The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James

Carolyn Custis James has drawn no small amount of criticism from the conservative wing of her denomination. Her books seek to challenge and empower women to step up in ministry. And depending on your background and subsequent perspective, that is either a good thing or a troubling thing. In my neck of the woods, we have a woman governor and two women senators. And that is probably a good reflection of how our state as a whole thinks about women. As women here come to Christ, most don’t struggle to feel empowered for ministry. Instead, most struggle with giving up parts of their dominion in submission to God.

My perception is that Carolyn Custis James comes from a completely different background. Despite accusations against her, I don’t think she is lobbying against gender roles in the church and home. I have never seen anything explicit in her writings that indicate anything like that. Instead, I think she is well aware that in certain areas in Christianity, many women are indeed weak-willed, and the state of these weak women is as hurtful to the church as the state of those who seek to rule in ways that God did not intend.

More than any other word in my vocabulary, I think the word gentle gives the most insight into the balance to which God has called us as women. Gentle does not mean weak. This is so important to get!!! Gentle means strength under control. A baby isn’t gentle. A baby is weak. The adult is gentle, because though they are strong enough to crush the baby with their hand, instead they cradle it. They temper their strength. This is God’s call to women. “Don’t be weak. Be strong!!! But keep your strength under My control.”

Now on to the review. I have finished 2/3 of the book, and I really like it so far. I should wait until I’m finished to post this, but I’m burning to put my thoughts so far on paper (or blog). A friend let me borrow hers, but I had to stop reading it and order my own because there were too many places I wanted to mark up with my pen. This book is making me think, and phrases from the book have haunted me hours after I put the book aside. Maybe it will all fall apart in the end, but so far, I have enjoyed it.

This book is not an expositional look at Ruth. I love John Stott’s commentaries, but this was nothing like that. The author reads a lot into Ruth, but I am not uncomfortable with the way she does this or the conclusions she draws (so far). In fact, I think she gets it right most of the time. In particular, she spends a good bit of time exploring the implications in that culture of being a widow and childless, as both Naomi and Ruth are at the beginning of the story. And this was a beautiful, honest, painful look at these issues from someone who has been there.

This book may push you out of your comfort zone. James is a reformed female theologian. She has done her study and has an annoying number of references to prove it. But she also has a passionate, vulnerable voice. She has experienced the things that shake women to their core and is honest with the hard questions about God that these things raise.

If you like your books neat and tidy, laid out with linear logic and devoid of emotion, this book is probably not for you. But if you are interested in a somewhat messy but still God-centered exploration of the themes of Ruth that doesn’t let you hide from the hard truths of the Word, this book is a good read.

3 Responses to The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James

  1. Anonymous May 11, 2008 at 3:47 am #

    Read her other books as well. You will not regret the time it takes. She is an amazing source of wisdom and insight for all women who want to serve God.

  2. Leslie December 9, 2008 at 5:55 am #

    I’m guessing you’ve finished it by now (leaving this comment in 12/08). What’s your final analysis? Did it all fall apart in the end in your estimation?

  3. Wendy December 9, 2008 at 6:10 am #

    Yes, I’ve finished it. And, no, it didn’t fall apart in the end. I liked it. She said some things with which I didn’t fully agree. But she said many things that provoked thought and further study. I like a book that pushes me out of my comfort zone. Others may not, and they may not like some of her insights or suggestions. But I don’t mind being pushed to think deeper, and I enjoyed the challenge in this book about a variety of issues concerning our views of women and our views of God.