One of the newer movements within Christian circles, especially within the past five years or so, is the drive for men to become "real men." American culture has been feminized, and the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ, is no exception. Things are geared more toward women, women are given more leadership opportunities and reasons to get involved in things like Church, more is expected of women, women are empowered. In cultural media, such as film, men are potrayed as irresponsible, bumbling, passive oafs who couldn't do anything right without a woman around. And when we look at statistics, those caricatures aren't sadly that far off the mark. Men are not taking leadership in their homes. They are passive, focusing more on stupidity, acting like grown up boys.
Feel bad yet, men? So, the ministry of many, especially younger-generation pastors, has been to focus on promoting "real men" masculinity that is based in God's Word. One of my favorite preachers, Mark Driscoll, is a perfect example of this.
A big problem is that many of us see the problem, agree with it, latch on to people who preach against it, usually because we already like their overall message, but don't stop to use some discernment. I've done that quite a bit, especially with this. There have been times I have been gung-ho about "real men" theology. That lasted only long enough for me to realize my failures. Then there was just shame and embarassment. Why?
The whole "real men" theology movement has to be extremely careful of something: subverting or dodging the Gospel. It is a bit ironic that some of these preachers are the most Gospel-centered, Christ-preaching people I know of today, but when it comes to "real men" theology, we have to use discernment and be careful about the following things (at least!).
1) Standards that are Non-Biblical or Extra-Biblical. If we want to say that "real men" don't cheat on their wives, then fine. But when we start talking about how "real men" cry at these things are not at those other things, what is that all about? If you mean that "real men" care more about their family than their favorite sports team, then say that. That leads us to the next issue.
2) The Presence of "Religion" or Legalism. Mark Driscoll himself clearly described religion as involving the idea that the world is divided into two groups -good people and bad people- with a defined list delineating who falls into which group. The goal of the religious person is to make sure, through their own "good works" and concealment of their flaws, that they belong in the "good group", thus leading them to snear down at those bad people who belong in the bad people group. The danger of "real men" theology, aside from the fact that there may be unbiblical standards invovled, is that it gives you the impression that you are either in the good group or the bad group.
I was reminded of this recently on Facebook. Driscoll made a comment about how "real men" cry when their daughter dies. I agree. Just thinking about it made me cry. But I noticed something else going on. As soon as I read that, the first thing I did was check my response, my behavior, to see which group I fell into. I was pleased and relieved to see that, at least this time, I am considered a "real man."
Hmmm... Again, I believe it was Driscoll who pointedly remarked that, with the truth of the Gospel, all of us fall into the "bad group" except for One, Jesus Christ, who died to save us. That brings me to the next item.
3) "Salvation" by Works. And what is the solution if you find out that you are not a "real man?" How can you be saved from the hell of not being a "real man?" Are you pointed to Jesus? In my experience, not always. Much of the time you are left just feeling bad. You are left with the impression: if I want to become a real man, I need to change who I am, I need to do these things, or I should be ashamed of myself. In other words, the way you find yourself in the good people group (and there are apparently people who achieve such status) and not the bad people group is through lifestyle change and behavior modification. Yes, there is often, "turn and follow Jesus," and I will certainly agree that repentance is needed for many, many things. But still, when you go beyong the reality that we are all sinners who need to be saved from hell and you start pushing the idea of a man being either a "real man" or not a real man, as though one is heaven and the other is hell, and the way to "heaven" is through self-improvement, then that is very, very dangerous.
Overall, I agree with a lot of the "real men" theology. But we need to be extremely careful because many times it does border on religion. It is easy to become "fanatical" about it, because our flesh loves things like that. Our flesh loves religion. We love opportunities to put ourselves in the good people group through getting on board with a trend or shaping ourselves up. If we can just use a little more braun in the household, read the right books about manhood, and make sure we start being more pro-active in Church, then we can happily feel as though we are on the path to real manhood. We are no longer one of those losers.
See, that is the problem. We are all losers... which is to say, "sinners." We need to not only repent of our "sins" but also our self-righteousness: Jesus died for both. We need to trust Him to save us from both. The goal is to live a life of gratitude and hope, which leads us to do things out of love. When the goal becomes behavior modification to feel pridefully good and avoid the shame of not being part of the "acceptable group", then we have strayed from the Gospel.