But Who Are They Talking To? Questions for the Biblical Manhood Movement
During August of 2010 Mark Driscoll wrote an article entitled, “The World is Filled With Boys Who Can Shave.” In his article, Driscoll laments the fact that men today are simply not growing up. Among the more memorable lines, Driscoll states, “So, we are left with indefinite adolescence and a Peter Pan Syndrome epidemic where men want to remain boys forever.” What makes this intriguing is not so much Driscoll’s article itself (apologies to Mark) but that in February of 2011 secular sociologist Kay Hymowitz published an essay in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Where Have All The Good Men Gone,” in which she decries nearly all the same problems as Driscoll. In her article she states, “Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.” So here we have both a believer and non-believer making similar observations. So, what’s the big deal?
The issue at stake here is that when the biblical manhood movement takes observations that are made of the general culture; subsequently transposes those realities in nearly identical fashion on the men of the church and then draws up grandiose sermons, articles and blogs based on this transposition, they end up with a host of solutions that are built on questionable foundations. Their solutions are not questionable because their assessments, at least of the culture, are on the whole inaccurate. They are questionable because of the automatic equation of the way men are in the world with the way men are in the church. The real purpose of this post is to ask the question: Who is the biblical manhood movement talking to? Are they speaking to social structures in the civil kingdom or the church? And if they are speaking to the church, why are they laying a foundation of problems that exist mostly (though not entirely) in the unregenerate world? To be sure, I am not arguing that there is no sense of fluidity between how the church and culture influence one another. That fluidity certainly exists. But at a bare minimum, I would expect that the men in the church do look somewhat different because we can say of the men in the church, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). I do not have that same confidence for my presently unregenerate male counterparts.
To some this will seem like an exercise in theological hair splitting but I believe the issue is in fact quite serious. In this post and a series of subsequent posts I will argue that there are a number of serious side effects to this faulty equation. Some of those side effects are theological, some are practical and some are pastoral. After critiquing the landscape, I then hope to lay out a better way forward to insure that men are not ineffectual or overly effeminate as they pursue what God has called them to be as a man. For those who have read or listened to those in biblical manhood circles for many years, I hope that these articles will give pause for serious reflection. However, before I go any further, I want to establish the link that I am making in the actual literature of those writing on biblical manhood.
In turning back to Driscoll’s article, the connection is rather flagrant. His first sentence reads, “The world today is filled with boys who can shave.” Driscoll opens by plainly making an observation about, “the world.” In the subsequent paragraphs he proceeds to discuss general “sociological transitions.” The prevailing analysis of the first few paragraphs seems to be driven by abstract societal observation, not specific observations about the church. After making a number of observations about manhood in the general culture, Driscoll begins to apply the same reality to Christian men. Speaking anecdotally of a young Christian man who is more interested in playing video games than in working Driscoll states, “You got fired because you were up trying to get to the next level and become a guild leader. That’s dumb. That’s totally dumb.” The accusation that Christian men carry on with the same childish stupidity as unregenerate men, while not explicit, is fairly plain.
One can also see traces of such connection in Dr. Al Mohler’s writing. However I must say, I am more unclear on Dr. Mohler’s position since he has a rather forthright agenda of Christian cultural reformation. Nonetheless in his article, “Men Not at Work—A Symptom of Manhood in Crisis,” Dr. Mohler starts by referencing a New York Times piece entitled, “Men Not Working, And Not Wanting Just Any Job.” The NYT article tells the story of a man in his early 50’s who instead of working, would rather spend his time playing the piano, reading histories, etc. Commenting on men and work Dr. Mohler goes on to state, “The Christian worldview sees work as man’s assignment—and as a Gospel issue. One who fails in this responsibility by complacency and sloth does injury to the Gospel and the cause of Christ.” While I fully agree with Dr. Mohler’s statement, the issue at hand does not concern the statements accuracy. The matter in question is why he chose to bring up an article about an unregenerate man and, in turn, use this article to make a clarion call to the men in the church regarding their responsibility to work. Again, what is being addressed? A manhood crisis in the church? Or a manhood crisis in the world?
All of this brings me to one final question and that is whether or not the realities that seem to be portrayed by the authors above, and countless others, actually exist in the church. And if those realities do exist in the church, do they exist in anywhere near the same degree as they do in the world? Surely, a black and white yes or no will never do because of the diversity of sin struggles that various men in the church face. However, I believe that speaking generally, it can be safely said that regenerate men in the church do not look like the men described in Mark Driscoll’s article or Dr. Mohler’s article. The pictures that they paint are surely an accurate portrayal of those men who belong strictly to the city of man but the same can’t be said of the men who belong to the city of God. It would appear that those who are truly regenerate, wherever they are on the path to becoming a biblical man, have a genuine desire to grow in grace and their manhood.
With the matter now firmly set before us and the question adequately framed, we can now explore the consequences that these faulty foundations have had on the discussion of biblical manhood. This is something that I hope we can explore together in the coming weeks. I regret to say that at the end of this blog I am not any closer to answering the question that I originally posed: Who is the biblical manhood movement talking to? Unfortunately, the longer we go on without vivid clarification, the more potential pitfalls lie in wait for the bride of Jesus Christ.