26 November 2013

Book review — The Masculine Mandate, by Richard D. Phillips

by Dan Phillips

The Masculine Mandate, by Richard D. Phillips
(Harrisonburg: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010; 174 pages)

As I began teaching a 30-week course on marriage and the Bible, it was with some apprehension.

Any reader could pitch a number of accurate guesses as to reasons for that feeling, but the specific niggle was this: what is Biblical manhood — specifically, malehood? How do you textually ground and express the specific difference between God's intent in creating male human beings?

I had read a number of books and articles, and they hadn't helped much. Most of them simply gave popular opinions — popular evangelicaloid opinions — without much bothering to ground them directly in Scripture. Others were some fun, but in the final analysis just nuts. One had a lot of Bible — but it was almost all irrelevant. For instance, it went on and on about what Genesis 1:26-28 teaches us about being a man. The problem? Just read it. "Male and female." Oopsie. Is that the best we can do?

Then came this book by Richard Phillips (no relation, except in Christ), and it flicked the switch for me.

In a very solid, very readable, very Biblical, very theological, very engaging, and very practical way, Phillips leads us to Genesis 2 which, after all, is the narrative of the creation of the first male, in distinction from the creation of the first female. Phillips focuses on and develops Genesis 2:7, 8, and 15. Man's distinctive, pre-Eve task: to work and to keep the garden (8). These are expressed in service and leadership (9).

Phillips develops work as meaning "to cultivate as a gardener" (12ff.), and keep as "to protect as a sword-bearer" (14ff.). He then unfolds these ideas in the categories of man's calling to work (17ff.), man as the image of God (31ff.), and man as shepherd-lord (43ff.). These all focus on the conceptual aspect, getting the ideas Scripturally validated and illustrated.

Then Phillips turns to the practical application, with three chapters on marriage, two on training children, and one each on men in friendship, in the church, and as servants of the Lord.

This was one of those books that just turned on the floodlights for me. I took Phillips' basic idea, and went at the text hammer and tongs. I found in the Hebrew text and context even more clues, verification, and opening of the ideas, thanks to the fundamental pointer Phillips had given me. From what I found, I could probably write another book complementary (see what I did there?) to Phillips' My development of these ideas particularly began with session 23, and went on for several additional studies.

At the end comes a section of questions for reflection and discussion, making the book usable for group-studies; as well as indices of Scripture, subjects, and names. Unfortunately, endnotes also come at the back of the book, a reall bad decision on the publisher's part that is a disservice both to author and reader.

This is just a really terrific book. I don't for the life of me know why it isn't better-known and more widely-discussed. Instead of Driscoll, big Gospel sites ought to be promoting Phillips. I don't know another book that does what Richard Phillips does here at all, let alone so well.

I recommend it to everyone: boys/men/husbands/fathers/pastors, for obvious reasons; girls/single ladies to know what to look for in a man; moms to know how to raise their boys.

Get, read, review, recommend.

UPDATE: I just got word that the book will be on sale for $5 this Friday, November 29, via Ligonier's Black Friday sale.

Dan Phillips's signature


Rob said...

On the subject, we had a pastor once who spoke on Genesis and man's calling to work, and one of his memorable points was that there isn't really anything about retirement described Scripturally, and thus man should be expected to continue to work until he no longer can (none of this age 59/401k retirement stuff.) That's still a long ways off for me, but was any mention made in the book of the masculinity of retirement?

lee n. field said...

Years back, slightly before that book was published, Reformed Forum interviewed Rev. Phillips on that subject. It's really good.


trogdor said...

I read this book a few months ago, and highly recommend it as well. You can get off to a worse start than mocking the sheer idiocy of John Eldredge. Before this my favorite men's books were probably some Stu Weber ones, but this I thought was clearly better.

One point I remember being particularly striking because I don't think I had ever heard a pastor advance it before: sometimes you may have to work long hours and travel and be away from your family. Warnings against workaholism are as plentiful as lice at an Occupy rally, and the message seemingly always comes across as "If you're not home every night for family dinner promptly at 5:30, don't tuck your kids into bed every night, and ever work on a weekend, you're a failure of a man who's destroying his family for mammon." This book is the first I can recall arguing that work is hard (Gen 3:17-19), there's not enough time for everything you want to do (Economics 001), and sometimes the demands of hard work trump family time.

Should it be a perpetual way of life? Of course not. But is the occasional work trip, 100-hour week, or Saturday night job a family-killer? Of course not. Thankfully Phillips provides a voice of reason on this, starkly opposed to the lazy entitlement generation that thinks the world will end if they have to work past 5 some days.

It's Bibley, direct, forceful, mocks Wild at Heart, and slackers will hate it. You should read it.

Philip said...

So I have 'The Masculine Mandate' on Kindle but haven't read it yet, and my copy of 'God's Wisdom in Proverbs' arrived in the mail today. Which one should I read first?

Tim said...

I am a 62 year old missionary who depends on support from others. I do not plan to retire myself, nor think I will be able. But there does seem to be some Scriptural precedent for retirement. The Levites were to serve in the tabernacle from 25/30 until they were 50. I am not saying that this is what we go by today, but in terms of retirement in the Scriptures this is one place where men were limited to a certain age.

Robyn said...

Well I am eager to read this book. Thank you for the great review. There are some thoughtful comments on here as well. I am enjoying a book on aging and growing older called, "Rich in Years" by author Johann Christoph Arnold. http://www.richinyears.com This is a faith-based inspirational book to encourage people as they go through the process of growing older. I’m terrified of becoming helpless. Show me that life will still be worth living!

Aaron said...

I tried to read this book but as a single man found the whole emphasis on family and man as the head of a family more than a little alienating, also how much of this about defending some antiquated idea of gender roles?

I have no problem with gender as a physical fact but how some treat the social aspects of it seems honestly backward, this doesn’t seem like one of those books but I don't find much in them that I'm able to relate to as a single is all.

DJP said...

As I mentioned in the review, it's nothing about defending some antiquated idea of gender roles, and all about developing the Biblical idea of gender roles.

And seeing what God's will is for married men has everything to do with you as a single man. If you want to see that developed at great length Biblically, here you go: http://bit.ly/1aDNc7o.

Zac Dredge said...

I listened to the interview Lee linked. He had some interesting things to say but I was disappointed about his views on protection of others(basically told his son that protecting his little brother should mean getting his fists bloody; I'm not exaggerating, though he may have been). Despite that, it certainly seems like a nice alternative to Driscoll's caricatures or Eldredge's poor handling of Scripture.

I do feel there's a lack of Biblical resources on the topic. That's a concern for me, given I'm in a place of doubting my own maturity and capacity in regards to being a man. I can probably talk the talk well enough, but when it comes down to it I find myself getting nowhere fast. Guess that's my own fault, really. Advice(and prayer) is still welcome, though.