America’s Manhood Crisis - and Our Gospel Hope
We are naturally wired by God to want men to be strong. From the start, God called Adam to “keep” or protect Eden (Genesis 2:15). Many modern movies reflect this truth. There is almost no more common trope than that of the heroic, self-sacrificial man. A community or a family or a woman is menaced; in response, a man steps forward and puts his life on the line. Whether the classic “Shane” or the great “Gladiator” or more recent movies like “Top Gun: Maverick.” (This last film made a cool $1.5 billion at the box office. So much for the narrative about modern people not wanting to watch heroic manhood on screen!)
Today, however, this desire for masculine strength is powerfully challenged. As I spell out at length in my brand-new book “The War on Men,” our culture trains us all to read strong manhood as “toxic.” Here, for example, is what Brown University communicates on a page titled “Unlearning Toxic Masculinity:” “Rigid definitions of masculinity are toxic to men’s health.” In terms of what form that harmful rigidity might take, Brown suggested that “risk-taking behaviors and lack of willingness to seek help were among the reasons for negative health outcomes” experienced by men.
Our Great Need for Manly Strength
Such indoctrination is common today. A British website, Aurora, offers the following as proof of “toxic masculinity:” not “displaying emotion;” not being a “feminist ally;” and again, “risk-taking.” In response, we can surely note that men do sometimes form unrealistic expectations of themselves. Further, men really do need training to make good decisions. Men also need to hear that it is good to get wisdom and seek help, not bad. Too many men live in confusion and pain, and never reach out to anyone. Many fear that if they admit weakness, they will be ruined, and exposed as a fraud.
But we must say this as well: masculine strength is not supposed to be read as a problem. By the grace of God, masculine strength is necessary. It is grounded in the knowledge that we are weak, and God is strong. We think of what king David said to his son Solomon as David lay dying: “Be strong, and show yourself a man,” (1 Kings 2:2). So too do we hear Yahweh to Joshua as Joshua prepared to take the promised land: “Be strong and courageous,” (Joshua 1:9). In the New Testament, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “Act like men” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
The Bible does not teach that manly strength should be erased. Instead, the Bible teaches that manly strength should be redeemed, channeled, and disciplined. In humility and the weakness of creaturehood, men should call on God to make them strong. They should do so not to lord their strength over women and children. They should do so in order to love and protect and bless women and children. This is how Christ himself modeled manhood for husbands (Ephesians 5:22-33). This model has not disappeared; it summons men today to be strong in a godly way, and to be a man for others.
In Tragedy, Two Competing Visions of Manhood
We recently witnessed an epochal display of the two competing visions of manhood in our culture. In late May 2022, a shooter named Salvador Ramos opened fire in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Defying common sense and sanity itself, the local police department ordered its officers to wait outside the building while he gunned down 19 children and two adults. It sounds like a lie, but it is the truth: grown men bearing deadly weapons, who had been trained for combat situations, instead stood outside the school for nearly an hour while massive loss of life took place inside.
The failure and cowardice on display here boggled the mind. Instead of principled action, passive dithering carried the day. All of this came at the cost of many lives. Yet even in this debacle, we saw a ray of hope. One man, Jacob Albarado, refused to stand still. After receiving a distress call from his wife — a teacher at the school — Albarado, an off-duty Border Patrol agent, grabbed a powerful gun and raced over immediately. Against orders, he entered it with a few associates and began ushering children and staff members to safety. His action displayed the enduring presence of courage in this compromised situation. But mark this: Albarado had to defy the orders of his superiors in order to do what was right.
In the aftermath of this horrifying event, it was glaringly apparent that Uvalde’s police department had acted in inexcusable weakness. What was left unsaid, though, was that such inaction and weakness fits perfectly the new paradigm on manhood. If, as Brown University and other outlets have declared, it is bad for men to take risks, then we should not be shocked when they don’t. The new gender ideology deconstructs manhood, penalizes men for courage, and in so doing makes the world a much more dangerous place than it already is.
Men Shaped by the Gospel
What we need today is a rejection of this ideology. We do not need men to lord themselves over women. We do not want men to see themselves as the competitors of women who need to win some silly contest over women. We need a profound recovery of biblical manhood, and thus of masculine strength. We need men to honor women (and all their God-given gifts, abilities, and strengths) and protect women. But this requires a culture in which manly strength is not toxified and marginalized, but welcomed and celebrated.
The path men travel to be strong as a man makes all the difference as well. Biblical manhood is not puffed-up manhood. Biblical manhood is manhood shaped by the gospel that renders a man tough and tender in the mold of Jesus Christ. The gospel creates men who stand down evil without blinking on the one hand and men who tenderly comfort a child scared of the dark on the other. The gospel makes men kind, self-controlled, compassionate, fearless, gentle, and convictional (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7, for example). This, in the final analysis, is the manhood we most need.
Heroic manhood in films is great, but we need men shaped by the true man, Jesus Christ.
This essay is adapted with permission from his new book “The War on Men: Why Society Hates Them and Why We Need Them.”
Owen Strachan is Senior Fellow for FRC's Center for Biblical Worldview.