A good friend expressed sadness to me at the absence of young men in churches and yet their responsiveness to influencers like Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate. (Sorry, those two names don’t really belong in the same sentence, but they were two names he used.) He cited an article by writer, Aaron Renn, offering to explain this absenteeism. Renn blamed Christian preaching nowadays, domesticating men, haranguing them to attend small group fellowships and engage in SERVANT-leadership, with the emphasis on serving. My friend wondered if those non-Christian speakers were giving something legitimate to men, something they need and want and that the Church denied them. He, and other men he thought, wanted his life to count.
What did I think, he wondered?
Overall, Aaron Renn has a point and writes in an inspiring way about it. Being the head, as the Bible calls it, does not mean just service, it is true. And just telling men to serve misses the Biblical injunctions. Often, preachers’ efforts to stave off domestic abuse can dull the edge of the Bible’s teaching. This is good to elucidate. But men serving to help show women unable to trust that headship doesn’t mean power to oppress is also good. We all go off one side or the other on this.
But I claim that the Bible provides an easy corrective, calling men to adventure and challenge in two ways.
The first is through making gender about relationship. The Bible actually creates mission for men this way. Revelation 12 gives us the paradigm of salvation history, and in it, the masculine (ultimately fulfilled by Christ in relation to the Church) comes forth to vanquish evil, represented by the dragon. Who is he doing it for? For the woman clothed with the sun. If you watch any of the old John Wayne westerns, for example, the men always were doing it for the women. That is why they asserted themselves and took risks and fought and bled and died. That purpose is what makes the heroic sacrifice count. The Bible also presents this for us (e.g., Eph 5:22-33). Because this is ultimately why the Persons of the Trinity do what they do. It is for Each Other, even in the mission of our salvation.
Otherwise, our self-assertion and risk-taking collapses into selfishness and our masculinity into self-service. I once went on a date with a beautiful woman and I wanted to be a man for her. So I climbed up a cliff on the side of the road and grabbed a nice looking rock at the top. I climbed down and gave it to her. She thanked me. Then as we walked to the car, she threw it away. I was upset with that. How could she? But why did she do it? Because she didn’t need the rock! The “masculinity” I was trying to enact was isolated from her needs. So it crumpled into no masculinity at all. (We broke up soon afterwards, principally because I didn’t know how to be a man).
Secondly, the Scriptures make manly mission through the third asymmetry of gender: the asymmetry of intent. (I always find myself going back to the apostle Paul’s 3 “gar”s, 1Co 11:7, 8, 9, for an explanation of these types of gender questions, because I feel they explain so much.)
In the first two asymmetries, the manly focus is on the woman, to sanctify and develop her and to secure her. In the third, the focus is not the woman but the mission: “The man…created for…The woman created for…” (Gen 2:7-8, 2:20, 22).
Yes, these influencers are tapping into the visceral desire for, and need to be involved in, the mission of the Kingdom of God. Only Tate’s is a counterfeit of the call (e.g., take charge and slap women around) and Peterson’s is often a malnourished version of it (e.g., make your bed in the morning because you are like a lobster from evolution).
In the genuine call, it is good as a man to want your life to count. But, is wanting your life to count distinctive to men? God created both men and women for bringing God’s Kingdom on earth, now become the mission of redemption. As Christians, our lives should both say, “Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come on earth…” So motivating a man uniquely to mission must avoid two errors:
a) distinguishing men in a way that diminishes women in mission;
b) emphasizing equality or flattening gender in a way that robs men of the motivation to move in mission.
I see the desire “to make my life count” in a man to be an expression of the masculine call to apprehend the mission. Men will, and should, want to lead in that mission, which entails a good desire to make a difference for good and a good desire for recognition in what he does. For those in His covenant, God promises “a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth…” 2Sa 7:9, 1Ch 17:8. There is a seeking of honor and glory that is good: Rom 2:7, so also the complaint of David when it is lost: Psa 4:2. The Old Testament refers to “men of valor” almost 40 times. The New Testament also instructs us to honor men exceeding in mission: Phi 2:29.
Of course, we always pair that with the understanding, when it gets right down to it, that Christ is the real hero. We desire Him to get the most honor because that is actually where it is due. And… it is good to aspire to a kind of importance in your life because Christ shares His honor. The influencers capitalize on this large desire in motivating many men. Because the secular message is mixed, the motivations they inspire are mixed also.
A woman in mission, not called to lead, will usually not care as much about her life being important in that way. A wise woman certainly wants and should want “her life to count” but, if left to herself, she usually measures that counting differently, in terms of the well-being of her tribe, so to speak. That tribe can be her family, her church or her organization.
Take the leader, Deborah. Though presented with the opportunity for great power and influence, she prefers to label herself as “a mother in Israel” (Jdg 5:7). She probably could have finagled a position as commander-in-chief but she rather tries to promote Barak to it (Jdg 4:6-10). When we finally get her motivation, she says that her heart goes out to those who were giving themselves for the mission. She is moved by the sacrifice she inspired (Jdg 5:9). A lot of her post-war wrap-up song (Jdg 5) consists in praising the tribes of Israel who were in right relation to the whole and bemoaning the ones who weren’t: “Why did Dan stay with the ships?” (Jdg 5:17). In other words, she cared about how her people cohered, whether their relations were good.
In pursuing the mission God has for them, men will more often take risks, women will more often be the glue, both in service of the mission. But whether men and women feel these things or not, they each have their contribution to make according to God’s command. They do it separately, until or unless they do it side by side. Gender concerns the merging of those missions together.
Let’s inspire both.