John Piper has done it again. I am by and large a Piper fan. He is who he is because he is so willing to walk out on planks blindfolded and Popeye like, with an ” I yam what I yam”, say what he means and mean what he says. His latest address at his pastor’s conference on Bishop JC Ryle as a model of masculine Christianity has stirred some feathers.
Piper doesn’t just sit back and wait for adversaries to come to him. He walks right into their camp, Clint Eastwood like, and gives it the ole “make my day” and “well, do you, punk?” And nothing is guaranteed to stir it up like gender roles in church, particularly his commitment to a male-only ordained ministry. Piper has the church’s great tradition on his side. His opponents act as if he is Attila the Hun on this. That shows you how fragmented and out of touch much of the Protestant church is. One might disagree with Piper, but he is not speaking for a minority opinion or for a position the greats of the Christian faith were careless about. His book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, is unanswerable. The best argument marshaled against it is that the ordination of women is a trajectory of the biblical teaching on men and women both being made in the image of God and that there is in Christ neither male or female. That’s it. If you are going to argue your case from the Bible that is all you have. Oh, and Deborah in the Old Testament and Junia in the New Testament. These are apparently sufficient supports for some. Not many would claim these are serious exegetical arguments, if exegesis is to really count.
But I don’t think he helped his case by using the ministry of JC Ryle as a platform. There is too much stereotyping and too much assumption and “reading in” to sustain the position based on Christian biography, particularly when JC Ryle himself did not seem to be aware that this was much to be made of in his life.
Here is a thoughtful response that challenges Piper. I thought it was well done. It includes a reflection on CT Studd, who is one of my heroes in the faith.
Protestants are a minority position in the great family of Christianity, and Evangelical Protestants even a smaller minority. Of 7 billion people on planet earth, 2 1/2 billion are professing Christians. 1.2 billion are Roman Catholics, .8 billion are Orthodox and about 700 million are Protestants of all kinds. Evangelicals are a subset of this 700 million. I don’t think the trajectory toward evangelical feminism is a major issue within the faith traditions. But the Evangelical culture of equality and democracy, both of which I affirm as good things, does make demands of Evangelicals that are not made of the other more hierarchical traditions. So we have to work it through again and again.
Protestantism in America has by and large made up its mind. Women are to be ordained as pastors in the church. This is not only true of mainline denominations but also those denominations rooted in the holiness and pentecostal movements that rolled out of the late 19th century. While some point to the weakness of the mainline as proof that their view of women in ministry is lacking, others can point to the growing strength of the pentecostal and charismatic movements as evidence to the contrary. Southern Baptists, independent baptists, many smaller and more ethnically rooted evangelical denominations, and conservative Reformed churches continue in the tradition.
I think this issue will be settled in the marketplace of ideas. It won’t be a matter of who is right and who is wrong but who is buying. Recently I came across a foundation that will provide funds to churches who choose a woman as a senior pastor. One can only imagine the number of small struggling churches that will see in this a way out of their financial turmoil.
And so it goes!!!