According to Dr. Peter Kreeft, a renowned theologian, we may be confused.
How? In talking about the modern conception of gender and gender roles, Kreeft states: “Traditional expectations that men be men and women be women are confused because we no longer know what to expect men and women to be. Yet, though confused, the expectations remain.”
There exists a plethora of noise when it comes to gender, expectations of how gender should be incarnated and hypercriticism when anyone tries to address any topic related to gender. For us guys, a common phrase of criticism thrown out has been “toxic masculinity.” One sociologist uses the term to refer to expectations that “that boys and men must be active, aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant.”1
While any one of us can act in toxic ways, masculinity is not and will never be something that is inherently toxic. In fact, when actual masculinity is absent, then toxicity will likely increase. Maybe that is what the definition of “toxic masculinity” should be – the antithesis of actual masculinity.
That leads us to the obvious: What is masculinity? I would argue that four things are essential:
But before we dive into these four areas, there is one important caveat: every Christian (regardless of gender) needs to imitate Jesus Christ and strive to be transformed in the saint he wants us to be. For men striving to live authentic masculinity, these four areas need to be lived out beyond the standard that applies to every Christian.
When we open to the first book of the Bible, we read beautiful poetry that teaches us the truths of creation. In chapter 2 of Genesis, after God has shown Adam the Garden of Eden, he gives him the command to “till and keep.” The Hebrew word for “keep” is shamar. Another way to translate the word shamar is to “guard or protect.” (We can see it used similarly in Genesis 3:24: “he drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard (shamar) the way to the tree of life.”).
God asked Adam to guard and protect the beauty of his creation. We, as sons of Adam, also have that charge woven into our masculine selves. We, as men, must guard and protect that which is true, good and beautiful, so that we may respond to the greatest challenge – loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself (see Mt 22:37–38). What are you guarding and protecting?
Nowadays, we like to sit and do nothing, generally speaking. The allurement of the screen, comfort of the couch or the solace of a beach has the power to make us numb. While kicking back periodically can be a great thing, a constant state of inaction is tragic. Our Lord himself called us to be on the offensive: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” 2. Gates are designed to be a defensive tool. They keep people out. Jesus tell us that the defense of Hades can not hold back the Church.
Guys, that means we have to be moving and on the offensive – which is hard to do sitting down staring at a screen hours on end. What is good, true and beautiful that you can build up right now? How can we actively shape the culture to reflect the reality of God and the Gospel?
While we strive to take the offensive against the voices that seek to destroy God and all things that reflect him, we will get knocked down. Jesus fell three times on his way to Calvary. But he got up every time and accomplished the greatest task in history – the salvation of humankind.
Each of us can easily use excuses to get us out of getting back up, trying again or facing a hardship. But we shouldn’t. It is good for us to suffer for our growth and sanctification. It helps us become detached from our own will and hopefully more unified to God’s. Every time we get knocked down and stand back up, God is transforming us. Avoid excuses. Get back in the fight.
We as men are God’s sons. We have been entrusted to participate in his mission of bringing all souls back into union with him. This doesn’t mean we need to be nice guys. This means we need to listen to our Lord, who told us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”3. It means “woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”4.
Our time on earth is a pilgrimage. We aren’t meant for this life but the life to come. Now is our opportunity to choose where we want to be when we die: heaven (united to God) or hell (apart from God).
Just as we might ask our own children to help out the family, so does God ask us to participate and help out in spreading the message of salvation. It is literally a life or death proposition (eternal life or eternal death). Men, we need to be out in front of this. We need to be evangelists. We need to lead. How can you engage in the mission of Church right now?
Let’s live a life where we become living examples of authentically masculine Christian men. Our witness, our action, our virtue can pierce the dark confusion that exists around the question: what is a (Christian) man? Let’s work hard so that any one can point to us and say the answer: “him.”
To learn more, check out my new book: Pursuing Freedom: Becoming the Man You Could Be.