Over a week ago Rachel Held Evans brought to our attention a statement made by John Piper who concluded “that God has given Christianity a masculine feel”. Evans challenged her male audience to write a response to Piper and I wanted to do just that, but I’ve been so busy lately that the best I could do was follow the discussion from a distance.
Some of the blog articles responding to Piper have been well written and/or well argued. Many of them use Galatians 3:28 as their “linch-pin” argument which seems pretty shallow to me, but it’s so common that you just have to shrug your shoulders and move on.
But yesterday another article came to my attention by Christian Piatt written on Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians community blog. From the start the article comes off as being well seasoned and even-handed, but that soon fades. While Piatt makes a few good points here and there, they are overshadowed by arguments that make his arguments against Piper sound temerariously ironic.
Before I go any further let me make one thing crystal clear: I do not agree with John Piper. But in this post I am about to disagree with an influential critic of Piper because I worry that we – the non-Piper-cubs – have ourselves developed a “tribal mannerism”. We want to pat anybody on the back who writes against Piper or Driscoll just for writing against them. I have to say; if that is all it takes to get popular among us then that is dreadfully doleful.
Call it my constant desire for the via media or my tendency to resist being forced with everyone else into either one corner or another, but I’m not going to support nonsense whether it comes from a Piperfied Calvinist or a Red-Letter Lib.
Piatt is responding mostly to Piper’s claims that “God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother. Second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male. God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”
For whatever reason Christian Piatt felt “called” to reply – and debunk – every point John Piper makes above, and this is precisely why I am writing this post. Do we really have to throw out all of the babies when we drain all of the dirty tubs?
Anyhow. I digress.
1) In response to Piper’s observation that God consistently reveals himself as King not Queen, and father not mother, Piatt makes the argument:
“This assumes that humanity had no hand in writing the Bible, no cultural bias, no agenda, and that we simply transcribed what was given to us verbatim. If this is the case why, then, was Jesus compelled to challenge the ancient laws throughout his ministry”.
I don’t think Piper holds to dictation theory, though I could be wrong. But the conclusions Piatt draws causes me to question the competency of his own hermeneutic. Jesus did not – as Piatt’s argument hinges – challenge the ancient laws, rather what he did was challenged how his contemporaries interpreted those laws and at times he reinterpreted those laws in light of himself. So no, Jesus did not set about to correct the fallible cultural biases of the man-written Hebrew Bible.
He goes on in this argument to accuse Piper of “conveniently neglecting” a hermeneutic that respects cultural context “when it serves our (read “his”) own agenda”. This is patently ironic since later on Piatt makes the ridiculous effort to convince us that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was a priest (tell me who again is working with an agenda?). But I’ll get to that.
2) In response to the fact that Jesus came as a man Piatt argues, “Jesus had no easy road in sharing his gospel message. How do we think it would have been received if it had been delivered by a woman in that place and time? That Jesus was male was a cultural necessity.” Again, really? Did Jesus have any issue with going against his culture? Piatt says that Piper’s argument here “does not support the case that God favors testicles over ovaries.” Neither, Piatt, does your argument that Jesus’ penis helped his message spread. It certainly didn’t prevent Jesus from appearing FIRST to women to spread the victorious news of his resurrection! To use Piatt’s own question, “would [that message of his resurrection] have been received if it had been delivered by a woman in that place and time?” And yet, Piatt, God still chose that avenue.
3) Piatt’s response to Piper’s claim that “the Father and Son created man in his image and gave them the name man, the name of the male” is, I think, well put. I agree with Piatt that when God created man and woman in his image, it was because God has both masculine and feminine qualities. However, Piatt goes on to water down the – ironically so – contextual use of the Hebrew word for ADAM in Genesis one, suggesting that it can be translated “red”. “So God created red in His (Red’s) own image, in the image of God He (Red) created the color, red and fe-red(?) He (Red) created them”. The point Piatt is attempting to make – and I agree with him here – is that the Hebrew word for man in this context is more gender-inclusive, human. But he reaches too far to make that point in my opinion.
4) In responding to Piper’s observation that all of the priests in the Old Testament were men, Piatt makes several points. 1) He subtly observed that the “priests (all men) said God told them to do it that way.” This is one of the rubs of the whole argument: God did not actually tell the priests to do it that way, rather the priests schemed a great plan to keep power out of women’s hands by coming up with an elaborate lie about something God said. Yup. 2) He then moves on to tell us about all of the women actively involved in Jesus’ ministry. Who’s disputing that? 3) It is here where Piatt reaches for Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus healed her and she begins to “serve” them or “minister” to them. From that Piatt wants to declare her a vicar? His argument is based on the Hebrew word “Komehr” saying: “The Hebrew word used to describe her is Komehr… it’s interesting to note that the word Komehr can be translated as: priest, deacon, minister, pastor, preacher, parson, vicar, or can be applied to ANY positions of authority within Christianity.” Well, actually komehr does not describe Simon’s mother-in-law, it describes something she did. Big difference. (Actually the word used in Mark is the Greek word diēkonei; from that I think Piatt is trying to guess what Hebrew word Jesus would have used, but I think most scholars believe he spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew.)
Curiously, Piatt admits that, “later on Paul and other church leaders determined that men should be in charge, which is consistent with the culture of the time.” Well, I have to give it to Piatt, most egalitarians are struggling to make Paul like them, whereas Piatt has concluded outright that Paul patently was not.
5) Finally Piatt attempts to debunk the notion that God depicts himself as “he” by reminding us that God is spirit and that the Hebrew word for spirit, Ruah, is a feminine word. But how does that prove anything? The Hebrew word Ruah is also used when talking about the spirit of man. Are all humans actually females on the inside? Some men who have gotten sex changes have said, “on the outside I was a man, but on the inside I was a woman;” should all men get sex changes? Are all men really women on the inside? This argument is tenuous at best. Words are gender specific in other languages. In some instances the same word can be masculine or feminine depending on its conjugation or context. To build an argument for the sex of God based on the gender of a particular word in a particular language is to make a really sad case.
Piatt concludes his post by saying “I could go on”. Well let’s be glad he doesn’t because things weren’t looking too good.
I need to reaffirm that I do not agree with John Piper. But if we can’t do better than what Piatt has done above, we might as well pack in our arguments today and go home. I share certain presuppositions with Piper that I think Piatt does not, particularly a high view of scripture (though not at all in terms of dictation theory). My primary problem with John Piper’s argument is not that he observes that Jesus chose twelve men called disciples and apostles or that God is often depicted in masculine terms or that the priests in the Old Testament were all men or that God created man then women. My problem with Piper’s argument is what he leaves out, that God also metaphorically depicts himself in feminine terms, that Jesus surrounded himself with women and that there were leading women in both the Old Testament and the New. I cannot affirm Piper’s conclusion “that God has given Christianity a masculine feel” (whatever “feel” is supposed to mean in this context) because Piper strategically reaches for only half of the story in order to make that claim.
I like to think – for my own part – that God has given Christianity the “feel” of a new humanity in Christ. Though often we don’t bear that out in our day to day lives.
 I don’t know if Christian Piatt is a theological liberal, but I’m inclined to think that he probably is based on what I’ve read of his. I admit I could be wrong here, so I’m not going to press or pursue that claim.
 This point, by the way, has no bearing on the fact that God is typically depicted in male terms because Jesus said nothing about the subject.