One of my earliest memories is sitting on the sink while my father was shaving. As he did, he taught me the words to some of the classic Christian men’s hymns – “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus” among them. Even a couple of decades later, I’ve never forgotten that subtle link he forged between masculinity and Christianity. For me, Christianity was the faith of brave men…and it remains so to this day.
Unfortunately, as David Murrow’s thought-provoking book “Why Men Hate Going to Church” makes clear, this sentiment is not universally held in Christendom. According to Murrow, years of religious “feminization” have created a Christian subculture populated with a disproportionate number of females. This, in turn, has contributed to the overall decline of the church.
Murrow first considers the problem: the lack of men in Christian churches. He attributes this absence to the “feminine” tone of modern Christianity, as evidenced by a focus on traditionally female ways of viewing the world (relationships, community, stability, etc.).
Murrow’s arguments against the trappings of modern Christianity are brilliant and devastating. Yes, it is tacky for a worship band to sell recordings of their own music in the back of the church. Yes, praise and worship music contains creepy almost-erotic overtones that bother men. Yes, Jesus is portrayed too often as a sensitive lover rather than as a successful male leader. Yes, the words “personal relationship with Jesus” disturb guys and never show up in the Bible. Yes, an extended time of “sharing what the Holy Spirit has laid on my heart” often leads to personal sermonizing and grandstanding.
As a guy, I can completely relate to Murrow’s contentions. Some readers will inevitably cry foul at this point, but the fact remains: this is how guys think. I found myself showing the book to a friend and saying “I’ve been saying this all along!” Notably, Murrow doesn’t cross over into brash, he-man “kamikaze Christianity.” He calls for a more measured middle ground, with elements both men and women can appreciate.
His solutions will be familiar to anyone who’s taken a good look at modern American Christianity. He offers a variety of marketing ideas – TV screens, more male-friendly hymns, “edgier” church names, etc. – that many megachurches employ. These, for Murrow, are tools that the church should use to attract modern men.
Naturally, some cautions are in order. Most unfortunately, Murrow frequently seems to correlate church attendance with genuine faith – early on, he implies that individuals who profess Jesus Christ (but do not attend church) aren’t real Christians. While I certainly understand the point he’s making – faith should translate into action – this flirts with a dangerous works-righteousness attitude. Echoes of this turn up elsewhere – there’s a great focus on getting rear ends into chairs, but little said about the woeful lack of Biblical knowledge among Christians today. Many of the “feminized” aspects of church Murrow criticizes are essential: having a lively men’s ministry is useless if said men are ill-equipped to deal with real-world apologetic challenges. Thus, a firm grounding in doctrine (“boring” as it may be) remains vital.
Murrow seems to suggest that a dilemma exists between intellectualism and masculinity – I would label this a false dichotomy. Low expectations and deficient theology have created a passive culture of entertainment in the church, and it will surely take more than “manly activities” to pull American Christianity as a whole from its stupor. Some of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time (Augustine, Luther, etc.) were certainly masculine men, and it’s worth looking to them as examples.
In short, Murrow’s analysis of the problem is excellent, but his solution leaves something to be desired. He points to megachurches as examples worth emulating (when it comes to attracting men). While these megachurches certainly have their appeal, oftentimes sound doctrine is watered-down in order to attract a wider demographic. Throughout the book, Murrow seems to overlook the idea that a lack of Biblical knowledge might be contributing to spiritual malaise. Abandoning intellectualism as an “unmanly” pursuit is a risky proposition indeed.
Murrow’s most powerful ideas are the simplest: stop talking in terms of a personal relationship with Jesus (a feminine idea) and point to His goal-oriented imperative: “Follow me.” Get rid of bad praise music that associates Jesus and sensual love. Stop speaking in terms of “sharing.” Offer clear challenges and goals. These are all principles that local churches can (and probably should) employ, and they’re potent enough to render this book well worth reading.
Stylistically, Murrow is an excellent author. He pulls few punches and writes engagingly (I buzzed through the book in an afternoon). And though I have a few problems with his proposed solutions to the “Man Problem,” there’s still much wisdom and food for thought here. Virtually all Christians – from laymen to bishops – would be well served to read this book.
A provocative, compelling look at the dearth of men in modern churches.
* I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”