The Bride of Christ Isn’t Masculine Enough For Some People

[CBMW (the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) and T4G (Together for the Gospel) are holding back-to-back conferences this month. One of the main purposes is to teach that the Bible requires men to lead and women to follow them.

These supposed gender roles can never be reversed according to the conference speakers and organizers. Anything else falls short of the robust masculinity they demand as the only way for the church to exist and – again, according to them – is a threat to the very gospel itself. In response I offer this post from the archives.]

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A recent article about John Piper (a founding member of T4G and CBMW) reports his apparent concern that Christianity is not masculine enough, and it is up to male church leaders to do something about it.

He pointed to various descriptors of God (Father, King, etc.) as well as the fact that almost all of the biblical leaders anointed by God were men (the article doesn’t say whether he addressed biblical women in leadership like Deborah), and is then quoted as saying, “Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

Of course, this conclusion scripture – which I will get to in a moment – but that is just one of the disturbing aspects of his statement. Another is his odd use of language and the illogical conclusions this leads him to. Perhaps the biggest question initially is: what does he mean by “Christianity”?

Does he mean our faith? Does he mean an individual’s relationship with Christ? Does he mean God’s people collectively? Could it be something else?

He never gives a satisfactory definition of that seminal word but, whatever he means, here’s why he thinks it’s important: “the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel.” Then he gives us one of the oddest definitions of “masculine” I’ve ever read:

“When I say masculine Christianity or masculine ministry or Christianity with a masculine feel, here’s what I mean: Theology and church and mission are marked by an overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community.”

A “masculine feel”

So, masculine Christianity is “an overarching godly male leadership.” If he stopped there, at least I’d be able to see a logical connection between his concept of leadership and how this is masculine (although it still doesn’t explain how leadership constitutes Christianity as a whole). But it’s the rest of that quote that shows how badly he has conflated the notions of gender and sex (being masculine and being male are not the same thing, after all).

He says this leadership is marked by “tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community.” But if you ask most people, they’d say being tender-hearted in exercising strength sounds more feminine than masculine. Same with “contrite courage,” I’d bet. Even most diehards would probably admit that risk-taking decisiveness is not unknown among women. But for sure the quality of readiness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of “protecting and providing for the community” would be more easily ascribed to a feminine model than a masculine one.

What he has actually defined here is a leader whose attributes have been understood throughout history as being feminine. At least if we are going by “feel” (his word), then based on my 50 plus years of reading, historical and modern, I’d say his type of leadership feels feminine to me.

The Source – What the Bible has to say

Another problem with Dr. Piper’s claim that God has ordained a masculine Christianity is that Christianity is not equivalent to church leadership. It is much larger than that, and any attempt to co-opt the word to mean something less is a dangerous business to engage in with God’s word. Biblical Christianity must be understood as at least encompassing everything about faith in Christ and being his Bride.

For example, Jesus had a lot to say about faith in him and he kept it simple:

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:40.)

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3.)

That’s it. Christianity is, in the sense of faith in Jesus Christ, knowing the one true God and the one he sent. It doesn’t take any masculine qualities to do that.

And then there’s the issue of being his people, another aspect of what constitutes Christianity. The Bible repeatedly characterizes God’s people as (among other things) his Bride, starting under the Old Covenant (e.g., Isaiah 62:5 and Jeremiah 2:2) and continuing in the New:

“Jesus answered, ‘Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.’”  (Luke 5:34-35.)

“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.”  (John 3:29.)

God’s people are the Bride of Christ. Sounds pretty feminine to me. But in case this has gotten too metaphorical for those who find themselves leaning toward Dr. Piper’s position, I offer this scene from the life of Jesus:

“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’

He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50.)

Everyone who belongs to Christ is his mother, his sister and his brother. There is no way we can put an overarching masculine gloss on that.

And that’s what Christianity is.

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This article first appeared as a guest post on Keri Wyatt Kent’s excellent blog last February. She wrote this introduction for it:

Last week, theologian and evangelist Dr. John Piper caused a bit of controversy by stating at a the God, Manhood & Ministry conference that God intended for Christianity to have a “masculine feel.” One of his arguments to support this statement was that Jesus was a man, not a woman (I’m not making this up). Blogger and author Rachel Held Evans responded with a thoughtful critique, but asked for men to write responses as well. I also thought it would be interesting to get one of my male readers, Tim, to respond as well. Here’s his guest post. (If you need background, follow the links to see what was said.)

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11 Responses to The Bride of Christ Isn’t Masculine Enough For Some People

  1. I really dislike the notion of a “masculine” church. What does that even mean? The images the idea of masculine conjures in my head is largely negative (but maybe that’s my own issue). How about we try for a Christ-like church since you know that actually seems to be a lot easier to support by the Bible? Otherwise you get into the mess that you rightly point out by trying to make the church more “masculine”.

    • Tim says:

      It’s a picture of masculinity based on cultural construct rather than anything from Scripture, Jeremy. Manly men who do manly stuff leading everyone who is either not manly or is not a man.

      • Yeah that’s what it is. The bad thing there isn’t even one agreed upon cultural understanding of it. As you pointed out Piper’s qualities aren’t ones typically in view. So each leader gets to use his power to decide what is masculine enough which doesn’t seem like a good litmus test. The whole concept just is fatally flawed.

  2. Hi Tim

    I’m afraid I couldn’t read your article very much. Maybe I’m just tired this evening.

    Nevertheless I couldn’t help remembering a beach mission I helped on in Northern France many years ago with UBM.

    One of the bigwigs from America came to oversee operations.

    I found him so brutish and his attitude particularly towards the Catholic Church and Catholics (whom I suspect he had never met) so agressively condemnatory, particularly after I had had a lovely conversation with a French mother on holiday with her young daughter who attended the beach mission events and who was delighted when the daughter came home and talked to her with enthusiasm about Jesus, that I couldn’t stand to remain on the beach mission.

    I packed my bags and left with the strong impression that American Male Christians don’t display much love and kindness towards others who they disagree with. I always got the impression that had I disagreed with this man or attempted to offer an alternative opinion, I too would have been roundly condemned in no uncertain terms.

    Perhaps this was an isolated case and I was a young and not very confident young Englishman who had once been described by a teacher as “unfailingly polite”.

    I find aggressive masculinity abhorrent and repellant.

    Thanks for your post. I do enjoy reading them.

    Tim

    • Tim says:

      That experience is typical from one portion of the church in America, but I’m glad to say it’s not a majority portion. The bad thing is that even though it is just one portion it is one that has an outsized influence.

    • Pastor Bob says:

      Reminds me of a powerful (and painful) truism:
      The church has a painful if not fatal birth-defect,
      Fallible human beings.

      Sorry to see the words of on jerk ruin your missions experience.

  3. Lea says:

    Manly men in the bible sing dance and weep.

    Women in the bible are judges and deacons and have been known to drive a stake through someone’s head on occasion and save their country.

    Why are standards for modern women and men supposed to be so much more narrow than they are in the bible?

  4. “Instead of worrying about hypothetical slippages awaiting egalitarian believers, like sliding into secular feminism, theological liberalism, or homosexuality, they would do better to deal with brutal violations of their “family values” that are actually happening today within their hierarchy-driven allegedly Christian homes.”
    ― Alan F. Johnson, How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals

    • Tim says:

      He makes a point I’ve wondered about too. Sometimes it seems the argument against egalitarianism moves away from whether it is based on the Bible (it is) and into “If you are egalitarian, who knows what will happen next?” I know what happens next: I have a deeper relationship with Jesus -and go deeper into his word – than I did before.

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