Four Models of Manhood

This is a bit of work in progress, but I thought it might be of interest and might provoke some discussion. It’s a diagram to help Christian men think through what it means to be a godly man.

I wonder whether you can plot models of manhood along two axes: (1) the axis of proactivity and passivity; and (2) the axis of sacrificial service and selfishness. Godly manhood involves both proactivity and serving. In other words, taking the initiative to serve in the home, in the church and in the wider community.

We can get manhood wrong by (1) sliding down the proactivity-passivity axis into passivity (‘new man’) or (2) sliding down the service-selfishness axis into selfishness (‘macho man’), or (3) both (‘adolescent man’).

There’s a PDF for the Four Models of Manhood here that you could use as a worksheet with a man or a group of men.

Here are some comments:

  • I’m a complementarian. But I don’t always like what some complementarians say about biblical manhood! I think sometimes some people can stress the importance of leadership without also stressing the need to use power to serve others. I think this diagram may help correct this without over-reacting and creating passive men.
  • I think we have a growing problem of young men in the late teens, twenties and evening their thirties who have not grown up. The adolescent teenager is a twentieth century phenomenon. Before that boys went from boyhood to manhood fairly quickly with not much in between. You left school and started work and that meant taking responsibility. Increasing prosperity means late teens could enjoy ‘adolescence’ – a not-a-child-but-not-an-adult existence marked by self-indulgence and self-obsession. In the 21st century adolescence is being extended into men’s twenties. So, for example, men waste their time playing on ‘toys’ like X-Box and PlayStation. Many delay marriage into their late twenties to postpone the responsibilities it entails.
  • You could use this diagram by asking men (and perhaps their wives as well) to plot where they think they are on both axes. Then you could discuss how they could be more proactive and more serving.

There’s more on these themes (though without the fancy diagram) in my book Gospel-Centred Marriage which is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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20 thoughts on “Four Models of Manhood

  1. Depends on how you load the language, right? Where do introverts fit on your scale? If one is “taking responsibility” how is that different from “insisting I must be in charge?” You say it, passivity, like it’s a bad thing … how about “waiting on God” … am I being passive then?

  2. That was my original thought as I looked at this Paul – I have always been concerned in organising men’s conventions and producing books for and about men to make sure that we didn’t default to stereotyping the ideal man as someone who was a huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ kind of guy. I repeat to writers and speakers – ” How will this work for the guy who writes poetry, plays chess and paints watercolours – he’s a man in Christ too”.

    But I think we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that the word “proactive” here means the former, and does not include the latter. You have just been very proactive in writing a blog post reply. I can be proactive by starting a conversation about emotional issues with my teenage daughters. Neither of these is especially “alpha-male-ish” in the normal sense of that phrase. And waiting on God needs to be seen as an extremely proactive thing – choosing to do nothing, and to deliberately waiting for what God will do by other means, as distinct from not being bothered to do anything – is a deliberate choice to apply Biblical wisdom over and above our natural male desires to dive in and do something – anything.

    So after some brief reflection, I think this model has some big possibilities. My question is – how would this look different for women? And would you dare put a name to the four quadrants? The one in the bottom left begins with B!

  3. Sounding too much like Dricsoll for my liking. I. We are is the 21st century with it’ s implications that are oh so differtn to the 50′s

  4. Thanks for this. I’m still trying to work out what I think about it. In many ways I like it, because it is good to confront the passive adolescent man culture and the dominant/abusive man culture that I think we all recognise as a problem.

    But, alongside Tim Thornborough, I’m left with two questions.
    1) how do you justify that God’s call on men is to be ‘pro-active’?
    2) How is this different from God’s call on women? I don’t think as a woman I’m any less called to serve the family, church and wider world, and I intend to be proactive about doing so.

  5. I suppose re the questions about pro-activeness and women it would be helpful to show something similar for the godly woman.

    Re justifying the requirement for men. I’d be looking at

    1. Adam’s role in Eden which essentially suggests abdication of responsibility -a passitiveness that leads to blame shifting

    2. Ephesians 5 suggests to me a high level of proactivenes if husbands are heads -and sacrificial love as Christ loved shows a level of pro-activeness to love (we love because he first loved us)

    Like you you Tim, I’m a complementarian but one who is uncomfortable with the way some c’s talk which seems more about a 1950s model of family life than the biblical or historical reality. (Gail -I think what Tim is talking about here is very very different from the 1950s stereotype -though our issue with a model should be whether it is true to Scripture rather than is it true to an era -after all what if the 1950s were right?)

    I get worried when men want to know first of all how to be “head” and are eager to hear a definition of how their wives submit. I think that if they were to focus on the sacrificial love/willingness to die bit then they would end up doing headship and their wives would be willing to place themselves safely into their husband’s care and protection (which is possibly a big bit of what “wives submit” means).

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  7. Tim,

    I appreciate this, but feel you need to be careful with the use of the word adolescent. Adolescence is a god given stage of development that encompasses puberty (and includes other physiological changes). I say God given because human adolescent seems unique, other juvenile periods in animals aren’t similar. Jesus would have been an adolescent. “Teenager” is a modern phenomenon (at least, how we think about it), and extending adolescence into the late twenties is as well, and I agree, that’s worrying, but we need to be clear about what terms we use to avoid condemning a period of time that is actually natural.

  8. Thanks for this helpful spur to thought and discussion, Tim. I imagine it could prove very useful.

    Following on from some of these comments, I wonder if we could just do with a clarification of what headship is. It seems clear in Ephesians 5 and other texts, that “the husband *is* the head of the wife as Christ *is* the head of the church” (Eph.5:23, emphasis added). The question then is how does one be a godly, Christ-like head? Answer – v.25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…”

    I may be barking up an invisible tree (if you get what I mean!) but it seems to me that often in discussion of this issue, we talk in terms of how the husband *should* be head etc. He simply is! Therefore if he fails to act in a godly way that will have repercussions for his wife and family (and church and others too I suppose).

    I don’t know if that’s helpful at all… Can anyone else clarify?

    Also – on the adolescence issue, whilst it may be a part of growing up in today’s western world (ref. Mark), I’m not sure we can say it’s “a God-given stage of development” as it clearly hasn’t been a universal phenomenon (if you look at other cultures/times). I don’t think we can ignore that the generalisation of passive and selfish largely holds true, which is obviously ungodly. It’s a wonderful sign of the Spirit’s work when you see young people really growing in godliness when everyone around them is just bumming about playing video games.

  9. Following what Jon said: according to Wikipedia, at least, the term “adolescence” only started being used widely from 1904: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolescent .

    On the other hand, I’ve heard adolescence described as “the period between the time you acquire the physical capability to start a family and the time when you acquire the emotional maturity to handle a marriage”. Which I think is a good definition of a period of development which has always existed, varies in length from person to person, but whose length should be as short as possible (because it is terminated by reaching a particular stage of maturity which is desirable that people attain).

    Tim T: I think it might be the bottom right box on an analogous women’s diagram which begins with “B”…! but then I’m not sure a woman’s diagram would have precisely the same axes, or if it did, then precisely the same “goal point”. Where is godly female or wifely behaviour on the line between “passive” and “proactive”? Are those two terms even the right ones?

  10. Hi Tim, Your model is helpful. I do quite a lot of work with men and use the word ‘intentional’ instead of ‘proactive’ when challenging passivity. I do this because ‘proactive’ can be unhelpful for some. Everybody can be intentional, whether they are into poetry or hunting. I think the ‘serving v selfish’ vector brings another useful dimension (no pun intended). Thank you. M

  11. I find it a helpful diagram to look through my own life and marriage, but like most classifications, it should not be used too rigidly, especiallyin categorising men. For example, I find it difficult to think of manhood in the abstract – rather it is expressed within relationships. So, I am certain that my wife would like me to be more proactive. Indeed for me, the attempt to think and plan and pray further ahead than I would naturally do, is precisely one aspect of my self-sacrificial love that I want to work on. On the other hand, it is clear that in my new post at work, my boss would rightly prefer my obedience to proactiveness – and yet it is possible to do so in a “positive” way.

    Jon, I entirely agree – I am not commanded to be my wife’s head, I am simply told that I am, for good or ill. May aim and prayer is that it be increasingly for good – that is for her good.

    Dom

  12. While the term adolescent is new, the physical stage puberty and the other accompanying changes (the physical changes in the brain) are entirely human. The term probably is unhelpful because it is so broad, if we said intend “the teenage man” who was stuck in perpetual adolescence, that might be more helpful. I agree the concept exists, but I want to avoid belittling a stage in life that seems given to us by God. Much as there is a lot wrong with a grown adult acting childish yet there is nothing wrong with a seven year old acting childish, there is a lot wrong with an adult acting adolescent.

  13. Very interesting- though I honestly don’t see anything childish about playing Xboxes or Playstations for leisure. Computer games actually help increase processing speed and motor skills. The only difference between a 16 year old and an adult playing one is that an adult is responsible enough to set limits for himself. Personally I think there’s a big difference between childlike and childish, and being mature isn’t just about not playing computer games or reading Harry Potter. Maturity is about responsibility and empathy, not about what hobbies you have.
    I also think that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that people put off marriage. Bottom line, don’t get married now just because the people around you are. Get married because you are ready and have found someone to love.

  14. Mark – I’m inclined to think that most people will generally get the term “adolescent man” -whether or not there is an adolescent stage (and I get the impression that the word has a broader feel than just puberty but refers to the whole culture and expectations that go with it) juxtaposing ‘adolescent’ with ‘man’ sets up something that clearly should not be, so that if the stage is legitimate, we don’t carry it on into manhood.

    Isn’t the issue not so much that an adult “is” responsible but that they “should be” -if we are increasingly selfish, irresponsible, addicted then that’s an issue.

    Is there a factor here where churches have overrespponded to the culture -a failure to contextualise by showing how the culture is different to the Gospel means that we’ve had a few generations now where the response has been to create over-specialised youth ministires and churches seperate from the church family. It should be no surprise when people start “needing” church services tailoured for the 20s and 30s

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  16. I suppose I hear the term “adolescent man” in the same way as I would hear “childish” or “infantile”. Infancy, childhood and adolescence may all be staging-posts, but they are not the destination. I wonder (to generalise) what the classic example of each type would be driven by – godly man presumably by the gospel, by God, by the Spirit as opposed to the flesh, however we might put it. But how do the false paths tend on this model? Judging by the ways in which I drift into these patterns, I would suggest: Driven by power/pride, driven by pleasure, driven by fear/cultural expectation…

    Thinking again, perhaps they are all driven by fear in different ways, as opposed to the humble confidence of the gospel.

  17. Tim, I really liked your previous suggestions on this. Namely for the Godly man to be pro-active and peace-loving. Serving is obviously crucial too, but for me personally the pro-active/peace-loving axis worked really well. It encouraged me in my natural inclination to be pro-active as a husband, father, etc (hopefully in a Godly way) but also deeply challenged me to peace-loving (which I am not always). The natural ‘introvert’ on the other hand would perhaps naturally be peace-loving but be challenged to be so for the right reasons, and would also be challenged to be pro-active even if difficult to be so.

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