Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Piper on 'does Christianity have a feminine feel?'

He didn't answer the question in the same way that I did (below).

Have a listen - from 5:12 to 8:50.

Piper says that a community with a 'strong masculine feel' creates a space that is big and roomy and has space in it for many feminine feels. A man who is prominently masculine can also be appropriately feminine. A woman who is prominently feminine, can also be appropriately masculine. He defines what he means by masculine and feminine.

Masculine = having backbone, being articulate and thoughtful
Feminine = being tender, kind, nurturing, warm, artistic, liking to write.

Trying to work it out... The overall vibe of Christianity (by which I think he means the Christian community) is to be masculine - tough, backbone, powerful, authoritative. "Strong singing primarily led by men, and then a voice from God is heard."

So it's not just about having men in leadership roles, it is about those more 'manly' qualities being on display. It wouldn't be right for an artsy guy to be leading a church in an artsy way. He might be being inappropriately feminine. But maybe if he were to do that more in the background, in an overall context of 'manliness', it would be okay. Is that it?

Piper is winsome and eloquent and I have sympathy for what he is saying, but I don't think his categories of masculinity and femininity are biblical. Am I wrong? Point me to verses.

Piper is advocating more than just that men should occupy leadership roles in church. He may not be after a culture where all men play football, but I think he is saying that that the stereotypical man vibe is to dominate our experience of Christianity.



  1. Cultural stereotype married to false dichotomy.

    When Jesus says this, where does it it sit on the masculine/feminine axis?

    3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
    5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
    6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
    7 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
    8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
    9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God."

    1. Hey Jon,

      I'll accept an argument made in the other thread that when Piper points to things as things commonly associated with manliness that he doesn't have Scriptural warrant for that. But 'cultural stereotype' is a different criticism and I'm not sure that's right. Can you offer me a wide range of examples (not one or two outliers, a broad range) of cultures where being nurturing and gentle is seen as characteristically male rather than female? Or cultures that associate thinking hard about things with women rather than men?

      That is, these associations that Piper is making are hardly unique to 21st century English speaking western cultures. I find them basically constant over the last two thousand years of western thinking throughout some big cultural changes. I don't get the impression that South American, or Asian, or Arabic, or African cultures are strongly different on this point.

      These associations seem a bit more trans-cultural than you're allowing. That doesn't mean they're right, or as it was said, that they should be allowed to inform our theology (that's a different argument) but 'cultural stereotype' is, I think, an overreach.

      Mat 5:3-12 (I wouldn't stop at v9 if I was quoting the beatitudes - the fact that Jesus expands v10 into vv11-12, something he doesn't do with anything before then suggests it's possibly the most important of the set) has nothing to do with the debate.

      It'd be like asking whether 'faith' is masculine or feminine. Or Piper trying to show how your view is wrong by asking whether men can give birth, and when told they can't going directly from that to male headship.

      The beatitudes are only relevant if you think that, among the things they do, they describe the nature of and qualifications for Christian leadership in a more or less exhaustive way such that there's no other factors at work.

    2. More a shot across the bows than overreach I think, although I'm happy to accept the suggestion that I was wrong on the internet.

      If as in this Q&A he says that men can be feminine and women can be masculine, then I'm not really sure what he's talking about any more, since men are masculine and women are feminine by definition. He is clearly thinking about a particular stereotype of masculinity and femininity, even if it's one that is common to a number of cultures, and then when he has to deal with the reality that people don't fit those stereotypes, he shifts the boxes around a bit.

      And he doesn't seem to be talking just about leadership, although he's addressing a pastor's conference, he's talking about Christianity. So my point is, when Jesus describes the types of people who are be blessed, what sort of "feel" does that give you? Within his framework, are these masculine or feminine characteristics? Personally, I don't think they're either, the use of this dichotomy as a framework for analysing behaviour is a blind alley.

  2. I think it would be good for people who are critical of Piper's transcript to listen to the audio.

    I think one of the things that comes across to me is that while Piper seems to be using the language of essential maculinity he seems (to me at least) to be talking about it as more 'the things we associate with masculinity and feminity'. And there's a lot of strongly saying that the best men have the qualities we associate we women and women those of men. So it looks to me like Piper is (as I thought) a lot less essentialist than he comes across on a first read.

    I didn't get this impression that you got, Simone:

    So it's not just about having men in leadership roles, it is about those more 'manly' qualities being on display. It wouldn't be right for an artsy guy to be leading a church in an artsy way. He might be being inappropriately feminine. But maybe if he were to do that more in the background, in an overall context of 'manliness', it would be okay. Is that it?

    I think Piper would be quite fine with an artsy guy leading in an artsy way. I take his point as being, the artsy guy needs to be leading in a secure, strong, male way, and that will free up the whole church, and him, for him to be artsy. He *may* think that, given people's views about artsy guys that it will be a bit harder for the artsy guy to do that, but I don't take him as ruling out artsy guys as leaders. This isn't Driscoll, where my impression is that some of those criticisms would be better placed.

    Watching the video, 'strong male leadership' seems to be almost a synonym for 'secure male leadership'. Which rings true for me. Men don't need to try and be male, or strong. They need to be secure. Get that somehow, and the strength and maleness is automatic. (And it's the same for women. Strong womanly women are secure women.) You don't need to be blokey or a snag, but a good male leadership should create an environment where that spectrum of maleness (and womanliness) can flourish.

    The problem here is that I think it is hard to pin down what 'maleness' is. But it clearly exists. Men's and women's brains are different and the difference complements them. So strong (secure) male leadership (or just drop "leadership" and go with "authority") is, on a complementarian model, good for everyone. But it isn't linked to a subset of maleness - just the blokes, or just the snags.

    That's more how I read him. If you watch the interview in light of his 8 points of male minstry none of those 8 things are blokey, they can be done by artsy guys.

    1. I agree that he seems to be talking about 'things we think of as..' I can't remember if it was him, or one of his co-panelists who made the point about not importing cultural ideas of masculinity on to it. Could have been the young unshaven guy - he made some very good points about how "roles" might be different even in the complimentarian view of husband-responsibility.

  3. I think even if he could get some coherent content for masculine and feminine, he then has to justify applying it strictly to male and female (as scripture in fact does). While there might be some fit, some bias toward masculinity for men and toward femininity for women, if the real categories are masculine and feminine, he would perhaps wrong a woman with a lot to say to her church and a well-developed masculine side with which to press it.
    I am also frustrated that he refers to 'Christianity' when he just means the church experience, and is primarily concerned for the most institutional aspects. I think the reality of masculinity he is talking about is actually male power of violence/dominance - the power to press home things over someone else's will (heavily euphemising it does not help). This power does need to be aligned with and supportive of institutions, but trying to make it their very life is damaging.
    Finally, I feel really concerned about the extent to men are huddling together and verbally reassuring themselves that its alright to be a man in this particular way, against the background of society and in the teeth of normal ideas of justice. What would actually help would be good example. Once you put your values into words, you make a language that channels social power - the actions that might satisfy and support the values can easily be supplanted by saying the words. It smacks of ressentiment, and is not at all masculine.

    1. "What would actually help would be a good example." Interestingly the bulk of his original talk is a tribute to JC Ryle. I actually wondered when I first read it if he was talking at a Ryle centenary or something, but no. I don't know much about Ryle although I've read a tiny amount of his writing, but he was holding him up as the example of the type of manliness he was talking about.

  4. Hey, Andrew this final paragraph:

    Finally, I feel really concerned about the extent to men are huddling together and verbally reassuring themselves that its alright to be a man in this particular way, against the background of society and in the teeth of normal ideas of justice. What would actually help would be good example. Once you put your values into words, you make a language that channels social power - the actions that might satisfy and support the values can easily be supplanted by saying the words. It smacks of ressentiment, and is not at all masculine.

    Isn't as clear to me as I think it needs to be (at least for my comprehension). It looks like you're saying something that you're really concerned about, but I'm not confident I know exactly what that is. Do you mind saying it again in slightly different words?

  5. Sure & uhoh. The main point is just that I think integrating your maleness with social and christian constraints takes some work to learn how to recognize and respond appropriately. I feel doubtful that a list of things in words from John Piper would give me what I needed to add to my repertoire of behaviours, what I call my personality. I think you need to see the other men of your church doing it, and as God does for Jesus, showing you everything about how to do it, and see it work out. Its this last one that is exceptionally rare.
    The points about justice is just pointing out that this headship/submission issue is conspicuously at odds with one of the bigger increases in human freedom in our society in the last fifty years, so this will / should be a particularly loaded problem for men in church.
    The final point is probably just trying to dress up a grumpy 'Enough talk, we need action!' in anthropological words. Its about the deleterious effect of lists of 'values' - they very often substitute for real action on organizational values.
    I hope that's no worse - at least there is more for you to work with.

    1. recognize situations and respond appropriately.
      Seeing it work out is exceptionally rare. Sheesh. Time for bed.

    2. No, that's much better, thanks.

      I'd agree strongly with your first point and (obviously) disagree strongly with your second. I don't think Piper would see what he's saying as sufficient for everyone to walk away and just have it all worked - although it should be sufficient for most guys who are going to be leaders for them to start moving in the right direction. Certainly, this kind of thing tends to be learned more by being in a church that does it, than one that teaches it. In fact teaching it and consistently not doing it will probably ensure you encode the opposite set of values for most people. (With those who see the discrepancy probably leaving for someplace less problematic.)

      As to the justice point, well that's the complementarian/egalitarian debate in redux. We all basically know how the two complaints go by now - us male headship people are encoding injustice at a time when society has made great strides towards freedom. You non-headship people will accept any exegetical or hermeneutical interpretation of the texts that avoids a meaning that has been plain to 2k years of Christian readers, and continues to be plain to any non-Christian who reads those texts.

      Those reciprocal pointing fingers are really important, one or both of us (it's vaguely possible a third option is out there and we're both guilty of what the other sees in us) is guilty of something bad. That's what gives the debate so much heat. But I'm not sure we can settle that in a discussion of Piper's take on Christianity's feminine side.

    3. Thanks Mark. I'm more complementarian than I will have seemed here. I have much more intense collar-proudness about rebuke from women than from men. I found the petulance, rudeness and snide attacks on Simone's integrity pretty hard to respect. I do not want to be led by men if they're going to be like that. I very much agree about the security issue, and I think that there is a parallel to the legalism vs faith tension in the rule-clinginess around these issues. I worry that the complementarians are stuck on law and lack a living confidence. You may never get to secure male leadership if it always has to hang on taking a particular side of a theological dispute.

    4. Andrew,

      I've just caught up on the comments on both this post and the original. I'm wondering who you think launched a snide attack on Simone's integrity?

      I suspect I'm in the crosshairs at this point - and I can assure you that none of my comments were intended as such. I do think, and I'll stand by my comments, that the original post didn't extend Piper the grace and charity that I think we should all be modelling when we read and interact with members of God's family online... but, continuing with the assumption that I'm at the heart of this line, I want it on the record that having known Andrew and Simone for many years, and having worked with them at Clayfield for two, I have the upmost respect for Simone, her gifts, her ministry, and for Andrew and his.

      I also can't find many traces of petulance in any of these threads - except perhaps my response to being told my opinion was less than valid because I'm male...

      If you could point to any concrete examples of snide, petulant attacks on Simone's integrity - rather than on the substance of the post - then I'd gladly retract, if responsible, or join you in calling out such behaviour.

    5. Oh hi Nathan. I thought your 'dumb' comment was a bit rude, but was more bothered by Gordon C hinting that it would be a shame if Simone got rid of Mark's quite good point-by-point defence. (Why would she?) You have a relationship with Simone that supports that kind of ad hominem, so I guess thats fine? I felt that there was one-sidedness in some of the piper-support, that had some wilful blindness to the importance of a complete place for women and hence the issue of Simone's concern, a hasty reflexive small-worldedness that I imagined as petulance. I thought the first concern would be to understand why Simone would be offended - it seemed instead to be to argue that she shouldn't be, because of what he would have meant, had he expressed it aright.

      Also that guy ripping on Piper for 'What's the difference' as a 'scam' was rude, snide and petulant, and attacks Pipers integrity & that was me. If anyone is not at fault in what he says, etc etc.

    6. Hi Andrew,

      The "dumb" comment was, at least in my head, a throwback to a conversation with Simone and Andrew on a similarly unbalanced post of mine last year. Basically, she's produced a post with almost exactly the same tone as a post I wrote that she didn't like (one on music in church). So I responded in kind.

      I think Gordon was hinting that another member of the conversation might withdraw his own comments. Which happened.

      I think the nature of this sort of controversy stirring post is that the responses will be in kind... but I'm pretty sure Simone was going for exactly the response she got. Or she would have produced a piece arguing that assigning any gender identity to Christianity is ridiculous.

      Also - it's not ad hominem to call the post dumb. That's playing the ball. I didn't ever call Simone dumb. I simply thought it might be nicer to Piper to try to understand him charitably, rather than follow the liberal tabloid journalists into indignant condemnation. I thought a more charitable reading might be one that took the context into account, and read the statements with some semblance of Christian charity.

    7. Well, if that's just an in-joke, that's super. It looked pretty ungracious, in a way that a woman saying the same to you probably does not, because to the extent I'm a complementarian, there really is a power difference when it comes to violent or aggressive expressions. In the general case, I don't buy the playing the ball argument if you use a personifying adjective like dumb, instead of something neutral like incorrect.

      I think the problem I described as petulance remains. I think its legitimate to judge those who preach and teach more harshly. For Piper to speak as he did shows that he either:
      - genuinely thinks male is the main sex of interest to God;
      - doesn't think that, but is willing to express that to pastors for their 'edification';
      - doesn't consciously think that, but is sufficiently unconscious of how that will come across to women feel as to be oblivious to the distinction;
      None of those are good. Some serious coping with how problematic these utterances are would have been reassuring that y'all really are complementarians, not just men who like having and using power.

    8. I think there might be *at least* one more option there, Andrew.

      I think Piper thinks that if Christianity calls God by names that are inherently male in our experience (Father, Son) then some of that 'masculine feeling' remains even when we clearly state that when the terms apply to God they don't attribute either maleness or masculinity to God. You can't remove the semantic connotations from the words entirely (hence the feminist complaint). And when you add to that that Christian leadership is purely male (Piper's basic position), that gives Christianity a 'masculine feel'.

      But, if you also think that that is genuinely, truly, good for creating an environment in which both men and women flourish (when, as with everything, it is done in a godly way) then you don't see anything problematic with the statement as it was said. You carefully qualify it to show that the basic focus is about the nature of Christian leadership, and your broader comments are about how that creates the great environment you think that helps establish.

      Piper's complementarian approach has a masculinist element to it, it's not adrogynous. He thinks Christianity's public face - its names for God, and its public leadership, is male. And he thinks that is good for everyone.

      He can be utterly, utterly wrong about that. But, like most of us, he doesn't think men are the only gender of interest to God, doesn't say something he doesn't think for edification purposes, and isn't oblivious. He also doesn't have a moustache that he twirls while saying, "And I wouldn't have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for you meddling kids!".

      I get the frustration with him, people clearly *strongly* disagree with him, even other complementarians. But try and assume that he's competent and godly and ask, "Why would a competent and godly person say this? Why would they think saying it is a good idea?" I think you'd come up with more than those three options you've offered.

      You'd move from him being daft/disingenuous/oblivious to possibly bringing out how different his views are from yours. Like most of us, he's doing things from good motives, he thinks what he's saying is helpful. That's true of almost all heretics and saints - sincerity is no defense. But until you can see why someone thought it was good from their perspective, you haven't understood them.

      As for Gordo's comment - my take is a bit similar to Nathan's. Gordo hangs out on a lot of sites. Some of those (like GetReligion, where I hang out a lot) will delete the comments of someone responding to a person whose comments are deleted as fairness to the person whose comments are no longer there. And that's as legitimate as Simone leaving my comments up. I didn't take it Gordo was accusing Simone of doing something bad (he'd know it is standard practice elsewhere and so it wouldn't be bad if she did) but of indicating a strong preference for it not to happen in this case.

    9. Again, really not sure it's petulance.

      I would draw your attention to this post of Simone's - re the power imbalance thing.

    10. Mark, as Simone commented, if you had said it I would have been more patient - but as you yourself noted at several points 'I wouldn't put it that way myself' (or words to that effect - you wouldn't have said it without enough qualification and definition, certainly). My only complaint really, is that even though you think its the wrong way to put it, you aren't prepared to acknowledge that before moving on to discuss what is right about it. It's like y'all have been asked to do a chore and can't acknowledge that it really needs to be done and need to rationalise why it was entirely right and proper that you ignored the first few requests. There are a family of true sentences around [blank] has a [blank] [blank], but 'christianity has a masculine feel' is not one of them. Change any one word and you can quickly get to a true sentence. Go on, throw Piper under the bus of scripture. You can rehabilitate him afterward.

      Nathan, that's a good point. I think you can argue with someone pretty vigorously and yet maintain real gentleness, and real gentleness would take account of the power differential. 'Dumb' has some aggressive connotations, which I think incompatible with christian gentleness - I can't imagine using it to anyone I care about. I think in the domain of aggression, though, a man's voice carries a very different weight from a woman's - a man has more power.

      I've probably stirred the pot enough, or more than enough, and I've perhaps made enough mountains of molehills (sorry Gordon).

    11. Hi Andrew,

      I think your take on my use of the word dumb is dumb.

      We must move in different circles. I can assure you if I'd meant to be aggressive I'd have used many other pejoratives to describe the post.

      I can't help but think you've applied a tone to the use of the word that simply wasn't there. You seem happy to condemn Piper for saying Christianity has a masculine feel, but you're not prepared to acknowledge that saying Christianity has a feminine feel is equally problematic. Instead, you've praised Simone's post both here and elsewhere.

      As I've said above - I assume Simone's post was tongue in cheek. And I assume you assume the same thing. But there was a modicum of truth to it, as there was in Piper's statement.

      We're always going to describe things with inexact language. If the danger of being pulled apart by some pedants, or uncharitable readers, on the internet prevents people sharing ideas, or trying to inspire action from the pulpit, then I think the world will be a poorer place. Why not just say "it's a shame Piper used the words he did" while trying to understand his point, and why not cut the guy a little bit of slack, rather than mocking him or running some sort of inquisition.

    12. Nathan,

      This is:

      We're always going to describe things with inexact language. If the danger of being pulled apart by some pedants, or uncharitable readers, on the internet prevents people sharing ideas, or trying to inspire action from the pulpit, then I think the world will be a poorer place. Why not just say "it's a shame Piper used the words he did" while trying to understand his point, and why not cut the guy a little bit of slack, rather than mocking him or running some sort of inquisition.

      Should be on a (very very large) T-shirt.

      Andrew - what Nathan said. (I wouldn't even say, "it's a shame Piper used the words he did." - I wouldn't use those words the way Piper has, but I think it's entirely legit. However, that's just a quibble. "what Nathan says" covers it well)

  6. Did you listen to the panel discussion at the conference, Simone? Piper and a couple of others attempt to answer the question, "Does Christianity have a feminine feel?" from a member of the audience. There's some helpful stuff about the difference between culture and biblical definitions of manhood and womanhood; also some good stuff about the appropriateness of godly men displaying what are seen as "feminine" virtues and vice-versa.

    1. Yes. That's what this post is about. I linked to it at the start.

  7. Oops...just realised that...I thought you were linking to the bad! :) Yes, he did answer it from a different perspective to you.

    I liked what he said, but I particularly enjoyed Patrick's take on the question! I loved what he said about "men being hunters, women liking daisies" being a cultural not a biblical perspective.

  8. Here's the quotes I liked from the panel discussion for anyone who's interested:

    Piper: "In a community where there's a secure, strong masculine feel, men are free to be appropriately feminine, and women are freed to be appropriately masculine"

    Loritts: "In order to do what you just said a person has to really know the truth and embrace who they are...then you can improvise"

    Patrick: "'A man is a hunter and a woman likes daisies'...we have bought into that...That's a cultural thing, that's not a Bible thing. We have adopted that and spit that out as masculinity and feminity...Was Paul a masculine guy?...Yes,...but in 1 Thessalonians [he says] 'we were with you like a nursing mother with her children'...We've got to let the Bible inform us not just cultural clues and cues.

  9. Brief comment - about to run off to RE...

    I'm fine with what many of the other guys said. But I think they were actually saying quite different stuff to Piper. Trouble I have with Piper is that I think he has adopted a lot of the cultural stuff and baptised it as biblical masculinity and femininity.

  10. When you get back from RE, have a look at Challies. I'm with him on the discomfort and the agreement with Piper! Not answering your questions necessarily, but interesting.

  11. The thing is, I don't have (many) issues with complementarian theology. I could listen and nod wholeheartedly with the MTC priscilla and aquilla stuff from last week. But I listen to Piper and I want to throw it all away!

    Re. Challies. I don't find a lot of controversy either except with the term 'masculine christianity'. Why use it? It is vague at best, misogynist at worst.

    Families have a man as head, but do they have a masculine feel?