Can the Gospel Fill Our Manhood Void?

We’re missing a chapter from the Bible — and the men best able to help reclaim manhood.

The malestrom — the ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species, causing man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons — poses one of the most serious historic challenges to the gospel.

Malestrom cover art - borderDoes the gospel have anything better to offer men than a kinder, gentler patriarchy? Is the gospel able to fill the manhood void with an indestructible identity and calling that cover the entire cultural spectrum and the complete lifespan of a man’s life — no matter how long or how short that may be or how his story plays out?

This is not simply an internal church issue. We have ISIS to consider. Men in today’s world are looking for answers.

I’m convinced the malestrom is no match for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not say this lightly or as some religious pat answer to the problems I have seen.

If anything, my research has made me as concerned about the plight of men as I have ever been about women and girls. Nor am I suggesting that the malestrom is easily managed. The malestrom belongs to life in a fallen world. It will be with us wreaking havoc until Jesus comes.

God’s image bearers rebel, and we are left in the ruins of a fallen world searching for clues to tell us what he had in mind for us.

What it does mean, and I say this with conviction, is that as Christians we have been empowered by God’s Spirit to engage this battle for men and boys, to dismantle false and destructive manhood definitions, and reclaim radically redemptive ways of being human that God envisioned for his sons in the beginning.

Having said that, two major problems confront us before we even begin: first, that a chapter is missing from the Bible that is most pertinent to our quest, and second, that the men in the Bible best equipped to help us have gone missing too.

The missing chapter comes between creation and the fall. The Bible’s two opening chapters begin with the hopeful expansive vision God is casting for the world he created and loves and where he designates his male and female image bearers together to get the job done.

But before we witness a single moment of unfallen image bearer living or see how male and female align to reflect God’s image and engage his mission in the world — an enemy invades.

God’s image bearers rebel, and we are left in the ruins of a fallen world searching for clues to tell us what he had in mind for us. It’s like trying to assemble a Mercedes from broken, rusted auto parts salvaged from a junkyard when you’ve never seen a Mercedes.

We need that missing chapter.

This omission is not a mistake or a publishing snafu, but an Authorial decision intended to make us dissatisfied and hungry for something more and better than anything we’ve yet seen.

It makes us hungry for Jesus, who is the missing chapter and embodies the kind of image bearer God created all of his sons (and daughters) to become. Jesus didn’t come just to tweak things, but to overthrow the kingdom of this world.

We gravitate instead to men like Joseph, who rises from slavery to second only to Pharaoh . . .

We are slow to learn and need more stories to help us catch God’s kingdom vision and even to help us make sense of the example Jesus sets for us.

This is where the missing men come in.

Interwoven in the stories of women in the Bible that I have developed in my previous books are men whose stories are eclipsed by a larger personality who commands the spotlight or men whose stories are diminished, downsized, or distorted because we view them through a western lens.

We gravitate instead to men like Joseph, who rises from slavery to second only to Pharaoh; David, who slays Goliath; Joshua, who leads the march on Jericho; Daniel, who survives lions; Peter, the rough and blustery fisherman; and James and John, the notorious “sons of thunder.”

Kings, conquerors, and untamed men! These are the kinds of muscular stories we want our sons to hear and the brand of manliness that we want them to embrace.

We shy away from men in the Bible who share the stage with strong, courageous women or who don’t fit the typical hero profile that reinforces traditional patriarchal cultural values. These missing men are crucial, for they are heroically doing battle with the malestrom.

Battered and bruised though they may be, they must be allowed to tell their stories. They picture for us a wiser, radically new, gospel-brand of man — incontrovertible evidence that God is at work in his world, that Jesus has come, and that his Spirit is alive and active.

Recapturing God’s global vision for men is the urgent task to which we now turn.

The newness of God’s kingdom is breaking through, and that newness shows up in his sons, even in Old Testament times. The stories of these missing men are alive with the power and hope of the gospel, and they stand tall on the pages of Scripture, not because they satisfy the world’s fallen cultural definitions of what it means to be a man, but because they reconnect with their calling as God’s true sons.

All of us, men and women, need these missing men if we hope to gain insight into the missing chapter.

I am more convinced than ever of the urgency of expanding the discussion of God’s vision for his daughters to encompass God’s vision for his sons. We must dare to ask twenty-first-century questions of the Bible, no matter how taboo or unsettling they may be and with the expectation that the gospel speaks with fresh hope and purpose into men’s lives today.

Walter Brueggemann’s words remind us that there is always more to learn. “For the church is not permitted simply to repeat the ‘old truths.’ It must listen for and take a chance that from time to time the normative word is breaking through in new ways.”

This is no mere academic debate and never has been. Current events remind us all that this is a matter of life and death.

The gospel is more than equal to these challenges — not a triumphalist American gospel that relies on prosperity — but a gospel of indestructible identity, hope, and purpose that will preach in the smoking ruins of Iraqi cities, in the slums of Nairobi, on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and to the utterly lost men of ISIS.

Recapturing God’s global vision for men is the urgent task to which we now turn.

Taken from Malestrom: Manhood Swept Into the Currents of a Changing World by Carolyn Custis James.
Copyright © 2014 by Carolyn Custis James. Use by permission of Zondervan.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

  • bakabomb

    My favorite man in Scripture (besides Jesus, natch) is Onesimus. And if you insist on classifying me, call me a Nazirite. Now what about you?