The last twenty years or so have seen an encouraging increase in the number of books being written focusing on what it means to be an authentic male in our culture. Ever since Steve Bidduph wrote his epic Manhood in the mid-1990s, the growth in the men’s movement has seen more men work towards becoming more emotionally centred and available to their families and other loved ones.
This life-giving trend towards becoming better men has been equally seen in Christian circles. Richard Rohr, Parker Palmer, John Eldredge and others have written and taught much on what a real man looks like in a culture that pressures men to be someone they are not.
Into this mix comes probably the best book I have read on being a man among men. Nate Pyle’s Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood is a breath of fresh air in the increasing volume of literature on men and their issues.
It is wonderful to see an author be so open and vulnerable about his own vulnerability about not feeling like a man for such a long period of his life. Pyle’s experience will resonate with many men in the Church, including myself. It is only in recent years that I have done a lot of work on what a genuine man looks like. Reading Pyle’s book has allowed me to breathe a huge sigh of relief that you don’t have to be a “warrior man” – as some Christian authors emphasise, to be a godly man.
In critiquing those Christian books and authors that talk about the “warrior man” (which is often just another way of being a macho man in Christian disguise), Pyle goes back to the ultimate Man, Jesus himself, as someone who models and redefines real manhood for us.
The wonderful value in Pyle’s message – which is really the message of Jesus – is that real strength lies in sacrifice and surrender, which is what love is. In a quote that will not be read well by some Christian authors, Pyle makes the very Christian point that,
“If we were to define masculinity by this Jesus, we would have to admit that masculine strength is not the ability to defeat one’s enemies with a show of raw power, but masculine strength that imitates the actions of Jesus is the willingness to lay down one’s life for another — including for the lives of one’s enemies.”
It is sacrifice for the other, laying down our lives, which is what manhood (and indeed womanhood) is about. As Pyle goes on to say, “strength isn’t defined by one’s ability to bench-press, throw a football, or wield a sword, but in the quiet resolve to endure suffering as Christ suffered.”
What Pyle also does that is so refreshing in this book is that he examines the longing in every human heart for deep connection and relationship. By looking at the life of Jesus, Pyle shows that it is about surrender and submission to God. It is an example not just shown by Jesus, but by Paul and the other New Testament writers. When Paul for instance says that he can boast in his weaknesses, and that in them is his strength, he is showing men what it is to be a whole man, engaged with the world.
For Pyle, it is the courage to show our weakness – for we all have it – which shows our manhood. Conversely, if we are unable to show our weakness, it will in all likelihood lead to very destructive consequences. As he explains, “if men are unable to be weak, they will be unable to be vulnerable. And if they are unable to be vulnerable, their relationships will lack intimacy. And if their relationships lack intimacy, men will suffer from chronic loneliness.”
Is it any wonder then that so many men – including, and maybe especially, Christian men – struggle with porn? So many men are desperately lonely, and porn offers a sense of intimacy, of affirmation. The problem is that the offer is a lie. It fails to deliver, every single time.
Our loneliness needs to be filled with intimacy, and that means men need the affirmation that they are enough. We don’t need to be any more of a man than we already are.
It is this latter point that is actually the main message of this book. The main point Pyle makes in this book – which I hope is destined to become a classic in the Christian men’s movement – is something radical and totally Christlike. His message to men is this: you are enough of a man as you already are. You have nothing to prove. Repeat that to yourself. A few times. You have nothing to prove. You are enough. Pyle makes the wonderfully refreshing point that masculinity does not have to be proved, it needs to be affirmed.
As I read back through the many passages I highlighted in this book, I found myself feeling a strong empathy for the pain that so many men in our culture are suffering. I became aware of the emotion welling up within me as I felt my spirit crying out for the need for men to read and heed the message of this book. It’s one of those messages you want to scream from the rooftops, especially given the levels of loneliness leading to depression and suicide amongst men in our culture today.
Man Enough is a book about how men, in following the ultimate Man, can become fully alive human beings. In what may be a heresy to some, Pyle makes the point that this is a message even Jesus needed to hear. As Pyle says, “in his baptism, the identity of Jesus is solidified: “This is my Son . . . with him I am well pleased.” This identity informs the ministry of Jesus.”
The message that Jesus heard is the message that all men today need to hear: you are man enough, you have nothing to prove. Read this book and hear the message that Pyle brings home so well: “hear the God of the universe call you ‘son’”.
Watch the author explain why he wrote the book here: