It’s hard for me to describe the effect reading a Nancy Pearcey book has on me. I’ll try though. It’s like having your breath taken away by the natural wonder of a place like the Grand Canyon. That’s how the beauty of Christian truth I read about in Total Truth and then Finding Truth (see my summary) years later hit me. Love Thy Body (see my eight takeaways) did something similar as it reminded me of the glory of God’s design and the sheer disaster that comes upon anyone who messes with.
Nancy Pearcey’s new book The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes did something similar. In a world that makes men feel beaten down and sometimes even chants or tweets “Death to all men”, Christian men need encouragement that the secular narrative is wrong and God’s design is not only true, but good. A friend’s comment showed me the importance of this new book. He teaches at a public high school and mentioned that his students cannot even define what a man is. So if there’s ever a time for a compelling and empowering vision of what it means to honor God with manhood, it is now!
Pearcey tackles all the common tropes heard in the secular world about men and specifically about Christian men and the claim that the Bible’s view of headship and submission leads to abuse and chauvinistic behavior. If anyone should believe that Christianity leads to abuse, it is Pearcey, who had an abusive father claiming to follow Christ. I appreciate her vulnerability in opening the book sharing her experience.
Pearcey starts the book with a fascinating observation: If you compare the secular world, nominal believers, and Bible-believing church attending believers, who do you think would have the highest rates of divorce and abuse? My gut would have told me secular people. But it’s actually nominal believers, people who may cloak their negative behavior in religious language. According to Pearcey, it’s the worst of both worlds. They act out of the flesh but don’t seek change or listen to others because they see themselves as righteous and on God’s side. The first part of the book shares “The Good News about Christian Men” and seeks to explain how sociological studies share that Christian teaching does not by and large create chauvinistic abusers.
The second part of the book “How the Secular Script Turned Toxic” looks back into history to answer why our culture came to believe lies in the first place. (Pearcey’s analysis reminds me a bit of Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self but for the idea of ‘toxic masculinity.’) The key turning point was the Industrial Revolution. Before, work life and home life were integrated. Men worked at home and could be fully present and engaged with their families. But when work took them out of the home and into the city, the work/life bond was separated. Men thought more about individual advancement in careers and less about leading their families as a whole.
One of the interesting historical tidbits Pearcey shares is that women, including feminist women, were originally against the right for women to vote, the reason being was that women felt represented by their husbands, who voted with whole households in mind. If granted the right to vote, it might lead to the breakdown of the family due to men thinking more independently (i.e. I can vote for what helps me, not my whole family). Pearcey’s insight on the sea change brought about by the Industrial Revolution also explains why it’s so common in entertainment to denigrate the dad as stupid (think Homer Simpson or even Daddy Pig from Peppa Pig). Papa’s not at home as much as mama to know the ins and outs of home life.
When tackling a topic like manhood, a stance on complementarianism and egalitarianism is inevitably taken or at least hinted at. Although World Magazine says Pearcey doesn’t take a definitive stance on the issue, I could see why some reviewers claim “she ends up defending a practical egalitarianism” even though I don’t fully agree. Pearcey’s aim of the book actually explains this. She didn’t seek to write a theology book or interview top theologians of what Christians should believe, she wanted to counter the claim that Christian teaching on headship and submission produces abuse and chauvinistic behavior by looking to the sociographic data on how Christians actually live. So don’t read the book to change your stance on the complementarianism/egalitarian conversation, read to be encouraged that God’s plan for manhood is beautiful and good, not toxic. (It’s always worth mentioning as well that yes, women are called to submit to their husbands. But husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church, giving His life for her. That’s a tall order we can only do with the help of the Holy Spirit!)
All in all, The Toxic War on Masculinity succeeds in exposing the lies our culture believes about manhood and biblical manhood specifically. The book left me wanting to be a better man, husband, and father. There aren’t a lot of women who can do that, but Nancy Pearcey sure has.
Listen to an interview with Nancy Pearcey about the book on the Bumper Sticker Faith podcast.