In the film, The Bourne Identity, there’s a sequence where the two main characters, Jason and Marie, hole up at a country home outside Paris. (Man Law alert: Never admit you’ve never seen the Bourne series.) Early in the morning, a missing dog signals danger. Someone is outside, hunting Jason and Marie.
The home’s owner, Eamon, and his children flee to the basement on Jason’s command. Jason instinctively finds a shotgun above the hutch. In her panic Marie says something like, “We’ve endangered the children!” Bourne, with ice in his veins, replies, “That’s not going to happen.”
Man, I love that scene! At that moment I always wish Jason Bourne were my dad, or had come by my house for breakfast when I was 8. I go around my house quoting that phrase in Bourne-like inflection about everything—purchases, requests to play outside, sleepovers, or whatever. My kids roll their eyes.
Okay, let’s push back from fantasy for a moment and pose a question. Who is the real hero here?
I think the real hero is Eamon. The frumpy figure way in Bourne’s background sitting in his robe drinking the morning’s coffee. The average dad. Eamon was no doubt intended to be a foil against the masculinity of Bourne. But I see it the other way around. Sure, Bourne can find the gun, but does he know where the plunger is?
Besides, Eamon was man enough to care for his two young children and dog while his wife was away. Would you leave your kids with Bourne? I think not.
When Eamon realizes how Bourne irresponsibly drew his children and entire family into danger, he instinctively goes into lecture mode. Who has the nerve to lecture Jason Bourne? A dad.
An overreaction to the emasculation in our culture
We resist “ordinary” like the plague. Many Christian books on masculinity intentionally irritate some “unfulfilled potential” in our souls. It “must be reached” to be real men. We must break free of Eamon’s ordinariness to be the men we can be. We must answer that pesky primal call we’ve been unable to put our fingers on. It’s our inner Jason Bourne calling out to us. We must protect, defend, etc. Such is the appeal. But these descriptions of masculinity are often counterproductive. In many instances, they give already irresponsible men a motivation for more irresponsibility. “Let’s go kick a door off its hinges!”
It’s all highly romanticized, especially the depictions in Christian books. Much of it has nothing to do with biblical manhood or reality. What if Eamon is a quadriplegic and can’t jump off rocks? What if his wife has Alzheimer’s? What if he works in a mailroom? What if he doesn’t possess a spirit for adventure, but Scrabble? What if he doesn’t like camping? What if he doesn’t own a gun? What if the toilet is clogged?
If the biblical manhood we offer has no application to the ordinary, or reality, it isn’t. I think we may have overreacted to the emasculation going on in our culture. We’ve exchanged one stereotype (men are universal idiots) for another one (the Marlboro man).
Jesus crashes our barbecue
If we mean to put forth definitions and examples of biblical manhood, shouldn’t we look to Jesus Christ? Of course we should. Jesus was the perfect man. He is biblical masculinity. Yet our Lord is rarely put forth as the prototype—even in Christian responses. We look to biblical figures like Moses, Elijah, or Boaz, but all these men point to Jesus. Or we look to historic figures known for various virtues, but many of these men didn’t even know Jesus. Jesus is greater than both.
Many insightful people have pointed out the challenges to masculinity coming at us from certain quarters—the cultural neutering of the American male, androgynous Christianity, the pervasive contempt for masculinity in all things, etc. But many who have warned against the feminization of men in the church have also failed to present an actual biblical remedy. For certain Jesus didn’t wear a skirt, but He didn’t brandish a Desert Eagle XIX either (pretend you know what that is). Point is, either Jesus suffers from such overstatement that He ends up seeming more like Jack Bauer, or He’s never mentioned. I’m afraid in the end our response looks a little … well … childish.
It’s not William Wallace we should emulate, but Jesus Christ. Only He can transform weak men into real ones and boys into men. Honestly, I think we avoid Jesus because He conflicts with our preferences. Even Jesus doesn’t live up to the popular Christian vision of manhood—and He founded Christianity.
When you look to Christ you are beholding real strength, fortitude, character, determination, zeal, conviction, endurance, and courage. But, like all things Christ, it’s counterintuitive.
It does not come out in bravado, but humility. True strength is found in restraint, and not dominance. Fortitude is seen in quiet suffering, and not hardheadedness. Character is visible in consistency, and not status. Determination is evident in patience, and not headstrong belligerence. Real zeal is aimed toward God, and not found in self-determination. Real power is doing what you should, instead of what you’d rather. What we’d rather do is usually easier. In a word, strength is restraint.
If Jesus is what it means to be a man, then any biblical definition of manhood will of necessity have a cross in it. The cross and Jesus are synonymous. At the center of biblical masculinity is the cross of Christ and the sacrifice that comes with it. The absence of sacrifice is where popular versions of masculinity coming from the church fail to capture the reality.
According to Isaiah, Jesus was so ordinary as to go unnoticed. He was a humble carpenter. About as typical an occupation as one could find. The ancient equivalent of a computer analyst. Jesus was punched in the face and did not retaliate with an amazing bicycle kick to the back of the head. He was verbally assaulted and never crushed His opponents with laser beam-like sarcastic comebacks. When they spit in His face He didn’t go ballistic and defend His honor. When He was wrongly accused He never stood up for Himself with devastating argumentation. He would have known where the shotgun was (for He is omniscient), but He would not have used it. How’s that for male bravado? We’d never invite Jesus to our barbecue. Which is Isaiah’s point.
The men the heroes depend on are my heroes
Biblical manhood is not hard to grasp. The men we’re looking for are humble, quiet, and faithful in little. They are like Eamon, sitting in the background of all our fiction. They possess all those virtues that make the rest of us seem immature and selfish: self-discipline, foresight, stability, security, and consistency. They are dependable. I find them extraordinary and rare. There’s no flash or bang, but there is consistency.
They’re the type of men the rest of us depend on. They require little prompting in their role. They see the importance of balancing the checkbook, paying the bills (on time), mowing the yard (every week), changing the oil (every 3,000 miles). They know where the plunger is and aren’t afraid to use it. They’re husbands and dads. My heroes are the normal guys who do normal things well. Not normal men who do (cliché dead ahead) extraordinary things.
Many men look at the “monotony” of domestic realities and yearn for more dramatic ones. Such is the reason so many men abandon their wives and families for more impressive and exhilarating contexts. Such is the reason husbands and fathers get bored with wives and children and retreat to complacency. They’re self-absorbed, not sacrificial. The church constantly contributes to this attitude. Our primary concern seems to be the progress of their self-discovery. While it is important to be comfortable in your own skin as a man and not be ashamed of masculinity, these mind-sets merely complement the nature of biblical manhood. They don’t define it.
This is why the cross of Christ is so central to manhood. It is the only truth that makes the ordinary experiences of husbands and fathers the most exhilarating adventure we can know. We’re servants, not spies. The potential for obscurity as you sacrifice yourself for others takes far more courage than self-realization. What keeps us to our duty with robust passion is the image of Christ, on His knees, serving us.
Taken from What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him. Copyright © 2012 by Byron Forrest Yawn. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon. Used by permission.
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1. Listen to Byron Yawn talk about manhood in his recent FamilyLife Today® series.
2. Listen to Dennis Rainey talk about “25 Ways to Lead Your Family Spiritually.”
3. Organize a group of men to learn what it means to step up and live a courageous life with the Stepping Up® small group video series. These videos feature Dennis Rainey, Matt Chandler, Bill Bennett, Tony Dungy, Robert Lewis, Voddie Baucham, Stu Weber, James MacDonald, Joshua Harris, Eric Metaxas, Crawford Loritts, and other ministry leaders. Through engaging stories, expert teaching, humorous vignettes, man-on-the-street interviews, and personal insights, these men's ministry leaders call every man to become courageous leaders in their own lives, marriages, churches, and communities.