About “Man-Boys”

By Paul Maxwell

She was a single Christian friend (totally just friends), venting her frustration about immature men. It was casual, because that kind of venting is common. It was over coffee. It cut deep.

“Christian men . . . ugh.”

As a male Christian college student with no wife, no steady job, and no financial independence, I squirmed with unease and insecurity. She wasn’t attacking me; just issuing a general complaint to the universe. The words effortlessly flowed out of her mouth like she had said them a million times before, and I wasn’t prepared for the adjectives that would be slung in the conversation: “Immature.” “Childish.” “Lazy.” “Weak.” “Pathetic.” Wait for it . . . “Man-Boys.”

At a level, the tone we use to speak about young Christian men today would be self-evidently disrespectful in another context. And to state the obvious, it cuts the deepest when coming from our single female counterparts. There are a slew of legitimate reasons why a single Christian woman would be tempted to rag on immature men. (1) Secular women offer a pre-packaged and intuitive man-boy bashing liturgy. (2) She (or a friend) dated a guy, got burned, and reinterpreted him through the lens of hurt as a “man-boy.” (3) Taking jabs at immature men is a fun and easy way to sequester the chilling reality of singleness.

It’s understandable, but can I please say this? It’s not okay. The term “man-boy” (sometimes “man-child,” “baby-man,” etc.) is a slur. It is used to personally demean and debase a class of Christians. It is a put-down. It expresses contempt and exhibits haughtiness. And, worst of all, it defines the value of humans in God’s image according to their gender performance.

The Problem Is Not Laziness

“But,” you say, “there are a lot of Christian men who exhibit disappointing behaviors.” This is true, but I’m not convinced categories like sinfulness or laziness, common explanations, properly capture the issue. Perhaps laziness points beyond itself — maybe it is symptomatic of a more systemic problem. Let’s interpret the classic “man-boy” behaviors through a lens other than laziness:

Delaying marriage can help: avoid shared physical, emotional, and spiritual space, and retreat into personal space.

Neglecting the Bible and church can help: avoid divine intimacy, and retreat into personal life.

Floating without ambition can help: avoid work hours, and retreat into personal time.

Playing video games chronically can help: avoid external reality, and retreat into virtual reality.

Living at home can help: avoid external pressures, and retreat into internal comforts.

Modern-Day Fig Leaves

“Lazy” is a surface-level description. “Avoid” moves us toward an explanation of the heart. Scripture tells us that the heart is always active (Genesis 6:5; Deuteronomy 11:6; Jeremiah 17:5, 9; 1 Peter 1:22), so our description of the heart should always be in the active voice (I’m not saying avoidance is the problem, but it helps us get a bit deeper than the laziness concept).

“Avoid” is a door to a slew of other active words, and a host of other realities of the heart: fear (“What if I fail?”), anxiety (“I can’t handle this!”), depression (“I hate myself/life”), feelings of insufficiency (“I am not enough”), self-deprecation (“I am stupid/dirty/undesirable”), shame (“God and neighbor are disgusted with me”), and a thousand more. “I would rather escape than publicly be put to shame” (cf. Revelation 6:16).

These categories give us a new perspective. “Man-boys” aren’t first and foremost struggling with being men, but with being human. Singleness, solitude, laziness, video games, and Mom’s house are modern-day fig leaves — self-made coverings for men who are stripped of competence and deeply ashamed of their inability to engage with the realities of life because of their experience with the Oppressor (Isaiah 14:4), who seeks to spread confusion and chaos among God’s people (John 8:44; 2 John 7; Revelation 12:10).

This article was written by Paul Maxwell on Desiring God. Click here to read the rest of the article.