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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Modes of Communication I

There are some issues that I have wanted to bring up for a long time. They refer specifically to the mode of communication, both the emission and the reception of a message. For example, is the text recorded by voice or in print. Another contrast would be whether a person needed an alternate medium due to being hearing impaired or blind. This discussion of the medium of communication fascinates me.

In another discourse, Peter has started a series of posts on The Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible, in response to a post by Al Mohler who explains his journey from egalitarianism to complementarianism. I thought that I would participate in this discussion by explaining a part of, a few steps, in my own journey from complementarianism to egalitarianism.

Mohler writes,
    there just wasn’t much written in defense of the complementarian position. Egalitarianism reigned in the literature. Thankfully, with the rise of groups like CBMW and the influence of scholarly books by Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Mary Kassian, and so many others, this is no longer the case. The complementarian position is now very well served by a body of scholarly literature, for which we should be thankful.
I have to admit that reading John Piper's Vision of Biblical complementarity provoked the first major intellectual step that I took from a traditional outlook on women in the church towards egalitarianism. (Although that is a term I have only recently used, or seen used about me. I do not declare myself in church, but am the usual quiet parishioner. )

I cannot deal with all that Piper writes, but I would like to highlight a couple of details. Forgive me if this is not exhaustive. Piper writes specifically about men and women in the secular workplace and so this ethic must be intended to apply to me and the working relationships, teamwork and supervisory roles that I have had with male colleagues. (Fortunately those relationships were all essentially uncomplicated and smooth because biblical manhood and womanhood simply did not enter into it.) Piper writes,
    To the degree that a woman's influence over man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man's good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God's created order.
Piper provides many illustrations, a woman should not be a drill sergeant or a baseball umpire, a man should not be a secretary for a woman, and so on. But the principle is this. A woman may direct if it is non-personal, in some way at a distance. A woman may be an architect, for example. And conversely, a woman may be personal, a colleague or supervisor but in that case she is to influence with 'petition' and 'persuasion'. (Actually my administrator would have thrown up his hands in dispair if I had taken this to heart. Although he is a traditional Christian himself, at work, I had better just do my job!)

Then further along in the chapter, Piper provides a list of biblically appropriate ministry roles. It is important to reiterate that Piper does not believe that a woman should lead or minister to an adult male.

So it was with dismay that I read the top items on Piper's list of acceptable ministries for women, "hearing impaired, blind, lame." At first, I wasn't sure of what I was reading. Yes, I have a career built on work with the learning disabled. However, I understand it as part of my role of teaching 'children'. There are 'children' who are vision and hearing impaired, or physically disabled. They are not fundamentally different from other children and do not belong in another category. But does Piper really mean that a woman may minister to even adult males, if they are any of the above. The list suggests this since it includes drug users and alcoholics. What determines a person's category in Piper's economy? I invite alternate interpretation.

I wish to share two experiences, stories of people who have touched me deeply.

The first one is Colin. He was the support worker for a severely disabled child in a class I was working in. He handled the child well and was at all times an asset to the class in general. He intended, as many support workers do, to continue his education and become a teacher. He was an artist, an athlete, and attractive man with a beautiful blond wife. Towards the end of the year in which I was his supervisor, just before he left the school, we were talking. He turned and looked at me with focused attention as he always did and said, "I particularly enjoy talking to you, Suzanne." I really had no answer, so he continued, "I am deaf and I find you easy to lipread!" (Yes, you are supposed to laugh.)

The point is that I had no idea he was hearing impaired and I cannot in any way understand what that has to do with his masculinity. How does this shift him from one of Piper's categories to the other?

The other experience is my recent work with a hearing impaired child who was thought by many to be mentally handicapped. It is only through intense advocacy that I was able to get an assessment and increased services for this student. The benefits and consequences have been immense. This child is exceptional and truly intellectually gifted in many ways.

So, yes, I would like to take a stand that I am egalitarian in ethic, that a vision or hearing impaired man or child, or physically disabled, stands in the same relation to me as any other human. It was through this piece of Piper's writing, recommended apparently by Al Mohler, (although with the opposite intent) that I gained an ability to articulate my belief in the equal giftedness and suitability, to lead and teach and minister, of those who have difficulties and disabilities to overcome.

I believe that regardless of whether a person, a man or woman, is lipreading or signing or reading braille or writing and communicating in some other way, they have the gifts that God that gave them and we should all recognise and respect this potential.

While I know where I stand on these issues, I am not sure that I have read Piper and Grudem correctly. However, in honour of Al Mohler's recommendation, I am trying to interact honestly with a text which is foundational to complementarianism and according to him, 'scholarly literature.'

I want to continue in a later post to consider whether the difference in written or spoken communcation is significant. Later, it may be possible to see if there are lessons to be learned from this about modes of communication and Bible translation.


At Mon Jul 24, 03:36:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, thanks for your points about Piper. As I don't know if you will get the answers you want on this issue here, I have posted a link to this post in a comment on the blog of Adrian Warnock, a Piper fan who quotes from him every Friday.

At Mon Jul 24, 06:23:00 AM, Blogger Steven Dresen said...

They must have redefined honestly where you're at because in you're article you're trying to draw our assumptions about John Piper that just aren't there. You choose not to believe the Bible on gender roles fin but don't try twisting people's words like that.

At Mon Jul 24, 06:38:00 AM, Blogger Brian said...

simply amazing...that's all I can say. WOW. I can't believe what piper wrote. That is just so theologically, ethically and professionally irresponsible, imo.

At Mon Jul 24, 09:41:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks for putting the question out to a wider audience and for bringing my attention to this post of Mohler's!


What do you think Piper meant by this? Somehow I get the feeling that egalitarianism is not just about men and women, but about basic beliefs about humanity.

For example, as teachers, we admit that students have different learning styles, but we encourage both boys and girls, and children with physical disabliliaties to achieve equally well in the main subjects like English and math. We track this, because we want women to contribute to math/science and men to be able to write well.

But Grudem writes in Evangelical Feminism this statement as a critique of egalitariansm,

"systematic pressure to make girls and boys do equally well in all subjects and in all activities page EF page 54

Now I would think that that is a good thing, but Grudem means to disagree with it. He writes about "complementarianism, which he recommends,

"Boys and girls both educated, but differences of preferences, abilities, and sense of calling respected"

Exactly what are these differences in ability that need to be respected? He does not clarify. He says men and women are essentially of equal worth, but he implies that there are differences in abilities between men and women.

I really don't think Grudem is refering to baseball, but sometimes I have to ask myself, what is he talking about! I can't bear to thnk that books like this are considered scholarly.

So there is a different social ethic going on here between the two beliefs, complememntarianism and egalitarianism, IMO.

Grudem says he wants to maintain the differences between men and women, why shouldn't they just be educated separately. The point is that I always end up with more questions than answers when I read Piper and Grudem. What do they really believe about society?

At Mon Jul 24, 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Tim Bulkeley said...

It was your phrase: "she is to influence with 'petition' and 'persuasion'" that got me. Are there really men stupid enough to actually want the women in their lives to treat them in this coniving annoying way!

If that were really what the Bible taught I'd burn it!

Thank God it is not.

At Mon Jul 24, 12:58:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


There are workplace rules for the men too,

If, in the course of the day, a woman in the law firm calls a meeting of the attorneys, and thus takes that kind of initiative, there are still ways that a man, coming to that meeting, can express his manhood through culturally appropriate courtesies shown to the women in the firm. He may open the door; he may offer his chair; he may speak in a voice that is gentler.

There are ways for a woman to interact even with a male subordinate that signal to him and others her endorsement of his mature manhood in relationship to her as a woman. I do not have in mind anything like sexual suggestiveness or innuendo. Rather, I have in mind culturally appropriate expressions of respect for his kind of strength, and glad acceptance of his gentlemanly courtesies. Her demeanor-the tone and style and disposition and discourse of her ranking position-can signal clearly her affirmation of the unique role that men should play in relationship to women owing to their sense of responsibility to protect and lead.

It is important to know that Piper isn't completely rigid about this. He does say that if a woman is asked for traffic directions by a man, (However, unlikey that is!) she may give them. Piper writes,

For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man that neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised.

At Mon Jul 24, 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

(However, unlikely that is!)

Before anyone jumps on me for this, I take it back. I don't want to be accused of gender stereotyping in my own writing! ;-) Sometimes it is intentional - given the context, etc, please laugh at me. I know I do.

At Mon Jul 24, 02:25:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Are these rules supposed to be Christian and derived from the Bible? It sounds to me as if they come from a 19th century manual of etiquette. That doesn't make them necessarily wrong, but nor does it make them right. Piper, Grudem and friends need to distinguish between Christian values and old-fashioned conservative cultural ones. A good course in cross-cultural evangelism, or some in depth first hand experience of a very different culture, would do them a world of good.

At Mon Jul 24, 02:54:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Piper is trying to illustrate in practical terms the 'leadership and submission' model.

However, I want to represent him fairly so I will quote,

8. Mature masculinity is sensitive to cultural expressions of masculinity and adapts to them (where no sin is involved) in order to communicate to a woman that a man would like to relate not in any aggressive or perverted way, but with maturity and dignity as a man.

This would mean dressing in ways that are neither effeminate nor harsh and aggressive. It would mean learning manners and customs. Who speaks for the couple at the restaurant? Who seats the other? Who drives the car? Who opens the door? Who walks in front down the concert hall aisle? Who stands and who sits, and when? Who extends the hand at a greeting? Who walks on the street side? How do you handle a woman's purse? Etc. Etc. These things change from culture to culture and from era to era. The point is that masculine leadership will not scorn them or ignore them, but seek to use them to cultivate and communicate a healthy pattern of complementarity in the relationships between men and women. {14} Mature masculinity will not try to communicate that such things don't matter. Mature masculinity recognizes the pervasive implications of manhood and womanhood, and seeks to preserve the patterns of interaction that give free and natural expression to that reality. A dance is all the more beautiful when the assigned steps are natural and unself-conscious.

At Mon Jul 24, 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I just read the first half sentence of Piper's book, and I think this gives the real key to his thinking. That first half sentence is "When I was a boy growing up in Greenville, South Carolina". It was in that conservative environment, around 50 years ago (according to Wikipedia he was born in 1946, actually in Tennessee), that his cultural values were formed. In the second paragraph we learn that they attended a Southern Baptist church, and that of course further explains the formation of his cultural values. He goes on to describe supposed differences between men and women which he claims "go to the root of our personhood", but which it seems to me are at least very largely conditioned by the specific cultural and religious context in which Piper grew up.

Piper writes, just after his introductory paragraphs:

Let me say a word about that phrase, "according to the Bible." The subtitle of this chapter is "Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible." What that means is that I have made every effort to bring the thinking of this chapter into accord with what the Bible teaches.

I beg to dispute this claim. It is interesting that in the introductory section he had already made that comment about differences which "go to the root of our personhood" BEFORE he mentioned the Bible at all - except to say that his parents loved the Bible (but not that they loved God!) and that he later learned something from the Bible. He almost seems to be admitting that he first observed these differences between men and women and only later embarked on "an attempt to define some of those differences as God wills them to be according to the Bible." It seems to me that he has not so much brought his thinking into accord with what the Bible teaches as brought his interpretation of the Bible into accord with what he had observed about differences between men and women. And all this without realising that the differences which he observed were in fact culturally conditioned. If instead he had started with the biblical picture of humanity, male and female equally, made in the image of God, he might have come to rather different conclusions - although I must acknowledge that my own understanding is also partly based on my own cultural presuppositions.

Concerning the kinds of exegetical arguments on which Piper relies, see my series on The Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible. There I call this kind of exegesis "fundamentalist", and (in part 2) I note that "it is possible to support almost any position on any issue of current controversy in the church with this kind of interpretation of Scripture. (Yes, I could even put together an argument for gay bishops if I wanted to!)"

To summarise, Piper is making the mistake which I am afraid is so common among Americans, especially conservative ones but not only Christians, of simply assuming that their own cultural values are objectively and absolutely right, and even that it is right to impose these values on others by force. (Piper may not support force of arms, but he does support men refusing to let women take their rightful share of leadership, which is effectively force.) There is a woeful failure to understand the distinction between cultural norms and absolute morality. Americans simply don't understand why anyone else should prefer their own values over those that are being imposed on them, even at the point of a gun or a bomb. Why are these people so ungrateful that they don't accept with open arms the entire American Way? I'm sorry, the rest of the world has its own ways, and most people prefer their own ways to the American one. And as for any claim that the American Way is somehow more Christian than any other way, I'm afraid that is pure bunkum! Quite apart from gender issues, how can a way be all that Christian which leads to so many thousand Iraqis being killed?

Sorry to get rather far from the Bible, but I am being led away from it by Piper! And I realise that not all Americans are like this caricature. But when we see this caricature on our news broadcasts every day, even from the White House, it gets hard for us to believe that any Americans actually have any real understanding of the rest of the world.

At Mon Jul 24, 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

OK, as Suzanne has quoted, Piper accepts that some of the specific details of the different behaviour of men and women "change from culture to culture and from era to era." But he doesn't seem open to the possibility that in some cultures and some eras these differences might be obliterated or reversed.

I note that Piper is quoting our old friend JI Packer when he writes "a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary, or a marriage in which the woman (as we say) wears the trousers, will put more strain on the humanity of both parties than if it were the other way around. This is part of the reality of the creation, a given fact that nothing will change." Packer apparently bases this on Genesis 2:18-23 and Ephesians 5:21-33, but the only way that these verses can be used to justify the statement is based on a total misunderstanding of the Hebrew word often translated "helper" in Genesis 2:18,20 - a word which is elsewhere in the Bible used only of God!

I am beginning to see how ridiculous this whole thing is when I see that Piper doesn't even accept women as bus drivers! I suppose women are only allowed to steer vehicles in which there are other women, children, and perhaps the blind, deaf or lame!

At Mon Jul 24, 04:01:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

My concern is that Piper was one of a small group of men who drafted the Colorado Springs Guidelines. Therefore the scholarly basis to his writing must be critically examined.

At Mon Jul 24, 04:12:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I want to add that my own academic experience in the States was very positive. I am a little confused about the cultural aspects of all this. I am not very objective, I had such a good time south of the border!

For sure, the phrase 'suitable help' is not a good translation. Piper interprets this as an 'assistant'. This implies to me that a woman is best suited to be an assistant, is most fulfilled in this way. But or course, I think that women are capable of independent creative thought. That they function intellectually like men, and the world would be poorer for keeping women in permanent subordination!

At Tue Jul 25, 05:24:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I should concur that from my limited and at a distance experience of the US academic world I have nothing bad to say about it - at least, nothing on the lines of what I wrote in previous comments. My comments are directed much more at US political and military leaders and at US churches and pastors. I too had a good time in the USA, on my one short visit, but I did struggle with some of the people I met (almost all Christians - I was at the JAARS centre in North Carolina) - although all were friendly and hospitable. But then I would expect people in a different country to have different ideas. My problem is that they expect everyone to be like them and don't accept anything else.

At Tue Jul 25, 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tue Jul 25, 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I would certainly hope that I would give directions that were equally clear and polite in talking to either a man or a woman. And no I don't actually 'parody' complementarians.


If I understand you correctly, you are saying that people in a certain position of power or dominance, generalize and assume that their personal experience is universal. I would agree. However, a great many Americans are not like Piper. But we all know that. I accept your point. We must not generalize from our own cultural preconceptions back to Bible truth!

And my point about Piper is not that he should not write pop psychology books, evidently some people like his books. But no one should think of books by Piper and Grudem as scholarly!

They are thought provoking, truly, I ask myself, who does walk up the concert hall aisle first, a man or a woman? Imagine at my age I don't even know such a simple convention!

At Tue Jul 25, 01:05:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, if I were taking you to a concert, with your husband's permission of course, I would offer to let you walk up the aisle first, according to the old-fashioned but not particularly Christian principles I learned. But if you were reluctant to do so, I would go ahead myself. But I wonder if Piper would agree? Would he accept the principle "ladies first", or reject it because that gives the chance for a woman to lead a man?

At Tue Jul 25, 02:31:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Well, you see that is the problem with Piper writing something like that - it makes me think about something I would never ususally think about at all, I would not reflect, who walks up first? I simply wounld never even think about it. Maybe the man is supposed to think about this and the woman doesn't. That must be it! It would be very funny if Piper proves us all complementarians after all, concert hall complementarians!

Do you know Piper also wrote all about how a man should not spend too much time 'putzing in the garage', and even fishing and hunting. The problem is he does not say exactly how much time is too much time. I thought 'gone fishing' was the ultimate excuse, that you were not supposed to have a definite time to come back, unless of course, the wife is stuck at home with young children. But there is the rest of ones life to consider. No, I think 'fishing' should be allowed, or whatever it is. Actually lots of women here go fishing also, so for Piper, fishing is something that only men do. That is very odd!

At Tue Jul 25, 05:49:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Foreign Man,

You have important things to say to many people. Thank you for saying them here. Don't worry about your English. We don't check it here. We're just interested in checking English Bible translations.

Welcome to this blog.

At Sat Sep 02, 01:54:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I have little disagreement with most of the criticisms here, but I want to point out that Piper and Grudem are not representative of most complementarian scholars on this issue. Hardly any serious complementarian scholar (and I have in mind people like D.A. Carson, Bruce Waltke, Douglas Moo, Thomas Schreiner, Andreas Kostenberger, and Craig Blomberg) would take the view that the biblical teaching on gender distinction has any relevance for authority in secular situations.

I can think of three spheres for variations among complementarian views. The eldership is restricted to men. Some include the diaconate, and there are variations on whether there is a third position for a deaconess. Kostenberger wouldn't restrict the diaconate to men, and I think he's part of a trend in that direction among complementarians. Some (e.g. Blomberg, Gordon Hugenberger) restrict only a head pastor position to men.

Then there's the limit on teaching over men from I Tim 2. This can vary from no teaching over men together with no having authority over men (Schreiner, Piper) or no authoritative teaching over men (Blomberg). Then there will be disagreements about what authoritative teaching consists of. Blomberg thinks it's just whenever a head elder or head pastor preaches from the pulpit, but women can preach under the authority of a man. Carson thinks it includes any teaching from the pulpit when men are present. Piper seems to think it includes a boss in the workplace telling an employee what to do, which strikes me as ridiculous. Then, further, Piper and Schreiner disagree on what constitutes teaching. Schreiner restricts it to teaching the content of the word. Piper includes much more common and less biblical influencing in a way that very few complementarian scholars would allow.

Then the final issue is male authority in marriage, which some people grant even if they don't grant the complementarian positions on the other two issues. Isn't that your own position, Suzanne? I would argue that you are actually a complementarian yourself if so, since that does amount to role distinctions, but it's just not as comprehensive a list as most complementarians have, which is still not as comprehensive as Piper or even the much more moderate Blomberg.

Another issue entirely is whether these differences in roles are (1) because of innate ability differences (Piper), (2) merely a decision by God that doesn't reflect or relate to differences of ability (Carson), or (3) grounded in a decision by God and not in differences in abilities, but God then worked tendencies into the way he created male and female that would in general reflect these roles (Scott Baugh). Piper is again on the more extreme end of this.

My point is that Piper is not representative of complementarianism, even if he is one of the most prominent and outspoken complementarians at the popular level. I read posts like this and comments like many here, and I get the sense that Piper is being taken as representative of complementarianism. I don't take his views to represent mine, and I consider my views among the mainstream of complementarianism. I consider his more toward the extreme, though not far enough to be outside complementarianism altogether. Complementarianism is framed as a middle ground between some of the more extreme traditional views and egalitarianism, and I think Piper is more toward the traditional end than most complementarians I know or have read. I would say the same of Grudem, but he didn't come up in this post as much (except in the introduction they wrote together that did get cited a few times). I'm sure that most of them are still way too conservative for most of you here, but I think it's important to represent people accurately, and I don't think we do that if we consider Piper's more extreme complementarian views as represenative of complementarianism as a whole.


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