Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality
Herald Press, 2009
Gareth Brandt, professor of practical theology at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C., has been searching for an adequate definition of male spirituality. Finding the current works, such as The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldredge and No More Christian Nice Guy by Paul Coughlin, to be unfulfilling, he wrote his own book. Under Construction was born out of Brandt sharing his writings on male spirituality with a group of local Mennonite men, and then using feedback from that group to craft his book.
Under Construction is a reaction to books like Coughlin’s and Eldredge’s, where macho images of warriors, lovers, kings, and sages are used to typify the male spiritual experience. Brandt – a committed pacifist – is uncomfortable with the aggression associated with warrior and king images and finds the lover role too narrow, with its definition revolving around a prince wooing a princess. Under Construction attempts to broaden what constitutes male spirituality by exploring metaphors other than warrior, lover, king, and sage.
To achieve this, Brandt uses the life of Joseph (of fancy-coat fame, not the father of Jesus) as a metaphor to discuss various aspects of the male spiritual journey. Journey is a key word here, because Brandt’s book offers possibilities and asks questions, but rarely results in concrete thoughts or actions. This may not go over well with the target (male) audience.
To arrive at Joseph as the successful candidate, Brandt discounts male figures in the Bible who might be more obvious choices but are too little known or too warrior-like (e.g. David). I have no issues with the choice of Joseph, but spending a chapter justifying that choice exposes Brandt’s biases – especially his views on pacifism – and how they inform the book more than they should.
Brandt has bared his soul in writing this book, sharing his poetry and numerous personal anecdotes, some very painful. Readers who like to connect emotionally with an author will appreciate this. Those who are looking for argument or forceful opinions are likely to come away disappointed.
In Under Construction, it seems almost anything can be considered masculine spirituality with little distinctiveness between masculine and feminine spirituality. This may be linked to the “be who you are” ethos of the book which, while inclusive, tends to aim low regarding what men can become in God’s kingdom.
Under Construction advocates for a type of sensitive and emotive male spirituality that is already quite common in today’s churches. In that sense, I don’t think Under Construction will awaken deep yearnings for something more, as Eldredge’s books have. Nor will Under Construction address the frustration many men have with trying to fit in today’s feminized church culture. If anything, Under Construction seems to advocate for, rather than challenge, feminized church culture.
In the end, Under Construction provides a useful counterbalance to the sometimes over-the-top writing of Coughlin and Eldredge and works to round out the discussion of male spirituality. The individual reader’s connection to this book will depend highly on his or her personality type. I recommend reading Under Construction in tandem with Eldredge’s and Coughlin’s books to get a more holistic picture of what male spirituality could look like.