Man Up!

Jeffrey Hemmer and the “Quest for Masculinity”

In my last blog post, I discussed the Netflix documentary Liberated, which details the broken ways young people understand masculinity and femininity in our culture. The film makes it clear that America has a severe problem. Young men and women are at a crossroads with their self-understanding and acting out in destructive ways.

As a young man in my twenties, I know I am struggling to make sense of what it means to be a man in this divisive cultural moment. And it is not an easy road. The film made me hungry for solutions for healing, and soon afterward, I picked up a book called Man Up: The Quest for Masculinity.[1]

This book not only points out the problem of broken masculinity but paints a clear picture of what its redeemed and original purpose is: to give sacrificially on behalf of others. In the book, author and pastor, Jeffrey Hemmer, underscores the reasons culture today tends to demonize men, but does not allow the reader any occasion for self-pity. Instead, he calls for action. It is time for men to “man up.”

Given the enormous popularity of Jordan B. Peterson among young men, it is evident that the United States is not sufficiently equipped with fathers and mentors who are teaching their sons what it means to be healthy and virtuous men. Young men like me have looked to people like Peterson for direction and clarity within a culture that advocates egalitarianism to the max, leaving a generation of confused males wondering what their purpose in life is. No wonder adolescent boys and young men play video games, are obsessed with sports, and binge on pornography! We have no vision for what a man’s life is supposed to look like. As a result, men with great potential seem to be fading into the background both in and outside the church. Why?

According to Hemmer, when masculinity no longer means anything, or at least means nothing positive, men will not know who they are or what they are supposed to do. Many, like myself, opt for becoming “nice,” “tolerant,” and essentially spineless, when society needs them to be the opposite: bold, uncompromising, and virtuous. Hemmer writes,

All people, regardless of gender, are to be nice, tolerant, accepting, loving, hardworking, and open-minded. Men neither hold any position of prominence or esteem nor are they called to do anything extraordinary” (p. 76).

And if we are tempted to simply “blame the feminists,” Hemmer reminds us that the “effeminate man,” that is, a man who protects himself at the expense of others, has been the biological man’s natural default since the days of Adam and Eve. We look inward instead of outward, take instead of give. “Now,” Hemmer writes, “he serves himself more than others. He caters to his own whims and desires. Effeminacy now comes naturally. Masculinity does not. Self-preservation is his new instinct. Protecting others is an acquired skill” (p. 55). So, the problem is not masculinity, but the evident lack of masculinity, which in Hemmer’s definition simply means to give sacrificially to others.

While it would be easy to feel discouraged in this broken condition, Hemmer offers us a portrait of the only Man who has ever perfectly embodied masculinity: Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God. All of us have failed the Ideal that Christ manifested. No man is good at being a man on his own. And this Jesus is no milquetoast man. He does not sit inside reading novels all day and telling men to be “nicer” on Twitter. Neither is he a misogynistic macho guy who only cares about trucks, guns, and “taking down the liberals.” No, the Christ of the New Testament is a much more complex, interesting, and frustrating character. Hemmer puts it beautifully:

"Somewhere between the feminized, nice-guy Jesus with a tender voice and soft hands who walks with in some ethereal garden and the hypermacho, barroom-brawler Jesus ready to throw down in an instant, there lies the more complex, real God-man. With every power in the universe at His disposal, Jesus is neither weak nor overcome by forces more powerful than He. And yet, He doesn’t exert His power and authority to assert His standing within society. Jesus is rather more like a trained and decorated martial artist, who possesses such mastery over His power and skill that He refuses to wield it against others to pick a fight; He knows His identity without needing to prove it to others with a demonstration of force." (p. 213).

Jesus, secure in the love of His Father, can sacrifice His life for others precisely because He is certain of His identity. He has great power but uses it for good. He is the only One who has ever used it perfectly. If men want purpose and a way to channel their creative energy, submitting to Christ’s example is the only adequate way to embark on the masculine journey. It starts with receiving validation and love from the Father to give sacrificially on behalf of our families, communities, and nations, thus fulfilling the priestly vocation to subdue the earth for the glory of God. (Gen. 1:28)

[1] Hemmer, Jeffrey. Man Up! The Quest for Masculinity. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis. 2017.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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