This book is an achievement. At a time when masculinity is regarded as the source of all kinds of evil, after decades of feminist pressure and influence on Western institutions, on the backside of the great collapse of mainline churches and on the brink of the collapse of their daughter denominations to the feminist impulse, this book arrives and sounds a clear note with no uncertain sound. But that sound may be hard for some to hear.
Male Spaces and Male Speech
Male spaces are contexts in which the feminine influence is totally absent. You ladies may take offense at this definition, but allow me to explain. When a girl enters a group of boys the dynamic of that group always changes. Always. As a woman, you have never been in a male space. By definition, any space you enter ceases to be exclusively male. The reason women have been admitted to almost all male spaces is due to the egalitarian premise of feminism. By catechizing our society into thinking that men and women are interchangeable, feminism has also taught us that the loss of male spaces is actually a good thing. But, as Cicero said, “Custom will never conquer nature; for it is always invincible” (It’s Good to Be a Man, pg. 1). Try as our embedded customs of feminism might, men and women are different. One of those differences is speech.
Men speak to other men like men. Seems pretty obvious, tautological even. But, given the infestation of feminism in our society, this truism is all but lost in practice. Feminism has so colored our perspective on speech that it is considered a mortal sin to speak in a masculine manner. We call this tone policing. The obsession with tone and the prosecution of those who violate her canons is considered the chief virtue. Any form of speech that is potentially offensive to a woman is considered out of bounds.
Tone does matter. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). But, like all good things, an obsession therewith evolves into a vice. And the vice herein is an emotional rather than a rational response to what we hear. It results in the inability to speak or to hear clear, pointed, direct speech. This is the chief hurdle many will have to surmount when reading IGTBAM. It is a book written by men for men.
As I was reading the first chapters of this book, it struck me, “These guys write the way my football coaches spoke.” The style of this book is direct, plain, and seeking to achieve a practical objective. It is not meant to be, as the authors say up front, a “timeless work but a timely one: our goal is to help modern Christian men understand what God made them for, and how to start doing it intentionally. We want to help you play your part in rebuilding what has been razed” ( IGTBAM, pg x, emphasis original )
C. S. Lewis was a famously great reader. Not merely from the number of books he read, but also from the attitude with which he read them:
We must not let loose out own subjectivity upon the pictures and make them its vehicles. We must begin by laying aside as completely as we can all our own preconceptions, interests, and associations
Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism., pg. 18
Lewis’ wisdom is timeless; with IGTBAM, it’s timely. Not only for the sake of charity, but also given the feminist waters in which we are all drowning. In order to understand what Foster and Tennant are doing in this book, you first have to lay aside your own agendas and listen to what they are trying to say. And understand their objective. They are not trying to check all the boxes that any theology of the sexes should seek to answer. They are not giving marriage advice. They are not dealing with abuse. They are speaking to men as men to help them be men. Amen.
The authors’ perspective is important. The audience’s is as well. As they say in chapter 1, “We are living is a world of fatherless males who don’t know how to rebuild the walls of society. They have become clueless bastards” (Ibid, pg 11). The term “bastards” may be shocking to some, but it is an apt term to describe the phenomenon IGTBAM is dealing with. The term originally meant a child born of parents not married to each other, a fatherless son. This was a factual statement about the legal status of a child. The term came to mean an unpleasant or despicable person. There is, however, a causal relationship between these two definitions, the older and factual one and the newer and evaluative one. When a boy is brought into the world without a father to guide and train him, he becomes a despicable man. Ordinarily, the man who is unreliable lacked a father figure to model for him healthy masculinity when he was a boy. This problem of fatherless sons is epidemic in our day.
There has been some controversy surrounding this book that needs to be cleared away. The most serious of which is the excommunication of one of the authors, Bnonn Tennant. If you wish to read his account of that event and see the charges brought against him, you can do so here. For those that do not want to read all that material, though it would not be a waste of time, I’ll offer some considerations to keep in mind about this fact.
First, I don’t know Bnonn Tennant. He and I have interacted a bit through social media. We share some perspectives on the current cultural situation and state of the churches in the West. Beyond that, I have no connection to him.
Second, Bnonn is a Baptist. He was excommunicated from a Baptist church in New Zealand. This church is ecclesiastically independent. This creates problems that Presbyterians may not be aware of. One of those is that there are no ecclesiastical courts of appeal. What usually happens with men like Bnonn is that they are cast out of a church only to join one down the road, or to start another. That’s typically why we have a First and a Second Baptist Church in many southern towns. In a position like Bnonn’s, with no court of appeal, all he can do is make his appeal to the general public and let them decide. Not a great option. But Baptist ecclesiology is not great either, after all.
Third, the church has never, as far as I know, made their side of the situation known publicly. Therefore, all we have is one man’s perspective on this situation. Proverbs warns us from making a judgement with only half the story. However, when that half of the story is as full as Bnonn’s, you can’t simply write him off. Having looked through some of the material in the excommunication link above and followed several of the links to the charges and his explanations of them, Bnonn has displayed one of the key traits of honesty and integrity: transparency. The fact that Bnonn has been so transparent about his perspective and has backed up his claims with exhaustive quotes and references, indicates that we are talking about a man who is convinced he is innocent. Granted, that’s his perspective about himself. But, if you have dealt with people at any level, you know that transparency is not a quality guilt displays.
Fourth, there is a long history of church courts getting it wrong, woefully wrong. Here are just a few examples: Luther, excommunicated; Hus, excommunicated and executed; Athanasius, excommunicated and exiled (four times); Machen, excommunicated and defrocked; last but not least, Our Lord Jesus Christ was excommunicated and executed by a court of the church (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. IV.IX.7). Simply to say that the church has declared this or that does not make it so. The church may err. The church has erred. The church will err again. Have they in the case of Bnonn Tennant’s excommunication? I do not have enough evidence to say either way. But given the age in which we live, I am willing to ignore this excommunication, coming as it does from a church beset with ecclesiastical problems in the very area that would have cleared this up long ago. You may judge differently. You have that right. But to simply write off this book because one of the authors was excommunicated without weighing these principles and his own account of those proceedings is uncharitable to Bnonn, Trinity Reformed Baptist Church, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Each one must judge for himself, taking into account the judgment of the church and the wisdom of Scripture. We are Protestants after all.
I won’t go through all the chapters, giving you an outline of the argument for each. Rather, as I think you should read this book for yourself, I’ll introduce you to the themes this book operates from.
The first is that patriarchy is inevitable. This is counter intuitive in our day, but very well put by the authors. The contest in our society and churches is not one between patriarchy and egalitarianism or feminism. It is rather between Godly and Satanic patriarchy. This is illustrated well by the authors with the examples of Nehemiah and Absalom. The purpose of this book is to help men be godly patriarchs and avoid being swept up by ungodly patriarchy
The second is the use of teleological arguments. Telos is a Greek word that means an end or purpose for which something exists. The Westminster Shorter Catechism uses teleological reasoning in the first question, “What is the chief end of man?” Or, “What is man’s purpose?” This type of reasoning is lost in the aimless and purposeless world of post-modernity. But it was a very important category for understanding the world prior to the Enlightenment. It is well used by the authors in this book to direct men to their telos of holding dominion under God over their lives.
Third is the biblical theology woven in the first part of the book. Chapters 1-7 explain the causes of our cratering manhood in the West. They do this by following the biblical narrative and theological teaching of Scripture to highlight the principle of warring patriarchies. Chapter 8 takes this dynamic and applies it to society. Chapter 9 applies this same dynamic psychologically. Chapter 10-14 give the practical guidance and exhortation to men to do something about the sad state of the West. Throughout, there is a coherent narrative style to the book that pulls you through it and informs you along the way. Much like the Bible itself.
Fourth, there is a healthy emphasis on fraternity. Brotherhood is an essential element in crafting godly men. The authors point out this fact and offer encouragement to men to find a good brotherhood. They also define brotherhood, a fact that is often missed in Men’s Groups. Brotherhood is a group of men who trust each other enough to take and give rebukes when needed. The absence of giving and taking rebukes is, perhaps, the greatest hinderance to godly manhood today. The authors are wise to redirect us to the right path.
Fifth, there is plain talk about human sexuality. In chapter 3, “Sex is Very Good,” the authors are very frank about what makes men tick sexually. This is stuff most men would have gotten from their fathers. But given the state of society, most men today don’t have good fathers to tell them about the birds and the bees. There is nothing graphic, but if you are immature or corrupted by sexual sin, be warned. This is good content and it needs to come from the church. The authors help us in this area by dealing with it frankly and honestly.
Many will and already have castigated this book. The great tragedy of this fact is that those who are most critical of this book probably have the most need to listen to it. The simple fact is, in the West, in our churches, our men are drowning. They are gasping for breath amidst a sea of emotional hot takes, castigating them for being the root of all kinds of evil. Refreshingly, the authors remind us that it is good to be man. Tolle lege. Our church will be using this book for our men’s group. Yours should too.