Manhood & Masculinity: 3 Great Studies for Groups

Gail Wallace

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“I’m looking for book recommendations that are egalitarian friendly and address the subjects of manhood and masculinity. I can’t find anything and our men’s ministry leaders are asking me. Please help!! Thank you!!” B. 

An interesting thing happened on the way to writing this post.  Since I am not a man, I asked eight men for book suggestions and got back ZERO recommendations. Not because they don’t care about the topic, but because 1) they were not familiar with any resources on this topic, or 2) because there has not been much interest in studying “biblical manhood” in their circles. ALL of them told me they were very interested in anything we could find!

It is encouraging that manhood and masculinity are not “hot topics” in church circles that support the shared leadership of men and women in ministry and socials contexts. But there is still a need for resources that push back against the harmful “authentic manhood” rhetoric that is popular in some Christian circles today. For example, The 33 video series is promoted as a “biblical blueprint” for navigating being a man. But I could find only one example from the life of Jesus and very few scripture references in the four sample leader guides I previewed. (More on that at the end of the post.)

I’m happy to report that there are some great alternatives! Here are three excellent books for individual or group study that are written from an egalitarian perspective. The first two would work well for either groups of all men or mixed-gender groups. The third is better suited for men’s groups.

1. Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood – Nate Pyle (Zondervan, 2015)

I can’t say enough good things about this book! Using his own story of not feeling “man enough” Pyle exposes the disordered masculinity that pervades our church and culture and offers a refreshing message of grace and hope to men who are exhausted from trying to fulfill a dysfunctional model of manhood. Man Enough examines biblical examples of masculinity that challenge the idea of a singular type of man, and ultimately frees men up to be exactly who they were created to be – sons of God who uniquely bear his image.

“The question for us as Christians is, ‘Is there an ideal man?’ Is there one way for men to be men, or can being a man look very different depending on the attitudes and aptitudes wired into you by God? It’s easy to say Jesus is the picture of the ideal man, but we have to look carefully at how we interpret Jesus’ masculinity. We all read our cultural understandings of masculinity onto Jesus so that, in the end, Jesus looks suspiciously like an American man. Man Enough helps you see those cultural ideas clearly so that you can see Jesus more fully. I hope to offer an alternative vision for masculinity to the hyper-masculine ideal that pervades much of the church.”

The only downside to the book is that discussion questions are not included, BUT you can email the author for a free PDF study guide. The book is written for both men and women and can be used for either personal or group study.

Nate is an author, blogger, and ordained pastor in the Reformed Church of America. Currently, Nate serves as the pastor of Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Indiana where he lives with his wife and three children. Nate writes at www.natepyle.com. He is a part of a team that facilitates a joint effort of revitalizing churches and missional engagement in the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church. Watch Nate’s 2-minute book promo.

2. Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World – Carolyn Custis James (Zondervan, 2015)

As one reviewer notes Malestrom “takes a close and provocative look at the dangers of patriarchy by taking a close look at what Scripture says about it” (Darrell Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary). In this monumental book, James shows how our culture’s narrow definitions of manhood are upended when we consider the examples of men in the Bible and Jesus’ gospel, which shows a whole new Kingdom way of being male.

James addresses questions like “who defines what it means to be a man?”, “is masculinity inherently violent?”, “have we embraced fallen ideas of maleness?”, “what does Jesus have to say about manhood?” The end result is a redemptive gospel-centered perspective on what it means to be a man. Malestrom is written for a mixed-gender audience but would work very well for a men’s discussion group. It can be used for either personal or group study and there are excellent discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

Carolyn Custis James is an award-winning author (Half the Church, The Book of Ruth, Lost Women of the Bible, and more) who addresses the deeper needs which confront women and men as they endeavor to extend God’s kingdom together. James is an adjunct faculty member at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, a consulting editor for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament, and a contributing editor for Leadership Journal. In 2013, Christianity Today named her one of the 50 evangelical women to watch. She blogs at CarolynCustisJames and is a leading voice for Missio Alliance

Read a book review of Malestrom at Christianity Today.  Read an excerpt from Malestrom at Bible Gateway.

3. Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality– Gareth Brandt (Herald Press, 2009)

Drawing heavily from the story of Joseph in the Bible, Under Construction shows how male spirituality reaches its height when it shows compassion to all people, beginning with those close to us. “It’s about being part of building God’s commonwealth of love and justice, having the courage to face the wounds of our past, and building a marriage, a family, and a career while empowering others to build with us.” Brandt acknowledges that it can be tough to get men interested in reading about male spirituality – “That’s why I call this a ‘men’s book for those who don’t read men’s books’.”

Part 1 outlines the quest for a constructive understanding of male spirituality (Brandt’s personal journey, a summary and critical review of some of the literature in the field), and Part 2 explores ten metaphors related to male spirituality that come out of the story of Joseph (beloved, dreamer, wounded, journey, sexuality, gifts, builder, reflection, reconciliation, and legacy). There is a helpful discussion guide for each chapter provided at the end of the book.

Gareth Brandt teaches spirituality at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C. His educational background includes degrees in spirituality, theology, and psychology, with an emphasis on the spiritual formation of young adults. The desire to be a peacebuilder and to promote God’s shalom in the world is a key element of male spirituality for Brandt.

Studies to Avoid

Authentic Manhood – The 33 Series (multiple authors, published by LifeWay) This video series claims to inspire and equip men to pursue “authentic manhood” as modeled by Jesus in his 33 years on earth, but on close review of the preview materials there is very little here that has anything to do with the life of Jesus. For example, the Volume 1 materials linked below do not include any scripture or any reference to Jesus at all. I also looked at the first session in the marriage segment and found that it cites Genesis 1:28 while skipping 26-27, cites Genesis 2 but skips Genesis 3), and cites Ephesians 5:22 but skips 5:21 and ignores the context of the passage. The longest section in the bible on marriage (1 Cor 7) is ignored altogether. These studies are soft complementarian at best. See for yourself: 33 Series Vol. 1 Sample.

Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole (Eric Mason with a foreword by Matt Chandler) Some of the concepts in the sample study guide for week 1: the Hebrew for Adam means man, Eve was created to help Adam, God calls men to be manly men, men lead the family, Jesus is the answer to your manhood issues. You get the idea.

The Resolution for Men (Randy Alcorn, Stephen Kendrick, Alex Kendrick) According to this study men have been given the position of leadership over their families and have been placed in the driver’s seat in their marriages. The book is a follow-up to the movie Courageous. It claims that the feminist movement’s constant attack on male leadership is a cause of the downfall of men.

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Disclaimer: I have read the books and highly recommend them, but these are not formal reviews. The summaries are taken from Amazon, author websites, and the books themselves – just enough to give you an overview of the content and focus.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Gail Wallace

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10 Comments

  • “The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World” by Carrie A. Miles is an excellent resource that begins with four chapters of careful biblical analysis that examine Creation, the Fall, and then Redemption through the teaching of Jesus and Paul. The book goes on with a social science perspective to address the real impacts to marriage (and masculinity) resulting from the Industrial Revolution. While this book is academic and not written for groups, the biblical analysis of the first four chapters are put at a very accessible level for groups in the thirteen lessons of “Face to Face: A Biblical Discovery of Self and Relationship,” the American edition of the Bible study guide her ministry (Empower International Ministries) uses in Africa and India. The Book and “Face to Face” are both available on Amazon.com, and the African edition (“New Man, New Woman, New Life”) can be downloaded for free (in English and several African languages) from the ministry website, empowerinternational.org/. Having taught this material on four trips to Africa and one to Haiti, as well as in my local county jail for about a year, I can attest to its power to challenge and transform men who struggle with “real” patriarchy!

    • Thank you, Wayne. I didn’t think about that as a men’s study, but it could certainly be used that way!

  • I have the first two books and have read the first one. Looks like I need to pick up the third to add to my stack of “must-read books” about healthy, Biblical males and females. Thanks for the recommendations!

  • A different perspective on the subject…

    Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen: My Brother’s Keeper: What the Social Sciences Do (and Don’t) Tell Us About Masculinity

    • Not so different, I think. Love the book but wouldn’t recommend for a small group setting as its quite academic and not written for groups. But it us an excellent resource!

  • Playbook for Christian Manhood
    12 Key Plays for Black Teen Boys
    James C. Perkins, Edited by Jean Alicia Elster

  • John Eldridge he written many books that address manhood and masculinity. He is a brilliant writer.

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