Search this blog

Some of you have probably been following Effemigate--the latest controversy to follow Seattle Pastor Mark Driscoll. The timeline looks like this: a couple weeks ago Driscoll posted something on Facebook about effeminate worship leaders. Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans called Driscoll a bully. Over at the World blog, Anthony Bradley criticized Evans' comments as libel. Even Brian McLaren added his two cents with a predictable morality tale about two kinds of "evangelicals." In a subsequent post Driscoll called his Facebook line "a flippant comment." He reports that his executive elders sat him down and challenged him "to do better by hitting real issues with real content in a real context." This is wise counsel. Driscoll's Facebook comment was bound to create more heat than light. It was an unwise way to talk about a serious issue.

I don't need to say anything more about the controversy itself. Like most web-storms, this one will blow over quickly. But the issues under the issue (as Driscoll puts it) are important and worth considering.

To that end, let me suggest three general principles that should guide our discussion of biblical manhood.

1. We must be aware which way the cultural winds are blowing. The reason for this awareness is not to go adrift with the culture, but to understand the times. In most American cities--especially cool cities like Seattle or Austin or New York--the ideas of male headship and female submission, or even gender distinctions in general, are strange, if not outright offensive. It's safe to say the default position in America is not the biblical view of men and women. So wise faithful pastors should not be closet complementarians--who believe and do the right things when push comes to shove--but candid complementarians. If we don't address these issues head on the world will press thousands of Christians into its mold.

Of course, the flip side of this cultural awareness should be a real desire for winsome, well-seasoned speech. If the cultural winds are blowing against us, hoisting our sails to catch the breeze is wrong. But this doesn't mean spitting into the wind is a good idea. There are occasions for provocation, but careful, patient, forthright instruction will usually gain the best hearing.

2. We need to be careful we don't equate our preferred type of masculinity with biblical manhood. I know conservatives want to push back the tide of feminism and fight against the emasculation of men in our culture, but offering stereotypes is not the way to do it. It's not fair to say, without qualification, that "Real men hunt and fish. Real men like football. Real men watch ultimate fighting. Real men love Braveheart. Real men change the oil and chop firewood." It's one thing for pastors to give men permission to be like this. It's another to prescribe that they must. You simply can't prove from the Bible that manliness must look like William Wallace. If you insist on one way to be a man, you're in danger of two things: 1) Hurting godly men who are manly but don't do things with sports, cars, or the outdoors. 2) Making your particular expression manhood the standard for everyone else. And when complementarians overreach with their definition of manhood they play into the hands of those who say there is no definition of manhood at all.

On the other hand, a different set of Christians needs to be careful they don't make Jesus--as the quintessential man--into a progressive beatnik. Some Christians reject the stereotype in the previous paragraph, only to replace it with another. So Jesus--and therefore, every real man--hates all violence, protests social inequality, and probably painted with watercolors. Not only does this ignore Jesus the avenger (Revelation 6 and 19) or Jesus the friend of rich people (Zacchaeus), it flattens the biblical narrative into another predictably anachronistic tale of how Jesus was a man exactly like me. So yes, Ted Nugent is not the only way to be a man. But that doesn't mean Sting is the alternative.

3.  Most importantly, Christians must affirm and teach and model that men and women are different--biologically, emotionally, relationally. There are a lot of passages I could turn to make this point, but I'll limit myself to 1 Corinthians. Here we see that the husband is the head of his wife (1 Cor. 11:3). We see men have a teaching role in the church that women do not have (14:34). We even see Paul use the phrase "act like men" as a synonym for courage (16:13; cf. 1 Kings 2:2). Gender differences are real and they matter. Little boys need to know what it means to be a man and not a woman. Little girls need to know what it means to be a woman and not a man. Gender identity and gender roles cannot be reversed without doing harm to God's good design for the sexes.

Which brings us to the point Driscoll was trying to make: Men are not women, and when men seem like women it is off-putting and unnatural. Here's where things get dicey. I think the hyper-masculine stereotypes are wrong and unhelpful. And yet...and yet, they are trying--albeit in a clumsy way--to recover something crucial. When Paul says that nature itself teaches that long hair is a disgrace to men (11:14), I don't think he's making a universal statement about follicles. But he is making a universal statement about gender. The particulars of the exegesis can be challenging, but essentially Paul is making two points: 1) it isn't right for men to be like women, and 2) how this plays out is somewhat determined by the culture. It was a girly thing to grow out your hair, so Paul rightly tells the men not to do it.

How does this apply in our day? That's hard to say. Hopefully we could all agree with some obvious examples. "Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears a dress is it a disgrace for him?" "Does not nature itself teach you that if a man puts on lipstick it is a disgrace for him?" But what else can we say as Christians? Can real men enjoy musical theater and ballet and fine clothing? Surely they can and do. But on the other hand, if you met a guy who told you his favorite thing in the whole world was shopping for shoes, his favorite show was Say Yes to the Dress, and he got most of his news from The View, you'd be right to be concerned.

I don't know how and where to draw every line, but 1 Corinthians 11:14 has to mean something in our day. I know the questions are out there, like whether your average dude can wax his chest or whether he should do most of the driving on the family vacation. I'm not addressing all the nitty-gritty problems of application. But before we get to those we need to see the general principle: the Bible teaches that men can be effeminate and that they shouldn't.

Driscoll's mistake was not in taking the problem of effeminate men too seriously, but in making a flippant comment about something he knows to be a serious problem. In a day when certain men--from pirates to figure skaters to stand up comedians--wear eyeliner, and the typical sitcom dad is a henpecked oaf, we are overdue for some hard conversations about what manhood is supposed to look like. The Bible doesn't give us every specific we might want when it comes to defining masculinity. But it does start by telling us--and this is essential and by no means obvious to the world around us–that it's disgraceful for men to be women. Not because there's anything wrong with acting womanly of course. Praise God, women do it all the time. What's wrong is when men think it's no big deal for them to do it too.

View Comments


83 thoughts on “Play the Man”

  1. Wendi says:

    While I do believe the Bible teaches more along the lines of the complementarian point of view, I do think that Satan just LOVES these controversies which cause the Word of God to be misunderstood, miscommunicated, and distorted, so that what God intended (which He Himself called “good”)seems impossible to understand and achieve. It’s really all about balance: leadership, submission, biblical manhood/womanhood does NOT mean doormat wife and caveman husband, but it also doesn’t mean wimpy passive husband and domineering, boss-woman wife. We should look at the entire narrative of the life of Christ as our example. I think Mr. DeYoung expressed this struggle well, but should also be aware of his own flippant or stereotypical remarks.

  2. John Thomson says:


    Since all the teaching of Scripture is the teaching of Scripture Paul’s approval of the State’s use of the sword is a case of condoned violence. There is a difference between personal use of violence and violence when appropriately sanctioned by the State.

  3. Brad Williams says:

    Well said, sir! Well said, indeed!

  4. Grant says:


    Just because the text doesn’t say he actually hit someone with the whip, it is still a violent act. Jesus never says to just be violent, but there is a time and place for violence. Joshua, Judges, and most of the OT are littered with examples. Now should violence be a last resort sure. And while vengence is the Lord’s can’t people be his instruments of vengance?

    But no there are no passages in the Bible that I know where Jesus personally condones the use of violence. But just because Jesus doens’t say it verbatim does it mean that we ignore the evidence of the rest of the Bible?

    David was a violent man but also was a musician, I mean didn’t he play a harp or something. But he realized that sometimes violence is necessary. Because he was violent to protect the kingdom of Israel and honor his God is he an ungodly man? Same with Joshua and most of the Judges?

  5. Jack Brooks says:

    Now, having said what I said, I also wanted to say that the sensitivity police need to really just relax and recognize satire when they read it.

  6. Rose says:

    I wonder if it would be helpful to consider what we might learn about violence, hair length, “manliness,” by considering the example of Sampson, whose strength was in his hair? Do the commentators talk about this in connection to I Cor. 11?

  7. Jambo 73 says:

    Has Driscoll apologised for the offence he has caused? Surely that would be the manly thing to do. I’m not sure I see an apology anywhere…

    I feel for the guys in his church who are in his eyes effeminate-whatever that means. (It quite oftem seems to mean that they are not like Mark Drsicoll and his brand of manliness.) They must realise that he is judging them every time he sees them.

  8. Gary says:

    @ Steve M, Spot on Brother. I totally agree.

  9. Don Johnson says:

    There are a few things we can know about 1 Cor 11:14 and one is that it cannot be claiming long hair is wrong for a man. This is because Paul was a Torah observant Jew and paid for the Nazirite vows of 4 men in Acts 21. A Nazirite vow involves NOT cutting one’s hair and might be for any length of time.

    I post as I wish Kevin to more closely align with what the Bible actually teaches.

  10. henrybish says:

    I’m amazed at how many comments here have totally ignored what Driscoll’s statement actually said. He didn’t paint any stereotype:

    So what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?

  11. Luke says:

    The comment implies a stereotype. That worship leaders would lend themselves to being effeminate.

  12. Jim Jacobson says:

    I think this a well written commentary on a serious issue facing the church.

  13. Amanda B. says:

    Though I definitely appreciate DeYoung’s tone and his call for thoughtful discussion, I can’t agree with him that Driscoll’s intended point was, “Men should not be women.”

    It’s true that men shouldn’t be women. But IMO, a man can only “be a woman” by actively working to be one, doing things that his culture considers feminine *specifically* because he wants to (or feels like he needs to) project femininity. Men are, by default, not women, because they are MEN. Sure, things can happen along the way that distort how they view and act out their own sexuality. But couldn’t joking about these men actually propel them into gender confusion, not help lead them out of it?

    The term “…effeminate anatomically male worship leader” is not saying, “Men should not be women.” It’s asking for people to share stories about the most feminine-not-really-counting-as-a-man worship leader they ever witnessed. But the problem is that all anyone can see of those worship leaders are the externals. Driscoll’s comment essentially called for mockery of skinny, limp-wristed, high-pitched worship leaders who wear designer clothes and sing lots of luvvy worship songs. These are men who, we assume, are actually members of the Body of Christ, who haven’t obviously sinned in any way, who are probably as insecure as anybody else about being “real men”, and would probably not think it was funny to be called “effeminate anatomically male”.

    I can well believe that Driscoll is elsewhere making the point, “Men shouldn’t be women.” I can totally believe that he didn’t realize how hateful the tweet would sound to so many people (however innocent his actual intentions may or may not have been). But his tweet really, truly did call his Twitter followers to judge, and joke about, other Christian men who do not look or sound manly enough for their taste.

    The Body of Christ does indeed need to have conversations about this topic–but Driscoll’s tweet missed that conversation by a mile, and I don’t think it’s right to defend it on the grounds of what it should have/could have been. No matter how solid he is as a pastor overall, this was an inappropriate thing to say. I think “effemigate” ought to be addressed without either a) defaming his character personally, or b) downplaying his faux pas as anything less serious and hurtful than it really was.

  14. Rose says:

    I just noticed Grant’s comment about David. Though David was a man after God’s own heart, his violence was exactly what disqualified him to build the temple. I Chronicles 22:8

  15. Pete Alwinson says:

    Kevin, your thinking is really Biblical,clear and helpful! Arguably the biggest crises America is facing, and the church with it, is the gender crises! All the stats show that as the men of the culture and church goes, so goes the culture and church. And we’re not doing well. Mark Driscoll certainly is doing more to solve the gender problem we face than most Christian leaders. It often takes someone with the guts to speak clearly to get our attention. For that, thanks Mark. For those who want more balance, thanks Kevin!

  16. Kristina Taylor says:

    “Where many words are present, sin abounds” Proverbs is a great book. Twitter and Facebook can be such a “many words” trap. Occasionally everyone needs to just take a break and be busy doing other things than blogging and tweeting for the good of their souls.

  17. Rose says:

    Why do we assume that “acting like men” in I Cor. 16:13 and I Kings 2:2 have anything to say about not acting like women? Except for issues related to sexuality, does the Bible instruct not to act like women? In fact, in several places it puts forth women as examples to follow. It does say, “Don’t be like the horse or mule,” however. (Psalm 32:9)

  18. Graham Veale says:

    Before we discuss what a man should look like, we need to ask some other questions.
    Like, how many times does a leader need to apologise for bad leadership before we recognise that he is not fit for leadership?
    Like, why is it that we use the criteria of the secular marketplace (statistical growth)to judge the quality of leadership?
    Like, why do “shock-jocks” lead to a growth in numbers? Why is our rhetoric less like Paul’s and more like Howard Sterns?

    Carl Trueman has raised these questions in different ways. They are about the future of Reformed Evangelicalism. The very fact that we need to ask them suggests that we are facing a crisis in leadership.

    Graham Veale

  19. Graham Veale says:

    We are looking for leadership in all the wrong places. A good elder was a good family man to Paul’s mind. A good Dad. Not a single man with drive and entrepreneurial skills.
    My own father taught me that if you can’t be a good Dad, don’t bother being good at anything else. Our leaders should be good Father’s – or closely resemble good fathers. In the absence of those qualities, I could not care less for a Pastor’s rhetorical skill, personal energy, or academic ability.
    Is he a good son to his heavenly Father? Would he make a good father himself? If not, I don’t care if he resembles John Wayne or Rihcard Branson. He’s not masculine, and he’s not a leader.

    We need to look to faithful men, who have not had to do public penance for their failings as spiritual and biological fathers, as paradigms for leadership. Men like Geoff Thomas, or Peter Lewis, spring to mind.

    And if you don’t know who they are…google.

    Graham Veale

  20. JM says:

    Hi Pastor DeYoung,

    I just wanted to make a suggestion that it is best for a person to be acquainted with another’s work before making a judgment about them.

    Specifically, I’m talking about Rachel Held Evans, whom you mentioned in your Play the Man blog post.
    You see, I was directed to her some time ago by Tim Challies, and I naturally went over to her blog. What I read disgusted me – not just the heresy being sprouted, but that these people thought that they were actually Christians, and true Christians like Mr. Challies were deceived.
    Now, I’m now talking about her denigration of Biblical womanhood, which is bad in itself, or her deceptive protestations that she’s “just advancing the conversation” when pressed on this issue. I’m talking about legitimately heretical ideas being advanced not just on her blog posts, but also the comments section where she both condones and explicity promotes (with “yes, I agree” comments) these wrong ideas. What do I mean?:

    She and her readers believe that Rob Bell’s position is Biblical (“within historical, Biblical Christianity”) and some even agree with this sort of universalism.
    She and her readers believe that there is no correct interpretation of Scripture, and those who believe they have this correct interpretation are arrogant.
    Related to the previous point, she and her readers are critical of those who are big on theology, who want to promote reformed theology and the absolute sovereignty of God. This was exemplified by their visceral response to John Piper’s question and answer session with Rick Warren.
    Also related to the second point (or perhaps it’s the same thing), she and her readers make very explicity that they DO NOT BELIEVE in the SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE but that God word is some “good moral code” that is “general truth” that “God helped to inspire” and that “we must interpret it ourselves and find ways in which it makes our lives better.”

    If you think that this is a matter of grave concern, I would be willing to go onto her blog and find specific quotations demonstrating these points. There are other points as well, but these were the ones that impacted me the most and made me feel most terrible as I left the blog.

    In short, I do not believe that Ms. Evans is a Christian, and I wish that Christian bloggers and pastors would read and become well-acquainted with her work and beliefs (not just what she says when she is interrogated and adopts a different persona), before referencing her, giving her publicity, or supporting her by calling her a “Christian blogger.”

    I am not attacking anyone. She is free to spread what she wishes.
    I am only trying to spare others the disgust and anguish of reading what someone they trust as a Christian leader has directed them to, only to find out that they are reading a person and hundreds of supporters who believe that they are Christians, yet disparage and criticize traditional, historical, Biblical Christian beliefs that are at the center of true Christianity.

    In Christ,

  21. JM says:

    *edit: “Now, I’m NOT talking about her denigration of Biblical womanhood, which is bad in itself, or her deceptive protestations that she’s “just advancing the conversation” when pressed on this issue.”

  22. Pingback: Acre of Wheat
  23. Randy in Tulsa says:

    In I Corinthians 6, Paul says, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    Here, Paul, the Apostle of the gospel of grace, preached to the Corinthian church straight out of the moral law of God summarized in the 10 commandments. I don’t think the church has suddenly begun following the culture, I think the church has failed to lead the culture for years. American culture has fallen apart because the church by and large has taken a path of preaching a form of the gospel without the corresponding substance of the law of God, which is the means provided by God for regulating everything in his church, including people and practices.

    A year ago, a very talented young man who had led worship at our PCA church for a couple of years confessed to me that he was a homosexual. He was comfortable telling me this, because he knew that I had confessed adultery to the leadership of the church. We had both been sexually immoral and had been humiliated because of it. The young man’s confession didn’t surprise me. In a sense, not much does anymore when it comes to the realities of human (sin) nature in the church. What did shock me was that, after confessing his homosexuality, he told me that he just didn’t see how it was wrong. I was shocked because the young man had been raised in the PCA; he had been faithfully attending our PCA church for a couple of years and had even led worship in the church. I knew my sin was wrong. I hated my sin – my “real man” sin of adultery. Why didn’t he hate his sin? Why did he think it was okay? Why did he not fear God? As I thought back over the preceding years, I realized that I shouldn’t have been shocked by his statement. During those years, the moral law of God had been minimized, neglected and contradicted from the pulpit by sermons that emphasized grace/don’t try harder/just run to Jesus week after week after week. As an example, a sermon series on Matthew had avoided all of the imperatives in the book. The clear message was that “all moral lists are bunk,” and people who trust in Christ really never change their behavior. In fact, our behavior is not even an important issue. We just need to realize we all are sinners and rest in the finished work of Christ. Everything else will sort of take care of itself. The problem was that everything hadn’t just taken care of itself and worked out well for me, or for my young friend.

    After I was caught in my sin two years ago, my wife graciously led me to confess everything adulterous in my life, throughout our marriage and back to my youth. Freed of the burden of unconfessed sin, I truly repented. After my confession, the Lord led me providentially to sermons online by an OPC pastor who preached both parts of the gospel, including the wonders of God’s grace and the duties of the Christian life. He preached that, because we have everything necessary for life and Godliness in Christ Jesus, we should add to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and selfless love – expending every effort to make our calling and election sure. (II Peter sermons.) He preached both halves of Ephesians, the superlative work of Christ Jesus in Chapters 1 through 3 and the duty to walk according in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. He said Paul’s use of analogies to the athlete, the soldier and the farmer teach us to work hard in our Christian life, all by the grace and power of Christ living in us. He said that the most important word in the Bible was the word, “therefore.” Because of what Christ has done; therefore, walk this way. My wife and I were inspired to begin studying the doctrines of the Reformed faith. We came to realize that what we had been hearing from the pulpit wasn’t the Reformed faith at all. Moreover, it wasn’t biblical. In the text quoted above from I Corinthians, Paul makes it clear to the church that true faith should produce a truly new life.

    I would suggest that, if pastors preached the law of God as well as the gospel of grace, if they employed words like “confess” and “repent” as much as they used “grace” and “rest” (following the good examples of Jesus, Paul, the other Apostles and the Old Testament prophets), the church would find the answer to the dilemma noted in this article, along with so many other self-inflicted crises in the modern church.

  24. MM says:

    Kevin de Young: Thanks for weighing in on this. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the thoughtfulness and thoroughness you applied to “effemigate”. I actually learned about Mark Driscoll because Rachel Held Evans’ blog was featured in Slate magazine. Previously I had only read his name in a list of emerging church leaders. Your point number 2 about equating our preferred form of masculinity with “biblical manhood” is very important. I’ll add that it is very important not to equate our preferred form of femininity with “biblical womanhood”.

    And Randy in Tulsa: Your experience in the PCA is similar to one I had in Winston-Salem, NC. NT Wright’s “After You Believe” is very helpful on this, I think. In the event that you view Wright as suspect due to his exposition on Romans, I think that, except for feeling disappointed that Wright doesn’t see his book’s own thesis supported by traditional (American) Reformed theology, Michael Horton basically gives this particular book a thumbs up.

  25. Ben says:

    Dear JM,

    You indicated that you could give an example of Rachel Held Evans holding or approving “heretical views.” I’m interested in some examples.

    For instance, where does Rachel say that she does not believe “in the sufficiency of Scripture”?

    I, for one, think that Rachel is raising questions that the rest of the evangelical world would do well to thoughtfully engage with (without having to necessarily agree). I certainly don’t agree with every viewpoint she expresses, but I don’t think she’s a heretic. :)

    What makes her “not a Christian” in your view?

    In Christ,

  26. Scott Caesar says:

    Your Blog is not only Biblically balanced in this post, but enjoyably accurate. Keep up the good work my friend!
    Scott Caesar, Men’s Pastor, New York

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search this blog


Kevin DeYoung photo

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

Kevin DeYoung's Books