Men write books about women all the time; men, in fact, often dictate — that’s not too strong of a term, mind you — what women can and cannot do; men write about what women are permitted by the Bible to do in the church. But very few women write books about men, but now someone has:
Carolyn Custis James, Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World.
She invents a word for the problem she sees; the term is “malestrom” (playing off of “maelstrom”). What is the malestrom?
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 (18).
One of the symptoms of the malestrom today is an evangelical attempt to remonstrate with males about manhood and the attempt to reclaim manliness:
A discussion of rules and roles and of who gets to lead and who doesn’t, laments over alleged “feminization,” Father’s Day tongue-lashings from the pulpit, and the need to “Man up!” grossly underestimate and actually fail to recognize the greater real and more pressing issues facing men (18)
Carolyn asks us to consider the global situation today — from crimes in the USA to bloodshed in the Middle East to trafficking to… and on she goes to make this stunning observation:
These tragic events have one thing in common: male violence: (Yes, women are involved in this bloodshed, but they represent a tiny fraction of this insanity.) Dare I say it? This is the history of the planet in microcosm—men killing others. In the beginning, the first sin after the fall was Cain’s killing of Abel (19).
Men, as the ancient Greek playwrights sometimes made clear in satire, resort to violence, and Carolyn is pushing us to ask why, why, why?
The need to establish and maintain one’s manhood drives men into violent actions and exerts constant pressure for men to prove themselves. It fuels aggression, competition, and selfinterest, and creates countless casualties at the giving and receiving ends of violence and injustice. It feeds the illusion that behind every change in the culture, every alteration in circumstances, lurks a threat to one’s right to call himself a man (19).
But the malestrom destroys something deeper and more important:
Men have lost sight of who God created them to be as human beings and as men (21).
Many have attempted to define manliness and malehood and what makes a man a man, and this is where we are today:
Three core responsibilities for men are found in a majority of manhood definitions: to father children, to protect the family, and to provide for their sustenance. Gilmore calls this “Man the Impregnator-Protector-Provider” (22).
She thinks the problem is not so much defining manhood as the manhood-ness that seems to be behind it all:
Trace any current of the malestrom to its roots, and you’ll end up looking at patriarchy (“father rule”). The prevalent features of manhood definitions are man as impregnator, protector, provider, and polar opposite of women (30).
This book argues that the principal expression of the malestrom is historic patriarchy. Further, I’m convinced that patriarchy, while alluring to many, is ultimately destructive for both men and women. But above all, it runs counter to the gospel of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to make men more manly, but to reconnect them with their Creator and put them back on mission as God’s image bearers. Patriarchy remains a powerful force in today’s world (30-31).
There is, as many readers of this blog will know, once again a flourishing manhood-ness among us and at the core of that manhood-ness is patriarchy, and there seems plenty of anger and resentment and reaction among its defenders. Why? They are losing. What to do?
If men must rule—whether in government, on the streets, or in private homes—then anything that threatens a man’s place of authority also jeopardizes his manhood (31).
The strategy is for men to reclaim their manhood by reclaiming their authority. But, as Carolyn presses home again and again, is manhood about authority? We need, then, to examine patriarchy afresh, but she has one of the most important statements you will see about patriarchy in the following lines:
First, 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 cultural backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message (31).
Backdrop? No, more: “fallen cultural backdrop.” But some think this is in fact the Bible’s message about manhood:
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 the wider culture (31-32).
I’m with Carolyn Custis James, and I’m against the manliness discussions we read so much about today, and here’s why:
Here’s the problem: so 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 (32).
SMcK: One reason males can’t embrace females in what Carolyn calls the “blessed alliance” is because they aren’t man enough to be God’s kind of men. Their egos are too small to be manly, and thus much of what is termed manhood is de-manliness disguised as authoritarianism.