What does it mean to be a godly man? Pastor Eric Mason has a lot to say on the topic in his new book Manhood Restored. Dr. Mason leads Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia and disciples men in an urban environment. He is also a husband (Yvette) and a father (Immanuel and Nehemiah). We had the chance to talk to him about his new book and how it speaks to the African American community and those who live and serve in the urban context.
In what ways does your book address the crisis of masculine identity in the African American community?
First off, the book was written with African Americans in mind. And so I wanted to start with the theological and not just the pragmatic. While there is some practicality in there, I didn’t want to start there. So many times this issue gets framed as a family root problem vs. a separation from God problem. It’s not that the separation from God problem is not practical. We consider it to be theological and practical and an issue that needs to be dealt with.
It’s not that theology is missing in the African-American community. I just think there is a lack of contextual connection with theology or a biblical worldview. Responding to the theology is a deep need for African Americans. So I wanted to give the church a tool that can help do that. So the book was written with the goal that once a guy read it, he would want to make disciples.
How have you seen Christian masculinity lived out in your own church?
Well, in our church people meet Jesus, meet each other, get married, and have babies. With that in mind, we are big on men being caught up in what God wants them to be in relation to Colossians 1:28.
We’ve seen guys from all walks of life get caught up in what God wants them to be and grow in authentic manhood. Men from prison and street lifestyles. Men suffering from pride and greed. We’ve also seen this happen with those who are involved in homosexual lifestyles or effeminate.
What was your inspiration behind writing this book?
It was less of an inspiration and more of a challenge. “Manhood Restored” comes out of what I already do. It’s my manual on manhood training. I didn’t just want to write on something but to connect it to what I was actually doing. It was something that just flowed out of me doing theology in relation to what was going on in my soul. In fact there is a brother who read it and said, “This is what I learned from you in the last three years.” Now he’s taking 25 to 30 men through the book in Camden, NJ.
What can pastors do to lead men into authentic Christian masculinity?
I think it starts with recognizing that 1 Timothy 3 inferentially states that pastors must be exemplary men and not just disciple exemplary men. So it starts with being vulnerable about our deep need for Jesus Christ and pressing on like Paul says in Philippians 3 to be more like Him since He is our template for authentic manhood.
Next, pastors need to invite men on the journey to be like Jesus Christ. And then lastly they would need to make the development of men an intentional part of the church. Most of Islam, including the cult forms, pride themselves on men’s leadership and discipleship. This shouldn’t be since Christ is the originator. We are letting them get all the benefits!
Would you say that’s a cornerstone of your church?
I wouldn’t say a cornerstone but a major strategic edge. One of the greatest needs in this culture is concerning gender issues particularly on just masculinity and femininity. A lot of times it’s reduced to the political realm, but you just can’t speak into this during an election. When we commit to living in authentic manhood our protesting will be our lifestyles and not just our picket signs.
In what specific ways can young African-American males live out the ideas of Manhood Restored?
Well, the first thing they need to do is realize that only the gospel can make them whole. Next, they need to renounce their functional behaviors and realize that Jesus not only saves their soul but everything else including their manhood.
We have to realize that when 1 Corinthians 16:13 says, “Act like men!” or when David challenged Solomon in 1 Kings 2:2 to “show yourself a man,” the assumption is that somebody has been taught to be one. The assumption is that they have been discipled and so one of the biggest things they can do is to learn what it means to be a man and what it means to fulfill their purpose in this generation like it says in Acts 13:36.
How have you as an African-American male overcome “the crisis of male identity”?
For me, personally, it came through realizing there was a deficiency and that only the Gospel could fill that gap. Next, I sought out mentors who were strong in the areas where I was weak, and I asked them to disciple me. See, one of the things that stops men from growing into authentic manhood is that we have so much pride in regards to seeking help. Our whole culture is turned up on being self-made. We cannot make ourselves. Nobody who is a Christian is self-made.
In what ways does our current culture present an even greater challenge to developing an authentic Christian masculinity?
The blurring of the gender lines is the biggest challenge, and I’m not just talking about the gay marriage thing. There has been a strategic plan to desensitize us to gender differences. Daddy deprivation is a bigger challenge than daddy homosexuality.
There is more daddy deprivation now than in our history including the times when men went off to war. Dudes are going to jail in record numbers or just leaving. There are 1.5 million black men in jail. 65% of children in the African American community are fatherless. You can’t imagine the impact that it has on the shape of our country.
How does “the crisis of male identity” specifically affect young men in an urban environment?
I think crime and daddy replacement. Young males will replace their need for a father with dudes who may not be the most upstanding characters. It’s like LeCrae said, “Even though they do bad things they tell me that they love me.” As a result many men are directionless and lack vision. In general men are more goal oriented, and women are more detail oriented. So in the absence of goals, men are directionless, or they pursue unredeemed goals.
That’s not to say God has not been gracious to single moms. He was gracious to Hagar and Ishmael. But by and large this is what the lack of fatherhood and authentic manhood is doing in the urban context.