Last week, I caught glimpses of the latest firestorm John Piper ignited over his assertions that women shouldn’t be seminary professors via my iPhone as I sat in the back of a conference room near the Venture Capital district of Palo Alto. I was helping lead a sales training workshop for an up and coming Silicon Valley startup. There were 75 salesmen in the room, and 3 saleswomen.
When I say I was “helping lead” the training, what I mean is that I had written the digital sales playbook that comprised the curriculum, while my partner, a man about ten years my senior, lead the actual training. My partner is brilliant, with decades of experience under his belt. I’m apprenticing with him because I’m a good writer, but I’m a really good teacher, and I know I can make a significant and particular contribution to the companies we serve when I move into that role.
But Piper’s comments, and the dynamics I observed in that room so dominated by male presence, had me wondering whether I’ll ever be at the place where I’ll get the chance to.
I watched the way my partner lead the group through different exercises with great skill, even as occasionally he missed things that I would have handled differently. But then I put myself in his position. I thought about the sum total of all the things I would have to do and say differently from my partner, and *not* do and say differently, to be viewed as someone worthy of learning anything from.
Not because I’m not as experienced as my partner, although that’s true.
But because I’m a woman.
With Dr. Piper’s belief about the invalidity of women as seminary professors in the back of my mind, I found myself meditating, for the gazillionth time, on Genesis 1 and 2. I wasn’t thinking just about the nature of women’s calling – to be necessary allies alongside men in the collective filling and subduing of the world. I was thinking about all the boundaries that get built around that calling, that determine all the ways we’re deemed *un*necessary to a man’s flourishing.
And I found myself asking – just how necessary are women to men, as women?
We’re necessary for shaping men’s bodies, of course.
Every man who has ever walked the earth has spent the first nine months of his earthly existence having his entire physical being, the vehicle in which his mind and soul reside, shaped and nourished by a woman. And usually months and years after that.
And we’re necessary for serving those same bodies after they’re grown. (We hear that way too often, for too many of the wrong reasons, but that’s a post for another day.)
But while we’re necessary for the shaping and serving of a man’s body, does the necessity of women to men, as women, extend to the shaping of their minds – their intellect, their skills, their gifts?
How about their souls?
At what point does my calling as a necessary ally to a man reach its God-ordained limit?
Is the limit his age? That mix of biological and cultural transition from boyhood to manhood that has no concrete date, and a myriad of different cultural prescriptions?
Is the limit his vocation? Is it my place only to cheer him on in his work? Do I have nothing to contribute, as a woman, to a man’s ability to sell software, or give a speech, or make a decision?
Is the limit full time ministry? Is that the realm of influence and help where women are divinely rendered unnecessary?
Or maybe the boundaries should be around me as a woman, and not around men?
Is it a matter of my motives? What if I’m not setting myself up as a spiritual authority, but simply want to be a godly spiritual influence on him – is that still a step too far?
Or is it a merely the boundaries of my covenant? Am I precluded from any kind of spiritual influence or guidance of a man unless I’m married to him, or unless I’m his mother, (until he reaches that indeterminate age where my identity as his mother is superseded by his identity as a man?)?
For those who fight so relentlessly to uphold the distinctive beauty of manhood and womanhood, why is it that the only time it’s permissible, or required to diminish the beauty of my womanhood, and declare it safely mediated behind words on page or a screen,
is when I’m teaching something to a man? (1)
And if those are legitimate boundaries around the ways women are called to influence and inform the thoughts and actions of men, as women, what should the world look like where those dynamics hold true?
It can’t look like the world of Bible – of Abigail, or Esther, or the woman of wisdom in Proverbs 8, or the Samaritan woman, or the women of the resurrection, or Priscilla.
What it does look like is the world I live and work in. Like Silicon Valley. And it looks like some parts of the church, too.
If I didn’t take God at His Word, I’d, frankly, I’d rather discouraged. And maybe looking for a different line of work.
But I do, so I’m not. So I’ll keep going – asking God to help me be helpful in whatever He calling He gives me, and for more opportunities to do the same.
And maybe my calling, at this stage, is just to keep thinking through these things, and asking these things, out loud. And asking God to give us the answers, and for the grace and strength and humility to live them out, as men and women, together.
- “There is this interposition of the phenomenon called book and writing that puts the woman as author out of the reader’s sight and, in a sense, takes away the dimension of her female personhood.” From https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-you-use-bible-commentaries-written-by-women