Reacting to Toxic Masculinities

We saw in the last post that currently, in our culture, two pictures of masculinity are being promoted, both of which are truncated, even toxic.  Here’s how peoples in the culture and in the Church are responding.

Reactions to Marlboro Man

As I write this, it is the year 2019.  There has now been a several years long attempt by much of society, at large, to devalue or redefine manhood.  They believe that they are achieving progress in leaving old stereotypes of gender behind.  Recent news exposing the rampant sexual abuse that has occurred throughout sports, Hollywood, and even the Church seem to demand a new definition of manhood.  They wonder how we can make men be less violent and less sexual.

And because of that, some Christians also wonder if 2000+ years of teaching on gender differences should be jettisoned so that we can have a masculinity that is a little more gentle, a little more relational.  And when men who hold to some traditional form of masculinity walks in the Church, they find that they are not welcome. Watching the news of abuse, we can understand the desire to snuff out bad masculinity, but we believe that this approach starts from and ends up in the wrong place.  They are reacting to bad masculinity by advocating a different, but still bad, masculinity.

Reacting to a Feminized Masculinity

Others in the culture reject the feminized picture of masculinity.  Perhaps it’s because of their own upbringing, where generation after generation of men lived out the ideal of machismo.  Maybe it’s cultural. Perhaps it’s subculture, passed from military father to military son. There are non-religious reasons for wanting to guard the image of Marlboro Man.

But others in the Church is guilty of promoting a false picture of masculinity as well.  In an attempt to stem the cultural tide, pastors and other Christian leaders have often slipped past Biblical masculinity into forms of patriarchy or downright misogyny.  Some haven’t necessarily tried to fight in the arena of ideas on this issue, instead they’ve opted to start literal fight clubs within their churches.  Nothing is as manly as punching another guy in the face, I guess.  Instead of calling men to a robust picture of masculinity, they’ve settled for roughhousing.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

We meet two brothers in the book of Genesis destined to compete.  One brother, Esau, was a hunter, an outdoorsman of great ability. Jacob was described as “a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”  While not quite “nancy boy” or “girly-man,” the description is intended to show that in contrast to Esau, an animal of a man (even covered in hair as thick as a goat), Jacob was much more at home, actually, at home.

Here’s the thing, neither man was a good man.  Neither exhibited traits of mature masculinity.  They were both BAD examples of manliness. Because manhood isn’t found in things like temperament, facial hair, interests, personality, athleticism, or preference.  It’s found in Christ-like character that results in Christ-like behavior.  Esau was rash, petulant, and selfish.  Jacob was a liar, a cheat, and a thief.

Right now, some in the culture and Church are trying to sell Jacob to us.  Likewise, people inside and outside the Church are promoting Esau.  But those are both bad choices.  Both are toxic options. Don’t sell out to either truncated picture of masculinity. They are selling us a house on bad foundations.  If these two men fit, so well, the descriptions from each of these camps, and yet are bad men, then the definitions must be wrong.

That means it’s not about how much you cry or how much your bench press.  It’s not how deep a voice or how effeminate a voice is.  Don’t choose Jacob or Esau, choose Jesus.  He made man, His Word instructs us as men, and He lived the perfect life as a man, showing us what a real man is.

On both sides of these stories is the decision between being, seemingly, not manly enough or not womanly enough.  That’s a false dichotomy. Let’s leave that behind and move into robust, Biblical masculinity.

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Two Popular and False Views of Manhood

Before we can dive into understanding God’s view of manhood, we need to understand that we already have our own view of it.  Likely, we didn’t formulate this understanding after methodical reflection and study. No, chances are you were given your philosophy of manhood by others.

For some, it happens in an instant, perhaps when a parent or other relative decides it’s time for you to “understand how things work.”  For others, it’s a slow development, pieced together over time through what is said by family, teachers, schoolmates, at home, in the classroom, and on the playground.  Along the way, perhaps, you reject some pieces you hear and synthesize the others into a composite picture of manliness.

In one set of circumstances, the picture that may emerge, especially for young men who really enjoy sports and other outdoor activities, and from a family that does as well, is that of the Marlboro Man.  A self-sufficient, adventurous, unemotional, rugged man’s man. There are some good things about this man. He’s reliable and hard working. He’s brave and knows how to get things done.  And yet, something’s missing.

When this masculinity is taken to extremes, it can become misogynistic.  It can be cold. It’s hard for those around this man (and for the man himself) to know how he feels at any given time.  He’s an emotional guessing game for them.  By the time you realizes that he’s overwhelmed, he’s half way to a divorce or a mid-life crisis.  And he may not truly feel like a man unless he’s doing something that feeds the image he has of himself.  So, changing diapers takes a back seat to fixing up an old car. This is a truncated masculinity. Some of it is true and beautiful, but it is insufficient.

In a completely different set of circumstances, a boy may be given a picture of manhood that looks strangely foreign to Marlboro Man.  Perhaps he is raised by a single mother and/or his grandmother. Or perhaps he is raised in an environment that is simply trying to blur (or erase altogether) the lines between boys and girls, between masculinity and femininity.  The picture he acquires looks strangely like the picture of a female in his life. She’s kind and gentle. Relationships are important. Her interests aren’t sports or machinery, but shopping and coffee dates.

Perhaps this boy only has women role models in his life, perhaps he naturally gravitates to areas often thought of as feminine, or perhaps he’s been told explicitly that boys and girls are the same OR that boys should be more like girls.  However it happens, he comes to see that real men behave like real women…that there’s no such thing, really, as masculinity. This, too, is truncated – partially wonderful and partially destructive.

Both of these pictures are toxic.  In the next post, we’ll look at how different people are reacting to them and start to see a way forward.

Manhood 1: What is a Man?

“Am I a man?”  From my teenage years well into my thirties, this was a constant question for me.  There seemed to linger, somewhere deep in my soul, the fear that I wasn’t a man. That I didn’t even know what it meant to be a man.

Let’s be clear, the question isn’t, “am I male?”  That was determined about four decades ago thanks to my parents.  What I’m talking about is manhood, or you might call it mature masculinity.  What does it mean to be a man? What characteristics, qualities, and skills befit one so labeled: Man?

Sure, there were cultural markers meant to illustrate when a boy had crossed over that invisible line from child to adult, from a mere boy to manhood.  Every generation has these false markers. Most seem pretty childish to me now, like smoking your first cigarette or drinking your first beer. Others point to experiences that certainly should require a mature masculinity, but neither delivers it nor demands it, such as sex, a first job, getting married, and having a child.

No, this is certain, none of those things make a boy into a man.  We can all think of people who have crossed those boundaries, flown past them even, without acquiring one ounce of maturity in the process.

The older I get, the more I realize that I’m not the only guy asking this question.  In fact, the more men I talk to about these things (manhood, masculinity, maturity), the more I find that there are, in fact, very few men who feel like they have a firm grasp on what it means to truly be a man.  This isn’t just those who grew up without a father. Even those who would describe their father as a “pretty good dad,” say that the topic of manhood and maturity now seems to have been woefully neglected in their upbringing.

They still find themselves asking, “am I a man?”  It’s a powerful question.  It’s also a sad question.

The most fortunate can at least remember having “the talk” with their father.  You know the one, something about birds and bees. I say “most fortunate” with tongue in cheek, because it is a stinging indictment on fatherhood when the only conversation required to be a “pretty good dad” is one about sex.  What an even sadder statement about manhood – is sex really the only thing a man needs to know to be a mature man, a GOOD man…and are you sure you can cover it all in 10 minutes?

Well, from time to time, I still ask this question: am I a man?  But now, it’s different. I am beginning to understand what it means to be a man, a good man, a Christlike man.  I can see with greater clarity the qualities, characteristics, and skills needed to be what God has created me to be AS A MAN.  By His grace, I’m starting to see other men discover who they are meant to be as well, and we are walking together towards greater maturity.  And I hope this series helps you do that as well.

The series is shaped around a “model” for masculinity.  It will provide a visual picture of mature masculinity, and as we unpack it, we will begin to understand what manhood is meant to be.  You will see that the model is really an attempt to show us what God’s good design is for manhood. It is an attempt to see how He has instructed us to live as men.

And here’s the really important part, you’re going to see that the way God has designed manhood is based on something even more foundational, namely, His own character.  Manhood is the way it is because God is the way He is. Your mature life as a man is meant to reflect to the world the truth about God. And only when you understand the truth about who God is and what He’s like, will you begin to understand who you are meant to be and have the desire and ability to live it out.

And when you start to live out of that, that’s when everything changes.

A Model of Biblical Masculinity – Expanded

Hello friends, if you were around about a year ago, perhaps you saw me post something titled “A Model of Biblical Masculinity.”  One of the real burdens on my heart these days is manhood, especially Biblical Manhood.  I was excited to see David Murray announce the launch of his Christian Man Academy.  I also felt it was a good time to start sharing some more on what I’ve written on this topic.  So, below is a slight revision of last March’s post, and I’ll be expanding on some aspect of this model every few days.  So, enjoy!

A Model of Biblical Masculinity

At our church, we host a quarterly time for men to get together and pursue God’s vision for Biblical masculinity, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic.  I wanted to share a little “model” with you that is my attempt to capture, in visual form what Biblical masculinity looks like, as well as some description (as short as I could bring myself to it) of how it all functions together.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A MODEL OF MASCULINITY

I’m a visual learner. I love charts, graphs, maps, and funny cartoon clippings. I also am a big-picture person. I struggle with details, but if you can give me a compelling overview, then I can begin to dig into the details in a way that keeps me from getting overwhelmed. So, when I began to ask, “what makes a good man” I quickly found myself trying to create some type of visual aid that would help me understand the big picture. Out of that, came the above Model.

While we could say much about the different pieces of this Model, I want to show how they all fit together here.

CORE IDENTITY OF WORSHIP

The Model consists of a core identity; namely, living in a loving relationship with the one, true God as a worshipper – one who delights in, who enjoys fellowship with the Triune God.

At the heart of every real man must be a heart of worship towards God. Not just any god will do, however, because we will become like what we worship. So, if the god I worship created mankind because he needed them (ancient Greek gods for instance), then I will become a needy, self-serving man who demands that others exist to fulfill me. If I worship a god who created mankind, but now keeps his distance (the god of Islam, deism), I will be a detached man who produces something (perhaps work, a child, a family) but then stands apart from it as if it must now continue without me. If I believe creation comes from an accident (new-age spiritualism, most forms of evolutionary theory, Gnosticism), then it doesn’t matter how I live. In this view, the fact that I’m a man is an accident any way. Finally, if I believe that creation isn’t a reality (Buddhism, Hinduism), but is a mirage, a façade, then my life isn’t real either, so the best thing I can do is ignore reality and spend my days seeking nirvana – whatever self-actualization plan I prefer. I will check out on my responsibilities because I don’t really believe in reality.

However, if I believe in the God of Christianity, the Triune God, who is real, who created with intentionality, who created not out of need but out of love, who created and then didn’t run away but remains active in the world, who takes all responsibility for what has been, what is, and what will be, and if I’ve been made in His image – to do his works, think his thoughts, and represent Him in the world – that makes all the difference. At the heart of every real man is a delight in the God who made him and all things. If that is missing, nothing else in the Model will work.

3 SECONDARY ROLES FLOW OUT OF WORSHIP

There are 3 other roles that every man must fulfill, represented by the outer circles of the Model. Every man must be a Shepherd, Soldier, and Sage. The core characteristics for these roles are Love, Courage, and Wisdom respectively. Certainly, each man will gravitate towards one of these roles more than another, but he is called to develop in and live out of all three.

And all three need to be tethered to Worship. Because God’s Wisdom, God’s Courage, and God’s Love are completely different from the world’s wisdom, courage, and love. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” If we start from any point other than the God of Scripture, we are hopeless. Our best love, courage, and wisdom, conjured up somewhere other than from the power of God, are faulty, weak, and foolish. And so to move out from that place spells doom. Soldiers will become dictators, Shepherds will love sporadically or with sappy sentimentality, and Sages will use their wisdom for their own good or for no one’s.

FIDELITY TO GOD’S COMMUNAL LOVE, KINGDOM MISSION, AND DIVINE TRUTH

In fact, these three roles are really responses to God. They exist because God exists and is who he says he is. God is love. That is the core of who he is, and so as those made in his image, we too are called to love (Shepherd). He is community, the Trinity, and so we were created to love in community. The Shepherd role reflects the appropriate response (relational fidelity) to God’s communal love.

So too, God is King of a Kingdom, and he is on a mission to establish that Kingdom. As citizens of that Kingdom and co-heirs with Christ, we are drafted into the Kingdom mission. We are His vice-regents. The Soldier role reflects the appropriate response (missional fidelity) to God’s Kingdom mandate.

Finally, God is true. Though every man be found a liar, he will be found true. And he not only knows the truth, but knows what to do with it, so he is also all-wise. His wisdom makes even the wisest man look like a fool. And so, He has given the Spirit of God to each of us, in short, he has given us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). The Sage role reflects the appropriate response (theological fidelity) to the truth of God.

THE BALANCE OF THE 3 SECONDARY ROLES

Not only must they flow out of the heart of a worship, but these three roles also help balance each other. For instance, a Soldier who doesn’t use wisdom (Sage) will lose the battle, and one who doesn’t love (Shepherd) might win the wrong battle or win the right battle wrongly, believing that the ends justify the means. Similarly, a Shepherd who allows love to trump truth (Sage) has actually departed from real love. And a Shepherd, busy loving, who forgets his mission (Soldier) leads the sheep into danger or away from true blessing. Finally, a Sage who loves knowledge and wisdom, but forgets to employ that wisdom for the good of God’s people (Shepherd) and for his Kingdom (Soldier), fails. All three need each other.

THE INTERWOVEN BEAUTY OF THE 3 SECONDARY ROLES

And when they are working together, we see beautiful and critical activities flowing out, illustrated by the 3 outer rectangles. When courage (Soldier) and love (Shepherd) combine, the result is service – sacrificial, humble service to God, His Church, and humanity. When love (Shepherd) and wisdom (Sage) combine, the result is cultivation – that is, space for the things that make life beautiful and bountiful, from poetry to farming to government that is just. Finally, when courage (Solider) and wisdom (Sage) combine, the result is Christ-like leadership, resulting in the people of God wisely and boldly fulfilling their purpose.

This is just an overview.  I will seek to unpack these primary and secondary pieces in the days ahead, so stay tuned!

 

Shaping a Men’s Ministry

I’m not a men’s ministry guru.  I’m not even a neophyte.  I have been able to, by God’s grace, serve with a small team to invest in the men at my church over the last several months.  Here’s a few of our decisions we’ve made about ministry to men.

  1. It should exist to help men be better men elsewhere.  That should seem obvious, but for us, it means that it only happens quarterly.  It isn’t a weekly breakfast.  It isn’t even a monthly class.  At Mercyview, our missional communities are the context in which most ministry happens.  That’s the place we want men to spend most of their time.  We want them to be great men to their families, their friends, and their missional communities, so why would we create anything that vies with those things for their time?  We wouldn’t.  Another thing this means is that we are addressing manhood holistically.  Have you noticed how facets of manhood that are often brought up are things you’d do with other men (hiking, hunting, fighting, arrgh!)  What good is that in the workplace or at home.  If they are great fishermen, but lousy fathers, we’ve failed.  What would it profit to gain a 1-handicap and lose your marriage?
  2. It should be Gospel saturated, Bible soaked, Trinitarian shaped times of intentional interaction.  Another “no duh!” right?  But what that means, then, is that we don’t spend time playing games, chatting, watching sports, or simply eating together (though we usually have coffee and light snacks).  We also don’t expect a 5 minute devotional to really get the job done either.  We spend almost 3 hours digging into God’s Word together, hearing teaching that is deep, challenging, and pointed, and looking each other in the eyes and asking hard questions.  Life’s too important to not do serious work together like this.  None of us need other men who will share a hobby or passion for football…but I’ve not met a man, yet, who doesn’t need other men who will get face to face and/or shoulder to shoulder with them to move away from darkness and towards light.
  3. It should include wisdom and witness from as many as possible.  While there are a few of us shaping the ministry and, especially in the beginning, doing a big chunk of the teaching, more and more we are pulling in guys (young and old) to minister.  We don’t want to give the impression that one guy (or 3 or 4) has it all figured out…we don’t.  We don’t want to give the impression that God isn’t at work in every life there…He is!  Sometimes it’s a testimony, sometimes it’s leading a large group discussion, sometimes it’s facilitating small group interaction, sometimes it’s participating in a panel or Q&A, and sure, sometimes it’s teaching.  And more and more, we want every man there to speak to other men on behalf of God.  There is wisdom in our collective experiences.  No man can be silent or we all lose something.  There is also wisdom in preparing more and more men to speak and lead.  For some, this is their first taste of that at Mercyview, but we are committed that it won’t be their last!
  4. It should target the heart.  Of course we teach, and that hopefully engages their minds.  Sure, we quote Calvin, Spurgeon, Piper, Lewis, Goodwin, Luther, Sibbes, Edwards, Athananius…you get the point.  We want to think deeply, but we are AIMING for the heart.  We believe, with Jesus, Peter, Paul and with our beloved reformers, that the HEART is crucial.  So, when we teach on being “Men of the Word,” we don’t just talk about memorizing it or studying it, we also talk about delighting in it!  When we ask, “how can we help guys understand the Theology of Adoption,” we answer by not only giving them well-reasoned content, but craft activities that help them see themselves as adopted sons of God, over whom their father dances and sings and weeps with joy!

So, how’s it gone?  I’m hearing men talk about what they are learning, what is challenging them, and how it’s affecting their lives.  By that, I’m encouraged.  Even weeks later, guys are talking about what we learned together or an intense small group interaction they had at the quarterly gathering.  That’s fruit!  It’s getting into their bones and into their hearts.  I’m seeing guys apply something they learned on one topic to another topic, seeing how Biblical manhood is integrated.  Hallelujah!  I’m seeing guys slough off passivity and start serving.  Praise God!  Is it perfect, absolutely not.  But it is intentional.  I don’t have time to lose…I’m desperate for real life, real interaction, real faith, real joy.  And as it turns out, so are a lot of other men.

What about you…what does it look like for men to do life together at your church?  I’d love to hear!

A Model for Biblical Masculinity

At our church, we are about to begin a new quarterly time for men to get together and pursue God’s vision for Biblical masculinity, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic.  I wanted to share a little “model” with you that is my attempt to capture, in visual form what Biblical masculinity looks like, as well as some description (as short as I could bring myself to it) of how it all functions together.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A MODEL OF MASCULINITY

I’m a visual learner. I love charts, graphs, maps, and funny cartoon clippings. I also am a big-picture person. I struggle with details, but if you can give me a compelling overview, then I can begin to dig into the details in a way that keeps me from getting overwhelmed. So, when I began to ask, “what makes a good man” I quickly found myself trying to create some type of visual aid that would help me understand the big picture. Out of that, came the above Model.

While we could say much about the different pieces of this Model, I want to show how they all fit together here.

CORE IDENTITY OF WORSHIP

The Model consists of a core identity; namely, living in a loving relationship with the one, true God as a worshipper – one who delights in, who enjoys fellowship with the Triune God.

At the heart of every real man must be a heart of worship towards God. Not just any god will do, however, because we will become like what we worship. So, if the god I worship created mankind because he needed them (ancient Greek gods for instance), then I will become a needy, self-serving man who demands that others exist to fulfill me. If I worship a god who created mankind, but now keeps his distance (the god of Islam, deism), I will be a detached man who produces something (perhaps work, a child, a family) but then stands apart from it as if it must now continue without me. If I believe creation comes from an accident (new-age spiritualism, most forms of evolutionary theory, Gnosticism), then it doesn’t matter how I live. In this view, the fact that I’m a man is an accident any way. Finally, if I believe that creation isn’t a reality (Buddhism, Hinduism), but is a mirage, a façade, then my life isn’t real either, so the best thing I can do is ignore reality and spend my days seeking nirvana – whatever self-actualization plan I prefer. I will check out on my responsibilities because I don’t really believe in reality.

However, if I believe in the God of Christianity, the Triune God, who is real, who created with intentionality, who created not out of need but out of love, who created and then didn’t run away but remains active in the world, who takes all responsibility for what has been, what is, and what will be, and if I’ve been made in His image – to do his works, think his thoughts, and represent Him in the world – that makes all the difference. At the heart of every real man is a delight in the God who made him and all things. If that is missing, nothing else in the Model will work.

3 SECONDARY ROLES FLOW OUT OF WORSHIP

There are 3 other roles that every man must fulfill, represented by the outer circles of the Model. Every man must be a Shepherd, Soldier, and Sage. The core characteristics for these roles are Love, Courage, and Wisdom respectively. Certainly, each man will gravitate towards one of these roles more than another, but he is called to develop in and live out of all three.

And all three need to be tethered to Worship. Because God’s Wisdom, God’s Courage, and God’s Love are completely different from the world’s wisdom, courage, and love. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” If we start from any point other than the God of Scripture, we are hopeless. Our best love, courage, and wisdom, conjured up somewhere other than from the power of God, are faulty, weak, and foolish. And so to move out from that place spells doom. Soldiers will become dictators, Shepherds will love sporadically or with sappy sentimentality, and Sages will use their wisdom for their own good or for no one’s.

FIDELITY TO GOD’S COMMUNAL LOVE, KINGDOM MISSION, AND DIVINE TRUTH

In fact, these three roles are really responses to God. They exist because God exists and is who he says he is. God is love. That is the core of who he is, and so as those made in his image, we too are called to love (Shepherd). He is community, the Trinity, and so we were created to love in community. The Shepherd role reflects the appropriate response (relational fidelity) to God’s communal love.

So too, God is King of a Kingdom, and he is on a mission to establish that Kingdom. As citizens of that Kingdom and co-heirs with Christ, we are drafted into the Kingdom mission. We are His vice-regents. The Soldier role reflects the appropriate response (missional fidelity) to God’s Kingdom mandate.

Finally, God is true. Though every man be found a liar, he will be found true. And he not only knows the truth, but knows what to do with it, so he is also all-wise. His wisdom makes even the wisest man look like a fool. And so, He has given the Spirit of God to each of us, in short, he has given us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). The Sage role reflects the appropriate response (theological fidelity) to the truth of God.

THE BALANCE OF THE 3 SECONDARY ROLES

Not only must they flow out of the heart of a worship, but these three roles also help balance each other. For instance, a Soldier who doesn’t use wisdom (Sage) will lose the battle, and one who doesn’t love (Shepherd) might win the wrong battle or win the right battle wrongly, believing that the ends justify the means. Similarly, a Shepherd who allows love to trump truth (Sage) has actually departed from real love. And a Shepherd, busy loving, who forgets his mission (Soldier) leads the sheep into danger or away from true blessing. Finally, a Sage who loves knowledge and wisdom, but forgets to employ that wisdom for the good of God’s people (Shepherd) and for his Kingdom (Soldier), fails. All three need each other.

THE INTERWOVEN BEAUTY OF THE 3 SECONDARY ROLES

And when they are working together, we see beautiful and critical activities flowing out, illustrated by the 3 outer rectangles. When courage (Soldier) and love (Shepherd) combine, the result is service – sacrificial, humble service to God, His Church, and humanity. When love (Shepherd) and wisdom (Sage) combine, the result is cultivation – that is, space for the things that make life beautiful and bountiful, from poetry to farming to government that is just. Finally, when courage (Solider) and wisdom (Sage) combine, the result is Christ-like leadership, resulting in the people of God wisely and boldly fulfilling their purpose.

This is just an overview. We could dive much deeper into each role and activity.  Thoughts?