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The danger of reactive externalism, plus an announcement
First, the announcement.
Michael is stepping back as director of It’s Good to Be a Man. Bnonn is taking over. Aspects of the project will continue on under his direction, especially the Discord group that paid subscribers get access to. Nothing will change there.
This newsletter will become less frequent—as you will have noticed. Bnonn is working on compiling its best back-issues into a new “Notes on Manhood” book.
The podcast will remain on hiatus, likely forever—we simply feel it has run its course.
This wasn’t a sudden decision, and nothing is wrong. We have just been gradually refocusing our energy on more local priorities, and are now formalizing that.
We have always aimed to be timely rather than timeless—and IGTBAM has filled the immediate need that we saw back in 2018. We published a book that God has used in remarkable ways to shift the cultural landscape of Reformed evangelicalism. We supplemented that with our podcast and this newsletter. We have published hundreds of episodes and articles, with practical wisdom to help men rule well as sons of God.
And now, at least in terms of the major ideas, we have said everything we need to say—for the time being.
To anticipate some questions:
Are we still planning to publish It's Good To Be a Husband at some point?
We hope to, yes—but we need to rest before taking on another book project.
Will this newsletter continue?
Yes, but it will be closer to monthly rather than weekly.
Will the Discord still continue for paid subscribers?
Yes, nothing will change there, and men who are seeking the support and counsel of a masculine community should check it out.
We have changed the conversation around biblical masculinity, and helped a lot of men. Michael and I remain good friends. It’s time for new ventures.
All glory to God!
The dangerous allure of reactive externalism
Externalism is a spiritual pitfall common to the patriarchy-beards-weight-lifting-modesty-head-coverings-etc crowd.
To understand it, we need to understand a little history.
American Christianity has long been dominated by gnostic tendencies. Gnosticism was a false religion that troubled the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Although it was stamped out, the spirit of gnosticism revisits every generation to some degree.
This go around, it has come back with a vengeance.
The gnostics basically believed that the physical realm (i.e., matter) was created and ruled by a lesser, evil god they called the demiurge, who they identified as Yahweh. Since the material world was a creation of an evil deity, matter itself was considered bad. In gnosticism, people are seen as divine souls trapped in a physical world. The body is a prison for the individual—and the created realm is a prison for the entire race.
Therefore, salvation in gnosticism means escaping the limitations of the physical realm through acquiring special knowledge and attaining pure spirit.
Obviously, no one today thinks the Triune God is the demiurge. But all the other major tenets of gnosticism are becoming increasingly commonplace in American Christianity. Its spirit lives on. A disregard for the body, and for physical things (including culture), is widespread in the church.
So is an emphasis on spiritual knowledge and experiences.
Gnosticism is easily refuted by a plain reading of Genesis 1-2. Creation is declared to be good. Matter is good. Plants are good. Animals are good. Bodies are good. Mankind is created as a composite of body and spirit. And God affirms it. It is very good.
So the idea that matter is evil is unfounded. The Bible declares the opposite. You cannot divorce man’s physicality from his spiritual nature—or vice versa. In Romans 6:1-14, Paul connects the inward spiritual reality (the fact that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ) to the outer physical reality of what we do with our bodies. A slave obeys his master. In the past, sin was our master, and we served it with our bodies. Within us were evil desires, and we used our physical members to fulfill those desires. We lusted with our eyes, lied with our tongues, and stole with our hands. Our bodies became instruments of unrighteousness and lawlessness.
Now, however, we have been freed from sin. Christ is our Lord and Master. Therefore, Paul says, “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and present your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
The benefits of our union with Christ are like a seed planted within us that grows and manifests itself outwardly through the works accomplished by our bodies. Our tongues now proclaim the truth, sing praises, and taste food to the glory of God. Our eyes study the creation and learn to appreciate its beauty, and our hands emulate it in our art and our labor. We work diligently with our backs to provide for ourselves, our families, and to contribute to others.
What was once a tool of evil has now become an instrument of righteousness.
Consider how contrary this is to gnosticism. The body inherently good—and it also produces and brings more good into the world.
Therefore, a sincere devotion to our spiritual state inevitably leads to a devotion to our physical state.
The Puritans understood this well. They emphasized the importance of good works, and sought to create a holy culture. But somewhere along the way, a sound doctrine became distorted and reduced to a monstrous belief that only the inner world matters.
A younger generation of Christians are discovering that gnosticism—including its ugly twin sister feminism (i.e., androgyny)—is a destructive lie. Our sex matters. Our bodies matter. Beauty matters. Strength matters. Our appearance matters. Sexual distinctions matter.
They were told the exact opposite, and tried to live accordingly. But believing the lies of gnosticism led to bad fruit in their lives.
As a result, now they are mad.
In the fervor of their righteous anger, they seek to root out gnosticism from their lives and reclaim the goodness of God’s creation. This is commendable…but strong emotions often cloud one’s vision.
Clouded vision is particularly dangerous in an age characterized by a tendency towards internet exhibitionism and seeking hasty shortcuts.
This brings us to the allure of reactive externalism. Let us explain what it is with an example:
We’ve known many women who, in their desire to reject the markers of feminism, have chosen to grow their hair out long, replace tight pants with modest dresses, and start wearing head-coverings during worship.
Yet many of these women remain brassy and loud.
While they may adorn themselves in a way that aligns with the “tradwife” archetype portrayed on Instagram, they still lack the enduring beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit as described in 1 Peter 3:4.
In the same way, we’ve known many men who, in their desires to reject the markers of effeminacy, have chosen to grow a beard, hit the weights, and start doing family devotions around the dinner table.
Yet many of these men are still emotionally undisciplined, and lack gravitas.
While they adopt a masculine appearance and busy themselves with masculine activities, they still lack the internal character of a mature man as described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
Godly femininity and masculinity are not obtained easily; they come at a cost. There are no shortcuts. They require a significant amount of time and effort. They are the result of ongoing sanctification, which is achieved through discipline.
Discipline can be painful for a time, but it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
But pain is hard. It’s much easier to dress up than it is to grow up.
Our desire to appear as if we have everything figured out is further intensified by the exhibitionism of social media. Unlike toned muscles and flowing dresses, qualities such as gravitas and a quiet spirit are not visually captivating. They do not generate the instant gratification of notifications, shares, and retweets.
Consequently, the immediate rewards associated with external appearances can hinder the long-term benefits of character development that come from embracing the pain and hardships of disciplined growth.
That’s the allure of reactive externalism: it provides a quick way to portray oneself as a masculine man or a feminine woman. And it’s not just for the sake of those watching. It is baked into human nature to think that putting on a flannel shirt will make you better at felling a tree—or donning a veil will give you a quiet spirit. It is a sort of magical thinking, where we hope the symbol will bring about the reality it signifies.
But there are no shortcuts. In fact, most shortcuts are actually detours. Ultimately, our children will remember us not for the image we presented online, but for who we truly were in reality.
Externalism can hamper us: by projecting the image of gendered piety, we are less inclined to work at producing the reality. Through magical thinking, we deceive ourselves that we have already attained it.
At this juncture, many evangelicals will proclaim, “See, only the spiritual matters.” They will argue that any concern for beauty, strength, and appearance amounts to vanity.
But this is just the opposite ditch. We must keep “heart religion” and “body religion” interconnected. We cannot let the intensity and darkness of our day tempt us to pull them apart. Externalism overemphasizes body religion at the expense of the heart. Heart religion overemphasizes the spiritual at the expense of actual piety worked out in the body.
Let us reject shortcuts, exhibitionism, and externalism. Instead, let us embrace discipline. Discipline your body. Discipline your spirit.
After all, what is it that destroys the young man in Proverbs 5?
It is not the immoral woman. She is the only the opportunity or means—not the cause.
Ultimately, the cause is the young man’s own lack of discipline.
Note verse 12: the man will come to say, “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!"
And verse 23 makes it even clearer: “He dies for lack of discipline…”
A disciplined man listens to the wisdom of the aged (vv 1-2), avoids immoral women (vv 3-14), and is faithful to the wife of his youth (vv 15-20).
Discipline produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
By contrast, lack of discipline is the pathway to destruction.
Live a disciplined life, even when the only one who sees you is the Almighty.
This piece was adapted from an article on Michael and Emily’s new Substack, We Made People. The goal of We Made People is to provide practical content for those who want to establish a productive Christian household which will last generations.
Towards this end, they focus on four major topics:
Biblical Sexuality: How do you faithfully live out your God-given sex according to His design and Word?
Productive Households: How does a married couple live a fruitful life that results in children, assets, and influence?
Biblical Localism: How do you and your household put down roots in and prioritize the place God has put you?
Intergenerationalism: How do you wisely hand down the unchanging faith, godly familial traditions, and wealth from one generation to the next?
The content of We Made People is primarily aimed at first generation Christians. It is hard to live a productive life which glorifies God, and this difficulty is only compounded when you are starting from scratch. But…it can be done—by the grace of God.
Like the Facebook page here: We Made People
Subscribe to the free newsletter here: www.wemadepeople.com
Listen to the first episode here:
Most survivalist/militia types don’t even know what battlefield we’re on now
Another side-effect of reactive externalism is a tendency to be deceived by optics.
What we mean is, the image you want to project becomes a lens for interpreting what is happening in the world.
So for instance, you want to project a tough, capable masculine image, of a man who is ready to fight for his family and defend what is good, beautiful, and true.
The easy image to cultivate is a kind of prepper. Guns, food storage, self-sufficiency, all that kind of thing.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that. They are good things. It’s good to be ready to physically defend yourself, your family, and your house if necessary.
But these aren’t fundamentally relevant to the culture war we’re engaged in.
Very few such men are prepared for battle with an expansive and powerful bureaucracy armed with endless policies, piles of paperwork, and legal technicalities.
They not only misunderstand the weapons of warfare, but the very battlefield it’s being waged on.
Romantic appeal doesn’t correlate to the world as it is.
Advice from Patton to his son, on D-Day
The world is in desperate need for masculine men. If men will be fathers, boys will be men.
Perhaps you lacked a manly father and have realized that you are quite effeminate. It is time for someone to break the cycle. That someone is you.
You are responsible for mortifying your effeminate tendencies. You are responsible for developing masculine virtues and skills. You are responsible for you.
Don't let this sick culture shame and shape you into a sniveling weak "beta-male." Reject the fantasy of androgyny. You were made to be a man. You need to embrace your God-assigned sex as good.
We've taken the following passages from a letter General Patton wrote to his twenty-year old son, George Jr., on D-Day. We don’t know Patton’s morals. We do know that this is solid counsel from a manly father. Let it instruct you:
All men are timid on entering any fight; whether it is the first fight or the last fight all of us are timid. Cowards are those who let their timidity get the better of their manhood.
There are apparently two types of successful soldiers. Those who get on by being unobtrusive and those who get on by being obtrusive. I am of the latter type and seem to be rare and unpopular: but it is my method. One has to choose a system and stick to it; people who are not themselves are nobody.
You cannot make war safely but no dead general has ever been criticised so you have that way out always.
Defeat is not due to losses but to the destruction of the soul of the leaders.
The intensity of your desire to acquire any special ability depends on character, on ambition. I think that your decision to study this summer instead of enjoying yourself shows that you have character and ambition—they are wonderful possessions.
The troops I have commanded have always been well dressed, been smart saluters, been prompt and bold in action because I have personally set the example in these qualities. The influence one man can have on thousands is a never-ending source of wonder to me. You are always on parade.
Well this has been quite a sermon but don’t get the idea that it is my swan song because it is not–I have not finished my job yet.
Your affectionate father.
Aaron Renn has been putting out some excellent pieces as usual:
A huge number of “influencers” today are aptly summed up in Spurgeon’s comments:
On a related note, here’s social media explained to the medieval peasant in a single image:
Talk again soon,
Bnonn & Michael