Biblical Manhood in Application: Are There Two Competing Visions for Biblical Manhood?
Much of what I have been arguing for, or against, over the past couple of weeks has to do with what I believe is at the root of the misunderstanding surrounding proper applications of biblical manhood principles. I want to suggest that the biblical manhood movement puts crushing and often times unbiblical expectations on young men who are seeking after their savior. If this is any doubt, one only has to read the commenter, Stuart, in his remarks on my second post. You see, it is not so much that the movement is wrong in its principles about biblical manhood. In fact, one of the best short pieces on principles for biblical manhood comes from Al Mohler in his article, “From Boy to Man-The Marks of Manhood.” I commend it to all my readers and exhort all men to exhibit the principles that he has laid forth. However, my problem comes when these principles start to mean certain concrete things that all men must do to be a Godly man.
Often I wonder if the calling from the biblical manhood camp is a calling to be an American man or a biblical man. Though the principles are biblical, many of the direct applications seem to always be one off. Again, recall what Mark Driscoll said to Relevant Magazine when he stated, “… we’re finding more women are getting better grades, more women are graduating high school, more women are graduating college, more women are buying homes, more women are doing things that are more adult and responsible.” In passing, the comment might not be so bad but on second glance it is loaded with a complete misunderstanding of manhood and male responsibility. So Mark, biblical men graduate college? Biblical men, buy houses? After all, according to Mark, these things are more “adult and responsible.”
What about the biblical considerations in such applications? At its very core, we have two distinct visions of manhood competing with one another. And what is so bizarre is that they are competing with one another within a very similar theological stream. On the one hand, a young man can go pick up a copy of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life which encourages radical sacrifice for the sake of the gospel and on the other hand they can go read the likes of www.boundless.org (apart from my contention, there is lots of good material on Boundless) and Mark Driscoll which commend them to live a “stable,” “responsible” and “secure” life. How can these two visions square with each other? Is every man supposed to buy a house to be a “biblical man?” What are we to make of the fact that Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58)?
Biblically, the calling to follow Jesus is paramount. Everything else is secondary. And the picture of what it looks like to follow Jesus often looks anything but respectable. When we read about the great heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 the author tells us that these men AND women, “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in the deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38) Sheesh. What a different picture of “biblical manhood!” My concern is that what it means to be God’s man or a biblical man is confused with certain respectable achievables. The reality is that God is probably calling less men to buy houses and less men to go to college in order that they may be stripped of everything that society deems as respectable and show Christ to be the all satisfying joy of their lives. It is this radical, Jesus glorifying call that we should be asking of our men today.
Instead of calling men to buy houses, graduate college and get married as soon as possible, perhaps we should choose the path of encouraging men to follow Christ in self sacrificing ways, in whatever form that may take. For some, this will mean getting married early. For some it will mean, buying a house. But this is not the case for all men. Responsibility and adherence to principles of biblical manhood will take on a unique flavor in each man’s life. Lest any readers think that I am alone in calling out this problem, listen to Kevin DeYoung in his recent blog post entitled “Play the Man,” where he states:
I know conservatives want to push back the tide of feminism and fight against the emasculation of men in our culture, but offering stereotypes is not the way to do it. It’s not fair to say, without qualification, that “Real men hunt and fish. Real men like football. Real men watch ultimate fighting. Real men love Braveheart. Real men change the oil and chop firewood.” It’s one thing for pastors to give men permission to be like this. It’s another to prescribe that they must. You simply can’t prove from the Bible that manliness must look like William Wallace. If you insist on one way to be a man, you’re in danger of two things: 1) Hurting godly men who are manly but don’t do things with sports, cars, or the outdoors. 2) Making your particular expression manhood the standard for everyone else. And when complementarians overreach with their definition of manhood they play into the hands of those who say there is no definition of manhood at all.
I want to comment on one more issue that a fellow blogger brought up as a comment in a recent post. Tanner Gish stated in a comment that, “First century, Middle ages, even early America, even through the generation around the great depression- its seems that complete economic independence at the age of 22-24 is a rarity really only seen in post WWII America.” His analysis could not be more accurate. History shows that the idea of being completely independent in your early twenties or much later for that matter, is a historical anomaly. Now don’t get me wrong, I will gladly enjoy the fact that I live in this historically anomalous culture and take the independence. However, to suggest that for those who don’t, they are somehow misguided or unbiblical is itself misguided at best and pure foolishness at worst. Driscoll cites Genesis 2:24 in his article “The World is Filled With Boys Who Can Shave,” as a mandate for young men to leave their parent’s house asap. But the verse says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The verse says that men leave in order to marry. When a man is married, yes, no doubt, he should not be under his parent’s roof. However, this verse can’t be used to say that men should buy their own house with their 80k per year job and thus remove themselves from familial connections. Talk about exegetical homicide. In fact, I would even go so far to suggest, that a true biblical model would have children (men and women) living at home much longer. Mark Driscoll and many others’ applications are entirely culturally derivative on this matter. Thus the discussion should ultimately revolve around whether it is acceptable to use cultural forms as standards for “biblical manhood.” And this is no easy discussion.
In sum, the real issue in this entire discussion has to do with the practical expectations it places on young Christian men. Many of the concrete applications can lead to confusion. As someone who wants to be on the mission field, I will probably never own a house, never have a nice car, never have much of anything. I don’t say this to toot my own horn but I can speak from experience in saying how dreadfully confused I felt when I was reading and listening to so many in the biblical manhood movement. Maybe I should just use all that money in savings to buy a house instead of pay down my student loans in order to go to the mission field. Maybe, my desire to live small was misguided. I should just settle down and do the normal thing, otherwise I wasn’t going to be a biblical man. If you are out there reading this and you have experienced some of the same confusion please remember that your story is unique. While the principles of biblical manhood remain constant, their applications are very different. When in doubt, allow the words of Jesus be your guide when he says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).