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🚨 URGENT: Mere Orthodoxy Needs YOUR Help

The Masculinity Pyramid

December 5th, 2023 | 6 min read

By Seth Troutt

We are in a masculinity crisis; young men often feel as though they must choose between the way of Andrew Tate and the way of self-hating androgyny. In developing a response to the crisis, many begin with disciplines of sociology or biology, hoping to find a masculine or feminine vision in either history or zoology. 

What if we started with ontology? A vision for men rooted in a hierarchy of being would have the power to both transcend and critique cultures. 

 The quality of your answers, it’s been said, is often determined by the quality of your questions. When it comes to masculinity, I’ll add this: it’s not just asking quality questions, but asking them in the right order. This is important if we want to reclaim a healthy vision of masculinity.


Here are the questions we need to ask, I want to suggest, and the ideal order to ask them.

  1. How is a man different from God? 
  2. How is a man different from an animal? 
  3. How is a man different from a boy? 
  4. How is a man different from a woman? 

Like a pyramid, these four core questions build upon one another. Answering them correctly lays a foundation for a vision of masculinity built upon virtues rather than distortions. As we develop clarity around what a man is not to be, we’ll develop a compelling vision both of what a man is and what he is becoming.

Let’s look at the connection between the four key questions and the four key virtues more closely. 

How is man different from God?

Man is a creature, not Creator. Unlike God, man is limited, finite, boundaried, under authority, frail, and needy.  Man is under the mighty hand of God. Humility is the virtue provoked by this difference. When a man meaningfully accepts the fact that he is not God, when he sits with this reality and lets it shape him, this is the beginning of humility. The very form of man is humble. 

This creaturely identity is the foundation of masculinity; a man will never be who God is asking him to be if he lacks the considerate, curious, teachability that flows from humility. A man who lacks the virtue of humility hasn’t yet embraced that he is truly not the LORD of his life. 

How is man different from an animal?

Man is a unique creature. Animals are governed by instincts and appetites; they are non-moral creatures. Man has the capacity to be governed by vision, to order his loves, to say no to certain lesser desires in light of a greater purpose.

Discipline is the virtue provoked by this difference. Rather than mining for desires that must be expressed in the name of authenticity, a man seeking after God’s design embraces the disordered nature of his instincts and seeks to submit them to God’s word.

The virtue described here could be called self-control, self-conquest, or discipline; the ability to lead yourself with purpose rather than be led by the whims of the flesh. A man who has yet to develop God-driven discipline has not embraced the fact that he is far more than an animal. 

How is a man different from a boy?

Boys need guardians because they cannot take care of themselves and cannot be trusted to make wise choices. They need their mothers to wake them up in the morning and get them to school on time. They need their fathers to shop for their food and make them dinner.

Responsibility is the virtue provoked by this difference. When Paul tells the Corinthians to “act like men” in 1 Corinthians 16:13, what he likely has in view is that they stop acting like children, not that they stop acting like women. The big idea here is responsibility. Men are responsible stewards of the faith, boys are not. Men take responsibility for their sin, boys blame their circumstances. Once a man has cultivated the ability to be responsible for himself, he then is tasked with broadening his scope by taking responsibility (care for) for others, especially his household, his church, and his work. A man who has yet to become responsible flounders like Peter Pan.

Bone of my Bone, Flesh of My Flesh?

So far, these three marks of masculinity are indistinguishable from femininity. Women are also called to be humble, disciplined, and responsible. Women are similarly different from God, animals, and children. 

Are men and women interchangeable? No, they are not. However, the foundational three layers have everything to do with being a godly, flourishing human. These virtues lay the foundation for a meaningful, godly masculinity, as well as a meaningful, godly femininity.

When Adam first meets Eve, his reaction is, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” In other words, Someone else who is like me! Adam and Eve are more alike than they are different. Adam is more like Eve than he is like God, and he is more like Eve than he is the rest of the animal kingdom.

A man who is overly concerned with how he is different from women is missing the holy instinct of Adam, who first notices the sameness of Eve and second notices their differences (Gen 2:23).

How is a man different from a woman?

Biologically speaking, testosterone levels are one thing that significantly impacts men versus women. In utero, a testosterone wash facilitates the development of testicles. Those testicles go on to produce testosterone the rest of a man’s life. In puberty, for example, it is rise in testosterone levels that leads to the development of secondary sex characteristics like facial hair. Men, on average, have 15-20 times the amount of testosterone than women. 

The heightened presence of testosterone is the reason that men are, on average, substantially stronger than women. This is why Peter describes women as the “weaker vessel” in 1 Peter 3:7; they are literally physically weaker. This is not universally true, but it is generally true.

Testosterone makes men more aggressive. The heightened presence of testosterone in men is a large reason why men commit the vast majority of violent and sexual crimes. These are certainly abuses of aggression, but is there a proper use beneath these dangerous distortions?

God designed testosterone, and its effects, on purpose, not on accident. The strength and aggression present in the male sex was meant to serve a purpose; we cannot simply dismiss testosterone on the basis of how it plays out in the midst of our fallenness; we need to consider the creational good of this strength and aggression. The answer is not the absence of aggression, but rightly ordered aggression, as is reflected in the essence of chivalry: using strength to honor. Is there such a thing, we might ask, as holy aggression?

Holy aggression can look like contending, building, initiating, producing, planting, repenting, and confronting. It is begetting in a wide variety of ways as a faithful image of the Father.

So, we have our Masculinity Pyramid yielding to us the four core aspects of Godly masculinity:


Toxic Masculinity

Here is my proposal for how to address our sociological masculinity crisis: the toxic masculinity problem that we agree exists actually comes in two forms.

  1. male aggression that lacks responsibility, discipline, or humility before God.
  2. male abdication that lacks all rightly ordered aggression. 

Toxic masculinity Type 1 is domination, chauvinism, and reveals itself in characters like Andrew Tate. Toxic masculinity Type 2 is impotent, passive, and reveals itself in characters like many men who sit in the pews of our churches. 

Abuse is rampant, evil, and not be taken lightly. Churches must discipline abusers. Yet, male abdication is also everywhere. I know more people in counseling because of their Father’s abdication than his abuse. 

Like an ox without a yoke, testosterone without humility, discipline, and responsibility is a liability. But, when we “take His yoke,” testosterone can be an asset, not a toxin.

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Seth Troutt

Seth is the Teaching Pastor at Ironwood Church in Arizona. His doctoral studies focused on Gen Z, digitization, and bodily self-concept. He writes about emotions, gender, parenting, and the intersection of theology and culture. He and his wife Taylor have two young children.