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Making Boys Into Men

Updated: May 15

“It’s easier to bleed than to sweat.” - Flannery O’Connor

I was reminded recently that boys don't become men on their own.

"Maleness happens naturally. Manliness does not."

Not that I didn’t know this already; but like many, I think we often just assume that manliness happens naturally and organically just like maleness. We assume that boys grow into men because their bodies get bigger, and we don’t think too much more about it.

  • Boys do grow naturally; their bodies change; their jaws square up, and they start to look (and smell) more and more masculine. Their facial hair starts to come in and their voices change. We look at a tall, brutish, hairy male and say, "Now that's a man."

  • But unfortunately, there are plenty of overgrown boys walking around with square jawed beards, full-time jobs, and kids of their own.

Just because a boy grows older doesn’t mean he becomes a man. He may gain the physical stature of maleness, along with its strength and skill. He may even look masculine, baring a thick beard, and have a large muscular build, but that doesn’t mean he's become manly. Those outward signs do not mean the boy has become a man of character.

Manliness is more about personal character and integrity than about physical size and strength.

A fully grown male may give off the physical traits of masculinity while lacking the internal foundation of a truly masculine character. Real men of character have to cultivate true masculinity, personal virtue, and sturdy character.

  • As O’Connor said, “It is easier to bleed than to sweat.” If you were to cut any male, blood would appear. All males bleeds. But fewer men bleed character. Character demands hard work, discipline, and intentionality; and that type of work is demands endurance, consistency, humility, injury, and discipline. In other words, becoming a man of character demands sweat.

What the world needs most is not men who possess certain worldly skills (although that's important), nor men who are just powerful brutes (also important). What the world needs most is men who possess strong, virtuous character. C.S. Lewis called these kinds of males, ”men with chests.” According to Lewis, a virtuous man is one who has “tidied up and harmonized the things inside him." A man possessing the strength of sturdy character.

Chase Replogle notes, “The best sailor is not the man with the best ship; it's the man who understands his ship best and the tactics necessary to get the ship safely to its proper destination.” Being manly is not about being the strongest, the hairiest, the burliest, or the best- looking. Its not about having all the latest, greatest, and shiniest toys. Being manly is about having a good command of yourself; manliness is about being a man of sturdy character. It's about personal virtue and believing and standing for what is right.

But still, a major question lingers today...

Are We Turning Boys into Men?

When we assume that boys just naturally become men, we set ourselves, our boys, and everyone else up for failure because we allows ourselves to step out to the process. And when men step out of the process, its not that the boy stops being raised. Its that someone else or some other idea steps in. The raising process doesn't change. What changes is the one doing the raising.

And it's even more imperative today that Christian fathers and Christian men do not step out of that process because the world, who longs to teach and influence our sons, no longer believes in manliness; much less, maleness.

Masculinity is now thought of as "toxic," and the very category of "male" is being rejected by a foolish and dying culture. If we fail to make our sons into virtuous men, we are doing the world a great disservice.

"All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

Boys do not become men on their own, and when we leave them to themselves they turn to the world, turn inward, or they turn to one another (Lord of the flies much!? ). Boys without virtuous men in their lives to shape and guide them rarely become virtuous men themselves. Boys grow, but boys rarely mature alone.

Contrary the what the world might say with its words, boys needs strong, virtuous men. We all do. That's how God made the world to work.

Boys need strong, masculine, godly men; they need men of strong character in their lives. In fact, boys need a community of such men to watch, learn from, and imitate. They need men who will encourage, guide, correct, and rebuke them.

“When we fail to teach men how to grow in character, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover they lack it.” - Replogle.

Being a man of character is not age related. Growing boys certainly cannot be expected to possess a fully formed masculine character, and they must be given the necessary time and grace to develop it. But, just because a man is old and gray, and carries with him a lifetime of experiences does not mean he is a man of character. Masculine character is about learning to balance instinct and drive, it is about taming the natural, sinful man and striving toward true moral virtue. True masculine character is about strength and power under control. As Lewis said, it is about harmonizing all that is inside us.

  • In his book, “The Abolition of Man,” Lewis makes the case plain, “The great tragicomedy of our day is that we continue to clamor for the very [manly] qualities that we are rendering impossible. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

When Lewis says, "We make men without chests," he's referring to men without the moral tools (moral organs) for right action and strong character. He's talking about men who fail to live up to what's good and right, men who fail to love what is good and oppose what is bad.

  • Lewis was arguing that we have lost the very thing that makes men manly; we've lost that thing that causes boys to grow into men of character.

  • In many ways, this is what we're doing to an entire generation of boys.

We're destroying the foundations of true manhood while expecting our boys to become virtuous men.

Al Mohler, commenting on the recent name change of the Boy Scouts, said, "...we just need to recognize that when you eliminate these spaces, and quite frankly, you say to boys, it’s not even important that you are boys, it’s not important enough that we would have an organization that would have boys together learning say how to tie knots and how to sail a boat, and how to set up a tent as ways of learning other life lessons. When we say to boys, you’re not important enough as boys that we do this anymore, then eventually, don’t be surprised that so many of these boys don’t grow up into functioning adulthood, or that you have this radical delay of adulthood."

While our culture runs headlong into LGBTQ insanity, willingly take our young boys with it, too many men are standing passively on the sidelines doing nothing. As Burke said, "all that that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

Boys become men of character as they are formed and forged into such men. Boys need strong men of godly virtue and sturdy character to mold them and shape them. They need men with chests to help them develop their own.

  • Boys feel all sorts of things; they have all manner of emotions and feelings; they have testosterone pumping through their bodies and they grow; they test the limits and find their place in the world. And "while the nature of emotional responses is partly visceral and automatic, a man’s sentiments also have to be intentionally educated in order to be congruent with nature and the world."

"St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought...Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting and hateful."

  • Boys must be made into men. They must be taught what is truly pleasing, worthy of affection, what is truly repulsive, and what they ought to hate. Boys learn to be men only in the presence of real men.

A Lesson from the Old World

Chase Replogle takes a lesson from the Jewish Bar-mitzvah. The phrase itself means, “Son of the commandment.” When a Jewish boy reaches his thirteenth birthday, the family celebrates with a Bar-mitzvah where the boy ceremoniously becomes a man. He does this by submitting himself to the Law of God; literally becoming a son of the commandment.

  • We might think 13 is a bit young for a boy to transition to manhood, but such thinking misses the heart of the ceremony. The 13-year-old Jewish boy does not become a man because of his Bar-Mitzvah. Rather, the ceremony is about the boy recognizing his calling to manhood and submitting himself to the moral work of being and becoming a man.

The Bar-mitzvah, a day of celebration, is also a day of great weightiness for the boy. His passage into manhood is “one of accountability and submission to God. He takes on the work of self-awareness and personal attentiveness.”

Strong-Chested Men.

The world needs strong chested men. We do not need men who can bench-press lots of weight, but men who have the moral fortitude and godly virtue to harmonize their inner selves; men who live upright, self-controlled, morally stable, godly, and unwavering lives. Men who love what is good, stand for what is right, men who oppose what is wrong, and teach boys how to do the same.

  • Boys need men to do this.

  • Women need men to do this.

  • Little girls need men to do this.

  • Men need men to do this.

This is the great irony…in our current day. We have lost the ancient ways by which we taught men to like and dislike what they ought—not a question of hobbies and recreation, but of morality and purpose. We have lost the path by which we lead men to become better. We have demanded proper behavior while laughing at the idea of morality. We have become experts at deconstructing moral responsibility. We roll our eyes when others talk of virtue, character, and honor. 'How naive. How old fashioned.' Yet, we expect men to possess those very traits we now call out-of-date. We teach [men] to indulge what they feel and expect them to somehow rise above it.” - Replogle.

The ancient Romans defined manliness as “living a life of virtue.” For the Greeks, manliness meant living a life of human flourishing, and seeing to it that others flourished as well.

Brett McKay combines these ideas defining manliness as, “striving for excellence and virtue in all areas of your life, fulfilling your potential as a man, and being the absolute best son, brother, friend, husband, father and citizen you can be. This mission is fulfilled by the cultivation of manly virtues like:

  • Courage

  • Loyalty

  • Industry

  • Resiliency

  • Resolution

  • Personal Responsibility

  • Self-Reliance

  • Integrity

  • Sacrifice.

These, he says, are the virtues of manliness. And he’s right.

But we should add to these qualities of manliness those we see in Scripture:

  • Faithfulness

  • Trustworthiness

  • Humility

  • Self-control

  • Gentleness

  • Strength under control

  • Provider

  • Protector.

True manliness is not only a good and virtuous thing, it is a compelling way of life.

And while certain civic organizations have sought to put these things on display and instill them in young men, the most central place that the world should find the strongest men is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Worldly organizations will come and go. We're seeing that today. We should give thanks for the good they do, while seeing them from the right perspective.

  • Only the Lord's Church stands forever. So, by all means, have your kids in good, wholesome activities, but friends, root your children in the Church. Prioritize having your children intertwined with the life of a local, healthy, Gospel-centered Church.

Boys need a compelling vision of manhood to inspire and challenge them. They need space to test themselves, push the limits, be corrected and humbled, learn virtue, and most importantly, a place to be affirmed in their manhood. Boys need strong, virtuous men to make them into men. Manliness is a biblical truth and a gift from God. And given the state of our world, and the state of our men, we need more men of character.

We need strong-chested men.

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