"The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."
—When Life & Beliefs Collide                

Monday, August 3, 2015

Future of Faith in America: Evangelicalism

This article was first published on Patheos.com as part of their Public Square on the Future of American Evangelicalism. Patheos asked a variety of Evangelical leaders to discuss what they think that future will be. This is my response. It is republished here with permission.

Generational Divide in American Evangelicalism
Millennials will win in the end

Nineteenth-century critic, satirist, and novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, may have captured the essence of contemporary American Evangelicalism in his famous epigram: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

American evangelicals are encountering change at an ever-accelerating pace. What was unimaginable a mere decade ago is happening now. The SCOTUS ruling to legalize same-sex marriage illustrates how dramatically the American cultural landscape is changing. Advances for women and girls inspired Tom Brokaw to predict that the 21st century will become known as the "Century of Women." Postmodernism has created significant distrust of traditional evangelical values. Globalization reminds us we are not the center of the universe and have much to learn from others. Christianity is now sharing space on American soil with Islam and Buddhism.

Complicating everything is a generational divide between evangelical stalwarts resisting change and Millennials who live out their faith by engaging change and finding their voices on the internet.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

American Evangelicalism is no monolith (and never has been). Evangelicals do not share the same values, politics, or even the same understanding of Jesus' Gospel. Whatever one may say about American Evangelicalism must be severely nuanced. The old Bebbington Quadrilateral that has historically defined evangelicalism (authority of scripture, salvation through the cross of Jesus, conversion, evangelism) probably needs renovation.

With these caveats, here are some of my expectations for the immediate future of American Evangelicalism.

The traditional American evangelical church may continue to decline, but will find fresh expressions. In May 2015, a Pew Research Center survey reported the decline of Christians in America, and the increase of adults who do not identify with any organized religion ("Nones"). A major exodus is taking place in the church as Millennials — born and raised in the evangelical church — are heading for the exit.

Many departing Millennials will tell you they still love Jesus, but not the church. They can't reconcile Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount — his care for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the poor, and the sick — with the infighting, abuse, and hypocrisy they've witnessed in the church. They don't connect Christianity with right-wing politics. They're passionate about social justice — poverty, women's rights, human trafficking, immigration, HIV/AIDS, and ending the death penalty. They are committed to an embodied faith. So they are leaving a moribund church, but they live out their faith in demonstrable ways. Although the majority of disenchanted evangelicals are Millennials, they increasingly will be joined by some of their elders.

The generational breach over LGBT acceptance will press evangelicals to find ways to disagree gracefully. Demographic studies show that younger Christians are accepting of their homosexual friends. For Millennials, the issue is about loyalty and friendship. Theological hair-splitting and proof-texting hold little value for evangelicals under the age of thirty-five. They won't abandon their gay friends. When Bible-thumping pastors rage against homosexuality, Millennials will simply let their feet do the talking.

Ultimately, American evangelicals will face a more rigorous challenge when same-sex marriage involves someone they love — a son or daughter, brother or sister. How will Christians respond when a same-sex married couple with children moves in next door or arrives as a family at church? I suspect relationships will ultimately prevail.

Debate over the role of women will continue in the church, but become increasingly irrelevant. For women, moving between the public sector and the church is an exercise in cultural schizophrenia. While traditional and progressive evangelicals continue lobbing proof texts at one another, many women have stopped listening and will be charting their own course. Practical realities will lead growing numbers of Christian couples to decide the stay-at-home dad and breadwinning mom works best for their family. Women desiring ordination for ministry know which denominations or churches to join.

New voices within Evangelicalism are questioning whether the Bible really teaches patriarchy. Practical necessity, societal changes, and hermeneutical developments will generate growing advocacy for cultivating stronger partnerships between men and women.

Despite the travails of the evangelical American church, hope prevails. Whatever struggles plague the American evangelical church, this much we all know: God has taken it upon himself to sort out the mess we're in. Jesus' kingdom has launched. His Holy Spirit is still in the business of changing us into people who truly follow Jesus and become agents of his love and grace to a hurting world. And at some point in time Jesus will come and, in the words of N.T. Wright from Simply Christian, he will "put everything to rights."

Things will change and they will not stay the same. 


To read other perspectives in this Patheos series, go to:  Evangelicalism: The Future of Faith in America

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Skirting the Issues

Sometimes reading a book can completely disrupt your sleeping habits.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide did that to me and to a lot of my friends. Sex trafficking, honor killings, child marriages, FGM, rape as a weapon of war. Instead of shrugging my shoulders with relief that “none of those problems” affect me, I was shaken to my core to learn how women and girls are suffering both here and abroad and was determined to do something. Even on the best of days, I am dogged by a nagging awareness of the terrible suffering and atrocities being inflicted in the lives of other women and girls. It makes it hard to sleep, as well it should. 

Researching Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World had a similar effect on me. It’s hard to rest easy, knowing the relentless downward drag that the fall brings to bear on men and boys, the destructive effects of patriarchy on all of them, and the suffering, violence, injustices, and deep wounds that result. So I was mystified when Jonathan Parnell, a Christian brother who is also a pastor and a father of sons, read Malestrom and remained unconcerned, asserting, “I have no dog in this fight.” 

Even though in his review of Malestrom for The Gospel Coalition, Parnell concedes agreement with Malestrom on two major points—that patriarchy is “horrible” and that Jesus as the perfect imago dei embodies true manhood/humanity as God intended—he parts company with a lot of complementarians by disassociating his complementarian views from patriarchy. He writes, 
I have no attachment to the term. In fact, because of all the baggage, I would recommend it not be used in reference to God’s vision for men as expressed in Christian complementarity. Even if some proponents of its use envision a “kinder, gentler” version, as James recognizes, it’s not a term worth salvaging. Malestrom convinced me of this all over again, and therefore, her repeated jabs at “patriarchy” left me unscathed. I even shared her disgust for what she described. 
His stance is not unique among complementarians. In fact the very name "complementarian" was chosen by the formulators of complementarianism to put distance between themselves and patriarchy. But denying their patriarchal foundations, puts Parnell and others at odds with fellow complementarians, such as Russell D. Moore, a complementarian stalwart and President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. While Moore distinguishes and rejects “secular patriarchy” that abuses and objectifies women, in an article entitled “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians are Winning the Gender Debate,” he goes on record insisting that “Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy” (573) and that reclaiming “authentic biblical patriarchy is necessary” (574) for the movement to survive. 

This internal struggle within complementarianism is one they’ll have to sort out for themselves. But so long as complementarianism embraces classic elements of patriarchy—male authority and female submission, and man as Impregnator-Protector-Provider and polar opposite of woman—the old adage applies: “A rose by any other name is still a rose.” 

This is, however, not what troubles me most about Parnell’s review. I think he’s skirting the real issues. I will mention two. 

The first concerns his discussion of the biblical narratives presented in Malestrom. Despite his agreements, Parnell rejects and at time even ridicules the use of biblical narratives discussed in Malestrom, describing them as “slanted caricatures of biblical figures,” a statement he bolsters by caricaturing them himself when he lifts statements out of context that create misperceptions of the power and richness of these redemptive stories. For example, he trivializes the father wound as “daddy issues.” That remark undoubtedly strikes close to home, for the intense and sometimes debilitating struggles plenty of men (women too) suffer because of a distant, missing, or abusive father is undoubtedly present in surprising numbers within the congregation he pastors. 

But more concerning is his statement that “The preoccupation with character-studies, in my opinion, is risky in any case. It can often lead the writer (or speaker) to go beyond the biblical text to emphasize minute details and speculations that the biblical author didn’t intend.” 

Are biblical narratives an unreliable source of instruction and good theology? Is any part of scripture more “risky” and subject to “speculations” than any other? Didn’t the great Apostle Paul himself point us to biblical narratives when he wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Indeed, evangelical scholars everywhere acknowledge that Paul is specifically referring to the OT scriptures which, as it turns out, are rather full of narrative stories. Narratives are a valuable literary vehicle that God deemed good and wise for his divine revelation. Surely Rev. Parnell still preaches from the OT. The challenge for narrative, as well as poetry and epistles, is rightly to interpret them. 

The real problem with these narratives is not that they are risky or subject to speculation but that they challenge our thinking about what it means to be a man. That makes us uncomfortable. They raise the prospect that Jesus didn’t come to endorse any social or political system, but to establish his kingdom which is “not of this world.” That means we have ground to gain, more to learn, and changes to make. All of us do. 

The radical changes that take place in the lives of Abraham, Judah, Barak, Boaz, Mathew, Joseph, and Paul go against the grain of patriarchy and of their own human fallenness. Their stories challenge flawed conclusions we’ve all drawn about gender—conclusions that lock us in an endless gender debate or that create gender roles for men that many of their lives don’t and can’t fit. We need these stories. They are freeing and empowering and they give men a larger vision of how God can and will work through them. 

The second dodge completely baffles me. How can anyone read about what is happening to men and boys in today’s world—the appalling levels of violence and warfare, staggering rates of the human trafficking of men and boys, wildly disproportionate incarceration rates in American prisons, illiteracy, poverty, sexual abuse, discrimination, racism, injustice, marginalization—and have the audacity to say, “I don’t have a dog in this fight”? 

A lot is at stake with what is happening to men and boys globally and right under our noses here in the states. These are life and death matters. Sociologists identify an insidious link between masculinity and violence that fuels many of the wars that rage across our world. Experts on ISIS tell us that young men are being radicalized and drawn into the ranks of ISIS because they are searching for identity, meaning and purpose. Isn’t this a battle Jesus calls us to engage? Don’t we have more to offer men and boys than a kinder gentler patriarchy or some toss-up between complementarians and egalitarians? I’m convinced we do. And I’ve written about in Malestrom

One can only hope that for his own sake, as well as the sake of his sons and the men and boys in his congregation, Parnell would rethink his rash assertion and realize that as a follower of Jesus he does “have a dog in this fight.” If that happens, I suspect he'll be joining the ranks of those who are finding it hard to sleep at night.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Seminary Dropout & Malestrom

It isn't every day that I hang out with a seminary dropout. In fact, the main guy I hang out with (namely my husband) is a "seminary-lifer." He was a student when we met. Persevered through two doctorates. Then launched his career as a professor and seminary president. 

Marriage to Frank comes with a lot of interesting conversations with him and with other seminary professors, students, and graduates. 

I thrive on those conversations.

Hanging out with Shane Blackshear, an unapologetic "seminary dropout," to discuss Malestrom was a lot like that.

Like a true seminarian, Shane Blackshear does his homework. He reads a lot of books including the ones he features in interviews. (Evidently old seminary habits die hard.) The upside is that he asks thoughtful well-informed questions that give an interviewee plenty of opportunity to get their ideas on the table. Our discussion of Malestrom is a perfect example. He also has plenty of interesting things to say himself.

To listen to our discussion and gain a good sense of what Malestrom is all about, go to:  http://www.shaneblackshear.com/carolyncustisjames/

If you haven't yet purchased your copy of Malestrom or want to order extras, Amazon is offering a special price of $11.64 for the hardcover! 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson on Malestrom

Perhaps the primary deception of the human race since the fall is the belief that any one 'type' of human being has dominion or power 'over' another human being. This incorrect narrative has played itself out in various forms of sin throughout history, including genocide, gender-based violence, slavery, human trafficking, sexual and other forms of abuse. The author challenges the reader to consider that although a society and culture of patriarchy is the backdrop in which God has chosen to present his drama of scripture, patriarchy is not God’s plan for his human creation. God’s plan is presented in Genesis 1, where it is clear that both men and women are created in the image or likeness of God, with the authority to cultivate or cause all things on earth to grow and flourish. In this work and for this purpose, God designed Adam and Eve to labor together.
—Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Today, Gifted for Leadership is featuring Natasha Sistrunk Robinson's review of Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. 

Natasha is a blogger you should know. She blogs regularly and is becoming an important voice at A Sista's Journey. You can also find her weighing in on major topics that concern all Christians on other blogs as well, such as Her.meneutics and Missio Alliance.

Read her entire review here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Teaching Boys a Different Kind of Manhood

“We have got to show our sons a new definition of manhood. Now the definition of manhood is already turning upside down. You’ve read about how the new economy is changing the roles of caregiver and wage-earner and throwing it up in the air. So our sons are going to have to find a new way of adapting to this—a new relationships with each other. I think we really have to show them and model for them how a real man is someone who trusts his sisters and respects them and wants to be on their team and stands up against the real bad guys who are the men who want to abuse the women. . . . . to seek out the heroines who are there who show real courage, who bring people together, and to nudge our sons to identify with those heroines and to say, 'I want to be on their team.' Because they’re going to be on their team.”
—Colin Stokes

Colin Stokes has tapped into a serious issue. False views of manhood start early and are often wrongly portrayed as an aspiration to pursue, a prize to win or a milestone down the road—not as the high identity and calling God invests in every man-child at birth and that trumps every other definition of what it means to be a man. And cultural changes are shaking up categories that seemed fixed for many in previous generations.

The church belongs in this important discussion—not to offer boys a kinder-gentler patriarchy that pales in comparison to other voices they're hearing and doesn't reflect the message of the Bible. 

We have something infinitely better to offer them—an identity and purpose that endures no matter what life throws at them.

What are we teaching young boys? How are we summoning them to embrace God's indestructible, life-long, exalted calling on his sons—to bear his image and do his work in the world

The malestrom is the impact of the fall on men and boys that causes them to lose sight of God's high calling on them as men and to settle for something far less.  Malestrom unpacks God's unrivaled calling on men and boys. It features the stories of overlooked men in the Bible who courageously battle the malestrom and emerge to display a radical brand of manhood that reflects the "not-of-this world" Kingdom of Jesus. 

Continue this important discussion and take it deeper by reading Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World  If for no other reason, do it for your sons, grandsons, brothers, nephews, and other boys in your life. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

First Responders

"The maelstrom is the seaman’s nightmare, but the “malestrom” poses an even greater threat to men than the hidden dangers of the open seas. . . .  It isn’t overstating things to say there isn’t a man or boy alive who isn’t a target. The malestrom’s global currents can be violent and overt, but also come in subtle, even benign forms that catch men unawares. 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. The repercussions of such devastating personal losses are not merely disastrous for the men themselves, but catastrophic globally."      

Here are comments from three readers—first responders who read the book before its release and gave permission to share their thoughts.

Lesa Engelthaler
From Lesa Engelthaler:

"Wow, just wow. Carolyn, I finally had a chance to read the introduction to your Malestrom. So many new thoughts. So many thoughts I have never said out loud. So many men I know that came to mind as I read.

This sentence made me cry with can-it-possibly-be-true nodding of my head: "Jesus didn’t come just to tweak things, but to overthrow the kingdom of this world."

You so GO GIRL!!!!!

Lori and Tom Lambelet
From Lori Lambelet:

I finished reading yesterday. My husband plans to finish in the next couple of days. Last night at dinner, I purposely did not want to discuss the book until he had completed the read. However, we were discussing a Bible study that he was to start this very morning. One of the ramifications from our ousting at our church, is that Tom has become a chaplain at an auto shop. He is building relationships with the men there and this was a step to encourage relationship with God.

As we were discussing his approach. I was struck with the consequences of your book.

You have given a name to the real ill of our existence. You have allowed for the truth of an image bearer gone awry. The gospel of sin, always felt incomplete to me, it felt like we were huge mistakes and nothing worth redeeming, yet by the mercy of God we were. Your message allows for the reality of our image bearing selves that God as our parent so desperately wants to rescue.

We are indeed lost children, sinners yes, but offspring of God. I felt in my discussion with Tom the true fact that we have been lied to. Since the beginning with Adam and Eve, who chose to believe the lie, we too have been given a bag of goods that are not in any way gold. The lie of patriarchy has been passed on, enforced and fought over in ways that leave carcasses of humanity scattered world wide. The truth of Malestrom is sobering and devastating. It also is really the point of our focus. It resonates deeply to the battle at hand and the circumstances of our existence.

Personally, this was a hard read. Carolyn, since I was born the message of patriarchy had been drilled into my little girl’s head. As a 2nd generation Italian, the “truth” of my value was solely placed on my appearance and ability to attract a man. I fought this my whole childhood. I then proceeded to marry (a very good, godly man), but who also held tightly to the lie of patriarchy. I fought with him, most of our married life. I also was fighting the church. I have often found myself isolated and alone in this battle and that is why your first book was such a relief to my spirit.

I was not alone.

My husband, as you know realizes the lie that he had been given and now embraces the truth of the Blessed Alliance. This change resulted in our dismissal from a church we had pastored for 22 years. I am still smarting from this. I too have started to write. I need to express the reality as a woman and pastor’s wife that have not been given an avenue to validate my story. (As a child of divorce, we were never allowed to grieve, since it didn’t happen to us. As a pastor’s wife, despite feeling the call of God and giving my life to ministry, I found again the lack of other’s allowing my grief, since I was just the wife.) The truth is, I am “Twice Divorced”.

My parents divorced when I was 12. The reason? My mother wanted to be more than the caretaker of 5 daughters. She wanted to go to school, she wanted to go to work, she wanted to challenge her mind and self. My father, denied this due to his view of women. She left. The true reason: patriarchy. I didn’t understand this at the time. Three of my sisters went with her to Florida, but I refused. I could not stand the thought of my father entering an empty home. I talked my sister into staying with me. I was raised by my father. All that to say, while reading your book it brought forth so many feelings. So many thoughts of pain and anguish of how we have gotten it so wrong. How God desires a better way and despite the many incidences that demonstrated a plan for something better, we have clung to the lie of patriarchy. Malestrom is so very real, it is so very ugly and it is really the battle at hand. I find myself at times quite discouraged, I really am battle weary.

My husband and I were talking last night and the wounds from the dogmatic rod of the Malestrom are painfully true. Counselors have told me it will take five years for me to recover from our latest battle. I am in year three. I am not a victim. I have been the warrior that you, so plainly articulated in your first book.

You have fought on so many levels and I am amazed that you got this book out!!!! You give me strength to keep fighting. Every time I step into a church, it is a victory for me. I am teaching this Tuesday, which is the first time I have placed myself in this position for a very long time. So very thankful for your faithfulness and your fight to speak the truth.

From Tom Lambelet:

Thank you for sharing your book with us. I have been burdened by the way so many in the church see the Bible’s culture as the Bible’s message. In my opinion it is a huge stumbling block to embracing God’s plan for men and women. Your book really helps to expose that issue.

It also has helped stir up in me a greater passion for educating Christians about how the gospel story doesn’t soften patriarchy but replaces it. This needs to be known and I can’t just sit back and do nothing. Your book has motivated me and provided me with a helpful resource in this important work. In particular I appreciated your many insights in the character studies you presented. The cultural nuances you brought out were very eye opening to me and made the stories so much more powerful.

Thank you for your leadership in this vital work!

Malestrom officially ships tomorrow (June 2)—just in time for Father's Day!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hanging out with Ezers in Hong Kong

I arrived in Hong Kong just hours ago and am settling into my hotel room to sleep off some of the jet lag.

Friday is the start of the Island ECC (Island Evangelical Community Church) Women's Conference 2015. The theme is Half the Church. Kwen Ip, Director of Women's Ministry, is leading the charge. Although she's never been to a Synergy conference, she is definitely one of us! Just being with her is worth the trip over. By her account there are other kindred spirits here, and I'm looking forward to meeting them. Already I'm encouraged.

But for now (and before I say something jet-lag muddled) it's time to hit the sack.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Publisher's Weekly on Malestrom

"Wounds in the relationships with fathers are seen as frequent catalysts for a maelstrom—a term cleverly tweaked for the title—that sweeps men away from their true nature and diminishes the value of women. This is an insightful, Bible-based take on relations between women and men."

To read Publishers Weekly full review of Malestrom go here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Not for the faint of heart!

"Malestrom‬ is not a book for the faint of heart; Carolyn’s work serves as a prophetic challenge."
Paul Louis Metzger,
Christian Theology; Theology of Culture,
Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University