How the institutional church failed to teach me manhood, how pagans took their place, and how it all came together in the end.
If you’re dissatisfied with the church’s answers to manhood; if you want to be full, clear and reclaim your power, if you want to be deeply rooted in wisdom, if you want to be rich in life and fruitful for the world, this is the letter is for you.
My Subclinical Man Problems
It wasn’t easy for me to get there.
Four years ago, I felt baffled and defeated as a man.
As I sat in church one Sunday, that feeling morphed into an internal image: A random, twisted, discarded piece of metal laying in the road.
My life as a man was not awful. I had a good marriage by comparison standards and I knew God had hand-selected her for me. I worked in a ministry that helped people in need. God had given me three fantastic children, one adopted, two natural born.
What more could I want?
But I had the bland feeling of a low-level chronic disease hiding under the ability to function every day: Low energy, low motivation, and a sneaky dissatisfaction with life that left me feeling like that random piece of aluminum laying by the side of the road, everyone whizzing by, and no one stopping to care. The best feeling I had was getting run over once in a while.
I did not know how to fix this. I couldn't even figure out what was wrong.
So I shared that bent-metal image on a prayer request card that same Sunday and turned it in the collection plate.
No one from the church reached out to me. I’m not hurt; I was a pastor once for seven years, so I understand how ministry works.
I don’t know if those who read the prayer requests even prayed for me, but if they did, God used a completely unexpected resource to heal me of my twisted metal disease: Pagan literature on masculinity.
I consulted with a marketer once who said I shouldn’t use ‘pagan literature’ to describe what I read, but ‘secular books.” I’m leaving “pagan literature” in for the shock value: The institutional church couldn’t teach me what was wrong and pagan literature played my heartstrings like a tune right on time.
The irony remains: Those who wrote this material that made my masculine heart sing would have nothing to do with God or Christ, and the church (and its books) rang about as authentic as DC Talk rap in 1989.
I won’t name the original sources I read, but I want you hear the conclusion: I recognized what was inherently true in these pagan (secular) writings, and could trace them back to the Creator’s design for man, integrate them in my faith, and move forward.
That’s how this site was born. There’s an old song, I think from the 70s, titled “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” I don’t know about the artistic merits of that song, but it feels about right for this. Why does the devil have all to the good manhood teaching? There are a few outliers, and more than a few fair attempts veered off the cliff (Mark Driscoll ring a bell?). But the big picture does not look good.
A recent Gospel Coalition article traced the phenomenon of the great number of Christian men who are turning to Jordan Peterson, Jocko Willink, and Joe Rogan to get discipled in manhood.
I love listening to Peterson, Willink, and even Rogan. And I will continue to listen to them.
But does anyone who knows Christ have this kind of wisdom for men?
Meanwhile, recently I heard the pastor of a mega-church here in Ohio suggest that the command to love your wife like Christ loved the church might involve the practical steps of “letting her win an argument for once and maybe taking a turn at making the bed”
Bro, how about make the bed because it needs made?
How about you learn to communicate maturely with your wife rather than manipulating her like a child? Sheesh, it’s no wonder we need Willink and Peterson.
Let’s move on to some answers if you want to reclaim your manhood. Genesis style. Here’s how I integrated what I learned from pagans into a scriptural view of masculinity.
Purpose and Presence: The Origins of Manhood
What makes the church’s failure to teach men so astounding is that we don’t have to go far in the Bible to find the primal archetype for manhood.
In fact, the first chapter will do:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion… Genesis 1.26–28 ESV
I’m doubling down that manhood starts with God’s image. That our origin, meaning, morality and destiny all originate with the functional call to bear God’s image.
Here’s where it gets good…
Penetrate and Plant the World
To bear the Image of God is to be a father. To be a father, you must first penetrate the feminine and plant a seed. I wonder if the joy, rapture, and ecstasy of spending oneself in effort and eventual release might also image God when he evaluated his own creation efforts: It was “very good.”
If you think I’m talking about sex, you’re right. If you think I’m only talking about sex, you’re wrong. (If you’re blushing, that’s okay)
To be a man means to initiate, to penetrate and plant a piece of himself in the world.
The farmer plants a seed into the ground. A man ventures out to invest his capital resources into a business.
Men, like explorers, seek the horizon of a new land, to penetrate it, experience it, and do some good there.
Have you ever felt the satisfaction of spending yourself in the world, leaving your energy, effort, everything you 'are' out there, feeling you having nothing left to give, yet completely satisfied?
The church institutional can hardly talk about sex proper, let alone use it as a metaphor for all of life. But this is the answer that shaped my life. This metaphor, this archetype of penetrating and planting, changed my life.
Another thought on penetration: To meaningfully carry my presence into areas and leave tremendous value. If I was entering my workplace, to do so intentionally, and leave work that could eventually produce fruit.
Aside from intercourse itself, I can give my wife is my full presence and attention, to enter her world, and bring the very force of my life. Although she couldn't fully describe it, she has noticed a full scale change in our relationship because of this way of life.
I developed a life rule of “bringing massive value” wherever I went, whether as banal as the checkout line, or as consistent as my workplace, or as sacred as the bedroom; to have brought the fulness of my person, and to leave others with a sense of value.
One problem young men have today is 'showing up'. They won’t get off the couch; The only thing they’re penetrating is a false world on a video game screen.
The church isn’t helping:
What’s valued explicitly or implicitly is men who show up passively, sit in a pew, and watch another man feed their family spiritually. The most frontline a man can hope for is to be a greeter or tithe collector, or attend a men’s breakfast on a Saturday morning.
If you want a fuller life, figure out where you can start penetrating and leaving value. Start with your family, but better yet, form a team with other men who will penetrate the world together.
Provide and Produce
“Be fruitful and multiply”
Planting a seed is the beginning, not the end of the process. We must tend the plant that results, water it, even prune it. We must see to its nourishment until it produces fruit.
Fruitfulness, or lack thereof, also teaches a man how well he is penetrating and planting. If everything you plant fails to produce fruit, or it produces little fruit, you’re doing something wrong. The world (or even his wife) answers a man back with direct feedback on his performance.
One of the shades of meaning of “husband” is to cultivate, as in agriculture.
If you're married, how well are you “cultivating” your wife?
I heard Myles Munroe say that women are receivers, incubators, multipliers. Whatever you give a woman, she’ll receive it, multiply it, give it back to you. She, (and the world) will never give you back what you gave her. She’ll always multiply it first.
Give her a house, she’ll give you back a home. Give her groceries, she’ll give you a meal. Give her a sperm, she’ll give back a baby.
If you give her frustration…
…so if you don’t like what you’re getting, change what you’re giving.
What if it’s not your fault? Yes, I tried that route as well.
Dr. Tony Evans says that it may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility. He even points out that it’s not a woman’s primary responsibility to raise the children, but the father 's
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. —Ephesians 6.4 ESV
In this journey, I can’t think of a single thing in my life, that as I, a man, assumed more responsibility for that didn’t get better as I assumed I was the initiator of fruitfulness. Enter Jocko Willink’s book “Extreme Ownership,” where he advocates owning responsibility for everything in your orbit, even if it’s not your ‘fault.’
Is he also a better pastor to men than most pastors?
“The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name.” --Exodus 15.3
I overheard a Christian lady author lamenting the increasing frequency in Christian circles of calling men warriors. Why couldn’t we focus more on the gentler, gardener archetype?
She didn’t think that through.
Even someone peacefully gardening has dealt with tobacco worms on their tomatoes. Defending, protecting, and bringing violence where necessary is a vital calling for men.
What does she expect when someone steals her purse or worse, attempts to violate her? Just shrug your shoulders and buy another purse?
Even the apostle Paul was not afraid to point to spiritual life as a battle in Ephesians 6:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. --Ephesians 6.10–11 ESV
As men, we are protectors. Emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
I don’t want you to underestimate what good it will do you as man, let alone those you are called to protect, to grow in your ability to physically and spiritually protect your family and those you love.
Learn to shoot a gun. Learn a martial art (Check out Systema or Jiu-Jitsu). Get strong. It might start with you just getting in shape.
(I was extremely fat at the beginning of my journey into masculinity. At 305 lbs, I could barely walk up a hill, let alone dispatc those intent on doing harm to my family. Through kettlebells, vigorous hiking, and a careful diet, I lost 40lbs in 3 months. It's not been easy, and I have a long way to go, but I feel like a different man.)
Get physically fit and learn to functionally dangerous. It will be good for your own manhood and to protect those you love. Here Jordan Peterson says “Better to be a warrior in a garden that a gardener in a war.”
Could Peterson also be a better pastor to men than most pastors?
Reintegrating Your Manhood into Christ
Penetrate and Plant. Produce and Provide. Protect.
It’s not that Peterson and Willink are speaking to things that aren’t in the Bible. It’s that Christians and churches have left the primal, primeval roots of masculinity found in the scriptures.
It’s time, as Christian men, to claim the birthright already ours in Genesis 1, living it, and teaching it to others.
If you’re looking for some help to navigating these challenge, please reach out.