The Masculine Mandateby Richard D. Phillips
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (220 pages).
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The Masculine Mandate asks and answers the question: “What does it mean for me to be the Christian man that I want to be, that my family needs me to be, and that God has made and redeemed me in Christ to be?”
Who should read this?
Author Richard D. Phillips writes in the preface that the book is written for Christian men “who want to live out the calling to true manliness God has given to us.” It is, in many ways, a book that every Christian man can benefit from. Much of the book deals with how men can live out God’s calling for them as husbands and fathers. For that reason, it would be especially helpful for soon-to-be husbands and fathers. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter also make this book a good resource for pastors as they counsel young men or new Christians, as well as for small group study or one-on-one discipleship.
Richard D. Phillips is currently the senior minister at Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He holds a degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and remains an adjunct professor there, but here he writes in a style that is well-tuned to the general audience that he is trying to reach.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part, “Understanding Our Mandate,” starts with the first chapters of Genesis and lays the Biblical foundation for all that follows. The second part of the book, “Living Our Mandate,” applies the truths discussed in the book’s first part to the everyday lives of Christian men,focusing on the different roles that they fill. Each of the book’s thirteen chapters is a manageable length, further adding to its potential for small group study.
Phillips’ aim in writing this book was “to provide straight, clear, and pointed teaching on what the Bible says to men as men.” He has certainly succeeded in that goal, but stating his purpose for the book in that way leads one to wonder why a book like that–a book with a purpose that seems somewhat simple and obvious–is necessary at all.
Although less than a decade has passed since Phillips first published the book in 2010, few would likely doubt that it is more important now than ever that Christian men have a Biblically-grounded understanding of what it means for our lives that God created humans as male and female (although even that is becoming a controversial claim).
The world suffers from no shortage of ideas about what men are and how they should act. The pressure to conform to those competing secular conceptions of manhood is tremendous and unrelenting. What makes those ideas so dangerous for Christian men is that they have blown the church off course without many in the church even realizing it.
In some ways, this book does not add to the discussion of manhood so much as it calls for a return to a thoroughly Biblical mode of thinking about manhood. Much like an unofficial motto of the Renaissance was ad fontes (“to the sources”), here Phillips directs Christian men back to the source, God’s Word.
To answer the questions he poses in the preface to the book, Phillips goes back to the beginning and draws heavily on Genesis 2. From that chapter, we learn who we are, where God put us, what we are, and how we are to obey God. It is that last point, drawn from Genesis 2:15, to which the book returns in order to make applications: the mandate men have from God is to work and to keep.
Phillips takes care to expand upon the full, Biblical meaning of those words, “work” and “keep.” Working simply to earn money is not the point, but rather “Christian men should also desire to cultivate something worthwhile for the glory of God and the well-being of their fellow men.” Likewise, in the same way that Adam was commanded to keep the garden, i.e., to guard or watch over it, so men today are called “to stand guard so that people and things are kept safe–so that the fruit of past cultivating and nurturing is preserved.”
Taking those two mandates together yields a picture of shepherd-leadership, the same kind embodied in Jesus Himself. Christian men out to “measure our success in the security and inspiration of those who follow us, in their growing confidence and ability, and in the achievements of others rather than our own.”
Having built that foundation, the bulk of the second part of the book is devoted to helping men apply the Bible to their lives, primarily to their roles as husbands and fathers. Although those are the most important roles of many men, they are not the only roles. Phillips devotes a chapter each to men’s responsibilities in the church as well as their friendships with other men.
I enjoyed this book and was convicted by it on numerous occasions. I certainly haven’t read every book written for Christian men, but I have read my fair share. Compared to other books of its kind, I can safely say that Phillips has written a book that is built on the rock-solid foundation of God’s Word. One is never given the sense that this is merely an extended-version of some motivational speech, laced with pop psychology and folksy anecdotes.
One of the things I appreciated most about Phillips’ writing is that he will not shy away from writing things that people might not want to hear. Such is clear from the book’s first pages when he points out where he believes a wildly popular men’s book makes a serious error. He also does not hesitate to address other topics that tend to court controversy, such as male leadership in the church and the disciplining of children (more on that below).
Throughout the book, Phillips makes it clear that his goal is to direct his readers to the Bible. His experiences as a tank officer, a husband, and a father often provide helpful anecdotes, but he only ever uses his experiences to point the reader back to the truths of Scripture.
Given what he has lived through, it would probably have been easy for Phillips to write a book full of here’s-what-worked-for-me stories. One of the strengths of this book is that Phillips engages in the more difficult task of mining the richness of the Bible to find out not just what “works,” but what God requires for men who follow Him.
Phillips makes much of the “work and keep” mandate of Genesis 2. By no means does he merely take that phrase and run with it, but offers an exegesis of the words from the original language. Despite that strong start, it still sometimes seems that he makes the passage try to do a little too much work for what it is in context.
In writing about how men should approach disciplining their children, Phillips writes: “According to the Bible, spanking our children is absolutely necessary.” I agree with him fully that spanking is clearly a form of discipline that is permitted (even encouraged) in Scripture.
However, in order to make the stronger claim, that it is “absolutely necessary,” I think the author would have needed to do more than he did in this book. Granted, a full explanation is somewhat beyond the scope of this book. In any event, even if one disagrees with him on that point, it does little to detract from the overall message about disciplining children.
Visit your local Christian bookstore and whole sections will probably be devoted to books written for men, devotionals for men. Few of those, however, can match this book for its firm theological foundation and its heart-piercing counsel. Readers of Phillips’ book can expect not only to learn what their calling as a man is, but also to be convicted about how they ought to be conformed to the image of Christ by following their God-given mandate as men.
To live for God’s glory, fulfilling our calling “to work and to keep” with respect to those people and pursuits placed in our care– this is what is means as men, created for God and placed in the world, to bear fruit in His name.
When Paul says that a husband must embrace self-sacrifice for the sake of his wife’s well-being, this of course includes her physical safety. But the main threat against which a man must protect his wife is his own sin.