Let me explain.
Albert Mohler is evangelical royalty in the US. His seminary has over 3,000 students and is one of the largest in the world, supplying pastors into the largest Christian denomination in America. For those who are not familiar with them, the Southern Baptists are also fiercely conservative, dominating the Bible Belt.
Mohler has a hugely influential daily briefing on his website in which he muses on a current affairs from a theological perspective. Naturally, he picked up the key issue of beards on his 6 March edition.
The trigger for this was the widely discussed (in some places) appearance of facial hair on the chin of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Mohler saw the opportunity to reinforce his perspective on the created order:
the biblical worldview just reminds us of the basic fact that God made human beings as male and female and it matters. It even matters when it comes to facial hair. Whether a man has that facial hair as a beard and wears it or shaves it off in any regard, it points out that a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Now, of course you can try to interfere with that by pharmaceutical means or hormones, but the basic fact is a man's going to show up as a man in the face and the same thing is true of a woman.
Now let's compare this to the view of Clement of Alexandria on Beards, from The Instructor written in around AD200:
for God wished women to be smooth and to rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane. But he adorned man like lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest – a sign of strength and rule
Remarkable, isn't it.
However, the two theologians appear to come to different conclusions from here. Clement went on, "it is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness". He argued that it was 'womanly' for men to comb your hair and shave. Men should let nature take its course on themselves and avoid all vanity in attempting to tame it. He argued that all Christian men should sport as bushy a beard as nature permitted.
Mohler on the other hand concluded, "Whether to have or have not a beard is a matter for individual male decision with a good deal of input, I would add, from the significant women in their lives." Whilst he argued the decision to shave or not to shave had meaning, he argued that this meaning may vary in different contexts so there is no 'right' answer on the facial hair question.
I found it surprising that Mohler did not mention that he himself has decided to shave or comment on what he felt that meant. Or that until recently, Southern Baptist seminaries, like the one he runs, banned students from wearing beards because they thought they represented a rebellious 'hippie' spirit.
"A beard is not just a beard"
What Mohler rightly identifies is that beards do carry meaning, commenting 'a beard is not just a beard'. This is a very accurate statement through all recorded history. In my book I trace that meaning through a wide range of cultural contexts, from the earliest civilisations on earth to today. All the worlds major religions have views on beards.
Mouse is delighted that such a prominent theologian has visited this crucial topic. And there is so much more to be said. A little more recent history could have described the Catholic prohibition on beards and the claim that this was introduced by St Peter himself, for example. The Biblical stories and law on beards could have been expounded. Well, don't get me started. I have so many stories.
But perhaps Mr Mohler either has not researched the subject or did not have time and space to expand further.
But the rewards for those who do are truly wonderful. Enjoy Beard Theology folks.