What is Masculinity?

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.



4 Responses to “What is Masculinity?”

  1. 1 juredivino
    June 6, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Agreed. I’m glad you raised the fundamental tension between the belief that a man is only as valuable as his strength and our reliance on God for any strength and competence we may have.

    I tend to think of true masculinity as a set of core values that dictate how a man should behave in response to particular pressures. If the definition becomes more pervasive than that, it doesn’t allow the flexibility requisite and inherent to a successful, diversified society. It truly does take many kinds to make a world, and I think Genesis supports the idea that God revels in the variety of his creation (apart from the biological evidence that supports the theory). We can’t be so homogenous as to dissolve individuality; yet if we do not have enough in common, the notion of masculinity is too diluted to be useful and instructive to the aspiring man.

    The Bible lays out certain characteristics that we are to have and certain roles that a man should fulfill in his family and community. Beyond that, if we have an overdeveloped blueprint of manhood, then the Bible would not really accomodate men on various ends of the personality spectrum, e.g. of a more sensitive persuasion, men who are more traditionally masculine, etc., and I don’t think that such is God’s intent. So long as the core manly values are in place, we can walk in the lush pasture (not bullseye) of God’s will.

    • 2 Jer
      June 6, 2010 at 10:55 am

      I love it Brent! Thanks for your thoughts!

      I didn’t really address it in the post but, as I was writing, I was thinking that part of the importance of surrounding yourself with Godly men involves gaining a composite perspective on who God is by appreciating the strengths and attributes of those men.

      You made the connection!

  2. 3 juredivino
    June 6, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Interesting. Chris (who graciously invited me to his family’s BBQ while he was here in Denver) and I were talking along those lines just a couple of nights ago. Especially as identified in your opening paragraphs above, we recognized that many men latch on to a stereotype sourced in some form of the culture around them. From the glorified slacker who spends his day watching cartoons and riding the Pineapple Express to the aspiring pickup artist discipled to sleazy gurus in pursuit of the solitary goal of getting laid, there are a lot of warped ideas of what masculinity is these days. The appropriate Christian response can only be to surround himelf with better role models and delve into the Bible to discern those core values that God has indicated personify a good man.

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