When you hear the name Jesus, is the first image that comes to mind a dewy-eyed pretty boy with flowing locks? If so, think again. After 2,000 years, the Messiah is getting a makeover.
Photograph: Copyright Stephen Sawyer/ART4GOD.com
This time he's less "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" and more of a[n] ... action hero – a Chuck Norris in sandals.
No more cissy Kumbaya stuff. In this testosterone-fuelled theology, the Saviour finally has the rippling biceps he would have developed as a carpenter from a working-class home in Nazareth.
The macho Jesus movement has been bolstered by books like No More Mr Christian Nice Guy and The Church Impotent – the Feminisation of Christianity. But it's artist Stephen Sawyer, whose paintings of the Son of God as a tattooed biker and boxer have captured the imagination of Christian men searching for a more manly role model.
As Kentucky-based Sawyer, 58, 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 [...]."
But while you might expect this thinking to flourish in the American South, it's probably more surprising that it's gaining ground in the UK.
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.
This may be "flourishing" in the UK, but it's not entirely without voice in America, either. Many churches have traipsed their men’s groups out into the wilderness for a weekend of macho “male bonding.” Mark Driscoll among others has, in my opinion, certainly helped drive this “macho Jesus” idea in the church. But when we're drawing men into the building merely by making Jesus look "like a midfielder," we're not doing anything to help the state of the church. Just because "men are looking for action figures" doesn't mean we should give them what they're looking for. We may be bringing more testosterone into the building, but we're not strengthening male leadership and we're certainly not growing and maturing Christian men.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:12-16)
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11-16)But our Lord was and is gentle and loving at the same time to those who love and fear Him. This focus on His physical appearance completely misses the point. Focus on His intangible attributes: His holiness, His justice, His righteousness, and yes His purifying love. But to advertise Jesus as either a tattooed biker or a member of a boy band is nothing short of idolatry and blasphemy.
We need to stop worrying about directing people to a mere image that only reflects the attributes of our Lord that we like. If a church only preaches a feminine Jesus of love, then they will undoubtedly fill their pews with more women than men. The theology of the church will be squishy and incomplete. If a church only preaches a macho fighter Jesus, then they may gain a male attendance, though I suspect those men will only continue coming if additional perks like football parties and hunting weekends are offered. Even with a church full of "macho men," the theology will be squishy and incomplete. Unless a church is teaching the whole counsel of God and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then no clever marketing technique can help transform it into what the church should be. Only the Word of God transforms.
So here is a proposal from someone who’s never read a church-growth book: Just preach the Jesus of the Bible. If the passage you are preaching emphasizes Jesus’ love, great. If it speaks to His judgment and wrath, great. Preach the Word. Please stop marketing Jesus.