At the present moment, I am reading a dissertation which I stumbled upon online called “From Morning Watch to Quiet Time: The Historical and Theological Development of Private Prayer in Anglo-American Protestant Instruction, 1870-1950.” I thought the topic sounded nothing short of fascinating and was able to order a copy through the InterLibrary Loan system. I’ve only read two of six chapters, but I’ve really been enjoying what I’ve found so far, including some background information I’d never come across before.
Ever cringe watching a YouTube video of Mark Driscoll and wonder where the hell all the “manly Jesus” crap came from? Well, I can’t promise there’s a direct link, but there’s at least a precedent. According to the author, Gregory Johnson, an obsession with fixing a supposedly effeminate Christianity—whatever that insulting term even means when describing a religion—began during the Victorian era as a reaction to other cultural forces seen as overly sentimental. This concern with manly Christians was also connected to a larger militarism characterizing both British and American culture in the late 1800s until the post-WWI era. Action and toughness were prized in men and seen as good for both the empire and the church. Strong Christian men should work diligently and forcefully, they thought, to confront sin and evangelize the globe. According to Johnson, this sort of thinking fueled evangelical movements like the Keswick Convention, as well as creating the backdrop for the development of the Morning Watch.
This is as far as I’ve gotten in the dissertation, so I really can’t say more about Johnson’s argument. But I did find it fascinating to think that even this early on, people were getting paranoid about the church needing to buff up. While I’m not certain anyone in 1900 was talking about rejecting any Jesus who might lose a fist fight (as Driscoll has done), it is both tragic and comforting that this stuff is not new. There will probably always be those who think that there is something shameful about the number of women in the church. And that aggression is superior to compassion. And that these are “male” vs. “female” characteristics to begin with. I feel a bit of pity on all of us for our cultural captivity and, for a brief moment, an extra ounce of grace for those who today carry on this century-old message. Of course, it’s also infuriating to think of how long people have been saying the same terrible things. I don’t expect it to stop anytime soon, but I hope I’m wrong.