Author: Jeffrey Hemming
Publisher: Concordia Publishing House, 2017
Matt Walsh’s controversial film and book, What Is A Woman?, challenges the Woke narrative of what defines a woman (spoiler: they cannot give a coherent answer). In this book, Rev. Jeff Hemmer tackles the question: What is a man? What makes a man?
At the outset, Hemmer humbly admits he is no expert on masculinity and, therefore, neither is he the example (xii), contrary to most books on masculinity, I’m sure. Neither is his purpose to have this be an easy, comfortable read for the reader. It will challenge you, especially if you’re a man reading this. And especially if you’re not Christian, or an orthodox Christian. Why? Because it is primarily a book about Jesus. “Wait, I thought it was a book about masculinity?” It is, which is why it’s about Jesus. “He is the standard for masculinity throughout this book, but it’s not a standard that you can meet. It’s a a standard that will mock you and make you feel inferior. You can never be as manly as Jesus” (xiii). When you look at Jesus, you’re not as manly as you think you are.
So, throw out all preconceived notions you have about masculinity because this book—Jesus, really—will turn that view upside down with the same vehemence He flipped the tables upside down in the Temple. This book is satisfyingly from a Christian—and more specifically, Lutheran—perspective on biblical masculinity; but more importantly, it is a book about the God-man Jesus Christ, the perfect Man who redeemed mankind.
Part 1: Nuts and Bolts – The Basics
Chapter 1 begins with the controversial question, “What is a man?” To quote from Psalm 8:4, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” The psalm is speaking about mankind, but as the name of this first part of the book suggests, Hemmer’s aim in this first chapter is to begin with the basics. Strictly speaking, a man is a human being who has XY chromosomes. But a man is more than his biological makeup. In this chapter, how Hemmer defines a man through the lens of Scripture sets the pace for the rest of the book. Generally speaking, this is what we know about men in Scripture:
- “…man is not the Creator, not exalted to the highest pinnacle of existence. Instead, he takes a lower role. He is limited. Man is a creature, dependent on his Creator.” Therefore, “The first lesson in masculinity is not how powerful and mighty man is, how much he deserved to be exalted, but how humble he is, how small and inferior he is in comparison to his Creator” (4). Do you think a man is about how strong and self-imposing you are? Guess again.
- A man’s identity is to be centred on Christ. “God has human likeness. Or more precisely, mankind has divine likeness. We look alike. Certainly, to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, who are purely spirit, we have no resemblance. But to God the Son, who answered the question ‘What is man?’ in His incarnation—His enfleshment, or becoming man—we bear a striking resemblance” (5). What it means to be a man begins with being made in God’s image, which is why Hemmer begins in the Garden of Eden in the following chapters.
- “Masculinity is not a single trait. It’s a lifestyle, a discipline, a habit cultivated by practice… The essence of masculinity is not rugged independence. It is sacrificial giving” (8). Being a man is not about taking, but about giving.
- A man practices manly virtues. Hemmer uses the opposite of the so-called “7 deadly sins” for these virtues. “The virtue chastity is the opposite of the vice lust; temperance is the opposite of gluttony; charity of greed; diligence of sloth; patience of wrath; kindness of envy; and humility is the opposite of pride” (8).
- Drawing from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, a man does not practice malakia, which “is the moral softness of self-indulgence, self-centeredness, self-preservation” (10). In other words, a man is not effeminate. “Malakia is a selfish abdication of a higher calling to serve others” (12).
In chapter 2, Hemmer continues the building blocks of what makes a human being a man by answering the question, “What does a man need?” After a necessary discussion of mankind as the apex of creation and that God’s giving man dominion over the earth is the first indication that His preference is to work through means, the basic needs of a man can be summarised with three P’s: to protect, provide, and procreate. To this end, the first thing a man needs is a helper—he needs a wife. We see this in Genesis 2. But what if a man isn’t married? What if he’s celibate? Hemmer anticipates these questions. Thus, he argues, the second thing a man needs is brothers. In our hypersexualised culture, one might read this as a sexual need, but that’s not what Hemmer means and neither does Scripture support such a perversion. There is a place for intimate (non-sexual) friendships between men (e.g., David and Jonathan, Paul and Onesimus, Paul and Timothy, Frodo and Sam).
The third thing a man needs is a family. Hemmer challenges the modern notion that sex is only about pleasure. Rather, it is ordinarily about procreation—making babies and having a family. This is God’s own command and blessing according to Genesis 1:27-28. What if a man cannot procreate? Is he still a man? Hemmer also anticipates these questions and gives a faithful answer. (Yes, he is still a man. Read the full chapter for more.).
Lastly, a man needs the communion of saints. Men can have their little tribes of clubs, sports teams, fraternities, hunting buddies, shooting buddies, gaming buddies, and so forth. (They don’t have to be entirely made up of Christians; they can be unbelievers as well). But more than these little groups, a man needs the communion of saints, that is, he needs the Church. Hemmer acknowledges that boys cannot raise boys to be men; they need older men to help them transition into becoming a man. Neither can boys learn how to be a man from a woman. His mom cannot teach him what it means to be a man, even if she has her own ideas (and even if what she believes is biblically correct). He needs older men; he needs another man to model his own manhood after. Besides his own father, Hemmer rightly argues that the best place a boy can find an older man to learn how to be a man is from other men in the Church. This means that it is incumbent upon older men in the Church to “take the time and care to catechize these boys in the dying art of being a man, of living one’s life for the good of others” (41).
In chapter 3, Hemmer turns the discussion to what disordered masculinity looks like. He uses that word “disorder” because creation, before the Fall of Man, was in its proper order, which means everything was in its proper place. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, everything has been in disorder, and that includes masculinity (as well as femininity).
The first way in which men become disordered is when they are self-serving. Remaining in the Garden, Eve’s sin was that she was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14), but Adam’s sin was different. Adam wasn’t somewhere else when this all went down; he was right there with her. He catechised her well about the forbidden tree, but he failed in his duty of the first three P’s; he failed to protect her. Hemmer doesn’t name Adam’s sin, but based on what he writes, it can be argued that Adam’s sin was negligence. Eve was deceived; Adam was negligent. And the first thing they do after they eat of the fruit is that they looked downward at their private parts when they never had before, indicating man’s new disposition: self-centred navel-gazing. Is it any wonder, then, why so many sexual issues abound today?
The second disorder of masculinity is when he is self-preserving. When the man and the woman hear the sound of God walking in the Garden, rather than going to Him for comfort and refuge, their natural instinct now is to hide from Him—self-preservation. God addresses Adam first. Why Adam first when Eve was the first to sin? Because, as we’ll see later in the book, man is the head of his wife. It’s Adam’s responsibility. So, God calls him out to answer for himself and his wife. And what does the man do? Rather than manning up and owning up to what he did—or rather, what he failed to do—he blames his wife.
Hemmer continues his discussion on disordered, or “dysfunctional,” manhood for the rest of the chapter, including what these events tell us about the consequences of sin, the purpose and vital typology of circumcision, and Scripture’s strange yet thematic phallic fixation. Just these words alone probably sound strange, but the rest of the chapter is an edifying read on how this all points us to Christ.
In chapter 4, Hemmer poses the question, “Which came first: the chicken or the feminist?” (70). He gives a basic overview of the history and tenets of feminism to bring the reader into the discussion of how men have become emasculated in society. As we near an Orwellian era, Hemmer uses the metonymy “City of the Same” to describe the postmodern ideal that “people are quintessentially individual. There are no assigned roles; each person is free to choose roles based on his or her proclivities and preferences. Articulating any differences between men and women is anathema. Men can do what women can do; women can do what men can do” (76). As we’ve been seeing in recent years, the postmodern ideal is that men and women are the same; biological differences and distinctions have no bearing upon men and women in society. More recently, there are no biological differences because even men can have periods and get pregnant. (Insane, I know, but they say it nonetheless.)
The City of the Same, Hemmer argues, has manufactured three kinds of false men. The first is the effeminate man, which is a man who “has succumbed to the societal pressures around him to be ‘nice.’ …Sure, he’s nice. Sure, he’s accommodating. But he’s nearly accommodated himself out of the picture. He’s unnecessary.” He “has lost his masculine moorings that teach him what the essence of giving, loving, helping, and serving are. Now he simply rolls over to the demands of women and culture around him” (80-81). By “nice” Hemmer does not mean a man who is kind. Men, as well as women, are certainly called by the Holy Spirit to be kind (Galatians 5:22). What he essentially means is a man who has no bal… I mean grit—a man who abdicates his duties as a man.
The second false man is the man-child. “He remains, for all intents and purposes, a boy. It’s not that he’s malicious in his immaturity. It’s just that no one has ever expected anything of him… He’s fixated on himself, his own wants, desires, pleasures, and predilections” (81). Think of the stereotypical 30-something-year-old man who plays video games in his mother’s basement, or a man who is independently self-sufficient but doesn’t want to get married and have children so he can continue seeking his own selfish desires and pleasures (what he calls “freedom”). That’s a man-child.
The third false man is the compensating man. This is essentially an overreaction against society’s pressure to feminise men. So, “he compensates. Masculinity for him becomes a caricature. Instead of protecting, masculinity is just about the superficial evidence that he could protect, if called on: big muscles. Or maybe, lacking these… he settles for the evidence of his ability to be a provider” with “big tools” (82). Hemmer calls this hypermasculinity, which we can also call it toxic masculinity. Whatever term is used, it is “the result of desperate men trying to respond to a culture that has asked them to be more like women than men, to be passive, soft, receptive, and meek” (82). I would take “meek” off the list, however, seeing as it is one of the fruit of the Spirit. It should be replaced with “nice,” specifically what Hemmer means when he uses the word.
Hemmer then turns the discussion interestingly over to the Church. He makes the fascinating observation that, “There’s a femininity to being a Christian too. If the essence of masculinity is to give; a significant part of what it means to be feminine is to receive. Inasmuch as receptivity is the posture of every Christian toward God, every Christian also has a feminine side, though this does not change ‘sons of God’ into ‘daughters of God.’ It simply means Christians learn from their Mother (the Church) how to receive from their Father (God)” (85). In short, Hemmer argues that if a man wants to learn how to give to others in being truly masculine, he first must learn how to receive from God his Father as a member of Christ’s Bride, the Church. Hemmer develops this further in later chapters.
In chapters 1-4, Hemmer necessarily discusses problems of masculinity in our culture. It is neither long-winded nor too brief. Finally, in chapter 5, he gets more into Christ. He had touched on circumcision previously in chapter 3. He develops this further in chapter 5 by discussing Christ’s own circumcision. In true Lutheran fashion, Hemmer expertly shows the reader how Christ’s circumcision points “forward to the way that He would fulfill that name [Jesus, which means ‘Yahweh saves’] by shedding His blood in His death on the cross. Already as an infant, His body began to bear the weight of the cross” (109). He emphasises the humanity of Christ, the inherent femininity of the Church (Christ’s Bride), and how this shapes a Christian man to be a man. It is a paradox to be maintained.
Chapter 6 develops Jesus’ masculinity in His humanity. Jesus is not “nice”; He is good. Jesus is a family man. He was engaged in the community, which at times wasn’t “nice,” but He was good (e.g., flipping over the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple). The way Jesus interacted with His adversaries wasn’t always nice, but He was still good. Sometimes He was deliberately aggressive. He never rolls over and takes their accusations. He calls them names at times, “brood of vipers, evil and adulterous generation, hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, blind men, whitewashed tombs, sons of those who murdered the prophets, serpents.” He even speaks to His disciples in ways that aren’t exactly nice, such as calling them “littlefaiths” (“O ye of little faith”).
What does this mean for you as a man? It is worth quoting Hemmer, “No, Jesus is not a nice guy. But He’s good… This is the lesson for masculinity. No, you don’t get to drive people out of congregations with a whip. But you should make a firm defense for what is good, even if it irritates people. No, you don’t get to needlessly call people names. But you should avoid mincing words when the choice is between hurting someone’s feelings and allowing evil to continue” (141). As Hemmer continues, he shows how the most manly thing Jesus did was die and rise for you.
Part 2: Manifesto – Reclaiming A Biblical Portrait of Man
In chapter 7, Hemmer expands on previously discussed topics. Remembering the three P’s of protect, provide, and procreate, a man has headship (Ephesians 5:22-24). As the head, this means everything a man does is for the good of his body, that is, his wife (rather than for her terror). He has dominion over creation, which he is also to protect rather than using it for the disordered desire of self-service discussed in chapter three. Adam was the first prophet, priest, and king; thus, a man is the prophet, priest, and king of his home. As prophet, he catechises his wife and children; he reads the Word of God to them in the home. As priest, he intercedes for his family in prayer. As king, he is the ruler of his family, and a ruler protects. “Exerting your rule doesn’t make you king. Ruling makes you king” (174).
Hemmer also develops the three P’s further. As a protector, “a man needs both courage and strength,” which includes not only physical strength at times but also mental, emotional, and spiritual strength (175-176). But if a man does not have courage, his strength is futile. “All the strength in the world can’t do any good if you don’t have the guts to use it” (177). As provider, a man learns skills and abilities to provide for himself before he provides for his wife and children. As a procreator, a man makes babies with his wife, which further fuels his need to protect and provide. In all these ways, a man gives. Thus, being a man is about giving to others.
Chapter 8 is a further portrait of a man with Christ as the perfect exemplar of what a man is. Hemmer correctly states that Ephesians 5:25-33, which men love to quote at their wives to make them submissive, is not necessarily an exhortation for wives but for husbands. He might be the head of his wife, but the head of the man is Christ. Therefore, everything this text says of a man’s relation to his bride must be in submission to how Christ loves His Bride, the Church. A man loves his bride, which is more than emotion; it is sacrificial and giving. Thus, a man gives himself up for his bride, just as Christ gave Himself up for His Church. A man “sanctifies” his bride, as the text says, which means, “He pays for her sins as though they were His own” (190). A man cleanses his bride by Baptism, meaning he sees his wife “as a washed, cleansed, forgiven saint in Christ’s Church,” rather than his slave (192). It also means he forgives her of her offences.
A man presents his bride to himself without any spot, wrinkle, or blemish, that she might be holy, meaning he has eyes for her only; he desires no one else but her, because she is perfect to him. A man nourishes and cherishes his bride, which means he provides for her physical and spiritual nourishment and cherishes her with his attention, time, and devotion. If you do all this to the best of your ability, Hemmer says (keeping in mind that no one does this perfectly except Christ), then you won’t have to worry about her submitting to you; she’ll easily do it simply because of your love for her and her love for you. As my own wife once commented on Ephesians 5:24-33, “I believe it should make women feel safe to be obedient to their husbands in the same way a child feels safe to obey their parents. I’m blessed to feel very safe in my marriage.”
Hemmer elongates chapter 8 with more on what a man is and what he does. He elaborates on what it means that a man is good, discussed previously in chapter six. He doubles down on the fact that being good is not the same as being nice. As he succinctly puts it, “Nice compromises. Good does not” (200). But only Christ is perfectly good. A man is also strong, an elaboration on chapter seven. Angels are not elegant ladies or chubby babies; they are terrifying warriors. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, which denotes gentleness toward His people, but He is also Almighty. However, Jesus never “insist[ed] on His rights. He never has to assert His will over others” (204), because that’s not what it means to be strong; that’s cowardice. Neither does a man insist on his rights or assert his will over others.
A man gives. “All [Christ] does is for the good of others, even those whom He rebukes with whips or words” (204-205). Hemmer utilises a superhero analogy. Every boy wants to be a hero because every boy—and therefore every man—naturally wants to give of himself for others. A man loves, which is “a love that does, that serves, that gives, that risks” (206). Like Christ, a man loves in “living his life for the good of those entrusted to his care” (207). A man fights, for even Jesus fought, “but He does not fight in the ways expected of Him. Nor does He take on the enemies others might have expected Him to engage” (213). Ephesians 6:10-18 tells men against whom and with what they are fighting. Lastly, a man prays. Jesus prayed a lot; He even took it upon Himself to find a desolate place to pray by Himself several times. Therefore, a man prays. “Thus the way of masculinity begins not with work but with prayer, not on your feet, but on your knees” (219). The most manly thing a man can do in the morning is not begin his day with work on his feet but with prayer on his knees before his heavenly Father.
After spending much time on what it means to be a man generally and as a husband, in chapter 9 Hemmer illustrates “the portrait of fatherhood” (223). The reader will notice that there are common themes here. The topic of fatherhood is prefaced with a noteworthy insight from Hemmer:
And fathers can understand their calling to be fathers only in light of the eternal relation of the Father to His Son. Athanasius made his case that earthly fathers are called “fathers” as a reflection of the identity of God the Father from Ephesians 3, where St. Paul declares, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father (pater), from whom every family (patria) in heaven and on earth is named” (vv. 14-15). The apostle’s point is not that earthly fatherhood gives us a helpful metaphor by which we can understand the relationship between divine Father and Son. It’s that every earthly father derives his identity as father not from the gift of children, but from the nature of God the Father Himself.p. 225
Thus, just as men learn what it means to be a husband from Christ, the Groom of His Bride, the Church, so they learn what it means to be a father from God the Father. Rather than understanding God the Father with our earthly fatherhood, we understand our earthly fatherhood from God the Father, from whom all fatherhood derives.
Much as a husband loves his wife, a father loves his children. Drawing from 1 John 3:1, God the Father’s love “takes rebels and adopts them as sons. It takes sinners and makes them saints. It takes His enemies and makes them equal to His Son” (228). Such is a father’s love for his children, “No expense is shared, nothing withheld” (229). A father also teaches, that is, he catechises. If I could add anything to this chapter, it would be that Confirmation class at church merely ought to be supplemental to what is already occurring in the home; it is not designed to be the sole means of a child’s catechesis. A father abdicates his duty as prophet in the home when he fails or refuses to teach his children the Bible, which is to teach them about Jesus, just as the heading of each chief part in the Small Catechism begins, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” If he won’t do it, the world certainly will, and they’ll get it entirely wrong. “It does not take a village to catechize a child. It takes a father and a mother” (235). One to two hours a week at church is not enough for children; they need it from their loving fathers daily. If a father does not know the Bible or the Catechism, then he needs to learn it himself from his spiritual father, his pastor.
After discussing the portrait of man, the portrait of man according to Christ’s masculinity, and the portrait of fatherhood according to God the Father, in chapter 10 Hemmer turns the discussion to several paradoxes that are to be maintained in Scripture. The first is the paradox of headship and submission. To be the head of his wife and the family, this does not mean the man is his own head, that is, “he is not in charge of himself” (240); his head is Christ. To simultaneously learn how he rules as head and what it means that his wife and children submit, he first submits to his own earthly fathers (4th Commandment), such as his father, prince, and pastor. The other paradoxes in a man that Hemmer discusses are power and kindness, assertiveness and humility, courage and sacrifice, and giving and receiving.
Chapter 11 deals with the question, “What does a man do?” To Hemmer’s own admission, this is probably the chapter the male reader has been waiting for. After all, men like to do things. Most men think that masculinity is about doing things, especially manly things. Hemmer acknowledges, “Men take action” (251), but he also challenges this myopic view of masculinity. He argues in this chapter that “masculinity is not reducible to a to-do list. It’s not some things you do. It’s who you are” (252). Just as he said in the preface that masculinity is not a single trait but a lifestyle (8), he repeats this and develops it further in this chapter. Thus, he says, pray like a man. He gives practical advice in learning how to pray like a man—look at Jesus’ own prayers (e.g., Matthew 26:39), pray from the Litany (LSB, p. 288), etc.
I highly appreciate Hemmer’s exhortation to sing like a man. On a personal note, nothing annoys me more than seeing men not singing in church. It is also bothersome to me when men sing like sissies. Not singing in church is one of the most unmanly things a man can do. Hemmer takes the approach of men historically singing together as they worked, and he notes how “hymns have always had a masculine vigor to them” (257). He gives some great hymns as examples, but he falls short in failing to add the Psalms to the list. The Psalms, the תְּהִלִּים (tehillim), roughly means, “praises.” The Psalms are not just prayers; they are also songs, and they were all written by men. A man, therefore, sings praises unto the Lord. Worshiping God with songs of praise is a fundamental part of what it means to be a man.
Hemmer reiterates from chapter 8 the exhortations to love like a man (Christlike agape love as well as philia brotherly love) and to fight like a man (he doesn’t pick fights but fights for what matters). He fights against himself (self-denial) and he fights for others (selfless service). Seeing as he already covered these topics in chapter 8, this is a bit redundant and he could’ve had these back in chapter eight.
In chapter 12, the final chapter, Hemmer turns the discussion to how a man grows. His advice is to seek mentors (which begins first with your own earthly father), then turn to other men in the Church. Some unexpected yet great advice he also gives is to learn from the martyrs—the heroes of the faith (after all, what man doesn’t love a good hero?). Learn about their stories and tell their stories to your children, especially your sons. Practice sacrifice, which is self-denial (fasting, daily exercise). Cultivate satisfaction, which is to be content with what you have. It means not to covet (9th and 10th Commandments).
Hemmer says coveting isn’t an outward action but an internal one (290). I disagree with him here. Covetousness is both inward and outward. It begins inward, and if not addressed, it can manifest itself outward. Luther’s explanations to the 9th and 10th Commandments in the Small Catechism make this clear. “We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbour’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it” (9th Commandment). Also, “We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbour’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty” (10th Commandment). Covetousness, when not kept in check, will lead us to do outward things so that we take what we covet.
Hemmer continues with other things a man does for the rest of the chapter, which is worth reading, especially how a man, as a father, teaches his daughters what a good man looks like so that she knows how to find a good, Christian man to marry—a man who will love her as Christ loves her.
Man Up! is entirely Christ-centred. Hemmer makes it irrevocably clear that everything a man is and what a man does draws from Christ, the perfect man who is also fully God, and from God the Father who shows us how to love our sons and daughters. Although he does mention the Holy Spirit at times, it would be beneficial to have at least one chapter on the Holy Spirit’s role in masculinity. I do not accuse Hemmer of purposefully setting out to downplay the role of the Holy Spirit; he is a faithful Lutheran pastor. However, the way Lutherans often talk about the Holy Spirit is as an invisible force rather than as a Person, who is not an “it” but a He (e.g., John 16:7). Yet I am willing to acknowledge that the subject may be beyond the scope of the book, and I am willing to admit the simple explanation that the Holy Spirit’s entire role is to point one to Christ, and since that is clearly done here in this book, the Holy Spirit is involved whenever a man does look to Christ and loves as He loves, gives as He gives, fights as He fights, etc.
A good Lutheran may ask, “With all this talk of Christ, where is forgiveness in the book?” It’s in there. Just read it. It is clear to Hemmer, and it becomes clear to the reader, that not only is Christ the perfect man and therefore the standard that no man can live up to, He also forgives men when they fail. As he says in the epilogue, “More than your example for how to be a good man, you need Jesus to be your Savior… His forgiveness makes you a good man. And it enables you to venture out and work on being of service to those you’re called to love and serve… Nowhere else do manly strength and godly virtues perfectly intersect than at the bisection of the wooden timbers on which the Son of God gave Himself as the Man to redeem men” (314). Amen. Thanks be to God.