This book does exactly what it says on the tin. It looks at this subject in some detail, bearing in mind it is the church in America being analysed. I have struggled with this book. At times I have nodded and thought, “He has a point” at other times I have thrown it across the room in frustration, or said to my wife, “Read this - I can’t believe this!”
A couple of quotes will illustrate the extremes I felt while reading it. From the introductory chapter:
“Male and female participation are roughly equal in Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. In the Islamic world men are publicly and unashamedly religious - often more so than women. Of the world’s great religions, only Christianity has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners.” (Page 8)
I found myself nodding and wondering about the above statement and
asking myself why - this is the reason David Murrow wrote the book.
Then I read this...
“Real men have no place in the church today”. (page 75)
This sentence sums up the key problem with the book - it is just too emotive, and wrong. I consider myself a real man (I am one biologically!)... the key issue with the content and the manner in which Murrow dissects the problems (and there are some, which I will get to in a bit) is his determination of what he calls “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics and, early on in the book I see echoes of John Eldridge (author of “Wild at Heart”) . . .
“God made men for adventure, achievement, and challenge, and if they can’t find those things in church, they’re going to find them somewhere else”
I loathe blanket statements, like, “God made man for” because we often overlay our stuff onto what God actually made us for. We, male and female, are made to be in relationship with God. We are made in God’s image - and in Christ, “there is no male or female, slave or free” (Galatians 3 warrants careful reading alongside this book).
In fact, as I think about the Sophia Network I am reminded of something Jurgen Moltmann says in In the End - the beginning. In commenting on the messianic tradition that identifies the child of promise as a daughter he says this:
“In the book of Proverbs, chapter 8, the wisdom of God, hokma, is
called, “The daughter of God”, the daughter who was beside God before
creation . . . If we understand wisdom not just as a human virtue but
in the first place as the presence of God in creation, then we
understand why Jesus is presented in the New Testament both as Israel’s
messiah and as the Wisdom of creation, so that the Christ mystery is
both male and female. When the gospel of John calls the divine mystery
of Jesus the Logos, the Word of God, Sophia, the Wisdom of God is meant
too. Jesus is the incarnate Sophia, Jesus is the incarnate Logos - both
Sophia and Logos given human form”
Jurgen Moltmann, In the End - the Beginning, page 12
This is something David Murrow clearly struggles with - he begins not with who God, in Christ, is - but with who he thinks we are as masculine and feminine - for him, our identity starts and ends there, that is who we are. This is shown by the stereotypical division that he paints in chapter 4.
Again it is emotive language (see my italics)
“Which one (of the following sets) best characterises Jesus Christ and His true followers?”
The sets of characteristics are as follows:
Left set: Competence, Power, Efficiency, Achievement, Skills, Proving Oneself, Results, Accomplishment, Objects, Technology, Goal Orientated, Self - Sufficiency, Success, Competition.
Right set: Love, Communication, Beauty, Relationships, Support, Help, Nurturing, Feelings, Sharing, Relating, Harmony, Community, Loving Co-Operation, Personal Expressions.
The two sets are a distilled list that Murrow has borrowed from “Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus” to highlight what he sees as the differences between Men and Women - and the key issue I have with the book is that these dynamics need to be reflected in the way the church is and operates.
The ones I have highlighted are the ones I particularly identify with as I try and think about Jesus. I come across as a bit of a woman by David Murrows standards - but I am typical of men in the Church, i.e. not a “real” one!
I mentioned John Eldridge, and it doesn’t take long for Murrow to quote him directly,
“Christianity isn’t a religion about going to Sunday school, potluck suppers, being nice, holding car washes . . . this is a world at war . . . without men and their warrior spirit in the Church all is lost” (page 49)
The frustration I felt with the book is also because where there are some thought provoking questions and observations made, but they are likely to be missed because we are in polarised camps of manly men (not in Church) and girly men (in church and emasculated) . . . one such observation,
“Please don’t gauge a man’s commitment to Christ by his tears (or lack of them). I’ve seen fakes who cry a river in church, but who live sinful lives during the week. Conversely, some men are genuinely broken by God without ever shedding a tear. Sometimes the Holy Spirit works without Kleenex”. (Page 141)
This is useful and worth remembering - but for everyone of these there are a dozen comments or reflections that make me angry. The greatest downside though is to do with transformation. The emphasis, in Murrow’s book, keeps coming back to the following statement,
“I know men are sexist pigs. They shouldn’t be this way. But remember, we’re talking about men as they are, not as they should be” (Page 157)
But, surely part of becoming a disciple, a follower of Jesus is about being transformed and gradually becoming what and who we should be - Murrow doesn’t seem to see this as needing to happen to manly men - it is the men who he identifies as unmanly who need to change!
What really frustrated me (yes, there is more) is the reference to Christ as if he was some gun-toting warrior. Again John Eldgridge is called into play with a reference to the need for men to be “wild”. Interestingly, if we actually look at scripture - the only reference in the new testament to anyone being “wild” is about John the Baptist and, the word used isn’t to do with his heart, or even how he looks, the word literally means “belonging to the field”. However, when we look at what Jesus says of himself in relation to his own heart. He says this, “I am meek and lowly of heart” (Matthew 11:28). Paul picks up on the attitude of Christ in Philippians 2 and says ours should be the same.
One of the thrusts of Murrow’s argument is around the idea of what we are calling men to. He maintains that for men not in the church already, we need to focus on the call to follow Jesus rather than to love Him. Again, from scripture, yes, Jesus does call the disciples to follow him, but I think this is more to do with the traditional rabbinical call for disciples than a mark of the kind of intimacy and relationship we need to have with Jesus. In fact, probably the most rugged and manly of the early disciples was Peter - a big stuff up, a real bloke for Dave Murrow to point to who Jesus called and included despite the rough edges. So far so good - but, when Jesus reinstates Peter it isn’t a call to arms or a warrior cry that Jesus uses. He says this, “Peter, do you love me?” and then, he doesn’t set out for Peter some incredible obstacle he must beat, some huge challenge that is about reaching for greatness - another of Murrow’s encouragements for reaching men - no, Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs”.
Nearing the end of the book, there are some helpful, practical ways of engaging with men - but there is a serious “pendulum swing” going on throughout, rather than a balanced reflection on the challenges facing the church where a majority of those who attend the church in the West (not just in the States) are women. In a mishmash of statements and reflections I found it hard to agree with there was this:
“Maybe the key isn’t the gender of the pastor. Maybe it’s the spirit of the pastor.”
I shouted Amen when I read this (not something I have a habit of doing). I just wish he had written this sentence as directly as some of the others in the book - minus the “maybes”.
To sum up, this is a really annoying book which I just had to keep reading - there are some challenging issues to be faced. We don’t have as many men in the church as we do women. And, despite most of the leaders of the church being men, we have to get to grips with that. This book isn’t the answer - but hopefully, much like Dave Tomlinson’s “Post Evangelical” it will prompt a discussion that we definitely need to have.
The book finishes with a call to men (and women) to become fishers of men (as Murrow refers in his final few pages to Matthew 4:19). I really don’t want to be pedantic for the sake of it - but, “anthropos” is used throughout the New Testament, sometimes to mean “men” sometimes to mean people - it is a generic term for “human being”.
Instead of becoming polarised, paralysed by, and even fixated on our gender uniqueness, similarities and differences - if we could rediscover what it means to be the people of God (and what it means to be humans made in his image - male and female) we might find a way to address some of the questions David Murrow’s book asks.
Adviser for work with children and young people
Diocese of Chichester