Desiring God‘s recent blog post by Greg Morse about beards and their theological significance – nay, their desirability to demonstrate God-given manliness – seems like a pretty close shave towards patriarchy if you ask me. It’s time for some bald facts.
I am not sure why Desiring God had to become Desiring Beard. It feels like a beard – er, a bridge, too far. I read the article and I agree with some of the theological underpinnings. But beards? Really?
Look, I love my beard. My wife loves my beard. My kids love my beard. And God probably loves my beard too. But not because it’s a beard, but because He loves all of me and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for my sins. And one of those sins was not a lack of hirsuteness in the beard department.
At this point all you clean shaven male bloggers would be putting up a picture you found on the internet after typing in the term “hipster beards”. Not I! I just scrawl through my photo-feed and come up with stuff like this:
Pretty cool huh? If you like beards. I posted an old pic of me and my dad on Facebook yesterday sans beard, and the general comments were that I looked naked and a bit weird. Well if you haven’t seen me without a beard I guess that’s what you’d think. But at one time in the past, it was my everyday look
But do I look more masculine and hetero with a beard? Only if you disregard the fact that I am 70kg wringing wet, and in the area I live in, my son has been asked if his dad is gay, because I tend to wear clothes that are fairly stylish and nice shoes. Hmm, super neat, super slim, wears stylish clothes. Must be gay! Oh, wait a minute, he has a beard! So confused!
Sound ridiculous? Of course it is. But then again so is equating beardliness with godliness. Does the article do that? It tries not to, but kinda goes there anyway.
I’ve just written a blog post disparaging the misogynistic Andrew Tate for trying to define manliness by some pretty sick stuff. But let’s not swing to the patriarchal extreme either. My beard says nothing about my godliness or otherwise. In terms of who I truly am I could be the equivalent of a smooth shaven ancient Roman or Egyptian in terms of morality. My beard has nothing to do with it. In fact, I actually do look at sites for beards and beard design. And guess what? Often they’re full of Andrew Tate types, except with beards. Same women, same objects, same women as objects.
Look to be fair, the article’s main problem is that it sets up a speedway full of tricky chicanes and then spends the ensuing drive tongue out, hands clenched on steering wheel, trying to navigate around the track. I get that the article is torturing the whole beard thing as an analogy to demonstrate that godly men should oppose the current slide into gender-everythingism. And I do get that the beard can be a statement to an increasingly androgynous world which loves breaking down the distinctions between the sexes.
I am also against that break down. And for what it’s worth, I am somewhat of the Desiring God tribe, being both Reformed and a complementarian, albeit a complementarian of the theological equivalent of that 70kg wringing wet, super slim, stylish dresser variety. In other words, if the female police officer pulls me over for speeding, she’s got authority over me at that point, right?
The article doesn’t feel helpful. And if you are writing a piece that needs the number of caveats it contains, then you need to ask yourself whether it had to be written in the first place. Particularly coming as it does into some fairly contested territory where even the mention that one is a complementarian is enough for some to say “sexist bigot”.
Incidentally, if you’ve made the shift to egalitarianism, or you have always been one, try to avoid that sort of language about brothers and sisters (yes, there are sisters who hold to complementarianism too) that mansplains the woman as somehow being victims of Stockholm Syndrome. And yep, I know women to whom that has happened. When you do that you are being more “Andrew Tate” than you may care to believe.
But back to our hirsute pursuit. Greg Morse made this statement:
First, in Israelite culture, the beard served as a sign of mature masculinity. All Israelite men grew beards; God commanded it: “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27). Beards were a facial billboard for manhood, distinguishing men, at first glance, from boys and women.
To which I would reply, “Yep, it’s an outward sign – an Old Covenant audio-visual – of what in the New Covenant will become an inner reality. Beards have in terms of demonstrating masculinity, gone the way of food laws in terms of demonstrating holiness. We are constantly chastened by the words of Jesus that it is what comes out of us through our mouths that defiles us, not what foods go into our mouths. The same is true of our facial appearance.
Morse then says this:
Rome’s men were clean-shaven in biblical times (as were the Egyptians). When these beardless came to the bearded Christ, they did not need to grow one to enter the kingdom of God. They, like we, are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone — apart from any strands of good works, lest the hairier among us boast. Of course, on the face of it, beards hold no salvific design, nor are they commanded. Even the shaved can be saved.
That’s the tweet. That’s the tweet right there. Okay, technically that’s about three tweets in a partitioned thread. But that’s the tweet right there. That’s why 25 years ago Desiring God was a game changer in my life, as was Piper’s preaching. And that theological framework has stood me in good stead. The gospel of grace alone through faith alone. Let’s not sully it with “face alone through fuzz alone”. At a time when that gospel clarity is disappearing from even many evangelical churches we need the cut through of its pure delivery more than ever.
But maybe that’s my concern This article seems to be adding to the fog of a culture war that’s even now infesting the church. And it can become an excuse to not take seriously enough the core theological matters that fuelled so much of Desiring God in the first place.
The promise of God to the eunuchs – the smoothest of all smooth-faced men in Scripture -, is that in God’s new kingdom they will not be “a dry tree” ( Isaiah 56:30). God is able to raise up sons of Abraham from the stones, and indeed, if you pardon the expression, the stoneless. That’s how God defines a truly spiritual man in the end – one who has gospel seed (literally in the Gk “sperma“) implanted within him, and who can plant that same gospel seed in others, raising multitudes of spiritual children.
I clearly don’t disagree with Greg Morse that the world has gone mad in terms of gender identity. I just think his argument is the equivalent of making a bit of bum-fluff stretch into a full-length beard-balmed, moustache-waxed, luxurious year long growth that has its own Instagram following. And the fact I’ve had a bunch of friends who chide me about my complementarian ways send me the link, and then ask “What gives?” just makes it all the more complex.
Perhaps beards do protest against a world gone mad. But if we’re not careful they also tap into some of the madness. The true manliness that protests against the world gone mad is the male equivalent of the woman in 1 Peter who herself is to protest against that mad world:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
Outward adornment is just that: outward. It’s neutral at many levels. It’s just not a good judge of character. God looks at the heart of woman and man alike. Like circumcision, when it comes to the gospel, neither elaborate hairstyles or beards matter much, (nor both if you happen to rock “the full hipster” beard and man-bun. But let’s save that for another blog post).
Oh, and one more for good measure 😉