We are discussing marriage by examining the recent book of John Piper’s called This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence.
If you know the debates today among (mostly) evangelicals — I don’t know this debate outside that circle, you know there is a debate between complementarians and egalitarians, though I think the word “egalitarian” is slippery and derivative more from modernist theories of equality and justice than from either biblical teaching or theological perceptions. As I state in my book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible
, I prefer the term “mutuality.”
Piper doesn’t. He’s perhaps the leading voice in the complementarian group, and he has two chps in this book on male headship and another chapter on the wife’s submission. Some of you are snarling now. Some of you are suspicious of what I might say. I hope both you, and others, keep reading.
Once again, here is the passage: Ephesians 5:21ff
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
What does Piper say then? Here are his major points:
1. In Paul’s mystery, the man mirrors Christ and the woman the Church. Christ, he suggests, is both lionhearted and lamblike. Marriage must be understood as an image of the relationship of Christ and the Church.
2. The one flesh of husband-wife mirrors the one body of Christ-Church. I’d like him to have explored what “oneness” means here: is it functionality they are one or is it relationality? Is it being or is it perichoresis? What does “one” mean here?
3. This leads him to the distinguishable “roles” of husbands and wives. Which leads him to critique egalitarians, though I’m not sure who he has in mind since he gives no names and no literature and no references. His definition leaves more than lots to be desired for it is incomplete as it is unfair. Who are the egalitarians? His words: “the ones who reject the idea that men are called to be leaders in the home” (77). Point: this is not how to define your enemies. He’s defined them by what he dislikes or by what he thinks is wrong from his angle of what is right. Why not, I want to ask, let them define what they think? They put, he says, all the emphasis on “mutual submission” of vs. 21. Do they? Yes, they will note that — as I would too. V. 22 depends for the word “submit” on v. 21. There is no paragraph break at 22. V. 22 flows out of v. 21. But, is that where the so-defined egalitarians put their emphasis? No. They put it on love and on loving sacrifice of one another, and they also tend to downplay the appropriateness of the word “role.” (By the way, I just read the section on this passage in IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on the New Testament, and the emphasis is on sacrificial love for the excerpts taken and there is precious little on role. Read it for yourself.) Egalitarians, he claims, seem to stop with mutual submission and fall shy of defining roles and the distinctions between husbands and wives. This may be true of some, but I don’t think it is fair to see this of egalitarians as a class.
4. Thus, he continues: “Mutuality of submission and servanthood do not cancel out the reality of leadership and headship. Servanthood does not nullify leadership; it defines it.
5. Sin did not create headship but destroyed it, and here Piper rails against the abuse of headship by domineering and indifferent, lazy males and the abuse of submission by both manipulative obsequiousness and brazen insubordination on the part of wives. Sin made these roles ugly and destructive.
6. Headship: “divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home. Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts” (80). There’s not enough “love” or “covenant keeping” in these two definitions for me. I can’t believe a woman’s submission is about affirming a husband’s leadership — that’s too abstract for me. His definitions here appear to be commitments to assignments for one another instead of commitment to one another.
7. Headship basically means leadership with two facets: protecting and providing (nourishing and cherishing). And the next chp has good examples of what he means by all this …