Do You Have the Balls to Worship at America’s Manliest Church?” That’s the html header of a recent article at Vocativ profiling Pastor Heath Mooneyham of Ignite, a church in Joplin, Missouri. This is “a church for dudes by dudes,” we read, “with a core mission to win over men, ages 18 to 35.” And what’s the best way to do that? Heavy drinking, sexual innuendo, and crude language, apparently. Oh, and raffling off assault rifles at church.
“Week after week, Mooneyham uses the gospel to punch back against what he perceives to be a rising tide of emasculation,” the article reads. “He’s delivered a series of Sunday talks called ‘Grow a Pair’ and ‘Band of Brothers,’ and the church offers male leadership courses with titles like ‘Spartan’ and ‘Fight Club.’ He’s performed baptisms at Ignite-sponsored tailgate parties and instructed married couples to go home and have sex every day for a week. And there’s rarely a Sunday where Mooneyham doesn’t praise a big truck, a big gun or a pair of big balls in the same breath that praises Christ.”
In other words, this isn’t some sissy church. These are real men. You can tell because of how often they mention guns and male genitalia. Got that?
Ignite’s approach to mission is nothing new; it’s just the latest example in the Muscular Christianity movement which dates back to the nineteenth century. And the danger now, as then, is that some Christians are allowing cultural concepts of masculinity to dictate our theology, rather than letting our theology dictate our understanding of gender roles. So it is that we end up glorifying a “warrior” concept of the Christian manbe it as a knight in shining armor (à la Wild at Heart) or the more in-your-face, gun-toting, beer-swilling version of manhood we get from Ignite.
In any case, the problem is that the idea that Christian men should think of themselves primarily as “warriors” simply isn’t biblical. I’ve written on this at length before in an article for Converge Magazine entitled “Christian Masculinity: The Man God Hasn’t Called You To Be.” Permit me to repeat some of what I said there:
“The ‘warrior’ cannot be our fundamental identity. After all, the biblical concept of battle is one primarily of response to outward aggression: A shepherd boy becomes a warrior after the Philistines invade; the Israelites are oppressed and then a Judge rises to protect them. Even when God sends the Hebrews to claim the land promised to their ancestors, it is clear these people are not warriors by birth. They were born slaves; they have to learn the art of warfare. Even God is not, at His core, a warrior; He wars solely because of outward opposition. He can be in and of Himself good; He can be in and of Himself loving (expressing that love between the Persons of the Trinity). But He cannot be, in and of Himself, a warrior. That role exists only because others challenge God. It is necessary only because of sin.”
I am not advocating pacifism or saying Christians can’t serve as police-men or in the armed forces. Some people have those God-given vocations, and there are just reasons for waging war. But it is dangerous to assume, as Wild at Heart does, that “in the heart of all men, there is a desperate desire for a battle to fight.” That idea takes a vocation that is sometimes necessary because of outside forces and instead makes it the inner-nature of men. Consequently, we go looking for fights rather than merely responding to them.
To better understand the Christian male’s calling as a male, it’s helpful to go back to the beginningto examine what the Scriptures tell us about the creation of the first man, and what God intended for Him to be. And the simple fact is, when God created Adam he didn’t make a warrior; he made a gardener.
Gardening isn’t easy work. It demands great labor andsince the Fallrequires the sweat of our brow. It’s dirty and it’s tiring. It involves careful, perhaps even painful, pruning. Ultimately, it even demands recognizing that your work on its own is not enough. You need the sun to shine. You need the rain to fall. You need God to make something out of your own weak and feeble efforts.
This gives us a glimpse, I think, into what an authentically Christian masculinity is intended to beone characterized by hard work, patience, and reliance on God. No, it’s not exactly glamorous work. It won’t make you “cool” in the eyes of those who care about coolness. And maybe it won’t attract young men into your church the way advertising a gun give-away might. But gardening brings the one thing every Christian should desiregrowth. It brings maturity. And this, by the grace of God, leads in the end to a harvest that matters.