This book was a difficult one for me. I had some huge problems with Murrow’s terminology that made it difficult for me to finish the book, much less write a review of it. I’ll highlight some of the problems I had with it, then show the parts I liked. (I’ll quickly add that none of my criticism is personally directed at Murrow; rather, my criticisms are of his word choices and arguments.)
The first half of the book is fiction, involving David Murrow as a character embarking on a global chase to find a long-lost map with “the power to transform men”. Turns out, it’s a fictional parchment written by an early Christian named Justus who claimed this “map” is found in the gospel of Matthew. It’s referred to as The Three Journeys of Jesus and consists of three parts: submission, strength and sacrifice.
This section of the book is far too agenda-driven (as opposed to character or plot driven) and contrived to really read as the action-packed, Jason-Bourne-style thriller as the endorsements on the cover and front pages claim it is. Murrow’s writing abilities lean toward non-fiction, and it would have been better for him to stay with non-fiction throughout (as I believe he did in his bestseller Why Men Hate Going to Church).
The second half is the non-fiction part, where Murrow shows men what their spiritual journey to greatness looks like, how Jesus walked it, and where to find it in the Bible. Here’s where I started to have some major issues with his arguments.
First of all, does this supposed map actually exist in the book of Matthew? Several other reviewers have taken a skeptical stance on this, and I myself am inclined to think that Murrow stretches his interpretation of Scripture too far to make his point.
My second, biggest issue is his use of the terms “masculine” to describe strength and the harder virtues and “feminine” to describe the softer ones. While he writes a nice explanation of why he chose these terms:
“I’m not saying that strength is manly and submission is womanly. I’m simply pointing out that . . . attributes such as strength, aggression, goal orientation, competitiveness and conflict are most often identified as male. On the other hand, love, communication, family, nurturing and harmony are regularly understood as female.”
True enough. But just because it’s “instantly understandable” doesn’t mean that he had to use gender terms to make his point; why not refer to “submission” and “sacrifice” as “softer virtues” and “strength” as a harder virtue? Why be deliberately politically incorrect? It was unnecessary to do so.
(…) The purpose of this book is not to stereotype. Nor am I assigning certain traits to males and others to females. (…) My prayer is that men and women will develop both sides of their personalities. I’m pleading with women to be strong, and with men to embrace weakness. ” (p.106)
That would be lovely if it were true. However, Murrow doesn’t really plead with women to be strong. (Women are seldom addressed in the book. That’s understandable, if irritating, given his target audience.) Moreover, while he does plead with men to embrace weakness to a certain extent, he spends far more time on the need for men to stop being “Christian nice guys.”
And he does stereotype both men and women, often blatantly. Consider these statements (and there are many others of this nature):
“If trials are the lessons of submission . . . and the journey of submission moves you in the feminine direction . . . then how should you react to trials? Like a girl. I’m serious. When trials come, get help from friends. Run toward community, not away from it. Weep. Talk about it.” (p.185)
(I like his ideas on how to handle trials, but not the “like a girl” part. And the immediate addition of “I’m serious” makes me think he knows this phrase comes across as a knock.)
“Successful conflict resolution always begins with a feminine response. Lavish kindness on your enemies.” (p188)
(I agree with the lavish kindness on your enemies part, but why characterize this as a “feminine” response?)
“The (praise and worship) choruses are repetitive and simple—designed to stimulate the emotions rather than the mind. As a result, worship itself is becoming more feminine.” (p191)
(Implication here: “feminine” worship focuses on emotions at the expense of the mind, as though something mentally stimulating isn’t feminine somehow.)
“There’s nothing worse than a feminized fellow—except perhaps a macho fool.” (p200)
(Why not just say a “weak” man? Why make it sound as though feminine characteristics are negative in a male, especially when he spent so much time claiming he wanted men to develop their so-called feminine side?)
“But when I look (the new discipleship program) over, I’m always disappointed, because it’s not discipleship at all. It’s a Bible study course. The idea is to get men to read their Bibles (which most of them forget to do) and then gather them in an informal classroom setting (a living room) where they read from books and answer questions. You’ve attended these groups. The format is always the same: Bibles, books, banter, and a bowl of chips.” (p225)
(That’s pretty dismissive of the average male’s ability to remember to read their Bible. It’s also blatantly stereotyping men. I agree that discipleship programs need to be more than Bible studies, though.)
“Think what would happen in your church if every man were being personally discipled by another. I suspect many of the problems we deal with in our churches and families would quickly evaporate. If men had spiritual fathers, would we even need women’s ministry or children’s ministry?” (p.221)
(Okay, Murrow just spent 200-plus pages arguing that men need a journey that was appropriate for their masculine needs, and now he claims women and children wouldn’t need ministries tailored for their particular bent? I agree, though, that if men were being discipled, many problems would lessen or disappear. But the final question pushes his argument into the realm of self-contradiction.)
Okay, at this point, you may think I completely loathe this book. Not true. Murrow has some excellent points that I agree with.
For example, I like how he sometimes uses the “three journeys” as a template for prayer: opening with submission to God, then receiving strength from Him, closing with a prayer to be poured out in sacrifice for others and God.
Also, he emphasizes that we need to embrace each of these both in turn and simultaneously. One shouldn’t skip submission and overemphasize strength: that leads to an abuse of power. Likewise, submission without ever moving into spiritual strength is detrimental; it leads to weak Christians who never stand up to evil.
His illustration of this last point was particularly powerful to me. A pastor shared how a woman in his congregation was bitter, divisive and hateful. She berated and criticized him, tore down others, and the pastor sometimes wanted to slap her. Then he thought, “oh, no, Jesus would love her and wash her feet.” Eventually, the pastor said, “She destroyed the church. Split it right in two, but I never spoke a harsh word to her.”
Murrow was outraged: a selfish, bitter woman destroyed a church and the pastor never stood up to her evil, divisive ways. This struck a chord with me, as I have seen people such as this woman divide churches, I have seen Christian leaders (male and female) who were afraid to confront evil because they had a warped sense of how Jesus would react, I have seen the fallout of two different church splits. Souls are lost through such things. I share Murrow’s reaction:
“I think even journey-of-submission Jesus would have picked up a whip and driven this Jezebel out of the church!” (p.172)
And if you don’t agree, go read about Jesus cleansing the temple; Jesus pitched a hissy fit in the middle of the temple, and rightly so.
Murrow’s complaints over men thinking they have to be “Mr. Christian Nice Guy” are well taken. People who believe following Christ means being “nice” all the time are weak and ineffective for God—and that goes for men and women. Sometimes we can’t be “nice” to display Christ to other people.
By the way, I have no issue with guys getting to do stereotypical “guy” things, nor with gals getting to do stereotypical “girl” things; some things tend to “seem” more masculine or feminine. I’m not advocating that men or women forget their gender. Plus, both men and women need strong friendships of the same sex; that’s healthy and necessary.
My issue with this book was more over Murrow’s choice of gender terminology to describe his ideas. Many of his ideas are useful and just as applicable to women as to men. He means well, he definitely has a heart to reach men for Christ, and he has excellent insights. Unfortunately, they are often buried under needlessly gender-specific (and stereotypical) terms.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for a review on my blog. Check out my link to BookSneeze.com if you would like information on how to get free books to review! (Hopefully David Murrow and the powers-that-be at Thomas Nelson won’t hate me! I certainly don’t hate them.)
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