John Wayne, Jesus, and the Struggle to Define the Christian Man

“I fear that she’s taken aim at individuals—including people I know—who differ from her theologically but do their best to keep their eyes focused on Jesus, not John Wayne. One does not have to agree entirely with John Piper, for example, to know that he has paid a steep price for opposing some of the very trends that Du Mez identifies in her book.” - David French


No Christian I know lifts John Wayne up as the ideal Christian man. Where is this coming from?

It’s more of a word picture than a literal argument, but if you poke around, you’ll find examples of “tough guy” Christianity that isn’t terribly worried about the fallout. For example, I grew up in Chesterton, Indiana, home of Fairhaven Baptist Church (some of my relatives attended for a while), and that church is infamous for compelling young men to prove their toughness in wrestling matches. Twenty miles to the west, you’ve got the machismo of First Baptist Church of Hammond. There is something of a balance to be had between endorsing Biblical masculinity and pushing a caricature of it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.


No Christian I know lifts John Wayne up as the ideal Christian man. Where is this coming from?

I think it’s because John Wayne is one of the icons of a version of manliness espoused by many Americans — tough, but fair, good heart, but willing to do what was necessary. Whether that’s the image of the man himself or more what he portrayed in his films is an open question, but I’ve seen him held up that way a lot. However, I have also not seen him held up as the “ideal Christian man” by anyone. Most people I know can separate the ideal Christian from someone they are holding up for other reasons. Obviously, people today have not seen or met the man Jesus, but I suspect many envision his human manliness as not too different from the secular ideals of manliness they hold.

In many ways, it’s not too different from what many Christians I know thought about Trump. Not at all a Christian, or even an example of a “good” man, but someone in the right place and with the right toughness/attitude to get the job done, and who doesn’t shrink at strong opposition. I.e., if you take away his excesses, many would want a true Christian in his position to have some of the same qualities of toughness.

As Bert said, sometimes what we think of as the biblical ideal of manliness can easily become a caricature.

Dave Barnhart