How culture misunderstands manhood
Last Thursday, at promptly 1:30 p.m., I was reading the latest edition of The Chimes, hot off the press, as I am wont to do. I stumbled across an intriguing article entitled “SMU Leaders Exhort Men to Get Involved.” As you may have guessed, this article was about Student Missionary Union leaders exhorting men to get involved, especially encouraging men to take up more leadership positions within SMU. The article shed light on the fact that the majority of those involved with SMU and specifically those in leadership positions are women.
This isn’t unique to Biola. For years and in numerous ways the church has dealt with the issue of absent men. Unfortunately, the church has largely failed to address the root of the problem and has only dealt with the issue peripherally. Similarly, the article last week addresses the symptom but fails to really address the heart of the issue. I believe the heart of the issue is that following Jesus is essentially emasculating. This is because our culture’s ideal of manhood, as well as the world’s ideal of success, is in stark opposition to the ideals of Christianity.
Culture's misunderstanding of masculinity
Being perceived as masculine by others is incredibly important to guys. Even if a guy knows that participating in what society deems unmanly doesn’t make him less of a man, at a more basic emotional and instinctual level, it still matters immensely that society views him as manly. This is made evident by the fact that the desired effect of most insults used against men is emasculation. Regrettably, our culture holds that the virtues of masculinity are strength, self-reliance and superiority over other men and women.
These virtues clearly contradict Christian virtues. Christianity is about surrendering, understanding your own powerlessness and relying on God for his strength. Any good deed that we do that is of eternal significance according to Christianity is not our own doing or any reason to be proud. Rather, it is God who enables us to do good by surrendering to him. We can’t take glory for good deeds because that glory belongs to God. Living here on earth, though, the world tells us that it is all about our own glory, especially in the case of manhood. Unfortunately, Christians often try to deal with this disconnect between Christian virtues and cultural masculinity by simply baptizing cultural expectations and Christianizing culture.
We see the Christianization of culture constantly in youth group material, Bible study materials and Christian industries in general. It is evident in John Eldridge’s “Wild at Heart,” the Promise Keepers ministry, the GodMen ministry and don’t even get me started on Mark Driscoll. Seriously, though, don’t get me started. I’m afraid of what he will do to me if I offend him and his big-biceped Jesus. Brotein-fed Rambo-Jesus aside, all of these demonstrate ways to fulfill both the ideals of Christianity and the ideals of the world’s perception of manhood. Unfortunately, you can’t have your brewsky and drink it too. In other words, culture’s ideal of manhood and the ideals of Christianity are mutually exclusive conflicting ideas.
Focusing on God's perception of manhood
Here’s the deal: If you’re going to be a Christian, the world is going to view you as weak and emasculated. If you’re focused on appearing strong and masculine, the world will give you recognition as a man and that will be your treasure here on earth, but you will miss out on treasures in heaven. At least, I like to believe that that’s why nobody recognizes me as very masculine.
So yeah, step up and be leaders in SMU. Well, I guess really I should say step down and be leaders in SMU. Because leadership means humility and servanthood — and there’s no glory from that in this world. Don’t become leaders because it’s an opportunity to become “God’s champions” — as the article last week stated. Become leaders because it’s an opportunity to be humbled, to serve others and to give God glory. You may not enjoy any reward right now, but just wait till eternity.