It’s almost a given today that masculinity is viewed as a negative and even harmful thing. “Toxic” is the word that comes to mind.
Due to the impact of the fall, sin has infected every area of life, not the least of which the way we relate as men and women. But is there such a thing as ‘healthy masculinity?’
Al Stewart’s latest book, The Manual, addresses this precise question. And he answers it brilliantly. Divided into two parts, Stewart first of all addresses the various reasons as to why masculinity is under attack, as well as why a healthy masculinity is so vital for human flourishing.
In the second half of the book, Stewart address six key areas of life to illustrate what this should look like in practice: “manning up” as a son, friend, workmate, single man, husband and finally, father. This approach is key, and it’s the same taken by Tony Payne in his excellent Bible study, The Man Who Makes a Difference. Masculinity is best seen in relation to others rather than simply as an individual ‘machismo’ trait.
The Manual: Getting Masculinity Right
Understanding what it means to be male has never been more confusing. As more behaviours are called out for being patriarchal or toxic, how does a man navigate these choppy waters? Is there such a thing as healthy masculinity? Are there any good men out there leading the way?
In The Manual, Al Stewart sifts through the current debates and challenges facing men, offering practical wisdom and insights on how to live as a man valued by others. More importantly, he digs into what the Bible has to say about manhood and about how being a follower of Jesus is central to loving and serving others.
Stewart is a gifted communicator. His writing is clear, engaging, insightful and often humorous. Not only that, but having been faithful to the same woman for over forty years in marriage, Stewart has the runs on the board to be able to draw from his own personal experience.
What is particularly helpful though, is the level of Stewart’s secondary reading and secular research. There is a wealth of material here: from Lenard Sax, Jordan Peterson, John Gray, Steve Biddulph, Jonathan Haidt, Bettina Arndt, Rod Dreher, John Eldredge to Alain de Botton.
That said, Stewart faithfully weaves biblical teaching throughout, repeatedly bringing the Scriptures to bear on masculinity. God’s Word remains the authority, even if Jordan Peterson quotes are used more often than I would have liked.
Stewart’s main point is that men have become dangerous not because masculinity is in and of itself toxic, but because their humanity is. Hence, the answer is not to make men more feminine but to see them re-made into the image of God through Jesus. The challenge is to show men what they should be, as opposed to what they should not.
Men have become dangerous not because masculinity is in and of itself toxic, but because their humanity is.
There were many thought-provoking ideas in The Manual. Here are just three personal highlights.
- One of the most powerful chapters for me was “The Power of Just Turning Up.” Stewart persuasively encourages the readers about the value of faithfulness and Christian endurance. Regardless of gender roles, this is a much-needed message today and Stewart does it in a way which is truly like a father talking to his own son. This section alone is worth the price of the book.
- One of the more striking illustrations is that of Donald Shaw, Stewart’s grandfather. Mr Shaw was faithful in not only raising a family of seven children, but also overseeing his local church for 37 years while they waited for their next teaching elder. That has to be one of the longest pastoral vacancies in the history of the Australian church! A man worthy of imitation.
- Addressing the issue of the roles of men and woman in today’s society is—as Stewart himself observes—like sticking your head into a bag of angry cats. See, I told you he had a way with words! Yet despite the challenges presented by popular culture, which depicts “men and fathers as incompetent fools,” Stewart is able to come through the discussion essentially unscathed. This is because he has a genuine love for other people, but most of all for Jesus. It’s evident throughout, and the concluding chapter—“Following the Greatest Man”—exemplifies Stewart’s desire to see men in particular brought into a right relationship with God.
This is a terrific book which deserves—and I pray receives—a wide readership. The Manual is soaked with practical wisdom, theological insight, and sociological research. It’s the type of book which makes you think of all of the people you want to give it away too. My own response was to purchase a copy for everyone on my church leadership team. An excellent read. For men, and women too.