That Complementarian Non-Negotiable

That Complementarian Non-Negotiable August 17, 2015

Recently John Piper was asked this question, which provoked a summary of his view of complementarian relationships in the home:

Beth writes in, “Hi Pastor John! I’m a woman who enjoys being a woman. I have no desire to be a man, or to compete to be better than men at being masculine. For a couple of years now, I have felt drawn to police work as a vocation. I am unmarried and, should I become married and my husband object, I would discontinue work as a police officer. At this point my question is a question of principle: Can a single Christian woman, who is a complementarian, become a police officer?”

Piper has written on this time and time again, and always returns to his husband is leader and wife is … well, follower but here is how he frames it in his response:

At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. The postman won’t relate to the lady at the door the way a husband will, but he will be a man. At the heart of mature womanhood is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships. 

So here is one possible set of criteria that I have tried to develop over the years in assessing which roles are appropriate for men and women and which aren’t. It seems to me that all the acts of influence, guidance, or leadership between men and women can be described along two continuums. And I will mention these and then show how they apply.

There is a continuum from very personal influence, very eye-to-eye, close personal influence, to non-personal influence. And the other continuum is very directive — commands and forcefulness — directive influence to very non-directive influence. And here is my conviction. To the degree that a woman’s influence over a man, guidance of a man, leadership of a man, is personal and a directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order. To an extent, a woman’s leadership or influence may be personal and non-directive or directive and non-personal, but I don’t think we should push the limits. I don’t think those would necessarily push the limits of what is appropriate. That is my general paradigm of guidance.

Notice the terms he uses for a husband’s role: “benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women.” And a woman’s role: “a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men.” This is the complementarian non-negotiable: it’s about roles and it’s about hierarchy and it’s about males being leaders and women being submissive. 

Now read the only book in the entire Bible about relationships of man and woman, The Song of Solomon, which received but passing mention in Piper’s book on marriage, and show me these non-negotiable concerns. The Song teaches a playful game of love, and mutual chasing, and mutual responding. The household regulations do not instruct husbands to lead but to sacrifice themselves for the good of a wife. In fact, many today contend the household regulations turn Roman hierarchies upside down. I agree.

From Piper’s non-negotiable about the husband’s role as one of leading and guiding and providing for the wife (all good things) he then approaches the issue of a women being police. Unfortunately, John Piper far too often turns the man-woman relationship into the role of leader-follower and scales it on a map of hierarchy rather than mapping it all on the scales of love and mutual sacrifice for the good of the other. Beginning with the second leads to radically different perspectives on issues like what women “can” do in society. So, when Piper ends up talking about non-personal and personal influence and directions I think he’s gotten himself into a corner of his own making (the leader-follower perspective) and is turning in circles.

The place to go for this one is probably straight to Deborah. Game over. She, if I may be anachronistic, hired and fired the cops, she armed them and disarmed them, and she taught them the way of power. Deborah was a woman.

Once one begins where the NT household regulations begin, with the radical revolution of Roman hierarchies, one sees that it is not about who has authority or hierarchy but about giftedness, about how that woman can best serve her community with the gifts God has given her. It’s not about whether your status and honor will be preserved but about whether your status and honor will be surrendered for the good of the other.

(By the way, some Anabaptists have debated this one about police over whether or not it is ever appropriate for the Christian to be police or even more whether it is ever right to wear a gun and use it with violent force.)

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