I seem to hear a lot these days about godly manliness, and decrying its loss in the church. There are of course many things to be concerned about in our society- the absence of fathers, the absence of men in the church, things like that. Too many of our churches are run by women, and even too many churches in which the women cannot hold formal office are still dominated by their influence, simply because they’re the ones most involved. I say this completely without source or proof; it’s just a feeling I get.
And in our society, of course, there are the by now well-rehearsed complaints. Television is dominated by the “dumb guy” shows, where the dad is an idiot and must rely on the mom to bail him out of all his jams. The great majority of family sitcoms seem to fall into this pattern. In any commercial that has any portrayal of gender relationships, the woman is all-knowing, wise and benevolent, and the man is stupid, selfish and dominated by base passions. These are generalizations, naturally, but I think you’ll agree on at least a tendency in these directions.
And so, in the Christian community we have books such as Wild at Heart which seeks to recapture real manhood. I have heard talk shows and read blogs struggling with the issue and railing against the sissification of the American male. And I very much sympathize with the concern. Just Google “Christian manhood” or “Christian manliness” and you’ll see what I’m talking about, if you don’t know already.
So here’s my concern. It seems very often when this discussion comes up, those promoting the rediscovery of manhood seem to tie this in with a particular set of activities like hunting, fishing, kayaking, and similar outdoorsy, “rugged” type behavior. The ability to use a gun, gut a deer, fix a car, and the like are frequently discussed as part of what it means to be a real man. One sees a good deal of this in Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, for example. And it seems to me that this is really not much better than the view that the world has, of equating manhood with beer-guzzling, football-watching woman-chasers.
If we want to recapture manhood, and I agree that it needs to be recaptured, we need to do it the way we do everything- by appealing to Scripture. The problem with men is not that they’re being over-coddled and not allowed to play tee-ball or on jungle gyms. The problem is that men and women have both rebelled against Scriptural standards for what people ought to be like.
So what are the Scriptural standards, then? There are a number of places we can look. First, there is the purpose for which man was created. Second, there are the exhortations given about how a man, as distinct from a woman, are to behave. Third, there are the examples of godly men in the Bible.
I’ll take up the first of these here, and the others in subsequent posts.
Man was created in the garden to glorify God. He was given the garden of Eden, and told to take dominion over the garden. So we have a fundamental principle here- man was created to work. The purpose of that work is to reflect the image of God, and man does this by taking dominion over the creation which God has placed us in.
How do we take dominion? Work is, at its essence, creating order out of chaos. Chaos is unstructured matter, what the Bible describes as “without form and void” in the opening verses of Genesis 1. We see God in the six days of creation creating structures in the chaos, separating one thing from another and defining one thing from another. Light versus darkness, heaven versus earth, and dry land versus sea. And then God fills those structures with content- sun, moon and stars; birds and fish ; animals and man. Man’s great glory is this, that God created him and put him in the creation to finish what God had started.
So work for us, ought to be reflective of God’s work. And fundamentally, it is. Whatever your work is, if it is honest work that people are willing to pay for, it is creating order out of chaos. A farmer carefully arranges the elements of his field to produce only what he wants to produce and not weeds and worthless plants. A doctor attacks chaos in the body, separating foreign elements out of the body and restoring the body to its proper order. A supermarket checker oversees the orderly transfer of goods to those who need them in exchange for their money. A musician arranges sounds of various kinds in such a way as to create pleasing melodies and harmonies.
People pay for these things to be done because they value them, because they add value to their lives. Even the exchange of goods and services for money itself reflects this dominion principle- in the orderly exchange of one good or service for another, facilitated by money, order is being brought to creation as these goods and services are transferred from those who value them less to those who value them more. This is order, as opposed to the chaos of goods just being wherever they happen to be.
And even as I write this, I am doing the same kind of thing. I am producing content, ideas and concepts communicated in the orderly way of written language, to fill the (lately) empty form of my blog. People will read it because they place some value on it. Thus, even in writing this, I emulate God in a tiny little fashion.
This is what man is created for, to accomplish; have dominion; emulate God in the creation of order out of chaos. I would submit that this ought therefore to be the fundamental definition of a man. These activities that are so often associated with “manly” behavior, such as hunting, fishing or working on cars, are so valued because they are obvious examples of this principle. And some of these things, which are now just hobbies or pastimes, like hunting or fishing, used to be work (and still are for many people). It is the accomplishment of something useful- killing an animal for your dinner, rebuilding an engine- which is the essence of manliness, not the fact of being outdoors or getting greasy.
And therefore hunting ought to be regarded as no more fundamentally manly than music, or fixing a car than manufacturing clothes. Some activities require more physical strength than others, but physical strength is an accident of manhood, not fundamental to it. Many women are very strong, and many men very weak. A weak man is no less a man, and a woman does not become a man once she can bench a certain weight.
Obviously (to those who know me) I have some selfish interest here. I have never been terribly athletic. I do not enjoy most outdoor activities as much as many men do. I have never killed an animal with a gun, and I don’t know how to change my own oil. I hate watching football and all other organized sports. I am Jacob (dwelling in tents) to many Esaus (hunting in the field).
The danger is that in concentrating on the accidents of manhood, like those activities requiring physical strength, mechanical ability or proficiency with guns, we will fail to exemplify in ourselves and pass on to our own sons the essence of manhood which is the dominion mandate, bringing order out of chaos, creating useful and beautiful things out of the matter of creation.
So how does this distinguish a man from a woman? I know my wife spends all day bringing order out of chaos in my home, and my home (me and two small kids) produces a lot of chaos. The difference is that woman was created as a helper to the man. The woman was placed in a relationship to her husband, and uses her abilities and talents to work on his behalf, to make it easier for him to concentrate on his big task. The man was created in relationship to creation (dominion), and the woman was created in relationship to man. So he goes out to do what he does, and she stays behind to support him. And I’m not going to get into the specifics of this; obviously it’s going to be hugely different in every situation. The way that any given wife can support any given husband in his dominion calling will vary as much as the wives and husbands themselves vary. But the principle remains, that the man was created first for a particular job, and the woman was created second to support him in that job.
If we then want to instill manliness in our sons, we will not do so simply by encouraging them in idle pursuits and entertainment, even if those idle pursuits are associated with manliness. Manliness will be encouraged in our sons by promoting a culture of work and responsibility, seeing the joy and and the pleasure in accomplishment, and doing all for the glory of God. When I work all week in drudgery, with no sense of the honor or value of my work, just so I can go fishing with my son (as entertainment) on the weekend, this gets manliness exactly backwards. If I go fishing (as entertainment) in order to rest up and be more effective at my job (my fundamental goal), in order to glorify God with my useful accomplishments, then I show my son what a real man is.
Update: It just so happens that Joe Carter has some similar thoughts.