On Piper’s Masculine Christianity And Marriage

Being out last week, I was only able to tune into some of the uproar over John Piper‘s commentary that God gave Christianity a masculine feel by “pervasively revealing Himself as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother”.

At first glance, Piper’s comments, while somewhat myopic, do contain a nugget of truth in them.  I would argue that the pervasively masculine ideal of God had more to do with the sociological, political, and cultural norms of both the ancient near eastern and 1st Century Jewish cultures more than God wanting to be known as almost exclusively a “He”.

Then I read further into the full text of Piper’s comments to where he was gracious enough to define exactly what he meant by “masculine Christianity”:

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.

It’s the last sentence that I take issue with, his belief that women are to “come alongside the men”.  No matter how he nuances his position and tries to backstroke his way into an “oh, women are valuable, too” out, the last sentence of his definition can really be understood only one way.

Men lead, women follow.

It is a statement to Piper’s view that women are naturally subservient and incapable of taking the lead.

In my house, that sort of view is an invitation to a rumble.  I’m going to look at Piper’s view of subservience from a husband’s viewpoint.

Please, please, please note that there is nothing in the following discourse that would limit female leadership to wives alone.  I am simply taking a singular view of Piper’s commentary.  There are others who have looked at Piper’s commentary through different lenses, and these writers can all be found in the comment section on Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

Let’s look at Jesus’ words in Mark 10:

‘God made them male and female’[b] from the beginning of creation. 7 ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife,[c] 8 and the two are united into one.’[d] Since they are no longer two but one, 9 let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

Now, some will point to these verses as a biblical prohibition against divorce, and they’d be right…. mostly.  There are two other points in this brief discourse that bear emphasis:

1.   The man leaves and joins to his wife.

This puts the man in a subservient position.  He is joining her, which stands in direct contrast to Piper’s assertion that women are to “come alongside” men.

2.   The two are united into one.

When two are united, there is no distinction between the parts.  The two join and create a new whole that is greater than the sum of their parts.  To paraphrase George Lewestheory on Emergence Evolution, ” in the course of evolution, some entirely new properties, such as life and consciousness, appear at certain critical points, usually because of an unpredictable rearrangement of the already existing entities.”

A second scripture typically used to put women in the subservient role, particularly in marriage, is out of Ephesians 5.  This is the famous “wives submit to your husbands” section of Paul’s epistle.

Does Paul say that?  Yes.  Undoubtedly.  However, that’s only half of the story.  The beginning of Paul’s discourse on marriage in this epistle starts with verse 21:

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Paul then goes on to explain, in an early Jewish culture viewpoint, what submission means to each part of the whole.  Typically, those who espouse masculine Christianity will only quote half of the discourse, conveniently leaving out the instructions to husbands.   This is an immense disservice to the lesson Paul is giving the church at Ephesus.

He closes the passage with this:

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[c]32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The implication of this verse is absolutely clear.  The exhortation for husbands to “love his wife as he loves himself” is a biblical call for equality in the marriage dynamic.  If a man treats his wife as subservient to him, he is not loving her as he loves himself because he is putting himself above her.

Calling the marriage dynamic a mystery, as Paul does, is a reference to the Incarnation of Christ.  The joining of two into one is a mystery of divine significance, something that goes far beyond human understanding of the relationship.

In my marriage, there have been times where I have been the strong one, and there have been times where Charlotte has.  There have been times where I have led, and there have been times where she has.

In my opinion, marriage can be depicted visually in a mobius strip.  There is no beginning, no end, no first, no last, just two joined into one without distinction.

As Paul says in Galatians 3, there is no male, no female, all are one in Christ Jesus.


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