Masculine Christianity: A Review and Some Reflections



Summary: I would recommend the book. I want to read either an egalitarian book or egalitarian review of it to fulfill Proverbs 18:17, but upon first impression, the author makes a strong, persuasive case for hierarchicalism or patriarchy. I prefer the former word since it captures multiple dimensions of human experience: ecclesiology, political, familial, economic (see also my thoughts here). The author likewise uses the word "hierarchicalist" (pgs. 60-61) as an "apt" descriptor of his views, so while it is a mouthful and I am open to other labels, it is not just "my term," to clarify to my fellow podcasters (who I really did hope were going to talk about the confessional aspect of masculinity given the earful I heard on the original sin podcast the previous month!). In any case, the following were other thoughts I had planned to discuss on the podcast and have had a chance to more fully develop since then:


Men as Priests and "Masculine" Christianity


I liked that the author connected Adam's priestly role with his duty to guard his wife. There are no female priests in the Bible. Adam failed to guard his wife. The whole book of Judges is the failure of the Levites to fulfill their priestly, Adamic duty (chapters 17-21); the nation of Israel continually fell into syncretistic practices because of the Levitical failure to guard the people-bride. Only our Great High Priest, the last Adam, guards His household perfectly (which incidentally is a good argument for the eternal security of those rooted in Him by faith).


For Adam, his priestly role was situated in the context of the garden of Eden. This garden, then, was a temple. It was also a microcosmic picture of the heavens and earth. Further, since creation is God's house, if you read the tabernacle in this light, the most holy place is like God's living room with His throne - something every dad should have in his own living room! - the holy place is like a kitchen (with its bread and wine), and the courtyard like the door to His house. Other biblical architecture that can be regarded as microcosmic or macrocosmic temples mirror this. Door architecture, for example, can be seen in the door to Noah's ark, in gates to cities, in wombs to [new] births, etc. All of these are entrances into different scales of temples.


Now, while the following transition is abrupt, it must be pointed out that God is male. He is the Father of all. Analogies and metaphors are indeed used in which God's feminine qualities are expressed, but in no analogies or metaphors is God referred to as our mother, bride, sister, etc. He is not depicted as female. In contrast - and I think the author could have stated his case better if he had brought this side of the parallel out - the church is our mother (Galatians 4:26) and is God's bride (Revelation 21). The church is female. In fact, we human males are only "males" to the extent that just as God has authority over us, we are to image Him in having authority over other creations. That is, the church is God's female counterpart. I think this point especially bears emphasis for the sake of balance in a book called "Masculine Christianity," and I was disappointed not to see the author mention either of the passages above.


Remembering that the church is, in the eyes of God, female - the bride of Christ and our mother - return to the temple imagery and think of how the priests tended the holy place (kitchen) but could never rest (Sabbath) or recline in God's most holy place (living room). Compare that to now: we have access to rest in Christ, gathered around our Father's feet. Clearly, Christ is a better Husband and God is a better Father to us than we are to our wives and children! The temple-tabernacle-garden-city pictures are real life pictures, not just strange architecture that was divinely ordered for no reason. We just have lost sight of the meaning of these symbols.


Family


Speaking of families, the author refers to the family as the basic unit in society. I found it worth considering whether the church grounds the family or vice versa. Perhaps we should think of the church as the basic unit in [earthly] society, and to the extent the church disappears, society does as well (earthly families included). Let’s tease this out:


The context of Genesis 2 in which Adam is said to be “alone” is not as though he is the only worshipper of God. The sons of God witnessed the creation of the earth and all within it (Job 38:4-7). Angels are images of God who - although they are not heads of their own families, for they were not given the dominion mandate - also are members of heavenly Jerusalem, the church over whom the last Adam is now Head.


Rather, the context of Genesis 2 is that Adam was created without an earthly family of his own over which he was head. While the creation of Adam was good, this situation was not good, for while he could worship and commune with God as the heavenly host as God's image - and perhaps we see him do this to the best of his ability at the time in his naming of the animals - his situation did not mirror the Trinitarian family's masculine relation to its feminine counterpart (specifically, its relation to the church, who was designed to be God’s helper in bringing creation from one degree of glory to another). Animals were not Adam’s feminine counterparts. Hence, woman was needed for Adam to bear a relation like God has to His people.


To put it simply: upon his creation, Adam was incorporated into the church, the divine family. Like angels, he was called a son of God and member of a family before any intentional act of worship on his part or any earthly family over which he was head. His (and our) earthly family, then, was patterned after the relationship between God and the church.


Now, there is a feedback loop: while the church came first, the family propagated from Adam is the means by which the church endures upon the earth. Hence the qualifications for elders in the church, for example, is to examine how they are as fathers and husbands. But the only means by which one could know and meet these qualifications in the first place is if those fathers/husbands had a church in which to learn what a good father/husband is. I think Exodus 18:21 gives another picture of this if you consider Moses as an image of the Father, Christ, and Adam in various respects, but I won't elaborate on that here. The point is to argue the ecclesial body is basic; hence, Jesus stated that the gospel will sometimes tear earthly families apart. Such doesn't annihilate earthly society. On the contrary, it reforms it by death and resurrection.


Society stems from the Trinity. The divine family and society were sufficient apart from creation. People sometimes question whether society is top-down or bottom-up. How does a society hold together? How it does likely reflects the way in which the Trinitarian members inter-relate. An argument for it being top-down would be that those with authority come “before” those who submit to them, perhaps analogously to the unbegotten Father's relationship with the eternally begotten Son (and Spirit, of course). An argument for it being bottom-up could be that perhaps the Father could not be the “Father” without a Son such that the family life of the Trinity grounds its community or even its governmental structure, after which human life is patterned. I'm not sure about this. Delving into the Trinity is always deep stuff. But there is certainly more depth to the conversation to be had along these lines.


Either way, I think that apart from life in the divine family and society, one’s own family and society breaks down, and the way in which we become members of this family is through the church. I would argue that to the extent that an earthly society has not broken down, such is because it images or imitates - intentionally or not - the society of the Trinity. The phrase “borrowing the Christian worldview” extends much to more than epistemology.


Thus, the earthly family is not the basic unit in society. The family is dead apart from the divine life that flows from the Trinity to it through the church. In fact, earthly marriages terminate upon death, and yet once we are raised again, our society will be more full of life than ever, for we, the church, will be the bride of Christ in a consummated sense.


Man and Woman


Regarding the debate on complementarianism, patriarchy, hierarchicalism, or however one wants to speak of the position defended in the book, the author was at his best in the exegetical case he made for his position. Page 130's ten arguments supporting Adam’s authority over woman were very thorough:


1) Adam was created first

2) Adam had a protective role over Eve in the garden

3) Adam had a teaching role over Eve as the one who taught her God’s Law

4) Eve was created as a helper for Adam

5) Adam named Eve

6) God went to Adam first after he and Eve sinned even though Eve sinned first

7) God rebuked Adam for listening to Eve

8) God only told Adam he would die, yet Eve also died

9) God named humanity after Adam

10)Adam represented the human race in the garden


With that being said, I thought the weakest part of the book was the author’s interaction with cases like Deborah. I'm betting egalitarians make a big point of this and similar stories, and chalking it up to a special case required more work (especially since he spent whole chapters in the book on other, specific contexts). While he moved on too quickly for me in such cases and I would be interested in him elaborating on some thoughts he had, he did well with to reference Isaiah 3:12 as an indication of normativity.


I also would have liked to have seen more what he thought women could do in the public sphere, if anything (e.g. teaching kids, counseling women, etc.). The author argued “Adam had a protective role over Eve in the garden,” and if the garden was Adam and woman’s home, I suppose his inference was that the natural place of the woman is in the home, where the husband can best protect her. In the podcast, the idea of man being the sole provider was brought up. I think it would have been a good question to ask what it means to be a “provider” – is this monetary, food/water, clothes, shelter, etc.? Is it the bringing of these materials and/or the fashioning of them to functional use? I seem to recall that wives in the Old Testament were given a mohar or bride-price they were allowed to use as they pleased, giving them financial independence to invest with or have their own servants or the like. I didn't see much attention in the book to stuff like that or what could be done by woman outside of the context of the home as much as what could not. This is not to suggest being a "housewife" is somehow a less than or incomplete duty of being a mother - one's kids and one’s home are more important than the other things I'm alluding to. But I would’ve been interested in more along these lines.


Counter-Cultural Action


Generally, I think the author could have "steel manned" feminism a bit better, although I will say that after reading the book in its entirety, it was a smaller issue than I had at first supposed it would be. Given that the argument in this book pushes against the cultural grain, one question worth asking is how one practically goes about exercising authority or convincing others? Truth is primary, but if apologetics is practical and has multiple, legitimate entry points (as I think it does), what would be a good starting point when talking to an egalitarian or feminist? This is probably situation dependent.


One entry point I would not take is that modern men are "too nice." The whole "niceness is weakness" movement misses me, for example. The "what is being nice?" battle is not a meaningful hill to die on, in my opinion. I would just not want people to sway people away from this book or position on technicalities. I get that we don't always have to be polite, gentle, or "nice" - there are times when we should not be these things, and such are circumstance-dependent - and that "white-knighting" is a perversion of man's protective nature. People can be wrong, and it is a good thing to point out that they are wrong, provided that one's motives are not self-glorifying but with the purpose of loving God and one's neighbor.


But a gentle correction or thought for reflection goes a long way towards building the kinds of relationships that allow for further, meaningful input that will be accepted. When I teach my kids and they make a mistake, for example, I don't belittle them or even straightaway make the correction. Rather, I make it a point to notice the things I like about their work before mentioning what they should reconsider. If they are falling asleep in my class, I jokingly ask if they stayed up late practicing math problems again. This kind of interaction tends to build rapport and positively redirect them. There are exceptions just as much as there are other areas of my life in which I could improve by following my own advice.


And that is where I think we should begin: not with trying to convince people who we aren't around as though trying to prove a point, but in our own locales. In cases where established relationships already exist, these conversations can actually be harder to have, especially when there is likely to be disagreement. But, like priests, we have to guard ourselves and our families. For example, one thought I had while reading the book was, if feminists don't have children, how will they proliferate unless they come after ours? There are times when confrontation is necessary, and there are times when removing your family from negative environments is the best you can do. In any case, one has to exert authority ordained by God, through God’s word.


Finally, while rearing kids is important, I don't know that it is "our most important task" or that we should "order our life" around them. Maybe he means something softer, but it is healthy for kids to understand that the world does not revolve around them. It doesn’t revolve around the parents, for that matter. And even if we want to say that God obviously comes first in all of our lives, I recall a Voddie Baucham message in which he told his kids that his wife is more important than them (or something like that) because they would grow up and leave to start their own families, whereas he and she were family until death does them part. This makes sense to me. A husband and wife shouldn’t fall apart as “empty nesters,” nor should they try to parent grandchildren. Each husband and wife is a head and body, “one” which gives birth to other heads and bodies.


Advice


With all of the above in mind, here is some practical advice to young men looking for a godly woman: don’t use this book (or any other) as a hammer. At some point early on in the relationship, I would make it clear that you like her, can see a future with her, and want to discuss deal breakers: are you a Christian? Would you go to the church I go to? Do you want kids? Do you have a traditional view of men and women? These are easy openers for that can be expanded on as you "lead" the conversation, of course paying attention to her thoughts or interests as well to see if your vision of a biblical marriage matches hers.


Practical advice to husbands: a daily question to not just routinely gloss over but to sit in your car, with the radio off, and really think about is, do you love your wives as Christ loved the church? What are her needs? You are called to lead/protect/guard/provide and do so intellectually/emotionally/spiritually/physically, but in an understanding way. 1 Peter 3:7 can be a haunting passage if you read this book, accept its conclusion, but don't follow through in the right way.


- Ryan

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