No, we don’t need more immature men. They’re plain to see. They’re easy to pigeonhole. They’re easy to reject and demonize and diagnose. We call them “man-boys.”
But what if there’s a more complex form of male immaturity that our eyes can’t see? He’s got it together, he’s crushing it, he’s intelligent, he’s a leader in the church, but he’s insecure and immature on the inside. He thrives on the façade that he is a success. He is the alpha dog of Christian masculinity, but still a puppy when he’s alone with himself.
Inside somewhere, there is a little boy — himself as a little boy — blinded by bars of smug self-satisfaction, chained to the floor by the veneer of maturity, locked in a cage with all of his unresolved fears and insecurities. His boy-self is untouchable, because his immaturity is imperceptible — invisible to eyes that quantify sanctification with predictably visible criteria.
He is a little boy with a grown body who, despite his many marks of masculinity (which he is prepared to list), is just as needy as the grown man living in his mom’s basement. They are both frozen in versions of themselves — one in “man-mode,” one in “boy-mode” — both man-boys.
The Gap Between ‘Man’ and ‘Boy’
Culture tells us that women want a man who is boy and man. Emotionally intelligent and professionally advancing. Sensitive and serious. Artsy and affluent. Therefore, men are in a bind. So men try. And fail. And most of the men we meet are somewhere rocketing back and forth between “man” and “boy.”
And we sadly hate ourselves for being unable to integrate what, it seems, are two irreconcilable but good aspects of masculinity: innocent dependence and laborious wisdom, spun out disobediently into couch potato and heel-grabbing entrepreneur, Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right, despicable idiot and gloriously competent, slug and god.
No gray to consider. No growth to account for. No glory in boyishness or gluttony in manhood. Just unworthy and worthy.
Believe Like a ‘Man-Boy’
Is it possible that God desires male Christians to be man-boys in a completely new sense of the term? What if by “man-boy,” we didn’t refer to the jobless loaf on the couch? What if our term “man-boy” didn’t let Mr. Alpha Christian Male off the hook? What if our term “man-boy” became a positive term for a male who has come to peace with God’s call to have the faith of a child, which is the sort of faith that cultivates Christian maturity?
The language of “coming to peace with your inner-little-boy” sounds like self-help fluff. It’s more profound; it’s what William Wordsworth is talking about when he says: “The Child is the father to the Man” (Selected Poems, 135). It’s what Jesus is talking about:
The disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:1–6)
Is Jesus talking here about protecting children? Yes and no. We can’t divorce his second paragraph from his first. He isn’t talking about finding childlike faith, and then children’s ministry. Jesus isn’t talking just about protecting Christians ages one to eleven.
Real Men Live Like Children
He’s saying, “You must become this child. And in becoming this child, I will take care of you. And in taking care of you, I will teach you to mature.”
In order to come to Jesus, we have to give up all of our alpha-pretensions that we feel will help us to compete against other Christian men in the “church dating scene.” We must give up our reticent lethargy that prevents us from even trying. We must give up our anxiety about not being the most powerful guy in the room. The most powerful, godly, awesome, white-toothed guy in the room is in danger of marginalizing his own child, his own ability to come to Christ in childlike faith.
What if we as men, in running so fast and so far from the label “man-boy,” have tied a millstone of adult-performance around our necks, and sacrificed our inner-child on the altar of “maturity” and “masculinity”?
You Must Be a Child
Jesus has an obvious compassion for children. But he is also saying, “In your fear of childishness, don’t throw out the kingdom of God — you must be a child.” To be a boy is to believe like a child; to be a “man-boy” in the true sense is to be a “childlike man” — a believing man who actively grows in his strength, but doesn’t hide his weakness.
If we lose touch with that nostalgic sense of childlikeness, rooted in creation, trusting of redemption, looking eagerly to our Father, jumping eagerly into his arms, finding joy in the moment with our God who loves us, we become useless to women. We become emotionally unavailable. We become combative. Intimidating. High-handed.
We think that man-boys are useless to women. But if we redefine the term to mean “a man who can find the truly childlike faith that propels maturity,” then man-boys are closet most-eligible-bachelors. Childlike men are neither afraid of being needy, nor of taking responsibility.
Women Need ‘Man-Boys’
Women need man-boys (in our new sense) who have child-like faith for reasons rarely applauded:
- Men with childlike faith aren’t domineering, because they know: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
- Men with childlike faith aren’t brash or insensitive; they listen, because they know: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
- Men with childlike faith aren’t satisfied with laziness, because they know: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
- Men with childlike faith aren’t defensive, because they know: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
- Men with childlike faith don’t lead women on, or ask for sexual favors, because they know: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
- Men with childlike faith aren’t aggressive toward women, because they know: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
- Men with childlike faith aren’t cynical or embarrassed about their faith, because they know: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
- Men with childlike faith don’t have fragile egos, because they know: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).
Blessed Are the Man-Boys
As C.S. Lewis put it, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up” (Of Other Worlds, p. 25). Put more seriously by theologian Herman Bavinck, “It is only a childlike faith that can gratefully accept and appropriate these benefits from God” (Essays, 31).
Women don’t need men who have lost their childlikeness. And they don’t need men who are stuck in their childishness. Women need men who are “man-boys” in the better sense — men who are unapologetically dependent upon Christ, as well as unafraid to take on a dependent wife and children.
“Man-boys” are the next generation of Christian men. And Scripture either has a full enough picture of masculinity to capture both aspects of masculinity, or it demonizes the “boy” and worships the “man.” God does neither by requiring both. Blessed are the man-boys, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Paul Maxwell (@paulcmaxwell) is a PhD student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute. He writes more at his blog, and pretends to like coffee.