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Is God Manly

Posted Friday, May 19, 2006 by Brian Beers

On a scale of 1 to 10, how manly is God? This is an idea that has been growing on me for some time now. I want God to be manly. During our men’s Bible study at church a man at my table put a label on his notebook that reads, “Biblical Leadership for Men.” The “for Men” leapt off the page at me. This Bible study isn’t the ordinary, gender-neutralized Bible study. It is for men. Our pastor is determined to lead the men of our church to be leaders of our families. It was during our weekly men’s Bible study that I realized the scope of this need. We have forty to fifty men at a men’s Bible study in a church of 200.

I suggested the idea to my wife that men want God to be manly, and a pained look flickered across her face. She considered “manly” a belittling adjective for God. But God repeatedly identifies himself as Father. I crave a hero, someone whom I can pattern my life after. Can God be this hero?

As a Christian man, my goal is supposed to be being like Jesus, but the descriptions I heard growing up are inadequate. Today, I see the paper, cut-out Jesus my sons bring home each week, and I sigh. I cherish them for they are signs of the innocence of childhood seasoned with Scripture. Yet I mourn them for their placid presentation of the person of Jesus Christ.

In Sunday School and in real church the supernaturalness of Jesus is dominant. The battle for the Deity of Jesus (or even just the existence of the supernatural) still has power to captivate us. The manhood of Jesus is unimportant. Except for the occasional excursion into Hebrews even the humanity of Jesus is all but irrelevant. The cost of this is high. This emasculation of Jesus has resulted in fewer Godly men and less Godly men in our churches. A Godly man and a manly man ought to be one and the same. Somehow, I can’t combine those two images in my mind. My perception of Jesus is influenced by too much flannel-graph and B-grade movies. Both proffer a two-dimensional, caricature of a person. Where may I see the Jesus that I long to imitate? I can describe Jesus theologically as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the righteous sacrifice for our sins, but I’m not supposed to imitate him in these ways.

I live in the huge, barren wasteland between a child’s understanding and a theologian’s formulations of doctrine. Do any other men live survive here? No man wants to serve a wimpy God so why is God’s image so wimpy? In the pursuit of Godliness, manliness warms the bench while meekness, obedience, and “prays well with others” get all the glory.

I know it is possible for Godliness and manliness to be united. If our portrayal of Jesus included more of the overturning tables and the righteous anger of driving Godless men out with whips, I wouldn’t be worrying about this.

The idea of manliness portrayed on television is a powerful opponent to Godliness. If you need me to explain any further, you need me to start with “This is called a television.” Anyone who has seen the flickering phosphors knows that “Godless television” is redundant, but it both shapes and reflects our culture’s view of manliness.

And movies are no better. The strong, silent type portrayed by John Wayne has been modus operandi for an entire generation of men. His image as a man’s man is the bane of many a wife, and such manliness is also devoid of Godliness. In recent years, it seemed if any movie or TV show included a Christian, he was the antagonist, psychotic or otherwise unforgivable. The message is that being a Christian corrupts a person. Protagonists on the other hand invariably succeed without God. Whether the hero’s goal is protecting his nation or his family, Godliness is irrelevant for success. And that’s just the ones who succeed by being moral. Then there are the many who succeed by judicious application of (usually violent) ungodliness.

None of us can honestly expect the media to portray manliness with Godliness. Why would we? This definition of manliness is written by unbelievers. But if popular culture has stripped manliness of Godliness, the church has returned the favor by stripping Godliness of manliness.

Our Sunday School lessons have plenty of “good” and “right” and “loving,” but those are abstract concepts. They don’t translate well into habits of Godliness. And other virtues such as humility or patience sneer at manliness. Though maybe you perceive it the other way around. Either way, it should not be. Manliness can incorporate these virtues without any loss of manliness. A heroic man is not simply a man who performs a mighty deed, but a man with mighty character. Character cannot be developed only through abstract teaching of right and wrong. We need examples of Godly manliness to follow. What we really need are stories. Stories of men being manly and Godly; men living in faith. A story can be powerful in shaping how we make decisions. We pattern our choices according to some model. If our pattern only consisted of rules derived from Scripture, we could avoid much sorrow, but we lack a positive direction, a purpose.

To translate the rules into actions, we need stories and characters with whom we can identify. Young men take hold of this idea whole-heartedly. They want to be like some hero, a baseball player, or a great scientist, maybe even one worthy of emulation. They make the choices that they believe their hero would make. They hope that their lives will reveal success like that of their hero. Some of us are too sophisticated to have a hero. Still, we distill patterns from everything we observe, and this means television and movies. This, in turn, means that we observe patterns distorted by the corrupt minds of people who don’t even have the beginning of wisdom.

Yet those who do have the beginning of wisdom market bracelets with WWJD woven into them. The merest beginning of wisdom, but help is not far off. We have the solution within out grasp as we stroll into church each Sunday. In the scriptures 70% is devoted to narrative, stories. Most of the characters are men. Almost every story includes war, revenge, or violence of some sort. For good or ill this is man-stuff. Somewhere in here we can expect to find a few manly men. And where we find heroes serving their God doing manly things, we find God who approves of and participates in this manliness.

But when we are asked for men exhibiting manliness in Scripture, David and Samson are the first to spring to mind; two men we are averse to imitate. Who wants to die beneath a collapsing pagan temple. After a time a few others may come to mind: Peter, Paul, maybe Barak. We need to learn to recognize the manliness of men in the Bible. The heroism of Biblical heroes needs to be considered again. As we recognize the manliness of God’s men, we can recognize that these qualities are reflections of God’s character. And we too can reflect God’s character in our own time.

Is God manly? Is God someone you want to be like? Or is he just someone your are supposed to be like?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 12:01 PM

Charlie wrote: Relevant Books This is a hot topic in Christian circles today, I've noticed. Have you read Wild at Heart or Why Men Hate Going To Church?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 12:30 PM

Brian wrote: 

I have read all of Eldredge's man-books, as well as his latest, Captivating which he wrote with his wife. It is also excellent. I am currently reading Why we hate going to church. I am planning a post on it, but my initial reaction is that it may have been ghost written by George Barna.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 2:18 PM

mingman wrote:  bwah haha haha. with you gone...i am going to win the ping pong tourney. how manly is that?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 3:21 PM

Brian wrote: Hey! This was serious!

Why are you telling me? I never won, and while we're at it, thanks for bringing up that..those humiliations. Those were the days, weren't they? Minutes of study interspersed with dragging you down to be the fourth for a game or three of doubles.

Maybe we can get Sam to transcribe his ping-pong illustration/sermon. What do you say, Sam?

Friday, May 26, 2006 11:56 AM

Sam wrote: Now we've touched on an interesting topic.... I'll have to check with the seminary and see if they used to tape the student's sermons...ah, those were the days.  Speaking of manly, i have a doubles ping-pong trophy sitting on my shelves...i'll try to dig up my notes on that sermon.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 6:26 AM

Josh wrote: A few thoughts...

Brian, I have been reflecting on your post.  I appreciate the questions you have raised and there are definitely issues to work through.  I do have a couple of initial thoughts…


First, with several potential points of reference for “manliness”, I remain unsure as to exactly how we might define the term.  You have rightly condemned popular culture for propagating ideas of “manliness” that are more properly described as “chauvinism.”  I would only add that these cultural portrayals are just as often negative and critical of “manliness” (however we might define it) as they are promoting or encouraging it.


Further, I am yet unpersuaded that Godliness and manliness should be united (regardless of how we define manliness).  It would seem to be an attempt to unite things that are constituted of different essences.  For example, I agree that as a Christian man, I should attempt to be like Jesus.  But what is it about Jesus that I should be like?  As for my wife or yours or any Christian woman, her goal too is to be like Jesus.  Is there something different about how a female should emulate Christ?  If so, how would we avoid the charge that we are offering a second-rate status to women?  I am not so sure that the manhood of Jesus is as significant an idea as the humanity of Jesus.  I am quite sure that your passion on this topic is generated primarily by the truncated presentations of Jesus that are often foisted off upon those not deemed worthy of a considered answer.  Furthermore, I know that your passion is that men be Godly men (or perhaps Godly Men).  But what does that mean?  Or, what does that not mean?


With respect to things that might be understood to exemplify “manliness,” war, revenge, and violence are not solely associated with men in the OT.  Deborah and Jael then become examples of “manliness.”  Again, I think it forces us to reflect upon our concept of “manliness.”  Which leads me to another thought – namely, my unease at certain ways of associating gendered terms with God.  Is God manly or masculine?  I do not believe so – basically, because He is not a man.  I realize that one might note that the second person of the Trinity became a man, but it would be erroneous to extend masculinity or manliness to the entire Godhead from that.  Christ taking on humanness does not make the Trinity human.  Also, I don’t think very many people would be comfortable asserting that God is male.  And, if God is manly, consistency seems to require saying that God is also womanly.  If we attempt to associate manliness with certain qualities or even actions, then this result seems unavoidable.  I would not wish to postulate that certain aspects of God’s character are manly and others womanly.  God is a Father, but I am not sure as to what conclusions this allows us to make, if any, with respect to manliness.


As for Jesus driving people out of the temple with a scourge, I don’t think that manliness is the essential element in the particular actions that He took.  There is no doubt that Jesus was male and experienced humanity as a male human, but I fail to see what masculine elements can be distilled from the gospel accounts of Jesus that would be to the exclusion of every believer.


Charlie mentioned Wild at Heart, so a few comments about it since it perhaps initiated in contemporary Christianity a consciousness of “masculinity”.  I think Eldredge hs captured the essence of masculinity for many men, but I do not think it applies to all men.  My fundamental hesitation is that it seems he has extrapolated what it means for him personally to be male and generalized this to all males.  I am unable to see how this generalization is possible without reducing “adventure” or “a beauty” to meaningless abstracts,  It may be that he covered this but I don’t remember, but how do unmarried men, both lifelong singles and those yet unmarried, win a beauty?  How do we avoid defining manliness as “those things done by men”?  Is manliness even a worthwhile category?  Perhaps the issue is not so much a question of a lack of manliness as it is a lack of Godliness.


Is God manly?  Is God masculine?  It is hard for me to think of how to answer those questions in the positive without belittling God.  Brian, you are right that there is a problem with our view of God often being too wimpy, and I think you are also correct to cite the narrative portions of Scripture as a helpful corrective to this.  I just don’t know if trying to encapsulate this problem/issue under the heading of manliness is the right track.  I know Godly men.  I hope they serve as examples to me of what it means to be Godly and what it means to be a man.  Thanks again for your post and the chance to reflect on this issues.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 7:50 AM

Brian wrote: Is God godly?

The image of God is fulfilled by men and women; not by an individual nor even by one and one woman together. These microcosms both resemble the image of God in many ways, but it is the whole of feminine and masculine humanity that is the image of God. While there is much overlap between the genders in fulfilling this role, men fulfill this role in ways that women are not meant to, and vice versa.

Christians have been bending over backwards to avoid the false accusation that Christianity offers women only a second rate role. I say “false accusation” based on church attendance percentages. More women than men attend and minister in church because feminine values are cultivated. This is intertwined with a disdain for masculinity that has weakened the church. This disdain is not complete nor could it be. Masculinity cannot be eradicated, but it has been devalued.

My vision is that we rediscover the depths ad grandeur of both masculinity and femininity. We have lost sight of both in a drift toward androgeny. We resist describing God in crude, biological terms, but masculinity and femininity are not biological terms. Secular humanism casts them as biological since the physical world is the only admissable source for any distinguishing characteristic. But we are not bound by such ignorance. In order to discover the glory of being a man, we must look to God, the source of manliness. God is not male, but he is the original for all characteristics of true manliness.

I hoped to get your attention with the question, “Is God manly?” I believe that the answer is identical to the answer for the question, “Is God godly?” God is the original. He is not god-like for he is God. People can be god-like --in limited ways. Man-people have a subset of ways that they may be god-like that is distinct from the subset of ways available to woman-people. This we can call “manliness.” As we explore this, we cannot help but uncover the value of being feminine along with the value of being masculine. I have no concern about this. The discernment that we gain will increase our appreciation for women and allow them to revel in being feminine as we revel in being masculine.

Sunday, June 04, 2006 10:39 AM


Even though I have been absent from Theoblogian for some time, lost in the swamp of Seminary, you will find that a reference to the image of God will always grab my attention, and so I hope that this is not an inappropriate time to leap back into the fray. In your response to Josh, you state first of all that the image of God is expressed by the whole of humanity and not by individuals, but I am not sure what you mean. If you mean, as I think perhaps you do, that the image is all of humanity, then you are left with a very fluid sort of image; one which was wonderful in the garden, but pretty awful since then, and also seems to be defined by the worst that humanity has to offer. Have I misunderstood what you meant here?

You also state that the image of God is a role to be fulfilled, but what leads you to this conclusion? And if I don’t fulfill that role, am I no longer in the image of God? What if I fulfill part of it? If I stop fulfilling it can I ever start again? This is the great difficulty with trying to make the image something functional rather than ontological, and it seems to be a doubly great difficulty when men must function in one way in order to be in the image and women must function in another. The image of God is a complicated enough matter without adding all that extra stress.

I also think you avoided the heart of Josh’s critique. You say that feminine values are cultivated in the church, but which values are feminine and how do we know that they are feminine? Is mercy a feminine quality? Is justice a masculine quality? Which one is holiness? Gentleness sounds feminine, but then Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart. What about faithfulness? What are the masculine qualities that ought to be emphasized? You say that more women minister in the church than men, but is this true, and if it is not true, if the leaders of the church are men, how did feminine values become predominant? You criticize abstraction in your initial post, and so I think what Josh is asking for, and what I am asking for as well is something a little more concrete from you than simply the idea of a subset of behavior by which Man-people may be god-like.

Now, if I may add an additional criticism to your initial post, you crave a hero, someone to pattern your life after, and you want it to be God, but what does that leave for your wife? After whom can she pattern her life? If the Bible is full of man-stuff where can one go to find woman-stuff? If by imitating God I can become truly manly, whom do women imitate to become truly womanly? Or, in your view, is God perhaps androgenous, equally displaying male and female characteristics, as suitable a pattern for women as for men? If this is the case, how do I avoid confusing the feminine characteristics with the masculine and accidentally imitating the wrong ones? These questions illustrate what I believe are some of the dangers of trying to apply any gender characteristics to God, masculine or feminine (exclusive, of course, of the Incarnation), but all of this is simply to say that the Christianity you describe does not seem to hold much for women.

Monday, June 05, 2006 7:26 AM

Brian wrote: Dr. Mattison, I presume.

Had I realized that dropping a dollop of the image of God into a post is all it would take for bait, you would have been lured out quite some time ago.

On the matter of humanity reflecting the image of God, I believe that the difference between “wonderful” and “pretty awful” is no more difficult for this interpretation than for any other. The Fall corrupted individuals as much as it corrupted humanity as a whole, but comparative interpretations of the image of God is more of a discussion than I wish tackle here. The fact that both declarations concerning the “image of God” are immediately followed by functions justifies function (at least partially) as integral to the image of God.

The main thrust of my statement in my post, however, is that male and female together are the image of God. The support for this comes from the parallel statements in Genesis 1:27

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

In the third line, “male and female” replaces “in the image of God” in the second line. Both genders are necessary for being the image of God. I believe this is key for us to understand masculinity and femininity. Neither man nor woman is adequate to be the image of God independent of the other gender. Since God chose to make this distinction clear in Scripture, we are justified in discerning differences between feminine Godliness and masculine Godliness.

I am not sure why you interpreted the idea of exploring the masculinity promoted in Scripture to mean that femininity doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist in Scripture. I hope to allay your concern that I want to interpret Scripture from a completely masculine point of view. The underlying problem that I wish to attack is the refusal to discern between masculine and feminine characteristics in Scripture.

Men and women value different traits as part of their identification as men and women. So men and women should be allowed to discern these characteristics in Scripture and apply them in their own lives. If, one the other hand, we deny that there is masculinity in Scripture then we also deny femininity. And since men and women are masculine and feminine beings, we also deny that Scripture provides instruction about being godly men and women. We replace it with a genderless Godliness.

But the Christianity I describe holds much more for women than does the genderless homogeneity that seems prevalent today. If we encourage men to be Godly men according to the pattern of masculinity in Scripture then women will simultaneously be encouraged to be Godly women according to the pattern of femininity in Scripture. They go hand in hand.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 10:25 PM

Adam wrote: 

I appreciate your response, and I’m sorry for getting off track on the image of God, which perhaps we can discuss at a later time, but I can’t let you wriggle off the hook so easily. The major question in my response to your response to Josh’s response to your original post is which are the masculine virtues and which are the feminine and how I can tell the difference between them? If I want to be manly, what must I do? Until I know this, I don’t see how I can ever hope to fulfill your vision of recapturing my masculinity.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 11:58 PM

Brian wrote: My response to your response to my non-response

Or something like that.

The difference isn't between masculine virtues and feminine virtues. Such as: justice is a masculine virtue while mercy is a feminine virtue. Rather, I think the difference is in how men desire and execute justice versus how women do.

Maybe I am saying that it is a matter of style. Men do things differently than women do. Men can exercise strength that women do not possess. Related to this fact, manliness includes restraining the exercise of one's strength.

The may also lie in the occasions for men to demonstrate virtue. Numerous times in the Lord of the Rings Frodo and Sam show mercy to Gollum by putting away the knife rather than putting it in him. That is a masculine occasion for mercy. Women on the other hand do not pick up the sword unless there is no room for mercy. Witness Eowyn riding with the riders of Rohan and slaying the Nazgul.

I cite these archetypical examples to suggest a pattern for us to look for when discerning the differences between masculinity and femininity.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006 12:17 PM

Sam wrote: real quick diversion real you think that adult women have to be submissive to men other than their husbands?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006 2:55 PM

Charlie wrote: 

That's a real quick diversion, Sam?

I just have one comment from a few comments ago about Hebrew poetry. The male and female does not replace the image of God in the poetry: this is the old view of Lowth, who viewed parallel lines as synonyms. But the better view (Alter, Berlin, and friends) is that the second line intensifies the first line. So they are not exactly the same, but it is expanding the thought in some way.

On the general thread, I stand with Josh and Adam. The question I have is this: how would a church directed to males act? What would it look like that is different than now?

Thursday, June 08, 2006 7:26 AM

Sam wrote: Well, its meant to be. I am just looking for a yes or no answer from Brian (and anyone else who wants to join in), and then i may put a post together.  I am trying to plumb the ramifications of our views on masculinity and femininity.  So, yes or no?  Deal or no deal?

Thursday, June 08, 2006 7:34 AM

Brian wrote: 

My initial answer is, “No.”

I’ll hedge my my answer with another question. How is a wife's submission to her husband different from the general Christian submission one to another?

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