Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I am delighted to have with us Dr. Owen Strachan. Dr. Strachan teaches theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’m delighted that he’s now one of my colleagues and we get to share some time together. We talk about the Scriptures and life and culture and what’s going on in the world, and it’s been a great privilege of mine since moving to Kansas City to get to know him a little bit better. I’m so glad to introduce many of our listeners to the work of Dr. Strachan and the ministry that he’s provided. Today we’re going to continue a conversation that we started a couple of weeks ago on this issue of manhood. It’s amazing to me to see the direction that we’re headed as a culture relative to manhood, and not just the culture, but the most concerning thing is the way the church is posturing itself in this war on manhood. We’re almost removing ourselves from biblical conviction or acting as though those convictions are able to be compromised.
Last time, I mentioned the guidelines of the American Psychological Association (APA). In 2018, they produced a document with the guidelines for counseling men and boys, and one of the most shocking things in this document to me is that they suggested that sex assigned at birth, but gender is now something that’s non-binary from the APA’s perspective. They’re seeing gender as a social construct, and the difficulty for me is that this is not just a one-off for the APA. The APA is consistently making statements about morality. They have to because they’re dealing with anthropology, so they’re going to make statements about what they believe to be healthy as it relates to anthropology and that encroaches consistently upon biblical truth.
Today, I want us to discuss the beginning portion of that statement that talks about gender. In this document, they describe gender as a social construct that’s fluid based on environmental factors and what’s going on around the person. They say it’s not necessarily consistent with the sex that’s given at birth. In my opinion, I would say that they’re articulating a contrary morality that is symptomatic of the culture in which we live. In what ways do you see the culture adopting the ideas that are so prominent of gender fluidity?
Owen Strachan: Thank you, Dale. There are some areas where we have to sort out what it means to be a man and a woman. Different cultures have to handle these matters, and yet as believers, we start from the sure ground of Scripture. For example, we recognize in Genesis 1 and 2 that the Lord created all mankind in the image of God. He made them male and female. Then Genesis 2:7, 22 zeroes in on God’s creation of the man from the dust of the earth and his creation of the woman from the rib of the man. What that means is that we already are not on the ground that you just rightly sketched out. We don’t hold this view that gender is a construct, we hold the view that the body God gives you is constitutive of your identity. That’s not because we are hardcore traditionalists, politically conservative, or we happen to like traditional American culture. We hold these views irrespective of the country, society, or culture we’re in. Christians hold this view all across the world because of Genesis 1 and 2, because the Word of God in these chapters and all throughout the Scripture is communicating reality to us. As you said, we start from the opposite starting point from a group like the APA. We hold that gender is not a construct, but that it is the very creation of almighty God.
Dale Johnson: You did two very critical things to help us in our thinking. The first thing is that we’re anchored to something totally contrary to anything that society could drum up, and second, you helped us to see that these anchors are not dependent upon the flow of any culture, political system, or any traditional ideas, which is what most people are rebutting against. It’s critical that we describe Scripture as superseding culture. It doesn’t matter the time, the place on planet earth, and when during history. We see that these truths remain regardless. That’s helpful as a position of anchor. What do we see happening to the idea or to the concept of masculinity? The ideas that the APA is promoting have implications for what we believe about masculinity. What do these ideas do to the concept of masculinity?
Owen Strachan: They take it apart from the very seems, and that’s what we’re seeing all around us today. If you want to be on the front lines of elite secular culture today, you don’t talk about a hard and fast understanding of manhood on the cover of your magazine or your online site or on social media. You’re broadcasting how you believe not in a fixed understanding of the sexes but you believe in a fluid understanding of the sexes, and that very much relates to manhood.
For example, in America, you do have certain understandings of manhood that in some form are connected to that biblical route that we were just talking about. Men are supposed to be tough, men are supposed to step up when there’s a physical threat on the scene, and men, in broad terms, are supposed to provide. But what gets you capital, popularity, clicks, and likes today in broad terms in America is not to say those kind of things, but to say, “I’m deconstructing masculinity. It doesn’t have any fixed meaning. Men are basically no different from women and I’m part of this new vanguard of tearing down the stereotypes,” such that boys now are wearing dresses. Boys now are wearing makeup, carrying purses, pursuing homosexual relationships, and that’s celebrated. These are all facets and features of this new deconstructed manhood that is creeping out all around us.
Dale Johnson: These are things that we in the church have been called to stand against as a guard and a pillar of truth, and this is a critical moment for us in the church. We recognize the cultural pressure or influx that we’re seeing trying to redefine masculinity or re-explain these issues of masculinity. Talk about biblical masculinity and why that’s so important for us as Bible-believing Christians that don’t waver on God’s specific design for masculinity.
Owen Strachan: I continually go back to Genesis 2. There are other texts, of course, and we could talk for days about this concept, but I speak regularly at conferences and churches on this and the first place I take people to is Genesis 2. There you have the man distinctly made, and the Lord calls Adam in Genesis 2:15 to work and watch over the garden. There you have that call to masculine provision, and you have the call to masculine protection. Of course, it’s a call that he is immediately going to fail and he’s not going to watch over the garden. Then later on in Genesis 2:24, you have the Lord’s call to the man to hold fast to his wife. That, then, is going to be built out in the New Testament into what we call headship. Adam is going to possess headship over his wife who is called to submit to him as the church submits to Christ. We learn in Ephesians 5, building on Genesis 2, that this high and holy calling difficult for us sinful men. Adam is called to provide spiritual leadership of his wife and by extension his family.
In brief, I’m trying to train my son to be a leader, protector, and provider in a distinctly biblical and Christ-centered way. That is a strongly historical understanding in the Christian tradition of manhood, that men would lead, protect, and provide. In terms of those three ideas, protection may still linger as a cultural value in America in 2019, but in general the call for men to provide spiritual leadership, let alone any kind of leadership, and then also provide for their families has very much been undercut, which is why we have to continually reassert these deeds, duties, and roles for men today.
Dale Johnson: I often describe what it means to be masculine, and the duty of manhood is tied and connected unashamedly in Scripture to the gospel. When we think about the fluidity of the nature of gender, male and female, that’s not something that God created and made as a by-product. God is doing that as an expression of a gospel truth, namely Jesus and His bride. This is what Paul teaches us. My concern is that anything we do with the genders now gives us fluidity between Jesus and his bride, and that becomes massively problematic in terms of the gospel.
What we’re describing here is something that has to be non-negotiable for us as Bible believers, that we stand firm in these particular areas. My concern shifts toward the church. It’s no wonder that the culture would think like this and move in this direction. We would expect this in a secular movement and that shouldn’t surprise us. But what is surprising is the way in which some of these ideas are impacting the church. How are these fluctuating cultural ideas impacting the church today?
Owen Strachan: In general, many Christians feel like they shouldn’t speak up that much about the meaning of manhood. A lot of Christians don’t want to cause division and trouble and they don’t want to draw fire on these issues, and I can understand those instincts at a human level. But fundamentally, we are called to build in the rubble and ruins, and that’s really where we are today. We are in a place where many young men are entering the church and they don’t have any idea what it means to be a man. I won’t go on record quite this strong, but this is almost the key reality of counseling and pastoral ministry in this era in church history: rebuilding men. Because so few men have had a strong godly father who’s invested in them and discipled them as a man. Many young men, even Christian young men, have not been discipled. They’re from broken homes, they didn’t have a strong connection with their father, they don’t know what it means to be a man.
I see the church especially struggling in recognizing the need to go right at young men, not in an angry or hectoring way, but out of love with firmness to disciple them in the rhythms of grace and in biblical manhood and to train them to be a godly young man in general. Especially because most are called to marriage, the church needs to train them to be godly husbands, fathers, leaders, protectors, and providers. If we could start to do that, we would be massively addressing this cultural problem that is playing out all around us.
Dale Johnson: The answer then becomes the protection of the church, which is a beautiful thing when we’re replicating that. One generation living in manhood as an example to future generations becomes protective of this cultural flow and cultural influx for the church in the future which guards the truth, which is what we love. The final thing we should chat about is bringing this down onto a very practical level and thinking about it in terms of very specific application. What are some ways that pastors and parents might be challenged with some of these new ideas of what many are calling toxic masculinity? Help our pastors and our parents think through some of those issues.
Owen Strachan: I love that you’re going there because this is really where it heads, right? How are you going to actually train and raise your children? It’s not going to be theoretical. It’s not going to stay in a classroom at a secular university. This is where the issue goes. We’ve got to train our boys to be distinctively masculine. We’ve got to train them that it’s good to be a boy, it’s not a bad thing. Our culture is in a state of misandry, or hatred of manhood, hatred of men.
Recognizing that the culture is teaching our sons that and teaching us that is very helpful. We’ve got to help our son see that, by virtue of being a boy, they’re not an idiot. They’re not a goofball. They don’t have no purpose. They don’t need to step back with relation to girls. They actually need to step forward and be a leader in the mold of Jesus Christ himself, a self-sacrificial leader. We’ve got to train them in the goodness of manhood, of boyhood. We’ve also got to show them that it’s good to be mature. It’s good to grow. We’ve got to train them in these dimensions that we’ve talked about already. We’ve got to be shaping our boys even from a young age to see that it’s good to work, it’s good to provide, it’s good to protect, and it’s good to lead.
Boys aren’t going to catch this by accident. This requires fathers who train their sons directly in this way, and this requires mothers who reinforce that teaching. We’ve got to recognize, though, that our boys are being pressured and influenced to stay boys forever and to not mature and to not grow up. Lastly, boys are going to get a lot of influence today that’s going to tell them that it’s bad to be a boy. It’s bad to be aggressive, in particular. We’re seeing school shooters and public shooters crop up all around us as the society and culture wanes and disintegrates, and we have to be very clear that aggressiveness, testosterone if you want to get down to biology, is not bad. It’s sinful aggressiveness that we oppose. We have to train our boys in biblical terms to see that they’re shaped in the image of Christ, the warrior Savior, and they are called not to be non-aggressive fundamentally, but to be aggressive for the right things in a godly way. If we will teach that value, that principle is going to put us in the teeth of the culture, but we can’t stop training boys to be righteous and virtuous and on the hunt for the good.
Dale Johnson: Amen brother. I could not agree with you more. Dr. Strachan has written several volumes. One in the area specific to gender, manhood, and womanhood is called God’s Grand Design, which articulates some of the things that we’ve been discussing today. I also want to mention a second volume which is coming out soon called Reenchanting Humanity, and I think you’ll be intrigued by that work as he’s looking at many of the different ways that we see our understanding of anthropology and man being denigrated in the culture in which we live. I hope that you’ll get a hold of those resources. I think they’ll be helpful to you especially as we see this war raging around us in the culture on manhood and how we understand people from the Scriptures.
The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them | Owen Strachan
Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind | Owen Strachan