Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Raising a Modern-Day Knight

Last year in the post "Without Dad, Sons Drift," I mentioned I was reading Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis, and I promised to review it. Well, it has been several months but today I make good on that promise. I apologize for taking so long, but I was distracted by the birth of my son (the reason I started reading the book and the one whom I want to guide into authentic manhood). Warning: this is a long post because I summarize each chapter individually and intersperse my own comments throughout the review.

Lewis has divided his book into five major sections: “The Need for a Modern-Day Knighthood,” “The Knight and His Ideals,” “The Knight and His Ceremonies,” “The Knight and His Round Table,” and “The Knight and His Legacy.” I will go through each section, briefly summarize each chapter, and make some comments along the way.

In the first section Lewis describes the problem with manhood and the need for a solution. In chapter one, “Manhood: Don’t Let Your Sons Leave Home Without It,” he describes the problem with manhood in general and gives the basic direction of the book. He sees three problems facing boys today: they do not have a biblically grounded definition of manhood, fathers lack a directional process that calls sons to embrace manhood, and there is no ceremony formally commemorating teaching and calling to live as a man at various stages in a young man’s growth. Lewis and his friends went searching for these things, and they found a pattern in medieval knighthood and content in Scripture. He states, “Sons need fathers who are involved in their lives—dads who will love them, teach them, and discipline them. But clearly, sons also need a masculine vision. They need a manhood language. They need a ceremony. And, they need other men. Knighthood, as an outline, offers all this and more.” He parallels the three problems facing boys that he sees with what the knighthood pattern: knights had a set of ideals, they had a well-defined process to knighthood, and they had ceremonies marking their growth. From this pattern and Scriptural content, Lewis constructed this book.

In chapter two, “The Invisible Dad,” Lewis uses his own story, and the fallout of his alcoholic father on three sons, to describe the problem America and the rest of the world is facing: invisible dads. They are not all alcoholics. Some are working very hard to provide for their families, and there are others who have abandoned their families all together. The fallout is the same though: “the crippling impact... a disfigured masculinity with disastrous results.” Fathers must give their sons clear answers to the following questions: What is a man? What are a man’s responsibilities? What does a man believe? How does a man behave? What should a man try to achieve?

In chapter three, “The Drift of Sons,” Lewis begins by telling the story of Jeffrey Dahmer and the book written by his father. He quotes from Jeffrey’s own father, Lionel, “And so I wasn’t there to see him begin to sink into himself. I wasn’t there to sense, even if I could have sensed it, that he might be drifting towards that unimaginable realm of fantasy and isolation that it would take nearly thirty years to recognize.” Now, Lewis is not claiming all boys with absent or invisible dads will become serial killers, but he is pointing out that when dad is absent sons begin to sink into themselves and they begin to drift. He goes on to talk about a proverb, Proverb 17:6, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” First, he points out that grandchildren being a crown shows that they are the honor and delight of grandfather’s—a sense of achievement and completion. Second, he emphasizes the second part of the verse: fathers are the source of glory, delight, boasting for their sons. “He possesses an authority that is both inexplicable and awesome. For this reason few things are more important to a boy—or a man—than a touch, or a smile, or a word of encouragement from Dad.” Furthermore, a father’s presence—emotional, spiritual, and physical—gives life to a boy. It anchors him but without it, he drifts. Furthermore, simply presence and love are not enough. They are good but not the best things. The set of ideals every son needs includes a vision for manhood, a code of conduct, and a transcendent cause. Without these, even with love and presence, boys will drift.

In the second section, “The Knight and His Ideals,” Lewis begins to talk about the needs of all sons—vision, code, and cause. Chapter four, “A Vision for Manhood,” is where Lewis gives his definition of manhood, which he believes will give boy (and men) a compelling vision for the proper use of their passions and aggressiveness. He draws an analogy from how a medieval knight was trained, citing the vision, code, and cause knights received from a young age as a proper model for raising a “modern-day knight.” He shows how modern culture does little to harness the energy of men in the positive ways ancient cultures did and without it, boys never become men wreaking havoc on the world around them. With no manhood vision, code, and cause boys get out of control and society suffers. “The central problem of every society is to define appropriate ropes for the men,” Lewis quotes from anthropologist Margaret Mead. So, first, where do men get some definition of (vision for) manhood and their role? Society? Well, as Lewis points out, ours has not given such definition or at least not one that is consistent or productive. Perhaps from family? Dads are central to to boys’ manhood vision but 40% of American households are without a father figure (and that is just those in which the dad is physically absent). Maybe churches can give this definition and vision? Lewis states that unfortunately much of the American church has retreated from the culture’s push for gender neutrality rather than filling the void with compelling vision. After this sobering survey of possible arenas from which a definition might come but has not, Lewis constructs his own definition from a comparison between the two most important men in history: Jesus and Adam. In sum, his biblically-constructed definition of a man is one who 1) rejects passivity, 2) accepts responsibility, 3) leads courageously, and 4) expects God’s greater reward. I appreciate this chapter and think Lewis’ definition is biblical, yet I wish he had emphasized the role of gospel power in following/living up to this definition. He uses Jesus almost strictly as an example, and, while we can certainly see true manhood in Jesus, if we just give boys a definition with no appeal to gospel power, we are just left with a moral lesson with no power. It is the gospel—our union with Christ and all His benefits—that empowers us to be men who follow in His footsteps. If we just try to pull ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps, we will fail every time. I would teach this chapter, but I would need to supplement it and show how the gospel drives and empowers our rejection of passivity, our acceptance of responsibility, our leading courageously, and our expectance of God’s reward.

In chapter five, “A Code of Conduct,” Lewis builds on his knight model adding the next link in the chain of manhood ideals: code. He states, “When a dad imparts a code of conduct, when he establishes boundaries and reinforces truth, a son is forever strengthened. Learned at an early age, ethical standards become a beacon in the midst of a darkened society, a lighthouse that steers us away from the rugged coastline of moral destruction.” Unfortunately, not only does culture generally not reinforce biblical values but it actively attempts to undermine them on a regular basis. Now, there are several aspect to this code that a father needs to impart to his son: a will to obey (God’s), a work to do (according to his unique design), and a woman to love. Under a “will to obey,” Lewis states, “True satisfaction is directly proportionate to one’s obedience to God.” He then gives 10 biblical ideas that he believes are central: loyalty, servant leadership, kindness, humility, purity, honesty, self-discipline, excellence, purity, and perseverance. Lewis points out  that for a father to train his “page” in this will to obey he must set a godly example, teach truth, share stories, and reinforce with affirmation, attention, and discipline. In a complaint similar to the previous chapter, while I agree with his previous contention and in general his list of virtues, without Christ’s gospel-driven power this all becomes legalism. If these are just rules to obey and not ways of pleasing our Savior in response to all He has done for us, then we will burn out quick or become Pharisees. Moving on, Lewis next addresses a “work to do.” One key factor in this that Lewis identifies from Solomon’s writing in Ecclesiastes is that labor is frustrating and painful but is redeemed and enriched in relationship to God. The other key factor in the work to do is helping a son find his “bent.” Lewis draws this from Pro. 22:6. He points out that “The way he should go” is not some prescribed path that everyone follows but one unique to the “bent” or gifting of the boy. He ends this section by saying, “Nothing satisfies the human heart as fully as service for the Kingdom in one’s area of gifting.” I agree. Finally, Lewis addresses the final part of the code—a woman to love. A son must be instructed in how to love, lead, and honor a woman, for his wife will play a crucial role in his future life. Unfortunately, one of the biggest places where men are passive today is in caring for a woman. Most are not even being taught that it is their responsibility! Lewis ends by stating that with these three components to the code, a son is forever strengthened. Overall, I believe this is an excellent chapter and I would agree with Lewis’ assertions, but, as with the previous chapter, in order to avoid legalism, we need to teach our sons how the gospel drives and empowers the obedience, the work, and the love.

In chapter six, “A Transcendent Cause,” Lewis explains the third need of a son for his growth into a modern-day knight: cause. Most men drift through life pursuing whatever society tells them will give them meaning, but in the end they find it was all worthless—the deals, the money, the glory, etc. They ended up asking, “What’s the point?” Our culture’s conventional cause equates meaning with position, is highly competitive, pursues success at all costs, has the reward of power, and the ideal of wealth and power. This will leave a man as empty as when he started. These things are not inherently wrong but are incomplete and cannot be a transcendent cause. A transcendent cause is not something we do in addition to everything else; it is the factor that motivates everything else we do. In order to do that, it must be truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful, and only Jesus satisfies that threefold criteria. Only Jesus can integrate the end of life with the focal beginning of life and everything in between. Only He connects the now with eternity. I agree.

Chapter seven begins part three of this book: “The Knight and His Ceremonies.” In chapter seven, “The Power of Ceremony,” Lewis shows the value of a tried and true method for marking pivotal moments in life stick with an individual forever: ceremonies. Many significant moments in our lives are already sealed with ceremonies (e.g. weddings and graduations), so why not extend them to pivotal manhood stages? They can be the “crown jewels” of helping a boy become a man. Lewis elaborates on how ceremonies cement life instruction and discipline with a sports analogy: the volleyball dig, set, and spike. These key maneuvers mirror dad’s character, instruction, and ceremonies (respectively). The “dig” (character of the father) is the grunt-work, but it sets up the other key maneuvers for helping a boy become a man. The “set” is a strategic move—intentional and calculated—and so is a father’s life instruction to his son. The “spike” is an aggressive final play that drives home everything for which the “team” has worked so far. Then Lewis says, “A ceremony is like a spike. It drives home the point with unmistakable certainty.” Ceremonies should be defining moments of a boy’s passage into manhood that seal up the instruction which has preceded, give vision for the next stage, and will live on in his memory forever. But what makes a good ceremony? Lewis gives four elements: costly (not only momentarily but time, effort, energy, etc.), ascribe great value to the individual, employ symbols, and empower a life with vision. That last one is particularly important. Ceremonies should say in no uncertain terms, “From now on, life is going to be different, more is expected of you, and more joy awaits you.”

In chapter eight, “Four Manhood Ceremonies,” Lewis brings the argument for ceremonies into focus by the describing four key manhood transitions/stages and their ceremonies, and, after briefly talking about each, he uses his own ceremonies as examples. The four critical transitions which need ceremonies are puberty, high school graduation, college graduation, and marriage. At puberty a boy’s body outpaces his ability to comprehend and control the changes taking place in him, so he needs his father’s guidance to make sense of the confusion and a ceremony to call him out of boyhood, giving him a vision for teenage life. At high school graduation and upon leaving for college, a young man finds himself with an enormous amount of freedom. He needs to be trained for what he will face and have that training sealed by a ceremony that calls him to a purpose greater than pleasure, i.e. making a mark for Christ in the world. Furthermore, at this ceremony it should be made very clear that the young man will no longer be treated as a boy but as a peer, with all its benefits and expectations. The next stage is college graduation. Here youth ends, and the son is formally initiated into manhood. He is called to fulfill the definition of manhood in his life, and he is welcomed to the “round table” with the other men as a “fellow knight.” Now he takes part in the instruction and ceremonies of other boys as they are called into manhood. The final ceremony is the marriage ceremony. Lewis suggests performing this the night before the wedding in the presence of all who attend the rehearsal dinner. It should include his fiancĂ© and mark with “stunning clarity” the beginning of a new line of knights. Finally, to end this chapter Lewis highlights the simple fact that manhood ceremonies show a boy that he has been noticed: “With great clarity and regal pronouncement, manhood ceremonies tell a son, ‘I notice you! You are important to me! You are important to the kingdom of God! You have an important masculine destiny to fulfill!” I particularly like this chapter. I agree with Lewis that ceremonies can seal up teach and call a young man into a new stage of life with remarkable clarity and permanence. Each father (or group of fathers) needs to come up with their own ceremonies, which will take much time and effort, but I believe the rewards will far outweigh the cost.

In chapter nine, “Other Manhood Ceremonies to Consider,” Lewis gives five examples from men he has known who followed his advice. All the ceremonies were unique and powerful, but Lewis draws out five commonalities that are key to manhood ceremonies: they employ elements of surprise, are intensely spiritual, incorporate symbols, include a blessing from dad, and include other men. Lewis then calls the fathers reading this book to take these examples and principles and begin coming up with their own ceremonies for their sons. After reading this chapter, I think one would find it difficult to view ceremonies as cheesy or anything less than powerful, when they are done well.

In chapter 10, “Commemorating a Transcendent Cause,” Lewis suggests that an ideal way for a father to affirm and commemorate his son’s commitment to Jesus (transcendent cause) is to be involved in his son’s baptism. This chapter depends on a traditional Baptist view of baptism for it to really work, and Lewis acknowledges that others do not share his view of baptism. So, he suggests that no matter what view of baptism you hold, fathers should “find a way to be more than just a casual observer in the tenth row at your son’s baptism.” Lewis also states, “I fully recognize that baptismal practices vary from church to church, and they are often based on deeply held convictions. I have no desire to cause conflict or disruption.” I appreciate and respect Lewis’ desire not to move the purpose of the book away from raising a son into manhood to a debate over baptism. I would like to pay a similar respect to him and not turn my review into such a debate. Instead, I would like to suggest that a father with a Presbyterian view of baptism (such as myself) can participate but in a different way. Instead of attempting to commemorate a one-time event in the past, part of a father’s instruction to his son should be frequently to remind his son to “improve” his baptism. The Westminster Larger Catechism question 167 asks, “How is our Baptism to be improved by us?” and it answers:
The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.
Instead of focusing on the memory of a past event, a father can show his son how to let that past event be a constant reminder of God’s grace to him Jesus and one of the means by which the Spirit conforms us more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

The fourth section (“The Knight and His Round Table”) and eleventh chapter, “Knighthood and the Community of Men,” is short, but I believe an incredibly important chapter. Lewis points out that even if your son sees your godly, manly character; even if you instruct him in the ideals of authentic manhood vision, a code of conduct, and our transcendent cause in Christ; and even if you craft life-changing manhood ceremonies, your son’s development will be incomplete if you do it all alone. He points out that in America we are a nation of individualists (not a new observation), and he points out that this individualism has “thrown back [men] on themselves and shut [them] up in the solitude of their own hearts.” Raising a son in this environment only perpetuates this deficiency in manhood. We need a community of men. He comments, “Boys become men in the community. There is no substitute for this vital component.” We cannot go it alone, and Lewis gives three reasons why: First, if a father’s presence is weighty, the presence of other men is weightier still, for it is not longer just dad talking but a community of men. Second, communities of men form deep friendships, especially when they realize they have a personal stake in the success or failure of all their sons. Third and finally, a community of men expands a son’s spiritual and moral resources, for he can draw off the wealth and depth of the community and not just a single individual. I really do think this chapter is incredibly important because most men in America live lives of quiet, lonely desperation. We generally do not even scratch the surface of the friendships about which we read in the Bible, e.g. David and Jonathan. If we live that way, how can we expect our sons to not? And, even if we give them all the other resources of manhood, have we not left them wanting? Have we not deprived them of a greater depth to their manhood? Have we not left them a little dull? As Pro. 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

In the final section, “The Knight and His Legacy,” Lewis pulls together some loose ends and wraps up his work. Lewis begins this final section with chapter twelve: “The Decree.” This chapter is entitled “The Decree” because Lewis draws off an ancient knighthood analogy: the Decree of Cortes, “We decree that no one shall be knighted unless he is a knight’s son.” While that decree was designed to maintain a cast system, it has an analogical basis in reality for us today: “only the son of a knight (a real man) can become a knight (a real man).” Now, there are, of course, exceptions to this rule for God’s grace is capable of changing anyone, but they are few and far between and generally come at the cost of great pain, heartache, roadblocks, and work. This is because “the chief component in a boy’s journey to manhood is Dad: his modeling, his involvement.” Lewis points out that every father has a distinct and awesome advantage: the admiration of his son. All sons’ hearts cry out for a father who lives like a knight—a dad who lives what he believes and says. When the father walks a life of manhood consistent (not perfect) with the ideals he teaches his son, the son will follow in his footsteps. “The real legacy we leave in our sons’ lives is what we have lived out before them,” Lewis states, and then he challenges his readers to cultivate manhood and live consistently in front of their sons. I believe he is right in what he says here, for while there are exceptions to “the decree,” they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Again, what is missing in this chapter is an appeal to gospel-power and God’s grace for living consistent lives before our sons. We cannot do it just by willing ourselves to do so. Before reading this I prayed that God would make me the man I need to be to raise a man, but now after reading it I will pray even harder. We all need to start praying now and not years down the road when we find see our sins of passivity in our sons.

Chapter thirteen, “Where the Boys Are,” is a recent addition in the book’s second edition. In it Lewis gives a picture of where the sons of Bill Wellons, Bill Parkinson, and Robert Lewis are now. During the first edition of this book, some of the sons were still boys, but now they are all men and Lewis updates the reader on how his ideas, goals, and methods worked with their families. It is a worthwhile chapter to read simply for the inspiration that it can give those of us who are new dads to form a manhood community in which we can raise our sons and leave them a legacy.

The final chapter, “A Word to the Dads Who Think They Blew It,” is exactly that: words to dads who think it is too late to have a relationship with their sons. Lewis states, “It may require some hard humility on your part, but I can declare with certainty that as long as you’re both alive, it’s never too late to close the gap with your son. Never.” Under the layers of pain and anger a son longs to be reconnected with his father, if his father approaches it properly. Lewis suggests three moves: restart, restore, and re-energize. To restart the relationship, Lewis advises that dads need to go to their sons (no matter their age) and commit to a fresh beginning. This will, he warns, take deep humility because dads need to share their hearts—their love for their son and regrets—and then ask their son how they can be a better dad. This last part especially needs to be approached with humility because the dad must listen without comebacks, excuses, or justifications. “Dad’s humility is a great door-opener,” Lewis remarks. To restore the relationship, dad needs to confess his sins against his son to his son and seek his forgiveness. All dads, of course, need to be willing to confess for leaders need to lead in confessing sin, but this is especially important for the dad who thinks he has blown it with his son. Real damage has been done and dads need to acknowledge that, confess it, and seek their sons’ forgiveness. Finally, to re-energize the relationship, a dad needs to give his son his blessing. Regardless of what has happened between the father and son, the son desires his dad’s blessing and giving it will re-energize his life. It will also re-energize the relationship and “pave the way for better days with him.”

In conclusion, I think this is an excellent book. While I have had some complaints about the lack of gospel-driven teaching (see above), I believe proactive dads can take the advice, methods, and teaching of Lewis; combine them with the truths of who we are and what we have in Jesus; and teach their sons to be authentic, biblical men. I would recommend any dad with sons at any age read this book, but I would especially suggest that new dads (like me) read it now. It is never too early to start thinking and planning for instructing our sons in biblical manhood. Finally, I believe there is no greater gift we can give our sons than teaching and showing them authentic manhood. They need it; the world needs it.

I hope you enjoy the book and it teaches you how to raise your son to be an authentic, biblical man—a modern-day knight. 

By His Grace,

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