Let's face this honestly, like men: by every statistic you could possibly use to measure the growth and operation of evangelical churches worldwide, it is clear that church membership, church attendance, church leadership, and church activities are more and more dominated by women.
on't you think effeminate evangelicalism is yesterday's problem?" an e-mail correspondent asked. "Why write about that now? Over the past 15 years there have been some very influential men's movements like Promise Keepers; fantastic books for men like Wild at Heart; and other books honestly talking about this subject. Cage fighting is practically the favorite sport for Christian guys in my generation; beer and cigars are the main attractions at some men's groups in forward-thinking churches. You're the one rebuking young men for using virile language in church. What right do you have to complain that the church is too effeminate?"
Let's look at the examples my correspondent singled out. Have these things actually helped reverse the trends that are feminizing the church?
No, they haven't.
Most of the seminars, rallies, and books targeting evangelical men have actually made the situation worse. They are either dominated by feminine themes (personal relationships, dealing with your emotional hurts, learning the various "love languages," and other forms of sensitivity training)—or else they tend to paint a picture of masculinity that sounds like it is taken from The Brothers Grimm rather than Scripture.
And here's the clincher: despite all the chatter and attention this problem has received over the past decade and a half, men are still less likely to participate in the church today than they were two decades ago.
Even those who talk the most about the need for the church to reach men usually have a very childish perspective on manhood. "Virile language"? Cusswords? That's your "proof" that men in the church are coming to grips with their spiritual duty to act like men? Really?
One of the recurring figures of masculinity that John Eldredge keeps bringing up in Wild at Heart is Maximus from the movie Gladiator. A fantasy character! The subtitle of the book is Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul. But here is the secret of a man's soul according to John Eldredge: "Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue."
That's a fairy-tale perspective. It's an irresponsible little boy's notion of manhood. It lacks any biblical foundation whatsoever. But Wild at Heart is the single most influential book on Christian manhood published by any evangelical publisher in the past three decades. That says something about the state of the church. Meanwhile one of the best books actually dealing with the subject biblically is The Mark of a Man: Following Christ's Example of Masculinity—by Elizabeth Elliot.
Doesn't it say something about the state of the evangelical movement when so many men are writing bad books on Christian manhood, and the one current book that comes to mind dealing with the subject soberly and biblically was written by a woman?
Incidentally, it needs to be said that the crisis in the church is not primarily the fault of women who have shifted the focus of the church away from men. It's the fault of men who are too timid, too lazy, too fainthearted, too self-absorbed, too immature, too emotionally dysfunctional, too crude, too in love with fleshly values, or whatever. They have turned the church over to women.
In short, the problem is not that Christian women have overwhelmed the church with their feminine charms and seduced its focus away from where it ought to be. The problem is with Christian men who aren't manly enough to balance the equation.
That's a serious problem, and it is by no means a new problem. The tendency for men to abdicate their spiritual duties to women began in the garden of Eden at the fall.
And that in turn underscores the fact that the feminizing tendency in the church is not merely a cultural or sociological phenomenon that can be solved by sensitivity training or mere chest-thumping. It is a sin problem that cannot be remedied until we recognize the failure of men to lead the church properly and take significant steps to correct the problem—at its theological root, and not just in a way that masks the symptoms.
Here's the thing: manliness is not about bravado, and it's not about boyishness. Going out into the woods with a bunch of other men, putting on war paint, making animal noises, telling scary stories around a campfire, and then working up a good cry might be good, visceral fun and all, but that has nothing to do with the biblical idea of manliness.
Real manliness is defined by Christlike character, and not just the Gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild-style character, but the full-orbed fruit of the Spirit rounded out with strength, courage, conviction, strong passions, manly love, and a stout-hearted willingness to oppose error and fight for the truth—even to the point of laying down your life for the truth if necessary.
That's what Scripture portrays as authentic manliness, and it's the duty of every man in the church to be a model of that kind of manhood. Until men themselves stop listening to those who define manhood in terms of beer, stogies, and cage fighting; until Christian leaders quit fooling around with various tokens of artificial manhood; and until Christian men en masse seriously begin to cultivate real courage, conviction, and commitment to Christ and the gospel, the problem will persist.