Understanding masculinity in context of Christ and humanity
After reading my good friend Matt Beckwith’s article, “How Culture Misunderstands Manhood,” and the online chatter that it sparked, I felt the need to comment a bit further. Hopefully I can further the discussion, bring a bit of cohesion to these two perspectives, identify the actual problems, and sidestep the obscene amounts of rhetoric that everyone tends to sling around.
I don’t want to attack the Student Missionary Union article specifically, nor nitpick about Beckwith’s piece; what I’m interested in is what’s behind both of these conversations. The problem is much deeper than just a lack of men in student leadership on campus — let’s not forget that it isn’t really that weird that there aren’t a lot of guys in leadership at Biola … I mean the ratio is still something like 7-to-1, right? I think one of the most dangerous things 21st century Christians can do is misappropriate cultural values and apply them to our faith — Beckwith does a great job of highlighting this. However, I think it’s problematic to completely abandon the idea of masculinity because of a few cultural perversions.
Understanding masculinity in the context of Christianity
Beckwith’s point is that men want to feel masculine — and because of the overwhelming presence of cultural ideas about masculinity, we take those ideas as truth and try and fit our Christianity into that framework. Beckwith follows up by asserting that Christianity is a religion of “surrendering” and “powerlessness.” He writes, “If you’re going to be a Christian, the world is going to view you as weak and emasculated.”
The problem with a term like “emasculated” — while eye-grabbing — is that it carries with it a whole new set of cultural connotations … and it’s those connotations that seem to upset Beckwith’s opponents. I understand Beckwith’s point and embrace his overall thesis, but I’d like to argue against this idea of complete powerlessness. When it comes to issues of gender roles, we must remember we are created in the image of God. I want to advocate for both masculinity and femininity as powerful parts of our humanity — each necessary within the kingdom of God, each to be celebrated as robust aspects of our personhood.
Let’s look at Jesus. I don’t believe Jesus was ever weak. He was always self-sacrificing, always full of real love, always concerned about everyone else — but never weak. Quite honestly, Jesus’ character seems quite “masculine” to me … and perhaps certain cultural ideas would probably align with this “masculinity” while others probably would not.
I’m going to try and get at the heart of the matter. So, what does it mean to live as embodied, living, breathing beings made in the image of God? I think our understanding of our humanity revolves around us unpacking the richness of who we were created to be. As created humans, we exist on one of the most basic levels as gender-specific entities — but even more central to our existence is the fact that we are all human.
The bottom line is that as men and women we are meant to occupy the same space, follow the same God and strive to live like the same Jesus. I believe that what the SMU boys are really trying to say is “Hey, guys, stop playing video games and start caring about the kingdom!” not “We need men to work here because these women just aren’t quite cutting it.” I can support the former exhortation 100 percent, because without men being active in God’s work, we’re not getting the full picture. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting for all the men to emerge from their caves, Biola will be more than fine in the hands of quite a few extremely intelligent, exceedingly competent and extraordinarily wise women who are in love with Jesus, are seeking his kingdom and will leave a lasting legacy that our generation can be proud of.