In The Masculine Mandate, Richard Phillips aims to recover and promote a biblical understanding of God’s requirements for men. The central thesis of the book is based on Genesis 2-3 in which God made Adam and commissioned him to work and keep the Garden of Eden. The author argues that as God’s co-regent and representative on earth, Adam had the mission to spread God’s rule and glory outwards from the Garden to the rest of the world. Nevertheless, the sin that Adam and Eve committed by eating the forbidden fruit led to their respective punishments and banishment from God’s presence. Though there is punishment, God also provided a means of reconciliation ultimately through the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Phillips points out that in spite of the disastrous effects of the fall, men today are still commissioned with the same mandate that God gave to Adam to work and keep what God has entrusted to them. The book is divided into two parts with the former discussing God’s requirements for godly men and the latter exploring the practical implications for Christian men today. At the end of the book, the author also includes discussion questions for personal or group study.
I enjoyed much of the book as Phillips offers plenty of guidance on how men can strive to work and keep what God has gifted them with. The author uses simple vocabulary and personal examples from his own life to engage the reader to examine their own struggles towards godliness. Instead of providing bandage solutions to suggest how men are to act more manly, Phillips goes much deeper in addressing the sin of failing to fulfill God’s mandate and admonishing men who resort to excuses for not acting rightly. I especially appreciate his insistence on men to be firmly established in prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments. In a pastoral manner, the author gives useful advice to men concerning the spheres of marriage, child-rearing, work, and church. Not all his suggestions are applicable or appropriate for every reader but they do serve as helpful pointers to prayerfully reflect and ruminate upon.
However, I would also like to point out one part of the book where I found the exegesis and application of Scripture to be slightly strained. In chapter 7, the author states that “Adam fell into sin by means of his allegiance to and love for his wife.”(p. 53). Although Adam certainly blamed Eve for leading him to sin, the critical issue is his blatant contravention of God’s command that was given to Adam specifically in Genesis 2:16. Thus I think that Adam’s own failure to obey God’s explicit command is more central to his falling into temptation than his desire to please his wife. Moreover, Adam was the one who received the command before the creation of Eve thus implying that he had the responsibility to convey this command to her and protect her accordingly. Of course, we cannot negate the influence of Eve and her actions but the primary failure of Adam was in his disobedience to God’s command. Furthermore, a few pages later, the way that Phillips interprets and draws out the implications of the curses of Adam and Eve also seem to lack biblical support. He suggests that “men often feel their wives are too controlling and too demanding in their relationship expectations. So men push back, just as God said: ‘and he shall rule over you.’ Remember, this is not just a problem that some women have. Rather, it is God’s curse on women in general and on marriage.” (p. 56). On the other hand, the curse of men is that “now, the man’s outward orientation is so demanding that he will show practically no attention to the woman at all. This is the very dynamic in virtually every marriage: the woman feels neglected because the man is consumed by his work, and if not his work, then his play: cars, music, sports, paintings, stamp collections, and whatnot.”(p. 56). For both quotes I find it troubling that Phillips then suggests readers to take a look at magazine covers to confirm his assertions as stated (p. 56). I understand that the curses on Adam and Eve have many implications but I find that the author strains his interpretation without engaging into a deeper discussion of the text. Given the author’s emphasis on marriage and family in the book, it would seem most appropriate to have a fuller treatment of Genesis 2-3 to establish a firm biblical foundation for the author’s practical applications in the latter part of the book.
In conclusion, I would gladly recommend The Masculine Mandate to Christian men and women who hope to learn more about biblical manhood. Instead of dwelling on theories and models, Phillips makes the book personal and engaging with real-world illustrations and practice advice. Contrary to popular culture, the author appeals to men to act as shepherd-leaders who tend the flock that God has provided him with love, respect, and diligence. This is a much needed message for many Christian men today who would rather sit idly on the sidelines than engage actively in bringing honour and glory to God in all that they do. Throughout the book, there were many opportunities for me to reflect on my own life and how I have failed to honour God’s calling for men in various spheres of my life. My hope then is that more Christian men will combat the temptation to give up in their journey towards biblical manhood. If we humbly seek God’s guidance on this journey, He will most surely provide all that we need to fulfill His mandate for us.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Reformation Trust in exchange for a book review.