Yes, Women Can Be Part of the Spiritual Formation of Men

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An audio transcript of John Piper answering a question about female professors in seminary has garnered a lot of (negative) attention since being posted yesterday. He says, "The issue is whether women should be models, mentors, and teachers for those preparing for a role that is biblically designed for spiritual men." His answer? No, women should not play any role in the formation of male pastors. Click here to read the full transcript at Desiring God

Friends, we should be careful appealing to logic that goes beyond the witness of Scripture and in this case runs antithetical to it. As I argue in my book, the entire witness of Scripture paints a picture of men and women side-by-side worshipping and serving God, for both genders bear the image of God and both have something unique that the other doesn’t have. What we don’t find in Scripture is the idea that only men are to spiritually form women, not women form men.

So should women play any role in the spiritual formation of male pastors? If we are going to pose that question to the biblical text, then we should take the whole of Scripture into account and not just a rigid interpretation of the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). What we find is Moses and Miriam leading together, even composing songs together. We find God speaking through Deborah and Huldah to deliver and interpret God’s Word and instruct according to it. We find Abigail speaking a Word from the Lord to David and David saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.” We find women in Jesus’ close circle of disciples (beyond the Twelve) and in Paul’s close circle of fellow diakonos -- servants and ministers (Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Euodia, Syntyche, and others in Rom. 16).

And let it not be lost on us the many women in Scripture at whose feet we sit learning about God because He determined that his revealed Word come through them, too. We find Miriam’s song, Hannah’s prayer, Deborah’s song, Mary’s song, Huldah’s interpretation all included in Scripture as the inspired Word of God. God wants us to learn something about himself from these women. Unless men in pastoral ministry choose not to read these passages, male pastors still cannot escape being spiritually formed by women, at least by these women in Scripture.

Last, let’s not forget Lois and Eunice, who taught the faith and Scriptures to their grandson/son Timothy. Paul began 2 Timothy by commending these women again to Timothy, who was now shepherding the congregation in Ephesus, and urges him to continue in what he learned from them (2 Tim 1:5; 3:14-15). Their formation of Timothy wasn’t a past event but continued to reverberate throughout the rest of Timothy’s life and ministry. I thank God that they were “models, mentors, and teachers” to Timothy.

If we argue that only men can teach men for pastoral ministry, then we are forcing Sripture on a trajectory that it isn’t going. We are saying to God that he has nothing to teach us (men) about himself through his other image-bearers. We are saying that there’s something inherent in the female gender that renders them incapable or incompatible for God to use in the formation of shepherds.

Friends, especially females, be encouraged. This is not who God is. Not only does God use women in spiritual formation of his ministers, but he even used women, like Deborah, as shepherds! He used Huldah to instruct and teach. He inspired the mouths of women to speak his Word. He used women like Phoebe to interpret Paul’s letter to the Romans (you’ll have to read my book or another book for more on this). He used Priscilla in the spiritual formation of Apollos. Women contended for the gospel at Paul’s side.

And if God is willing to use an ass to speak on his behalf to Balaam, we should not be surprised, as we see in Scripture, that he is most glad to use women to speak his Word and be part of the spiritual formation of men. Because we are people of the Word and want to be faithful interpreters of the Word, we must not ignore these women or God’s use of women. If anything, we see it is not against God’s divine nature to use and speak through women in salvation history. (William Webb’s book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals, is really helpful on this point.)

To those brothers called to pastoral ministry, invite women into your spiritual formation. Choose a seminary with females on the faculty. Why? Because God has made clear that the bride of Christ is made up of men and women, that the body of Christ is made up of men and women, that his image-bearers are to be both men and women, that his family is made up of men and women, that his inspired Word is not complete with just the testimony of men, and that he himself is neither male nor female. Choosing, then, to be trained for ministry within Christ’s bride, body, and family devoid of female mentors, teachers, or models runs antithetical to the kind and type of ministry to which you are called. That kind of spiritual formation could communicate that women are necessary parts of God’s plan in every realm except training for pastoral ministry and that men are sufficient in themselves for all things necessary to prepare and train for pastoral ministry.

What I’m not arguing for (and never have) is a spiritual family ruled only by mothers. I’m arguing that Scripture makes clear that the family of God needs both fathers and mothers working together shepherding the people of God, spiritually forming the children and each other.

For those of you women who feel called to ministry and are considering seminary, don’t let Piper’s article discourage you. Seminary is not only for senior pastors, and there are many that will welcome you not just as students to receive learning but as valuable parts of the community who will be part of the spiritual formation of others, yes, even men.