A Blueprint for Manhood in a World That No Longer Provides One

I’ve wanted to write this blog series (and another on womanhood) for a good long while but haven’t found the time. I’ll do this over a couple of days in order to adequately cover the subject on an introductory level (note that tomorrow I’ll talk more about men called to singleness or who struggle to find a wife). I intend it not to be a jeremiad, a scorching screed, but a little help to those who are trying to figure out a general plan for manhood in the current day. My former boss, Dr. Al Mohler, is going to be writing a very significant book on this subject, by the way. Until then, though, here’s a little stab at this subject.

In the past, manhood has been defined by certain events and experiences. These signposts were arbitrarily defined, of course, by certain cultures and people, but that does not obscure the fact that they signified a general cultural belief in a transition from boyhood into manhood. In the Bible, we find no once-for-all blueprint for manhood, though certain texts like the book of Proverbs certainly provide bountiful insights on the difference between a boy and a man. Interestingly, these differences come down to not physicality or personality (though these things may factor in at some points for most boys), but to character, specifically, spiritually derived character. If a boy is to become a man in the mindset of the authors of the Proverbs, he must learn and then practice the morals and principles of the Scriptures from a posture of submission and worship of the Lord.

That is an excellent starting point, and it would help dads and moms (and single moms attempting to raise sons) to spend some time in Proverbs. With that said, I want to offer not so much a theological blueprint, but a social one. I think that you’ll get sound theological guidance in books like Dr. Mohler’s (and Mark Chanski’s Manly Dominion and Douglas Wilson’s Future Men), and thus I won’t waste your time or mine trying to do on an amateur level what those men have already done on an expert level. That’s one of my pet peeves–when I go expectantly into a sermon, book, or lecture on a topic that I understand theologically but not practically, hoping to hear good, sound wisdom and practical advice, and instead hear a lengthy “theology of whatever” and almost no functional direction. That sort of thing absolutely abounds in our reformed-evangelical world. I am of course very thankful for such demonstrable attention to good theology, and that attention is of course essential, but it seems to me like many of us could waste a lot less time, both on our part and others, by highlighting good theological resources on a topic, laying out a brief and helpful theological approach to our given subject, and then getting to the nuts and bolts of that matter. That’s where most Christians live–the nuts and bolts. It’s essential to theologically educate–don’t mishear me here, I’m doing a PhD in theology–but it’s equally essentially to teach the practical significance of theology, and very few people in our circles seem to know this.

Tangent concluded. Here, then, is a humble little blueprint for the development and realization of evangelical manhood in our homes. I’m going to go fast, I’m not going to give a ton of Bible verses, and I’m going to try to just give you a quick snapshot, a starting point, by which to think about this important subject.

Boyhood (0-12 years, admittedly an artificial period): In this period, dads should train sons to be responsible. Dads should model for their boys how to be the fiscal provider, the spiritual leader, and the physical protector and agent of the family. Boys in this period don’t have a ton of responsibilities other than to learn, obey their parents, live in a respectful way, and generally grow up. Boys should be learning in these years that sports are not penultimate, entertainment is not the substance of life, women must be reverenced and cared for, responsibility is a blessing and not a curse, leadership is a way of life and not a title one possesses, and most importantly, that Jesus is the Lord and Savior who all must bow before, worship, and love.

Fathers should take care to, in simple terms, give their sons a sense of the cosmic significance of manhood. “Son, God has made you to be a dominion-taker. The devil doesn’t want you to be, but God wants you to use all of your strength and abilities to be a force of goodness and righteousness in this world. You’re not going to be encouraged to be this way by television shows and friends on the playground, but this is the way your Dad tries to live his life, and this is the way Jesus Christ, the King of this whole world, wants you to live this life. Dad’s going to sin and mess up as he follows Jesus, but Jesus has forgiven him, and now Jesus is helping him to follow His example in living as a man who blesses other people and teaches them by his words and deeds to trust in Jesus Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.” Actual speeches will vary, but this sort of thing, repeated and lived out on a regular basis, will greatly assist in the production of righteous sons in a fallen world.

Adolescence (12-18 years, artificial once more): Here fathers are working with meticulous, sustained attention to model a vibrant Christian life for their sons that points their boys away from the tempting things of the world and toward the goodness of the person of Jesus Christ. This is a tough stage, as we all know. The world pulls strong at young men, and I would wonder if this particular era is not especially tough for would-be Christian young men. The sheer amount of tempting media available and thrown at young men boggles the mind. It is essential that dads stay close to their sons in this period and give them regular guidance about this and other matters. It’s important that dads help sons to focus on their strengths and gifts, as the high school years tend to be toughest for all but the best jocks and most popular kids (and even those kids have their demons). If the Lord has given a boy the gift of music, help him develop it. If he’s a great writer, develop that talent. If he loves the outdoors and working with his hands, dive in with him and do projects together. Stay close to your son.

Teach him that his gifts and abilities come directly from the Lord. Also, teach him to love his mother, even as other boys disrespect theirs. If he has siblings, train him not to beat them up and lord over them, or ignore them, but to care for them and be an example for them. Whenever you can, rebel against this culture’s low expectations (great phrase, Harris twins) and help your boy to actively use his strength and ability and gifting for the betterment of others. This, I would argue, is the preeminent goal of manhood: to see a boy become a man whose very life is devoted to the holistic betterment of others for the glory of God. As a parent trains a son, then, this should be the goal at every point. I would argue that today, this is the opposite of what many boys embody. They live for themselves, they could give a rip about the betterment of their siblings, they mistreat their mom, they care little for helping other people, and they mainly want to gratify their interests and desires. The present situation calls for Christians and parents to model and encourage a very different brand of manhood.

Manhood (18-22 or 24): In this phase of life, the boy becomes a man. He often will go to some form of college and learn a body of knowledge or a trade. In this season, the boy should know very clearly that he’s not released from his parents to play around and waste time and money. He is now a (mostly independent) agent for good in the world. He should train himself, under the Lordship of Christ, to live as a righteous man in the world, to help others, to be a Christian witness, and to use all of his gifts and abilities for God’s glory. He should be learning to provide for himself through jobs, and he should save substantial amounts of money whenever possible for the future. He should protect and not prey on women and should seek a wife when in this season he and his parents deem him ready for the sacred institution. As in his high school years, he should avoid much dating, though he should spend a great deal in mixed groups with light supervision, learning to interact well with the other sex, hold a conversation, treat a girl well in public, and that sort of thing. He should pursue purity with zeal and involve himself deeply in a local church, where he should serve in whatever capacity his gifts allow him. He should be a leader in his circle of friends and peers, though this form of leadership may be either vocal or more quiet depending on his constitution. He should train his body for protection and physical agency and should not slink back from hard physical work or taxing requirements. He should shoulder these with aplomb, especially in the presence of women, and should treat women in general with great care and courtesy.

He should get considerable guidance from parents and Christian leaders and others as to the suitability of a girl he likes, and when he finds a virtuous Christian girl who loves the Lord and desires to serve Him with her life, he should gently pursue her heart and in a sensitive, pure and tender spirit woo her as his potential bride. He should do so with all deference to her parents or guardians and should generally seek to treat her with holiness and grace, modeling the kind of shepherd-care he will give her in the state of matrimony. He should not at any time goof off with girls or play with their hearts by flirting with them and leading them on. He should only indicate interest when he is ready for potentially serious commitment, though he should often show considerable kindness to any number of girls with whom he is acquainted. Once he does indicate interest, he should not waste time or play with the heart of his companion, but should seek to purely and helpfully lead them to consider whether they are to be married. He should be extremely careful about physical touch and also emotional connection; though connection will of course have to be built, he must take care not to damage her in the event that things do not work out. Forms of intimate physicality such as kissing should be utterly foreign to the relationship and should only very haltingly commence once commitment is made (or the marriage is begun). The man is made for others, and he must care for the most significant “other” in his life with great concentration and passion.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about later manhood (22 or 25-on).

  • Ryan Hill

    Owen,

    As always, I love the post and appreciate your writing. I know this is an introduction to this topic and you wanted to give the “nuts and bolts” on it. I appreciate that and agree that we need to do more of that when preaching sermons. I also know the Bible doesn’t really give a “nuts and bolts” blueprint on Manhood to follow, so we have to do our best to take the general principles of the Bible and make them practical for our day.

    With all that said, what makes what you are saying any different from the arbitrarily defined events and experiences of manhood from the past? Some of what you are saying seems arbitrary as well (such as saving money, avoiding much dating, spending time with the opposite sex under light supervision)?

    To clarify, I don’t disagree with your advice at all, but I could just see someone arguing that what you’re saying could seem arbitrary.

  • Al

    Off to a good start, Owen. I have often wished I knew, and practiced this, as a teen and younger man. And while I taught some of this to my son, I could have been more thorough. That said, I don’t think you are being as arbitrary as you are mentioning and as Ryan is suggesting.

    My suggestion, take the ages out of your outline even more. For example, some boys will be, and more ought to be encouraged, to be doing work, learning skills, earlier, whether it be for fun, working in dad’s shop with him, or on the farm or with helping dad with projects.

    I belief that a good part of what you are suggesting does have good theological roots. And so, again, is hardly arbitrary.

    Al

  • Ryan Hill

    Owen,

    To clarify, I don’t think the general principles you suggest are arbitrary. Purity, hard work, protection of women, etc. are wonderful. By necessity, we then have to take these general principles and make concrete applications, which I think you did in a great and proper way.

    My frustration occurs when Christians take the specific applications of pastors/authors/church leaders and create a rule for holy living that appears to be on par with biblical commands. I guess my frustration isn’t so much with what you’re saying but with Christian leaders and other Christians who take “nuts and bolts” suggestions and convert them into the standard for holy living within their circles of influence. When that happens, it then seems to me like they are moving beyond the Bible’s principles/applicatins and making arbitrary and man-made rules the standard for proper Christian living.

    So, it isn’t really with your post that I have an issue, it is more with the above-mentioned practices which frustrate me.


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