Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 01/26/2010 by John Bird.
Recommended. Despite the proliferation of books on Christian manhood, this one is a stand-out.
If you have read Rev. Richard Phillips’ earlier book, Jesus the Evangelist, you know that instead of developing his own theories, passing on worldly wisdom, or even quoting great theologians, he teaches straight from the Bible. His new book is no exception. There is almost enough Scripture in The Masculine Mandate for it to be called a commentary.
What is the masculine mandate? Phillips says that, “Rather than following the American stereotype of cold, macho masculinity, Christian men should seek to grow in their ability genuinely to bless others.” He points to this mandate in Genesis chapter 2, which "shows that God created man for a purpose. God ordained that Adam would bear His image both in his person and in his work, and God put Adam in the world to work it and keep it—to be a cultivator and a protector.”
Men today, like Adam in Genesis chapter 2, are called to “work” and “keep.” “God put Adam in the garden ‘to work it and keep it’ and the only difference between Adam’s calling and ours lies in the details of how we seek to fulfill it.” What are some of the areas where men are called to be workers and keepers? The author concentrates on five: employment, marriage, children, friends, and the church.
Men have the responsibility to work hard to glorify God through employment. They are to be good husbands, loving their wife “as Christ loved the church.” They are to be godly fathers who both disciple and discipline their children. They are to be friends to the men whom God has put in their lives. And they are to serve and lead in the church.
Though all are good and helpful, my favorite chapters are the two that deal with a man’s responsibility toward his children: “To Work: The Discipling of Children,” and, “To Keep: The Discipline of Children.” Notice the difference in discipling and discipline. A man should, as the leader of his house, disciple his children. The most important matter is to win their hearts. Love, affection, and attention are essential:
The great issue of parental discipleship is directing the hearts of our children to the Lord. Instead of a mere focus on behavior or bodily presence, wise and loving parents seek to touch and win the hearts of their boys and girls....Our children must gain from us what they most desire: our affection, our approval, our attention, our involvement, and our time.
Another favorite chapter is the one on friendship. Phillips puts this easily overlooked aspect of faith in its proper perspective:
One of the best ways for us to serve the Lord, to reflect His glory in the world and fulfill God’s calling on us as men, is to step off the sidelines of life, to offer our time and compassion to friends in need, and to speak words of truth and grace that lead them to (or back to) the Lord. In this way, we will also grow more and more in the likeness of Jesus Christ ourselves.
The Masculine Mandate has several strengths. The author is clear about where he stands on issues. He writes with authority. If men want to learn to be leaders, they need strong leaders. Richard Phillips fits that role. And he does so with humility. It’s clear where Phillips derives his authority. Nearly every idea is backed up by and flows directly from Scripture. There are few quotes from other books (only 25 total footnotes), but there are Bible passages on nearly every page (the Scripture index is four pages long). And Phillips has the gift of teaching and applying them.
There are specific applications. The pastor teaches the theology, but he also gives the reader clear, specific ways to apply the teaching. It is a practical, helpful, and realistic book. Phillips realizes that men are, after all, men. We have limitations. We aren’t fully sanctified. And he admits that he isn’t, either. But he sets the goal before us. Another plus: at the end of the book are questions for reflection and discussion from each chapter, making this book ideal for a men’s group study.
This is a good, needed book. I recommend it to men, young and old. And I plan to read it again. I’ve already identified several areas of manhood that I need to work on.
In our culture, we have a messed up idea of what it means to be a man. We need books like this to point us back to what’s important:
A Christian man should live, work, and play with an eye on the coming glory of Jesus Christ. His return in glory is not a fable, a fantasy, or science fiction. It is certain future history—it is going to happen, and relatively soon. How should we then live? How should we measure things happening in our lives? The answer is that we should live now in the light of the future that is certain to come.