Critique: ‘The Beauty of Womanhood’

It’s not new to me that Desiring God, a ministry of John Piper, holds unhelpful, unbiblical ideas about male and female, marriage and gender. John Piper, after all, once said in an interview that women should avoid jobs where they hold authority over men, for example, a job in the police force. This isn’t just sexist, it’s unbiblical. Which is also how I would describe the post written on Desiring God’s blog recently – ‘The Beauty of Womanhood.’ The picture it paints is not beautiful to me, and it’s not even realistic. But the real tragedy is that it misses the better beauty in following Jesus, male or female.

Let’s work through the problems of this article. First of all, it discusses the vision our culture supposedly offers women that trades in feminine strength and beauty for a ‘treadmill race to nowhere.’ Now it’s hard to understand as the disappointing vision being offered is never defined, but as the next few sentences focus on the home as the centre of life, I can only assume it means women pursuing work and lives outside of that setting.

This is a very narrow view of what a women’s – or a person’s – life should be. More than that, it’s a very limited view of what a women’s life can be. I have to spend days at uni studying, because one day soon I will have to support myself. Then I will have to spend days at work, at a job I hope I will love, because again, I will need to support myself, and because I want to do good work as I work for the Lord. And this comes from someone in a fairly privileged situation. What of women who need to work to support a family? Though the author would probably say that is her husband’s job, which again exposes a key fault in not only this article, but this kind of theology: it speaks only to those in a married family situation and ignores those outside it. But I will come back to that.

For when a woman sets herself up alongside a man — as made for the same things and without distinction — the result is not uniformity, but rather, a reverse order. Indeed, in order for her to become like a man, he becomes less and less like one.

I do not see how women working and living and serving Jesus alongside men, as equals, makes men less. Rather, it makes everyone better, it makes the image of God we reflect more full, more complete. I reject the author’s assertion that women are usurpers when we ask for equality, when we live our lives as God’s children, equally called to serve him with our everything. I reject the idea that our differences are essential. Our differences are important, because they show the range of ways there are to reflect God’s image in our world, but essential? Our essence is who we are in Jesus.

But it doesn’t really matter whether I reject these arguments, because the truth is, they aren’t biblical. There is not a godliness to be followed by males and a godliness to be followed by females. To use the author’s wording, real Christians mimic Jesus. And the image of God show to us in Jesus looks the same if you are male or female. We are all called to be like him, together.

I am called to follow Jesus and be like him, and live out that grace and mercy he shows at the cross, and point others to him. I am not called to ‘transform a promising bachelor into a promising, respected husband.’ My purpose is in Jesus.

Not every women gets married. Not every women has children, or can have children. The image painted of this ‘transforming role’ is a lovely, unattainable fairytale. The author tries to vaguely address those who are single, by saying we have to nurture and grow all God has given us, and be mothers that way, but it is a brush off, a consolation prize. The truth is, this brand of theology is false, and I do not hesitate to say that. I know it is false, because it does not hold up under the scrutiny of real life, of the real experiences of women. If it is not true for all people, in all places, in all time periods, how can it be true? If it only fits certain people in certain situations, and has no backing from the bible, how we can declare it the only way to live as a women following Jesus?

Jesus’ words were for us all, and I will follow him, and be like him. I will live as though I am a person freed from fear and darkness and legalism, because I am. I will submit to Jesus and I will treat people well and do my best. I will show grace and mercy to others, even at a cost to myself. But I will not try and achieve some true beauty of womanhood when the real beauty is right in front of me, in following Jesus.

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