John Piper Tells an Unconvincing Story to Illustrate Gender Differences between Men and Women

In Piper’s article we discussed last time, he also includes a  story meant to illustrate specific gender differences between men and women. It is not convincing.

Piper’s Story

John Piper

Piper begins:

Suppose…a young man and woman…find themselves chatting before the worship service. He likes what he hears and sees, and says, “Are you sitting with anyone?”

They sit together…as they are leaving, he says, “Do you have any lunch plans? I’d love to treat you to lunch.” [and she replies] I’d love to go.

As they walk he finds out that she has a black belt in martial arts…two men block their way ominously and say, “Pretty girlfriend you’ve got there. We’d like her purse and your wallet. In fact, she’s so pretty we’d like her.”

The thought goes through his head: “She can whip these guys.” But…he pulls her back behind him, and says, “If you’re going to touch her, it will be over my dead body.”…They knock him unconscious, but before they know what hit them, she has put them both on their backs with their teeth knocked out…

And she has one main thought on the way to the hospital: This is the kind of man I want to marry. [All the bold emphasis in the story is mine]

I see nothing wrong with this story—except the finale; the woman is attracted to the man because of his macho, protective behavior—the implication being that godly men are macho and protective and that woman love that. However, this is not the only thing a woman might admire in a man. She could be attracted to his love of art, his love of tending children, his cooking, or any number of qualities. The macho instinct to protect a damsel in distress is not the ultimate mark of manhood.

Now this might powerfully impress the woman in this story—but not all women. This story generalizes about both men and woman to fit complementarian assumptions; they are stereotypes.

Piper’s Conclusions from the Story

Piper draws several points from the story:

The main point of that story is to illustrate that the deeper differences of manhood and womanhood are not superior or inferior competencies. There are rather deep dispositions or inclinations written on the heart…Notice three crucial things.

First, he took the initiative and asked if he could sit with her and if she would go to lunch and suggested the place and how to get there. She saw clearly what he was doing, and responded freely according to her desires…This says nothing about who has superior competencies in planning. God writes the impulse to lead on a man’s heart. And the wisdom to discern it and enjoy it on a woman’s.

Wow! All women like men who take charge! But I suggest that not all women like men who take charge; they might have something else to say about a man’s ‘impulse to lead’.

Second, he said that he wanted to treat her to lunch. He’s paying. This sends a signal. “I think that’s part of my responsibility. In this little drama of life, I initiate, I provide.”

She understands and approves. She supports the initiative and graciously accepts the offer to be provided for…And it says nothing about who is wealthier or more capable of earning. It is what God’s man feels he must do.

But what if the conversation goes differently? What if the woman is the one who suggests lunch and offers to pay? Is she being too forward by robbing the man of his leadership and responsibility? I don’t think so; relationships vary and do not always play out a 1950s scenario.

Some women are very independent and do not appreciate a man who always provides for her, but they might be more open to a partnership relationship with mutual respect for each other. Does this mean these women are defying God’s gender expectations? Not at all; they are just different from more traditional women.

**Third, it is irrelevant to the masculine soul that a woman he is with has greater self-defending competencies. It is his deep, God-given, masculine impulse to protect her.

It is not a matter of superior competency. It is a matter of manhood. She saw it. She did not feel belittled by it, but honored, and she loved it.

I would try to be protective as well, but that would be true whether I was with a woman, with another guy, or helping a stranger. Rescuing damsels in distress is not the specific mark of a godly man.

At the heart of mature manhood is the God-given sense…that the primary responsibility (not sole responsibility) lies with him when it comes to leadership-initiative, provision, and protection.

And at the heart of mature womanhood is the God-given sense…that none of this implies her inferiority, but that it will be a beautiful thing to come alongside such a man and gladly affirm and receive this kind of leadership and provision and protection.

Of course, to ‘come alongside such a man and gladly affirm and receive this kind of leadership and provision and protection’ is to step back and submit. Not all women are so excited about submitting to a man’s ‘headship’, and I don’t blame them; we are all responsible for making our own choices.

It’s fine if a woman wants the headship of a man—but it is not God’s design for all women.

What is the Biblical Basis for all these Gender Differences?

Piper begins with God’s ‘expectation’ that women submit to the headship of men. But he goes on to extrapolate all these ‘deep’ differences created by God that are not at all suggested by the biblical texts. In fact, I think Piper’s cultural biases are showing and he thinks all women should comply with them.

One more thing. You might also wish to read Benjamin Corey’s article on Piper’s statements against women supervising men in jobs outside the home. I recommend it highly.

Articles from this series: Harmful Christian Patriarchy

See also:

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38 Responses to John Piper Tells an Unconvincing Story to Illustrate Gender Differences between Men and Women

  1. theotherlestrangegirl says:

    Wow, Piper’s example was so bad. His parable that included the attempted robbery was a silly one too. Anyone, male or female or otherwise, would try to protect their loved one in that situation. If someone is holding a gun at you and threatening you, do you really think a couple is going to stop and think about which gender should take which action in that moment? Seriously?

    Also, with this statement:
    “Third, it is irrelevant to the masculine soul that a woman he is with has greater self-defending competencies.”
    I found that quite offensive. Basically, he’s admitting that she has the greater skill set and is the more capable of the two and yet, because of her gender, that becomes “irrelevant.” What does this guy do when he is rushed in for emergency surgery, and his head surgeon is a female doctor? Does he admit to her obvious skill set, but then tell her that is all irrelevant and ask for the nearest male, doctor or otherwise, to come and perform surgery on him? Sheesh.

    I once dated a guy, a few years ago, who conformed to this Christian masculinity complex. He was a sweet guy and I enjoyed his company, but I often fell pressured into a shape that I didn’t quite fit into. His strongest point was that he would never allow me to pay for any of our dates–ever. I often tried but he wouldn’t budge.

    During those time, I wasn’t trying to emasculate him or whatever some Christians would accuse me of. I simply saw no reason as to why I couldn’t treat him some of the time.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Strange Girl, you have a lot of good stuff here; and I agree with all of it.

      I especially like your statement: “Anyone, male or female or otherwise, would try to protect their loved one in that situation. If someone is holding a gun at you and threatening you, do you really think a couple is going to stop and think about which gender should take which action in that moment? Seriously?” I agree, I know I would not consult the propriety of patriarchal roles before taking action. In fact, I suspect that in many cases BOTH of the individuals would spring into action and likely, therefore, to be more effective.

      I think the real-life example from your experience is a powerful one that makes the point that while some women might be attracted to Mr. Leader, Take-charge, Provider–not all women are. Why should we think all men, or all women, should fit the same profile?

      Like

  2. Chas says:

    Tim, two comments, one of which is on your post, and the other on ‘the other’s’: In my experience, it is usually the woman who sets out to win a man with whom she wishes to have a relationship. In the second instance, I prefer the pilot to be a woman, when flying, since I consider a woman to be less likely than a man to attempt something beyond their capability, or take a rash action based on macho instincts, rather than on a rational care for the passengers and crew. (i.e. she is more likely than him to be the ‘right stuff’ for me).

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, just like Strange Girl, your preferences do not line up with patriarchal expectations. Does this mean you are out of step with God? Of course not! People are just different and should not be expected to conform to some, rather weak, notion of ‘God’s requirements of strict gender roles.”

      This is just one more legalistic burden that destroys the freedom of following Jesus.

      Like

  3. theotherlestrangegirl says:

    There are two issues that I’d be curious to see your explanation of or know how you feel about it.

    The first, which comes up after reading your articles on the nonexistence of Satan, hell, etc., is what do you make of the initial story of Lucifer? The one where he was originally an angel of god, but was cast out for attempting to take over heaven, basically? Do you see it as a metaphorical thing and, if so, why?

    The second thing would be your views on abortion. While the majority of Christians swing far to the right on this issue, I have seen plenty of the left argue for the pro-choice army as well. I was just curious as to where you would fall on that one.

    Also, I apologize if these have already been addressed somewhere else and I just missed them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Strange Girl, you ask good questions.

      Regarding Lucifer, I am not sure what you mean by the ‘initial story of Lucifer’ who was a fallen angel. There is no reference to a fallen angel of any kind anywhere in the Bible. There is only one reference to ‘Lucifer’, but it was a king–not a fallen angel. You can read more about that here:
      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/the-fall-of-satan-in-isaiah-14/

      The real origin of the story of fallen angels is found in the Book of Enoch, which was written perhaps a couple centuries before the time of Jesus. See here:
      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/the-fall-of-satan-in-the-book-of-enoch/

      So in answer to your question on whether I see it as metaphorical in the Bible I must answer ‘No’ because it is not mentioned in the Bible at all. What the author of the Book of Enoch had in mind I do not know, but it is not a biblical issue.

      On abortion, I have two answers. 1) As a believer who wants the best for all human life, I wish there were far fewer abortions. But abortion is not just about the life of the unborn; it is also about the mother. So 2) I cannot see how the church, or the state, can tell a mother what she can and cannot do with her body. The unborn is potential, while the mother is already an individual who can make her own decisions.

      I would like for abortions to be at a minimum, but I cannot tell a mother what she can or cannot do. Does this help? Feel free to continue these conversations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • theotherlestrangegirl says:

        Ah, okay. Thank you for the passages about the fallen angels and such–that’s what I was asking about. Sorry for my poor phrasing on that question.

        Also, I agree with your views on abortion. It would be nice if there were fewer, but women have the final say in what happens to their own bodies. Personally, I think there would be fewer abortions if birth control was not purposely made so expensive and difficult for many women to achieve.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Strange Girl, I did not notice any poor phrasing in your questions. I think I understood them clearly. I’m glad the articles helped address them some.

          It is strange, isn’t it, that some of same people so adamantly opposed to abortion are also opposed to making birth control easily available. I think they should simply not impose their personal views on others.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Chas says:

          theotherlestrangegirl, birth control is free in UK, but there are still far more abortions than one would wish. This suggests that the control that needs to be exercised is in the mind, not in/on the body.

          Liked by 1 person

      • fiddlrts says:

        One comment I might add (other than agreeing with Tim that we should work to reduce abortions) is that opposition to abortion among Protestants is a very modern phenomenon. Believe it or not, the Southern Baptist Convention came out in favor of Roe v. Wade. Things shifted in the late 1970s and early 1980s once the Religious Right was founded (on a pro-segregation platform). Abortion was (and remains) a political issue that is used to keep white Evangelicals voting Republican no matter who is on the ticket. (Pretty successful too…)
        What you don’t hear too often from Evangelicals is that abortions are at their lowest level since before Roe v. Wade – and that it is because unplanned pregnancy is down, particularly among teens – and that better access to birth control and scientifically accurate information is why.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          It is true that protestant opposition to abortion, even among evangelicals, is quite recent. This is clear from old copies of Christianity Today. Abortion was considered a Catholic religious issue, and a sad thing is that abortion was often discussed as good for African-American women.

          Like

  4. fiddlrts says:

    Patriarchy has been a sore point for both me and my wife – she grew up in a partriarchal home church that disrespected and shamed her for being a strong woman. To that point, she was quite convinced that she would not marry, because that was not the life she wanted.

    And for myself, I never wanted the pressure of “the boss” in any way. I am happier to be in an equal partnership, where we tend to take turns doing the providing and decision making.

    Back to Piper’s silly example, both of us, when we first discussed it, said at the same time, “it would be better if the two of them worked together,” which is exactly what we would do. There is strength in cooperation. That’s our take on “protection.” We work together to protect each other and our kids. Us against the world.

    As to his other examples, we took turns paying for dates, and she (only sort of jokingly) told me a few months in that she had found her ring, so when was I going to propose? (I did, because tradition or something, five months later.) So much for masculine initiative. Even now, after 16 years of marriage, it is basically the same thing. We are best friends, and like best friends, we each initiate at different times. It isn’t a big deal, it’s just how we are most comfortable.

    As for provision, BOTH of us are much happier splitting that job. What it has meant is that I have had to take a more active role in childcare and housework. Which is what I often suspect is the real fear of guys like Piper: that if they don’t uphold gender roles, then they will be stuck doing the dishes and scrubbing the toilets while the wife is out bringing home the bacon…

    Liked by 3 people

    • theotherlestrangegirl says:

      fiddlrts,

      Your experience is very much like my own with my husband, almost exactly. We are friends, a team, and we help each other out. I make more money than him, and he always does the ironing because I hate it. Neither of those things are a problem for us though. We work together to make our lives, and our marriage, work. In my experience, patriarchy puts an unnecessary strain on families that could otherwise be a lot happier if they would just cool it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • fiddlrts says:

        Count me as another man who enjoys ironing. Most of the time, I lovingly iron my wife’s uniforms (she is an RN) along with my own clothes. My dad has mad household skills too, and my sons are learning to carry their own weight too.

        “Patriarchy puts an unnecessary strain on families that could otherwise be a lot happier if they would just cool it.” Very much true. Patriarchy just places burdens on people that are unnecessary.

        Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Fiddlrts, you said: “I never wanted the pressure of “the boss” in any way. I am happier to be in an equal partnership, where we tend to take turns doing the providing and decision making.” Some men WANT to be the boss (which can be concerning) but you don’t. Why, then, should you be forced into a rigid role that does not fit you? Of course, the answer is that you should not. I think the narrow claims of Christian patriarchy are completely invalid.

      You also state: “I have had to take a more active role in childcare and housework. Which is what I often suspect is the real fear of guys like Piper: that if they don’t uphold gender roles, then they will be stuck doing the dishes and scrubbing the toilets while the wife is out bringing home the bacon.”

      What are you? Some kind of sissy? I imagine many patriarchist would think so, but that would apply to me as well. I am the one who does the laundry, helps with the dishes, and does other household things–we split the chores. We also make decisions together.

      When we were first married I was the ‘boss’ because I was ignorant and didn’t know any better, but now I am in a partnership. It works really well for us! And I don’t feel like a sissy but a healthy, fulfilled man.

      Liked by 1 person

      • fiddlrts says:

        It is rather amusing how many of the Complementarians seem freaked out by dishes. I was raised by a father who always did whatever was needed – including housework. The men in my extended family have been good cooks for generations – my late grandfather was an army cook with a reputation for making ANYTHING edible. (I still use a version of his stuffing from scratch – home dried bread included – for Thanksgiving each year.) When my wife and I were contemplating getting married, I informed her that she had to agree to share the kitchen equally, or the deal was off. 😉 Since our marriage, we have split the cooking, although the older kids are taking turns often these days. The eating is really good at our house. So yes, the Owen Strachans of the world may consider me a “man fail,” but I am proud of my household skills. I like your line “healthy, fulfilled man.” Exactly!

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Fiddlrts, I think you, I, and other men SHOULD be proud of doing domestic chores. I am glad you came from a line of proud, male cooks. I wish I had that influence; I usually get my own meals, but I am not much of a cook.

          Like

  5. Paz says:

    Tim, it seems to me that expectations has a lot to do with in these gender differences discussions. This leads me to another issue which is either not mentioned or acknowledged enough in Christian related topics. Many children today are being raised by one/single parent families due to many reasons, just to name a few, such as the death of one of the parents, divorce, separation due to an abusive relationship, etc. This means that in what can be very challenging and what can be also extremely difficult situations, the various described roles mentioned which relate to leadership, provision and protection in these families are not by choice always shared roles. So I think you have made a really important and relevant point when you say “… relationships vary and do not always play out a 1950s scenario.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Paz, I think you make an excellent observation: “Many children today are being raised by one/single parent families due to many reasons…This means that…the various described roles mentioned which relate to leadership, provision and protection in these families are not by choice always shared roles.”

      This is a great point; I don’t know how patriarchist would respond to it.

      Like

  6. Chas says:

    It seems to me that the husband/wife relationship ought to be based on getting to know our partner well enough to know their needs/preferences and providing for those. Some people might like to be dominated by their partner, some might hate it; some might prefer their partner to take the initiative, some might not. It is only by knowing them well enough that we will come to know what is the most loving thing to do for them in particular circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Well said, Chas! I think you are right on track. Marriage is a ‘relationship’ and not a role to play.

      Like

    • Paz says:

      “…the husband/wife relationship ought to be based on getting to know our partner well enough to know their needs/preferences and providing for those…It is only by knowing them well enough that we will come to know what is the most loving thing to do for them…”
      Chas, this is really nice!
      Such great advice not only for a husband/wife relationship but for any relationship in general when thinking about or caring for someone else.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Debi says:

    I just wanted to gag as I read Piper’s example. I wonder if he ever asked himself whether God would want the man to be knocked unconscious (to the point of needing to go to the hospital) simply because he thought it was his *duty* to protect a fully capable woman. Sounds kind of crazy to me.

    I enjoyed reading this blog entry, and all the responses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Debi, I found this disturbing as well. The man pushed the woman behind him (which I think is an act of condescension in this case); now I would not expect him to push the woman in front of him as a shield against the attackers, but it seems to me that the common sense response would be to confront the attackers together.

      Like

  8. Jacky says:

    So much of Piper’s analysis is based on cultural bias and, I suspect, his own personality / how his upbringing formed him. This idea of the “macho” man is potentially very damaging to men (and the women who love them) – making men feel as if they are less masculine somehow if they don’t act this way.

    I remember reading this article in the Guardian a while back – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/24/as-boys-we-are-told-to-be-brave-men-on-masculinity-and-mental-health – the mental health arguments against the masculinity stereotype Piper seems to espouse are very interesting.

    Personally, what I most appreciate about my partner is his KINDNESS, his openness to talk about emotions (which may culturally be aided by his coming from a Meditteranean background, I’m not sure), and the fact that he’s prepared to be vulnerable with me. I also really appreciate that he listens to any wisdom I may have to offer.

    Yes, he can be strong and protective when need be, and that can be nice. But I also feel very protective of him. Has Piper never read about female animals protecting their cubs?? Or thought that perhaps a man equally needs their mate to be “in their corner”, prepared to fight tooth and nail for the man in her life?

    I’ve found Skip Moen’s unpacking of the phrase “Ezer Kenegdo” (www.skipmoen.com) interesting reading in the past (it’s a while since I’ve looked at it) – I’d be interested to hear any thoughts you have on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jackie, I agree that: “much of Piper’s analysis is based on cultural bias and…his own personality / how his upbringing formed him.” It is certainly not based on a consistent reading of the Bible.

      And I really like your statement: “This idea of the “macho” man is potentially very damaging to men (and the women who love them) – making men feel as if they are less masculine somehow if they don’t act this way.” I plan to write an article soon on how Patriarchy harms men, and this is a significant aspect of that.

      I’m glad your husband is prepared to be vulnerable to you; I am vulnerable to my wife. I wonder how many patriarchal men are prepared to be vulnerable like that. I assume that some are, but I would also guess that many of them are not.

      Thanks for the Guardian article; I found it useful.

      Like

  9. newtonfinn says:

    As a person who has felt fairly comfortable in his skin since childhood and never experienced the need to grapple with identity issues, I do my best to understand and affirm the struggles of others to discover who they are, or desire to be, in light of social and cultural constraints like patriarchy, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. Thinking about these struggles from the outside, which has both its detriments and benefits, leads to more general theological reflection. In Jesus, especially when we stick to the core elements of the synoptic gospels, there seems to be radical inclusion and affirmation of diverse identities, subject only to the condition that entry into the kingdom of heaven is by the narrow gate of compassion and sacrifice for others. When we move into Paul and the pastorals, however, or into the legalisms of the OT (as opposed to the prophets), there are a host of restrictive and judgmental rules of conduct that cause suffering for those who do not fit neatly into, or choose to reject, traditional social/cultural identities. So here, as in many other aspects of Christian life, we must make a choice to follow Jesus OR much of the rest of the Bible. I believe that the sword Jesus spoke about bringing to the world causes this cleavage, which forces us to take a stand on one side or the other–the “left” of the gospel or the “right” of much (but certainly not all) of the rest of the Bible. Do we follow a man we meet in a book and then experience in our hearts and minds, or do we follow the book itself, as if it were not cleaved by Jesus’ sword so as to require careful, courageous discernment?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, I like the way you say this: “Do we follow a man we meet in a book and then experience in our hearts and minds, or do we follow the book itself.” This is a problem for a lot of people; by thinking the entire Bible is the very ‘clear’ voice of God, they ignore the conflicts between the angry god of legalism, judgment, and condemnation found in much of the OT and the loving God Jesus tells us about and they try to do both at once.

      I don’t think it can be done. It is either the angry god or the loving God. Jesus, the one I follow, tells me of the living God. I agree that: “In Jesus, especially when we stick to the core elements of the synoptic gospels, there seems to be radical inclusion and affirmation of diverse identities.” (though I think this is born out by John as well).

      Liked by 1 person

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