Five C’s of Christian Mansplanation

I witnessed a conversation on facebook last night where one of these young, restless, well informed Christian guys was being a mansplaining stereotype of himself. There is a particular form of Christian thought that causes people (usually men because of how we’re wired but occasionally women) to think they’re experts in the faith after maybe a couple of years of serious Bible study. Their expertise then gives them the duty to “mansplain” Christianity, e.g. do things like ask patronizing, predictable rhetorical questions of complete strangers in social media in order to help them become experts in Christianity too. This morning while taking a bath, I thought of five C’s that characterize Christian mansplanation: clarity, conclusiveness, conformity, commodity, and control.

To be fair, there is more than one form of mansplainer. The five C’s below refer to mansplainers who have been programmed with 18th century presumptions about how human knowledge works. There is also another creature called mansplainer emergenticus that is every bit as obnoxious and probably has another five qualities that start with a different letter. To avoid confusion, I’ll deal with that in a different post some other time.

I. Clarity

One phrase that you will hear Christian mansplainers use a lot is “The Bible is perfectly clear that…” Confidence in the clarity of God’s truth is important, because it allows the mansplainer not to have an opinion on anything. He is simply a faithful conduit of the truth that passes from God through the Bible through him to his listener. Mansplainers are very suspicious of the word “interpretation” especially if the pronoun “your” is attached to it. If Bible verses did have multiple, equally valid interpretations, how could we ever be sure of the truth about anything? People talk about there being multiple interpretations when they don’t like what the Bible has to say. Because the Bible is perfectly clear, mansplainers only need to read each Bible verse once, after which they occasionally refer back to what they’ve already understood in order to receive the confirmation that it still says exactly what it did before.

II. Conclusiveness

There are two forms of conclusiveness in Christian mansplanation. Sometimes mansplainers who have been given the spiritual gift of discernment arrive on their own at the decisive conclusion to a particular topic that nobody else has ever thought of and nobody else will have to think about again if they listen carefully to the mansplanation. Usually this involves an even simpler way of breaking the gospel down that is culturally relevant to our times but absolutely consistent with the truth that has always been the same. But the form that the mansplainers’ conclusiveness usually takes is that they’ve already read the book that addresses the topic you’re discussing exhaustively and anticipates all the possible objections you might make so they simply encourage you to read the book before you attempt to discuss these matters on your own. Often the books that mansplainers read simply confirm that a particular figure from the past was infallibly correct about the subject, whether it’s Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, or Wesley depending on your branch of the Christian tree (I’m not sure who the guy is for Eastern Orthodoxy, maybe Gregory Palamias? Anabaptists? No clue!).

III. Conformity

The two most important concepts that Christian mansplainers preoccupy themselves with when they have conversations with each other are “leadership” and “orthodoxy.” The purpose of leadership is to enforce orthodoxy. Orthodoxy means that everyone is in agreement on the fundamentals. There is one gospel to which everyone should be striving to conform, not five gospels! It’s okay for each leader to have a different way of packaging his What We Believe statements as long as they really mean the same thing under the surface as every other leaders’ What We Believe statements. Until they become leaders themselves, mansplainers are entrusted with enforcing conformity to their leader’s What We Believe statements. You become a “leader” or “teacher” or “communicator” (depending on the dialect) once you have at least three thousand more twitter followers than people you follow.

IV. Commodity

The standard Christian mansplanations out in the world behave like commodities in the free market. This is because they are designed for mass distribution and easy training and meme-ification. The most prevalent example of a Christian mansplanation commodity would be the Four Spiritual Laws brochure designed by Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright in the 1950’s. With over 2.5 billion copies printed, it is the most widely distributed religious booklet in history. It’s a commodity because despite whatever initial intentions Bright himself had, the brochure has taken on a life of its own and become a primary means by which many mansplainers interpret the Bible even if they never read it directly because its basic truths have been transmitted through several layers of oral mansplanation.

V. Control

We live in a world that is out of control. Two words explain why: The Sixties. Christian mansplainers have either been rescued from or sometimes happily shielded from out of control lives and trained in their duty to take control. Control is one of the hardest aspects of the Christian mansplainers’ job; it is something that must be approached with sober reverence and humility. But what mansplainers have learned is that when they allow themselves to kowtow to other peoples’ feelings and let go of their gentle but firm control of the conversation, then inevitably heresies start to creep in and people get hurt.

17 thoughts on “Five C’s of Christian Mansplanation

  1. Pingback: What is the difference between spirit and flesh? | Mercy not Sacrifice

  2. Pingback: What is the difference between spirit and flesh? | Mercy not Sacrifice

  3. I see this most prevalent with those of John MacArthur type churches where they “clearly” understand scripture and truth.

  4. Awesomeness. Although, I see this in women as well. More than it being gender-linked, I encounter this phenomenon more often in conservative branches of Christianity than in the more liberal branches. Although… I bet we all do it to some extent 🙂

  5. I get what you’re saying, but I would ask: are long answers inherently superior to concise answers?

    The goal in communication is to exchange ideas. Aside from poetry and more abstract forms of communication, clarity is the main goal, and certain mediums make elaborate answers difficult or impossible. I’ve participated in extended discussions on Facebook, and usually people drop out of the discussion or don’t respond if the posts get too long. Same goes for face-to-face discussions: eventually most people reach a point where tracking a rambling person’s argument becomes too difficult to follow. And twitter makes engaging conversations almost impossible.

    It’s unrealistic to expect the length of conversations about Calvin or Aquinas’ work to correlate directly with the volume and complexity of the arguments they make. A person who casually asks “what is Calvinism?” shouldn’t be subjected to thirty minute treatise on Calvin. A quick two or three-sentence summary is the better approach: boil Calvinism down to the basics. If the person wants to know more, then you can provide more details.

    Say what you want about Bill Bright’s 4 Spiritual Laws, but his goal was to break down the evangelical view of the Gospel in a manner that is easy to memorize and use as a starting point in conversations. And given the results it garnered (thousands of converts and even more people who’ve memorized the laws even if they reject them), Bright’s Laws were a smashing success, and I’m willing to bet that more women used them than men.

    Whatever one thinks of the “fundamentals,” the 4 Spiritual Laws can provide a quick and concise way to find out where they stand on the “fundamentals,” even if the conversation about them is between a Catholic and a Mormon. This isn’t unique to Christianity either. I can’t count the number of times I’ve encountered people who don’t know the difference between socialism and communism. A simple, concise summary helps them understand Marx’s philosophy more than an extended quotation of Marx’s work would.

    I understand that you’re mainly talking about attitude in your post, but conciseness does tend to give off an air of certainty that a more extended conversation wouldn’t. I can’t count the number of people who’ve used the 4 Spiritual Laws to explain their faith to others, even if behind the scenes they are struggling or uncertain if they completely buy into them.

    And I bet you’ve probably noticed that I’ve gone a long way of stating my opinion here, and my post is sorely in need of more conciseness. And that’s my point. Everything I’ve written here reflects my point of view, and my hope is that people will read all of it. But the reality is many of your readers will likely skim over my post to see if they can figure out what I’m saying, or they’ll look at the length of my post and decide it’s too long to bother with. A more ooncise post could still communicate my opinion, but odds are I would sound more like a mansplainer.

    • I think the problem with overly concise (read: oversimplified) summaries of religious questions is that they aren’t nuanced enough to deal with the real world, and are therefore (at least potentially) disconnected from people’s everyday lived experience. You can’t build a life on someone’s systematic theology, and you shouldn’t expect people to make life-changing decisions (e.g. conversion to Christianity) on the basis of something until you can prove that it satisfactorily addresses the important questions that people bring to it.

  6. I appreciate your serious while also tongue in cheek take on the most interesting of our brothers in Christ. Kind of reminds me everyone’s favorite (or infamous) relative that always spends the holidays spouting off political rhetoric that they picked up from the favorite news programs, while not actually understanding what they mean.

  7. And contentiousness. I’m convinced natural selection is not a good model simply because so many of us at this end of it retain a gene that causes us to argue about everything endlessly to our own detriment just for the sheer fun of contention.
    Why do we always want to immediately beat the other guy down without even trying to understand what he is saying?

    • Why? Because we’re trying to justify ourselves and wave our you know what’s around instead of accepting God’s mercy in Jesus’ blood and becoming people of mercy ourselves.

  8. Excellent article. I would add a sixth C – ‘certitude.’ People like that are absolutely certain of their own correctness. No chance for the Spirit to break in and mess up their paradigm. Or so it seems. Eventually, some of them stumble on someone like Yoder whose biblical exposition is strong, and then they are undone. (this may or may not be veiled autobiography)

  9. Dude, I’ve seen so much of that!!!!!…in the NT. Jesus acts like the Bible is clear (Matt 22:29) and pretty conclusive, and one particularly egregious example of Paul’s love of conformity and concern for orthodoxy comes in Galatians:

    “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

    And then there is his horrible habit of charging Timothy and others to appoint elders to keep a watch on doctrine and practices, otherwise heresies might creep in a destroy the faith of some. (1 Tim 4) John seemed to think something like that as well (2 John).

    I’d say the one thing that they all disagreed with was the commodification.

    There’s a lot more to say, but most of what you just talked about comes from very biblical impulses that pastors have. Sometimes it goes wrong. It is often twisted with sin. Still…eh.

    • I figured I’d get rebuked by my favorite Calvinist 😉 but there is a difference between caring passionately about truth and being one of the seeds planted in the rocky soil who shoots up with epistemological self-confidence 2 years post-conversion while lacking the spiritual maturity and Christ-heartedness to be a legitimate shepherd let alone a disciple. I worry that some people stay in second grade of their Christian discipleship permanently even if they draw a big crowd with their charismatic hubris because they’re working w a gospel that was designed for the “cry night” of middle school youth retreats.

      • Okay, well I have no grid for what you’re talking about right now, so you’re probably right in what you’re speaking to. Actually, now that I think of it, I remember one guy with a Grudem systematics trying to convince me of something I’d read more about than he had at that point–I see the picture emerging in my head.

        I just see this getting used on someone with some similar convictions regardless of nuance. 🙂

        • Wait till the five D’s of mansplainer emergenticus. I’ve been mansplaincused unfairly before so I think I get the initial visceral reaction.

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