We've been hearing a lot about masculine Christianity lately.

By now we're used to hearing Mark Driscoll campaign for more masculine church leaders and expressions of Christianity; late last year, Reformed pastor Douglas Wilson invited Driscoll to his church to speak at a Grace Agenda conference—a gathering that tactfully segregated women by offering a separate pre-conference just for them. In turn, Wilson spoke at John Piper's Desiring God Pastor's Conference, which this year had an explicitly masculine theme: "God, Manhood & Ministry: Building Men for the Glory of God." No stranger to strong statements in the blogo-twittersphere, Piper again drew attention by declaring that "God has given Christianity a masculine feel."

The insistence that Christianity ought to be muscular is often traced to American evangelists of the early 20th century, such as Billy Sunday and D. L. Moody, who emphasized sports and physical strength to counter the perception that Christians were soft and docile, in other words, feminine: a concept attributed to the 19th-century idealization of women as keepers of home and hearth and nurturer of the family's spiritual well-being. But even then, the perception of "spirituality" as "feminine" was itself a relatively new idea. For millennia, Western ideology tended to understand women as being grounded in body and matter, while men dealt in the realm of the mind and spirit.

If nothing else, it's clear that masculinity and femininity are not fixed and eternal sets of attributes, but are by and large culturally defined, and always changing. For example, blue was once more closely associated with "feminine" while pink was associated with "masculine." In parts of Europe, it's still not unusual for men to ...

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