Is Christianity Masculine? A Biblical Perspective

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The web has been buzzing in recent weeks over the controversial issue as to whether Christianity is a “masculine” religion. Here is a sample of the claims made by John Piper.

“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.”

As noted, these are some of the remarks of John Piper at the recent conference hosted by his ministry, “God, Manhood and Ministry: Building Men for the Body of Christ.” There have been plenty of reactions across the blogosphere and beyond. It’s troubling to say the least, but rather than react let me bring a word of caution for the proponents of such a view and a word of pastoral encouragement for both women and men who are struggling with the implications of this assessment. Consider these 4 observations.

1. These comments carry some interesting commonality with second century Gnostic divergences from Christianity. A good example comes from the end of the sayings Gospel of Thomas, which exhibits a macho patriarchy in an alleged conversation between Peter and Jesus about the inferiority of women. The Gospel of Thomas says, “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven'” (114). Granted, Piper would never say that a woman must become a man in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. However, the Gnostic sayings Gospel of Thomas clearly exhibits an aberrant form of Christianity that has a certain “masculine feel” to it.

2. In contrast, the four canonical gospels provide the basis for a critique of anti-feminine distortions of Christianity. Each of the biblical gospels affirm the value of women by recording that the good news of Jesus’ resurrection was entrusted to women before it was ever entrusted to men. It was the women, who came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, who became the first evangelists, the first apostles, the first to proclaim Christ’s victory over death.

3. This is of no small significance when we remember that the Greco-Roman world of the first century was marked by oppressive patriarchy. Women were often seen as second-class and untrustworthy. One ancient source even criticized the message of the resurrection as being the product of hysterical women. The Gospel of Thomas is a good example of the masculine bias that formed its larger cultural context.

4. Early Christians went against the grain of their culture in affirming the value of women in the formation of the Christian community. Christianity resisted and critiqued the overwhelming patriarchy that characterized the culture into which it was born. The earliest form of Christianity elevated women against cultural male-dominated oppression by preserving the canonical gospels which stand in stark contrast to hyper-masculine and anti-feminine ancient sources like the Gospel of Thomas.

These reflections shed some light on contemporary debates over the so-called “masculine feel” of Christianity. Those who espouse such a masculine faith are cutting against the grain of scripture and following the culture that scripture critiqued. At the end of the day, terms like masculine and feminine are not helpful in describing Christianity. God is neither male nor female and neither is faithful Christianity. God certainly creates male and female, and faithful Christians affirm the goodness of his creation and the enduring equality of men and women made together in the image of God, but the Christian faith itself is not tied to one form of human sexuality or another. To make Christianity masculine or feminine is to miss the biblical message altogether.

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Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties at Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Connect at mattoreilly.net or follow @mporeilly.

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