Recently, I have been noting various sets of “rules for guys” on the Internet, so when my favorite newspaper published a set, I was intrigued. But, its “rules” contended that we men only want to dialogue during commercials, can only see in limited colors, and have one topic of conversation: sports. Several pages later, I learned wives know all about our children, but we husbands are only vaguely aware of small bodies underfoot in the house. Now, I thought, that’s strange.
It reminds me of the same perplexity I experienced when I was reading Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Parts of it resonated with me, like the theory that men like to work things out in our own heads before we talk them out. I can relate to that, though, I wondered, is that only true of men? Do all women process verbally as a rule? And don’t some men like to process out loud from the start? Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s wondered, since the author tells us right at the outset on pages six and seven that in his seminars some men do relate to his descriptions of women and vice versa. He says not to worry—it’s just “role reversal” because “many men have denied some of their masculine attributes in order to become more loving and nurturing. Likewise, many women have denied some of their feminine attributes in order to earn a living in a work force that rewards masculine attributes.” Hmmm, I thought, so let me get this all straight: if I am loving and nurturing, I am not being masculine, and, if women are successful in business, they are not being feminine? To remedy this, my wife should stay out of business, while I should watch more television, forget what color “mauve” is, learn some sports stats, and ignore our son? This will make me more of a guy and get me out of “role reversal”?
What’s up with all this? What we are hearing seems to me to reflect a popular philosophy about what men are like in values, in motivation, and in modes of expression. But is it a philosophy we can trust?
We live in an age that believes that, in order to be scientific and technological, we must gather data as though we existed in a closed universe, where all knowledge we obtain is done empirically through sense perception. In this way, we are Aristotelian in our approach, meaning we look at particular behaviors, genetic factors, and similar data and draw conclusions about people. Nothing is wrong with this, as long as our conclusions match the actual reach of our data. When they go beyond that, then we are in trouble.
For example, we conduct surveys among men and tabulate the answers, deciding these are the behavioral patterns men tend to have, and then we make an extrapolation that these, then, show us the way men are and, indeed, how they should be. We expect our social and behavioral scientists to quantify all the data for us and give us a profile of the model man. That’s how popular society operates.
What it doesn’t always take into account, however, is what the wise Christian social and behavioral scientist knows: Such data tells us what fallen men are like, but not necessarily what God’s ideal man should be. In fact, though we live in a fallen world, our universe is not closed. We may be comprised of chemicals, but our lives are determined by a Creator who is not working on Aristotle’s model.
Plato’s perspective is probably closer in understanding the way the Christian worldview actually works—which is why Christianity has been so vulnerable to all the hierarchy, oppression of women, and the other bad stuff in his system. Where Plato was right was recognizing that God has an ideal—a right way God wants men and women to be and to live.
However, sin has disrupted logic and obscured that right way, and 1 Corinthians 1 tells us that God’s ideals look like foolishness to a world whose values are all skewed. The world has its limited view of how things are and should be, predicated on what it sees within itself. It will discover truth at certain points because of common grace, but it won’t capture truth completely: for that, we need revelation.
Therefore, despite what we read in so many popular (even Christian) books, just because we can make and tabulate observations about the way fallen men and women are does not necessarily mean that what we observe is the way God intended us to be. And, further, these observations don’t dictate who we should be. Observed behavioral patterns don’t make a mandate. They just might be tabulating how sinful we are and how far we have fallen from God’s ideal. Therefore, since all good theology goes back to creation, we need to go back beyond the curse (as my wife entitled her classic book) and see what God’s pre-fall idea was for healthy manhood, since the Bible refers to it, amplifies it, and applies it, while often using the Genesis passages for illustrations.
God’s Ideal for Healthy Manhood
Right from the outset, God intended men to be in community. Genesis 1:26–27 tells us men were not created to be loners; the command to steward the earth in Genesis 1:28 was given to men and women together, equally. So both sexes working communally and equally together as God’s regents is God’s pre-fall ideal, which dispels the popular myth that men are supposed to be incommunicable loners.
Estrangement comes with the fall when the consequences of sin are explained in Genesis 3:16, where hierarchy is established between men and women. That’s the bad news. The good news is that being redeemed by Christ means Jesus ripped up the whole set of compromises that the fall set for our lives, giving us a restored set of blueprints with which to rebuild the community God intended from the beginning.
One of those blueprints can be seen in Genesis 2:24, which challenges those theories that claim men are by nature promiscuous (and women monogamous), that we men aren’t naturally nurturing, that we’d rather go out of the house than take delight in our children, etc. Redeemed man is empowered to actualize God’s ideal—that’s one of Jesus’ renovations! This past year my wife and I were encouraged to do a book on marriage, since we are happily married (ever after), in our thirty-eighth year. Since plenty of books on Christian marriage exist, we decided to get adventurous and invite another happily married Christian couple with a different point of view—Steve and Celestia Tracy of Mending the Soul Ministries, a soft complementarian couple—to dialogue with us and see both what we hold in common and where we differ in our understanding of Christian marriage. We also invited responses from African-American, Korean, and Hispanic couples we know well who have beautiful marriages. The resulting book, Marriage at the Crossroads: Couples in Conversation about Discipleship, Gender Roles, Decision Making and Intimacy, revealed unanimity across theological lines and cultures that men are by nature intended by God to be loving and nurturing, communal and communicative, and that women are also intended by God to be industrious and responsible workers in society and also God’s stewards on earth. Of course, this is the logical outcome for all Christians exploring biblical manhood because this is how the Bible’s greatest men followed God’s ideal.
The Bible’s Redeemed Men in Action
Could anyone be more nurturing and loving with his children than Jacob? Genesis 37:34–35 shows us a man so child-oriented that, even when all his sons and daughters came to comfort him, he refused to be comforted at Joseph’s loss. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.”
Who could be more tender with his grieving wife than Elkanah, Hannah’s husband? Look at his solicitation toward her in 1 Samuel 1:7: “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Look at Joseph’s response when he discovers Mary is pregnant with a baby he knows isn’t his. According to popular wisdom, he should have been looking for the biggest rock around to start the stoning—but instead we’re told, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” This is Matthew 1:19, before the angel enlightens him that the child is the Son of God. Are all these men exceptions to the rule? Are they men who have experienced “role reversal” and need to rediscover their “masculine” side? Obviously not, because Joseph's example explains the key to these men's behaviors: they are “righteous.” A righteous man is loving and nurturing. There is nothing “feminine” about a man’s love and nurture. It is what God, our Creator, intended masculinity to be. If we men have forced women to supply all the love and nurturing in our societies, it’s because we’ve abdicated our responsibility. Men who aren’t loving and nurturing by nature are the product of a fallen world and need to get in contact with their “loving and nurturing” masculine side.
And, likewise, is that idea that women are giving up their feminine attributes if they succeed in business accurate? Proverbs 31 provides one picture of a godly woman. What do we see? She is a thriving businesswoman. (Anyone who would like to explore that fact should see my article “Diamond or Diamond Mine?” in Priscilla Papers, vol. 16, no. 2.)
More likely, if a working woman or man imitates the fallen nature of their coworkers and their shady practices, becoming callous, cut-throat, and cruel, ceasing to be “righteous,” then they have stopped behaving in a manner appropriate for God’s ideal man or woman.
God’s ideal men and women take their faith seriously, seek out the Bible’s righteous models, and know how to employ authority and to submit to authority according to gifts and tasks. They are loving and nurturing, mutually respectful and supportive, not threatened by each other’s success, but actually seeking it as joint stewards, helping each other reach God’s ideal to please the One who made us.