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Jesus as Human Male: The Latest Controversy

Submitted by on December 16, 2013 – 11:20 am2 Comments
Jesus, as painted by Warner Sallman

Jesus, as painted by Warner Sallman

In the Wall Street Journal for Friday, December 13, 2013, Stephen Prothero writes an editorial, “A Cage-Fighting Christ for Our Time.”  In it he gives historical context to a recent controversy on the person of Christ.  Pastor Mark Driscoll (of the 7000+ member Mars Hill megachurch in Seattle) complains about the feminization of American Christianity, which drives many men away from church.  To counter such an image, Driscoll stresses in an October blog post (as quoted by Prothero),

“Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist.  He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning.  Once the wick is burned up, he is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom.  Blood will flow.”

Prothero notes that Driscoll seeks to change the popular image of Jesus as “a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair.”  According to Driscoll, the book of Revelation portrays Jesus as “a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed.”

Prothero puts Driscoll’s macho Jesus into historical context.  In the 1800s the Victorian Age depicted Jesus as soft and mild.  To counter that depiction Billy Sunday in the early 20th century portrayed Jesus as a manly man, a fighter and scrapper.  Then with the 1960s and 1970s came the hippie Jesus.

As we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, what do we say about Jesus?  In the fullness of time the Son of God became flesh and tabernacled among us.  He took on human nature and made it his own.  He identified with the human race, not the angels or the birds or fish.  Yet his maleness is not some theological triviality.  The eternal Son of God became the human Son of the human Mary.  Jesus is the Son, not the daughter, the Son of God and the Son of Mary.  With his incarnation he became human male for reasons that fit the salvific economy, such as being the last Adam who undoes the disaster of the first Adam and being the new and greater David ruling on David’s throne.

Yet, while we confess the Christological significance of his maleness, we also should beware of imposing on Jesus what is, in actuality, the trivialities of American pop culture.  The Scriptures do not contain a list of what personality traits are distinctively male or distinctively female.  We think of strength as a masculine trait but Proverbs 31 depicts a woman as strong.  We consider compassion a feminine trait but Psalm 103 speaks of God showing compassion as a father shows compassion to his children.  In the midst of culture wars, it is important to present to people the full biblical picture of Jesus, both the Jesus who says “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29) and the Jesus who drives out the money changers.  The full biblical picture of our Lord is always more than we think it is, for the benefit of all people during this time when we prepare to celebrate the wondrous mystery of the Incarnation.

2 Comments »

  • Matthew Priem says:

    It seems to me the danger here is not only in potentially incorrect depictions of Jesus’ character traits. More importantly, it is in laying stress on character traits of Jesus that are of peripheral importance even if they are accurate. Jesus’ ruggedness and the fullness of his beard are poor substitutes for his grace and mercy as points for homiletical emphasis. At an even broader level, Driscoll’s Jesus seems alarmingly like a god made in our own image; the sort of god our culture clamors for but that can ultimately do nobody any good.

    • David McElroy says:

      Macho Jesus continues to make appearances. Last year it was DJesus on Saturday Night Live. The controversy that followed was a blip of offended Christians. I always thought the depiction was a true representation of what most of the Jews were expecting in a Messiah. Thanks Matthew for seeing this for what it is. Let us not let this type of misrepresentation pass by without telling of the true forgiveness and salvation through Christ Jesus.

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