Some Sweet Blessings of Masculine Christianity

Fidelis Foundation Pastors Luncheon

My title is Some Sweet Blessings of Masculine Christianity. That’s the title I gave some months ago, and what I’d like to do is put it into context and then give you about 11 sweet blessings of masculine Christianity.

First, the context is this: I asked that this booklet, 50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood, be put on the table for everybody so that I could just relax and say that the exegetical footwork is there, and I don’t have to do it again in this time because if I try to unpack my biblical foundations — for I think there is such a thing as masculine Christianity — that’s all we’d do. I think what I’m expected to do is give some practical implications and applications to the life of the church.

This is the 20th anniversary this year of the emergence of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the writing of the Danvers Statement. Wayne Grudem and I wrote the Danvers Statement. Actually, I wrote it and Wayne tweaked it. Whatever has Wayne Grudem’s name as well as my name, I wrote it and Wayne tweaked it, which is a great partnership because Wayne sees things I miss and he’s a good tweaker. I don’t think this one is there but this is important and I’ll refer to it. All of these are chapters in the big book, so if you have 50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood, you don’t need these unless you want to have a separate copy.

Biblical Foundations of Masculine Christianity

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Wayne and I put together 1991. That’s the context in terms of foundations, but I thought it’s really not fair, I don’t think, to say nothing about foundations. So I’m going to say something and I’ll try to keep it short. I put down four pointers where I would go in the Bible to support such a thing as masculine Christianity; that there is such a thing as masculinity and femininity that are not simply physical. Everybody knows we’re different physically. That’s not an argument. But to say that there should be manifest differences that are not merely physical is very controversial today.

First, I would go to Genesis 1–2. I’ve written an article where there are nine pointers before the fall and right after the fall that male leadership was God’s idea, not a result of sin. Just one example of the nine would be God coming to the garden after the fall and saying, “Adam, where are you?” not, “Eve, where are you?” Why did he do that? She sinned first. She got us into this, or maybe not. God is knocking on the door and saying, “Is the man of the house home?” So it seems very significant that he would go after Adam when they had gone down together like that.

Second, I would go to Ephesians 5 where husbands are told to love their wives like Christ loved the church, and then it’s unpacked in terms of Christ’s leadership, his provision, and his protection. Those would be three very crucial issues of masculinity in a relationship to a woman — lead her, protect her, and provide for her. Men should be feeling a special responsibility there.

Third, I would go to 1 Timothy 2:12–13, which says:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve …

I would unpack the qualifications you have to put around that because of women doing some teaching in the New Testament, and yet, I would stand there and say, “This refers to eldership. Teaching and having authority seem to me to be the summary of how elders are different from deacons.” And so, that’s basically Paul’s shorthand for saying elders in the church ought to be men — spiritual, humble, Christ-like, leading men.

Fourth, I would go to Luke 6:13 and point out that Jesus chose 12 men from his disciples to be with him and to be apostles. There would be other places where you could go, but that’s all in the books and I don’t think that’s why we’re here. That’s the first context — biblical foundations. I’m still just giving a background for the 11 things.

Absorbing Assumptions

The second context is that homosexual behavior is being defended relentlessly in our city. The day before yesterday in the Star Tribune, if you saw it, there was an article titled 515 Ways Minnesota Discriminates. I said, “That’s an attractive title.” Immediately, you think it’s talking about race, at least I do when it uses that phrase. It doesn’t mean race. It’s not about race at all. This is about domestic partners. I’ll show you the kind of discrimination they mean. For example:

While family members of a patient in a public facility have a right to be notified if the patient is moved or if the patient’s care has changed, these same facilities don’t require notification of a patient’s same-sex partner. Or consider this, the spouse of a hospital patient is the first person a physician consults if the patient is unable to consent to treatment, but the same-sex partner of a patient is not included at all on the list of people who may provide consent.

And so on. There are 515 things like that in Minnesota law that they’re upset about, and the point is that this article doesn’t even begin to argue for the legitimacy of domestic partners. It assumes it and says, “Now we want to get the laws in shape.” This is the air we breathe in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The air we breathe is defending homosexuality and a feministic air which leads me to the third context. But the point there is this: Being clear on masculinity and femininity is going to help us navigate these waters.

The third context is that TV and movies are not governed by a biblical worldview, so we absorb assumptions about the way men and women are portrayed that may be far from God’s calling. The very roles, as I see it, on television and in the movies, that the New Testament is written to correct from the fall are the roles that are highlighted and perpetrated in most TV shows and movies — namely, that men are either wimpy or abusively dominant, and women are either sexually manipulative or powerful and dominant. What the Bible does is navigate a way between those abuses of what real femininity is and real masculinity is, but the world doesn’t have a clue about that navigation and those balances, and so we and our children are breathing the air of feminism every day. There’s no way they could absorb a biblical vision of manhood and womanhood without our help.

The fourth context is that fatherlessness is a tragic destroyer of young men and young women in our day. The reason I thought of this one is that I was sitting with Talitha. My wife is in Africa right now so I’m playing Mr. Mom. Talitha is 12 and she goes to Hope Academy, and she was almost in tears last night because a little boy was expelled from her sixth grade class, not suspended, after nine suspensions. I had talked to the principal of the school about this situation two days ago and he was almost in tears over it.

Talitha was crying because she likes this little boy. He’s a pain in the rear end but I just feel so bad about that because she was saying, “What will he do? They’ll send him to some public school and then he’ll really get in trouble.” She was so redemptive in her orientation which is exactly the reason I sent her to Hope Academy. I want her to feel redemptive love for people different from her. That kid has no dad. Most of the kids in Talitha’s class have no dad. Without a dad to navigate the meaning of manhood, it’s almost impossible. They will think, “Wait a minute. What should I do? What am I supposed to be as a boy? What does it mean to be a boy? Nobody is telling me what it means to be a boy except for all the wrong impulses.” So that’s a huge, huge issue, and I want us to get that right as a church so badly and find out ways to begin to be redemptive in fatherlessness.

The fifth context is to simply read for you Larry Crabb’s first two paragraphs on page nine. You can go there with me if you want. Grab one from the middle of the table. He wrote this a long time ago but it’s still true, I think:

The more deeply I move into the lives of people the more clearly I recognize the unique struggles and joys that come with our existence as male and female. When we blur the distinctions between the sexes or trivialize them into shallow stereotypes, we limit our opportunity for enjoying the creative brilliance of God. In my judgment, one of the central needs of western culture in our day is a clear definition of masculinity and femininity. More personal and social problems than we suspect have their roots in a failure to live in the richness of our unique sexuality.

That’s a pretty high description of the issue from Larry Crabb, and many people would agree. That’s all I want to say about the context out of which I’m speaking here when I address the issue of Some Sweet Blessings of Masculine Christianity. What I have in mind is this church and my longing that it expresses masculine Christianity for the sake of the men, the women, and the children who are here because I think it will be good for all of us.

Masculine Christianity

So let me try to define what I mean. This is almost impossible. I remember talking to a long-haired hippy type who was unbelievably conservative about 30 years ago, sitting in my living room. His name was Mark and he now teaches literature, I think. He went to get a PhD at the university in literature. We were talking about Olivet Baptist Church and these issues, and he was totally complementarian. That’s my preferred word rather than traditionalist, patriarchal, or whatever. I was trying to figure out a way to help people get it, and he just threw up his hands and he said, “John, either you get it or you don’t get it! Either you feel what it means to be a man or you don’t, and either you feel what it means to be a woman or you don’t.”

There is really a lot of truth to that because you can’t put words on it. As soon as you choose a word, somebody thinks of a qualification for the word. And yet, frankly, I don’t have the luxury of saying that. That doesn’t make a long sermon, as if to say, “Either you get it or you don’t, see you next week.” I’m a preacher. I have to talk. I have to use words. The Bible is written in words. We don’t have the luxury of just saying to people, “You don’t get it.” I think that’s an escape hatch for all kinds of issues.

So here’s my definition of masculine Christianity: The theology and the church and the mission are marked by overarching male leadership — I chose overarching, not exclusive — and an ethos of tenderhearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice to protect and provide for the community — the feel of a great, majestic God making the men lovingly strong and the women intelligently secure.

I didn’t expect anybody to write that down, and I don’t know how you’ll ever get it. But there’s my effort. I’ll read it one more time: The theology and the church and the mission are marked by overarching male leadership and an ethos of tenderhearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice to protect and provide for the community — the feel of a great, majestic God making the men lovingly strong and the women intelligently secure.

That’s a flavor of what I mean by masculine Christianity. Now I’ve got 11 sweet blessings that I believe come where God is enabling you to cultivate such an ethos in your church or your organization.

1. Freedom for Men and Women

Number one: In this ethos, men are finally freed to have feminine traits without being effeminate, and women are finally freed to have masculine traits without being tomboys. It’s really interesting in our language isn’t it, that we have the word effeminate but we don’t have the word masculinate]. I’m not sure why that is but when I was groping for something corresponding on the male side to effeminate, which takes the word feminine and makes it bad, which it is, I couldn’t find anything. Everybody knows when somebody’s effeminate in a way that just feels unnatural. Whereas, there’s a really healthy way for a man to have feminine traits, and there’s a really healthy way for a woman to have masculine traits.

My wife and I have talked about this a lot over the years. We’re really an odd couple in that if you give us all the tests, she’s the man and I’m the woman, and we’ve dealt with that. I’m the tender, romantic, affectionate, touch me, talk to me tenderly type, and she is the get-it-done type. Just do the work for me. That’s all I want. Just empty the garbage. Keep the car running. And I said, “Hmm.” So we have this figured out for ourselves, and what we have said to each other is, “A lopsided, feminine woman is not as admirable as a feminine woman with some pretty strong masculine traits, and a lopsided, masculine man is not as admirable as a strong masculine man with some significant feminine traits.”

What I’m arguing is that when you create a large, strong masculine ethos, that can flourish with freedom. Because in an atmosphere where there’s a strong sense that men are men here, he can relax and let his more nurturing or tender side flourish. And it’s the same with the women. Whereas, if everything’s up for grabs and you’re not quite sure who’s what or what’s what, you feel off-balanced. You don’t know how to be yourself.

2. Attraction to the Christian Life for Men

Number two: In this ethos of masculine Christianity, men are more properly attracted to the Christian life when it does not appear that he must become effeminate to be a Christian. Men are properly more attracted to a church, to Christ, and to the Christian life when he picks up intuitively you don’t have to be effeminate here. You don’t have to be a woman to be a Christian. When you have an atmosphere that is strongly masculine, men can be more naturally at home. They can be more naturally drawn. The dominance of female leadership undermines the proper sense of a man’s call to be a leader, protector, and provider. If this church is dominated by women, he’ll pick up that it’s not really for him to flourish there. He’ll think, “I won’t come in on my own. I don’t compete with women. I don’t fight women. I don’t move over and up around women. I move away when women are in control.”

Here’s an example: Before Bethlehem called me — this is 27 years ago now — I was called by a church in Duluth to come just to talk because they knew Bethlehem was talking to me, so it was inappropriate that I become an official candidate there. They said, “Just come talk. Come talk in the living room in the afternoon.” I said, “Okay, I’ll come talk.” So Noë and I went up to Duluth before I had interviewed here, and there were two women and about four men in a living room, and they began asking me questions. Here was this young, 34-year-old with a family, and they would have liked to have me come, I was picking up, to be pastor. Then somebody brought up women elders, and I said, “Well, I can tell you where I am,” and I said, “I don’t think women should be elders.” And there was this dead silence in the room. These two women were there, and they said, “Really? Why?” So for about a half an hour, I just unpacked biblical texts and gave them my experience of things like this.

When I was done, both of these women were in tears and I thought, “Oh, this is bad.” It wasn’t bad. It was amazing. There was a young one, I’ll guess near her early 30s, and an older one probably 65 or whatever. The young one was just shaking her head, saying, “I didn’t want to serve. I didn’t even want to serve on this committee.” She said, “I don’t have any leadership aspirations on the eldership at all. What you said just makes so much sense to me.”

Here’s an interesting sidenote. She and her husband got in their car and drove all the way down here to have dinner with me just to follow up on that, even when I had said, “I’m not going to go here.” They just wanted to hear more.

The older woman said the most significant thing. She was in tears, and she just shook her head. She said, “Until I became the CE director here at this church, my husband was significantly involved. In the last three years, he’s just fallen away. There’s been an inverse relationship.” This is after 30 minutes of conversation. Lights were going on for these women, feeling like, “My aggressive role has undermined my own relationship to my husband and his relationship to the church.”

So that’s an illustration of what I mean by the fact that men will be more properly attracted into church, into leadership, and into the Christian life if there’s a feeling about it that it is masculine to be a Christian.

3. Attraction to the Christian Life for Women

Number three: In this ethos, women are more properly drawn to a Christian life that highlights the proper place of humble, strong, spiritual men in leadership. This more properly feels freeing and safe. It feels like a place where the men in her life might learn to take initiative without being domineering.

In other words, if you drew the inference from number two that this is all about making men feel at home, not women, you didn’t understand. This is all about making women and men properly feel at home. I’m using that word properly because I know carnal men and carnal women don’t like God’s order, and so there’s always going to be some people who say, “I don’t like that masculinity,” or “I don’t like that femininity,” or “I don’t like it,” for non-biblical reasons. But I’m saying, deep inside, written on our hearts are dispositions that God has put there and if they see a strong, loving, tender, kind, Christ-like, humble male leadership, both men and women are drawn to that. There are various reasons for that. I just wrote down this one. When that’s the case, it feels to women like a place where the men in their life might learn to take initiative without being domineering.

Not all women have men in their lives. I’m going to say something about singleness later. But if a woman comes and she’s married, and they’re hovering on the periphery of the church or Christianity, when she comes, she’s wondering, “Would he come? Would he flourish? What’s the place for him here?” I’m arguing that most women, if they’re deeply honest, when they walk into a church, more important to them than whether it fits everything she wants is, “Will my man flourish here? Will my man grow here? Will my man come to his own here? Then he could come into his own home, and then we could have the kind of marriage I’ve dreamed about.” I think where there is a modeling of strong, Christ-like masculinity among the men, women are encouraged, they’re safe, and their men could have a place to grow up into what they so long for them to be.

4. Celebrating Strong Women

Number four: In this ethos, we are free to celebrate strong, courageous women of God who love the biblical vision of complementarity. The stronger and the clearer the masculine ethos, the more unthreatened men and women can be with very strong women. There will always be very strong women in the church — strong intellectually and strong emotionally, and I don’t feel threatened by them at all. I could name a bunch at Bethlehem. And they like it that they’re not threatening. They like it that the men are strong. Whereas, if you turned it around, those women would gravitate to take over. They really would. They just can’t help it. They’re so competent and so strong. Women like that, I think, delight in a place to flourish as women doing their kinds of ministry, being strong in the views that they express, and don’t in any way call the men into question by exerting that kind of thoughtful strength.

And not only can you celebrate those who are there but you can celebrate them in history. You can have women’s events. I was so glad to hear that Mary is doing this women’s ministry event because we don’t have to be afraid, thinking, “What kind of women would come to that? What kind of ministry are we really talking about?” We know who we are. We’re content. We can walk right up the edge and take risks and celebrate women. We bring Helen Roseveare in at the national conference and give her a platform to talk to 3,000 people and risk people saying, “Oh, I didn’t think women were supposed to do that,” because we’ve fought through what that means to us and why and how.

5. Men Awakened to Domestic Responsibilities

Number five: In this ethos, men are awakened to their responsibilities at home to lead the family, protect the family, and provide for the family. A clear definition of manhood helps a man take responsibility. This is probably one of the biggest issues in our church right now as we move towards a more aggressive men’s ministry and the relationship between heads of homes and youth ministry and all these things — how they interrelate. It is crucial that we define manhood and model it in such a way that men awaken to the fact that around this place, they have some responsibilities at home. They don’t coast or they’re out of sync here. They have to step up to the plate and read their Bible, and read it with their wife and kids. That’s a feeling that a man ought to have and would have if there was a flourishing of strong, masculine spiritual leadership.

I’ll give you one concrete illustration if it would help you make progress in helping men do this. Here’s one of the reasons men don’t do that, and there are more than one: They feel inferior to their wives, and they are inferior to their wives. Let’s just face it. Spiritually, and also when it comes to reading, the prevalence of lousy readers is way more prominent in boys than girls.

This is a real, live illustration in Bethlehem. There is a guy with an eighth grade education who works in a trade. He makes a good living. His wife has a high school education and some college, and she’s quite articulate. She can talk circles around you, and he doesn’t talk very well when you try to talk. He’s a little bit self-conscious. They were having awful marriage problems some years ago, and I was sitting in my office and I said — let me make up some names here — “Jim, are you leading Mary at home in devotions? Let’s be concrete.” They had three kids. I said, “Do you get together and read the Bible and pray together?” He said, “No.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Well, she’s just way better than I am at all that stuff.”

Now the people who promote competency-based sexuality would say, “Let her lead, for goodness’ sake. She’s gifted. Take over, Mary, and lead your family in devotions. He doesn’t want to. You’re equal, fifty-fifty. You’ve got the gifts. Competency is what matters, not masculinity and femininity.” That’s where they would go, but that’s, I think, not where the Bible would go, and it’s not where a woman’s heart wants to go.

So I said to him, “Let me ask you this. I know she’s better than you in these various ways. That’s okay. My wife is better than me in a bunch of ways. Can you find a Bible in your house?” And he said, “Yes.” I said, “Tonight at 8:00 pm, just before the little kids go to bed, can you gather your family into one room? Do you have that much authority to make them all come to one room?” And he said, “Yes.” I said, “Okay. Could you just open your Bible at John 1 and say, ‘Kids, we’re going to read the Bible tonight and then we’re going to pray’”

They’re of course stunned. Daddy’s doing this. He opens the Bible and says, “We’re going to read our way in this next month through the Gospel of John.” And then he turns to his wife and he says, “Here. Now you read the first couple of paragraphs and then I’ll pray.” She’s glowing and happy to do that. She reads it. And then he might say, “Honey, you pray first and then I’ll pray.” And I said, “Now can you do that?” That does not take any college education. It takes guts is what it takes. This is not a competency issue. This is not like, “I’ve got a really educated wife and I’m a bloke, so this will never work.” It will work. She didn’t marry you for nothing. She saw something in you that drew her to you. Flourish. Become the leader in that simple sphere and it will go out to others. I’m just arguing that will happen more readily where there is a clear definition of masculinity and living it out in the church.

6. Clearer Definitions of Gender Roles

Number six: In this ethos, youth leaders and parents will catch a clearer definition of how to answer the question of a boy, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman? Mommy, what does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?” That’s a question for which feminists have no answer because they don’t like the last phrase. If you ask a feminist, “What does it mean to grow up and be a man?” They’ll have an answer. And if you ask them, “What does it mean to grow up and be a woman?” They’ll have an answer. And they’ll be virtually the same answer. They’ll say, “Be honest, have integrity, be mature, take responsibility…” — generic, generic, generic, generic. But as soon as you add, “Daddy what does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man? What makes me different?” And I don’t just mean plumbing, but what makes them different. There the answers cease because it becomes too controversial.

This was the chapter in the book that was hardest to write, and I think it’s probably the most significant. I’ll just give you my definitions. Here’s the definition of masculinity: At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. Here’s the definition of femininity: At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength in leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.

Every word in those definitions carries a ton of freight and the book is just an exposition of those. That’s my effort to give an answer to my little girl. So when I sit on the edge of Talitha’s bed at night, I’m regularly thinking about this. I put my hand on her, I bless her, and I regularly think, “How can I get this woman ready to be a woman and not a man? How can I get her ready to marry and have a properly complementarian relationship?” We talked about marriage a lot at age 12. She likes to think about it.

I got an email from a friend that, for me, was a broken-hearted email. He said his daughter, who’s 23 or so, came home not as a believer, brought her boyfriend, and announced that they had gone to Las Vegas and got married. This is a pastor friend of mine. I wrote him a long email of how sad I was, and the reason I felt so sad was because I thought of Talitha, thinking, “Your Mama’s dreaming about looking for the dress together. Your Mama’s dreaming about planning. Your Mama’s dreaming about knowing the man. I’m dreaming about standing at your side and lifting your veil and kissing you and handing you over for him to be the main responsible person in your life. I’m dreaming of that.”

I told her that little story, and I looked down and said, “Talitha, don’t ever do that to us, please.” And she got a big smile on her face and she said, “What kind of dress do you think Mommy would like to have?” She really does like to think about those things. It’s amazing. She’s 10 years away or so from it. She said, “When do you think this will happen?” I said, “Oh, I think 10 years would be about right.” I was 22 when I got married.

Let me just illustrate this. Our elders, in our last elders meeting, acted on an approval of guidelines for masculinity. This is a book written by Albert Mohler called From Boy to Man: The Marks of Manhood. We read it together as an eldership and then we talked through whether we could approve of this. With some little tweakings, we said, “Yes, we approve of this.” Now, that’s really important. You put it in the hands of your youth leaders and your elders and say, “This is what we’re trying to make our boys. This is what we want them to grow up to be.” And then we distilled it into a six point thing for masculinity on a piece of paper.

7. Clearer Meaning to Singleness

Number seven: In this ethos, the meaning of masculinity and femininity in singleness will be clearer, and a lifetime of singleness without sexual intercourse will be more understandable and livable. This is about masculinity and femininity in singleness. If we just define masculinity and femininity in terms of marriage, we will leave hundreds and hundreds of our people at Bethlehem and some in your churches adrift. They’ll think, “What does that have to do with us? Are we just generic? Does our manhood and womanhood mean anything in the dance of life as we do things together?” And my argument would be that it hugely does. Their masculinity and femininity are significant in the way singles relate, and finding their identity in the Christ who never had sex is huge.

We were dealing with the issue of public advertising of condoms here maybe 25 years ago. You’ve been around long enough to know how big of a controversy that was when they advertise on TV or in the newspaper. I was interviewed and wrote a thing for the newspaper and got mail, and it was so illuminating to see what kind of criticism came back because I argued, “Let’s not do that. We don’t need to do that as a culture. There are plenty available and if you push them as the way to safe sex, it’s not going to help the situation much.”

One man wrote to me and he said, “Who do you think you are to tell me that I can’t have sex or shouldn’t have sex until I’m married? I have a sexual identity. You’re going to tell me not to be human?” I wrote back to him, since he was bold enough to give me his return address, and said, “My main problem with what you say about not being fully human until you have sex is that Jesus Christ was the most fully human being that ever lived and he never, ever had sexual intercourse with anybody.”

We need to be able to say to men and women that part of their identity as male and female does not have to include sexual intercourse. We live in a day where the pressures they have on them to experience that, and the message that if you don’t, you’re defective, are huge. The thought is, “You haven’t really lived. You’re denying a huge part of your humanity if you don’t find a friend to sleep with. If you can’t get a spouse, get a friend.” I think in an atmosphere where sexual realities are made crystal clear and defined, masculine and feminine roles, not simply identifying with marriage, will help them much.

8. Full Emotions in Corporate Worship

Number eight: In this ethos, the corporate worship teams up front are not dominated by women. The songs chosen are not dominated by one-sided feelings of intimacy or majesty. The presence of masculine men, strong theology, and strong music gives the corporate worship a feel of strength that helps men discover and express the fullness of the emotions towards God that God calls for.

Oh, this is really tough to inherit, for example, in a church where a worship leader is effeminate, maybe even gay. It’s so problematic for so many pastors. A worship leader may not be effeminate but is unable to attract men to sing with him, lead with him, and communicate in the leading that these songs are about a great and majestic God to whom to follow is warrior-like. In that big, strong, majestic context, the intimacy times, the tender times, don’t feel so weird to men. If you walk in and all they’re doing is swishy-swaying and love songs to Jesus and that’s all there is, men are going to feel like, “It’s weird here. I don’t think I want to be here. That girl singing up there with that breathy voice about her affections to Jesus, what does that do for me?”

9. God More Fully Displayed

Number nine: In this ethos, the God of the Bible will be more fully portrayed and known than where the tone is more feminine. The God of the Bible is overwhelmingly powerful, authoritative, and often violent. Just read your Bible. More often than not, God is violent. He was violent in the Old Testament. He’s going to be violent in Revelation. He’s handing people over to wrath today. God is violent. He is Lord, King, Master, Sovereign, Father, and Ruler. His tenderness, gentleness, and patience shine in their beauty because of appearing in this dominant light.

Women need an ethos of this kind so that they can relax and be more their nurturing selves without fearing that they must work to create the ethos of God’s grandeur lest it be lost because the men are not speaking and modeling it. In other words, the only way that biblical tenderness, kindness, meekness, patience, and a female, nurturing, caring spirit can flourish biblically is against the backdrop of a massively big, powerful God who inevitably has a masculine feel to him.

You can’t talk about God as King, Ruler, Sovereign, Leader, Lord, Husband, and so on without it having a masculine feel to it. It just does. And then it’s against that big backdrop that his amazing condescension, his willingness to take little children into his arms, and his willingness to deal with women in the most respectful way his culture ever saw, that starts to feel beautiful instead of effeminate or collapsing all things into the feminine. So I think the God of the Bible will be more fully portrayed where there is a dominantly masculine feel to the spirituality.

10. Preaching Held in Honor

Number 10: In this ethos, preaching is more readily prized. Preaching is expository exultation. That’s my definition of what preaching is. It’s a forceful acclamation of the greatness of God and a passionate appeal for full-orbed response to him. The fear of strong preaching is part of the effeminization of the church. The full range of the way God is and appears in the Bible is not known where preaching is simply casual or conversational.

It’s no accident that the emerging church speaks of conversation only, not proclamation. It’s offensive to speak of acclamation and proclamation. The sense is, “We’re just having a conversation here, and anybody that starts to lift his voice or do any kind of forceful gesture or any kind of way that seems powerful, that’s the old school. That’s the old way. We sit in circles and we converse here.” Well, that’s feminine and it will go nowhere in the long run. It will just be fascinating for a season with people in reaction, and then in a few decades it will be no more; only it will have destroyed many in the process.

11. A Wartime Mindset

Number 11: In this ethos, a wartime mindset and a wartime lifestyle will feel more natural. I don’t think women should go into combat for this country. The implication of that is that, while we are all soldiers for Jesus, if you have a masculine feel to the spirituality of the church, we will more readily conceive of ourselves as warriors with a great foe and a great leader, and the sense that we would lay our lives down to advance this cause. Our women will come in beside us there and do valiantly with us because they want their men to be their leader warriors here. They’ll go out and risk their necks on the battlefield to put these men back together when they’ve been chopped up. But if we say, “We’re side by side and the women are fighting and we’re fighting and there’s no leadership here,” then we will not be biblical in our wartime mindset. So I think a right wartime mindset and wartime lifestyle will flourish better where there’s a masculine feel to the church and the ministry.

Question and Answer

Those are my 11 sweet blessings of masculine Christianity. I’m going to stop. I had assumed we’d go until 1:30 so we have about 10 more minutes, but I’ll let Joe make the call there. I’ll throw it open to questions of any kind whatsoever that you have that come to your mind. And I’ll just say, “I don’t know,” if I don’t know.

Gender or Sex?

The observation was that one author suggested we return away from the word gender to the word sex to describe our differences because the word sex captures the physical dimension which is the most obvious, and the word gender is grammatical in its origin. He and she are masculine and feminine pronouns. I fought that battle once. I made that very case at Bryan College when I spoke there for the lectureship on manhood and womanhood because in the left wing, feminist university settings, that’s exactly the case. The word gender was preferred precisely because it’s a social construct, and you make it what you want. Whereas, sex is stuck with realities of plumbing, and therefore, we’re forced to think of differences when we use the word sex.

I haven’t carried through the battle very successfully. It felt linguistically hopeless. And so, it’s not been a priority of mine. What it stands for, I totally agree with, and I do lean towards using the term sexuality rather than gender distinctions because I know that historically, at least in the last 40 years, the gender studies at the university are called that precisely because it is a social construct that you can make whatever you want. I can make you feminine or masculine and we create those. Whereas, if you called it “sexuality studies,” which nobody does, you know you’d be stuck with dealing with the realities of our physical differences. So the person who said that is on to something very wise, very sharp. You men just have to decide in your own milieu, is that a battle that you can carry through? I haven’t made it a priority.

Feminization of the Church

The question is, if most churches are still generally led by males, why has the church experienced a feminization? I would say this: Most churches are led by pastors who are males but not led necessarily by males at other significant levels. That would be a part of the answer — that men haven’t stepped up to the plate across the whole lay spectrum of leadership. Part of that is because women have, and part of why they have is that men haven’t. It’s kind of a vicious circle. But your suggestion is probably even more to the point — namely, our pastors are feminized pastors. They are afraid to say or do anything that would call attention to these things because they’ve absorbed from the culture the mentality that they shouldn’t lead with putting that foot forward into masculinity.

I think those two things go hand-in-hand. Yes, most senior pastors, in evangelical churches anyway, are still men. In many evangelical denominations, they try to construct a leadership board in such a way that women can be on it. They’ll call them stewards or something, and avoid the word elders so they don’t have to argue about 1 Timothy 2 or whatever. I think that bent is to give the whole church a flavor that the strong lay leaders here are often women. And I think the church should have the feeling that the strong lay leaders are spiritual, humble, Christ-like men.

Making Changes

The question is: If you’re in a denomination or a church that stresses egalitarianism over complementarity and the pastor has come to the convictions of complementarity, how do you move towards leading a church? I don’t know the answer to how quickly to do that, but here’s the strategy I would follow. I would take my time and win a peoples’ trust by exegesis, by expository preaching, so that they discern over several years, “This man stands under the Bible. He’s not riding any ponies. He is a word man.” Now, that will lose some people along the way because you’ll just touch on enough things that they don’t want the Bible pushed on. They want other things.

When your trust is rising and they know you’re a Bible man, then as you move towards controversial issues, you go to texts and you just deal with texts. You don’t have to use any buzzwords, like complimentary or whatever. You just go to Ephesians 5 and you open up the beauty of what it means to lead like Christ in a marriage. And then do the same thing with others. If you come at it exegetically, having won their trust, then I think you have more likely success than if you say one year into it, “We’re doing a series on complementary or a series on masculinity.” I think it would be better to do a series on Ephesians, or do a series on 1 Timothy, and let it come where it comes.

The second thing I would do is I would take my most trusted men and begin to teach them at a small level. Meet with them on Saturday mornings, share your deepest, strongest convictions, ask for their wisdom, and don’t make these decisions yourself. It won’t work in the long run if you try to do things just as a one-man show. You have to have around you trusted leaders saying, “Do that. We’re with you.”

A Combination of Characteristics

Let me see if I understand the first part of your question. Since I have some feminine traits that my wife doesn’t have, you think that might be characteristic of senior pastors, and how can a masculine person come to him without threatening him? The question doesn’t make sense to me because I don’t feel threatened, so I’m trying to figure out what’s my struggle here?

My guess is that what makes for an effective leader of a large organization who leads by the word is not his feminine traits but the right combination of tenderheartedness and strong, uncompromising conviction and decisiveness. It’s just the coming together of those things, and the strong side protects him from being vulnerable to the more touchable side. By touchable I mean, I cry pretty easily. It’s not hard for me to be moved by other people’s emotions. I feel a lot of pity for dogs that have been hit, or a person that’s in trouble, or when I deal with this little fellow at Talitha’s school. I just wanted to cry with her last night. But I don’t feel like I can be easily manipulated for being that way because I’ve got these convictions that are like ballast in my boat.

Maybe the answer then is that a fruitful leader will always have significant ballast in the boat so that even though his sails of emotions can flap easily in the wind, he’s not easily tipped over.

Regarding your other question: How does it work out in the men of the church? Well, I think there are a lot of amazingly strong, gifted men here. Men who have a robust theology, a strong intellectual grasp of where they’re coming from, and a zeal to lead find a home here. They’re not threatening anybody. That’s the kind of men there ought to be, and so we want their tribe to increase. We’re not nearly where we need to be. That’s why so many things are in process right now. There are loads of men who don’t step up to the plate at home.

I was thinking on the way over here, and this may be encouraging to some of you, when you’ve been at a place for 27 years and you’re 61 years old and, Lord willing, you have seven or eight years left, you’re just so used to things going bad and going wrong that it just doesn’t threaten you anymore. I’m just so used to getting discouraging emails that I just say, “Okay.” Twenty years ago, I might have thought, “Maybe I need another church or another job or something.” I don’t ever think that way anymore. I think, “Okay. I’ve got eight years. We’ll work on this. I’m working on this issue until I drop. I’m not going away.” The take-my ball-and-go-home mentality won’t work; I’m too old. I’m not going anywhere. I just want to keep on working.

So when it comes to manhood and womanhood, and anything else in the church right now — all the broken stuff at Bethlehem right now — I just think, “Okay, I’ve got seven or eight years, and you know what God is going to call me to account for when I die and stand before him? Not success. He will hold me accountable to whether or not I faithfully worked on it. Did I go to the people? Did I do biblical things? And that’s a great relief. It’s such a great relief that I don’t have to fix this church. I should try. He’ll ask me, ‘Did you stay up late, get up early, talk, love, call on the phone, and visit? Did you do the stuff that the Bible says to do to help fix the problem?’ It won’t be, ‘Did you fix it?’ That won’t be the issue. The issue will be faithfulness.”

In manhood and womanhood, we say, “Okay, I’m going to keep trying.” The reason I said yes to this invitation is that I haven’t talked about this in a long time. I need for my own soul to just go back to the board, look at it a little bit, think about it, and hopefully make this recording and put it on the internet so that 30,000 people will listen to it instead of 50, and maybe make a little contribution that way.

Potential Roadblocks

The question is: How do you see this playing out in evangelicalism in the future in view of roadblocks and difficulties? I’m more encouraged today than I was 20 years ago. It’s amazing. Maybe because I’ve been around for so long there’s been a self-selecting process, but in the early 80s I was so embattled it was unbelievable. People were just ripping me to shreds over this issue and there was disagreement in the church about what women could do and not do, and I just don’t fight it anymore here. There are so many 20-something and 30-something young people who love the vision. When it’s spoken in biblical richness that’s not lopsided, not abusive, not manipulative, not exploitative, and it sounds like women are flourishing as women and men are flourishing as men, and they can flourish together, they say, “Yeah, that’s right. That’s rich. That’s good.” So at least here anyway, I don’t feel as embattled as I once did.

Then I look out across the scene and I see that some denominations have just sold their soul on this, and I don’t know if they’ll ever turn around. I mean that they’ve sold their soul to feminism or egalitarianism. And others, it seems to me, in cross-denominational groupings are amazingly articulate and flourishing in this. So I really am happy to let God be God. Eschatologically, I don’t know where we are on the timescale. It could be very near the end, or it could be another 1,000 years. If we’re near the end, my understanding is that the dark gets darker and the light gets lighter. I see that in Matthew 24.

So I don’t become pessimistic about what God might be pleased to do in our city here. If there’s going to be this great glacier of lukewarmness that comes over the age at the end, that doesn’t mean there can’t be a red-hot, twin-cities church across the denominations, full of the Holy Spirit and full of the Word of God — a shining light all over the world — while the rest of the world is in darkness.

So when I think about progress in this area or any of a dozen areas, I don’t think pessimistically. Pessimism is generically appropriate globally at the end of the age. It seems to me that Matthew 24, Mark 13, and the book of Revelation show some pretty horrible things toward the end, like the Man of Sin and so on. But as far as specificity of churches, cities, and movements there’s nothing in the Bible that says that your denomination couldn’t be totally faithful when Jesus comes back, and your church could be just blazing with white-hot worship.

Abusive Leadership

What would I say to pastors who hold in principle, I suppose, to the form of masculine leadership and are playing it out abusively? We will preach and we will write a nuanced understanding of leadership and strength. You hear it in the way I talk. When I think of male leadership, I say words like humble, contrite, lowly, Christ-like, and meek. Those are the words I stick on the front over and over because I know of those kinds of abuses, and we want to constantly wave the banner that it’s not the egalitarians who have the balanced view. The imbalanced views are, on one side, “It doesn’t matter. There’s only competency-based activities.” That’s egalitarianism in its full form. And over here on the other extreme it’s domineering, abusive, insecure, male rulership.

Now what we want to do is say that both of these people are seeing part of the truth, and we don’t want to be forced into splitting this thing up. We want to see strength, we want to see leadership, we want to see provision, and we want to see perfection. And then, we want to label and put all kinds of qualifiers on that so that there’s a meekness, and a tenderness, a humility, and an openness to reason in purity the wisdom from above (James 3:13–18).

My answer is that if I can smell that kind of thing when I’m with somebody, I’m just going to check him. I’m going to call him into question. I’m going to say, “You know, the way you just said that is really offensive. That’s not going to get you anywhere. You’re going to lose most of your people just because you sound like personally you’re on an ego trip or you’re insecure or whatever.” So join me. We have a huge job in finding ways to articulate this that feel compelling, winsome, and beautiful. That’s what I feel my main job is on this issue; it’s to find words that make it look like what God really meant it to be, namely, totally satisfying for men and women. God does not mean for manhood and womanhood in a marriage to be frustrating. It’s supposed to be satisfying. It’s the way we’re wired, so we need to find a way to help people see that.

A Compromised Position

The point of the question is that in churches and movements there seems to be some progress in this way, but in academia it’s not so much the case. What do I think about that? You’re absolutely right, and I don’t know what to do about it. I admire presidents of institutions who have the guts to make this an issue. Most of them in seminaries and colleges feel like that would be suicide. So it’s constantly treated as a secondary issue along with minor things like tongues or whatever.

Here’s the sad part about that: You can’t be neutral. You will default to feminism. You have to because if you say, “We are going to be neutral here,” meaning, “We will let there be feminists on this faculty and we will let there be complementarians on this faculty,” the next question is, “But will there be women teaching theology at this seminary?” And the answer will be, “Well, some.” Then you’ve given away the store. You’ve put all the brothers who believe that shouldn’t happen in a compromised position. They can’t go to those classes, or they have to go there in a compromised position. So you haven’t been neutral.

That’s what’s happened at the seminaries we care about. If you want to see the paper I wrote, I’ve written on this and sent it to two or three deans in a row to the effect that those of us in the Baptist General Conference who have complimentary convictions feel compromised. Where do we go? Where do we turn for our guys? At Bethel that’s not where they’re going to go, and it doesn’t work to say, “We have come complementarians on the faculty,” because when you go the other direction, you’ve already shown it’s not a big issue, and you’ve put people in a compromised position who don’t think that women should do certain things.