Good Man, Nathan Clarkson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020.
Summary: Goes beyond the stereotypes of what a “real man” is to explore the character of a good man and the journey of discovery this involves.
This is a hard time to be a man. There are all the stereotypes of what a “real” man is. There is also a widespread rejection of these stereotypes. The author goes a different way in this book. He explores what the character of a “good” man is, defining masculinity in terms of Christian character rather than external characteristics, roles, or stereotypes.
The author completes the sentence “Good men are…” with fifteen different qualities. Some sound like traditional stereotypic masculine traits like adventurous, heroic, ambitious, and fighting, but with each of these, the author thinks redemptively. For example, he would encourage fighting for the good and the just, though without physical violence. There are things worth fighting for, adventures worth pursuing, heroic ways to live, great, as opposed to small ambitions worth embracing.
He also proposes a number of qualities less-often associated with stereotypes of manhood, such as devout, honest, healthy, emotional, wise, simple, and servant-hearted. One that I thought was surprising was “healthy.” Between the extremes of “ripped” and “couch potato” he addresses the need for men to responsibly care for their bodies and the connection between our physical and spiritual lives. In the chapter on emotional life, he addresses male stoicism, the myth that men don’t cry and the permission to express our emotions.
He leads us through his own journey of growth in each of these qualities. He movingly shares his own headstrong character in high school, and the story of the college man who hosted him and his friends in weekly discussions, and one night washed their feet. He’s vulnerable about his struggles and failures–his struggles with weight, the break up of a marriage, struggles with porn and alcohol, with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. His honesty (one of the qualities of good men) offers hope that as messed up as we may be, God can work with us, and form us into good men.
Each chapter ends with a few reflection questions and a prayer, and I thought that the prayers alone were worth the price of admission. This is a good book for a group of men serious about following Christ might read with each other. And if one is serious about this “good man” stuff, you could read it with a wife or girlfriend, someone who sees a different side of you than your male friends.
This is a man calling out other men to live this way, calling them out of toxic forms of masculinity to what David Brooks calls the “eulogy virtues,” the things you would want others to say about you at your funeral. It’s worth considering because all of the “real man” stuff fades. It is the goodness that endures not only in the minds of people but into eternity in Christ-formed lives. Clarkson’s honest account points us all toward that journey of growth.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.