The term “toxic masculinity” is in vogue, now, from college campuses to Playboy, having appeared in mainstream news articles, popular feminist blogs and, as of November, the online repository of slang words, Urban Dictionary. No one agrees on what the term means, as evidenced by Wikipedia’s caveats in their “Toxic Masculinity” article, “The neutrality of this article is disputed,” and “This article may need to be re-written completely.”
To the degree that toxic masculinity refers to the ways that Adam’s fall into sin has affected men—causing rape, physical abuse, and the selfish use of power, Christians can affirm the use of this term, and I personally think they should. But it is often used along with an ideology that views differences in male/female roles as a social construct, (a form of patriarchy) that is oppressive. This ideology often identifies Christianity and the Bible’s teaching of complementarity as patriarchal, and repressive.
No matter what the intended meaning of this term, it’s use is sure to increase in the coming months and years. This provides a great opportunity for us to equip our children and grandchildren to speak into the culture with a Biblical world and life view that winsomely presents God’s perfect design of male and female with different natures, bodies, and roles. The fact is that God’s design is glorious.
Consider just one aspect of biblical masculinity revealed to us in Genesis 2:15, where we are told that Adam is placed in the garden to work it (ESV). The Hebrew word, “work it” is “avad,” which is also translated cultivate (NASB). It means to make fruitful, to cause to flourish, to produce, to build, to shape. Adam is to make the garden (which includes its inhabitants) fruitful—to provide what the garden needs to thrive, to help it, and its inhabitants reach their fullest potential.
This core concept of masculinity is that we spend our lives (energy and time) devoted to helping those under our care develop to their fullest potential. We sacrifice our time and energy so that the garden (or civilization) as well as our wives and children (also in the garden) flourish, prosper. Under this broad heading of AVAD, we discern four subheadings:
A. Both Adam and Eve are called to develop the potential that God has built into the garden (world). God wants iron to become steel and bridges to be built. He wants the principles of harmonics to be employed to create beautiful music—and the relationships brought about by the diversification of labor to be regulated by his law. Both Adam and Eve are to develop culture. However, Adam is more specifically assigned to provide from one part of the garden, what another part needs, (e.g. water in the garden to irrigate the pear tree, pears from the garden to feed humans, etc.) That is what “cultivating the garden” means. AVAD means providing. There is a reason men tend to feel it their responsibility to be the material providers of their homes. Their calling is described, by the word, avad.
B. The call to help those in the garden flourish gives Adam the responsibility to help his sons and daughters to thrive spiritually, as well. A father’s role in the spiritual development of his children is clear in Genesis 18:19, when God says, “For I have chosen him (Abraham), that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” In Col 3:21 and Eph 6:4, it is fathers who are challenged to raise their children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord. That is masculinity. Our job is to impact, to shape those around us so they prosper—they reach their fullest potential. That is what the training and discipline of our children does.
C. The masculine call to cause those under our care to flourish also makes a confusing part of Paul’s teaching to husbands clear. After telling husbands to follow Jesus’ example of sacrifice, Paul explains the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice with words, that seem to set forth a puzzling parallel: “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Jesus’ goal for us, his bride, is to make us beautiful. Of course! That is what men do—they help those under their care reach their fullest potential. Jesus’ love for us meant helping us, his bride, become more and more inwardly beautiful—more sanctified. Christian husbands, then, are called to help their wives thrive spiritually, becoming more and more holy. Are you accepting this responsibility in your wife’s life?
D. The masculine calling to cause those under our care to flourish requires a life of sacrifice. We die to ourselves, sacrificially providing whatever it takes so that those under our care flourish physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). The Greek word for love is agape, which describes, sacrificial, loyal, fierce, undeterred devotion. This is the masculine calling of a man—to put the welfare, the prosperity of those entrusted to him before his own needs and desires. The masculinity that Christianity restores Christian men to put on display is not toxic masculinity but self-giving masculinity. Our authority and headship are assigned to us so that we can cause those under our care to thrive. Christianity’s teaching about gender is as far from toxic masculinity as love is from abuse.
Godly masculinity matters to God. It is a picture to the world of Christ’s love for his church. This glorious view of manhood is one we need to be intentional about teaching our sons and daughters, our grandsons and granddaughters. We need to win over their hearts—helping them to celebrate our creator’s wonderful design of male/female relationships. We need to put an end to their feeling alone, ashamed, or defensive about Christianity’s view of gender. To the contrary, God’s call to Christian husbands to exhibit self-giving masculinity is a wonderful opportunity to step into the void of our culture’s understanding of gender—and point others to Jesus and his love for his bride.