Did God Give Christianity a “Masculine Feel”?

Did God Give Christianity a “Masculine Feel”? October 25, 2022

It’s been ten years since John Piper famously said that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” Despite the passage of time and a clarification by Piper, his statement continues to be a source of discussion and debate. In fact, if my Twitter feed is any indication, Piper’s words are being discussed almost as much today as they were in 2012.

I have to admit that I am among those who are still confused and disappointed by the assertion that Christianity feels masculine. In theory, I should be inclined to agree with Piper. I appreciate his other work. I take a cautiously traditional approach to gender issues. And, well, I’m a man. But I nevertheless find myself wanting to see both the maleness and femaleness of the Christian life given their due.

After all, God describing his people as his bride is a pervasive theme in scripture. Whatever else it means to be a Christian, it clearly involves taking on the feminine role in a spiritual marriage. Moreover, God’s clear from the beginning that both men and women bear his image, reflecting together the fullness of his character. Perhaps that’s why there are many verses that describe God using feminine imagery.

Today, I want to explore each of these ideas in turn. And I want to demonstrate that Christianity is most vibrant when the full range of our maleness and femaleness is brought to expression.

God’s People are His Bride

I’m not the first to point out that the idea of the church as the bride of Christ cuts against the grain of Piper’s “masculine feel” idea. God has clearly revealed in Ephesians 5 that his people take on the role of a wife in relation to Jesus, their spiritual husband. And this isn’t just a one-off analogy.

Rather, the idea that God’s people are his bride is one of the largest literary themes in the Bible. It appears at least as early as Exodus (34:15-16), and stretches all the way to Revelation 19. It’s the subject of entire chapters of scripture (e.g., Ezekiel 16 & 23, Hosea 2). And it’s referenced in countless smaller texts (e.g. Jeremiah 3:1, Mark 8:38, John 3:28-30, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). I’ve written about the beautiful story these passages tell elsewhere. But for now, it suffices to say that God’s people are described using the female imagery of a wife pervasively in scripture.

And the ironic thing is that John Piper is among those who would insist that the femaleness of this imagery means something. While egalitarian interpreters would minimize the role of gender in marriage in texts like Ephesians 5, male headship and female submission are points of emphasis for Piper. His own theological framework supports the idea that God’s people were not given the wifely role in this imagery arbitrarily—rather, it reflects their submission to Christ as their head.

Ultimately, whatever our approach to gender and marriage, it is inescapable that being a Christian (and an Israelite before that) means being described as a bride. Surely, that reality has a thoroughly feminine feel.

Both Men and Women Bear God’s Image

One of the most puzzling aspects of Piper’s original statement was his reference to the Genesis creation narrative as support for his “masculine feel” assertion. Here’s what he said:

“The Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male.”

Surely, the shocking thing about the Genesis account is not that humankind is referred to as “man.” World-historically speaking, the use of male language to describe all of humanity is pretty common. Rather, the shocking thing about this text is that humans are said to bear God’s image and that this image-bearing is applicable to both male and female. Whatever the differences between them, Adam and Eve both reflect the reality of God’s character.

This is, once again, something that John Piper affirms. As a complementarian, indeed as one who helped popularize that term, Piper would argue that the different natures of men and women are intended to complement one another in numerous ways, including coming together to reflect the fullness of God’s image. Indeed, Piper himself has said that “together as male and female they are to image-forth the glory of God.”

Thus, whether we take a complementarian or egalitarian approach to gender, we have biblical evidence that God’s own character is reflected not only in the maleness of our humanity, but also in the femaleness. We bear his image as male and female.

Scripture Sometimes Describes God with Female Imagery

The male plus female nature of humanity as God’s image bearers is further reflected in a handful of scripture passages where God describes himself using female imagery. In Deuteronomy 32, for example, he describes himself as the God who “gave Israel birth.” In Isaiah, he compares himself to a mother who comforts (66:13) and nurses (49:15) her child. And in the gospels, Jesus describes how he has longed to gather the Jews to himself as a mother hen gathers her children under the protection of her wings (e.g., Matthew 23:37).

This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting anything so radical as praying to God as “our mother” or referring to him with female pronouns. But it does confirm that there are aspects of femininity that uniquely reveal things about God’s character and his love for his people. A mother nursing her infant reveals something about God’s love that couldn’t be expressed any other way. And that shouldn’t surprise us—God told us to expect it, from the very opening chapter of scripture.

Ultimately, then, if God is comfortable using this female imagery to describe himself, indeed if he has specifically asserted that both male and female bear his image, it strikes directly against the idea that Christianity is inescapably masculine.


Of course, this short essay doesn’t solve all of the further debates and discussions surrounding this issue. Christians will continue to differ about whether men and women have been given God-ordained roles of headship and submission. And we will continue to debate the significance of the fact that the preponderance of the language used to describe God in scripture is male.

Nevertheless, I hope I’ve demonstrated that even for a complementarian like Piper, the idea that Christianity is essentially masculine should be a bridge too far. Our call to be God’s bride is an essential part of the Christian walk and a dominant theme in scripture. And our call to reflect God’s image, as both male and female, reveals that his character is visible in both the masculine and feminine aspects of our humanity.

In other words, God has given Christianity a beautiful masculine and feminine feel.

Questions or Comments?

Any thoughts about what I’ve said today? Think I went too far? Think I didn’t go far enough? Please leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter. I’d love to engage with you!

Image Credit: Alora Griffiths / Unsplash

Browse Our Archives