Platform: Muscular Christianity and Following Jesus
By Nate Pyle
There’s long been fear that the church in North America has been feminized. Most often, the evidence used to support this concern is the disproportionate ratio of women to men in the church. Theories about why men don’t attend church range from the apparent lack of masculine leadership, to the kind of music sung in worship, to the decor of the bathrooms.
In response to this anxiety a new kind of Christianity began to arise: Muscular Christianity. The goal of the movement was to re-masculinize Jesus and the church. The hope was that by recasting Jesus as a true “man’s man,” men would re-engage the church, and with men’s strength, the virility necessary for the spread of the gospel would support its proclamation. Two hundred years later, we’re still trying to make the church more masculine.
Here’s what the movement misses. Jesus doesn’t call men to be more manly or women to be more womanly. Jesus calls both to become like him. Men and women are to embody meekness, gentleness, self-control, and humility, as well as strength, courage, resolve, and boldness as they grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus. Muscular Christianity distorts this. A hyper-masculine Jesus results in the alienation of men and women from the real Jesus.
Humanity didn’t need another dude. Humanity needed a human, fully alive, to show us God’s intended design. Jesus shows what a human looks like when it is fully restored, sanctified, and freed from the brokenness brought about by sin. This is where real strength is found. Strength is not found in the ability to bench press, throw a football, or wield a sword but in the quiet resolve to endure suffering as Christ suffered. Not backing down from conflict isn’t a sign of strength. Bloodying your fists on the face of your enemy is not power. No, what Jesus showed us is that strength is found when your body, mind, and soul bear the scars that come from standing up for reconciliation, peace, compassion, and mercy.
This is what both men and women are called to embody.
Nate Pyle is the author of Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. He pastors Christ’s Community Church (RCA) in Fishers, Indiana, and writes at www.natepyle.com. “Platform” gives RCA members a chance to share their opinions.