Play the Man
by Kevin DeYoung
Some of you have probably been following Effemigate—the latest controversy to follow Seattle Pastor Mark Driscoll. The timeline looks like this: a couple weeks ago Driscoll posted something on Facebook about effeminate worship leaders. Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans called Driscoll a bully. Over at the World blog, Anthony Bradley criticized Evans’ comments as libel. Even Brian McLaren added his two cents with a predictable morality tale about two kinds of “evangelicals.” In a subsequent post Driscoll called his Facebook line “a flippant comment.” He reports that his executive elders sat him down and challenged him “to do better by hitting real issues with real content in a real context.” This is wise counsel. Driscoll’s Facebook comment was bound to create more heat than light. It was an unwise way to talk about a serious issue.
I don’t need to say anything more about the controversy itself. Like most web-storms, this one will blow over quickly. But the issues under the issue (as Driscoll puts it) are important and worth considering.
To that end, let me suggest three general principles that should guide our discussion of biblical manhood.
1. We must be aware which way the cultural winds are blowing. The reason for this awareness is not to go adrift with the culture, but to understand the times. In most American cities—especially cool cities like Seattle or Austin or New York—the ideas of male headship and female submission, or even gender distinctions in general, are strange, if not outright offensive. It’s safe to say the default position in America is not the biblical view of men and women. So wise faithful pastors should not be closet complementarians—who believe and do the right things when push comes to shove—but candid complementarians. If we don’t address these issues head on the world will press thousands of Christians into its mold.
Of course, the flip side of this cultural awareness should be a real desire for winsome, well-seasoned speech. If the cultural winds are blowing against us, hoisting our sails to catch the breeze is wrong. But this doesn’t mean spitting into the wind is a good idea. There are occasions for provocation, but careful, patient, forthright instruction will usually gain the best hearing.
2. We need to be careful we don’t equate our preferred type of masculinity with biblical manhood. I know conservatives want to push back the tide of feminism and fight against the emasculation of men in our culture, but offering stereotypes is not the way to do it. It’s not fair to say, without qualification, that “Real men hunt and fish. Real men like football. Real men watch ultimate fighting. Real men love Braveheart. Real men change the oil and chop firewood.” It’s one thing for pastors to give men permission to be like this. It’s another to prescribe that they must. You simply can’t prove from the Bible that manliness must look like William Wallace. If you insist on one way to be a man, you’re in danger of two things: 1) Hurting godly men who are manly but don’t do things with sports, cars, or the outdoors. 2) Making your particular expression manhood the standard for everyone else. And when complementarians overreach with their definition of manhood they play into the hands of those who say there is no definition of manhood at all.
On the other hand, a different set of Christians needs to be careful they don’t make Jesus—as the quintessential man—into a progressive beatnik. Some Christians reject the stereotype in the previous paragraph, only to replace it with another. So Jesus—and therefore, every real man—hates all violence, protests social inequality, and probably painted with watercolors. Not only does this ignore Jesus the avenger (Revelation 6 and 19) or Jesus the friend of rich people (Zacchaeus), it flattens the biblical narrative into another predictably anachronistic tale of how Jesus was a man exactly like me. So yes, Ted Nugent is not the only way to be a man. But that doesn’t mean Sting is the alternative.
3. Most importantly, Christians must affirm and teach and model that men and women are different—biologically, emotionally, relationally. There are a lot of passages I could turn to make this point, but I’ll limit myself to 1 Corinthians. Here we see that the husband is the head of his wife (1 Cor. 11:3). We see men have a teaching role in the church that women do not have (14:34). We even see Paul use the phrase “act like men” as a synonym for courage (16:13; cf. 1 Kings 2:2). Gender differences are real and they matter. Little boys need to know what it means to be a man and not a woman. Little girls need to know what it means to be a woman and not a man. Gender identity and gender roles cannot be reversed without doing harm to God’s good design for the sexes.
Which brings us to the point Driscoll was trying to make: Men are not women, and when men seem like women it is off-putting and unnatural. Here’s where things get dicey. I think the hyper-masculine stereotypes are wrong and unhelpful. And yet…and yet, they are trying—albeit in a clumsy way—to recover something crucial. When Paul says that nature itself teaches that long hair is a disgrace to men (11:14), I don’t think he’s making a universal statement about follicles. But he is making a universal statement about gender. The particulars of the exegesis can be challenging, but essentially Paul is making two points: 1) it isn’t right for men to be like women, and 2) how this plays out is somewhat determined by the culture. It was a girly thing to grow out your hair, so Paul rightly tells the men not to do it.
How does this apply in our day? That’s hard to say. Hopefully we could all agree with some obvious examples. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears a dress is it a disgrace for him?” “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man puts on lipstick it is a disgrace for him?” But what else can we say as Christians? Can real men enjoy musical theater and ballet and fine clothing? Surely they can and do. But on the other hand, if you met a guy who told you his favorite thing in the whole world was shopping for shoes, his favorite show was Say Yes to the Dress, and he got most of his news from The View, you’d be right to be concerned.
I don’t know how and where to draw every line, but 1 Corinthians 11:14 has to meansomething in our day. I know the questions are out there, like whether your average dude can wax his chest or whether he should do most of the driving on the family vacation. I’m not addressing all the nitty-gritty problems of application. But before we get to those we need to see the general principle: the Bible teaches that men can be effeminate and that they shouldn’t.
Driscoll’s mistake was not in taking the problem of effeminate men too seriously, but in making a flippant comment about something he knows to be a serious problem. In a day when certain men—from pirates to figure skaters to stand up comedians—wear eyeliner, and the typical sitcom dad is a henpecked oaf, we are overdue for some hard conversations about what manhood is supposed to look like. The Bible doesn’t give us every specific we might want when it comes to defining masculinity. But it does start by telling us—and this is essential and by no means obvious to the world around us–that it’s disgraceful for men to be women. Not because there’s anything wrong with acting womanly of course. Praise God, women do it all the time. What’s wrong is when men think it’s no big deal for them to do it too.