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Michael Horton:

In “Young, Restless, Reformed” circles, a new generation is discovering Jonathan Edwards and “masculine Christianity” in one fell swoop. Weaned on romantic—even sentimental—images of a deity who seems to exist to ensure our emotional and psychic equilibrium, many younger Christians (especially men) are drawn to a robust vision of a loving and sovereign, holy and gracious, merciful and just, powerful and tender King. . . .

I get the point about a “soft” ministry, especially worship, with its caressing muzak and the inoffensive drone of its always-affirming message. It’s predictably and tediously “safe.” Get the women there and they’ll bring their husbands and children. Not only has that not worked, it’s sure to bore any guy who doesn’t want to hear childrearing tips or yet another pep talk on how to have better relationships.

. . . [But] are we really ready to identify shallow sentimentalism with “feminization” of the church? Do godly women want this any more than men? . . .

The stereotypes can be as belittling to men as to women. Jesus’ disciples were, well, disciples. They followed Jesus and listened intently to his teaching. Not incidentally, there were women, too. Mary broke the stereotype by being catechized by Jesus when her sister Martha thought she should be making coffee for the next group. . . .

In the drive to make churches more guy-friendly, we risk confusing cultural (especially American) customs with biblical discipleship. One noted pastor has said that God gave Christianity a “masculine feel.” Another contrasted “latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers” with “real men.” Jesus and his buddies were “dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.” Real Christian men like Jesus and Paul “are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.” Seriously?

The back story on all of this is the rise of the “masculine Christianity movement” in Victorian England, especially with Charles Kingsley’s fictional stories in Two Years Ago (1857). D. L. Moody popularized the movement in the United States and baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday preached it as he pretended to hit a home run against the devil. For those of us raised on testimonies from recently converted football players in youth group, Tim Tebow is hardly a new phenomenon. Reacting against the safe deity, John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart (2001) offered a God who is wild and unpredictable. Neither image is grounded adequately in Scripture. With good intentions, the Promise Keepers movement apparently did not have a significant lasting impact. Nor, I predict, will the call of New Calvinists to a Jesus with “callused hands and big biceps,” “the Ultimate Fighting Jesus.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Is Horton on to something? Is he missing anything in this discussion?

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44 thoughts on “Is “Masculine Christianity” Going Too Far?”

  1. Coen Tate says:

    I think he is right on the money. The “masculine Christianity” of certain preachers, very popular amongst the New Calvinist movement, does more harm to the gospel cause than good.

  2. MarieP says:

    I agree with Horton. And I’ll let Paul speak for himself :-)

    Philippians 1
    I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. 8 For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.

    1 Thess. 2
    But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. 5 For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

    10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged[b] every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

    Acts 20
    17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

    25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.

    32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

    36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, 38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.

  3. pduggie says:

    I think he forgot to blame Finney.

    (seriously, I think he’s on track)

  4. JOHROB says:

    Any teaching that attempts to correct can go overboard and swing the pendulum in the exact opposite direction and end up “over correcting” to a fault. This may be the case in some circles concerning the masculine Christian movement. But there is an older book that seems to be fairly balanced on this topic. It’s called No More Mr. Nice Guy, by Steve Brown, with a nice forward by R.C. Sproul. I’m not as big of a fan of Brown as I once was but this work still speaks to this issue today.

    1. I agree! It just seems like there is no middle of the road. Using the labels I really really don’t like, if the church is being too “feminine” (and as a lady all I can say is “really?”) we push for “masculine” Christianity. Why can’t we just have, well, regular Christianity?
      I have to admit, I still run into a LOT more “feminine” Christianity.

      1. threegirldad says:

        “the feminization of the church” isn’t meant to convey that “the church” is too feminine, but rather that “the church” is (is becoming? has become?) effeminate.

  5. Tom says:

    Driscoll (lets be plain about who many of the quotes are from) uses hyperbole often for effect. So do the Biblical writers, including Jesus. It is easy to single these kind of things out to make someone seem “unbalanced.” If Driscoll put each one of his statements to the death of a thousand qualifications (and I am sure he could) he could avoid this kind of charge, and would not be nearly such an engaging preacher.

    There are some videos on Youtube from Driscoll (“What kind of man are you?”) that are helpful in addressing both errors found in men: domineering and passive, macho and sissified. Overall, how can you disagree with Horton’s point: let’s not overcorrect. But lets also not overcorrect in our desire to not overcorrect. And then of course there is the danger of overcorrecting in our avoidance of overcorrecting our overcorrection…

  6. I see the Gospel Coalition has decided to ignore the Second Commandment as well as the 4th.

    Seriously guys. I will not read your articles if I have to get past a false idol to read to it.

    1. pduggie says:

      I offer for your consideration that absolutely noone is tempted to worship that particular image.

      If so, its not an idol. (its dumb, but)

    2. By the way, Triablogue has responded to this argument. See here for starters.

    3. John Botkin says:

      I assumed it was Samson.

    4. Mark says:

      This comment by Benjamin is so legalistic and pharisaical that it makes me dizzy.

      1. Mark says:

        By the way, Benjamin — your own website has artistic renditions of Puritans and John Calvin. But the 4th commandment says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or ANY likeness of ANYTHING that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Anything includes images of, well, anything — certainly Puritans.

        So if you want to be consistent, you shouldn’t read your own blog, so full of evil is it.

        Or maybe God’s point was simply not to make such things for the purpose of worshiping them.

        1. MarieP says:

          Note: I’m not wanting to derail the thread, but I don’t want the impression left that Benjamin is a lone crusader- his position is one that’s been held throughout church history, and the issue of images of Christ has been debated- actually, there were no images of Christ for the first several centuries of church history because the Jewish Christians didn’t want to make any idols. Not saying that makes their position correct- but the issues cannot be simply dismissed as ludicrous or legalistic. Yes, Christ is a Man, but God saw to it that we don’t have any pictures of Him.

          Mark, the wording of the commandment is “make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure” not “don’t make a figure of anything.” God Himself commanded images of created things for the Temple. So I don’t believe our brother Benjamin is being inconsistent.

          I’d point you to J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God. He has an excellent chapter demonstrating how the 2nd commandment not only condemned the worship of images but creating an image of the true and living God.

          A few Scriptures-

          Deuteronomy 4
          12 And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice…
          15 “Take careful heed to yourselves, FOR YOU SAW NO FORM when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 LEST you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth.

          Exodus 32
          1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
          And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.

          Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

          5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast TO THE LORD [YAHWEH].” 6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

          1. Mark says:

            actually, Marie, the wording in Exdous 20 is precisely as I’ve quoted it. You should re-read that (I’m quoting from the ESV).

            And I know that God did indeed command some carvings and likenesses to be made, which underscores my point that the images are not necessarily the problem: they can be used in sacred art, or they can become idols. With the Lutherans, I say they need not lead us astray, and I also say with them, such images aren’t forbidden by the 4th commandment, so long as they’re not for the purpose of being worshiped.

  7. Dave Moore says:

    My latest book, The Last Men’s Book You’ll Ever Need, seeks to address the problems found in the Wild at Heart type of genre.

  8. Aaron Britton says:

    If I would say that Dr. Horton “missed” one thing. . . it’s that if nothing were to change (which I realize he isn’t advocating), many churches would be too feminine in their worship and ethos.

    So, if there’s a miss, I’d say it’s that he doesn’t see the problem that Driscoll, and at some level Piper/Grudem are reacting against. Are there over-reactions? yes. But, there’s a “market correction” happening right now which is a good thing.

    That said, I agree with Horton that this is extra-biblical and the church is not a niche marketing institution. The ideals he has at the end of the article are great and should be considered by church leaders.

    1. J.R. says:

      But Driscoll, Piper and Grudem are US. And they are leading and influencing the men who are leading our churches, not the effiminate ones. So, they have a responsibility to self-correct when they swing too far in one direction. However, we are not seeing correction and clarification from them (Drs. Horton and Carson, thank you!)

  9. Peter says:

    Its an important critique. Especially with Driscoll and some people hardcore promoting a mocho image, supporting MMA hardcore and such. I feel the hyper-masculinity thing is more a minority of the group if anything. Most of the `new calvinists` I know are tenderhearted, graceful people, who I have saw not swing too the opposite spectrum, but are genuine servant leaders and very graceful to those who are of differing theology, and don`t have this stereotypical image of Jesus or Christian males. May be more of a stereotype than anything. There needs to be a critique on the one side for the feminine, weak boys that are too afraid to stick up for their wife and lead as the head of a family to Christ and man up in that way and then the overly masculine lazy bossy authority-addicted males that think that manhood is something its not that way as well and aren`t content with servanthood and working hard and giving grace and love.

    I would like to see more support of true manhood as being balanced though. Not one extreme or another, but entirely based on scripture, and on the second Adam, Christ.

  10. John says:

    Where do I get that doll!?

    1. John says:

      It is NOT a doll!!! It’s an action figure.

  11. I personally disagree. I see the return of Muscular Christianity as a result of Biblical manhood under fire and failing to take place in the Western world. How can we criticize “Muscular Christianity” when marriages continue to fall apart (and as a result, our addiction Divorce Court television). I think people like Tim Tebow show men that it is perfectly fine to be a man and at the same time be passionate about Jesus Christ and passionate about the Kingdom of God.

    I mean, isn’t Biblical perspective on manhood receding in the United States? Is that not the case? I feel like Tebow, Lin, Jon Jones, and many other “symbols” of Muscular Christianity actually make it easier to teach men that you can live your life being a healthy, strong, and tough man and while being a passionate Christian.

    I don’t see what’s wrong in that.

  12. Derek Griz says:

    I think Horton is right to speak this word of correction. The complementarian view, which I hold, has admittedly become conflated with cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity.

  13. Mike says:

    We need less alpha- dog pastors and more servant leaders who walk with humility and who are overwhelmed by the grace of God in Christ.

    1. Gary says:

      Mike, best comment here on this topic. Thanks.

  14. Philip Moyer says:

    We are a rebellious people who hate authority. We hate God’s order and we hate distinctions.

    Pastor Horton’s post is mostly unhelpful. Granted, many pastors today are going from one ditch to another, but there is a serious problem and it needs to be addressed. And not brushed off the way the Horton did basically saying we are all equals, brothers and sisters, etc. Of course that’s true, but does he not recognize that we still are men and women in Christ, not asexual beings? Should I confess my “man sins” to women? No way!

    Does he not see the wicked sexual perversion within the church? Should we not teach men to be men according to the Scriptures or is that up for grabs too? Shouldn’t we teach our women to do what Scripture commands of them? It is Biblical to talk about manhood and womanhood, ya know. It is all over Scripture, not just a “few passages that speak directly to men and women, [where] there will be legitimate diversity in application” as he put it. He makes God’s Word seem impotent.

    We are all for unity, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” etc… but the way to achieve that unity is through repentance of sin and faith. Pastor Horton is not dealing with the sin. He is letting it fester by not hitting it head on, which would be the manly thing to do.

    Men aren’t leading their wives, their children, their churches, their elders boards, etc. They are giving up their elders boards and pulpits to women. Men are giving themselves to pornography, masturbation, sodomy, etc. (as are the women). They are giving up their wives and mothers of their children for the “work force” and wealth so that they don’t have to trust God for their income. Homes are unfruitful. Women are on birth control until their 30s and then they take fertility pills and have trouble conceiving. That is God’s judgment on us.

    And so we say, man to man, “Repent of your sin. Stop abdicating authority. Stop committing adultery with your computer. Man-up and grow-up!” And we say to the women “Submit to your husbands, bear children, trust God with your money. He will provide. You don’t need an education as a back-up plan. Have faith. The Lord knows what is right and He tells us in His Word.

    There is much more I think that could be said, but this is the direction I think Pastor Horton should have gone, not saying “let’s have unity” without addressing the sins at hand.

    1. theologian says:


      I commend you for your obvious zeal for truth and your desire to uphold God’s word. That being said, I think the lack of grace in your response is a major red flag for me. It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance and in your written response I don’t walk away sniffing any of the kindness of God. I come away from your post feeling like you have set up a new law with new requirements for what makes one right with God. I think the judgment and lack of nuance in your assessment is unhelpfully divisive and inappropriately condemning. Who are you to say that a twl income family is not seeking to trust God. Have you reflected on Proverbs 31 lately and the business initiative that the godly woman shows? Brother, God is incredibly kind and patient in the way he instructs his sheep, and your response shows very little of that. Am I misreading you? Or perhaps did you simply not have enough time to more fully nuance your perspective?

      1. Philip Moyer says:

        Dear ________, (I wish I could respond to you by name)

        Thank you for taking the time to make a response to my comment. Yes, you are right, my comment lacks nuance–something I don’t have much of. But divisive and condemning are very strong words and if I were being either, I would hope that I would be both in the way that Jesus was by His example in Scripture. But may God be merciful to us as we seek to strengthen one another’s arguments so that God’s Word may be upheld and preserved.

        I have sat under Pastor Horton’s preaching many times and so I want you to know that I don’t have something against him that I am trying to attack him on. I am simply responding to what he wrote. However, just as he was making judgments on Piper’s and Driscoll’s approach (among others) to dealing with sexuality and Scripture (and I am sure he has love and affection for them), I am making judgments on Pastor Horton’s approach (whom I have love and affection for as a brother in Christ). This is how we sharpen one another.

        Now, you seemed to gather that I am against women working or having an income and that is just not true. What I was attacking as sin was women not living by faith, women being driven by materialism, women being in authority over men, women on elders boards, women as CEOs, presidents, etc. while handing their children off to unbelievers to indoctrinate them. Most of the women I know who have jobs and income from outside the home don’t need to do it. Their husbands have work and provide enough money for their family. The whole “go to college and get a job” mentality for women is on auto-pilot. So marriage is put off, having babies is put off, and using birth control and having abortions is put on. This is what is so discouraging about Pastor Horton’s post, because he sets up an extreme and says we need to stop doing this and then proposes a remedy that fails to deal with actual sins specifically related to men and women. No doubt this doctrine needs to be refined and that we have made mistakes trying to do it, but Pastor Horton has casted off the issue at hand and has shown that he is not willing to get dirty and deal with the specific sins of men and women concerning sexuality.

        So, maybe we are failing at appropriately presenting the doctrine of sexuality (largely because Calvin and our other fathers didn’t have to articulate it to the degree we have to today), but let’s fail in the right direction. That would be better than not trying to correct at all and therefore not failing at all. And even that would still be a failure, just in the wrong direction.

        Warmly in Christ,

  15. theologian says:

    This is a fantastic assessment by Horton. I think Driscoll has wounded half (over half) of the church in the way he has preached his aggressive masculinity. In reality, Driscoll’s vision for men and women is not one of complementarity, but one of machismo. For those who think this overcorrection is good, how many females have to be dehumaized before we recognize the fasle teaching for what it is. As Tozer has rightly stated the majority of heretical views have come as the result of overemphasizing one aspects of God’s character (or word) at the expense of others. Again, excellent post by complementarian Michael Horton.

  16. Martin Morgan says:

    I just don’t think Jesus was particularly concerned about the culturally transient ways men of his culture went around being men. Of course he has a call for men of all cultures to follow Him. That may well mean rejecting a false view of “Manhood” like the “Strongman” and The Gentiles “who love to lord it over others”.

    Christian men need to have deep and authentic character shaped by a deep thankful response to their heavenly Father. Dress sense, haircuts, sports appreciation and fashionable but fickle cultural tags of masculinity are all evaluated on that basis. That means christian men will often challenge the “Macho” view, as they will an androgenous definition of men.

    Our cultural badges are often wrong, but they must not become the basis of pride or a way of defining healthy views of masculinity. In heaven, will we be sproutinhg off about the things that we thing make us a “man”? I think Horton is definitely onto something here.

  17. luke says:

    the only problem with masculine/effeminate style is being fake…anyone can see through a pastor who is playing to a particular audience (marketing), if driscoll is for real, why would you criticize him? If a man feels that he has overcome his pride by singing feminine songs about dancing with Jesus…who are we to criticize how God will use his testimony?

  18. Mark says:

    I think that men are seriously attacked in our culture — such as in the media (e.g., sitcoms where the Dad is always an imbecile). At 39, I can say that more and more young men (late teens, 20’s) are passive and mushy (little will, little concern for truth, little passion and backbone) to a degree that I didn’t see 20 years ago.

    Clearly, something is needed (part of the answer: many individual men need healing from being taught they have to be passive, good little boys, and so forth). I don’t think macho Christianity is the answer. Macho Christianity can be so full of bravado and force (i.e., not strength) that it dishonors Christ. Lord, please show us what You made masculinity to be, and please help us see how You lived it out more clearly: with meekness, strength, clarity, and servant-hearted power. Amen.

  19. steve hays says:

    There’s a danger here of Christians creating a reactionary cycle, where reactionaries react to reactionaries. Driscoll is reacting to a culture which feminizes men and masculinizes women. His critics regard him as a reactionary. Even if that’s true, his critics tend to be just as reactionary in a different direction. If Discoll overreacts to cultural trends, his critics overreact to Driscoll.

    We need to a common objective standard of comparison to break the cycle of knee-jerk reactions to the last thing we read. We need to avoid just bouncing off each other, like billiard balls.

    1. threegirldad says:


    2. Jonathan says:

      Best comment.

    3. Allison says:

      + 1

      It custom when seeing where the enemy has put up camp, the conservative stakes out his territory on the other side of the entire world.

  20. Luma says:

    I read the entire article from Horton. It makes me say: “Yes and Amen!” I do not think that Horton was referring only to one pastor.

    1. James Rednour says:

      He isn’t. John Piper said the bit about Christianity having a “masculine feel”, which is a bunch of nonsense. There are many passages in the Bible where God is given female characteristics. Rachel Held Evans has already eviscerated this argument so I don’t have to.

  21. Joe says:

    “We need less alpha-dog pastors.”

    AMEN. The Pastors as Beautiful People or Peerless Everymen with likeable flaws, diverse hobbies and impressive reading lists, all capped by the indispensible headshot and nods to cultural coolness, used to appeal to me. Now it leaves me cold. Whatever happened to Calvin wanting an unmarked grave. Now we have Bibles that sport human names o their spines. Seems off.

  22. Allison says:

    Christianity is a masculine religion. If this precious thing is of one gender, what is the other gender supposed to do?

    Only a man may come before the blood-stained cross, on which hangs the tortured body of the Son of God, and fall on the ground with repentance and weeping.

    And women may only come to the clean, flower-covered cross and make wreaths out of daises while they sit on the grassy hill and sing ditties.

  23. J.R. says:

    He’s totally on to something! And I for one am grateful that the conversation is finally happening.

  24. Marsisme says:

    Justin, I think it would be affirming for everyone who reads your blog, if there were more women included in your interviews – not just ‘male dominated’ features. Or does that break the ‘law’ of ‘male only’ teaching? I don’t think that masculinity is threatened by that. And I don’t believe that our Father would be upset if his sons were gracious in allowing his daughters to speak.

  25. Dave says:

    I’m so glad more and more Christian men are getting into watching mma, especially the UFC. Masculine Christianity is something Paul was into. He knew all about watching boxing according to 1 Cor. 9:26-27. He knew the difference between cold-cocking the air and a body-blow. True, “we wrestle not with flesh and blood…” but watching two men in the octagon wage war is a great analogy and incentive for our spiritual warfare.

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Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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