Manhood™ or, how the Evangelical obsession with manliness is weird and worrisome


IMG_0171If you want to make big bucks and become a popular speaker within evangelical Christianity today, apparently you need to speak on manhood. Of course, you need to give a wink and a nod to the typical spiritual traits such as being a good father, providing for your family, and so on. But really, you need to encourage men to grow beards, watch football, hunt things, shoot guns, and watch Clint Eastwood movies. Men who worry about their shoes, about their appearance, or about their smell need not apply because they’re pansies.

Let me say, the growing trend in the cult of masculinity – specifically of a very American West variety – is really weird. I say this as someone who has a beard (and will always have a beard), loves sports, and has seen every single Clint Eastwood movie out there. But I don’t do those things because I’m a man (with exception to the beard), I do them because I just happen to enjoy them. Yet, we have books that obsess over men being men. We have The Dude’s Guide to Manhood, which seems to have some pretty good chapters. Same with Manhood Restored. After all, there’s nothing wrong in telling men to be responsible adults; but how does that constitute manhood?

Now some might say, “Well, these books encourage spiritual aspects of being a man and don’t really play up the physical aspects.” Yet, that’s just not true. Notice who endorses the books; hunters, NFL players, college football coaches, outdoorsmen, and so on. You never see these books opining and writing of the virtues of baking or cleaning house. They tend to focus solely on the American ideal of manhood, of a tough, gruff, kick ass and take names kind of man. While it’s nearly impossible to divorce what it means to be a man from the culture one is in, we shouldn’t let our cultural views of manhood dictate our Biblical teachings on manhood.

Consider Al Mohler’s “Marks of Manhood,” where he explains what a man ought to look like. Upon first glance it seems like a really good list, but further review points out some pretty big holes. For one, why is almost every single point tied to the family unit? Are we implying that men who are single are somehow not men? What does this say about the numerous godly men (not to mention Christ) who never married or who are not called to marriage? Are they somehow lesser men? Likewise, how is the list exclusive to manhood? Are we saying that women ought to lack courage under fire (tell that to the numerous female martyrs or single moms who have the courage to raise their children and hold down a job). What about men who lack physical strength due to disease or some other ailment? Are they somehow disqualified from being a man? What about men stuck in a nation without a strong economy who therefore cannot provide for their families, or men in this nation which has a weak job market? They can’t hold “adult jobs” because the economy simply won’t allow it. Are they not men?

See, anyone can come up and say, “Well, those are exceptions to the rule,” but in the case of manhood we are talking about the essence of a thing, meaning there can’t be exceptions. The essence of a thing is the definition of a thing; the definition of a thing cannot change without the essence changing. Thus, the essence (or nature) of humans is a “rational animal.” All humans are rational animals, which is to say they’re both physical and immaterial. There are not and cannot be any exceptions. When we talk about manhood, we’re talking about a universal definition that requires universal applicability, but what Mohler (and many other evangelicals) offer lacks universal cohesion.

Think of it this way:

Someone claims that to be a human person one must be a rational animal that has white skin. We then run across a man who is a rational animal, but has dark skin. We must then conclude that either our definition is wrong, or the man is not really a human person. This is actually what we see in the abortion debate. People provide the definition of human as, “viable outside the womb” or “looks like a human.” Of course, when the issue of viability or looks (are any of us truly viable outside of the womb? do any of us truly look human?) arise, the definition falls apart because it lacks universal application, that is, it’s subjective and arbitrary. The same game is played with the evangelical pursuit of manhood; all definitions offered tend to be subjective and arbitrary, or are non-exclusive to men (such as, “Must be godly” or “able to raise a family,” these attributes apply to women as well).

When we begin to elevate manhood as some independent virtue with arbitrary standards, we are left to do the same thing with womanhood. In such instances we begin to revert back to olden days where women weren’t allowed to hold careers, find education, or speak up for themselves. A good woman is at home raising kids, baking bread, and doing house chores while the man is out earning a living for the family. Such a view of men and women, however, is antithetical to how the Church functioned prior to the rise of American manhood. After all, such definitions of “manhood” and “womanhood” depends on there being a family, but the existence of a family is not always the case. If a woman has no family, or a man has no family, what then? We cannot continue to tie our understandings of what it means to be a man to a sexual act that results in offspring.

Another problem with our approach to manhood and womanhood is that when applied to a marriage, men inherently end up being spiritually superior to their wives. Many conservative evangelicals would look at the previous statement and think, “Yeah, and?” They’d see it as an interpretation of Ephesians 5, where men are to be the leaders within the home, or the “head” of the family. Yet, this is a bad interpretation of Ephesians 5, where though men are called to be the head, they are called to be like Christ. One constant throughout Paul’s writings to the Church is that we are to take on a mind like Christ, we are to become as Christ; in other words, spiritually speaking, we are to be Christ’s equals, not inferiors. Thus, if we take a literal understanding of Ephesians 5, then the husband is to be spiritually equal with his wife, not superior to her. However, our pursuit of the cult of manhood tends to elevate the man spiritually above his wife.

Consider the words of St. John Chrysostom in his advice to men concerning their wives:

“Pray together at home and go to Church; when you come back home, let each ask the other the meaning of the readings and the prayers.” (p. 61 in On Marriage and Family Life).

Notice how he has them seeking meaning from each other. While their spiritual manifestations of roles within the relationship might look different, this implied idea of men being the “spiritual leader” in that they are more spiritual than their wives runs against Scripture. Prior to this sentence, he advised husbands to pursue things which please God and the matters of the family would begin to handle themselves. He didn’t tell men to be men or to pursue some “manhood,” but to please God.

One aspect of Christianity is that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female…” While this calling doesn’t erase certain distinctions between cultures or genders, it does mean that ultimately we’re all called to the same thing (unity with Christ). It means that Christianity calls men to balance. Within the Orthodox tradition of Christianity, if you walk into a cathedral you’re immediately struck by the Theotokos (God-bearer, Mary) with Christ in her lap. Here we have the ideal woman giving birth and raising the ideal man. In such a situation, one sees that while manhood does exist, it exists in balance with womanhood within the Christian tradition. Here we see a distinct difference between men and women, but see that Christianity unifies the two in equality without destroying the distinctions.

Certainly, “manhood” and “womanhood” exist, but they exist as cultural types and not absolutes. Most men tend to view life and the Church differently than most women; that is what makes the two sexes distinct. These differences, however, are never absolute and universal, but tend to be types. Most men want a Church that challenges, involves them, isn’t sentimental, and gives a clear goal. This isn’t to say that all men want this or that women don’t want it, just that most men want a Church that offers these things and does so in a way that appeals to them.

Ultimately, Christianity is about taking imperfect humans and making them perfect. This is accomplished via following Christ, regardless of if one is a man or a woman. Pursuing the Christian virtues and doing all one can to become like Christ, to unify with Him, is ultimately what it takes to be a true man (or true woman). While there are distinctions between being a man and being a woman, those distinctions are more cultural than scriptural (though they will always exist in every culture), which is why it’s better to simply pursue Christ and proper Christian living than to pursue some arbitrary standards of “manhood.”

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75 Years Ago Today…


The great Christian writer and thinker G.K. Chesterton passed away. Chesterton is easily one of the most quotable authors of the 20th century, possibly of all time. He was simply a master of the English language, but his quick wit and ability to see through hype also aided him in his writing endeavors.

I find it appropriate that on the 75th anniversary of the passing of Chesterton that I came across something Al Mohler wrote concerning Kirby Godsey. Some have decried Mohler’s post as excessive and mean-spirited. Mohler points out that Godsey has denied Christ’s divine nature, denied that we should worship Christ, and rejected the authority of Scripture. I have yet to read Godsey’s book, so I will withhold all judgment on Godsey’s work.

I will say, however, that if Mohler is telling the truth (and we have no reason to believe he’s lying, seeing as how others have taken the same opinion of Godsey’s work) then Mohler is correct. Mohler is not being bigoted in his response, rather he is drawing a line in the sand, or rather recognizing a line in the sand that has been drawn, and pointing out that crossing the line means that one had deviated from historical Christianity. In fact, pointing out such a line is what Chesterton did for most of his adult life.

The problem that Mohler points out is the same problem that Chesterton dealt with, namely that when we have no foundation then we have nothing. If Christianity is simply a giant collection of people who want to see social change in the world and take care of the poor, but a “Bring Your Own Doctrines” policy, then Christianity will die. We’ve seen this in mainline denominations and we’re seeing it now in many evangelical denominations (even conservative ones). In Christianity, our central truths are found in a Person, so when we deny the Person or attempt to deny the idea of central truths, we lose everything that makes Christianity unique. When we bow to the world and abandon our doctrines and abandon the mystery of Christianity, we cease to follow what was set forth by God. When we bow to the world and offer flashy churches that are meant to fit a certain niche, we cease to follow what was set forth by God.

Today, Chesterton is more relevant than he was 75 years ago or even 100 years ago during the primacy of his writing. We have many Christians who are abandoning the central tenets of Christianity with the claim, “Well it’s okay to ask questions, right?” But they go further than asking questions. It would seem that Godsey has gone further than asking questions and Mohler has called him on the carpet for this. It is okay to ask questions, it is okay to doubt, but it is never okay to deny. Some might declare this as arrogant, but I would ask them why it’s okay to question my creed, but not the creed of others. Or, as Chesterton once wrote, “These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”

So in remembering the passing of Chesterton 75 years ago, I also applaud Al Mohler for standing on the authority of Scripture and Christian tradition in upholding one of the most central doctrines of Christianity (the Incarnation). We should never abandon orthodoxy, but pursue it and get lost in it.

 

 

How to earn your very own mancard


For whatever reason, people equate having sex with coming of age. For men especially, the way they earn their “man card” is by having sex with someone. Of course, we all know the double standard of our society is that if a man sleeps with ten women in two months, he’s a man, but if a woman sleeps with ten men in two months, she’s a slut. Some try to argue that we should treat the woman like the man and praise her for her prowess, but the fact is both the man and woman should face some harsh criticisms for their choices.

Among Christians – at least from Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll – comes from the ability to live on your own, have your own place, be married, have children, and so on. While this might be an indicator in some situations, it is not a universal indicator. For instance, if we take their ideas of manhood and apply it to Christ we quickly summarize that Christ wasn’t a man (He had no home, didn’t have a job, and His mother followed Him everywhere He went).

So what is manhood? What does it mean to be a man? More importantly, what does it mean to act like an adult? I have known many men and women who sleep around, but should not be considered adults because of their immaturity. I know of someone who is married, has a child, has a home, and owns his own company, but is still childish. Should we call him a man despite the fact that he acts like a child on the weekends?

Manhood is found in the ability to live a virtuous life. There are many men who lead a life of virtue who do not sleep around – in fact, sleeping around and leading a virtuous life are antithetical to each other – and other men who lead virtuous lives, but have no home or haven’t found a stable job due to economic hardships (or just a delay in deciding what to do). Manhood isn’t defined by your circumstances, but rather by who you are and how you react in those circumstances.

Are you chaste, that is, outside of marriage do you abstain from sex or pornography and for those inside of marriage do you abstain from affairs? Then you are a man. Do you display temperance in all that you do, not rushing into anger or actions, but instead evaluating and controlling your desires? Then you are a man. To you give to those in need or help those in need? Are you self-sacrificial for the needs of others? Do you display charity in your life? Then you are a man. Are you diligent, patient, kind, and humble? Then you are a man.

Living a virtuous life, not by having sex or living on your own or having a career, gains the “man card”. Anything short of a virtuous life simply doesn’t cut it.

 

Francis Collins, Christianity, and Embryonic Stem Cell Research


Dr. Al Mohler has put up a brilliant article talking about Francis Collins’ position as the head of the National Institutes of Health. Collins, though a Christian, has backed down on embryonic stem cell research and said that while we shouldn’t create embryos for the purpose of farming them for research, we should use the ones that are going to “go to waste” anyway. Mohler does an excellent job of pointing out that two wrongs don’t make a right; just because these embryos will likely go to waste doesn’t give us the right to perform experiments on them.

But more importantly, Mohler points out that Collins – despite his strong advocacy for theistic evolution and borderline naturalistic thinking – is still looked at as a “clown” by many of his peers, simply for being a Christian. In other words, no matter how many compromises Collins makes, whether it be in his view of creation or in his view of humanity, so long as he holds the title “Believing Christian” he will have no respect from his peers.

Is it any wonder why Paul warned the Colossians not to give into the false philosophies of the world? Notice what Paul writes in Colossians 2:6-15:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7; Colossians 2:8-15 ESV) See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

While many people are familiar with verse 8 (not to fall into idle philosophies) we often ignore the passage. Paul is not being cranky or trying to control the populace, but rather he is pointing out that Christ has conquered such philosophies, hence their vanity. They contradict Christ, who does not point to truth, but is the Truth (c.f. John 14:6). To adhere to a false philosophy or practice in the world is to go against Christ, because if the truth is not in these philosophies then Christ is not in these philosophies, making them automatically against contra Christus. Paul’s warning is for our own holiness, for if we wish to be like Christ then we should seek Christ and not adhere to beliefs that do not represent Christ. Continue reading