Saturday, February 4, 2012

Biblical manhood: my efforts to not be "biblical" (as it were)

We live in a world that is run by men. This isn't altogether a bad thing but it certainly makes the finger pointing that ensues a failure practically a no brainer. In fact, we men often assume that we are THE leaders in the church and in the family (thats what the bible assumably says on the issue right?) and we never pause to rid ourselves of that assumption when reading Paul. Nowhere is this more evident than in the church. With the recent release of a new book on marriage, entitled "Real Marriage", Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll repeats much of the dominant complementarian theology of the day, except he adds his overly masculine, "in your face" bravado to the equation and it seems as if we have a whole new beast. For roughly 3 years I have highly respected and appreciated Driscoll for the work he had done for the Kingdom, I still admire him to a certain degree. However, amongst other things about his theology that I find myself diverging from, I find this new theology of masculinity to be as much of a stumbling block for me as say his devout calvinism, or his idea of church planting, which looks quite a bit like a franchise. There was even an instance recently where, during an interview, Driscoll went after the interviewer after he learned that his wife was pastoring their church. His argument climaxed when he started asking this man about his view of hell and atonement. To Driscoll, conscious eternal punishment and penal substitutionary atonement are manly doctrines and if you don't agree with them its not because of exegetical or hermeneutical differences, its inevitably due to the fact that you have been feminized! Though, I know women whole believe in the same positions as Driscoll- I have to ask myself; have these women been masculinized? Is that at all healthy, or biblical? I don't want to single out Driscoll here, we can see this same vein of thought in his constituents like John Piper, and Matt Chandler.

Recently John Piper released an article, along with a video of a sermon he delivered where he gives this portrait of what he calls "masculine ministry" as envisioned by John Charles Ryle. It sounds chivalrous, but the underlining theme is authority- this is where I ultimately depart from his position most ambitiously. What about Matt Chandler? I have heard him say multiple times, and in the presence of Piper, that he doesn't preach to women, he preaches to men. I feel that this is a bit ill-fated in a church where women outnumber men dramatically. In fact, the church is predominantly feminine. Perhaps this has something to do with this recent surge in "masculine ministry" or "biblical manhood"?

A few initial problems arise for me when I hear men (especially single men) harping about male leadership within marriage. The banner under which this sort of rhetoric seems to avail itself is that of authority. I think when the question, in this context, is about authority, we are inevitably asking the wrong question. I have even heard women who, without a scriptural backbone, have proposed that the greatest duty of a biblical man is that he leads. Pardon me, I don't mean to make this a battle of semantics, however, the words we use have a deep meaning and impact on our thinking. The greatest duty of a biblical man is to be a follower. (Yes! I just went there) A "biblical" man is one that is marked by Christ. We need only read ever so briskly through the gospels to realize that Jesus was submitted to the Father. I fear that we live in a culture that has no concept of Lordship and the implications of proclaiming someone as "lord" ....

My second observation, which flows from the first, is that if one is truly following in submission to God then he is called to be a servant. In the church we may call this servant leadership. I like that! The words of the apostle Paul come to mind:
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."-Philippians 2:3-8 ESV

My main points of tension are this: It is my understanding that if we are looking for authority in our readings of scripture, and I know that it takes quite a bit of effort to rid ourselves of that entitled disposition as men in this culture, we are inevitably asking the wrong question of the text. Why is our reading of scripture handicapped by our desire for power? Why is it not marked by our ambitions to serve? Like I alluded to before, such readings of scripture are quick to recite Paul in Ephesian 5 and 1 Timothy 3 but the joy in such chivalrous recitations is not that of a willingness to serve, it is one of authority over- not under. Its the whole "it says so in the bible" dilemma. Lastly, if the focus of the argument exist within the context of a marital convent and it intends to hold water one has to explain to me how people, 1 man and 1 woman, come together before God and become "one flesh", and then, from there, they appoint one of the "one flesh" individual is to exercise authority over the other. Obviously, the imagery used here doesn't quite facilitate this reading of scripture. What we read into scripture is what we inevitably read out of scripture. In this case people are reading the 21st century idea of manhood out of an ancient text. A bit odd huh?!

My second point of tension is a bit more focused on where I find myself in the midst of all of this discussion. For a guy like myself who has had to leave behind financial stability in order to follow God's will for my life I find myself at odds with this reading of scripture because it doesn't allow much room, if any, for someone like me to thrive and grow within my body of fellow believers. In fact, it facilitates the possibility for becoming marginalized within the community of people who are marked by having Christ as their head! A guy such as myself who lives off of the kindness of so many, to such a degree that I reject the idea of being "self sufficient", cannot easily find a place of admiration in todays dominant church culture which is jaded by financial successes and charismatic leaders/speakers. Like I said above, I don't believe a biblical man is warranted by his social status, his income, his burliness, the kind of car he drives, the amount of admiration and respect he has, or how confrontational he is. I have no use in measuring manliness, or manhood, by way of arm wrestling and fist fighting. Frankly, that would improve my situation significantly. I believe that a "biblical man" is marked by his willingness to follow God's will, and actively participate in the advancement and establishment of God's kingdom- at the risk of compromising all of the previously mentioned amenities. Tony Campolo was right when he stated that the church tends to marry the dominant culture! Stanley Hauerwas was right as well when he stated that when we do so we are robbing the world of the witness of the church! It is as if we have derived a litmus test from scripture and we now urge males to meet these standards! And what is the reward for this achievement? After having passed your biblical manhood exam you are crowned with the credentials (by your own merit have you) to exercise authority over others. Ill end with this. This is a diagram that Scot McKnight presents in his book "The Blue Parakeet". I find it incredibly helpful and illuminating.

"If we frame our relationship to the bible in terms of authority we will inevitably have authoritarian issues emerging as theology"-Scot McKnight (the blue parakeet)

Are we going to be like the Mark Driscoll's, in this regard, who look at women who are active in leadership and then belittle the men because there is a lack of male leadership? Maybe there is something to be learned here from the failures of male leadership and the lack of female presence in leadership ... 


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