A word from Malestrom . . .

Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood
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Review: Malestrom—How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood 

This review was originally published in the Journal of Urban Mission. It is republished here with permission.

Reviewer: Stephen S. Taylor, Associate Professor of New Testament at Missio Seminary. His comments regarding how we interpret the Bible are alone worth reading this review, but hopefully his review will also encourage readers to read Malestrom 20220 as well.

Malestrom is actually the Second Edition of Carolyn Custis James’s 2015 book, Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. The “Introduction” and the nine titled chapters remain the same. Yet so finely tuned was the original argument that the subtle changes introduced in this Second Edition have an outsized impact on the clarity and persuasive power of the original. As insightful and transformative as the First Edition was, this is the edition to read, study, and recommend to others moving forward. I will explain why at the end of this review.

First, let’s look at the unchanged substance of the book. In a word, the book is a sustained attack on global and historic “patriarchy.” James adopts what is now the standard definition of the term, originally articulated by Sylvia Walby,

“Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination.”1

The inexorable pull of patriarchy, based as it is in a potent brew of the will to power, male pride, and physical strength, and inter-generational cultural patterns, James likens to a maelstrom, the dangerous whirlpool that sometimes develops in the open seas trapping unsuspecting sailors in its vortex and dragging them down to watery graves. By the clever transposition of only two letters, the maelstrom becomes the malestrom and the central metaphor 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 to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons.”2

The power of the malestrom lies in its initial subtlety and gradualness; boys are given role models that embody competitiveness, domination, and entitlement and by imperceptible degrees, as the rotation of the current becomes tighter and faster, they become misshapen incarnations of patriarchy, exhibiting and purveying its deadly results.

James effectively develops a thick description of these results: a manhood that turns in on itself, shrunk-wrapped around the narrow roles of “impregnator-protector-provider” and “sustained by the submission and obedience of others.”3 (As James wryly notes, such manhood would exclude Jesus and Paul!) The dark depths of the malestrom “lowers men’s sights and aspirations to a horizontal competitive quest for male power to win and achieve preeminence over other men.”4 And deeper still, the suction of the abyss reduces womanhood to a means to male ends: “the value of a wife is gauged by the number of her sons”5–a value that can be supplemented by the practice of polygamy6 and other forms of exploitation. The list goes on.

The malestrom robs the sunlit freedom of the sons of God: a freedom to see the horizon and to look toward “the loftier calling and the greater dignity of imaging God and walking faithfully before him,”7 a freedom “selflessly to invest [one’s] powers and privileges to promote the flourishing and fruitful living of others.”8

Sadly, James’s book is prompted by the fact that the ark of the church is spinning in the same vortex. This persistent and ugly truth is underscored not only by James in her “Introduction” and “A Concluding Unrepentant Postscript” but also by the timely observations of Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s “Foreword” and Dr. Frank James’s “Afterword.”

Most tragically, many sailors in the churchly ark insist that the powerful currents are not dangerous and that they have navigated to their coordinates using divinely-given Charts. James wisely sounds the alarm: the navigators have misread the Charts (a.k.a. the scriptures)!

“[T]he prevalence of this cultural system [of patriarchy] on the pages of Scripture… can easily lead (and has led) to the assumption that patriarchy is divinely ordained. Many believe this is the way God wants us to live, even though Westerners who embrace patriarchy are selective about the few patriarchal elements they retain from the Bible – which is itself an admission that something may be wrong with the system. Most throw out slavery and polygamy, along with associating disappointment and failure with the birth of a daughter, child brides, honor killings, and inheritance laws, for example. But they cling fervently to male leadership and female submission in the home and in the church. Some extend these male/female dynamics to include wider culture…. [S]o long as patriarchy is enthroned as the gender message of the Bible, it poses a significant barrier to a strong and flourishing Blessed Alliance between men and women and a healthy, fully functioning body of Christ, which in turn inevitably hinders God’s mission in the world.”9

James sets out, then, in the central chapters of the book, to correct this misreading of Scripture and, thereby, set a new course for the church by examining the stories of six men narrated in the scriptures: Abraham, Judah, Barak, Boaz, Matthew and Joseph (husband of Mary). All of these men journeyed after the birth of the malestrom (treated in Chapter 1), after the Fall that compromised the “Blessed Alliance” God has planned for his male and female image bearers. And all of these men resisted in one way or another, to one degree or another, the pull of the patriarchal malestrom.

    • Abraham gave up his prerogatives as the eldest son of his father, followed the divine call to be a landless wanderer, accepted God’s claim upon his procreative manhood and patriarchal legacy by submitting to circumcision and by being willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son and heir. (Chapter 2)
    • Judah, both a victim and a perpetrator of patriarchal caprice, accepted the rebuke of his daughter-in-law, Tamar, and recovered thereby a measure of true manhood that propelled him to offer his life in exchange for a rival brother. (Chapter 3; I will return to Judah later.)
    • Barak, though a renowned warrior in his own right, recognized his limitation in the middle of a military crisis and insisted on the help of a spiritual superior, the Prophetess Deborah, and unexpectedly but gratefully received the help of another woman as well. (Chapter 4)
    • Boaz, at real risk to his own standing and legacy within the local patriarchy of Bethlehem, had compassion on an embittered widow, Naomi, and married an excluded Moabitess in order to preserve a family line, not for himself, but for his cousin, Elimelech. (Chapter 5)
    • Matthew, though a hated tax collector, contextualized the gospel about Jesus for the very community that had excluded him, testifying to the transforming hope offered by Jesus. (Chapter 6)
    • Joseph, already a kind and honorable man, became willing to sacrifice that honor in the awkward pregnancy of Mary and in a life-long commitment to playing a supporting role to Mary’s higher calling. (Chapter 7)

About all of these counter-cultural models of manhood, James writes with verve and insight. Did you know, for example, that circumcision of the male sexual organ was not simply a random covenantal sign, but actually constituted a divine claim on the foundational patriarchal prerogative of procreative sovereignty? James’ prose frequently achieves an enviable balance between concision, poetic expression, and measured scholarship. This balance is nowhere better seen than in the last two chapters, “The Manhood of Jesus,” and “Liberating Men from the Malestrom.” The second of these is obviously the “what now?” part of the book. James calls Christians, particularly Christian men, seriously and consistently to follow Jesus. Using the examples of Jürgen Moltmann and Paul of Tarsus, James demonstrates how the way of Jesus decisively defeats the ethnic and racial exclusivism that stems from patriarchy. In fact I would venture to say that there is no more powerful description in the English language of the impact of the gospel on the identity and self-understanding of Paul than the compressed account given by James.10

But this is the denouement; the climax is the previous chapter—a passionate description of the manhood of Jesus. There all the lines of the discussion converge: not only what perfect manhood should look like, but also what being human is all about. Accordingly, this chapter cannot effectively be summarized in a book review. Readers of this review will have to buy the book themselves and recommend it to their friends, Sunday-School teachers, and pastors.

It is in connection with the Jesus chapter and its framing that I finally hope to justify my earlier claim about the Second Edition’s superiority: “the one to read and recommend going forward.” I once heard an accomplished church historian minimize the impact of slavery on the moral fiber of the Southern states because, after all, “the agrarian way of life was much more biblical than the urban-industrial way of life of the northern states.” Setting aside for the moment the fact that the Old Testament tends to glorify the herdsman way of life over the agrarian (witness Abel [Gen 4:2] and the Rechabites [Jer 35:6-7]) and that the goal of human history seems to converge on a city rather than a tilled field or garden (see Rev. 21:9-27), this use of the Bible has persistently bedeviled biblical hermeneutics. It trades on an equivocation between what is said or assumed in the Bible and what the Bible says or teaches. An honest reader of the Bible finds many things in the Bible that should be judged or dismissed in the light of the gospel, not merely in the words, deeds, and attitudes of imperfect actors in the story but also in a range of instructions placed in the mouth of God or his agents. The Bible, for example, contains legislation assuming and regulating (but not proscribing) slavery, divorce, and the rules of primogeniture–all with a distinctly patriarchal cast. Examples of these could be multiplied many times over.

But with “The Bible says…” we are making a normative claim which presumably carries some divine authority even for us today. Such claims should never arise from the citation of isolated texts. They cannot safely be made even from multiple texts gathered according to some logical scheme. God, after all, has actually chosen to give us a story arising from an unfolding history whose enduring meaning (or takeaways for our lives) can only be prayerfully discerned or inferred in the light of the climax or goal of the story.

For lack of better terms, we might call the first way of reasoning from the Bible the “Biblicist” way: the Bible constitutes a flat field of unchanging truth within whose bounds we are free to seek normative truths for our lives. If we can find multiple points of support, all the better, but any point will do. The second way of reasoning from the Bible is what we might call the “Christotelic” way: normative truth (in our case, about manhood) can only be ascertained by reading the full story and by thinking through apparently relevant texts through God’s ultimate revelation in Jesus Christ.

The Biblicist way continues to predominate in evangelical hermeneutical reasoning. James, however, is astute enough to break from this in the First Edition. She carefully articulates the distinction between what can be found in the Bible (what it assumes) and what it says:

“Patriarchy matters because it is the cultural backdrop of the Bible. 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. Rather, it is the fallen backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message.”11 (emphasis added)

But James goes even further: she recognizes the story-like nature of the biblical revelation. Using the creative motif of a “missing chapter” between the creation of gendered humanity in Genesis 1 and 2 and the Fall and punishment of the first pair in Genesis 3–a chapter that might have described the life and community of innocent humanity–James observes that we need that missing chapter,

“[its] omission is not a mistake or a publishing snafu, but an Authorial decision intended to make us dissatisfied and hungry for something more and better than anything we’ve yet seen. It makes us hungry for Jesus, who is the missing chapter and embodies the kind of image bearer God created all of his sons (and daughters) to become.”12 (emphasis added)

Yes, this is a story carefully told by the Author. So here is the problem–and it is largely a rhetorical one–the numerous (and fascinating) chapters on Abraham, Judah, Barak, etc., as they stood serially and discreetly in the First Edition, tended toward a flat Bible and Biblicism. Consider this moving description of the chastened Judah, largely attributed to the impact of the Tamar incident:

“Judah pleads for Benjamin’s freedom with the passion of a prodigal who is utterly redeemed and transformed…. Patriarchy is still entrenched, but the malestrom’s power over Judah has been dismantled. Sacrificing himself as a slave in place of his father’s darling Benjamin is perhaps the freest choice Judah has ever made. For the first time in his life he is walking before God faithfully and being blameless. A very different selfless “not of this world” brand of manhood emerges…. He is an utterly changed man–the kind of man who has directly connected with the Center and now seeks the kingdom of God. Judah embodies the radical, self-sacrificing way of Jesus that is “not of this world” and gives us a startling glimpse of that missing chapter.”13

James’ moving depiction of Judah’s substitutionary speech threatens to undo the “Authorial decision.” Jesus simply becomes the fullest elaboration of the “missing chapter,” whose essential lines can already be glimpsed and understood in the lives of certain biblical anti-heroes like Judah. Judah’s failure to make a full confession of his own guilt to Joseph and the later insecurities that festered (see Gen 50:15-21) suggests that James credits Judah with too much. Did she need to, in order to make her case against patriarchy? No, that case rests on Jesus. Judah did grow, but his halfway measures should leave us dissatisfied.

So here is the superior virtue of the Second Edition. Although it leaves the central chapters unchanged, it puts them in a better framework by means of a different title: Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood (emphasis original). From the get-go, the relationship of Jesus to the other characters is clarified: he is not merely the best example of a well-understood ideal, but rather the ideal itself and the necessary goal of all the other stories. Lest this hermeneutical point should be lost, James underscores this “Christotelic” clarification in the very last words of the Second Edition:

“The fundamental question Malestrom addresses is straightforward: Does the Bible teach patriarchy? The answer can be tricky. Patriarchal abuse in one form or another appears on nearly every page of the Bible…. So is the Bible teaching patriarchy or does patriarchy serve a different purpose? In Malestrom, I concluded that patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather it is the cultural backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical potency of that gospel message…. All too often Jesus seems to go missing in evangelical discussions of biblical masculinity. But Jesus is the perfect imago Dei and should be front and center in any biblical deliberation of what it means to be a man in God’s world.”14 (emphasis added)

Amen, Carolyn Custis James! For the Christian, Jesus should indeed be front and center in any deliberation that purports to be biblical. There is no stronger hermeneutical basis–and no more certain dismantling of patriarchy.


Notes:

1 Sylvia Walby, Theorizing Patriarchy (Oxford, London: Basil Blackwell, 1990), xxxvii.
2 James, p. xxiv, emphasis original.
3 Ibid., 10.
4 Ibid., 49.
5 Ibid., 79.
6 Ibid., 83.
7 Ibid., 49.
8 Ibid., 10.
9 Ibid., xxxvii-xxxviii
10 Ibid., 158-164.
11 Ibid., xxxvii, emphasis added.
12 Ibid., xi, emphasis added.
13 Ibid., 54-55, please note the ellipses.
14 Ibid., 179-180.


Visit the Journal of Urban Mission website and check out the Journal for yourself. The JofUM is sponsored by Missio Seminary and contains insightful content. It comes out 2x/year (so won’t overwhelm your email inbox) and is worth subscribing.


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Disarming Patriarchy

“Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse. . . It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, but that is the truth.”   —Rachael Denhollander1 

When Rachael Denhollander spoke those words back in 2018, America was reeling from explosive revelations of rampant clergy sexual abuse perpetrated by powerful men inside America’s protestant evangelical churches and ministry organizations. It was the beginning of a devastating reckoning that persists to this day. Survivors were (still are) speaking out—no longer lone voices, but en masse and online. Social media provided the platform. Survivors were using it. Some named names. A few could only muster courage to tweet, “#MeToo” or “#ChurchToo.” 

Suddenly American evangelicalism was in the crosshairs of an abuse epidemic as old as human history. Respected, trusted, prominent evangelical men—pastors, youth leaders, bestselling authors, ministry executives—were facing consequences for abusing the power entrusted to them as clergy leaders. Loyal colleagues and devoted followers mobilized to protect the powerful, ministries, careers, and church reputations. Victims were often mistreated—accused of lying, shamed, blamed, and pressured to forgive and forget. Abusers often recycled themselves back into ministry leadership. 

In the intervening years much has been done to educate church leaders about the multiple dimensions of this destructive epidemic. They’ve been told the necessity to involve law enforcement and trauma counseling experts when allegations surface rather than treat sexual abuse as an internal church matter. But this crisis is far from over. New allegations continue to surface. The fallout among congregants has been devastating: outrage, grief, shattered faith, and a deep sense of betrayal. Many are heading for the exits.  

Denhollander was right. The church is not a safe place. And we have more work to do. For, if the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything, we are fighting a losing battle if we fail to identify and eliminate the virus. We cannot adequately address this crisis unless we understand the theological context and motives that give rise to these tragedies. This requires posing uncomfortable questions, beginning with: What theological assumptions give rise to this problem?  

Discarding the Patriarchal Assumption

There is little doubt that patriarchal assumptions shaped Christian theology from the beginning and continue to do so within evangelical theology today. They spark endless debates over male/female roles in the home and church. Admittedly patriarchy appears on nearly every page of the Bible. Nor can we deny that the Bible emerges from within an intensely patriarchal culture. Indeed, God chose patriarchs to move his purposes forward for the world. 

Gerda Lerner defines patriarchy (literally, “father rule”) as “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society.”2 Under patriarchy, a woman’s value depends on men—her father, her husband, and especially her sons. We see this cultural and theological assumption in the Bible where the gold standard for determining a woman’s value is to count her sons. Barren women aren’t begging God for daughters; they’re pleading for sons. 

Under patriarchy, a woman’s value depends on men—her father, husband, and especially her sons. … The gold standard for determining a woman’s value is to count her sons. CLICK TO TWEET

Too often definitions such as Lerner’s miss one very important point, namely that patriarchy includes male dominance over other men. From the outset of the biblical narrative, men have been at odds with other men. One need only recall Cain killing Abel and other violence that follows. When I speak of patriarchy I understand it as a social structure that empowers men over women, over children, and also over other men.  

While recognizing and condemning some of patriarchy’s injustices (e.g., slavery, polygamy), many modern evangelical theologians have historically assumed God’s design for humanity is patriarchy, although a “kinder-gentler” version. However, a careful review of male characters who drive the redemptive arc in the Bible reveals a decisive rejection of patriarchal norms. Again and again, God’s call on men led them to shed patriarchy’s demands and to embody a brand of masculinity that ultimately reflects Jesus and his gospel. These extraordinary anti-patriarchalists used their male power sacrificially to bless and empower others.3

A careful review of male characters who drive the redemptive arc in the Bible reveals a decisive rejection of patriarchal norms. CLICK TO TWEET

The Biblical Dismantling of Patriarchy

I want to argue that the theology of the Bible does not assume patriarchy; instead it dismantles and disarms it. Consider four theological observations.

First, our Creator dismantles patriarchy before it even starts. Genesis 1–2 record God’s vision for his world and for all humanity—a vision God never abandoned and that Jesus came to restore.

In the opening words of the Bible, God elevates every human being to the highest rank imaginable—as his Imago Dei. This identity establishes humanity’s first responsibility as to know and reflect our Creator. We are participants in divine revelation, capable of conveying about our Creator’s character and heart for the world. God commissions every image bearer—males and females together—to rule over creation (not over each other) and to look after things, to explore, cultivate, and steward earth’s resources on his behalf. What happens in God’s world is our responsibility. This male/female alliance is a kingdom strategy that God blesses and pronounces “very good” (Genesis 1:27-2831).

God commissions every image bearer—males and females together—to rule over creation (not over each other) and to look after things, to explore, cultivate, and steward earth’s resources on his behalf. CLICK TO TWEET

The Creator names the woman for himself. She is ezer—a Hebrew military word used for armies but mainly used for God as the helper/rescuer of his people. God isn’t creating more work for the man who must provide, protect, and think for her. She is kenegdo—his match, as the North Pole is to the South Pole. She is an indispensable ally in advancing God’s kingdom in the world he loves.

It is important to note that the rebellion that takes place in Genesis 3 does not precipitate the unveiling of a new and improved social order. Far from it. God is issuing a prophetic announcement of a total collapse. The enemy cuts humanity off from our Creator—the very center of our being—and drives a wedge into the “Blessed Alliance,”4 dividing male and female. Humanity’s outward rule over creation abruptly turns against other image bearers. 

The rebellion that takes place in Genesis 3 does not precipitate the unveiling of a new and improved social order. Far from it. God is issuing a prophetic announcement of a total collapse. CLICK TO TWEET

Patriarchy is born. Now men rule over women and children and also over other men. The Bible becomes a predominately male story. Women are reduced to their reproductive ability and disgraced (or replaced) if they fail. Violence, injustice, discrimination, and abuse of every imaginable kind now shape the human story.  

This is not the way God intends his world to be, and he never abandoned his vision. It is a fundamental theological assumption that every other text of Scripture must be subjected to the vision God cast in the beginning. 

Second, the remaining Genesis narrative (Ch. 3–50) dismantles patriarchy. 

Walter Brueggemann rightly notes that primogeniture is the linchpin of patriarchy.5 It confers crown prince status on a man’s firstborn son along with power over his younger siblings, including inheriting a double portion of their father’s estate. 

But God doesn’t conform to patriarchal protocol. Instead, he chooses Adam’s second son Abel over firstborn Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob not Esau. Among Jacob’s twelve sons, Jacob chose Joseph (son #11); God chose Judah (son #4). Brothers are infuriated and erupt in jealousy, murder, deception, estrangements, even human trafficking. They’re ready to kill their brother over primogeniture. 

God doesn’t conform to patriarchal protocol. Instead, he chooses Adam’s second son Abel over firstborn Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob not Esau. CLICK TO TWEET

Third, Jesus dismantles patriarchy and restores the Blessed Alliance. The Blessed Alliance was God’s vision in the beginning. It is Jesus’ prayer in the end that those who follow him would forge a community that embodies his self-giving love and displays an uncommon oneness—hard evidence before a watching world that Jesus has come and that his kingdom is not of this world.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you . . . so that the world may believe that you have sent me . . . and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, NIV).

Jesus’ prayer raises the stakes and heightens the urgency of reclaiming our calling—corporately and individually—a community distinguished by self-giving love and oneness amid great diversity—a community where the entrance doors are busiest because people hunger for this kind of world.

Finally, even the alleged perpetuator of patriarchal theology, the Apostle Paul, joins the movement to dismantle patriarchy. 

The former religious terrorist, Saul of Tarsus, born and schooled in patriarchy, undergoes more than a conversion to faith in Jesus the Messiah. Jesus’ gospel also radically transforms Paul’s understanding of gender. Paul came to depend on strong alliances with women, especially Gentile women. If the last chapter in his letter to the Roman church is any indication, Paul partnered in ministry with women and counted on them for strength and courage as he faced his own struggles.

Paul’s recognition and advocacy for women no doubt triggered a seismic cultural earthquake when he penned his letter to the church in Galatia—a mixed audience of men, women, and children, masters and slaves, Jews and Gentiles. Many rightly point to how Paul dismantles patriarchy’s power hierarchies in the church when he asserts: 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Against the patriarchal cultural backdrop, Paul makes an even more radical assertion that some of the best English translations obscure. In a culture that privileges sons over daughters, he writes: 

“So in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith!” (Galatians 3:26). 

Modern translations unwittingly dilute Paul’s meaning when they translate “You are all sons and daughters” or “all children of God.” Paul is saying that men and women are “all sons of God.” In one sentence Paul turns patriarchy on its head. 

Patriarchy is not the theological assumption of the Bible. Rather, it is “the fallen cultural backdrop”6 that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message. As Christ followers we will never grasp the earthshaking, radically transforming power of Jesus’ gospel if we read the Bible with Western eyes. The Bible is not an American book, and we will inevitably miss, dilute, sanitize, and distort the Bible’s message if we fail to recognize that fact. The Bible’s message is even more countercultural than we imagine.  

Patriarchy is not the theological assumption of the Bible. Rather, it is the fallen cultural backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message. CLICK TO TWEET

Our Urgent Theological Quest 

The urgency of uprooting theological flaws that fuel the #ChurchToo abuse crisis cannot be overstated. Every day we witness fresh evidence of a world engulfed in division, hatred, violence, abuse, and corruption. The brutality of unprovoked wars and senseless mass shootings create a perpetual cultural state of trauma. Much of the American evangelical church has lost its moral and theological compass. The good news of Jesus is lost in the misguided theological assumption of patriarchy that shapes so many in the American church. Sanctifying patriarchy, as many evangelicals do, perpetuates power struggles, abuse, and violence that discredit Jesus’ gospel and contaminate his world.

Sanctifying patriarchy, as many evangelicals do, perpetuates power struggles, abuse, and violence that discredit Jesus’ gospel and contaminate his world. CLICK TO TWEET

Jesus is the true path to human flourishing—not just for some, but for all. The church must not be one of the worst places to go for help. It must become the place of refuge and human flourishing in this broken world. We have more work to do. With God’s help we can move toward transformation. 

Originally published at MissioAlliance.org

Carolyn Custis James’ newly updated and expanded book Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Recovers the Blessed Alliance delves deeply into the stories of men in the Bible who subverted cultural hierarchies, revealing how patriarchy distorts God’s image of personhood and showing how countercultural God’s design for men really is.


1. Christianity Today interview, published January 31, 2018https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html.

2. Gerda, Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, revised ed. 1987), p. 239.

3. Carolyn Custis James, Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, revised edition, 2022). Malestrom documents the narratives of these counter-cultural men.

4. Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 135-143. Also: https://carolyncustisjames.com/2012/09/18/the-blessed-alliance/.

5. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, ed. James Luther Mays (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 209.

6. Carolyn Custis James, Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood (Zondervan, revised edition, 2022), p. xxxvii.

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Golden Opportunity!

Among the many changes the pandemic brought into our lives, it pushed us to do a lot from the comfort of our homes. Now the spike in gas prices gives us another incentive to explore and utilize the expanded benefits of online learning.

Missio Seminary has already done a lot of online classes. Recently I was a guest lecturer in an online seminar Rev. Dr. Chad Hinson taught on The Theology of Power. It will be a long time before I stop pondering what I heard from Professor Chad and the students (pastors and prospective pastors) who participated. The discussion was sober and candid about the current widespread abuse of power inside evangelical churches and ministry organizations. But it was also determined and hope-filled because Jesus offers a better way—a redeemed power that blesses and empowers other.

Last evening, I joined an online class taught by Professor Steve Taylor on the Gospel of Mark. There’s so much more to learn! It is incredible to learn from these professors, and frankly, I can’t get enough of this.

This Fall Missio Seminary is launching 4 new Master of Arts in Missional Ministry tracks. Prospective students are invited to 3 open house presentations to learn more about these courses. Feel free to check it out for yourself and forward this information to others you know who might be interested.

  • Church Re-missioning
  • Church Planting
  • Church and Non-Profit Administration
  • Spiritual Formation and Soul Care

Please note the dates. The first open house (see above) is this Thursday!

If you are called to ministry or counseling or just want to learn more, join the Open House to learn about Missio academic programs and experience the heart of the school. You’ll see why I am an avid supporter. Let them know I referred you and, if you enroll, you will receive a 15% discount!

Below are 2 more open house sessions Missio Seminary is presenting to prospective students and hungry learners.

I’ve heard a lot of people express a secret longing to go to seminary. Here’s your chance! Now you can fulfill that longing—at home in your pajamas!

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“Honestly, Though” Podcasters and the Malestrom

Needless to say the conversation with Honestly, Though podcast host Rebecca Carrell and cohost Nika Spaulding was both deep and wide. Hard for it to be otherwise when engaging two women with seminary degrees and are actively engaged in ministry. It was definitely reminiscent of the days of the Synergy Women’s Network and conversations we had back then.

The podcast’s central topic was Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood, which started shipping on April 12. This new edition of Malestrom contains new material that connects the content of Malestrom 2015 with the ongoing #ChurchToo crisis documented in Kristin Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne. Malestrom 2022 includes powerful biblical narratives of men who embody a whole new counter-cultural redemptive brand of manhood. The manhood they embrace is the birthright of every man-child born in the world. It bestows on him an indestructible identity, meaning, and purpose that points to Jesus, the perfect imago dei who empowers them to live out their calling as reflections of their Creator.

And yes, our discussion naturally wandered onto other topics of mutual interest. As I said, it was deep and wide, and also a lot of fun!

Hope you’ll check it out: Episode 29: What the Bible Says about Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

Then order your 2022 copy of Malestrom, if you haven’t already!

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Look What Just Arrived!

The second, revised edition of Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy & Redefines Manhood is now in print and available for pre-order. Many are saying the 2015 edition of Malestrom was ahead of its time. Now Malestrom is back to re-engage the issue of patriarchy that in recent years has dominated national headlines and devastated an unsuspecting white American evangelical church.  

Malestrom engages disturbing issues centering on patriarchy that Calvin University history professor Kristin Kobes DuMez researched and exposed in her bestselling book Jesus & John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (J&JW).  Professor Du Mez wrote Malestrom’s new foreword, and two esteemed biblical scholars—Walter Brueggemann and Michael Bird—added their endorsements to the original line-up of strong endorsers.

Malestrom 2022 picks up the disturbing questions Du Mez’s book provokes. In good conscience, we cannot allow the current ever-changing news cycle to distract us from focusing on the ongoing destructive impact of #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. Much progress has been made since these two movements exploded on Twitter. Experts have focused on addressing the traumatic effects on survivors and bringing consequences for abusers. More work remains. 

But here’s the worrying truth: this problem will continue to rage and inflict unspeakable damage if we fail to confront this crisis at the source. Our job isn’t over if we stop short of probing to uncover and uproot abuse before it starts. If you haven’t yet read Du Mez’s book, you need to get moving! Then read Malestrom and join this urgent discussion. Jesus’ gospel contains great good freeing news for men and boys—far better than versions of masculinity they’re hearing today. 

J&JW is an urgent call to action. Do this for the vulnerable. Do this for the men you love—husbands, brothers, sons, colleagues, pastors, and men and boys both inside and beyond church walls. 

Jesus’ gospel is good news for men and boys. He offers and embodies a version of manhood that is life-giving and infinitely superior to patriarchy. 

Read more here: Jesus, John Wayne, and the Malestrom

To order: Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy & Redefines Manhood 

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Celebrate National Women’s History Month with Bold Ezers in the Bible

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Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

March is National Women’s History Month and an opportunity to spotlight the incredible contributions of women to national and global history. It is also a golden opportunity for us to rediscover the strong legacy bequeathed to us by women in the Bible.

This will involve addressing the injustices done to women and girls whose stories are recorded in the Bible but who are casualties to widespread cultural assumptions that men are leaders and women are born to follow.

Consequently, vital stories of women in the Bible—lots of them—have been downsized or marginalized and lost to us. Portraits of strong, courageous women leaders in the Bible have been removed from their rightful place as role models for women and girls at a time when strong godly female role models are desperately needed.

We are cautioned not to get excited or to entertain big ideas for ourselves from the stories of women like Deborah, Esther, Priscilla, Lydia, Junia, and Phoebe, when their stories are in the Bible for our instruction and should fill our hearts and the hearts of our daughters with fierce passion and determination to give our all in service to Jesus.

We aren’t alerted to notice or called to aspire to the the radical brand of bold and selfless leadership of Ruth the Moabitess or to follow the example of the hungry-to-learn Mary of Bethany and her courageous solo affirmation of Jesus’ mission on the eve of his crucifixion.

We completely miss how, for example, the young slave girl Hagar, barren Hannah, and the washed up childless widow Naomi are at least three female shapers of Judaeo-Christian theology. Hagar teaches us the intimate side of the God “who sees me.” Hannah’s theology informs us of God’s sovereign rule over everything from the womb to the throne.  Naomi reassures us of God’s stubborn relentless love (hesed) for us, what Sally Lloyd-Jones described as “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” The theology of all three women shows up in the writings of King David and is indispensable truth for believers in every generation.

It’s worth mentioning that men lose out in this arrangement too for, not only do they also have much to learn from these strong women, ignoring them causes  men to expect less from their sisters in Christ which, in turn, deprives them of strength, courage, and wisdom they need and that God means for them to gain from us.

It is time we reclaimed these women’s stories and reinstalled their portraits in their rightful place as Role Models for women and girls today. Without them, we will inevitably lower the bar for ourselves and our daughters when kingdom matters are every day at stake. Earth is emitting a distress signal, and we cannot spare anyone in the monumental gospel movement Jesus entrusted to us.

So celebrate National Women’s History Month and rekindle your own passion to join the stream of godly female history by reclaiming the bold legacy of women in the Bible.

Although every book I’ve written (including Malestrom) offers a fresh re-look at the stories of women in the Bible, a great place to start is with Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. If you already have a copy, March is a good time to re-read it and re-ignite the fire in your bones for Jesus!


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Something to ponder . . .

To learn more, read: Jesus, John Wayne, and the Malestrom

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Jesus, John Wayne, and the Malestrom

Every once in a while, a book is ahead of its time.

In the years following the June 2015 publication of Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World, a torrent of unforeseen events transpired that have dramatically intensified the relevance of this book. Who imagined the deadly Covid-19 pandemic paralyzing the planet—now going on over 2 years and autocrats seizing the moment to threaten smaller nations and their political rivals? Or a violent attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election stoked by the defeated candidate? Who can (or ever should) forget the indelible image of a policeman’s knee on George Floyd’s neck while he pled for oxygen and died? The rapidly escalating gun violence? And then there is the ongoing tsunami of clergy abuse scandals that established white American evangelical churches and ministry organizations as an epicenter of clergy sexual, verbal, spiritual, and financial abuse. 

Is there a common thread? It has not escaped our attention that male leaders have played a decisive role in these tragedies of recent years. Could it be that we need to reexamine our understanding of male-ness? Recent history puts an exclamation point on the relevance and urgency of what I have called the Male-strom—an appropriate word play on the legendary and deadly whirlpools (a.k.a. “maelstroms”) in the open sea that pull hapless fishing boats, crew, and cargo down into its watery depths. 

“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 to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons.”

                            —Malestrom (18)

In her bestselling book,  Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, Calvin University history professor and author Kristin Kobes Du Mez has given historical gravitas to the challenge of the Malestrom. We owe her a lot for researching and documenting the theological trajectory that moved evangelical leaders to embrace the militant masculinity that opened the door for male leadership over-reach, exploitation, abuse, and cover-ups. It has been going on for decades. Even now more scandals continue to spill out—even some posthumously, such as Ravi Zacharias and internationally beloved Jean Vanier.

Anyone who doubts the seriousness of this crisis needs only to observe the current stream of life-long evangelicals heading for church exit doors. They aren’t abandoning their faith. They’re leaving to search for Jesus and to re-examine their beliefs and what the church has taught them. They want to distill what’s true from falsehood. What they’ve experienced inside isn’t Christianity, and they have the scars to prove it. This is not a problem we can afford to ignore. The damage is already significant, and this problem isn’t going away on its own. 

Du Mez’s work begs the question: “What does the Bible say about patriarchy?” and leads readers to start asking, “What comes next?” Which brings us back to Malestrom that provides the biblical and theological lens through which we can gain a better understanding of the plague of patriarchy and the important role patriarchy actually plays in unleashing the counter-cultural gospel power of the Bible’s message for men and for women.

Kristen knows the importance of deciphering the Malestrom. That’s why she graciously agreed to write the bold preface to the new updated 2022 softcover edition, Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood.

“It is one thing to critique the abuses of a domineering masculinity and lament the religious and societal consequences, but Carolyn Custis James takes the next crucial step and offers us a better path forward. For those asking “What now?”, Malestrom serves as a surefooted guide. . . . This is a message that the church desperately needs to hear and take to heart.”

                    —Kristin Du Mez, Malestrom 2022 Foreword

Malestrom focuses on men in the Bible who too often go missing—especially when it comes to evangelical discussions of what it means to be a man. Excluding them has been costly for, by overlooking them, we’ve missed the Bible’s radical, counter-cultural version of masculinity. God is in their stories, and that changes everything. All of the men in Malestrom ultimately embody a whole new way of being male that liberates men from the relentless and often unattainable demands as well as the dangers of patriarchy. Malestrom also recenters Jesus as the true embodiment of God’s vision for his sons. 

Malestrom‘s release date is April 12, 2022. So how is Malestrom 2022 different from Malestrom 2015? Glad you asked!

First, rest assured, the internal content of Malestrom 2015 remains the same. What does change in 2022 is that now the original body of Malestrom is firmly set within the current 21st century abuse issues that are destroying the evangelical church from within.

Second, the new softcover jacket also displays a more pointed subtitle. The original subtitle, “Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World,” is now “How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood.

Third, Professor Du Mez has written a strong foreword that connects Jesus and John Wayne to Malestrom as the logical next phase of the issues she raised. Her foreword alone is worth the price of the book.

Fourth, I’ve written a new preface and an afterword to anchor Malestrom 2022 firmly within the context of our current cultural moment—including evangelical politics, sexual abuse, and lessons learned from Covid-19.

Fifth, although Malestrom 2015 contains a sterling line-up of endorsements that remain in this second edition, two highly respected biblical scholars have added their endorsements.

“Bold! Honest! Urgently needed! Persuasive! These are the words that come to me in reading this summoning book by Carolyn James. She offers a deep reread of Scripture that voices a sharp critique of our usual accommodating reading of the Scripture that domesticates the Bible into our comfort zones. While her critique is sharp, James’s word is elementally emancipatory. Her word is addressed, first all, to the evangelical community that so much is in need of this rereading. It is my hope and expectation, in addition, that her good word will move well beyond evangelical circles to a much wider readership for which this good word will pose a welcome challenge to re-hear the gospel.”

               —Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

“Carolyn James has written the book that every Christian man needs to read. For so long our conception of manliness has been shaped by cultures and media that promote patriarchy, power, and violence as the metric of masculinity, against that, James seeks to redeem masculinity by a Christ-culture, so that men and women can flourish together. A powerful mix of personal story, biblical commentary, and cultural analysis that is hard to put down.”

                Michael F. Bird, Ridley College, Australia

Yes, once in a while a book is ahead of its time. But Malestrom is back and more important than ever. Its message frees us to be honest about the current evangelical crisis and reminds us the hope Jesus gives us is indestructible. We have important work to do. If you haven’t yet read Jesus and John Wayne, order a copy, get reading, and let the facts sink in.

Then read Malestrom 2022, and let’s get to work! 

Posted in #ChurchToo, #MeToo, abuse of power, Activism, Books, Brueggemann, Clergy Abuse, Covid-19, Hope, Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Du Mez, Malestrom, Michael Bird | Tagged | 6 Comments

Another Great Awakening!

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One by one, women and girls are awakening to the fact that God’s vision for his daughters is bigger than they thought—much bigger than the narrow vision the church so often proclaims for us. I’ll never get over the thrill of hearing one more ezer has awakened to the fact that God’s hand is in her story and her whole life matters.

The most recent email came from a book club’s study of Lost Women of the Bible. The writer is single, gifted, and thriving in a successful career. The church’s message for women never included her. I know first-hand that lost feeling that comes when the “biblical” roadmap for women is out of reach. I also know first-hand the life-giving awakening—the discovery from the Bible itself—that God’s vision for his daughters is big enough for all of us and that he can be very creative in how he advances his purposes through his daughters. I’m grateful that Sarah gave her permission for me to share her email to encourage others.


Dear Carolyn,

When I was growing up, I lived in a strict, evangelical Christian culture that idealized women who followed the path of marriage and motherhood. Men had voices, women had their place. I liked football and politics and hated being powerless and voiceless; treated like some passive object in a world run by boys and men.

In February 2008, I was in my 20s, living in Chicago, and fuming(!), exasperated that the culture I grew up in had been ruling our country and imposing the same frameworks at the national policy level that had hurt and angered me so much.

I was working through my grievances, trying to articulate myself, but I was fighting from the outside. You dug in. You dug deep into the Bible and challenged the theology and treatment of women at a time when the patriarchy was at one of its highest heights in the US. You defended these women and lifted to the light the way that God honored and cared for them. I know what power can look like and I don’t imagine that many people in authority embraced these new, but well-founded, arguments. You had to have taken soooo much heat for it, but you stayed within the community and then advocated for women who also saw that they could to reframe their narrative as an ezer, a warrior, part of the Blessed Alliance, a chosen child of God, etc. 

What’s more, you took on the task of calling out patriarchy but not engaging in “the war of the sexes” in a conventional way. You kept the focus on God and validating women, not any effort to degrade men, victimize women, or tip the scales so that women would replace men in power in some kind of vindication. Honestly, I’m sure you had enough trouble even with this more tempered approach!

You must have learned so much and come a long way since that book. I enjoyed your podcast, “Rethinking the Book of Ruth” with Paul Caminiti and Glenn Paauw, where you really drove home the truth that the Bible is not an American book and that understanding the patriarchy gives us truth and insight that is so much more incredible than if we just hold its words up to today’s standards. 

I’m so glad I got to read your book. It was a heartening experience to see all the facts of these women’s stories being told, examined, and brought into the light. It challenged me (and somehow also read my thoughts and responded back as I read each chapter).

Thank you for taking that seriously brave step to speak up for women, especially in the climate that you did. I don’t know if I could do the same. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future. Thank you again so much for paving a way for so many of us.

In love and solidarity!
Sarah



Correction: The podcast referenced above was “Rethinking the book of Ruth,” on the The Bible Reset Podcast with Paul Caminiti and Glenn Paauw—a ministry of the Institute for Bible Reading. They’re engaging people, young and old, (whole congregations, book clubs, and individuals) to read the Bible—and having a major impact. I’m honored to be on their Advisory Board.

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