Eric Mason is a church planter who lives and ministers in the heart of Philadelphia. There he is the co-founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship. He is a husband and a father, and the author of Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole.
There on page 53, Mason writes: “Think about it — the very fact that Jesus came to earth is evidence of his willingness to stare sin in the eye. In Jesus Christ, God became human. He chose to live in the world that man had destroyed. He faced fatigue, sweat, hunger, and even rejection. He faced the self-righteous sin of religious people. He faced the self-preserving sin of his closest friends who abandoned him. He faced being misunderstood by his family, mocked by society, maligned by the crowds, and even stolen from by the soldiers. That’s just a small sampling of the rest of the sin that he took upon his shoulders at the cross. And yet he went on. This is manliness at its best, courage at its greatest.”
As we will hear from Mason later, the topic of defining masculinity is opening new doors for gospel outreach among non-Christians in his neighborhood. I asked him to explain, and to talk more about how Christ models masculinity. But first I asked about his own father, and why he wrote Manhood Restored.
I was actually going to write on something else, another subject. I was going to write on urban missions or something like that. People were encouraging me to do that. But B&H and Lifeway interviewed me — they brought me down to Nashville — and they started interviewing me about different things that were on my heart. I don’t know how the Holy Spirit did it, but basically it came out that manhood was something that I needed to write on within the next two years or whatever.
And so, as I began to dial into it, I really began to realize that I spent the majority of my ministry of almost the last 20 years discipling men and realized that God had graced me with a few insights on manhood. My desire was to write a book that reflected who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us so it wouldn’t be a book that just beat men up. And then on the other extreme, it wouldn’t be a book that didn’t deal with the sinfulness of man. But then I wanted to offer biblical solutions. I wanted it to be a Bible-saturated book, a Jesus-saturated book, but relevant to the culture that we are in. And as I dove into things, it seemed to strike a chord with me.
Tell us a little about your own father. You talk about him in the book. Tell us about him and his story.
Yes, my father was raised in the Jim Crow south. He went to World War II at 16-years-old. He lied about his age and they let him lie about his age because that is how bad he wanted to get out of Jim Crow south. He figured going to World War II would have been better than being in Jim Crow south. And so, he went to World War II — ended up going into the army. I can’t remember which war he was 91st Infantry and then 24th Infantry, but basically, he was a buffalo soldier — those legendary infantry grunts from the army during World War II.
And obviously, he was a decorated soldier because he got a Purple Heart in each war, but because of the impact of coming back and not being received as equals — most of the African-American men along with him that came back from the war came back to Jim Crow America — he went to the Jim Crow south — threw their Purple Hearts in the trash. As a matter of fact, we are in the midst of talking to him about getting it reissued.
Wow. Amazing story. So how did this all affect him as a father?
My father was a 100% disabled veteran. They don’t give you 100% disability for nothing. He is 100% disabled, and he is 90. He will be 90 this year. So, he has been 100% disabled since his 20s or 30s. His father left him at a very young age, like when he was six-months-old — I can’t remember exactly when. To this day, if you bring up my dad’s dad to him, he has a deep sense of bitterness and brokenness about his dad leaving and rarely seeing him and his lack of involvement in his life.
That impacted the way he raised us because it didn’t necessarily drive him to be a different type of father. He thought that he was a different type of father because he was physically there. He wasn’t the worst father, but there wasn’t a model for him. So, he had no idea how to lead us and develop us into young men and that type of thing. He was an alcoholic at the beginning of my life until a little over 30 years ago.
And so, he is doing a lot better. He loves the Lord now. He has a relationship with Christ now. But it was very difficult growing up under a man that really didn’t understand all of his life, why he was just extremely angry at life. He is a lot better now, though. But that is pretty much the house I was raised in.
Man, thank you for sharing his story with us. Every generation has models of manhood today, some good, some poor. What you do in Manhood Restored is that you point to Jesus. You write, “Jesus, and Jesus alone, has exemplified manhood.” How would you explain this to someone who doesn’t think of Christ as a model of masculinity?
Yes, I think that it is really helpful. I wrote the book with my neighborhood in mind, because I live in a mostly Islamic neighborhood, a black, orthodox Muslim neighborhood. Most of the men, drug dealers, around here, if they claimed any religion, it would be Islam, period — probably 90 percent. So, I wrote it because I have dialogued with many of them. They know me. I am pretty straightforward about who Christ is with them.
One of the things that I wanted to do is write an apologetic to them. They don’t view Christianity or Jesus in a very masculine way. And so, because of that, I wanted to show off his godliness, his holiness in his humanity, even though he is the 100% God. I wanted to emphasize the 100% man that he is and begin to extract principles from it that men can relate to and that men can’t relate to, because I think there are some ways in which Christ is so other-worldly that it will upgrade their view of what manhood is. And so, that is really how I try to explain it. That’s why I picked characteristics of manhood. I did everything from sensitivity to zealous, so they could show two sides of the same coin. Man can see, Jesus is zealous or jealous in a good way like every man gets jealous. But let’s explain what his jealousy is all about.
And then, on the other hand, though, I said he is sensitive — but let’s explain. Let’s show how he redefines sensitivity from a heavenly perspective and also a manly perspective. And so, it has been interesting. That is one of the things that I keep hearing from men reoccuringly. In so many men even now that I am meeting when I go places, they say, “Hey man, I can give this to my unbelieving friends. I have been waiting for a tool that I can use to be kind of coming around with my unsaved friends.”
That is pretty much how I began to engage with non-Christians a lot, especially Muslims. They believe in Tanakh and, because they believe Tanakh — aka, the Old Testament — I utilize Christ-centered principles of showing how it often typifies Jesus or through a longitudinal theme, a redemptive-historical theme, and use that as a connecting ground for them. That is the technical way.
But Manhood Restored is really a practical way that I take Old Testament — even though I use a lot of New Testament, too — to try to relate and communicate Jesus to Muslims and other people who wouldn’t necessarily seek him. Because in the northeast, there is a lot of religious education which, because all of the Ivy Leagues up here, is post-post-Christian. America is post-Christian. But up here, because of all the Ivy Leagues and everything here, it has even impacted how people on the street think, because some of that intellectualism has gotten to even just a regular person who is able to give an apologetic for us in a book. That is why I wrote it.
That was Eric Mason, a clip from my 2013 conversation with him about manhood. Tomorrow we will resume the conversation and talk about how the local church helps envision fathers. . . . For more about the podcast, find us online at desiringGod.org/askpastorjohn. I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening.