The Scandal of the Evangelical Bicep

In 1994, Dr. Mark A. Noll wrote his pivotal work The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. The scandal, in his words, was that “there is not much of an evangelical mind.” In other words, Noll saw evangelical Christianity as moving away from intellectual pursuits, which largely left the world lacking any prominent voice from evangelical scholars.

More recently, author and blogger Rachel Held Evans noted what she called “The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart.” In her experience, evangelical Christianity was not welcoming of her questions. When atrocities happened, she found the church turning a blind eye. She saw the church dismissing questions about the Bible when they were asked. Rachel Held Evans called out the distrust of emotion that she saw in evangelical Christianity, and called for a more integrated approach to life and theology.

And, let’s be honest, if we neglect our minds or our hearts, we will live skewed and harmful lives. When we fail to use our minds, we are failing to use the capacity for reason that God gave to us. Or, as my mom liked to say to me quite often, “God gave you a brain so you could use it.” Likewise, life without heart is dangerous. Foisting theological agendas without heart has led to atrocities around the world – genocide, slavery, abuse.  Though we like to pretend it isn’t true, all of these things have been done in God’s name. All of them with some kind of messed up scriptural backing. All of them lacking the heart that allows us to see something important when we look at our neighbors, our relatives, our friends, and fellow human beings.

Dr. Mark A. Noll and Rachel Held Evans have offered important challenges to the evangelical community to love God with all of who we are, and not some fragmented manifestation of ourselves. Though there has been a bit more acceptance of intellectual Christianity since Noll’s book was written, and perhaps more of a cry from the blogosphere for an acceptance of our emotions and heart, these scandals are far from being mere remnants of the past. There continues to be a need for loving God with our minds and for loving God with our hearts.

That said, there is a relatively new scandal that has emerged in evangelical Christianity – and in many mainline protestant churches – that is in need of examination. I am calling this “The Scandal of the Evangelical Bicep,” and unlike the previous two scandals, this scandal is not defined by an absence, but rather a presence.

Largely in reaction to observations like this one made about “The Feminization of the Church,” many churches have begun to cater to the “manly man.” Churches have been started to counteract this so-called feminization, and pastors of these churches have been known to wear leather jackets, speak proudly about being the head of the household, call for a return to true manhood – which, of course, involves flexing your muscles, hunting, drinking and boasting about a high libido. It means gloating about the sex appeal of your spouse, and flaunting the multiple children you’ve produced. It means not singing those “Jesus is my boyfriend songs,” which Dr. William Lane Craig cited as one reason church no longer appeals to men.

The interesting thing to me about the assertion that praise music is overly feminized is that many popular praise songs and new hymns are written by men. Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin dominate the praise music world. Reuben Morgan, Paul Baloche, Louie Giglio, Michael W. Smith , and so many other male songwriters are featured over and over on Christian radio stations, and in worship services. If worship music has become overly feminized, it is not because of a lack of male voices.

The real problem isn’t that the church has become feminized; the problem is that only one expression of masculinity is acceptable. And, right now, I believe that the most acceptable expression of masculinity in the church today is a hyper-masculine, aggressive, overly sexual depiction of what it means to be a man.

The problem is that the church is telling men that they need to be a certain way or they are contributing to the feminization of the church. We are telling men that if they don’t fit in with the “manly men,” they have more in common with women than with men. And this shaming of the men in our churches needs to stop.

The beautiful thing about men and women is that even though we do have some unique things about ourselves as men and women, no two men are the same. No two women are the same. Each person is gifted with different things. We have skills to offer. We have insights to share. Each of us is important in the body of Christ. The scandal of the evangelical bicep is that we’ve told our men to flex their muscles or get out.

The scandal is that we’ve marginalized so many men in an effort to portray a single, unified image of what it means to be a man. And we’ve done this with so many other things, too: with what it means to be a woman, a Christian, the church. We tend to fixate on one aspect of faith and life, and amplify it as the most important thing.

And, I believe this is why Jesus builds on Deuteronomy 6 when he talks about how we are to love God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Our love for God needs to be holistic. If we love only with our minds, we lack heart, soul, and strength. When we love only with our strength, it is not being tempered by our hearts, souls, and minds.

Imbalanced love is dangerous love.

And a church that focuses on proclaiming an imbalanced love for God loves God dangerously with a love that winds up looking more like a love for ourselves than a love for the One who made us. When we love with an imbalanced love, we wound followers of Christ, and we project a lousy image of our God to the world.

In the book of Romans, Paul talks about how the church is like a body, made up of many members with different functions. Each function is important, and the body would not be able to function without a diversity of members. When we elevate a stereotype of what it means to be a man, we are neglecting the gifts and talents of many other men who would greatly bless the body of Christ.

The church is the strongest when it faithfully loves God holistically, and when it includes the gifts of all its members.

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.