Sunday, June 1, 2008

God designed the soul of a MAN for adventure?

My wife received an advanced review copy of Rich Wagner's new book, The Expeditionary Man: The Adventure a Man Wants, the Leader His Family Needs. There are some helpful insights in this book that is broader than the typical "new masculinity" resources available.

Yet still packaged and assuming too much about males--and this is partly to win an audience--is the overstated idea that men are made for adventure. Adventure is well and good. It's the exclusivity that only males are made for this that is irksome and reinforces the sexist idea that this is built only into a male soul.

Today's Zondervan inspiration draws from Wagner's book. See here.

A paragraph is not enough to develop a point, I'll grant that. But the title ("God designed the soul of a man for adventure") unnecessarily reinforces the already stagnant assumption in men's literature that a woman's soul was not.

Of the verses used in the inspiration to point out this adventure, only one refers to MALES and that pertains to how men are to love in marriage. This kind of loving, however, is also assigned to FEMALES in the Scripture as members of the body of Christ rendering others more important then oneself.

Adventure is not a gendered category. It is not a male category. It is a HUMAN category. Though other books, like Wild at Heart, signify that a man is made for adventure (and a woman, in Captivating, are designed to "join a man" in adventure) that is unjustifiable. Women like adventure too (google "women adventure," here's a sample site). Living in CO, it doesn't take any effort to see women as well as men climbing mountains, kayaking rivers (see picture at top...yes, a woman), running marathons, fishing (see picture at left), and offroading--not because they want to be men but because they want to enjoy the habitat God created for humans. If you take up traveling, you'll find women backpacking, staying in hostiles, and exploring the world. You'll also find them on relief missions, bringing life to the needy.

Adventuring of a wide sort is a well versed concept in the female mind (on Wagner's model, a woman adventures by being faithful to her husband and kids, making disciples of Jesus, etc) but among those who have been told it is not 'feminine' or have some unhealthy fears. Wagner is trying to make responsibility respectable again.

He must be careful butting up against the "new masculinity" movement, for many of qualities he lists are part of the diagnosis of why the church is "feminine" in the first place. Uh oh!

When you hear people say that men were made for adventure, as a man, I ask you to kindly mention that women were made for adventure too. All this adventure talk is actually less inspiring to men as it is harmful to women and many of our smuggled in false-perceptions of women.

All that said, I do think many men need a reminder that practicing virtue is a wholly human activity and that re-deconstructing our idea of "masculinity" needs to be done (as Wagner is partly attempting to do). Loving family, taking care of kids, standing for the oppressed are all adventurous and strenuous things, often more so than scaling a Colorado 14er.

I'd like to see the church lead the way in the culture to unite both men and women under the banner of 'adventurer,' rather robbing a healthy word and tainting it with exclusive maleness. Wasn't it a joint-call to adventure when God originally told both humans to "be fruiltful and multiply and have dominion over the earth"?


Philip said...

This seems like another crazy book. This made me think about how Savannah is more "risky" and a bigger "adventurer" than I am in many ways. If you see her on a four wheeler, she will push it to the max, while I can't handle that. I would rather spend the day having adventure through hiking and exploring, then screaming through the woods on a four wheeler. I wouldn't mind either, but I like and feel more comfortable with the former. To me, adventure is gender nuetral as you said, although I think society and its views of man's physical difference has made men more prone to take on adventure in the ways that Wagner is probably talking about.

And this all they are really doing: taking the current cultural stance on masculinity as objectively true. Moreover, they like to nickpick history and focus on the warrior-types throughout the years and forget that men were doing pretty much every trade - minstrels, tailors, jewlers, cooks, etc. They will always be plagued with the critique of being too narrow.

Nolan Bobbitt said...

Great thoughts, Dale.

Paul F. said...

I have not benefited from reading Wagner's book, but I wonder if there might be a more charitable way to think about what he is saying here. For example, you wrote that the title "unnecessarily reinforces...the assumption that a woman's soul was not [designed for adventure]." I think it only reinforces that assumption if we think Wagner is committing a logical fallacy. It seems to me that, at least in the title, he is claiming that

If you are a man, then your soul was designed for adventure.

But you seem to think that from this alone he is, at least implicitly, drawing the conclusion that

The woman's soul was not designed for adventure.

But the only way to get to that conclusion from the premise is by denying the antecedent, which, as you know, is a logical fallacy. So it now seems that there is a dichotomy at play. He has either committed an elementary logical fallacy in print (something for which he should be publicly ridiculed), or his claim is just about men and has nothing to say about women. (Of course this dichotomy only applies to the title, he may give other premises that get him to the conclusion that the woman's soul was not designed for adventure.)

Personally, I think any time someone wants to dedicate a lecture, book, or sermon to just masculinity he should preface it with a qualification (and the same to those focusing just on femininity). Maybe something like this:

"In what follows it will often be easier to just say 'males are/were/will be xyz' but that does not mean I am also making the claim 'females are not/were not/will not be xyz'. Because I am currently focused specifically on men, I will not make this qualification every time. Unless specifically stated otherwise, one should assume that I am open to women also fitting into whatever I'm currently discussing."

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

As the long-distance runner, fellow off-roading Jeeper, ATVer, lover of long, strenuous hikes and scary precipices, and wife of Dale (which is itself an adventure) I'm thankful for him and this post.
As NPR notes, woman love adventure, that's partially why they've done so well in sports, e.g. Danica Patrick who became the first woman to win an open wheel race. See "She's Got Game: What a Year for Women in Sports""

Dale Fincher said...

Philip, what Wagner is trying to do with his book, from the parts that I read, is to expand the meaning of "adventure" for men to include family responsibilities, and virtue, etc. But, also from what I read, he does seem to resign himself to a post-industrial view of what gives men value and goes with it.

He is certainly tapping into the zeitgeist of current men's literature.

So when Savannah opens the throttle on the four wheeler, does she pretend to be on Endor with the Ewoks? That's crazy fast! :)

Nolan, thanks for the comment. I'm encouraged just to know you read my blog!

Paul, you are right, the logical fallacy is there. Thanks for articulating it so well.

However, it is the cultural context which imports added meaning into the language. When we see a popular acceptance that women were made for adventure too, that mythopoetic psychology on masculinity is off-track, then I think we can take Wagner's and other's words at face value. Until then, cultural context is as important as literary context.

What would be better is titling what Wagner is doing in the post... expanding the meaning of 'adventure' rather than saying a man's soul (the ontological status) is MADE for it. That has nothing to do with the post, IMO, not when it runs the risk of reinforcing the male-exclusive idea.

There's a lot of talk about there about a woman's soul made to nurture and parent to the exclusion of men. (The trend is changing but slowly.) And this language has adjusted the Christian cultural climate such that women are viewed as the better parent, especially in the younger years. This excludes many men. When you really sit down and press the point with people theologically, there is little indication that a woman's importance and place in parenting is any more or less important than a man's. Yet it is viewed as women's work in the culture and there are countless books about it.

For me, it's all about the cultural context. The average person will read Wagner's title and connote, "Adventure is a male thing!" And the word will continue to be associated with men.

Jonalyn babe, thanks for the link!

Paul F. said...

So do you think Wagner himself is actually claiming that the woman's soul was not designed for adventure? If he is broadening out adventure to include "family responsibilities, virtue, etc." then it seems to be a really bold statement to say women weren't designed for those things.

If Wagner is not claiming that the woman's soul was not designed for adventure, and the cultural context has imported additional meaning into his statement, then we need to decide whose fault that is. It seems there are only two options: 1) Wagner's for not being clear about what he actually means or 2) those that allow their own assumptions to fallaciously influence how they understand Wagner's statement.

Perhaps this will boil down to whether we should allow the cultural context to influence our understanding of a text or if we should only allow the textual context to influence our understanding. For example, if someone picked up Jonalyn's book (or if Zondervan had an "Inspire" dedicated to the topic and posted this excerpt) and read

"When women fight, we dig deep; of course, men can too. It is a skill that most women hate in fellow females because they hate it in themselves."(pg. 166)

he may infer that she means that while men can dig deep when fighting, they don't hate it in other men or in themselves. Of course if that same person read the textual context of that passage, and did not allow preconceived notions about what a woman author writing about femininity might mean, then he would realize that she is not excluding men but just currently focusing on women.

I guess I'm hesitant to blame an author for other people importing logical fallacies into a text, even when the basis of that interpretation is culturally prevalent. I am especially hesitant in this case because, given Wagner's definition of adventure, that can't be what he really means (but if he does mean that, then he should be taken to task for it).

Dale Fincher said...

Hey Paul, I think you are right. And perhaps I should be more charitable (though in my blog, I thought I noted a few charitable things and tried not to unload everything into Wagner's lap)... but if you read me that way, I'll be careful in the future.

Rhetoric is a funny thing and it steps outside of philosophy into HOW things are said and HOW things are understood to persuade and get attention. We can take the Zondervan post at face value, but rhetoric tells us to look around the words and through the words and be informed. Someone, perhaps not Wagner, decided to title that blog the way they did. And they intended a certain message with it. And with all the adventure talk about men out there, added meanings get imported because its being placed right in the center of the genre and the conversation. I don't know how to read the post without that context.

This unfortunately isn't akin to reading philosohical articles where every word is meant to be taken as that. But in the popular culture, as you know, the old postmodern word-game is afoot and words do take on lives of their own way too often, similar to the way passive-aggressive people function...

I guess if anyone is to get anything out of my post is this: that adventure is a broad term and a human pleasure. And when people start citing the "male need for adventure" we should politely ask them to refer to it as a human need so as not to exclude the ladies.

When a group of American children were asked what they would do if they woke up tomorrow as the opposite gender, their replies were consistent. The girls said, "I'd go fishing with my dad." (Why don't they think they can do that now as girls?) The boys replied, "Nothing." One said, "I'd stab myself in the heart." This is from six year olds... that girls and women feel left out of adventure-talk and many even teased for trying to be adventurous means we should probably swerve away from this rhetoric, even if we mean something good at face value.

Again, Paul, thanks for the clarity on this.

Dale Fincher said...

This blog is syndicated over on facebook and here's a comment that Tracy left over there that I think is an important indicator how women feel about the adventure talk geared for men:

"I read your blog comments about this, too. I appreciate you as a man saying, "Hey, wait a minute. Women love adventure, too!" It was a breath of fresh air. I am a stay-at-home mom of five that LOVES adventure. Upon seeing books about men and adventure, and seeing women who love to stay in the house, I struggled with my uniqueness. I have since grown in my understanding, and seeing your words in print truly bless and encourage me.

"And this weekend my whole pack is going hiking in the Shenandoah mountains! (okay, so it's not the Rockies...ha, ha)


My reply:

Tracy, thanks for the comment. I'm very glad you are encouraged. I do grow weary of subtle sexisms all over the place in the culture and the church. I do think stereotyping is sexism and, in the name of emphasizing men, often women are left out. That's not good. Men and women need each other, working AND playing together, as God shows us in the Garden.

Enjoy the hike!!

Rich Wagner said...


Hello. I appreciated reading your blog post and comments concerning my use of the word "adventure" in my book The Expeditionary Man. The term "adventure" has obviously become a loaded word in men's literature today, so I'd like to both qualify what I mean as well as clear up certain misconceptions about my use of the word.

First, in my book, I never attempt to say that adventure is a "male only" need. Not at all. I would agree that many women are also driven by a need for adventure in their lives. As such, they would probably find a lot of the content in my book resonating with them (including the common tension between adventure and responsibility). So I would fully embrace your idea of adventure being a "human category".

In my book, I intentionally don't address a woman's need for adventure (or the biblical calling of women) simply because I am writing to other Christian men. To that point, I make the following qualification in the Author's Note at the start of the book: "The Expeditionary Man focuses on the biblical role of the man in the home. Consequently, I deliberately avoid diving into the God-given role and responsibilities of a wife and mother. My omission is not in any way meant to slight or diminish the role of a woman in the household. No, that is a worthy subject for a different book."

Second, I talk about "adventure" in a broad sense, far more than just outdoor-type activities (e.g., scaling a Colorado 14er). Throughout the book, I closely associate "adventure" with "purpose". After all, some people are driven to adventure in their career. Others in a ministry. Many seek adventure in sports and recreation activities. Finally, others discover it in creative pursuits, such as art, music, etc.

Third, The Expeditionary Man deals with the artificial separation that culture (and the church!) place between "adventure/purpose" and "family". So many men (and women) are looking for adventure and purpose in a career, ministry, or hobby outside of the home. When that happens, then adventure becomes defined as what a person wants to do, while family is what he (or she) is supposed to do. Adventure is opportunity; family is obligation. My contention is that separation, at heart, is wholly unbiblical.

Finally, I welcome the debate about whether my use of "adventure" in a men's book reinforces cultural stereotypes, but don't overlook a far more pressing post-industrial problem central to the book: the lack of male hands-on leadership and discipleship inside Christian homes (see Barna's stats for the fallout). The main message of The Expeditionary Man is that a man can really discover the God-given adventure he is seeking by becoming the hands-on leader of the home.

Rich Wagner

Dale Fincher said...


Thanks for stopping by and adding clarification on the purpose of your book. I really appreciate it as I know my readers will too.

Barna is often a mixed bag for me as I often find his approach less helpful (having studied his stuff on teens compared to sociologist Christian Smith, I find Smith more accurate...).

While stats can give us a problem, as you know, the solution is always the trickier thing.

Even how you've couched the concept of adventure in the home, your last sentence does lean in the direction that adventure in the home is akin to leadership (I don't know if you mean to draw that connection, but it's a common one). And if man is 'the' hands-on leader in the home, then that also excludes women from leadership and a lesser part in the adventure. These connections are subtle but relevant.

For my own view, I am leaning more toward the view that men and women are co-leaders in the home (wives are not commanded to 'obey' their husbands). As my wife's studies on women has revealed many women simply 'step aside' in the name of wifery or 'being in their place' and do not step up to the plate either. Sometimes this is described as 'lazy.' I think it is more deeply deeply rooted in our deeply established cultural norms for men and women. Joint partnering is rarely encouraged and so the genders rarely spur one another to leadership in the home... it usually emerges as a 'nagging,' passive-aggressive wife, etc, which is the response (twisted nonetheless) of a subordinate rather than a leader.

I guess I've moved the conversation further than the post requires, so I'll stop for now.

Thanks again for the clarification. I do think masculine analysis has only just begun. I hope many will wrestle with the concepts in your book and re-think again our purposes on this planet as men engaged, moving the conversation to the next level of true humanity.

Rich Wagner said...


I enjoy the dialogue together on this issue.

First, I think your point on “genders rarely [spurring] one another to leadership in the home” is valid regardless of the position one takes on the biblical model of leadership inside the home (man as servant leader vs. joint partnering). In a healthy/growing/mature marriage, there should always be that mutual encouragement, challenging, and partnering together—spurring each other on.

Second, we can debate the biblical model of family leadership all we want, but frankly, the real post-industrial problem in the Christian home is not male-dominated households, but male-neglected/male-abandoned households. By the time they are in their 30-40s, many, many men become Provider Dads, relegating much of the actual responsibility of leading their families to their wives.

The sad thing is that I see this perspective (a man provides; a woman runs the household) largely accepted inside the church. John MacArthur writes, “Men, we are the providers, we are the protectors, we are the preservers, we are the resources for our wives and our families and that is our responsibility.” In His Needs, Her Needs, Willard Harley actually ranks financial support above a man’s overall commitment to his family. In researching for my book, I stumbled across a blog entry written by a woman that captures this perspective: “Men should be out there doing whatever it takes to insure that mom can spend as much time as possible with her family because she is uniquely equipped by God for the role of managing the household and the kids on a daily basis … She’s better at it than her husband!”

I would suggest that most Christian men do not have a problem with this mentality. In fact, I believe they often rather like the idea of being the breadwinner as their top priority. It sure is convenient for a man who wants to find adventure/purpose in his career—allowing him to maximize his career aspirations all the while justifying himself with the Bible on his desktop. In the end, however, a Provider Dad devolves into a Peripheral Dad.

To sum things up…My firm belief is that when you look at the tattered state of Christian households today, getting a man to assume an engaged, servant leadership role in the family is a far more pressing issue than male-domination.

Rich Wagner

Dale Fincher said...

Rich, good to read you again.

You are right, we could debate male/female models but perhaps that is for another day. Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen has done a convincing job (at least to me) of evaluating the "code of honor" among men, barreling through the centuries, exacerbated by industry. I see this "code of honor" very much involved in the issue. I'm sure you've seen her work, but I wanted to throw that out there.

Your paragraph that begins with "the sad thing" is spot-on from my view as well. Many women do believe they are better at parenting, that it is God's special equipping for them, and that the man should stay out of it (many of them have their identities so bound to it they'd rather now share it with their men... because their men have other things to be honored for outside the home).

In light of that I think many mothers do not take the time to understand what good parenting is and they rely on their 'instinct' (whatever that is) and their emotional fervor to get them through.

My wife has written a bit on her blog ( about the cult of motherhood and the 'mommy wars' in this regard. And, as you mentioned, I've heard men quite pleased that they can remain selfish and disconnected from their families. Many don't really get to know their wives because wives aren't enocuraged to remain an intellectual and emotional sparring partner (I hear this from savvy, emotionally mature, older women criticizing other women). In other words, men often feel like they outgrow their wives because they have mature conversations at work and come home to someone encouraged not to keep themselves active in their souls (a soul issue, not a body issue).

I've also heard statements from men like, "I bring home the bacon, I don't cook it." Some of this stems from being disengaged in spousal relationships too and trickles down to the kids (again, I see 'code of honor' writ large on these things). That household work is 'beneath' men is a shame. Kids are usually seen as household work.

While we may diagnose the core belief differently, I do think we are on the same page that this is a problem to speak into and help men understand. The fruits of the Spirit are not feminine but human (though in surveys we do on the road, most perceive that list of qualities as feminine, interestingly). Laying down one's life, as Messiah did for the church, is a tall order. And it is in the everyday menial things, not just when walking down dark alleys.

I can find nothing in Scripture that the man is the sole provider/provider for the home. Both spouses, if healthy, provide/protect in their own unique ways. Yet there's a lot of "Christian tradition" backing up this strange view about men. And getting outside the cultural zeitgeist is always a difficult one. Who wants the hard work of refreshing Jesus' words to "take up your cross and follow Me"?

I'm encouraged to see you take a position where both spouses should encourage and spur one another on. The more voices we have pointing in that direction, the better we can stave off so much "new masculinity" that isn't pointing in these healthy directions.

I don't know if you saw the post on the "new masculinity" that I wrote ( This post on a man made for adventure is really a continuation of that thread from a couple of months back. Lots of comments on that one.

Thanks again, Rich, for posting up and your gentle way of dialogue.

Anonymous said...

1 JOHN 2:17 says that the man who does the will of God will live forever....

Sometimes people have a calling to minister to men....sometimes women...sometimes teens....point taken? Its obviously Mr. Wagner's calling to minister to Christian men and to ignore that calling because it doesn't include "everyone" would lead to his judgement as to why does that become anyone elses judgement as to what he meant. What's wrong with saying..."great job, Mr. Wagner...your obedience to your calling is great"?

Now that everyone is getting picky...why didn't the title include teens? Hmmmmm.

There are so many things to focus on in the church and especially in the christian home....we can't always worry about being politically correct, if we did and tended to ignore our callings, would we truely be in God's will? When it gets down to it, we are all messed up in one way or another. Shouldn't teachings be to focus our eyes on Jesus, let him fix us....and stop trying to fix what a text book tells us to?

Mr. Wagner...thanks for your obedience.

Dale Fincher said...

Mr/Mrs Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment and engaging in the dialogue.

I agree with you, we need to focus on who Jesus is, his love, and how he changes us.

I'm not sure about your use of 'calling,' as 1 John 2:17 seems to speak of loving God and not loving the world as the "will" of the Father that leads to eternal life. Simply targeting one group of people could be a calling or could not be. I don't know. The Scripture isn't very clear on that being a prescriptive way God works.

I'm glad Rich Wagner is engaged in men's literature and having a voice in the confusion that is out there. And as you saw in my post, I'm glad he's expanding the definition of adventure (which would have likely been a better title to the Zondervan blog since that was the theme of the inspirational post). I hope more men do turn toward the Christain virtues and engage in church and family. I hope that. Certainly.

I'm not myself a fan of being politically correct. If I were, I'd avoid the conflict altogether. But the call to courage and engagement means we need to speak up and have conversations and help one another understand where we are coming from and move forward.

I'm delighted Rich hopped onto my blog to discuss this. It helps us all.

But as an apologist, I could argue it is my 'calling' is to help those caught as casualities and potential casualities in the church. I do more work these days in what Madeleine L'Engle called "undoing bad theology taught by well-intentioned Sunday School teachers." And while Rich and I may disagree on some points, we likely agree on the overwhelming important things in this area of discussion.

So in my post, I'm dealing with how language is being used and how women often feel excluded with that kind of language. Many I speak to who have a pulse on the culture, both men and women, can see that. So, while I'm not being politically correct, I am trying to speak up as an apologist and say, "Watch out, be careful, people will hear you differently than you may intend! Here's what we need to consider!"

In my travels, I encounter thousands of people confused and abused by the church. There is a reason evangelicals are often viewed negatively in the culture. As one cultural creative recently said, "I think evangelicals often get it right; but the way they say it is often horribly wrong." So I'm of the persuasion that we need to talk about these things, bring them to light, instead of simply letting them pass by the side.

We all have our issues, yes. I'm sorry if I've stepped on any toes with mine.

Thanks again for your comment and challenge!

Kelly Cooper said...

Thank you for your thoughts and considerations...and your faithfulness to your blog! I have not read Wagner's book and honestly probably never will. Between attempting to finish Tolstoy and running after a's just not on my list. I have, however, read both Wild at Heart and Captivating.
Personally, having grown up as the only sister among three brothers, I fall on the more "rough and tumble" side of things. I understand (and know you do as well) that not all women are predisposed to the more "masculine" type of recreation or lifestyle. That being said, I enjoy immensely the distinction I bring to "adventure" and "risk" in my daily life as a woman from the "adventure" and "risk" in Justin's daily life as a man. We may both exhibit courage and grace in the face of fear...but we will exhibit them in inately masculine and feminine ways...agree? I think it is what makes being "formed in the image of God" and made "both male and female" the beautiful mystery that it is.
I don't know if I'm adding or subtracting anything from this post, which isn't really my purpose.I just wanted to comment because I believe these things are worthy things to discuss.
I do not believe that the problem among men at large is that they are too courageous in the lives they Eldredge's message is generally a good one (can't say for Wagner). As a woman who has experienced adventure both out of doors and in of doors, both physically and otherwise, I am assured that my place as ezer kenegdo to my husband brings me face to face with risk daily...I also know that my Creator has given me exactly the qualities I need as His child and as a woman to take the leap.

Dale Fincher said...

Kelly, thanks for your post and insights!

I do certainly agree that men and women are different. Their bodies are different and this, on my view, entails their souls are also different.

What those differences are is the large debate! Like art, I cannot yet define exactly those differences (without excluding people of that gender), but I do know it when I see it.

On comparing the books (Eldridge & Wagner), I actually think Wagner pushes the discussion in the right direction away from Eldridge. If Eldridge was simply encouraging more courage, then, by all means, focus the book on that. But instead he couches courage in a man's 'essential' nature to fight battles. And that has loads of problems in light of Scripture (though it is quite akin to Jung, Freud, Bly, and Campbell). What I'd like to see is the discussion couched in the proper terms.

The desire to rescue men for Jesus has turned into a frenzy on paper. It's like keeping the fox out of the hen house by installing a pack of yelping dogs! All the chickens get stirred up. Dead chickens and stirred up chickens reap the same result: lots of confused chickens.

Humans are made for adventure. This is included in having 'dominion over the earth.' God didn't designate a womanly or manly side to adventure. And a woman and man may experience that with different textures. But a woman doesn't need a man to go on one (as Eldridge says) and a man doesn't need a woman to have one.

The deficiency of Adam called out in Scripture, the only reason given as to why he needed a 'helper,' was that he was alone. That's it. I don't want to read my culture into it more than the text allows.

And God is called the 'helper' of humans later in the book of Genesis, so it's an exalted work to come alongside someone else in love. And to continue off-topic, it would be good our 'helping' language in the church (not speaking to your post at all), that we do not connote "servant" but "partner." To make a metaphor: It's like a guy shoveling a ditch needing a helper to make the task go twice as quickly. That's a helper. Usually, however, in our subordinationist culture we think of "helper" as the ditch digger under a shoveless superintendent.

Glad to year you're chasing children and reading Tolstoy! We need more of you speaking up! I love that you find all the qualities you need in the Creator. I think that's exactly where they are... and we are up to any task he puts before us!

Thanks, Kelly, for stopping by!