I recieved a copy of this book from the author in exchange for review – I hope that doesn’t cloud my opinions.
As a man who follows Jesus, with ‘traditional’ views on sexuality, I occupy an occasionally frustrating space. So often ‘biblical manhood’ is actually Christianese code for something else entirely. When I noticed the endorsement from a related organisation, I did then somewhat steel myself.
I was completely wrong.
This is a really helpful book about spiritual growth for men in the 21st century.
First up, this book is clear in who it is targeting. As Joe writes, “This book is not for non-Christians“, and that makes an immense amount of sense – in a good way! By focusing on men who are already Christians (and being up-front about it!) Joe can then speak clearly, calmly and directly. He doesn’t reduce manhood to anything in particular, but rather works in relation to the big picture, and the gender-specific reality of male spirituality. How does he do this? By taking data seriously. Whilst I enjoy some outdoorsy things, I’m not a stereotypical ‘Wild at Heart’ style fellow – and this book isn’t talking about that. Rather, based on extensive research Joe speaks to the problems men are facing. Some of these will of course also apply to women, and it may well be that women would benefit from reading this book, but that’s not the point here. Joe is right (in my view) that “one of the most significant reasons why Christian men neglect spiritual growth is because, deep down, their hearts are disordered“. This is true – and so the book offers ways to reorient our hearts and desires.
Secondly, this book is a powerful blend of accessibility and depth. Accessible in that Joe doesn’t use ten words when two will do, and it’s nicely arranged in short, readable chapters. Accessible in that it recognises the challenges of following Jesus and doesn’t pretend that there is a special secret. Accessible, too, in that he gently introduces deeper thoughts and ideas throughout the book, but not in an overwhelming way. On the way to depth lies balance. Joe is helpful in observeing that we can easily mistake legalism for effort, accountability for condemnation, and so on. He calls us back to older ways, bypassing some less helpful contemporary discipleship dead ends, and is constantly reminding us of what the Bible says. Perhaps the most countercultural (Both in terms of broadly Christian culture and generally) suggestion, which as a reader and writer I love, was that “Besides meditating on Christ, a man who is serious about catching a better vision of glory needs to think hard about the identity of God. Nothing hinders the spiritual development of men more than a small and distorted understanding of the Eternal“. He’s absolutely right. There are plenty of good recommendations on ways to do this.
I really enjoyed reading The Way Forward. It takes male challenges seriously, without defaulting to easy answers. The author has done his homework – both in understanding the problem, and digging deep for a solution. I think this book should be read by all Christian men – especially younger ones like me – and would be a great thing to work through in a small group.