what John Piper sees when women teach

what John Piper sees when women teach April 27, 2013
what john piper sees when women teach cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“What John Piper Sees When Women Teach” by David Hayward

A few weeks ago I did a cartoon and commentary called Too Bad Women Teachers Have Bodies. I also wrote a post called John Piper and Women Who Teach in which I critique an interview of Piper. My cartoon and post make reference to his ideas about the offensive presence of women’s bodies in the teaching role.

I like the way Rachel Held Evans puts it:

“Piper is essentially arguing that so long as he does not have to acknowledge my humanity, so long as I keep a safe distance so he is unaware of the pitch of my voice and the presence of my breasts, he can, perhaps, learn something about the Bible from me.”

For Piper, it is important how a man feels when a woman is teaching. I listened to this short podcast asking Piper if he would use bible commentaries written by women. His response is if a man “feels like she is gaining authority over him, then it’s wrong and should stop.” Piper is concerned about what is happening when “an active authority is being exerted on a man from a woman”. There’s something that changes when it’s personal “woman on man” directly and personally face to face. He says, “When I am directly pressed upon by this woman in an authoritative way… should I be experiencing that? And my answer is no… That is contrary to the way God made us”. He uses the analogy of a drill sergeant who gets in your face:

“‘Hut one! Hut two! Keep your mouth shut private! Get your rifle up here! Turn around like I said!’ I don’t think a woman ought to be doing that to a man because it’s direct, it’s forceful, it’s authoritative, it compromising something about the way a man and a woman were designed by God to relate.”

When asked if it’s okay to quote from a woman’s bible commentary during a sermon, he says it’s okay to quote her because…

“… I’m not having a direct, authoritative confrontation… she’s not looking at me and confronting me and authoritatively directing me as ‘woman’. There’s this interposition of this phenomenon called ‘book’ and writing that puts her out of my sight and in a sense takes away the dimension of her female personhood. Whereas if she were standing right in front of me and teaching me as my shepherd week in and week out, I could not make that separation…”

Obviously, Piper has an issue with women’s bodies. Some might argue that his statements are being taken out of context and he’s being targeted for making a few careless assertions. But I disagree. These ideas are deeply influenced by his theology which can be read or watched, for example, in his sermon, “The Frank and Manly Mr. Ryle,The Value of a Masculine Ministry, where he blatantly says,

“God made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.”

I like how Rachel Pietka writes about it in her Christianity Today article, “Hey John Piper, Is My Femininity Showing?”:

“Specifically, women would do well to consider Piper’s ethos. What kind of person fixates so intently on women’s bodies and insists on their removal from his sight? What kind of person recommends subservience in women, dominance in men, and so quickly equates authority with force? What does his implied affinity with an era that notoriously oppressed women say about his character?”

(Tomorrow on The Lasting Supper we are having a Potluck Hangout called “Can I Be Feminist and Spiritual?”. Right on course with this topic! You are invited to join the community and participate if you want.)

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  • Pat

    What’s ludicrous is that the woman who writes a commentary may be acknowledged as an authority given her study and research on the topic at hand. Yet, because of the paper of the book, that puts distance between him and her so any authority she may have on the topic is removed by virtue of that. It’s just such convoluted thinking. I almost prefer for people like this just to say, “Hey, I don’t believe in women in authority” and just leave it at that. The more he tries to explain and justify it, the worse it gets.

  • > … his ideas about the offensive presence of women’s bodies in the teaching role.

    That’s AFAIK a subject to a psychotherapy, not theology.

  • roseyaire

    I shun labels of all kinds but am identified by others as a feminist, so often people will ask me if I think God is a man or a woman. I’ve always replied “God is male, female, neither, both and More.” I would find anyone who got in my face with the bible and acted authoritatively over me to be offensive. It wouldn’t matter if the person was male, female, black, white, etc. It would turn me off to religion and the bible and I would flee from them. What upsets me about these woman-hating male leaders is that they will turn people, mainly woman, off to God and spirituality. It is important to separate God from these false teachers. That’s why I left organized religion all together – it was taking me away from God, and I couldn’t have that. An interesting question I would ask Mr. Piper is: if you had a stroke or a heart attack and the ER doctor was a woman, would you deny treatment? You would be vulnerable, and the doctor would certainly have authority over you and your body and might even, God forbid, be pressing up against you in some fashion. Would you rather she just let you die?

  • Ciera

    If the church and Christianity is meant to be “masculine”….y are we called the “bride” of Christ? Perhaps he’s gay after all?

  • Al Cruise

    At our service we go by what gifts do you have. If you have the gift of teaching, it is God speaking through you, male or female is irrelevant. When you allow gifts to be used, the fruits are amazing. People move from darkness to light, I have seen happen it many times. I for one will to continue to encourage people to use their gifts , you know that gift is true when you see lives being moved closer to God by it. That’s proof.

  • Amen, Al.

    Good thoughts.

  • Jake

    Piper’s biggest problem (the source of his wrong view of women) is that he reads the Bible wrong – He sees it as a drill Sargent, demanding something from him. I see it more as the Divine Romance, offering grace and love. Fix the perspective and the issue is totally gone.

  • I’m no particular friend of Piper or of Margaret Thatcher, but on the occasion of her funeral Diane Francis wrote a piece on feminism which makes interesting points. One thing I find rings true is the comparative study of how women’s accomplishments are perceived and judged. In one study someone’s work was assessed and the willingness to work under that person. If the name given was “Howard”, he was perceived positively and people were willing to work for him; but if the name given was “Heidi”, the willingness changed. It just seems ineradicable and innate, and yet, some of the most powerful people in the world right now are women, Christine Lagarde and Angela Merkel. Diane Francis, herself, seems to be doing pretty well, too.


  • I agree with what you say. However, “The Frank and Manly Mr Ryle” would have been an excellent title for a Steampunk-themed webcomic.

  • Gun Nordström

    Piper’s problem is that he has mindsets about women. We don´t need mindsets at all. If I have mindsets I am not free to handle anything without “deeming beforehand”. If we are brought up by dominating parents we will be dominating our own children unless we have got the insight what parenting in love and freedom is. Together with the children we have to take time to explore and investigate and inquire so they can get their own answers. You may just outline and put into words different issues but the penetration, the learning must be on their part. Freedom to find out for themself is necessary. Then they can get real insight in anything and insight is without autority. It cannot happen if we are offering them opinions, statements, dogmas etc. If a pastor or anyone else knows what insight is, then they are never more afraid of authority as proper learning has no authority.

  • Arthur Frymyer, Jr.

    One of the root causes (not the main tap root, but a root nonetheless) of keeping women out of teaching and ministry roles in the church is a misunderstanding of the word “usurp” used in 1 Timothy 2:12. “…. nor to usurp authority over the man…”
    Here is what the word “usurp” means, from Dictionary.com.
    1) to seize and hold (a position, office, power, etc.) by force or without legal right: The pretender tried to usurp the throne.
    2) to use without authority or right; employ wrongfully: The magazine usurped copyrighted material.
    Notice what is being said here: The woman shall not seize and hold authority by force over a man. Well duh! Of course that would not be a holy thing, regardless of the genders involved. When a woman is appointed to be the Sunday-school teacher, she has not seized power by force. She is not teaching without authority. So the usurping thing is really a red herring when we speak of having female teachers in our churches.
    As for the first part of that same verse, “I do not permit a woman to teach” I have no idea. All I can say is that Truth is a progressive revelation. Just as we no longer have a code for the proper treatment of slaves, even though it’s laid out specifically in the Bible, so we no longer adhere to other archaic thinking and traditions. Truth marches on. The Light never stands still. Keep up with the Light that is ever moving, or be left in the darkness where the Light used to be.

  • Graham

    The clarifications of Scripture, and other comments, are very interesting. Stereotyping is a significant issue for most men, and equality just doesn’t fit in their thinking, ( let alone their talking or actions ).
    If I were to live up to my experiences as a child, I wouldn’t have a woman doing anything in a church or a classroom because what I saw then was out of control aggression and bullying. I thank God I got over that, very quickly!

  • Hi David,
    This quote : “When I am directly pressed upon by this woman in an authoritative way…”

    by Piper just begs for a cartoon, doesn’t it..at least I’m getting a visual lol

  • BT

    Jake makes the keenest observation. Read with a redemptive trajectory in mind, the problem isn’t a problem. If you read the bible as God’s Final Word to mankind (which it is in a certain sense), you end up where Piper is. If you read it as God’s way forward into a new way of living, loving, and grace – something that leaves room for imagining a world in a constant state of being redeemed – then you end up somewhere entirely new and better.

  • rumitoid

    Authoritatively is only in, through and by grace and the Holy Spirit, not by gender. Piper has to mean he is threatened by a woman being authoritarian, having power and influence over him, which in Piper’s case seems an obsession and, as pointed out, something for therpy and not theology. The power is not in the person but in surrendering to God; and power is not over another but the love of God working through a person for our ultimate well-being.

  • Genesis

    A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 1 Timothy 2:11-2 🙂

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    That is a great comic. I think Piper is becoming a parody of himself.

  • klhayes

    How does Piper interact with women on a daily basis baffles me…and that fact that he sexualizes women in authority suggests other issues. All these extremists seem to have these issues. And he can read a book written by a woman or a woman’s Bible b/c he can “take away the dimension of female personhood.” How offensive! Maybe it’s the feminine aspect that is important to the formation of that thought or idea.

  • All of the greatest teachers I ever had were …. sorry mr. piper … they were women. they had authority… I didn’t care, nobody in the classes cared about their gender. It is 2013 not 70 AD and women are much more educated than they were in 70AD. He should take a class in contextual interpretation i think haha

  • Caryn LeMur

    David: on this What Piper Sees cartoon, I see 15 comments on top, but only 3 comments 5 reactions down here. Then, I can only see the three comments of Terry Mingus, Klhayes and DonaldByronJohnson. Something is odd with trying to follow this site on “DISQUS” which was Ptheos??? I have Registered with Disqus, and even reset the password to no avail. Help???

  • Caryn LeMur

    I see that my comment caused a Naked Pastor requires verification message… and then, it said my message was awaiting moderation. New stuff?

  • Sylvia Kirkendoll

    Piper’s reasoning is essentially “women should be restricted to accommodate my limitations.” So, in his world being male is a handicap that needs accommodation under the ADA (in the US, at any rate) to ensure fragile egos aren’t bruised by anyone of the wrong biological configuration. It’s a peculiar type of blindness afflicting creatures of special delicacy. I love Mad Men as TV fiction based on past social norms, but as theology and current policy it stinks.

  • Actually, Pipers reasoning follows the same line as Driscoll’s. They probably read somewhere that says when the father of the home is a Christian or goes to church, the the rest of the family goes to church or the children tend to end up being Christians. Although this is a valuable sociological observation, it fails to recognize that the sole reason a father goes to church is because the couple have a healthy relationship. The observation could be explained by acknowledging espousal reciprocity rather than parental authority. IMO this is what happens when the sacraments take a back stage to the celebrity minded, opinion based approach to the bible that is endemic in evangelicalism, especially Calvinists.

  • J. Bell

    Piper is an example of an entrenched flaw in western
    society that is utterly carnal, secular and absolutely not in keeping with
    Kingdom of God culture. Notions of “power over” dynamics, hierarchical
    thinking, authoritarianism, success meaning “winning” over
    someone else who is a “loser”, more money and more power and more authority is
    more successful … everything that causes so much trouble in a capitalist,
    patriarchal mindset. These are totally carnal paradigms and exactly what Jesus
    meant when he said, “NOT SO AMONG YOU”. Troubling to see Piper et al take the
    imbalance and foolishness of western capitalist thought and dare to warp
    Christianity to make it fit their privilege, bias and deception. The church is
    NOT meant to “be masculine” and when it is, it becomes abusive, controlling,
    legalistic and fundamentalist. That is what we see when the masculine dominates
    the feminine and the feminine is silenced and suppressed. What the church is
    meant to be, Piper et al, is a mutually honouring balance of the masculine and
    the feminine, in harmony and unity, together, thus reflecting the nature of God.
    They are insulting the very identity of God by asserting
    masculine over the feminine. Too much male privilege for way too long has warped
    them. The more deceived they become, the more extreme they become … what does
    this remind us of???

  • Tiro Lynn

    I suspect that Piper and the Grudem clan who teach this stuff may have psychological problems with women. Perhaps, their mother or father was dominating. In Piper’s case, I have suspected that he is afraid of women in some way and holding authority over them keeps him safe from his own insecurities and his own imbalances.

  • Guest

    @ tiro
    Every man, and woman, senses that a woman in a public authoritative setting demands a different attention or distraction than a man would in that same setting. Distractions are not psychological problems, insecurities or imbalances.

  • pamelaeskridge

    Male or female, the problem here is the lack of submission to or belief in the Bible. A study of the Bible reveals that what John Piper says is true. If you do not believe the Bible as the infallible and authoritative Word of God, why read Piper, as his whole belief system is based on it?

  • pamelaeskridge

    Every man, and woman, senses that a woman in a public authoritative setting demands a different attention or distraction than a man would in that same setting. Distractions are not psychological problems, insecurities or imbalances.

  • tiro

    Piper’s teaching is about more than a man being distracted by a woman speaking.