GIVEAWAY ANNOUNCEMENT: Next Friday we’re giving away a copy of the book Malestrom to a randomly selected blog subscriber! Subscribe by entering your email in the column to the right of this post.
In Malestrom: Manhood Swept Into The Currents Of A Changing World, Carolyn Custis James demonstrates why she is one of the most compelling theologians of the twenty-first century.
With the authority and unction of a true prophet, she not only identifies one of the major issues of our day—a fallen idea of maleness—but offers biblically grounded insight for how this curse can be undone. James explains her astute word-play-title and the premise of the book:
The malestrom is the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species—causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all else to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons.
We don’t have to look far to find evidence of this malestrom.
From sex trafficking, to the unconscionable beheadings by ISIS, to sacrificing the environment for the god of capitalism, to the repeated abuses of power in the bedroom and boardroom, men (and women) have fallen short of God’s command for us to faithfully image him and benevolently rule together in sacred partnerships.
Arguably, part of the confusion about manhood emerges from the reality that it is both a “moving target” and a “cultural construct.” She writes:
The definition of manhood is not universal but varies widely from culture to culture. . . Anthropologists describe a continuum of manhood that ranges from machismo. . . at one extreme to cultures completely unconcerned about masculinity issues at the other. . . Evangelical definitions of manhood—all claiming to be built on what the Bible says—are scattered all over that continuum.
Yet in the midst of that maelstrom, “the issues that drive the quest for manhood are universal—identity, meaning, and purpose.”
How is it possible that we have strayed so far from God’s original plan?
Perhaps we need to look no further than human fallenness combined with the faulty assumption that patriarchy was God’s original intent.
James describes patriarchy as:
an inferior social system that provides the cultural backdrop of the Bible; it emphasizes males in roles of leadership, moral authority, and social privilege. . . . Worst of all, patriarchy turns a man’s focus on himself—on his abilities and authority over others. His manhood is sustained by the submission and obedience of others. Patriarchy fails to reinforce God as the center or to call a man selflessly to invest his powers and privileges to promote the flourishing and fruitful living of others.
And then she adds, “It was never God’s ideal.”
Many Christians have reflexively assumed that because patriarchy was the frame used by God to tell his story, it must be part of the core message of the Bible.
Not so, insists James. “Beginning with Abraham, God chose patriarchs living in a patriarchal culture to launch his rescue effort for the world. Events in the Bible play out within a patriarchal context. But patriarchy is not the Bible’s message.”
Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message because it’s predicated upon the select few hoarding their power and simultaneously forcing everyone else to submit to them. This fallen system thwarts women from flourishing and actually wounds more men than it benefits. According to James, “Many men spend their entire lives hopelessly trapped at the bottom [of the pyramid]—trapped and exploited by other men or by disadvantaging circumstances of birth.”
Is there Scriptural evidence to understand patriarchy as anything other than prescriptive?
Thankfully, yes. James skillfully peels back the stories of Abraham, Judah, Boaz, Matthew, and Joseph (Mary’s husband), to reveal that when men say yes to God’s holy invitation, they prove that “illusions of superiority and inferiority have no place in the kingdom of God.”
Throughout Malestrom, James refocuses readers’ attention to one of the most consequential issues of the church. “The question is not whether the Bible contains patriarchy, but does the Bible affirm and require patriarchy for followers of Jesus?” While doing so, she does not shame or malign men but point them to the only real solution: “Jesus is the prototype of what it means to be human as well as what it means to be male. He is our anthropological North Star.”
James believes, and I whole heartedly agree, that when men fix their inner compass on Christ, the miraculous happens in our midst.
Relationships will be healed, men and women will once again fulfill their calling to partner in sacred alliances, the poor will be lifted up all because “Jesus’ gospel liberates men from the strictures of patriarchy and the power of the malestrom. It restores them to their true calling as God’s sons. And when the gospel gets hold of a man, the world will know that Jesus has come and his kingdom is not of this world.”
May it be so Lord. May it be so.
GIVEAWAY ANNOUNCEMENT: Next Friday we’re giving away a copy of Malestrom to a randomly selected subscriber of The Junia Project blog. You can subscribe by entering your email in the column to the right of this post! Malestrom is available June 2 through Amazon.
Follow Carolyn Custis James on her blog Whitby Forum.
Being reminded of how Jesus unequivocally communicated an inversion of the social pyramid as a malestrom social structure is welcome. Thank you for the reminder of one man’s quest to fulfill his destiny as climbing down the ladder, not up.
I often find myself needing a strategic plan to accomplish my goals. Yes, as a woman I too am inherently competitive. I now see that I can channel this competitiveness to out-serve and out-last…and hopefully fulfill my destiny of imaging my Father, Brother, and Spirit.
Well said Angela! May God support and strengthen you along this journey.
Yes. ‘Patriarchy’ is as harmful to men as it is to women, although in a different way. It robs men who buy into it of part of their humanity, ultimately stripping them of empathy. It does indeed make a man the centre of his own little universe.
It hurts when patriarchy is presented as a founding principle of scripture, flying in the face of Gen 1, and as a ‘value’ to be promoted in the church. Patriarchy is simply the result of the Fall.
As Dorothy Greco presents it, this book certainly sounds like a prophetic word. God started strongly impressing this theme on my heart several years ago, and I know I’m called to preach it, despite my difficult context.
Vicky, I pray that God lifts you up and gives you all that you need to speak this word to others. Many blessings.
Thanks for the review! Look forward to reading the book. I love her work.
I’d love to hear your response when you’re done reading it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I am so excited about this book. I LOVE her explanation of patriarchy, especially the part about how it turns the man’s focus on himself. I’m currently reading Piper’s Recovering Biblical Manhood, and I couldn’t help but notice how in the chapter about the Fall, the writer states that the serpent struck at the man’s headship. I was thinking, NO, the Devil struck at God’s headship! Yes, everything comes into focus when our Lord is at the center and we remove ourselves. I can’t wait wait for my summer read to arrive. God Bless you all
Breathtaking theology illuminated in Dorothy Greco’s clear and insightful review. The reviewer evidently has the discerning mind of the author. All that is rightfully strong in femininity rises to the hope of fully realized, godly manhood. Surely, James’s view of the unfolding biblical story of human dignity is the one that squares all relationships, male and female, in the body of Christ. If reading about it is so exciting, imagine what the impact of this book will be!
Laurna, I so hope and pray that this book does in fact have a deep and lasting impact on the body of Christ. Thanks for your comments.
This is a book whose time has come! I will have to add it to my list.
Indeed Peggy. It is a very timely book. And it does seem like a word from the Lord for the church and the believers. Let us pray for open hearts.
I’m going to have to wait until June 2nd … apparently it’s not out yet! Ordered it for my Kindle so I can share it with my sons more easily. This is a critical topic for our family these days. It needs to be a critical topic for every family, IMO….
I was given an ARC to review for another publication and agree that Malestrom is an excellent treatment of the subject matter. I thought James came out far more strongly against any kind of patriarchy (including soft or benevolent complementarianism) than this current review reveals — that these more recent terms are smoke-and-mirrors behind which patriarchy hides.
Mark, that’s an insightful observation. (In truth, I try to stay away from those terms whenever possible as I think they are lightening rods for arguments.) Look forward to connecting with you on Twitter.
I am so excited about this book!
It’s totally worth being excited about. I loved it!
Thanks for that review, Dorothy. Her focus no what happens when men in the Bible are most closely following God is refreshing.
I agree Tim. I think this could really shake the church in a good way if men, particularly leaders, embrace this prophetic word.