Should Women Teach in Seminary?

Pastor and founder of John Piper recently garnered widespread attention for his comments regarding women teaching in seminary. In a Podcast, Piper answered a male seminary student’s question: Should women be hired as seminary professors?

To begin his answer, Piper said that in his denomination, women were not permitted to serve as pastors. This is based upon 1 Timothy 2:12 which reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” 

He also clarified that he would not address if women should attend seminary to “get the best biblical grounding possible.” He was answering one question: As he put it, “The issue is whether women should be models, mentors, and teachers for those preparing for a role that is biblically designed for spiritual men.”

Simply put, Piper’s answer was no. 

He defended his answer, reasoning, “Samuel Miller, one of the founders of Princeton Seminary, said, ‘A professor’s example as a devoted, laborious, faithful minister, was above all else a record of requisite for his successful training of ministers.’ Now, this implies that seminary teachers be more than competent historians, competent linguists, competent exegetes, educators, or theologians. The proper demand on the seminary teacher is to be an example, a mentor, a guide, an embodiment of the pastoral office in preparing men to fill the pastoral office.” 

“The inconsistency is this: the more one succeeds in distinguishing the seminary teacher from the pastor teacher, the more one fails to provide the kind of seminary education enriched by the modeling of experienced pastor-mentors. In other words, in seeking to justify women teacher-mentors for aspiring pastors, one will be hard put to stress that they’re not in the same category as pastors, and thus, as we believe, out of step with the Scriptures.”

According to Piper, it is not biblical for a woman to train a man for a man’s role in the church. 

Piper continued, “Let me put it another way in the form of a question. If it is unbiblical to have women as pastors, how can it be biblical to have women who function in formal teaching and mentoring capacities to train and fit pastors for the very calling from which the mentors themselves are excluded? I don’t think that works. The issue is always that inconsistency. If you strive to carve up teaching in such a way that it’s suitable for women, it ceases to be suitable as seminary teaching.”

Piper also expressed his views that women were competent, just not appropriate for the seminary role. 

“The issue, as always, is not the competence of women teachers or intelligence or knowledge or pedagogical skill. It’s never competence! That’s not the issue in the home or in leadership. It’s “not the issue in church leadership. It’s not the issue in seminary leadership.

“The issue here at the seminary level is largely the nature of the seminary teaching office. What do we aim for it to be? Is it conceived as an example and model and embodiment of pastoral vision, or not? That will lead us in how we staff our seminary faculty.” 

Piper’s comments were met with both praise and criticism as they circulated around the web. 

Christian author Kaitlin Curtice sent out a call on Twitter for men in the ministry to name the female teachers they had that shaped them, and the movement exploded. Author Mike McHargue summed up, “Twitter doesn’t offer enough characters for their impact.” 

Yet Boyce College professor Denny Burk backed up Piper for upholding biblical standards. In a response, he wrote, “I think Piper has made a compelling case here—one that is consistent with a complementarian view of gender roles and one that I have long agreed with. Moreover, it’s a position that is not new. It is precisely the case that many other complementarians have made over the years.” 

Burk is correct that this is not a new argument. While Piper brought the issue to the forefront of conversations in the Christian space, it has been debated for some time. And while the debate will likely continue for years to come, author Tina Osterhouse urges women not to keep moving forward: “Now, women let’s keep doing what we’ve always done: listen to God and go where we are called to go.”


Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/leolintang



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