Respected pastor John Piper recently answered the question, “Should women be hired as seminary professors?”
You can read Dr. Piper’s argument here. The short version is this: Pastor is a role for godly men. Seminary is not just a transferrence of knowledge, but a sort of mentoring program. The role of teaching in seminary or teaching in the church should not be distinguished (or should be distinguished as little as possible). Seminary teaching should be an “example and model and embodiment of pastoral vision” and thus is a role that is best filled by men (presumably men with experience as pastors, though that’s not directly stated). Dr. Piper is also very careful to point out that he is not saying women are lesser, incompetent, or incapable, which I appreciated.
I was disappointed to see that Dr. Piper didn’t use any scripture in his response (he did include one in reference to why he believes only men should teach in the church).
A few thoughts:
1. We see at least one example in scripture of a woman teaching a man who is a preacher.
Acts 18:24-26English Standard Version (ESV)
Apollos Speaks Boldly in Ephesus
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Apollos, who was eloquent, knew the Lord, was fervent in his faith, and teaching about Jesus, was pulled aside by the husband and wife team (Luke, the author of Acts, is careful to include them both). This is not an act of evangelism, but an act of teaching to a man who was already serving in ministry. He lacked some knowledge, and Priscilla participated in helping him receive it. A skeptic may respond, “Ah, but she did it alongside her husband.” Even so… “they” took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately. If you would prefer to say “Women must only co-teach a seminary class,” so be it. But scripture is clear here that Priscilla taught Apollos.
2. Seminary is church or it is not church.
Dr. Piper pushes us toward a definition of seminary that says it is essentially church. Dr. Piper’s position is that a woman cannot teach a man in seminary because in his view a woman cannot teach a man in church. However, seminary functions differently than church in many ways. For instance, the financial model is vastly different. Most seminarians pay thousands of dollars to be educated. It is vocational school. If seminary is church, this transference of funds is deeply troubling. Are we telling those who desire greater knowledge of God it can only be guaranteed with money? “Wait,” you say. “Seminary is NOT church!” Well, which is it? If it’s not church, let’s not put on it the expectations and restrictions of church. If it is church then, by all means, let’s make sure to follow the rules and functions and expectations of church. In Acts 8, Simon asks the disciples to mentor him and give him power in exchange for money and is heavily rebuked. A church that expects to be paid for knowledge should be rightfully shunned. All that to say: “Seminary is basically church” must be applied universally, not only where we prefer it to be for the sake of our own theologies or preferences.
3. God often uses women to impart spiritual insight to men (even men in leadership in the church).
Mary’s prayer (recorded in Luke 1) has been used by the Holy Spirit to speak to both men and women for thousands of years. Notice, too, the similar themes in that prayer to Jesus’s Beatitudes, which echo it on several topics. It seems unlikely that Jesus didn’t learn some of this at his mother’s feet.
Likewise, when the Christ rises, who is sent with the message of revelation to the leaders of the community? Mary Magdalene.
Philip’s four unmarried daughters prophesied in the presence of Paul and Luke (Acts 21:7-9).
What if Zechariah had not listened to Mary? What if Peter and John had not listened to Mary Magdalene? What if Apollos had refused to hear Priscilla? They did not protest or resist hearing God’s truth from a woman.
4. A man is called to pastor all the people of his congregation, men and women alike.
Unfortunately, if we follow Dr. Piper’s argument too closely into our pulpits we will discover that our pastors are not allowed to speak to women. Even if we agree with Dr. Piper’s position that only godly men can be pastors, we have to ask some questions: If men can only be mentored and shaped as pastors by other men who are pastors, then what words will our pastors have for women? How can a pastor, then, give advice to a young wife, or a mother? How can a pastor help a middle-aged woman navigate discovering how best to serve in the church, if he himself has not been a middle-aged woman?
It would be ludicrous to claim that a pastor has nothing to say to the women of his congregation, and laughable to say that he cannot set an example in word and deed for women. So how is it that a godly woman has nothing to impart to a young seminarian with little or no experience in ministry?
5. A good pastor must learn to listen to women.
Women as well as men are part of the body of the Christ, and have gifts and a role in that body… a theological truth that complementarians like Dr. Piper also cherish and hold central. A good pastor must be able to hear from and interact with all the parts of the body as he tries to shepherd and guide that body toward Christ. Just as preaching, exegesis, Hebrew, and Greek may be learned in a scholastic setting, so, too, the ability to engage with, hear from, and minister to and with women can be learned, grown in, and coached toward. Women should be an integral part of seminary life, just as they are an integral part of body life in the church. To cheat these young men of their opportunity to learn (and make mistakes) about how to minister alongside women (or to women) in a loving environment of collegial mentorship is a dire mistake that has real consequences in their future congregations.
6. Not all seminary students are studying to become pastors.
Dr. Piper says so himself in his response: “Just to be clear, the issue is not whether women should attend seminary in one of its programs and get the best biblical grounding possible.” In other words, Dr. Piper has no objection to women attending seminary, even though he does not believe women should be pastors. Which is to say: Dr. Piper does not believe the only purpose of seminary is preparing pastors for the pastorate (which is, indeed, the main leg his argument against women seminary professors stands on… he argues against himself here). No, in fact, there may be people attending seminary to “get the best biblical grounding possible.”
Many people at my seminary had no intention of becoming pastors. They wanted to grow in their knowledge of the Bible and of God. They wanted to be chaplains, and lay ministers, missionaries, writers, professors, and so on.
Dr. Piper’s entire argument boils down to: Future pastors (men) should be taught and mentored by past or present pastors (men).
So what about all the other students who have no plan to become pastors? What about those who desire to become pastors but are never going to make it? Dr. Piper’s argument has no words for them. (This may be because the question as framed to him was specifically talking about pastors in training… but regardless, Dr. Piper did not spend the time to make a distinction here.)
In conclusion: women should be sought out as seminary professors. They bring a unique voice and a unique contribution to the body, and their insights and experiences are important for would-be pastors to know and understand. This is not in opposition to scripture or even to complementarianism, which teaches that men and women complement one another and are in need of one another… why should this change in a seminary setting?
My wife Krista and I have both earned seminary degrees. I am thankful to say that I had a gifted woman teacher in the person of Dr. Mary Wilder, an amazing woman of God who served overseas for many years, and has the most encyclopedic knowledge of world missions of any person I have ever met. She is a woman of prayer, and an insightful and kind person who loves Jesus and people deeply. It would be an act of great spiritual pride for any pastor or seminarian to say they had nothing to learn from someone like Dr. Wilder. I’ve met pastors who I wish had been mentored by her in a variety of areas.
Thank God for woman seminary professors everywhere. I am thankful you have followed God into this field despite the difficulties, opposition, and naysayers. Please continue to lead us into a deeper understanding of Christ.
If you’re looking for a seminary and you find one that doesn’t hire women: keep looking. You deserve a school that will do better.