John Piper is not a fringe theologian. He is no Doug Wilson, or Michael Pearl. When I was in college, a roommate had a book by Piper on her dorm room bookshelf. He was our gold standard. As familiar with Piper as I am, though, I didn’t find it at all surprising when he came out, last week, against women teaching in the seminary. Piper argued first that women are not to be pastors, and second that seminary professors hold a mentoring, pastor-like role over the future pastors they teach.
The thing about Piper is that he talks a lot about the importance of female submission in marriage. He speaks about it again and again, and his website is overflowing with guest contributor posts affirming wifely submission. He talks so much about wifely submission that at one point had to clarify that he does actually think that women who are abused should take what’s happening to them the police. Here is how he explained his position:
God himself has put law enforcement officers in place for the protection of the innocent. … A wife’s submission to the authority of civil law, for Christ’s sake, may, therefore, overrule her submission to a husband’s demand that she endure his injuries. This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership.
A wife may tell the authorities that her husband is abusing her and even testify against him in court—but she should do so “in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission other husband” and “with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership.” And yes, you read all that right.
I would have been surprised if Piper had said women could teach in the seminary.
Have a look at this excerpt from Piper’s talk titled The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission:
Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It’s the disposition to follow a husband’s authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership. It is an attitude that says, “I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I am glad when you take responsibility for things and lead with love. I don’t flourish in the relationship when you are passive and I have to make sure the family works.”
The wife is to “follow a husband’s authority” and “yield to his leadership”—in fact, it’s more than that. She’s to have the disposition and inclination to do those things, and an attitude that delights in her husband taking the initiative and leading. Also, what is with this dichotomy between the husband taking the initiative and leading, and the husband being passive? I see this a lot in evangelical circles—they assume that if the husband isn’t leading, the wife is. They can’t wrap their brains around a truly cooperative relationship.
In another piece, Piper poses a question: Who says “let’s” most often?
“I would say that submission means an intelligent, happy, wise support for the leadership of your husband and that means a few key things from him. This simply means you love it when he leads. And by leading — here comes the qualification so you know what you are aiming at — by leading, I don’t mean he makes unilateral decisions without talking to you and caring about what you think. … [W]hat I mean by “his leadership” is that he takes initiative. He says, “Let’s” most often. That is sometimes a little thing I say to a couple. I ask: Who says, “Let’s” most often in this relationship? And if she is the one who has to constantly say: Let’s do this and let’s do this and let’s do this. And he is just as slough off, then that is a problem.”
Piper continually says that women are happier with assertive husbands who say “let’s” and take initiative. That is what women wants, he tells men. They want men who will lead! Really? Piper knows what all women want?
Of course, Piper continually states that submission does not mean women should not try to change their husband’s minds, or influence their decisions. Husbands should listen to their wives, he says, and discuss things with them. Decisions should be made together—except, of course, when the two cannot agree. And when that happens, the husband should always have his way.
[S]ubmission means that in principle, in the rare cases where the two of you, after arguing for days about what should be done, it is a draw — and you haven’t persuaded him and he hasn’t persuaded you — the submissive wife says to the husband: I am going to trust you to do what is right here. And she may disagree with which way he is going. And I think they are very rare. Those situations are probably very rare. But she is going to yield in principle to whatever he says.
And the reason I say “in principle” is because a good husband at that moment might use that privilege to go her way. He may love her. He may want to be gracious to her. He may not want to take that authority here and wield it in a direction she doesn’t want to go because he loves her, and so he may just say: No, we will do it your way. But she has sent the message loud and clear to him: I will not put my foot down and say that you must do it my way. We are going to go your way, and I am going to trust you to do what is right.
I have been married for going on a decade, and it boggles my mind to imagine doing it like this.
When there is a serious disagreement in a marriage, one party is often more invested than the other. In cases of this sort, the less invested party will often say “you decide,” generally after giving full voice to their own thoughts and views on the matter. In other cases one party may be more qualified to decide on a specific issue—they may have more experience. And Piper is right that the one stuck with deciding may well ultimately decide to go the direction preferred by the other partner.
But none of this is about gender.
I’m trying to imagine what it would be like, in my own relationship, to make this about gender. The feeling of an issue being completely out of my hands, not because I chose to let my partner decide this particular issue because he is more invested or more knowledgeable in this area, but because I have ovaries instead of testicles—the very idea of it makes me feel claustrophobic.
With all of his talk about women letting their husbands lead and initiate, having a “spirit of submission,” and acting in a supporting role to their husbands, is it any wonder that Piper is against women teaching future pastors? No. No it is not.
This is not a new problem. The leadership at the church where the AWANA Bible club I attended as a child freaked out when a woman asked to lead the high school group. Women are not to teach men in the church, see—and boys in high school are basically men. I’d be extremely surprised if anyone there was comfortable with women teaching in seminary. It might not be a church, but it still is spiritual instruction and leadership, and in this world those things flow one way—from men to women.
It really is that bad.
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