Each day this week I'm going to post one book that made my top 5 list in 2017, building up from number five to number one. I'd love to see what your favorite books of the year have been as well, and I welcome your comments!
#3 Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood by Nate Pyle
I wish I wrote this book. I just finished leading a men's small group through both the Gospel of Mark and this book, and it has been a very rewarding experience. There is a ton of fluff in our culture and in the church about what it means to be a man. Real men are hyper sexual and sleep around a ton (or the Christian version: real men start families and really enjoy sex with their wives). Real men are providers. Real men are unemotional. Real men are warriors. Real men are leaders. Real men are (fill in the blank)–you get the picture. What I love about Pyle's book is that he challenges us to bring our focus back to where it should be: Jesus and the Bible. He is wonderful at exposing the danger of bias we can bring to reading our Bibles–if our culture says men should be strong warriors, should be financial providers, should be unemotional and hyper sexual, then it's easy to look for parts of Scripture that support our pre-existing conceptions of manhood and ignore those that don't fit. It's also easy to forget that how we "naturally" are wired isn't necessarily holy–there's this little thing called sin that should make us question our first impulses.
Have you ever thought about how Jesus doesn't fit a lot of what we lift up as "a real Christian man?" He didn't have a paying job or financially provide for his family during his public ministry–he actually left his family behind and depended on the support of wealthy women (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus didn't start a family of his own and he never had sex (!). We like to lift up Jesus driving animals and money changers out of the Temple as an example of masculinity, but not so much Jesus weeping for Lazarus (John 11:35) or weeping over Jerusalem's lack of repentance (Luke 19:41). Jesus never got in a fight, and rather than fighting his enemies, he died for them. Further, I often see men's ministry lift up David as an ideal warrior, but what about the artsy-fartsy side of David playing on his lyre and writing poetry? What about the fearful Jacob who stayed among the tents while his manly-man brother Esau was a hunter (and who was the one who got God's blessing?). What about Paul, the scholarly church planter who also never got married or had sex?
When we say "real men are X," the danger becomes affirming the masculinity of some men, while detracting from a sense of masculinity in others in a way that Scripture doesn't support. What about the scholar? What about the poet or artist? What about a same-sex attracted man willing to live in celibacy? Being a Christian man means loving Jesus Christ and seeking to develop his character, not trying to fit some cultural, unbiblical stereotype of what manhood is about. This book does a great job at tearing down what I believe is the heart of the masculine myth: men cannot be weak. Jesus Christ on the cross shows us that true manhood and womanhood–true personhood in general–isn't afraid of vulnerability. To be a man following after Christ, we don't need to be afraid of weakness, of emotion, of submission, of humility. Men's ministries, I don't care if you want to have a weight lifting group, a pickup sports group, a wilderness adventure group, a deer hunting group, a fishing group, or a ride-your-Harley-for-Jesus group. There's nothing wrong with any of those things or with using them to connect in friendship and to grow deeper in Christ. Just don't play into stereotypes that "real Christian men do this."
Pyle wonderfully shows that there are two kinds of courage. There's the courage to upset the apple cart, to challenge others, to stand up for what's right and not cave in to the pressures of the world. But there's also the courage to be honest about our weaknesses and failures, the courage to be humble, the courage to submit to others. That's the kind of man I'd like to be and I'd like for the men around me to be. Bring it back to the Bible (all of it!) and to Jesus. Don't limit to men or to women things God clearly calls everyone to do, both male and female. Galatians 5:22-23 doesn't say that men should embody these particular fruits of the Spirit and women these others, but that everyone is called to embody the same fruit. Men and women are made to work together in Spirit-empowered harmony and mutual submission, as together we display the courage of Jesus and the character of Jesus to a world in desperate need of love. If there's one book I would recommend to men and women for getting a good picture of what Christian manhood looks like, this is it.
As a side note, I'd go further to say that the Bible doesn't teach that only men are to lead at the highest levels of the church, but women as well. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 aren't the only passages in the NT concerning women's ministry. I know that's a debated topic amongst different church traditions, but I'd invite you to look at Miriam in Micah 6:4, Deborah in Judges 4-5, a whole host of prophetesses in the Bible (which is a gift of higher authority than pastoring and teaching according to 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11), Phobe the deacon in Romans 16:1-2, Junia and Andronicus as a husband and wife apostle duo in Romans 16:7, and Priscilla along with her husband Aquila teaching Apollos God's way more fully in Acts 18:24-26... I'd encourage you to listen to my sermon on February 19th, 2017 if you're curious about a biblical case for women in ministry leadership. I think restricting women's leadership doesn't really put all the pieces of the Bible together well.