The rise of “Top Gear spirituality”

Image: Wolfgang Sauber (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Jem Bloomfield has written an interesting post on the growth of a certain type of macho rhetoric in certain Christian circles. I don’t particularly want to get enmeshed in the specific instance Jem is talking about, but it does seem to confirm a trend within English evangelicalism that I’ve noticed before. (Though I must admit that my links with that brand of evangelicalism now barely even qualify as “tenuous”.)

This is the tendency towards what I sometimes call “Top Gear spirituality”. I first encountered this the last time I attended the London Men’s Convention, back in 2009. Another attendee at the same event described it well:

As John has put it, there was, at times, a ‘Top Gear’ spirituality (Top Gear is a popular British TV programme where middle aged men salivate over an array of sports cars). You can guess the kinds of things – jokes about sports teams, jokes about baldness (lots of them!), jokes about scrotums. All the usual stuff. There was an uncomfortable insistence on making fun of the main speaker (Tim Keller) in a laddish kind of, ‘Hey, you big bald son of a gun. Not much hair on you is there? Baldy. You big bald son of a bald man. Ha!’ That kind of thing. Graciously Keller did not call down bear attacks as was his right as prophet of the LORD. Now that really would have sorted out the men from the boys.

I expanded on this in a post on the BHT a month or so later, which I’m reposting below, partly since the “Christian laddishness” – beer! self-conscious swearing! where’s your sense of humour! – that Jem is describing seems to fit exactly with what I was saying in that post (even if my reference to Mark Driscoll has been somewhat overtaken by events).

From the Boar’s Head Tavern, 11 May 2009: 

Men want more “manly anthems”, less girly emotional stuff in church, says a readers survey for “Sorted”, a UK Christian magazine for men. The editor of “Sorted” comments:

I am fed up with singing these sentimental lovey dovey songs. On the football terraces we are very passionate, chanting and cheering, and we want more songs like that. We want fewer girly songs.


At least when John Piper, Mark Driscoll and so on talk about “real men”, the stereotypes they come up with are (in general) stereotypes of male responsibility: protecting your wife and family from intruders, digging the garden, fixing the car, etc.

When British evangelicals start talking about being “real men”, they reach for the worst examples of male irresponsibility and arrested development: “on the football terraces”, magazine titles like “Sorted” (’nuff respect on da street, mon!), laddish banter and so on.

I’ve encountered some pretty icky “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs – though nothing, it has to be said, to compare with traditional interpretations of the Song of Songs as a dialogue between Christ and the church – but putting songs (and other features of church life) on a scale from “effeminate” to “manly” is simply the wrong paradigm.

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  1. To be fair, the few Christian men’s days—I generally steer clear of such things—that I have attended in the UK have pleasantly surprised me. There has been none of the laddishness and the macho spirituality of the likes of Driscoll has been critiqued as well.

    On the other hand, some of the most spiritually enriching and stimulating times I have ever spent have been fraternal meetings with groups of other Christian men (groups meeting for prayer, preaching, or theological discussion). Male-only groups can be conducive and catalytic for certain forms of interactions and dynamics that are tremendously worthwhile and that cannot easily be found or enjoyed in mixed groups. The problems, in my experience, tend to arise when we start to socialize around our masculinity. When that occurs, we are all expected to play into tired gender stereotypes, even though many of us are completely uninterested in cars, talking about football, ‘banter’, drinking, etc. (or the corresponding stereotypes in the US). Masculinity is powerful and real, and there is great value to be found in homosocial interactions. However, it is a subtle and elusive reality and tends to be exert its influence in less direct ways.

    1. Hi Alastair, yes, important as you say to remember that “Christian laddishness” isn’t the only (or even the predominant) model of masculinity being offered in the church. Glen Scrivener’s post that I quoted acknowledged this point as well.

      Sadly, though, it’s the laddish side that Jem seems to have run into in the exchanges surrounding his blog post.

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