But I am not surprised.
John Piper has been saying it long and loud in a myriad of ways. In his universe, where Christianity is essentially masculine and God has appointed only men to leadership both inside and outside the church, and has appointed women to the joyful task of following, it is only logical that women should not be seminary professors. He clarifies,
"Just to be clear, the issue is not whether women should attend seminary in one of its programs and get the best biblical grounding possible. The issue is whether women should be models, mentors, and teachers for those preparing for a role that is biblically designed for spiritual men."In other words, women can attend seminary, but since seminaries are designed for training men for pastoral ministry, all the professors should be men. He goes on to say,
"If it is unbiblical to have women as pastors, how can it be biblical to have women who function in formal teaching and mentoring capacities to train and fit pastors for the very calling from which the mentors themselves are excluded? I don’t think that works."I appreciate Piper's logical consistency. But is he right? All three of his premises deserve comment.
1. Is Christianity Essentially Masculine?
I can't get away from passages that compare Yahweh to a nursing mother (Isa 45:19) or say that God has given birth (Deut 32:18). Notice how fluidly the prophet moves between masculine and feminine imagery for God in Isaiah 42:13-14. Even Jesus compares himself to a mother hen protecting her chicks (Matt 23:27). These are metaphors, of course, so they don't make God female any more than speaking of him using masculine pronouns makes him male. But even Paul is not above using feminine metaphors for his own ministry! See 1 Thess 2:7. Why, then, must Piper privilege masculine modes of talking about the spiritual life? Are the passages that use feminine imagery for the life of faith somehow less accurate? I think not.
2. Is It Unbiblical to Have Women Pastors?
Gender Roles and the People of God. She deals with all the key passages well. You might also appreciate the autobiographical approach of How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership. For those of you who are getting nervous, consider this: To conclude that women can teach and preach does not necessitate the abandonment of conservative exegesis. I teach at a 95-year-old Canadian institution that has been unabashedly conservative since it's founding, but which has also had women teaching Bible to men since 1923.
3. Should Women Be Seminary Professors?
This question follows closely on the heels of the previous one. If women may serve in church leadership, or at least as teachers, then my answer is yes. Michael Bird has made a good case for why women in seminary need women professors, as role models, as advocates, as encouragers. He has listened well to the women in his circles, and I am grateful. But he left something crucial unsaid:
Men need women as seminary professors, too.
Female students are not the only ones who benefit from having female professors (in seminary or at any level). Male students benefit. Male colleagues benefit. I believe it is critically important for men to hear a women's perspective in the classroom. Having an intelligent woman at the podium calls into question the ill-formed assumptions of students -- both male and female -- who might have thought that anything and everything worth knowing about comes from men. Young male pastors who meet brilliant and articulate women in seminary will be far less likely to overlook them in their churches. They will be far more likely to encourage young women to cultivate their gifts of leadership and invest in education.
Several years ago I watched a powerful documentary that argued this thesis: if we want to break the cycle of poverty, the key is to educate women. In developing nations all over the world, the education of women is a game changer. Educated women make sure their own children -- both sons and daughters -- know how to read. Sons of educated mothers don't fall prey to the lie that women are only useful in the kitchen or in the bedroom. The same is true in seminary.
It seems to me that having female professors goes a long way toward breaking a cycle of gender disparity in church leadership. Not only does it model for female students that female leadership is possible (which in itself is critically important), but it models this for men as well.