A blog for Christian men "going their own way."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Finding Manhood (Part 2: False Metrics)

[This is the second planned installment of a series on understanding biblical manhood. Those who agree with what is written are permitted and encouraged to reproduce it. No credit or attribution is necessary. To see the first installment go here.]

In approaching the subject of biblical manhood, it is instructive to look at several popular but false metrics of what Christian men are supposed to be. Many times, religious pundits will talk about "marks of manhood," etc. and will assert that "real men [do such-and-such]" or that "real men are [whatever quality]." What does such language actually imply? In truth, many of the qualities touted as being the essence of manhood are simply not scriptural. Let us consider the following examples ...

Physical Strength/Athleticism

Some may think that physical strength is a mark of manhood. There is no scripture in the Bible that supports this assertion. On the contrary, the Apostle Paul himself placed a greater weight on spiritual exercise than bodily exercise (1 Tim. 4:8). While it is true that men are generally stronger than women, this is not always the case. I find it strange that a society, which has no problem with athletic women and the WNBA, cannot turn around and bring itself to celebrate the manhood of men who are not athletically inclined. Why are women allowed flexibility in this manner but not men? As it is, in claiming that physical strength or athleticism is the essence of manhood, we are our declaring our hostility towards elderly men and disabled men. If not, why not? Such notions of manhood clearly feed in our society's worldly obsession with youth, physicality, etc.

Let me say this: High-school football stars are usually not the ones who come up with a cure for debilitating diseases. The physically-awkward, uncoordinated kid who gets picked last for whatever team in phys-ed class back in middle school may very well be the one who designs a better car for you tomorrow. It's time we celebrate the achievements of men who, though they do not grace the covers of ESPN, make important contributions to our society. It's time that we jettison the stupid notion that every man has to aspire to throw a football like Eli Manning.

Charisma/Popularity

Many are attracted to the man who carries himself well in the public. Such a man can speak and easily relate to others, and his presence commands the attention of the people around him. Is it any wonder, then, when so many churches require their preachers to be excellent communicators and have impeccable interpersonal skills?

The Bible has a different understanding of charisma. Of Jesus, the Scriptures say, "He has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him ..." (Isaiah 53:2). Paul declared to the Corinthians that his message was not with "wise and persuasive words" lest their faith "rest on men's wisdom" and not on "God's power" (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Contrast this to the way false teachers are presented in the Bible (Rom. 16:8; 2 Peter 2:18). Ronald Reagan and Barak Obama may be hailed as "great communicators." John Piper or Joel Osteen may be everybody's favorite preacher. All the same, God "does not see as man sees" and there is "no partiality with him." (1 Sam. 16:7; Acts 10:34-35; Eph. 6:19). It's time our modern pulpits in our stately sanctuaries show a little more appreciation for this truth.

Stoicism

We are told that men are not as emotional as women are. We are led to believe that a man showing his emotions is a pathetic thing. The Bible, however, does not care one whit about the macho sensibilities of our Western culture. Rather, it presents us with a picture of a sorrowful Savior who openly wept on one occasion and elsewhere expressed a tender desire to redeem the Jews (John 11:35; Matt. 23:37). We also have the poignant lament of David over the death of a good friend (2 Sam. 1:26), a narrative that some unfortunately read through the lens of homoeroticism. This perverse misunderstanding of David's character is the logical end of a modern-day, macho ethic where the range of emotions men are allowed to express is restricted. We can do better than this.

Education/Intelligence

Our world places a premium on education and intelligence. But God has a different mind about this matter. The Bible says, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise." Jesus rejoiced that spiritual truths were hidden from the wise men of his time, but revealed to "babes" (Luke 10:21). This is not an affirmation of anti-intellectualism. It is a realization that all men, regardless of their mental capacities must equally abase themselves before the Cross.

Financial Status

Jesus declared that "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15) and yet we still hear preachers declare that a man is called to be "the provider." There is, nevertheless, really only one true Provider and what we receive from him cannot be with pride, but with thanksgiving (Luke 12:13-34; 1 Tim. 4:4). Despite what some popular religious pundits might insist, there is no requirement in the Bible that a man bring home a larger paycheck than his wife. Some may refer to Genesis 3:17-19 and 1 Timothy 5:8, but these passages are not just addressed to men but to everyone, and any discourse on gender roles must take this fact into consideration.

Marital Status

Evangelicals have a reached point in their embrace of marriage and family that some of them have slid into theological error. I refer, in particular, to the Marriage Mandate Movement, a school of thought that presupposes that marriage is required by God for most men. The Bible, on the other hand, clearly teaches that while marriage is blessing in principle (Gen. 1:27-28; Prov. 18:22), it is not always expedient (1 Cor. 7:28). Marriage is optional for a believer--it is neither required nor forbidden (1 Cor. 7:36-38). Concomitant with this observation is the truth that men are not required to be fathers. Like marriage, children are a blessing in principle (Gen. 1:28; Psalm 127:3), but they are not always expedient (Luke 21:23). Their presence in a life of a man is neither required nor forbidden (Isa. 56:3-5).

Ambition

We are told that men must have a "godly ambition." What does that mean? The Bible says, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit" (Phil. 2:3) and that we should make our "ambition" to "lead a quiet life," to "mind our own business," and to work (1 Thess. 4:11). Moreover, how do we reliably measure "godly ambition" in a man when the Lord instructs us to not do our good works "to be seen of men" (Matt. 6:1)?

We live in strange times. The religious landscape is filled with those who seem to have a marquee mentality. Many spread their names far and wide with their "ministries," books, glitzy websites, podcasts, radio shows, TV interviews, workshops, seminars, lectureships, conferences, etc. On top of that, they often ask money for what they are doing. If a man says something in public, but doesn't feel the need to throw out his name every chance he gets, he may be viewed with suspicion. People may think he has something to hide when he keeps a low-profile or stays anonymous. Meanwhile, self-promoters seem to go uncriticized.

When it comes to ambition, I also have to wonder what religious women mean when they say they want an "ambitious" husband. Do they want a man ambitious enough to secure worldly riches for them, or do they want a man ambitious enough to grow more conformed to the image of God's Son? Perhaps men of faith should be a bit more discerning about their religious sisters demands in this area. As it is, the Christian man who truly has a godly ambition may not be appreciated for it after all.

Vocation/Position/Skills

Do you think your vocation and/or your skills are a indicator of your manhood? If modern churches have done a half-hearted job in fighting materialism, they have done even a worse job in countering the idolatry of careerism. What makes you think you are any more entitled to a satisfying job that engages the full extent of your talents than you are to a beautiful body or wealth? What if it pleases the Lord to put you in a low-paying, boring job beneath your level of expertise? What if you have no choice to but perform some task others consider to be unimportant? Sometimes what God asks us to do is not the most exciting thing on earth. As it written, "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Let us focus on giving glory to the Lord, and not on uncertain promises of self-actualization in this world.

Assertiveness

When we think of an assertive man, we think of one who is willing to take risks, who initiates, who boldly makes his thoughts and desires known to others, and who takes command of a situation. Is this kind of assertiveness the epitome of biblical manhood? If so, then what do we do with a scripture that calls for a risk-averse stance (Proverbs 14:16)? What do we do with passages that call for restraint of the tongue and for us to be "peacable and gentle" (Prov. 21:23; James 3:17). These are not qualities God expects from women alone; these are qualities he expects from everyone.

We've also been told that "real men initiate," especially in areas such as dating and courtship. Those who foster this view are often fond of comparing the relationship between man and woman to the relationship between Christ and the church. Let these pundits consider their own logic: If Christ is the head of man, does that mean that men should just sit back and wait on the Lord to do everything? Do not the Scriptures admonish us to show a little initiative by stepping out on faith and seeking the Lord (Heb. 11:16; James 4:8)?

If the initiative man must take in seeking the Lord does not violate the headship of the Lord, then why are we to believe that any initiative a woman shows in a relationship with man violates his headship? Certainly the initiative Ruth showed towards Boaz was not such a violation (Ruth 3:1-11). It is all too easy for women to sit back and expect men to do everything. A lazy entitlement mentality like this can be passed off as being "submissive to male leadership" and being "ladylike," but it is neither of these things and it needs to be exposed for what it is.

Assertiveness is not inherently wrong and may be required in some cases (see Jude 3 for example). However, as we have seen, it is not always appropriate, nor is it restricted to men. Therefore, the insistence that assertiveness be a metric of manhood is at best problematic.

Self-Confidence

We are told that Christian men need to be "self-confident." In actuality, Christian men need to confident in the Lord (Phil 4:13). God has no use for men who think they succeed through their own abilities. Why? Because a man who has self-confidence before the throne of God is declaring his independence from the One who nourishes and sustains him (Deut. 8:1-18). As it is, there is no "self-confidence" to be had because rather than being confident in the "self" we are instructed to deny "self" (Mark 8:34).

In contrast to our culture's idolatry of the "can-do" attitude, we need to consider what attitude God expects of men. Christ commanded his disciples to humble themselves "like little children" (Matt. 18:1-6). Do we know what that means? David, a great warrior, surely did (Psalm 131). Men need to realize that as human beings their frames are as dust. Human beings are helpless and vulnerable as the day they were born (Job 1:21). Affirming this is not the same as timidity or passivity, but it is a sober realization of how our emotional, mental, and physical abilities all depend on the Lord. All glory is for Him. When men understand and appreciate these truths, they will pause and hesitate before speaking about "self-confidence."

Chivalry

Many conservatives, who claim to be the opponents of feminism, are not particularly concerned about how they can be just demeaning as feminists in their treatment of men. One egregious example of this is their insistence on some modern code of "chivalry" where women all the choices and men only the responsibilities. Men are told that they are called to be "protectors" and a "covering" for women. But in what way are men supposed to protect women?

Should we protect women from the consequences of being an adult? Should we protect them from needed criticism? Should we protect from having their ego bruised? Women have advanced and pushed into areas of society traditionally reserved for men. Women are much less vulnerable than they used to be. They have accepted positions of influence and leadership and now can wield power over men. How can we say these women are "weak" and "need protection"?

It's time women learn that with privilege comes responsibility. If they are in positions of influence, then they need to look to the concerns of the weak and vulnerable of both sexes, and stop focusing so much on themselves. When Jesus spoke of the needy as being the "least of these" his "brethren" (Matt. 25:31-46), he surely was not referring to women and children only. Therefore, that idea that men are required to shower preferential treatment on a woman, not on the basis of a legitimate need or a woman's demonstrated submission, but merely on the basis of her sex is showing partiality and is therefore sinful (James 2:9). Men are not lesser human beings than women that they should play the part of doormats. Women "can't have it both ways" in demanding power and protection at the same time, and no one should dare to expect a man to oblige himself to such an ungodly double-standard.

Bible Knowledge

The religious landscape is littered with experts who flaunt their church credentials. They have advanced degrees from seminaries, implying they have an in-depth knowledge of God's word that the typical individual does not have. Even if this were true, what of it? Satan is the chief Bible expert among his legion of false teachers and nominal Christians. I am not so impressed with a man who can quote scriptures, exegete passages, etc. as I am with a man who not only knows the truths of God's word, but obeys it (James 1:23-25).

Church/Civic Participation

One may think the a man's involvement in church or civic activies is a sign of his spiritual maturity. It may only be a sign of his busyness and nothing more (1 Cor. 13:3). One's manhood is not proven by the number of good works in which he participates. Why? Because his efforts are the efforts of an unworthy servant who has only done his duty (Luke 17:7-10). The elderly shut-in who can do very little and yet loves God is more honorable than the man who does his deeds to be seen of men (Matt. 6:1). A man should serve out of a deep knowledge and respect for God's love for him (1 John 4:11), because God did not ordain a man to use service as a means for self-promotion (including one proving how much of a "Christian man" he is).

Church Leadership

Are you someone important in your faith community? You do well. Even the Pharisees held a place of importance. Jesus said they sat in the seat of Moses (Matt. 23:1-3) and yet we know what he thought of them. You may stand before a pulpit and declare some truth (if that), but you no have reason to boast. Consider the attitude the Apostle Paul had toward his ministry (1 Cor. 15:9-10) and ask if your "ministry" earns you brownie points before the Almighty in a biblical manhood beauty pageant.

Stereotypically Masculine Pursuits

What do real men do? Do they play contact sports? Are they good at math? Do they major in the hard sciences? Do they hate Mozart and love to shoot guns? Do they leave Jane Austen to the chicks? Does the Bible say anything about this? No? Then stop fobbing off these matters as "biblical manhood" lest the Word of God rebuke you and prove you to be a liar (Prov. 30:5-6).

Conclusion

I know what I have written may provoke strong disagreement on the part of many. Nonetheless, men of faith have a choice to make. On one hand, they can accept the false metrics of manhood that were listed above and propagate them--thus furthering the decay of a culture mired in misandry. On the other hand, they can make a more thoughtful effort to understand what God really expects from men. Virtually all of the metrics I have listed may be an identifying aspect of some faithful, Christian men (and women for that matter), but to make them an essential benchmark of biblical manhood is indefensible.

[Click here for the third installment of this series.]

3 comments:

singlextianman said...

Hear, hear!

Ken said...

Another thought-provoking piece. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Long story short: feminism has infected society and women (the church is not spared), the marriage institution as it is now is flawed, stay single.

If you are persuaded by your faith to flee fornication, then do so. Abstain from sex, there is no shame in dying a virgin. At the very least, you can be 100% sure of being STD-free.

Those who screw around, use condoms/get a vasectomy, avoid making babies and stay single.

I had been to some churches and let's just say the women outnumber the men A LOT, and the few males that were there because wifey/mama said so. The modern church is VERY feminized.