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.