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Masculinity…again

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February 14, 2012 – I recently suggested that the evangelical church has made a dreadful mistake in the way it has chosen to address the feminization of our culture and particularly of the church itself (see Masculinity vs. Machismo).  In my discussion of this topic I have taken the reality of this feminization for granted, not imagining that anyone would fail to perceive it.  Such an assumption is not necessarily the wisest, journalistically, but helpful in the interests of space and time.  For those who doubt the existence or gravity of this feminization, perhaps the best recourse is to peruse the offerings on masculinity that have become available in the past couple of decades.  From very helpful resources like John Piper’s and Wayne Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Crossway, 1991, 2006) to more skin-deep treatments like John Eldridge’s Wild At Heart (Thomas Nelson, 2001) to the various sermons and conferences on the same subject, it is apparent that the mission of recovering the punch-drunk squire of masculinity from the succubus of effeminacy is much on our evangelical mind.
Still, it has not been my purpose before, nor is it now, to join in that noble quest itself.  It is my desire instead to ask whether it might not be possible that the questors have set off in the wrong direction?  Rather than pursuing masculinity back to its original source in the Godhead, rather than discovering its meaning in the biblical heroes, Adam and Abraham and Moses and David and Jesus, rather than treading the hard, mountainous passes of good exegesis and solid theology, our gallant knights have been seduced down the gentler greenways of vapid caricature and feeble cultural syncretism.  Our leaders, in the attempt to rescue biblical masculinity, have given us a culturally approved photograph of manliness and urged us to imitate it.  This photograph is of a Christian man who is “tough” and “rugged” and “solid” and “responsible” and “frank”.  All helpful adjectives to be sure and none of which would give offense to our culture.  In fact, such a photograph might well have been torn right off of a glamour magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store, along with its companion image of the model of femininity, who comes with her own list of adjectives like, “stunning” and “youthful” and “sexy” and “curvaceous” and “proud” and who, if one turns to the indicated page in the magazine, will provide 100 tips for better sex.  And it’s all garbage.
The misdirection of this right and proper quest for biblical masculinity has even found a certain level of adherence amongst some of our best pastors and theologians.  Darren Patrick, Vice President of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and author of the excellent book on church planting, titled simply, Church Planter (Crossway, 2010) spoke recently at Desiring God’s 2012 Conference for Pastors (the theme of which was “God, Manhood and Ministry: Building Men for the Body of Christ”) on the subject of “Being and Building Men for the Local Mission.” (This message and all the conference messages can be accessed at Desiring God.)  An excellent subject and an excellent speaker, but even Patrick could not refrain from what he himself described as a compulsory reference to the film, Braveheart, as though true manliness is depicted by Mel Gibson’s character in the movie.  Shortly afterward, Patrick made reference to the Apostle Paul’s harsh words concerning the Judaizers in Galatians 5:12, specifically his rhetorical desire that they “mutilate themselves”, as being “a nice masculine verse.”  And while the majority of Darrin Patrick’s message was quite helpful, these little references do a certain homage to that caricature of manliness mentioned above – subtly affirming that the essence of manliness is a willingness to be blunt or violent.
Other speakers at the Desiring God conference also struggled with this cultural baggage.  Even John Piper’s biographical sketch of J.C. Ryle had a slight hint of caricature.  Pastor John went to great lengths to demonstrate Bishop Ryle’s manliness in terms of his commitment to orthodox theology, frequently depicting his doctrine (sometimes in Ryle’s own words) as “sharp” and “rugged”, as though employing such vocabulary would emphasize Ryle’s manliness.  John Piper’s understanding of true masculinity is virtually beyond doubt given the plethora of books and sermons on the topic that have proceeded from his pen, but how much of his communication of the vision in this particular address was colored by the cultural expectation that manliness appear “tough”?
Nevertheless, John Piper and Desiring God are to be credited for inviting Douglas Wilson to be the keynote speaker at the conference.  Wilson, who is known for his many books as well as his filmed debates with the late atheist philosopher Christopher Hitchens, stood at the fork in the road and resolutely pointed the questors down the proper path to rescuing biblical masculinity.  He reminded his hearers that real manliness is found not primarily in outward toughness or machismo but in the faithful mirroring of the Fatherhood of God.  As we mirror God the Father in our relationships with our families, to that extent are we masculine.  As our actions approach conformity to the actions of God the Father in our leadership of the church, to precisely that extent are we truly fulfilling our function as men.
Douglas Wilson is right.  Until we plant our definition of masculinity firmly in the trusty soil of biblical Trinitarianism, we will continue to struggle as churches and as a culture in the morass of gender confusion.  So let’s abandon the tepid caricature, pallid syncretism and puerile models of manliness that originated in our depraved culture and embrace instead the robust masculinity modeled for us by Father, Son and Spirit as revealed in the Bible.

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