Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Is There a Place for John Piper Near a Microphone?

The answer: No!

Now to offer explanation. John Piper recently wrote a piece, "Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary?" where he answered a laboriously argued, painfully toxic, "No."

His basic argument: He believes in complementarianism. Church and home life from this supposedly biblical perspective is gendered. Women lead the home. Men lead the church. And church leadership should be made up of a team of "spiritual, humble, and biblical men."

He then argues that it simply isn't fitting for women to train men for a role that is primarily for men. Basically, this is the exemplar argument... that we need to see exemplified in the person training us that which we are being trained for.

So only football coaches can train future football coaches. Only dads can teach their sons how to be men. Only near-sighted people can teach near-sighted people how to wear glasses.


This is, admittedly, a widespread argument in the church. It's why Roman Catholics only have male priests, because they believe the priest stands in persona Christi in the parish as an example of Christ. And since Christ was male, so priests should be male.

There are many problems with this argument. For one, it's not readily apparent why you couldn't apply some other category as a requirement for pastoral or priestly ministry. Like, that since Jesus was a human being, only human beings can be pastors. No cats.

And in a society and time where we have discovered the great benefits of egalitarianism, and also exposed the problems of patriarchy, arguments like John Piper's (made, of course, by a man) come across not only as retrograde, but also as harmful and toxic.

Such statements from a widely read and revered theologian will undermine the call of faithful women throughout our culture. It disrespects the amazing teaching of female scholars in seminaries across the country, and disregards the reality that many of our greatest models of faithfulness as pastors are women.

The post is embarrassing because it so clearly elevates a dogmatic construct, complementarianism, and places enforcement of that dubious construct as the highest value. Instead of honoring the call of his many female colleagues, he feels it necessary to defend his toxic thesis. Then calls that biblical.

I call it a failure of love.

By contrast, a more faithful approach to women in the church is hosted by many denominations, including our own. I highly commend to all readers the draft social statement of the ELCA on Women and Justice. Patriarchy and sexism prevent abundant life for all. Complementarianism participates in such sexism, inasmuch as it enforces, for one, just two gender categories, without any recognition of fluidity both in gender identity and gender roles, and also because it denies the freedom offered in Christ to the whole church, the whole people of God.

This will be silly, but no more silly than complementarianism. If we take Jesus as our example, and if we think the exemplar path is the path to follow... then remember Jesus never talked on a microphone. Humble, spiritual, biblical men like John Piper should follow Jesus' example, and step away from the microphone. They might take some time to listen to the many faithful women leaders in the wider church, and discover how powerfully those women inspire all people, women, men, and more, to take up the mission of working for God's coming kin-dom. Even leading it.

Is there a place for John Piper near a microphone?

Absolutely not. Step away, John, step away.


  1. Of course Jesus never blogged either and his only written word was in the sand...

    1. Exactly. Thus illustrating the problematic of arguing that leadership in the church has to literally conform to the essential characteristics and practices of Jesus, like his gender, or his access to technology.