I cried as I read the last chapter of a book written about Christian manhood.
Yes, you read that correctly.
But, before I talk about the end, let me back up a bit.
As a woman called into ordained ministry but having to struggle against ideas I had learned during my formative years about the place of women in church and home, I have had to unpack the baggage I picked up along my life’s journey. (Don’t we all, in some ways?) I have had to come to terms with pain, brokenness, feelings of guilt and grief as I have moved from understanding godly womanhood as a very specific, cookie-cutter idea to a more open vision that calls for health, wholeness and discernment.
And, as I moved through my own journey, I became convinced that forced and stereotypical ideas of what it means to be a godly man or a godly woman hurt more than just women. Men have suffered, carried baggage and felt wounded by what they have been taught about godly manhood, too. I’ve wanted to be an advocate for my brothers in Christ but have felt ill-equipped to do so.
Enter Nate Pyle’s amazing book Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood.
Men have suffered, carried baggage and felt wounded by what they have been taught about godly manhood.
Pyle vulnerably shares his journey as he moves through the cultural ideals of manhood he encountered as a youth and young adult to a more holistic view of what it means to be a man – and a human. He wisely notes that “trying to come up with a single definition of manhood is an exercise in reductionism.” In other words, when we reduce manhood to one, single ideal or definition, we have excluded and wounded many. Manhood is not that simple. Being human is not that simple. We are wonderfully complex people who have been given the gift of varied emotions and talents. These things bring glory to God and help us live into the fullness of who God created us to be.
All of us are better – men and women alike – when we pursue what it means to be created in the image of God rather than what it means to fit cultural ideals of manhood and womanhood.
Throughout the book, Pyle makes an effort to show hospitality and welcome to any female readers he might have, though his message is largely intended for men. I appreciated his intentional inclusion, both because it made me feel less like I was eavesdropping and because his insights into living like Christ were welcome for my own life.
CALLING TO DISCERNMENT
Man Enough urges men to look beyond cultural expectations about manhood and to embrace instead their calling to discern who they are as people made in God’s image. Rather than answering all of difficult questions about what it means to be a Christian man, Pyle encourages men to embrace who they are because identity cannot be reduced to a series of statements about what all men do or how all men act.
I struggled with some of the argument in Man Enough about the need men have for validation. Near the beginning of the book, Pyle makes this assertion: “Every guy needs some experience, some epiphany, or some outside voice to validate his masculinity.” He then goes on to point out the lack of meaningful rituals in American society to mark where boyhood ends and manhood begins. And, while he says this ritual or moment might need to look very different from person to person, he says some kind of validation is necessary.
On the one hand, I wondered what it might look like for us to be more intentional about forming rituals that encourage young boys and young girls to mature and grow. We do not grow up in isolation, and community has a profound effect on how we see ourselves. I do not disagree that, largely, many young people move through life without ever receiving validation that they are now grown up – unless you count the day when student loans begin needing to be repaid or some other financial indicator.
On the other hand, I know that there also has to come a time when a person celebrates his or her own identity with or without receiving validation. We all will invariably face moments when we have to make an unpopular decision or encounter times when who we are is unacceptable to someone else. In those times, perhaps we have to lean on the solid foundation of identity that our families, churches and friends have been helping us lay all along. I’m not sure. It is also possible that I struggle with this idea as a woman reading a book about and for men. Perhaps the idea of validation resonates with men more than it did with me.
Men and women are both created in the image of God and as such have far more in common than not. Pyle writes, “Nowhere are we told that one gender reflects the image of God more than another. So when it comes to being image bearers, we are equal.” We may know this intellectually, but living it is another matter. I appreciated the call of Man Enough for men to pursue what it means to be fully human, to be image-bearers of God rather than living up to some Herculean model that will ultimately leave almost everyone feeling like he or she doesn’t measure up.
This book is a gift to the conversation on how Christians define manhood and womanhood. Nate Pyle doesn’t try to answer every question, but he urges us to begin at the most important starting point: the deep conviction that we are all created by God. From here, my hope is that men and women will continue the conversation, continue to encourage each other and find freedom from the stereotypes that wound rather than bring wholeness.
Man Enough is a wonderful first book, and I am hopeful that many more will follow.
April Fiet pastors First Presbyterian Church of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and is a 2007 graduate of Western Theological Seminary.