By Richard Phillips / Reformation Trust Publishing
There is a crying need in the church today for men to be men. But competing visions for what a man is to be, some growing out of popular culture and others arising from flawed teaching in the church, are exacerbating the problem. Here is biblical exposition of the most practical sort teaching that reveals not only what men are to think but what they are to be.
In The Masculine Mandate Richard Phillips lays out a framework for Biblical manhood based primarily on his exposition of God’s mandate originally given to Adam. The book, however, isn’t just a commentary on the teaching about manhood from Genesis; it is also part of an ongoing debate within the culture of American Evangelicalism about what it means to be a Christian man.
A little background might be helpful. The Masculine Mandate is a response to John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart which itself can be seen as a reaction to teaching prominent in earlier Evangelical “manhood” movements such The Promise Keepers. Although this was certainly not an entirely new concern The Promise Keeper movement in particular highlighted that there was a large group of Evangelical men who were willing (or at least desired) to emphasize Biblical expressions of manhood against the unbalanced expressions of masculinity in the broader culture.
Many, however; both within and outside of Evangelical circles, thought that the movement had imported too much femininity into its message thus “domesticating” men in ways that were not appropriate. Following the peak of the movement a number of books and articles such as David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church were written in reaction to this domesticated view of Christian manhood. The most famous, however, was John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul. These books argue to a greater or lesser extent that Biblical manhood does not require men to cease expressing those attributes that make them uniquely masculine. The idea is that men are not to be cowed or domesticated but rather refocused to discover their male identity.
Phillips agrees that it is inappropriate to expect men to conform to a feminized view of manhood and also reacts against the concept that men must be soft and sissy-like in order to be Biblical. He points out; however, that God intended man to participate in relationships and gave him duties and work to do. He sees the Wild at Heart mentality as an over reaction that encourages men to shirk responsibility and remain immature rather than Biblical providers who work and keep as God designed them to. Phillips emphasizes that men were created to function in a particular way within a covenant relationship.
The book has two parts. The first part, “Understanding Our Mandate” is focused on laying a doctrinal foundation for Christian manhood. Phillips focuses heavily on the Genesis account and the responsibilities that God gave to Adam to work, tend, and keep the garden. He uses a type of thematic exegesis throughout the book that assumes that this narrative account is normative for properly functioning manhood. He discusses the identity and function of man within this context and most of what he says here is helpful. The second part, “Living Our Mandate” is an application of the teaching that he lays out in the first half of the book. There are many helpful illustrations both from the Bible as well as everyday life that nicely highlight Phillips points.
The book has a number of strengths. There is a lot of scripture in the book which helps the reader to constantly come back to the Biblical foundation from which Phillips is working. The examples and illustrations are clear and well chosen. There is a lot of really helpful insight into the thinking and lives of men and at a number of points I was challenged regarding areas in my own life. Phillips also does a good job of pointing out certain legitimate weaknesses in the recent popular books on Christian masculinity as well as the obvious issues in the broader culture.
There were also some weaknesses. Although I did not disagree with most of the teaching points that were made I couldn’t help but feel that the author’s thematic approach to interpretation and application were stretched at times. His interpretation is reductionistic at times. Also, I felt as though his emphasis on marriage was overbearing. He throws in a couple of statements assuring the reader that single men can live complete and Biblical lives but the bulk of the discussion seems to leave the distinct impression that marriage is the ideal expression of Biblical masculinity. This, however, is a rather incomplete view of the Bible’s teaching on the issue. In fact, Paul seems to say the opposite in his letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “to the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.”
Overall, I thought the book was OK. There were no major issues with the writing or the teaching and I think the topic is one worth continued examination. It was a book of the type one might expect from a conservative Evangelical on the topic.
* I received a free copy of this book from Reformation Trust Publishing as part of their book review program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission' 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."