The Gospel of Manliness


Our church built a concrete parking area for the bikers.

On hot days, motorcycle kickstands sink into blacktop. Our parking lot is gravel, and when it rains that doesn’t work so well, either. So they chose concrete.

I imagine not too many churches construct a special place for bikers to park their Harleys. My church seems a tad more manly in that regard. Farmers, fishermen, truck drivers, mechanics—salt of the Earth kind of guys fill our pews. Lots of callouses. Talked this morning with a guy who crushed his hand in his tractor’s 3-point hitch.

I’ve got a tractor, too. A big, 35 h.p. Kubota. I pull an eight-foot Land Pride finish mower and a five- foot Bush Hog. Been able to run the service on those myself, so far. But I’m more a gentleman farmer (read: Eddie Albert in Green Acres). I talk about reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Stephen Hawking and other farmers’ eyes glaze over. I watch birds in my spare time, too.

See, I’m not very manly.

When I was born, the doctor said to my Mom, “You’ve got a linebacker.” Well, maybe for an NFL team in the 70s. At 6’4″, I’ve got the height, but 215 lbs. goes about 30 too light to play with the big boys nowadays. Half a life ago, I could bench press over 400 lbs and do 160 lb. one-armed bicep curls. Half a life ago.

I never played football in high school. I could’ve been a contender in basketball, but puberty left me with an inability to walk and dribble at the same time, so the NBA never called.

Though the men in my church have a fantasy league for nearly every sport imaginable, I can only name four players on the hometown Reds: Ken Griffey, Jr., Adam Dunn, Bronson Pinchot Arroyo, and the the Great White Hope, Homer Bailey. Standings? I have no idea. I can’t even keep up with sports team names and locations. Just the other day, I learned that the NBA Charlotte Hornets aren’t in Charlotte anymore—and I think that change came five years ago. I had no idea Charlotte had an NHL team, either. And though I enjoy watching hockey games (love the international rules Olympic hockey especially), I’m the oddball in the stands yelling, “Just play the darned game!” whenever a fight breaks out. And I do say darned and not something else.

Me, I was always a cyclist. But if I asked any of the guys at church about the Tour de France, I’d probably be stoned. “France? France??? Heck, the Ohio State football team could probably invade France and kill every last one of them Brie-eaters with their bare hands. Go Buckeyes!

Previously, as a member of a well-off Presbyterian Church, I’d hang with the men and they’d sit around talking investing. Or real estate. Or cars. Or electronics. Marvel Comic's 'Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos #3'The latter I knew something about, but the rest flew over my head. And in those rare moments when the subject did stoop to sports, no one wanted to talk about Olympic volleyball, one of the precious few sports I’ll make time to watch.

My Dad’s dad was the pinnacle of manhood—a Marine drill sergeant. But somehow, my Dad inherited little of that manliness. My Dad couldn’t rebuild a carburetor to save his life, relied on his sons to operate the stereo system, and usually injured himself on anything tool-related. He knew everything to know about the Civil War, but, sadly, that never clicked with his sons.

Dad had a job that he loved, though it took him away from home for weeks at a time. Eventually, he rose to the top of his company and was considered the savior of headquarter’s sales division, but a back injury forced him out of that job and into one he hated. I watched that office-bound job suck the life out of him, and when they forcibly retired him six months before he was due his full pension (receiving a third of what he would have received), I witnessed what happens to a man crushed in the cogs of big business. He walked away from the Church and died in 2000 at 66, a shattered man.

I wish my Dad had left me with more than he did. I’m making it up as I go along, so I’ll never be a pinnacle of what most people consider manhood.

After watching my own career go awry at the worst possible time, I decided I had to be my own boss rather than suffer the capricious whims of Jack Welch disciples whose go-to response to a bad quarter meant downsizing. So I started my own business. That meant my wife would have to be the primary breadwinner while I stayed home with our son, homeschooled (I have the education degree), managed the farm, and tried to get my business going. Most freelance writers like me take more than five years to see even the slightest bit of money, so I’ve done better than most. Still, my wife’s the one doing the heavy lifting for now.

Plenty of people don’t consider me very manly for being a stay-at-home dad who’s not the primary breadwinner. Church people like that not one iota. I know, I’ve been on the receiving end of the catcalls. A few holier-than-thous have questioned my worthiness as a husband, income—I guess—their sole characteristic of godliness. I’ve had well-meaning Christians ask me when I was going to get a real job, as if my writing business doesn’t count. When I ask them what writing projects they might refer my way so I can continue to build my business and return to being the primary breadwinner, they go scurrying. It’s easier for them to tell me that I’m not very manly than to actually help me be the man they think I should be.

You get left out of the rest of the world when you’re a stay-at-home dad. To the at-home moms, you run the risk of being considered the slob making your wife work OR some kind of sexual predator stalking the mom who’s a bit too lonely. Men don’t know what to think of you, either. You’re either the smartest guy in the world or the biggest loser.

Men don’t fall into the role of at-home dad very well. We took woodshop and not home ec. For this reason, our house is never as clean as it should be. I may do better than my wife in the culinary skills, but I’m not as naturally nurturing. Your best friend smacked you in the head with a golf ball? Well, son, that’s life. Shake it off. Meanwhile, I’m laughing because I can see the ball’s dimples in the rising bruise. Mom would slather him with attention and ice compresses.

Though I’m plenty creative, I confess I run out of ways to amuse our son. As a result, he spends more time on the computer than I would like. Friends of ours wondered how I could possibly tend our farm, start a writing business, homeschool, and handle what is traditionally the female role, while still doing all the manly things, too. The answer to that? Not as well as I would’ve hoped. So we’re making some changes. We’re putting our son in public school (in part) so I can get out and round up more clients. Of course, to some Christians, I might as well sacrifice my son on an altar to Molech as put him in public school. (I’ve heard that Lowe’s sells Molech Altar Kits for the do-it-yourselfer. Or was that Home Depot? Remember, I’m not very manly, so I get them mixed up.)

John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart took men in the American Church by storm. Today, finding one’s inner bowhunter or professional wrestler appears de rigeur. We’ve been told the Church is feminine, that men are bored with Church, and that singing how lovely Christ is comes off, uh…kind of gay. The antidote, the manliness pundits say, is to hunt bear with a pointy stick.

Manly? Somehow, I don’t think so.

The Dangerous Book for Boys occupies the top rung of nonfiction bestsellers, as sensitive ’80s guys attempt to raise their sons differently. In my neck of the woods, Boy Scouting fit that bill for decades, but the Boy Scouts aren’t trendy, they face countless frivolous ACLU lawsuits, and Dan Beard hasn’t had a bestseller in years. Being dead kind of throws a wrench into cruising the talk show circuit.

Jim Elliot died in an Ecuadoran jungle back in the 1950s. He’d gone to those jungles to reach the lost tribes who’d never encountered Jesus Christ. Elliot and the four other male missionaries that died beside him carried guns that could’ve easily dispatched their attackers, but they took the spears of their killers rather than send unsaved men to an eternal hell.

They deleted that scene in Braveheart…or so I’m told. I haven’t seen that movie, either.

True manliness isn’t found in beating a drum head (Hah! I actually do that one!) or bashing the heads of one’s enemies. God’s man isn’t the sports junkie who can recite all the stats of the greatest baseball team to ever grace a diamond, the ’76 Big Red Machine. He’s not the one who listens to Ted Nugent and hunts Kodiaks with a crossbow. He’s not even the soldier who gave his life in battle believing in a higher truth worth dying for.

No, the greatest mark of a Christian man is that other men desire to emulate him because they see Christ in all His glory living in him. The true manly man serves as a hallmark, a lighthouse, and road sign on the path to heaven. He’s not afraid to cook a meal for the poor. He visits the sick. He looks out for lost little children. A bent reed he does not break. A smoldering wick he does not quench.

Chances are he won’t know who’s on top in the AFC North, can’t regale you with the specs of the hottest electronic gadget, and won’t be out training for a triathlon. God’s man kneels in his prayer closet, where no one sees, and tears down strongholds that would make William Wallace wet himself. That kind of man makes tough choices that take him in a direction the rest of the world can’t understand, even the rest of modern Christian men. He may not be considered the prime example of manhood in his day, but he’ll leave a legacy that shines like a beacon for generations to come.

I’m writing this on Father’s Day. Yesterday, my son and I built a hand drum. We had a good time. A friend gave me The Dangerous Book for Boys (thanks, Eric!) this past Friday, and my son and I will probably do a lot of good projects out of that book this summer. But none of that makes me an acceptable dad. The only thing that makes a man a man is to model Christ for his generation and the next, even if that model doesn’t look anything like the models we typically hold out for manliness. It may mean we holster our gun and take the spear. We may have to forgo the bear-hunting trip to run errands for the elderly lady next door. That won’t make us popular, or even understood.

But it does make us men.

28 thoughts on “The Gospel of Manliness

  1. Dan,

    Thanks for these thoughts. Very encouraging. I like the line best about William Wallace wetting himself. I know what it’s like to try and round up work and raising kids in an “untraditional” way. I did it for about a year in Nashville while we tried to make me into a rock star. Great experience, but not my thing. I was at home with my two kids (3 and 1 at the time) for about 3 days a week and tried to round up gigs and connections, etc. Wore me out, but I learned a ton about myself and music. I am thankful for it. Thanks for your post.


    • Zach,

      If you’ve been your own boss, maybe you have some insights.

      Why is it so hard to get fellow Christians to throw work your way? You’d think believers would understand the need to “keep the family working,” but I swear, in my church (which is a great church in all other respects), I have a hard time convincing people I even have a business. A writer? You make money writing for companies and small businesses? How is that possible? Who’s your boss? Where’s your office? It’s like I made up a job, like “Grand Herald of the Great Galactic Poobah.”

      Have you noticed this, too? It seems that if you have some job besides mechanic, bank teller, accountant. middle manager, or general desk slave, you’re not really working. Some areas of the country are worse. I’d have no one think ill of me if I said I was a writer out in LA, but living in the heart of the Midwest makes me suspect.

      • Yah, I don’t get the whole “Work-defines-the-man” thing. In a class I had in college we once did a research project in how “stay-at-home dad” was viewed versus “stay-at-home mom.” While the concept of housewife has changed, certainly, including public acceptance of it, the concept of “househusband” has not budged in hundreds of years. “Bum” would be a polite way of looking at it.

        ‘Self-Employed’ is also rather low on the list of accepted occupations, though, oddly enough, it ranks right up there with “Minister” in things people would like to be, due to the concept of both having plenty of free time, perception being somewhat at odds with reality.

  2. James Vander Woude

    As Chris Farley said, “Poetry?!? You’ll have lots of time to write poetry when you’re living in a VAN down by the RIVER!”

    Thanks for this thought-provoking article, Mr. Edelen. We should be wary of adopting a view of manhood that is based on caricature, not biblical character. (too cute? too cute.) Anyway, gotta run to dinner. I find your writing provoking! What do you write professionally?


    • James,

      Yeah, I’m THAT kind of bum.

      I’m not sure, even when we examine the Bible, that any one stereotype of manliness comes out.

      Abraham was a liar and afraid of other men.

      Jacob tricked his father and was a mama’s boy who was afraid of his brother.

      Joseph was a good-looking dreamer, but a shrewd businessman. Some thought him full of himself.

      Moses killed a man, then ran off to save himself. Made a bunch of excuses to the living God concerning his leadership aptitude.

      Samson was all id, and practically defined manhood, but he loved the ladies and let them control him.

      Gideon was timid and a doubter.

      Elijah routinely fell into funks.

      David played the harp and boasted the gamut of emotions, even some not so manly, and we know where his peeking at bathing women got him. Lousy father, too.

      Solomon was the wisest guy to walk the face of the planet, but hedonism ruined him.

      Jeremiah—well most of his peers thought he was nuts.

      John the Baptist was a loner with strange habits.

      The Apostle Paul wrote great letters from afar, but disappointed folks when he showed up in person.

      Now, try to draw a stereotype of manliness from those bastions of faith!

      • Each of these men (with perhaps the exception of Samson, I’m still conflicted in regards to him…He’s almost a poster boy for spiritual failure) followed through with what God told them to do. Sure, there was some doubt, questioning, failure, etc. Even John the Baptist needed reassurance, heck, even Jesus needed comforting. But I think the solid core of each of these brittle men was faithfulness. Not something the world holds in high esteem, but it looks like righteousness to God.

        To me, the best of men was Joseph. Unheralded, unsung, rarely mentioned, but every mention of him in the gospel is a picture of belief and gentlemanly conduct. If we men had only the actions of Joseph to model, then how the concept of “manhood” would change!

        But here again is that recurring concept of being different; transformed rather than conformed. ‘Committed’, as it were, to a different paradigm.

        • David,

          Yes, faithfulness is the one obvious common element. Other than that, you can’t create a formula for manliness based on the men of the Bible. And we Americans love our simplistic formulas, don’t we?

          Joseph was great. He’s probably my favorite OT personality.

          In his early years, though, it’s hard not to see him as impetuous, narcissistic, and cocksure of himself. He learned a hard lesson on waiting for the Lord’s timing. Over time, he definitely mellowed and became more the man most of us would long to be. But even he wasn’t perfect. He gave his brothers fits both early and later in life. That scheme with the hidden cup caused his family a lot of grief.

          • I was thinking more of Mary’s husband, but the OT Joseph is pretty good, too. But yah, he was a bit cocky as a lad. Nothing like being sold as a slave to deflate one a bit, though.

        • David,

          Samson’s an odd one, but in many ways his failure is no different than that of the others, except he paid for his mistake more severely.

          Abraham doubted the heir story God told him, so he tried to make it happen through his slave girls.

          David had Bathsheba.

          Moses struck the rock.

          Jacob clearly loved one son more than the others and paid for it. His past fraud caught up with him when Laban turned the tables on him.

          Jonah—’nuf said about him.

          Peter had his three denials.

          So if you want to find another characteristic beyond faithfulness, I’d have to add “feet of clay.”

          • I like the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. One of them is called “Feet of Clay” and provides a rather interesting POV regarding that particular biblical concept.

            Ah,well, if we were perfect, what need grace, eh?


        HI DAN.

        Found your comments over @ Challies dead on. Have spent a ggod bit of time now perusing your site. I find your writing and thoughts inspired and enjoyable to read. This answer belongs up in the main content (or maybe as a post of it’s own). I will be coming to read you frequently. I would like to link to your site from my blog.



    I must admit that I had a hard time staying on track after you mentioned benchpressing 400 lbs. Impressive! With that fact alone your manliness quotient went up considerably. But that is exactly your point. For the most part we have missed what being a man is all about. Thanks for a terrific reminder.

  4. Laura Williams

    Hmmm. At first I thought David was talking about the NT Joseph, who I would nominate as “most underrated-man-of-faith-and-obediance.” He is my favorite example of doing the right thing consistently.

    • Oh, I was. Dan ran with the OT Joseph, and he has his points, but I was thinking of the NT Joseph, waking up in the middle of the night, and sprinting across the village to bang on the door of Mary’s house and demanding they marry immediately. I think of him as simple, devoted and driven by a love for God.

      One thing that I have never heard spoken of, even in the context of the raising of Lazarus, is that Joseph, the father of Christ, at some point died. As I get older and people around me sicken and die, I ponder it more and more. Jesus had to place his mother in the care of John because she had no husband, and Jesus, being the eldest son, was responsible for her. At what point did Joseph die? How did it affect Mary’s view of her son as he healed people of their sicknesses and diseases, as she heard stories of children rising from their deathbeds, as she looked on Lazarus, and finally as her son died on a cross? How about James? I suppose we sometimes ponder the silence of the Bible as often as we meditate on the words, but it leaves me with a question mark in my little brain.

  5. If I had to pick one word to define “manliness,” it would be “courage.” OK, two words. And “honor.” A Biblical figure who comes to mind is Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband.

  6. This was just amazing. I’ve been pondering it like crazy and am glad to re-read it again tonight. For us women who are married to men who don’t fit the mold, all I can say is, I’d rather have a man who’s interesting, unafraid to color outside the lines, who’ll humbly submit himself to God even if it brings ridicule. I want my children to live life boldly and colorfully, not slog off to a job they hate everyday to come home and watch TV until bedtime, then get up and do it all over again. I want them to fly and ride the wild ride of life (as painful as it can be at times!) so they don’t get to the end and say, “I never did anything extraordinary.”

    To those men who are content with what is thought of as a normal life, I say that’s okay. What upsets me, however, is that this is thought of as the only godly mold. Bottom line, the kingdom doesn’t advance in major ways by the normal, but by the extraordinary.

    • Lisa,

      I’ve been a contrarian all my life, sometimes by choice and sometimes not. After a while, all the fighting against the tide takes it out of you. It’s far easier to go the way of everyone else than to keep fighting.

      God knows I’m tired!

  7. Dave Block

    I have to admit that I’m conflicted about the stay-at-home dad idea. It just seems that mothers are, or should be, the spouse better suited to take care of the kids while the other is earning money. Then again, each Wednesday I stay at home with our 5-year-old girl and 20-month-old boy while my wife is at her part-time job, and I think the kids do fine with that. (I don’t get much work done then, so I make up the time the rest of the week.)

    On the other hand, Dan, I would bet that you made the right decision to be a stay-at-home dad, for these reasons:
    1) You’ve shown your wisdom and obviously must have put sufficient thought and prayer into the decision
    2) Unless you’re a cunning fraud, you are a godly man who seeks the Lord’s will
    3) I don’t have a great argument for why there can’t be exceptions to my notion about moms staying at home

    So I guess I feel a little uneasy when I encounter the stay-at-home dad idea, while not passing judgment. I might wonder about it in a given situation:
    -Does this (apparently) non-ideal arrangement happen sometimes because of man’s fall?
    -Is it because of shortcomings in society?
    -Is it because the couple made a bad decision in their past that necessitates it?
    -Is it because the couple is not content with lower income?
    -Does it indicate a problem with me that I’m wondering about the issue, considering that it does not involve a clear Biblical principle?

  8. Dave Block

    Dan, it’s getting late so it might not be tonight, but I’m going to email you about a possible writing opportunity. It doesn’t seem to fit Ethereal Pen Productions, but I’ll let you decide that.

  9. Dan,

    This is the kind of writing that had me immediately add you to my blog roll a few years ago, and I can see your still pumping them out. A thought provoking piece.


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  11. J. Clark

    It is still echoing….you are a great writer.

    I would add just a bit of commentary on reasons a culture looks down at stay-at-home dads (which I do two days a week). There are lax and sinful men everywhere who leach off women and take advantage of them. And, our Western culture wants to blur roles in order to blur gender lines. (this may be hyperbole but it works itself out whether it is intended or not; I live in Portland, OR where this is self-evident which brings up another discussion: Is there a different approach for the urban man vs the rural man?) So I don’t think the stereotype when used as a tool to discover a man’s intention is necessarily bad. When it is used as absolute dogma to keep men out of God’s kingdom or to discriminate based on the means of work then there is a problem. If there is a model for manhood it is Paul’s charge to husbands to love their wives like Christ loves the Church. This will cost a man his life! And it usually means men to stop making excuses and find some work to support his family. Or it may mean taking on some nurturing roles so that he’ll learn to not be a “son of #!&*! Because men who love their wives (families) like Christ loves the Church will lay down his life and provide for them by meeting their basic needs and by teaching and training them with compassion and love.

    Though much has been made and taken away about Eldredge’s books, he at least is addressing the aforementioned problem: Men as leaches and blurring gender. I think Eldredge’s view of manhood is similar to that of Lewis’: “We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes, not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but, once more, “not near so much like a Ball.” -from God in the Dock, Priestesses in the Church?

    I “assume” Eldredge’s call to masculinity by “manly” practices is for the end and not the means. I think where Eldredge falls short is not talking about how to produce manly compassion and gentleness. I love the discussion though.

  12. Ken

    Today, finding one’s inner bowhunter or professional wrestler appears de rigeur.

    Well, Todd Bentley of Lakeland sure seems to have found his inner pro wrestler. I can very easily see him in a Pay-per-View with the Gobbledy Gooker on Wrestlecrap

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