December 28th, 2009
Piper, John, and Wayne Grudem. 50 Crucial Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns about Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992. 67 pp. $5.00.
“50 Crucial Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns about Manhood and Womanhood” (50CQ) is an adaptation of the second chapter of “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism.” The book in which this adapted from is 566 pages long while the 50CQ booklet is a mere 67 pages. It is believed by the authors of the this booklet, John Piper and Wayne Grudem, that it offers a “cogent summary” of the responses to fifty of the most often asked questions regarding the subject matter.
They state clearly on page 14 that the specific questions asked in the book are not meant to be an exhaustive list. They basically began with one question, “Why do you regard the issue of male and female roles as so important?” and show the most logical next question that would follow from the answer. Their stated purpose of the booklet, and its greater 566-page volume counterpart, is to draw attention to, “the good of the Church, global mission, and the glory of God” (14).
In answering the first question, they immediately draw the proverbial line in the sand as to what is at stake: “We believe that what is at stake in human sexuality is the very fabric of life as God wills it to be for the holiness of His people and for their saving mission to the world” (14). This intention is seen in their passion throughout to remain true to the clear teachings of Scripture as possible in their handling of each question. One gets the feeling that the psalmist could have been talking of these men when he says, “For zeal for you house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me” (PSALM 69:9).
All through the book, Piper and Grudem answer questions based upon an authority of Scripture found in God as well as offer up pastoral advice and counsel when warranted. For example, in question nine they tackle to subject of wife abuse. The second part of the answer is very much pastoral. “We believe that wife (and husband) abuse have some deep roots in the failure of parents to impart to their sons and daughters the meaning of true masculinity and true femininity” (17).
To summarize a book designed to be a didactic question and answer session is extremely difficult without summarizing each answer to its respective question. To best summarize 50CQ without going into so much detail, suffice it to say that every answer is rooted in Scripture and is salted with a passion for God’s mandated roles for men and women.
While it may be difficult to summarize such a book, it is quite easy to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses found therein. I would like to begin with the strengths of the book for there are many. As I stated above, Piper and Grudem do a masterful job of appealing to the inherent authority found in Scripture. They build their arguments from the Scripture and refuse to use any other outside reference as a basis for why their answer is true.
When dealing with the issue of women having roles of teaching authority over men in the church (questions 19, 20, 21), they are quick to point out that one must assume certain understandings that are not found in the passages in question. For example, some base the order of names, in this case, Priscilla and Aquila, as a way in which the authorial intent was to show a form of headship. Piper and Grudem point out that this is an assumption at best and that it may be that the author, “wanted to give greater honor to the woman by putting her name first (1 Pet. 3:7), or may have had another reason unknown to us” (29). Even in allowing for the debatable point, Piper and Grudem point to Scripture. At the very least, and I believe rightfully so, they claim that we cannot know one way or the other the reason why Priscilla’s name is listed before Acquila’s more often than not. To me, it just sounds better to say it that way!
Another point I briefly touched on above is the pastoral manner in which many of the questions are answered. In answering question 36, they put forth three reasons why a man cannot use his authority over a woman as a means to force her to do what he wants. The first two points are rooted in Scripture. First, there is a, “unique intimacy and union implied in the phrase one flesh” (Eph. 5:29-31) (44). Second, there is a, “special honor commanded in 1 Peter 3:7 as to a joint heir of the grace of life” (44). The third point is an implication of the whole of marriage according to the principles found in Scripture. The third reason is found in the purpose of marriage, “to cultivate shared maturity in Christ” (44). All three points are at the heart of pastoral counseling when dealing with two believers in a possible abusive relationship.
Still another strength is the willingness to tackle a seemingly tough subject matter. It is pretty difficult to stop a runaway freight train dead in its tracks by standing in front of it, but that is just what Grudem and Piper set out to do in this booklet. They understand that this book is not the primary stopping point for the freight train that is evangelical feminism, but that does not deter them from tackling issues head on. In sticking with this analogy, I would say that this book is like a hill that has been strategically placed for runaway trains to slow down with the Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as the ultimate wall that cannot be penetrated. Obviously, those who call on the name of Christ (whether in truth or not) will always debate this aspect of the Bible. What Piper and Grudem set out to do was offer reasoned answers rooted in Scripture to fifty of the more poignant questions. I believe they succeeded.
As with any writing that is not the Bible itself, there will always be some weaknesses. Some books have fewer than others and some books are full of nothing but weaknesses. This particular booklet has one glaring weakness that I was able to discern. The authors do not always answer the question at hand.
For example, question 33 on page 39 asks, “How is it consistent to forbid the eldership to women in our churches and then send them out as missionaries to do things forbidden at home?” In answering this question, they point to historical figures that have called for women missionaries who agree with the views being espoused of manhood and womanhood. When they appeal to Scripture in the context of this particular question, it is only to say that there are ambiguities. They only affirm that women should go to the mission field if called by God and that their “passion is not to become the watchdogs of where women serve” (41). They simply answer the question by reaffirming that women should go if called. They never answer the seeming problem of consistency that is being asked.
Another question they failed to answer, in my opinion, is question 44 on page 54: “Isn’t giving women access to all offices and roles a simple matter of justice that even our society recognizes?” In trying to answer this question, Piper and Grudem take a side road to a difference in moral demands based upon our gender. After spending a page and a half arguing for differing moral demands and not dealing with the justice (think equal pay), they conclude with a weak tie-in at best to the question: “The point of our book is that Scripture and nature teach that personal manhood and womanhood are indeed relevant in deciding not only whom to marry but also who gives primary leadership in the relationship” (57). I do not believe they ever dealt with the matter of justice, as in equal rights for all. They seemed to twist the question to one of morality that I do not believe was intended in the question.
Regardless of a few weaknesses (I am sure I missed a few others), I believe this booklet containing biblical answers to fifty questions regarding manhood and womanhood is a reasoned apologetic for what the Bible really does say. While it may be a secondary issue in some areas, it has integral doctrinal ramifications at its heart. This issue will not be going away anytime soon. For that reason, I would be curious as to how they would go about updating and revising this booklet. Since it’s publishing in 1992, we have seen the ordination of an openly gay bishop in one denomination and have had other denominations denounce intolerance of homosexuality by churches in the name of Christianity. It does not seem to me that the issues surrounding a biblical understanding of men and women are getting any better. If anything, the wedge is being driven deeper and the gap being widened more and more by the year.
You now have television shows portraying “married” lesbian “Christian ministers” in a positive light while proclaiming “fundamentalists” as being heartless and stuck in prehistoric times. I think a new (or next) fifty questions is necessary to deal with ever evolving argument against clearly delineated roles for men and women in marriage, parenting and church. It is one thing to fight for equal rights (I am all for equal pay for equal work and women’s suffrage). It is something completely different to fight against the clear teachings of Scripture and play word games to violate the obvious intentions found therein.
I believe this book is a wonderful addition to any minister’s library. Although it was written in 1992, I cannot think of a more necessary resource in our church today with all that is happening regarding the issue of gender roles in the church. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to be informed as to what the Bible says about Biblical manhood and womanhood. As a minister, it is a book I would purchase multiple copies of in order to give away to young men and women seeking marriage and/or church membership.
(This was an assignment for a class–I bought the book)