Masculinity, the Church, Post-Modernism, and Southern Gospel

Masculinity, the Church, Post-Modernism, and Southern Gospel February 20, 2012

John Piper has apparently upset some feminists. Recently, he made some rather direct comments on the masculine nature of Christianity. To quote directly:

God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother… The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male…God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head. Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel.

Well. You can just imagine the howls of indignation from Rachel Held Evans and her ilk. Of course Piper is spot-on, but naturally many will disagree.
Meanwhile, a certain blogger who shall not be named has offered his own take on the controversy as it relates to southern gospel. As an English professor and a post-modernist, his reaction is really rather typical. But it’s tricky. It’s slimy in a subtle way. So today I’d like to unpack it a bit for the benefit of my readers.
You see, when a liberal encounters something that clashes with his preferred political tastes—whether it’s in literature, in the culture, in the Church, or what have you–he can react in one of two ways. First, he can have an immediate negative knee-jerk response, i.e. “Such-and-such is terrible because it’s [fill-in-the-blank–sexist, racist, etc.] We must write books and articles shouting from the rooftops how terrible such-and-such/so-and-so is.”
Or, he can say, “Well… such-and-such seems bad on its face. But under the surface, there are all kinds of fascinating tensions and sub-texts that make it far more complicated and nuanced than the average layman might think. Really, we can’t be too simplistic, and having made a study of these underlying tensions, I’ve concluded that such-and-such should be received positively, whether it was meant to be or not.”

For example, consider this in the area of literary criticism. A passage of Shakespeare annoys the first group of liberals because they think it’s sexist. Up goes the cry, “Shakespeare is sexist!” But along come the post-modernists to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I think you’re unaware of the sub-texts. Really, when you get under the surface of this passage, you discover that Shakespeare isn’t a sexist after all.” Because the Muse is liberal, you see, and because Shakespeare is great, Shakespeare must be a liberal at the end of it all. Otherwise he couldn’t create such great art. His artistic impulses are carrying him leftward whether he wills them to or not. So they do a post-modern “reading” of Shakespeare in order to “find” what they think has to be there.
This is what passes for respected intellectualism in the disaster that is our modern educational system—a disaster that would be laughable if it weren’t so profoundly and harmfully influential. And it’s what our blogger who shan’t be named is doing with southern gospel. In fact, it’s exactly what he’s doing with southern gospel. He begins by taking Piper’s quote as a sort of evangelical template for accepted gender roles. But then he says that even though fundamentalists would like to believe things are that simple, because such a foundation of “absolutes” gives them “security,” things are not as they seem. He then discusses ways in which he sees southern gospel “upending” the standards of this traditional template, e.g., the popularity of groups with a female lead singer, the fan love for tenor singers (“the man who sings like a woman”), and emotional songwriting (like Marshall Hall’s “When I Cry”).
Now of course that’s a lot of… I’m going to restrain myself here… baloney sausage. But you have to get inside the post-modernist’s head to see how this works. Yes, it’s twisted. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But you see, they’ve got to find the… here comes the word… “subversive” forces at work in whatever they’re analyzing. (That word by the way is explicitly used in the blurb for said blogger’s upcoming book, which should be a textbook example of this kind of analysis in its full glory.) The southern gospel culture isn’t so sexist and hypocritical after all. It’s so much more interesting than that. It has to be.
Let me close with a candid word from my own experience: One of the reasons why I was initially attracted to southern gospel was because it seemed like a much “manlier” genre than, say, CCM or praise and worship. Or, to be more specific, what CCM and P & W have become in the last decade or so. I was so sick of the effeminate singing, the effeminate songs, the cheap emotionalism. I was sick of dudes with bad hair and torn-up jeans singing love songs to Jesus. But when I watched this video clip, I felt like I was standing in front of an open door. There was a whole world of music out there that I had never explored. And it looked promising. Much more promising. From there, the rest is history. (And please, for those of you who just can’t wait to spill your insinuations about how southern gospel is really infested with homos… save it. I’m not denying that there may indeed be some, nor am I denying that this is a problem if true. But pointless gossip is worse than pointless. I for one am content to enjoy the many perfectly normal men who are singing good, manly music.)
So, that’s about the closest you’re going to get to a review of our blogger’s upcoming book from me. I have no intention of wasting pennies or seconds on it, because I can already recognize it for the insignificant bit of post-modern clap-trap that it is. If you were planning to spend your own time and money in that way, it’s none of my concern. (And I know that Daniel Mount is bravely volunteering to do so for the purposes of reviewing it.) However, I do encourage you to spend that time and money elsewhere. I believe it will be better spent that way.

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