Apparently John Piper has, in a recent address delivered at a pastors conference, added his voice to Mark Driscoll’s in advocating a more “masculine Christianity.” Driscoll, of course, created his latest storm of controversy in an interview with British radio host Justin Brierley a few weeks back, when he said, among other things, that there were no good Bible teachers in the UK, and that the reason that churches were struggling was because they were led by women. The implication was that if churches across the pond would just “man up” and start letting men lead, and stop wallowing in effeminate religion, the “results” (i.e., more churches that look like Driscoll’s ) would come. An interesting theory, to be sure—a little light on context and cultural awareness, and, well, reason, but there you go. Muscular, manly Christianity is, apparently, the cure for what ails the church.
John Piper was singing a similar, if less belligerent, tune in his recent address:
“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother,” Piper said. “The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male…God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”
“Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel,” Piper continued.“And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female… He does not intend for women to languish or be frustrated or in any way suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy in this masculine Christianity. From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel.”
The commentary on Driscoll, Piper, and “masculine Christianity” has been pouring out around the internet, and I was initially disinclined to add my voice to the din. But I was intrigued by Rachel Held Evans’ challenge to male bloggers to respond to this most recent push for a more “masculine” Christianity. So, here goes.
My response is not profound or new. It is probably not even particularly insightful. It does not rely on creative and interesting exegesis of biblical texts nor does it offer unique historical perspective on the role of women in the first century. It does not even lean on Jesus’ treatment of women and the questions this ought to cause us to ask. I freely admit that the books of the Bible were written in a patriarchal time, that patriarchy is not hard to find in Scripture, and even that it isn’t particularly difficult to use the Bible to justify maintaining archaic views of women and the roles they are though to be “able” to play (people have been doing it more or less unproblematically for centuries, after all). Rather, my response here is drawn from my own personal experience.
There are two elements to my response. First, I have, quite simply, rarely fit the Driscoll/Piper stereotype of what a man is or should be. I am not, and have never been, drawn to any of the following: big trucks, fast cars, guns, hunting/fishing trips, boxing/UFC/wrestling, violent video games, or… insert “manly” activity here. I am not a stereotypical “leader”—I do not like power and control and I do not crave being the one to make decisions. I have no burning desire to “take charge” of my family. I could go on. The point is, in advocating “masculine” Christianity, there tends to be only one definition of “masculine” that gets in the door, and this definition simply does not describe many men. I don’t think my lack of interest in the above activities makes me less of a man (or particularly unique, for that matter), just a different kind of man than the one Driscoll and Piper are lionizing. There is more than one way to be “manly,” after all. In promoting a very specific kind of “masculine” Christianity, Driscoll & co. are not merely insulting/marginalizing women, but a lot of men, too.
Second, and more importantly, it is simply a fact that I have benefited profoundly from women in positions of leadership. I have heard brilliant sermons, sat in deeply provocative and insightful lectures, and been in awe of the spiritual, moral, and intellectual breadth and depth of some incredible women. My faith has been nourished and strengthened by competent, sensitive, thoughtful, and kind women occupying positions of leadership. I am married to a woman whose leadership skills far outweigh my own. These are facts (and, again, not particularly unique ones). It seems to me that those saying that Christianity should only have male leaders are rather limited in their options when presented with stories like this. Am I lying? Sinning? Are the benefits I have gained from the strong leadership of women due only to a shortage of more (innately) qualified men around? How could something that is fundamentally wrong, and which goes against the grain of God’s design for the world, do such good?
It’s not an airtight argument, I know. No argument from experience alone is or could be. But it’s also not incidental or irrelevant. Human experience is one of the ways in which God’s voice is heard, I think. This is simply my experience as a man, and as a follower of Jesus.
And what my experience tells me is that we don’t need a more masculine Christianity. We’ve had plenty of that throughout history, and the results are hardly shining. What we need is a more human Christianity—one that honours the extent and variety of ways in which God has seen fit to reflect his image to the world.