Could John Piper’s Advice on Wife Abuse Lead to Soft Complementarianism? Perhaps.

John Piper (and a woman)

John Piper (and a woman)

John Piper has been an outstanding defender of Biblical norms for men and women, standing as a bulwark against the great tide of recent liberalism and postmodernism. In a recent blog post at desiringGod, brother John discusses cases in which the physical discipline of a wife may cross the gray line into the realm of unacceptable and un-Christian violence. Brother John has previously advised that these matters be kept within the boundaries of the family or church. He advised that a wife might see fit to endure “being smacked one night” and then to seek help from the church:

But John now sees certain cases which permit a woman to call law enforcement agencies without challenging the headship of her husband. But is he right, or is this a dangerous concession to liberal thought?

John rightly points out that submission is a principle not only of a wife’s relationship to her husband, but also of “children to parents (Ephesians 6:1), citizens to government (Romans 13:1), wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:22), employees to employers (2 Thessalonians 3:10), church members to elders (Hebrews 13:17), all Christians to each other (Ephesians 5:21), all believers to Christ (Luke 6:46).” And so, some of these duties may come into conflict from time to time, needing to be resolved with the wisdom which is found only in the Scriptures and from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I note that John doesn’t mention the submission of slaves to masters (Ephesians 6:5), but that is another area which the Bible commands submission. I am not questioning the decision in the past of U.S. slaves to rebel against their masters, but I will note in passing that this should have been decided on a State-by-State basis and was never within the constitutional jurisdiction of the Federal Government and is just another instance of Big Government imposing its beliefs on individuals.

That aside, brother John is right that a wife should not go to the police for the odd slap. I mean to say, imagine if Mrs. Hawk had gone to the police on the few occasions that she has spoken out of turn to me in our forty-three years of marriage, when I did no more than brush her with the back of my hand (and it hurt me to do so, more than it hurt her)! I would be locked up now with the real criminals! Never did I step over the line into wonton violence.

Where John should be careful, however, is in saying that it is acceptable for a wife to call the police on her own husband. Here is how he approaches this issue of a husband who has been excessively violent to his wife, whether in discipline or in lashing out to her:

A Christian woman should not feel that the only help available to her is the police. That would be a biblical failure of her church…. Recourse to civil authorities may be the right thing for an abused wife to do. Threatening or intentionally inflicting bodily harm against a spouse (or other family members) is a misdemeanor in Minnesota, punishable by fines, short-term imprisonment, or both. Which means that a husband who threatens and intentionally injures his wife is not only breaking God’s moral law, but also the state’s civil law. In expecting his wife to quietly accept his threats and injuries, he is asking her to participate in his breaking of both God’s moral law and the state’s civil law.

I acknowledge this is a curly question. But I am not convinced by John’s argumentation. Until the late Nineteenth Century, it was perfectly legal for a husband to physically discipline a woman in this country, provided it was not excessive in the way that the Muslim excessively disciplines his wife (or wives!) today in the Middle East. So on his reasoning, as soon as the Federal Government and its liberal courts opposed even the mildest forms of physical disciplining (and in so doing undermined both male authority in the household and the Constitution), we also have to set aside the Word of God when it affords authority to the male in the Christian household. Can this be right? Back when it was legal to administer moderate physical discipline to a wife, would John Piper agree that a wife had no recourse to law enforcement and should have merely been submissive back then? And so are we to make obedience to the Word of God subject to the passing of unconstitutional, humanistic laws? As is well known, liberals have used legislation in order to undermine the authority of males and the family unit for over a century now, all in the name of Humanism. But who is the greater authority: God or the State?

Brother John bases his argument on human law, but there is at least some doubt as to whether these humanistic laws are contrary to the protection of individuals offered in the Constitution, and therefore they may not be laws at all.

John admits that a woman may “turn the other cheek” to her husband’s physical discipline, and in so doing follow the Word of God. He rightly describes this as a “path of love open to those who are persecuted”. But then he muddies the waters by giving other options, including fleeing. But where is the submission in fleeing from the leader of the household?

Let me be perfectly clear, I am just as concerned as John Piper to “make it part of the culture of manhood in the church that the men will not tolerate the abuse of any of its women.” Yet this should not mean abandoning the divine sanction for male leadership in the household or disobeying the biblical injunction for physical discipline.

– Pastor Randy Hawk