Macho Jesus: The new muscle of the Church

Move over, Chuck Norris. There’s a new action hero in town. The 2,000-year-old Messiah has undergone a makeover. No longer the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ – the mild feminised version of himself that has been so popular in artistic representations for so long: Jesus has gone ‘kick-ass’.

A new version of theology is on the rise and it has been injected with testosterone. Jesus has been given the biceps that any good carpenter would be expected to have. This branch of theology has been strengthened by recent books like Paul Coughlin’s No More Mr Christian Nice Guy and Leon J. Podles’ The Church Impotent: The Feminisation of Christianity. Coughlin’s book is targeted towards men who have been convinced (whether by family and / or a particular church denomination) that masculinity is a bad thing. It works to dismiss the popular opinion that men are more sinful than women and that they should embrace passivity. Meanwhile, Podles argues that the current preoccupation with the role of women in the church has begun to obscure the more serious problem of the persistent absence of men. He traces this feminization to three contemporaneous medieval sources: the writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the rise of scholasticism, and the expansion of female monasticism. He argues that the masculine traits that once typified Christianity are now generally regarded to be incompatible with it. He says that, while it has been marginalized within Christianity, masculinity cannot be wiped out from human society. Therefore, the church is diminished by being emasculated. To take the masculinity of Christ out of the doctrine of the church serves only to make spirituality individualistic and erotic. By deriding the church to the status of a woman’s club, Podles champions the restoration of masculinity within it. In an otherwise clichéd field of gender studies, The Church Impotent stands alone in its confrontation with the unbalanced feminine cast of modern Christianity.

While books like this have been influential, the manliness of the new theology is best captured by Stephen Sawyer, a 58-year-old artist based inKentucky. His paintings of Jesus as a boxer and tattooed biker, in particular, have captured the imaginations of Christian men who have been searching for a manlier role model. Sawyer quite adeptly points out:

“I scarcely think Jesus could have overturned the tables of the money-lenders and driven them from the temple if he was a wimp. The model I use for my paintings is a surfer guy who’s built like a brick shithouse.”

Not everyone, however, has welcomed the paintings. Take, for example, one woman’s reaction to the painting ‘Joy to the World’. (Images available on Stephen Sawyer’s website; for copyright reasons, I cannot replicate them here. See link below.) She said:

 “You know Jesus didn’t laugh. The Bible says He was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.”

Sawyer insists:

“I believe Jesus laughed a lot. With His apostles, I bet He had to laugh. People need to see Jesus laughing and smiling. I paint Jesus as I know Him, and that’s incredibly strong and brilliant. I want people to see Jesus as alive, exciting and vibrant. Someone they can relate to. I paint for an audience of One. If I think God likes it, I don’t care if a lot of other people do.”

Sawyer’s Jesus is one that many people would never have thought to visualize: Jesus dressed in jeans; Jesus with a heart-shaped tattoo surrounding the word ‘Father’; Jesus in a boxing ring, the word mercy printed on his gloves.

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus christ. He needs less bleeding heart, more rippling pecs, apparently. Image courtesy of

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus christ. He needs less bleeding heart, more rippling pecs, apparently. Image courtesy of

While the momentum of this new theological focus sounds like something that might take ground in the Southern states of America, it is in the UK that it appears to be gaining most ground. A recent article in The Guardian reports:

“According to recent polls, the ratio of women to men worshippers in this country is 65% to 35% – and too much girliness is getting the blame for the gender imbalance. Hence the rising number of conferences and sermons aimed at men that present a more muscular version of Jesus, along with the continuing success of Christian lad’s mag Sorted.”

Rev Eric Delve, vicar of St. Luke’s Church in Maidstone, Kent commented:

“Men are looking for action figures. That’s why they follow footballers.”

I am not sure how far the comparison of Jesus with David Beckham can go; but it wouldn’t make him appeal to me. Still, the church could do with an action figure to stir things up a little.



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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, People

Author:Mary-Ellen L

Lives at Lecturer in Literature and Philosophy, Poet and Professional Cynic.

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10 Comments on “Macho Jesus: The new muscle of the Church”

  1. August 31, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    “No More Mr Christian Nice Guy”. I love that! lol

  2. Paul
    August 31, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    remembering something you’ve forgotten doesn’t really count as something new… a passive ‘wimpy’ Jesus is something invented by those who would prefer to preach a message that cannot possibly offend anyone. This might sound ok on the surface, but you get the feeling that there must be more to it…
    That said, I think a call to masculinity is a good thing!
    (it beats the default social teaching of trying to prove yourself by using women)
    Be a man, stand up not only for yourself but also those around you who may be weaker or less fortunate.

  3. September 1, 2011 at 3:52 am #

    What’s really interesting to me in this article is how humans personalize their religion/spirituality, so that is familiar. Sawyer’s depiction of Jesus looks like he would be one of the good old boys sitting in a bar after work on a Wednesday night. The depiction of Jesus as a human being makes him identifiable. Though he is not considered a deity, the Buddha was also fabled to be a man. Can you think of any other religions who also follow this pattern?

  4. September 1, 2011 at 4:05 am #

    I think, in the case of Christianity, the prioritisation of sacrifice and the focus of redemption, has done much to underplay the value of Christ’s humanity; not passivity, but manliness!

    That’s what I like about Sawyer’s art; the figure of Christ becomes inviting; not surrounded in a halo and untouchable, but very real. Totally, as you say, identifiable!

    Laura, what pattern do you mean? As for Buddha? Fabled to be a man? Buddha WAS a man…

    Paul, the call to masculinity IS indeed a good thing. Let’s not forget that when Jesus called men to be disciples, he didn’t call wimps. He called strong fishermen who were used to surviving lashing storms for a living…

  5. September 2, 2011 at 12:21 am #

    Oops! Very true about Buddha!

  6. September 2, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Can you think of any other religions that worship a deity that was once human or fabled to be human?

    Krishna is another.

  7. September 2, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    I think Christianity is very specific in that, due to the doctrine of the immaculate conception, it is not humanity alone that is the focus; the original thing is that Jesus was both human and divine.

  8. Jay
    October 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    This isn’t “cool” or a way for Christians to market themselves to non-Christians. This is cowardly. It’s “Christian” men not being comfortable with Christianity and trying to form it into what they want it to be. No, you don’t shape your faith. It shapes you. These people that want to believe in a macho Christ are just as deluded as anyone else. Cowards.


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