July 1, 2009
The Tamed Heart
I think of myself as an open-minded Christian, but I recently discovered that I’m more judgmental than I’d like to admit. Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame) has become the focus of a new movement—not of children’s advocacy groups or Public Broadcasting executives, but evangelicals who are campaigning to return “manhood” to the church. Their battle cry (quite literally) is to remove “wimpy” examples of Christian manhood like Mister Rogers and replace them with suitable heroes like the thirteenth-century Scottish patriot William Wallace (the subject of Mel Gibson’s movie Braveheart). Of course, Mr. Rogers suffered endless barbs for being mild-mannered, but what separates this new movement from simple ridicule is that it is organized. These men actually gather at national and regional meetings to discuss the way to true “Christian manliness.”
I was quick to dismiss this group because I have always identified with Mr. Rogers’s gentle character, but after spending time with men in groups like this, I realize that they are struggling to fully integrate their lives with their faith. They strive to be accountable to Christ and each other, even in the most private aspects of their lives—no topic is out of bounds. And this pursuit of Christian manhood is yielding fruit, both in numbers and the testimony of changed lives. I am both encouraged and challenged by their desire to work out their faith.
This being said, there are some significant problems inherent in this movement. The difficulty is the underlying premise that God has created humans (or possibly only the male species) to be wild and untamed—that men should be rugged—PG-13 headed for an R rating. The New Testament gives us very different adjectives to describe a Christian (both male and female). In Galatians Paul lists the qualities that characterize a person led by the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Of this list gentleness is the most misunderstood and most abhorred by the new men’s movement.
This same word appears in the beatitudes when Jesus promises that those who are “meek” will inherit the earth—which, we may infer, is in opposition to the powerful, who will not inherit the earth. Gentleness, in its classical Greek usage, is the opposite of “rough,” “hard” or “violent.” The word is used of taming wild animals. Thus it is anything but wild. Paul tells us we are not to be wild beasts but tamed livestock, able to take on Jesus’ yoke.
But word studies alone don’t give us the full picture of discipleship. When we choose to follow Christ, we surrender everything that makes us who we are. We discover that we find ourselves only when we lose ourselves for Christ’s kingdom. We must discipline ourselves, bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5). The Spirit works with us to mold us in the image of Christ. In the letter to the Colossians, Paul uses the image of changing clothes, taking off the sinful, willful clothes we were born with and replacing them with Jesus’ clothes. The overall idea is very clear: God is breaking wild creatures and taming them for his purposes.
I agree that many Christian lives are devoid of passion and power, but the problem isn’t that they need to be wild, rather they need to be tamed by Christ and empowered by his Spirit.