Sunday, July 26, 2009

"masculine" Christianity

Brief excerpts from a lengthy essay on the pros and cons of this movement-- by Brandon O'Brien in Christianity Today...

The disparity in men's and women's attendance in American churches has made men the target of specialized ministry over the last two decades. Promise Keepers kicked off the men's movement in 1990 by challenging stadiums full of men and boys to fulfill their duties to God and their families. Today a growing body of literature is leveling its sights on the church, suggesting that men are uninvolved in church life because the church doesn't encourage authentic masculine participation.

The first writer to popularize this concern was John Eldredge, who, in his three-million-selling Wild at Heart (Thomas Nelson, 2001), lamented that the masculine spirit was at risk because "most men believe God put them on the earth to be good boys." The church's tendency to promote discipleship as merely becoming "nice guys" keeps men from embodying their God-given maleness.

O'Brien then cites: 1.) David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church who founded "Church for Men"; comedian Brad Stine who was inspired by Murrow and began GodMen; and 3.) Paul Coughlin, author of No More Christian Nice Guy-- before responding:

I respect what these authors are trying to accomplish. They recognize that the Jesus of the Bible—unlike the Jesus of much contemporary Christian art and music—was not afraid to denounce, challenge, and offend....The movement's method of reclaiming the radical nature of the gospel, however, poses a genuine threat to Christian discipleship....

The masculinity movement's solution assumes that Jesus came to model genuine masculinity. The authors don't say so explicitly, but their rhetoric assumes manly instincts are inherently godly...Besides offering an extremely narrow view of masculinity, this framework totally excludes women from real discipleship. To begin with, it blames them for neutering the gospel...Perhaps worse, if Christ is the model of masculinity, then women can't imitate him. They can pursue him as the lover of their souls. They can imitate his devotion to the Father in their relationships with their husbands. But they can't become like him in any essential way....

Two letters in the next issue take some issue with O'Brien:

Roger Olson, a professor of theology at Baylor, agrees with his critique but complains about his "failure to say what it means to be masculine as a Christian". To be fair, I think O'Brien at least implicitly lays out some of that vision. But to Olson's point, it's always easier to critique than to put forward a positive vision of a complex topic.

A second letter writer, Mark Jalovick, pens praise for regular men who are too busy doing the right stuff to all excited about the debate. Again, the point is valid, but there is still an important discussion to have about the feminization of parts of the church.


At July 27, 2009 at 5:55 PM , Blogger David said...

"...if Christ is the model of masculinity, then women can't imitate him."
Christian masculinity is a topic I'm fascinated by but it ultimately always leads me to the place of questioning God's gender and getting back to the Genesis story as "God created both man & woman in his image" {Gen 1:27} (and God takes on a plural form of "we"). Most suggest that "we" illudes to the fact that God is "three in one" ("Father", Son, & Holy Spirit) but that Son & Holy Spirit (in a sense) answer to Father. As much as God is referred to as "he", throughout the Old Testament & New God (as Wisdom, Logos, aka Holy Spirit) is also has characteristics of the feminine (Proverbs 1:20; 4:6; 8:1,11; 9:1; 14:33; Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35). Also, God reveals himself as woman-like in Isaiah 66:12 & 13, Matt. 23:37, and Psalms 36:7. All this to say that either God has both genders ("genderfull") or God is genderless, & either way in most languages a being (such as God) must be given a gender or be an "it". God wouldn't be relateable if God were an "it" so since patriarchy has ruled Earth for better or worse, God has always been "he" even though a holy God does not submit to these rules, titles, boxes, and, for that matter, patriarchy in general.
Even if you & I could agree that God has no gender or both (& that the world would be better off reckoning with that sooner than later) we would be no closer to finding an answer to what Christian Masculinity looks like or to suggest what -- or better whom -- to see as a biblical guide (new or old testament). Yet, I still can't get past the assumption that Jesus was soley a masculine slice of God -- as in saying that seems heretical. How can Christ be fully "man" and fully God if God is genderfull? The only way i can figure to reconcile this is to think about Jesus' genetic coding which would have had ONLY Mary's genes (X) -- sure someone could say it was an immaculate conception but then we are back to a genderless/full God & thus a genderless/full Jesus (biologically speaking). But I digress.
Here's my point: God embodies both genders & thus so must Jesus & the Holy Spirit. If we are called by God then as Christ as our guide and the Holy Spirit as our compass we must work out the balance of both masculine & feminine which are both Godly & Christlike characteristics. Moreover, we are called not as individuals but as community which may be the best place to experience & workout it out.

At July 28, 2009 at 9:56 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Wow! Excellent comments!


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