Book Review: Manly Dominion: In a Passive-Purple-Four-Ball World, by Mark Chanski
We are a generation of wimps raised by mystics.
Such are many Christian men today. Exaggerated piety, deficient manliness, and outright cowardice have conspired to bring about the current state of affairs.
I can say that is true from my own life. Many a decision has left me paralyzed. Which girl to pursue? Which job to take? Which pair of socks to wear? So it is for much of my generation. From the great to the small, we confront the decisions of life with a position of weakness, believing that no decision should be made unless
i) direct revelation has unquestionably led us to it (in which case we may cite divine providence as the reason behind our decision, should said decision prove disastrous)
ii) every conceivable factor points to it (in which case we can blame each factor, should said decision proves disastrous).
This is a sad picture indeed.
How welcome, then, is Mark Chanski’s Manly Dominion. Chanski, a Reformed Baptist pastor from Holland, Michigan, has penned this text to encourage the wimpy-hearted to think, pray, and act like men.
According to Chanski, contemporary Christian masculinity lacks the will to take dominion of the earth, that mandate which rang first in Adam’s ears as recorded in Genesis 1:28. Chanski summarizes his central argument on page 18 by exhorting the reader to recognize that “Man is to aggressively dominate his environment, instead of allowing his environment to dominate him.” He does this only by the grace of God: “Subduing labor achieves its goals only by divine enablement” (47).
Chanski understands that men will only act out manly dominion through the power of God himself. With that power before them, men are to act. “I have not been assigned to stare out my bedroom, living room, or office window, passively daydreaming about what I might do, if only there weren’t so many obstacles. Rather I am to get out there, so help me God, and plan it, clear it, and do it, with all my might, to the glory of God” (18).
Chanski’s thesis is itself aggressive, scriptural, and invigorating. He combines biblical study with a vibrant collection of stories, historical examples, and personal testimony to lay out the importance of acting courageously in one’s work, decision-making, spiritual life, and romance. Manly Dominion will be of great help to pastors in their efforts to encourage strong male leadership in local churches, especially in the following areas.
Men have been indoctrinated to believe that work is bad. We have been trained by commercials, music, movies, and television shows to be lazy and passive. Chanski cuts the cultural attitude no quarter. Countering the spirit of disgruntled aimlessness, he writes, “In contrast, we ought to view ourselves as men of destiny, each created by the Lord and placed in this garden, in this world, with a very important task to accomplish” (58).
Indeed, “Each of us has been endowed with talents and opportunities to accomplish great things in the Lord’s world” (59).
Chanski gives us the big picture behind all of life here, articulating that God has given us gifts to accomplish meaningful work for him while we are here. This is a helpful point for the pastor trying to figure out how to counter secular gender theory with its emphasis on passive masculinity. Give ‘em Chanski, and watch them come to life.
Chanski is equally helpful on the subject of decision-making, a matter that many men struggle with, as the introduction noted. Many of us are good at analyzing. Fewer of us are good at deciding.
We can trace this failure rate to laziness, a fear of mistakes, and improper notions of guidance. Chanski tackles this collective attitude in his chapter on providence when he writes,
In decision-making we must not adopt an unscriptural, mystical model that results in our passively permitting ourselves to be pushed around by our environment—like a four-ball. Instead, in circumstances where we are biblically allowed and authorized to press forward, let us humbly, prayerfully, and aggressively seek to do the pushing around (96).
These words are helpful for all men today, but they may be particularly helpful for pastors. Chanski reminds all Christian men, pastors included, to make decisions and shoulder the consequences, good or bad, that come. When pastors live out these words, they create a culture of courage in their church and provide a model of leadership that commands respect and promises emulation. This, not passivity or fear, accords with the biblical testimony on this subject: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).
Here’s how Chanski diagnoses the marital temperature of many homes:
The constant imbibing of feminism, mixing together with man’s native sinfulness, has resulted in an epidemic of passive-purple-fourballism in modern marriages. Men have permitted themselves to be emasculated into a company of wimp eunuchs, who believe it should be their goal to strive toward being passive nice guys in their homes (167).
That’s spot-on. My generation was raised with men like Steve Martin’s character in Father of the Bride as role models. Martin’s character was more of a clueless baby than a manly man. This model of masculinity, repeated many times over in the culture, has transferred to many Christian homes today.
To counter this trend, Chanski urges, “We’ve got to reject modern thinking and take up biblical thinking. Without apology, the Scriptures teach that the man is to be the leader in his marriage and in his home. Husbanding is a crucial endeavor requiring manly dominion” (168). How important these words are for the pastor seeking to instill a biblical understanding of marriage amidst a culture where men were taught either to be distant and solemn (as in the 50s and 60s) or silly and weak (as in the 70s onward). Chanski’s words will help pastors to teach the men of their churches to reject laziness and to take action to care spiritually and otherwise for their wives and children.
Manly Dominion is excellent, though I did find three minor flaws. First, Chanski frequently uses what one might call “the language of Zion.” One example: “With those heavy millstones of sins tied around your neck, you’re doomed to split hell wide open” (159). Talk of “millstones” and “doom” is a bit dramatic and dated. Better to tone the rhetoric down a bit and aim for clearer communication.
Second, I would have appreciated a section on how men should begin romance. He has one for dads and one for husbands, but not one for young men who need to hear his dominion message applied to the pursuit of marriage.
Third, the title is a little strange. Granted, it is memorable, but one wonders whether Chanski might have come up with a metaphor for passive manliness that is more easily understood. What is a “passive purple four ball” anyway?
These minor quibbles aside, Chanski’s Manly Dominion is superb. It will train the godly men of today to raise the godly men of tomorrow. Whether over a choice of socks, choice of ministry, or choice of spouse, may our sons soon rise up and say, “We are a generation of godly men raised by men of courage.”