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October 10, 2023

Rebuilding Men in the Age of “Toxic Masculinity”

All is not well with men today. Men are battling problems of many, many kinds.

In fact, as I show in my brand-new book The War on Men, men are struggling today in almost every area. Educationally, for every one woman who drops out of college, seven men drop out. Economically, men have left the workforce in almost unprecedented numbers; the current employment rate of men in prime working years mirrors that of the Great Depression. Spiritually, men are, in many cases, missing from church; for decades, women have represented 60% of churchgoers.

Relationally, men have left their families. According to The Atlantic, 80 percent of single-parent homes are headed by mothers. Morally, men represent “more than 90 percent of federal inmates,” showing us precisely where many men go when they disappear. Situationally, in the bleakest category there is, suicide rates, men kill themselves far more than women do, representing 80% of suicides today per the Center for Disease Control.

Men are doing very, very badly today. This is not merely a problem, though. We are way beyond that. This is a genuine crisis.

Men Are Under Attack

We can identify many factors contributing to this crisis. For decades, the family has been under attack. One prominent target of these attacks: fathers. Men. Many unsound voices speak to men, demanding that they stop acting like men. For example, some say that men should not try to teach anybody anything; that’s “mansplaining” (yes, it’s an actual term!). Others say that if men act (by God’s biblical call) to lead women in homes and churches, that’s men acting as “oppressors.” But there is an even more brazen attack made against men today: men are toxic.

This indictment is everywhere today. In 2019, for example, the American Psychological Association published a report on “traditional masculinity,” calling it an “ideology” that is “harmful.” Here are elements of traditional masculinity that cause harm: “achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure risk and violence.” Overall, “traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.”

This is a huge reason why men are doing badly today. If they seek achievement, they’re acting badly. If they try to be tough, they’re acting badly. If they pursue adventure, they’re acting badly. Basically, here’s a summary of what makes up toxic manhood: everything that men naturally do or want to be.

How We Can Help Men Today

Today, men are shamed for being men. It is good to be womanly, our culture teaches in many ways, but it is not good to be manly. This ideology may bounce off of us adult men to a degree. But this approach is having real effects among boys and young men, as the above data shows. All this necessitates a serious response on the part of God’s people. Here are three points of emphasis for those who care for men and want their good.

First, we need to make clear that God made men, and made them for his glory. Men are not idiots or goofballs. Men are image-bearers who have real dignity and worth (Genesis 1:26-28). Boys and men need correction and challenging, absolutely. But they need this in the context of shepherding and commitment and encouragement. Raising a boy, as Dr. Dobson so helpfully laid out, is no easy thing! It takes investment, love, patience, and a whole lot of attention.

Second, we need to teach that men are not made for passivity. Men are made for action. We hear David in the Bible say to his son Solomon, as David lay dying: “Be strong, and show yourself a man” (1 Kings 2:2). Yahweh said this to Joshua as Joshua prepared to take the promised land: “Be strong and courageous,” (Joshua 1:9). In the New Testament, Paul challenged the Corinthians to “Act like men” (1 Corinthians 16:13). Men, in God’s mind, clearly are not supposed to be soft and scared. Men are commanded by God to walk in his strength, not fleshly weakness.

Third, we need to raise men up and send men out. Too many men are listless and apathetic today, lost in a loop of sin and discouragement. In response, we don’t torch men. We put an arm around them, we preach Christ to them, and we say practically, You can do this. You can grow. You can kill sin. You can build things. You can win a woman’s heart. You can be a father. You are weak in yourself, but God will make you strong. Central in all this work is a kind, loving, forgiving, instructing father. Alongside fathers, we need Christian men who can speak wisdom to our sons, reinforcing our teaching and example, helping them see that maturity is gain, not loss (1 Cor. 13:11).

Conclusion

Today, we dare to do something radical: we believe in men. Fewer and fewer people around us do so. But we will not abandon boys and young men. We know that men are made by God himself. Further, we know that no man is too far gone for God to save him and put him to work. Men are not toxic; men are sinners, and God loves to redeem sinners. God will do this in our time, and God will help those who are His.

Indeed, for men who are already a Christians, we can know this: where we are weak, God will be strong for us. We all falter and stumble (James 3:2). Our marriages need work. Our fatherhood can improve. Our spiritual life could use refreshing. Instead of wallowing in despair or tuning out, we can choose the better way. We can hear the ancient call, and respond to it by the power of divine grace:

Be strong, and show yourself a man


Owen Strachan is Provost of Grace Bible Theological Seminary, host of the Grace & Truth podcast on the Salem podcast network, and the author of The War on Men: Why Society Hates Them and Why We Need Them.

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