By Rebekah Theilen
A pastor once taught me that the story of the world could be told in six words: “Adam messed up. Jesus mopped up.” It’s been more famously said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I recently read a book that combines both ideas. Man Up! The Quest for Masculinity by Pastor Jeff Hemmer is a noteworthy effort from a man who is tired of sitting around.
Yet no amount of human work can save us from this troubled hour. From chapter one all the way to the singing end, Pastor Hemmer makes it clear this is not a book about being the man with the fastest truck or the biggest muscles, but about being a man of the one and only God. A man is not doomed to forever fall short, nor is toxic masculinity the will of God for His sons. The first man, Adam, was made in God’s image, and contrary to all who would point you to a mirror, manhood is all about the image of God. You’re not going to find Him in pornography’s latest short film. Look to the Man on the cross, Jesus Christ, for “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
The author minces no words, be it on “niceness,” selfishness, or sexual sin. But there is also much encouragement and hope to be found. Over and over, Pastor Hemmer points to Jesus as the epitome of manhood. Christ does not blame-shift; He takes on the blame. Christ is not cruel; He is righteous and just. Christ is not passive, but picks up His Cross. The Son of Man was given as a Prophet, Priest, and King that He might bring light to the children of men. Man’s purposes in Genesis to protect, provide, and fill the earth are not God’s condemnation to a vain and meaningless life, but finely coincide with the real and core desires God has etched upon man’s soul.
Man Up is obviously written for men. Yet women and men are intrinsically linked. As a female, something I listen for when reading about masculinity and manhood is how the author speaks about women. Is he clear about the value God places on women? Does the author, as a man, seem to reasonably like women? Does he possess specific insight into male and female relationships? In other words, does he demonstrate the gentleness and hands-on humility required to effectively love and understand a woman? I would answer yes to all of these questions. Pastor Hemmer tells the truth, often reiterating that he is far from the ideal man, and far from being a masculinity expert. I take him at his word.
One thing caught me off guard while reading. In these days of #MeToo and ongoing discussions of how churches handle or fail to handle variants of abuse, I believe it is worth bringing up because of its relevance and potential impact on the entire Christian conversation about men and women and the way we think about, speak about, and act toward one another. The book contained an unfamiliar (to me) translation of a Genesis passage I have many times puzzled over. I have typically seen Genesis 3:16 read something like “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” In at least two places in Man Up (pages 56 & 70), while describing the consequences of the woman’s fall into sin, the author quotes Genesis 3:16 as saying, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Something about this translation feels very wrong to me. I’ve seen tiny footnotes before with words like “against” to explain the word “for,” but nothing like this where the translation itself connotes inherent hostility on the part of the woman and her mysterious desire.