Larry Crabb’s The Silence of Adam was a mid-90s contribution to the then urgent debate about what makes a man. I confess that I engaged the book with some fear wondering if I would pass the test of masculinity.
But then again, over the years I’ve grown more ambivalent on this subject. Certainly there are differences between men and women, but those who claim the ability definitively to draw the distinction are often claiming more than they can support.
I appreciate deeply the context that Crabb builds for the reader. The world is a confusing place and often the choices facing men (and women) are not between the clearly right and the clearly wrong, but between confusing and conflicting paths all of which seem to be open to them. He does a great job in disarming what he calls ‘recipe’ theology, the idea that there are five easy steps to the solution to any problem. Recipes are worked out in the light, he says. But we live our lives in the clouds of mystery and darkness and chaos.
The key to manliness, Crabb helpfully suggests, is godliness. I cheer him here. To be a man, we are to come to love God and to live out his reality before our families and others around us. The greatest impact we can have is to live as a child of God and guide others in doing the same. Life is not something we can control – but we do have a heavenly Father whom we can come to know in the midst of those uncontrollable realities.
All of this is good. But apart from the tedious insistence that each chapter be begun with some story of some anonymous man making a mess out of his life, I have only one criticism. I wish it were a minor one, but it is not. Christ is absent. Larry is silent on the gospel.
Oh, he mentions following Jesus, and even speaks of the cross as an example of Jesus’ willingness to take action that needs taking. But in this way the cross becomes a path to follow, not a hope to embrace. I have no question that Crabb believes the gospel, but nowhere in all the calls to manliness or godliness does the book take the reader to the cross.
We are failures as men, as fathers, as sons, as elders. And the only place where in my failure I can find renewal is to look to the cross and see there that my heavenly Father acted on my behalf through his Son even when I could not act. And even now, when I fail, that failure does not lessen his affection for me or diminish the value of his act.
There is nothing that can make me want to be godly than to see that I have been loved with an undeserved and deep, unfathomable love. Nor is there anything that can encourage me to persevere through my inevitable weakness and failure than to call to mind the death and resurrection of Jesus, who persevered on my behalf. And to know that, I need to be reminded to look to the cross.
All of this is missing. What is ironic about this lack is the message that Crabb says he received from a sorrow-filled 84 year old man:
“God has given me something far better than the relief of my pain. Dr. Crabb, he has given me a glimpse of CHRIST. And it’s worth it all. Whenever you preach, make much of Christ.”
Somehow, this book fails at this very point. Without the gospel, without the central role of Christ in the living of life, the book is weakened beyond usefulness. And that makes me sad.
If however, we IMPORT Christ into the pages of the book, much is illuminated. One could do far worse as a man than to become a student of theology – of that rich, life changing study of God that J. I. Packer reminds us humbles and deepens us. To know and to love and to pursue God is at the very core of what it means to be a man. I’m grateful for the reminder of such a message.