"American pop culture keeps producing endless variations on the omega male, who ranks even below the beta in the wolf pack. This often-unemployed, romantically challenged loser can show up as a perpetual adolescent (in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin), or a charmless misanthrope (in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg), or a happy couch potato (in a Bud Light commercial). He can be sweet, bitter, nostalgic, or cynical, but he cannot figure out how to be a man. “We call each other ‘man,’” says Ben Stiller’s character in Greenberg, “but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people.”
Searching for Manhood
Inside the church (as well as in our culture at large) there is a fascination with helping men figure out how to be men. For the past generation, men’s ministry has been in search of authentic Christian manhood. Whether it’s Promise Keeper men, John Eldredge and Wild at Heart men, or Mark Driscoll and his ‘fight club Christianity’ men, prominent voices are proclaiming what real manhood looks like. All of these approaches have commendable aspects. But I’m left wondering if each flavor of authentic Biblical manhood ends up missing something. In trying to generalize such a large category, it’s inevitable that certain men are dis-enfranchised.
What will help men be men isn’t yelling at them in an effort to sufficiently embarrass them towards authentic masculinity. What will help men is not a schedule high-risk adventure sports (hunting, rock-climbing, and the like). What will help men be men is not simply large emotional/spiritual gatherings in stadiums (simulating the emotional experience of a sporting event). There’s a place for each of those options, but for men to truly be men something else (really, someone else) is necessary.
Behold the Man
Biblical manhood must come from Jesus. And not simply single scenes from Jesus’ life that make for convenient caricature. (Yes, Jesus flips over tables in the temple. That doesn’t make him a Chuck Norris action figure. Yes, Jesus goes sailing with his friends into the teeth of a ‘perfect storm’. That doesn’t make him an ancient day Steve Fosset.) Biblical manhood defined by Jesus must flow from his climactic and defining work: the laying down of his life in service to God and others.
When Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Jerusalem, presented the scourged Jesus just hours before his death on a cross that would save humanity and satisfy divine judgment, he said simply, ‘Behold the man!’ Whether he knew it or not, Pilate was announcing, ‘Here’s the One. Here is the true man, who embodies real manhood in his sacrificial death.”
In this way, Jesus is the true man (really the true human being). He embodies perfectly what the first man (Adam) was supposed to be. Through perfect faithfulness to God and unsparing benevolence to his fellow man, Jesus demonstrates how to be a man (how to be the man). Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus explains the preeminence of his work: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”
Men Ought to Serve
If Jesus is the example par excellence of authentic manhood, particularly in laying his life down for his friends, then Christian men ought to serve. They ought to serve God and serve other people. In so doing they will be like Jesus. They will be like the true man. They will truly be men themselves.
Remarkably, as men serve God and others, as they lay down their lives for their friends (and for strangers), as they begin to live in a cosmic drama that is bigger than self, they will discover high-risk adventure, they will experience a full-range of emotions. In short, they will begin to embody authentic masculinity in their marriages, with their families, in their work, in their cities.