Stating the Obvious - Manhood

(Zak Carter) #1

I was reading in 1 Samuel this morning. Toward the end, Saul has gone out to try to kill David (again) and his army has camped for the night. David sneaks into the camp while everyone is sleeping and takes Saul’s spear from beside his sleeping body. In the morning, having left the camp, he calls out to Abner, Saul’s general, and taunts him saying “Are you not a man? Why have you failed to protect the king?”

There’s more to the story, but that taunt from David got me thinking: scripture very often talks of manhood/masculinity as if we already know what that is. To put it differently, it seems like the authors of scripture expect the reader to have an intuitive grasp of what men are and how they act. These references are so often in passing because they are stating the obvious.

The key example that comes to mind, in the form of an exhortation, is from 1 Corinthians 16:13 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” We can infer from this that “acting like men” has something to do with watchfulness, standing firm in the faith, and strength. Yet Paul’s aim here is not to give us a taxonomy of masculine virtues. He is instructing the church in Corinth to “act like men,” which is something complementary, but distinct, from the other exhortations listed. “Act like men” contains some sort of additional information that is similar to, but not identical to watchfulness, standing firm, etc.

All this to say: Paul thinks he’s stating the obvious. David’s taunt to Abner was only a taunt because a real man would obviously not fail to protect the king.

Yet being a man is not always obvious to us today. It’s often not obvious to me today. I’ve grown up in a culture in which manhood is caricatures so that it can be anathematized–and many of those who seek to embrace it end up embracing either the caricature or else a “masculinity” that is in no way distinct from femininity.

The strongest objection to such a thing as a “Biblical masculinity” is that we are not given from scripture a taxonomy of all the masculine and feminine virtues. And because we often live at the intersection between Scientism and Biblicism, this objection feels heavy. How can we even talk about masculinity if we can’t point to an exhaustive (and it must be exhaustive!) list of masculine virtues, vices, practices, and prohibition? The answer is: It’s obvious. Or at least it should be to us. It was obvious to the authors of scripture. A man stands firm in the faith. A man protects the king. There are a thousand other things, but why list them? You’ll know it when you see it.

I want to live as a man of God in this world. I want to raise my son to be a man of God in this world. Scripture has much to teach me about what that means. But I’m becoming convinced that one of the most important things is this: that manhood should be intuitive to me–not the conclusion to a long chain of logic (though that may help). By God’s grace, it will become obvious to me.

Am I off on any of this? Let me know by commenting.

(Jon Swerens) #2

Just an addition: If it’s obvious, then that means special revelation is pointing to general revelation. And Scripture does seem to do that frequently when discussing the sexes. Good thoughts, Zak!

(Zak Carter) #3

Yes, I fully agree with that. It seems to me that scripture does that with wisdom as well. “Consider the ant, you sluggard.”

(Joseph Bayly) #4

That and every single virtue is able to apply to both men and women, so feminists mock you for trying to distinguish them. The fact is that they do apply to both. They just apply in different ways to men and women. How do we know? Well, it’s obvious, as you said. The Bible makes it clear mostly through assuming it.

(Bnonn Tennant) #5

You’re entirely correct. This is one of the issues on our radar at It’s Good To Be A Man. I took an initial foray here:

The kind of pushback I received to this was predictable and depressing. A woman in our church who is in charge of music essentially mocked me for my “magical man-sense.” But as you observe, an understanding of masculinity is built into us; it’s intuitive and obvious. Although it’s helpful to be able to demarcate and describe, that isn’t required to understand it. And although it has subjective, culturally-informed elements, that doesn’t mean the “substrate” of it is subjective. It’s built into our nature.

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #6

I’d quibble at this, of course. I’ve spent the past 30 years writing and teaching that Man is Lord of the Earth (Gen 1), Husbandman (Gen 2), Savior (Gen 3), Sage (Prov. 1-9), and Glory of God (1 Cor 11). We don’t call these virtues (unless you’re using the term in an archaic sense, “virtue” in the sense of a “potenency/strength”). Rather, we call them aspects of masculinity. And we think - and are encouraged by 30 years of proofing this in analysis of men and manhood - that these five aspects are way, way adequate to account for what you actually see in Holy Writ and in history.

In the same sections of Scripture, we find five aspects of womanhood as well, for the authors of Scripture are showing us these distinctive aspects of manhood and womanhood. And, so we find Woman the Mistress of the Domain (Gen 1), Woman the Helper-Completer (Gen 2), Woman the Lifegiver (Gen 3), Woman the Lady of Wisdom (Prov 1-9), and Woman the Glory of Man (1 Cor 11).

I agree with you that ordinary living ought to train one in a habituated sense of what basal manhood and womanhood is. I further agree that several generations now (since the early 70s for sure) have experienced a concerted attack on any historically habituated sense of manhood and womanhood. The Millennials who use our materials are often “past” the point of wanting to see what Biblical manhood or womanhood is - rather, they say “Just tell me. Tell me what it is. I want to know. Just tells me!”

(Zak Carter) #7

I’m open to revising my statement. Virtues is probably the wrong word. Maybe behaviors, interests, signals, or expressions would be better.

What I’m trying to get at is that there are many who seem to say that unless there is an objective taxonomy of every masculine behavior, then there cannot be any masculine behaviors. Or at least that masculinity must be entirely cultural.

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #8

I understand. And, I agree that abstracting and systematizing the data of Scripture on any topic can be a tricky thing. The term we settled on - aspect - is, obviously, not a word out of any Biblical lexicon. But, Biblical lexicons are not common; hence the trickiness when one wishes to abstract a taxonomy of anything.

In our textbook materials we explain that an aspect of masculinity or femininity is not a kind of man or woman. Rather these are aspects of any man’s or woman’s sexuality. Indeed, the bewildering variety we see in what anyone would call an authentically masculine man (or feminine woman) can be explained by (1) how all five aspects play off one another, and (2) how the fall and the curse has impacted any aspect of manhood or womanhood, and (3) how the process of sanctification is is working to redeem/correct any or all of these aspects in any person.

Culture? History? Of course these too will affect how a man or woman - whether fallen or redeemed - works out their own sexuality in relationship to the opposite sex, within a marriage, a family, a church, or society at large.

You have pretty much the same dynamics with respect to color. Pick any color and one can analyze it into just four fundamental shades - red, blue, and yellow plus variations of black. Even then, the context in which one views a discrete color is going to affect how that discrete color registers in your perception of it. Many optical illusions play on this effect!

Again, I agree - not with the objection, but with the fact that naysayers seem, at first, to have a point. But . . .

I return to the fact that Scripture does not deliver us a neat, tidy taxonomy, complete with a prescribed lexicon with which to talk about them. This is, after all, man’s work (cf. Genesis 2). And, it’s not just animals alone which have a taxonomy, it’s pretty much everything created which is created after its kind. Our analysis of manhood and womanhood begins with those passages where we see authors of Holy Writ, governed in their work by God’s Spirit, pointing us to . . . well, aspects of manhood and womanhood. Beginning with God’s thoughts, we have strived to think His thoughts after Him in this area.

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #9

On this topic, for a limited time, here is an audio lecture by Budziszewski, delivered at the Touchstone Conference last October. The title of his lecture is What Makes Men Men.

Dr. Budziszewski’s analysis of the question and the answers he gives are - for us who care about such things - grist for the mill as Christendom at large tries to come to some common understanding and way of talking about this subject.

I have his lecture in MP3 format, and you can download it while the link below is “live.” It will grow defunct (I don’t know just when). So if it’s defunct and you wish to hear his lecture, let me know and I’ll upload my copy to the cloud and give you a link thereto.

(Ken Lamb) #10

On the topic of manhood…Christian Daily Reporter shared that David Murray is launching a Christian Man Academy. I’m kind of out of the loop and don’t know what to expect from it, but it should be interesting to drive the conversation forward as we drill down on biblical manhood.

(b3k) #11

Hot Take: I just browsed over here as soon as I saw the story on CDR. Judging a book by its cover, I don’t trust the site at all. Like all mainstream Christian publishers primarily market to women, my first look at the site strikes me that it’s designed to appeal to wives rather than to actual men.

(Ken Lamb) #12

Well the first video short covered the chief aim of all man to glorify God and enjoy him, seems like a good start.

(b3k) #13

Warm take: I don’t trust his recommended reading list. All contemporary, mainstream evangelicalism, including Tim Keller, Bryan Chappell, and the racist, SJW Eric Mason. I expect nothing helpful to come out of this.

Current entirely speculative hypothesis, this is a venture of an Evangelical Industrial Complex entity trying to take over a latent men’s movement. Time to look at domain registrations.

In any case, best to stick with @bnonn and @michaelfoster, because they know that It’s Good to be a Man.

(Michael Foster) #14

That is a weak reading list. Here’s an alternative one:


Man and Woman in Christ by Stephen Clark (this is the definitive work)

Men and Women in Christian Perspective by Werner Neuer

The Story of Sex in Scripture by William Mouser

Undefiled by Schaumberg


Daddy Tried by Tim Bayly

Future Men by Doug Wilson

When Fathers Rule by Steven Osment

A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality by Nicolosi


Reforming Marriage by Doug Wilson

The Federal Husband by Doug Wilson

Man of the House by Chris Wiley

The Puritan Family by Edmund Morgan

Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat (There was something I hated in this book but I forget what it is)

Sex & Culture

Degenerate Moderns by E. Michael Jones

The Church Impotent by Leon Podles

Why Men Rule by Steven Goldberg

The Grace of Shame by Bayly, Bayly, von Hagen

(b3k) #15

Eye-roll inducers on the site:

  1. Claims to have been a man for 52 years. Based on his photo, I think he means he was born male and he’s not big into precision about what manhood is.
  2. The book recommendation section titled “The Christian Warrior” is four books about not using porn, rather than echoing David who says, “Blessed be the LORD my rock who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.”
  3. He’s changed pastorate an average of every 8 years in his career. It comes across as ladder-climbing.
  4. Most recent blog post pushes the line that the wife’s “beauty is the test by which I know how I am doing as a husband”.

It looks like more “Washington Generals” style opposition to feminism.

(Ken Lamb) #16

Yeah that reading list is troubling.

I think you might be right…someone is trying to cash in on a growing issue within the church, but the answer is more likely to start with “Did God really say…”