Dr. Richard Phillips’ book, The Masculine Mandate, is a refreshingly biblical addition to the genre of books on Christian manhood. Right off the bat, Phillips sets his book over against what he calls the “Wild at Heart Fallacy”, referring to popular books by John Eldridge and others which reduce “manhood” to a quest for adventure and free-spirited independence. While there is some truth in these other books, they tend to be long on pop psychology and short on support from Scripture.
Wild at Heart begins by claiming that Adam was created outside the garden (because Genesis 2:8 says that God “put the man” into the garden), and that therefore a man’s soul belongs in the wilderness and not in the cultivated garden. Phillips, on the other hand, reasons that it is precisely because God put Adam in the garden that we are able to discern our calling as men. When God put Adam in the garden, He gave our first father covenantal relationships and duties by which he was to “act out his God-given identity”. We see these responsibilities stated in Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
It is from this verse that Phillips extracts the “Masculine Mandate”. The book is largely spent defining the verbs “work” and “keep” and applying them to every aspect of masculine living. By their most simplistic definitions, “to work is to labor to make things grow”, and “to keep is to protect and to sustain progress already achieved”.
The motif of working and keeping is developed by first of all building a healthy theology of work, and of our role as image-bearers of God. Men were created to work, and to bring God glory and ourselves enjoyment through the fruits of our labor. By exhibiting a good work ethic, and bringing our God-given talents to bear within whatever context we are placed (we are not all placed in a garden, after all), we cultivate the things and people in our lives to produce growth. As Phillips says, “we are to invest our time, our energies, our ideas, and our passions in bringing good things into being”.
In addition to our role as cultivators (the “working”), we are also to be protectors (the “keeping”). Men have a responsibility to safeguard the fruits of the work of ourselves and of others, which includes far more than merely physical safety.
“To be a man is to stand up and be counted when there is danger or other evil. God does not desire for men to stand by idly and allow harm, or permit wickedness to exert itself. Rather, we are called to keep others safe within all the covenant relationship we enter. In our families, our presence is to make our wives and children feel secure and at ease. At church, we are to stand for truth and godliness against the encroachment of worldliness and error. In society, we are to take our places as men who stand up against evil and who defend the nation from threat of danger.”
After building the foundation for our understanding of this mandate, Phillips quickly moves to practical application, which makes up the bulk of the book. Three chapters focus on marriage, “one of the great callings in all of life and the relationship in which our Masculine Mandate has its most intimate and potent expression”. Much care is taken here, because of the general lack of understanding most Christian men seem to have of “what marriage is about, how it is designed by God, or what its purpose is to be in our lives”.
The author then moves on to fatherhood, and of our great responsibilities of “working and keeping” in the lives of our children. The practical outworking of the gospel and the Masculine Mandate in our marriages pours over into our parenting; in order to be good fathers we must first be good husbands. In the first chapter on parenting, Phillips focuses on the “work” aspect of raising children: discipling them. The second chapter then looks at “keeping” them through the means of discipline.
The final three chapters explore a man’s need for friendships with godly men, our lives and responsibilities in the church, and living a life of humble, servant leadership. All along the way, Phillips shows us in God’s Word how we are to work and keep the world the Lord has given to us, and to point people to Him by the work we do and the manner in which we do it.
A relatively short but excellent book, The Masculine Mandate is well worth the few hours it will take you to read it. I highly recommend it for all Christian men who are not satisfied with what the world tells us about what it means to be a man. Buy it here.