Empty Faith: When Manliness, Quiverfull, and Christian Principles Add Up to Nothing


Many people are lamenting the loss of church membership in the U.S., though I’m not convinced those loss numbers are anything but statistical anomalies.

Still, I think something is happening to the quality of Christian practice in this country. In addition, there’s a loss of understanding about what it means to be a Christian, what the Gospel is, how the Church should act, and what the whole point of being a Christian is.

The disintegration of a Christian family is at the core of this article:

“How Playing Good Christian Housewife Almost Killed Me

The author talks about being in the Quiverfull Movement, made famous by the Duggar family. Quiverfull practitioners believe that large families are a blessing from God, so they adhere to a set of Christian principles based around Psalm 127.

While the term fundamentalist comes out in the article, it’s clear to me that Quiverfull is not relegated to old school Baptist churches in line with Jack Hyles and Bob Jones. It’s far more evangelical than some evangelicals care to admit.

And frankly, I see nothing wrong with having a large family. If God blesses you with a large family, fantastic!

But what does trouble me is that despite the author’s protests that she indeed had a great relationship with Jesus, what comes out in the article shows she had a deeper relationship with someone’s idea of core Quiverfull Christian principles.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, laments Tammy Wynette, but being a dad is just as hard. Over at the Familyman podcast with Todd Wilson, we find out that the “Buck Stops with Dad,” and if you’re a man without a job (that section starts at 15:00 into the podcast), well…

The answer? Pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, knuckle down, put your nose to the grindstone, work harder, take three menial jobs, and do it by yourself. Man up. Abide by Christian principles of manliness and fatherhood, read a couple John Eldredge books, and good luck. Because you’re on your own, buddy. Every godly man for himself.

It makes me wonder what the point of being a Christian is.

Nothing in that podcast said anything about what a man should expect from his church when he’s out of a job. It’s likely that this overt omission is because we have churches built on Christian principles, but not a whole of evidence of being those churches being built on Christ.

Amid all that loneliness and despair, someone gets it right…

Over at the Brant & Sherri Podcast, Brant Hansen talks about what happens when churches play church and fail to be the Church (starts at 10:11)…

It seems to me that people aren’t going to the American Church for answers anymore because the Church gave them Christian principles rather than what they showed up to receive. People came looking for a family and for Jesus, and they got a list of disconnected, out-of-context Bible verses instead.

Desperate people walked into church on Sunday, and they got a lesson on how to be a perfect wife/husband/student/employee/taxpayer/American, when every part of their life was falling apart, and they just needed someone to care, to listen, to be Jesus in the flesh for them.

Hurting, needy, broken people do not need Christian principles; they need a community of believers who will do anything necessary to help. But most of all, they need Jesus. Hell is filled with people who lived by Christian principles and yet had no relationship with Jesus.

It staggers me that we can’t get this right.

I’m sure people will listen to Hansen’s podcast and tear up at some point, because what he talks about is what people are dying for. They want to know that someone–anyone–cares enough to make them a part of a “forever family.” They keep looking for that kind of love, acceptance, and support, with Jesus at the center of that caring community, yet they can’t find it anywhere.

The Gospel of Manliness


Our church built a concrete parking area for the bikers.

On hot days, motorcycle kickstands sink into blacktop. Our parking lot is gravel, and when it rains that doesn’t work so well, either. So they chose concrete.

I imagine not too many churches construct a special place for bikers to park their Harleys. My church seems a tad more manly in that regard. Farmers, fishermen, truck drivers, mechanics—salt of the Earth kind of guys fill our pews. Lots of callouses. Talked this morning with a guy who crushed his hand in his tractor’s 3-point hitch.

I’ve got a tractor, too. A big, 35 h.p. Kubota. I pull an eight-foot Land Pride finish mower and a five- foot Bush Hog. Been able to run the service on those myself, so far. But I’m more a gentleman farmer (read: Eddie Albert in Green Acres). I talk about reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Stephen Hawking and other farmers’ eyes glaze over. I watch birds in my spare time, too.

See, I’m not very manly.

When I was born, the doctor said to my Mom, “You’ve got a linebacker.” Well, maybe for an NFL team in the 70s. At 6’4″, I’ve got the height, but 215 lbs. goes about 30 too light to play with the big boys nowadays. Half a life ago, I could bench press over 400 lbs and do 160 lb. one-armed bicep curls. Half a life ago.

I never played football in high school. I could’ve been a contender in basketball, but puberty left me with an inability to walk and dribble at the same time, so the NBA never called.

Though the men in my church have a fantasy league for nearly every sport imaginable, I can only name four players on the hometown Reds: Ken Griffey, Jr., Adam Dunn, Bronson Pinchot Arroyo, and the the Great White Hope, Homer Bailey. Standings? I have no idea. I can’t even keep up with sports team names and locations. Just the other day, I learned that the NBA Charlotte Hornets aren’t in Charlotte anymore—and I think that change came five years ago. I had no idea Charlotte had an NHL team, either. And though I enjoy watching hockey games (love the international rules Olympic hockey especially), I’m the oddball in the stands yelling, “Just play the darned game!” whenever a fight breaks out. And I do say darned and not something else.

Me, I was always a cyclist. But if I asked any of the guys at church about the Tour de France, I’d probably be stoned. “France? France??? Heck, the Ohio State football team could probably invade France and kill every last one of them Brie-eaters with their bare hands. Go Buckeyes!

Previously, as a member of a well-off Presbyterian Church, I’d hang with the men and they’d sit around talking investing. Or real estate. Or cars. Or electronics. Marvel Comic's 'Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos #3'The latter I knew something about, but the rest flew over my head. And in those rare moments when the subject did stoop to sports, no one wanted to talk about Olympic volleyball, one of the precious few sports I’ll make time to watch.

My Dad’s dad was the pinnacle of manhood—a Marine drill sergeant. But somehow, my Dad inherited little of that manliness. My Dad couldn’t rebuild a carburetor to save his life, relied on his sons to operate the stereo system, and usually injured himself on anything tool-related. He knew everything to know about the Civil War, but, sadly, that never clicked with his sons.

Dad had a job that he loved, though it took him away from home for weeks at a time. Eventually, he rose to the top of his company and was considered the savior of headquarter’s sales division, but a back injury forced him out of that job and into one he hated. I watched that office-bound job suck the life out of him, and when they forcibly retired him six months before he was due his full pension (receiving a third of what he would have received), I witnessed what happens to a man crushed in the cogs of big business. He walked away from the Church and died in 2000 at 66, a shattered man.

I wish my Dad had left me with more than he did. I’m making it up as I go along, so I’ll never be a pinnacle of what most people consider manhood.

After watching my own career go awry at the worst possible time, I decided I had to be my own boss rather than suffer the capricious whims of Jack Welch disciples whose go-to response to a bad quarter meant downsizing. So I started my own business. That meant my wife would have to be the primary breadwinner while I stayed home with our son, homeschooled (I have the education degree), managed the farm, and tried to get my business going. Most freelance writers like me take more than five years to see even the slightest bit of money, so I’ve done better than most. Still, my wife’s the one doing the heavy lifting for now.

Plenty of people don’t consider me very manly for being a stay-at-home dad who’s not the primary breadwinner. Church people like that not one iota. I know, I’ve been on the receiving end of the catcalls. A few holier-than-thous have questioned my worthiness as a husband, income—I guess—their sole characteristic of godliness. I’ve had well-meaning Christians ask me when I was going to get a real job, as if my writing business doesn’t count. When I ask them what writing projects they might refer my way so I can continue to build my business and return to being the primary breadwinner, they go scurrying. It’s easier for them to tell me that I’m not very manly than to actually help me be the man they think I should be.

You get left out of the rest of the world when you’re a stay-at-home dad. To the at-home moms, you run the risk of being considered the slob making your wife work OR some kind of sexual predator stalking the mom who’s a bit too lonely. Men don’t know what to think of you, either. You’re either the smartest guy in the world or the biggest loser.

Men don’t fall into the role of at-home dad very well. We took woodshop and not home ec. For this reason, our house is never as clean as it should be. I may do better than my wife in the culinary skills, but I’m not as naturally nurturing. Your best friend smacked you in the head with a golf ball? Well, son, that’s life. Shake it off. Meanwhile, I’m laughing because I can see the ball’s dimples in the rising bruise. Mom would slather him with attention and ice compresses.

Though I’m plenty creative, I confess I run out of ways to amuse our son. As a result, he spends more time on the computer than I would like. Friends of ours wondered how I could possibly tend our farm, start a writing business, homeschool, and handle what is traditionally the female role, while still doing all the manly things, too. The answer to that? Not as well as I would’ve hoped. So we’re making some changes. We’re putting our son in public school (in part) so I can get out and round up more clients. Of course, to some Christians, I might as well sacrifice my son on an altar to Molech as put him in public school. (I’ve heard that Lowe’s sells Molech Altar Kits for the do-it-yourselfer. Or was that Home Depot? Remember, I’m not very manly, so I get them mixed up.)

John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart took men in the American Church by storm. Today, finding one’s inner bowhunter or professional wrestler appears de rigeur. We’ve been told the Church is feminine, that men are bored with Church, and that singing how lovely Christ is comes off, uh…kind of gay. The antidote, the manliness pundits say, is to hunt bear with a pointy stick.

Manly? Somehow, I don’t think so.

The Dangerous Book for Boys occupies the top rung of nonfiction bestsellers, as sensitive ’80s guys attempt to raise their sons differently. In my neck of the woods, Boy Scouting fit that bill for decades, but the Boy Scouts aren’t trendy, they face countless frivolous ACLU lawsuits, and Dan Beard hasn’t had a bestseller in years. Being dead kind of throws a wrench into cruising the talk show circuit.

Jim Elliot died in an Ecuadoran jungle back in the 1950s. He’d gone to those jungles to reach the lost tribes who’d never encountered Jesus Christ. Elliot and the four other male missionaries that died beside him carried guns that could’ve easily dispatched their attackers, but they took the spears of their killers rather than send unsaved men to an eternal hell.

They deleted that scene in Braveheart…or so I’m told. I haven’t seen that movie, either.

True manliness isn’t found in beating a drum head (Hah! I actually do that one!) or bashing the heads of one’s enemies. God’s man isn’t the sports junkie who can recite all the stats of the greatest baseball team to ever grace a diamond, the ’76 Big Red Machine. He’s not the one who listens to Ted Nugent and hunts Kodiaks with a crossbow. He’s not even the soldier who gave his life in battle believing in a higher truth worth dying for.

No, the greatest mark of a Christian man is that other men desire to emulate him because they see Christ in all His glory living in him. The true manly man serves as a hallmark, a lighthouse, and road sign on the path to heaven. He’s not afraid to cook a meal for the poor. He visits the sick. He looks out for lost little children. A bent reed he does not break. A smoldering wick he does not quench.

Chances are he won’t know who’s on top in the AFC North, can’t regale you with the specs of the hottest electronic gadget, and won’t be out training for a triathlon. God’s man kneels in his prayer closet, where no one sees, and tears down strongholds that would make William Wallace wet himself. That kind of man makes tough choices that take him in a direction the rest of the world can’t understand, even the rest of modern Christian men. He may not be considered the prime example of manhood in his day, but he’ll leave a legacy that shines like a beacon for generations to come.

I’m writing this on Father’s Day. Yesterday, my son and I built a hand drum. We had a good time. A friend gave me The Dangerous Book for Boys (thanks, Eric!) this past Friday, and my son and I will probably do a lot of good projects out of that book this summer. But none of that makes me an acceptable dad. The only thing that makes a man a man is to model Christ for his generation and the next, even if that model doesn’t look anything like the models we typically hold out for manliness. It may mean we holster our gun and take the spear. We may have to forgo the bear-hunting trip to run errands for the elderly lady next door. That won’t make us popular, or even understood.

But it does make us men.

The Humble Warrior


I [Paul] therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
—Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
—Philippians 2:3 ESV

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
—Colossians 3:12-15 ESV

He must increase, but I must decrease.
—John 3:30 ESV

There is much talk about manhood today, but I don’t see much of it in practice. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not about hunting bear with a pointy stick and never has been.

Many bestselling Christian writers talk about being warriors. They sell truckloads of books and inspire the creation of thousands of men’s groups in countless churches. Men go on “advances” (don’t EVER call it a “retreat”—too girlie) to learn how to develop their inner warrior, or if the group has more of a business focus, their inner leader.

Despite the millions of books sold, speaking engagements across the world, and a guaranteed bestselling sequel when the sales of the latest warrior tome peak, one arrow is routinely left out of the warrior author’s quiver: humility.

By nature, humility and war are a hard marriage. The examples don’t come as readily as the images we get of tough, swaggering men in bullet-shredded uniforms, each with a cigar firmly clenched between his teeth, mowing down one wave after another of Nazis, flamethrower in one hand, tank gun ripped off a flaming Sherman in the other. Such men ascend through the ranks and become twelve-star generals, husbands to nubile movie starlets, and CEOs of multinationals that consume lesser companies no matter how many poison pills are consumed. That’s the role model of manliness we Americans hallow. (In the American Christian world, the model’s pretty much the same, though the cigar is suspect.)

I’ve thought long and hard about some examples of humility and warrior spirit, the best example I can toss out there (besides the obvious ones) is that of the man after whom the city near where I live is named, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.

The story is told that Cincinnatus, a farmer well-liked by his neighbors, was called to serve in 458 BC during a time of great threat: enemies were advancing against Rome. Despite the fact that his family might starve as a result of his decision, Cincinnatus accepted a call to lead the armies of that great city. He was declared dictator, swiftly defeated the invaders in just sixteen days, and immediately resigned as dictator, going back to his farm. Nineteen years later, he was called out of retirement to meet a new threat to Rome. And again, he fought the fight and promptly gave up the throne to go back to rural life.

That’s not the kind of example we are given too often today.

Less often than that do we have examples of men who never picked up a sword or gun, who never spilled blood, but spent most of their time on their knees. Prayer WarriorGeorge Mueller was such a man. A lot of the testosterone-laden out there wouldn’t think much of Mueller; he was concerned for orphans. Sounds kind of womanly compared with the examples we see held up in bestselling men’s books. But Mueller prayed. That man sweated out big prayers that met big needs and overcame ferocious principalities and powers that sought to destroy little boys and girls, demonic forces that wanted nothing more than to grind up children in the hardscrabble streets of England. And the one thing that people said about Mueller besides the fact that he was a praying man? That he was humble.

As much as the bestseller shelves are loaded with books jam-packed with bone-chewing examples of manliness, the dearth of books featuring meek and humble men speaks volumes. Simply possessing a penis and knowing every great line from Spartacus, The Green Berets and the king of all warrior movies, Braveheart, doesn’t qualify you for warriorhood. Making prideful, snarky assertions about someone’s eternal security on the God-blog flavor of the week doesn’t make you God’s man, either. It takes a humble man to walk into his prayer closet (where, it should be noted, there are no ticker-tape parades), kneel in humility before the Lord, and start assaulting the powers of darkness through prayer. Your average street dog can easily sink his teeth into a flesh and blood foe, but only a meek man devoted to prayer can tear down demonic strongholds in spiritual places!

The problem with Christian manhood today is not that there aren’t enough villages to plunder, it’s that humble, stooped grandmothers are out there on their knees fighting the battles that “real” men are too proud (or lazy or weak) to fight. Too many men in our churches moan that someone stole their warrior badge. Meanwhile, Satan is plundering OUR village. And he’s doing it not in the obvious places, but in the spiritual realms, the very place that prayer alone works.

John the Baptist prayed (you didn’t realize it was a prayer, did you?), “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Men, that’s meekness and humility right there. That prayer is the true warrior’s marching order. Likewise, our call to honor is found in Ephesians 4:1-3. If the Savior emptied Himself and became a servant, dying in the utmost humility, meekly refusing to justify Himself before men, how can we be any different? Only after Christ fully humbled Himself was He exalted and given The Name Above All Names.

Do we get it? Or are we going to keep on blathering about our warrior birthrights while we pick off the “weak” through our clever arguments, our mocking haughtiness, and our brutal gracelessness?

True Christian warriors are men of humility and grace. They understand that only when they are weak are they strong.

Which kind of warrior are you?