The subject of manhood and womanhood is not a casual conversation. In fact, from Garden of Eden until now, manhood and womanhood has been under Satanic attack. Sadly, too many evangelicals have casually followed societal trends, giving with little thought to God’s designs for men and women. Unaware of the way that ignoring gender roles in marriage and the church distorts the gospel (cf. Eph 5:22-33; 1 Tim 2:11-15; Titus 2:1-10), too many Christians take their cues from the world on defining maleness and femaleness and ascertaining what is good and right for men and women to do or not to do. However, even among those who take a complementarian stance on the Bible, challenges arise as it pertains to putting into practice biblical principles about men’s and women’s roles. It is for this reason that I write this post.
I ran across an old sermon by John Piper on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, “Affirming the Goodness of Manhood and Womanhood in All of Life” a passage known for its interpretive challenge and its counter-cultural teaching (if you read it as affirming biblical complementarity).
In his application section on the passage, he addressed the tricky subject of women in the workplace, and he gives some very helpful principles for discerning appropriate “female leadership” in a context that is not explicitly discussed in the Bible. Here is what he has to say:
Women in the Workplace
The one other thing I have time to say is something very brief about the issue of women in the workplace. What about leadership of men there?
My answer is probably going to be dissatisfyingly general rather than specific. But that’s because the Bible does not address this as clearly as marriage and the church and because the nature of leadership in many jobs is so fuzzy.
I give my answer in the form of a principle. Leadership can be measured on two scales or continuums: on a scale of directive to non-directive and on a scale of personal to impersonal. Let me illustrate.
- Personal-Impersonal: A woman who designs the traffic patterns of city streets exerts remarkable leadership over all the drivers in that she determines how they drive. But this leadership is very impersonal. On the other hand the relationship between a husband and a wife is very personal. All leadership falls somewhere on the scale between very impersonal (little personal contact) and very personal (a lot of personal contact).
- Directive-Nondirective: A drill sergeant is the essence of directive leadership. On the other hand non-directive leadership is much closer to entreaty and suggestion. A good example of non-directive leadership is when Abigail talked David out of killing Nabal (1 Samuel 25:23–35). She was totally successful in guiding David’s behavior but did it in a very non-directive way.
My principle, then, is this: To the degree that a woman’s leadership of man is personal it needs to be non-directive. And to the degree that it is directive it needs to be impersonal. To the degree that a woman consistently offers directive, personal leadership to a man, to that degree will his God-given manhood—his sense of responsibility in the relationship—be compromised. What’s at stake every time a man and a woman relate to each other is not merely competence (that is very naïve), but also whether God-given manhood and womanhood are affirmed in the dynamics of the relationship.
While I am sure more could be said, and scenarios could be drawn up to question this principled response, I think Piper is on the right path and helps us apply biblical truth to the challenge of being male and female in a society that wants to erase the distinction that God made in creating humanity male and female. Though Piper’s analysis and articulation of the matter is out of step with today’s norms, and sadly is rejected or dismissed by many evangelicals, his complementarian view seems to be the most faithful reading of Scripture as it relates to men’s and women’s role.
For more on the subject, see the multi-author work edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The full text is available online.
Seeking to apply the Bible to all of life, dss