Redefining Manhood in the Midst of Toxic Masculinity

with Tierce Green

Jesus lived a tragically short life by today’s standards, but those 33 years still contained enough “seasons of life,” as Tierce Green explains it, to offer insight, guidance, and hope for men navigating the challenges and pitfalls of modern life.

Director of the Authentic Manhood Initiative, Tierce helped create “33 The Series,” a six-volume multimedia curriculum, to share those life lessons with men seeking clarity and purpose. In doing so, he hopes to help them not only “discover a healthy vision for manhood” but build a community where they can be their authentic selves without artifice or judgment. More recently, he launched Good Feed Media, a free app with content not only for men but for the church as a whole, helping men and women alike grow in their relationships with God, their fellow believers, and their communities writ large.

“All throughout 33, we talk about the definition of manhood, and we get it by comparing and contrasting Adam in the garden of Eden with the second Adam—Jesus,” Tierce says. “There are four things: reject passivity, accept responsibility, lead courageously, and invest eternally. If you look at Adam, he failed miserably in all four areas, but if you look at Jesus, you see how he modeled real manhood for us.”

On your website you’re pretty blunt in calling men out for the degree to which they are overwhelmingly responsible for murders, robberies, and other types of violent crime. Describe how “authentic manhood” offers a solution for that.

That’s the world we live in: We’re flawed people living with other flawed people. There’s no guarantee that, if we begin to be the men God designed us to be, that our marriages will suddenly be magically transformed and our kids will get in line, but we’ll create a better environment for things to work the way God intended them to. The whole thing with authentic manhood is, let’s get back to the original design for us as men, and when we begin to be the men God designed us to be, that can begin to shift culture.

In what ways do you think men and boys are directed toward an “inauthentic” manhood—certainly by popular culture, but in some cases by their own male role models, or their own churches?

In my experience we’re always overcorrecting one way or the other, so in some churches you see these extremes. Sometimes we overcorrect to be real touchy-feely rather than calling people to action. In churches where a lot of men have been MIA for a long time and women are stepping up to fill the void, a lot of men grow up in an environment that really caters more to a feminine mindset and culture, and they get a skewed version of masculinity, even a skewed version of spirituality.

And one other overcorrection with manhood—and this is one of the challenges I face—is if you say “authentic manhood,” and especially if you say “biblical manhood,” those are hot buttons for a lot of people because they’re thinking, “OK, you’re talking about guys who beat their chests and put women in the kitchen and try to control everything.” That’s toxic masculinity, that’s not God’s masculinity. A lot of young men, all they see is one extreme or the other. So culturally, yeah, there’s an inauthentic portrayal of what manhood is, but even in some churches there’s a skewed version, an overcorrection either to the feminized experience or to guys thinking it’s all about how big your truck is.

Relationships between men and women are a big part of your ministry. Describe the particular harm that inauthentic manhood can do to an otherwise loving marriage.

Volume 5 of “33 The Series” is “A Man and His Marriage,” and we talk a lot about servant leadership. A big key is what Jesus said to all of us: “Anyone who comes after me has to deny himself and take up his cross.” It’s a paradox—if you really want to live, you’ve got to die. That applies everywhere in life, but especially in a relationship.

Even guys who really know the Bible can have a tendency to be self-righteous and think, “It’s not really me, it’s not my fault.” We’re always defaulting to that. In marriage, when men are not being servant leaders, when men are not loving their wives as Christ loved the church, that’s when we begin to think, “It’s not my fault, it’s your fault.” We never learn to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” We’re not extending grace, and that’s destructive whether it’s a marriage relationship, parenting relationship, you name it.

At a time when we hear about acts of bullying and aggression every single day, from mass shootings at home to the invasion of Ukraine on the other side of the world, It’s really heartening to hear you talk about a world “where men lead in protecting those who are weak and oppressed.” How do you teach a man accustomed to using his masculinity for aggression to instead channel it into protection? 

Billy Graham always said, “Only God can change the human heart.” All throughout “33,” we say this is not about behavior modification. You’ll learn a lot through this series that can modify your behavior, but it’s got to start with a heart transformation—God working from the inside out.

I grew up in Alabama in the ’60s, and some of the most prejudiced people I knew were men in the church. So we call men to fight for those who are oppressed and stand up for those who are broken, but they’ve got to address their own brokenness and realize, “I was hopeless without what Jesus did for me.” From that, they begin to see others as Jesus would see them. Jesus looked at the crowds and had compassion for them because he saw them as harassed and helpless. A lot of my job in general church leadership is just to get them to hang out with people who aren’t like them, and to remember that the primary reason the church exists is for people who aren’t part of the church.

But one of the most valuable things I’ve seen is when guys begin to finally crack open their chests and start talking about how they’ve messed up, but God provided grace in those areas. That’s so disarming, and a lot of guys are afraid to have those conversations. But one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes is, “All true friendship begins when one person looks at another and says, ‘What, you too?’ ” In the real authentic manhood movements, men have come to the realization that we’re not alone, we all suck at this, and only God can change us.

Christ was known as a gentle, peace-loving, forgiving person, but He definitely had some warrior-like moments—expelling the money-changers from the temple, for example. Why do you think it’s hard for so many men to follow in His footsteps and find a middle path—manage their anger, and use their masculine energy in a positive way?

I think one of the key reasons is many men have never seen a balanced manhood modeled for them. In “33” we talk about what we call “the four faces of manhood,” and you see these four faces when you look at the life of Jesus: The king and warrior faces, where He did go toe to toe with religious leaders and call them out, driving out the moneychangers because they were taking advantage of people. But you also see the friend and lover faces—Jesus and his relationship with his 12, laying his life down for them, being that servant leader.

The goal is king, warrior, lover, friend. Sometimes the king or warrior has to emerge a little bit more in a specific moment or circumstance, but the king is always balanced by the lover and friend. Sometimes guys who teach the Bible book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse will skew toward the times when Jesus stood up and went toe to toe with the religious crowd; they like that because it kind of ties into their personality. Other guys will dial into the moments when Jesus was washing feet or having a conversation with the woman at the well, being really into that loving, emotional side, because that dials into their personality.

I know I’m not the first person to have said this, but instead of God creating us in His image, sometimes we really do try to create a version of God in ours.

That’s exactly what we try so hard to do—create a God that we can explain, but when circumstances can’t be explained, we have a crisis of faith, because our God isn’t neatly fitting into the image we want Him to be.

Restoration

What does restoration mean to you?

It starts with your relationship with God through Jesus. We’ve got to be certain we’re rebuilding on the right foundation—that we are children of God not because we’ve “earned” it or we “deserve” it, but God, just by His grace, gives us the right to be called His children.

Too often restoration is kind of an outside in strategy, and it’s like, “OK, I can do this, I’m gonna fix these things.” And I’m all for discipline, accountability, and all that, but if it’s not based on the right foundation, if it’s not an inside job, it’s going to lead you to frustration. And even when we’re building on the right foundation, there will be times when our hearts are really pure and we want to honor God, and we still mess up. But if we understand that we have a relationship with God not because of our performance but because of what He’s done for us, then we realize we don’t need to run from God and hide out until we get “cleaned up” so he’ll like us better. Even when we mess up, that can enhance our relationship, and we run to him. I’ve learned that even when I’m weak, He’s strong. To me, that’s the genuine restoration.

Authentic Manhood is a Partner of The Redeemed

the redeemed log lion inside a crown of throns