Something to Ponder …



Their latest blog post, “Loving Your Enemy, Even When It’s ISIS. Yes, Even Then” proves this is not an empty platitude.

Lynne Hybels urged, “Read this slowly…prayerfully…let these words undo you.”

This is the imago Dei. This is hesed.

No word in the English language captures its exact meaning [of the Hebrew word hesed]. Consequently . . . we end up with a smorgasbord of words like “kindness,” “mercy,” “loyalty,” “loving-kindness,” “loyal, steadfast, unfailing (or just plain) love”—words that certainly touch on what hesed means but by themselves don’t begin to do justice to this powerful, richly laden word. As a result, we easily skim over references to hesed without realizing we have just stumbled over one of the most potent words in the Old Testament.

With a little help from Hebrew scholars, we can come a little closer to the meaning of hesed than a llama is to a lamb. They tell us hesed is a strong Hebrew word that sums up the ideal lifestyle for God’s people. It’s the way God intended for human beings to live together from the beginning—the “love-your-neighbor-as-yourself” brand of living, an active, selfless, sacrificial caring for one another that goes against the grain of our fallen natures.

Two parties are involved—someone in desperate need and a second person who possesses the power and the resources to make a difference. Hesed is driven, not by duty or legal obligation, but by a bone-deep commitment—a loyal, selfless love that motivates a person to do voluntarily what no one has a right to expect or ask of them. They have the freedom to act or to walk away without the slightest injury to their reputation. Yet they willingly pour themselves out for the good of someone else. It’s actually the kind of love we find most fully expressed in Jesus.

In a nutshell, hesed is the gospel lived out.

—from The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Evangelical—When a Good Word Goes Bad

apple-455436_1920Anyone who has a finger on the pulse of American evangelicalism has to be wondering if the patient will survive.

During the current presidential election cycle, American evangelicalism has suffered what may prove to be a potentially lethal setback at the hands of a few evangelical leaders. Prominent evangelical figures that include such notables as Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Richard Land, James Dobson, and Eric Metaxas have drawn national attention by publically endorsing Donald Trump, a man whose actions, values, lifestyle, and rhetoric run counter to the life and teachings of Jesus.

How can American evangelicalism survive when, like an immune system gone awry, it begins to turn on itself? Yet, despite Trump’s racist, Islamophobic, misogynist, and xenophobic rhetoric, they have rushed to the Republican nominee’s side, pledged their support, and seem intent on influencing the rest of us to join them in violating our evangelical convictions.

More Evangelical Defections

In the aftermath, and despite an online outcry of resistance from appalled fellow evangelicals, things have only gotten worse.

In late July, Professor Wayne Grudem released his lengthy diatribe for endorsing Trump—“Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice.” In it, Grudem glossed over the long list of Trump’s offenses, calling him a “flawed” candidate and affirming him as “a morally good choice.” His essay caused another dumbfounded evangelical to retort,“ How “Trump” and “morally” can meet in the same sentence defies the imagination.”[1]

If the shock waves created by Professor Wayne Grudem’s 5000+ word rationalization of his endorsement of Donald Trump weren’t enough, shortly afterwards Dr. James Dobson doubled-down on his earlier support of Trump with a video endorsement of the real estate mogul. Dobson, founder and former president of Focus on the Family, stated he is “deeply concerned about the direction our country is headed.”

In our republic, there is maximal freedom to express political preferences. But it is a good deal more troubling when an evangelical leader plays off their identity as an evangelical with the clear intent of influencing others to follow their lead.

With so many offensive statements radiating from the nightly news, evangelicals are right to protest these endorsements and to call these evangelical leaders to account. As a woman, I find it especially troubling that not only are both Grudem and Dobson willing to dismiss those offenses, they are sabotaging core values of their respective lifelong ministries.

Here’s what I mean.

Family Values and Biblical Manhood?

As the evangelical guru of family values, Dr. Dobson’s endorsement strikes a double blow to the fight against some of the most serious issues facing American families—battles he has historically engaged. Significant efforts are underway to combat the destructive plague of bullying. Bullying has lead to suicides even of adolescents and has been a factor in some mass shootings. Dobson himself expressed alarm over what is happening. “Kids are regularly committing suicide because of the horrible bullying they endure.” Likewise, many are working vigorously to prevent young girls from hating, cutting, and starving themselves because they don’t conform to some culturally embraced ideal of the female body. Yet James Dobson would have us cast our votes for an unapologetic bully who routinely belittles his opponents, ridicules a disabled man, and a man who objectifies women (including both of his daughters).

What possible explanation can we give our children and grandchildren if we follow his lead and vote for Trump?

Grudem—a founder, formulator, and relentless defender of complementarian manhood has written tomes advocating the view that real men protect women. Finding any alignment between Grudem’s diehard complementarian stance and his advocacy for Trump is difficult to imagine. For goodness sake, Trump is a strip club owner. But there is more. Trump openly boasts of his sexual conquests and adulterous escapades and he degrades women with misogynist remarks. Grudem’s logic for supporting Trump escapes me.

You would think that if protecting women and girls truly mattered to complementarian Grudem, he’d be defending his endorsement for Hillary Clinton, who has done more than any politician in this entire election cycle to lift up, protect, and defend the rights of women and girls globally. Instead, Grudem wants to defeat her.

Better Trump than a woman president, I guess.

These endorsement reflect a fundamental failure of complementarianism. The commitment to protect women and children—a central tenant of evangelical family values and the complementarian manifesto—is all too easily abandoned.

The rise of Donald Trump and the abandonment by evangelical leaders of their own core convictions surely compel American evangelicals to reflect on what it means to be a Christian. In a very real sense, Trump and his evangelical advocates provide an opportunity for the rest of us to rethink where our true loyalties lie and to ponder how following Jesus defines our values and shapes our engagement in the public square. That same standard applies to how we as Christians evaluate every other candidate.

Reclaiming our Christian Identity

In his NYTimes article,  “Why Values Voters Value Donald Trump,” Daniel K. Williams raised the obvious question facing Christians.

“If conservative evangelical support for Mr. Trump requires [evangelicals] to retract their convictions about the values of decency, marital fidelity and Christian virtue in public life, are they at risk of attempting to gain the Supreme Court at the cost of their movement’s soul?”

Perhaps instead, the current evangelical crisis signals the demise of the distorted American version of evangelicalism and compels us to reclaim our true allegiance to Jesus and to recommit to be bearers of the good news of his kingdom.

The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion (εὐαγγέλιον) which means “gospel” or “good news.” Historically for Christians the word evangelical identifies the followers of Jesus and connects them with the good news of his gospel—a gospel of God’s love and mercy for the world he loves through Jesus and the kingdom Jesus brings. Tragically, in America the word “evangelical” has been politicized to reflect white, right wing Republican values. The current election cycle has brought the misuse of that good word to a head where Christians must rethink what it means to be a follower of Jesus. For many evangelicals it means (at least for the moment) abandoning that label.

The need to rethink what it means to be an evangelical prompted me to reread Walter Brueggemann’s book, Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture. In it, he explains the fact that the kingdoms of this world are not nor ever will be the kingdom of God. He demonstrates in powerful ways how all through the Bible courageous individuals are confronting and speaking truth to the powerful and rich. Those voices belong to the ancient prophets and ultimately to Jesus who refused to play along with the powers that be, but instead confronted them with their responsibility to pursue justice and mercy for the vulnerable, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Most notably this meant widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners.

“‘Isn’t that what it means to know me?” says the LORD  (Jeremiah 22:16, NLT).

Grasping for power, as Brueggemann notes, “is never innocent or disinterested; it is always, to some important extent, a front for self-interest perpetrated through violence” [p.47]. That violence, as we well know, comes in many forms.

The evangelical church detours from its true mission by seeking alignment with the rich and powerful instead of calling them to account and speaking for those whose voices have been silenced. Self-interest and self-protection run counter to the gospel. So does silence in the face of injustice.

Every time we kneel to pray the words Jesus taught his disciples to pray, we affirm our pledge of allegiance to Jesus’ kingdom—an allegiance to which all other loyalties defer. Our commitment is to the reign of God, to the advance of his kingdom on earth, and for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. As God’s image bearers, we are called to be agents of that kingdom first and foremost.

We have our work cut out for us. I would not presume to tell anyone how (or if) they should vote. That is a matter of conscience for all of us. But if we understand anything, it is that our starting point is not with evangelical leaders who are endorsing Trump or any other candidate, but by listening again to the ancient prophets and to Jesus . . . especially before we pull that lever in the voting booth.

Let’s make “evangelical” a good word again.

[1] “Is American Evangelical Christianity Sinking on the GOP Ship?”

For further reading:

A revised version of this article was published at Missio Alliance and at Evangelicals for Social Action.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Past Breaks into the Present

41xqAd4R2+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“If I had known you were going to talk about her, I wouldn’t have come!”

That’s what a woman bluntly told me at a conference after I’d spoken on the life of Mary of Bethany. She followed her remark by expressing her surprise that there was so much more to learn about and from the Mary of Bethany she’d heard about ad nauseum. 

It’s easy to feel that way about the Old Testament book of Ruth. Who of us hasn’t heard that story so many times, we’ve become somewhat tired of hearing about Ruth and her undying devotion to her out-of-sorts mother-in-law Naomi? Maybe you’re like I was—loving the beautiful romance between Ruth and Boaz, but finding the “happily-ever-after” ending a little “too Cinderella” to stomach.

Let me assure all skeptics in advance that The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules, and the class based on it that I’ll be teaching this fall will bring this ancient story into the the present with astonishing relevance. The Bible isn’t teaching fairy tales and the book of Ruth isn’t a Hallmark card tucked into the Bible “for the ladies.”

Written for the whole church to ponder, the book of Ruth is one of the most powerful portrayals in all of scripture of the transforming power of Jesus gospel in the lives of his children. It puts pressing contemporary issues front and center—brokenness and loss, the plight of women in the world, widowhood, infertility, single parenting, marginalization of women, power and powerlessness, poverty and wealth, immigrants and refugees, male/female relationships, and the radical courage and good that comes from living as God’s child in this fallen world.

If you live anywhere near Souderton, I hope you’ll consider coming and finding out how this ancient book touches down in your story.

And if (for whatever reason) you can’t come, read the book anyway! This isn’t the same old Ruth, Naomi, or Boaz we’ve always known. Based on the impact of their story on me and what I’m also hearing from readers, I have no doubt their story will change your story too.

Tuesdays, September 13-November 22

Morning Class:  9:15-11:15am (child care provided)


Evening Class: 7-8:30pm (no child care)

No Charge

Calvary Church
820 Route 113
Souderton, Pennsylvania 18964

The Women of Calvary Church
welcome any interested women to attend!
For more information and to register, go here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Black & White Bible, Black & Blue Wife—A Review


It isn’t often that I feel compelled to stick a warning label on a book. Having read Dr. Ruth A. Tucker’s memoir, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse, I’m convinced this book needs one–not because the book is a disturbing read (although it is), but because reader reactions can cause us to miss the crucial main point of the book.

41e-MAlLDsL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_It takes courage to read Tucker’s gut-wrenching account of the horrors of domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her pastor-husband. But courage alone won’t be enough.

Reading this book also requires a willingness to reconsider one’s view of marriage. This is no simple task because her story raises questions regarding deeply held beliefs about marriage roles, male headship, and female submission that many evangelical Christians consider sacred and nonnegotiable. Yet the “silent epidemic” of domestic abuse that concerns Tucker is so dangerous and life-threatening within Christian circles, and so easily concealed, we cannot afford to brush her off and refuse to listen.

Going Behind Closed Doors

Tucker, a highly regarded seminary professor and author, situates her memoir at the intersection between her all-too-real nightmare of domestic abuse and her own preconceptions about Christian marriage. Her training and experience as a seminary professor equip her to tackle the theological issues involved. But she brings a needed perspective to what might otherwise be a theoretical discussion of the theology of marriage. Tucker writes from inside the subject as a survivor of 19 years of spiritual, emotional, sexual, and physical abuse.

In her memoir, she is asking readers to enter into the horrors of domestic abuse with her and, to ask how Christian theology of marriage and gender contributed to her abuse. What this book requires of the reader is complicated by the fact that Tucker’s story of domestic violence is also her journey from traditional complementarian thinking to egalitarianism.

Already complementarian reviewers have reacted defensively, insisting that complementarianism has nothing to do with the abuses Tucker suffered and by refusing to recommend her book to readers (e.g., here and here). Thankfully, one of their own, Aimee Byrd, has taken them to task for this and urges her complementarian colleagues to read and fearlessly engage the questions Tucker raises. Byrd writes,

Here’s the problem: the “that’s not complementarianism” critique doesn’t have a leg to stand on when some of its most well-known proponents are quoted in the book teaching devastating applications of complementarianism. And while their teaching doesn’t advocate abuse ostensibly, it doesn’t protect women who are abused—at all. It exposes them to more abuse. And so it is fuel for an abuser. These are devastating quotes that need to be addressed. We must ask—what is being taught in the name of complementarianism? Are all of its teachings biblical? That is a question I have been asking the leaders in the movement for a while now.

Egalitarians, on the other hand, can experience a false sense of complacency, assuming egalitarianism is a cure-all—that abuse is no longer a threat where mutuality in marriage is embraced. Let’s be honest. Domestic abuse happens in egalitarian marriages too. The truth of the matter is that all of us have more work to do.

4 Takeaways from Tucker’s Book

  • We urgently need to prepare young women to spot the warning signs ahead of time and run. The naiveté and mysticism with which many young Christians approach marriage is on full display in Tucker’s story. Early in their relationship Tucker’s prospective husband exhibited controlling behavior towards her. But the power of infatuation tragically enabled Tucker to overlook the red flags. Looking back, she mused, “The most dangerous circumstance in any woman’s life is . . . the heart-pounding thrill of falling in love. Senseless infatuation” (31).
  • Domestic violence can happen to anyone. If a highly educated, professional woman like Dr. Tucker can end up in an abusive marriage and remain stuck there for nearly two decades, it can happen to anyone.
  • Christian leaders need to educate themselves and seek help from experts in addressing abuse situations. As Aimee Byrd describes, some of the most breathtakingly ignorant and dangerous statements in the book come from the lips (or pens) of well-respected Christian leaders—men who, instead of wisely offering safe-haven to abuse victims, make female submission both the problem and the solution, sending desperate women back into harms way to try harder. The tragic truth is that this dangerous pastoral counsel comes from the mouths of some of the most influential evangelical leaders.
  • We must reexamine the connection between domestic violence and complementarianism. Tucker recounts that her husband “repeatedly quoted Scripture to defend his headship and to enforce my unconditional obligation to submit—from ‘the kitchen to the bedroom.’ . . . His rule was absolute and final—most notably during his violent moods” (22). Violence was the response when she failed to submit to his satisfaction.

A Marriage Revolution

St. Paul’s teaching brings Jesus’ gospel into marriage and constitutes an overthrow of patriarchy. In this regard, I don’t think Tucker takes the discussion of marriage quite far enough. In the end, she maintains some vestige of patriarchal thinking with power shared between husband and wife. At one point she refers to “the beautiful picture of patriarchy” (63).

Here’s the problem: So long as patriarchy is retained, Christian marriage remains stationed on a relational continuum that when taken to extremes opens the door to (if not enables) abuse.

The problem is in thinking patriarchy (albeit a “kinder-gentler” version) is the Bible’s message for marriage, when patriarchy is the backdrop to the Bible’s message. It is not the Bible’s message.

Against that patriarchal backdrop, Paul’s teaching regarding marriage is a radical departure from (not a softening of) 1st Century marriage mores. In that culture, a husband had life and death powers over his wife/wives. Dr. Roy Ciampa’s eye-opening article, “Identity Mapping,” is an excellent resource that belongs in this discussion.

Now Paul calls a believing husband to an entirely new lifestyle—to love his wife as he loves his own body and to lay down his life (a.k.a, live sacrificially) for her.

Try selling that idea in entrenched patriarchal cultures today—Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia for example. They’ll tell you this is radical.

Paul’s first century teachings don’t get 21st Century couples off the hook. Instead, his teachings raise the bar for how we take the gospel into our marriages today. His first century example escorts believers into a whole new revolutionary gospel way of relating to one another in marriage—to “put the interests of others ahead of yourself.”

Consider yourself forewarned. Buckle up and read Tucker’s book!

My Endorsement:

This book could save the lives of women trapped by domestic abuse. By courageously reliving in print years of degrading violence at the hands of her “Christian leader” ex-husband, Professor Ruth A. Tucker exposes a problem of epic proportions that tragically exists unchecked behind closed doors within evangelicalism. Worse yet, she demonstrates how such violence is actually fueled by so-called Christian theology that empowers men with authority and privilege over women and children under the guise of “husbandly headship,” “servant-Leadership,” and calls for “wifely submission.” At great personal cost, Tucker drives a stake in the ground insisting that abusive behavior is both unacceptable and indeed criminal. Tucker’s book is nothing less than a damning indictment of the church’s tendency to justify or turn a blind eye to abuses happening within our own ranks. It is a prophetic call to re-think our theology of male and female. The church belongs on the forefront in the battle to root out and end abuse, to provide safe haven for the abused, and to see that abusers are brought to justice.

For anyone currently in an abusive situation
or sensing red flags:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline
or phone 1-800-799-7233.


Originally published at



Posted in Domestic Abuse, Reviews, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Indispensable: Women who Plant Churches


This article (first published at serves as an introductory framing to the series, “Band of Brothers: A Case Study of Church Planting in Boston.” To understand Missio Alliance’s commitment to women in ministry, you can read more here.

Church planting is as old as Jesus.

That is to say, church planting is part of historic Christianity’s DNA. In modern parlance, church planting is a core value. I would argue that Jesus’ Great Commission itself provides the marching orders for planting churches. What is church planting if not making disciples?

Somehow along the way, church planting became a man-job.

Articles posted on church planting websites refer to church planters as “guys” or “dudes.” For the most part, women are not viewed as church planters. Instead, references to women typically center on how the church planter’s wife can support her husband’s demanding ministry. Even in denominations that ordain women, the majority of church planters are men. The notion of a female church planter has become an oxymoron. But this was not the case in the beginning.

Apostolic U-Turn

One might easily assume that the Apostle Paul would not be favorably disposed to women serving as church planters. After all, he was a Pharisee by training and a former hardcore religious terrorist. Add in those controversial statements in his letters: “Women should remain silent in the church. They are not allowed to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34) and “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12), and it’s a safe bet that Paul was not inclined to advance women. He didn’t even marry one.

It is true that Paul planted churches with “dudes”—Bartholomew, Silas, Timothy, Luke, and others. But everything changed when the Holy Spirit disrupted Paul’s second missionary journey and turned his views of women right side up.

God gave Paul a powerful vision of a man imploring him to “Come over to Macedonia (Greece) and help us” (Acts 16:9). Expectations had to be riding high when Paul and his all-male church planting team arrived in Philippi. What would anyone expect after such an incredible vision? Yet instead of a stadium packed with Philippians eager to hear the gospel, Paul and his cohort found a group of praying women.

I once heard a pastor describe the scene as “the ultimate letdown.”

Luke’s eyewitness account of the event doesn’t even hint at disappointment or reluctance at the prospect of interacting in public with women. Instead of looking around in search of men, Paul sat down and began speaking the gospel to the women—Gentile women—as though leading a women’s Bible study was normal for him.

The Holy Spirit moved. The women, beginning with Lydia, embraced the gospel. A church was planted, and history made. The first Christian church in Europe was established—with a team of believing women.

There is more.

[bctt tweet=”The first Christian church in Europe was established—with a team of believing women.” username=”missioalliance”]

The Apostle Who Loved Women

Later, from a Roman prison cell, Paul penned a letter to the Philippian church. The power of that letter gets lost when it is disconnected from its historical context (Acts 16). Readers must bear in mind Paul’s remarkable vision, the rerouting to Greece, the women who embraced the gospel, the violent persecution, and the church gathered in Lydia’s home. With those historical facts in mind, the letter to the Philippian church reveals a surprising transformation in Paul’s regard for women church planters.

To Paul, women church planters aren’t just permissible. They are indispensable.


The Apostle Paul, c. 1657, National Gallery of Art, Washingon DC

Paul’s opening words place his stamp of approval on and indebtedness to the founding mothers of the Philippian church.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5, emphasis added).

Clearly, that “first day” was especially meaningful to Paul.

Paul valued women as indispensable church planting partners because they ministered the gospel with him. Just as things were moving forward, a brutal wave of persecution broke out inflicting physical harm on the apostles and ultimately driving them out of town.

Turns out those church planting women were equal to the task. Not only did Lydia provide hospitality for the apostles, she courageously hosted the threatened fledgling church. After the apostles left town, the women steadfastly carried the gospel mission forward.

Paul singles out two Philippian women—Euodia and Syntyche—and describes them as indispensable allies—“women who have contended [or labored] at my side in the cause of the gospel” (Philippians 4:3). Paul’s words speak metaphorically of gladiators fighting side by side in the arena and imply united struggle in preaching and suffering for the gospel.

The women of Philippi stood with Paul for the gospel in the face of persecution, and he stood stronger in battle because of them.

Paul also valued the women as indispensable church planting partners because they ministered to him. No other Pauline letter is as vulnerable or affectionate. They held a special place in Paul’s heart. Even for Paul, it was “not good for the man to be alone.” They opened the door for Paul to be honest with how he was doing. Without the benefit of cell-phone pings, they doggedly tracked his whereabouts and showed up to care for his needs—something no other church did for Paul.

When he was driven out of Philippi to Thessalonica, they followed him with aid and support. As he writes to them from a Roman prison cell, a Philippian, Epaphroditus, is by his side, sent to Rome from Philippi to find Paul, minister to his needs, and deliver gifts.

A Stronger Affirmation?

It’s hard to imagine a stronger affirmation of women as indispensable church planters than Paul gives the women of Philippi. Church planting efforts multiplied because he broke with tradition to partner with his sisters in Christ.

The mission Jesus entrusted to his church is demanding, so demanding that it requires a Blessed Alliance of men and women working together. In this challenging post-Christian world, we are learning afresh of God’s desire for the partnered ministry of women and men in seeing the gospel embodied and advanced through the planting of new churches. We must reclaim the biblical and apostolic conviction of the indispensability of women in church planting!

8d7e0-ma-logo-horizontal-300x225 Originally published at  Republished 8/9/2016 at


This video was filmed and produced by Nate Clarke of Fourth Line Films, script by Carolyn Custis James, and was shown in a plenary session at Lausanne 2010 in Capetown South Africa on behalf of the Synergy Women’s Network. Synergy is now part of Missio Alliance.
Read the full article @MissioAlliance —>


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saving the Males

structure-1426309_960_720 (1)

“We are seeing a metastatic spread of ISIS.”
—David Ignatius

“Metatastic” is an apt but frightening description of the string of terrorist bombings that are ravaging whole communities and taking the lives of staggering numbers of innocent citizens—men, women, and children. The latest death toll is appalling: 49 in Orlando, 41 in Istanbul, 22 in Bangladesh, over 250 in Bagdad, and 4 in Saudi Arabia.

The first question on people’s minds whenever multiple shots ring out, as they did this past week in Dallas, is whether or not the shooting is ISIS inspired or ISIS related.

Increased security at transportation hubs and large events and urging citizens, “If you see something, say something,” are all crucial strategies. But they are targeting terrorism in motion. They don’t get to the roots of the crisis. They don’t key in on how to stop the violence before it starts.

It’s not okay that dozens of young men are blowing themselves up. It’s not okay that they’re being radicalized out of their own humanity into savagery via ISIS propaganda on the Internet. It’s not okay that their violent acts are destroying the lives of innocent citizens, devastating whole communities, and spreading fear and grief like wildfire.

Metastatic Manhood

New questions must be asked that drill down to the roots of what’s happening in order to address this cancer at its source. Why are young men becoming radicalized—knowing full-well they’re signing up for suicide? What is drawing them? How can we counteract what’s happening to them?

John L. Esposito (Professor of Religion and International affairs at Georgetown University) believes that “men are drawn to ISIS in search of a new identity, and for a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging.” Huffington Post Executive Religion Editor, Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, echoed that conclusion when he observed that a key factor is “a lack of meaning and purpose in life.”

What does ISIS offer these marginalized men? One ISIS recruit explained, “Overnight you go from being an unemployed nobody to being a headache to the most powerful man in the world.”

Frankly, the very symptoms that are driving young men into the arms of ISIS are surfacing among males in many other contexts. The manhood crisis is on display on city streets, behind closed doors, in locker rooms, and countless other places. Most notably we are seeing it in the angry white men who are flocking to Donald Trump who is offering empty solutions and exploiting the very real pain these men are suffering to serve his own political ambitions. Their very masculinity is under siege. Stagnant or declining wages put their dreams out of reach. The rise of women and a surging minority population threaten white male privilege and dominance.

Globalization, immigration, economic instability, inequality, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, systemic poverty, injustice, terrorism, technology—this is today’s world. The aftershocks in men’s lives can produce a horrible sense of diminishment, frustration, despair, and anger.

The world pays an exorbitant price when these emotional forces spin out of control.

Meaningful Manhood

Page one of the Bible puts every man-child born in the world on solid ground when the Creator makes human beings his image bearers (Genesis 1:26-28). This isn’t mere taxonomy or simply distinguishing humans from plants and animals. God is bestowing on every human being an indestructible and breathtakingly exalted identity, meaning, purpose and sense of belonging. The imago dei changes everything for men. No conceivable definition of manhood compares with the call to “be like God”—to know and reflect the Creator and to represent God and do his work in the world.

This reality completely obliterates the lies that come from culture, circumstances, bullying, hatred, violence, and even negative self-talk combined. No matter what downturn a man’s story may take, this fact about him remains intact. In fact, it raises any indignity or offense against him or any self-destructive actions he may take himself to a cosmic level as an affront to Almighty God.

With a message like this, the only thing more tragic in the current crisis is for the church to remain silent in the face of the challenges and suffering we are called and equipped to engage. It is time for us to “man-up” and challenge our own theology of manhood (that all too often falls woefully short of God’s vision) with pressing twenty-first-century global realities confronting men and boys. Jesus calls his church to reclaim her prophetic voice in a world desperately in need of hope.

The metastatic spread of ISIS underscores the urgency of our task and drives us back to scripture to wrestle afresh and press the Bible with new and unsettling global questions and to bring humility with us. Inevitably, we will discover we haven’t been right about everything after all and have a whole lot more to learn.

The problems are complex, and we have only begun to grasp the powerful remedy God provides. But Jesus knows the way and is saying, “Follow me!”


To read more:  Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World

This article was originally published at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When Women Initiate and Men Respond

13614958_10209664988852479_1553066870811253840_nFunny, how we can read the biblical narratives again and again and completely miss what’s actually being said. That happens all the time when we come to the text with our own cultural presuppositions—such as the assumption that men lead and women follow.

That presupposition gets turned on its head in the ancient book of Ruth. The pivotal moment isn’t when Boaz sets foot in the story, but when Ruth digs in her heels on the road from Moab to Bethlehem and embraces Naomi and her God.

From that point on, Ruth’s initiatives and Boaz’s responses drive the action.

I never will forget the moment someone pointed that out to me.

For me, it wasn’t a moment of victory for women over men. It was a devastating awakening that as God’s image bearer I have responsibility for what is happening in his world. It didn’t inspire me to gloat. Far from it. I wept to think of the time and opportunities I had wasted believing passivity in women—in me—was okay.

I grieved (still do grieve)  because I knew that wasn’t the message women were/are hearing in the church.

So it is hard for me to contain the joy I feel when women (or men) read The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules and experience that same jarring soul awakening.

That happened to Betty Seifert, who just finished reading The Gospel of Ruth and has been posting about it on FaceBook. This is what she had to say:

Is it really ok for a woman to take the initiative in life, especially in a marriage proposal?

What happens when a woman takes the initiative & a man responds positively? Do the foundations of human society, as God designed them, begin to crumble?

When a man empowers & follows a woman, is her femininity compromised? Is she usurping a man’s role? Is his masculinity diminished?

And how do we reconcile a woman’s call to be submissive with the kind of behavior we witness in biblical stories of courageous women?

The Gospel of Ruth answers these questions & many more. Its colorful telling unfolds like a richly woven tapestry that we’ve heretofore only viewed from the underside, all haphazard stitches & gnarly knots which Carolyn Custis James turns over to let us see the finished side. That’s how good her books are!

In my ponderous progress in this remarkable & delightful book, I came across the incredible description of Ruth by Boaz, the night she “uncovered his feet”:

“Boaz uses the same Hebrew word (hayil) for Ruth that the narrator used earlier to describe Boaz as a man of valor—’the elite warrior similar to the hero of Homeric epic.'” When this term is used of a woman, it not only encompasses the traits of noble, virtuous character and excellence, it also awards her all the attributes of her male counterpart. Ruth is an ezer-warrior, fighting valiantly to rescue the Elimelech family line.

Boaz may have had cold feet in the night, but as morning breaks across the Judean horizon, his heart is deeply warmed by Ruth’s pressing him for and with “hesed”—God’s covenantal faithfulness for his people. In short, it is the gospel message taking us to a completely different realm of human relations. Boaz takes an active role in overthrowing that culture’s view of women in the words he vows to her: words of kindness, praise, and reassurance. He then proceeds to turn the ancient patriarchal value system completely upside down!!!

This story weaves a comprehensive look at submission as no less than gospel faithfulness, showing Jesus to the world!

I was sorry to have to lay The Gospel of Ruth down at the end. It became a close friend so much that I immediately started Malestrom. It’s going to be wonderful too!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments