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Ask Pastor John: Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary?

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Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary?

In our local churches, we believe God raises up a few qualified men to lead. Not all men in a church are called to pastor, just a few men. But only males serve as elders, according to the blueprint we find in the Pastoral Epistles of the New Testament. So then, it leads to a question today about the role of women teaching pastors in seminaries. Scott, a podcast listener, writes in to ask it. “Dear Pastor John, I’m a seminary student at an orthodox but interdenominational school in the United States. I share your complementarian understanding of God’s design for male and female roles and relationships in the home and church. On that basis, I have recently doubted whether or not my seminary ought to allow women to teach pastors in training. What do you think? Should women be hired as seminary professors? What is your best case?”

I am going to answer this question as best I can on the assumption that the Bible teaches that churches should be led by a team of spiritual, humble, biblically qualified men (1 Timothy 2:12). In other words, I’m going to base my argument about the seminary on the assumption of complementarianism, which I think is not merely an assumption but a well-founded historic understanding of Scripture.

Modeling Eldership

Probably the best defense of that position still, with regard to the role of women teaching and preaching in the church, would be Tom Schreiner and Andreas Köstenberger’s Women in the Church. 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.

That’s my belief about what makes for the best seminary teaching. When a student with the pastoral call arrives at the level of seminary preparation, something is different from what was happening in college education and high school education (at least, usually it is). Not only has he moved beyond the adolescent years of transition from boyhood to manhood, but he is now submitting himself to a community of teachers who, by their precept and example, are called to shape his mind and his heart for vocational pastoral ministry.

Inconsistency

One difference between the former influences that shaped the youth and the influence of the seminary is that seminary education is woven throughout with the vocational pastoral viewpoint. Everything is studied, or I think should be studied, with a view to how it may edify the church and advance the gospel through the pastor’s role in the ministry of the church.

Samuel Miller, one of the founders of Princeton Seminary, said, “A professor’s example as a devoted, laborious, faithful minister, was above all else a record of requisite for his successful training of ministers.” Now, this implies that seminary teachers be more than competent historians, competent linguists, competent exegetes, educators, or theologians. The proper demand on the seminary teacher is to be an example, a mentor, a guide, an embodiment of the pastoral office in preparing men to fill the pastoral office.

Therefore, the attempt — this happens, and I’ve documented this; in fact, I’m drawing a lot of what I’m saying from a paper that I wrote back in 1995 about women teaching in our own seminary in my denomination — the attempt to distinguish the seminary teaching role from the pastoral teaching role in such a way that the biblical restriction to men does not apply to the seminary teaching results in a serious inconsistency. That’s my argument.

The inconsistency is this: the more one succeeds in distinguishing the seminary teacher from the pastor teacher, the more one fails to provide the kind of seminary education enriched by the modeling of experienced pastor-mentors. In other words, in seeking to justify women teacher-mentors for aspiring pastors, one will be hard put to stress that they’re not in the same category as pastors, and thus, as we believe, out of step with the Scriptures.

A Pastoral Vision

Let me put it another way in the form of a question. If it is unbiblical to have women as pastors, how can it be biblical to have women who function in formal teaching and mentoring capacities to train and fit pastors for the very calling from which the mentors themselves are excluded? I don’t think that works. The issue is always that inconsistency. If you strive to carve up teaching in such a way that it’s suitable for women, it ceases to be suitable as seminary teaching.

So a closing word. The issue, as always, is not the competence of women teachers or intelligence or knowledge or pedagogical skill. It’s never competence! That’s not the issue in the home or in leadership. It’s not the issue in church leadership. It’s not the issue in seminary leadership.

The issue here at the seminary level is largely the nature of the seminary teaching office. What do we aim for it to be? Is it conceived as an example and model and embodiment of pastoral vision, or not? That will lead us in how we staff our seminary faculty.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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