“Biblical Masculinity” and “Sanctified Testosterone:” Why Biblical Manhood is Idolatrous

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes the need for “biblical manhood” for “anemic churches.” However, the notion of “biblical manhood” is idolatrous.

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When I first read the article in Baptist News Global about Jason Allen’s comments at the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (view its entirety here), I got a lump in my throat, my shoulders tensed up, and my chest ached. I was reminded of a time when I was working and a man, not my supervisor, but in leadership where I worked, came up to me while I was at my desk. The office setting was fairly quiet. He knew I wanted to go into pastoral ministry because he overheard my conversation with a friend. And he had an opinion about it. He came into my workspace, and proceeded to talk  yell. I listened to a lecture, with strong and passionate inflections, on how I was going against the word of God in feeling called to preach. I did not get to respond to his lecture, nor did he want my thoughts. There was no way to leave my desk. If any of my coworkers heard him talking, they did not come alleviate the situation. I shut my mouth, bowed my head, and half-nodded to pretend engagement. My face was red and blotchy from anxiety, like I was embarrassed, but had no reason. I was relieved when he finally left. This incident has prompted me to be afraid, at times, to speak forthrightly with others on how I perceive God’s calling in my life. I felt like I had to hide.

This is why, as a Baptist, I felt I had to respond to Allen’s comments. This theology is dangerous, and how it’s practiced leads to the possibility and perpetuation of abuse.

Allen seems to assume that the very presence of women’s leadership in the church threatens or perhaps condemns “biblical masculinity.” This implicates that men and women need to be at tension with one another, instead of ministering together. He emphasizes “biblical manhood,” “Christian masculinity,” and what he calls “sort of sanctified testosterone” but does not define them. Instead, he alludes to them with snippets of scripture. In this brief exhortation, he does not lay out a concept of what manhood is, or what is biblical about it. The only example he cites from scripture is the church at Corinth as one that lacked such presence of “biblical manhood,” because the church was so corrupt. He narrows in on the phrase “act like men” (which is in the ESV and NASB; the NLT, NIV, and NRSV say “be strong”) in 1 Corinthians 16:13 to the neglect of the rest of the New Testament. Based on Paul’s words in that passage, it seems that verse was meant to be addressed to the entire Church at Corinth. Looking at the crucified and resurrected Jesus, along with Paul’s emphasis of weakness as strength, presents a different idea of “biblical masculinity” than the one in which Allen seems to advocate.

I imagine Allen’s demand for “biblical manhood” is rooted in fear. This fear can be located in many places. Could it be a fear of loss of power and control? Might he fear an increasing secular United States? Does the current political environment impart such fear? Perhaps it’s fear of being wrong.  In recent years, white evangelicalism has been exposed for what it is: ignorant toward the least of these; patronizingly racist; and more concerned about pushing political agendas than loving our neighbors. I say this as a white Baptist.

At its heart, “biblical manhood,” “Christian masculinity,” and “sanctified testosterone” are idolatrous. These phrases turn culturally conditioned circumstances into divine sanctions. This sin is nothing new. Sojourner Truth’s sermon “Ain’t I a Woman?” rejected such false characterizations of “manhood” and “womanhood” over 100 years ago. As a formerly enslaved African American, she uncovers the stereotypes of “manhood” and “womanhood” as products of the white middle to upper class societies. She exposes that “femininity” and “masculinity” only apply to certain types of bodies (and economic privileges) to the neglect of others by emphasizing her identity as a black woman who both plowed and nursed—in her suffering, “None but Jesus heard me.” Further, when the objection arose that women should not have the right to vote because Christ was a man, she offers this challenge: “Where did your Christ come from? God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with Him.” Here, she reveals not only these prohibitions as idolatrous, but asserts woman as central in the incarnation.

That is preaching  boldly.

I’m grateful for the women who have pastored me. They bear witness to the Spirit’s indwelling them in the sermons, prayers, and pastoral care. They proclaim the gospel courageously and love their congregants. They minister not because of the lack of men, like Allen infers, but because they were called by God and sent to their communities. And, as Paul exclaims in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Author: Kate Hanch

I like to laugh, study theology, the church, & Missouri sports. Sister, daughter, wife, Baptist, Christian feminist, friend, minister, PhD student in theology, Weird Al fan, wanderlust.

7 thoughts on ““Biblical Masculinity” and “Sanctified Testosterone:” Why Biblical Manhood is Idolatrous”

  1. Something that both perplexes and grieves me very much is the subject of biblical manhood. I have yet to find one source that actually defines it without misogyny. It appears that, according to most, being a man means lording over your wife and family as the Gentiles do… and doing it in a very un-Christ-like manner. If I could point to one person that seems to resonate with “manliness”, I think it would be King David, who is the contradiction to every ‘man’ that I’ve ever met (save a two men from Sweden). With “biblical manhood”, it is so rehearsed and so far outside of the Bible, that I’m not even sure where to begin in attempting to write out some general thoughts on biblical manhood. I feel that there is so much to tear down, and yet where do you even point to in the Bible to begin to build up? There are only a handful of places where we can genuinely reference as manliness (thinking of David telling Solomon to “be a man” at this present moment). And, what is even more pressing and difficult is that I’ve noticed generally that when you hit the nail on the head, it applies to more than just Christians. It applies to all of humanity, or all of they that fall within the category you’re addressing (man, woman, Jew, etc).

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    1. Thanks for thinking with me on this, @tjustincomer. I’m not sure if I have an answer. I wonder how paying attention to the Spirit’s work in our hearts, and through the Scriptures, can help us think of humanity as created in the imago trinitatis (image of the Trinity) which is life-giving for all persons.

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      1. I guess I would then ask, what is it that you think a “real man” is? Whether it is in the Bible or not, is there anything that seems inherently “now THAT is a man!”? Something I can think of is a certain caliber of courage. How many action movies are put to shame by some of the courageous acts in the Scripture, and how many men are captured by these stories? Not sure, but I do think biblical manhood and biblical womanhood are equally as important to redefine and get to the bottom of as a general anthropology. Generally, I disagree with the bulk majority of what I call “the Johns” (John MacArthur, John Piper, Phil Johnson, etc)…

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      2. Good question! I am not sure if I’m the best one to answer this. Courage is important, and I wonder if courage should be nurtured in all persons. I can think of several examples of courageous women in scripture and history (Ruth, the Marys, Sojourner Truth, to name a few)

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  2. Many use the term “Christian masculinity” over and against a secular or worldly view of masculinity that often includes ideas of “machismo” or the ugliness that shows up on anti-woman sites like Menimist. So, “Christian masculinity” is not juxtaposed against “Christian femininity,” but rather against unhealthy forms of masculinity. I believe we could say Jesus acted in Christian, masculine ways.

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    1. thanks for commenting, Paul. It is important to make sure these terms don’t tear one another down. Equally important is thinking about them in ways as life-giving to all, and honoring every person as created in the image of the Trinity.

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      1. Exactly! I noticed in your own bio above that you employ the term “Christian feminist,” so I agree with you that we don’t need to “tear one another down” based upon gender labels. Thanks!

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