The fashion industry has always been an easy target when criticizing the media’s perpetuation of poor female self-image. Those postwar sketches of docile housewives. Or today’s prurient and Photoshopped magazine covers. Not to mention all those models with a scary unhealthy body mass index. The industry has responded, at least modestly. In the last few years, a diversity boomlet has hit the modeling world, with retailers and ad producers asking agents to search their “curve rosters” for plus-size body shapes.

But there’s a significant holdout in fashion’s body-image reckoning: men. Flip or scroll through any clothing catalog and you will find, despite the requisite racial mix, only one type of male model: slender, athletic, with washboard abs that may or may not be visible but that we know are there. It’s an enduring symbol of our culture’s uncertainty about manhood. Women, finally, are finding space to be themselves and feel good about it and step into the limelight. Men? We’re not quite sure where to put them, other than in the gym.

In this, at least, the church can take some comfort. It’s not the only institution struggling to understand manhood. Christianity Today has devoted significant coverage to men’s ministry since at least the early ’90s. What is striking about that coverage is how little the core challenges have changed in nearly three decades. A 1991 piece by Mark Galli (now editor in chief) lamented the disappearance of men from the pews and hinted that men, who tended toward superficial relationships, might be lonely.

What has changed, like a moving target, is the church’s sense of how to tackle those challenges. Some leaders told CT in 1991 that men’s ministries should be less feminine and emphasize the Christian virtues of strength, courage, and heroism—comments foreshadowing the rise of the “wild at heart” evangelical masculinity movement of the early 2000s. More recent contributors have pushed back on such ideas and debated what, exactly, anyone means by phrases like “biblical manhood.”

So any examination of men’s ministry must, inevitably, tread some familiar ground. But this month’s cover package on the topic comes at something of a swell in the debate over masculinity and the future of men in America—a cultural moment with significant repercussions for the church.

You will not find a prescription for biblical manhood in this issue of CT. Instead, it offers insights from leaders who have thought deeply about how to best spur men to follow Christ and love their neighbors in a day when being a man is, well, complicated. And certainly, womanhood today is also complicated. Fortunately, Christ’s model of biblical personhood is as clear as it’s ever been—and it is more than broad enough to guide the unique callings and meet the unique needs of both genders.

Andy Olsen is Managing Editor of Christianity Today magazine. Follow him on Twitter @AndyROlsen.

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