Nowhere Men


We visited the in-laws this last weekend. One of my father-in-law’s rituals is to play hymns on the piano before we head off for church. When I came downstairs after getting dressed, I heard the following hymn:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
— “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles, 1913

I admit that I always liked that hymn, but as I sat there last Sunday morning, it bothered me. A lot.

Forty-five minutes later we were singing “Fairest Lord Jesus” in my in-law’s church. And then we sang a modern worship song speaking of how beautiful Jesus is.

In the last couple months, I’ve had conversations with guys who confessed that God seems to answer the prayers of their wives more than He does their own. One went so far as to tell me that whenever he received a positive answer to prayer, it disappointed him to find out his wife had been praying for the same thing. He attributed the success in receiving that answer to prayer more to his wife’s prayer life than his own. In those times when his prayers didn’t line up with his wife’s, nothing seemed to happen.

It makes me wonder if Christian men today feel like second-class citizens of heaven.

Consider the image of Jesus we proffer in our churches today. He becomes a sort of benevolent, winsome character who is handsome (in a glossy, Western sort of way), considerate of others, good with children, intelligent, deeply spiritual, and a hard worker. In our churches, we sing about how much we love Him, talk about His beauty, go on about how we want to be near Him, and so on. In short, He sounds like the perfect husband.

I suppose that a few men out there are crushed by that notion, especially since nearly everything in our culture points out that men are stupid boors who think with their genitalia, love sports mindlessly, and mess up everything they touch. Then there’s Jesus who is none of those things. Is it any reason that the little woman loves Jesus? Or that it’s hard for men to identify with the Lord?

I think this is why I’m hearing that men feel their wives have got it all over them when it comes to being spiritual. I think it explains the disconnect that some Christian men experience when it comes to having a meaningful relationship with Christ. They look around and see that what they are told they must experience seems a bit off. They can see how their wives can go on and on about how beautiful Jesus is, Thinkin' about it...but to men, the contemporary image of Christ they are told they must assent to, and the way they are to live out their faith feels at times, well…gay.

There, I said it.

One of the problems of our age is that none of this is truly news. The modern Christian men’s movement has been trying desperately for a couple decades to counteract what they see as the emasculation of the Church, and I believe they have a legitimate cause there. However, I think that books like Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, the “Bible” of the Christian men’s movement, blows the solution to the problem by encouraging men to find answers by hunting bear with a pointy stick. That attempts to counteract the image of a weepy-eyed Jesus by telling men they need to be testosterone-laden, elk-choking scalliwags. We simply trade one graven image for another.

I don’t believe that the problem is with us men as much as it is with the image of Jesus we project today in our churches. Attempting to pump ourselves up will yield no change unless we re-examine who Jesus is.

In light of what I was thinking about that morning before church as my father-in-law played piano, the sermon proved fortuitous. The pastor preached on Jesus’ question, “Who do men say that I am?” I think that question sums it up for most men. Who is Jesus? And are we exalting a graven image of Him that drives men away from the Church?

What do you think? If you agree that we’ve distorted the image of Christ to make Him overly appealing to women at the expense of men, how would you rescue that image?

See also:

54 thoughts on “Nowhere Men

  1. Mike

    Just finished my tri-monthly ritual with my son of changing the oil on the car, and decided to check in before retiring…re: men living out their faith as gay. I don’t know about that.

    What I mean is that I don’t know if we’ve made Jesus overly appealing to women at the expense of men not knowing how to live out their faith. What I would say is that any expression of Jesus that is “made appealing” is bound to alienate someone as well appeal to some element of humanity-in your example, women.

    Makes me think of Pelagius: he wanted to contextualize the goodness of human nature and the freedom of will so much that he missed out the obvious sinfulness of humanity and the radical character of grace.

    To some degree, your question is a contextualization problem, and I would totally agree with you about the proposal from Eldridge etal: just another violation of the 2nd Commandment…

    You mention also the idea of rescuing the image of Christ. I wonder if we need to be introduced to the image of Christ first! Or at least know if it has been held captive in any way, like through the making of Jesus overly appealing to women.

    Last comment that may or may not connect here: I really did finish changing the oil on the car with my son. I wonder if some of the problem we have with image of Christ is that a majority of preachers, missionaries, theologians, etal, don’t have any kind of history of getting their hands dirty through the earning of their daily bread. Jesus was a carpenter. My son and I have some of our best memories made through oil pan plugs falling back into the hot oil that just drained or from trying to make sense of what American auto engineers were doing compared to the Japanese auto engineers. Neither my son nor I earn our daily bread through car maintenance, and that is a good thing! But, it is the kind of regular labor that reminds us of participating in life together, even in hard work. I wonder if that kind of participation with Jesus, even in hard work, needs some introduction or even rehabilitation! 🙂

    • Mike, et al.,

      I guess what bothers me is the uniformity at which the current image of Jesus as “boyfriend” grips the American Church.

      I read a book called American Jesus last year, and it was quite enlightening how the portrayal of Jesus over the decades has flipped and flopped from one extreme to another. In some ways, our current depiction is rooted in the Post Civil War triumphalism that swept the country. “America’s Pastor” then was Henry Ward Beecher, and his vision of a softer Jesus inspired many of the kinds of “Jesus as boyfriend” hymns that we know today.

      Ultimately, that vision lost out to a tougher “Jesus as CEO” ideal that picked up in the 1920s, but it appears to me that it is back again in vogue. I think the trend toward worship choruses amplifies the trend, as they tend to reinforce the boyfriend ideal.

      How we Christians portray Jesus matters. Though I don’t see in the NT the kind of hyper-masculinized Jesus the Christian men’s movement sells, I also don’t see the boyfriend Jesus we get a lot of in our churches today. When the NT writers talk about loving Jesus, it doesn’t seem to be the same kind of love that we tend to promulgate today.

      An old Elvis album entitled 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong popped into my head. I think in many ways, millions of men who are feeling disconnected from the image of Jesus we’re offering in our churches today can’t be wrong, either. And trying to reform that image by going totally over to the guy side won’t solve the problem. I think we have to get back to an image that fits how the apostles saw Jesus. They were the witnesses. Who do they say Jesus is?

  2. Elizabeth

    I hear a lot about the feminization of the church, but I need help here: what exactly do y’all mean by that?

    And do you think its possible that the problem isn’t a feminization of the church but a modern hyper-masculinization? Fifteen years ago I don’t remember hearing a lot of preachers stumping about the need for men to be properly masculine, but I hear it a good deal now.

    • Elizabeth, et al.,

      Women don’t notice this issue, do they? I’ve never once heard a Christian woman complain that the image of Jesus we offer today is a bit on the gauzy side.

      I think the “boyfriend/spouse” metaphor is a good one. That’s the kind of language we use to describe Jesus in many of our churches. It’s in the worship choruses that talk about how beautiful Jesus is without talking about His strength and power. It’s in accentuating His love over and above all other traits. It’s in emphasis those aspects of His person that most align with being a sort of “replacement spouse.”

      I’m going to make a controversial statement here. I think one of the reasons that women far outnumber men in our churches doesn’t solely have to do with women outliving men. Some of it has to do with the attraction of Jesus as being the perfect male. Women can identify with Him on that level. When their husbands prove inadequate (as they will), where can women turn? They can turn to Jesus. But where does a man turn? I’m not going to name that particular vice here, but I think we all know what it is. And that explains a lot of what we see today in our society. I believe an image of Jesus that appeals more to women may explain part of the problem.

      The image of Jesus that we promote in our churches today may not be offering men the alternative they need. We need to rediscover the Jesus who fills the longing of men’s hearts as much as He does women’s.

      • David Riggins

        Jesus is often not the draw to church for women so much as it is fellowship. For women of my Grandmothers era, the perfect combination would have been hair dresser and church, today it’s Starbucks in the foyer, but the draw is the same: Conversation. Men need not look at Jesus as a competitor, but it wouldn’t hurt to take Him as an example that we need to relate to people around us where they are, and not where we are.

        • David,

          I once wrote in another post that even if there was no resurrection, women would still come to church, if only for the conversation. So yes, I agree with your point. Still, I don’t think that’s the only issue here.

      • Elizabeth

        Dan, if we describe Christ as the spouse, it’s because the bible does! But you didn’t really answer my question: what do you mean by a feminization of the church? Can you give me an example? I get the “Jesus is my boyfriend” problem, to an extent, but that’s also why I raised the point about hyper-masculinization. You made the point (fairly, I think) that the church comes across as “a little bit gay” sometimes. But I think that also represents an absolute obsession with gayness in the church today. Men have become so preoccupied with not being perceived as “Gay” – as feminine, or weak, that masculinity is being redefined (again) as a presence of power, particularly power-over.

        • Elizabeth,

          By feminization, I mean that many of the traits most commonly associated with women have been exalted while those associated with men have been downplayed. To show any level of aggression, even in the proper context is a no no. Competition is out. We’ve axed many of the more masculine hymns that deal with war and victory. Our pictures of Jesus are gauzy and gentle, rather than hard and raw. Jesus and His Church comes off as Precious Moments figurines rather than something like Grünewald‘s Crucifixion. I could go on and on, but if you Google this issue, you’ll find a ton of material that will go into detail.

          • Elizabeth

            That was very succinct, thank you! To tie into what David said below, I think there’s also a real crisis of masculinity going on. How do we take traditionally masculine strengths and use them in a way that doesn’t involve domination? How do we honor the masculine without denigrating the feminine? One of the comments below, for example, really bothered me: it implied that in order for men to feel strong, women must be “kept silent”. Strength and power must never come out of what is taken away from someone else.

            I don’t think it’s any coincidence that while we’re seeing this we also see a rise in hyper-masculinity in other media: look at a Michael Vick, for example, or any number of Hip Hop or Alt-Rock artists.

  3. Alan

    The church does not present a Christ that men are interested in. We need Christ to be challenging us. The Christ I read about in the Gospel’s is dangerous. Always challenging someone. Leading a dangerous life. This Christ was a real man.

    My last church (before moving away) was a large church with a pastoral staff that was masculine. They were able to lead men into the church. When you get the men into church, their women and children will attend the church.

    When I read about the New Testament church, I read about a church challenging the men. Paul admonished the men to lift up holy hands, and required the women to remain silent and ask their husbands at home if they wanted to know anything. God wants the men to lead the church and to lead their wives. Today’s church has all this backwards.

    • Alan,

      I agree with up until you toss in the word “dangerous.” Jesus isn’t dangerous. “Dangerous” is Eldredge talk, not Bible talk. C.S. Lewis’s classic line in the Narnia books that Aslan isn’t safe, but he is good, is a more subtle, and true, depiction. Dangerous is walking along the cliff for the thrill of it, to show your own bravado. What we’re doing is following the Master when we have to walk the cliff’s edge, knowing that He will keep us. Big difference.

      What I’d like to ask you is to name five ways in which Jesus was a real man without falling into stereotypes of masculinity. If you could fill that in here, I think it would greatly help the conversation.

  4. Mark Van Neman

    I came to Christ seven years ago and it seems to me that you are making some of the same mistakes that I made when I first found Him. I listenened to what was preached and I read the books that it was recommended that I read and as I did this I slowly got this skewed picture of Jesus Christ and I began to ask myself if there was somthing wrong with me and how I was viewing things. Finally I went to the Chaplain at the local Rescue Mission and asked him if I was doing something wrong or if I was misunderstanding things. At this point he asked me a question, “Where are you getting the information that you are basing your viewpoint(s) from?” And as I started to list the pastors I had talked to and the books I had read I started to realize that I had talked to just about everybody but the right Person and had been reading the correct book not nearly as much as I had been reading other peoples opinion of that book. So I went back to where I should have been all along … spending hours and hours in the Word of God and hours and hours in prayer and my views started to change. The best part of it was that without talking to another breathing person to confirm it I now knew that I had the correct view of Jesus Christ because it was the one that He gave me — not the one imparted by someone else.
    We live in a fast paced society and want everything given to us in 30-60 minute blocks or better yet cover all the basics of Christianity like we get the news: 5-8 topics in a 1/2 hour. The thing is that to develop a relationship with our Lord and Savior it requires at least as much time as you have put into the best relationship you have ever had (i.e. your marriage, or that of your best friend). You have to be willing to work at it the way you would any other relationship and most important of all you must be willing to listen. Listen? What do you mean, listen? I mean that when you get down on your knees in prayer, everytime you pray, you spend part of that time listening for God. If you practice this long enough I promise that you will begin to hear Him speak to you. Oh, not necessarily in words, and certainly not everytime you pray, but you will begin to hear His voice – and it is here that He will tell you who He is and more importantly who He expects you to be. It is not easy to do this, Heaven forbid I know that – I wanted to give up a whole bunch of times but I can tell you that every time I gave in I regreted it, so give it a try and make your relationship the best it can be (cliche :-))
    I will say that if, after reading the Bible a couple of times, that you want to do some outside reading I strongly recommend C.S. Lewis. He was an avid Christian with a humorous yet cynical view of mankind, I believe much the same view that God might have of us – anyway, start with “Mere Christianity” it helped painted a picture of mans interaction with God and the church that was not only right on the mark anbd timeless, but filled with a humorous viewpoint that keeps me laughing even today.

    In our Lord’s service,

    Mark Van Neman

    • Mark,

      I agree with you in principle.

      However, your recommendation exists in a cultural vacuum. My point is that the image of Jesus we hold out as a whole in our churches is at odds with what you claim.

      Now you can pull out of church entirely, if you wish. But that doesn’t solve the problem. Otherwise, you can do what you say and then go be with the family of God and hear about a softer Jesus. None of us can assume we’re going to be immune to that message.

      At some point, we have to address it for what it is and reform it to be closer to the truth. You may already know the true image of Christ, but if you do little to correct the distortions you may be seeing in your own church, then how is the problem rectified?

  5. Caleb Woodbridge

    Now that I’ve finished university and am looking for work, I’ve been giving quite a lot of thought to what Biblical masculinity should look like. The Bible doesn’t seem to directly answer that question, so it’s more a case of searching the scriptures for various hints and pointers and principles that may be involved. But it does seem something of a hot topic in Christian circles at the moment, so at least people are trying to engage with it.

    There’s an interesting discussion of gender differences in this article. He looks at the origins of gender differences in terms of evolutionary bioscience, but the cultural analysis of how our culture treats men is very interesting.

    • Caleb,

      It’s true that our culture paints rosy pictures of women and increasingly damns men.

      Just this weekend, I read about a recent ad campaign in VA targeting awareness of assaults on children that just came straight out and said that if you see a child with a man, you need to worry.

      As a father myself, that’s a troubling message to be sending. While it is no doubt true that men are the cause of most violence against others, the intensity of that message bugs me. No, I can’t speak for all men, but I can say without hesitation that most men aren’t criminals. I’ve never hit my wife. Never abused my child—or any other child.

      I have, however, been the victim of that message that men cannot be trusted. When I was at Wheaton getting my Christian Ed degree with the hopes of returning to Christian camping ministry afterwards, the first wave of tales of Catholic priests molesting kids hit the headlines. On graduating, I endured all sorts of humiliating interviews and fearful glances from people who distrusted any 30-year old single man who wanted to work in an environment that would be around children. Despite stellar credentials and references from the top people in camping ministry, I couldn’t get a job. In fact, I basically had people come right out and tell me they would have hired me if I had been married—as if that’s any guarantee against crime. I ended up having to bail out of the profession I so dearly wanted to pursue because I had to find a way to put food on the table. Very, very sad. And honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever truly gotten over that slight.

      Someone poisoned the well and a lot of us good men died because of it.

      So no, I think what is being said about men cannot get any lower. Though an increasing number of mothers are killing their children, no one’s writing books about evil mothers. On TV, men are still the clueless boobs, the incompetent dads, the beer-swilling boors. They’re constantly being rescued or outclassed by smart, tough women. And that’s not going to change anytime soon if we continue to treat men as damaged goods.

      That has something to do with the atmosphere we men are forced to breathe. Nor is the Church immune. The Feminist movement damaged the Church more than some realize. We’re reaping the fruit of that assault.

  6. We could all sing “In the Garden”, then “You Light Up My Life” and that recent song “Home” by Daughtry that has been playing on my local Christian station? “In the Garden” is a song I grew up with and always hated. About 15 years ago I realized why – it is one of the original “Jesus is My Boyfriend” songs. There is a wealth of old and new songs that are valuable. It is sad that songs like the ones I listed above are sung and listened to by Christians as songs of faith.

  7. David Riggins

    When I was in Jr. Hi, many, many years ago, my girlfriend and I would tend to sing “As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee” more to each other than to God. But looking back on that, it makes me very aware that the longing we have for God has been subverted by our cultural view of what love is.

    I disagree with you on the concept that it is a church culture issue, in that I believe it is a secular cultural issue. Many of the concepts we have of sex have nothing to do with the hole in our hearts, other than the fact that the world has crammed our hormones into that hole and called it love. Both of the hymns you mentioned were written by men. The most poigniant psalms of longing for the heart and nearness of God were written by that ultimate of men: David.

    Gay? If we are to consider compassion, a heartfelt desire to be one with my God, and a longing for His presence to be gay, then perhaps it is not the churches view of Christ that is in error, but our view of love. Perhaps the increase in homosexuality in our nation is due to a cultural norm that says, “If you long for the presence of a particular man in your life, and your heart is inclined to another man, then you must be gay.” Rather than what is, in my mind, the correct view: you love that person, cherish them, and find comfort and joy in their presence.

    I think many of the issue older people have with current praise music is the underlying tone of love and intimacy that they communicate. Christ is our Groom, we are the Bride! How intimate can you get? But the older generations, more so than the younger, has confused love with sex. (Now the younger generations have their own issues, confusing sex with play and disregarding the very real intimacy that sex was designed for.)

    Men need to grow up, stop listening to what the world says is a man, and begin looking at the man who hung on a cross and said “Behold your Mother”, who wept at the pain of His friends, who reclined with the head of His best friend on His chest. We know so little about what it means to be a Christian man, and we too often look at the wrong examples.

    I personally believe that our culture tells us that men “are stupid boors who think with their genitalia, love sports mindlessly, and mess up everything they touch.” I have seen enough men to tell me that they are completely obedient to how the world tells them to behave. The fact that the nearest city has a football stadium that will hold a third of the local population bears out the fact that we worship sports in this country. That 64% of all TV programming has some sort of sexual content, and that at the rate of nearly 5 sexual situations per hour, tells me that we worship sex. One has only to read the politics section of the newspaper to read about men being stupid boors and messing up everything they touch, let alone watch any sitcom. But since when have Christians been called to listen to what the world says?

    I once had a conversation with a college group where one girl stated she never wanted to have sex, because she had seen a porn movie once and decided that sex was disgusting. Our view of what God has given us has been warped by the worldly culture we live in, but only because we have allowed ourselves to be conformed to this world, and not transformed into the kind of person God has modelled for us, not only in His Son, but in the disciples, the old testement characters we read about, and those around us who exemplify Christian character.

    Is the church at fault? Sure, but we are the church, and any fault lies in each of us mirroring the world, rather than being an example for it.

    • David,

      Actually, we agree. When I say “culture,” I mean the culture at large, not just in the American Church. Even then, as you well know, I don’t see much distinction between the two on a macro level!

      Yes, sexuality is a part of this. The problem is that we can’t fix that issue; God must. We still need to see it for what it is. If misplaced sexuality is behind this, then we need to deal with it openly. We’re not doing that, though.

      As to the issue of intimacy, I’m not arguing against intimacy. What I’m discussing is whether we’ve altered the terms by which we understand that intimacy, if we’ve forced them too far over into a feminized lens that makes it hard for men to see any other way to approach intimacy with Christ than through the romanticized view that we offer today. Again, the idea of Jesus as paramour has not always been the prevailing view.

      Because we’re currently in an age when that view is paramount, it comes at the expense of other views. We talk little of Christ as Victor or as King or Judge. This causes all sorts of problems in the Church, including a softness on sin. We don’t tend to think of a lover as judge. But in the case of Jesus, we need to. Unfortunately, our emphasis on t he softer side of Jesus has thrown our perception of Him out of kilter. We need to fix the problem!

      I’ll throw this back to you. Why do you think so many decent Christian men feel spiritually inferior to their spouses? Why are so many solid Christian men questioning the feminization of the Church if that problem doesn’t truly exist? How has some of the American Church rhetoric actually geared to help men (such as the Prophet, Priest, and King idea) only served to worsen the state of men in the Church?

      • David Riggins

        I think it rather odd that a man would feel inferior spiritually to his wife, but chalk it up to two things: Competition, and pressure to be the “leader”. How are men measuring themselves? You mentioned answered prayer, and how one man wouldn’t consider a his prayers truly answered if he found his wife had been praying for the same thing. I’d need a chart to tell you how immature and broken that relationship sounds, not only with God but also the man’s wife. Our relationship with God, and our closeness to Him, is not a competition, as though one could be closer than another. Prayer is not a pissing contest. If someone measures their relationship with God in relation to someone elses, then I see a problem. But it’s a common one, as I’m sure we’ve all looked at someone and said “I wish I had their faith…” All we are looking at is an outward expression, while only God knows what’s going on inside.

        As to men questioning the feminization of the church, I can hardly be surprised. The swing of the pendulum has wandered back from the days of “equality” and carried the church along with it. My question is this: What defines feminine, and what masculine, according to the word of God? I’ve often ranted that much of what passes for worship today is meant to evoke an emotional response in the listener, rather than truly encourage a heart of worship or express true worship of God. I don’t consider it feminization so much as cynical marketing. I think your logic is flawed in assuming that because so many men see such a problem that therefore that is the problem that exists.

        Rhetoric is just that: Sophistry. Packaging methods and sophisticated marketing will not accomplish what can only be done through a heart broken and laid bare before our Lord. If men are unwilling to be seperate from this world, no amount of rhetoric will solve the problems that arise, and often make it worse. Most of the attempts at making men “what they should be” are shortcuts, more properly defined as “How to be a Christian without missing out on the game of the week.” I put it down to how we define leader and therefore teacher in our culture. The result is a concept of man that is flawed, and because we often create God in our image, we thus create a flawed image of God, and perpetuate it through those we admire: Those whose attributes we envy and wish we had.

        We fail because what we ask for is not what God desires, it’s as simple as that. The only way we can know what God desires is to know Him, and that requires diligent, constant, purposeful study of Who He Is, preferably with our wife in company, but also on our own. We can’t get there by shortcut, and certainly not while watching Monday Night Football, even if it is in the company of other men.

        • David,

          In some ways it doesn’t matter what the root source is for the purpose of recognizing a problem exists. If I break my arm, a shot for the pain will go a long way toward helping me feel less distressed. It won’t cure the broken arm, but it’s a lot better than saying, “I don’t see any problem at all.”

          In the case of this issue, we have too many Church people saying, “I don’t see any problem at all,” but then we’ve got a lot of men saying, “Something’s not right.” Discovering the source of the problem will never come about unless we acknowledge the problem.

          Yes, the cultural identity we hold out for men is horribly flawed. But then the cultural identity we hold out for men in the American Church is at once more of the same as the world offers AND at the other extreme, over-feminized. In other words, we’ve completely bypassed the middle ground.

  8. Dan,
    I’m so thankful to my first pastor for teaching that Jesus was a man’s man: unafraid to speak the truth, not cowardly in the face of power, bold in the face of nature, fearless in striking out in vision. I’ve never thought of Jesus as my boyfriend, but I do think that is what a lot of my brorthers have been served– a feminized, sanitatized version (idol) of Jesus.

    I don’t know that we should exchange the image of “In the Garden” for the campfire in Blazing Saddles, but it would be nice to let godly men be men and to know Jesus was too.

    Great post!

    • Dan,

      Yeah, the Blazing Saddles alternative isn’t an alternative for me, either.

      I missed my church’s men’s retreat last year because I attended the previous year and found it to be too much competition and traditional male bravado on display than appealed to me. I’m not going this year, either. Perhaps it will be better in 2008.

      Is some kind of balance possible? I think the NT authors had a more balanced view of Christ, not testosterone-laden and not foo-foo. I wish we could tread that ground, but we seem caught up in the extremes. I guess I should not be surprised.

  9. Welcome back, brother.
    Maybe I’m just in touch with my feminine side…my Jesus is beautiful to me. I relate to Him on a very relational level. My wife tells me I’m very thoughtful and sensitive (plus I can multi-task and I ask for directions). Hmmm…suddenly I’m feeling a bit insecure in my manhood.

    Good thoughts, brother.
    Great conversation.

  10. Beyond Words

    Thanks for this post and your honesty. I don’t have answers, but I have strong feelings, so bear with me. What do you think about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law”- or gender stereotype, I hope. It’s Western culture that assigns these traits to the feminine side of the spectrum, and that’s a false dichotomy. They may not be macho or sexy, but they’re sure Biblical.

    And please take a step back and listen to what many are saying about making Jesus appealing to men. People, only the Spirit can make Jesus appealing!

    And if we’re teaching the Bible, we won’t have to package Jesus to make him appealing! We just preach what he teaches!

    Here’s another thought: not all women come to church for the fellowship and intimacy. I am an introvert, and I dread the big room–I’d much rather go to small group where my husband, who’s also an introvert, has a chance to talk and I can hear his wisdom.

    It makes me so sad and confused when we label what’s going on in the church “feminiization.” That’s an insult on feminitity and the Holy Spirit and the broad range of gifts and personalities in the human race.

    But here’s what bothers me the most: One shouldn’t put women in the catch 22 place of trying to remain feminine (especially in congregations that teach male headship) when those feminine traits are demeaned and rejected in the most sacred spaces where the body of Christ meets together.

    We all need redemption and healing in our masculine and feminine broken places. It’s not my place to say what’s wrong with men and church and the image of Jesus we’re offering. But if we’re submitting to each other in our strengths and weaknesses and bearing with each other in humility, the Holy Spirit will help us find the mutuality and reciprocity that fully reflects the image of God.

    • Beyond Words,

      You bring up the fruits of the Spirit, but I have to wonder if those are meant to look the same in both men and women. I’m not convinced they will look the same in a man versus a woman. God made men and women uniquely different. For that reason, I believe how they manifest the Lord in their lives will take on the flavors of their sex.

      Take peace for instance. I think a man and a woman will manifest peace differently, especially given their sex roles. The man, as a protector, will see peace and experience peace at a different level than a woman. If a man is doing his job as a man, his woman should know some level of peace simply from him being who God called him to be. Some may consider that a “fleshly” peace, but I don’t. God made Adam and Eve perfect and he gave them unique roles to play. As they were perfect in their creation, so were their souls perfect. Did they experience peace differently? I believe they did, especially as they lived out their God-ordained roles.

      I believe that we may be emphasizing the feminine aspect of how the fruits manifest to the detriment of how a man will live out those same fruits.

      Something to consider.

  11. eliyah

    Mark Van Neman,

    I really loved what you had to say. It is real simple…we are called to be conformed into HIS IMAGE…to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
    How do we do this… renewing our minds….by picking up our cross….and by DYING to self. As we do this we can truly say ‘I no longer live but CHRIST lives in me’.

    That is a message that one rarely hears in the buildings nowadays.
    I no longer call the buildings ‘church’….for I am the ‘church’.

    In the book of Revelation when the Lord addresses the 7 churches you will notice that of the Laodician church He no longer is INSIDE but OUTSIDE. Those who have ears to hear what the SPIRIT is saying have removed themselves from the apostate church system. These are the scattered, the remnant, the saints, the called out ones, the assembly. THEY ARE NOT THE CHURCH (THE HARLOT)….but the PURE AND SPOTLESS BRIDE.

    He has come to the INDIVIDUAL in this age….this is why we hear Him stating that ‘I stand at the door and knock, whoever Hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him”…
    It is not my job to ‘change the church’….the church age has come to an end….this is by DIVINE PLAN….our Father’s. It will not be the church that will set all creation free but the REVEALING of the SONS of GOD in the earth. Who are they?? Those who have gone all the way HIS WAY.
    Not the whiners, the complainers, the cowards, the unbelieving, but those who have followed the LAMB whitersoever He goeth.

    Who do you think He is speaking to when He says “come out of HER my people”?? Not the world! THE CHURCH.

    My prayer is that you will heed the call and obey.

    • Eliyah,

      The church age never comes to an end. I don’t know what Bible you’re reading but it is not the right one. Christ established the Church. The Church is a Body, not individuals. The Church persists through all eternity. There is only one Church.

      Yes, you, YOU, are called to change your church. You are to stand in the gap. You are to be the light not only to the world, but also to the Church. We are all called to do this. So are you.

      • eliyah


        The church AGE comes to an end. This is truth.

        Your statement “Christ established the church” & “The Church is a Body”….both are FALSE.

        CHRIST IS THE CHURCH. The CHURCH is not A BODY…but is THE BODY. (1COR 12:12)

        I am reading the Bible….I do not follow the traditions of man, and just go along and believe what the apostate system and its teachers have spewed out over the centuries.

        Where do you get ” You are called to change your church?”
        It is not my job to change anybody. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

        I am light, for I have THE LIGHT OF LIFE residing within me and I am His lampstand. I bring forth light into the lives of all that He brings across my path. The darkness does not comprehend it and will not recieve it. This is why you have a hard time accepting the light of truth for you still cling to the traditions of man and have not put your FAITH alone in HIS WORD.

        I have done my study about the end of the church age….you need to seek for yourself. This revelation is only given by the SPIRIT OF REVELATION….these are the deep mysteries that are hidden and it is for the GLORY of KINGS to search them out.

  12. J.Clark

    Dan, help me out here, everything you are addressing is what Eldridge addresses in “Wild at Heart.” I don’t know why so much hyperbole exist around this book but its simply a book. Use it as you can. Our men read through it together and processed it together. We liked much of it and discarded what was not “right” or “useful.” It lit a fire in our hearts to be passionately affectionate and strong in valor. I think men shy away from church for the same reason they shy away from women (intimacy): they do not have fire in their hearts. They need the fire of God for courage and love.

    • J. Clark,

      Yes, many of the problems I’m discussing overlap Eldredge’s analysis of the problems. I don’t have much quibble with Eldredge’s observation of the problems. However, his solutions are totally whack. That’s why this issue is still important—because the solutions we’re being offered only cater to further stereotypes and only serve to push the pendulum back over to another (worthless) extreme.

      I also disagree with your statement that men don’t have the fire. They most certainly do! The problem is that the fire belongs in the fireplace and we’ve gone and bricked up the fireplace. For this reason, men take that fire elsewhere, even if elsewhere offers no legitimate place for that fire.

      We need people to recognize that we bricked up the fireplace and must start to tear the bricks down.

  13. Hi Dan,

    Just thought I’d add my two cents.

    Yes, I think Eldredge has gone a bit overboard if he thinks men have to go out bear hunting with a stick to be masculine. He’s also dead wrong if he thinks women are waiting (needing) to be rescued from their ivory towers by knights in shining armor. This conjures up a weird image of a caveman dragging Rapunzel to his lair after rescuing her from the witch.

    What do I think makes a REAL man?

    1) A husband who will defend his wife’s honor against all comers. That includes his own mother and mean-tongued sisters. The Bible makes it quite clear a man should put no one but God ahead of his wife.

    2) A man who doesn’t put on his wife’s shoulders stuff that he should deal with himself, particularly when he has a tendency to make things far more complicated than they need to be.

    3) A man who will vacuum the carpet without making his wife feel guilty for not doing it herself.

    4) a man who takes care of his family. Who doesn’t do dumb things like “forget” $10,000 checks or refuse to deal with the insurance company or a leaky water heater.

    5) A man who makes it clear he will not tolerate his children disrespecting their mother. A man who is far more interested in being a father than a friend to his kids and doesn’t make “Mom” the fall guy. Who makes his kids own up to their mistakes and rectify them.

    6) a man who can do a bit of laundry or cook some macaroni and cheese now and then without acting like a martyr.

    7) A man willing to let his wife grow and have her own interests without feeling his masculinity is being threatened.

    8) A man doesn’t play head games with his wife, children, co-workers, or fellow Christians. He is HONEST as well as sensitive.

    9) A real man does not commit adultery and then hide every dang dollar he can from the wife he’s chosen to divorce. A real man also doesn’t tell bald-faced lies to his only daughter.

    BTW, I know all this because I am the sounding board for various women friends and from the ongoing soap opera of my husband’s workplace. Sometimes the tales I hear are so infuriating, I am tempted to say I’ll help them hide the body. ( I did say TEMPTED, people.) Once I get past the initial anger, I see their husbands are still little boys who don’t have a dang clue how to take care of their women and be MEN, even in their forties and fifties. They’ve been failed, even as they go on to fail their wives and children.

    A man learns how to treat the women in his life mostly from the male adults who are in authority over him. Women often measure their prospective husbands against their fathers. Bad examples usually make for bad relationships down the road.

    • J.Clark

      Fair enough about Eldridge. But his work gained such popularity because of the vacuum of fire in men. We will disagree about what is going on in men. I came from a broken home and it was broken because men lacked the fire of God. They were too busy pleasuring themselves in all kinds of ways including drugs and pornography. We have an epidemic of absent fathers in the culture who are wasting away in jobs, on computers, in porn rooms, sitting on the couch watching football, etc. and as you said, the church will not win them with an effeminate Jesus and I think the solution is the fire of Jesus. He said he came to baptize with fire and it is the very thing a man needs most. Of course, I also believe it is the very thing a woman needs also.

    • M.E.,

      You said:
      2) A man who doesn’t put on his wife’s shoulders stuff that he should deal with himself, particularly when he has a tendency to make things far more complicated than they need to be.

      Every message we receive as Christian men tells us that we need to be open & honest with our wives. After 11 years of marriage, I now understand this to be an enormous lie. We can’t be open & honest with our wives. We can’t really tell our wives what we’re going through on the inside because it makes us vulnerable and “less of a man” if we share our concerns. You’ve expressed it perfectly here.

      So where do men go to talk to another flesh-and-blood human when they are vulnerable? My wife knows she can tell me anything, but I know now that I can’t tell her everything. And I think that’s true in most Christians households. Despite that advice to be open and honest, when I mentioned this to a group of Christian men, they all said, “Of course you can’t tell your wife anything you wish to! Duh!”

      Or should men never be vulnerable? Maybe they should just keep it all inside until a heart attack fells them prematurely. You get into accountability groups and either stuff gets blabbed or people think less of you should you actually share what’s bugging you or sins you’re struggling with.

      For men, it seems like a no-win situation anywhere we turn.

      • Hi Dan,

        The stuff I meant was things like dealing with the Secretary of State over auto immissions tests or finding a tire store that will accept their particular line of credit. What I mean by more complicated than it ought to be, is that he expects her to get answers to technical questions she doesn’t understand herself and then gets angry with her when she doesn’t get the answers he wants. I wasn’t talking about emotional and spiritual vulnerability, just day-to-day practicalities. Sorry for any confusion I may have caused.

  14. Todd Helmkamp

    Hey Dan,

    Great, timely, and needed post! I posted on this issue on my poor little blog, but I have ten readers, so I don’t think the message got very far!! 🙂

    I do however, want to throw out my experience with John Eldredge’s books. For the first time in my life, someone encouraged me to actually BE a man. Now before I get called some wannabe “bear sticker”, I don’t agree with all of his interpretations. I think his work is too ego-centered and not Christ-centered enough. But his works enabled me, for the first time, to realize that as a Christian, it was not a crime to be male.

    And I think that’s a lot of what has happened in our churches. The prevailing American culture of feminism (please, no nasty letters; I believe in the equality yet differences of the sexes) has bled into our churches.

    And look what’s happening. Churches are dying by the score.

    I do share everything with my wife. I am vulnerable with her. I have also found two guy friends that I can trust with the real me. I’m sorry that you don’t have friends like that; I will pray that God sends some to you!!

    (of course, this is all symptomatic of our disconnect with the natural world around us!!)

    • Todd,

      I think busyness isolates men. I know that I find it difficult to do anything with other men simply because we can’t make all our schedules coincide. That’s a real deal-breaker for a lot of men.

    • Todd,

      As to Eldredge encouraging you or me to “be a man,” what image of manhood is he expecting us to conform to? That’s my problem with Eldredge. I find his image to be a parody of manhood with more in line with cultural ideals than Biblical ones. his vision will only send men into a dead-end alley. We need a truly Biblical example of manhood, not a “hunt bear with a pointy stick” stereotype.

  15. bob3

    Let me throw out some disjointed random thoughts and see what sticks…

    Jesus is everything WE want Him to be. But what is He really?

    If we husbands were virtually abandoning our wives as God does to us (see mother Theresa blog subject matter below) ,everyone else, including our wives, would hate our guts.

    Be a good Christian : do something daring? Oh, yeah? Look in your congregation. Count the number of firemen. Now count the number of those who are policemen.

    Frankly, I like the older men. They aren’t a bunch of conquistadors. I am sick of men who want a name for themselves but could care less what their family thinks. God and family know you best.

    And how do relationships with Christ fare among black men?

    Leave it to Beaver has been criticized and parodied to death but I still like Ward Cleaver. (But my father was more like Gilbert’s dad.)

  16. These discussions about the feminization of the church are always so interesting to me. This particular topic is always a complete mental disconnect. Many conservative, evangelical churches hold to the traditional “roles” for men and women. (I don’t know if this is true at your church, Dan.) So the obvious question to me is: why is the church becoming more feminine under predominantly male authority? Traditional roles hold that men exclusively hold pastor, teacher, elder and other leadership positions in the church, so it appears that y’all only have yourselves to blame. (and I intend that very much with tongue in cheek.)

    • Jan,

      Despite the “patriarchy” seen in some churches, the truth is that the Jesus those same churches hold up high tends toward a more romantic vision embodied in Christology that developed in the latter half of the 19th century.

      In addition, the way our churches structure their volunteer programs caters to women more than men. Because our churches do not fight for justice issues in the business world, men are essentially removed from large portions of the ministry of a particular church. This hands increasing responsibility over to women. This further shifts the balance of the ministry style toward the feminine.

  17. Becca

    I don’t see where anyone mentioned the book WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH by David Murrow. As a women in church leadership, I read the book and could really see areas where my own church has driven men, especially young men, away. Most all of our leadership is female (not because we all want control either), and I know I’m personally guilty of planning a worship service and other activities around what I like as a young women — warm and fuzzy emotional songs, conversation and food at well-decorated fellowship dinners, and such.

    Then I also lament about not finding a Christian man to marry who serves Jesus passionately, willing to lay his money, comforts, pride, and even life down for both Christ and His church. I see too many guys cave to cultural temptations just 6 months after rededicating their life to Christ, and the church is doing very little to help them strengthen their faith.

    Our church’s pastor is a fairly manly man who does car repair and carpentry stuff, but the message of serving Christ in our church is still soft — visit the sick, pray, send cards, hand out food at a pantry, etc. What is there really for a young man to do to excercise his muscles for Christ? I can see how many men just leave the church work to women and focus instead on working hard at their jobs and playing hard at their hobbies.

    I wish I knew the key to creating a better balance in our churches because I do see that something is definitely not working.

    Thanks for raising the discussion.

  18. Cheryl

    “No More Christian Nice Guy” by Paul Coughlin might be of help. His web site is He addresses some of these issues.
    I would rather follow his approach than some of Mark Driscolls comments and others who espouse ‘soft patriarchy’.
    Certainly men and women are different …but for sure both sexes need to stay immersed in God’s word and get their identity in Christ and not the culture or their role.
    I like my job but there are days when I get home I feel like I need to take a bath from all the junk I’ve been listening to all day from co-workers and the media.

  19. antiglobalist

    Second class people.,

    We men are the organized effort of EMSALIATION. Women here in the USA have been telling us that they plan on redefining masculinity for years. That came from a NOW convenision back in the early 90’s. What you see is the devcil at work under the disguise of feminity.

    Rest arrure this will not change until we get enough and stand up and redefine the NOW gang.

    Give it some thought.

  20. Bill Johnson

    Regarding “In the Garden”. The inspiration for that song for Miles was the story of Mary Magdalene finding the resurrected Christ in the garden as found in John 20. I always thought it was a sappy sentimental song until I learned that it was the testimony of Mary Magdalene and then the song made sense. When we sing the song at church I always explain its context.

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