Friday, March 28, 2008

Real Men or Followers of Jesus?

A new movement is afoot, inspired in part by John Eldridge, author of Wild at Heart. Call it the Christian men's movement. The thesis is simple and wrong: the church is feminized and, therefore, cannot attract me (or at least cannot attract "real men"). The solution is simple and just as wrong: to masculinize the church and create separate associations where men can beat their chests, spit, scoff at all things “feminine,” and glory in the power of testosterone.

One Brad Stine has formed a group called GodMen (sounds a bit pantheistic), which, according to Christianity Today, “provides a space in which ‘men can be men; raw and uninhibited; completely free to express themselves in a uniquely male way that only men understand’” (Brandon O’Brien, “A Jesus for Real Men,” April, 2008, p. 49). Pastor Mark Driscoll says that men are drawn to Jesus’ “calloused hands and big biceps.” This is, he says, “the Ultimate Fighting Jesus” (p. 49). I have never been drawn to these features of Jesus, if he even had them. They are not the point of the Incarnation. I am drawn to Jesus’ holy personality (perfect love and justice), his truth, his miracles, his death, his resurrection, his ascension—none of which require macho muscles and calloused hands. Those hands were pierced for us; that body was broken for us. That is what counts—for men and for women—for time and eternity.

The problem with the church is not that it is presenting a feminine Jesus, although some of the depictions of Jesus are such (another argument for not making any image of God.) The problem is that the biblical Jesus, in all his uncomfortable glory, has been eclipsed by worldliness. Now Jesus is not the crucified and risen Lord, but an idea to comfort us, inspire us to be who we already want to be. Instead of coming with a whip and driving out the money changers, he helps us make money to spend on stuff. Instead of heaving with paroxysms of grief and outrage over the death of Lazarus, he is saying nice things to get us to distract ourselves from the brutal realities of sin and death in our broken world. One could go on.

The answer is not to create a Jesus that fits the stereotypes of today's masculinity. That is just more worldliness and should be repented of. Humans, male and female, are equally made in the image of God. The fruit of the Spirit is for both sexes. The gifts of the Spirit are for both sexes. The way of life for both women and men is to deny themselves (and the current worldly views of masculinity and femininity), take up their crosses and follow Christ.

Yes, men and women are different, each tend to have different strengths and different weaknesses in some areas. For example, how many women are addicted to pornography? How many men over idealize romance? But the answer is not to become more masculine or more feminine (unless one has sexual identity problems). The answer is to become more broken before God, more biblical, more filled with the Spirit, more of a sold out agent of the supernatural Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).


Jeff said...

All in all, let me say that as with most of your posts, I enjoyed this post. It was very well thought through and very well supported. I have heard many people bash this book (which you were respectful and did not do, you simply critiqued). In these bashing there is usually little if any scriptural or philosophical evidence given. The one thing that I saw lacking however, was meat. This post left me wanting a little more. You have simplified Eldridge's message down so far that it becomes a straw man argument. While I would not say that I have bought into the movement that 'Wild at Heart' seems to have caused, I thought that the book hit its intended target very well.
As someone employed by a church, it is very easy to see that men and women are gifted in different ways, but that we are all equal especially in terms of serving the body. I think the point that 'Wild at Heart' was trying to make is that for some men, their strengths are shown best when they don't have to act like the typical church elder. Owning a Motorcycle, a few firearms, and not being afraid to speak your mind is counter to what many in the church portray as a good Christian. The miracle of the incarnation is the fullness of Christ. I believe that there were many times when Jesus showed a very effeminate side, and times where He showed a very masculine side. While we need to strive to throw off these stereotypes, we also have to realize that for some a stereotype is an honest to themselves way of life. Machoism doesn't necessitate not being broken by God. However, often in our churches men are told that machosim (even when not sexist at all) is ungodly. I think that Eldridge was simply trying to reach a target audience of men, who felt that being a 'man's man' disqualified them from being a good christian.
Perhaps I read the book differently, but I didn't see the proposed solution as being "to masculinize the church and create separate associations where men can beat their chests, spit, scoff at all things "feminine," and glory in the power of testosterone." Instead I saw a solution where men were allowed to beat their chests, spit, be proud of being a man, and still be of use in the kingdom.
I do not want you to think that I am disagreeing with your assessment of what you see his argument as being. I agree with that completely. Instead I am simply saying that I do not think that the intent of Eldridge's book was to masculanize the church. I think he wanted to allow masculinity and godliness to coexist. Though he admittedly went to far sometimes, I think his only other purpose was to say that for some men, expressing the masculinity freely would allow them to also more freely worship the one who created them as such.

Rick said...

I agree completely with your analysis. At the same time, this movement, like the emergent church movement, is raising some good questions. Their answers seem to be quite off, but their questions should be considered.

If interested, I wrote a review of one of the 'men's movement' books: Why Men Hate Going to Church.

Anonymous said...

Our men's group went thru the Wild at Heart series and somehow for me it coincided with just having finished a book "Tender Warrior" by Stu Weber.

After having just read that book - I had a difficult time watching Eldridge - he seemed wimpy to me.

I'm not what anyone would consider a "Man's man" - just kind of an ordinary sit at your desk all day long -watch a lot of sports - kind of guy - but Eldridge seemed feminine to me - not a "man's man" at all.

It was offensive - I had a hard time with the whole thing. If I was going to imagine myself a "super man" just waiting to rescue a "damsal in distress" - I'd much rather have been trained by a Green Beret officer (Weber) than Eldridge.

Jim Pemberton said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Our culture often confuses machismo for masculinity. While there is nothing wrong with an A-type personality per se, it is wrong to suggest that those who have A-type personalities are any more masculine than the rest of us.

As with biblical teachings of the law, important is not behavior as much as intention. As such, my intention is this: I love my Lord, I love the family He has given me and I love the church He has provided. Therefore I will serve my Lord among His people and into the far reaches of the earth according to my new nature as one of His people. I will likewise serve Him as the spiritual leader of my home. My family will feed on his word together and go out together to minister in His name. Now, ask anyone who knows me if I'm an A-type macho guy and they will laugh at you. My masculinity is not contingent on any strength I here possess - it is contingent on my dependence on God, and His grace in the matter.

ryan said...

Dr. G I agree with just about everything you write but I think you are wrong on this one.

Sure men like Eldridge may be swinging the pendulum back to far and acting barbaric, but there is a definite feminization going on in the church. Sixty percent of all church attenders are female, and studies show that men (especially young men) are more unwilling to go to church now then ever before. They believe it to be a "womans activity" and irrelevant to their lives. When these men do go they are left feeling awkward by the prom songs to Jesus and the "nice guy" saturation in the worship halls.

Statistically the least likely person to be in a church today is a young single man in the age group of 22-31 years old. These men instead are looking to Howard Stern and other shock jocks for direction and guidance on how to live life.

As someone who used to work at a sizable church I would see men come in all the time and quickly grow disillusioned with culture and mission of the church. Even the young guys who would work at the church would often transition into the business world or some other arena in which they believed they could build something or have a greater impact. They would look at the church find no outlet for their desire to die and give their lives to something greater than themselves. This is because many churches are set up to nurture, keep the flock happy, and not rock the boat. These young guys wanted to build something, to give their lives to something, to live for something bigger than themselves. I know all this is not related to the feminization of the church, but it did play a role.

Most churches not only do not talk about what true biblical masculinity is (which I would like to see you write on sometime Dr. G) but did not take it into account when helping men exercise their gifts. I am sorry but the highly driven, highly compotent, sharp man who becomes a Christian wants to do more than just manual labor that maintain status quo.

So I would have to disagree with your premise that the problem is people are just to "worldly." I have met many men who were passionate followers of Jesus, and not worldly at all, but could not follow the effeminate Jesus of Church culture. In many churches there is never any conversation about the fact that Jesus was a construction worker, who swung a hammer most of his life.

Jim Pemberton said...

Men can't eschew church and expect it to become more masculine without them. However, nowhere do I see the character of a local fellowship defined in scripture as necessarily more or less masculine or feminine. The point of the Body of Christ is not men and/or women; it's Christ. the pattern of Christ is strength through weakness (self-sacrifice), strength under control (meekness), strength deferred (the servant King)... Such is the source of true masculinity as well as the source of true femininity and must be the guiding principle of our fellowship. This is clear in scripture. For example: Romans 12:3; Galatians 6:1,2; Ephesians 5:21

ryan said...

Jim the funny thing is you just read what you wanted and dismissed the rest. I do not disagree with one word you said. The Church should not be all masculine, but it should have room for it to be expressed in a godly manner. Maybe the point was to subtle but that is what I was getting at. Many guys feel masculinity is retarded in the Church and move on to other areas of culture to use their gifts.

I am all for women using their gifts in the church in all capacities, but I do not want to bury my head in the sand and not see that we have a real problem when it comes to men feeling like the Church matters to men and is a welcoming place to them, and masculinity. That facts and stats point to this reality, and we can either ignore it and dismiss these men as "worldly" or think more deeply about it and see that the church seems to failing in reaching many men in our culture...

Anonymous said...


First, it seems as though you may have missed Dr. Groothuis' point.

Second, while I am no man, I disagree that the church is becoming feminized. Rather, large portions of the church are either severely watering down or abandoning Biblical teaching; it has little, perhaps nothing to do with catering to a particular gender.

The Church trend is to dumb down and entertain rather than to "feminize". However, if you are inclined to believe that "dumbed down" and entertaining churches is a concept equivalent to the feminized church, then I couldn't disagree with you more vehemently.

Could it be true that men are leaving for reasons other than "lack of masculinity", such as not being gripped by Biblical truth? (Though those who stay might very well have this same problem simply without leaving, perhaps for social reasons)

I agree with you that there is a problem, but disagree that the problem is with men feeling left out. Gender (or any) demographics should not be our focus, rather, the focus should be Christ.

ryan said...

Sarah first off I do not think I missed his point, in fact I summarized it twice now. Worldliness, or "dumbing down" to use your words, is more responsible for men leaving the church than a stifling of authentic masculinity.

Second, I think your opinion of it being solely attributable to watering down of the gospel or men not being gripped by the gospel is just an opinion that lacks much tangible experience. My intent here is not to be rude, but how many young guys or men have you talked to about why they are apathetic towards the church? I am sure it is not as many as I have. Or how many guys have you worked with at a church and seen them leave because they really believed it was all nurture and care, and heavy on femininity? Mind you these guys were "gripped" by the gospel and a deep love for Jesus, but found the no place in which they could serve the church. So instead, they headed off for the business world or to start their own companies.

Once again Sarah I am NOT against women using their gifts in the church, but lets not have our passion for that issue blind us. The stats are there; the church is only 40 percent men, and shrinking. You can attribute this to all sorts of things but it does not change the facts.

Most men have never had good godly male role models and are looking to understand what masculinity is and how they can live it out. And while the church remains silent on it the shock jocks and pop culture of our age will gladly fill the gap , and teach them a horrendous picture of masculinity.

I understand the argument Sarah, I in fact understand it at a very personal and level, in which I have time and time see men look at the church as a place that has no room for the way God has wired them...

Jim Pemberton said...

I can't think of a specific example that fits what you're talking about. If men are waiting for someone else to make them feel comfortable, it's not going to happen. You say "the church" like there is some entity made up of women that needs to make a decision and do things differently. If men are the leaders they're supposed to be, there is no problem.

The fact is, the church is made up of men and women. Unless men step up and be the leaders God has called them to be in their families, their marriages won't be the picture of Christ. Likewise, if they do not become the leaders God has called them to be in the church, the church won't be the Body of Christ it is intended to be.

I can think of two situations. I've never known a church made up entirely of women, so there's men there. If the church teaching is in serious theological error, then we have a problem. If the church teaching is correct then we don't. Either way, if men are staying home, they are in error. If the church is in error, it needs godly men to bring it under submission to
Christ. If the church is not in error, then there is no reason to stay home.

What gifts do you refer to that men have that women don't? God gives gifts to all. Men and women do have different roles. I'm a complimentarian. I don't believe women should be pastors, deacons or elders. But there are plenty of areas of leadership where women are certainly needed or allowed. My wife and kids went to Venezuela last year for ten weeks to work with the church there and help prepare for the whole team to come. That's pretty significant leadership.

In fact, we have this issue in the church in Venezuela we work from. I am addressing it this summer in my discipleship with the pastor and the deacons. The local culture in the town this church is in is one where men are largely not present in the lives of their families and it's affecting the church. Right now, the youth are essentially leading the church. The men of this church who are not active need to be discipled. They are not spiritually mature. The answer is not to make the church a place where they can remain spiritually immature, but they need to grow and become what God has called them to.

Until men stay in the church, the church won't be right. The church won't get right until men assume their roles - not before.

ryan said...

Okay Jim, for the third time here is a great example; only 40 percent of those who attend church are men and shrinking, that is about as real and actual as it gets.

I do not want to be the defender of chauvinism here or a masculinity that is oppressive. Let me state one more time, I am all FOR women using their gifts in the church. But this is a real problem. I do not think the Eldridge stuff is the answer, but please do not bury your head in sand that most men in our culture, feel there is no room for them in the church. So they get there direction from TV shows and beer commercials about what it means to be a man. Millions of young guys are looking for guidance and formation and see that church as the last place to look.

So Jim you can continue in an attitude of "that is their problem" if they do not feel welcome, but as men continue their exodus out of the church I think we should love them enough to think as Christians, it might be OUR problem. Because Islam is appealing to them in masses and is the fastest growing religion among young African American men in the country right now (especially in the penal systems).

And Jim I never said there were any gifts that God gives men that he does not give women. My hope has been to steer clear of the women in ministry issue as I have posted here. If I was unclear I apologize. After looking at my last post it was littered with typos, as I was rushing off to class.

My point simply remains that if we went to another culture we would do all we could to speak to the needs of them and contextualize our theology and practices to reach them. Here in America there is a gaping hole in Christianity and the church when it comes to having a clear voice about what biblical masculinity looks like. Sadly, because gender has been such a hot bottom issue for sometime now, most churches have just remained silent. So we can throw rocks at Eldridge, but we might also want to ask, what in his message seems to be resonating with so many?

ryan said...

Sarah and Jim you might both be interested in the featured story Christianity Today did on the absence of young men from the church and how it is quickly turning into a crisis. They even mention how the church is ill-equipped to reach these young guys because we are deathly afraid to talk gender.

Jim Pemberton said...

I apologize because it sounded earlier as though you were defending the guys leaving the church as though they were godly men. So you and I agree that they are not. It becomes, therefore, a matter of evangelism, not masculinity.

Your approach, however, to reaching these men with the gospel is to change the church to make them feel better about it. You're espousing a form of the "seeker sensitive" approach. That's not the solution. The solution is to tell and demonstrate the gospel to them and disciple them according to the truth so they know who Christ is. You don't do that by making them feel good about themselves being in a church. You do that by helping them come to grips with their own depravity. That's never comfortable.

Anonymous said...


I recognize the “genetic disadvantage” I have when discussing the argument from experience (which I am not arguing from). I am also not saying the facts/stats are wrong. It is clear that many men *feel* as though there is no place for them in the church. However, feelings can be misleading, as you yourself alluded to. You are right that some men feel disillusioned with the church citing "feminization", but their claims don't make them correct, unless you are claiming that church is boring, sappy, shallow, hollow, or any other similar attribute that is then unfairly situated under the umbrella term of “feminine". Further, I am not making any sort of argument which falls under the egalitarian/traditionalist debate, so “women using their gifts in church” here is mute.

You said, "Most men have never had good godly male role models and are looking to understand what masculinity is and how they can live it out." I do not take “lack of masculinity” to be a societal problem, and thus, Christian men are less in need of being taught to "be male", and more in need of being taught how to "grow in Christ" (though women need this as well!).

Also, I don't think that the disillusionment is "solely attributable to watering down of the gospel or men not being gripped by the gospel". While these are profound problems, there is a theory that the dilemma is partly cultural in origin as well. I do not limit the culprits; I simply do not think that "feminization" is a justifiable complaint.

Regardless of what is occurring, the solution must be Biblical rather than striving to make ourselves "feel better" and bend church to accomplish this end. As Jim stated, this is nothing other than the old “seeker-sensitive” approach.

ryan said...

I do not take “lack of masculinity” to be a societal problem, and thus, Christian men are less in need of being taught to "be male", and more in need of being taught how to "grow in Christ" (though women need this as well!).

Sorry Sarah this could not be more wrong. Read the article from Christianity Today, look at all the young men in our culture who are starving for mentors and direction in life. You may not interact with them, but once again the LEAST likely person in America to be in church on Sunday morning is a male in his twenties. You can continue to chalk it up to them having misleading feelings, but you might want to see if there is any reality to why the find church so un-compelling as they look for direction and meaning in life. Why do they hold an athlete or Howard Stern in higher regard than a pastor? Might it be because the church is sinfully silent on some of the most fundamental things they are struggling with? Namely, what it means to be a man? And since the church does not preach on the subject, these guys look elsewhere. We find very real consequences of this when you look at just about any young adult ministry (I have been leading one for two years now) and almost always women outnumber men 2 to 1.

This also has nothing to do with being "seeker sensitive." Seeker sensitive is pragmatic functionalism of what works. I am talking about teaching the whole counsel of God that give a strong account to what it means to be a man of God. If the scriptures had nothing to say about masculinity or femininity then it would be seeker sensitive to formulate teachings on them for the sake of attracting people, but the Bible has plenty to say about these topics. Saying this is seeker sensitive is like saying that talking about caring for the poor and social justice is seeker sensitive because our culture cares about it. That is true they do, but so does the Bible. So please be more careful in throwing around labels that do not fit, there is not pragmaticism, when we have Biblical truths to convey.

Also your statement of thinking that men just need to grow more like Christ, rather than learn about masculinity, is in reality a massive false dichotomy. We do not separate our God given gender from our sanctification. God created us male and female and said that it was good. Just because you become a disciple of Jesus does not mean you are all of a sudden androgynous.

So when you say that lack of masculinity is not a problem in our culture, you would be better off refining that a bit more. Chauvinism is not lacking, but a robust, picture of biblical masculinity is. So please do not miss the big "E" on the eye chart, in that something that Eldridge and his silly masculine retreats, seems to resonate and connect with the soul of men. And what makes it even more interesting and speaks to the effeminate nature of the church, most of the guys who really latch onto the Eldridge shtick, are nice guys who have been in the church for a long time...

Jim Pemberton said...

Why do they hold an athlete or Howard Stern in higher regard than a pastor? Might it be because the church is sinfully silent on some of the most fundamental things they are struggling with? Namely, what it means to be a man?

What it means to be a man is that we are sinners in need of a savior. Without that fact understood, nothing else is worth teaching. To teach anything else is humanistic: self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Plenty of churches teach this. What we need is to take the message outside of Sunday morning in church.

ryan said...

Jim I do not know if you read this paragraph as well but don't make an either/or when a both/and is required. Your comment is akin to saying don't talk about parenting or marriage because it is "self-centered" just tell people to be Christ-centered, we can do better than that, and biblically we must.

"Also your statement of thinking that men just need to grow more like Christ, rather than learn about masculinity, is in reality a massive false dichotomy. We do not separate our God given gender from our sanctification. God created us male and female and said that it was good. Just because you become a disciple of Jesus does not mean you are all of a sudden androgynous."

Jim Pemberton said...

Yes, Ryan, I read it and I don't disagree that they are not mutually exclusive. However, it doesn't follow that they are equivocal (just one of those little quirks of logic). Rather, one is foundational to the other. The statement of yours I quoted seemed to indicate that you believe that biblical masculinity is foundational (you used the word "fundamental") to the gospel rather than the other way around. I'm arguing that the gospel is foundational. Now, either you are talking about men who are immature Christians or men who yet need to submit to God and his salvific provision. Either way, they need discipleship, not self-indulgence.

ryan said...

I give up. Nice trying to chat with you all. I think my point still stands that the Bible has much to say about what a godly man is and what a godly woman is. That stats and all the experiential evidence I have thrust forward is overwhelming and yet to be engaged at all. So while I have the graduate training to philosophically nuance away with you guys, I would rather not miss the forest through the trees. Men have left and are leaving the church. Eldridge registers because he touches a deep part of biblical masculinity (in a weird way) that the church is silent on. Young adult ministries have twice as many women as men, and young men have no idea how to grow up (see Christianity Today article). So even as you seek to parse my phrases and argue on semantics the trajectory is the same, and 20 years from now the problem will be even more devastating. So the church can continue to walk around like someone with a gaping gunshot wound and thinking there is nothing wrong, but that does not change the truth.

Heidi said...

I appreciate what you're saying here, but I think it's a mistake to equate Eldredge with the movement you're describing, even though he probably was the "inspiration" for it. His message, while on the surface might seem to be similar to the macho-man stuff (of Why Men Hate Going to Church etc) is really very different. In fact if you read Eldredge in trajectory all the way from his first book - The Sacred Romance - through to Captivating, the book he wrote with his wife Stasi for women - you'll see that the message in each book is essentially the same, whether it's directed at both genders or at men or at women:

God came for your heart, to set your heart free.

Christianity isn't an invitation to moral living.

God lives in our heart and speaks through our desires.

Yes, there is the subtext of what it means to be a man/what it means to be a woman - and I do think he does a bit too much stereotyping. But I DON'T think he is saying the same thing as these groups that say men need to get together and be wild and macho and drink beer and shoot things in order to be men.

For one thing, I've been to Eldredge's Captivating retreats several times, met him and his wife, and sat in their home. I've seen the humility with which he interacts with both the men AND women on his team, in fact I'd go so far as to say that they operate in an egalitarian manner. I think they hold on to submission languaging while trying to find a way to explain it that isn't so offensive...frankly I think they need to broaden their horizons and read the egalitarian positions.

So I don't agree with everything Eldredge says, and I think he does fall into stereotyping, but I also feel it would be a mistake to equate him with this men's movement. It's unfortunate, I think, that some me read his book (only one of them) and took away the message that they need to go have a "boy's club" in the woods and that this the essence of what it means to be a man. I think that is a gross simplification and misreading of what he actually wrote, and especially of the life he lives.

Jamie said...

Excellent and important post. Thank you! It is somewhat amusing that, after centuries of patriarchy where the feminine was often demonized in the church, suddenly men are getting nervous at the so called feminization of the church.

Can't we see how offensive and hurtful it is to use the term "feminization" as though it is a criticism? Of course we do not want a community of faith with an unhealthy exclusion of sexual identity, but feminization is not a dirty word. The Christian community has needed it badly for some time.

Aside from the real issue of needing be intentional about celebrating both aspects of human sexuality within the church, most presentations of what masculinity means in these conversations are very narrow and often downright stereotypical. My problem with Eldridge is not so much what he says about masculinity (though I do take issue on several points), but that he makes certain cultural and personality values into moral absolutes. With one hand he offers real encouragement and affirmation to many men while further alienating other men who don't fit the model.

I am a happily and healthily married man who has struggle with same-sex attraction for more than half my life. After many years I realized that one significant contributor to my struggle was a church culture that told me that I was not a real man because I didn't fit the role. It was when I was able to embrace my identity as a man of God as He created me to be that I began to find healing.

I believe that these men's movements are born and sustained out of genuinely good intentions. However, there must be greater accountability, intentionality and humility involved in this conversation. Again, thanks for writing this excellent and affirming post.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci