Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Should women teach in seminaries?

Recently, John Piper took an utterly unsurprising position on women teaching in seminaries:
Funny to see the shocked reaction, as if he doesn't have a mile long paper trail on these issues. Here was the funniest reaction I've seen:

As if the Patriarchy is a white Western invention. As if non-white, traditional Third-World cultures are egalitarian and non-heteronormative.
On this issue I agree with Piper in some respects, but not in others. Before getting to the main point, I'll make some ancillary observations:
i) I don't think it's coincidental that Piper is an older generation Southerner. I expect his complementarianism is largely a continuation of a traditional Southern chivalric code. I don't say that as a criticism.
ii) He somewhat overstates the purpose of seminaries. Although they basically exist to train pastors, they offer MAR degrees as well as MDiv degrees.
iii) Although he bases his position on a complementarian reading of 1 Tim 2:12, he doesn't seem to object to women wielding authority over men in principle or women teaching men in principle. He doesn't seem to object to female professors at a Christian college. Rather, his argument is geared to the nature of pastoral formation.
iv) I agree with him on complementarianism.
v) I agree with him that it's ad hoc to say women can teach men to teach parishioners, but women can't teach parishioners directly.
vi) He oversimplifies pastoral ministry. A pastor of a small church does everything. By contrast, megachurches have compartmentalized ministries. Due to the size of the congregation, the ratio of pastor to parishioner, and the financial resources of a megachurch, what one man must do singlehandedly when pastoring a small church gets delegated to several different ministers at a megachurch.
That complicates his complementarianism. Take visitation ministry or a woman's Bible study.
vii) Does Piper think it's permissible for a pastor to read a commentary by Karen Jobes, but not to attend a class by Karen Jobes? If so, what's the essential difference?
viii) A good pastor doesn't necessarily have the same skill set as a good seminary prof, or vice versa. Seminary professors can outstanding scholars or thinkers, but abysmal communicators. Likewise, great scholars and thinkers may be sorely deficient in social skills.
ix) Now I'd like to get to the main point. I disagree with Piper's position on this particular issue. The rationale Piper gives for his position is unwittingly at odds with complementarian anthropology. Sophisticated complementarians aren't voluntarists. They don't think Biblical gender roles are arbitrary social constructs. Rather, they think these mirror stereotypical physical and psychological differences between men and women.
Yet Piper unintentionally acts as if these roles are interchangeable. He thinks that if male seminarians view male seminary profs. as pastoral role models, and if you put a woman in the same slot, then male seminarians will view women as pastoral role models.
Which ironically assumes that men relate to women the same way they relate to men when women occupy the same social role or institutional position. But I find that highly dubious and contrary to complementarian anthropology.
In my observation, men measure themselves by other men while women measure themselves by other women. Men don't measure themselves by women and women don't measure themselves by men. The psychological dynamic between men and women is different even when the social roles or institutional positions are artificially the same.
That's one reason we defend heterosexual marriage. Mothers can't take the place of fathers while fathers can't take the place of mothers. Kids need both. One person can't successfully play both roles.
The father/son dynamic, mother/son dynamic, father/daughter dynamic, mother/daughter dynamic, brother/brother dynamic, brother/sister dynamic, and sister/sister dynamic are all different.
Suppose the military put a woman in charge of a Navy SEAL team. Would the male members of that team relate to her the same way they relate to a male comrade just because she was given the same position? Are you kidding me?
Another example is the difference between male and female hymnodists. Male hymnodists have a different sensibility than female hymnodists.
I think it's wholly unrealistic to suppose that if a normal man has a female seminary professor, he will view her the same way he'd view a male seminary professor, as though male-on-male psychology is transferable to male-on-female psychology. This is not to deny that men can look up to women, and women can look up to men–but it doesn't mean they're consciously or subconsciously thinking that a member of the opposite sex embodies what they aspire to be like. That's just not how human nature is wired. Women are not an example of how to be a man. Men are not an example of how to be a woman.
There are, of course, some generic virtues they can share in common. Some Christian women exhibit perseverance in adversity or even moral heroism. We can admire that in members of either sex. But by the same token, that's not a lay/clerical distinction.


  1. Back some time ago on Facebook a FB friend who was outraged by Piper claimed that there are actually seminaries and/or Bible colleges where they are not allowed to use books written by women in Bible classes. I asked her to name the schools, and she didn't do so. I assume couldn't do so. She got rather huffy and said that, if women at Cedarville aren't permitted to teach theology classes, it's "the same thing as" the school's not permitting the use of female-written books in such classes. Now I (like you) would disagree with Cedarville's ban on women teaching theology classes, though I get a kind of piquant enjoyment out of their attempt to put "feet" onto complementarianism and the egalitarians' freakout.

    Anyway, all of that just leading up to the question: Does anyone know of any real seminaries or Bible colleges that aren't just hole-in-the-wall places no one has heard of at which books written by women are banned from Bible or theology classes as textbooks?

    (The whole thing is kind of interesting. I suppose I can think of *some* classes in a seminary that would be more mentor-like for the pastorate and hence problematic for women to teach. And then there's the idea that when a Protestant is ordained, hands are presumably laid on him by, inter alia, some of his mentor seminary profs., and there I would tend to balk at women's ceremonially ordaining men for the ministry.)

  2. What concerns me is that the reaction by Rachel Held Evans did not reflect her understanding of Biblical content. Hers was an ad hominem attack, it seems to me, not a Biblically informed contribution to the discussion.

    1. Since when would one expect a biblically informed contribution from Rachel Held Evans? :-)

    2. Are we surprised? This, surely, is standard procedure.

  3. “vii) Does Piper think it's permissible for a pastor to read a commentary by Karen Jobes, but not to attend a class by Karen Jobes? If so, what's the essential difference?”

    He might not go for it. But there is a difference regarding the woman. If Karen teaches a class in which men attend, she knowingly and willingly teaches men. The same can’t be said about a woman writing a book that a man might read.

  4. I don't know if this is a sad note or just an observation as to where the interests and proclivities of women lie: in many, many theological fields, but especially exegetics and systematics, seminary classes will involve no women authors due to the sheer paucity of options.

    One can look through myriads of seminary catalogs--even from liberal seminaries--and most of the women listed as faculty will teach either some aspect of practical theology or of feminist (or quasi-feminist) theology.

    I remember going through the contributors list for the Anchor Bible Dictionary...a very long and wide-ranging list. Critical and Evangelical scholars; Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian. It's an eminently inclusive compendium of elite scholars, but when I counted, only around 8% were women!

    Maybe so few commentaries by women has to do with palpable bias, particularly in Evangelical and Fundamentalist circles. But in my experiential world, I cannot stick up all the fingers on one hand, counting the women who would be the least bit interested in writing one.