The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.
Hello again! Here at last is the next episode of The Big Box. For those wondering about the delay, I’m planning to post one article in this series per week, so if all goes well, my Big Box should be fully analyzed by Christmas. On today’s menu: Manliness by Doug Phillips…
As you might expect, Manliness is about just that. Phillips’ basic premise is that manliness, once a basic assumption of especially American culture, has been undermined and vilified in our day by feminists and secularists. To counteract this trend, Christians must seek to foster distinctly Christian manliness in their families, especially their sons.
Before we get into the real meat of Phillips’ position, I’d just like to make a brief observation to tie this article back to the first in the Big Box series (How to Think Like a Christian). Near the beginning of the lecture, Phillips claims that “only Christianity addresses manliness with the proper foundation.” This should come as no surprise given Phillips’ self-proclaimed intellectual debt to Cornelius Van Til, who claimed not only that Christianity was the only logically consistent worldview, but that it was the only foundation for all knowledge and reason and no common ground could be found between Christians and non-Christians (see HTTLAC for a more detailed explanation). Phillips continues:
…the common grace of God, being poured out upon a culture which embraced fundamentals of Christian thinking, such that the blessings of that Christianity were embedded into the very fiber of society, produced a manly culture.
Notice that Phillips’ explanation for widespread notions of Christian manliness is God’s common grace. Common grace, given to all men, is usually defined as a restraining power that keeps them from being as morally bad as they could be, and the source of good in their lives (abilities, happiness, etc.). (See Psalm 145:9, Matthew 5:45, James 1:17.) In Calvinism it’s distinguished from saving grace, which is given only to the elect.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Phillips’ use of common grace in the above quote, but it could be problematic in light of his previous admiration and use of Van Til. If, as Phillips claims, God gave enough common grace to unsaved men that they accepted and promoted a Christian view of manliness for hundreds of years, then Phillips has not only admitted, but glorified and set up as a model an instance in which unbelievers found substantial “common ground” with Christians! This not only directly contradicts Van Til, but is actually a cessation of one of his critics’ key points. In light of this, it seems Phillips has, at the very least, some significant tension at the heart of his views – perhaps even an outright contradiction.
After the above claims, Phillips moves on to his actual Biblical arguments. He says the Bible talks about “manly men” and gives three verses to support this claim – 1 Kings 2:2, Job 40:7, and 1 Corinthians 16:13. (Chapter and verse citations were only given in-talk for the Kings verse; the Job citation was printed on the back of the CD case and I had to locate the Corinthians reference on BibleGateway.)
“I go the way of all the earth; be thou strong, therefore, and shew thyself a man.” (1 Kings 2:2)
“Gird up thy loins now like a man; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto Me.” (Job 40:7)
Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. (1 Cor. 16:13)
Phillips quotes these verses without their surrounding context so let’s look at each of them in situ (I’ll be using the NKJV for clarity’s sake, though Phillips quoted from the KJV).
Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may propser in all that you do and wherever you turn; that the Lord may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,’ He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 2:1-4)
Looking at the larger context, we can clearly see that the general focus of this passage is not on manliness, but on the promises of the Davidic Covenant and obeying the Law of God. The reference to manliness is passing and in any case, does not give any specific instructions on how Solomon is to “prove [himself] a man.”
Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said: “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.” Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.” Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: “Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me…” (Job 40:1-7)
Once again, we see no specific description of manliness in this passage; it appears mainly to be a figure of speech used by God to indicate that Job should prepare himself for intense questioning.
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave [quit you like men], be strong. Let all that you do be done with love. I urge you, brethren – you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints – that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us. I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. The salutation with my own hand – Paul’s. If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Cor. 16:13-24)
Here the verse quoted begins the general closing exhortations to the whole church at the end of 1 Corinthians, and manliness once again appears to be a figure of speech (in this case representing courage – the Greek word is andrizomai, “to show one’s self a man, be brave,” derived from aner, “man, male”; in modern parlance, “to man up”).
Let’s explore Phillips’ interpretations of these passages. He doesn’t say much about the first (1 Kings 2:2) except to observe that David wants Solomon to be a “manly man.” This seems to be a perfectly sensible statement – David, after all, was a great warrior and left Solomon a large territory that needed defending – but whether it qualifies as a prescriptive statement of “the doctrine of manliness” (Phillips’ own term) for all men in every place and time remains, I think, open for debate.* In any case there’s nothing in the immediate context that obviously labels it as a timeless command.
Phillips’ interpretation of the second passage (Job 40:7) is more problematic. He claims that since Job is commanded to “gird up [his] loins…like a man,” all men are commanded by God to be decisive, take action, and “always be ready to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15). Aside from the fact that, at least on its face, God’s statement here is directed only at Job, let’s take a look at 1 Peter 3:15 in its original context:
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
As you can see, there’s nothing here to limit the command to be ready to men only. In other words, Phillips is right to say that Christian men should be prepared, but to present this command, issued equally to men and women, as exclusively masculine is off the mark, especially in light of the many female martyrs in the early church (see here for only one such example). Surely Phillips would not wish to condemn these women for being “too masculine” as they faced down vicious beasts in the arena.**
Phillips’ interpretation of the third passage (1 Corinthians 16:13) is the most troubling. As I mentioned above, when the passage is quoted in the lecture, Phillips does not give a chapter and verse reference but merely says that it’s in the New Testament. Personally I find this to be quite telling, as the surrounding context does serious damage to his claims so far about manliness.
You’ll remember that 1 Corinthians 16:13 was part of the closing exhortations of that epistle. As such, it’s directed to the entire church and even a cursory look at the surrounding context will demonstrate this fact. It’s confirmed also by the address at the beginning of the letter (1 Cor. 1:2-3). That the Corinthian church included women is undisputed because 1 Corinthians contains two of the most (in)famous passages about women’s behavior in public worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16 and 1 Cor. 14:34-38). Therefore, when Paul commands the Corinthian Christians to “quit [themselves] like men” (andrizomai) and be courageous, he must be including women in this command. Apparently Paul wants Christian women to “man up”!
In light of the above plain command, I cannot see how Phillips’ strict limitation of 1 Corinthians 16:13 to men only is sustainable. In fact, it seems to actually prove the exact opposite of what Phillips wants it to say. Many of Paul’s epistles contain general exhortations in the last chapter (see 2 Cor. 13:11-14, Phil. 4:4-9, Col. 4:2-6, 1 Thess. 5:12-22), and in my opinion the onus is on Phillips to show why this one is any different from the others.
You may have noticed by now that Phillips hasn’t actually defined “manliness” yet. Well, it’s at this point in the lecture (after the Biblical citations) that he finally does, or at least explores several facets of it. First up:
The Christian man is one who is absolutely committed to his duty. … Self-sacrifice for the weak, embodied in our Lord and Savior, who gave His life for those who did not love Him until He first loved them.
He elaborates on this statement by saying that the unique Christian “twist” on manliness is faith overcoming fear. The true “manly man,” even though he is afraid, is motivated by higher things and thus courageously masters his fears. Next:
The manly man is also a gentleman, not because it’s a convention, but because it is a principle of action. Honorable conduct is his motive, regardless of circumstance. He’s honorable when nobody’s watching. He’s honorable when everybody’s watching. He’s honorable when they’re not honorable to him.
In other words, “real men” practice integrity in the moment. Finally Phillips describes what he calls “epic manliness”:
When nobody else has the internal strength to stand in the hour of devastating trial, I will stand and will not vacillate. This is the kind of manliness that says, that if we die, we die, but we will fight till there’s nothing left because it’s the right thing. This is the kind of manliness that speaks to people where they are like a man.
Now quite frankly, all of the above are excellent descriptions of integrity, responsibility and virtue, and Phillips is right when he says that many men do not live up to this standard. But there is, nevertheless, a fatal flaw. Let me show you what I mean.
A “manly” man sticks to his principles even when no one is watching. True. But then what does a “womanly” woman do when no one is watching? Self-sacrifice is a trait of honorable manhood. Fair enough, and quite Biblical. But John 15:13 (“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”), just like the 1 Corinthians and 1 Peter passages above, has no gender restrictions – and surely Phillips cannot be suggesting that Christian women are not called to self-sacrifice.
As it turns out, none of Phillips’ descriptions of “honorable manhood” pass this test. They’re universal virtues, not exclusively masculine ones. I think any parent would confirm that they want their sons and their daughters to be courteous, brave, honorable, principled, virtuous and responsible. And just like human parents, God also wants all His children to display this sort of character.
Before we close, I’d be remiss if I did not touch on the topic that occupied Phillips’ attention in this lecture more than any other – Titanic. Anyone with even a little exposure to Vision Forum will tell you that Phillips is fascinated by Titanic, due to the famous “women and children first” rule used when loading the lifeboats. (In fact, Manliness was delivered at the tenth annual Christian Boys’ and Men’s Titanic Society Dinner – yes, it’s real.) Phillips makes it abundantly clear throughout the lecture that he sees Titanic as the last great stand of Christian manliness before the advent of feminism and secularism. (See also Libby Anne’s articles here and here.)
I won’t get into Phillips’ claims about Titanic in much detail just yet, as there’s another lecture in my Big Box (Women and Children First!) devoted exclusively to the disaster. I do, however, want to briefly address two things.
First, Phillips does not even mention how much classism affected survival rates among the passengers. For instance, 97% of first class women and 86% of first class children survived, compared to only 49% of women in third class (steerage) and 31% of steerage children. In fact, over half of all passengers in first class (62%) lived compared to only a quarter of the passengers in steerage – even though steerage passengers comprised a third of all passengers and first class comprised only 6%. To simply skip these damning statistics is at best a misrepresentation.
[Correction 11/16/13: After revisiting the Titanic demographics site, I realized I had misread something and the 6% figure was only first class women and children. The actual percentage of first class compared to all passengers was 24.5% (14% compared to all passengers and crew). I've cited the correct number in my second article Women and Children First!. Note, however, that this does NOT change the fact that survival rates were much higher in first class than elsewhere.]
Second, though Phillips makes much of “women and children first,” he has for over a decade publicly held an extreme position on abortion that completely contradicts this maxim (emphasis mine):
Whereas those theories which justify the killing of the unborn child on the basis of the circumstances of conception (as in the case of rape or incest), or even the life of the mother (ectopic pregnancies) are completely false because they are based on unbiblical and humanistic ethics, unbiblical definitions of “self-defense” theory, and a rejection of the personhood of the child…
It’s clear from the above statement that Phillips believes abortion in the case of an ectopic pregnancy (a life-threatening situation in which the fetus is non-viable) is unbiblical and, indeed, a capital crime:
Whereas, God has declared in His Word that whosoever wrongfully takes the life of an unborn child shall be guilty of a capital crime…
Yes, you heard him correctly: mothers who abort a non-viable ectopic fetus are apparently murderers and, in Phillips’ “perfect” world governed by Old Testament law, would be executed. Thus, we should, when faced with a decision between two innocent lives, one of which is unable to be saved, apparently choose to lose both lives even though it is completely unnecessary to do so. We should also not consider the fact that, since Phillips advocates for large families, those mothers who might be inclined to follow his advice will probably already have at least one or two children – children who would be left without their primary caregiver and likely distraught after their mother’s completely preventable death. Needless to say, mainstream pro-life activists are horrified by Phillips’ position.
How does this line up with “women and children first”? Your guess is as good as mine. Frankly, to this reader, it sounds much more like “women and children last.”
* Most of David’s instructions in the rest of the chapter, aside from the exhortations to obey the Law, are highly circumstantial and relate to how he wants Solomon to deal with specific individuals at court. It’s also possible, in my view, that the advice to Solomon to “prove [himself] a man” relates to the fact that he is one of David’s younger sons and embroiled in a succession crisis with his (still living) older brother Adonijah. As the younger son, it may have been more necessary than usual for Solomon to “prove himself” as he would not have been the customary choice for the throne.
** This is especially ironic in light of the fact that he commends the male crew of the HMS Birkenhead for a similar action (willingly going down into waters teeming with sharks) later in the lecture.