Them’s Fightin’ Words!

Last night I had dinner with our Providence Church Midland leaders at the Hog’s Breath Cafe. Not my scene at all actually. No soup and no guacamole.  Just right for Midland though, and the lads definitely wanted a steak.

(Here he is in all his Hoggy glory)

One of the crew was, before he was converted, a real brawler (not like those preened, hair-gelled, shaven un-tatted nancy boys in the pic above – Ed), well known to the police in his time and never having lost a fight “one-on-one”.  The discussion came up about Christian manliness in light of the “Angry Young Men” guest blog post from Damon. It made for an interesting conversation.

It has become fashionable in the past decade for sections of Christianity in the Reformed Tradition to have taken on a “manliness” that is, in part, a reaction to the perception that Christianity has been feminized.  Now this is not across Reformed theology in general, but, it seems to me, primarily within those who came to Reformed Theology through Driscoll, as opposed to those who came to Driscoll through Reformed Theology (I would be in this latter category).    Damon’s post helpfully asked the question, what does Jesus have to offer angry young (non-Christian) men, especially when Christianity is so often seen as a feminized sub-culture, and his post offered, what I think, was a wise and  subversive answer. Debating the rights and wrongs of whether Christian culture actually is a feminized – and feminizing – culture, is a moot point.  My observation from being out on the streets door-knocking in Midland is that very few of the types of blokey blokes I meet are in church.  They may not be the essence of manliness in the biblical sense of the word, but they would sure stick out like a sore thumb if they turned up at almost any church (and especially if they had to sing some of the songs we sing – Ed). Nathan has written an interesting response here to Damon’s post.

Leaving that aside, perhaps we should ask the blokey blokes just what hurdles they have to jump to make the transition to the Christian culture, rather than assuming what they are. Hence the conversation with my leader mate last night was enlightening. Because, let’s face it, Driscoll is the son of a working class blokey bloke, not a working class blokey bloke himself.  He is middle class, lives in a middle class suburb (I know, I have been to his house), and has a tertiary education.  In other words he is like me – the first generation of his family to go to university and therefore not be a tradesman. Why is this an important distinction?  Because blokes like Driscoll – and their followers – can create a parody of blokeyness that apes the real thing, without ever feeling the strong attachment to the reality: a bit like Perth’s London Court, a spruced up Elizabethan-lite faux example of the reality of London in the 16th century. And let’s face it – nonChristians can smell it when you do that.

It is still the truth that in the West the cultural leap for the middle class to take to enter church is pretty much non-existent insofar as “tone” is concerned, when compared to the culture leap people like my leader friend had to make.  Sure, the gospel changes everything, but many evangelicals are at pains to demonstrate to their non-Christian friends that they are not actually that much different to them in terms of appearance, music and food likes, sporting and cultural interests – oh and books that they read on their Kindles.  All good things – and all the stuff I am as well!

So what did my leader bloke feel when he became a Christian? Mixed emotions!  The joy of salvation with the sorrow of leaving behind the music he loved and the earthiness he associated with his mates.  The trade off with Christian “sounds like” bands didn’t do it for him.  And that was the tip of the iceberg. He looked around and didn’t see anyone like himself, or who was interested in his pursuits of darts, snooker and deep-sea fishing as anything more than a one-off event. Darts for a giggle? Sure.  But darts every Monday night on a team that required you to turn up and throw an average 100 per hand? You’re on your own there! He loved Jesus enough to give it all up to follow Him, but wondered why he had to, or even if he did have to.  Where were the people like him?  The answer is pretty clear isn’t it – generally not in church.

The next best thing therefore, was a Christian imitation of that culture, or so he initially believed.  He started attending a Christian Men’s Shed, but made the astute observation that even it is light years away culturally from where his mates are at.  And besides, that’s not church is it? That’s a worthwhile event, yet without the practices, disciplines and community that makes up church. And further to this, Christian mens’ groups doing activities that blokey blokes do, is kinda like an interactive tourism experience in the Third World; it’s good while it lasts, but the gloss would wear off if it were your everyday life!

This is not simply an abstract observation for me – it is a fundamental concern as we seek to plant a church in Midland.  Our hope is that it does not simply become a middle-class enclave in what is one of the strongest working-class areas in the whole of Perth. The shire that Midland is the centre of has the lowest percentage of uni-educated workers and the highest percentage of trades-certified workers in all of Perth. If we end up not being representative of the area we will, at a fundamental level, have failed.

So what did my blokey mate require of me?  Firstly, “be yourself”.  He doesn’t want me to come to darts and try, limply, to ape him culturally. He wants me to pray for him as he enters that culture, that God will use him to speak to these blokes who instinctively know he is from their stock.  Secondly, he wants good training in how to be a manly Christian in the face of a culture than only knows manliness one way.  He wants to be taught and modelled stuff like “self-control, steadfastness, brotherly affection and love” (c.f 2Peter 1), because those things are lacking in the brawling, braggardly, misogynist (yes – it actually does occur) world that he grew up with.  And he wants a good “third place” – somewhere that is both familiar to his mates, yet able to mix the Christian tribe with the non-Christian one.  And lastly, he wants to be able to show his mates that he has found something worth dying for, as opposed to something worth killing for.

9 Comments

  1. Interesting reading Steve. And it is a real problem you face. However, it’s not just blokey blokes that don’t relate. It’s all aussie men. God is as foreign a concept as Halloween is to me. As a muso in a band in the 80’s into sex, drugs and rock and roll there was zero identifiable connectivity with Christians. The lack of ‘reality’ about them kept me away for a long time. So what got me in the end? God. Not a Christian, not a door knocker, not a church member, it was God all by himself. Not surprisingly he didn’t need any assistance from his mob of followers. The one critical point is this. Why would anyone look at what Christians are on about and think to themselves; I want to be like you. Only those desperate to belong to something more meaningful than their current existence would put up their hand. The rest (as I did) just think … um .. no thanks. Why would I?

    The reality is that Christians actually spend more time getting in the way of God’s work while they fervently try their hardest to convert people, when if fact God is the one who first seeks you. He turns on the beacon and makes you aware of his existence. He decides who he calls, not us. You need to trust more and allow God to do what we think we are best at. Christians to me were a joke. There was nothing for me to identify in them whatsoever. This is the problem all aussie men (in particular) face. Planting churches and evangelizing is common place in cultures where it’s more acceptable and culturally relevant. In Australia it is not acceptable or culturally relevant. That’s been Sonshine’s problem for so long. It’s people and culture are entrenched in Christendom living in another parallel dimension which rarely, if ever, crosses over. Result? It’s audience, other than like minded people, simply don’t relate to it. It’s the same if I listened to 6EBAfm. But, it doesn’t need to be like that. It needs people who live effectively in the real world.

    This is THE most critical point about Christianity and it’s inability to relate to everyday, normal people. It’s elitist, obsessed about being right and pointing out the wrongs of other god based faith groups, insular and obsessed also about getting in peoples faces to ensure their mandate if fulfilled whether God wants them to or not.

    Back to my point about how I came to know God. And this is most important for the future. The only way I could get to know God and we could start a relationship was for him to keep weirdo Christians away and he dealt with me direct. He just kept talking to me and making himself known to me. I had never read the bible. never been to church and never met a Christian. However,even without all those potential distractions he still couldn’t get me to listen because all I wanted was rock and roll success and I somehow knew that would not fit into whatever he wanted me for. One by one he took away everything that mattered to me. My voice was the first to go, then my band, my wife and son, the guys in the band, my close friend and the home I was living in. At the age of 30 I had nothing but a stereo left. Then and only then did I cry out to him. But it was mainly anger I was feeling toward God, not love. I remember saying to him; “Ok you’ve taken everything from me … now what the f*** do you want?”

    My single proposition is this. God does not need you or me or anyone to touch peoples lives. He does however need us to be available when he touches their lives. There’s so much more to my story which I would love to tell you some day. But I will tell you this. The day after my conversion I met a Christian girl and she invited me to a church.

    And this is the critical point for you to understand if you are to open a church in Midland. Build it by all means BUT allow God to fill it. He either will or he won’t but the choice and decision is not yours. Get out of his way and allow him to be God. He has not asked you to knock on doors so don’t. All it does is further increase the gap between Christians and everyone else.

    I believe that God instilled in my heart last year his yearning to reduce the gap between Christians and non Christians. The only way that can happen is for everyone to chill and be real. You will never have success in door knocking while you are in this country. The gap can only be reduced when Christians decide to step out of their comfort zone called Christendom and be a part of the real world.

    That’s when God can truly use you and I

    1. Hi mate
      Much to ponder here and much to reply to (I WILL be giving U that call for a catch up). But as for door knocking, I think u can safely say that most Christians are being obedient (actively or passively) to God’s call not to do it. I, however, will continue to disobey.

  2. Thanks Steve, I appreciate your post. And I enjoy reading your blog, gives me lots to think about and churn over.

    Below is my comment that I also posted on Nathan’s Post

    “Haha. I thought to myself what is the coincidence that two Perthites have blogged on the same subject within days, then I saw the comments and clicked on the links. Then the penny dropped. They are in response to each other.

    I think reading both posts has firmed up for me that true Christianity is/should neither be feminine or masculine at the expense of the other. Christianity is whole hearted allegiance to Jesus, whether limp wristed or bulging out of your shirt. And whole hearted allegiance to Jesus should bring out the best in us whether we are either of the above. Should it not? “

    1. Hi Ben
      yeah ,hit the nail on the head mate. In our fallen state we get feminine and masculine so so wrong. What was it about Jesus that made the parents want little children to be blessed by him, yet at the same time made grown men and leaders of Israel scared stiff of him? Can’t wait until we get to the age to come and find out!

      1. Yep, people have said a lot of things about Jesus, tried to fit him into a lot of boxes, but one thing is for certain he breaks them apart every time.

  3. Another great read, Steve. (warning, another longwinded comment coming right up! I really didn’t intend for it to be this long…)

    I reckon the problem with church, or any, subcultures is that there will always be *someone* who doesn’t fit in!

    The other day I read the first couple of chapters of “What Some of You Were” (linked to here – http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/outreach/raising-issues/what-some-of-you-were), and found it interesting to read on pages 19 and 20 about this guy’s experience, as a man coming from an actively homosexual lifestyle in the gay community, of joining a church and adjusting to church culture. He specifically mentions struggling to find common interests with the other (straight) men. Chances are those men would not have been particularly blokey… judging from the rest of what he describes in that church culture, my guess is they were probably pretty regular, middle-class Christian men: clean-shaven and well-dressed, etc etc. But still, compared to him they were ‘blokey’!

    I agree with your first commenter that it’s God who wins hearts, not our efforts. So I’m sure the churches of Perth are not entirely to blame for the disproportionately low number of tradies and ‘blokey blokes’ in our midst – afterall, it is first and foremost their sinful, idolatrous hearts that keep them from wanting to bow the knee to Jesus (the same as anyone else), more than their preference for a particular expression of ‘masculinity’ that is noticeably (and, I think to a large degree, rightly) absent from the church.

    But there doesn’t seem to me to be any Scriptural support for the idea that the ‘method’ He uses to draw one individual to himself (via. getting all the weird Christians out of his way) is going to be the same method He uses, or wants to use, with all of His children. On the contrary, their seems to be biblical precedent AND instruction, and plenty of historical and anecdotal support, for using various methods and plenty of cultural sensitivity and discretion to win as many as possible (sorry, don’t have time to hunt down references!). Trying to ‘stay out of the way’ is still, ironically, a way of trying to win people (by not putting them off)! And in my view, it doesn’t really match up to the great commission and the example of the apostles.

    I don’t know… I guess we need a balance of incarnational mission that seeks to remove the unnecessary cultural barriers between people and the gospel of Jesus (vis a vis “to the Jew I became like a Jew”, Hudson taylor growing his hair like the chinese men around him, etc), and also the witness of the motley crew that makes up His body saying – in our words, our music, our dress-codes, our evangelistic methods, our home decor, our preferred foods and beverages – that Jesus is King of all, and the message is ‘come to Him, just as you are’. Get saved first, and then let the Holy Spirit do the changing, showing you the aspects of your (sub)culture that are incompatible with a life of obedience to King Jesus, and teaching you to make sure your individuality and personal freedom is ‘constrained by love’.

    Maybe that means going out of our way to reach out to and befriend people who are not just like us, including leaving our comfort zones to take the good news to as many as possible – especially those whom it doesn’t normally reach (a great example of that here, I reckon – http://www.challies.com/articles/sharing-the-gospel-in-the-gay-village?page=1). But also having the authenticity to be real and honest about our diverse personalities, without the put-downs, labelling, ridicule and exclusion that often characterises the experience of differentness among non-believers. And what a beautiful thing it is when we do see that ‘unity in diversity’, as I’m sure you did at Hog’s Breath last night!

    This, I think, is where Driscoll’s method really falls apart. In seeking to ‘reach’ a particular type of young man, he elevates that type to a moral status that the Bible never gives it; misrepresenting the Lord Jesus, and alienating lots of decent blokes in the process. “I could never worship a guy I could take” (pretty sure I’ve heard him say that somewhere?!)…. there are so many problems in that attitude I don’t even know where to start!

    Right… back to the kidlets!

    (P.S. That reminds me, in year 9 music class once I was playing something on an electric bass and a particularly immature [non-Christian] lad called out “get back in the kitchen!”. That’s the kind of insecure, misogynistic, not to mention lame and juvenile
    “blokeyness” that has no place in the church! Speaking as one who often doesn’t fit the ‘feminine’ stereotype, and is married to a wonderful man who often doesn’t fit the ‘manly’ stereotype (by his own admission!), I do think we need to be intentional about acknowledging the legitimacy of individual differences and eschewing harmful, extra-biblical stereotypes of femininity and masculinity.)

    1. hi Deb
      great thoughts – and yeah I did hear Driscoll say that too! The only problem being that Jesus let himself be taken completely – total surrender.
      you are right too in that we may confuse methodology with the gospel. My friend John is a blokes bloke with more tats than anyone I have ever seen and a really rough background, yet got saved and disciples in some positively crazy sub-cultural fundamentalist churches. Who would have think huh? More power to Jesus!

  4. Hi Steve, I’ve missed a few posts since mum’s death and my thinking may be skewed at the moment, but, leading up to her fall and subsequent battle with pain, she constantly tried to recite (as a prayer) the words to the song, ‘Come As You Are’.

    She appreciated the rituals of the Church as she was dying but knew they meant nothing between her and God – more to do with humans feeling worthwhile during the process of death. God used her suffering to reach out to my brother, who has this ingrained concept that he is doomed because he turned his back on the structure of church as an adolescent and therefore he is going straight to hell. He thought mum’s suffering was because she had angered God and joked about what his time would bring, that without attending church God would not want to know him. My sister-in-law also sat listening intently to our discussions. Did I plant a new seed? Who knows.

    Rob (my brother) sees Max (my husband) as a blokies bloke – maybe not with tatts but he was a tradie, is a drinker, belongs to a snooker group at the local club, is a fisherman and diver and loves his footy and cricket and plays darts. Max can’t go to Tuesday night bible study because it clashes with his snooker night and he joined so that he could be an example to guys who would never think of going to church. Does he talk about God to them? No, but he gains their respect and confidences and is someone they can talk to. They know his beliefs and he looks to God to pick the timing.

    However, this approach is not the only right one. What you do Steve is right for you and who you are and how well you can communicate. God uses you for your special skills. You can’t be all things to all cultural walks of life, just like Max can’t be. Max came to God through you and golf and now mixes with a much different and diverse group because of where we live.

    My convoluted message to you is this – chill brother. You are a gatherer of people and a builder of faith. Others will move on to reach those you feel you can’t, but some will do so because you have given them the tools. Isn’t that all about God putting you in the right place at the right time and you responding? I don’t think He asked anything more.

    1. Hi Liz – will ponder some of the things you say. It is a complicated issue I think as we are called to trust God’s sovereignty and at the same time do the work he calls us to do. Not either or. keep praying for us as we map out what to do!

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