Did God design the church with a masculine flavour?

Jamie has reshared a shout out to the men who might respond to John Piper’s recent message on the “masculine flavour” of God.  You can read the full text here.  Mr. Piper contends that God has given Christianity a masculine flavour and defines masculinity this way:

Theology and church and mission are marked by overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ, with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, and contrite courage, and risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community—all of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the feel of a great, majestic God, who by his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, inclines men to take humble, Christ-exalting initiative, and inclines women to come alongside the men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.

As a husband, father, church leader and author I appreciate how God’s desire for me to become fully what I’ve been created to be.  I find common ground with those who find most expressions of church emasculating.  I have to ask the question  where does my definition of masculinity come from?  Is it a sociological category, societal norm, biological expression,  a product of consumer culture or theologically defined.   I just pulled up my bible program, I can’t find the word masculine anywhere.  Trying to define what manhood might be from scripture might be a bit scary if we are ever brave enough to venture in to the Old Testament. 

We know that David told Solomon to be a man (1Ki 2:1-2).   Immediately after this he told Solomon to follow the Torah and to make sure a certain someone met an untimely demise.   In the book of Judges we see someone taunted Gideon to “be a man” and kill them, so he did (Jdg 8:21).  Some aspects of manhood being displayed here have been superseded by Jesus’ instruction and example.

We know the definition of masculinity has changed with our culture.  Over a hundred years ago many baby boys were dressed in pink, because some believed that red was a masculine colour, and masculine lite would have been pink.  Defining Christianity as masculine would force us to define what version of masculinity from what culture. 

Piper’s definition of masculine breaks down this way

  • tender hearted strength
  • contrite courage
  • risk-taking decisiveness
  • readiness to sacrifice
  • for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community

I could include “spirit of Christ” but that isn’t defined so I’m leaving it out.   You know who Piper’s list reminds me of? Optimus Prime or perhaps Aragorn. When I look at this list I don’t immediately think of Christ or Paul.  The same Christ who willingly walked in to his own slaughter and send his disciples out as lambs among wolves.  The Christ would extoled meekness as a virtue and told men to let others exploit them.  The same Paul who appeared to the Corinthians with weakness, and fear and much trembling (1Cor 2). 

While Jesus was tender hearted, he rarely exhibited strength.  He cleared the temple and he had spoke boldly against the religious establishment, but the lion’s share of his ministry was an expression of gentleness, mercy and grace.  Paul was pushed around a lot.  While certainly ready to sacrifice and was willing to take risks his interactions with the churches had a decidedly gentle tone.

Consider Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:

But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
(1Th 2:2-8 ESV)

Does Paul sound  masculine or feminine here? 

While it  is true that Jesus was a man and he appointed men as the 12 disciples one could easily argue that such a strategy would have been advantageous given the cultural context. 

Let’s consider Piper’s implied definition of feminine ministry in the church:

  • joyful support
  • intelligent helpfulness
  • fruitful partnership

It sounds a lot like Paul’s approach to ministry.

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
(1Co 3:9 ESV)

But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.
(2Co 1:24 NLT)

Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.
(Php 1:4-5 NLT)

My read of Paul in particular gives me the impression that many aspects of Christian ministry would be more typically understood as feminine. 

We are all created to experience the fullness of our own humanity.  Men should be what they are designed to be, as should women.  Some of us fit in to nice neat categories but many do not .  True grace and compassion wouldn’t reject people just because they don’t fit in to our nice neat categories.  When we do we miss out on what God has for us.  Thankfully the people of Israel followed Deborah in to battle.  Thankfully the church embraced the Gentiles.  Coming up with inflexible theologies that might even catch some aspects God’s intention for us but codify it in to a rule use to judge and impair the choices of others is not consistent with the gospel of grace.

Some aspects of masculinity are at odds with new covenant ministry.  We normally associate masculinity with strength and strength, whether it be personal, physical, political, or institutional can hinder our ministry.  God’s power is perfected in weakness not strength.  The kingdom is like a seed that grows on its own and we don’t understand why.  As Christians we must acknowledge we are completely dependent on the power of God and our own power gets in the way of that.  The more typically male inclination to use coercive force through rules, judgments, or raw brute strength, especially against perceived competitors is at odds with the gospel.  It leads to moralism and shame. 

That is my big concern with all this masculine chest thumping.  There are many men who aren’t very good men as defined by folks like Piper, Driscoll, and Eldridge.  Insecure men often over compensate through other means like the pursuit of career or ministry success.  Inwardly they are flooded with shame because they know they don’t measure up.  Often that shame is then projected and dispensed to people all around them.  Some churches are just a web of shame.  People trying to live by their own strength living up to an ideal that isn’t realistic for who they are and where they came from.  This striving in their own masculine strength impedes them from coming to know the powerful transformation available to them through God’s strength.

  1. #1 by Lila on February 8, 2012 - 5:17 pm

    I was amazed at the Piper description of “manliness.” I can think of many women who completely fill that description. Think of mothers who have these qualities. Think of the ruby of a woman in Proverbs–I think she displays all those character traits!!

    Few people realize that the phrase “Almighty God” actually refers to God-Who-Supplies–the “Many-Breasted One.”

  2. #2 by Lila on February 8, 2012 - 5:26 pm

    I’m really impressed with Len Hjalmarson’s take on this issue:


Comments are closed.