Something is wrong with boys & men: this, of course, is not news to anyone. The causes and solutions are much debated but something is up. There are problems that seem to be getting worse.
Take for example education. Girls are outclassing boys at school and university level. Statistically something has changed in the last 40 years, girls have not only caught up but overtaken boys and have they have done so – the rate widened. It’s complicated and it has confused policy makers because at one level it seems that the success of one gender has come at the expense of the other, whose own earlier success had almost certainly come at the expense of women. Equality (however you define it) is trickier to achieve than most thought.
It’s not just education but family life.
— Julia Miller (@Julia_Pathways) November 17, 2014
The impact men have on families is significant. A bad father is a much greater destructive force on a family and a good father brings, it would seem, greater blessing. Author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child John Gottman says,
Our studies indicate that a father’s influence can be much more extreme, whether that effect is good or bad.
Or take another area, that of mental health:
Depression isn’t something a lot of men like to talk about because in the modern West it is seen as a weakness, and a man isn’t supposed to be weak. What’s more, men are generally less apt to talk about how they’re feeling than women are. We’re more action-oriented and externally-driven, and pay less attention to what’s going on within. I get it. I’m the same way.
Some argue that it is the idea men have of what a man is supposed to be that is the problem. In this case a man isn’t supposed to be weak, a man comes up against his own weakness and frailty and simply can’t handle it. Jenny Baker, for example, in her book Equals says precisely that (review here). The argument goes that this old idea of the ‘strong man’ is just generally a bad idea, it hasn’t served women well and just as importantly is hasn’t served men well. It’s time to junk this notion of masculinity. A more egalitarian view of gender is better for everyone. The other side, points at the fact that as societies have become progressively more gender equal men have done progressively worse and men no longer know what is it to be a man and that’s a problem.
“As traditional ideals of 20th C man – strong, stoic, repressed – begin to fade away, nothing has stepped into replace them.” Observer mag — James Catford (@James_Catford) March 1, 2015
The church is just as confused and it’s clear that the church is missing men. In the UK the debate about men in the church has been played against the backdrop of the tussle over women bishops in the Church of England. Unsurprisingly there’s no desire for the church to be a Christian Fight Club.
Beneath it all is a confusion over what it means to be a man. Just as the backdrop in the UK has been women bishops and an increasingly feminine and liberal church, on the other side of the Atlantic we had hyper-masculinity in preachers like Mark Driscoll and the stereotypes they offer up aren’t particularly compelling either. So, quite rightly writers like Skye Jethani ask,
I’m confused? What is biblical masculinity? Because it seems that the men in the Bible, like men today, represent a wide spectrum of gifts, personalities, interests, and callings. Some are warriors, some are artists, some are both. Some lead, others follow. Some are the pinnacle of virility with thousands of wives and concubines, and others are castrated eunuchs affirmed for their faith and courage. Some get naked and dance (David), and others get naked and drunk (Noah). Some defend themselves with swords (Peter), and others remain silent before their accusers (Jesus). Some cry (Jesus), others sing (David), and some even sew dresses for other guys (Bezalel). Some are hunters (Esau), others chill out in tents (Jacob), one made his brothers jealous with his fashion sense (Joseph). So what is biblical masculinity?
The answer is important. Personally I’ve not read anything particularly compelling from the egalitarian side and too often ends up being a great clarion call for me to do the dishes more.
So we need something that avoids the one ditch of the emasculated male or the Alpha male on steroids. As Alistair Roberts says,
In our concern to recover a lost masculinity, we easily forget that masculinity will only ever be recovered indirectly—as we recover the reality that masculinity was about. The recovery of Christian masculinity will only occur as we commit ourselves to the restoration of biblical Christianity and the recovery of the weight and stakes of its moral universe. It is only within this moral universe that a healthy Christian masculinity—far from the macho posturing of many contemporary parodies—will thrive.
As a result we need more leaders like Andrew Wilson who will be brave enough to try and figure out a theology of maleness.