Book Review: “Malestrom: Manhood Swept Into the Currents of a Changing World”, By Carolyn Custis James (Zondervan, 2015) -- By: Vicki Scheib

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 29:4 (Autumn 2015)
Article: Book Review: “Malestrom: Manhood Swept Into the Currents of a Changing World”, By Carolyn Custis James (Zondervan, 2015)
Author: Vicki Scheib

Book Review: “Malestrom: Manhood Swept Into the Currents of a Changing World”, By Carolyn Custis James (Zondervan, 2015)

Vicki Scheib

Vicki Scheib received her DMin in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from George Fox Seminary in Portland, Oregon. She is a spiritual director, an educator, and has developed resources on the spiritual formation and identity formation of men and women leaders. She lives in York, Pennsylvania.

I am in a unique position. I am a woman who leads a men’s group. After years of leading an identity formation group for women, I was asked to create a similar process for men. While developing the curriculum, I was hard-pressed to find material that was not complementarian, or that did not rely heavily on archetypal models to frame a man’s identity. Because I wanted the curriculum to be rooted in the biblical story and the imago Dei, I searched for resources that provided a biblical framework for a male identity. I never quite found what I was looking for—until Malestrom.

Carolyn Custis James has written a seminal work on masculine identity using the biblical story. She invites the reader to consider the impact of the fall on men and God’s redemptive work to restore a man’s identity. Similar to her writing in Lost Women of the Bible, James’s exegesis helps the reader read between the lines of the stories of men in scripture. She steers clear of “male as leader” interpretations and avoids the western cultural lens that only notices the strong man or hero. Instead, James helps us visualize each story within the cultural context of patriarchy, all the while helping us “see through” patriarchy to what God was doing redemptively in the midst of a system distorted by the fall.

James begins by illustrating how the fall disrupts the lives of men. She coins the term “malestrom” to describe the global and far-reaching effects of the fall on humankind and on men in particular. Her play on words demonstrates that, just as a maelstrom is a powerful whirlpool with the potential to destroy those caught in its pull, the “malestrom” is “the particular way 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). The “malestrom” not only has a powerful influence on men, it also impacts women and disrupts the Blessed Alliance1 God intends as men and women partner in the redemptive mission of God.

James argues that the principle expression of the “malestrom” is historic patriarchy (30). She defines patriarchy as a social system in which the role of the...

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