How Necessary Are Women?

 

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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.

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  1. “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
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Single Women Serving Faithfully

Dear Amy,

Recently, you wrote to ask John Piper a question about a trend you noticed in people serving on the mission field – namely, that the vast majority of them are women. Specifically, you noted that there are significantly fewer single men than single women engaged in full time missions, and you wanted to know Pastor Piper’s thought about why that might be. Pastor Piper offered several thoughts in reply, ones he was careful to note were grounded in opinion, rather than fact. For that reason, I feel emboldened to add on to what Pastor Piper proposed. The Ask Pastor John format is notably short, and it’s possible there wasn’t sufficient time to note possibilities beyond what he offered, so here goes:

  1. Single men have many more avenues of full time ministry to pursue than single women. In the sector of evangelicalism in which Pastor Piper and I live and serve, men with leadership and communication gifts have a wide number of full time ministry or vocational options they are encouraged to consider. A pastorate, a professorship or administrative position in a Christian institution, or even simply a senior leadership position in a secular professional field are all vocations that men are coached to pursue. So, it’s just a matter of basic math that, if missions is only one of a number of ministry options a man has from which to choose, the number of men who choose each individual option will be fewer.
  1. Some single men wisely discern that, like pastoral ministry, the mission field is a matter of calling and gifting, not just willingness, or a fall back option when nothing else is working out. Some others, well, don’t. Some single men think the solution to their bad grades or battles with lust or laziness will be found living in a remote jungle. far from the temptations and turmoil of Western life. Those men will be wrong, often in ways that hurt many others beyond themselves. Wiser men take note, work out their issues at home, and if they continue to struggle, see that as confirmation that the call to missions is not theirs, and they should feel confident in that decision, rather than discouraged.
  1. Some single women have taken a long, honest look forward at the cultural trajectory we’re on, and a look back at the way their mothers navigated life, and realized this moment requires charting a different, more intentional course. Women in previous generations were encouraged to be certain of the likelihood of marriage and children at a relatively early age, with men having an array of professional and ministerial vocations they were taught to pursue with a mind to pursuing and providing for a family, and everyone planned accordingly. Today, porn culture is robbing men of both the interest in or ability to pursue marriage, while unfettered technological advancement is narrowing the types of work available to men (and women) to pursue in a way that ensures economic and familial stability, let alone fulfillment. Simply put, single women today can be far less certain that marriage and children will be part of their future, whether at a young age or at all. Taking Dr. Piper at his famous words, they’re not going to waste their life waiting for what may never come. They’re going to start spending it for the cause of Christ now, and are entrusting Him with their future.

That so many women have made this commitment and are remaining faithful in it may not necessarily be a problem in need of a solution. It may, in fact, be God’s plan for this current time in history. And if it is, women who resist the secular siren call for wealth and comfort and power in secular professions AND the presumptive temptations the church can unwittingly entangle them in about waiting for marriage, should be praised, encouraged, and supported accordingly.

I hope this helps.