I have been thinking and writing about the issue of masculinity recently. This post is part one of a two part exploration of this issue. The second entitled A Biblically Grounded Vision of Masculinity will be coming shortly.
Our culture, like every culture, contains numerous masculine stereotypes and expectations. Some of these masculine portrayals line up with what Scripture says about men, and some do not. It is certainly not the case that all cultural depictions of masculinity are bad. In fact, I believe these cultural expectations may, at times, be helpful even if they don’t originate from Scripture. That said, it is essential for us as believers to understand the difference between cultural and Biblical masculinity. Scripture, not culture, should be our measuring rod for manliness. The line between cultural and Christian masculinity is not always easy to recognize since we are products of the very culture we are examining. Much discernment is certainly needed here. Far too many Christian leaders have misapplied Scripture in an attempt to prop up their distorted idea of what manhood is.
Many authors have written about the reoccurring cultural depiction of men as being lazy, passive, stupid, and self-indulgent. The unhealthiness and non-Biblical nature of this form of masculinity is readily apparent. We might be surprised to find, however, that many of our other notions about masculinity are not necessarily supported by Scripture. As Skye Jethani notes in his recent blog post, men of the Bible come in many different shapes and sizes. What are we to do, for instance, with the fact that the relatively domestic patriarch Jacob was chosen by God over his much more rugged brother? How do we process the fact that David was highly artistic and musical? Is there room in our definition of masculinity for a Christ who was at times sensitive and very emotional? It is quite possible that our definition of masculinity needs to be reevaluated.
One of the reasons why there has been so much discussion of biblical masculinity is that Christian men are trying to live out an ideal they have never seen practiced before. I firmly believe there would be much less confusion about what a Christian man should act like if we had more healthy models of masculinity to observe. For many in our generation, male role models are almost non-existent. We are currently experiencing the fallout from millions of broken families, and we are suffering the effects of unhealthy extremes in feminism. Real, respectable men can be hard to find. This void has led many men to embrace an overly macho masculinity in an attempt to establish a concrete identity.
As I said before, I don’t have any problem with men gravitating toward traditionally masculine activities. There is nothing wrong with the fact that many men love football, like the outdoors, enjoy hunting, and appreciate their beer. These things can all be huge blessings. Biblical masculinity, however, cannot be restricted to these culturally male characteristics. These activities can help form bonds and bring men together, and that can be very positive. I have become concerned, however, that in our attempt to find an identity we have substituted cultural norms for a biblically grounded vision of masculinity.
In its worst form this misunderstanding leads us to jam every man into a particular cultural mold instead of appreciating the different gifts men are given by God. We walk a dangerous road when we demand that all men conform to a standard of masculinity not located in the Bible. Yes, all men are called to be strong, but there is a strength that runs deeper than one’s biceps. Our failure to recognize that men of equal strength can have vastly different gifts has resulted in needless division, and has often deprived the Body of Christ of those it needs the most. We must be careful not to exclude men from our fellowships because they are different than we expect. Although they don’t fit our stereotypes, they might just be a little bit more like Christ…