Phillips, Richard D. The Masculine Mandate, God’s Calling to Men. Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2010.
What is a man? Richard Phillips proposes that the meaning of manhood can only be found in connection the fact that men are created by and for God in Genesis 2. He doesn’t touch on the biological aspects of what it is to be a man, but more on the spiritual and functional aspects of what it is to be a man. The first section of the book (chapters 1-5) focuses on understanding a man’s mandate to work and keep. The second part focuses in on the practical implications of a man’s calling in the normal circumstances of life: (1) marriage (chapters 6-8), (2) children (chapters 9-10), (3) friendship (chapter 11), (4) church (chapter 12), and ultimately (5) serving the Lord (chapter 13). There’s a helpful outline of questions for further reflection after the last chapter (155-64).
1. Understanding A Man’s Mandate
Phillips outlines that a man doesn’t find his purpose by running away from responsibilities to selfishness and isolation in experiences, but in the context of covenantal relationships: “[T]he point of Genesis 2:8 is that God has put the man into the garden, into the world of covenantal relationships and duties, in order to gain and act out his God-given identity there. If God intends men to be wild at heart, how strange that he placed man in the garden, where his life would be shaped not by self-centered identity quests but by covenantal bonds and blessings.” (7) Men are to bear fruit for God, subduing the earth and exercising dominion. This leads to the main aspects of what God has called men to do in Genesis 2:15:
Work. To work is to labor to make things grow…nurturing, cultivating, tending, building up, guiding, and ruling.
Keep. To keep is to protect and to sustain progress already achieved…guarding, keeping safe, watching over, caring for, and maintaining. (8)
Masculine Mandate fleshes out what it means for men to glorify God in how they work and keep. This book chips away at the understanding of masculinity from the too common cultural caricature of manhood being hobby-crazed, emotionally-disengaged, childish, foolish, selfish, sex-driven, machismo and vain. When affections and priorities are rightly ordered, we get a picture of a man who produces and protects. To be a man is to be fixed, not on pleasing the world, but pleasing God: “The world would have us believe that we really are nobodies unless we do something that gains worldly approval and generates worldly excitement.” (34) Biblical manhood serves as a cultural counter-narrative.
First, to work will include different fields or vocations, so we don’t do anything just for the sake of work. We ought to, “cultivate something worthwhile for the glory of God and the well-being of their fellow men.” (13) There are fields and job sectors where a Christian man ought not work. He describes that even our hobbies are forms of work (19). He encourages that our motivation for work should be in pursuing God’s pleasure, not money. (21, 26, 28-29) He gives a helpful list of questions to evaluate how to think about vocation:
- Does this work glorify God?
- Does it benefit my fellow man?
- Do I consider myself called to this work, or can I at least do it well and find enjoyment in that?
- Does it provide for material needs?
- Does it permit me to lead a godly and balanced life? (21-25)
I appreciated his emphasis that men are to be nurturers: “We have been taught that women are the main nurturers, while men are to be ‘strong and silent.’ But the Bible calls men to be cultivators, and that includes a significant emphasis on tending the hearts of those given into our charge.” (14) A biblical understanding of manhood is far from the caricature of physical strength and emotional distance.
Second, to keep is bound up with how God has made men to be guardians and protectors. It’s an imitation of God’s watching over believers (Psalm 121:7-8). This takes place in the context of a man’s covenantal relationships: (1) family, (2) church, (3) society. (15) He outlines that men are to be godly shepherd-leaders. (46) He connects this shepherd-leadership to being a reflection of our Good Shepherd – Jesus Christ (Psalm 23). (48) Further, he outlines that,“the most necessary competence of any leader is a knowledge of God’s truth in the Bible.” (48) We can only grow to reflect God’s leadership if we rely upon His Word.
2. Living A Man’s Mandate
He strongly encourages adult men who don’t have the “gift of singleness” (1 Cor. 7:7) to pursue marriage, “[O]ne of the biggest problems in the church today is the failure of young men to value and pursue marriage.” (59-60) Our society tells young adult men to deprive themselves of God’s provision for their physical, emotional, and sexual needs so they can remain as immature and self-absorbed as possible, for as long as possible. (60) Phillip’s describes that marriage is the main classroom where men learn to be like their heavenly Father. (62)
Masculine Mandate emphasizes the equal value of men and women, “Women are men’s equals, not men’s possessions or slaves. Yet they are different.” (62) He advocates a complementation view of men and women roles; equal in value/worth, different in role/function. (63) He described that when biblical/godly masculinity is rightly pursued in the context of a local church that biblical femininity flourishes as well: “A strong, masculine church will also be a strong church for the display of godly femininity. A church that is rightly run by godly men who know and apply the wholesome truths of God’s Word is a safe church where women may blossom in the grace of the Lord.” (140)
In the context of marriage it’s healthy to view not only your spouse as a sinner, but also (first and foremost) yourself (67), “[T]he primary threat to the safety of our loved ones is always our own sin.” (72) We need to face our sin, “if we are to learn to deal with sin effectively, we must face it clearly.” (69) We are blame-shifters (70). Phillips gets really practical:
Like Adam, men today find it easier to criticize and accuse our wives than to confess our sin. For some men, the conflict with their wives undermines their relationship with God. For others, their lack of a relationship with God leaves them unable to love their wives sacrificially. (70)
This was a helpful point. We, men, are just like Adam in our sin and it’s inexcusable. He discusses how a wife feeling neglected and the man being consumed by work and hobbies is the atmosphere of most marital conflict. (73) This may be the case for many, but I think the more central source of most marital conflict is an unwillingness to own one’s sin and repent (James 4). Attention and focus won’t necessarily fix the tensions; gospel-produced conviction of sin, confession, forgiveness, repentance and submission to Christ on the other hand will. Phillips explains that God cursed marriage relationships as punishment for sin in order to point us to His plan for our redemption through Christ:
God’s curses on the relationship were the poison for which God alone was the antidote. This is why marriage is practically hopeless apart from the grace of Christ, and why divorce is so rampant. The struggles that men and women experience in marriage are intended by God to drive us to our knees and to our Bibles, that we would restore God to the center of our lives. (74)
I’d rephrase that last line to: “so that God would restore himself to be the center of our lives.” God’s restorative grace and mercy in Christ is the power in marriage and masculinity. (76) Men are merely stewards (83): “[O]ur day-to-day relationship with the Lord, and thus our own spiritual well-being, is directly related to our covenant faithfulness in nurturing and protecting our wives – who are, after all, the heavenly Father’s little girls.” (88) Amen. Our wives are not our own. We need to act like it. This chapter was convicting and encouraging at the same time. Even the most spiritually mature among us have much room for growth in loving their wives as Christ loved the church, and in washing our wives in the Word (Ephesians 5).
The chapters on Fatherhood were convicting as well. He focused on the work of discipling our kids: “The purpose of parental discipling: ministering to our children’s hearts so as to gain a relationship of love with them and a shared heart-bond of faith in Jesus Christ.” (95) Again, we are merely stewards. He encourages us to win the hearts of our kids with the scheme: (1) Read, (2) Pray, (3) Work, (4) Pray. (96, 98) This paragraph was especially hard, but very helpful at the same time:
Our children must gain from us what they most desire: our affection, our approval, our attention, our involvement, and our time. Generally this will require us to resist the draw of other passions. Just as we have limited time and limited energy, we have limited love and limited sphere of things to which we can give our hearts. Just as many mothers must lay aside other passions and preferences to serve their husbands and children, most fathers will have to curb or set aside career ambitions, recreational pastimes that do not involve their children, and indeed much of their lives apart from their families. This is what it takes to have the time and passion available to give our hearts to our children (and to our wives). (96)
Reading God’s Word as the foundation, teaching our kids the Bible. (100) Praying with them regularly, helping bear the burdens they face. (100-1) Working, invite them to join you in your work (particularly around the house), and enter into their work. (101-2) Playing, love what they love, get into what they are interested in, and help them shape those interests in a godly and productive directions. (102-3) In this scheme we can strengthen our kids to face the toxic culture they will face with great hope; a passion for the glory of Jesus that gives them both offensive and defensive tools. He leaves this section with this encouragement: “This is why the greatest, most powerful, and most valuable passion a father can give his children is a passion for the Lord and His gospel of grace.” (105)
He also focused on keeping our kids’ hearts. He outlined that King David was too often uninterested in his sons, because he sought to please them in 1 Kings 1:6, “his father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’” (108) David failed to challenge and discipline his children. Masculine Mandate encourages to keep our kids’ hearts by seeking their obedience (109), exercising self-control (110), physical reproof (111), and verbal reproof (113). Regarding physical reproof, Phillips writes, “It is extremely important that parents discipline their children in a controlled and highly intentional manner that will encourage repentance from the sin or the wrong behavior.” (111) First, physical reproof isn’t always needed, it’s not the solution to all disobedience. Here are the steps he outlines for pursuing it when necessary: (1) seek privacy, (2) make the offense known, (3) require that the offense be acknowledged, (4) embrace, reassure, and exhort, (5) repeat as necessary. (111-2)
Much of his discussion of manly friendships is in the context of David and Jonathan. In how Jonathan strengthened David’s hope in God (126) and reminded him of God’s promises. (126) The friendships of a biblical man are marked by being reliable, faithful, self-sacrificial, and entering into the trials of others, modeling our friend who sticks closer than a brother, Jesus Christ (129).
Philips outlines male-only leadership from Scripture in a local church. (132) Further, that the character of elders and deacons are qualities to which all Christian men should aspire, even if they never become elders and deacons. (134) He challenges us to ask the question, “What particular kinds of work is Christ calling me to do in the church, for which He has given me particular spiritual gifting?…serving, teaching, exhorting, helping, generosity, leadership, mercy, and administration (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28).” (135) Some exhortations that were helpful: (1) be available (135), (2) protect church practice (139), and (3) protect doctrine. (139) He exhorts that if there are errors happening in the church, godly men ought to talk with the leaders. If the errors will not be changed, the Phillips exhorts men to lead their family to a faithful church that preaches and teaches the Scriptures faithfully and accurately. (139-40)
E. Servants of the Lord
The final chapter focuses the reader’s eyes on the final goal of biblical masculinity – faithfulness to God: “What matters is that I be found faithful and hear those words from Jesus Christ, my Savior and Master, the Lord who is coming again to reign forever.” (144) Hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matt. 25:21) (154)
3. Eight Minor Critiques
(1) He too closely ties work to identity: “Because God is good and has chosen to be glorified through our labor, we are able to enjoy work and find a significant part of our identity in it.” (18) He nuances this a bit by saying, “sometimes we may find that far too much of our identity has become wrapped up in who we are professionally” (18) I don’t know how helpful it is to root any sense of our identity in what we do. Our identity has implications for how we give ourselves to our work (avoiding idleness and idolatry see The Gospel at Work). There’s no doubt that our identity of being in Christ will be revealed in the fruit of our lives in the work place, but I don’t see a biblical warrant for saying that a particular vocation (accountant, teacher, underwriter, artist, etc.) is an actual part of our core identity.
(2) I would like to have seen a biblical proposal for pursuing masculinity for men who are called to be single, and how being single doesn’t make someone less of a person made in God’s image.
(3) Phillips speculates a bit at times – (a) Adam’s motivations in pleasing his wife, Eve, more than God (68-9); (b) Adam riding the first horse, wrestling the first lion, swimming with the first dolphin, and playing with the first dog (57); (c) the speculation about the possibility of Eli not disciplining his sons because he was sentimental after the possible loss of his wife (114). Interesting thought exercises, and possibilities, but I don’t see these in the text. It’s reading behind the text into intentions and actions that aren’t necessarily plain. At other times he overgeneralizes a bit: (a) how women’s bodies in their 20’s scream “Babies!” (60); and (b) that nearly every article in every women’s magazine is about possessing and controlling men (72). I’m not a woman and I don’t read women’s magazines, but reading that I had to ask, “really, is that true?” Maybe it is true? I don’t know.
(4) I would like to have read his thoughts on how a man who struggles with infertility can pursue biblical masculinity in relationships with children (mentoring, discipleship, adoption, etc.).
(5) Given the current cultural embrace of same-sex attraction and transgenderism, it would be helpful to have a chapter discussing these issues as well. He never mentions it (and it may seem a bit obvious), but it may be helpful to discuss how our genders are fixed and the implications of that for us biologically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
(6) His proposal to treat our children as Christians doesn’t gel well with non-infant baptists. (118-9)
(7) He teaches against women deacons (133) with a brief a brief comment (165-6) that doesn’t present the other complementation views on this issue. See Tom Schreiner‘s essay in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 213-14 for a complementarian view of women deacons.
(8) He comments briefly about how the return of Jesus Christ, “is going to happen, and relatively soon.” (144) Obviously Jesus is going to return, but relatively soon. I’m not sure exactly what he meant. If he simply means that Jesus will return any time, and that we should always be prepared, then the comment is great. But, if it implies that we can know when he will come, and that we know it’s going to happen soon because we’ve mapped out events that are going to usher in the parousia, it’s unhelpful.
The Masculine Mandate is a helpful book. Phillips is clear, and applies Scripture to many practical issues in really helpful ways. I appreciate that he’s not afraid to rebuke selfishness, and to let the gospel be the driving force of how we think about what it means to be a man. We must become less, and Christ must become more (John 3:30).
If you’re looking for a helpful book for personal study or to study with other men, this would be a good one to grab. It’s helpful in applying how we are to obey God to work and keep in many aspects of our lives. This volume would be accessible to almost anyone in the church.