What is masculinity? As a young man, I’d like to know.
Of course, I’m aware of the many cultural connotations. Society has done us no favors as young men; rather, it has foisted its own massive confusion upon us via everything from sitcoms to softdrinks. Is manhood about living as a couch-surfing dimwit or “Do[ing] the Dew”…?
Is it about nice cars, big buildings, big titles, and big paychecks?
Is it about beer, burgers, and professional athletics?
Is it about mixed martial arts?
Is it about women?
What is masculinity? Unfortunately, our churches have not done much better at helping us define it.
On this front, those of us who claim Christ seem to be facing two extremes: One familiar stereotype is the effeminate churchgoing man who is ‘nice.’ He also comes off as weak, passive, and passionless. His life seems boring and powerless, and his example is not attractive to men who consider themselves to be more ‘manly.’
But the reaction within Christendom to this faux pas masculinity has spawned a second familiar stereotype that, until recently, I did not realize to be equally as backward. I am referring to the hyper-masculine Christian strongman movement that has prevailed in the last decade. This formulaic approach to masculinity places a ‘Christian’ façade on much of Western pop culture, and its Jungian synthesis suggests that all men ‘need’ a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.
Does that sound familiar?
Admittedly, I happen to relate well to the concept. In fact, I have a five foot long Scottish Claymore in my bedroom that I got right after reading John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart for the third time.
But, what about my unmarried friends? Are such men not ‘masculine’ so long as they’ve yet to ‘rescue a beauty?’ What if they have no desire to do so? I don’t think the Apostle Paul would buy into this apparent tenet of masculinity, and similar hypothetical questions can be posed about the ‘battle’ and ‘adventure’ tenets, as well.
So, what is masculinity? I think that, as young men, now is our time to define it.
It’s not about distraction. It’s not about occupation or preoccupation. And, it’s not about women, or fistfights, or rock climbing.
Masculinity is about engagement, and that’s why we are calling the young men of our generation to eNgage!
Engagement is a middle ground between the stereotypes discussed above that challenges both types of men, and calls them toward Christ-likeness. Engagement reminds the effeminate man that, though ‘not by might or by power,’ God raised a mighty army by His Spirit (Ez 37:1-10). And engagement reminds the hyper-masculine man that God came to Elijah not in a mighty wind, powerful earthquake, or raging fire, but in a whisper (1 Kg 19:9-13).
Masculinity is not about being powerful or powerless – it’s about being a vessel to be used by God powerfully (e.g., a vessel capable of healing the sick and raising the dead).
And masculinity is not about being strong or weak – it finds its strength in unbridled trust in God (e.g., a trust willing to die a horrible death on a cross).
I believe that a truly ‘masculine’ man’s vision and purpose revolve around these two truths and result in the awareness that ‘in my weakness, He is strong;’ the reassurance that ‘where I end, He begins;’ and, the desire to learn to ‘end’ more quickly.
That’s Jesus’ example for us, and that’s masculinity.