The Masculine Mystique

Men at the Crossroads,by Jack Balswick (InterVarsity, 218 pp.; $9.99, paper);The Real Man Inside, by Verne Becker (Zondervan, 206 pp.; $15.99, hardcover);Father and Son, by Gordon Dalbey (Nelson, 208 pp.; $14.99, hardcover);Men Under Construction, by Donald M. Joy (Victor, 204 pp.; $8.99, paper);The Hidden Value of a Man,by Gary Smalley and John Trent (Focus on the Family, 180 pp.; $17.00, hardcover). Reviewed by John Wilson, an editor and writer in Pasadena, California.

Here are the titles of books either just or soon-to-be released by secular publishing houses: American Manhood, Being a Man, Fatherhood in America, In a Time of Fallen Heroes: The Re-Creation of Masculinity, In the Company of Men, Men and the Water of Life, Reinventing Fatherhood. Publishers know a good thing when they see it. But this mere recitation of titles—a sampling only, not an exhaustive list—provides a surprisingly accurate outline of the recurring themes that have brought men’s issues to national prominence.

Foremost is the unsettling discovery that masculinity—what it means to be a man—is not an unchanging essence. If manhood is (at least in part) historically and culturally conditioned, how do we distinguish between discardable roles and vital imperatives that we violate only at great cost? While some of the titles listed above hint at the anxiety provoked by such questions, there is a prevailing tone of utopian optimism: masculinity is being re-created, no less.

Evangelicals have been quick to respond to the growing interest in men’s issues; the five books under review here are a representative selection. Jack Balswick’s Men at the Crossroads: Beyond Traditional Roles and modern Options is the best starting point. With clarity ...

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