On Football, Warrior Culture, and Manhood

Troy Aikman was the alpha male of alpha males. He was the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He won Super Bowls. He dated supermodels. He was tough, fearless, and smart: an American warrior, made for football, which he played with extreme skill.

AikmanBut in one particular moment on January 23, 1994, Aikman couldn’t remember where he was or why he was there.

During the third quarter of the NFC championship game, Aikman suffered a concussion when a defensive tackle from the San Francisco 49ers brought him down. His agent, Leigh Steinberg, visited him and answered Aikman’s numerous questions about his injury and the game. The two celebrated that the Cowboys were Super Bowl-bound.

Five minutes later, Aikman asked all the same questions. Steinberg gave the same answers. Ten minutes later, Aikman asked them again. Steinberg later related to PBS that this exchange “terrified him to see how tender the bond was between sentient consciousness and potential dementia and confusion.” Sharing this anecdote, the super-agent with a reputation for iron-willed negotiation was shaken, years after the fact.

Questioning Warrior Culture

Warriors like Troy Aikman are no stranger to such moments. The classic response to an experience like Aikman’s? “Shake it off, bro!” Many of us who played contact sports are used to this kind of exhortation. You take a massive hit, you get your bell rung, and you get up like nothing happened. You may not be a superstar quarterback, but you’re no less a warrior. If a teammate fails to meet the warrior code, you let him hear it.

This culture has been passed down for decades in America. It’s helped to shape and define our understanding of manhood. We want to sack the quarterback, win the game, and stand before an adoring hometown crowd as homecoming king. Warriors persevere, warriors hit, and warriors win.

Recently, however, something strange has bubbled up in American culture. A number of voices have begun to question warrior culture and its brand of manhood. These aren’t stereotypical wimps, either; they’re football-loving journalists, men who have devoted their lives to the game and its heroes. After the news broke that Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito had bullied a teammate, Brian Phillips of Grantland penned a scorching piece that denounced “faux-macho alpha-pansy nonsense.” Phillips argued that all who supported such behavior “should be ashamed of himself, and that’s it, and it’s not a complicated story.” On a website that goes to great lengths to make gridiron athletes into cultural icons, more than 100,000 people “liked” this essay on Facebook.

Rick Reilly of ESPN, dean of American sportswriters, concurred with Phillips. He confessed “shame” at his support for football and its violence: “I realize the NFL handed over $765 million in a lawsuit settlement to cover the more than 4,500 players who say playing in their league damaged their brains, but that blood money doesn’t assuage my small sense of shame—it only thickens it.” Reilly likened football players to Roman gladiators and avowed that today, “We are all still in that Coliseum. We are still being entertained by men willfully destroying each other. It’s just that now, the sword comes later.” Reilly’s piece was “liked” 9,000 times on Facebook.

In these essays, we see that something has shifted in America. The very nature of manhood has been questioned. This, I submit, is to the good.

Pre-eminently Spiritual

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m as American as they come. I played three sports growing up. I relished contact sports (though my high school did not have a football team). During competition, I’ve sprained my ankles more times than I can count, nearly lost my two front teeth, and snapped my Achilles tendon in half. I was not a contact-averse player in my heyday. No less than any other red-blooded American male, I grew up wanting to be a warrior.

But as I’ve expressed before for First Things and Christianity Today, I have acquired some ethical unease of late with high-contact sports and the culture they promote. For this reason, I don’t read the above essays as signs of the masculine apocalypse. It’s not that I want guys to start dancing around in My Little Pony costumes. I am the executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, so this subject deeply concerns me. But unlike many trends today that undermine biblical manhood, I see the growing unease with warrior culture as an encouraging shift in our culture’s definition of masculinity.

To be sure, Christians can readily and gladly affirm some elements of warrior culture. These include doing hard things, self-sacrificing, persevering, cultivating toughness, demonstrating courage under fire, and taking on physical challenges. The very nature of biblical leadership requires such traits. The apostles showed tremendous bravery in their ministries. The God-man they preached about, Jesus Christ, embraced a physical challenge in dying on the cross. Yet he did not yield to his tormentors or ask that his agony be ended in order to spare his life. His agony meant our deliverance, and his example inspires our forbearance.

There’s more. Godly men who need a shot in the arm hear David’s words to Solomon ring in our ears: “Be strong, and show yourself a man!” (1 Kings 2:2). (See also 1 Corinthians 16:13.) We add to this witness texts like Hebrews 11, which is not merely a “hall of faith” but a monument to Christian endurance of persecution and hardship.

But make no mistake: warrior culture and godly manhood are not one and the same. Too often, we act as if they are. We see a football player roar after drilling a hapless wide receiver and say to our buddy, “That dude is a BEAST!” Later, we go to church and hear from a hipster-looking missionary to a closed country. He doesn’t have broad shoulders, wears thick-rimmed glasses, and tells the church in Q&A that he loves reading and walks in nature. And we’re tempted to ask to see his man card.

Why can’t we see that the missionary better exhibits godly manhood? It’s not that the football player is unmanly; many of us want to train our sons to be tough and courageous and even physically adept. But mature manhood for a Christian cannot be sacking quarterbacks, dunking basketballs, scoring soccer goals, or drawing stares from pretty women who yearn for their own athletic superhero. Mature manhood is actually spelled out for us in Scripture. Think about the qualifications for an elder:

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:2-7)

Texts like this show us that the Bible’s definition of manliness is not un-physical but pre-eminently spiritual. Sure, godly men will hold doors, protect women and children, carry in groceries, and make physical repairs in our church’s buildings. But let’s not kid ourselves—Jesus Christ, not Tony Romo, is the true man. The apostle Paul, not Dwayne Wade, embodies biblical manhood.

The mustache-wearing barista in Brooklyn who favors bespoke ties and plays no sports but faithfully leads his community group and witnesses to his coworkers is much manlier than our favorite BEAST athlete who doesn’t know Christ. The guy who doesn’t enjoy weightlifting but who spiritually shepherds his family is far closer to the pin than the dude who catches game-winning touchdowns but never cracks open the Scripture with his kids.

I’ll be happy if my son plays sports. If managed carefully and approached with wisdom, sports can be a blessing. I am not anti-football or any other sport mentioned here; in my Christianity Today piece, I made clear that I like football and don’t want it ended. I hope my son knows above all that elders are not called by Paul to have a lantern jaw and an impressive wingspan. They’re called to pursue Christ with every fiber of their being, and to sacrifice themselves to lead others to do the same.

Risky Gospel

Many great leaders of the Christian faith were not known for athletic prowess. Jonathan Edwards was more bookish than beastly. John Calvin had a sensitive stomach and was slight of build. With his girth, C. H. Spurgeon wouldn’t exactly have burned up the 40-yard dash.

As I say in my new book Risky Gospel, we need the bigger vision of faith held by these men. I want more risk for the sake of the gospel, not less, whether overseas or in our neighborhood. But as I argue, this primarily means building godly families, strengthening churches, and seeking lost sinners. It means setting your face like a flint to be a witness for Jesus though Satan opposes you and your coworkers snark about you. That, more than a buzzer-beater or open-field-tackle, requires courage.

Too many of us modern men have allowed our definition of manhood to skew cultural, not biblical. Though kings and priests in Christ’s kingdom, we’re a little bit like Troy Aikman in 1994: we know we’re a part of something great, but we can’t quite remember what it is.

  • Jeremy

    Well, as a Christian, husband, father, sports fan, and former athlete, I have to say ENOUGH! By your own admission, this is one of several posts concerning violence in football that you have produced as of late, and it continues to rehash the same arguments. While each person must not violate their conscience, you seem to go beyond that to the point of coming very close to condemning those who support / enjoy football (you say “high-contact sports” although football is the only one mentioned) as if they are partaking in something sinful. While we can disagree on the merits of your concern, my bigger frustration is with the presentation of the data in your unscientific post. First, you mention Troy Aikman (you even include his picture), yet the statements of concern about memory loss from football aren’t even his but his agents! To use Aikman in your post without quoting his view seems questionable. It’s practically a bait and switch to draw readers in. Next, you state that there is a societal shift concerning the “warrior culture” based on Facebook “likes”. That doesn’t necessarily give me confidence in your data analysis, not to mention the fact that 9000 likes is far from substantial in the realm of social media…funny cat videos consistently reach hundreds of thousands! I know this is probably harsh and considered much ado about nothing, but it bothers me when the executive director of CBMW takes shots at some of the only areas (sports, including high contact types) where masculinity still plays an acceptable part…especially when it appears to be backed by less than accurate reporting.

    • Annie

      I think you completely missed the point here.

    • Chris

      I agree, I have seen way too many articles here recently that deal with pretty much nothing. Our culture is in crisis when it comes to manhood/masculinity right now. The author seems to have closed his eyes while pointing his finger in a random direction. Interestingly enough, football was the target of his finger pointing. Allow me to outline some true issues dealing with masculinity right now. Men are increasingly dependent on parental support. Men are increasingly less likely then women to hold a college degree. Men are struggling more and more with porn addictions. Men are absent from their homes. Men are… look a bash football bandwagon! That should lend relevance to my internet articles. For good measure, the author has included a bit on bullying. Yep, I see most of the “hot topics” covered here in this article.

      Football has its issues. However, not one man in the NFL is there because someone forced him to play a game. They play for the love of competition. Some play for the love of fame and money. But they all consent to play. Please stop demonizing a sport. It is one of the last places in our culture that masculinity is celebrated. I will proudly watch the game with my children one day. I’ll explain that these men are flawed sinners, but their example of physical prowess and hard work are something to be admired, not demonized for the sake of joining yet another bandwagon of talking points and hot topics.

      • http://www.speculativefaith.com E. Stephen Burnett

        “Our culture is in crisis when it comes to manhood/masculinity right now.”

        And are you sure that is not the starting point of your objections to Strachan’s concerns? “Doesn’t matter, because culture is in a crisis”? Culture will always be in one gender crisis or another. It does not excuse being open to hearing about *any* wrong ideas we hold. Surely Jesus would want us more concerned about how He in His Word defines manhood, than with whatever culture is doing.

      • http://www.growinginworship.com Paul Ellsworth

        Did you read the whole article? Particularly the part where he mentions he doesn’t want football to end and actually enjoys the sport?

        He’s not trying to get rid of sports. He’s trying to get rid of manhood being based on sports (or similar related “warrior” prowess).

        “Our culture is in crisis when it comes to manhood/masculinity right now.”

        You’re right. There seem to be at least two facets to it. One is the man that doesn’t stick up for anything; or, in other words, there really is no ideal of manhood. The other is what Strachan is pointing to: the “warrior” is the real/ideal man/manhood.

        Unfortunately, we throw out words like “effeminate” and “sissy” when we encounter men that we don’t think LOOK like men (regardless of what they are doing) or when we encounter men who don’t like black coffee or don’t like violence or don’t like sports or like flowers, or gardening, or horses.

        In other words, while we all say we follow the Bible, we actually follow the world’s John Wayne-esque version of what a man is.

        I don’t know any Bible-centered Christians that advocate the “there is no manhood” sort of approach (i.e., supporting gay marriage and the like). I think the trap that we most often fall into is the warrior-manhood one.

      • http://rorytyer.com Rory Tyer

        “it is one of the last places in our culture that masculinity is celebrated”

        Either you missed Owen’s point completely or you disagree with the main thesis of this article. From your comment it is unclear which of these is the case. If you missed his point, please reread more carefully before commenting. If you disagree with his main thesis, please provide reasons rather than baseless assertions.

      • Ryan

        I’d be curious in hearing you expand on a couple of your statements.

        “Men are increasingly dependent on parental support.”

        I’m assuming you mean financial support? I’m not really certain how “Being forced to move back in with your parents after school in order to pay off your debt” (which I’m guessing is the thrust of your argument) diminishes their masculinity. Heaven forbid they cut costs in order to pay off their loan.

        The caricature of the 30-year-old man-child living in his parents’ basement playing video games all day is just that: A caricature. In reality this is a fairly rare occurrence, and does not represent the majority of young men.

        “Men are increasingly less likely then women to hold a college degree.”

        I fail to see how level of education relates to masculinity. I see this argument thrown about a lot and it generally tends to amount to “Women are beating men at something and that makes me feel threatened!” so I’m interested in having you prove me wrong and that women holding more undergrad degrees than men is a “crisis of masculinity” – especially when considering that many of the men who leave college do so to pursue a career in the trades or the military.

    • D. McDonald

      I disagree with Annie. I know, not think, that you completely missed the point here. Your comments also help to reinforce Strachan’s point about many Christians’ misconception that a real man is the one who is a tough, quarterback, marine-like, meat-eating beast. Case in point: Why is Aikman’s agent’s comments about his experiences with Aikman’s injuries any less relevant than the quarterback’s own thoughts. Does this agent’s opinion not matter because he is not (that we know of) a big superstar quarterback who can take a hit?

      • ForeBarca

        Why would Aikmann reveal those instances where he lost his consciousness? After all, he is a respected TV commentator. Were he to confirm Lee Steingberg’s account, he will be black listed. Just look at the way ESPN tried to distance itself from the recent PBS documentary: League of Denial. Why not also look at Brett Favre’s recent comments on his memory loss? He states that he is now unable to remember small things such as the time, place and date of his daughter’s soccer practice. ESPN.com itself is now starting to question the value and worth of seeing people butchered on the field. Also, why not look at Junior Seau, Leonard Marshall, Tom Dorset who have suffered from CTE and have paid for it? http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/9931754/former-nfl-stars-tony-dorsett-leonard-marshall-joe-delameilleure-show-indicators-cte-resulting-football-concussions

  • Brian

    I echoe Jeremy’s assessment. Dr. Strachan needs to hop off this hobby horse and address more serious cultural challenges to manhood such as the divorce rate among evangelicals, fathers who are absent from the home, etc.

    • http://www.speculativefaith.com E. Stephen Burnett

      In other words, we are more bothered about what “culture” is doing and how to fight that, than about what Christ would have us do?

    • D. McDonald

      Brian, I’m sure that the many fathers who spend Sunday (1 of the 2 days most of them have off) watching football all day, glorifying these mega men, learning what it is like to be a real man (because only football gives you that lesson) has nothing to do with fathers who are absent from the home. They may physically be there, but it doesn’t mean they are there for their kids or family.

      • D. McDonald

        Oh, and football has nothing to do with divorce rates?!?! Just see my comment above and insert “husband” in place of “fathers,” and insert “wife” instead of “kids.”

    • Brandon Smith


      So you’re admitting that you don’t read Owen, right?. Because he addresses those issues as much or more, particularly the importance of fatherhood.

  • Dean P

    I usually have many issues with your mostly culturally traditionalist hermeneutical grid for what defines masculinity, but with that said I appreciate your honesty about the damage this ridiculous sport has inflicted. Well done.

  • Jeffrey Westra

    I love TGC and log in daily for nuggets of Biblical truth to help me through the day. However, this article by Dr. Strachan is off base. I completely agree with Jeremy and Brian. TGC should focus more on issues of real manhood like absent fathers, divorce rate, and taking responsibility for our actions. The beauty about football is that it encourages and promotes unity, oneness, responsibility, submission, and authority. All of these are the nature of God. Literally MILLIONS of men have played football with no health issue. My view is that this attack on football is more about the feminization of society than anything else. I would hate to see TGC join the bandwagon on this. Please stand up for institutions that promote Biblical manhood. Don’t judge football by a few guys who dance around the quarterback (not acceptable). Judge football by the true men it produces. Seriously, take a survey about the percentage of absent fathers who were football players compared to the rest of society. I bet you would be surprised. Blessings.

    • http://www.growinginworship.com Paul Ellsworth

      “feminization of society than anything else.”
      Could you elaborate on what it means to feminize society and how this is about that?

      It sounds like you’re more or less saying that those who don’t like sports like football are effeminate… or at least that disliking them comes from being feminized/society being feminized?

      Which would imply that liking football (or other similar sports) is “manly.” Which is partly why people are worried, hence this article.

      “Please stand up for institutions that promote Biblical manhood.”
      from the article: “I am the executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood”

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com Curt Day

    I don’t understand the criticism of Jeremy’s article. I do think that one set of variables being overlooked here when we examine football and the warrior culture consists of the size, speed, and strength of today’s players vs that of the players from generations past. The players today are bigger, faster, stronger, than yesteryears players and workout all year round. Thus, we have to consider whether we have outgrown the sport with regards to the welfare of the participants.

    In addition, there are even more disturbing events surrounding football than what Jeremy mentioned. One is the coverup of crimes committed by football heroes shows a tendency to hierarchy in today’s culture rather than equality.

    Finally, one doesn’t need football players to see examples of courage, sacrifice, toughness and such. In fact, one doesn’t need men to see them. I’ll just point to female activists such as Helen Keller, Sophie Scholl, Rachel Corrie, and Kathy Kelly for providing examples of these admirable traits. In terms of sacrifice and toughness. Both Sophie Scholl and Rachel Corrie laid their lives on the line. Helen Keller overcame a mountain of obstacles to become vary accomplished while Kathy Kelly risked jail to deliver medicine and has risked her life to be able to report on violences and injustices.

    With those examples in mind perhaps we should review why we need to watch football in the first place. In the meantime, Jeremy made good points and wrote a good post.

    • Lori

      I totally agree with you that we don’t need to look to sports, or men, to find examples of courage, sacrifice, and toughness. In fact, I’m just not sure that professional sports is where I’d ever look for examples of those things.

      However, I did want to say that I’m not sure that the size of players is a significant issue. The game has changed a lot. There is now better equipment, stricter rules about contact, and just a somewhat different game. My grandfather was a 5’4″ college quarterback in the 1940s, and he played a kind of running game where he was tackled all the time that you just don’t see very often today. That’s not to say it’s a safe game, but most sports bring with them the risk of injury.

      Also, I think it’s important to note that, while there certainly are cases where crimes committed by football players are covered up, there are also indeed cases of false allegations. The recent FSU case appears to be an example of this. Everybody assumed the football player was guilty, because he was a football player. But, documents were leaked that seem to pretty clearly indicate that the prosecutor’s decision to not file charges (and this is a prosecutor who has taken on FSU athletes, including football players, in the past) was the right choice. And yet so many people will always assume he was guilty simply because he was a football player charged with a sex crime.

      I think the cultural tendency to consider football players, and to a lesser extent other athletes, heroes OR villains is a problem. Like anything else, sports need to be held in proper perspective.

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com Curt Day

    Correction to my comment, It was Owen’s post, Jeremy was one of the critics.

  • D. McDonald

    To take Mr. Strachan’s article a little further, I think it is about time that many Americans put away their idols. Why are you so threatened when someone writes an article that “attacks” your precious superstar gods? Why is it wrong to question society’s idea of a real man, as if being man is all/only about being rough and tough all the time. Other than that, many of you missed the point of the article. Did you not read what the author wrote: “It’s not that the football player is unmanly; many of us want to train our sons to be tough and courageous and even physically adept. But mature manhood for a Christian cannot be [all about] sacking quarterbacks, dunking basketballs, scoring soccer goals, or drawing stares from pretty women who yearn for their own athletic superhero.” What part of that statement is not true? What part of the article did the author say that being a real man didn’t involve a physical aspect? There is no such part. It merely states that our culture’s definition of a real man may not be 100% accurate. It is not something new for Strachan to warn about possible negative cultural influences on the church!

    Anyway, I have nothing against contact sports; I play and watch quite a bit of them. I do, however, have a problem with men when they are so infatuated with a god that they are above correction or warning. (Don’t be too offended by my post all you masculine men; I let out a few Neanderthal grunts as I wrote this).

    PS. Perhaps TGC should have a digital dropbox for all the people who have better wisdom concerning what the TGC writers should and should not write about on its website.

    • http://www.speculativefaith.com E. Stephen Burnett

      Well said, brother.

    • Scott

      Very well said. I agree 100%.

  • HD

    This discussion is going to follow a path similar to civil rights issues. There is a call for self-examination these days by former players, coaches, and now Christian bloggers. The reaction to that, represented by opinions like Jeremy’s and Jeffrey’s, is like early reactions to calls for civil rights reforms. But yesterday another star athlete suffered a season-ending knee injury, and today the sports talking heads are back at it again. They’re not going to shut up until things change.

    Today it is hard for Christians to imagine the prejudice and hatred that was accepted before the civil rights struggle. And in time, Christians will come to see the violence of football the same way. It is just not consistent with Christian values.

  • Keith David Brauneis

    Good article. There is a culture shift happening in America. For the first time since the existence of football the number of high school football players decreased.Why? Football is tough, time consuming, and requires unity. Kids today would rather play video games at home and interact via facebook and text message. Football is something that I believe is actually holding manhood together. It teaches discipline, unity, and how to play as a team.

    Primarily football teaches you to win. Why do we like to win? Our God is victorious, He conquered sin, death, and Satan. We are made in his image. There’s nothing like the joy of a victory after weeks of hard work in the weight room, watching film, and learning to play as a team. It teaches the blessing of obedience. Football is not going away, Christians should use it as a medium to share the gospel through word and deed. Tim Tebow was kind of the modern day Billy Graham. Tim Tebow probably reaches more people than the local pastor, he has something in common with all the men in America, he loves Football.

    I disagree with all the rules about targeting. You should count the cost before you play. Count the cost before you become a Christin. There will beatings, broken bones, humiliation, rejection,concussions, but having played football I don’t regret any of my scars. The joy of victory far outweighs the cost of suffering.

    • Andy


      I’m not sure if your comment is a parody or actually serious.

      • Keith David Brauneis

        I’m mostly serious, maybe the Tebow argument was a bit exaggerated haha. I don’t believe our culture is the problem here. The human heart is. We have the proclivity to make a good thing like football a God thing. We Christians should be innovative and use football as a medium for the gospel. We can safely model football and use it to promote biblical manhood but obviously not entirely. Didn’t mean to offend anyone. I guess I just see warrior culture as pretty helpful but I do agree God is more concerned with who we are (in Christ) rather than what we can accomplish athletically. God Bless Andy

        • Ryan

          The problem is that you say masculinity is failing because people are playing video games instead of football, while everything you said about football can also apply to video games, which require discipline to master, typically promote teamwork, and certainly promote victory.

          I’m not saying that video games are an awesome use of time and that everyone should spend ten hours a week playing them, but I am saying that there is nothing about football that makes it inherently more valuable to the Kingdom (or to “Godly masculinity,” for that matter) than most other pastimes.

          By the way, it’s not just about video games. People are playing football less because the athletic world is becoming more diverse. Sports like rugby, real football (aka soccer), water polo, and martial arts are far more popular now in America than they were thirty years ago. Depending on the state, you could add hockey to that list as well. The so-called “All-American” sports of football and baseball are in decline as the popularity of other sports increases.

          And I agree with Andy, your comment reads more like a caricature of Mark Driscoll than a serious argument. What you’re saying basically comes down to “I like football therefore everyone else should like it too,” only dressed up in hyper-spiritual language. There is nothing about football that makes it more predisposed to Godliness or the work of the Kingdom than any other sport.

  • Adam

    Balanced article addressing the sinful aspects of warrior culture…but not rejected all of it in a foolish pendulum swing.

    The Reilly quote likening the nfl to the Colosseum is quite silly. Reilly is saying that from the safe distance of several thousand years and half a world away. If he actually saw slaves slicing each other apart in person he would shake his head in shame thinking that he would have ever made such ridiculous comparison.

  • Roger Ball

    I think you make some good points. I also think it is significant that the apostle Paul uses the analogy of the soldier when describing the Christian life. Although there are similarities, this is a different (and better) kind of warrior. It also fits perfectly with biblical manhood. Here’s a poem by an unknown author (since its poem week). It’s entitled, I am a soldier in the army of my God.

    I am a soldier in the army of my God.
    The Lord Jesus Christ is my Commanding Officer.
    The Holy Scripture is my code of conduct.
    Faith, prayer and the Word are my weapons of warfare.

    I have been taught by the Holy Spirit, trained by experience,
    tried by adversity and tested by fire.

    I am a volunteer in this army, and I am enlisted for eternity.
    I will not get out, sell out, be talked out or pushed out. I am faithful, reliable, capable and dependable. If my God needs me, I am there. I am a soldier.

    I am not a baby. I do not need to be pampered, petted, primed up, pumped up, picked up, or pepped up. I am a soldier. No one has to call me, remind me, write me, visit me, entice me or lure me.

    I am a soldier. I am not a wimp. I am in place, saluting my King,
    obeying His orders, praising His name and building His kingdom!

    No one has to send me flowers, gifts, food, cards or candy, or give
    me handouts. I do not need to be cuddled, cradled, cared for or
    catered to. I am committed. I cannot have my feelings hurt bad enough to turn me around. I cannot be discouraged enough to turn me aside. I cannot lose enough to cause me to quit.

    When Jesus called me into this army, I had nothing. If I end up with nothing, I will still come out ahead. I will win. My God has and will continue to supply all of my need. I am more than a conqueror. I will always triumph. I can do all things through Christ.

    The devil cannot defeat me. People cannot disillusion me. Weather cannot weary me. Sickness cannot stop me. Battles cannot beat me. Money cannot buy me. Governments cannot silence me, and hell cannot handle me. I am a soldier.

    Even death cannot destroy me. For when my Commander calls me from His battlefield, He will promote me to captain and then allow me to rule with Him.

    I am a soldier in the army, and I’m marching claiming victory.
    I will not give up. I will not turn around.

    I am a soldier, marching heaven-bound. Here I Stand! Will you stand with me?

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  • Rony Gabriel

    I was the the constant nerd in the friendzone…

    For a long time I saw that my “stereotype” was not like the man I wanted to be. I grew up being hit and mocked by bigger kids, and I dug myself in books and studies as a refuge. I tried to be a “smart guy” to make women look at some attributes in me, but later I noticed that I was “the constant nerd in the friendzone”. Until I found a girlfriend and was dumped by her years later for a guy that was more athletic than me, I did not realize that deep down I needed Jesus to show me how a man should be like. Today I am married, have a daughter, and when I see an “alpha male” or a girl that just values that type of guys, I feel blessed that Jesus showed me how manly I was planned to be and how to actively be a man of honour, that practice repentance, leads his family, church, community, and that is not afraid of being persecuted for sharing the Gospel. That kind of hit I can take as a warrior without fear, as my helmet and my shoulder pads are found in the armour from the Holy Spirit, found in Ephesians 6!

    God bless all men that take the calling to be men of Christ!

  • Sam

    I want to point something out here.

    Dr. Strachan was at the spearhead of those evangelicals who reacted strongly, even violently, to the NCFIC panel on rap. His reaction was almost cartoonish, even going so far as to reject an apology from one of the panelists. For Dr. Strachan, any critique of rap or rap culture is de facto racist and sub Christian.

    My question is: Why does hip hop culture merit the protection of evangelical thought, and football doesn’t? Could it be that what is happening here is simply a preference being put into doctrinal canon?

    • D. McDonald

      Could you please point out in the article where it demonstrates that Strachan is anti-football? That would really help your observation. Also, could you point out where Strachan reveals to us all that there is absolutely nothing wrong with rap or rap culture? Thank you.

      • HD

        Please don’t. This article isn’t about rap; let’s stick to the subject.

    • D. McDonald

      Just another explanation would help also. Obviously comparing football and evangelical rappers (btw. Strachan was not defending Snoop, Eminem, and 49 cents, etc.) and football is justifiable. Therefore, could you please show us the similarities between the theology in a LeCrae song and that of a a football game/player? “The Tebow” and the “Thank God for my Philippians 4:13-reason-for-my-touchdown” are the only ones I can think of at the moment.

    • Kevin

      I believe it was Christian hip-hop culture he was defending.

  • ForeBarca

    The great conservative commentator George Will who said this: Football: violence followed by committee meetings.

  • http://www.speculativefaith.com E. Stephen Burnett

    Will everyone in this piece repeat the party line — that we have “more important issues” to discuss — rather than actually address Dr. Strachan’s criticisms? Answer these two yes/no questions:

    1) Apart from any other issues, does Dr. Strachan have legitimate concerns about football or other sports?

    2) Is it all right to allow some “acceptable sins” for the “greater good” of combating a broader cultural “crisis of masculinity”?

    • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com Curt Day

      Regarding question #2, you need to make the “crisis of masculinity” well-defined. Currently, the phrase is too ambiguous to answer.

      • http://www.speculativefaith.com E. Stephen Burnett

        I agree that people are slinging this about, often without defining it (so that if everything is seen as a “crisis of masculinity,” nothing is). Here I define it as what commentator Brian said above: “serious cultural challenges to manhood such as the divorce rate among evangelicals, fathers who are absent from the home, etc.”

  • Sam

    (I am not a football fan due to having too many TBIs in my house.)

    Another article is released where the attributes listed are pulled straight from a pat section, in this case elder qualification position, and are not anything that we wouldn’t want girls to emulate. All this to avoid the “Cultural view” on masculinity.

    How can manhood be defined by anything *but* culture? Man and Woman are defined by DNA, but whether certain actions are what men do(manly) or what women do(womanly) is not a biblically definable proposition besides the realm of morality.

    Men are physically stronger, more hardy, more action less words, than women. I believe all that can be objectively proven.

    Why is it so wrong to allow cultural to provide the coloring in of what manhood likes within the moral framework of the doctrinal teaching of the NT? It simply is not tenable that in a practical sense scripture provides us with what manhood and womanhood looks like. Cite proverbs 31 all we’d like, but that’s not going to solve the issue of whether it’s more womanly to wear a skirt or slacks.

    Go to Job, 1 Kings, “Be strong and be a man” and that won’t answer the question if skinny jeans are manly or if guys should be bulked up, fast, or getting married at XYZ age. In a traditional sense getting married in inherently manly, we have a pursuit of a prize which when attained is then kept as such until an outside force(death) parts you. We already do that with competition prizes and accolades–now it’s with the ultimate competition for the ultimate prize, a person.

    I see the push back against a cultural manliness definition as askin to being against what the culture calls a peanut better and jelly sandwhich–it misses the mark. We/They may disagree with the value of their manliness due it’s morality(heavy drinking, sex, obnoxiousness), but how can we say it’s not manliness(a culturally defined trait) which is then followed with a completely neutered definition of manliness. And yes, I’m ignoring the hyper-conservative patriarchy push because as of yet I haven’t seen a solid scriptural argument for it and that holy world “scriptural” is what makes the carousel of TGC and other website articles continue churning.

    If Christanity’s definition of manliness leaves me(men) as a physically bigger, less talkative, less emotional version of a woman as we both pursue the *same* definition of manliness from a complete rejection of cultural norms we end up striving after exactly the same things and are without a sounding board for whether something is manly or not. We’re left adrift due to an oversentive war being waged by “Christendom” to deny everything cultural that doesn’t have a scriptural foundation when their wearing sharp looking shoes to work isn’t scripturally supported via NT.

    If the opinion is shown to be unpopular I won’t shirk, but will own my views. I will be a man.

    • Roger Ball


      You say: “How can manhood be defined by anything *but* culture?”

      It can be defined by natural law and what the God of those natural laws tells us concerning the proper use of what He has provided. The same goes for women. When the culture ignores God (as revealed in Scripture), it creates a man-centered replacement for the roles and the fitting behavior of both sexes.

      You make a good point when you say: “Why is it so wrong to allow culture to provide the coloring in of what manhood likes within the moral framework of the doctrinal teaching of the NT?”

      There is nothing wrong with it, but that’s not really what the article is about. It’s about questioning behavior that is immoral and shameful. And whether the violence in football doesn’t cross the boundaries that God has set forth. We are supposed to be the temples of the Holy Spirit. We were bought with a price. We are not our own to destroy through drugs, alcohol, suicide, or physical sports.

      • Caleb W

        But don’t conservative evangelicals want to make culture ‘man-centered’? Wait, what? I’m so confused.

      • Sam

        1) I think football needs to cut down on TBIs, regardless of how they do that. No I don’t think the game is inherently wrong.

        “It can be defined by natural law and what the God of those natural laws tells us concerning the proper use of what He has provided. ”

        By all means provided me a scriptural definition that’s not transgender, please.

      • Ryan

        But how do you distinguish natural law from learned behaviour? If men are more predisposed to violence than women, how can anyone reliably determine whether “God created men to be warriors” (as some have claimed) or if it is instead a result of centuries of biological and cultural conditioning? Scripture is silent on the matter, so what is our litmus test?

        • Roger Ball

          Scripture is hardly silent on the roles and moral behavior of men and women.

          • Ryan

            Now you’ve piqued my interest. What Scripture verses teach that God created men to be warriors?

            • Roger Ball

              It would depend on your definition of warrior, and what you mean by “created men to be,” but I would say to start by reading the first five books of the Old Testament.

  • Mark Z

    To Owen,
    I appreciate the honesty and insight this article brings to the peril of machismo-Christianity in America today. The problem is when the church overemphasizes the American version on masculinity (which many other countries differ from) and sets it as the standard rather than Christ’s example. As a non-sports fan, who enjoys coffee shops, literature, and chess, I appreciate and identify with your examples. :)

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  • Paul D. Miller


    Great piece. Let me take issue with one angle here. I think the problem isn’t that sports culture is the same as warrior culture, which can become an idol. I think it is that sports culture is a juvenile, immature version of warrior culture, and that Christian men very much should see themselves as true (grown up, mature) warriors, but if all they know of the warrior ethic is from the playing field, they’re getting a poor version of it.

    Paul uses military metaphors throughout his letters, a couple times referring to other Christians as “fellow soldiers.” He talks about donning the “armor of God,” and talks about waging (spiritual) war against the age. Godly men should understand themselves to be warriors.

    The problem is when we take the image of a football player and think that is what the Bible means when it encourages us to be a warrior. Being a warrior doesn’t mean hitting hard and shaking it off. That’s what athletes do. But the literal definition of warrior is simply someone who serves in war. And as actual warriors know–that is, men who have served in wartime, in uniform, in the army–serving in war isn’t just about hitting hard. It is about watching your brother’s back. Careful attention to strategy. Following orders. Working for the higher cause. Mission focus. Discipline. Daily training. Being willing to sacrifice. And more.

    Compared to the service of actual warriors, the preening of celebrity athletes is embarrassing and unmanly. I would love to see a greater “warrior ethic” in our churches. Which might mean not watching any more football.

    Paul Miller

    • http://thenface2face.wordpress.com Karen Butler

      “Compared to the service of actual warriors, the preening of celebrity athletes is embarrassing and unmanly.”

      A proud Army mom thanks you for your eloquent words.

      My son is out in miserably cold, sleety Texas fields right now,in training to be an army medic, likely heading out to Afghanistan in a couple of months. He hates bloodshed, but wants to help the hurting. He has become known for his cheerful attitude even in the face of real privation, and continual pain in his shins because of his flat feet. He continually takes these kind of risks such with his faith, and is modeling for his younger football-crazed brothers real biblical manhood.

      • http://www.growinginworship.com Paul Ellsworth

        “He hates bloodshed”
        IMO, this is a big reason to be proud of your son :) especially being willing to do what is necessary to help in the midst of the (sadly, sometimes inevitable) bloodshed.

  • John S

    A post relating to gender roles AND football? that’s guaranteed to get some feisty feedback.

    There is a connection between American football and what the Bible calls ‘the world’. Football does not cause wrong beliefs about manhood but it both reveals and influences those beliefs. Imho, this trend toward abolishing dangerous sports coupled with feminizing forces (LGBTQIA with more letters to come, no score keeping in sports, et al) makes soft manhood a more real and present danger. Though warrior manhood is surely a problem too.

    I agree with this article and it is thought provoking. Though if you look at other forms of entertainment besides football (movies, TV, music) the portrayals of men are far worse and often have zero godly masculinity. At least in warrior sports you have teamwork and endurance and some other positive traits for men to consider.

    • http://www.growinginworship.com Paul Ellsworth

      “Though if you look at other forms of entertainment besides football (movies, TV, music) the portrayals of men are far worse and often have zero godly masculinity.”
      But, from a Christian perspective, I don’t think we tend to set up our “ideal man” based on those sources. So, while they are just as wrong, I don’t know that it’s as influential.

      “Imho, this trend toward abolishing dangerous sports coupled with feminizing forces (LGBTQIA with more letters to come, no score keeping in sports, et al) makes soft manhood a more real and present danger.”
      So, perhaps a good question for the biblically-minded Christian… do we need sports to be a “real” man/good man/genuine man/masculine? If all of our sports were scoreless, would we actually … lose something? In other words, is “winning” [a game] part of being a man?

    • julie

      John S,
      Homosexuality and not keeping score are not feminizing forces. What do either of these things have to do with being feminine? I played sports my entire childhood on all female teams and we always kept score. So tired of seeing some derivative of feminine being used in a negative way to describe all that is wrong with masculinity. If men are not being manly (whatever that means) it doesn’t mean they are being like women. They are just not being good men.

      • M. Rodgers-Gates

        Thank you. What a perfectly wonderful and reasonable response.

  • http://www.theologyforwomen.org Wendy Alsup

    I appreciated your thoughts here. Thanks for this.

    • http://riskygospelbook.com Owen

      Thank you, Wendy. It’s my hope that folks see that our theology of manhood and sexuality more broadly critiques not only those who disagree with complementarianism, but we ourselves.

      I need the Bible to critique me and my views just as much as my neighbor does.

  • SM

    Too often in articles about “biblical” manhood and womanhood there is conflation and/or equivocation of terms (manhood, womanhood, masculinity, femininity, masculine, feminine, etc.) that make(s) following this discussion difficult. I don’t think there will be understanding until terms are used appropriately and consistently.

    For example, Strachan contends the qualities listed in 1 Tim 3 is a definition manliness; however, this is not a definition of manliness or even of an elder but a listing of the moral, ethical, and character traits required for fulfilling the position of elder. These traits may not be fully observed in an instance of a football player’s roar on field or from a visiting missionary.

    The context and clear reading of the scripture reveal this text is not defining manhood or manliness, and common sense even tells us being blameless, faithful, levelheaded, temperate, respectable, hospitable, wise, gentle, benevolent, disciplined, good, mature, respected are traits is not unique to manhood. These are the qualities of a mature, *Christ-like* person (male or female) and that they are “pre-eminently spiritual” Strachan is correct.

    • Sam

      Good input, thanks.

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  • DC

    I’m going to digress a bit here…so no comments on how I missed the point of the article.

    Honestly, I have always resented the idea that “athletes” are “warriors.” Sure, they’re tough, strong, and fast…but they’re athletes, that is all. They are NOT warriors. A real warrior’s battlefield is an actual field of battle. The real warriors of America aren’t found on a football field or a track. They’re found in the deserts of Afghanistan, or the Philippine jungles, putting their lives on the line on a day to day basis. When they cross their “line of scrimmage” they do so knowing full well that on the other side, they’ll won’t get tackled, they’ll get shot at. These are real warriors. They come in all shapes and sizes, both men and women, and not all of them are super fit, super fast, or super strong. But they are warriors for the life they have chosen to live, and for some, chosen to give. So don’t equate “sports culture” with “warrior culture”. Sports culture wishes it was warrior culture, and we need to stop perpetuating the idea that the two are on equal level. We should stop calling our athletes ‘warriors’. They are not. Not even close. And I believe people like Pat Tillman (R.I.P.)knew the difference.

    That being said, I thank the author for pointing out that manliness is pre-eminently spiritual. It’s true. You don’t have to be a super athlete-macho type to be manly. You don’t even have to be a warrior (my definition of it) to be manly. Some of the manliest men I know are balding, pot-bellied, and old. But their uncompromising obedience to Christ has brought them to unimaginable places of influence, where they have changed countless lives for God. They are neither warrior nor athlete, but by God, they are MEN.

    • Lori

      Yes. I don’t think we need to look exclusively to war to find “warriors” in the sense that’s being used here: there are plenty of political dissidents, martyrs, and every day people who have also put their lives on the line to do what is right. Teachers who protect their students when a gunman enters the classroom are warriors. But I agree with your point overall.

      Athletes are not warriors. They are people getting paid, in many cases, big paychecks in order to play a game that entertains people. That’s pretty much it. Now, I’m not saying that’s a terrible thing. But it’s not fighting a battle.

  • http://www.bereansnotepad.com Diane Woerner

    Owen wrote, “It’s helped to shape and define our understanding of manhood. We want to sack the quarterback, win the game, and stand before an adoring hometown crowd as homecoming king.”

    We need to consider, I think, that football is one of the last arenas in which *men only* participate and compete. In earlier days a man could prove himself as a man among men in the contexts of law, medicine, politics, most military roles, and so forth. Today we laud the entry of women into these fields, rarely noticing that the men are simultaneously leaving. We also bemoan men who escape into the false arenas of “virtual” competitions, not understanding the connection between these two migrations.

    There is an innate component of manhood that requires honor, if not before an “adoring hometown crowd,” at least in the eyes of his own family and community. It’s not accidental that our enemy has enticed us to belittle manhood in nearly all entertainment contexts. If football does nothing else than provide men with a vestige of masculine greatness, it has value therein.

  • Scott

    I’m very confused as to why most of the commenters I’ve seen seem to think that this article is bashing football. I didn’t get that at all from this article. It’s the same thing when people think that those who say sex before marriage is wrong are trying to argue that sex is bad in general. In reality, the context is important here. He is condemning IDOLATRY. The way that we tend to look at athletes and their amazing physical prowess and see THAT as the measure of a true man. There is nothing wrong with commending physical prowess, but it is when we make THAT instead of biblical values the ultimate measure of a man. Physical prowess is a good thing, but we have made it a GOD thing.

  • Steven Stanton

    First off, I do agree with the author that our view of manhood is not always rooted in a biblical view of manhood.

    However, I do want to express some concerns over his negative view of the warrior culture.

    Our nation has been sending a continuous stream of soldiers to the Middle East for over 12 years now, I being one of them. This has created a whole slew of men returning from war battered and bruised, physically and emotionally. The statistics on PTSD are unnerving. Most of the public has no idea what these men have been through and what they deal with day to day from it. As a nation we have created this and we will see the effects of it for years to come.

    The government is an institution from God and the military is its hand of justice. Men are held to their duty and loyalty to their leaders. They are the essence of a “warrior culture”. Men trained to stand in the way of the wicked to protect the women and children safe at home. Now, however complicated this globalized world is in terms of the conflicts we fight, the military is still the force accepting violence on itself in the place of the public.

    I once read a very well intentioned article about the absence of fathers in the home (a very critical and important issue) but the article was so harsh it left no room for the warrior, the soldier, whose calling sometimes brings him overseas for extended periods of time, to feel anything other than shame and disgrace.

    Please don’t forget these heroes, who suffer silently, misunderstood, uncared for. These men called to stand in the way and answer violence with violence in self defense of their families back home just as Nehemiah had men stand in the gaps of the walls of Jerusalem. There is a place for your warrior culture. There is a place for you to understand violence and devote your life to your calling that is warfare. You are needed and we are all thankful for you.

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  • Jonathan McGuire

    Owen Strachan writes, “But make no mistake: warrior culture and godly manhood are not one and the same.”

    This is problemmatic because Strachen doesn’t define “warrior culture” in such a way that his hypothesis can be tested.

    While pointing to the element of warrior culture that he affirms. “doing hard things, self-sacrificing, persevering, cultivating toughness, demonstrating courage under fire, and taking on physical challenges”, he includes mentions of sportswriters who seem to suggest that what happened between Miami Dolphins players Richie Incognito and Brian Phillips was also part of warrior culture.

    Perhaps the best illustration, outside of Scripture, of “warrior culture” or “warrior ethos” was given to us by the father of historians, Herodotus in his writings about the culture and wars of the ancient Greecian city states…and it comes from the most famous Spartan mother story:

    “A Spartan mother handed her son his shield as he prepared to march off to battle. She said, “Come back with this or on it.”

    As Steven Pressfield writes in his excellent book, “The Warrior Ethos”, this story portrays what the essence of “warrior culture”. Strachan’s examples of missionaries who serve in dangerous places and small group leaders who minister in cities that are essentially hostile to Christianity both fit a proper definition of “warrior culture”.

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