Jesus and Masculinity

Jesus and Masculinity January 8, 2012

I both get it and don’t get it … this whole Jesus must be masculine thing. But, as I say in my Blue Parakeet book, we are SOOOO good at making Jesus in our own image. (There’s a little test for this at the back of that book. I give it to my Jesus class every time I teach the class.)

Making Jesus what we want Jesus to be is perhaps the Christian’s biggest temptation, and that is why I like this pushback by Brant Hansen against Mark Driscoll’s masculine-Jesus-image fantasy.

The proper response to Jesus is not to make him in our image, but to watch and listen — to the Gospels. What we often encounter there is that we need to get ready to be deconstructed.

No, Jesus wasn’t a pansy.  Of course.  But, like they say on ESPN’s NFL show:  C’mon, man.

“Latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers do not represent biblical masculinity, because real men — like Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist — are dudes:  heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.  In other words, because Jesus is not a limp-wristed, dress-wearing hippie, the men created in his image are not sissified church boys; they are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.”

That’s the opinion of Mark Driscoll, who’s a well-hyped pastor, author, opinion-shaper, and rabble-rouser.  I loves me some rabble-rousing, and I really enjoy discussing of who Jesus really is, but… Mark is wrong.  (And if you don’t like it, Mark, bring it on, big boy.  You’ll probably whip me, but I swing a mean accordion.  Plus, and I normally wouldn’t say this, but since we’re being “assertive”:  I’m very likely stronger and fitter than you.  Man, is it ever getting junior high in here.)

We don’t get to make Jesus in our image, or in our favorite image, either, even if we love Ultimate Fighting.  “Nonverbal”?  Jesus?  Really?  Who says?  (Oddly, if Christ-like-ness means “nonverbal”, Driscoll might want to repent of his famous 1.5 hour sermons. And all those books.)

“Punch-you-in-the-nose”…?  Which Biblical book did you find that one in, Rock?  First Ecclesians?…

Yes, Jesus was a man.  The Ultimate Man, with guts.  And we should be men who have guts, too.  Guts!

So let’s have the guts to look at him as he is, rather than our little-boy ideas about what manhood is all about.

Read more of Brant’s piece here.


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  • Ben

    Let’s be level here. Driscoll called Jesus tough AND TENDER. It’s not like he said that Jesus was only this way.

  • Cal

    Why do we forget Jesus said “Turn the other Cheek”? It takes more guts to take a punch to the face than to dish one out, to be long suffering and kind than “not taking crap from anyone”.

  • “So let’s have the guts to look at him as he is, rather than our little-boy ideas about what manhood is all about.”

    If we want to mold ourselves into his image, we have to figure out what that image is. Yes, there’s always a danger of molding Jesus into our image, but it’s a risk we have to take.

    As for Hansen’s frankly unkind characterization of Driscoll’s work, you can disagree with his work without name-calling.

    Frankly, I’m glad someone’s willing to tell men they don’t have to become women to be Christians.

  • scotmcknight

    Let me illustrate why we must push against Driscoll’s colonizing of Jesus:

    Here’s the quote: ““Latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers do not represent biblical masculinity, because real men — like Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist — are dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes. In other words, because Jesus is not a limp-wristed, dress-wearing hippie, the men created in his image are not sissified church boys; they are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.”

    Now questions: Why does he use the word “heterosexual”? Isn’t that a statement about marriage or sexual virility? Is there evidence any of these was married? Jesus, no. J-B, no. Paul, well maybe, but many think he was not married. [Or is Driscoll using that term as a covert criticism of homosexuality?]

    Punch you in the face? I find that expression deplorably inaccurate to describe Jesus, Paul and J-B.

  • MattR

    Money quote: “So let’s have the guts to look at him as he is, rather than our little-boy ideas about what manhood is all about.”

    ChrisB, what I hear is exactly that, a rather boy-ish (not manly) view of manhood imposed on Jesus and the Biblical text.

    The underlying assumption seems to be about what manhood is (like an MMA cage fighter), and says God is like such a ‘man.’ I’m glad someone has the guts to call this out for what it is!

  • Having also criticized (t)his view in the past, I was happy to see him pretty much critique this ‘tough-guy’ view in his new book.

  • TJJ

    I am not a Driscoll fan. I am not really big on projecting Jesus as a red neck, sports fan, hunter, rough/tough good ole Boy. But having lived and ministered in small rural southern town at different times in my life, I do understand it.

    For many men in the culture Jesus does need to be “incarnated” to them (though not distorted in an unbiblical way), or they really will/do not want anything to do with Jesus.

    Past/historical images of Jesus have at times bordered on a neutered or asexual person, or a metrosexual if you will.
    That may go over well in Universities and northeastern parts of the US, but it goes nowhere in rural south, midwest, west. Nowhere.

    Add to that an all to common church culture where songs and hymns and prayer language and forms of worship appeals and trends more to female emotions and sensibilities than male.

    As long as that emphasis is not taken too far and too overdone or unbalanced, I understand it and I can live with it.

  • The sort of “biblical masculinity” defined by sexuality, the need to win, and aggression have caused all sorts of mischief. I get that Driscoll is trying to reach out to “manly men,” and I’m glad that he’s doing it, because somebody has to. And it’s probably not going to be me, because frankly the sort of men who are focused on attaining dominance through sexuality and aggression are they type of men good mothers teach their daughters to steer clear of.

    “The men created in his image are not sissified church boys.” What about the women created in his image? And what is so wrong with the traits that are being considered “female”? Denouncing “feminine” traits as negative (in men, at least) is subtly (or not so subtly) misogynistic. When people say things like “I’m glad someone is telling Christian men that they don’t have to become women to become Christians” it stings, because they’re not talking about actually becoming a woman–they’re talking about the way women think and act, and casting it as negative.

    What’s wrong with latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers, or limp-wristed hippies in dresses? Nothing, thank you. How about we focus on nurturing the fruits of the Spirit (which last time I heard didn’t involve aggression or sparring for dominance) and let people be who God created them to be, instead of squeezing men and women into “biblical” molds that really are not biblical at all?

  • RJS


    Does Driscoll critique it in his new book? I haven’t read it, so I don’t know.

  • PLTK


    whatever Driscoll’s other words on this subject, these words are hateful and immature… calling him out for this type of language, which frankly falls within what most people would call immature and bullying should be done.

    Not only that, but the words are neither accurate or biblical.

    TJJ, while some of the traditional images of Jesus from paintings in earlier centuries do not portray a man who was familiar with hard work and are probably not very accurate. On the other hand, I can’t see where you get the idea that our traditional methods of worship (singing and praying language, etc) are any more appealing to today’s women as compared to men. And pandering to machismo isn’t very helpful to men.

    Finally, if you look at church attendance stats, while more women than men still attend church, women are leaving church at a much higher percentage now as compared to men–it seems that our current state of worship and fellowship in American churches is even less appealing to women. Or maybe that might be due to the resurgence of the complementarian/patriarchal movement of the last decade.

  • E.A.B

    Something about this discussion puzzles me. I don’t understand why it matters that Jesus was male. Is it his maleness that provides salvation, and empowerment? Or is it his humanness?
    I would also honestly like to know what is meant by having “to become women to be Christians”? Can someone tell me what that means? What, about Christianity, is uniquely female or male? I guess I don’t see it.
    I think comments like Driscoll’s, and statements such as “the feminization of the church” serve more to bring confusion and division in the church than unity. When I look at the life and words of Jesus, I want to emulate him in every way because I want to be a friend of God. I want to preach the good news and see the captive set free. But I don’t think that the things that Jesus commanded us to do—love each other, preach the good news to every nation, and make disciples—have anything to do with one’s gender. I can see how emphasizing only certain expressions of Christian witness can prevent people from feeling welcome, but that is a problem we humans struggle with all the time—finding balance. There should be room at the table for all of God’s people along with their unique expressions.

  • John W Frye

    Yes, Jesus died on the cross only for cowboys.

  • Dan

    I think Jesus wore his hair high in a pompadour and would listen to rockabilly music and not like contemporary Christian pop music too much. I can make a biblical case somehow for that if necessary.

  • DRT

    I am regularly discriminated against because of the stereotype Driscoll is perpetuating and I am sick of it. I am a deep voiced, confident, messy, motorcycle riding, horse wrestling, guy who takes up a lot of space in a room (not necessarily physically). I can’t tell you how many women meet me and immediately hate me because of they have had some macho guy disrespect them. Guys like me can appreciate Jesus exactly the way he is portrayed.

    Having said that, I doubt that Jesus was a metrosexual. He did put mud in people’s eyes you know.

  • Jeff Kimble

    In what seems like an attempt to provide a “relevant” portrait of Jesus, Driscoll casts an silhouette of all together different person. Who is this guy? Jesus? Really? I, for one, find this portrait unrecognizable. With all due respect to brother Mark, people already wrestle with misconceptions about Jesus and additional ones only complicate the difficult task of helping them see him in light of the four existing portraits we have. I’m challenged again, Scot, by your admonition to watch and listen to the Jesus of the Gospels. Thanks for poking at this.

  • If, in fact, Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist were Mark D’s heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes, then I doubt Jesus would ever have been bullied and whipped let alone allow his beard to be ripped out, and never would he have been nailed to a cross; Paul would have swam or at least built a solid man-sized raft to escape Patmos; and John the Baptist would have been the guy holding someone else’s head on a platter. Mark must have some real trouble coming to terms with David (and Jonathan DADT?!)Being masculine has nothing to do with what coffee you drink or an unbridled desire to punch someone. I think the best description of ‘masculine’ comes at birth, when the lower half of the baby slips out and everyone present sees the ‘man bits'(covered in amniotic fluid and mother blood) and the words are spoken ‘it’s a boy!’ Real men aren’t afraid to post blogs like this. Keep speaking out, Scot. And now I’m going to go read everything I can find written by Brant Hansen.

  • And I think Christians are wincing and begging ‘please don’t hit me’ when they face bullies like Mark Driscoll with deferential treatment and non-committal words like ‘with all due respect’ Due? Respect? Really?

  • DSO

    TJJ, @7, yes, I am with you on this one. I live in an area where there are lots of ranchers and cowboys. Some even come to church. For many church is for women and children. That’s how I was raised back in the day when we farmed. A pastor who can ‘be all things to all men’ AND still be authentic is necessary. Not everyone is comfortable doing the blue-collar thing but most understand and respect the effort to get to know them.

    Portraying Jesus as a sweaty, muscle-bound brawler is silly. But he probably did have callouses on his hands, much like the fishermen who hung out with him.

    DRT @14, “horse wrestling” – now that’s good stuff.

  • Usually I would use this time to curse out Mark Driscoll, but instead I’ll just say this: I understand why the sudden interest in manhood, since there are so many absentee fathers out there. However, Jesus demonstrates a radical form of masculinity that Mr. Driscoll fails to understand. For Jesus, being a man does NOT mean being a beef macho-jock meat head. For Jesus, being a man means laying down one’s life for others. It’s leadership through submission. Strength through weakness. Power through surrender.

  • Matt

    Call a spade a spade, Driscoll. The caustic rhetoric seems to be a not-so-veiled-but-still-cowardly shot at people who look like Rob Bell, who is considered wimpy theologically and otherwise by Driscoll. I hope I am wrong, but methinks not.

  • nathan

    Not everyone is comfortable doing the blue-collar thing

    that’s key. Driscoll has elevated the gender constructions of his particular class background and universalized it.

  • Fascinating discussion; I’d love to know how people actually do see masculinity. Driscoll’s presentation is off-beam, but it is at least clear; what do others think masculinity is? Without a biblical and clear alternative, and the opportunity for discussion between different visions of masculinity (which is often lacking), young men will continue to rally to Mark’s view, I suspect.

  • Jan I

    Andrew: I find “musculinity” a cultural concept, a sterotype that is not adequate to describe the avarage behavior of the male population in a society.

    Not that I don’t believe in ideals, but the Christ that the bible tells us to image is far beyond this alfa-male stuff.

  • phil_style

    Masculinity is a crock. It’s a hangover from our archaic past when such distinctions were necessary (for survival in many cases). For the christian, the attributes/virtues one must pursue are non-gender specific, these are; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

    I don’t give a care for whether or not someone thinks this makes masculine, feminine, “metro” or otherwise. Their opinion means little to me. Label me all you like.

    I have no desire to see Galatians re-written as
    “But the fruit of the Spirit is aggressive, assertive, nonverbal, heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes”

  • DRT

    Andrew, *what masculinity is*

    Masculinity is the maturity that allows a man to do what gives him pleasure without using his physical dominance to enforce his will.

    I have often thought back to the Led Zeppelin song that says “In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man. And now I’ve reached that age I try to do those things the best I can.” I was taught that those things include self sacrifice, sticking up for the weak, ensuring the women and weak have a voice, and humility (especially in using strength). Sounds sort of like the list phil_style quotes.

    he one thing it definitely does not mean is making women second class citizens the way Driscoll does.

  • DRT

    Sorry for posting again but this is really bugging me.

    Guy (or gals) blessed with macho traits are supposed to use those to help others and to stand up to the other macho types who use those traits to suppress others. I firmly put Driscoll in the camp of those using his macho to suppress the weak and that is absolutely pathetic and I call him on it. It is my duty to call him out and tell him he is wrong wrong wrong and antithetical to what it means to be a man.

  • Susan N.

    My daughter and I were talking about Jesus, and how men and women who follow Him are to relate to one another in the light of His redemptive presence and teachings.

    She expressed her “cognitive dissonance” with the conservative (complementarian) model of marriage, in which the husband is to play the part of Jesus, and the wife, that of the Church. In her mind, husband = Jesus means that husband = perfect, worthy of worship. The wife as the Church? OMG!?? My daughter isn’t buying it (thankfully).

    I think the qualities of Jesus that we are to admire and be transformed into His image are transcendent of gender. I think Jesus was perfectly whole, and He wants us (men, women, and children) to be whole.

    Deconstructing the image of Jesus that I have formed in my head — oh yeah… In any relationship, as the days and years unfold, don’t we at least *hope* to be in a continuing, dynamic process of knowing a person in a deeper way?

    Jenny (#8): What she said.

  • DLS

    “But, as I say in my Blue Parakeet book, we are SOOOO good at making Jesus in our own image.

    – So very true. And not just on this issue.

  • DLS

    I’d add that while I’m no fan of Driscoll, the overreaction to any pro-masculinity argument, as exemplified by the above comments and anywhere else his name is mentioned, gets almost as silly in my opinion. In other words, I think that as silly as Driscoll gets going to far in one direction, many emulate it by going too far in the other direction.

  • DLS

    “too” far. edit function! 🙂

  • Rick

    DLS #29-

    “I think that as silly as Driscoll gets going to far in one direction, many emulate it by going too far in the other direction.”

    I agree, but I think the process was in reverse. I think Driscoll has been trying to counter years of others going too far in the other direction (in his opinion).

  • DRT

    FWIW, I can see wanting to counter a culture where men have to be effeminate in order to be seen as Christlike. I will never be effeminate, but I also don’t need to be an ass.

  • Here’s what I don’t get. Who is telling men that they need to be effeminate to be Christlike, and why? Pop-psychology? Their mothers? Women who don’t want to be treated a certain way, or expect their partners to pitch in in ways that are not traditionally “male” (in our culture, at least). (Bear in mind that I am in my mid-thirties and my male peers don’t seem at all “effeminate” to me–just normal.)

    I also struggle with the idea that the church has been “feminized.” Perhaps it has–but by who? The male leaders? If you think it’s tough being a man in church, you should try being a woman! 😉

    From what I gather, the struggles many men in our society face stem from a lack of positive male role models (macho or not, live-in father or not), and perhaps from over-indulgence and low expectations–never being forced to take responsibility for their lives, because their parents or girlfriends enable them. But I honestly don’t see how those issues are going to be fixed by promoting a more militant form of “masculinity.”

    For the record, I live in the rural Midwest and have absolutely no problem with “macho”–my grandpa is a “man’s man,” but he also very gentle, thoughtful, and respectful of others. The problem isn’t with men being “macho,” any more than my proclivity for pink is a setback for women’s rights. The problem is in equating manhood with aggression, and womanhood with passivity.

  • Just a few observations about this good article by Brant Hansen and this reprint:

    1. M. Driscoll did not really start this discussion on a Masculine Jesus. Let’s not forget Promise Keepers, John Eldredge, Tim Hansel (who likened Jesus to Zorba the Greek) and many others who somehow feel compelled to make following Christ more appealing to men. Driscoll didn’t start the fire.

    2. However M. Driscoll (alongside his wife on the platform) did denounce any man who would let his wife go out to work and stay home to take care of the children. He even stated he would put such a man out of membership of Mars Hill Church (and no, that is not taken out of context). He may not have started the fire, but he does like to stir the embers.

    3. Jesus’ human personality, though interesting, is theologically meaningless. If he had a lisp, would that mean godliness requires a lisp? If he only ate like a vegetarian, are we sinning by consuming meat? Jesus’ masculinity was a happenstance…he had to be one or the other. We emulate his heart condition, not his human likeness. Remember, according to Isaiah, he wasn’t really anything special to look at.

    4. A man is defined by how he treats others, not by how he postures himself. Jesus’ masculinity is reflected by Robert Raikes, R. J. LeTourneau, William Wilberforce and (if you’ll allow me a fictional character), Atticus Finch. When we think of these men who ended child slavery, all human slavery, who helped found many christian endeavors by pouring out money and who defended a black man being denied civil rights…we see that real men are defined by the courage and respect they display in the face of adversity. Sometimes those who show the most courage are women, children, effeminate men and others that many men’s movements seem to accidentally marginalize.

  • MatthewS

    comment #34 reminds me of Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees ( they looked great on the outside but their heart condition was a result of them neglecting “the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.”

    One’s mannerisms and personality may surely be affected by what is happening in their heart but the outward stuff is meant to be an overflow of the inward stuff, and there is no question that the inward attitudes are either growing in gratitude, love, joy, peace, patience, and the like, or else one is not being changed by the Spirit. Some examples:;%20eph%204:17-32;%20col%203:5-17;%20phil%202:1-11;%201%20thess%204:9-11&version=NIV

    Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Tim 1:13) that he used to be a violent man but God in his grace had shown Paul mercy. One gets the impression of Paul that he was not physically powerful and that he was bookish. More of a professor than physical figher.

    Driscoll would have probably thought Paul was a sissy; I can imagine Paul running intellectual circles around Driscoll.

    I say all this as one who thinks God made men to be men. I think as a generalization, men tend to enjoy outdoors and campfires etc. than women, as a broad generalization. But I think we learn from Paul that it is good to dig into the books and to be a studied person, which is good for me because I am one of many, many male bookworms who will never measure up to Driscoll’s idealized image of the macho man. Even so, I’d point out that the stereotypical Spanish ideal of machismo involved a “man’s man” but also one who could woo a woman through tenderness and poetry. If the only aspect of maleness that Driscoll can provide is the phsyical animal part then even he fails the stereotypical machismo ideal.

    But back to the heart – the Spirit’s work is evident in one’s heart attitudes, not whether they take cream in their coffee.

  • Jonathan

    It seems to me that in Christian formation the difference between “man” and “woman” is quite unimportant. The important difference is between “adult” (mature) and “child” (immature).

    The instruction I should be giving my son is “become mature” (Eph 4.13), not “don’t be a girl.”

  • DRT

    Much like Mike’s #34, “A man is defined by how he treats others, not by how he postures himself”

    Where I come from Macho is based on how well you take a punch, not how you give one.

  • E.G.

    Driscoll should consider that the Biblical guy who is probably among the most “masculine” OT character by todays standards wrote poetry, danced (naked, none-the-less!), played a harp, and also said of his best (male) friend:

    “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”

    I’d argue that there’s nothing wrong with masculinity, or femininity. But there is something wrong with a stereotyped caricature of either of those.

    Real masculinity, and real femininity, are much more complex and rich than just that.

  • Phillip

    There is a great parody song and video you can find on YouTube called WWJD (What Would Jesus Drive). It parodies American Christianity and the “macho” Jesus. I did not post the link because the song and video are somewhat irreverant, and I don’t want to offend (perhaps because I am not macho enough). But if you are interested, search “what would Jesus drive” in YouTube. The writers/performers are Julie Wittner and Ryan Smith.

  • E.A.B.

    Thank you Johnathan (#36). Well said. I can’t tell you how many times statements like “don’t be a girl,” or “you run like a girl,” etc. have stung because it is clear that being a girl is not good, but somehow shameful.

  • DSO

    E.A.B. @40, try not to flop your arms around when you run.

  • E.A.B #40: My daughter (the track athlete) has a t-shirt that says “I run like a girl: Try to keep up”.

  • Susan N.

    As I flipped through the early morning cable news programs, I happened to catch Mark Driscoll and his wife being interviewed by Dr. Drew on HLN, re: his book ‘Real Marriage.’ I noticed that his wife did not speak more than a few sentences, and seemed uncomfortable when the questions were addressed directly to her. Yet, they appeared together because a) the book is *co*authored by the two, and b) it is a book about marriage, after all, which is about *two* people in a relationship.

    In a documentary about Gandhi that I once watched, I found it interesting that even he (gentle, peaceable soul) had to learn humility in his marital relationship. When he became aware (was convicted) of his unthinking insensitivity to his wife — based on knee-jerk cultural conditioning that had formed his idea of being a man, a husband, and a leader — and purposed to transcend the traditional role of men in Indian society, it not only transformed his relationship with his wife, but was a “Damascus Road” moment in his destiny as a true leader and hero.

  • Susan N.

    Phillip (#39) – it is funny that you bring up the American macho Jesus Youtube parody… This post immediately brought to mind (from the wayback files) a little ditty by Waylon and Willie, ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.’ Look up the lyrics — very relevant to this conversation, imo!

    These lyrics are engraved in my memory, and I have been walking around for the past few days humming and breaking out in my best rendition of Waylon J. (my husband and kids looking at me real funny and asking me why I’m so crazy):

    “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys;
    Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks —
    Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such.
    Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
    ‘Cos they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone.
    Even with someone they love.”

    ~The Word According to Waylon J 😉

  • Fish

    If I scan this post and see any comments I disagree with, I’m going to knock some people into next week and then run up there and stomp them.

    In a Christ-like manner, of course.