Blog Posts

Why I hate Why Men Hate Going to Church

Why Men Hate Murrow

In this updated edition of his 2005 book Why Men Hate Going to Church David Murrow has addressed a real, verifiable problem. Men don’t go to church, at least not in the numbers that women do. Why is this? Are Women more spiritual than men? Less fallen? No, but among the various factors that keep men out of the pews, Murrow finds that the church have soft-pedaled parts of the gospel painting Jesus as the gentle lamb of God without also showing us that He is the Lion of Judah, ferocious and wild. He asserts that if the church is to recapture the culture, grow, fulfill its mission, take risks, do something significant, be more orthodox, cultivate commitment among the youth, then we need to retool how we do church in ways that appeal more to men and make them feel like church is worthwhile.

What Murrow attempts to do in these pages is point out the lack of men in church, identify some of the ways that church culture has excluded men, and offer some practical advice on how to make church more man friendly. I applaud this goal. The issues he speaks of are real and if men are to be encouraged to pursue a real and vibrant faith, clearly this means doing ministry in ways that speak to men. A promise keeper’s male hug-fest doesn’t translate to more men in the church. Murrow tries to put his finger on the pulse of what does. For this I applaud him. And so, what is the problem? Several in fact:

1. Murrow bases his analysis on unhelpful gender stereotypes garnered from pop-psychology. In chapter one, Murrow makes the case that the church displays feminine values because Christian values. Murrow utilizes Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus to make his point that culturally, the Church is seen as feminine. Women value things like communication, connection, beauty, whereas men are all about power, efficiency, proving oneself and skills. While I think John Gray makes important distinctions in the way men and women are socialized, I think it is a mistake to absolutize his claims. If men are to thrive in life, the so-called feminine characteristics he describes are what will enable it. Without the ability to empathize, and relate to others (feminine traits), a man demonstrates a low E.Q. and will not succeed in business or life. This is what a number of popular business books are telling us guys. Men are not simply task master automatons; they are also relational beings. I have a problem with a book about men which begins with an assumption which denies their full humanity.

2. While Feminization is a problem in the church, Murrow fails to see that it is actually a broad cultural problem, not a simple ecclesial problem. At one point, he does acknowledge that women are starting to be a significant portion of the academic world is also excluding men. This is a societal problem. Men are withdrawing from business, from academic institutions and the church. This book addresses the problem in the church in isolation from culture. Therefore Murrow’s analysis is flawed from the get-go.

3. Murrow’s use of statistics is irresponsible. Well, at least he is inconsistent. Some of his stats are good; sometimes he relies on non-scientific polls to make his point. Other times he draws conclusions from stats that are not judicious. For example, when 11 out of 95 men leaving a sportsman show think that church is not masculine, this is hardly compelling evidence of how feminine the church is. Let me be clear, I agree the feminization of the church is a real problem; yet most of the data Murrow sites is more anecdotal than empirical.

4. Sometimes Murrow fails to accurately name the reasons for the problems he sees. For example, he rightly points out that the biggest gender disparity he sees, is in African-American churches. What is the reason? Gay pastors, the formal and traditional dress of African-American churches, and the length of their services are Murrow’s answer(91, 109, 159). While there may be some truth to his answers, this fails to account for the wider societal issue of the absence of the African-American male. African-American males are under educated, under represented in the workforce, do not have the political clout of African-American women. They are the highest representative demographic of men in prison. Murrow’s analysis doesn’t account for any of this. It makes me think that much of what he says is more conjecture than actually helpful.

5. Murrow operates on the assumption that because something is cultural feminine, it excludes men and therefore we need to do something different for them. I agree up to a point. But he makes the case that men are uncomfortable with physical affection, talking about their ‘relationship’ with God or being in intimate settings with other people. He suggests mega-churches attract men because they feel unthreatened and can be anonymous. Okay. But is this good for men? Personally, opening up relationally and talking about uncomfortable things has been my biggest growth edge in my ‘relationship’ with God. I get that some of relational language can be seen by macho-men as a little bit ‘candy-ass,’ but honestly relational language captures the experiential reality of what it means to walk with God. Murrow would argue that we should abandon the unbiblical language of ‘personal relationship’ which sounds icky to men and anyway is not biblical, to the harder more challenging language of discipleship. I agree that to be a Christian is to come to grips to what it means to be a disciple, but this does not fully encompass our life with God. Jesus himself said to his disciples, “I no longer call you disciples but I call you friends (John 15:15).” There is a personal relationship at the core of how we relate to Jesus. If men object to the language of ‘personal relationship,’ they still need to contend with Biblical language which commends intimacy and friendship. If this is problematic for the would be disciple, maybe they need to let go of some of their gender stereotyping. Man up! Having a personal relationship with Jesus doesn’t make you less of a man. It makes you a member of the new humanity. You want to be a man, have a personal relationship with Jesus. You don’t want to do that? Then die in your impotent idea of manhood with its antiquated appropriation of gender stereotypes.

6. As long as I am mentioning language, another place where Murrow gets this wrong is when he eschews the language of ‘family of God.’ He rightly, if woodenly literal, points out that Jesus never used the term ‘family of God; instead he talked about the Kingdom of God. I personally have no issue using Kingdom language, but to dismiss family of God as simply something that appeals to the feminine, fails to emphasis our relationality to one another. To be in the church, is to be connected to other Christians in ways more profound than our marriages or family of origin. The fact that Jesus never says, “family of God” doesn’t illegitimatize the term. Jesus does say, “Those who do the will of the Father are my brother, sister and mother. (Matthew 12:50)” My guess that this statement is more offensive to women than men. Paul, Peter, James and John all use the term ‘brothers’ to refer to those in the church. When you think of the church. this is your family. It is a theological truth for Christians, not gendered language aimed to draw women into the church and exclude men. It is a fact for those who would call Christ their Lord and want to be his disciples.

7. On a personal note, I like church. I am bummed if I miss church. According to Murrow’s analysis, the fact that I like church, thrive in church, have good verbal skills and am relational is because I am feminine. My schmaltzy talk-about-your-feelings-pastoral nature fits well in church and its girly. Well Murrow here is a newsflash. I am all man. I am so manly that other men cower when I walk to a room. If you are a man reading this now, I know you are intimidated. I’m just saying.

This isn’t to say all the advice that Murrow gives on how to reach men is bad. Some of it is pretty helpful. He talks about providing places where men feel like they are offering something significant and are taking leadership. He also offers some helpful tips on teaching that connects with men. Occasionally he overstates his advice like when he says don’t allow churches to display flowers because it’s too feminine and men feel uncomfortable. If your church doesn’t look like a bed and breakfast probably most men can handle a few bouquets. I find the inherent sexism in his analysis problematic, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get some things right.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson (via Booksneeze) for giving me this review copy in exchange for my review. I was not asked to write a positive review of this book. So I didn’t.

Job Interview frustrations.

So my job interview didn’t happen today because I was having Skype issues (for the position I am applying for, it is the only way they would interview me. So I am rescheduled for Tuesday, which the plus side is that I have until Tuesday to become a better man.

The upside of not getting my interview done and over with is that I discovered the issue is with my microphone. I get that taken care of and everything should work. Unfortunately that means going and buying a microphone to apply for a position I barely qualify for and am not likely to get.

Luckily my video is working, so I should be able to get by on my good looks.

Book Review: Mercy is the Name of an Old Lady?

Arterburn encounterI wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as I did. A book about a middle-aged man on a self-destructive path having to face past wounds and in the process being met by God, sounded just a tad ‘Shack-y’ for my tastes. When the synopsis of the book online said:

The Encounter, the unique new book from best-selling author and counselor Stephen Arterburn, is a moving parable involving Jonathan Rush, a wealthy and famous entrepreneur, who is tortured by bitterness toward his mother who abandoned him when he was four. He travels to Alaska to find her but instead meets an enigmatic old woman known only as Mercy…

I just figured that this was a new twist on the same theme (meet God in your place of wounding and be healed). And that kind of was it, but not exactly. Actually the story doesn’t just follow Jonathan as he searches; it also tells the story of Ada, the woman who gave him up for adoption when he was four. It tells of how she made the choice, the regret she had afterwards and the ways she still tried to love him even after giving him up for adoption and forfeiting her legal rights to be in her life.

This then is a story of forgiveness. Jonathan learns how to extend grace to his mother (SPOILER ALERT: The woman he meets named Mercy, is in fact his mother Ada). Ada also has been walking around in guilt and shame since abandoning her son 31 years later. She has to forgive herself.

This story while fictional, is based on two true stories. One of these stories is reenacted in the climactic scene of this book. That is the best part of the book and is a vivid picture of what it means to extend grace to others, and the ways in which God extends grace to us.

I appreciated this book and it certainly caused me to reflect on where I harbor unforgiveness in my heart and what it does to me. I think on that level, this story illustrates well the dangers of letting bitterness to take root, and the experience of grace.

I received this book from Thomas Nelson via Book Sneeze in exchange for my honest review.

Job Interview Friday

For those who read my blog and pray, I have a job interview at Logos Bible Software on Friday. I am applying for the Hebrew Lexicon Curator position. This would involve me reading closely reading the Hebrew Bible and making judgments to the appropriate sense in passages and grouping them and describing them accordingly. I am not sure who else is applying or if I am the best qualified for this type of position, but I am excited at the prospect. It would be a way to put my Hebrew into practice and get paid to read the Bible closely. In the end, I think a job like this would prepare me well for ministry when I do find myself in the pastorate somewhere. So pray for the mutual discernment of Logos and I. This is just a first interview, and for some reason they want to do a skype interview. I may not make it past this round, but am eager to know if this is where God is leading right now.

Brooding Russian Novelist for the Lighthearted (or Leitharted)?

Leithart-Dostoevsky

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for the review copy of Peter Leithart’s Fyodor Dostoevsky. Below is my fair and honest review:

I was interested in this book for three reasons:

1. Dostoevsky is one of the best and most profound novelists whoever lived. Crime and Punishment is incisive in its critique of 19th century European philosophy and insightful on the complexity of the human heart, illuminating both its darkness and its goodness. <The Brother's Karamazov is a classic of Western literature. But what about the man? Before reading this book, my only exploration of what sort of man Dostoevsky was, was Wikipedia and a chapter from a Yancey Book. So I was eager to read more.

2. Peter Leithart is an excellent author and has published books in several genres (theology, historical theology, sermons, literary criticism, cultural criticsm, commentaries and other books about the Bible). He also blogs, A LOT at http://www.Leithart.com and has published numerous articles. To use the adjective prolific, may be an understatement. And while I haven’t read everything he’s written and know it can’t all be good, generally he has keen insight and is worth listening to.

3. I fancy myself a history buff and Russian history is incredibly interesting. Dostoevsky lived in 19th Century Russia, a period fraught with growing political unrest and conservative entrenchment. Anything focusing on Dostoevsky and needs to explore these dimensions.

In this thin volume, Leithart gives us an intimate portrait of Dostoevsky, the lover of Russian and lover of Christ. This is not a work of hagiography, Dostoevsky is too real to allow himself be sainted. He drinks to much, he is arrogant and full of rage, he is a gambler and a poor money manager, he is a scoundrel who has a mistress while his first wife is on her deathbed. But he is also somebody who sees with clarity the bankruptcy of European philosophy on Russian soil and that the only hope for his beloved country is Christ.

Leithart’s book is copiously researched as his end notes attest. Though his biography is written in narrative form, many of Dostoevsky’s words come from various of his correspondence and writings.
Having not read another biography on Dostoevsky, this sufficed for my purposes; however I imagine that a better book than this could have been written. This is relatively a brief treatment and while Leithart is fair, this is not him at his most creative or insightful.

But I do recommend it as a short, engaging treatment of a great novelist.

Traveling through the Text-Part 1: Mile High Bible Society

Genreally, Biblical hermeneutics is about how you read the Bible. Here I want to talk about how fast you read the Bible. Metaphorically, the mode of transportation you take determines what you see. This is the first series of posts on traveling through the text. The metaphor I am exploring here is flying. Please fasten your seat belts and put your trays and seat backs in the upright position:

A Bird’s Eye View

Recently I took a flight to see my grandfather in Alberta. My wife and kids weren’t with me, which meant I had the rare privilege of a window seat. I watched as our plane lifted off the runway and ascended, eyeing landmarks and favorite hangouts. Before long the plane was high in the sky and the sights become harder to distinguish. I no longer saw people walking their dogs and the morning traffic. Instead I saw a grid of roadways and farmland, the topography as we passed mountains and valleys. I noted significant changes in the environment. On an overcast day, all you can see out a plane window is a blanket of white; however on my plane ride I had a clear bird’s-eye view of the entire landscape below. And over everything, the vast expanse. The horizon stretching out far beyond my view in all directions.

When we were making our final descent into Calgary, I noticed the change in the land from Canadian Rockies, to the rolling foothills of Prairie Alberta. I also saw the trees. I had left behind the tall green cedars and Douglas fir of the Pacific Northwest and saw bellow me sparse patches of Aspen and Spruce. Autumn had not come to my part of the world (this was late September), but here the yellowing trees checkered the landscape bellow had already greeted her arrival.

The thing about air travel is it’s fast. A distance that would be a twelve-hour drive was traversed inside of a couple of hours. A few magnificent views aside, you don’t really get in a jet plane to go see the sights, you get in a plane to get somewhere fast. And that is the gift of that mode of travel. As someone whose family is spread across the continent, I know that I would not see them much if I lived in a world without planes. But because of it, I get to connect with the people and places I love, traversing distance and time with relative ease.

How to Fly Through the Bible

So what does it mean to fly through the Bible? How is reading quickly, like looking out the airplane window?

The quickest I ever read the Bible cover to cover was two weeks. I read in every spare moment, obsessed with getting through the entire Bible, all 66 books as quickly as possible. Nobody told me I should do this, but I am glad that I did. Here are some of the things I experienced on my Biblical flight:

1. While flying, you don’t get tangled in the brush.

    When you fly to a different city, you fly over the buildings, trees, railroad tracks. Other than waiting for other planes and a place to land, all impediments are far bellow. Similarly, when I was flying through the text, I didn’t get caught up in thorny theological matters, controversies, or dead ends. I just kept reading without stopping Genealogies, details about the sacrificial system, lists didn’t entangle me. Basically I just flew over them as fast as I could (anyone who has decided to read the Bible cover to cover and got stuck and got mired down in Leviticus can see the value of pressing through!),

    Flying high and not getting caught in the brush means you keep reading no matter what. Mile High flyers don’t linger places. When I saw something interesting or questions came up, I noted them and planned to circle back to them later, but I kept reading. Of course flying above the fray meant I wasn’t reading with an eye for details. How can you see details at 23,000 feet? Yet what you do see is worth seeing. Some of what you see out the window of a plane, you won’t see any other way.

2. A bird’s-eye view reveals topographical changes

    In my flight over the Canadian Rockies I saw changes in the topography. The bare high rocks were different from where I had come from, and different from the rolling prairies where I landed. Similarly, when I flew through the Bible, I encountered various genres. The historical books, gave way to the poetry of the Psalms; The oracles of the prophets were a different terrain from gospel stories and Pauline epistles. Noticing this switch in the landscape gave me clues on what sort of place I found myself in (in the text) and what grew there. It is with a bird’s-eye view, you see the lay of the land.

3. Flying connects distant places together

    Air travel allow you to visit distant friends and relatives, return home, go to weddings and funerals or go on exotic vacations that you otherwise would not be able to go. Because of this modern technology, our world feels more connected. Closer, somehow.

    On my own flights through the Bible I have noticed the connections between different passages I wouldn’t have otherwise. Hebrews came alive to me when I just read through the Pentateuch and the prophets the week before. Flying through the Bible showed me the connections between different passages. If I hadn’t flown there, I might not have made the journey; yet having made the flight, the connections between the testaments, the covenants and distant relatives are much clearer to me. Closer, somehow.

4. Flying gives us a look at the big picture

    Just like the view from the plane reviews the vast expanse, so a flight through the text reveals the big picture. By starting at creation and making the journey with God’s people from there to new creation, I got a sense of the whole story. The horizon extends far beyond our view in every direction; I only saw this when I flew through the Bible without getting lost in the details.

So I commend flying through the text as one way of reading the Bible. Care to join the Mile High Bible Club? Tell me your thoughts.

Walter Wink’s Hermeneutic

I picked up this slim volume at a used bookstore in Bellingham only to discover the book in its entirety is available for free online at religion-online.org. Here is the link: http://www.religion-online.org/showbook&#8230;.
Wink-Bible

I have appreciated Wink’s critique of the institution and powers over the years and since I have an interest in hermeneutics and what the Bible means I happily scooped this up to see what Wink would contribute to this discussion. Bearing in mind that this book is almost 40 years old, I expected it to be someone dated and not up to speed on the various directions the discussion has gone. This is true, but in a lot of ways Wink was a shaper of the dialogue.

Wink begins this book with an assertion that the Historical Critical Method is bankrupt. By this he doesn’t mean that is of no value, but he proposes new management, allowing it to serve a different end. he sees as problematic the fact that Biblical criticism ignored the intention of texts,retreated to the false consciousness of objectivism, only asks questions which its discipline (and disciples) can answer, has been cut off from the wider community, and harkens back to polemical context which no longer exists.

On each of these points, Wink’s critique seems to be incisive, though he does seems to speak of “biblical criticism” in absolute terms which goes beyond warrant with particular practitioners (a face he will circle back to in conclusion when he addresses the academic guild as ‘a power’ that scholars have to oppose).

Wink proposes an alternative paradigm, which owes something to Ricouer’s naivety, suspicion, second-naivety. Wink’s schema is as follows:

1. Fusion
N(1) negation of the fusion through suspicion of the object
2. Distance
N(2) Negation of the negation through suspicion of the subject
3. Communion (p.19-20)

Phase 1 involves moving beyond the unity of western culture and traditions and the Bible to the objectification of the text. It is here that Biblical criticism does its work of getting us behind creedal statements and dogma, so that we can examine the text dispassionately and discover what it really meant.

Phase 2 involves applying our critical lens to ourselves where we confront ‘our own emotional predisposition not to be unsettled, our easy acquiescence to contemporary questions, languages and perspectives.(34)”

Phase 3 involves bringing these two phases into critical dialectic to discover what the biblical world in its particularity has to say to our human condition. The end result which Wink envisions is a sort of post-critical reading of scripture which transforms individuals and their communities.

In order to accomplish this Wink draws on the insights of psychotherapy and a sociological and ideological lens to help us identify the places in which the Bible confronts us and our world.

What I appreciated most about this book was Wink’s critique of where Biblical criticism has brought us. As mentioned above, he does cast this critique in absolute terms. This means his claims are exaggerated in some quarters, but he names issues that every Biblical scholar of faith must wrestle with.

In his positive program, he correctly addresses the two horizons of interpretation: text and reader (here given the names of object and subject, respectively). Where I am uneasy with Wink’s program is that he seems to critique the tradition, more than his own starting point. Wink is a theologically liberal New Testament scholar who taught at Union. He expects human transformation in the text. He does not necessarily expect to encounter God. Traditional beliefs about God are redefined in psychological and sociological terms (Wink buys in to Bultmann’s demythologizing program after all). In one fascinating account of a group bible study session, the Holy Spirit is redefined as ‘life-transformative process’ (59).

This antithesis to the tradition and traditional theology is exasperated by the fact that Wink fails to recapture a theology of church. It is true that he wants to bring his training in Biblical criticism back into the service of the church, but he doesn’t advocate reading the Bible by the rule of faith. He wants to get behind doctrinal and creedal statements and not impose them on the Biblical account. In a sense, this is a guild concern. Biblical studies exists to study the Bible not theologize, but the theological tradition does frame our understanding of texts and shouldn’t be so easily cast aside.

Still Wink is insightful about how the Biblical text can challenge individuals, social and political institutions. I would be pleased if more Biblical scholars of whatever theological bent were as committed to listening to the personal and structural implications when we allow ourselves to be encountered by the Biblical text.