John Piper's Advice For Women in the Workforce
August 17, 2015
I know that John Piper’s books and sermons have been a tremendous blessing to many in the faith. That is a wonderful truth that I do not want to minimize. But especially because of this, because many Christians look up to him and receive his teaching with much enthusiasm and appreciation, I am concerned about some of his teaching on manhood and womanhood. So many people value Dr. Piper’s wisdom that there is an “Ask Pastor John” program.
Have you heard or read the transcripts of a recent episode, regarding a woman who wrote in asking, “Can a single Christian woman, who is a complementarian, become a police officer?”
When I saw the question, I thought, “Well this should be a short episode. Yes, as long as she can pass all of the education, physical, and background requirements for the job.” But I guess I didn’t realize that there is a biblical manhood and biblical womanhood filter that this question needed to go through. Dr. Piper lays out his definitions:
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.
I find these definitions troublesome. Some of the words used here to describe mature manhood sound an awful lot like the Hebrew word ezer, or as we know it helper, that describes Eve in Gen. 2:18, and in verses like Ps. 20:1-2, 33:20 and 121:2, describes God’s provision and protection for Israel.
As far as the postman goes, I am at a total loss. Are we referring to the obvious, ontological fact that he is a man, or to something in his behavior that makes him a manly postman at the door? And if I am a woman opening the door, am I to be affirming this manliness in some sort of way?
And I suppose this definition of mature womanhood exposes me as terribly childish. I do not think it is my purpose as a woman to be constantly seeking affirming, receiving, and nurturing strength and leadership from worthy men. I am married to one man. I affirm that Scripture teaches that my husband has the responsibility of headship in our home. Even then, I take the ezer with the kenegdo. I should be a suitable strength matched for him, discerning if his leadership is of the Lord. I also affirm that only certain men are called to ordination in the church as pastors and elders. Those are special leadership positions that I affirm as a result of the goodness and authority of God, who is the authority of us all. Isn’t this what a complementarian believes?
I’m sure that Dr. Piper would agree that both men and women are made in the image of God and therefore share in their primary calling to glorify God, although I would say and enjoy him forever, where he would say by enjoying him forever. I don’t think these definitions for manhood and womanhood are helpful when it comes to living out our vocations as men and women. In fact, I think they can cause harm as we serve together in our vocations under the cultural mandate.
Dr. Piper says that it is unwise to make a list of jobs that would be okay for a woman or a man to work, but offers two principles that he has written a book to fully unpack. He continues answering this question by offering these two principles as a guide for this woman and everyone listening:
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. And you can see how flexible it is and how imprecise it is. So let me give some examples.
I am glad that he articulated that this is his own conviction, rather than saying flat out that this is what Scripture teaches. I find it very confusing. When are we pushing the personal versus directive limits? This kind of teaching has always made me uncomfortable with my own female body. My very presence is imposing. It has the same neo-gnostic ring that we hear in our culture today, separating the physical from the spiritual. Is the job okay for women if the men can’t see us? His illustration seems to say that:
A woman who is a civil engineer may design a traffic pattern in a city so that she is deciding which streets are one-way and, therefore, she is influencing, indeed controlling, in one sense, all the male drivers all day long. But this influence is so non-personal that it seems to me the feminine masculine dynamic is utterly negligible in this kind of relationship. On the other hand, the husband-and-wife relationship is very personal and, hence, the clear teaching of the New Testament that the man should give leadership in the home and that she give a glad partnership in supporting and helping that leadership come into its own.
On the other hand, some influence is very directive and some is non-directive. For example, a drill sergeant might epitomize directive influence over the privates in the platoon. And it would be hard for me to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant — hut two, right face, left face, keep your mouth shut, private — over men without violating their sense of manhood and her sense of womanhood.
I don’t think that God gives the headship responsibility to the man in a marriage just because it is a personal relationship. I have plenty of personal relationships. And I would even say that I often have both personal and directive influence over my husband, as his suitable helper. Any man who wouldn’t admit that would have to be lying or deceived. But I’m wondering why Dr. Piper is even using this personal distinction when answering a question about a profession? And again, saying it’s okay for a woman to have a controlling position over a man in her vocation in a non-personal format, one that is not eye-to-eye, falls under the same line of thinking on gender that we hear perpetuated in our culture, disconnecting who we are from what we are.
I am having a hard time understanding these guidelines. My influence in the civil sphere has to be non-personal and non-directive? Or I will upset the feminine masculine dynamic? Should we then get rid of women doctors and nurses? I don’t see how one could do that job without being both personal and directive. I'm sure they have many male patients whom they have to tell what to do. And we wouldn't want women in any administrative roles then either. There would be so many jobs that “mature” women would not be able to serve in were they to follow these principles.
I respectfully disagree with John Piper's principles for women. This just isn’t biblical. After we clean up our own vocations that involve women in personal, directive positions, we will need to get rid of the Deborahs and Abigails of the Bible. Women are warriors too. And it does not violate a mature man’s sense of manhood when they do their job well.