Book Review

Reverent and Rule-Breaking: There's a Woman In the Pulpit

Available today at Skylight Paths Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Available today at Skylight Paths Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

I have had the pleasure of being part of the RevGalBlogPals community, a group of active clergywomen bloggers, and the great honor of being a contributing author in the RevGals first collective book There’s a Woman In the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor, which is being released today by Skylight Paths Publishing.

As Rev. Martha Spong, director of RevGalBlogPals and the editor of this work (as well as a seminary colleague and friend of mine), states in the introduction, “Our community includes people who are single and married and partnered and divorced and widowed, gay and straight, cis- and transgender, parents and not, clergy and clergy spouses and laypeople, with an age range of twenty-something to seventy-something…” and we come from a variety of denominations around the world. In short, you will not find another work with the personal voices of such a diverse group of clergy women.

Included in this diversity of clergy women’s personal stories are some common threads: the difficulty of following one’s call into ministry by a still male-dominated patriarchal church structure, sometimes calling women away from the denomination of their youth; the focus by others on what clergy women wear and look like; wrestling with theological questions and walking with people on their faith journeys. 

There are prayers and poetry, laments and reflections; tales of baptisms and communions, deaths and births, revelations and resolutions. The stories shared are often of those intimate moments in ministry: placing ashes upon the forehead of a stranger; praying for a dying stranger; baptizing a child; being in the ER when people are informed their loved ones are gone. These intimate moments are shared beautifully, and as I read them, renewed in me the understanding of God’s call to this important ministry I am part of as a Christian pastor.

As I read each woman’s story, I recognized my own frustrations and trying times of being a woman in ministry. I especially resonated with the tales of breaking the rules. Standing in the line of Jesus, women called into ministry have been called to break the rules—even if their denomination ordains women. We still are challenging a status quo, a cultural idea that men are ministers and women are not. And in subtler ways we have been breaking rules even in our liberal, affirming contexts, because the work is not done to welcome all and to follow Jesus’ call.

This is not just a book to give to the clergy woman you know, though she will enjoy it, I’m sure. This is the book to give to anyone considering the ministry. This is the book to give anyone who loves Jesus but isn’t sure about the church and its laundry list of rules. Guess what—some of the clergy aren’t so sure about those rules, either. Yes, there is a place for you. There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and she’s inviting you in.


Dave Ramsey's The Legacy Journey

By Rev. Loren Richmond

Dave Ramsey begins the book retelling his own riches-to rags-to riches again tale; how he earned his first million, blew it all frivolously, and then pulled himself out of debt by working 80 hour work-weeks.  But this book is about more than financial advice; it is about divinely sanctioning wealth.  So confident is Ramsey about God’s divine approval of his wealth that he recounts the certainty that “God smiled” (3) when he wrote the check to buy himself a Jaguar with his new found riches. Chapter two is titled, “The War on Success.” The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity is first and foremost a defender of wealth.  Published in 2014 it seems almost certain this book is in response to the critique he faced a year ago.  

Rachel Held Evans accused Ramsey of promoting a “prosperity gospel,” basically that if one is in right relationship with God, one’s bank account will flourish.  This book only seems to continue that trend.  In the first chapter Ramsey confidently asserts, “If you do the things I teach from God’s Word… then over time you will become wealthy…you will become at some point one of those ‘rich people’” (5).  A couple pages over he declares that handling money God’s way “you end up wealthy” (7).  If this isn’t prosperity gospel, what is?

Not only is Ramsey certain all good Christians are meant to be rich, anyone asserting otherwise is a “toxic ‘Christian’ voice” (yes he put the quotation marks around “Christian”)(13).  According to Ramsey, this idea that Christians are meant to live in a “spirit of poverty” is a reincarnation of the Gnostic influence of early Christianity (26).  Apparently the countless monks and nuns throughout the centuries that took a vow of poverty had it wrong.  Apparently the millions of Christians in developing nations in Africa and South America are not following God or else they would be flat out loaded.  

Conveniently, while Ramsey has no problem telling his readers what they should and should not buy, “I can tell you with 100 percent certainly that anything you buy with debt—is not a blessing” (69), he’s far less willing to let his own financial dealings be held to a similar scrutiny.  The money God has given Ramsey is his to manage and apparently God only trusts Ramsey to manage that money (186) and the amount a (rich) person has is solely between them and God (77).   One can only wonder, if it really is “God’s money,” why is Ramsey so concerned with keeping and protecting it? 

And if Ramsey’s assessment of spirituality is scary—his exegetical skills are even worse.  Despite openly admitting he’s “not a biblical scholar” (51), Ramsey has no problem interpreting the passages of scripture critics point out such as Luke 18:27 and Matthew 25:14-30.  Failing to cite a single biblical commentator (six of the sixteen citations in the book are to his own books); Ramsey asserts that the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 isn’t about money at all but instead grace (46).  Continuing on into Luke 19 and the story of Zacchaeus, Ramsey somehow conveniently stops reading when Zacchaeus promises to give half of his money to the poor and repay anyone he had defrauded four-fold.  The Bible tells that it was only AFTER this promise that Jesus said salvation had some to Zacchaeus’ household.  But of course neither story has anything to do with money.

The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 is perhaps the preeminent text of Ramsey and his ilk.  This story, according to Ramsey, is the biblical justification for wealth acquisition and why equality isn’t biblical.  Yet Ramsey’s interpretive shortcomings are apparent to anyone paying attention to the context.  Jesus had just come from the temple when he began this long diatribe.  He tells three parables, the parable of the Ten Virgins, the parable of the Talents, and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  Ramsey would surely admit Jesus isn’t literally talking about ten virgins, or literally talking about sheep and goats.  So why does Ramsey think Jesus is literally talking about money (a hyperbolic amount of money at that?).  Because it justifies Ramsey’s entire system. 

Amazingly enough, Ramsey fails to see himself in the parable of the rich man who builds bigger barns in Luke 12.  Referencing the story himself (169), Ramsey asserts the only problem of the rich man was his worship of wealth. Yet despite the rich man being called a “fool” in the Bible for preparing  to “eat, drink, and be merry,” Ramey says it’s okay to live it up and enjoy one’s wealth (53).  For all his talk of contentment, it’s hard not to think Ramsey is just as guilty as the rich man of worshipping wealth—nearly the entire second half of this book is dedicated to maintaining and preserving one’s wealth.

What seems most perplexing amongst his many inconsistencies and flat-out hypocrisy is his assertion that one should be “careful not to let politics set you up to misinterpret scripture” (52).  Surely Ramsey is the impartial interpreter!  So certainly it couldn’t be Ramsey’s politics influencing his idea that those critiquing him are “envious” (71) and should “mind your own business” (73).  No, Ramsey clearly keeps his politics and religion separate.  That’s why he says, no one wastes money like the government and that he “doesn’t need the government to redistribute the money” God asked him to manage (156).  If there was any doubt about where Ramsey’s true allegiance lies he reveals such when he states that “we do not all bring the same level of economic service to the marketplace.  Service to the marketplace generates wealth, not your inherent value as a human” (43).  That’s right, free-market capitalism determines a person’s worth, not God.  It seems pretty obvious that Ramsey’s god is actually free market capitalism.

In the end, Dave Ramsey’s The Legacy Journey is an unabashed defense of wealth and the 1%. It is an attempt to divinely sanction a global economic system which has enriched a small fraction of people like himself while exploiting millions (probably billions) of people.  It promotes an individualistic spirituality that is neither historically Christian nor in any sense biblical. It simply ridicules the poor and financially insecure for not being rich and privileged.  The Legacy Journey, and the teaching of Dave Ramsey it promotes, is neither Christian nor biblical—but rather worldly, selfish, and uncaring. 


Loren is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) an is serving in a United Church of Christ church.  He is a 2013 graduate of Phillips Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. He can be found online at  therelentlesstheologian.blogspot.com, with sermons in text form at Hendersonchurch.org.

Slow Down, and read Slow Church

By Rev. Mindi

My small local clergy group was taking suggestions for new books to read, and me with my smart phone and sometimes smart mouth decided to search right then and there for a new book rather than taking a month to go do research. In my Amazon recommendations popped up Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. I really didn’t know much about it but that it was a brand new book, and that the book has a Twitter account that followed me, so I followed back.  It was really by chance and Amazon’s logarithms that I began reading this book.

But I’m so glad I did. Smith and Pattison are not pastors, not professional church leaders, but were inspired by the Slow Food movement to think about church life as an alternative to the “McDonaldization of Society” as George Ritzer coined it. (I read The McDonaldization of Society back in college and still have the book on my shelf—it was a profound wake-up call to the capitalist production machine that our society functions by: the idea that we have to make more stuff and make it faster, and that even our self-worth has come to depend upon it).  Slow Church looks at how church, just like the rest of the institutions of our society, have bought into the hyper-fast production-based model. “Decades, if not centuries, of taking shortcuts have repelled many people from the faith and diminished the quality of our life together” (117). We have tried to short-circuit discipleship and evangelism.

You might think at first that this is a book for a more conservative or evangelical audience, not for a mainline congregation—but we have done the same thing in the mainline church. Maybe we haven’t watered down the Bible to a tract that fits in the size of a business card, but we have (often) failed to do a good job of teaching our children and youth what it means to believe in and follow Jesus, what it means to be part of the church, how to participate in the kingdom of God.

Furthermore, we have failed to connect with the greater community, and that is the key of Slow Church—a reminder for us to slow down and reconnect with God, others and nature. “The ‘ecology’ of Slow Church is embedded in the interconnectedness of creation and God’s reconciliation of all things” (90).

Mainliners don’t differ much from our evangelical or fundamentalist kin in that we also water-down and short circuit the uncomfortable parts of our faith. We don’t do mourning well. Where our evangelical and fundamentalist kin will jump to “there’s one more angel in Heaven,” and lots of celebration that a loved one is now with the Lord, we do the same: we water-down the grieving process and try to jump into getting over death, rather than struggling with the suffering. Slow Church looks at the way our society as a whole has tried to just overcome suffering rather than the “willingness to enter into the pain of others” (83). If we are going to be committed in community to one another, we also need to be willing to suffer together as well as rejoice. This is what it means in particular to be part of Christian community: that we do not suffer alone.

Slow Church is about digging deep and being engaged and committed to the process of God-growth in us and around us. This commitment happens with God and with each other and with the greater community. Slow Church goes back to the roots of our faith in Scripture—Sabbath practice, discernment, community—and asks how we can re-engage with our roots and develop long-term, lasting foundations.

My major critique of this work is that  while my experience resonates with the book's view of church and society, I wonder if similar parallels would be drawn by my colleagues of color and different church cultures. I often err on the side of viewing US culture as homogeneous when it never has been; even critiquing the McDonalidzation of our US culture comes through a white lens, as the McDonalidzation was a white creation to begin with. Just some food for thought.

I highly recommend Slow Church. It is not often that I read a book that I say, “Yes, Yes!” out loud while reading it. I often highlight while I read; this time, I made notes as to what parts to quote for my next board meeting when we talk about stewardship. Each chapter has good discussion questions at the end for small groups or churches. The authors also have a blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slowchurch/ and are active on Twitter and Facebook.