1. A Frightful Problem
Voices scream at us on every side that we are in the midst of a crisis over what it means to be a man.
In a Perth based article called, “What’s wrong with Boys” (The Weekend Australian Magazine 8-9/4/2006 pp.16-20) the author compiles a list of academic subjects where girls are consistently outperforming boys. In addition, when it comes to ADHD medication, boys outnumber girls 5 to 1. The worry is that education has become deeply feminised and boys are alienated. The conclusion “The real challenge may not be how to raise boys’ literacy standards or leaving scores, but to re-imagine masculinity itself.”
In an article titled “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MASCULINITY?” (Pastor Chuck Baldwin http://www.newswithviews.com/baldwin/baldwin279.htm January 26, 2006) concludes pessimistically,
“However, one thing is clear: true masculinity is fast disappearing from the American landscape, and as it vanishes, so does one of the significant attributes that helped build this nation. There is yet one more uncertainty: how long can America survive without it?” Baldwin appeals to plenty role models from the past, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, but has no positive strategy encounter the crisis he appals in secular and Christian America.
Popular Australian author, Col Stringer is even more forceful his book, Rediscovering Manhood,
“Unfortunately, as I have already stated, we just don’t appear to be dealing effectively with the problem of the current ‘masculine meltdown’, or certainly not in any adequate way.
Now if you know anything at all about horses you know that stallions are a lot harder to handle than mares or geldings. Few people will be bothered with stallions; they’re bigger, stronger, much more stubborn, aggressive and usually not willing to submit. They have a mind of their own and are not easily broken or tamed. But there is an answer to the problem— just castrate them! Turn the horse into a gelding and almost instantly they are subdued and docile. The only problem is that geldings don’t produce life! Only stallions can produce life!… if you want some life in the nation, the Church, the home and family then you need a man— not a gelding! And so at the risk of offending some people, may I state— there’s no shortage of geldings in the church!”
Stringer’s solution, “to every red-blooded man I challenge you to be like the eagle and spread your wings, ride that horse, (or motor bike), climb that mountain, hunt that buffalo, raft that river, bungy jump off that mountain, dive that ocean, catch that great white shark, hike the Kokoda Track, visit Gallipoli. Whatever it takes to fire you up— do it, take the plunge and rediscover your manhood! Even if you have to do it afraid (my emphasis), be a real man and just do it!”
At a more grass roots level, I was recently surprised to hear a young female Bible College student assert quite strongly that the majority of the young men she knew in church were “wimps”. This confirmed my counselling experience that many Christian husbands are deeply fearful of their wives, and they allow this to control their behaviour.
The explanations for this suggested crisis in masculinity are varied: the influence of political correctness, the lack of male role models in primary schools, the homosexual lobby, Hollywood films etc. Even if there is some legitimacy to these views, they need a broader perspective and a firmer spiritual foundation.
2. Warring Women
I have long puzzled over the reality that most “spiritual warfare” in the church, particularly in the arena of passionate intercession, is led and practised by women. There is surely something imbalanced in the image of the front line warriors in fighting evil powers being predominantly female (Eph 6:10-18). Women are surely doing the bulk of the “hard labour” in the church.
We may explain this as the result of a genetic blueprint to bear pain in childbirth (Gen 3:16) or a cultural disposition for them to be carers and vicariously concerned for others, but it is not the picture we receive from the New Testament. It is the truly male Paul who says, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19). It needs to be asked whether some women are striving to be more masculine because many men are failing to fulfil their spiritual responsibilities in home and church.
There is so little prophetic concern about the crisis in masculinity in the church because the situation is masked by the dominance of false forms of male leadership.
3. The False Masculine
The “false masculine” refers to the dominant image of masculine power in our culture— activist, external, controlling, oriented to achievement, status, success. The bushman/ drover/ pioneer-explorer/ sportsman/ life-saver is an icon for the false masculine.
Even if there are many “wimps” in the congregation, the “false masculine” leads the congregation in the church with an obsession on external achievements. It is a typically masculine way of thinking to operate by the rule, “The one with the biggest knows how to do it the best.” Male obsession with size and conquests is projected onto the realm of church influence. Maximum esteem is accorded to the pastor with the largest church and most successful story, even when we know almost nothing about his interior life— his struggles, prayers, repentances, failures, fears etc.
There is no lack of this sort of “strong” male leadership in the growing churches of the nation, but this is not the deepest image of masculinity we see in Jesus.
4. Jesus and the Courage to Fear
No one has ever suggested that Jesus was a “wimpish” man. His dealings with evil men and demons, but supremely his passion, proves otherwise.
Yet Jesus is completely unafraid to speak of his inner life, “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29). The writers of the Gospels unapologetically tell us, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), and to record his painful words, ““My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”” (Matt 26:38).
It is the crisis of the cross that perfects Jesus humanity (Heb 2:10; 5:9), and so must reveal to us the deepest truth of his masculinity. As we move into the mystery of the passion Jesus’ fear becomes increasingly tangible.
In Gethsemane we hear him praying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 1 4:36).
According to the author of Hebrews, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his godly fear.” (Heb 5:7) Luther says of Gethsemane, “No man ever feared like this man.”
Jesus’ words from the cross are even more compelling, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). This is nothing less than an expression of sheer terror. These words are equally removed from passivity and bravado; they image an initiative to appeal to God in the midst of the most extreme distress.
Since a man prays from his heart (Matt 12:34) we are led to a vital conclusion, the ability to express fear to the Father is the essence of true masculinity. It is what Adam never did and what most male leaders in the world and the church are not doing today. Almost everywhere, presidents, prime ministers and pastors project self-confidence. This is exactly what we do not need— – it is not the spirit of Jesus.
5. A New Masculinity, A New Authority
Accordingly to the New Testament, the old covenant’s greatest figure, Moses, is a man who trembles (Acts 7:32; Heb 12:21). Strange to us, but not to the Spirit, Mark’s good news, ends like this, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8).
Paul too was a man of fear, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent,”” (Acts 18:9). Literally, Jesus says to the great apostle, “Do not be afraid any longer”. Paul’s frightened state is not hidden by the sacred text, for after all, “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9) and surely there is nothing weaker in human experience than fear.
God is calling forth a new form of authority— in prayer, in preaching, in persuasive speech of all sorts, in tears and trembling, it is a form of authority that corresponds to the heart of the Father for man and to the compassion of Christ. It is relationally powerful because it replaces dishonest power of triumphalism with the honest powerlessness of the cross (Richard Rohr).
It is a form of authority that begins from the bottom, from the poor, marginalised, abused and broken who are unashamed to articulate their fears before the Father. It is a counter-cultural form of masculinity that will prove to immensely attractive to all those whose human father wound has never been healed and who have never felt the touch of the Father’s hand because they have never had a revelation of the courage to fear before him. This courage to fear the Father is the mystery of the cross and the unveiling of what it means to be the sons of God.
God is raising up a new generation of spiritual fathers who by their manifest fear before him (and not man) concerning the state of self, church and world “will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6).