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Some Basic Thoughts on Manhood

July 26, 2012

It seems “manhood” is an en vogue topic these days. In recent weeks we’ve read of the juvenalization of men, what Al Mohler calls “adultolescence.” We’ve also heard of the need for the church to have a “masculine feel.” Of course, that stands in contrast to the oft-expressed concerns about the “feminization” of the church and, by implication, the feminization of Christian men. It’s clear we’re at a moment in cultural history where the notion of “manhood” defies easy explanation. It’s also clear that the topic is deeply personal, perhaps because so many of us men have grown up either without a good father or even a father, with few male models, and a nagging sense that we have to “prove” our manhood without exactly knowing what the tests are.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no shortage of people willing to jump into the void to tell us what the “tests” are and precisely how one ought to look, talk, dress, and act to be a “real man.” Usually the first to rush into the breach are young men who themselves are the very products of history’s worst period of absentee husbands, fatherlessness, and gender confusion. Some of the things on offer really do read like the blind leading the blind. Men barely in their thirties–which is to say, men with more than half their lives left to live and less than half the experience they’ll eventually gain–ready their pens and give us their wisdom. Please excuse me if I sound a little bit skeptical. I’m just one of those guys who came of age in this same era with doubts and struggles of my own to prove it. It’s difficult for me to believe that my peers will have the practical and experiential solutions required. While I appreciate most their wrestlings with sacred scripture, what I suspect most is Junior’s “practical advice.”

So why am I writing this post (being a 40-something “junior” myself)? Well, I’m not writing to add my voice to the cacophony of 30- and 40-something year old men trying to “fix” this problem. So, right up front, let me say: I don’t have “manhood” all figured out. You can stop reading here if you like. I’m in a Charles Barkley kinda mood on this topic. I’m not as unqualified about it as Sir Charles, but in these posts I’m not offering myself as a role model. Honestly, I think the best thoughts are likely to come from 60- and 70-somethings. What I hope to do is think out loud (or think in pixels) about this issue as a form of catharsis and biblical exploration. If there’s something helpful here (I’ll be surprised if there is) then take it and use it. If not, spit out the bones.

What I’d like to do is whittle my way through a basic biblical definition of “manhood.” Obviously we need to answer this question because the culture remains confused about it. And we need to answer this question for the integrity and flourishing of men, their families, and the church. Everybody seems to understand (except the hardest misanthrope) that “getting this right” makes a great deal of difference for everybody.

So what is “manhood”? I’m scratching around in Genesis–before all the trouble starts–and I’m thinking we might define manhood in terms of three relationships: God (worship), creation (work), and society/family (woman). There’s perhaps a fourth “w”–wealth. But I’m thinking out loud and that fourth “w” may or may not show up in these posts. So, Lord willing, we’ll take one of those things per post and then consider how those relationships are ruined, restored, and renewed across the course of redemptive history. What do you think? Sound like something work thinking about together?

If so, join the conversation with comments as we move along. Yes, I’d love to hear from you ladies just as much! And remember: I’m not offering anything approaching an “expert” opinion. Chew the fish and spit out the bones.

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