The Corner

‘Macho Christianity’ Isn’t the Problem, Gimmick Christianity Is

Over at The New Republic, Elizabeth Bruenig has penned a lengthy report on the “failure of macho Christianity,” focusing on the rise and fall of two “macho” Christian pastors: Mark Driscoll and the lesser-known Heath Mooneyham. Except for the twist that both pastors adopted self-consciously masculine styles and condemned the feminization of the church, there is nothing exceptional about their stories. After all, prominent pastors fail all the time. Jim Bakker — perhaps the biggest pastor to fall in the last 50 years–was hardly a paragon of aggressive hyper-masculinity. Famous pastors on every conceivable spectrum of masculinity have crashed and burned.

Pastors are people, and people are sinful. When pastors become celebrities, they are subject to the same temptations as all celebrities (with the added bonus of sometimes-titanic egos.) That’s no excuse. 

But I will agree with Bruenig’s attack on “macho Christianity” to one, limited extent: When anything becomes a gimmicky modifier to Christianity, it’s problematic — whether it’s self-conscious masculinity, self-conscious hipsterism, self-conscious femininity, or self-conscious activism. The Evangelical world is prone to gimmickry, with celebrity pastors bringing their fresh take and unique style — often building huge followings. 

I happened to agree with a great deal of Mark Driscoll’s critique of our feminized churches. I’ve seen the reality with my own eyes — the soft-voiced prayers and messages, the excessive emotionalism, the relentless message to men that they’re the real problem with their families (as if women don’t suffer from original sin), and the just-as-irritating assertions that you’re somehow a better man if you’re a more emotional man. At the same time, however, exaggerated masculinity is not the solution to excessive femininity. In fact, when a pastor plays up his manliness, my first question is: What have you done to show that you’re a real man? And wearing lumberjack clothes while watching MMA fighting isn’t an answer. 

Just be a man. You don’t have to advertise your incredible masculine mojo on a billboard.

The answer to gimmick masculinity is actual masculinity. The answer to gimmick Christianity is — to use C.S. Lewis’s phrase — mere Christianity. I’ll close with one of my favorite passages from my favorite Lewis book, The Screwtape Letters. Here is the devil Screwtape, lamenting that a young English man is growing in maturity:

The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know — Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing . . .

There is nothing new under the sun. We still have a horror of the “Same Old Thing,” and pastors and parishioners fail when we exploit that horror, substituting our take and our angle for the timeless, ”merely Christian” Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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