Thursday, February 09, 2012

Masculine Christianity

It's been a while since I blogged about anything, but Rachel Held Evans, a blogger I quite like, has made an important point regarding John Piper's call for a "masculine Christianity." She said

"There’s a double-standard out there in which a woman’s critique of patriarchy tends to get discounted as nothing more than the rants of an “angry feminist,” and, truth be told, I’ve grown a bit weary of hearing that charge each time I speak out about this disturbing trend in the evangelical church."

That is sadly true, but it is a call for those men who agree with her to stand up and say something. For what it's worth...

Piper is right that God uses many gendered metaphors in references to the Trinity: Father, Son, King. But what does it mean to call these "masculine?" Sitting here in the 21st Century midwestern United States, I suspect I can conjure up common images with my fellow U.S. Americans: professional sports, body hair, Axe Body Spray (for the under 28 masculinity), lawn care (for the over 28), more professional sports. I'm sure others would want to add things that they feel are less culturally specific - providing, protecting, leading - but these are no more universal than the first list.

Did God tell us what men were like and then point out to us that God is "masculine?" Or did we come up with some ideas about men and women to which God spoke, in order to share something we might understand? Abraham (nee Abram) thought it was fine to have several wives, and use his wife's handmaid to bear his child, because he believed in monogenesis, that only men carry the stuff of life leading to birth. God knew this and rebuked him for a lack of trust but not for his faulty science. God let a lot of early Hebraic culture go on and even used these cultural elements to help us understand.

Modern "masculinity" is no less complex. In Indonesia today, particularly among the Javanese, earning money in the marketplace is women's work. Women are considered less likely to be tempted to squander money and therefore more stable than men. When economically possible, men withdraw from economic life and cultivate more high-minded pursuits, such as religious teaching. Is this the "masculinity" that we should have in mind? Or more the professional sports kind? Do we imagine the masculinity of scripture - often rooted in a strong patrilineal and patriarchal family where women and children were like property of fathers and husbands? Can we imagine such a masculinity?

There is so much in John Piper's ministry I love. His book Desiring God was very influential when I was young, but his lack of cultural self-awareness is disappointing. It is so much richer to understand how God has used the people of biblical past to shape the myriad cultures today than simply to try to selectively export our reading of ancient peoples into the present. If we respect Scripture, we're going to work a little harder at understanding how God's work among his people in the past speaks to us today. And that is not a "masculine" job.

1 comment:

Wilgus said...

Hi Dr. Howell! It's been a while. I have a question about this post that I don't think I ever asked while I was at Wheaton. Just know that it's not loaded, and the fact that I'm posting it on a comment board instead of having a private conversation is not any kind of public challenge, but because I think it might help clarify some questions while reading the post.

You rightly point out that there are multiple definitions of 'masculinity' and 'femininity' exhibited by different cultures. Do you believe that there is any value in a given culture to 'decide' on a given definition and stick to it, as the Indonesians you referenced seem to have done? Perhaps Piper is simply doing the same thing.