Men…pray this…If this is the man I am to become, may I be given the grace to lift my robe and run, like the prodigal father, with vulnerability and without fear, into the brokenness of the world – even as the onlookers jeer.
Here’s a question I got recently: Why has the Church become so feminized?
The young guy who asked me was earnest and sincere, and quite tuned in to conversations in the blogosphere on all things masculine in the church – men’s “roles,” authority issues, and more. He’d come to embrace a certain narrative that goes something like this: Until recent decades the church was run by men. Liberalism and feminism contributed to the rise of women, the softening of biblical authority, and the feminization of the church. Today, the church is more highly populated by women, but men of integrity must show renewed commitment to biblical authority and biblical roles, which will bring men back to church and bring Gospel renewal. He said to me, “Chuck, what I think the church needs is men without fear, men willing to stand for truth.”
I respectfully disagree with the entire narrative. In fact, though I respect the sincerity of this opinion, I think it’s been embraced by young men who don’t know much theology or church history, and who are often led by older men who, for whatever reason, actually live in tremendous fear. Let me explain with an alternative narrative.
What I believe the Bible teaches is that Yahweh, unlike the hyper-masculine gods of the ancient near east, dares to break the rules and enters in – vulnerably – to the pain and sin of humanity. From Genesis 3, God acts in grace, knitting clothing for his ashamed children. Time and again, he breaks through the barrier, vulnerably pledging faithfulness against all odds, amidst a people who continually break trust. In covenant, Yahweh pledges to take the ultimate hit instead of landing the final blow. Over and again, Yahweh says, “Yet, I will return to my people and forgive their sins and restore them,” a knockout blow to a theology of violence, of sacrifice, of entitled position and role.
In Jesus, the character of God becomes crystal clear. Jesus sacrificed glory to become human. He became a man…
…but a man who’d be the laughingstock to most ‘manly men’ of his day. Sure, some point to Jesus over-turning the temple tables as the example of the masculine God. But this is silly, really. If you want to psychologize the text, see it as an example of his extraordinary range of emotion. If you want to make Jesus into a UFC fighter and a tough guy, you’d have to read the Gospels with an agenda, an agenda that Jesus would overturn with equal passion.
One story, however, tells the Grand Story of the Incarnation – Luke 15 – the prodigal son (and as some say, the prodigal ‘father’) passage. It’s a story about a man who so loves his son that he is willing to look like a woman to save him. Read that line again. This isn’t me saying this. Read the many great books of Kenneth Bailey, a writer I was first exposed to when his text was assigned in seminary at RTS Orlando. A middle eastern scholar, Bailey lifts the veil, showing that what the father did only a mother in that day would do. In running to his son, he brought shame to himself. In exposing his legs, he looked like a woman. In his display of raw emotion, he’d be cast better as the over-emotional female than the stoic male. This, I suggest, is God’s character revealed in the Incarnation.
(Editor’s note: Chuck DeGroat is Vice President of Newbigin House of Studies, author of Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places, and a Teaching Pastor at City Church San Francisco (RCA). He is a graduate of RTS Orlando and was originally ordained in the PCA.)