Monday, July 9, 2012

"Masculine Christianity" Produces a "Rhubarb"

Along with 1,800 pastors from across the country, I recently attended John Piper's Desiring God Annual Pastors Conference in Minneapolis, the theme of which was "God, Manhood and Ministry". Piper gave a talk on the "frank and manly life" of 19th century  J. C. Ryle. In the context of this biographical sketch, Piper asserted that Christianity has a "masculine feel". His remarks have set off a flurry of shock and awe across the internet. Much of the heated reaction to what he said was based on a press account without its context.

After some introductory observations about the prominence of masculinity in the Christian faith—like the fact that God is revealed to us as a king and father rather than as a queen and mother, that Jesus came as a man, that all priests and pastors in the Bible are men, and that men are called to be the heads of their homes, etc.—Piper goes on to define this “masculine feel” or “masculine Christianity” more precisely. A masculine Christianity is a Christianity in which, 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.

What Piper sees as characteristic of a masculine faith is the presence of these sometimes-paradoxical virtues, exercised in the Spirit of Christ and for his glory:
  • tender-hearted strength
  • contrite courage
  • risk-taking decisiveness
  • sacrificial leadership, protection, and provision
  • humble initiative-taking
He goes on:

… I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And, being a God of love, he has done it for the maximum flourishing of men and women. He did not create women to languish, or be frustrated, or in any way to suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy, in a masculine Christianity. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families where Christianity has this God-ordained, masculine feel. For the sake of the glory of women, and for the sake of the security and joy of children, God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.

I have been thinking about this for almost a week now and have come to the conclusion that I just don’t know what to think! I find that I am not entirely comfortable making Christianity more masculine than feminine in its nature. I entirely affirm that God reveals himself as king and father rather than queen and mother, that Jesus came as a man, that men are called to leadership positions within the church and home. There is certainly a masculine feel to Christianity; but does this masculine feel necessarily exclude an equal female feel? Aren’t there aspects of the Christian faith that have a feminine feel to them (I think, for example, of Paul’s talk of nurturing other Christians with the milk of the word—a metaphor with a clearly feminine feel.) and should we also seek to promote these?

Here is another part of the conundrum in my mind: It seems inevitable that if men are to lead the church, there will be a masculine feel to the churches they lead. Surely if the Lord has called men to leadership, he expects them to lead as men—men who are seeking to live out the implications of the gospel. Most of those who are scandalized by Piper’s comments are already scandalized by his complementarian theology; in the way he defines it, a masculine Christianity is simply an outworking of godly, biblical male leadership—it’s men leading as men.

I suppose this is why I don’t find a whole lot of controversy here. His language of “masculine Christianity” is not language I would be likely to adopt for my own use, but I don’t see that what he says here is substantially different from what he and other complementarians have been saying for years.

I was at the DG conference when Piper made these remarks and I gladly cheered his truth telling. Todd, you wrote, "But on things like this, I’m afraid it will divide more than it will unite." So what if it divides as long it is Scripturally grounded. Don't get squishy because John ruffled the sensibilities of the egalitarian majority of the American culture and church. Since the sixties their acolytes have taken on the coloration of pop culture to be relevant, tolerant and fashionable. Stand firm in behalf of a masculine gospel Bro. The "remnant" is called to be the counterculture especially when it shows up in our churches. It can be exalting to belong to a church that is 550 years behind the times and sublimely indifferent to fashion; it is mortifying to belong to a church that is five minutes behind the times, huffing and puffing to catch up.

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