The Gospel Coalition recently published an article where a young man described how he came to grow as a Christian through a small group of men who discipled him. But you would never know that is what the article was actually about. The basic message about growth into Christian maturity is obscured by the attempt to be relevant to the SSA crowd or someone else out there. Carl Trueman and I often disagree on women’s roles and masculinity in particular outside the church and home. But his short post nails the problems. Let me briefly explain why the article is not helpful.
First, it tries too hard to sound hip by using SSA as a paradigm instead of talking in terms of plain old discipleship. Read my opening sentence. There is nothing amazing about what happened to the author. It happens in thousands of churches in this land every week including ones where men shoot guns and play football. A man or woman struggles with sin other Christians come along and help him or her grow in Christ. But of course, an article like that would not get traffic or tweet as easily.
Second, it tries very hard to be profound when it isn’t. Of course, obedience is better than disobedience. Refusing to act on sinful desire is always better than acting on sinful ones. Can you imagine someone saying, a man who is prone to greed, but doesn’t steal is far more of a man than a murderer who gives in to his lust to kill? Of course not. It is so patently true that it is not worth saying. Yet if you put celibate gay Christian in there it sounds profound.
Third, as Trueman points out the article represents a category confusion. Wanting to have sex with men is a desire that has no righteous outlet. It is a sinful desire. You cannot act on it. Wanting to have sex with a woman, is a legitimate desire that must be properly channeled. Same-sex attraction is sinful all the way down, as in it can never be acted on in any way. Heterosexual desire is not.
Fourth, the article takes what has traditionally been one of the ways men separated from women, dress, manners, certain enjoyments and made them not masculine. On the flip side it has taken what is not distinctly masculine, resisting your lusts, and made it masculine. I am not saying to be truly manly you must watch football. But men and women have traditionally had different interests. That is because they are different. It is ironic that in an article which rejects dressing like a man as being manly, the picture in the post is of someone who is clearly a man. Dress does matter. So do manners and hobbies and all that other stuff that we toss on the pile as not meaning a whole lot.
Fifth, while I am not sure it was intended this way, but the opening paragraph appears to mock a certain culture that is filled with good Christians who love Jesus, like my dad. Are they perfect? No. But apparently you can struggle with SSA and be accepted, but killing innocent animals or loving Duck Dynasty means you are a patriarchal tyrant who doesn’t understand what it means to be a man in Christ. Here is the opening paragraph.
My adolescence was a social nightmare. I grew up in the rural South but didn’t fit the mold of Southern masculinity in the slightest. Sports piqued no interest in me; roughhousing made me nervous; slaying innocent animals seemed cruel and gross. Of course I never expressed such blasphemies—I wasn’t stupid! But I was everything opposite of what my Duck Dynasty-like culture insisted I should be. I was sensitive. I liked to read. I liked to draw. I liked to journal. I wasn’t your mud ridin’, hog huntin’ kind of boy.
Again, not sure if it was meant this way, but it comes across condescending.
Finally, because the article is so unclear, I am not sure who he is addressing with the following section:
As I observed their lives they led, the image I had in my mind of what it meant to be a man started to crumble. A man could be gentle and compassionate. A man could be thoughtful and sensitive. A man could be a better conversationalist than he is a sportsman. A man could talk about women with respect and integrity. A man could struggle with various weaknesses.
If he is saying “I had the wrong view of manhood” and these Christian men helped me correct it that is fine. But often implicit in statements like this, especially when read beside his opening paragraph and the rest of the article, is that those who hold to traditional male-female roles have taught him the wrong view of manhood. Even if he doesn’t mean this it will certainly be read that way by many. But no one I have ever read on traditional male-female roles would disagree with anything in this paragraph. In fact replace all his “could be” with “must be” and that is what I read from men who hold a hard line on SSA and believe in traditional male-female roles. Men must be gentle and compassionate. Men must be thoughtful and sensitive. Men are weak. Men must talk about women with respect and integrity. And I think most would say if they had a choice between being a great conversationalist and killing a deer they would pick the former. Yes we like to hunt, but we also like to talk.
Trueman called this the most confusing statement of the day and maybe the week. He is right. It is not helpful and throws fog on a topic that is already filled with confusion.