by Steve Golden —
Entering the world of men is supposed to be a process that slowly unfolds with the help of others. Through the oversight of a father, and the encouragement of male peers, a boy—over years—builds the confidence and mastery of manhood. But that has all been burned down. Households are broke, Fathers are absent—often not by their own choice. Male spaces for mutual encouragement are disallowed or opened to girls. Burgeoning manly desires are subdued or redirected by Adderall, video games, and pornography. Feminism reigns in the Church and the broader culture. Little boys grow up thinking there is something wrong with being masculine. Christian men are told the same thing.Michael Foster and Dominic Bnonn Tennant, It’s Good to Be a Man, p. ix
So begins the introduction to Michael Foster and Dominic Bnonn Tennant’s It’s Good to Be a Man, published by Canon Press. These two men run a website by the same name, and their book serves as a kind of manifesto for biblical masculinity. It’s not that what they are saying is new (it’s not) but that they are saying what many evangelical leaders won’t: namely, that God built patriarchy (which they define as “the natural rulership of men”) into creation, and it’s a Christian man’s duty to rule at home and to do so virtuously.
It’s no secret that masculinity in today’s culture is a dirty word. If I say “masculine,” the culture responds with “toxic,” “misogynist,” and “patriarchy.” Masculine men—and when I write of “masculinity” here, I mean the biblical variety—are a generally unwanted commodity nowadays, and the only way to get respect or notoriety as a man in the secular world is to act like a woman or, as the trannies do, attempt to become one. Foster and Tennant helpfully point all this out, while also taking on the effeminization of men in the Church. Christian men are frequently left with two options in the Church: adopt more feminine attitudes/roles, or just don’t show up (see p. 86).
Truth be told, while I appreciate the critiques these men make and the vision they cast for godly men, I would be remiss as a reviewer if I didn’t point out that their writing style is not always great and tends to meander. They would have benefited from an editor who helped them organize their thoughts more clearly. Additionally, while the authors theology on manhood is biblically grounded, their work is also strongly informed by Reconstructionist/Dominion Theology, meaning they believe man’s mission is to reclaim the earth for God, to usher in a global theocracy that Christ will eventually return to. I disagree with them on this point, but it doesn’t discount the value of what they are saying.
Finally, the topics in this book are broad and nuanced, and it’s impossible to have all that nuance in a single summary blog post. Some of this may sound like it’s painted with too broad a brush, so I’d encourage you to read the book for the nuance that might be missing.
If you’re a man who feels somewhat lost when it comes to male headship, who wonders whether it’s okay to be a strong leader in your home, or who just isn’t sure how to fit godly masculinity into his life, It’s Good to Be a Man was written for you.
The Church Effeminate
Foster and Tennant start off their book by arguing that patriarchy is inevitable in Christianity, as the Old and New Testaments are dominated by male leaders and calls for men to rule well. The issue is whether Christian men will respond to the call to lead virtuously or tyrannically . . . or not at all. Part of the problem, they argue, is that our society is filled with “fatherless males” who have not been taught even basic skills of manhood, like how to jump-start a car or talk to a woman. Even more troubling, masculinity is viewed as a bad thing, and “fathers are portrayed in mass media as unnecessary buffoons—little better than one of the kids” (p. 12). Men in countless numbers use porn, custody laws entice women to leave their husbands (the authors note that wives initiate nearly 80 percent of divorces), and male suicide rates have spiked. It’s no wonder men tend to either lead like tyrants or be docile as geldings.
The answer to all of this should be the Church. They write that the Church should “celebrate, cultivate, and teach” biblical patriarchy, but that instead “Christian men today are asked to see themselves as androgynous spirits, trapped in bodies that, unlike women’s, have nasty, sinful urges” (p. 86). The sins of men are readily addressed and condemned from the pulpit, while the sins of women are rarely mentioned.
Foster and Tennant see this spilling over into the Church’s teaching on male-female interactions. Complementarianism, in their view, has turned into soft egalitarianism. Men are told they are “servant leaders,” which is true, but in reality they are being encouraged to just be servants and not lead. The authors make the case that men are taught in some churches to be “white knights” who find their value in “defending damsels in distress from dragons” (p. 88). And while it sounds like a laudable goal, how it ends up working out is that a man’s “desire for female validation is often pursued irrespective of a woman’s character, because he assumes that women are of a higher and purer spiritual nature than men” (p. 88). This does not create manly men, and Foster and Tennant argue that it actually has “repelled manly men” from church pews (p. 88).
Doug Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and one of the people who started Canon Press, offers one example of what happens to men in this scenario. Wilson states that he frequently advises men not to apologize to their wives unless they actually did something wrong:
There are many men who are good providers, they are faithful to their wives, they are not subject to fits of rage, and so on. In those respects, they are good husbands. But they are guilty of a very grievous sin—they are liars. They lie to their wives, routinely, and as a matter of policy.Douglas Wilson, “Unless God Thinks You Wronged Her,” Blog and Mablog, https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/unless-god-thinks-you-wronged-her.html
They do not lie to their wives about their mistress across town. They do not lie to their wives about their abuse of the credit cards. They do not lie to their wives about losing their temper with the kids. No, nothing like that. But they do lie to their wives about the emotional thermostat of household. She has tyrannical control of everything through her feelings and her feelings are deemed automatically authoritative. If God doesn’t think he owes an apology, and she feels like he does . . . does he apologize?
The men who go along with this kind of thing are men who are trying to build a good marriage (or perhaps save a poor one) by means of lying to their wives. The problem is that you cannot actually do either. If you keep the peace by apologizing simply in order to keep peace, and without reference to whether any genuine wrong was done, you don’t have a good marriage. You have a charade.
I hope you’ll forgive the length of the above quote, but it should make us squirm a bit because, whether or not our marriages exhibit that exact scenario, Wilson highlights just how affected men have been by our culture’s feminization. We could all stand to consider how we’re conducting ourselves in our marriages.
The Church should be invested in building strong marriages, and that begins with raising up men who will be godly servant rulers, not cowardly milquetoasts who will do anything for female validation.
Casting a Vision for Manhood
Foster and Tennant aren’t only concerned with problems; they also provide ideas and solutions for men to grab hold of in their quest for biblical masculinity. I don’t have the space the cover everything they recommend, so I’ll give you some of my personal highlights.
On the spiritual front, chapter 9—titled “No Gravitas, No Manhood”—encourages men to develop gravitas by developing a healthy fear of the Lord. Gravitas, by definition, means “to weigh heavily” and refers to a man’s seriousness or dignity. The authors look at Proverbs and outline the attributes of this man: he receives instruction and rebuke, he hates evil, he seeks his true place before God, and he trusts the Lord. They write, “You are the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7); you get gravitas by habitually living as such, abiding in Jesus (John 15:5), and conforming yourself ever more closely to His infinitely weighty image” (p. 130). In practical terms, Foster and Tennant exhort men to . . .
- stop seeking the praise of man
- stop being self-deprecating (noting that when men put themselves down, it shows they lack confidence)
- stop complaining
- stop making excuses
- stop breaking promises
The authors go on to deal with other problem areas that men tend to share, particularly anger, acknowledging how the secular culture and the Church have wronged men but giving no quarter for sinful anger (pp. 160–161).
Finally, in what was probably my favorite chapter of the book, Foster and Tennant call men to a vision for manhood in chapter 12, “Manhood through Mission.” Now, as I warned above, both men hold to Dominion Theology, and this drive to reclaim the earth for God is what drives their idea of “mission.” While I differ with them on that, I appreciate the tangibility of their proposal that men have a mission:
A mission is your best effort at wisely integrating your interests, skills, and circumstances into a personal vision for exercising dominion over what God has given you. (p. 175)
Foster and Tennant are right when they point out that a man doesn’t operate in a vacuum or as a lone wolf. Adam’s mission, they argue, was to exercise dominion over the earth, and in order to do that, he needed Eve and many, many children. The mission was “inseparably communal,” they write, and “it was only by sharing his glorious mission with his wife and progeny that he himself could enter into that glory” (p. 179). Men need a biblically informed vision for their families, and as servant rulers in their homes, they cast that vision and bring their families alongside them in that mission.
What might that vision/mission look like? Foster and Tennant leave that wide open. They suggest a man ask whether the thing(s) he believes God is calling him to do would make money to provide for his family, would provide opportunities to love his neighbors, and would bring glory to God (e.g., can the man do it with excellence as unto the Lord?). In short, the call to mission is a call to be a good steward of the talents, property, money, possessions, etc. that God has put under your purview, and to do it in community.
It’s Good to Be a Man is worth taking time to read, because we all need to grow in how we engage with our wives, with our kids, and with the world in general. Foster and Tennant are not beating men down—they are calling up men who feel beat down by a culture that constantly tells them their masculinity is wrong. So, to quote the authors, “Take courage, brother. Be what God made you to be: a man” (p. 227).