DR. WAYNE GRUDEM CONCLUDED HIS 2012 BOOK, Evangelical Feminism, with the solemn warning that “the next move by feminism will be to destroy masculinity. Masculinity,” he predicted, “is the ultimate enemy.” Grudem was prophetic.

Contemporary culture increasingly maligns and despises all things masculine. For example, at the end of 2018 the Oxford Dictionary chose the word “toxic” as their word of the year, specifically for its use in the phrase “toxic masculinity.” To the modern mind, masculinity is synonymous with rape, abuse, violence, and oppression. In his book, The Victims Revolution, Bruce Bawer sums it up, 

To say that Women’s Studies is intrinsically hostile to men is not an exaggeration but an understatement. For the field is antagonistic not just toward men themselves, but also toward a wide range of traditional academic phenomena that are considered “masculinist” or “patriarchal” or “phallocentric.

 Despite this reality, masculinity is foundational to the social order. Shortly after our marriage we bought an old inner-city house. One-hundred-year-old mortar held its rock foundation together. Because the mortar was crumbling our home was in trouble. In the same way, spiritual masculinity is the mortar that holds the foundation of society together. The disparagement of masculinity is a social death wish. No church or culture can despise it and survive. 

The point of this essay is that masculinity is a gift from God. Family, church, and society will only be as vibrant as its ability to morph masculinity into socially productive purposes. 

Masculinity Defined

This begs the question, what is masculinity? Interestingly, previous generations seldom asked this question. Elizabeth Elliot observes that throughout human history,

At the end of 2018, the Oxford Dictionary chose the word “toxic” as their word of the year, specifically for its use in the phrase “toxic masculinity.”

People took for granted that the differences between men and women were so obvious as to need no comment…[But] we have lost our bearings in a fog of rhetoric about something called equality, so that I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to belabor to educated people what was once perfectly obvious to the simplest peasant.

Nevertheless, today masculinity needs definition. I submit that there is a difference between being born male, (biological masculinity), and achieving the goal of every Christian man, which is spiritual masculinity. Biological masculinity is genetic, but spiritual masculinity is learned. Family, church, and culture depend upon the transformation of biological into spiritual masculinity, and only the gospel is powerful enough to get the job done. 

Biological Masculinity

Every cell in a man’s body differs from a female’s. It contains an XY chromosome, whereas every female cell contains an XX. The characteristics of the XY chromosome are well known to the social sciences.[1] Men are more aggressive. They are more prone to initiate. Men are more comfortable with risk and more attracted to competition. They are less likely to be compliant. Spatial reasoning comes easier, while verbal skills are generally weaker. Men find it easier to separate their logic from their emotions. When it is necessary for their maturation, men find it easier to discipline their children. Men are less conscious of their bodies and feelings. Lastly, there is the obvious fact of greater physical size and strength.

The problem with biological masculinity is that it needs to be socialized. Unredeemed biological masculinity often oppresses women and children. The #Me-Too movement is a reaction to this reality. Rape, beatings, sexual abuse, mass murders, child abuse, adultery, impregnating women then walking away, plus a host of other sins can be laid at the feet of unredeemed biological masculinity. 

Throughout history, cultures affected by the gospel have successfully redeemed biological masculinity. Chivalry didn’t originate in Hindu or Moslem culture. It arose in Medieval Christian Europe. 

Masculinity is foundational to the social order.

Spiritual Masculinity

Spiritual masculinity morphs the attributes of biological masculinity into tools for the service of women, children, the church, and the broader culture. It begins at conversion and is a life-long process. Here are some attempts to define what that looks like in practice.  

The leaders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. define masculinity as “a sense of benevolent responsibility to tend God’s creation, provide for and protect others, and express loving, sacrificial leadership in particular contexts prescribed by God’s Word.”[2]

In his book Church Planting is for Wimps, Michael McKinley defines it as, “Being responsible, dependable, humble, and strong. It means pouring yourself out for your wife and kids. It means walking closely with Christ and taking care of people in need.”[3]

John Piper writes, “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”[4]

In his book Boys Adrift, physician and social commentator, Dr. Leonard Sax writes, “What does it mean to be a man?” It means “using your strength in the service of others.”[5]

For C.S. Lewis masculinity was the willingness to initiate, especially in spiritual things like prayer, Bible study, church attendance, etc. 

And pastor Douglas Wilson adds, “Masculinity is the glad, sacrificial assumption of responsibility.”[6]

From these definitions, a central idea emerges. Spiritual masculinity is about serving.  This kind of masculinity we desperately need, and all attempts to disparage it will harm the social good. 

Promoting Spiritual Masculinity

Where do we get spiritual masculinity? How can we encourage it? When the Holy Spirit indwells a man, he points him to Christ who is the ultimate model of spiritual masculinity. He is the incarnation of everything God created masculinity to be. 

Jesus was aggressive. He initiated our salvation. The incarnation was the ultimate example of this aggression. His masculinity motivated him to single-mindedly pursue the cross for the salvation of the world. He feared God not men. He fearlessly called the Pharisees “vipers” (Matthew 12:34) and “snakes” (Matthew 23:33). Although he was able to separate his logic from his feelings, he was compassionate when appropriate. He led aggressively, but he didn’t manipulate or control. He had a normal male sex drive, and we have no reason to believe he was not tempted (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15), yet without sexual sin. He was willing to let Peter suffer to further his growth (Luke 22:31). His biological masculinity shows us what God created all men to be like. 

Jesus was a man’s man, and the fact that fisherman, carpenters, farmers, solders, and tax collectors followed him proves it. His disciples absorbed and imitated his masculinity and never looked back.[7]

Men also get their spiritual masculinity from male role models in the church have modeled themselves on Christ. In most cases it is better caught than taught. Masculine church leaders reproduce that masculinity in other men. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is a good description of what it looks like.  When church elders see the importance of spiritual masculinity, replicating it becomes central to their discipleship efforts. 

Often, however, our discipleship programs target women and children—not men. This explains why, on any given Sunday, there are sixty women to every forty men in the average American church. In many cases, ministries to men are an afterthought. In others  they are non-existent or hard to find. The reason is simple. Women’s ministries proliferate with little effort, whereas men’s ministries only flourish with focused effort and great perseverance over time. 

Tragically, if we get the women that is all we will get: but when we reach the men we get the women, the children, and the entire extended family. In his book, The American Church in Crisis, David Olson sums it up well. “In most cases the impediment to family faith was, in a word, men. Men are the crucial adopters in religion. When the men are converted, women follow, children in tow.”[8]

Conclusion

When the Holy Spirit indwells a man, he yokes the attributes of biological masculinity to the wagon of service. When that happens families and local churches thrive. 

If this is true, the most important priority for the local church, after the preaching the gospel, should be the propagation and promotion of spiritual masculinity. This is the crucial foundation upon which local churches that seek to glorify God build. Promoting it should be our fundamental goal. 

Although Western culture increasingly labels masculinity “toxic,” local churches should do the opposite. We should actively celebrate and encourage God’s foundational gift of spiritual masculinity. 


[1] For more details see Stephen Clark, Man And Woman In Christ, (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1980). 

[2] Complementarianism-A-Moment-of-Reckoning-9Marks-Journal-December-2019.pdf

[3] Mike McKinley, Church Planting is for Wimps, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010) pg 102 

[4] Grudem, Wayne (2006-08-31). Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (pp. 5-6). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[5] Leonard Sax, Boys Adrift (New York: Basic Books, 2009 Kindle Edition). p. 181

[6] Douglas Wilson. From a video interview entitled “Masculinity is the glad assumption of responsibility” at www.desiringgod.org

[7] This raises an important question. If men get their masculinity from Christ where do women get their femininity? The same place. God has made both men and women in his image. Both sexes glorify God with spiritual fruit. However, the Holy Spirit expresses the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) differently through men than through women. The genders are like two prisms. The same light enters both, but what comes out on the other side is a function of the shape and size of the prism. For example, a woman loves her children differently than her husband, and a man loves his wife differently than she loves him. 

[8] David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) pg 87-88