Boys will be Boys (Girls will be Girls)

piper booThis was our first week to do our ‘womens roles’ study, and it was really great. We are using two books, each coming at the issue from a different position. This week we started with the more conservative position, a book by John Piper and Wayne Grudem called ‘recovering biblical masculinity’.   These two men have had amazing lives of leadership and ministry for the Church and God’s kingdom, and it was a priviledge to get to read their thoughts on this topic.

Generally the reaction of the group was fairly positive. Some commented that they had expected to disagree more with the book, because they expected it to be more male-centric. But Piper and Grudems position essentially revolves around a male and female essentialism which believes that men and women really will be happier if they take on their respective gender roles.   As they say, “The tendency today is to stress the equality of men and women by minimizing the unique significance of our maleness or femaleness….The consequence…is more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more social awkwardness, and more emotional distress and suicide that come with the loss of God-given identity.”  (33) This view of Piper and Grudems is basically that there are essential roles which people’s gender gives them.  For example, “No woman should have to take the initiative to set a disobediaent child right while her husband sits obliviously by, as though nothing were at stake.”  And although they definitely think that men should ‘man-up’ and take the initiative in many circumstances, from decision making to sexual encounters, they also point out that “The aim of leadership is not to demonstrate the superiority of the leader but to bring out all the stengths of people that will move them forward to the desired goal.” (39)

The theme throughout their writing is that there is an established order of male roles and female roles, which is not ever to be changed: “The redemptive thrust of the Bible does not aim at abolishing headship and submission but at transforming them for their original purposes in the created order.” (65)  As for women who feel that this view constrains them, they say, “God does not intend for women to be squelched or cramped or frustrated.  But neither does he intend for women to do whatever seems to remove these feelings without regard to the appropriateness of the action.”  (47)  They also point out that women are not particularly ‘weaker’ than men in all respects: “women are weaker in someways adn men are weaker in some ways; women are smarter in some ways and men are smarter in some ways’ womena are more easily frightened in some kinds of circumstances and men are more easily frightened in other kinds of circumstances.” (49)

Perhaps one of the strongest challenges in the book is for men to take responsibility.  “Pride and self-pity and fear and laziness and confusion are luring many men into self-protecting, self-exalting cocoons of silence.  And to the degree that this makes room for women to take more leadership it is sometimes even endorsed as a virtue.  But I believe that deep down the men–and the women–know better.”  In a specific challenge they say “that you not fritter away your time on excessive sports and recreation or unimportant hobbies or aimless didling in the garage; but that you redeem the time for Christ and his Kingdom.” (55)  Piper and Grudem are straight and to the point about this, and I think it is great advice– men often neglect to take responsibility to lead in the church.  Even egalitarians who think women should play some role in church leadership should agree that men need to take responsibility and not fritter their lives away on frivilous pursuits!  This is a challenge though to both men and women.  

Piper and Grudem are clear about the gender roles of marriage, church positions, and career.

Piper and Grudem are clear about the gender roles of marriage:  “…in a well-ordered Biblical marriage both husband and wife acknowledge in principle that, if necessary in some disagreement, the husband will accept the burden of making the final choice.” (40)

They believe these gender roles also prohibit women from being leaders in church as elders or pastors: “The same is true of god’s design for the leadership of the church.  The realities of headship and submission in marriage have their counterparts in the church.” (53)   And again, “The Biblical connection between family and church strongly suggest that the headship of the husband at home leads naturally to the primary leadership of spiritual men in the church.” (61)

They also hold that women and men have particular responsibilities for the household regarding their work activities: “The point of this genseis text is not to define limits of what else the man and the woman might do.  But it does suggest that any role reversal at these basic levels of childcare and breadwinning labor will be contrary to the original intention of God, and contrary to the way he made us as male and female for our ordained roles.  Supporting the family is primarily the responsibility of the husband.  Caring for the children is primarily the responsibility of the wife….Again I stress that the point here is not to dictate the details of any particular pattern of labor in the home.  The point is that mature manhood senses a benevolent responsibility before God to be the primary provider for his family” (43)

So at home, at church, and with regard to career, Piper and Grudem hold the conservative complimentarian view that the Bible says that gender dictates what one should do. 

Piper and Grudem of course don’t think Paul prohibited women from teaching, but they do see it as a prohibition for women to be sole teachers of men in church assemblies or one on one, specifically because women aren’t to have authority over men but are to submit to their authority. (70)  This gets a little interesting in the work-world where they seem to think that women having male secretaries is against God’s order (45).  They also say its OK for a woman to write books instructing men, but not to teach: “Nor would we say that what a woman writes in books and articles cannot be spoken audibly. The issue for us is whether she should function as part of the primary teaching leadership (=eldership) in a fellowship of women and men.  We have not, of course, ruled out either small or worldwide ministries of teaching other women.  Neither have we ruled out occasional lectureships and periodic addresses (as distinct from recognized Bible teaching in the church) in which women address men as well as women…” (85)  This is interesting to me– women can write books for men to read, but just not teach them directly, due to the order God ordained.  Women are allowed to prophecy in church, and to pray, but not to teach or preach.  My first thought was, what if a woman preached in a style much more like the pentecostal preachers, which is in many ways often more prophecy than bible instruction?  (just a thought)

One problem I personally have with Piper and Grudems analysis is that they make so many gender-generalizations.  I know I am kind of a freak guy (especially living in Nebraska– the cornhusker state) since I am not interested at all in video games or sports.  (My niece Marta constantly tells me that I should not assume that most guys think like I do because I am a freak! (I love you marta! :)))  But I tend to see people as individuals and think of some people as being smart, others as not, some as weak, others as not.  There are some women I would rather have watching my back in an alley fight than some guys– I wouldn’t choose simply based on gender (men protect, women nurture).   In short, one’s gender is one of many things I consider when making a judgment about someones abilities, and I am hesitant to make many assumptions based merely on gender.  Piper and Grudems books simply strikes me as gender-centric in an awkward sort of way. 

Another problem I personally have with Piper and Grudem is that it seems aimed at  unisex androginous feminism– one which claims that there are no non-social real differences between men and women.  But that form of feminism is largely discredited– in feminist circles.  Rather, what we have today is a view that women ARE different than men– and that they have abilities men to not– which are quite useful in leadership, among other things.  Women managers manage differently than men in many cases, but this difference is often seen as a strength, not a weakness.  Just as a board may benefit from the difference of perspective of minorities, so it may prosper from the benefit of women.  So contemporary feminism would not argue that men and women are the same, but rather, that they are different, and that those differences can be advantages for the woman.  Piper and Grudem would of course say that there are differences as well, but they argue for a biblical mandate for the specific hierarchical roles of gender.   The other book we are reading is for the egalitarian position (in contrast to Piper’s complimentarian position) but that book is called “Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy” which is interesting because from that title they acknowledge that men and women compliment each other with their differences.  But this egalitarian view holds that women can compliment men in leadership as co-leaders, for example, with their unique perspectives and abilities.  So sometimes when piper and grudem are criticizing this ‘christian feminism’ which trys to anhilate all differences between men and women, it seems to be a bit of a straw man/woman.

I do also not agree that men have to be the primary breadwinners.  I just don’t see enough clear guidance from Scripture to make such claims.  Of course they must not be lazy, but stay at home dads who care for the kids while CEO mom is at work is hardly lazy, unless we say that stay at home moms are lazy…

Finally, I sometimes find myself thinking this about their view regarding the cultural-specificity of some of Paul’s teachings: On their view of what is cultural and what is not– they say that when Paul is prohibiting women from braided hair or jewelry that we should read that culturally and realize the real point is that women should be modest.  (74)  This is my problem personally (I am just trying to be honest, not particularly critical): I have a hard time seeing how, if you allow such a model of interpretation, that you couldn’t also go on to say that so long as culture is not offended by women having a larger role in the church — than they did 2000 years ago in a world where women had few if any rights whatsoever– that its OK for women to hold those types of positions if they are in fact good at leading.  I mean, if the women-should-not-talk-or-lead is cultural, then of course I would want the best leaders and not exclude someone based on their gender (or pick a guy who is a rotten leader merely because he is a guy, and so pass over much better women leaders).  In our culture, most are not offended by braided hair or jewelry, and most are not offended by women teaching men.  But if there are some who are offended by jewelry, or braids, or women teaching, then let them not allow it in their own fellowship circle.  But why impose this limit on the world at large due to one’s own uncomfortableness?  I realize that this question assumes that braided hair, jewelry and women’s roles in the church are similarly cultural.  But that is the real debate here I think– what is cultural and what is not– and I am not yet able to see with clarity and conviction Piper and Grudem’s point of view from Scripture.  But fortunately, we have a few more weeks to get more scriptural explanations for their position as we continue…may God have mercy on us all. 

Please feel free to respond with any of your own thoughts.  Please realize people on both sides of this debate will be reading this, and its best to speak with kindness and gentleness, especially when you have strong opinions.  We want to have ongoing discussion here, not to have discussion stoppers 🙂

–Andy Gustafson (PS: I do not speak for all of Simple Free, just for myself.  We have a variety of opinions on this issue in our fellowship)

PSPS: Why this topic interests me:

I got interested in the ways which evangelical women think of themselves and their possibilities when I was teaching at Bethel in Minnesota.  Two of our strongest departments were Philosophy and Physics, yet these departments had the fewest women.  When we would ask women if they would consider being a philosophy major (becaue they were doing so well in the philosophy classes) their response was usually that they were women, so they didn’t think they could do that.  They hadn’t seen women Christian philosophers, and didn’t know women could/would do such a thing. Some even said that they felt like their family and church had sort of told them that teaching philosophy was not for women.   This made me start to think about what women are told they can and cant do.  It also made me act, and I helped some female students start BUFF: Bethel University Feminist Forum (we debated over labeling it feminist, but eventually decided to, more for effect and the added benefit of the cool acronym)  Here is the old site:  My goal was to help break down stereotypes so that women wouldn’t feel that they needed to be either teachers, nurses or social workers– there are other options.   I wonder how many of our ideas about these things have to do with never having seen otherwise sometimes…like my students who had never met an evangelical woman philosophy professor. (Bethel now has two)

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12 responses to “Boys will be Boys (Girls will be Girls)

  1. I am egal and used to be non-egal, so make sure you study both sides in the words of each side, not just reading what the other side says about them.

  2. simplefreechurch

    Don, next week we look into Pierce and Groothuis’ book DIscovering Biblical Equality, which is basically an egalitarian reader, so the reading group won’t just be reading complimentarian (non-egal) positions. Do you have any suggestions for good further reading? I know that CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) has a lot of resources on the web: Thanks for your post! –Andy Gustafson

  3. I am a member of CBE.

    2 other egal books I recommend highly are:

    1. Why Not Women? by Cunningham and Hamilton

    2. Familiar “Leadership” Heresies Uncovered by Fleming

    Both are at Amazon and CBE bookstore. I agree the 2nd has a somewhat strange title, but the contents are very good.

    For the most part I combine these (with DBE) and add a pinch of my own stuff when I teach this area. There is also an entire book on 1 verse, Junia being an apostle and how this has been mistranslated in various ways.

  4. Celeste Harvey

    Sounds like the discussion has been good so far! Andy, I really resonated with your question about Piper and Grudem’s interpretation of “providing for the family”=breadwinning/wage-labor=men and “caring for the family”=childcare/housework=women. The way masculinity and femininity get played out in Western culture, these things have tended to go together, but I think it is really worth asking about how biblical this dichotomy is.

    It doesn’t sound like this has been a problem, but when I last read Piper, I remember feeling like it was male-centric in this way (please tell me if I just got the wrong sense of things): Piper has lots of stuff to say about men/the male role. But he doesn’t tend to have very much to say about women. On every point, he will discuss women’s appropriate action/relation, but just by quantity of written material, men get the lion’s share of attention. I tended to feel like he had a robust account of men’s roles, but his position on women could generally be summed up by: “And women’s place is to be supportive and helpful in this area.” That phrase gets cached out in more specifics at points, but generally that’s it. Would you say that that’s correct? Has anyone else noticed a discrepancy in the amount of attention given to each of the genders?

  5. simplefreechurch

    Celeste, your view about piper’s attention to women was interesting. He did spend the first chapter outlining masculinity in 15 pages, then femininity in 7 pages (46-51) but usually the woman’s role is described in terms of her relation to the man, but to be fair, the man’s role is often described in relation to the woman as well.

    Insofar as Piper’s view is that a woman is a helpmate to a man, and that he sees this as an essential truth of their relationship starting with the man being created first, there is in that sense at least a primacy of the male. I mean, there is no way to get around Piper and Grudems general support for traditional role-stereotype norms: “If, in the course of the day, a woman in the law firm calls a meeting of the attorneys, and thus takes that kind of initiative, there are still ways that a man, coming to that meeting, can express his manhood through culturally appropriate courtesies shown to the women in the firm. He may open the door; he may offer his chair; he may speak in a voice that is gentler.” And this sort of behavior will strike some women as delightful, and other women as demeaning and patronizing. Is it male-centric? Well, the males are the one’s setting the standards of appropriateness, initiating, and in some sense controlling the situation. Again, this may be delightful to some women. But not to all. And I don’t know that the women who are not delighted by this sort of thing are necessarily unbiblical, unnatural, or out of line…again, in various cultures, respect is shown in different ways. But Piper and Grudem’s essentialist gender perspective seems to expect universal timeless relational boundaries and behaviors between men and women, from their reading of the Bible. -Andy

  6. “Insofar as Piper’s view is that a woman is a helpmate to a man, and that he sees this as an essential truth of their relationship starting with the man being created first, there is in that sense at least a primacy of the male.”

    Piper and Grudem base this view on an incorrect interpretation of Gen. 2

    “18 And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” ”

    The point is that it is not good to be alone. God always had plans to create two, male and female. But obviously God saw that it was necessary for them to understand something about aloneness that He didn’t think they would understand without some help. His statement was that the creation of the woman would help the man’s aloneness. The word ezer is a strong word used only about 21 times, always of God’s help and military help. Thus by using that word God is saying that the woman is a strong rescuing type of help. By using kenegdo (fr. neged I believe) God is saying that the woman is equal and complementary to the man.

    Those who tend to read the Bible NOT IN a contextual thorough reading usually miss this type of obviousness. It is my opinion that most of Grudem’s and Pipers theology about the ‘place’ of women under men is from taking many Scriptures out of their contextual relationship.

  7. I am really impressed, SimpleFree, at the way you are carefully studying both sides of this issue. May I suggest, as far as the “why’s” of egalitarian scripture interpretation, that you read “The Blue Parakeet” by Scot McKnight? (although he prefers to call his position “mutualism”). The book is a fast, fun, good read, and respectful to both sides of the argument.

  8. You might find this Blog Conference helpful. They are just wrapping up a discussion about Women In Ministry. Egalitarians and Complementarians have contributed, which has led to some interesting insights and questions from posters. I appreciate the fact that the discussion has been civil and respectful even though there are two opposing views presented.

  9. simplefreechurch

    Kristen– I just went and ordered Blue Parakeet, so thanks. Terri, thanks for pointing us to that blog conference! And TL, your website and group look great, and thanks for your take on ‘help’ in Genesis 2.

  10. You are welcome, simplefree. 🙂

    I’ve also been following the blog conference. Great discussion there. Some are very worthy of printing out and keeping for future reference.

  11. I too believe that there is a strong cultural context within which the restrictions on speaking and teaching were given based on gender. I think this was a time when women were less educated on the scriptures on which this new Gospel was based. So, I do find myself in a more egalitarian position regarding gender. But I would like to offer two points I don’t see here (humbly, as I have NOT read the book).

    First – I think that accepting our place, wherever God places us is a strong tenet in scripture, enforced in several ways. We must accept our place in society, in the family, in a political state and of course in the church. This is true for men and women. Men are also instructed to accept their place of submission to elders. When a person of either gender chooses for themselves a role apart from Gods ordination, we can find ourselves off course.

    Second – I have encountered people who genuinely believe that it is sinful for women to teach or lead (based on their literal reading of scripture). While I disagree, I also take instruction from the cultural example Paul uses of eating meat sacrificed to idols. I may believe that I’m within God’s grace, but putting another in a position of facing sin is also wrong. So, I would choose to bow to that conviction until their heart is changed, if it is.

  12. Good stuff! Thanks for posting, Andy. I like your thoughts. I appreciate the referencing of the Genesis 2 “help.” I’d heard the same thing in a message recently. I love when people can shed light into the context of a certain Scripture message. Thanks.

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