Editorial – Chris Smith – Lent 2012

[ This is not something that we have done before, but given the boldness of John Piper’s recent remarks that Christianity must have “a masculine feel,” (LGT: Scot’s McKnight’s summary) I felt compelled to post my editorial for our forthcoming print issue here, as it is a response to Piper that states in no uncertain terms that we do not share his vision of the Kingdom of God. ]

As I sit down to write this editorial,

the internet has been abuzz for the last couple of weeks over John Piper’s recent comments that Christianity must necessarily have “a masculine feel.” I do not want to demonize John Piper, and even here at Englewood Christian Church, we bear the baggage of a long history of thinking and abiding in a masculine-dominated fashion similar to that described by Piper.  However, we must be clear, this sort of patriarchy is a part of the old older of things that is passing away.  The Kingdom of God is a new order in which there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female (Gal. 3:28).  Paul’s point in this passage, as he makes clear in the latter part of the same verse, is not that we should deny these characteristics, but that in Christ’s new creation, they no longer serve to divide us.  Jesus put it more directly, his way was not one of domination (Matt. 20:25-28).

Piper’s comments would have been more truthful in the era in which the biblical texts were written; the culture was patriarchical and God worked in and among that culture – the Judaism of the Old Testament era and Early Christianity undoubtedly had a “masculine feel,” but culture is not and should not be static.  God is at working, transforming and redeeming creation.  John Piper notwithstanding, patriarchy is dying, and praise God for that!

I mention this story not only to go on record with my concerns about Piper’s latest remarks, but also to emphasize that this sort of Christianity is not the kind of faith that we want to nurture in the reviews and commentary that we offer.  We have no desire sanctify any sort of domination, be it patriarchy, greed, militarism, colonialism, racism; instead, we want to nourish a vision of the Kingdom of God in which these orders of a dying age can be clearly seen in the light of Christ, as the doomed powers that they are.  We are therefore proud to feature in this issue the work of three extraordinary and visionary women: Marilynne Robinson, Madeleine L’Engle and Lauren Winner.  All three of these writers have long poignantly spurred our imaginations with the real hope of Christ’s new creation in which males and females work and flourish together as equals.

This issue comes at the dawn of the season of Lent, a time when Christ’s followers remember their own mortality and, through practices of fasting and contemplation, remember that we are called to die to ourselves and to the old order of things in the world. John Piper’s recent remarks remind us that however comfortable we are with powers of the present age, and however handsomely they have benefited us, they are doomed to failure in the resurrection of Christ, and the promise of their failure is the promise of our own transformation into the image of Christ.  We do not need to execute these powers, just as Christ did not do so, but our job is simply to proclaim that they are doomed and to patiently and lovingly work toward embodying a different way of life together in our local church communities.

I pray that this thought would resonate in your heart and mind as you read these reviews and as we all proceed together through the season of Lent and toward the celebration of Christ’s resurrection!

Praying for the Shalom of Christ’s new Creation,

Chris Smith

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


  1. thanks for sharing this Chris.

    I love this line towards the end:

    “We do not need to execute these powers, just as Christ did not do so, but our job is simply to proclaim that they are doomed and to patiently and lovingly work toward embodying a different way of life together in our local church communities.”If we could just take all the time and energy we’d like to spend/have already spent trying to “execute” these powers and direct that towards “embodying a different way of life together in our local church communities”… that would be cool. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction.

  2. Chris,
         I haven’t read Piper’s comments so I’m speaking from my own ignorance and experience here.  I’m not sure what I know what Piper means by a “Masculine feel,”  but I have to admit to sharing some sympathy with that comment, at least from my understanding of it.  I’ve been an evangelical for almost three decades now, but I’m leaving that fractured, glorious, screwed-up milieu for Rome.  It isn’t a perfect match, Rome and I (I’d rather be Byzantine Catholic, but my wife can’t hack the East, so we’re staying Western for now), but it is a step closer to what I long for.  What I long for is something challenging, something that challenges me as a man.  I’ve thought and felt for some time that there was something overly-feminine about Evangelicalism.  I just couldn’t (and still can’t) quite articulate it.  Perhaps it’s the overabundance of songs conveying some hand-wringing emotion…I don’t quite know.  I do know when I began attending Orthodox liturgies I could tell something was different (style and culture aside).  Perhaps it was the challenge of standing for most of the liturgy or the call for a rigorous year-round schedule of fasting (most of it vegan).  There is something that pushes me in the ancient church as a man that I didn’t find in the Protestant world.  This is not to say that standing for a church service or fasting are intrinsically masculine, they aren’t, but the practices of these much older brothers (and sisters–man, those nuns know the prayer life) expect an athleticism that seems to be lacking in the Protestant world.  So, if Christianity can call and nurture masculine virtues then what is the problem?  Christianity also calls and nurtures feminine virtues as well.  Observing anecdotally in American churches, one sees more women than men on any given Sunday.  Surely, that is influencing our practices in subtle ways.  My comments are not meant to be misogynistic in any way, but God has created us male and female and post-universal resurrection, we shall remain as we were created, albeit in a glorified way–male and female.  So, we should purge the bent masculine passions–violence, abuse, lust, etc. as much as we should purge the bent female passions (I could tell you my complaints about women, but somehow I don’t think Christ shares many of them). 

  3. I think the difference between you and I on this is that we view the Old Order vis a vis the Patriarchy differently.

    If you’re saying that a patriarchal system exists which oppresses and did oppress women today and in the past, I must agree. If you’re saying that this patriarchy is the same as the patriarchy described by Dr. Piper and practiced in the Early Church, then I’d have to disagree.

    The former patriarchy takes what is good (male headship) and twists it to serve violent ends. Ancient Sparta would be an example. Homer contrasts two forms of patriarchy in the Iliad: Hector the family man is the tragic hero; the ego-maniac Achilles is the villain.

    Often the violent ends of the Achilles patriarchy are used to serve institutions that perpetuate violence and oppression, such as the State. But the Christian form of patriarchy which Piper is gunning for is subversive and opposed to State control. 

    If more people recognized male headship within the family and church, there would be less of a need for a powerful State, and that would have consequences (less war and less fear). What we need is less of the State’s patriarchy and more of the Christian sort.