Hard Men in a World of Softness Because soft is not what God called men to be.

Several years ago, I was at a gathering with a group of church leaders who hailed from around the country, many of them from major metropolitan areas. As an elder from a town of only a few thousand, and at the time an editor at a gun magazine, I felt a little bit like the crazy uncle someone brought for show-and-tell.

They’d seen my Facebook profile, and were astounded by all the wilderness exploits, firearms and, most of all, dead animals that regularly appear in my feed. Like the Tasmanian Devil, they’d read about specimens like me in books and knew we existed, but many of them had never seen one in person. You could feel the mixture of boyish awe and a tinge of disgust. 

One church leader asked me, incredulously, “When you go hunting, and you kill this animal, do you, you know, take its skin off and remove the organs?” When I answered in the affirmative, a little bit shocked at the question, you could hear the collective gasp. 

I found this mostly amusing, but at the same time wondered where exactly they thought their steaks and hamburgers came from. It really was a clash of cultures—their conversations revealed a world of high-thread count shirts, expensive private school tuition, and obscure theatrical performances I’d never heard of, while my world collided as one of diesel exhaust, coal miners, calloused hands, and the often bloody work of ranching and hunting.

But it was a conversation I had shortly thereafter, with a different pastor who didn’t last very long in the small town he was serving, that has lodged in my mind. He confided that he had a hard time connecting with the people of the rural community, and had a particular disdain for country music, lifted trucks and the sea of blaze orange covered hunters that showed up every fall. It wasn’t just that those weren’t his interests, it was that he actively disdained them. Something more than tastes and preferences was in play. 

“I just think hunting is so gross and stupid,” he said. “Why can’t you just buy your food at the grocery store like everyone else? I’ll never do it. It’s almost as dumb as country music.”

You could hear the revulsion and effeminate range in his voice. He’d rather be in his office, vaping and listening to esoteric music, meditating on obscure and grandiose theology, than standing on the fence line straightening barbwire with one of his people. Soft men despise those who are hard. 

How is it that our seminaries and churches in much of Christendom are somehow attracting and training effeminate pastors? Why is this happening at such an alarmingly high rate? Why are our Christian institutions so skilled at turning out theologically precise men with softness as their crowning virtue?

They speak softly, play softly, and avoid hardness at all costs. They don’t initiate in leadership, take responsibility, or confront hard cases of church discipline. Little wonder our people are effeminate when so many of our shepherds lack the stones to model biblical masculinity. 

Those who preen and obsess over their appearance like women, who know more about pastel dress shirts and overpriced macchiatos than a hard day of physical labor, and pit bookishness against a pair of Carhartt overalls, as though learning and labor were mutually exclusive. Why has the limp-wristed, poetry-writing therapist in a sweater vest replaced the flesh-and-blood shepherding ranch hand upon which Christ actually modeled our ministry? And why can’t we even talk about these things in the church without being called bigoted or insensitive?

And how is it that those pastors then come to despise men like myself—the blue collared, splintered in the hand, bleary eyed from the graveyard shift, slightly overweight and farm strong, men who know what it is to give and take a life? Little wonder real men are repulsed by what they find in the church. Little wonder we attract hard women and repel biblically feminine softness.  

Surely it can’t be any surprise that this sissified pastoral model so often fails in the places where real-life shepherds and ranchers actually exist. For them, it’s pretty easy to spot an imposter. We shouldn’t be shocked that, having shaped our ministers in the hands of effeminate potters who preside over seminaries, they come out of the kiln looking soft and, most of all, repulsive to real men. But at least they know how to dress and strut like a peacock in the pulpit. 

But consider the biblical pattern for God’s pastors: 

Prophets don’t dress themselves soft. They don’t have an effeminate bearing. They don’t dress and talk and carry themselves like women. Prophets aren’t gay. John the Baptist was a man’s man, and men who want to enter the kingdom of God will imitate him. Like John the Baptist, violent men will take the kingdom of heaven by force. — The Grace of Shame 

At a recent pastor’s conference hosted by Clearnote Fellowship, I sat down with Tim Bayly, who made an interesting observation about rural life, animal husbandry, hunting and pastoral work. 

“Give me a man that knows how to take a life, who understands the seriousness of it, and can pull the trigger without sentimentality,” Tim said. “We need more of that from our pastors and in our churches.” 

A shepherd’s work, he pointed out, requires both the gentle arms of a man and fierceness toward the wolves in our midst. It’s bloody, messy, manly work. Completely unsentimental or pretty. Something many in our skinny jeans culture can’t stomach.

It was the same with David, the shepherd king, who said killing bears and lions with his bare hands in defense of the sheep prepared him for the larger battles against God’s enemies. The manner of David’s shepherding is hardly the stuff of our video game generation of boys with beards:  

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” (1 Samuel 17:34-36) 

What the church needs is hard men, men of principle who pursue their own godliness with a holy violence. Men who run into burning buildings when everyone else, like a Broward County sheriff’s deputy, is running out. What we especially need in the pastorate are men who act like it, who actively repent of their softness and embrace the kind of biblical hardness God has called us to. 

Soft is not what God made man to be. Look at man’s sexual organ and consider the simple truth that godliness for man means living in obedience to his body. His body is hard in taking initiative and bearing responsibility, and this is the reason soft men will not enter the kingdom of God. They are in rebellion against God and who He made them to be. — The Grace of Shame 



  • Eric is a good writer. I liked this part… “Like the Tasmanian Devil, they’d read about specimens like me in books and knew we existed, but many of them had never seen one in person.”

    It reminded me of the reaction the New York media as fashion people had to “Crocodile Dundee” when they meet him in the movie.

    So besides having a great point to assert, Eric wins with eloquence as well.

    • Thanks, Graham, glad you enjoyed!

      Crocodile Dundee…the best. I don’t know about the new version, but the original was great.

  • I found this article interesting. Thanks for your comments! I recognize your concerns about softness among men and I appreciate them as well. I’m interested in more of your thoughts on internal “hardness”. I have found that many men who find their identity in their hardness, work ethic, physical strength, lack strength when it comes treating their daughters and wives with kindness and exhibiting the strength of self-control in debate and repentance. Obviously I have seen many more “hard men” raise godly daughters and sons. If I were a young man who grew up seeing and observing external strength and internal weakness among men, I might be at the same point as other young men who veg by their video games, and retreat from the same manly expressions as other men in their lives. I grew up with a father (who is a pastor) who grew up throwing hay bales and milking cows who taught and exemplified for me that kindness and hardness that come together within Christian masculinity. So I am able to follow your arguments and see your points (and agree with many of them), but I’m interested in how you would respond to those who might have a more visceral reaction to wrong forms of external masculinity, such as the young man who veges on the couch in front of his video games? Thanks! Nathan

    • Nathan,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and interact. Some good questions. Ultimately I think biblical masculinity works this way: Whatever a man’s exterior, it is a reflection of his heart. That’s what Jesus said to the Pharisees, and what is in play in the principle of a tree and its fruit (Luke 6). If what dominates the heart is self-giving and taking responsibility in Christ-like fashion, then the external manifestations are generally going to be in line with biblical masculinity. A man’s hardness will be a function of his godliness and love for Jesus.

      What drives false masculinity is not this Christ-like attitude of sacrifice and responsibility bearing, but trying to impress or control others. It is hypocrisy. Thus, two men may be driving a pickup for two very different reasons—one is in it for the ego trip, the other because it’s a vehicle well-suited for the service of others.

      There’s a lot to say about this. If you haven’t read it, I recommend Doug Wilson’s “Future Men,” as well as “Father Hunger.”



      • Thanks!

        This took me a long time to see your response. Sometimes blogs don’t send me any link to people’s response.

        I’m glad that you are a fan of Doug Wilson as well, he definitely has a lot to teach about masculinity as well. It was a lot of fun to take economics with him at New Saint Andrew’s almost 5 years ago now.


  • I think you are missing a crucial issue with video games. The ugly truth is that most young men barely know their fathers. They grow up in a society where few men are in their lives to show biblical masculinity. They still have masculine instincts, but they really have no role models. Their instinct to fight the beast has to go somewhere. Look at comic book stores sometime. You will find a large group of young men and boys who spend hours destroying dragons. Second to salvation, they need men to teach them how to be men.

    • Robert,

      I don’t disagree. Two great books—”Father Hunger,” by Doug Wilson, and “Daddy Tried,” by Tim Bayly. Also, “Future Men,” also by Wilson.



  • I enjoy carpentry, the outdoors, and challenges that test my strength, but I find this article to be scornful and Scripturally imbalanced. You seem to make a gospel of “manliness” rather than of Jesus, and define discipleship as hardness rather than as trusting and following Jesus no matter the cost. Yes, there is a deadly reticence (among many Christians) to confront one another in love, but although some don’t confront because of a lack of courage and love, there are also others who do so with a lack of gentleness that makes their confrontation simply obnoxious and ungodly. You rightly point out the danger of being unwilling to take a stand, speak out, act decisively, and risk safety for God’s kingdom—but you seem to answer scorn with scorn, reacting to (wrong) attitudes on the part of many towards you, but then just turning it around and answering them in the same way. I appreciate the cautions against timidity and the call for courage in following Christ (and have been convicted of my own tendencies towards people-pleasing instead of God-pleasing), but this seems reactionary rather than wise and instructive.

  • I love hearing country boys talk about how great they are and then you see them in an urban area and they are terrified to cross the street. When you meet them on a job site after they just left BFE Kansas and the tell you they are the shit and they can’t do anything right because in the country there are no codes and standards. You don’t have to live in the country to have hard calloused hands and hunt. You also don’t have to have a fashon beard to be cool in the city. Get your head out of your ass. There are enough fake people in the church who want to be more awesome than everyone else.

  • Roland,

    How did you do in reading comprehension during your grade school years. I never saw anything about some country boy saying he was superior. Different? Certainly but superior or “how great they are”… I can’t find. Don’t reduce everything you run across into an “us vs them” contest. The article discusses hardness and softness, not city vs country. And nobody is calling the other “fake” either. They sure have some fine schools where you are from. I see evidence of it.

  • Eric, IDK if we met in Bloomington but I found your blog through you post on Warhorn. I have found your posts (those I have read) both helpful and enjoyable. Perhaps we will meet sometime. May God grant you perseverance in His work.

    Tim W

    • Tim, thanks! I look forward to meeting…Lord willing, next year’s conference.

  • Interesting, I’m not sure it’s entirely Biblical, but interesting. I think it oversimplifies manhood a bit, and sense it contains some deadly strains of pride, which are (admittedly) hard to keep out of any article written on manhood. Not saying all of the principles are wrong – we are, after all, a fairly pampered generation who doesn’t know how to “suck it up” and get things done, our grit and determination pale in comparison to our WWII counterparts, and we’ve become soft. But I don’t think manhood has much to do with bagging a dear, taking a life, etc. Whether you’re a “man’s man” or skinny jean afficianodo (if you have balls) your still a man. Men are called to be both sensitive and strong (which you said), and when we choose to be the one at the wrong time, we destroy our families and communities. Problem is we tend to embrace whatever we are best at. So “manly men” (of course) say “getting it done” and punching the bad guy in the face is really what manhood is all about (and throw in something about sensitivity), while “sensitive” men argue that pride and brutality are to thank for the majority of the world’s woes (and throw in something about picking up the sword if necessary). Both are right (in a sense, though maybe inadvertently). God calls us to be both “hard” and “soft” depending on the circumstance, but all of us, as sinful men, tend to get this wrong. But I would not readily make the case that a gun-toting, deer-killing, fence-driving man, is any more a man than the latte-sipping vegetarian Doctor who saves people’s lives on a daily basis. They are both men, but their professions and cultural influences, no doubt, determine, in large part, the mainstay of their daily activities. To argue one’s manhood over the other, is to suggest that seasoning determines whether a steak is “really” a steak. It’s steak, maybe not flavored the way you prefer, but it’s steak. But (in closing) I will reiterate once again, all of us, as men, seem to be so easily seduced by that particular vice which (perhaps) is most responsible for the downfall of our very race, pride. And while cowardice should not be masked as “humility”, neither should pride be given refuge in the idea of Christian Manhood. Perhaps the best thing we may do is attempt to fulfill God’s calling in OUR lives, and to run OUR race. I (personally) am not a vegetarian, and will never wear skinny jeans. But I am also not as tech savvy as some of my Christian brothers who eat nothing but beans and lettuce (couldn’t do it). Both of us men, but different flavoring – and they will no doubt be able to reach some for the kingdom that I cannot, and vice versa. We must be careful lest pride seeps in and make of our manhood a hellish thing.

    • Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to share, Pete. I think we have to draw a distinction about what is biblical mandate for masculinity versus preference and difference in gifting, sure. My article wasn’t aimed at setting forth an exhaustive discourse on masculinity, only to point out one issue, from one vantage point. One of the biggest issues I’ve seen is that men stand up and identify a problem (which I’m trying to do), and the first card that gets played is to label it as pride. Either way, we have to talk about real issues regarding masculinity, which is badly compromised in our culture today. I am convinced there’s an issue with effeminacy in the church, and it isn’t (primarily) about deer, guns, or skinny jeans. Those just happen to be a few arenas in which the main issue creeps in, and which I chose to talk about it. At some level, what we do externally, what we wear, our mannerisms, are a reflection of an internal reality. So what we wear, do, etc., does reflect how poorly (or well) we’re embracing biblical masculinity.

      There’s obviously a lot to say. For now, thank you for taking the time to write.


  • Rick Philips, when commenting on this current trend. “Culture says we men need to get in touch with our feminine side. I have a feminine side. Her nsme is Sharon!”

  • You make some solid points. (I do, however, think there is some missing balance and perspective on some items.) Still, you raise an key issue that merits widespread attention. There is too much male effeminacy in the church, and some believers strongly defend male effeminacy as positive. Within the church, some conversations on the topic can be entirely demoralizing and frustrating.

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