Over the past twenty or so years, first starting with the growth of the Promise Keepers movement, and then continuing onward, there has been renewed interest in men’s ministries in many evangelical churches. There has been some well intentioned recognition that the Bible does call for, at some level, some of the traditionally ‘masculine’ virtues such as courage and perseverance. There has coincided with a recognition that the Biblical pattern of following Jesus does not include the immaturity, irresponsibility and hidden abuse that characterize the lives of many men. Nevertheless, I think that there are three dangers in the way the approach that some take.
The first danger is that some may take some male-dominated activities and cultural stereotypes hold them up as part of what make someone a REAL MAN. These unBiblical intrusions do not provide a Biblical solution. For instance, in some parts of the United States, especially more rural areas, hunting and fishing is a more male dominated activity, and some may disdain a person who does not hunt and fish as someone who isn’t a REAL MAN. Or, in other parts of the United States, participation in high school football programs, or other sports, may be esteemed as part of the coming of age process for a male, and thus anyone who didn’t participate in that program for whatever reason may be disdained as not being a REAL MAN. Or, someone from a military background or family, where ownership of guns and marksmanship and physical endurance and physical combat skills are esteemed, may disdain someone else who does not display interest or participate in those activities as not being a REAL MAN. In other words, characteristics which go along with a person’s background or regional culture are added onto the Biblical portrayal of manhood.
After all these years of reading the Bible, I think that the Biblical portrayal of manhood is this: a male is created male (Genesis 1:27), and nothing any human being can say can contradict that. Certainly being male can mean that either godliness or ungodliness can make a man mature, compassionate and responsible or immature, irresponsible and cruel, but that the Bible does not put those characteristics in terms of being a REAL MAN or not being a REAL MAN. Pastors and leaders go into unBiblical territory when they address manhood in that way, and they may unwittingly reinforce a man who excuses his cruelty as toughness or his workaholism or sports idolatry as fulfilling his manly responsibilities.
The second problem then arises from this. Nowhere does the Bible use being a REAL MAN as being a major motivation for faith in the promises of scripture or following the commands of scripture, or give any justification to disdaining anyone for any kind of immaturity or irresponsibility as not being a REAL MAN. Rather, Biblical motivation is based in being a new creation in Christ and having been freed from the bondage of sin (John 8:31,34,36, Romans 6:1-23, 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:17-24, among others), love to Christ (John 14:21-14), and responsibility to Christ as Lord, Savior and Judge (II Corinthians 5:17). I think that this simply becomes another form of guilt or shame manipulation, and it ultimately doesn’t differ much from a statement like, “You’re a REAL CHRISTIAN if you do << some unBiblical standard>>” or “You’re not a REAL CHRISTIAN if you do not do << some unBiblical standard>>.” This type of guilt and shame manipulation may achieve a temporary change of behavior, but it loses its effect over time because it is ultimately using carnal means to try to restrain the sinful tendencies of human nature.
The third problem with this is that it feeds the backstabbing tendency among many men to try to make themselves look good by parading the faults of others around behind that person’s back – man gossip and man slander. Sometimes this does take the form of “He’s not much of a REAL MAN because he <<falls short of some unBiblical standard which I’ve set up, which I may conveniently happen to fulfill, or perhaps, not, in which case this slander is also hypocrisy>> ” They may try to justify this by claiming good intentions afterwards, but ultimately according to the Bible it’s still slander (James 4:11-12).
There was once a time when, in a conversation with a couple who were close friends, I mentioned someone who spread a rumor about me in rivalry for the affections of a girl, and the wife immediately responded with the statement, “Coward.” I think that we need to recognize that this kind of man-gossip and slander is compounded by an unBiblical cowardice as well, and that Christlike moral courage and Biblical obedience, for a man or a woman, is found in being willing to take responsibility for one’s own actions (part of self control, which is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit – Ephesians 5:22-23), to provide a gentle, private correction to our brothers and sisters based upon scripture (II Timothy 3:16-17, Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15-17), and to be willing to be found wrong if someone has misunderstood or misjudged the conduct or behavior of another believer (James 3:1-2).