A new book crossed my desk the other day, and I believe it is worth more than a mention in passing. The Virtuous Man: Breaking the Men's Code, by musician, composer, and educator Kevin Toney, is both autobiographical journey and learning tool. Mr. Toney states that there is a "men's code" that is impressed onto a man beginning at boyhood. This "code" is in direct contradiction to "God's code" on how men should behave as husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. "The book begins by telling the story of how I learned and embraced the 'Menís Code,' Mr. Toney says, "its early beginnings, its rise to power, my crash and my point of turning things around. Then the book becomes a bible manual for men to study Godís word on becoming virtuous."
Mr. Toney's story about how he embraced the "men's code" is both honest and disturbing. No doubt many men will readily identify with the anecdotes he tells and the scenes he describes. He speaks about the first time his father had "the talk" with him and his brothers, through encounters in high school, meeting his future wife, and how by following this unwritten "men's code" he nearly brought his 25-year marriage to an end.
Mr. Toney makes his stories more than just interesting recollections by telling the reader the significance attached with each one. For example, in the story about how his father explained sex, Mr. Toney admits that it was more of a clinical, nut-and-bolts explanation of how it was done, and the underlying significance of the sexual relationship was overlooked entirely. From this experience, Mr. Toney observes "(1) That men would often pass on incomplete and misguided information about sex to young boys (2) There is no discussion about the consequences of having sex at a young age or getting a woman pregnant and the responsibilities that comes with that (3) There was no discussion of when the right time was to engage in sexual activity. (4) There was no discussion from a spiritual or biblical perspective on what Godís word reveals about sexual behavior." This, he says, was his first introduction to the "men's code," where he was taught that sex was a biological activity instead of an expression of love. Later on Mr. Toney recalls how his first sexual encounter was with a prostitute, and how the circumstances and setting taught him that it was acceptable to purchase sexual favors. The "men's code" was becoming more fully defined for him.
Mr. Toney's turning point came when his wife confronted him about an affair he was having. He was told to leave his house and, after spending a night at a hotel, he called his friend James Newton whom he had tried unsuccessfully to reach the night before to use him as an alibi. Mr. Newton said he wouldn't agree to be his alibi, and instead told Mr. Toney how he had been in a similar situation and lost his wife in a divorce. "He told me," says Mr. Toney, "that if I loved my wife and family, that I should fight for them and do whatever was necessary to change my predicament. He then directed me to read Bible verses that clearly pointed out the sin of adultery, its consequences and what God directs us to do regarding our marriage... He then gave me his pastorís telephone number who recommended us to a marriage counselor."
There are several important things to learn from observing this brief story. First, he needed to be confronted with his sin. Men rarely admit sin to themselves. Second, he was given the standard by which to measure both his inward heart attitude and his outward social behavior. Without this standard -- "God's code" -- there could be no real change. Third, he was given assistance. The marriage counselor was a Christian, and the counselor helped both Mr. Toney and his wife deal with his infidelity and its consequences. They needed to be guided and encouraged through this time in their marriage. It would be impossible to restore it on their own.
Mr. Toney also takes time to exhibit something I have never before seen a man do. After a year of self-assessment and critical evaluation of his life, Mr. Toney wrote a letter to friends, family, and associates to confess his sin, apologized for how his behavior affected the recipient of the letter, and declared how he was going to change his life. The second paragraph of the letter is an apology to his wife, expressing for all to see his deep regret over the hurt he caused, praising her for her character, and publicly promising to be a better man. The l-page letter is reproduced in the first part of the book, and should be a template for any man who has done similar misdeeds and wants to heal the hurt and become the man God intends him to be.
The second part of the book comprises 13 chapters devoted to specific topics such as "Divorce," "Understanding What Love Is," and "Making Choices, Making Changes." The chapters are arranged so that there is a narrative lesson; bible verses for study; notes on the bible passages to aid in making observations, drawing conclusions, and applying change; five questions for self-reflection; and blank pages for journaling.
The style of presenting the information as a basis for learning was new to me. I have done "question and answer" bible studies, inductive bible studies, and studies that are presented on a multi-media platform. Here, though, Mr. Toney takes a direction where the reader is not led to a predetermined lesson, but is instead allowed the freedom to consider scripture and apply it to his personal life. The study itself is more reflective than academic in its structure, and would make a good tool for one-on-one or small group discipleship studies. A leaders guide would be a logical companion to the book. It could provide direction for small group discussions and also challenge leaders to model the concepts in the book.
There appears to be no right or wrong way to use the study. The choice to focus on personal reflection and make allowance for individual journaling may allow small groups to go beyond what is presented in the book and delve further into specific issues.
The third part of the book on additional resources takes some of the best from existing publications and puts them at the reader's fingertips. Practical advice is taken from Every Man's Battle, items written by Pastor Randy Alcorn, plus other tools for the Christian man to use. There is also a Father's Day letter to the author's children, where he lists seven things he will do for them each Father's Day.
The Virtuous Man: Breaking the Men's Code, is an honest accounting by Mr. Toney of his journey through manhood and coming to embrace "God's code." It is also guide for men to search God's word in order to learn "God's code" for themselves and practice it daily. I recommend this for both men and women, married and unmarried. Ladies, you will be hard pressed to find in another book about what men, including your man, assimilate into their thinking, how they do it, and how it affects them. It is good knowledge with which to be armed, especially if you are raising sons. Gentlemen, you may view this as just another book in the "men's issues" section of your Christian bookstore, but you will identify with Mr. Toney's candor, and the study section will guide any man who is seeking to change in a way that honors God.
The Virtuous Man: Breaking the Men's Code is available from http://kevintoney.com/music/the-virtuous-man/ and amazon.com. The book is available in paperback or as an e-book. The companion CD "Heart of Gratitude" is also available.