Earlier this year I read the book The Death of Christian Britain. It charts the growth and decline of predominantly Evangelical movements from the 1800s and attempts to give insights to both. Brown, the author, argues against those who see the decline of Christianity starting at the Reformation, or the Enlightenment, and draws on an overwhelming amount of quantitative and qualitative analysis to make his claims that Christianity in the UK has really seen it’s decline since the post-war period, namely the 1960s. The peak of Christianity in the UK, quantitatively, actually being around 1904-1905 and the greatest rate of growth being around 1940-1950, which only serves to emphasise the shock of what happened in the 1960s.

Brown is critical of those who primarily apply statistical analysis to figures like Church attendance, something often done by Evangelical societies themselves, instead looking at the religiosity of the population. He examines the habits, beliefs, and the lens by which the people in question saw the world. There is something in this as so often the people in question are just treated as statistics wherein Brown includes many moving accounts, both historical and contemporary, giving space for individuals to articulate their beliefs in their own words. Attendance amongst individuals wasn’t fixed, they sometimes attended different Churches (including some switching between Protestant and Catholic churches weekly), but the population saw themselves as Christians. They could be good Christians, or bad Christians, but they believed in Christianity and saw the world as Christians. Brown calls this ‘discursive Christianity’ – the degree to which Christian norms and outlooks were seen as givens by the population. By implication, Brown in his work also makes the case that a good number of Christians in Britain were Evangelical or that the movement was the canary in the proverbial coal mine, when it retreated so did Christianity in the UK wholesale.

So what changed? For me the answer was unexpected. Brown argues that piety and religiosity since the 1800s had increasingly been associated with feminine traits. Brown makes this argument on the basis of sermons, oral histories, and print publications. In the introduction, the author bluntly states “the book focuses considerable attention on how piety was conceived as an overwhelmingly feminine trait which challenged masculinity and left men demonised and constantly anxious.” (p. 9) and that the decline in religiosity in the nation was the result of the erosion of ‘discursive Christianity’ which had maintained it. Discursive Christianity had been predominantly conflated with femininity and as its definitions changed Christianity was the first victim. Femininity, Brown argues, had been associated with domesticity, abstinence, respectability and maintenance of distinct public/private spheres. The temperance movement would be a good example of this. Femininity increasingly, in the post-war period, came to be understood differently. Brown sees this change being particularly prominent in publishing, radio, and television. The discourse had changed and with it what it meant to be a woman. Christianity, as a result, was no longer the means by which a woman might fully express herself and the faith suffered accordingly. In the words of Brown “Female rebellion – of body, sexuality and above all the decay of religious marriage – was a transition out of the traditional discursive world.” (p. 179)

Brown, as far as I know, isn’t a believer, and sees these changes positively but there was a part of me that did question the definition of piety and femininity that previously existed. This isn’t to disagree with Brown but that I could certainly see problems with the traditional expression of ‘discursive Christianity’. There are elements I see as toxic for both men and women. To summarise Brown’s position this fuller outline of his position should help:

It is still the Enlightenment paradigm that they promulgate, that rationality was hostile to popular religion and the ‘religious self’. To the supporters of post-modernity, this is fundamentally wrong. It is a failure to understand the nature of the evangelical age and the duration of its legacy. Instead of rationality and religion clashing in the Enlightenment, it is the story of the Enlightenment’s boost to Christian religion, already well told, that needs to be more widely accepted. Meanwhile, there are still too many scholars who misread the secularising impact of industrialisation and urbanisation, despite all the revisionist research of the 1980s and 1990s. The cumulative effect is that scholars from a wide variety of backgrounds falsely conflate our secularisation with what they think was the secularisation of the nineteenth century. They have failed to perceive the robustness of popular religiosity during industrialisation and urban growth between the 1750s and the 1950s. 

This failure is caused by a focus on ‘structures’ (such as churches and social classes) to the neglect of ‘the personal’ in piety. The ‘personal’ is intrinsically wrapped up with language, discourses on personal moral worth, the narrative structures within which these are located, and the timing of change to these. Around 1800, with the fading of coercive religion (or what Charles Taylor calls ‘background’ religion, and ‘the great chain of being’), religiosity became overwhelmingly discursive, dependent on bringing an evangelical narrative of the life story to the foreground of personal identity. These discourses were fundamentally gendered as, perhaps, they had always been, but where before 1800 Christian piety had been located in masculinity, after 1800 it became located in femininity. Paeans of praise were heaped on women’s innate piety whilst brickbats were hurled at men’s susceptibility to temptation. Enforcement of ‘hypergoods’ (again drawing on Taylor) was transferred from external agencies (the state churches) to the internal of the individual. Identity became something incredibly personal, a matter for deep personal enforcement, negotiation or neglect. In this ‘system’, women were the key, for it was their religiosity that mattered. It was their influence on children and men, their profession of purity and virtue, their attachment to domesticity and all the virtues located with that, which sustained discursive Christianity in the age of modernity. 

Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding secularisation 1800-2000, London and New York, Routledge, 2001 p. 195

For me this is extremely important and, it’s worth noting, this discursive Christianity wasn’t an obstacle to religiosity until it became one in the 1960s. I don’t like all aspects of this necessarily, but I think the evidence is on Brown’s side. We live in the afterglow of that and I think that Christianity, or Evangelicalism, potentially lacks cut through perhaps because it still operates in this traditional model in an environment where the discourse has changed. Just think of the language of revival, or even the contemporary discourse around the idea of a ‘national church’, both are predicated on the idea of a latent or ‘discursive’ Christianity that can be revived or engaged with in the average person in some way. The reality is Christians are increasingly seen as outsiders by the broader population because we use language, act, and believe things increasingly far removed from the framework with which most people operate.

The other thing to consider is the fact that Christianity, generally, seems to have a gender parity issue when it comes to attendance. According to Pew Research men just aren’t as involved compared to other religions. In Brown’s work, this was explained by the fact that men, whilst operating in the religious ecosystem, didn’t have a positive model of religiosity that was particular to them, they needed to adopt one frequently associated with women. By default they were under scrutiny. Yet the we can see, from the above linked research from Pew, that we do have examples of religions where men are more committed, namely, Islam or Orthodox Judaism. Whats different about these compared to Christianity? Pews study states:

Another useful indicator of religious commitment is how often women and men say they attend religious worship services. The biggest exceptions to the overall pattern of women exceeding men in religious commitment can be found on this measure. Among Christians in many countries, women report higher rates of weekly church attendance than men. But among Muslims and Orthodox Jews, men are more likely than women to say they regularly attend services at a mosque or synagogue. Higher levels of weekly attendance among Muslim and Jewish men are due in large part to religious norms that prioritize men’s participation in worship services. In Orthodox Judaism, communal worship services cannot take place unless a minyan, or quorum of at least 10 men, is present. And in most Islamic societies, Muslim men are expected to attend communal Friday midday prayers in the mosque.

Pew Research Center. The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World. Women are generally more religious than men, particularly among Christians. March 2016

The difference between Islam and Christianity is that the former carves out space for distinctly male participation and expression of worship and the former has come to conflate it with the traits associated (rightly or wrongly) of one sex in particular. I think we need to be careful not to take this too blindly, Islam compared to Christianity has a poor record regarding its treatment of women. Christianity, from its very earliest forms, had a special appeal to women. The historian Rodney Stark writes:

The Christian woman enjoyed far greater marital security and equality than did her pagan neighbor. But there was another major marital aspect to the benefìts women gained from being Christians. They were married at a substantially older age and had more choice about whom they married. Since, as we shall see, pagan women frequently were forced into prepubertal, consummated marriages, this was no small matter.

Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. Chapter 5. The Role of Women: Relative Status of Christian Women. p. 105 


The very favorable sex ratio enjoyed by Christian women was soon translated into substantially more status and power, both within the family and within the religious subculture, than was enjoyed by pagan women. Let me note that women in Rome and in Roman cities enjoyed greater freedom and power than women in the empire ‘s Greek cities (MacMullen 1984). However, it was in the Greek cities of Asia Minor and North Africa that Christianity made its greatest early headway, and it is these communities that are the focus of this analysis. Granted, even in this part of the empire, pagan women sometimes held important positions within various mystery cults and shrines. However, these religious groups and centers were themselves relatively peripheral to power within pagan society, for authority was vested primarily in secular roles. In contrast, the church was the primary social structure of the Christian subculture. Daily life revolved around the church, and power resided in church offices. To the extent that women held significant roles within the church, they enjoyed greater power and status than did pagan women. 

Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. Chapter 5. The Role of Women: Relative Status of Christian Women. p. 110 

The roles in question that Stark mentions he later explains were that of deaconesses and the special privileges given to widows. Christianity afforded privileges over and against paganism, and later islam, that gave a distinct appeal and dignity to women. Stark also notes the pagan society, due to female infanticide, heavily skewed male (131 males per 100 females p. 97), so the fact that more Christians were women (15/18 sex ratio is offered on p. 99) in the Roman Empire emphasises the role this appeal had in the conversion of the Empire in total. This difference would, by implication, be eroded after Christianity became the dominant faith of the empire (p. 108). Browns description reflects almost the inverse of this transition in the 1800s when conformity was abolished in the UK:

Around 1800, with the fading of coercive religion (or what Charles Taylor calls ‘background’ religion, and ‘the great chain of being’), religiosity became overwhelmingly discursive, dependent on bringing an evangelical narrative of the life story to the foreground of personal identity. These discourses were fundamentally gendered as, perhaps, they had always been, but where before 1800 Christian piety had been located in masculinity, after 1800 it became located in femininity.

Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding secularisation 1800-2000, London and New York, Routledge, 2001 p. 195

I think it’s legitimate to offer that Christianity has more often than not had a stronger appeal to women over men. This isn’t bad but I think it isn’t bad to be interested in seeing what we can do to bring in more men either. I mention all this because I recently read another article that might look at this from different angle. Anthony Bradley wrote an article on Mere Orthodoxy entitled ‘American Evangelicalism isn’t patriarchal or feminized. It’s matrilineal.’ the definition of Matrilineal being drawn from more than one paper but can be described in the following terms concisely:

Matrilineal systems are not symmetric with patrilineal systems. First, in both matrilineal and patrilineal kinship systems, men often retain positions of power and authority within the kin group. This is commonly known as patriarchy. Thus, in a patrilineal society, there is concordance between who determines group membership and who holds political authority, while in a matrilineal society there is not.

Sara Lowes, Matrilineal Kinship and Spousal Cooperation: Evidence from the Matrilineal Belt. Stanford University and CIFAR 25 February 2020

Bradley goes on to make the argument that Evangelicalism is matrilineal. Bradley writes:

As stated above, women in matrilineal societies would enlist the help of platonically connected men, often brothers, uncles, and grandfathers, to have an impact on children’s lives. In suburban churches, that role was professionalized in the office of “youth pastor” or “pastor of youth and families,” and so on. It should come as no surprise that the children’s and youth ministry roles emerged as central to evangelical churches because of the economic and geographical nature of the nuclear family in a matrilineal America. It is not true, as it is often intimated, that youth ministry exists to “assist” the family or to reach the children. Many believe themselves to be doing that as a justification for their existence.

But in today’s matrilineal America, especially in the suburbs, children’s ministry, youth ministry, family ministry, and other post World-War II church staff titles specifically exist to serve and assist mothers in passing down the essentials of faith. Ask any children’s or youth ministry staff what would happen if all of the mothers pulled out of helping them run their ministries versus the fathers. Children’s ministry and youth ministry exist because communities and churches are primarily matrilineal.

It is important to remember that matrilineal societies can exist while men are placed in outward-facing leadership roles (say, pastor or elder), but the community’s internal life would implode without women’s authority as mothers. Matrilineal societies are about who does what to sustain life rather than merely looking at who holds which outward facing job title or role. Without women sustaining life, the community dies no matter who has what title in a matrilineal society.

Anthony Bradley. Mere Orthodoxy, American Evangelicalism isn’t patriarchal or feminized. It’s matrilineal. August 26, 2020

I get the impression that Bradley thinks a matrilineal society is potentially a bad thing, namely because it has no place for men. He adds: “This is why churches do not know what to do with men. Churches do not know what men are for. Men cannot tell you why the church needs them around. Truth be told, most churches do not need men to survive.” (Ibid) Which I think is true, to be honest. However, returning to the Pew Research the two examples mentioned, Islam and Orthodox Judaism, atleast one of them can be argued to be matrilineal. Judaism in particular actually traces itself through maternal lines. Bradley in this instance runs the risk of potentially being critical of an anthropological reality that is adjacent but not causal of the issue he is trying to address. That issue being the relative absence or redundancy of men in churches.

Aaron Ren, also writing on this subject states: “the typical church congregation is 60% or more female, and that “the men who do show up for services often seem passive, bored, or uneasy.” Among married female churchgoers, about 20% have a husband who does not come to church. This 60/40 ratio may have improved a bit recently, but only because of an accelerating abandonment of church by women.”

Related to the absence of men is how masculinity is conceived of in these churches. This is a subject explored by both Ren and Bradley who both see masculinity as being defined predominantly as a husband and husband being defined predominantly in how he relates to his wife and any children he has. Ren writes:

This is something that too many Evangelical teachers get wrong. They implicitly (perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not) tell men that their mission as a man is their wife and children. This is actually one of the key structures of complementarianism. That system usually restricts gender polarity to marriage/family and the church. Hence for any man who is not a minister, his masculinity as such can only be expressed in terms of mission to his wife and children. 

Lest you think I am reading something into it that isn’t there, here’s an excerpt from John Piper’s opening chapter in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in which he defines masculinity and femininity from a complementarian perspective: 

Here we take the definition of masculinity, a phrase at a time and unfold its meaning and implications. 



This phrase signals that the definitions are not exhaustive. There is more to masculinity and femininity, but there is not less. We believe this is at the heart of what true manhood means, even if there is a mystery to our complementary existence that we will never exhaust. [caps in original]

While acknowledging there’s more to manhood, this defines masculinity exclusively in terms of relationship to women, dramatically restricting the scope of masculine vocation. The man’s mission thus becomes his woman, ultimately expressed as servant leadership, white knighting, etc. 

Similarly, in Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage, they share the guidelines for decision making they use in their own marriage, the first of which is: 

The husband’s authority (like the Son’s over us) is never used to please himself but only to serve the interests of his wife. Headship does not mean a husband simply “makes all the decisions,” nor does it mean he gets his way in every disagreement. Why? Jesus never did anything to please himself (Romans 15:2-3). A servant leader must sacrifice his wants and needs to please and build up his partner (Ephesians 5:21ff). [emphasis in original] 

Note the choice here between a husband pleasing himself and his wife. Because the selfish approach is obviously unbiblical, it requires a man to please his wife, thus defining a man’s mission as pleasing and building up his wife. (Elsewhere in the book, in a chapter on the mission of marriage, Keller explicitly writes, “What then is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.” That is, the mission of marriage is internal to the household. It is an inward focused mission).

Aaron Ren, The Masculinist #33: Wild at Heart and the White Knight Mentality

It’s easy to see how Brown’s view of Evangelicalism in the UK could complement Ren and Bradley’s American observations. Ren elsewhere cites Feminist scholar Valeria Hobbs, for example, that despite women initiating 70% of divorces the overwhelming majority of sermons preached in Evangelical settings on the subject approach it from the perspective of men initiating it. This plays into Brown’s understanding of discursive Christianity in Britain as something unable to see the world without the lens of: “women’s innate piety whilst brickbats were hurled at men’s susceptibility to temptation..” (The Death of Christian Britain. p. 195). On the subject divorce, it’s messy, but in the words of the feminist Hobb’s herself the preachers tend to see “Divorce as Male”.

A more obvious issue with this view of masculinity is that it has no scope for unmarried men (or women) in the church. Even for those who are married, there’s no definition of masculinity that provides a healthy framework for relating to other men. Marriage is the only consistently articulated basis of (gendered) identity in the church. That isn’t good.

So what?

The question waiting in the wings of all this is so what? If this is true what do we do about this? Should we do anything? Which I would first parse by breaking out what we are trying to answer. The first being the subject of men in church and the second of matrilineality in general.

Christian Men

Brown’s diagnosis of how men are depicted in what he calls ‘discursive Christianity’ leaves a lot to be desired for men and women. He refers to the state of Christianity prior to 1800 as a ‘masculine’ one. A realm of “coercive” rather than “discursive” Christianity. My hunch is that this is the magisterial, high church (church + state), Christianity. Yet I struggle to think of a society which would see the return of something like that in our lifetime, and whilst I think you would see increased male religiosity in that setting I don’t think it’s necessarily contingent upon that. Many magisterial or mainline traditions are fully adapted to what Brown is calling discursive Christianity with no desire to be otherwise.

I do think an answer lies in what Pew Research had to say about the religiosity of men in something like Orthodox Judaism. That male religiosity stems “in large part to religious norms that prioritize men’s participation in worship services”. This isn’t just about the involvement of men in worship, but also about how men potentially relate to one another as Christians. This isn’t to say we want, as a result, women’s involvement to go down, just asking how we could dial up male involvement. Personally, I see this in my own church: women would have a prayer meeting when they came together, the men would go to the pub. For ages I thought a lot of the older aunties were widows, only to later find out they were all married but their husbands didn’t attend. I’ve struggled with the sense that I’m only ever wanted for my ability to lift heavy objects, cleaning, technical skills, or money. I don’t begrudge giving any of that but I actually want to give more. I’ll go further, being honest, and say I’ve struggled to know many male church leaders as inspirational men. That it’s been the older men at my work, throughout my career, who have taken a greater interest in my development as a person than any elder figure in church. There’s a danger that faith can lack any materiality and, for me, focuses too much either on emotion or abstract thought. Men don’t have a natural framework as it stands in which to work out their faith as men. I don’t even think this is necessarily particular to men, I’d hesitate to guess that a lot of women could say something similar. That needs to change if you want to see Christianity grow sustainably. 

Questions around Church leadership also feed into this, whilst I don’t believe in women’s ordination I see the currents very much pulling churches in the direction of egalitarianism. I think complementarianism has often been too ‘thin’ or ‘biblically minimalist’ and hasn’t differentiated its anthropology sufficiently enough from the surrounding culture. It’s still rooted is ‘discursive Christianity’ despite no longer being able to set the terms of the conversation. As a result it gets more and more minimalist and it’s critics only become more eager to call out it’s contradictions. In this light both egalitarianism and complementarianism emerge out of discursive Christianity, something which itself emerges out of modernity. Both are losing bets in the long term. I don’t think we need to go backwards, but we can’t continue to be reactive in this area to a hostile culture.


The other issue I mentioned is matrilineality, which personally I’m fine with. I don’t think Christianity is necessarily a matrilineal religion, I think it can be either patrilineal or matrilineal. Just like Christianity can adjust to a range of political or cultural arrangements, it is what it is.

I do, however, think there is something in the classical Christian model of masculinity that is worth noting. Particularly through the gateway of education and parenting. For example, the great classical humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote to a friend seeking to get his child educated saying:

You want to be a complete father and want your child to be your true son, reflecting you not only in facial feature and physical detail but resembling you also in gifts of mind and character. I am overjoyed at my very dear friend’s happiness, but even more, I express my firm approval of his wise resolution.

I must offer you one piece of advice; on this point, my words will be bold, but they also bear deep affection for you. Do not follow common fashion and opinion by allowing your son’s first years to pass by without the benefits of instruction and by deferring his first step in learning to an age when his mind will already be less receptive and more subject to grave temptations (which by that time, in fact, may have entangled him completely in their brambles). Instead, you should straightway begin to search for a man of good character and respectable learning to whose care you may safely entrust your son to receive the proper nourishment for his mind and to imbibe, as it were, with the milk that he suckles, the nectar of education. Responsibility for your child should be divided equally between nurse and teacher, the former to nurture him in body, the latter in mind and character.

With your insight and understanding, you ought not to pay attention to those silly women, or to men very much like women save only for their beards, who maintain out of a false spirit of tenderness and compassion that children should be left alone until early adolescence, to be pampered in the meantime by their dear mothers and spoiled by nurses.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, On Education of Children. The Erasmus Reader p. 65-66

In this Erasmus describes a man who is taking responsibility, he’s involved in his children’s education, but interestingly the educator sought is also a man. Most teachers I know are women, and I’m a governor on a school board which is also mostly made up of women. This isn’t to say that’s bad but that this vision of masculinity that Erasmus advocates is one that is involved, present, and is willing to wield authority. In our own context mothers tend to drive the education of children, that is a core component of Bradley’s argument regarding the matrilineality of evangelicalism. Men tend to be absent in this equation unless they are church staff, hence the Youth Pastor. There are other things in this but Erasmus touches on a picture of masculinity that resembles the Roman Pater Familias. An image not entirely dissimilar to what the Anthropologist David Gilmore describes as the ‘Big Man’: 

Through this hands-on leadership, the Big Man does something more than fight, fend off enemies, and exemplify a warrior ideal for impressionable boys and aspiring youths: he establishes an artificial social cohesion for the people of his village or territorial unit. This unifying function is necessary because the people who follow him are often of mixed ancestry and diffuse kinship (as is common among Highlands peoples). Weakly tied by bonds of blood, they are drawn together by his protective safety net to form a viable community, establishing a political rather than genealogical unit that otherwise might never gel. Through his example and by the commanding authority of his deeds, he coalesces this community of otherwise unrelated families around his person, counteracting the organic weakness of Highlands genealogy. For example, among the Gururumba (Newman 1965:44), the power of the Big Men derives from their ability to attract followers outside the circle of their own immediate kinsmen.” There is, in fact, a conscious awareness of this ingathering magnetism among his vassals. Many local people acknowledge this and openly remark that the local Big Man holds the group together almost single-handedly, giving it the strength and unity it needs but would otherwise lack (A. Strathern 1971:190-91).

David Gilmore, Manhood in the Making. Chapter 5: Other Men, Other Manhoods. p. 101

This figure Gilmore explains “is the New Guinea equivalent of the Mehinaku wrestling champion or the Trukese weekend warrior. For that matter, he resembles any other self-made male champion, from the Mafia godfather in urban America, the uomo di rispetto, to feudal warlords who dominated by personal power and political savvy, all having clawed their way to their culture’s highest status.” (p. 100) and serves as “the supporting beam of the neolithic social architecture”. Gilmore explains that these men can exist in patrilineal or matrilineal society, the Trukese example mentioned above is one such character who exists in a matrilineal and matrilocal context. The ability for a man to draw together a community arguably being even greater in a matrilineal society considering patrilineal societies tend to be more likely to be defined exclusively by blood relations rather than incorporating social ties. It’s an expression of masculinity that is aspirational and can feed into fatherhood but is independent of it. It’s an expression worked out in a communal context. I feel like these are the individual’s Paul encourages Timothy and Titus to look out for when selecting leaders in the Church:

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Gilmore identifies that these men are inspirational figures, powerful orators, and good managers (Manhood in the Making p. 102). They don’t need to be violent men but ones who are willing to face off against those who’d attack the church and go out to contend for it in the public sphere. Many models of leadership in the Church have historically been defined as something other than the male as depicted here. Either as a some ontological ‘other’, someone who is unable to relate to the lives of ordinary people, or someone who actually seeks to tear down others (eg an infamous figure like Mark Driscoll). Not to be another person who makes this point (but I will) but this is why individuals like Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson appeal predominantly to large numbers of young men. I’m not saying these men are necessarily good role models but there’s a reason Rogan’s podcast pulls millions in per episode and Peterson’s self-help book has sold millions, mostly to an audience of men in a relatively speaking short space of time. 

Matrilineality isn’t bad but it’s easy to blame it, and potentially go further and just blame women, as a reason why men don’t feel comfortable in church. I think the more honest answer is that church leaders, men, have too often leant too heavily on a top-down view of masculinity, defining what it should be according to them, rather than looking at masculinity from the bottom up and being able to parse the good and bad within it. We talk about natural law or general revelation but it seems to go out the window around these topics. This isn’t just me, the theologian Alastair Roberts writes:

Modern Christians, accustomed to thinking in terms of abstractions and ideologies and assuming that social reality flows chiefly down from ideas and rules, tend to be unmindful of the degree to which our social reality is determined by material conditions—by bodies, by geography, by resources, by technologies, by economic conditions, and many other such things that constitute the under-considered material fabric of our reality. The sexual order of society largely flows ‘up’ from such realities, rather than ‘down’ from abstract ideas.

Changing this situation will require a reordering of the church’s life, where men’s virility and greater spiritedness are no longer treated as things to be house-trained, but as strengths to be developed and harnessed in the service of a newly prioritized outward church mission.

This would require a sharply counter-cultural posture towards men as agents of dominion, encouraging men to lean into and develop their aptitudes in this area, rather than stifling them in order to secure a more domesticated and equalized gender-neutralized society. It would also require the establishment of a very different settlement between the sexes, wherein men’s strength was not—as it has so often been—exercised at the expense of, without regard for, as a diminishment of, or as a lording over women, but where women more generally were strengthened by men’s greater exertion of their strength in the world. 

Alastair Roberts. The Virtues of Dominion. Theopolis

This is easier said than done, and the frustrating thing as a layman is that you can sometimes feel powerless to do anything about it. Yet I do think a real and necessary cultural change is required. For me this is personal, those I know who went on to fall away from the faith, or were raised in it but rejected it, are overwhelmingly male, my brother is one of them. It’s easy to say the fault lies with an apostate or backslidden man, and that isn’t to absolve them, but it’s clearly also a symptom of something gone and continuing to go wrong.

One of the reasons discursive Christianity doesn’t work anymore is because the discourse in the culture has changed. The onset of rapid change in the 60s was largely through mass media, the internet only makes this worse. Any robust form of Christian growth in the future needs to be sufficiently ‘thick’ and self-supporting to push back on these influences. A core constituent part of that, I believe, is a robust anthropology that contributes to the sustainable growth of the church. We don’t have that currently.

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