Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Dude’s Guide to Manhood by Darrin Patrick

I’m a biblical manhood skeptic. Weighing in at 135 pounds, never having been in a real fight, and preferring literature to sports—on top of being converted at 20, from a gender-minimalist intellectual background—I approach most books on biblical masculinity with suspicion. Many authors get overexcited about the subject, pulling proof texts to support subcultural masculine values. Others preach a testosterone-fueled gospel where sanctification seems to be the fruit of bared teeth and white knuckles. And while I haven’t yet seen a Christian book baptizing the Art of Manliness ironic-gentleman brand of masculinity, the title and cover of this book made me wonder if I were to review the first.

Darrin Patrick calls The Dude’s Guide to Manhood: Finding True Manliness in a World of Counterfeits a “guidebook” because, he writes, “Most of us feel as though we are setting out on a difficult journey without any direction or help” (xii). “Dudes”—young men struggling with various stages of prolonged adolescence—are without a map laying out the journey of manhood and without a navigator to lead them along it. “We are on our own, and we don’t know where we’re going,” Patrick writes. “And it’s killing us” (xii). The lead pastor of The Journey in St. Louis wants his work to be “a guidebook to true manhood” for struggling dudes who desire to learn but don’t know where to go (xvi).

Unexpected Direction

Patrick’s direction is unexpected. The first nine chapters discuss different characteristics of true manhood: discipline, work ethic, family devotion, and so forth. Patrick approaches these mainly from a common grace perspective, drawing on sociological research (32), biographies (129-30), and even film references (144) with only a smattering of biblical references throughout. Someone with no belief in Christianity whatsoever could acknowledge his cases for each characteristic and even assent to them. But by chapter 10—if not before­—the reader who wants to put these things into practice will begin feeling frustrated and fatigued. How on earth could I start becoming properly disciplined, coachable, emotionally connected, and able to love a family well?

That’s where Patrick makes the big turn. These things are impossible, he says; there’s no way we can overcome our sinful motivations and change our lives on our own. Rather than encouraging us to suck it up and make heroic efforts toward masculinity, Patrick leads us to the only “true and perfect hero” (149) who is both our example and also our Savior. We find true masculinity not in our own perfection but in “trusting in Christ’s perfection for us” (159) and committing our lives to walking in obedient faith in him. The final chapter, which is one of the book’s strongest, discusses how manhood must be lived in light of the forgiveness we have through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Patrick’s law-then-gospel approach would work best with young men who may or may not be in the church but aren’t living a consistent life of obedience to God. The format makes it strongest as an evangelistic book: chapter 11 even ends with how to pray a prayer of repentance and trust in Christ. That’s the ideal audience for this work; I imagine a Christian leading a friend or a group of guys through each chapter, discussing their difficulties and (ideally) letting the book, by the power of the Holy Spirit, lead the struggling dudes through conviction to the cross. I think that’s what Patrick has in mind for this work, and it’s largely a successful effort.

Well-Rounded Vision
One major strength of The Dude’s Guide to Manhood is the well-roundedness of Patrick’s vision for masculinity. I half-expected his idea of a “real man” to be a poster Acts 29 church planter: independent, strong-willed, action-oriented. Conan the Barbarian, but, you know, a Christian. But the “masculine shape” presented wasn’t that at all. Determination is part of it, yes; so are discipline, work, and the fighting spirit, rightly understood and channeled. But Patrick also adds things like being coachable as well as having proper contentment, family, friends, and emotional expression. He delves into these attributes and others in a balanced manner, highlighting merits and pitfalls in each.

One section that deserves particular mention is his chapter on contentment. We pay lip service to the idea of contentment, Patrick believes, but we don’t really seem to want it. We end up cultivating boredom by constantly seeking new possessions and new experiences (61); we get caught up in the past or the future such that we’re perpetually dissatisfied with the present (65). To fight this temptation, Patrick advises us to adopt rhythm and ritual into our lives: to mark our work weeks with punctuated periods of rest, celebration, and enjoyment. This struck me as wise counsel, given our remarkable ability to live submerged under a constant stream of stimulation with little time to come up for air and reflect on our lives.

Patrick’s chapter on friendship was also particularly insightful. He contrasts true friendship with common counterfeits: acquaintances, drinking buddies, fans, and cliques. He also offers simple but clear advice on cultivating friendships with men that involve special, “intentional” time in addition to doing common, routine things together. Friendship requires perseverance, he acknowledges, but a true man needs friendships as well as mentors in his life.

Late Shift                 
As much as I liked this book and learned from it, I struggled with its “law then gospel” format. The first nine-and-a-half chapters are designed to convict the reader of his inability to live as a godly man. I appreciate that design, but someone who tries to process the book chapter by chapter will finish each with more of a sense he needs to get to work than an understanding of God’s grace and how he transforms our living out manhood. Chapters 10 through 12 are so gospel-saturated and biblically wise that after I finished the book I wished every chapter had read like those. In short, the shift from “Do this as a man!” to “Find your masculine identity in Jesus!” comes a little later and more abruptly than I think is helpful.

That said, The Dude’s Guide to Manhood is convicting, wise, and definitely worth the read. Patrick’s tone throughout is winsome rather than condemning, and even when he offers drills or exhorts his readers we feel he’s right there with us rather than ahead yelling at us to catch up. And I’m thankful his book presents a biblical vision of masculinity and leads us to see how it’s finally found only in the true man, Jesus Christ.

Reviewed by: Joseph Rhea is a pastoral resident at College Park Church in Indianapolis. He is married to Allison, and they are expecting their first child at the end of May 2014.

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