Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Piper's Fatal Patriarchy

Over on his blog I Think I Believe, Arni Zachariassen posted a video in which conservative evangelical preacher John Piper seeks to address the question of what a wife's submission to her husband is supposed to look like if her husband is abusing her. His answer should make anyone who has studied the dynamics of domestic abuse squirm in distress. Arni notes just how striking is Piper's lack of wisdom on this matter, and offers several incisive critical remarks.

In any event, the post inspired me to write a rather lengthy comment about what I take to be the root cause of Piper's lack of wisdom here. Readers of this blog may want to check out Arni's post both for its own intrinsic interest, and because I think it speaks to an issue that's come up on this blog before and that I want to dwell on more fully in future posts--namely, the idea that serious problems arise when religious communities and their leaders shape their ethics in terms of an uncritically embraced theology, as opposed to having their theology criticized and revised in the light of ethical insight.


  1. Well, it moved me to see how a good person who is committed to the inerrancy of the Bible struggled to make the best of a particular and unfortunate verse.

    For me the value of scripture lies in that it motivates one to raise one’s eyes and perceive the living presence of the Spirit of Truth. For as Christians we are no only committed in the existence of God as the foundation of all reality, but also in the presence of the living Spirit of the resurrected God in our own lives. It is a weakness of faith and a failure to recognize Christ’s resurrection to focus on scripture as one’s primary guide. In John 15:26 Christ tells us that God will send to us the Spirit of Truth to testify, He doesn’t tell us that God will see to it that we have a good text to interpret. Indeed it is only metaphorically that one says that scripture is the Word of God. For Christ is the Word of God, and the book is called that only in the sense and to the degree that it speaks of Christ and that Christ’s words are written in it. To my knowledge not once among His many commands did Christ call us to believe, to trust in, or to follow the Bible; He insisted that we should believe, trust in, and follow Him Christ who is the Truth and the Life and the Way. It is for a reason that we are called Christians and not Biblians. As to the phrase “Bible centric Christianity” it’s a contradiction in terms.

    There are in the texts a few bits that work like beacons. One is that we are built in the image of God. Thus, if while reading any text or pondering any idea we sense a contradiction with the image we are built in, then the best bet is to assume that either the idea is false or else that how we understand the idea is false. This beacon works as well with theists as with non-theists. Another even stronger beacon are Christ’s words about how to recognize truth, namely by its fruit. As Christians we are committed to the belief that the greatest fruit of all is to follow Christ and thus become as perfect as God in heaven is. By the light of that beacon should we then read the texts. So the test should be this: Does an idea motivate me to follow Christ, to obey His commands, to become like Christ in living and loving and giving myself up for God, like Christ did? If so, then it is from the Truth.

    As for the matter of submission, we should all submit to each other, for it is easy and sweet and a sign of strength to give more weight to another’s wishes than to one’s own. It is thus that a more just society will be forged. And it goes without saying that submitting to one’s spouse is especially wise and good. As it is for children to submit to their parents. As, first and foremost, is the submission to our Creator, which is the splendor of the teaching of Islam. For how can one love and not submit to the beloved?

    And here perhaps we find the source of a common misunderstanding: Submission makes sense only within the context of love. One submits to those whom one loves, and who, in the case of the most of us, are those who deserve our love. But Christ-like persons love even those who do not deserve one’s love, and thus submit to them also. One way or the other, love is primary, and it is within the context of love that submission is beautiful.

    I’d like to finish on a light note: At the Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony the priest admonishes the bride to obey her husband, at which point tradition requires that she step over her groom’s toes.

  2. I think it's just bizarre and short-sited that Piper's solution is the church, specifically: (1) the abused woman finding a church, (2) her telling the leaders of the church about this issue, and (3) the leaders of the church then going to the husband and saying "this isn't how Christ wants you to act. It can't go on." It is very much premised on a certain type of church that is hierarchical with strong male leaders who will go call out some guy about abusing his wife. I think there are LOTS of resources out there that could be available to the wife that could be much more helpful than that.