John Piper and Women Who Teach

John Piper and Women Who Teach April 6, 2013

Please take 3 minutes to watch this video of an interview with John Piper:

There are a few concerns I have concerning this concerning video.

First, an observation: acknowledging this is all in the context of male bantering, still… does John Piper seem to think guys only think or talk about sex? When the interviewer asked him, “I’m a guy…” Piper admits, “I thought is was going to be about sex!” It then takes Piper some time to “retrain” his mind. He forgets what the question was and appears to struggle to get his mind on the track of the interviewer’s question. This is what happens to guys: we always think about sex. And when we don’t, we have to retrain our minds to think about something else.

I’m a guy. I don’t always think about sex. When I think about sex, which is more often than I have it, I really do think about it. However, I think about a lot more other things throughout the day that are very important to me like theology, philosophy, art, humor, freedom and equality. Especially equality for the marginalized. But when I hear or say the words, “I’m a guy…” that doesn’t necessarily mean what follows is about sex. But to Piper it seems to. So even though the interviewer, as far as we can tell, wasn’t thinking about sex, John Piper thought he was because that’s what Piper thinks guys think about and what they talk about when they’re hanging out with other guys.

But this interviewer, strangely enough, wasn’t thinking about sex. He was thinking about gender. He was thinking about women who speak. Should he listen to them? Should he listen to Beth Mooore? Now that’s something Piper has an answer to. His final answer, at the end of the video, is , “No, it’s not wrong. But it could become wrong.”

So let’s look at those two parts.

First, it’s not wrong to listen to a woman. What does Piper mean? From the rest of the interview we can gather that he means that a man can listen to a woman speak. He can listen to a woman share something or show something. He can even allow a woman to provoke him about being radically obedient. He gives that women can be competent and can think and therefore a man can learn from a woman. He wants to learn from his wife. He’s happy to learn from Beth Moore. In the seventies he loved listening to Elisabeth Elliot. She’s his kind of lady. He could learn heaps from her.

Now for the second part, that it could become wrong to listen to a woman. What does Piper mean? He has a lot more to say about this. He says that it is wrong to “become dependent upon her as your shepherd, your pastor”. That’s the crucial point for Piper. It’s okay to listen to a woman, but only “occasional women speaking in Sunday school” where she might want to “share” something or “show” something. Show and tell. Sunday morning church is wrong. It is wrong for a woman to have “teaching authority” over a man. It is wrong for a woman to “assume an authoritative, teaching role in your life”. It’s also wrong to get into a relationship of “listening or attending a church… where she’s now my pastor, my shepherd, my authority…”

Piper’s reasons that it is wrong to listen to a woman are biblical, experiential and psychological. That means that he believes the bible says that a woman should not have teaching authority over a man. It is “unhealthy”. His experience has proven this to be true. Perhaps he believes the church’s experience has proven this to be true. He also believes that a psychological dynamic occurs when this happens that compromises the womanhood of a woman and the manhood of a a man.

I find Piper’s phraseology curious: “when a woman begins over time to assume and authoritative role…” But I claim that you should allow no one to assume authority over your lives. That is not the spirit of Christ’s teachings. I would certainly resist a woman who assumes authority over me. And I just as certainly would resist a man who assumes authority over me as well. If we are to abide by the spirit of Christ’s words, authority should not be assumed in the church. Rather, it ought to be recognized and given, whether it’s to a man or a woman.

Is it okay for a woman to have teaching authority over a woman? If so, then there’s something odd about his position that I can’t understand. Piper says a man can learn from a woman but he never says a woman can teach a man. Is this his theological position? Woman can show and tell and only occasionally. But they can’t teach. It’s obvious he believes the only carriers of authoritative teaching are men and all authoritative teaching is only from men. The form of authoritative teaching is men and the only authoritative content is from men. So if a woman is sharing with women, is this inferior to being taught by a man?

Piper’s belief that woman teaching men is unhealthy betrays his own male paradigm and issues that stem from it. Piper is wrong. And just because Rick Warren understands it this way and Beth Moore would comply and millions of people agree doesn’t make it any more right.

What if we took Piper’s three reasons, put them in reverse, and applied them to his own theology? Could Piper have psychological issues with women that in turn create unhealthy emotional responses to women that in turn determine the way he uses scripture to prevent women from teaching men?

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