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.”

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.


What are you for?

It seems common among Christians of the evangelical background – whether conservative, liberal, emergent, or whatever – to imply that their opponent is somehow anti-Jesus and that if Jesus were to come back down to earth today (as He did 2,000 years ago) He’d really stick it to the opponent.

The emergent/liberal/whatever group likes to look at conservative Christians and say, “Jesus would overturn your churches man! He’d go into a flying rage and call you all hypocrites!” They point out that the churches that have coffee shops or bookstores open before and after the services would be in deep trouble; Christ would throw the coffee into the faces of the adherents and call them a broad of vipers. Of course, He’d leave there and go to the church down the street called “Hell’s Sanctuary” that met in a bar on Sunday mornings, gulp down a few beers with the people there, take a few drags off His cigarette, and then discuss how enlightening Zizek’s newest book was.

The conservatives immediately point out that Jesus would have condemned the non-conservatives for acting like Pharisees. The Pharisees set certain rules and parameters on what constituted “holy living” and the emergents/liberals have done the same. The conservative would point out that unless you believed a certain way or acted a certain way or went to a certain type of church, the emergent/liberals would have nothing to do with you. In their minds, Christ would walk in and in perfect Koine Greek that would make any seminary professor blush – or for some sects of evangelical Christianity, He’d speak in perfect King James English – condemn the emergent/liberal Christians for their focus on actions and deed while ignoring the importance of creed. After such a condemnation, He would go down to First <insert town/street> Baptist, deliver a moving solo, preach a 45-50 minute exegetical sermon pointing out the intricacies of what a particular Greek word means, and then give an invitation singing all 52 verses to “Just As I Am.”

A lost and dying world looks at both and simply shrugs them off. They shrug off the emergent/liberal Christians because that version of Jesus is a tamer version of any celebrity. That Jesus might be cool and edgy, but so is Russell Brand or Quentin Tarantino. Jesus becomes an enlightened celebrity and His followers become tag-alongs or an annoying fan club. They look to the Jesus offered by the conservative Christians and they see a cold-hearted Jesus who cares about nothing but Himself. While His ethics might be nice, He’s no different than someone who protests outside of an abortion clinic or speaks up against homosexual marriages. Such a Jesus might have the right morals, but He’s just one man out of many. In both cases, Jesus ceases to be Jesus.

Continue reading

Combating Heresy – the Fourth Solution: Compassionate Rhetoric

The final step to combating heresy is to have mastered the art of rhetoric. Again, while the first two steps (studying orthodoxy and living correctly) apply to all Christians, this step, along with the third step (studying heresy), is limited to a few people and is not something everyone should or can engage in.

The reason having compassionate rhetoric is important is that it allows the one who is studied in orthodoxy and heresy to succinctly and clearly explain why a certain belief is wrong. He can do this among colleagues so as to break down a certain heresy or he can do this amongst the masses to explain why a new belief is wrong. Most importantly, he must be compassionate in his approach.

There are two approaches in combatting heresy through rhetoric; the sledgehammer approach and the Socratic approach. The Socratic approach is always preferable because it disarms those trapped by heresy, but the sledgehammer approach is needed when combatting those entrenched in heresy (that is, when you’re fighting wolves instead of trying to rescue sheep). But in both approaches, insulting the heretic or those trapped by heresy is never a viable option.

Continue reading

The Bad Breath of Jesus and His Humanity


On my web stats there was a site that was bringing in a few visitors, so I decided to check it out. The post was from November 2007 (which I don’t know why that happened), but I read it and, suffice it to say, was quite upset.

Before going into what upset me (and the reason for this post), this website reminds me so much of a version of Christianity that is killing Christianity. The author wrote one post about how he loved a “parking ticket” tract that worked great. Think about that – a person comes out from her office building, sees what looks to be a parking ticket, gets extremely upset because it means a fine is coming, then realizes that it’s a tract asking her to believe in Jesus (not to mention tracts are impersonal and horrible ideas to begin with, this one takes the cake). This tends to be the nature of the site.

However, the post and comments in question deals with the nature of Jesus’ humanity. Mark Driscoll, back in 2007 when trying to promote his book Vintage Jesus (which is a great read) put out a series of mints that asked, “Did Jesus have bad breath?” The purpose, of course, was to get people to reflect on the humanity of Jesus.

The author writes that such a question is blasphemy (though he never explains why) and should never be asked about God. One commenter says, “Jesus didn’t have bad breath, He had the breath of the Holy Spirit!” Another comes out and says that it’s blasphemy to suggest that Jesus was inhibited by any fallen human traits. Yet another says we shouldn’t talk about such traits (such as if Jesus had a bowel movement while on earth) because it’s rude and embarrassing. Others argue that Jesus wasn’t poor at all and Driscoll’s description of Jesus is heretical. What is Driscoll’s view? Driscoll describes the entire situation as:

 “Roughly two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a dumpy, rural, hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their own oil, think pro wrestling is real, find women who chew tobacco sexy, and eat a lot of Hot Pockets with their uncle-daddy. Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was often mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted the crazy story to cover the fact she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom. Jesus was adopted by a simple carpenter named Joseph and spent the first thirty years of his life in obscurity, swinging a hammer with his dad.”

My own concerns for the character of Mark Driscoll (I see some inconsistencies with how he acts and the pastoral requirements of 1 Timothy – but every pastor will struggle with this), his theology and concerns about Christ are dead on accurate. He states in his book Vintage Jesus that many American Christians, both liberal and conservative, have forgotten who Jesus was (and is). On the liberal side, His humanity is often emphasized, to the point that people forget that He was Holy and was God. On the conservative side, however, His humanity is neglected, often to the point that people forget that He was human just like us, with the same frailties. The purpose of Vintage Jesus is to show that Jesus was both completely God and completely man – thus his question on the mints – though a cheesy marketing ploy – is a very valid question to ask many people today. Continue reading