Phillips, Richard. The Masculine Mandate. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2010.
My church has been looking for a book to study as a part of our burgeoning Men’s Ministry. This book was one of the suggestions, and Reformation Trust was gracious to provide a copy for this review and our consideration.
The watering-down of gender roles and distinctions has led to a hole in our understanding of masculinity. To fill this hole, books have been written that rely on pop psychology, albeit with a thin theological veneer. Richard Phillips writes in order to provide a book that is both theologically sound and immensely practical and has done a faithful job.
The central thesis of Phillip’s book is that a man’s identity and responsibilities are defined by God. He turns to the Garden of Eden to see how God created man, and what instructions He provided. Phillips notes,
Men are called to be men, fulfilling our calling before God in this world: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Our calling in life really is this simple (although not therefore easy): We are to devote ourselves to work- ing/building and keeping/protecting everything placed into our charge. (12)
In this brief statement he provides his central thesis, and will for the rest of the book describe masculinity in terms of “working” and “keeping.”
The book has thoughtfully laid out. The first section is devoted to theology and providing a framework for understanding man’s responsibilities. The second section (two-thirds of the page count) is concerned with applying it to the breadth of our lives: marriage, child-rearing, friendship, and service. the table of contents will give you an idea of the organization:
Part one: Understanding Our Mandate
1. Man in the Garden
2. The Masculine Mandate
3. Man’s Sacred Calling to Work
4. Man as the Image of God
5. Man as Shepherd-Lord
Part two: Living Our Mandate
6. God’s Astonishing Design for Marriage
7. Marriage Cursed and Redeemed
8. Marriage and the Masculine Mandate
9. To Work: The Discipling of Children
10. To Keep: The Discipline of Children
11. Men in Friendship
12. The Masculine Mandate in the Church
13. Servants of the Lord
Philips is rooted in Scripture, takes a covenantal view of God’s interaction with man in the Garden (which may or may not correspond to your theology), and offers appropriate application.
Areas for Improvement
The book is a trustworthy and helpful book, however it is not without its weaknesses. To be clear, there were no major areas of disagreement with the author, but I wish that he had more time to continue to develop his thesis and round out the book. Here are some areas of improvement as I see them:
- Draw more support for the central thesis, especially outside the Garden of Eden. Some have wondered if/how the Fall affected the masculine mandate, and I also would like to the thesis carried through to the New Testament.
- Define men’s roles independent of marriage, if possible. The reality is that some men will not marry in their lifetime, and this book might lead them to believe that they are incomplete.
Richard Phillip’s “The Masculine Mandate” is a biblical perspective on masculinity that is trustworthy, timely and practical. This is saying a lot. My church will be using it as a core component of its Men’s Ministry. It helps men to understand their responsibilities through the framework of “working” and “keeping.”