Masculine Christianity: A Recent History

John Piper recently delivered an address on the life of J. C. Ryle entitled “The Frank and Manly Mr. Ryle” –The Value of a Masculine Ministry. In this message, Piper argues that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel,” and he proceeds to define masculine Christianity/ministry as:

“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.”

Piper’s verbose definition defies clarity and invites confusion, but fortunately, later in his message, he lists some specific characteristics of masculine ministry to aid in our understanding. Piper gives these eight traits to characterize masculine ministry:

  1. A masculine ministry believes that it is more fitting that men take the lash of criticism that must come in a public ministry, than to unnecessarily expose women to this assault.
  2. A masculine ministry seizes on full-orbed, biblical doctrine with a view to teaching it to the church and pressing it with courage into the lives of the people.
  3. A masculine ministry brings out the more rugged aspects of the Christian life and presses them on the conscience of the church with a demeanor that accords with their proportion in Scripture.
  4. A masculine ministry takes up heavy and painful realities in the Bible, and puts them forward to those who may not want to hear them.
  5. A masculine ministry heralds the truth of Scripture, with urgency and forcefulness and penetrating conviction, to the world and in the regular worship services of the church.
  6. A masculine ministry welcomes the challenges and costs of strong, courageous leadership without complaint or self-pity with a view to putting in place principles and structures and plans and people to carry a whole church into joyful fruitfulness.
  7. A masculine ministry publicly and privately advocates for the vital and manifold ministries of women in the life and mission of the church.
  8. A masculine ministry models for the church the protection, nourishing, and cherishing of a wife and children as part of the high calling of leadership.

Responses to Piper’s message and descriptions have been wide spread and varied. On one side of the spectrum, people have downplayed all the fuss. One such blogger, Tim Challies, writes:

“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.”

On the other end of the spectrum, people like Scot McKnight are raising red flags. McKnight recently commented:

“I don’t think [Piper’s] trying to get wimpy males to man up but for people to see the masculine — that’s his term — nature of Christianity through the evidence of man-centered leadership and male language for God. There is a difference between male and masculine, and Piper is arguing the latter from the former. This is a very serious issue, one that is virtually claiming there’s a masculine center to the divine being and to God’s work in this world, and it is does not take alternative themes into account, does not recognize or incorporate the denial of the typical “masculine” nature of the Greco-Roman male in how the NT’s Jesus is passive before violence, how the husband is to give himself for his wife (that’s not “masculine” in the ancient world), and I could go on… In my judgment, John Piper made a fundamental category mistake and, at the same time, wiped out other sorts of evidence. By the way, while I disagree with Piper’s complementarianism, his view of leadership is entirely reasonable — it just isn’t masculine; it’s Christ-like. Huge difference for many of us.”

For myself, at this point, I will air no opinions. I am still mulling it over. I don’t want to misspeak or over-speak or worse. I do, however, believe this is an extremely important debate to follow, regardless of whether you are egalitarian or complementarian, which is why I am posting this brief accounting of the discussion.

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Derek Griz

I am a Christian, a husband, a father, and a pastor (Immanuel Church). I write from those perspectives. Connect with me on Twitter (@derekgriz).