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It seems “manhood” is an en vogue topic these days.  In recent weeks we’ve read of the juvenalization of men, what Al Mohler calls “adultolescence.”  We’ve also heard of the need for the church to have a “masculine feel.”  Of course, that stands in contrast to the oft-expressed concerns about the “feminization” of the church and, by implication, the feminization of Christian men.  It’s clear we’re at a moment in cultural history where the notion of “manhood” defies easy explanation.  It’s also clear that the topic is deeply personal, perhaps because so many of us men have grown up either without a good father or even a father, with few male models, and a nagging sense that we have to “prove” our manhood without exactly knowing what the tests are.

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s no shortage of people willing to jump into the void to tell us what the “tests” are and precisely how one ought to look, talk, dress, and act to be a “real man.”  Usually the first to rush into the breach are young men who themselves are the very products of history’s worst period of absentee husbands, fatherlessness, and gender confusion.  Some of the things on offer really do read like the blind leading the blind.  Men barely in their thirties–which is to say, men with more than half their lives left to live and less than half the experience they’ll eventually gain–ready their pens and give us their wisdom.  Please excuse me if I sound a little bit skeptical.  I’m just one of those guys who came of age in this same era with doubts and struggles of my own to prove it.  It’s difficult for me to believe that my peers will have the practical and experiential solutions required.  While I appreciate most their wrestlings with sacred scripture, what I suspect most is Junior’s “practical advice.”

So why am I writing this post (being a 40-something “junior” myself)?  Well, I’m not writing to add my voice to the cacophony of 30- and 40-something year old men trying to “fix” this problem.  So, right up front, let me say: I don’t have “manhood” all figured out.  You can stop reading here if you like.  I’m in a Charles Barkley kinda mood on this topic.  I’m not as unqualified about it as Sir Charles, but in these posts I’m not offering myself as a role model.  Honestly, I think the best thoughts are likely to come from 60- and 70-somethings.   What I hope to do is think out loud (or think in pixels) about this issue as a form of catharsis and biblical exploration.  If there’s something helpful here (I’ll be surprised if there is) then take it and use it.  If not, spit out the bones.

What I’d like to do is whittle my way through a basic biblical definition of “manhood.”  Obviously we need to answer this question because the culture remains confused about it.  And we need to answer this question for the integrity and flourishing of men, their families, and the church.  Everybody seems to understand (except the hardest misanthrope) that “getting this right” makes a great deal of difference for everybody.

So what is “manhood”?  I’m scratching around in Genesis–before all the trouble starts–and I’m thinking we might define manhood in terms of three relationships: God (worship), creation (work), and society/family (woman).  There’s perhaps a fourth “w”–wealth.  But I’m thinking out loud and that fourth “w” may or may not show up in these posts.  So, Lord willing, we’ll take one of those things per post and then consider how those relationships are ruined, restored, and renewed across the course of redemptive history.  What do you think?  Sound like something work thinking about together?

If so, join the conversation with comments as we move along.  Yes, I’d love to hear from you ladies just as much!  And remember: I’m not offering anything approaching an “expert” opinion.  Chew the fish and spit out the bones.

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33 thoughts on “Some Basic Thoughts on Manhood”

  1. Fellipe Mendenhall says:

    Thabiti–I eagerly anticipate your posts. As a “junior” of a “junior” (18 years) who has only begun the exploration of what godly manhood truly is, I welcome men who can guide–or better yet, point to–that exemplified godly man, Christ. In short, thanks for taking the time and having the heart to explore this topic. May it be used for the glorification of God’s name.

  2. MIke says:

    I have heard manhood summarized as leader, provider, and protector, which seem to line up with your points,

    1 – Leader (God /worship)
    2 – Protector (society/family/(woman).
    3 – Provider (creation/work)

    As a 36-year-old man, I find these categories helpful and would love to hear you thoughts?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you, brother, for joining the conversation and leaving good stuff for us to consider. I think the categories are helpful, too. They’re functional labels, I suppose, which does a lot to say this is what a man should do. I’m good with that.


    2. Mike,

      This is the same that I instruct my young son about what a man is. Although, I’ve added “love” based on Eph. 5. I regularly ask him, “How do you treat the ladies in your life (Mom, sisters, and someday a wife)? He responds quickly, “Love, lead, provide, and protect.”


  3. Dean P says:

    I both look forward and fear your coming posts. But I do appreciate your sobriety of attitude and skepticism of the current trend of younger men out there being so over confident in their conceptions of what biblical manhood is. I have struggled vocationally for a long time and will most likely never be the primary breadwinner between my wife and I which means if we have children I will most likely be at home with the child. So I often grow very weary of how Biblical manhood has been so exclusively tied up with being defined by one’s work. I hope that you can offer something a little more open ended and understanding to those of us who have never really encompassed the manly man stereo-type that so many YR&R men in this day and age seek to idealize.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Dean,

      As quiet as it’s kept, you’re not the only man (and I use the word intentionally) that earns less than his wife or spends a season parenting full-time. You know, we can sometimes so valorize work and providing that we (a) minimize other forms of providing and (b) make someone whose not “the breadwinner” to feel worse than the guy who abandons the family. Something is a little out of whack when that happens.

      I’m not sure the post on work will help. As I said, I’m talking out loud. But I pray that it will.


      1. Akash says:

        Just because you cannot do something you do not look to the bible to try and affirm your inability!!

        A man who decides to stay at home is in sin

        How can a loving husband make his wife bear both the effects of the curse??

        1. mel says:

          Perhaps he can start writing a novel while staying at home with the child to fulfill the legalistic requirements of those that want to be so harsh in their response.

          I’m wondering too if there is a list of approved employment for men “biblically”. While I agree with Driscoll that men should not be sitting around while the women do the bulk of the work and leading of the family. I’m wondering if the definition is confined only to who makes the most and who is doing the things valued most by culture.

          As someone that stayed home with children in the 80’s when it was not popular to do so, it got really old trying to justify my life to outsiders that wanted to rule my life. I hope that when someone declares something SIN to another whose personal struggles they know nothing about they can remember that they only get one life to mess up and that is their own.

          A last thought I had was the young couple that Piper featured about biblical marriage. He was injured in a car accident and the only choice was for her to be the income maker and home maker. Are they in sin?

          Just some thoughts…..

  4. Frank Turk says:

    I think this is starting well, and it’s in the hand of a fellow who is trustworthy in a manly sort of way.

    Can’t wait for more on this subject.

  5. Jonathan says:

    A man is someone who finds his identity in Christ. Boom. Let’s go home

    1. Matt says:

      No, that’s a Christian. Male or female.

  6. Dan says:

    A good reference is Rick Phillips’ “The Masculine Mandate”. A starting point, but not necessarily the essence of the book, is Phillips’ corrective of a premise from Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart”. Dr. Phillips notes that God wanted Adam to tend the garden, not roam far into the wild beyond it, as Eldredge imagined.

    Dr. Phillips begins in Genesis for the biblical model for manhood, then expands it into the various areas of application. There’s a radio interview on SermonAudio, and there should be a few messages from the pre-conference of PCRT 2011 at the store website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

  7. A.C. Muller says:

    Another reference “Fathered by God” John Eldridge. Talks about the life stages God wants to take us through to become a man after God’s own heart. He uses the life of David and of course Jesus as his examples. Great read.

    How are we created in His image to reflect the “masculine” part of God?

  8. JH says:

    Some nice, refreshing honesty in this post. Thanks for it.

  9. Greg Harrington says:

    I read and re-read Mark Driscoll’s piece on “How to Honor Your Wife” all the time.

  10. Kaitlyn Belloli says:

    Hi Thabiti,

    This is a bit funny b/c our small group was discussing the definition of biblical femininity last night and struggling to see the biblical basis of any definition that we’ve heard so far (or if it’s possible to have a clear definition?). It seems moving beyond scriptures clear teachings on gender roles to a more broad definition of what gender is, gets very tricky. We actually talked about finding out what you thought so good timing!

    In any case, when you finish working through the definition of masculinity, could you try defining femininity too? Or, at least, help us as we think through the difficulty in defining it? There are so many cultural lenses clouding our vision – I’m not sure how to navigate that.

    Much thanks for your blog and teaching!

    1. Rachael Starke says:

      Well, if we’re allowed to vote, I’d be voting that our dear brother stick to one gigantic topic at a time. :)

      1. Kaitlyn Belloli says:

        Gotta ask though! :)

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Kaitlyn and Rachael,

          So glad to hear from the sisters! Thanks for dropping in and contributing to the conversation. Let’s see where the Lord takes us–life is always more interesting when it’s an adventure :-)


  11. Rachael Starke says:

    Pastor Thabiti,

    You’re willingness and ability to think out loud clearly, biblically and bravely on so many difficult topics tells me that you’re definitely the man for the job. Looking forward to reading and to how you guide any discussion. I learn as much from how you manage comment threads as anything else. :)

  12. Tom says:

    Given that the baby boomer generation (60-70 year old men) produced the present crop of 30-40 year old men (Gen X) who are confused about their masculinity, I’m not too sure I want to hear thoughts on manhood from the baby boomers who brought us free love, drugs, abortion on demand, draft dodging, escape from responsibility, etc.

    So, I understand your skepticism when a 30-40 years starts talking about masculinity, but it can’t be worse than the example left to us by the baby booomer generation.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. You give us something to really think about. I suppose, though, that the particular 60-70 year olds we’d listen to would be the guys who learned from all of that and would have the wisdom of hindsight and experience. We’d listen to them not because their opinions rest on the moral authority of their example (they’d have little) , but because we’d hope to see them discuss with some nuance and insight both the “wrongs” and the “rights” of their generation. We’d hope to benefit from their having lived through some things and thought through the issues with the Bible and experience in hand. The younger guys could no doubt think helpfully with Bible in one hand but with less than half the experience and perhaps a worse starting point than the imagined 60-70 year old. So, if I had my rathers, I’d take the old guys and try to live well in my own generation.


  13. Luma says:

    Thank you for the respect your words show, to men and women alike…. Looking forward to reading/”listening.”

  14. I’m twenty two and a newly-wed, and to top it off i just had my first child (my little girl!). According to the bible there is no question about it, I am a man. However, every time I look in the mirror all I can think of is how much growing up I still have to do(plus I think my goodness that gotye looks manly lol but seriously).

    The only thing that comforts me when i think of what a long way I have to go in attaining Masculine maturity is that I know exactly where I want to go. When everything is all said and done I want to look like Christ. So when I see immaturity, or lust, or pride, or laziness (that’s a big one for me) I reign it in and tell myself I’ll do better next time. By God’s grace I know who I want to be like, I want to be like my savior. No, I’m not there yet but the grace that saved me is sufficient to keep me until that day.

    Just my thoughts,

  15. Dean P says:

    Thank you for your kind response Pastor. I look forward to this discussion.

  16. Tony says:

    This question seems to me to be grossly inflated in importance -with an unspoken assumption.

    When I drive a car I need to be a careful driver. Now I have a child I need to be a quality parent. If I’m baking a cake some cooking skills are called for.

    The task demands the skills not the doer. We don’t say of someone with curly hair – how are you at being a real or good curly haired person? We don’t say of a person in a wheelchair – hows being a good wheelchair bound person today?

    Sure doing a task well requires compensating for our challenges and utilising our strengths but the task is the focus not us. So why worry about “being a good man” or doing masculinity well? Why all this navel gazing me-ness? Have we nothing to do?

    1. Simply because some men are more godly then others, and therefore they receive the favor of God on themselves and their families.

      Take for example all of those old testament passages that surmise a man’s life in one statement. Like “18When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him. So he died, 19because of the sins he had committed, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and walking in the ways of Jeroboam and in the sin he had committed and had caused Israel to commit.” (1 kings 16:18-19). I don’t want to be that guy!

      I want to be the most godly man that I can. Paul would not exhort us to pursue godliness like a runner in a race if it didn’t matter whether or not we even ran, Paul wouldn’t have emphasized it the way that he did.

      I was going to go into election with this (Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated). However, I decided “let’s not open that can of worms”!

      Your brother in Christ
      Josh Mann

  17. Julia Given says:

    I am looking forward to this discussion in some ways – and dreading it in some others. I find I agree with parts of what just about everybody has said – and have my concerns about other parts. God has made us men and women – and thus by definition we already ARE men and women and are not going to become “more male” or “more female” by any attempts of our own. I also believe that men and women have more in common than many people think we do – and that by too avidly pursuing our differences we can end up driving a wedge into that unity that God clearly desires in the church, in society and in our marriages. We can make generalisations – which I might add are generally based in society rather than in scripture – and then end up making those who do not fit the generalisations feel “less of a man” or “less of a woman”. We know that God has distributed his gifts to both men and women on an equal basis ( Acts2:16-18) and expects both genders to avidly pursue godliness and use their gifts for the benefit of their community, their church and their families.
    Our God is not a man – neither does he feel the need to split himself up and say “this is the masculine part” or “this is the feminine part” – which does make me wonder about whether we need to be asking this question either?
    Certainly there are a number of comments in scripture – particularly in the New Testament, directly addressed to one gender or the other – generally I feel to address our weaknesses – so maybe that is where this conversation should start – what are the weaknesses that God would have our two halves work at – so that we might become more of a united whole?

  18. Richard says:

    Hi Thabiti … What an interesting topic for some deeper thought. Is the focus on masculinity or manhood? Defined by our host culture or the Bible?

    Jonathan above is on to something when he states that ‘A man is someone who finds his identity in Christ.’

    Who can argue that it is a man who conforms to the image of Christ. Eph 4:11-16 helps: mature, full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ, holds to the truth (objective – Bible) in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ. Men love Jesus. More specifically, since love is an action, men obey Jesus’ commands.

    Application – a man is one who loves God’s Word, spends time taking delight in His Word, and obeys the commands and precepts found in the Word.

    More specific –
    A man loves his wife as Christ loves the Church.
    A man is anxious for nothing.
    A man prays without ceasing.
    A man does not make idols from of his wealth.
    A man asks God for his daily bread.
    A man relies upon God for his protection.
    A man obeys the gov’t, hence drives the speed limit and obeys traffic laws, pays taxes, etc.
    A man takes risks. (via faith in God; otherwise, one can not be courageous or cowardly)
    A man … etc

    I notice something here. As a man is defined by his obedience and love to Christ, the same defines a woman. All others are fools.

    Robert Murry M’Cheyne grabbed hold of the essence of a man when he said “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is – and nothing more.”

    But as for me, Thabiti, I resonate with David’s words in Psalm 22, “I am but a worm and not a man …”

  19. Ed Roberts says:

    Great words, Thabiti! I wonder if we might also be able to learn something a about manhood from 60/70/80 year-old women. I remember being helped by Elizabeth Elliot’s book “Mark of a Man”. It’s still in print, I believe.

    Anyway, looking forward to reading your posts, brother!

  20. Matt Fuller says:

    I have a similar view to the three relationships but I think of them as priorities.

    1 – God
    2 – Family
    3 – Work

    These three are the priorities that, if lived out, make one a biblical man.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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