Michael Foster and Dominic Bnonn Tennant’s book, It’s Good to be a Man (Canon Press, 2021), has an innocuous title, and yet their book comes loaded with a view of themselves as men, Christianity as a masculine religion, and world dominion as a masculine pursuit, that reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of themselves, the church’s mission, their neighbor, and finally God. They aim to call their male readers to what they have settled on as the full measure of the stature of manliness, an understanding shaped by their experiences and theological convictions, Foster’s sharpened within his denomination. They anticipate the transformation of the world through planting churches so that “God’s name will be great throughout the nations.” On the surface, nothing might seem amiss. Don’t we all desire that the ends of the world be reached? But the question is “Reached with what?” According to Foster and Tennant, the gospel appears to be a first stop to restoring us to our respective places (40). Their work emphasizes male “dominion,” a word used 87 times in their book, which means subduing the unbounded, wild, and dangerous world outside the garden (22). In the short run, Foster and Tennant see that this requires the strength of manly perseverance while laying the groundwork of political and cultural transformation.
According to the authors, “God made men for dominion. That means he made you (male reader) for dominion. We want you to understand what that means, and how to start taking your place, in faith, serving and fighting for God’s kingdom . . . The walls and gates of society are built by the men who fight with God. Let us get started with that work” (6,7). Early on, Foster and Tennant set their male readers’ eyes on the “walls and gates.” They call men to embrace real masculinity, by setting their hands to build up what has been razed. They write, “We are living in a world of fatherless males who don’t know how to rebuild the walls of society. They have become clueless bastards” (15). “Functional bastards” and “clueless bastards” are terms used 22 times in their book, and refer to “androgynous” men who refuse to embrace the call to dominion. These men are acting against nature because, “God has built patriarchy into the fabric of the cosmos” (8). Thus men must imitate God himself who bends the world according to His will and forcefully subdues those who stand against Him. Men likewise are to use their good and natural aggression against the enemies of God because it is their nature to strive, to overcome, to harness. This masculine inclination to subdue is glorious because it “images the God of glory” (24, 25). With this, Foster and Tennant are off the block, and all business. But first they must polarize and prioritize the man and the woman, masculinity and femininity, dominion and fruitfulness.
In Foster and Tennant’s brand of social transformation, gender plays an essential role in the global mission. While Genesis 1 and 2 emphasize what the man and the woman have in common, the natural image and covenantal fellowship that they share with God, the call to rulership and fruitfulness, and the complementarity of their natures, Foster and Tennant essentialize masculinity as rulership over and against femininity as motherhood. In their world, men must begin ruling their households, aligning their wives with their mission, because “as a man goes, so goes his household; as a household goes, so goes the Church; and as the Church goes, so goes society” (18). Their plan of action begins with the man ruling his wife and home, and it ends with the man ruling world.
For Foster and Tennant, the man’s sexual drive is part of his important “seed work . . . Thus, God made mankind to be fruitful—and gave the man a biological drive equal to the importance of the task. Sex, in other words, is the engine of dominion,” defined as “bringing heaven to earth by establishing God’s rule” (26-28). Men are called to harness and drive this powerful desire to the right end. They write, “A man is especially aroused by a woman who is ovulating—she can bring forth new life from him. 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 fill her with life,” to the end of extending God’s rule and filling His world with more image-bearers in a new community (31). Paraphrasing Alastair Roberts, Foster and Tennant write, “Every household is one atom in the substance of God’s kingdom. And it is through man’s powerful sex drive that these households are built. Then, through households, societies are established. Culture begins and emanates from the household. It is where the next generation of men is shaped . .” (31-33).
With this Foster and Tennant head into the importance of hierarchy and “vertical distinctions.” They write, “It is good that all creatures are subordinated beneath their creator. And it is also good that some created things are subordinated beneath others” (39). These “glorious divisions” of superior and inferior are “very good” because they are from God. “Authority and submission, strong and weak, height and depth, holy and common, inner and outer, greater and lesser—these are all built into the structure of the cosmos from the very days of creation” (40). The sin of the weaker (lower, common, outer, lesser?) vessel Eve was to invert the hierarchy, God over man, and man over woman, which brings Foster back again to the problem of our day, androgyny, “frustrat(ing) the cooperation necessary to construct households, (as Satan) wars against the Patriarchy in heaven by warring against the patriarchy down here on earth” (44).
Foster and Tennant bemoan society’s promotion of androgyny, using this quote from Randi Gunther, “Now quality men needed to add chivalry to their power, and women to claim their ability for independent thinking and leadership. They could imagine a relationship where both were equally blended and free to be the best they could be. ‘She’ and ‘he’ became the new idealized ‘we’” (46). For Foster and Tennant, relationships without polarity and without hierarchy are the enemy, and the result is “ritualized androgyny,” better known as “sodomy,” where distinctions are erased, distinctions which ultimately reflect the Creator/creature distinction. Thus men who have not embraced patriarchy and have rejected hierarchy in marriage, have brought on, “the idolatrous confusion of the human with the divine” in Romans 1 (50). Rejecting patriarchy is unnatural and pagan and thus rightfully receives the curse of exchanging the glory of God for the creation (53).
The term “natural” is very important for Foster and Tennant, and they use it 96 times within 164 pages. According to Foster and Tennant, what is “natural” to the man is good, only needing grace to perfect it. Foster and Tennant say that natural masculinity lends itself to desiring fame (133); to patriarchy (8); to sexual attraction and sexual drive (10, 33, 144); to fighting (16); to dominion (23); to conquer, subdue, hew down, build up, shape (25); to rule, “bringing God’s presence to earth as His living image” (33); to serve and worship spiritual fathers (54); to “galloping dominion” (58); to elevating women since they share man’s glory and because they are weak (73); to creating honor structures (114); to wisdom, workmanship, enterprise, constancy, and readiness (119); to organizing themselves into groups around a shared mission, competing and testing one another in order to establish a working hierarchy, so that they might pull together to subdue the world, creating brotherhoods which naturally, affectionately bond and sharpen one another (150).
According to Foster and Tennant, what is “natural” for a woman is quite different. Besides motherhood, femininity lends itself to weakness (16, 48, 73); to mystical, emotional chaos (72); to being ruled (66); to disobedience (40); to seduction, inverting the natural hierarchy (40, 41); to deplete the natural strength of men (61); to conceal her nature, feigning fidelity, while only wanting to indulge her sensual desires (65); to instincts which are inversely proportional to ensuring orthodoxy (72); to a desire to play nice, thus corrupting the church (72); to approve and endorse flatterers, hirelings, and other soft men (72); to disapprove and ostracize truth-tellers, shepherds, tough men (72); to cultivate a family “requiring submission to the man and the pain of child-bearing” (72); to compliment other women and embitterment if rejected (150); to build community and establish social harmony, bringing conformity (150); to being drawn toward men who can demonstrate godly dominion. This happens to be the only thing Foster and Tennant explicitly say that men and women share by nature — they both gravitate toward men with “gravitas” (166).
Foster and Tennant devote a chapter of their book to “toxic masculinity” set against “toxic femininity.” The difference between the two is that toxic masculinity can be traced to a good and natural aggressive inclination to rule, while toxic femininity is traced to sin, the desire of the woman to usurp the place of the man (60-66). According to Foster and Tennant, the effeminacy of our churches testifies to the deleterious influence of the “loud woman,” who allies herself with “soft men” and “white knights” to overthrow the created order. Instead of being compliant, quiet, self-restrained, and “entirely submissive,” the “loud woman” wants to have a voice (63-64). She swings from man to man like a monkey swings from branch to branch, searching for someone who might defer to her (65). Foster and Tennant write of her, “She will not stand for masculine rulership. She is not content with her place in God’s hierarchy, and she hates the masculine strength that would keep her there” (66).
Foster and Tennant have a from-below approach to anthropology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. In exalting the man over the woman, they invite trouble, because God is her defender. They have failed to reckon with the woman of Genesis 1:26 as the image of the triune God, in a natural bond of fellowship with God, who is the substance and trothe of her blessedness. Before she becomes the suitable helper to Adam, she is presented to us as from Him, through Him, and for Him, living in unmediated personal communion with Him in the garden. God speaks to them in Genesis 1:26-31. She hears His voice and stands beside Adam coram Deo. When we come to Genesis 2, we see her as Adam’s unfolding, representing to him the Sabbath rest that God entered on the seventh Day after the good work of creation. It is the realm that Adam is to strive to enter (cf. Heb. 4:4). She is “built” in Genesis 2:22 as the typico-symbol of the city-bride of Revelation 21, most truly representing to Adam his glory. Thus the help that she offers Adam in Genesis 2 does not pertain to hierarchy. Consider the context of the garden sanctuary and the two trees. View it from the angle of Adam, formed from the earth and called heavenward. The work of the woman as bride is to help him pass through testing and continue in the command, “You shall not eat.” She represents his goal, the Sabbath city. She beckons Adam forward and upward with “Come” (Rev. 22:17). She hastens the day of the consummation of Adam’s fellowship with God (cf. Song 8:14). This is Eve’s charge, and this is also the nature of her failure in Genesis 3. Though she is commissioned to call Adam heavenward, she converses with the serpent. Though she is charged with representing life, she offers him death. Though she symbolizes to him the enduring glory of the kingdom above, she offers him the fleeting glory of the realm below.
Can we not celebrate God’s gracious empowerment of his people, despite sin, to reach the end for which they were created? I agree with Foster and Tennant that we find differences. We can recognize that Adam was commissioned by God to lead Eve and their descendents heavenward by covenantal obedience. We can acknowledge that Eve was empowered by God to spur Adam forward. And yet we can also accept that they were given a joint mission, one that magnified and glorified the person and work of the Three in One.
In Genesis 1, we see that the man was fully image-bearing adam; likewise the woman was fully image-bearing adam. Adam’s mission was from God; Eve’s mission was from God. Today God authorizes the wife to offer submission to her husband, just as the husband is authorized to love his wife. Together they are authorized to love one another and their neighbor, to be devoted to one another, to honor one another above themselves, to live in harmony with one another, to build up one another, to be like-minded, to accept one another, to admonish one another, to care for one another, to serve one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to forgive one another, to be patient with one another, to speak the truth to each other in love, to be kind and compassionate to one another, to speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, to submit to one another, to consider the other better than themselves, to look to the interests of one another, to bear with one another; to teach one another (Colossians 3:16), to comfort one another, to encourage one another, to exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13), to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24); to employ the gifts that God has given them for the benefit of one another (1 Peter 4:10), to clothe themselves with humility towards one another (1 Peter 5:5), to pray for one another, to confess their faults to one another (James 5:16). It is difficult to reconcile God’s call for His people to set their minds on things above, on God and the Lamb enthroned in the heavens, with Foster and Tennant’s call to exercise masculinity in world dominion.
Finally, what is glaringly absent in their understanding of the goodness of being a man is love. When they finally bring up the love of a husband toward his wife, they distinguish two types of love. There is a whole book of the Bible that exists to refute his false dichotomy between covenant love and romantic love, the Song of Songs (162). Foster and Tennant have no chapter devoted to the goodness of a husband’s sacrificial laying down his life for his bride, yet it is the motivation of the Man from heaven to come to earth, to suffer the deprivation of exile and the ignominy of the cross. We sing “from heaven He came and sought her.” Christ’s earthly mission was His bride, and He is not ashamed of it. He opens and closes with a wedding, revealing His purpose to unite heaven and earth, to bring His people into union and communion with Himself, to consummate His love for them beyond the threat of His and their enemies. This is not masculine Christianity. This is not feminine Christianity. It is the Christinity of the Bible. And this is why it’s good to be a man. And it’s good to be a woman. And above all, it’s good to be united to Christ.