In Search of Masculine Christianity

Rachel Held Evans issued a challenge to male bloggers last week in response to John Piper’s suggestion at the Desiring God conference that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel”, which she thought was “a strange way to talk about the Bride of Christ.” I didn’t have time to write anything but I noticed that 150 men have responded and there is some great conversation going on all over the blogosphere.

Driscoll, Piper and others are saying we are in a crisis as there are very few young men in our churches. They say their teaching is an attempt to win them back. Yet at the same time many of my educated, gifted and thoughtful female friends are feeling less and less welcome in Church culture. Vicky Beeching

What Vicky says is sad but true, especially in the church planting scene which increasingly resembles a boys game of marbles [knocking unworthies out of the circle, obtaining and guarding your ‘keepsies’, and compulsive counting to see who is the Winner)] many of my close female colleagues have walked out shaking their heads and moved into more holistic missional vocations and social enterprise, in which young women are leading the way. [see Predictions for the next decade]

Instead of speaking of “masculine” or “feminine” Christianity, we ought to refer to our ethos as – “image-bearing.” Pangea Blog

Also of interest, and quite coincidentally, a new songbook was released today at the monastery we are staying at. One of the songs is this:

Jesus as a mother you gather your people to you

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds.

Underneath is written that this composition is based on the Song of Anselm 1109AD, attributed to Saint Anselm who was the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But what I really wanted to say about this matter has to do with the Masculine Christianity movement that happened a hundred years ago and resulted, in the UK, with a vigorous mission gathering in Edinburgh in 1910 and the subsequent birth of the modern ecumenical movement and on the other side of the pond, D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, the emergence of the YMCA and ultimately basketball and volleyball.

One of the stars of this movement in the UK was a wealthy young cricketer named C.T. Studd and his brothers. They were part of the Cambridge Seven and if you are a cricket fan [I am not] then you might be interested to know that the name “Studds” is engraven on the original Ashes trophy from the famous 1882 match that gave the Ashes their name.

[Its interesting that John Piper was pointing to Oxford cricketer John Ryle in his talk but here I am showing you a cricketer from Cambridge. Nothing against Oxford, mind you.]

CHARLES+THOMAS+STUDD

But C.T. Studd’s contribution to ‘masculine Christianity” was not his sportsmanship, or even his wealth or prestige but rather in the fact that he gave up his prospects of fame, power, and blond cheerleader girlfriends in a mouth-dropping announcement that he was going away to China to give his life away as a missionary, and that he might not return.

Studd’s short book “The Chocolate Soldier” was a call to a gutsy way of following Jesus to a life worth living, the kind of “masculine Christianity” as was popular at the time, but it avoided the breakdown of male vs. female characteristics by challenging both sexes to follow Christ fully:

But how can they call on Him of whom they have not even heard? Must you stay, young man? Can’t you go, young woman, and tell them? C.T.Studd, The Chocolate Soldier

The idea of a strong and aggressive [masculine?] Christianity, portrayed in The Chocolate Soldier, had more to do with restraint, with sacrifice, with generosity, not bullying but serving, not hoarding by giving, not rampant conference attending but packing our suitcases for Christ’s sake and not coming home again.

We are frittering away time and money in a multiplicity of conventions, conferences and retreats, when the real need is to go straight and full steam into battle, with the signal for close action flying. C.T.Studd, The Chocolate Soldier

“A lost reputation is the best degree for Christ’s service.” C.T. Studd, The Cambridge Seven, quote from OMF

After reading C.T. Studd’s thoughts in light of the new-Reformed movement and its recent outbursts, I am left with these 6 challenges:

1. Instead of giving the microphone to bratty 20-somethings fresh out of college,

lets give a platform to the elderly who have earned a hearing.

2. Instead of bragging about accomplishments, academic degrees and lunches with megachurch pastors,

lets sit in the shadows with the unlovely and the awkward and the losers.

3. Instead of targeting yuppies, winners, and high-achievers

lets give preference to the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable.

4. Instead of accumulating a portfolio of influential cities,

lets send our people to the backwaters no one has heard about, places where their names and reputations will fade.

5. Instead of attributing honor to those with the largest Sunday headcount,

lets find those faithful workers in the hidden corners who are really transforming their cities.

6. Instead of worrying incessantly about whether this leader or that leader has a penis or not,

lets focus on encouraging the whole body of Christ to embrace His mission for the world.

For the students: Compare C.T. Studd’s “The Chocolate Soldier” with John Piper’s outline of masculine Christianity [as blogged here by Scot McKnight]

For the geeks: If you have time, read these two books on Masculine Christianity of that time:

The manly Christ: A new view (1904) [PDF] and The masculine power of Christ; or, Christ measured as a man (1912) [PDF]

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

27 Comments

  • Thank you. Your 6 challenges resonate deeply with my frustrations with a lot of the discussions going around at the moment. I do think that some 20 somethings have some very wise things to say into stuff though, and the danger we have is that we miss the quiet voices coming through because the bratty ones are shouting the loudest.

  • Thanks for this historical insight. I’m often reminded that strength, adventure, or power are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves. It’s only when they are misdirected.
    And another thought that occurred to me this morning is that everyone seems to feel left out of church: manly men, gentle men, women, artists, etc. There are so many people who don’t feel like they “belong.” That has me wondering if this is because church has somehow turned discipleship into a cloning or homogenizing process that rips out the good things that make us unique so that the organization of church can function smoothly and everyone can get on board with the “vision” or whatever. That’s kind of a bleak view of things, but it’s the only way I can make sense of the anecdotes I always run into.

  • Andrew,
    Once you let go of harmful ideas about what masculinity is, I am afraid you are left with things that are better understood as being profoundly human instead of masculine. I don’t find anything particularly masculine about: “with restraint, with sacrifice, with generosity, not bullying but serving, not hoarding by giving.”
    Deeper than this discussion about the nature of Biblical or Historic Christianity is the details of the Christianity we choose to practice today. I am reminded of Mary Daly’s statement about a Feminist Jesus: ‎”So Jesus was a feminist. So what? Even if he wasn’t I am.”
    Even if frequently in our history Christianity has been practiced with a masculine feel, I am not going to practice it that way.

  • of course. and when i was a 23 year old pastor i had a lot of wise things to say. but i did feel strange advising 60 year old couples on their lives and marriages.

  • Well it’s a good post overall, but I have to say the Bible is loaded differences between men and women that are rooted in creation and the fall and I would be very careful about that. It’s very clear that God intended men and women to be different and that together they bear His image better than they do alone. I think I will follow the Bible rather than Mary Daly.

  • Thanks Andrew. We have a woman guest posting this Friday who is in the “discernment” process for ordination in the Episcopal church. I just read it, and it’s a great post!

  • Amen and amen. Listen to the elderly and unflashy. Reach the poor and forgotten. But let’s not neglect the global cities. These are loaded with the poor and elderly.

  • Hi Ed, I think this is a great question and reflects things I have been considering in our church. I wonder if it is a result of consumer church where everyone comes expecting to have their needs met rather than seeking to give to others. How can everyone feel they don’t belong? Something very wrong there I agree. I’m wondering for our next step is to encourage people to seek belonging not as something that is provided by the leadership, but is developed within the body

  • No one should involve Christianity in gender wars. Yes, the Bible occurred in a patriarchal society, but both women and men were created in the image of God. Jesus died for everyone. Calling the Bible or Christianity “masculine” gives a misplaced emphasis to what the Bible and Christianity are all about.

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  • I take issue with 1 and 4 in your list.
    1) Ageism is as ugly as sexism. We should be listening to and for those who lift up Christ and glorify the father, without consideration of age. Last I checked the Holy Spirit didn’t make age a requirement for infilling. And Paul didn’t call Timothy a brat and tell him to shut up and let the old wise people talk.
    4) Raising up either cities or backwaters is wrong. People should go where they are called. However I will say that cities all over the globe are filling up with the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable. Considering that I’m sure God will be calling, many to the cities. I haven’t done a scientific study but it seems to me the big name author/preachers are primarily in the suburbs not the cities.
    P.S. I’ll be 39 next month.

  • Thanks Brent for the pushback
    I suppose I was thinking Titus 3:4 when I wrote that the older should teach the younger but there is a case (and i thank you for bringing this up) for the younger to teach the older
    Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Tit 2:2
    However, I still cringe in thinking of my self as a pastor in my 20’s (which I was) advising retired folk on the marriages.
    As for number 2, I said “send out” not go out. No all missionaries go where they feel God wants them to go. Many have to submit to the strategic plan of their organizations which is not proportionate to the needs, nor, I believe, God’s plan.
    For example, very very few missionaries end up working wth the world’s urban poor, or in 10/40 window countries.
    I agree with you
    “However I will say that cities all over the globe are filling up with the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable. Considering that I’m sure God will be calling, many to the cities. ”
    Lets pray that that they make it there.

  • I didn’t become a pastor/teacher until I was in my late 20’s but I understand the thought of cringing at the young 20’s me advising my elders on many issues (even at almost 40 there are plenty of times I’m in over my head). I will say however if you we’re a Christ submitted Holy Spirt filled young man I’m sure your teaching was helpful to many not because you were experienced or knowledgeable but because He was in you, guiding you, leading you and speaking through you.
    I fear we often forget to trust the Holy Spirit in people, we can do this to women (too emotional or feminine), the elderly (too out of touch) the young (too inexperienced), the laity (too little education or knowledge) etc.
    I think I agree with you on your second point. I was in a larger church several years ago in which the elders decided the church would focus on Communist or post-communist countries only. I saw a members of our fellowship feel a call to a non-communist country or geographic reason who got very little attention or funding from the church b/c their calling didn’t fit the elders plan.
    I appreciate your thoughts on this, I just worry that in trying to rid our faith of one wrong we may perpetuate others.

  • It really seems to me that this gospel according to your gender, this emphasis on only knowing God deeply by being a good husband or good wife, is not so much Christianity but Christians doing paganism poorly.
    The idea that Paul with his metaphors of Christ and the church meant to make a relationship model that is gendered and pro-creative at its heart is bizarre. That marry if you can’t help but sin otherwise has transformed into a cult of marriage above all is just bizarre as well.

  • why is it “instead of?” Why not “in addition to”? People who are successful, rich, and even well known also have a deep need for Christ and Christian relationships.

  • I thought Tim Challies said it pretty well in his article on the topic. http://www.challies.com/articles/john-pipers-masculine-christianity “I suppose this is why I don’t find a whole lot of controversy here. His language of “masculine Christianity” is not language I would be likely to adopt for my own use, but I don’t see that what he says here is substantially different from what he and other complementarians have been saying for years.”
    The good news is that Christian Conversion can remain alive and well for those who seek Him, even while this scuffle works itself out.

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