Christianity began in a patrilineal society. This influenced the language and concepts that became “biblical”. But does that make Christianity inherently masculine in nature?
I haven’t heard the audio of the recent talk given by John Piper where he claims that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” But I have seen quite a few people talking about it. All that I have available to me are these excerpts (from “John Piper: God Gave Christianity a ‘Masculine Feel'”) to which I would like to respond:
“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother.”
Is it a coincidence that the powerful rulers in the ancient Near East has been men? If God is to depict himself as the most powerful ruler it makes sense to communicate this through imagery understood by the audience. That said, Scripture doesn’t avoid depicting God as having motherly qualities, some examples including Genesis 1.27 where the image of God is male and female, God as mother-bear in Hosea 13.8, a woman in labor in Isaiah 42.14, a comforting mother in Isaiah 66.13, and I am sure there are others. In other words, yes, God is depicted as masculine more than feminine, but that he is depicted as feminine at all invalidates Piper’s argument. If God was gendered in any significant way there would be no reason to describe particular traits of God using prototypical feminine characteristics of the audience culture. When God is depicted in male language it is the same idea.
“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.”
Again, fathers were considered the head of homes in the biblical world. It was thought that the man’s seed was what brought forth the “begotting”. Likewise, most Kings and their heirs were male. Piper’s point about Genesis 1.27 makes little sense to me since all that passage is saying is that God created “human” and he created “human” with the genders male and female.
“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 twelve 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.”
God appoints male priest in a patrilineal society. Surprise? Also, it seems that many pagan temples often used women in an overly sexualized way. In other words, it doesn’t mean it is God’s ideal, per se. God had no trouble with female nation leaders like Deborah who was a prophetess (Judges 4.4) and Huldah who according to 2 Kings 22.15-20 speaks with authority on behalf of Israel’s God to Israel’s King! The story is told in 2 Chronicles 34.23-28.
The apostles are a reconstruction of the twelve tribes of Israel. The males chosen are significant because of this reconstruction and likely because of the intimate nature of their time with Jesus. Even then, Jesus has female disciples whom he taught and commission, who were present to receive the Spirit at Pentecost, and who could even be apostles (e.g. Junia in Romans 16.7).
Other offices were available to women as well in the church like Philips prophetess daughters and those women given permitted to use their prophetic gifts in 1 Corinthians 11.
While Piper may ignore the debates over the nature of Paul’s statements regarding male headship (I’m a bit surprised when this is argued so matter-of-factly when the same hermeneutic can be used to justify the master-slave relationship and has been used this way), this doesn’t mean his interpretation (and all of his friends at CBMW) isn’t full of problems both exegetically and hermeneutically.
“Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female.”
If this is so then there is little we can do. Often I ignore people like Piper, Grudem, and Driscoll. I came into Christianity through Pentecostalism where this is often less of a problem than evangelicalism (though a problem still). As Gordon D. Fee once said in an interview when asked about women as clergy, “It just isn’t an issue for me.” But I know many of my sisters in Christ who feel various calls from the Spirit cannot ignore this type of misguided rhetoric. They must stand for themselves and I stand with them.
I have many close friends who are some form of complimentarian. I disagree with them, but we can be civil (my local church has male elders only). But I disagree when they tell women “You can’t do this because….” Sorry, wrong. If the Spirit which is poured out upon our sons and daughters choses to anoint someone their gender doesn’t stop that. I’ve been in a church where one of the pastors was a woman and I thought she was wonderful in her calling. When she left our church to plant one elsewhere it was sad to see her go. She preached. She prayed. She functioned in the gifts of the Spirit. We lost something when she left.
Christianity is not a man’s religion. It is not a story where men should be in the spotlight while women stand back. While this may have been so in Israel’s past and the church’s, this is not what the prophets foresaw when they said God’s Spirit makes sons and daughters into God’s prophets. At the heart of the Gospel is Paul’s claim that there is neither “male nor female”. While Paul wrestled with the practicality of this, and we have wrestled ever since, it is my starting point, and I hope for people like John Piper it can become their’s as well.