April 23, 2012

Douglas Wilson & The Dangers of Effeminate Worship

Douglas Wilson, who might be best known for his criticism of the “New Atheists”, specifically his debates with Christopher Hitchens, recently posted a list of eleven warning signs that your church’s worship service might be getting too effeminate. For example:

1. Your music and sermons almost never contain references to judgment, wrath, battles, enemies, Hell, the devil, or apostasy;

2. Your music minister is more concerned that the choir trills their r's correctly than that they fill the sanctuary with loud sounds of battle;

3. One of the ministerial staff has taken to wearing a clerical collar and a powder pink shirt, and no one on the session has the courage to tell him that he looks like a thirteen-year-old boy with rosy cheeks, as painted by Norman Rockwell;

4. The worship team gravitates toward "Jesus is my girlfriend" songs, and their facial expressions while up front are those of guys in the backseats of their cars, having just gotten to second base with their actual girlfriends;

Wilson is no stranger to controversy — among his many works is a book that suggests that slavery in the South was, shall we say, misunderstood — and this article caused quite a stir. My Christ and Pop Culture colleague, Brad Williams, posted a response titled “Doug Wilson, the Church Is a Bride, Bro”.

First, let me point out that the church’s worship cannot be effeminate. Nor should it be masculine. Nor should it be feminine. The worship service should be designed to allow men and women to worship the Almighty as, well, men and women. What the gathering of the church does is allow men and women to express their adoration of God for His offering of His Son Jesus as a propitiation for our sins. So the pastor, the music leaders, the responsive reading guy, the prayers—these things are all done to remind us of the glorious truths of the Bible, and people are free to respond to that however they might best express themselves. That could include dancing half-naked in front of the ark of God, or it could include a man getting his ugly cry on because of the glory of God has broken his heart. Or, he could stand at parade rest and sing lustily and make battle noises, I guess. Either way, you ought to leave that dude alone, brother.

So technically, the worship of the church cannot be effeminate. Only individual men can be effeminate. But what that exactly means is a bit of a mystery to me. To avoid that, does it mean he has to grow a beard? Quit wearing preppy cardigans? No gold bracelets? Wilson tries to help us spot effeminate worship, but things like this only leave me more confused

The Internet Monk’s Chaplain Mike posted an even more pointed response, titled “‘Esau’ Christianity? Douglas Wilson Needs a Bible Study”.

This is one of the more misguided and mean-spirited pieces I’ve read in awhile. This whole idea of “masculine Christianity” that some among the neo-Reformed and others are promoting these days is so off-base I can’t believe anyone falls for it. Most of our concepts of “masculinity” and “femininity” are time-bound social and cultural constructs and have nothing to do with being “biblical” (there is that terribly misused word again) or representing a vital and rigorous faith.

Its purveyors may be as clueless as Esau was.

[…]

What is clear is that Wilson exudes a deep distrust and contempt for women in this post. What he says sounds nothing like the way Jesus or Paul related to their sisters and partners in the Gospel. For instance, he throws out the old canard about women conspiring to form a “shadow government” behind the scenes in order to function as illicit leaders in the congregation. Believe me, after serving as a pastor for more than 25 years, I’ve had as much trouble with masculine guys as with scheming women. But Wilson would have us believe that, if only the church’s male members would “man up” and take control over the vexatious vixens among us, we would see the church functioning as it should. You might want to ask the leadership at Mars Hill or Sovereign Grace Ministries how that’s working. Better yet, ask the women in those groups.

I first learned of Wilson through his interactions with Hitchens, which I enjoyed. And I have appreciated Wilson’s willingness to level criticism at both “conservative” and “liberal” Christians. But there’s a lot of chaff to sift through in his writings: for every good point he makes, there are several that are, at best, groan-inducing and deserving of little more than an eye-roll. (For example, 

With regards to this particular article of Wilson’s, there are those who will no doubt defend it as being tongue-in-cheek. Here’s the thing, though: If Wilson were to write a serious article warning churches against being too effeminate, would it really be all that different from the actual article that he did post?