Culture At Large

On the "Manly Jesus" vs. "Cuddly Jesus" trends

Andy Rau

Is your faith manly enough? Lots of Christian bloggers have been talking about the "Godmen" movement, as exposed in a recent LA Times article. A quick excerpt from the article, which is worth reading in its entirety:

[Brad Stine is] stand-up comic by trade, but he's here today as an evangelist, on a mission to build up a new Christian man--one profanity at a time. "It's the wuss-ification of America that's getting us!" screeches Stine, 46.

A moment later he adds a fervent: "Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!"

It's an apt anthem for a contrarian movement gaining momentum on the fringes of Christianity. In daybreak fraternity meetings and weekend paintball wars, in wilderness retreats and X-rated chats about lust, thousands of Christian men are reaching for more forceful, more rugged expressions of their faith.

Yikes. I won't spend too much time discussing the Godmen piece, because other bloggers have done a great job of that already (see thoughts by Al Mohler, Fernando's Desk, Crossroads, and GetReligion for some good thoughts on the movement's concept of "masculine Christianity"). But I want to point out a good post at the First Things blog that sees the "Godmen" phenomenon as very closely (and somewhat ironically) related to the touchy-feely, uncomfortably romantic Christianity that Mikey talked about here last week. Mary Angelita Ruiz at First Things sees both movements as two points on the same spectrum--earnest if misguided attempts to better understand Jesus by remaking him in accordance with our own needs and sensibilities:

[The Godmen movement is] mockable—and yet all such movements are trying to react against the bad and seek the good. The Jesus Mean and Wild men are confronting a serious problem. Many Christians are frustrated by the Christianity presented to them: too polite, too sunny, too nice to help them in their struggles. GodMen uses the straight-talking, guns-blazing atmosphere of its meetings to help its participants deal with sexual temptation and sin.

Meanwhile, the Jesus Is My Boyfriend contingent, seeking a deeper relation with Christ, is echoing a millennia-old spirituality that uses the language of sexual desire to express the soul’s longing for God.

She closes by observing that re-decorating Jesus in the image of our choice is not how we come to truly know him:

The aim of meditating on Christ is to know him and love him—all of him: the judge, the spouse, the brother, the child, the friend, the king, the shepherd. The aim of imitating Christ is to become like him. There are no shortcuts. Slogans, self-help books, rallies, makeovers—these will not substitute for worship of Christ, not as we might like him to be, but as he is.

(Read the whole piece--and pardon my lengthy quoting above.)

Both movements--both the "masculinization" of Jesus and the "Jesus is my boyfriend" trend of romanticizing Christ--make more sense to me now, looking at them as attempts to apply our own templates to a Jesus who has always defied expectations and easy categorization.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith