Modern Reformation’s latest issue is dedicated to the theme “No Girls Allowed,” and Michael Horton’s flagship article is entitled “Muscular Christianity.”
Many Christians today are lamenting the “feminization” of the church with its women officebearers, “worship leaders,” and committee chairwomen. Some people have even observed that men hate going to church today with its effeminate music and messages. Horton writes:
men are tired of singing love songs to Jesus and don’t feel comfortable in a “safe environment” that caters to women, children, and older people. His critique is familiar to many: men don’t like “conformity, control, and ceremony,” so churches need to “adjust the thermostat” and orient their ministry toward giving men tasks (since they’re “doers”). Men don’t like to learn by instruction; they need object lessons and, most of all, to find ways to discover truth for themselves.
I get the point about a “soft” ministry, especially worship, with its caressing muzak and the inoffensive drone of its always-affirming message. It’s predictably and tediously “safe.” Get the women there and they’ll bring their husbands and children. Not only has that not worked, it’s sure to bore any guy who doesn’t want to hear childrearing tips or yet another pep talk on how to have better relationships.
But those who overreact also don’t get it. Horton chides the “real men” fad:
Having said all that, where did we get the idea that men are insecure jerks who can’t learn anything or belong to the communion of saints as recipients of grace? And are we really ready to identify shallow sentimentalism with “feminization” of the church? Do godly women want this any more than men? In my experience at least, a lot of men and women alike are devouring good books of theology these days, especially in Reformation circles. Yet also in my experience, womenâ€”and menâ€”are still being distracted from being immersed in the faith by countless exercises in “applied Christianity” (i.e., niche studies) without much “Christianity” to apply.
Take the stereotype that men don’t like to be taught; they like to discover truth for themselves. This is as clichÃ© as saying that real men don’t ask for directions.Â Men Are from Mars, Women Are from VenusÂ may have some interesting generalizations, but a lot of gender differences are cultural. In a society bombarded by niche-demographic marketing, what may have appealed to just about anybody in another era is packaged specifically for men or women (or children or teenagers or older folks).
Men in Scriptures are not so. Their images in Scriptures are not exactly your bearded, foul-mouthed, Driscoll-like “punch-you-in-the-nose dudes”:
In the drive to make churches more guy-friendly, we risk confusing cultural (especially American) customs with biblical discipleship. One noted pastor has said that God gave Christianity a “masculine feel.” Another contrasted “latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers” with “real men.” Jesus and his buddies were “dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.” Real Christian men like Jesus and Paul “are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.” Seriously?
Are these really the images we have of men in the Scriptures? Furthermore, are these the characteristics that the New Testament highlights as “the fruit of the Spirit”â€”which, apparently, is not gender-specific? “Gentleness, meekness, self-control,” “growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ,” “submitting to your leaders,” and the like? Officers are to be “apt to teach,” “preaching the truth in love,” not quenching a bruised reed or putting out a smoldering candle, and the like. There is nothing about beating people up or belonging to a biker club.
Horton closes with these words about the church being not about bearded men or romantic women:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).