Book Review – The Manual

Book August 2023

Getting Masculinity right.

Al Stewart, The Manual: Getting Masculinity Right. Matthias Media, 2022. 249pp.

With issues of gender front and centre of the cultural conversation, the need for clarity on what it means to be a man, and what real masculinity is all about, has never been greater. That there is confusion is without doubt. And the confusion is not confined to the secular world; many Christians and churches struggle to clearly and biblically define what it means to be a man.

It is hard to imagine a book speaking into this space more helpfully. Al Stewart has done us a great service by writing practically, simply, forcefully, humorously, straight-forwardly, relevantly, and biblically about what it means to “man up.”

That phrase can sound scary, with connotations of a tough, somewhat aggressive, insensitive, chauvinistic bloke that have led to masculinity being seen as toxic. Or maybe the image of a real man being into hunting, shooting and fishing. Or John Eldridges’ Wild at Heart vision of men wanting a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue and an adventure to live. Thankfully, Stewart paints a different picture of what it means to man up. His vision is far more biblical and much more inspiring.

He argues that true masculinity is not toxic and men behaving badly is not about masculinity, per se, but about sin. True masculinity, he argues, is fundamentally about how men use their power. Men do have power, and it is to be used to serve and bless those around them. “Healthy masculinity is a willingness to take responsibility and use the power you have to care for and nurture those around you” (61).

Stewart begins by interacting with the current cultural landscape. He addresses head on issues such as gender confusion, male and female differences, unhealthy expressions of masculinity, attacks on men and masculinity, and the need for boys to have positive male role models. He then builds a biblical picture of the roles of men and women, stressing that a biblical view of masculinity is worked out in a man’s relationships with others. Another chapter helpfully discusses what has to happen if a boy is to become a man. Stewart addresses hard truths that must be embraced, including the fact that life is not all about you, you are not in control, and one day you’re going to die. In a further chapter he focuses on self-control and the need for delayed gratification, interacting with two specific temptations for many men: alcohol and pornography.

The second half of the book then picks up on the theme of men in relationship with others, providing a chapter each on the need to “man-up” as a son, a friend, a workmate, a single man, a husband, and a father. In each relationship he exposes our weaknesses, confronts wrong mindsets, and advocates in the most practical ways for what it means to act for the good of others, using the power we have in any of those relationships for the good of those around us. I was repeatedly challenged, sometimes deeply convicted, and constantly helped. Stewart’s approach is humble, honest, real and plain. He doesn’t pull any punches, but at the end of the day, grace and the gospel drive all he says.

That leads to the concluding section on “Following the greatest man.” While the whole book is overtly Christian, Stewart doesn’t assume all his readers will be believers in Jesus Christ, so throughout his writing is accessible to unbelievers. The conclusion then presents the gospel clearly, pointing to the hope and purpose found in Jesus alone.

It is called “The Manual” for good reason. It really is like a handbook on how to be a man. Sometimes the advice is painfully plain, and he could have spared a few details. But it is the honesty and practicality of the book that makes it so valuable. I can see myself using this in mentoring men, it would be a brilliant book for a men’s group to work through, and many women will also find it insightful and helpful. This is a much needed and timely book.