculine Christianity theory. On several occasions the Apostle Paul picks up the motherly metaphor Jesus had used and uses it to describe his understanding of Christian ministry, though this time Paul uses a human mother as his model for ministry. Perhaps the clearest example of this is in 1 Thessalonians 2

6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

John Stott, a mildly calvinistic preacher from this side of the Atlantic, commented on this verse

It is a lovely thing that a man as tough and masculine as the Apostle Paul should have used this feminine metaphor. Some Christian leaders become both self centred and autocratic. The more their authority is challenged, the more they assert it. We all need to cultivate more, in our pastoral ministry, of the gentleness, love and self-sacrifice of a mother

I think Stott is suggesting something very important here. Given the context I think we can conclude that Paul is combatting a more “macho” style of leadership which he clearly sees as being out of kilter with leadership within the Body of Christ. My problem with Piper and his friends is that by promoting their idea of this “masculine ministry” and ignoring the very significant feminine metaphors for ministry within the NT they are in fact in danger, if not in fact actually creating, the very kind of macho leadership Paul felt compelled to use this motherly metaphor to counteract.

I couldn’t agree with Scot McKnight more when he says What I will add is that if Paul’s understanding is that an important aspect of ministry is “mother like” that rules out inferring that its an exclusively “masculine ministry” in ethos as Piper infers.

So what do I think of an exclusively “masculine christianity and ministry”? Stick it up your Piper! Seriously, it seems to me that both Jesus and Paul’s use of feminine metaphors to describe their
ministries suggests that they both valued the contribution that women make to creating the ethos of the church. I am committed to making sure that Mosaic Edinburgh does too.

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