TIL 217 | The War on Manhood

This week on the podcast, I want to address manhood. On a short podcast such as this one we certainly can’t be exhaustive, but I do want to address an angle that I think is pertinent to us in the counseling world on ways manhood is under scrutiny. Certainly in recent days we see how the issue of manhood has arisen with topics and issues like abuse, how a man acts, his responsibility, and how he goes about living life well. These are certainly issues that we in the church need to address. Today, I want to focus on a distinct way of thinking about masculinity, one that has swept through the culture. We have a responsibility from the Scriptures to warn people against empty philosophies and vain deceptions and to stand as a pillar of truth. It’s our responsibility to consider some of the ways true biblical manhood is under attack.

In August of 2018, the American Psychological Association (APA) wrote down several guidelines. They call them, “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.” The goal for the APA was to provide certain guidelines for those who are engaged primarily in psychotherapy and encouraging those who do talk therapy to understand a background of how a person, a boy or a man, thinks in terms of masculinity. This is important to us because the philosophies that they’re proposing are totally infiltrating the culture in which we live. They’re also impacting the church and it could potentially impact even the way that we think in the counseling room. At ACBC, we think against some of these ideas that are being promoted. I want us to consider this because I think you’ll see the connection with some of the ideas that are floating around in the culture at large.

Guideline number one is: “Psychologists strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.” If we begin here, we’ll notice that they describe masculinity not in singular terms as if there’s one distinct way to think about masculinity. There’s not a standard of masculinity. What they’re doing in a very pluralistic way is expanding masculinities to be something that’s plural, that encompasses lots of different potential ways to live in masculinity.

One of the things that they are proposing here is that masculinity is a social construct. It’s something that’s built based on cultural and childhood experiences. The APA is simply trying to inform and guide their therapists based on how to think about these different social norms of masculinities. They would say understanding the socially constructed nature of masculinity and how it affects boys and men as well as psychologists is an important cultural competency. They’re giving this wisdom, if you will, they’re providing a certain way of thinking about this issue of masculinity.

It’s without question that we see lots of problems in our culture with expressions of manhood. We would say biblically that there are certainly sinful expressions of manhood. There are faulty ways that men act that are often proposed as being good and healthy and right markers for what it means to be a man, and we can distinguish those from a biblical perspective. We see these types of expressions in a lot of different forms. One of the places we see a sinful expression of manhood is in the contrast between the way that Adam lived versus biblical manhood in Jesus. If you look at Genesis 3, we see very clearly that Adam is not living according to his role and responsibility as a man to protect his wife. You see in Genesis 3 where Eve looks at the fruit, it’s a delight to her eyes, she sees it as good for food, and she takes and eats it. She gives it to Adam who was with her. Part of his responsibility was to guard, to protect, to lead her into truth, to shepherd her, and here he is passively abdicating his responsibility. That’s a sinful expression that we see in the modern world where we see fathers and husbands abdicating their responsibilities. That is a sinful expression of manhood. That’s not a proper biblical way to think about manhood.

We also see another sinful expression on the other side of the road from what it means to walk faithfully as Christ did as one who would protect, care for, and step in to shepherd His bride, to give Himself for the sake of the Bride. Manhood is self-sacrifice, learning to lead, but leading by shepherding and by giving Himself. The other sinful expression that we see is thinking that leadership means tyranny. Leadership doesn’t mean tyranny or domineering, that we sit in our armed chairs and we dole out responsibilities to everyone else, barking orders. Just because our physique is larger, that does not give us power and authority to use it in a domineering way or a way to push over people and get them to submit to everything that we want.

That’s a sinful expression, and certainly these guidelines that the APA is using in the counseling setting are a response. They’re a faulty response to these sinful expressions, but they’re a response to definite brokenness in the world. Much of this brokenness has traditionally been couched as being healthy statuses of manhood although they’re certainly not according to the biblical text. The APA is responding and simply saying we need to be aware of all the ways in which we see that masculinity can break down. This is certainly a movement away from what we would consider to be a traditional biblical value of masculinity and manhood.

It’s important for us to also consider in their understanding of masculinities that there are different ways that a man can come to his masculinity and that be healthy and okay. The APA is now trying to define what is healthy, moral, and right. The problem is the APA has a history of defining what they believe to be moral, and it makes sense. If they’re dealing with the issue of counseling, they have to understand first who man is, what makes man operate, what’s healthy for a man, and what’s normal for a man. In dealing with those issues of normalcy and health, they also have to answer the question of why we have abnormalities, an explanation of how and why a human being struggles in one way or another. The pursuit of counseling psychologies is figuring out how to repair those things. The APA is couching a worldview which is not value free. It’s not moral free.

We see this in certain areas where the APA has constructed ideas about sexual orientation. That’s certainly a moral issue to which the Bible speaks very clearly, but the APA would suggest that in psychotherapy or in talk therapy, it’s actually very unhealthy to think about any type of sexual orientation change effort regardless of the moral grounding apart from the perspective of Scripture. The Bible presents a very clear perspective on healthy sexuality, so to suggest something that’s different is actually a new morality and we see that playing out in the counseling room if you were to follow the APA’s understanding. The same is true even in this case. This helps us to see a little bit further that the APA and many of the counseling psychologies that flow from their ideas are not value-free or morally neutral. We have to be very aware of that as we approach our counseling cases from a biblical counseling perspective, to be very cautious about hearing what the wisdom of the world is and making sure that we’re not operating according to the wisdom of the world when we approach our counseling situations.

It’s good for us to consider how the world is constructing these ideas. One of the things that they would say is that gender in and of itself is something that is fluid. That’s obvious in the world that we live in, but I want you to hear the definition. They say that there are multiple masculinities, ways that we should understand a person to help them obtain that very pluralistic perspective in a healthy fashion as if there’s not a biblical standard by which men should be conforming to the image of Christ to demonstrate what true biblical manhood should look like.

Additionally, the idea of gender in their mind is a non-binary factor. According to them, gender refers to psychological, social, and cultural experiences and characteristics associated with the social statuses of girls and women or boys and men, whereas sex refers to biological aspects of being male or female. Gender includes assumptions, social beliefs and norms, and stereotypes about the behavior, cognition, and emotions of males or females. While they recognize that gender and sex can be seen as overlapping and fluid categories with multiple meanings, what they’re saying is that this document uses the term “gender” to refer primarily to the social experiences, expectations, and consequences associated with being a boy or a man. They’re arguing that social construct is what builds masculinity. Social construct is what builds in a person’s mind a healthy view of what it means to be male or female, and that aspect of gender can be fluid depending upon a person’s social experiences, whether that be good or bad or faulty expectations in their mind.

This is detrimental for us when we think about biblical counseling. In biblical counseling we have to deal with problems, particularly problems related to manhood. We see these problems in a lot of different ways in the counseling room. Sometimes we may be dealing with an abusive husband. Sometimes we may be dealing with a son expressing some sort of domination. Maybe he’s a little bit bigger, he’s grown into himself and he’s taking advantage of all of the kids on the playground. We deal with these types of counseling problems all the time that are sinful expressions of masculinity, things that ought not to be, and we’re trying to correct them in the counseling room. We have to have an understanding or a standard of what we believe to be masculine. We can’t be fluid in the way that we think about masculinity, or masculinities as the APA would have us believe, based on the fluidity of society and cultural norms.

We have a standard from the Scriptures that describe masculinity and proper biblical manhood in the expression of Christ, in the way that Christ loves His church and gave Himself for the church, the reasons for which God gave consequence to Adam, all the things that he did not do in his role and responsibility as a man. We see very clearly that God has an expectation for what a man should be. He should be one who bears the burden, he should be the one who leads, guides, and protects. He leads not as a tyrant, he leads as one who is a servant. He’s not telling people where to go and what to do, he’s asking them to come along as he demonstrates to them what should be done. This is what it means to be a servant leader. This is the way Jesus demonstrated proper manhood. It’s important for us to have a category, a standard from the Scriptures at which we see how masculinity is to be defined.

We have to begin there, because in the counseling room we’re going to see all sorts of problems associated with faulty ways of living from men, and if we don’t have a standard from the Bible on how we’re to counsel folks who are struggling, we’ll have no way to know what’s good or bad behavior. We’ll have no way to know what it is that we’re trying to correct and what we should be correcting them toward. For example, in the APA’s model and format, there really is no standard by which we are supposed to help a person return to healthy. It’s very pluralistic and relativistic in its approach. I would argue that that’s very dangerous. For one, we don’t know what to expect or what to look for as problems in masculinity. We don’t know what’s harmful. They define it as anything that’s harmful to anyone else around them. That’s quite dangerous. We have to have a standard in the counseling room.

Hebrews 5:14 tells us that what it means to be mature is the ability to discern good and evil. This is an example in our culture right now where the world, through the format of the APA, is trying to define for us what is good and evil. The problem is that that definition of good and evil doesn’t align with God’s definition of what’s good and evil in the category of manhood. In fact, I would argue that what the world is calling good here, God actually says is evil, faulty expressions of humanity certainly not akin to what He would promote in the Scriptures as proper, biblical, good, healthy manhood. What they would say is evil are some traditional values of a man being called and responsible to lead, to provide, to protect, and to care for those whom God has entrusted to him. It’s important for us when we enter the counseling room that we learn to discern good and evil not from a cultural perspective, but from the perspective of God. We have to approach these problems understanding what God’s standard is. That will give us clarity to see what’s broken in manhood, because certainly there are biblically defined sinful expressions of manhood. That also helps us to know how we are going to help this person return to what is pleasing and honoring to God. To know God’s standard helps us to know how we’re going to suggest a person return to health, what they should be turning from and what they should be pursuing.

I want us to consider what the world is promoting relative to masculinity. We have to be very cautious and very careful because they’re allowing the culture to define good, healthy manhood, which is counterproductive and counter-intuitive to what the Scripture describes for us as healthy manhood. My encouragement to you is to make sure that you’re looking at the Scriptures. Make sure you’re counseling according to the Scriptures—not being easily deceived by the way the world couches cultural norms particularly in relation to manhood. We can decry all the sinful expressions. There’s no problem with that, but we have to have a biblical understanding. In order to be prepared in the counseling room, we have to return to a biblical understanding of masculinity and manhood according to the Word of God. That guides our counseling thoughts and it guides our counseling practice in order to help men when they struggle with their sinful expressions of their role and responsibility as men.

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