I’ve lost track of the avalanche of men’s books over the years. That’s because I wasn’t too impressed with what I was seeing. Neither was Rick Phillips. In particular, he was not happy with some of what John Eldredge says in his book Wild At Heart, and how he runs his wilderness retreats. So he ended up writing The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men.
But, while you might expect a reactionary book this really isn’t. He only mentions Eldredge in the first chapter. His point is that what John says concerning Adam and the Garden is not really defensible. Eldredge argues that man finds his identity outside the garden, that men are not domesticated. If you mean “feminized”, then Phillips agrees with you. But he notes:
“The garden is the place where God relates covenantally to his creature man and where God brings the man into covenantal relationships and obligations. … God put the man in the garden. … If God intends men to be wild at heart, how strange that he placed man in the garden, where his life would be shaped not by self-centered identity quests but by covenantal bonds and blessings.”
Phillips’ thesis is that man’s calling is to live responsibly within those bonds and enjoying those blessings. The call of man is found in the creation mandate “to work and keep” which is lived out in work, marriage, parenting and church.
That is the path he takes. He starts with exploring Genesis 1-3 to see how man way created. Man was created to “subdue and rule” the rest of creation. In other words, make it like the garden. Creation represents our calling. The Fall reveals the corruption of our calling. Redemption is, in part, a restoration of that calling.
“That is the Masculine Mandate: to be spiritual men placed in real-world, God-defined relationships, as lords and servants under God, to bear God’s fruit by serving and leading.”
I’m reading Voddie Baucham’s book, Family Shepherds, which covers much of the same material. It covers it very differently. He has a different starting point, and order. But he particularly has a different tone. It is more polemical in nature. While Phillips initially reacts to Eldredge, it really doesn’t come across as polemical, but more winsome. He has fewer agendas than Voddie, and it reads more smoothly. That’s my opinion. That doesn’t mean Voddie’s is bad, just different and not as good. The tone matters, for me.
He starts with work because Scripture starts with work. Adam worked before he got married. That should tell us something. No, not that work is more important. But that if a man intends to marry a woman, he should be working. Work was given to Adam, like Eve, prior to the Fall. It is a good thing precisely because God works. Made in our image, we are supposed to work too!
He moves in to man as the image of God and as Shepherd-Leader. He’s honest about the sin that drags us down, and seeks to keep us from fulfilling our calling. He then moves into applying “work and keep” to family and marriage. He also explores the place of male friendships.
Though brief at points, he discusses important matters often forgotten today. One of them is family worship as a part of marriage and family life. We have a vital role in the spiritual development of our wives and children. Too often we squander that role in various ways (including working too much). He is not trying to reinvent the wheel, but largely to restore ancient wisdom to contemporary men.
Overall I thought this was a satisfying book. There was only one chapter that I was not invested in (probably because I was ready to go to sleep). There are questions to help men think through some of the material. The main strength of the book is reminding men that their calling is discovered in the midst of their work, church and relationships. Our masculine calling does not remove us from these obligations. Rather it helps us to be faithful in those obligations. He doesn’t promise unending romance and adventure, which is the vibe I get from a few men’s books, like Wild at Heart. It is about where you are, not where you wish you were.