There was a time when James Brown could sing, “This is a man’s world…”, and be right. But today things are different. It’s now a lot less clear just how to be a man in this new world. Things like the toxic masculinity debate, movements like #MeToo, and ad campaigns like the Gillette razor, “The Best A Man Can Get” commercial, are powerful forces at work shaping society’s perceptions of men. While most men I know celebrate the progress being made in bringing attention to crueltieslike sexual harassment and bullying,at the same time it’s making things confusing.
Men are sent out into the world each day with conflicting messages about how they should act and what it means to be a man. They’re being torn by the strain of trying to be gentle, open and supportive new menwhile fulfilling the traditional male role of being strong, assertive and high-achieving. It’s not quite clear how men are supposed to behave or respond or relate in different relationships… On the one hand, my instinct tells me to be masculine, strong, bold, and brave – to be a hunter. But I’m aware that there are expectations for me to be a different sort of man – a gentle, soft, caring man – a Mr. Mom.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’ve never been much for the macho, he-man thing. I have no problem exploring my gentler, feminine side now and then. I cry like a baby every time I watch the Field of Dreams and Kevin Costner says, “Hey dad, ya wanna have a catch?” Still, things are confusing. Author Michael Ian Black writes, “It’s no longer enough to “be a man” — we no longer even know what that means.”
There’s been pushback out there in “Menstown”. It’s come from both outside and inside the church. Men’s movements have decided to combat the situation by restoring a sense masculinity and spreading the message of manliness to men far and wide. Urging guys to run around in the woods getting in touch with their inner mountain man. At the same time a masculinity movement has arisen within the Church. There’s a bunch of self-help books geared to helping men discover their godly “wild side”, filling the shelves of Christian bookstores. Men’s ministries meet to explore “masculine spirituality”, that depicts God as the ultimate he-man.
While I respect what these movements are trying to accomplish, in my opinion, neither dancing around camp fires to the beat of war drums nor trying to inject heavy doses of testosterone into the Church is the answer.
The Bible gives us a view of manhood that’s much more complex than the stereotypes offered by both toxic masculinity and the men’s movement allow. Just look at Jesus. Could it be that bothsides are focusing on the wrong thing? Maybe it should be less on how men should act and becoming more fully human like Jesus was.
Fortunately for both women and men, the Bible never speaks of reformed men and women, but as new creations (2 Cor. 5:17).Scripture doesn’t talk about Jesus coming to earth to model masculinity. He’s the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). As such, he’s not simply the perfect male; he’s the perfect human being. Through his obedience to the Father, Christ displayed the traits and behaviors that should characterize all human beings, men and women. We’re called to imitate Christ by exhibiting his same qualities. The apostle Paul made no distinction between masculine and feminine fruits of the Spirit. The purpose of discipleship is not mainly to become fulfilled men or women, but rather to be transformed into the image of Christ, the perfect, complete, fully human being.
Discipleship is a process carried out by the Holy Spirit, who Athanasius, an ancient Church Father and theologian called the “rehumanizing Spirit”. He asserted that the Spirit’s role in our lives is the same as it was in Jesus of Nazareth’s – to make us more fully human the way Jesus was fully human. Complete, fully functioning, mature men and women, fruitful and flourishing, reflecting the loving, generous image of our Creator in our everyday lives.
Perhaps the solution to all the confusion is the same for both men and woman… being filled with the Holy Spirit. Living the way Jesus, the complete, fully human lived his life – under the inspiration and influence of God’s Spirit. Living a fully gospel life that pleased his heavenly Father.