Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Masculine Christianity?

There is something of a trend to blame the problems in the church on the lack of masculinity in leadership. More testosterone equals more spirituality, more outreach, more "kicking demonic [posterior]" as one over-heated word-waster recently (unworthy of a link) put it. There are too many "girly men" in pulpits; the decor is too feminine in church buildings; we need men "wild at heart," and so on.

Perhaps these commentators (if I may so dignify them) are concerned about a lack of courage in American Christianity. If so, I agree. We need to grow backbones theologically, apologetically, and ethically. But courage is not exclusively masculine; nor is leadership in general. We don't need more masculinity in the pulpit or anywhere else. We need more Christian virtue: faith, hope, and love. We need more of the glorious power of Jesus Christ to be manifested in female and male leaders: "Your sons and daughters will prophesy." May the Holy Spirit (who is neither male nor female) empower God's blood-bought children to do great exploits for the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). This is our greatest need.

For all my curmudgeonly complaints, whines, rants, and denunciations of the chronically underachieving American church (to which I am committed), a lack of masculinity has never crossed my melancholic mind--no not even once. I have been offended by bad doctrine, terrible art, pitiful oratory, and abysmal music; but I have never left a service thinking, "Oh, it was too feminine!" In fact, much of our malaise stems from male monopolies: those doctrines and churches and parachurches that limit women's participation simply because they are female. Some of the best sermons I have heard were delivered by women. They were not masculine women either. They were Spirit-led, truthful, and pastoral in demeanor--and thank God for them.

"In Christ there is neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:26-28). This means that gender does not place men above women spiritually or vocationally. The Kingdom of God does not advance by an increase of testosterone or because deep voices yell and beat their hairy chests, but as believers seek God, repent, exercise intelligent faith, love each other from the heart, and do exploits of eternal value.


Nicholas Z. Cardot said...

Great post. Being strong spiritually has nothing to do with being male or female. You are certainly right that we need people who have the courage and faith and love to do what is right in regard to their church ministries. Amen.

Ben Z said...

What is your response when people think God's name as Father is just a male-dominance thing?

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

God is a thoroughly personal (and tri-personal) Being. However, he is neither male nor female, since these are categories of created being (ontology). A variety of names and metaphors are used for God. God is not a Father in the sense of procreation; God creates. "Father" is, then, a true metaphor for God.

Although God is never referred to as "she" or as a "mother," feminine qualities are attributed to God: God gives birth to Israel and to Christians; Christ likens himself to a mother hen who years to gather to gether her chicks; God nurtures; and so on.

Male and female humans are equally made in God's image. God did not place one above the other, but put both under divine Lordship and both rule creation equally (Genesis 1).

Women and men are both equally fallen and in need of Jesus Christ's atoning work on the Cross. As new creations in Christ, men and women can be filled with the Holy Spirit for all manner of ministry. The issue is calling and gifting, not gender.

Yossman said...

I agree with the post. But what about 1Cor.11:3,7 and Eph.5:22? Paul does distinguish gender (of course not in the sense that one is more spiritual than the other, but still...).

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Go to Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's web page and check her essays on biblical verses and egalitarianism.

Cheerful Curmudgeon said...

Excellent post! It is not about masculinity or being wild at heart, It is about the POWER of God's Spirit. And God decides who gets the gifts.

Sublime Cogitation said...

I certainly agree that strength should not be limited to men, but the commentators were actually referring to the lack of men in the church who display a strong sense of leadership. Of course, the comments were written from a perspective which sees men differently than women. If women and men are in fact different (some people strangely argue that this is not so) then it would be strange to see men acting like women or women acting like men. They were not saying men are superior to women, as many allege. Rather, they are different. This difference was before the fall, so redemption is not the corrective, as no corrective was needed prior to Genesis 3. Oh well, my thoughts.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Well stated, Dr. Groothuis. I too have heard some wonderful sermons from a lady, recently. And not masculine at all. The Spirit delights to tear down our misconceptions, surely.

Yossman said...

DO: Thxs. Great stuff.

Timo_the_Osprey said...

Dr. Groothuis,

Your response to Ben Z. seems to me rather weak.

Forget that God is neither male nor female - obviously God does not have chromosomes. That is a non-issue.

But it still seems odd of you to say God's fatherhood is just one of a "variety" of metaphors and names for God.

Not that I disagree that it is a metaphor. But just one among a variety? Really?

So you would have no trouble with a Bible translation that replaced all "Father" references with "Mother?

(Surely such a version would be useful for those who don't have earthly fathers or who have abusive earthly fathers, etc. I can hear the arguments now.)

Or how about churches referring to God in the feminine mode while reciting the creeds and the Lord's prayer? Not every Sunday, you see, just every other Sunday (hey, equal time - it only seems fair.)

Of course, some people do not identify uniquely to one gender or the other, so we might need to include Sundays on which the creeds and Lord's prayer are wholly gender neutral. Perhaps, "Our heavenly Divine Being, who art in heaven..."

None of this is meant to prove a broader point about gender or to undermine your egalitarian stance. Only to point out that God chose to reveal himself as father. And any appeals to Biblical references about God "gathering chicks" and "nurturing" etc. always come off sounding silly in contrast to the stark clarity with which God reveals himself as father.

It seems to me there is something important in that. Admittedly, maybe nothing important with respect to your current discussion of gender roles in the Church, etc. But lets not dismiss it as one metaphor among many - its a metaphor God chose to maintain consistently over several millenia.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

This is from Rebecca Merrill Groothuis:

Responding to Timo the Osprey, 12-21-06

In point of fact, Doug did not say that “God’s fatherhood is just one of a ‘variety’ of metaphors and names for God.” Your adding “just one of” changes the meaning substantially. Doug merely noted that Scripture uses various metaphors in speaking of God, and “father” is a metaphor for God. Since God is not literally a father (i.e., a man who procreates), God is, therefore, a father in a metaphorical sense.

The picture of God as a mother is also present in Scripture. But to make this observation is not to imply that the “father” metaphor is on a par with the “hen” metaphor.

Further, if we rightly discern that God’s fatherhood is not about gender (the divine nature is not sexual or gendered in any sense), then all your sarcastic suggestions about needing to allow equal time for addressing God as “mother” become moot. Gender equality is simply not at issue here.

It seems at least two things are clear from Scripture. First, “mother” and “father” are not interchangeable or equivalent expressions with respect to addressing God. The New Testament view is unmistakable: God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Mary was his (merely human) mother. And God is not only Jesus’ Father, God is “Our Father.” We have been adopted to “sonship” and are heirs of God, coheirs with Christ. This is the picture and terminology that the Bible uses to present the family relationship of believers to God and Christ. There is no place in this picture for a Mother God alongside a Father God.

Second, it is abundantly clear, especially in the Old Testament, that God is both mother and father to his people. This is rightly understood in a metaphorical sense, pure and simple. God is to us like a mother and like a father. So in our times of prayer and devotion to God we may say, for example, “You comfort me as a mother comforts her child” (Isaiah 66:13) and “When my mother and father forsake me, you will take me up” (Psalm 27:10), and so forth.

However, God as the Father of Jesus Christ—as the first person of the triune Godhead—is not “Father” merely in the sense of a simple metaphorical descriptor. Here “Father” serves as a metaphorical name. (A metaphorical name is to be distinguished from a mere metaphor, a figure of speech used to describe one or more attributes of someone or something.) Because the name “Father” is metaphorical, it does not speak literally of God’s having a male or masculine nature. But because it is a name and not merely a metaphor, it is not interchangeable with “mother,” since “mother” is never used in Scripture as a name for God.

I hope these observations are helpful and sufficiently clear.

Paul D. Adams said...

Well said Rebecca Merrill Groothuis!
Helpful, sufficiently clear, and rather convincing I might add.

Timo_the_Osprey said...

Thank you, Rebeccca, for taking the time to respond to a comment on an older post. I think we ultimately agree but I can't resist a brief rejoinder.

My original claim is a modest one - that Dr. Groothuis's response to Ben Z is weak. And I mean that in a purely descriptive sense with no sneering overtones (after all, I'm a curmudgeon-in-training!)

In making the claim, I conceded two points: (1) That Dr. Groothuis's response contained no error and (2) that my criticism might not have any interesting implications for the larger gender debate at hand.

But I imagined a belligerent interlocutor who makes the challenge, "God's name as Father is just a male-dominance thing."

And it seems that the Curmudgeon's strategy in answering the challenge was to soothe and comfort. To say, "You need not worry. It is a metaphor. And there are other metaphors."

Now this is a true answer, but it is a weak answer (perhaps incomplete is the better word) because it is pure sunshine. And sunshine undiluted can lead to some of the problems I indicated earlier.

My point is only that the sunshine which (rightly) soothes our imagined interlocutor should be accompanied by a curmudgeonly cold wind: that Father is not a male-dominance thing, it is a God-thing. For reasons we do not understand God chose to reveal himself as Father and so Father he is (even with the qualifications you and Dr. Groothuis correctly point out).

I call this a cold wind not because of any implications it might have for gender relations, but because it is sure to ruffle our imagined interlocutor - who might have had in mind the sort of unacceptable suggestions I listed earlier.

I commented only because I liked the idea of perhaps having caught the Curmudgeon in an uncharacteristic moment of saccharine mildness. I see now, however, that one should think twice before going mano a mano with a curmudgeon and his curmudgeonly wife!

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


You did not concede #1, but charged me with the error of saying that "Father" was "just one among a variety of metaphors" which I did not say.

PamBG said...

I came to your blog via a link to the "You!" post, which is truly excellent.

This too is truly excellent. In my opinion, "God" has been caught up for far too long in secular ideas of power and masculinity.

Caveat: power, masculinity and secularism do not necessarily HAVE to be in any way related but they often are in our culture. Christianity often erroneously buys into this paradigm.

The Second Person of the Trinity was born as a little baby in a little town of humble parents, to bring his message that the poor are blessed. Truly he has lifted up the lowly and brought down the powerful from their thrones.