Tolle Lege: The Masculine Mandate

Readability:  1

Length:  154 pgs

Author:  Richard Phillips

Don’t think that The Masculine Mandate comes from the desk of some effeminate, overeducated minister trying to make a female dominated religion easier to swallow.  Before surrendering to the ministry Richard Phillips served as a tank officer in the Army and then taught at West Point finally retiring as a major.  At the same time don’t expect more of the same. Don’t expect more Wild at Heart salve for your wounded man-soul.  This is Biblical manhood at its clearest.  Men, buy this book, and then strive to live by the mandate it shows you in Scripture.  What is this mandate?  You’ll find it in Genesis 2:15; men were made to work and keep.

At this point, I have the unpleasant duty of correcting some erroneous teaching that has gained prominence in recent years. Since its publication in 2001, the top Christian book on manhood has been John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. This book has become practically a cottage industry, complete with supporting videos, workbooks, and even a “Field Manual.” In my opinion, Wild at Heart gained traction with Christian men in large part because it calls us to stop being sissies, to cease trying to get in touch with our “feminine side” (mine is named Sharon), and instead to embark on an exciting quest to discover our male identity. I can add my hearty “Amen!” to the idea that Christian men should reject a feminized idea of manhood. The problem is that the basic approach to masculinity presented in Wild at Heart is almost precisely opposite from what is really taught in the Bible. For this reason, this book has, in my opinion, sown much confusion among men seeking a truly biblical sense of masculinity.

We encounter major errors in Wild at Heart right at the beginning, where Eldredge discusses Genesis 2:8: “Eve was created within the lush beauty of Eden’s garden. But Adam, if you’ll remember, was created outside the garden, in the wilderness.”  Eldredge reasons here that if God “put the man” into the garden, he must have been made outside the garden. While the Bible does not actually say this, it’s plausible. But even assuming it’s true, what are we to make of it? Eldredge makes an unnecessary and most unhelpful leap of logic, concluding that the “core of a man’s heart is undomesticated,” and because we are “wild at heart,” our souls must belong in the wilderness and not in the cultivated garden. That is, Eldredge assumes and then teaches as a point of doctrine a view of manhood that Scripture simply does not support.

It’s easy to understand how this teaching has appealed to men who labor in office buildings or feel imprisoned by the obligations of marriage, parenthood, and civilized society. But there is one thing Eldredge does not notice.  God put the man in the garden. The point of Wild at Heart is that a man finds his identity outside the garden in wilderness quests. In contrast, the point of Genesis 2:8 is that God has put the man into the garden, into the world of covenantal relationships and duties, in order to gain and act out his God-given identity there. 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.

To work it and keep it: here is the how of biblical masculinity, the mandate of Scripture for males. It is my mandate in this book, therefore, to seek to specify, clarify, elaborate, and apply these two verbs to the glorious, God-given, lifelong project of masculine living:

Work. To work is to labor to make things grow. In subsequent chapters I will discuss work in terms of nurturing, cultivating, tending, building up, guiding, and ruling.

Keep. To keep is to protect and to sustain progress already achieved.  Later I will speak of it as guarding, keeping safe, watching over, caring for, and maintaining.

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