The year is 1000 B.C. The dust of a Middle Eastern road encrusts your sandaled feet. You’ve been walking for several days from your village, where someone in your community has wronged you.
As you reach the city of Jerusalem, your heart swells with hope. Because you’ve come seeking justice. Not just any justice, though. You seek the justice of the king, which is the Law and Truth.
And your king’s name is David.
Outside the city gates, a man approaches you. He asks about your grievance and, after listening, says, “See, your claims are good and right, but the king has no deputy to hear you.”
You turn away, preparing to make the journey home bearing the weight of your heart. Then the man adds, “My name is Absalom. I am the king’s son. Perhaps I can help you find justice.”
Something about him makes you uneasy. But you’ve come so far, and the day is hot…
SEEKING DAVIDS BUT FINDING ABSALOMS
Readers might recognize that as an adaptation of Chapter 15 from the Second Book of Samuel.
Pastor Michael Foster and his co-author Dominic “Bnonn” Tennant use the episode in their new book, It’s Good to Be a Man: A Handbook for Godly Masculinity (Canon Press, 2021) to illustrate the plight of modern Christian men seeking knowledge about masculinity.
Foster and Tennant write, “In the absence of godly [patriarchs], young men are turning to Absaloms. Someone must repair what is broken and rebuild what is lost. The clueless bastards are groping for fathers. And so they find Jordan Peterson, Rollo Tomassi, Joe Rogan, pickup artists, and secular men’s rights activists. They discover that these men listen. These men understand. These men advocate for them and defend them… And so these men steal their hearts.” (p. 14)
Foster’s imprint, Canon Press, is a major Christian publishing house. Foster is making a plea to members and elders of the Church, which he says is at risk of losing another generation of men to the secular world. In 2019 only 47% of Americans claimed membership in a house of worship, down from 70% just two decades earlier. Prior to COVID at least, the numbers prove him right.
We also live in a time when secular men are finding their search for answers about masculinity is leading them in the opposite direction, away from “Absaloms” and to the foot of the cross.
For those men, Foster’s words are invitation into a faith that they’re considering for the first time. But why now?
THE SOUND OF INEVITABILITY
At the 21 Summit in Orlando, Florida, in October 2021, Foster moderated a panel discussion titled, “The Manosphere and Religion.” An unlikely gang of distinguished men sat onstage: Michael Foster and Ken Curry (Protestant Christians), Jeff Younger (Orthodox Christian), Jack Donovan (a Solar Idealist), and Tanner Guzy (Latter Day Saint). It was a groundbreaking moment for the men’s movement, shared with a packed room.
During the panel, Michael asked Tanner and Jack how the conversation about religion has changed over their decade in the Manosphere. Tanner expressed where he thinks the newfound religious energy is coming from:
“We all recognize that there’s a problem with men and their relationship with masculinity in a post-modern world. It’s only inevitable that goes on the path that it has. It went from pickup artistry, to red pill, to self-development, to family, and then it’s going to eventually get to God and religion…. Because you cannot have masculinity to its full extent without having the spiritual component of it, too.” (00:01:44)
Like Tanner, many have concluded that a relationship with God is the logical outcome of all the work we’ve been doing. When a man reaches the mountaintop, he finds a great view of the stars.
When Michael Foster and I spoke on Zoom in February, however, he articulated a different perspective.
“Patriarchy, or father rule, is built into the cosmos,” Foster says. “So, it can’t be destroyed just like gravity can’t be destroyed. It’s part of the nature of things… You can’t escape God’s design, right? You can only twist it, but there’ll be no escaping it. There will be patriarchy. There will be religion. It’s inevitable.”
In Foster’s view, men haven’t climbed the mountaintop to find God by surprise. He was waiting the whole time.
CULTURE: FAST AND SLOW
This begs questions that many men are asking: If God was always the goal, why are the men who follow God so lacking in masculinity? And if patriarchy is “inevitable,” why is the secular world ahead of the Church in talking about it?
Foster answered, “The church has been talking about sexuality since the get-go. If you look at the early Church fathers, they talked about bodily realities, sexuality, the importance of male and female attributes, brash women, effeminate men… It’s in their writings.”
“One way you can think about how culture works is like a tsunami,” he continued. “A tsunami comes in and when it goes out, it takes a bunch of stuff with it, like buildings and soil. Then it comes in again, takes a bunch out. Back and forth, back and forth. So, for generations, we’ve had tsunami waves come in and rip away things that were common sense.”
That explains the intersexual wreckage in the houses of secular men. What accounts for the damage in the hallowed halls of God’s house?
“There’s a pretty strong argument that it began with the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote about ‘bridal mysticism,’” Foster replied. “The Church in Scripture is seen as a bride, but individually as men, we’re not supposed to think of ourselves as Christ’s bride. That changes the nature of the relationship in a way that most men are uncomfortable with.”
Bernard of Clairvaux was a Benedictine monk writing in France during the 1100’s. Foster also cited the romantic influence of the Chivalric Codes in the 1200’s; the Puritan clergyman Cotton Mather’s observations about the lack of churchgoing men in America in the 1600’s; and finally, the influence of feminism beginning in the 1800’s.
These trends culminate in what Foster describes as the “lovey-dovey emo language towards Jesus as a boyfriend or lover” found in American churches today. As a pastor, he’s watched this language drive Christian men away from the religion of their upbringing and trigger disgust in spiritually-minded masculine men.
The Manosphere often talks about the impact of the Sexual Revolution—and earlier, the Industrial Revolution—on secular perspectives towards masculinity. To Foster the war on masculinity within Christianity has been waged for much longer.
“As a Christian, I don’t think in years. I think in decades and centuries,” he added. Perhaps the enemies of masculinity do, too.
IN THE BEGINNING…
As a pastor in rural Indiana and two-time speaker at the Manosphere’s secular 21Summit, Foster is uniquely positioned to observe the rebirth of masculinity in those parallel worlds. That’s how “It’s Good to Be a Man” began, first as a Facebook group, then a podcast, and most recently, a book.
“[In 2018] during the Jordan Peterson moment,” Foster says, “I was starting to learn about pickup artistry and men’s rights activists like Warren Farrell, Karen Straughan, and Paul Elam. I knew a lot of Christian men were starting to turn to these influences looking for practical help on how to date and marry women, or how to recover from a nasty divorce. They weren’t finding answers in the church.”
He wanted to create something to capture his own thoughts on these topics but was unsure what.
During daily runs around his neighborhood, he’d see a mailbox with the name The Goodmans. “Every time I’d get to that mailbox I’d think, ‘Yeah, it’s good to be a man!’” he says. After one such run, he went home and created the Facebook page and bought the domain. “It ended up being a pretty big day for my life, actually.”
He soon connected with his good friend Dominic “Bnonn” Tennant, who’d also been investigating red pill ideas. Their original concept was to create a “systematic theology of masculinity.” But their work together took a different direction.
“A lot of the work that a pastor does is very practical in helping people make life decisions, especially around dating, marriage, children, and divorce. So that drove me into the more practical aspects of the topic.”
Today the project has 11,000 fans on Facebook, nearly 4000 Twitter followers (Foster’s personal account has 17,000), 324 ratings with 4.8 stars on Apple Podcasts, and 150 ratings with 4.7 stars on Amazon for the book.
SEX AND THE GARDEN
The book represents the peak of their achievements to date, and for a volume written by two Christian men (including a pastor) there’s a surprising emphasis on sex. The third chapter is titled, “Sex Is Very Good”, and in it Foster and Tennant write:
“Just as [Mankind’s] aggressive desire to rule and subdue is God-given, so is his powerful desire for sex. Remember, the dominion God made us for is fruitful. Sex is the engine that drives this fruitfulness.” (p.30, emphasis in original)
For members of what the authors call “The Church Effeminate” that claim might be unsettling. But it’s the foundation of a powerful argument.
The book doesn’t theorize about masculine Christianity. Instead, with the help of Scripture it shatters the radical feminist belief within the Church that masculinity itself is “sinful” or bad. Then it rebuilds men from the ground up.
“You could cut the book down the middle with the first half being about how manhood was lost, and the second half being about how manhood is regained,” Foster explains. It is a handbook for Godly masculinity, after all.
Reconciling men with the very-good’ness of their sex drive is one of the two gifts of the Manosphere. Christian men aren’t different from secular men in needing that. Only the approach should be more delicate.
Or so one might think. Because Foster, the father of eight children, and Tennant aim straight for the pearl-clutchers:
“Multiple studies have confirmed the teachings of common sense and Scripture: men are turned on by fertility cues… A man is especially aroused by the sway of a woman’s hips—they will bring his children into this world. A man is especially aroused by the shape and size of a woman’s breasts—they will nurture his children out of infancy… He is aroused by what is smooth, what is tight, what is beautiful—for God has wired us to be fruitful, and these all reflect fruitful youth. Just as God formed and then filled the world with life, so does man desire to take a wife and and fill her with life.” (p.33)
One can imagine rows of wide-eyed guys in the pews, sweating.
MEN OF FAITH AND FIRE
Adam and Eve fell from the Garden because Adam listened to Eve rather than God, so a man must not live for women alone. He must also fight to produce value in the world, which will then help him attract a suitable wife. That attitude is the second gift of the Manosphere.
But if Christian men earn secular contempt for their neutered attitudes to sex, they earn even more for their lack of passion for worldly pursuits. As the contemporary philosopher CB Robertson writes in his book Holy Nihilism: The Moral and Spiritual Case Against Christianity:
“It is an admirable and perfectly Christian view to hold some things as worth dying for. But it has become more controversial to hold that some things might also be worth fighting for.” (p.10, emphasis in original)
Foster and Tennant validate this observation and waste no time addressing it:
“Men today desperately need to hear this message: There is no hint in the Bible that your aggressive instincts are the result of the fall. You are not, in other words, a defective woman. Your desire to conquer and subdue, to hew down and to build up, to form and to shape, has nothing to do with the curse. It is man’s natural, pre-fall, created purpose. You yearn to bend the world to your will because Adam was created to bend the world to his will.” (p.25, emphasis in original)
Naturally, the authors find Scriptural support for the goodness of our masculine drives towards sex and aggression. The source? An obscure book named Genesis.
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (1:25-26, emphasis mine)
In the Reformed Christian tradition this is called the Creation Mandate. It’s why God created man in the first place. Our instincts towards fruitful sex and prosperous dominion over our environment aren’t “broken” at all. They are our destiny, our calling, one might even say our design.
“[O]ur masculine nature is how we are designed to image God as men,” Foster and Tennant write. “This nature must be redeemed, not rejected…. Thus there is nothing shameful about your masculine nature: about desiring to strive, to overcome, to harness. On the contrary, masculine nature is glorious because it images the God of glory. It is what we are created to do.” (p.26, emphasis in original)
By reconciling men to our innate motivations, “It’s Good to Be a Man” reconciles us to ourselves.
This is also the beginning of reconciling men, women, children, and our fallen society to God.
MAN OF THE HOUSEHOLD
As Tanner Guzy explained during the 21Summit panel on religion, once a man has squared away his fitness, finances, and family, it makes sense that he would look towards faith.
But pursuing the spiritual must not come at the expense of the material. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., observed about Christians, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.”
What does it mean to be both “heavenly-minded” and “of earthly-good”? Foster has his answer: “God gave us a mission, and the mission was to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue and rule over the Earth. When you carefully study Scripture, you recognize the means by which that is accomplished is by a man growing into a mature manhood, and a woman growing into mature womanhood, and then them joining together in marriage and having children in creating a household.”
“Household” is a word not often used today, but as men we know the concept in our hearts even if we can point to few examples.
Pastor and author CR Wiley describes a “household” this way in his book, The Household and the War for the Cosmos (Canon Press, 2019):
“[In the premodern world], a household wasn’t a building. It wasn’t even a family—although it certainly included one. Essentially a household was an authority structure. The reason that authority was essential was because a household was an economy. The etymology of that word tells a story. It is derived from two Greek words, oikos, meaning house, and nomos, meaning law; an economy was the law of the house. It directed the labors of its members toward their common good; it’s what kept people working together.” (pp. 70-71)
Foster elaborated on Wiley’s ideas in our conversation, “You had the first household in Adam and Eve. Then they had kids, who had multiple households. That turns into a town, a town into a city, and a city turns into nations. In our book we really do want to change the world. We want to change our nation. We want to change our society. But you can’t do it without changing the household. To do that you need strong men.”
Assembling the pieces, to Christians, the authority of God orders and directs the Universe. A man, being made in the image of God, must similarly use his authority to order and direct his household.
A strong man makes the microcosmic order of his household reflect the macrocosmic order of the Universe. This reconciles him to the inevitable design of patriarchy and religion built into the cosmos.
That is the mountaintop we climbed to find God waiting the whole time.
FAITH ENTERS THE BATTLE
Just as the force of gravity binds the material universe together, according to Foster and Tennant the force of a strong man’s gravitas binds a household together. It’s the sense of weightiness that undergirds his masculine authority.
“[G]ravitas is not something we can be born with, nor reborn into. It is not so much bestowed as it is recognized—which means that it must first be earned,” they write. (p. 129)
The development of a man’s gravitas through duty, marriage, mission, and more comprises the second half of “It’s Good to Be a Man”. Those seven chapters contain the practical applications of Foster and Tennant’s ideas, giving vital instruction to every man who wants to redeem our design in a crumbling, feminized world.
The words “gravitas” and “household” together have been swimming outside the dialogue of the Manosphere and the Christian Church, felt but never named. The two concepts are also inseparable. A man’s gravitas finds fulfillment in his household as a patriarch. And sustaining a household through successive generations is the substance of a legacy, the ultimate test of a patriarch’s gravitas.
The Gospel of John famously begins, “In the beginning was the Word,” so we know that words have power. In the book “It’s Good to Be a Man”, these two important words have been spoken into the realms of the Church and the Manosphere by a man who stands at their intersection, Pastor Michael Foster.
Today those realms are converging. More and more men in the Manosphere are being baptized in Christ following influential leaders like Foster, Elliot Hulse, Arthur Kwon Lee, and Jesse Lee Peterson—not to mention Jordan Peterson. Ideas about masculinity are conversely being spread through Christian churches not just by Michael Foster and CR Wiley but other notable pastors like Doug Wilson, Jeff Durbin, and Voddie Baucham, who all have significant online presences.
In both spheres, there are unmistakable signs of conflict to come.
“It’s going to be a wild ride,” Foster says. “The Church is not going to take the red pill easy, and the masculinity movement is not going to take the Church easy. But since the red pill speaks truth and all truth is God’s truth, we’re not backing down. I’m not backing down. These other guys aren’t backing down.”
“It’s gonna be explosive.”
Absalom ultimately stole enough men’s hearts to chase King David from Jerusalem. “In front of all of Israel,” the Second Book of Samuel says, he slept with his father’s concubines on the roof of the palace, too.
But Absalom met a surprising end. He was tricked into fighting David’s army. Riding his mule through a forest during battle, he got caught by his head in the branches of a great oak tree. The mule continued walking, leaving Absalom suspended in midair, supported by nothing.
The commander of David’s army, Joab, found Absalom there and stabbed a spear through his heart, killing him.
In one of the most touching passages of the Bible, King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” nonetheless wept at the death of his son.