Sunday, February 13, 2005

"Biblical Masculinity"

Tonight on the way back from Denison I was listening to the radio. I had intended to come home and rant on here about the right winger I listened to who was saying Bush was justified in cutting funding for Amtrak because government shouldn't be in the business of subsidizing transportation. Now, I don't know enough about the history/uses of Amtrak to say whether it was a legitimate cut or not. But, it's like, dude, come on. Think about the highway system, think about the billion-dollar bailouts given to the airline industry. We certainly subsidize transportation in this country, and that is a Good Thing.

And, no doubt, I would have gone on and on and on about this (and other ridiculous, living-in-some-alternate-reality stuff that he was saying (like, Europeans killing off Native Americans wasn't so bad because Native Americans had wars and were killing themselves off anyway... dude!)). But, I found something marginally more interesting and certainly more enraging.

Before I go on, I am putting this disclaimer here: I have never read anything by John Eldredge and my only exposure to his work was tonight on NPR and the page for his book, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul.

So, the topic on Religion Talk tonight was "Are Christian Men Wimps?" John Eldredge came on to talk. His opinion was that, yes, indeed they are. We have "feminized" the church and taught men to become "really nice, sensitive guys" rather than the men (who are wild at heart) that God created them to be. Now, he starts off by quoting Proverbs 20:5, saying that it says "The heart of a man is like deep water..." Well, having a Bible there in the car (by this point I had already arrived back at my apartment and was just sitting out there listening to this story cause it was interesting), I decided to look it up and see its context.

The problem is that... oops... Eldredge totally 1) cut off the sentence it was in and 2) changed the meaning of the phrase!! Here's what it really says (according to the KJV I had in my car... weird translation to randomly have, but it was one of those little bitty ones that found its way in there somehow): "Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep water." Umm. Not quite the same thing, Mr. Eldredge. Yet he says his entire book is premised off this verse. Makes me question the entire premise of his book, really.. :-)

But, this thinking has just now set me off on a tangent. Let's assume for one moment that Eldredge had actually not taken the quote out of context. "The heart of a man is like deep water." Are we to believe that this only applied to men, rather than to men and women? How did we decide this? Is every reference to "man" or "men" in the Bible solely meant to be for/refer to men? I can't think of a single person who would actually contend this. So, yeah, even if he weren't blatantly ripping off this verse to make his own point, it would still be suspect. How can we know that the author of this saying wasn't referring to "man" in the general, everybody, sexist way?

I also have issues with his rendering of the story told in Genesis for its gender implications. He talks about how man was formed before Eden (the super-cool, paradise-like place God gave humans before the Fall) and thus he has always had this longing in his heart for more. He was born in the "outback," (aka creation before it was "tamed"). Eve, the woman, however, had only known domesticated Eden, and thus lacked this innate desire for adventure and danger. I don't know whether he is viewing the creation story literally or metaphorically (he may say in the book, but he didn't in the interview), but his implications are troubling. Some people may have other, theological issues with him. He seemed to be suggesting that man (the gender-specific term) was better off (and in a more suitable environment) before God gave him Eden to live in. Only when man sinned (non gender specific) was he (again, meaning he and she) kicked out of this place that repressed his (now meaning just male) inner desires and put in the world, where he could fulfill his longings and desires.

Any theologians out there have opinions on this? Anyone read Eldredge? Did he just get way off in the interview, or does he believe this, and is this acceptable from a mainstream Christian POV?

He talks about God as "dangerous" and "wild," as men should be. He says that God took a "risk" in creating Adam and Eve, not knowing if they would obey or not. So, umm, God didn't know what was going to happen? God was surprised when man (non gender specific) sinned? Again, going back to what I believe to be mainstream Christian doctrine, I don't think many would say that God takes risks, because the very essence of risk is not knowing what's coming next and taking a gamble on it. But, the thing is, God (in the Christian worldview) is omniscient and omnipresent. Adam didn't shock or surprise God. This "dangerous" side of men that Eldredge wants to cultivate, this risk taking side, may be a very good thing, but, is it really godly (in the sense that it is god-like)?

I found Eldredge's numerous references to militarism very interesting, but will likely save that for another post about masculinity and militarism in general.

He made some interesting points about how we have "feminized" Jesus in the modern church. He didn't have anything much to say on that point, but I think it is a fascinating one. Certainly, people of all periods in time have constructed "Jesus" to their liking. I am not using quotation marks here to deny the existance of a historical Jesus but to point out that our view of his personality is deeply shaped by our culture. During the early 20th century, when America was having a bit of a masculinity crisis (not unlike now), we saw a tough, macho Jesus (similar to the one Eldredge wishes to present). At other times we see the suffering saint, sometimes it's the lover of children, sometimes it's the godlike, righteous man. Jesus, in some eras, takes on a "feminine" persona, and in others is given very masculine characteristics (we focus on his confrontations with demons, his turning over the temple tables, etc). I find this fascinating. I want to study (and I've been saying this for a while, so who knows when I'll get to it) representations of Jesus, and the divine in general, over time to see how different periods portray him. Any thoughts on this social construction of how we think about/relate to Jesus?

Now, on to my most broad point of argument with Eldredge. He talks about how men (gender-specific) are supposed to be like God and Jesus. Well, sure. No Christians would disagree. But, aren't women supposed to be like them as well? I mean, come on, it's not like God is a man after all. S/He has no gender!! I won't debate Jesus's biological male-ness, but that's sort of irrelevant to my point. Wouldn't Christians all say that Jesus is the role model for... all Christians (gender-inclusive)? Or should women take the long-suffering, patient parts of his personality and men take the table-turning, adventurous parts? Again, I can't think of a single Christian that would really contend this.

So, here is my overall challenge, to anyone who cares, Christian or not, theologian or not: What is Biblical masculinity? Don't give me some weak answer about imitating God/Jesus. Shouldn't everyone do that? Don't talk about "examples" of Biblical masculinity in abstract terms. Give me concrete, specific people and what they did that exemplifies how men (and, importantly, not women) should act. Better yet--give me adjectives: strong, adventurous, outdoors-y. But don't just give me adjectives. Tell me why you think what you think. How is "Biblical Masculinity" different from "Biblical Femininity"?

Or tell my why my question is silly/flawed.


Anonymous said...

Hi, good question. I need to find an answer before Saturday, as I am speaking on the topic!
In short, where I'm at on the issue today: bibilical masculinity should be like Jesus - an apparent contradiction - a juxtaposition of leadership and servanthood.
On a practical level I see:
wives who increasingly look to pathetic husbands for leadership but will never get it from them.
Children who need leadership and guidance from fathers who have abandoned the idea.
Christian men who are soft, fat and boring.
Whilst I resonate with some of Eldridge's call to adventurous living etc, I think he like other mass produced off the shelf spirituality best sellers uses Scripture as a coathanger or in carefully cropped soundbites.
Will get back to you on any more wisdom.
Adventurous, rugged, Christian man Down Under..

steve said...

I enjoyed reading this. I am currently pursuing a personal study on masculinity because, like you, I feel like we have it all mixed up. One thing that I have to remind myself is that God has created us in His Likeness, meaning that God has feminine and masculine attributes but God is neither male or female. This is important when viewing marriage because marriage gives a picture of the make up of God.
Furthermore, God made us different, (duh!) not just physically but we think and respond differently. God tells us to, as men, to lead, to initiate and to love our wives as Christ loves the church (Jesus died for the church, we men need to love our wives as to die for/to them...) (verse references lacking). There are instructions for the women but I will not delve here.
The man is responsible for the woman, eve was given to the man. Man has done horrible things to women and continues to do so. Men have and continue to be lazy and selfish and dominating. Woman's response to that is to take the reigns so to speak. Honestly I don't blame them. We as men need to get our act together. This doesn't mean we have to go shoot things and drink/fart/cuss/destroy, etc... we need to understand that God made us pursue our nature but understand that there is a "femininity" for manhood that we are missing (men as a whole). In other words its ok to enjoy art, to pursue things that are good, to say things like love, beautiful, and yes even cute on occasion.

Example: David. He loved, he wept, he fought, he had a huge army of mighty men. He pursued all of these things and no-one will call him feminine. Well, maybe they will but the point is David understood what God desired and God called David a man after His own heart.
So, Men be like David, if you can then good! Go and be like Christ. If not, then work to be like David.

Extra advice. If men where to pursue Godly male relationships there would be better support and maybe a better ability to be Biblical as men. But no, men are prideful and pride says that if you have any male relationships then that is weird, and thus that is a lie of the world.

Thanks for the blog. its interesting that a search on "biblical masculinity brings up so few hits on the web.


Steve C.

j05he said...


This is true masculinity.