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! 

About carolyncustisjames
This entry was 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 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Jesus, John Wayne, and the Malestrom

  1. I read Malestrom when it first came out and found it perspective shifting. Jesus and John Wayne is sitting on my shelf to be read next. I must confess a certain amount of fear to read it as the further my perspective clears the more I find I don’t fit with my faith community. I have already been subtly sidelined from any teaching or leadership roles (of women) even after a lifetime of missionary work and ministry leadership in the past. I am 60 years old.


    • Your story is a major reason why I write. The church cannot be healthy if the circulatory system is cut off with a tourniquet. Not a healthy body! So buckle up and read J&JW and then read this new edition of Malestrom. The new material pulls things together.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How can I review this updated book for you? As the comment above stated, my faith community is floundering and missing the mark. I am excited to share on my blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marlise Newman says:

    I read Jesus & John Wayne and although I didn’t agree with all of the political assumptions by the author, I felt like my life was flashing before my eyes. The timeline created was that of my 50 years of being an evangelical Christian born in the Jesus movement of the early 1970’s. When I reached the end of the book, I had such a visceral reaction, I thought I was going to throw up. It confirmed to me all the red flags that I had experienced from the beginning of my journey. I knew so much was not right, but ignored the signs because I hadn’t known anything else. I will read your new updated book, have appreciated your courage and have read almost all of your books and heard you speak. All the best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marlise, You aren’t alone in almost throwing up by how J&JW ended. It was upsetting for a lot of us to see the abuse stories put together like that. Easier to deal with abuse when it seems “occasional” versus epidemic. Thank you for reading. -Carolyn

      Liked by 1 person

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