Book Review: The Masculine Mandate
What does it mean to be a man? Our society has tried its best to rewrite the biblical understanding of masculinity into something other than what Scripture teaches. There are many answers ranging from egalitarianism to ‘macho’ chauvinism. Indeed, there is in men a natural and sinful disposition to shrink away from their God-given responsibilities and pursue things which are not what God intends. This is why a book on biblical masculinity is both welcomed and despised. It is welcoming like a cool drink of water on a hot day, but it is despised because it shows that the water we've become accustomed to is lukewarm. However accustomed to lukewarm masculinity we become, what we truly need is masculinity lived out rightly.
Richard Phillips begins this book with contrasting biblical manhood against John Eldredge's Wild At Heart. Eldredge's idea of a manly man was one that went out into the wild in order to find himself. It is in the wilderness, Eldredge thought, that man can find his masculine identity, not in a cultivated garden (referring to Gen. 2:8). However, it was God who specifically put man in the garden for three reasons. The first was for fellowship, and the other two were for the business of working and keeping. The last two reasons are man's mandate lived out of the first reason. This is God's plan for men. This is the masculine mandate.
Working and keeping continue as a theme throughout the whole book. Phillips uses the term "Shepherd-Lord" as a description for this mandate. It is the description of a man as a husband, father, friend, and servant of God. In each sphere, man is to be is to practice shepherd-leadership.
As a shepherd, man fulfills his duty to work and keep. He guides others – maybe it is his wife, children, friends, or a group of people. Encouragement, help, direction, reproof, and correction are all entailed in this call. He keeps others, protecting them from harm. This is a calling to care, to lay one's life down for the good of others. As lord, he is to be a leader and fulfill leadership primarily as a husband, and father. These two aspects form the mandate and set the groundwork for the rest of the book.
As I read this book, I included a pragmatic approach to reading. I imagined in my mind common scenarios in which men like this would be placed into. In every one, it fit perfectly. It was the perfect solution to the problems our society faces. Of course, this should have already been known since it is God’s plan for men.
This mandate displays the idea of masculinity our culture offers to be faulty and displays the biblical mandate for men to be the antidote. Martin Luther dealt with the fact that, under the authority of men, women seemed to be in great danger because of bad men. He commented, "The rule is perfect, life is not." I agree with him, the biblical mandate for men is perfect, but the execution of it is not always correct.
This book is one to read, and then re-read as a reminder. It is a book that deals directly with the areas in which we live most of our lives, and until the biblical mandate for men becomes a habit, we need reminding of it. The Masculine Mandate does not promote a 'macho-man' masculinity, but a masculinity that lives properly with wisdom in each sphere of life. What Phillips underscores his entire book with is a masculinity that has been shaped by the gospel. It is a masculinity that transcends every sphere of life which any man may find himself in. The mandate for men presented in this book is a masculinity that looks like Christ. It is one that walks in love, working out of the disposition of humility and servanthood. This mandate does not seek for men to become weak, but to become strong enough to forget about themselves in order to benefit those around them by working for their good and protecting them from harm.
If you are looking for rules on how to be a man or a twelve-step program to becoming masculine, this book is not for you. What you will find in these pages is simply the Bible's vision for manhood. It is not a direct attempt to answer and oppose feminism, egalitarianism, or chauvinism. Rather, it is simply a display of what God intended for men when he created Adam in the garden. May Christian men display this definition of masculinity, and thereby display God's plan for manhood to a watching world.
By: Richard D. Phillips, Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016