The third post in the series. I’ll link my post
- Aaron Renn on The Manosphere and the Church. My post.
- Alastair Robert on The Virtues of Dominion. My post.
- Peter Leithart on Side effects.
Let’s get into it.
Interestingly, having read some of the subsequent posts, we’ll actually see that a lot of the writers increasingly have less and less understanding of the Bible / Christian manosphere concepts and often conflate their cultural lens of the Bible with what the Bible says. We’ll hit them as we go there.
So there I was, contentedly complementarian, when suddenly (so it seemed) my friends started talking of the patriarchy, offering me pills of various hues, and charging that complementarianism is compromise with feminism. I learned about the manosphere several years after it petered out. I’ve been blessed in the churches I’ve attended and pastored over the years, and have never felt besieged because I am a man. Besides, I’m a dinosaur who grew up in the 60s and 70s, shielded from the cultural revolution of those decades by parents who grew up in the 20s and 30s. Self-consciousness about masculinity wasn’t part of my upbringing, though, for good or ill, one of the lessons my father (implicitly) taught me is that one of the marks of a man is reticence about his own manhood. All that to say, I’m a late-comer to this conversation.
Renn actually calls complementarianism — which was invented in the late 1980s if you’ve read my blog and saw me go over it — baby boomer theology. Generally, it rings pretty much true, as you can see from this.
You have the people who grow up during the sexual revolution and implicitly pick up that the culture is starting to rail against “the patriarchy.” Some of the abuses such as the occasion of the deadbeat dad might ring true (but they’re basing this on the exception, not the rule). Then they must integrate the supposed abuses of “the patriarchy” into their theology rather than understanding that the Scriptures already denounce abuse of power.
Then you have chivalry and other anti-Christian thought layered in and you get implicit bias where you end up with a lot of “men bad and women good” type of stuff.
The conversation is necessary. Some of Aaron Renn’s claims need elaboration. Women initiate most divorces, but that doesn’t mean women are to blame for divorce. There are long and messy stories behind every divorce, typically more than enough blame to spread around. The focus on male sins may be a sign not of feminization but of a certain kind of masculine emphasis in a church; if a man is considered the head of his wife and family, he bears responsibility for what happens.
I never really understood federal headship because it basically absolves a woman/wife of her free will. Let’s look at some other examples:
- If God is considered the head of Israel and Judah, he bears responsibility for what happens [when they sin]
- If Jesus is considered the head of the Church, He bears responsibility for what happens [when they sin]
You can see how these two examples are patently absurd. God and Jesus can act perfectly, but those who are supposed to be following them can go and sin. Then do we blame God and Jesus for the Israel or Judah or the Church’s sin? No. That would be dumb.
Yes, it is important to recognize that in most marital dysfunction it takes two to tango and there’s probably enough blame to go around. But it would be absurd to not evaluate it by what actually happens. And we know that most divorces are not because of abuse or adultery but because the one party is unhaaaapy (usually the wife) which is why we call them frivorces.
Still, I agree with the charge that the church has capitulated to egalitarian feminism. As he notes, it’s been going on for a long time, but has certainly intensified over the past several decades. You can see it in hymnody, from the nineteenth century to the present. You can see it in the near-universal practice of women’s ordination. You can see it in the absence or apathy of men in many churches. You can see it in the persistence of Victorian femininity as the norm of piety. A rebalance is long overdue.
In my limited exposure to the manosphere, I haven’t found much of value; friends I trust tell me there’s substance there, and I believe them. Still, I’m not convinced a Christian masculinity movement is the answer. It’s reactionary, and risks devolving into yet another species of identity politics. Worse, I fear a masculinity movement will lose track of central truths of the Christian faith. My essay is a warning label, because red pills may have harmful side effects.
I discussed this in the previous post, but it starts from the gospel and discipleship. Men are generally better equipped and are a good base to build from.
1. Neither Aaron nor Alastair Roberts use the word “patriarchy,” but other friends do, so I’ll start there. It’s a theologically infelicitous term. The arche of patri-archy means “source” or “beginning.” The Father (pater) is, one can say, the beginning or source (arche) of Godhead, but Trinitarian thought complicates this one-directional hierarchy. In the Trinity, there is no arche without completion in a Second by means of a Third. Source and product, sun and rays, are co-equal and co-eternal; the original is immediately and forever fulfilled in the image. In fact, the Second Person makes the First what He is, for there is no Father without the Son. As for humanity: The male Adam was the literal patriarch of the human race, but, as Paul writes, every man since Adam has been born of a woman. Paul stresses mutual dependence and envisions a co-archy, of male and female (1 Corinthians 11:8-12).
Pater shades into “male” and arche into “rule,” so that “patriarchy” takes on the sense of “rule by men.” Here too “patriarchy” doesn’t capture the biblical picture. God didn’t create the world to be ruled by men or fathers, but by ‘adam, whom He created male and female (Genesis 1:26-28). At a minimum, Adam couldn’t complete the “Adamic vocation” by himself because he couldn’t “fill” the earth without a sexual partner. The human story doesn’t end in male rule either, since Jesus the Last Adam reigns with His Eve, the church. We might say the Father rules the eternal kingdom, but the Father never rules alone, but everywhere and always by His two hands, the Son and Spirit. As for creation, it has a bridal future (Revelation 21:1-8). The church anticipates the new heavens and earth precisely because she is now the bride that creation will one day become. Femininity is an ontological reality, we might say the reality of the world, the telos of creation.
I like Patriarchy because it offends christo-feminists and most complementarian Christians because it shocks them of their own covert feminist failure. The correct Biblical term is likely to be Headship as that is the example of Christ and the Church that husbands are wives are to strive for.
Most Christians along with Leithart don’t really understand that love tends to treat as one of the same body while those under the head are to treat it as following/submitting/obeying.
This is the importance of understanding the various Biblical marital roles and responsibilities. The responsibilities themselves are different according to their role, which means that all of the bluster about authority or equality don’t matter if you’re not discussing how they are applied according to role.
2. From the beginning, Christianity elevated women. When Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him, women followed Him to the cross and the tomb. Women were the first witnesses of His resurrection. The apostles became eyewitnesses and leaders of the church because of news they first heard from Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary.
Women found the early church attractive because, Rodney Stark says, Christian women enjoyed “considerably greater status and power than did pagan women,” both in the home and the church. The church prohibited infanticide, and so prohibited female infanticide. Christian teachers condemned divorce and sexual sins, and destroyed the pagan double standard by demanding that men as well as women be chaste before marriage and faithful in marriage. Pagan widows were pressured to remarry, but in the church “widowhood was highly respected.” Wealthy widows kept their husbands’ estates, and the church cared for poor widows; Christian widows had more options than their pagan counterparts. Within the church, women served as deaconesses. In all these ways, “the Christian woman enjoyed far greater marital security and equality than did her pagan neighbor.” So many women joined the church that “in 370 the emperor Valentinian issued a written order to Pope Damasus I requiring that Christian missionaries cease calling at the homes of pagan women.”
3. The elevated status of women was Christologically rooted. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free man, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). As many as are baptized into Christ are clothed with Christ, and that common clothing gives every member of the church a common identity and common privileges. This is a sexual equality undreamt by ancient pagans.
Paul doesn’t erase created, social, or religious differences. Jewish believers continued to live as Jews, though they didn’t impose Jewish customs on Gentiles. We know there were slaves in the church because Paul exhorted them to serve their masters. Paul distinguished the roles of men and women in church and family. But the church is a communion where these differences are harmonized into a complex unity. The binary contrasts are transformed into relations of mutual deference and service. Jews give Gentiles spiritual goods, so it’s fitting that Gentiles give the return gift of material goods. Every slave should consider himself the Lord’s freedman, and every free man or master is the Lord’s slave. Within marriage, husbands serve their wives, even to the point of death, as Christ served the church, and wives mimic the church who submits to Christ in all things. The mutuality is asymmetrical in various ways, but it is mutuality, reflecting the mutual submission and glorification of Father and Son in the Spirit.
There are obvious complexities here, but we can say this: A church should have the atmosphere of a community where “there is neither male nor female,” just as it should be a harmony of social classes and ethnic groups. A masculinized church is as much a perversion as a feminized one.
Another dubious line of thought.
Leithart is making the same mistake as the CBMW who came up with complementarianism theology in the first place. This is of course no surprise because he has been a complementarian for so long. He is using the examples of so-called abuses of the cultural authority and status to define how we should understand the Bible rather than use the Bible to understand how we should understand authority and status.
Christianity elevated the dignity and honor of all groups that were derided and ruled over — women/wives, slaves, poor, widows, etc — because God doesn’t care about secular implementations of power or riches but because He knows all human’s intrinsic worth as His creations.
Using this as a line of argument against masculinity and Patriarchy/headship is falling in line with feminists. Ironically, it’s the same argument used by christo-feminists to try to claim equality in marriage and be leaders/pastors in the Church.
You should really question yourself when you’re using their arguments. Instead,
John 13:12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Luke 22:24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
Jesus, having created authority in conjunction with God, does not denigrate or cancel authority but tells us to use it rightly which is to love and serve others. The “greatest” is the one who is the one who loves and serves.
4. Jesus is true man, the measure of manhood. Not everyone in His day would recognize Him as such. In certain respects, even pagans would have regarded Jesus as a manly man. He does works of power, easily disposes of a Legion of demons, acts forcefully in the temple, firmly resists Satan’s temptations, has daring outdoor adventures with his male companions. He is victorious in public debate, courageous in His relentless truth-telling, unfazed by hatred and opposition. Yet He also tells His followers to become like children, commands them to turn the other cheek instead of retaliating against insults, shows compassion for the weak, commends those who emasculate themselves for the kingdom.
Pagans might have seen His death as analogous to the self-immolations of Roman heroes. In most respects, Jesus’ death subverts ancient masculinity. Aristotle lined up the binary “male-female” with the binary “active-passive,” but Jesus becomes so passive He is nearly reduced to an object as He’s passed from one enemy to another. Instead of facing His death with Stoic resolution, He pleads with His Father to remove His cup. He bows to His Father’s will, but “it is questionable whether such a submissive posture, even it if involves self-restraint, would be understood by a man in the Greco-Roman world as a masculine deportment.”
He is shamed, mocked, beaten, whipped, spit on, then nailed naked to a cross in full public view. Cicero reluctantly conceded that a brave man might groan in pain, provided it was like the groan of an athlete straining for victory (Tusculan Disputations 2.22.55). But Jesus cries out in anguish to the Father who has forsaken Him. For Romans, men are made to penetrate, not be penetrated, sexually or in combat. A man who can’t protect his body from assault is, at best, low-status, no longer a vir but a pathicus. On the cross, though, Jesus is pierced with a spear, which makes him appear unmanly. Romans would acknowledge a real man might be captured, tortured, humiliated, but Jesus appears unwilling or unable to defend His honor at the point of its greatest threat. Romans would have echoed the Jewish taunt: “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.”
Christian discussions of masculinity today sometimes appeal to the scientific and social-scientific evidence of sexual difference. I don’t dispute the evidence, though determining what normative conclusions we can draw is a different matter. My concern is more basic: It would be a travesty if manhood were left unevangelized, unchallenged and untested by the masculinity of Jesus. It would be more than tragic if a social-scientific portrait of masculinity displaced Jesus as the measure of Man.
Again, the issue is that Leithart defaults to trying to understand the Bible through the lens of the culture rather than the Bible itself defining what manhood is. One such example is from David to Solomon on his death bed:
1 Kings 2:2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, 3 and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go 4 and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’
Yes, men are defined by masculinity but masculinity is defined by being strong to be obedient to God no matter what the cost: whether emotional or not. Whether status or not. Etc.
5. No pill of any color can dispel sexual mystery, and those who think they’ve discovered the truth about sexual dynamics need to be cautious. They don’t have women figured out – or men, for that matter. I hope no one wants to dispel the mystery. Dispelling sexual mystery would rob the world of much else besides. Bereft of sexual mystery, creation and human life would be bereft of mystery as such.
This is simply disingenuous. There’s a reason why there’s a common saying throughout the manosphere: “Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.”
Most of “sexual mystery” is buried under the disguise of the words of men and women that are incongruent with their behavior. If a woman says she hates bad boys but she keeps getting with them she’s clearly lying, has no self control, or both.
But like many of Leithart’s points before, this is buried under the disguise of another feminist talking point that he’s unconsciously channeling. The Bible lays human nature and human sexuality (both men and women) bare for all the world to see. There’s no tangible benefit from blinding men to a woman’s sexuality or vice versa; in fact, there are numerous downsides especially with ONEitis, chivalry, choreplay, and such things being so rampant.
There’s no godly reason there should be mystery, and a strong case of wisdom against it. A statement like this is similar to a pastor telling all of the men in his congregation to marry a woman like he did while being ignorant that he was attractive because he is the leader of a congregation and has high status. It’s just not good.