It goes without saying that there are plenty of unsatisfactory paradigms and false metrics of manhood afloat in our social discourse. Many of these have been previously addressed and summarily debunked. What approach, then, should we take to the issue of biblical manhood? In answering this question, the following is not meant as an authoritative creed, but it is meant as a roadmap to help men in their quest for self-understanding.
Rejection of Functionalism
In critiquing the pro-choice position on abortion, the Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft has rightfully drawn attention to the problem of "functionalism" as a pervasive belief system in our culture. Consider what he has to say about its deleterious effect:
"Functionalism is not only theoretically weak, it is also practically destructive. Modern man is increasingly reducing his being to functions. We no longer ask, 'Who is he?' but, 'What does he do?' We think of a man as a fireman, not as a man fighting fires; of a woman as a teacher, not as a woman teaching.We can see the destructive influence of functionalism with regard to the personhood of a fetus, a comatose patient, the elderly, or the permanence of the marital bond, yet we blindly ignore the destructive influence of functionalism in conceptualizing manhood. Religious conservatives, who ought to know better, fall into this trap. Consider what Albert Mohler has declared: "In a biblical perspective, manhood is defined in these roles and responsibilities [father/protector/provider]. A man is defined in terms of who he is and what he does in obedience to God" (emphasis original). Mr. Mohler's speech betrays him. He has simply taken the worldly philosophy of functionalism and dressed it up in religious garb.
"Functionalism arises with the modern erosion of the family. Our civilization is dying primarily because the family is dying. Half of our families commit suicide, for divorce is the family committing suicide qua family. But the family is the place where you learn that you are loved not because of what you do, your function, but because of who you are. What is replacing the family, where we are valued for our being? The workplace, where we are valued for our functioning."
In reality, the essence of manhood does not lie in embracing a role, that is, performing a function. Manhood is the birthright of every adult, male human being, whether we respect that man or not. Biblical manhood is rooted in a relationship with God. This relationship is effected through the atoning work of Christ, not through performing duties and rituals (Eph. 2:8). Biblical manhood is a male state of being, which manifests itself in good works as God gives ability and opportunity to a man. In the absence of ability and opportunity, however, a man can still be as God wants him to be. The elderly, unmarried, childless paralytic can thus glorify God just as much as the young married preacher of a megachurch, if not more so.
What can men do for society? What can men do for women? These are the wrong questions to ask. Men do not need to make an apology for their existence. They have worth as those who bear the image of God (Gen. 1:26). That others may have no use for men is immaterial. Men can find fulfillment through Christ (John 4:13-14; 10:10) without needing the affirmation of others (Luke 6:22-23).
Regulative Principle of Manhood
Some may be familiar with the concept of the Regulative Principle of Worship. It is an approach to biblical interpretation, embraced by some faith traditions and applied to the practices of corporate worship in a church setting. According to this principle, whatever is not specifically enjoined by the Scriptures through command, example, or necessary inference is rejected as an unauthorized addition to worship.
A similar approach can be taken to the issue of masculinity. The Regulative Principle of Manhood is rooted in the concept of sola scriptura. That is, the Word of God is the sole authority for determining the spiritual requirements of manhood (1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Tim. 3:16). Yet, even in this, the Word must be rightly divided (2 Tim. 2:15). Man is no more bound by incidental passages in the Bible relating to a culture of a pre-Christian age than he is to the particular elements of temple worship in the Old Testament. Acknowledging this truth provides a sound mooring for defining biblical manhood, even as many religious pundits go astray in this regard (whether it be pushing arbitrary courtship rules or other antiquated ideas about how men should behave, etc.).
Men must look to the New Covenant, as laid forth by Christ and his apostles, as the rule of faith (Hebrews 8:1-13). This rule of faith is the standard by which biblical manhood is defined, not religious leaders, not the latest volumes stocked in "family bookstores," not one's church, not custom, not tradition, not speculations about what is "natural," and not popular notions of what is right. Biblical manhood is simply manifested according to the following parameters:
1. The general commandments by God given to humanity (Eccl. 12:13).
2. Specific commands given to men in specific capacities regarding the church and the family (e.g., Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:17; Eph. 6:4).
3. The rejection of all false metrics and false paradigms of masculinity as unacceptable distortions of biblical manhood (Mark 7:7; Prov. 30:5-6).
4. Charity and the willingness to extend liberty and tolerance to men in areas not addressed by the previous parameters (Romans 14).
Ultimately, the Regulative Principle of Manhood grants men considerable freedom in defining their masculinity. It also serves as a check against legalism and the social tyranny perpetuated against men by academics, popular culture, traditionalists, and the such like. One finds that in Christ, the dividing wall of hostility is broken down between the truck driver and the poet. In fact, the truck driver and the poet can be the same man.
The Principle of Societal Covenant (The "Nebuchadnezzar Principle")
The Bible tells of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, in particular, portray this event as a divine judgment against the Jewish people. Because the Jews were not faithful to God, God removed his protection from them and allowed their kingdom to be conquered. In discussing biblical manhood, there is a principle to be carried away from this historical event.
Men have an unconditional obligation to love God and they have an unconditional obligation to love fellow human beings (Mark 8:29-31). They do not have an unconditional obligation to a visible institution, a set of customs, or a given culture. Visible institutions, customs, and cultures govern transactions between people. They ebb and flow with the tide of history, and their legitimacy is dependent upon their agreement with the Holy Writ. Whatever obligation they would impose upon men must be offset by some meaningful benefit to men.
The reason for this is as follows: God is one who interacts with humanity by means of covenant. Humanity's obedience to God is rewarded with blessings from God. Disobedience is rewarded with punishment (2 Cor. 5:10) (as was the case with the kingdom of Judah). Humanity is created in the image of God and interactions between people are governed by God's moral law (Matt. 7:12). Thus, the idea of covenant is central to the function of a healthy society. "Covenant breakers" are judged harshly by God's word (Rom. 1:31, ASV).
When society breaks its covenant with men, it condemns itself. Men do not have an obligation to promote a system of human interactions or an institution that is morally corrupt (Revelation 18:2-5). Men have the right to turn their backs on such. From the Reformation to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the fall of Communism, this maxim has held true. The moment society declared that the "personal" was "the political" was the moment men could no longer trust in the stability of the most basic social institution of all--marriage. Since men have no scriptural obligation to personally embrace this institution, their personal rejection of marriage is their inalienable right (1 Cor. 7:32; 35-38). More generally, men do not have obligation to protect and support a culture that belittles and devalues them. They are, in this respect, justified in "going their own way." A culture that does not cherish men is accursed. Barrenness is the death sentence. Such a culture must repent of its stance towards men before it is too late.
Militancy (The Conclusion of the Matter)
Men who would enjoy the fruits of the aforementioned principles have the obligation to defend them. For too long, men have been too apathetic and too accommodating towards others. The laudable tendency of men to protect others, to be self-reliant, to refuse to complain, etc. has been turned against them by powerful interest groups. Some might declare that men should move beyond their anger in order to be more "spiritual." But godly anger in the face of injustice and sin is no vice (Mark 3:5; 2 Cor. 11:29; Eph. 4:26).
Men should not stand idly by. If they choose the route of being agreeable, then the most outrageous and despicable ideas about men will be mainstreamed--even in our faith communities. Men will truly suffer, then. Men need to speak out, if need be, in classrooms, in workplaces, in church buildings, against politicians, on the internet, on talk radio, to family and friends, whenever, wherever. Silence may be necessary in some venues in order to avoid undue attention and persecution, but silence borne out of apathy and indifference is never excusable. In short, men can embrace biblical manhood by first embracing the truth. The choice is theirs to make; one can only hope that they choose wisely.
Albert Mohler, "Masculinity without Manhood?," March 5, 2008. Available at www.albertmohler.com.
Peter Kreeft, "Human Personhood Begins at Conception," n.d. Available at www.peterkreeft.com.