It is hardly a newsflash that we've been living through an era of upheaval in gender roles. Churches have been divided over the role of women in ministry. In "Young, Restless, Reformed" circles, a new generation is discovering Jonathan Edwards and "masculine Christianity" in one fell swoop. Weaned on romantic—even sentimental—images of a deity who seems to exist to ensure our emotional and psychic equilibrium, many younger Christians (especially men) are drawn to a robust vision of a loving and sovereign, holy and gracious, merciful and just, powerful and tender King. As David Murrow pointed out in Why Men Hate Going to Church (2004), men are tired of singing love songs to Jesus and don't feel comfortable in a "safe environment" that caters to women, children, and older people. His critique is familiar to many: men don't like "conformity, control, and ceremony," so churches need to "adjust the thermostat" and orient their ministry toward giving men tasks (since they're "doers"). Men don't like to learn by instruction; they need object lessons and, most of all, to find ways to discover truth for themselves.

I get the point about a "soft" ministry, especially worship, with its caressing muzak and the inoffensive drone of its always-affirming message. It's predictably and tediously "safe." Get the women there and they'll bring their husbands and children. Not only has that not worked, it's sure to bore any guy who doesn't want to hear childrearing tips or yet another pep talk on how to have better relationships.

Having said all that, where did we get the idea that men are insecure jerks who can't learn anything or belong to the communion of saints as recipients of grace? And are we really ready to identify shallow sentimentalism with "feminization" of the church? Do godly women want this any more than men? In my experience at least, a lot of men and women alike are devouring good books of theology these days, especially in Reformation circles. Yet also in my experience, women—and men—are still being distracted from being immersed in the faith by countless exercises in "applied Christianity" (i.e., niche studies) without much "Christianity" to apply.

The stereotypes can be as belittling to men as to women. Jesus' disciples were, well, disciples. They followed Jesus and listened intently to his teaching. Not incidentally, there were women, too. Mary broke the stereotype by being catechized by Jesus when her sister Martha thought she should be making coffee for the next group.

Take the stereotype that men don't like to be taught; they like to discover truth for themselves. This is as cliché as saying that real men don't ask for directions. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus may have some interesting generalizations, but a lot of gender differences are cultural. In a society bombarded by niche-demographic marketing, what may have appealed to just about anybody in another era is packaged specifically for men or women (or children or teenagers or older folks).

In the drive to make churches more guy-friendly, we risk confusing cultural (especially American) customs with biblical discipleship. One noted pastor has said that God gave Christianity a "masculine feel." Another contrasted "latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers" with "real men." Jesus and his buddies were "dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes." Real Christian men like Jesus and Paul "are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal." Seriously?

The back story on all of this is the rise of the "masculine Christianity movement" in Victorian England, especially with Charles Kingsley's fictional stories in Two Years Ago (1857). D. L. Moody popularized the movement in the United States and baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday preached it as he pretended to hit a home run against the devil. For those of us raised on testimonies from recently converted football players in youth group, Tim Tebow is hardly a new phenomenon. Reacting against the safe deity, John Eldredge's Wild at Heart (2001) offered a God who is wild and unpredictable. Neither image is grounded adequately in Scripture. With good intentions, the Promise Keepers movement apparently did not have a significant lasting impact. Nor, I predict, will the call of New Calvinists to a Jesus with "callused hands and big biceps," "the Ultimate Fighting Jesus."

Are these really the images we have of men in the Scriptures? Furthermore, are these the characteristics that the New Testament highlights as "the fruit of the Spirit"—which, apparently, is not gender-specific? "Gentleness, meekness, self-control," "growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ," "submitting to your leaders," and the like? Officers are to be "apt to teach," "preaching the truth in love," not quenching a bruised reed or putting out a smoldering candle, and the like. There is nothing about beating people up or belonging to a biker club.

And what about the fact that women as well as men are identified as "disciples" in the New Testament—something that was quite unusual for Second Temple Jews? Or Paul's expressions of gratitude and greeting to the women who assisted him in his work? Not to mention that "there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). It was Dorothy Sayers who castigated the pale curates of England for serving up a thin soup of moralism instead of the serious, dramatic, and counterintuitive message of the gospel: "the greatest story ever told." She wasn't trying to "masculinize" or "feminize" the gospel, but to join the throng of Zion's worshippers in all times and places. "In Christ," not "in manhood" or "in womanhood," is our ultimate location. One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

So enough with the beards (if it's making a spiritual statement). Enough with the "federal husband" syndrome that goes beyond the legitimate spiritual leadership of the heads of households found in Scripture. Enough of the bravado that actually misunderstands—sometimes rather deeply—what real sanctification looks like in the lives of men as well as women. And why does every famous pastor today have to write a book about his marriage and family? Beyond Scripture, there is godly wisdom and Christian liberty. Biblical principles focus on what it means to live in Christ by his Word and Spirit, and even in those few passages that speak directly to men and women, there will be legitimate diversity in application.

My point is that the larger goal here shouldn't be to trot out more gender stereotypes from our culture, whether feminist or neo-Victorian, but rather to rediscover the ministry that Christ has ordained for making disciples of all nations, all generations, and both genders. We need less niche marketing and more meat-and-potatoes service to the whole body of Christ. There, men and women, the young and the old and the middle aged, black, white, Latino, Asian, rich and poor hear God's Word together, pray and sing God's Word together, and are made one body by receiving Christ's body and blood together: "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." In that place, at least, there are no women's Bible studies and men's Bible studies, distracted youth groups and child-free golden oldies clubs, but brothers and sisters on pilgrimage to a better homeland than those that have been fashioned for us by this passing evil age.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, and The Christian Faith


Comments We've Received

The author does have a point , we can get so caught up into drawing men to Christianity that we can distort the message and the purpose. However Christianity has had years of soften that has made it less attractive to men. It has become passive in it's application and has lost it's evangelistic zeal. We have become content with preaching, teaching, and healing the church, yet have neglected the reason why we were called into this marvelous light.     Men tend to be drawn more to action, think of how the Apostles were motivated when Christ sent them out the teach, heal, and cast out demons. With that said I believe there is a place for all of us, male and female because there are many gifts, some more openly active than others. We need to maintain a balance in that we do not deny Christ's masculinity by overshadowing it with a water down version of his manhood. We must remember that Christ is truly human, truly man, and truly God, and all that entails.    Elder JD


I appreciate Michael Horton's piece on "Muscular Christianity" and trust that it will help to begin the process of clarifying the relationship between sports and Christianity.  It seems that whenever an athlete mentions the Lord in a post-game interview or lays claim to being a Christian, both the media and the Christian community sit up and take notice.  This carries with it the potential for creating both positive and negative effects upon the cause of Christ.

A number of more qualified individuals than I have debated and written about this issue for several years.  In 2000 when I initiated an academic program leading to a degree in Sports Ministry at the college where I taught, admittedly I began looking for Christian athletes to serve as "role models."  My search resulted in both rewards and disappointments.  Not every athlete who professes faith in Jesus Christ is necessarily ready to  be paraded about as a "Christian poster child" any more than is the average church member.

Admittedly, my "spiritual juices" get stirred when I hear of an athlete's relationship with Christ.  Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, and other lesser knowns who "play for Jesus" have energized us to perhaps be bolder in sharing our own faith in the gym or around the water cooler.  But for every Tebow or Lin, whose testimonies appear to be clear, there are lesser mature athletes whose off-the-field (as well as sometimes on-the-field) behavior results in a "mixed message," 
especially to younger aspiring athletes who look up to them.  I have actually had to apologize to my students for holding up a particular athlete after discovering that he has fathered children out of wedlock with different women while, at the same time, openly sharing his "faith in Christ."

Let's face it, even Christians tend to be "hero worshipers," and it is often the  "athlete" part and not the "Christian" part that appeals to us.  Name recognition, especially in sports, can be a big drawing card.  But we need to ask, "what is the message that crowd will take with them when they leave?"  More often that not, or so it seems, that message is a confused one.

We need to pray for any and every athlete who comes out for Christ.  
They need to be discipled before being "turned loose" on the public.  
The lure of fame and all of its perks is a hard-to-risk temptation for them, and if a Christian athlete should fall, the media is all over it.  To indiscriminately place Christian sports personalities on the 
covers of Christian magazines only increases their vulnerability.  
Unfortunately, most of those publications do not sense this.  I am a huge supporter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but I fear that ministry is not always as discerning as it needs to be in who they feature in their magazine.  We need to remember that our Lord's Great Commission is that we make disciples (Matthew 28:19) and not just decisions.

As for us, as hard as it is to do at times, our eyes need to remain fixed on Jesus...and Him alone (Hebrews 12:2).  All men--even the most Godly of Christian athletes--have feet of clay.  Jesus alone is our consistent example.  To paraphrase Paul, it should not be "I am of Tebow" or "I am of Lin" (or any other man), but "I am of Christ."  I am grateful for those who are able to use their athletic platform to make Christ known, but I have learned to tread carefully in pointing others to them, knowing that all of them are flawed...just like I am.

Perhaps the best advice in this regard is found in Paul's words:  
"Follow my example, as (or only to the extent that) I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Pastor G.


I was just reading some of your e-news about the Bible having a certain masculine feel.  The first thing that came to mind was ‘militant’.  I like ‘militant’.
I was just discussing with some of my Christian sisters that we are not putting on the big view glasses here.  Christians are hollering (not wrong, mind you) that America is in serious trouble and may be falling, yes; but what I am seeing is: 

America was made by God for God and His plans will not be thwarted!  While society is milling around like the populace did around Noah’s ark, God’s elect are slamming the gates of hell.  That is militant and that is masculine. 

And, that being said, America has sent 75% of the world’s missions and the gospel is being preached 24/7 via satellites around the world.  And the gospel of the kingdom is preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations the end shall come.  Take heed no man deceive you.  (Matthew 24:24 and 4). 

So, the masculine works for this sister.

Love in Christ Jesus,
Marcia E.


Dear Sirs:

When I envision the biblical masculine role in the Christian Family, I see the portrayal of Michael Oher in “The Blind Side”. Slow to anger, but (above all else) protective of those he loves. Not being to proud to “play” with his adoptive younger brother S.J. I see many of the values that Jesus brought to us: Not forbidding young children to approach, obedience, respect, and when his family is threatened, protective. Who would accuse Michael Oher of being “effeminate”? Not me!

Bryan H


I vote with Horton. He attempts to see the whole of the Bible rather than find the texts that support the whim of the moment as so many evangelicals do.



I wrote a blog about this a couple of days ago. I think he’s somewhat off the mark…
Hope you find it interesting.

With you in the Great Adventure,


Amen.  There are many ignorant ideas running rampant these days.  Thanks for some common "Biblical" sense!  We are called to be holy because God is holy.  It is our calling as followers of Christ and it is neither easy nor effeminate.

Thanks for soliciting opinions.

Tim H


I found it strange and somewhat disorienting reading Michael Horton's critique of "masculine Christianity". He must be sampling a different pool than I am living in because his (mis)characterizations of the message bore little resemblance to what I have experienced.

In my analysis and experience this issue boils down to a simple question: Did God create men and women to live and experience life identically? His article contained several unfortunate false characterizations. The one that most bears comment is of the supposed promotion of men punching the opposition in the nose. Noone advocates violent behavior except in defense of self , the weak, the innocent or our loved ones. Further, the fruits of the Spirit are actualized very differently between the sexes as well as between individuals.
Through the years our society, in response to agitation by people who are hostile to our faith, have begun to demand that men and women act and should be treated as if there are no differences between us. More accurately, men are told that in order to be moral, holy and mature we should act more like women. I have observed that this impulse produces men who are miserable, aimless and lack a significant sense of identity.

Men and women are both created in the image of God but often reflect difference aspects of that image. Possibly Dr. Horton has, like me, worked for many years learning how to be nice without learning what God created a man to be. I hope he begins, as I have, learning that nice and good are often mutually exclusive. Men of good faith will need to decide which is essential.

Thom I


Muscular Christianity
Michael S. Horton
May 2012

Among the contradictions of my childhood experiences in churches was the fact that, on one hand, there was the famous portrait of Jesus by Warner Sallman—meek and mild verging on the effeminate—and, on the other hand, the appearance of various sports figures to remind us that Jesus was not just male but a man's man who ran the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip