My rating: 5 of 5 stars
[The review on this blog is and updated and revised and is therefore more current and not identical with the older version found on Goodreads. Other reviews on this blog can be found under the category aptly called “Reviews.”]
In his book, The Masculine Mandate, Richard Phillips* challenges society’s understanding of sexuality, marriage, and gender roles (especially manhood, as the title suggests) with the portrait given us by Scripture in the beginning chapters of Genesis. His thesis is that men are called to work and keep God’s creation. They are to be productive nurturers and cause things to grow and come into fruition under God’s divine plan and economy. And they are also called to protect, main, and guard that which they have lovingly nurtured. Interestingly, he completely rejects society’s notion that women should be the primary nurturers in the family! Instead, the Bible, he contends, “calls men to be cultivator, and that includes a significant emphasis on tending the hearts of those given into his charge” (14).
This book is split into two parts: “Understanding Our [Masculine] Mandate” (ch. 1–5) and “Living Our Mandate” (chs. 6–13). In chs. 1–5, Phillips builds a robust theology of biblical masculinity on top of solid and careful biblical exegesis. The practical application in chs. 6–13 builds off his biblical-theology of manhood. However, I see chs. 6–7 as more theological (not that this is any less practical . . . only that it may be less directly so) describing the theology of marriage and sin’s effect on marriage (how women tend to have an unhealthy attraction toward men in their sinful desire to possess and control their husband (cf. Gen 3:16), and how men have an unhealthy attraction away from their wives in their unhealthy interest in/obsession with work and play). Starting in ch. 8, Phillips really shines in his practical application. in his sage, biblical advice that is bold but not reductionistic, nor is it faddish or feel-good pop-psychology.
It will be (if it is not already) obvious that Phillips is uncompromisingly complementarian, but I challenge all egalitarians to read his book and see if his (biblical) picture of husband and wife isn’t attractive and wise (and normative). To allay possible fears, I have included these excerpts:
To be clear, male leadership in marriage does not mean the husband does everything or even that he decides everything. . . . A husband who seeks to practice headship in a context of partnership—fully respecting and encouraging his wife’s contributions—is off to a good start on loving [sacrificially] his wife. (82)
Here’s a quiz I give to husbands who desire to be more faithful in ministry to their wives. . . . Can you identify at least one major issue that is on her mind and weighing down her heart, making her afraid or frustrated or concerned? (85)
[And on honoring a woman (cf. 1 Pet 3:7):] I think the main way is through Peter’s first two commands: our time and attention. I would recommend that a husband simply ask his wife, “What makes you feel that I value you?” and take seriously what she has to say. (85)
It is clear that he sees men as (exclusively) having the high calling of leadership (in the family and in the church). But he does not let men off easily, for with a high calling and privilege comes great expectations and obligations and responsibilities!
Needless to say, this is a must-read for all men! For single men (every one except those with the rare gift of singleness), Phillips encourages them to pursue marriage as a vital part of man’s Christian mandate (to be a man), and this will certainly mean that most (if not all) single men will have a lot of work and growing up to do in order to be the sacrificial and loving nurturer-protector servant-leaders they need to be to their future wives and children. For those who are dating or married, his clear exposition of Scripture and application is surely helpful to help men learn how to lead their families and honor and love their wives.
For fathers, chs. 9 and 10 alone are worth the price of admission. In chs. 9 and 10, Phillips pastorally and gently admonishes fathers to invest and give their hearts to their children in order to raise up godly children through consistent and costly discipleship and discipline. For only when time and energy is invested does the father “purchase” his right to demand the hearts of his own children. Fatherly authority is as much earned as it is a divine gift to men. We see that Phillips has high expectations for men as spiritual leaders in their home (and rightly, as these standards are also the Bible’s).
Married life is hard, Phillips admits, but this is to drive us to Christ and to learn to give up selfish ambition and learn sacrificial love and dependence on God. Indeed, only when we know personally of God’s own love for and redemption of us do we have the requisite spiritual resources needed to love and lead in accord with our high calling as leaders.
Women will almost certainly find this book immensely helpful as well, whether as singles, to see what they should expect in men, or as married women, to see how they can encourage and support their husbands to grow and take seriously their divine mandate as servant-leaders who must work, nurture, cherish, care, and guard all people and duties entrusted to them.
*I had the privilege of meeting him in person way before I had even learned of this book via a post by the Pyromaniacs (who were introduced to me via their guest appearance in my favorite podcast series, Mortification of Spin with Dr. Trueman and Todd Pruitt, from which also I was introduced to Christopher Ash’s book on Marriage, reviewed here. On a side note, Denny Burk also appeared on the show to discuss his book on the Meaning of Sex, reviewed here.) I, along with a few other fellow students, was invited to give our opinions in an informal student interview held by a committee under Westminster Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees.