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Headlines & Happenings (John Piper and Female Seminary Professors; Rachael Denhollander)

As one week gives way to another, I like to provide a roundup of the themes that were prominent among Christian readers and writers in the week that was. This week people were discussing John Piper’s thoughts on female seminary professors while also discussing Rachael Denhollander’s remarkable victim impact statement from the sentencing of Larry Nassar.

John Piper and Female Seminary Professors

In episode 1149 of Ask Pastor John, John Piper answered this question: Is there a place for female professors at seminary? His answer, not surprisingly for those who are familiar with his understanding of complementarian principles, was no. “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. The issue is whether women should be models, mentors, and teachers for those preparing for a role that is biblically designed for spiritual men. That’s the way I’m posing the question. … You can hear in that sentence another assumption about the nature of what I think seminary teaching should be. Namely, seminary is not just the transfer of information. Machines can do that. But machines can’t form a man for the pastoral role by being those who, in their teaching, embody that role and model that role and inspire for that role through their active involvement as elder-qualified men in the church.”

Denny Burk, President of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, wrote an article at his personal blog to demonstrate that this position is not novel. “For example, my own denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) was facing this very issue back in 2007. As a result, the Southern Baptist Texan interviewed presidents of SBC seminaries asking them to describe their seminary’s practice regarding female professors. They all answered basically in the same way.” In a second article he provided a “mere complementarian” understanding of the key passage, 1 Timothy 2:12. And in a third he demonstrated what the debate is not about. Of all the articles, this may be the most clarifying.

Stephen Kneale wrote On John Piper and His Prohibition of Female Seminary Professors in which he outlined four broad complementarian positions and how they inform questions like this one. Michael Bird penned what was mostly a level-headed response from a theological conservative who is also not-quite-egalitarian. What jumped out at me is his assertion that women can only be safe in an environment where authority is shared between men and women. “Gosh, if you believe in total depravity, and if you read the news (#AndySavage), you cannot trust men to police other men when it comes to women. So it is a pastoral necessity and a duty of care that female students have women role models and women advocates in any faculty.” However, he failed to back this assertion with Scripture. He also went way too far when he included this outrageous statement: “My first piece of advice for women preparing for seminary is that you should approach an all-male faculty with the same level of caution you would use sharing a cab ride with Harvey Weinstein.”

Bethany Jenkins, until recently a very consistent contributor to The Gospel Coalition, tweeted her disagreement and a look through the long thread that follows will prove enlightening to those trying to get a survey of popular opinions.

I’m a complementarian and *strongly* disagree with this conclusion. My disagreement stems from a high, not low, view of the local church and the authority of Scripture; we should not extend it beyond where and what it teaches.

— Bethany Jenkins (@BethanyJenkins) January 23, 2018

Rachael Denhollander’s Victim Impact Statement

A second popular topic of discussion was former gymnast Rachael Denhollander and her victim impact statement about Larry Nassar. Donhollander was the first woman to go public with accusations of sexual misconduct and she was given the last word before he was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. Her statement was lengthy, at times graphic, and heartbreaking. What stood out to many people afterwards was the way she pleaded with Nassar to turn to Christ and be saved. You can watch it here (beginning at 27:00 or so if you’d like to watch the part where she speaks of forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ Jesus):

Al Mohler led with the story in his January 25 edition of The Briefing and concluded this way: “But what so many in the world missed is that the moral clarity that was so evident in that courtroom yesterday cannot really emerge from a secular worldview. It can only emerge from a biblical worldview. And yesterday it wasn’t just the witness to good and evil that appeared. In the voice of Rachel Denhollander, there was a powerful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel that speaks so honestly about sin, and the Gospel that so honestly promises in Christ salvation from sin.” In “Gymnasts, Prophets, and UsRebecca VanDoodewaard said, “These three things—doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God—are things that are missing from the discussion around this case and other sexual abuse situations.” Aaron Earls also wrote about it and pointed out, “Many Christians have rightly pointed to Denhollander’s presentation of the gospel to Nassar, but we miss the depth of what she did—and of the gospel itself—if we jump to that first and only stay there.”

Writing for TGC Australia, Murray Campbell made some important observations, including this: “We should not be so quick to dismiss the efficacy and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ today. In a court of law, and in circumstances addressing the ugliest of human affairs, a woman spoke with quiet dignity, sharing her pain, calling for justice on behalf of countless girls, and speaking grace to a man who deserves none. Rare? possibly. Contrary to human wisdom? Yes. Attractive and causes us to ponder? Absolutely.” And, once again, Denny Burk commented, this time relating her situation with abuse-prevention training and programs.

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