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John Piper does it again

February 16, 2012

Many, if not most, Christians know who John Piper is.  A pastor, teacher and evangelist, Piper has a knack for saying things that stir up controversy within the church.  Sometimes that controversy even spills outside the church into the secular media.  Like all controversial people, he has a great number of passionate admirers and an equal number of furious detractors.  A few days ago, seemingly deeming it has been a while, Piper managed to set off yet another firestorm of controversy.

I met John Piper once, in an elevator of all places.   As we were only going down four floors we did not have much time to talk and I felt it was unwise to press the emergency stop button for a longer chat.  But I have to say that, in appearance, he is far from some angry muscular type.  He is not Moses, furiously casting down stone tablets on the disobedient Israelites.  Short, thin and graying he looks more like an accountant than Charlton Heston.  But this controversy, like the others, belie the image.

It all started with his observation that God gave Christianity a distinctly male quality.  Implied in his remarks (and you can easily find the full text on the internet) was the idea that if men and women would embrace that we’d all be happier.  The essence of this maleness comes from the fact that Jesus was a male and God is described as Father.  In addition the apostles were all men, as were the prophets.

Well, the reaction has been amazing.  About half of the hundreds of responses I have seen applauded wildly, claiming we have made God and the church too effeminate.  The other half was apoplectic about his remarks, declaring that the church was already male-dominated and oppressive to women.  The replies, pro and con, were filled with dueling expository analyses all proving conclusively that Piper was absolutely right except for those that proved he was absolutely wrong.

Rather than taking a side, whipping out my sword of the Spirit and start flailing away (Somehow I am not convinced that this is what Paul was seeking when he gave us that text.) I thought I would take the observation at face value and think through the implications.  He surely is right about some things.  God is called “Father.”  Jesus came as a man.  The Bible is full of men.  So what do we do now?

Many take this to mean it is time for the real manly men to take charge.  Let’s push aside all those meek, weak, mild guys who have been running the show and make church more manly.  Let’s show our wives and daughters that they can trust us manly men to take control, do what is best for them, and lead them into a happier and deeper faith.

But here is what I struggle with.  Jesus calls us, all of us, men included, his bride.  Whoa!  As a man, being called a bride is hard to accept.  It sort of goes against everything we think about ourselves.  A lot of the current generation of manly men pastors embrace the macho image of tight jeans, open neck shirts, exposed muscular biceps and a three-day beard growth.  But, would it not be more accurate to the call of Jesus for them to preach in a wedding dress?

As I think this bride thing through I realize I am not very good at it.  I look at all those husband/wife passages in the Bible and ask myself does the attitude asked of the wife/bride there accurately reflect my attitude toward God?  What does it mean to be a bride?  I frankly don’t know.

But then I had a clue.  At my wedding, and most Christian weddings I have been to, we are told that marriage is an illustration of Christ and the church.  Generally this is explained that women are to submit to their husbands and follow their lead as husbands love, protect and guide them.  OK, maybe so.

But what if it means something else too?  What if my wife knows way more about being a bride than I do?  What if, when I see how my wife loves me, she is showing me how I am to love God?  What if we have this real man stuff all wrong?  What if it is by looking at and emulating my wife’s example that I can learn how to be a real man in Christ?

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