“The Toxic War on Masculinity”: A conversation with Nancy Pearcey

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What is biblical manhood? And, “The Toxic War on Masculinity”: A conversation with Nancy Pearcey

July 10, 2023 -

What is biblical manhood? And, “The Toxic War on Masculinity”: A conversation with Nancy Pearcey

What is biblical manhood? And, “The Toxic War on Masculinity”: A conversation with Nancy Pearcey

What is biblical manhood? And, “The Toxic War on Masculinity”: A conversation with Nancy Pearcey

Nancy Pearcey joins Dr. Mark Turman to discuss the rise of secular masculinity, what makes a “good” man versus a “real” man, how Christianity makes men less misogynistic, not more, why young men are struggling, and how Christians can reclaim manhood.

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Show notes:

Nancy Pearcey discusses why she wanted to write on masculinity, sharing her story of meeting Francis and Edith Schaeffer, converting from agnosticism, and her experience with an abusive father (3:01). She reflects on the history of masculinity, the growth of toxic masculinity during the Industrial Revolution, and why modern women seem to hate men (11:26). Pearcey talks about why she wrote the Toxic War on Masculinity, which delves into the ideas of Christ-like and secular masculinity (19:61). They reflect on the dangers of nominal Christianity, why dedicated evangelical men have the best marriages, but Christian-in-name-only men create the worst marriages (36:44). She says, “nominal Christian men can take the secular script and then sort of baptize it, and the end of actually living worse than secular men.” She provides a multitude of research demonstrating that men becoming evangelical Christians makes them less misogynistic (52:31). She closes by reflecting on the current landscape, how men are falling behind women in all areas, and how true Christians can reclaim masculinity in a healthy way (56:09).

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About the host

Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

Nancy R. Pearcey is a bestselling author and speaker. A former agnostic, she was hailed in The Economist as “America’s pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.” Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Washington Times, First Things, Human Events, American Thinker, Daily Caller, The Federalist, CNS News, and Fox News. She has appeared on NPR, C-SPAN, and Fox & Friends.

She is currently a professor and scholar in residence at Houston Christian University. Pearcey’s books have been translated into 18 languages and include Total Truth, The Soul of Science, Saving Leonardo, Finding Truth, and Love Thy Body.


Transcribed by Otter.ai


Mark Turman 

I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison Forum. Thank you for joining us for another conversation at the Denison forum where we’re seeking to partner with God to launch the next great awakening what we call a movement of culture changing Christians. We want to be salt in light as Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. We do that in part through our podcasts and other materials. We’re seeking to explain the culture to the church so the church can have a redeeming influence on the culture. And we’re going to do that today through a fascinating conversation with Professor Nancy pearcey. Professor Piercey is a best best selling author and speaker. She describes herself as a former agnostic, who has been hailed recently by the Economist as America’s preeminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post The Washington Times, first things human events, American thinker. She’s also been featured in the Federalist and on Fox News, as well as Fox and Friends, NPR and C span. She is currently professor and scholar in residence at Houston Christian University. Her books have been translated into 19 languages, and previous works include total truth, the soul of science, finding truth and love thy body. Today we’ll be talking with Professor Piercey about her most recent book, The toxic war on masculinity, how Christianity reconciles the sexes. So if you’ve had questions, thoughts, concerns about various issues around gender ism, and confused sexuality, I think you’ll find today’s conversation to be fascinating. Professor Piercey thank you for allowing me to call you Nancy during our conversation, and I just want to welcome you to the Dennis and Forum Podcast. We’re glad to have you.


Nancy Pearcey  02:58

Thanks so much. I’m glad to be here.


Mark Turman  03:01

Well, it’s a lot of work a great labor of love to write any book, but you have written several. And today we want to talk about your most recent book, The toxic war on masculinity, the subtitle of which is how Christianity reconciles the sexes. Now this is a huge, huge conversation in our culture, lots of confusion, lots of families that are really experiencing desperation. But before we get into some of the specifics around your book, could you tell us a little bit about you? Well, the first thing I thought when I saw the title of the book was Well, I wonder why she is writing on this topic. And and I just to be quite honest with you as a 60 year old white male in our culture, I wonder if anybody is safe to talk about this kind of topic. And if wondered, you know, where might you put where could a person put their foot without stepping on a landmine with someone in this conversation? But tell us a little bit about your background, you made a statement? I heard you say in an interview that in some ways you’ve been writing this book your whole life? unpack that for us a little bit?


Nancy Pearcey  04:20

Yes, I do start the book with my own story. Because I did have an abusive childhood. My father was severely physically abusive. And books on abuse they sometimes ask was an open hand or close fist and it was closed fist. He was punching us and and kicking us and and he wouldn’t say do this or spank you. He’d say, Do this all beat you. He was quite open about it. And so in many ways, that’s why I say I’ve been writing this book my whole life because I’ve had to work for years on figuring out what is the healthy biblical view of masculinity. As you can imagine, I went through a feminist phase where I thought all men were evil. That’s an exaggeration. But I did read all the feminist books. And then I had to, you know, rethink all of that phase as well. I had a Christian psychologist come to me recently, and he said, When I first opened your book, I thought, oh, no, an abuse woman, she’s going to be angry at men. And then he said, as I kept reading, I saw, it’s not angry. It’s very supportive of men. It’s very affirming of masculinity. And he said, you know, being a psychologist, he said, it’s clear that you’ve got gone through a lot of emotional, spiritual and psychological healing. And that really comes through in the book. So I was glad to hear that from a psychologist, he picked up the positive tone. So I do hope my readers picked up that as well. But my goal here is, in fact, to encourage Christian men in particular, and, of course, all men who happened to read the book as well.


Mark Turman  05:53

So tell us how that move forward, you talk about some of your study and actual healing happening under the auspices of Francis Shaffers. Ministry, how does? How does all of that coalesce, you’re described in some of the information as being formally agnostic and growing up in this environment where Christianity was a language, but not really a commitment. But how does that ultimately lead to you teaching at a Christian university now teaching in the area of apologetics, and topics like masculinity and other things that have to do with human sexuality and faith? How does all of that come together?


Nancy Pearcey  06:37

That’s a great question. So I, I was raised in a Lutheran home, my family Scandinavian and I don’t know if you know, but all Scandinavians are Lutheran, in the same way that all Italians are Catholic. So it was largely an ethnic faith. And in high school, I started asking, Well, how do we know? We’re right? How do we know Christianity is true? I was going to a public high school, all my textbooks are secular, all my teachers are secular. And so I simply started asking, how do we know it’s true? And I talked to my father, in fact, he’s a university professor. And so one day I asked him point blank, why are you a Christian? He said, works for me. And I said, That’s it. You know, it’s not working for me. And I had a chance to talk to a seminary dean. And all he said was, don’t worry, we all have dealt sometimes, as if it was a psychological phase that I would just outgrow. And eventually, I decided, I guess Christianity just as does not have any answers. And I very intentionally walked away from my Christian upbringing, about halfway through high school. And so by the time I had graduated from high school, I was a complete secularist and all my thinking I was a moral Well, here’s how I thought if there was no God, what are the consequences? It seemed clear to me that if there’s no God, there’s no ultimate foundation for ethics, morality. It’s just true for me true for you know, if there’s no God, there’s no meaning to life. There’s no purpose, we just don’t a rock flying through space. If there’s no God, I realize it’s not even a foundation for knowledge. Because if all I have is my puny brain, and the vast scope of time in history, what makes me think I can know any kind of universal or absolute or objective truth. Ridiculous. That’s what I thought as a 16 year old ridiculous. So I was I had become a complete relativist skeptic. And even determinists from my science classes, I was taught, we would just complex biochemical machines anyway. So I had absorbed all of these secular isms. And then I went to, I went to Europe, we had lived there, one of the child. And so I wanted to go back. And it was when I was in Europe that I stumbled across the ministry of Francis Schaeffer, which is in Switzerland. And that was the first time I heard that there was something called Christian apologetics, you know that Christianity could actually be supported by good reasons and arguments. That was the first time I encountered people who knew the secular isms better than I did and could give me the answers. In some ways, I say they knew that they knew the questions better than I did even. And I could coach me in how to ask my questions better. But it was through my stay at Liberty, the Ministry of Francis Schaeffer that I did eventually become a Christian. But also, the part of I told my story in some of my earlier books, but the part I don’t tell is that also Ella Bree on staff was a psychiatric social worker, because she realized that for a lot of people, the barrier to God is not just intellectual, but also emotional, especially for people from Christian homes, and especially for pastors, kids in motion missionary kids. She was she was a missionary kid herself. And so it was through her nose she labored and we called her birdie It was birdie who helped me to realize, right from the beginning that I needed to work through my, the trauma from my childhood. I had thought I could leave it all behind. When I left home, I said, you know, I’m creating a blank slate, I’m gonna forget my whole childhood and, and can recreate myself from scratch. That was my goal. And she’s the one who helped me to realize I could not do that. And she’s the one who really helped me to experience God’s love, for the first time in a profound way. She loved me in a way I’d never been loved before. And through that I had an experience of God’s love. And it’s, that’s the ultimate healing. God’s love heals, it’s just heals us emotionally. And when I love left Labrie in many ways, my image of God was based on birdie. You know, I’d experienced love from her. And then I could, I could, in a sense, I would think of God. And I think, well, he loves me the way she did. And so that was that was really the beginning of my psychological healing. It took many years, of course, but that was really the starting point, right from the beginning of my Christian life, I had not only the intellectual understanding of Christian worldview, from Francis Schaeffer, but I also had the emotional and spiritual healing from birdie. So it was a very full orbed experience. My understanding of Christianity was very, you know, very complete right from the beginning.


Mark Turman  11:26

Yeah, it’s it’s such a beautiful testimony of, of how Christianity is, is both intellectual that the questions really matter. They are significant, and they are worthy of our highest and best thinking we talk about at Denison forum, what does it mean to love God with all of your mind, but also that relational incarnational part of when we when we see the love of God being manifested toward us through another person, and it can be a parent can be a grandparent can be a friend, it was very much that way. In my own testimony, it was, I had good parents, but I didn’t have at that time godly parents. And when I started seeing that in other people, it really was attractive to me and became an incarnational expression of the theoretical love of God that we sometimes spend a lot of time thinking about. The book is about the toxic war on masculinity. One of the things you point out, even in your own story, read a lot about feminism and that type of thing as you were coming out of your family life and in your teenage years on this journey to faith. One thing she point out is that there’s not very much written in the topic of masculinity, right?


Nancy Pearcey  12:44

Oh, yeah. So this was one of the things that really surprised me, there are a whole libraries of books on women’s history, because of the feminist movement. And there were very few resources on the history of concepts of masculinity. And so that’s what one of the things that makes the book so unique is that most people haven’t heard this, you know, the history that I give. The history is the the development of the concept of toxic masculinity. In other words, I wanted to say, Where did this come from? You know, I was seeing our articles, like, the Washington Post, had an article titled, Why can’t we hate men thought really, in a mainstream publication like this, a Huffington post editor tweeted a hashtag kill all men. You can buy T shirts that say so many men, so little ammunition, and books with titles so blatant, like I hate men, and no good men, and are men necessary. So I really wanted to get to the bottom of this, like, you can’t really stand against social trends unless you see where it came from, you know, how it developed over time. And by the way, even men are jumping on the bandwagon. There’s a book by a male author, who says, talking about healthy masculinity is like talking about healthy cancer. Well, and you may have seen this one because it was just recent, but the director of of the movie Avatar was in the news not long ago, saying testosterone is a toxin that you need to work out of your system. So I turned to the books on history of masculinity, because I wanted to say, Where did this come from? And the answer, the short answer is, it’s because society became secular. And it is a very secular view of masculinity, that has in fact, incorporated some toxic traits. And that’s what we need to understand, you know, what are those traits and where did they come? How did the script the secular script for masculinity, why did it become so toxic?


Mark Turman  14:46

And part of we talked about how ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims John Stonestreet at the Coulson center uses that phrase a lot. We love that phrase. aren’t getting all the way back to John F. Kennedy and his quote about ideas and how they live on even beyond people in nations, but talk about that a little bit in the journey toward a secular culture and away from biblical faith and biblical Christianity, the influence of philosophers like Immanuel Kant, moving on to Darwin, even Nietzsche, Marx and even Freud. How did that lead to this meta narrative or this script? That really has led people to the idea that masculinity itself is toxic? How did how did we follow those ideas to the point that we have today?


Nancy Pearcey  15:40

Well, the interesting thing is, they started much earlier than most of us realize. Most people think the concept of toxic masculinity was probably, oh, second wave feminism, 1960s. But in fact, it goes back to the Industrial Revolution. And it’s deeply embedded, because it’s not just ideas, it’s also in a social structures. Before the Industrial Revolution, men worked alongside the wives and children in the family farm, the family industry, the family business. And so the FRS, the expectation on men was very much of a caretaking ethos. You know, you, you had to be patient and gentle, you’re working with your kids all day. And you need to be kind and you’re training them and adult skills. And even the concept of authority had a very specific meaning that then I think most people today have a somewhat negative view of authority. But back then it meant the person who had responsibility for the common good. And so the idea is, I look for out, I look out for what’s good for me, you look out for what’s good for you. But who looks out for the common good of the marriage or the family, the school, the business? The church? Well, that was that’s what authority was for it was an office and the person in that office was supposed to be in the favorite word of that of the day of the colonial era, that favorite word was disinterested, meaning he was not supposed to look out for his own interest. Because his job was to look out for the interests of the whole make sure that the, the social institution as a whole was thriving. So this, I mean, I talked to people about this today. And they say, Well, with that concept of authority, who would, you know, we’d all like that we wouldn’t object to that today. So the question is, how did we lose all that, and it really did start with the Industrial Revolution. For the first time, men were working outside the home, the Industrial Revolution took work out of the home. And of course, men had to follow their work out of the home. And instead of working with people that they loved, and had a moral bond with, they were working as individuals, with other men in competition with other men. And so you see the language start to change, because people began to protest that men’s character was changing in this environment. You see, in the literal literature, the day they start to say, men are becoming more aggressive, self interested, egocentric, greedy, acquisitive, you know, look out for number one, get ahead at all costs. You see, you see this in the literature of the day already this, for the first time, a kind of negative characteristic of characterization of the male character. And so now, in my book, I go through several more stages, as you indicated, but this was the important turning point. And at the same time, this was also the catalyst for secularization, because with the industrial revolution, to develop these large public institutions, from factories and offices to industries and financial institutions, and banks, and universities, and of course, a much larger state, and people began to say, these public institutions should be run by scientific principles, by which they meant value free. In other words, don’t bring your private values into the public arena, which is, of course, what we still hear today. And since it was men who were working, or getting the secular education working in the secularized arena, they were becoming more secular earlier than women did. And so again, the culture begins to to protest that men’s men were becoming more a moral, morally hardened, morally insensitive, they were no longer interested in religion, they won’t go into churches often. And so a more secular concept of masculinity becomes common at that time. And just over over the years becomes more and more secular. But that was the important turning point. And


Mark Turman  19:51

it’s, it’s somewhat of an unintended consequence, right? Nobody. Nobody planned that when the Industrial Revolution was making its way A forward we were pursuing what human beings do pursuing progress and, and so there wasn’t an intentional plan necessarily, but it starts to go in so many different directions. You talked about that person having authority that was disinterested in their own success, more interested, ideally, in the success of the family, the community, that type of thing, which is really where it strikes me that we’re probably still frustrated with many of our leaders, and many of our institutions, be they in business or the church, or the government. were frustrated, because we intuitively know that if you haven’t thought authority, you should be this disinterested person, right, you should be looking out for the greater good of all. And, and part of it, you know, we’ve had conversations on our podcast about the distrust of institutions, not just an institution, but at all institutions these days. And it really goes back to this issue, doesn’t it? Have we feel like that everyone is simply out for themselves no matter what realm they’re operating in? Is that am I on the right track with that?


Nancy Pearcey  21:12

Yeah, you are. And let me maybe back up and say, there really are two scripts for masculinity that are out there. And I have to tell you, this is the most controversial book I’ve ever written, which surprised me, I didn’t expect that. I really thought my earlier book Love thy body would be more controversial, because it deals with topics like abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism, which is really the front burner issue today. Great book,


Mark Turman  21:42

by the way, let me just endorse that book as well. Highly recommend it.


Nancy Pearcey  21:47

Thank you. But what I don’t know, this is some background that’s not in the book. But when I taught the book, and in the manuscript, of course, in the class, and I had reading groups, and they would tell their family and friends about the book. And the first question, invariably was, whose side is she on? With that tone? Who side? Is she on? The idea of, apparently, is that, you know, either you’re a male bashing feminist, you know, or you’re an angry reactionary. And so what I did at the beginning of the book, I had to do this right at the start, I said, there’s two scripts for masculinity. And I do on a very ingenious experiment by a sociologist. He’s not a Christian. But he gets invited to speak all around the world. He’s very well known in his field. And so he asks, he uses that to ask young men two questions. He says, What does it mean to be a good man? If you had a funeral, and in the eulogy, they say he was a good man, what does that mean? And all around the world? He says, Men had no problem answering that question. He was, you know, from, from Brazil, to Australia to Sweden, young man said things like honor, duty sacrifice, do the right thing, be a provider, be a protector, be responsible, and stand up for the little guy, like kind of like them. But his point was that all people are made in God’s image. And they do know what the good man is, you know, even if our culture is no longer supporting this. They’re made in God’s image. And they have an innate sense that their unique masculine strengths are not given them just to do what they want. And to get get from other people what they want. It’s kind


Mark Turman  23:33

of written on their hearts, as the scripture would say, right? It’s it’s ingrained in us. No.


Nancy Pearcey  23:38

Yeah, yeah, exactly. The next thing I was gonna say is Romans two, two, which says it’s, it’s written in our hearts. So then he does a follow up question. And he says, Well, what does it mean, if I say to you, man up be a real man. And the young men always say, oh, no, no, that’s completely different. And they all say, that means be tough, be strong, never show weakness. When it all costs, suck it up, be competitive, get rich, get laid, this is their language. In other words, it’s that real man script, quote, unquote. That is what many people think of as toxic traits. And certainly, if it’s decoupled from the moral vision of the good man, it does easily slide into toxic things like entitlement, dominance control, and so on. And so what I draw from that is that the best strategy is not to just accuse men of being toxic. You know, they don’t respond very well to that, and nobody would, right. But it does suggest that we can tap into their innate knowledge of what it means to be the good man, that they do have an understanding of what it means to be good. And there’s a universal recognition. So that means that we can support and encourage and affirm then and living out their innate sense of God’s original plan for what manhood means.


Mark Turman  25:06

Well, and that’s, I think that’s Nancy, where this book is so helpful, because literally for years now, I did recently, in the last few years did a doctoral Project on Human Sexuality and that type of thing. And it’s, but it’s really kind of a monumental task, even to come to something like the Bible and say, Okay, what does the Bible tell me about being masculine? Or what does it tell me about being feminine? And that’s where your work is so helpful. But if somebody just says to you, okay, Professor, Professor helped me, where do I go on the Bible to learn what it means to be a man? Or where do I go in the Bible to learn what it be what it means to be a woman? How do you, a lot of people listening to our conversation are going to be church leaders going to be some pastors? They’re wondering, how do I talk to my own family? But also, how do I talk to the communities of faith that I’m a part of about what the biblical idea of masculinity or femininity are all about? How do you help them with that?


Nancy Pearcey  26:08

Do you know I go to a part of Genesis that we often overlook, when we talk about masculinity, I’ll go to the cultural mandate. You know, in Genesis, God has created the universe, the stars and planets, the plants and animals, and then he creates the first human couple, and what is the first thing he says to them, Be fruitful, and multiply and subdue the earth. In other words, that’s the first job description given to the human race. And in the highly streamlined language of Genesis one, we can sort of unpack that and be fruitful and fill the earth doesn’t mean just, you know, have kids, but obviously means all of the social institutions that grow out of the family, so that the extended family becomes a tribe becomes a village, becomes a city becomes a nation. And there are also specified institutions like the church and the school, the state, a marketplace. So it really means develop all of the social institutions, and the rules and the treaties and the constitutions that govern them, right? subdue the earth means harness the natural resources. So we often think of you know, Adam was a farmer. But that was just the basis for all the other technologies like mining and building bridges and buildings, inventing computers, and composing music. And one of my students said, oh, yeah, come on composing music. And I play the violin. So I said, What’s the violin made out of? Wood? Right? What’s the Bomi? Out? Of course, here. So I said, all the transcendent beauty we associate with music starts with how harnessing the natural resources that God created. So I think that we should make a lot more out of the cultural mandate, in terms of trying to figure out what our job is the both male and female were given the cultural mandate, right? So we’re both supposed to, to build up the social world. And we’re both supposed to be embedded in, you know, deeply embedded in creative and productive work. So that’s where I start. And I bring people back to that a lot. Just because there’s a lot of books out there today that give the impression that to be a true man is to get away from civilization. Go out climbing, climbing mountains and hunting elk. And, and I, I have no objection to get out in nature. I love nature. But I don’t think that’s how you find your manhood. Right? Yeah, I think you go back to Genesis one and B, you know, really, you don’t run away from responsibility you embrace responsibility.


Mark Turman  28:44

An essay, I know that the Sunday School answer here is that Jesus is the answer to everything. But one of the things that we can do and always should do when it comes to the Bible is look to Jesus as an answer and an example. But can you talk about how looking into his life becomes a model or becomes a picture of what biblical masculinity is, is to look like how does Jesus model that as compared to oh, well, you know, real men are people who fight wars, or they climb mountains, or they sail seas. Again, nothing wrong with some of those things, right. And sometimes men are called upon to do them. But if you really, really want the most full and complete picture of what biblical masculinity can look like, Jesus becomes a model for that, right?


Nancy Pearcey  29:35

Yes, I do have a section in the book, just looking at Jesus and what we learned from him, and we understand better the impact of what he did when we know the surrounding culture. For example, to me one of the prime examples is when Jesus bless the little children, I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking that’s kind of a Sunday School moment. Right? Sentimental right and but He was standing against Roman culture at the time, Roman culture had very low view of children, they were non persons, and they will often treated very harshly and beaten. And fathers could kill them legally, for any reason, or no reason. And so, for Jesus to say, Let the children come to me was actually a very countercultural move. And so when we put him in context like that, we realize how how dramatic his actions were, or the fact that you know, he would talk to women, women were in Jewish culture, you were not supposed to talk to women in public. He talked to them he, he put his hand laid his hands on them when he healed them, right. And he even the Samaritan woman is perhaps my favorite example. Because not only did he talk to her, she was a Samaritan who of course, did use thought very poorly. And when the disciples come back, the tech says, They were surprised you who’s talking to a woman, you would have thought they were surprised he was talking to a Samaritan. But apparently it was even worse than he was talking to a woman. But one of the things that I bring to the table is that I, I look at non Christian sources, too. And so let me tell you what one non Christian historian says about Jesus, please do I think this is really fascinating, because he compares Christianity to other religions and their view of manhood. He says, your view of manhood derives from your view of God. And so he starts with polytheism. So think of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus, I think of the Norse gods. And he says, they were always fighting, or here’s how he put he put it, the gods drink, they went, they fought, they triumph their their military power. So the view of manhood exalted the warrior virtues, a man was a warrior, and there’s some truth to that, but it’s incomplete. So then he goes to monotheism. And he starts with a form of monotheism where God is so transcendent that he has no relationship with humans. So that would be Islam. For example, I quoted a writer who says In Islam, God would not, or Allah, Allah would not condescend to have a relationship with mere mortals. The very idea that from the Judeo Christian Religion that God would have a personal relationship with humans, is deeply repugnant to Islam. So in that form of monotheism, manhood is defined strictly in terms of authority and power, right? Then this historian says, we’ll get to Judaism, which is also monotheistic, but God does have a relationship with his people covenant relationship. In Jeremiah, God says, I will give them a heart to know me. And so to be a man is to be a loving father. And then, again, this non Christian historicism, then Jesus comes along and totally complexified everything. Because Jesus is the first is the only religion where God is practices servant leadership, Jesus says, I did not come to be served but to serve. And he says, the historian says, For the first time, qualities like compassion and love and gentleness become masculine virtues. He says, in fact, virtues that we have typically assigned to women now become masculine virtues, so that men can be both tough and tender, they can be both courageous and caring. And, you know, Christianity gives a much fuller richer understanding of masculinity, as reflecting the full image of God. And it’s delightful to see a non Christian recognizing how unique Christianity is.


Mark Turman  33:42

And just it makes me think of those passages in Scripture referencing Jesus where he talked about as a father caring for his children. You know, Jesus taught us to pray, and with the expectation that as a father gives good gifts to his children, so our Father will give us good gifts to the Thessalonians Paul says that he was like a nursing mother. And so you’re, you’re getting this high, this high recommendation of all of these qualities that are both feminine and masculine, and, and how they are beautifully set in the context of the world and the creation that God has has made and how they are complementary to each other. And if if you did divorce them from faith, then they end up going off into all kinds of strange, warped and twisted ideas that never give you the whole picture. Right? It’s only only in Christianity where the wholeness of them starts to come together.


Nancy Pearcey  34:43

Yes, but I would say again, sociologists do find that people, men, men have an innate sense of what is the good man. There was another study done by this time by an anthropologist and it was the first ever cross cultural study of concepts of masculinity. And he found that no matter how different their understanding of masculinity was, you know, some more aggressive, some more gentle, whatever. They all shared, what this anthropologist called the three P’s, that the expectation that to be a real man meant that you would protect, provide and procreate, meaning, you know, have a family build into the next generation. And he found that this was universal. And so when when Christians say, you know, this is what God asks of men, they’re not imposing an alien expectation. Men do know what it means to be a man, they do know that there, they do have unique strengths. I mean, let’s let’s take, let’s go to biology, right men do have the largest stronger, faster, they have more fast, this is a word I had to learn, they have more fast twitch muscles, meaning that they can respond more quickly. They have greater bone density, and because of testosterone, they are more aggressive and risk taking, right. And we have to affirm that these are good. These are how God made them. And what they what these studies show, though, is that men innately know that those unique strengths were given them not just to get what they want, but to love and protect and provide for the people that they love. So I think we should be confident in helping people to say, look, this is what the Bible says you are, and and expect that there will be a resonance within most men, they do know what it means to be a good man.


Mark Turman  36:44

Right? And that, and that this, this is where they are having the opportunity to become that disinterested person who is not focused on their selves in a hyper individualistic way. We there’s lots of writing out there in Christian circles today about hyper individualism, whether it’s coming from Carl Truman or others. But that idea that you are called to become that servant leader that Jesus models for us. Now, Nancy, you you put in your book that this is actually where the intersection of what we see in sociology and what we see in faith start to intersect. And the when I was working through that part of your book, what what struck me was is, it’s actually, in your your own story, your father’s story kind of illustrates this. It’s really very dangerous to play around with faith to play around with Christianity without taking it seriously. It can actually, instead of making you well, we might say, you know, well, you’re just a disbeliever, you’re a secularist, you’re an agnostic or an atheist. And therefore the you know, the Bible says that you’re kind of foolish. Actually, the more dangerous place is to be in this category of being a nominal, as in name only Christian. Right? And that, that’s some of the research that you did actually reveals that that’s one of the worst paths that you could take.


Nancy Pearcey  38:14

Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. So I put this at the beginning of the book, because I thought I should start with the good news. The good news is that there has been sociological studies showing that committed Christian men who are authentic in their faith who go to church regularly test out as the most loving and engaged husbands and fathers. And by the way, this is not what we hear in the media.


Mark Turman  38:41

No, and this and these are not and these are not, quote unquote, Christian research studies. These are sociological studies, right?


Nancy Pearcey  38:49

Exactly. Um, so I for this part of the book, I went online, and it’s really easy to find some examples of people charging, claiming that Christian men are the worst, you know, Exhibit A of toxic masculinity is evangelical Christian men. I’ll just give you a quote or two. So this was from a Christian publication, by the way, one of them said, This is no secret. That abuse is prevalent in conservative churches that embrace headship theory. And this was a quote from the co founder of the church to movement. She said, the theology of male headship feeds the rape culture that we see permeating American Christianity today. So the sociologists and psychologists looked at that and said, well, where’s your evidence? You know, you’re making these charges. Where’s your evidence, right. So they went and did the studies. And what they found out is that evangelical men actually test out very well. They they interview the wives separately, by the way, that’s important. They interview the wife separately, so they show that the wives of evangelical men test out as saying that they’re happiest with the quality of their, their husbands love and affection. Evangelical men test out is the most engaged fathers in terms of both shared activities like sports and church youth group, as well as discipline, like setting limits on screen time or enforcing bedtime, right? Evangelical couples have the lowest rate of divorce. And the real Stunner was, they have the lowest rate of domestic violence, lower than any, any major group in America. So the media charges that we hear all the time are simply wrong. They’re not paying attention to the latest social science. In fact, let me read you one quote that sort of summarizes that this is my, my go to sociologists he’s considered isn’t sort of maybe the top marriage sociologist in the country, right. He’s at the University of Virginia, and his name is Brad Wilcox. And he gets published in places like the New York Times. So this is an article that he wrote for The New York Times. And he says, it turns out that the happiest of all wives in America are religious conservatives. And of course, they focused on the wives because the assumption is that, you know, the men are oppressive, tyrannical patriarchy, right? It turns out that the happiest of all wives in America are religious conservatives, fully 73% of wives who hold conservative gender values, and attend religious services regularly with their husbands have high quality marriages. And even Christians don’t know this, you know, because we hear the SEC, we hear all those charges, you know, lodged against Christian men in the media. So we don’t even know these I had to go digging in the academic, sociological literature to find this. And that’s really that’s the main reason that was a final reason I decided I have to write this book, because I wanted to get this information out to the churches so that we can encourage Christian men, and also out to the public so that we can show that the secular messages in a secular accuracy accusations against evangelical men are just false that they’re mistaken.


Mark Turman  42:11

Yeah. And so illustrates in so many ways, not only how important it is for you and others to write books like this, but for conversations like this for a podcast to happen, because, you know, when I was working through that part of your book, and that information, I was like, You know what, I’ve heard this for 35 years as a pastor, you know, that Christians divorce at the same rate as non Christians. I’ve probably said that at some point as a pastor, and it’s just fundamentally not true. But it’s where misinformation, bad information gets out into the culture, it gets into the thought processes and streams, even within the church, and it gets proliferated. And it’s somewhat becomes an excuse at times. Well, that’s, you know, that’s just the way all fallen human beings are, and what we’re not what’s not being shared. Enough, is this idea that no biblical Christianity does work. It it will make your life more fulfilling and it will make your marriage healthier, right.


Nancy Pearcey  43:15

Yes, and but we have to go back to what you said earlier about nominal Christians. That’s what confuses statistics, what you know what we should choose? Did you know that they’re looking at these this assumption that Christians divorce at the same rate as anyone else. So they went back to the data, and they separate it out? The men who were truly committed? off, you’re going to church regularly living it out, right, versus the nominal Christian men. And the differences between them are striking. So nominal Christian men. So these are the men who sort of hang out at the fringes of the Christian world, and maybe pick up the language of headship and submission, but often infuse secular meaning into those terms. And their wives test out as the least happy, the unhappiest with their husbands treatment of them. They are the least engaged with their children. And they they do have a higher rate of divorce higher than secular men. And the real shocker, they have the highest rates of domestic violence higher than secular men. And so Brad Wilcox, to quote him again, he wrote an article in Christianity Today, saying the most violent husbands in America are nominal Protestant, evangelical men. Wow. So this is what we’re up against. If people just do a blanket study, let’s do something on evangelicals. They’re going to get excused statistics because they’re taking men who are better than secular men and men who are worse than secular men and they’re putting them together so naturally then numbers that are gonna be misleading. And so that’s why these studies are so important because it helps us to realize what well what we’re up against to in the church, we need to realize we should be much more supportive of Christian men who are doing doing a good job, we need to encourage them, you know, a lot of them feel deeply demeaned and demoralized by our culture today, when I told my class, Houston Christian, that I’m gonna say Baptist again, Houston, Christian, we’re changing our name, Houston Christian university that I was writing a book on masculinity, one of my male students shot back, what masculinity, it’s been beaten out of us. Oh, wow. So even in Christian circles, men feel demoralized. And so they need they need this message. And then on the other hand, we need to figure out a way to reach out to the SEC, these nominal men who are really living by a secular script, but with Christian veneer on top. And some some people have asked me, Well, why would they be even worse than secular men? And I think it’s because they feel that their religion sort of gives them permission to act this way, which, you know, makes them even more likely to live it out. So secular men don’t have that, right. But nominal Christian men can take the secular script and then sort of baptize it, and the end of actually living worse than secular men. So this is stunning. And this is what we’re up against today.


Mark Turman  46:28

And really, really scary, right? When when you when you baptize this in a nominal way, and you start to think that you were intended by God to be this way that you that you have been authorized and entitled by him, to treat others starting with your wife and family this way. That that you’ve actually been called to be that way rather than to have the kind of biblical true authenticity, authenticity, as you said, provider protector that we see in Jesus. It, it kind of goes to the, to the reality of just how evil hypocrisy is, and how powerful that deception is when you when you take something that is of God, and you take it out of its context, and you divorce it from its full devotion, then it becomes twisted. And it becomes kind of like that story that Jesus told about the seven spirits who went away, and then they came back and it became worse than it was at the beginning is what it reminds me of.


Nancy Pearcey  47:38

Yes. And it was one reason, of course, that so many secular people will criticize Christianity. Dr. Wilcox has a really wonderful article where he says, he turns to his self secular colleagues. Now he’s at the University of Virginia, right? So he’s, he hangs out with a lot of secular people. And this is actually my favorite line from his research. He says, academics need to cast aside their prejudices about religious conservatives and evangelicals in particular, conservative Protestant, married men with children are consistently the most active and expressive fathers and the most emotionally engaged husbands. So the bottom line is we do have Christians do have an answer to reconciling the sexes, as I put it in my subtitle. It’s one, like you said, a moment ago, it stood up to rigorous empirical testing. This isn’t just, you know, a pastor giving us an encouraging sermon. This is actually hard empirical data. These are studies that have been done, I quote, oh, maybe a dozen, a dozen different psychologists and sociologists, who’ve all you know, given us evidence based solution to the charge of toxic masculinity. And, and let me widen it a little because I talk mostly about America. But I have a section internationally, which I think is cool, too. I quote studies of anthropologists and sociologists, who looked at the impact of Christianity in other cultures around the world. And uniformly they say, wherever evangelical Christianity goes, it connect reconnects men to their families, it reforms mens behavior. Let me give you an example. So one of them was in Latin America, and as you probably know, machismo culture, right is very much geared towards you know, your true man if you’re out there, drinking and gambling and fighting and visiting prostitutes, right. And this, this anthropologist said, she went she went to it was Columbia. She went to Columbia expecting that Christianity would make it even worse because it would tell me You know, you can be a domineering patriarch, and she was astonished. She was not a Christian. She was astonished to say, he actually when a man becomes an evangelical Christian, he stops drinking, gambling, visiting prostitutes, he brings his money home to his family, the standard of living of the whole family rises, the whole family benefits. And she says, if there’s a woman’s movement in the developing countries, it’s Christianity. It’s done more for women than any other programs, secular feminist or even liberal Christian. And another another. I think she was a sociologist, yeah, at the University of London said something similar. She said, You know, we, we didn’t expect this from what she called a unsophisticated backward, quote, unquote, movement, like, you know, evangelical Christianity. But in fact, she said, it’s that that has had more impact on improving the lives of women. And as she puts it, bringing wayward husbands back in line, and, you know, getting them, getting them to stop drinking and committing adultery, right, and reconciling them with their family, reconciling the sexes. So it’s fascinating. I love these studies that show it’s not just in America, but you bring Christianity anywhere. And it has the same impact of making men into loving, loving, caring, husbands and fathers


Mark Turman  51:30

Well, and what I love about so much about what you write is that these are not the findings of evangelical Christians who are trying to go and support their arguments. There’s some of that, but many of these research study studies that are largely unknown in the public conversation, our research studies being done by people who were looking for just the opposite in some cases. And they certainly as you just referenced, they were surprised to find that this was what was happening, because they, they at least had some assumption that they were going to find exactly the opposite. And they’re finding that when a community or a culture embraces true Biblical Christianity, they see that that things get healthier, relationships get healthier, marriages get healthier, and communities get healthier. And they, they hopefully were trying to account for their bias, but they went in kind of expecting that that would they would find another answer other than the one that they found.


Nancy Pearcey  52:31

Yeah, I’ll give you one more because this was a New York Times columnist, so not a Christian at all. And he wrote a best selling book. So a lot of people may have read this. It’s called Half the Sky. And same thing, is it his name is Nicholas Kristof. And yes, he he was stern to find that. Chris, his wife is I guess, he’s recently remarried and his wife is Catholic. So maybe that’s one reason he became a little more open to the possibility that Christian organizations were doing good work around the world for women. But they found that both Protestant and Catholic missionaries and and mission groups were doing far more than any secular development organizations. And so he says, he’s the one who says, he says the church stands behind women. I thought that was very interesting. He talked about the relationship of the church to he says the church basically supports women, and asking their husbands to stop drinking and gambling and visiting prostitutes, things that have caught as he puts it, things that have caused enormous suffering to women in developing countries. You mentioned Africa in particular in that in that quote, but so there was another example of somebody who was clearly not a Christian. And, and, and, like you said, they didn’t even expect even even my, the one I mentioned Brad Wilcox, by the way. He’s Catholic. And so in a sense, he doesn’t have a dog in this fight. Right? He was not out to show that evangelical Protestant men do better. He might not have even been happy to find that, you know, who might have preferred it if Catholic men had tested out higher. By the way Catholic men test out roughly halfway between evangelical and secular. The Evangelical men test out the highest Catholic, Catholic and mainline Protestant test out in kind of in the middle, and then secular men at the bottom. Oh, and the nominal Christian man under that. Well. So that’s kind of the layout that he found in terms of like you said, he wasn’t out he was definitely not out to show that Protestant evangelical men are the best. He’s just being true to the data.


Mark Turman  54:57

Yeah. Which is, you know, an encouragement to us. and also a challenge to us everyone listening to this conversation that it’s it’s important to go back to what Jesus said when he was asked what was most important that is that you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. Just today earlier today, I came across a definition by David Brooks, another New York Times columnist, he said, the most complete definition of a commitment is this falling in love with something and then building a structure of behavior around it for those moments when your love falters, you know, and that’s, that’s what faith faith in Christ and commitment to your family, and to the things of God really looks like is that, that you fall in love, and you build your structure of your life around that. Nancy, one of the things that you point out in your book is that you have a deep, deep concern not just for men in our culture, but for young men, and for young boys in our culture. Why is this book so important for them? For those that are young and for those that need role models? And a clear definition of what biblical manhood really is? Why is that so urgent?


Nancy Pearcey  56:09

Right, that’s a good question, because it is certainly one of the reasons I wrote the book. Boys and Men are falling behind on all kinds of measures. Boys are falling behind at all levels of education from kindergarten through college, most colleges now are about 6040 60% women, 40% men, more women than men go to graduate school, and even professional school like law and medicine. Books are coming out with titles like why boys fail, and the boy crisis and the problem with boys. So it’s becoming well known that boys are having more, more problems today, across the board and men to men are falling behind where they were in the past, on average, men are now more likely to commit suicide, more likely to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, more likely to be in prison. 90% of people behind bars are male. I used to work at fairs and fellowships. So this is very familiar to me. male unemployment levels have fallen to depression era level, well, this was a shock. It’s not showing up in the normal statistics, because they’re not even looking for work anymore. So researchers had to dig a little deeper. And they tell us that male unemployment is that depression era levels, and men’s life expectancy is even going down. Women’s has stayed the same. So it’s not a general trend. But in recent years, men’s life expectancy has gone down. There’s a magazine called The New scientists. And it said, the major factor demographic factor in early death now is being male. Well, so I think it’s time one of my female students said this in my class, she said, you know, we’re always hearing about the problems women face in terms of sexism and sexual harassment and discrimination. She said, so we assumed that the guys are doing okay. Men are doing fine. And she said, they’re not are they men are not doing fine. And I think it’s about time that we had some compassion for men, and start thinking, are there some programs that we need to set in place to help men and boys do better? The first book on the subject, I think was Christine Hoff Sommers book. She’s a philosopher, and she wrote a book called The War against boys. And she said, every time she tried to start some kind of a program that would help boys, she was opposed by the feminist movement, because they were like, No, you know, men ultimately end up, you know, on the top CEOs and Hollywood, film directors and so on. And that’s true, the top five to 10% of men maybe. But what they’re not acknowledging is that on average, men have actually been doing worse in recent years. And boys and boys in school is the most obvious case. And I think we need to start having some programs to help boys. The feminist movement has poured a lot of money into developing curriculum that was girl friendly programs that are girl friendly scholarships for the four times as many scholarships for girls now than for boys to get into college. And so that’s great. You know, we’re all happy that girls are moving ahead. We have to remember that most universities did not accept women until the mid 20th century, right. I was shocked when I found that I was born at the right time. I’m glad I wasn’t born before that.


Mark Turman  59:37

So there were some catching up that was needed for sure. Right? There was definitely some catch inseams catching up still needed. But but we don’t have to choose right? It’s not it’s not about males or females, males versus females or vice versa. Everyone can thrive everyone can flourish under a biblical ethic and under a biblical approach of of loving God and loving each other. Right?


Nancy Pearcey  1:00:03

Exactly. It’s not a zero sum game. And so and you know, I wanted to go back I was thinking one of your earlier questions because you were asking me about the history. And I wanted to focus maybe on just one stage, because when we talk about how boys are not getting a healthy view of masculinity, one of the stages I focus on is the rise of Darwinian evolution. It had an enormous impact on the concepts of masculinity. Darwinian thinkers said, well, first of all, don’t run himself said that women were intellectually inferior to men. He was very clear about that. He argued for that and and so did many other Darwin’s Darwinists. Thomas Huxley, who was nicknamed Darwin’s Bulldog said that even education would not fix it because it women’s inferiority is a product of natural selection, he said, so even educational selection will not fix it. But beyond that, there are winning thinkers began to say that the men who won out in the struggle for existence were by nurses marked by necessity would be the men who were rough, ruthless, predatory, Savage, barbarian. That’s the language they used. And they said, Therefore, under this thin veneer of civilization, that was one of their favorite phrases, under the thin veneer of civilization, and then a really beast at heart. That was Christianity had urged men to live up to the image of God in film. Darwinian thinkers began to urge men to live down to their animal nature, which was now presumed to be their true nature. So this was a dramatic reversal. This was when the Tarzan books were written example of how


Mark Turman  1:01:49

you point this out in the in the arts, we see this in our arts and entertainment, right? And,


Nancy Pearcey  1:01:55

yes, and why was he so popular because he’d been raised by the apes. And so he retained that inner sense of wildness and he wasn’t tamed. At the end of the book, he turns to Jane, he’s learned European languages and so on. But he turns to Jane and says, I am still a wild beast at heart. And so that became sort of the cultural narrative, the social construction of masculinity, is that the true nature is the beast within. And you write. So there were the literary naturalist, also, there were more serious writers, but they were also writing explicitly to give fictional form to Darwinian Darwinian worldview. So that would be like Jack London, perhaps he was best known. And he wrote about dogs, but of course, they were metaphors for humans. And his point was to show that humans are just products of evolution of genes and environment, and that they too, are basically, you know, beasts at heart, the govern ultimately by the laws of the biological impulse of pulses of power and lust, and dominance and so on. And this became, in many ways the, the dominant secular view. So when we talk about what is the Christian understanding of masculinity versus a secular script? These are some of the these are some of the traits that people call toxic, right? And by the way, it’s not just Darwin’s age today, the same social Darwinism, social Darwinism means Darwinism applied to the social world, right? It’s the same social Darwinism is alive and well, today. It’s got a new title, it’s now called evolutionary psychology. But there are still writers out there prominent writers saying that men are at heart, you know, very responsible barbarian, and sexually promiscuous,


Mark Turman  1:03:51

and so and only focused on self interest. Right? Yeah.


Nancy Pearcey  1:03:55

Well, you know, what the most influential popularizer of Darwinism in his own day was a sociologist named Herbert Spencer. And he was actually asked, well, if men are naturally these brutal beasts, how in the world do women put up with them? And he’s his answer was, well, they need to learn the ability to please. Wow. And it would also help if they learned to hide their resentment at such ill treatment. Wow. So that was the message of evolution. Man obese at heart, and women need to please and placate them. And that


Mark Turman  1:04:31

brings us around to where we started that ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims? Right. And and Stonestreet is really, really adept at framing a conversation that way. Nancy, as we finish up today, just thank you fabulous, fabulous conversation and such an important topic and work that you’ve done. Everyone you can you can find this book on Amazon and all of your popular all of the major book distributors will have this book, the war, the toxic war on masculinity, how Christianity reconciles the sexes. As we finish up just kind of one last question for you, when you were writing this book, it did you have in your mind’s eye, a man, a young boy, somebody that you knew who you thought they need this information? Because this could this could really change the trajectory of their life in a in a holy and godly and good way. Were there people like that in your mind’s eye as you were putting this research and work together?


Nancy Pearcey  1:05:38

Well, I have to tell you. One reason I wrote it was, you know, the nominal Christians, because the nominal Christians have a higher rate of abuse than even secular men, I did have to include two chapters on abuse. Otherwise, it would look like I was just sweeping that under the carpet, right. And so I really had them in mind as the people who need the need this message the most, right, it’s the it’s the men who are actually who think they’re Christian will claiming the evangelical label, but who are being abusive in the home. And so I really had them in mind as sort of my people might need it the most. Now, of course, I have two sons. And so I’m also thinking, you know, I want my son’s to grow up with a very healthy positive view of masculinity. And, and I know they have, they have a hard time with it as well. They have. They might, my second son in particular is very gentle, and doesn’t fit the John Wayne masculinity stereotype. And so he’s struggled with this, you know, he’s really struggled with what does it mean to be masculine? What does it be mean to be male, and he has struggled with, you might, you might have encountered this to Mark. He says, in the Christian world, they tend, he feels that he what he got in the Christian world, going to Christian, Christian College and church is that they tend to almost have that secular script, you know, the two men is the John Wayne type, right? Who is kind of meat rough, and tough and manly, and in a in just the assertive qualities. And of course, not all men are right. One of the interesting things I found when I was doing my research is that men and women are more alike than they’re different. If you if you plot a personality trait, even something like aggression, men will form a bell curve. And women will form a bell curve and they overlap closely. You know, when when Adam sees Eve, his first his first response is, oh, somebody liked me, right? Yeah, most of my bone flesh is my flesh, you know, the emphasis was on their similarity and the wonder of finding someone who’s, you know, similar to me, right? So, all that to say, Yes, I had my my sons in mind. And I’m concerned about them. And then I did also have people like my dad in mind, I had the abusive men in mind, too, and feeling like, how can we reach out better to them? And the church does need better tools for dealing with these nominal men. How can we encourage the men who are doing well? How can we reach out to the nominal men who need to be drawn in and discipled?


Mark Turman  1:08:32

Because you’re going to be what could be more disappointing and frustrating, then to get a perverted view of Christianity that only leads you into further levels of brokenness, further levels of of isolation, further levels of broken relationships? And and what could be more disappointing than to say, Well, I tried Jesus, and this is where it left me, because they got a perverted presentation of Christianity rather than an authentic one. Nancy, thank you for this great work and for today’s conversation. Again, if you’re wanting to know more wanting to get a copy of the book, it’s Professor Nancy pearcey, and the book is the toxic war on masculinity, how Christianity reconciles the sexes, you can find that in the show notes of today’s podcast. And you can also find it at all the major book distributors, if you’re following the Denison Forum Podcast, we want to thank you for listening today. Please rate review us on your podcast platform so that others can find us and share this with your friends. It’s a very, very important topic and one that Christians have a lot to say. And Professor Piercey is helping us with that. God bless you for your work. Thank you for what you do, and we hope to have you on our podcast again in the future.


Nancy Pearcey  1:09:50

Thanks so much, Mark. I appreciate it.


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