Book Review: The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men, by Richard Phillips
A friend of mine in his late twenties recently made an interesting observation about adultery. Situations of adultery among couples older than him have typically involved the man’s unfaithfulness, while situations of adultery among couples younger than him have typically involved the woman’s unfaithfulness.
When I inquired further, he told me what I somehow expected to hear: the men in these marriages where the woman committed unfaithfulness were not exactly—I’m not sure how else to put it—manly.
Now, perhaps this last connection is beside the point. Adultery is sin and hated by God, whether committed by a man or a woman. The victims of adultery deserve our support, whether men or women. Besides, what does “manly” mean? And doesn’t it change from culture to culture? And is “manly” really a good thing? A godly thing? Surely no man deserves to have his wife cheat on him, no matter how “unmanly” he is, even if there is some substance to that word.
Yes, yes, all that’s absolutely true. Still, there are often reasons for why sin takes the particular course it does, and those are worth considering. My friend’s observations about the difference between an older generation and a younger generation is just one anecdote, but it lines up with something many of us have also observed—a flailing and fraying sense of masculinity among more and more younger men.
Hanna Rosin’s much-discussed article in The Atlantic called “The End of Men” (well summarized by Albert Mohler here) describes how men are losing their place in the contemporary economy, an economy increasingly suited to and ruled by women. Rosin observes, “Dozens of college women I interviewed assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home…Guys, one senior remarked to me, ‘are the new ball and chain.’”
An accompanying article in the same issue by Pamela Paul called “Are Fathers Necessary” reported that children being raised by two lesbians “have fewer behavioral problems, and show more interest in and try harder at school.” The article concludes, “The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution. The good news is, we’ve gotten used to him.” Let’s keep ole’ dad around because we like the idea of a dad, but, truth be told, there’s nothing essential about dad-ness, or father-ness.
Frankly, it’s hard to use the word “manly” without being self-conscious. Are we talking about puffed-out chests on Muscle Beach? Or walking on the street-side of the sidewalk when you’re with a “lady”? Or “wearing the pants”?
The question isn’t an easy one: what is the man-ness of men? Rosin never attempts an answer, and Paul assumes there isn’t one. But what really troubles me is that too many young Christian men have no idea either. I’m not surprised when secular journalists don’t get it. But why is it that so many young Christian men don’t get it? And why haven’t the older men in their lives—such as their pastors—taught them?
There have been a number of books, conferences, and leaders in the last decade which have attempted to recapture a vision of masculinity. Some are chest-thumping. Some are gentle. Some are adventurous. But none of the answers that I’ve seen are as well-rounded and solidly biblical as the picture of masculinity presented by Richard Phillips in his new The Masculine Mandate.
Pastor Phillips, himself a former tank commander, begins in Genesis 2, where God calls Adam to work and keep the Garden, to name the animals, and to love Eve. The first five chapters then provide a theological foundation of what it means to be a man. In one sentence, the masculine mandate is “to be spiritual men placed in real-world, God-defined relationships, as lords and servants under God, to bear God’s fruit by serving and leading.”
The second half of the book moves to the practical. Phillips considers what it means to be a biblical man in marriage, in parenting, in work, in friendship, and in the church. Throughout, Phillips grounds his biblical vision in the gospel. He doesn’t say, “Men, be what Adam should have been.” He tells us, “You’ve been saved by Christ and given his Spirit to be what Adam should have been.”
At the risk of undermining the reader’s confidence in my objectivity, I have to admit that I have nothing negative to say about the book. I believe that it provides a compelling, balanced, and pastorally-wise picture of biblical manhood.
- He captures why a biblical theology of work—a hot topic these days—should make distinctions between men and women.
- He explains how a father should conceive of his parental role differently than a mother, and what it means to give your heart to your children before asking them to give theirs to you.
- He discusses how a husband should labor to understand his wife before he can lead her well.
- He tells men to befriend one another, not just over beer and football, but like Jonathan did when giving his royal robe to David.
Here are some pastoral plans I have for Phillips’ book:
- Read it with a couple of men I’m discipling.
- Request that it be placed on our church’s bookstall.
- Recommend that it be added to the four or five books we ask couples to read in our newly-married small groups, which couples join for the first two years of marriage.
- Apply some of his lessons in my own life, particularly his advice to be more deliberate about what kind of time I’m spending with my children (he advises four things: read, pray, work, and play).
I say all this because I genuinely hope other pastors and elders will do the same with the men in their churches. My heart grieves to see so many young men in their twenties stuck in porn, putting off marriage, shuffling with boredom from one job to another, spending all their disposable income on evening and weekend pleasures, exhausting so much mental energy on looking cool, and pursuing forms of spirituality that are light on studying truth and heavy on evaluating their internal emotional states. Then these men get married and have children, which helps a little, but they still lack an overall vision of masculinity and leadership.
If the women are saying “there’s nothing objectively essential about dad’s contribution,” who do we have to blame?
I want men to be inspired by what the Bible intends for them. I want them to see that God has given them authority to use as his servants—the authority to author life in everyone around them, like Adam harvesting a fruitful garden in church, work, and home. Take a look at Phillips’ book. It provides just that vision.