A Word Fitly Spoken

Reviews of “A Word Fitly Spoken: Context, Transmission, and Adoption of the Parables of Jesus”

A Word Fitly SpokenAd-copy:

“The book is extremely readable. It further clarifies the complexities of first century religious life in ancient Palestine and the Judaic matrix of early Christianity. The author demonstrates familiarity with and appreciation of the Jewish sources and scholarship on all of the issues.”
Rabbi Howard Joseph
Concordia University


“I very much like the author’s bold reading of the texts. The book is always interesting and indeed hard to put down. If one reads it first to be entertained, a number of unexpected insights are discovered that might have been obscured by the usual critical reading of an argument.”
Lloyd Gaston
Vancouver School of Theology


From ATLA, 2966 Diamond Street, San Francisco, p.5

Rating: Excellent
Audience: Religious Studies
Popularity: Good

By concentrating upon the oral matrix of story telling, especially as reflected in first century Jewish and Christian documents, Culbertson develops a keen appreciation of the listener response analysis of gospel texts.

The parables are especially discussed in detail, providing a rich utilization of philosophical, methodological and literary sources of Hellenistic culture in Palestine. Recommended for scholars considering how the oral matrix influenced the reception of written texts.


From Choice, Vol. 33, No. 1, September 1995

Instead of placing parables in a Greco-Roman context (or even reading them simply via modern literary-critical categories), Culbertson seeks to understand the parables of Jesus against the grid of rabbinic literature. In doing so, Culbertson sidesteps the normal issues associated with the study of the New Testament (e.g., form, source, redaction criticism). The book includes nine substantive and exemplary chapters, treating such diverse issues as the specific and pancultural historical-political context of Jesus’ parables (chapters 1, 5, 6), the polyvalence inherent with transmission (chapters 2, 7, 8), the halakhic character of parables (chapter 3), and the rhetorical force of stringing together a series of parables (chapter 4). Culbertson closes this study with an engaging chapter interacting with listener-response theory. At each point, Culbertson successfully marshals rabbinic evidence to shed new light on the character, shape, function, and history of Jesus’ parables. This book is especially important for those doing graduate research in the New Testament.
C. C. Newman
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary


From Anglican Theological Review 88:2 (Spring 1996), pp. 341-344.

Philip Culbertson is Lecturer in Pastoral Theology and Director of Pastoral Studies at St. John the Evangelist Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand; but his interests and abilities far outstrip his title. During the past six years he has authored three books and co-authored a fourth. Two are in the area of pastoral theology and gender, and one is a book of readings from the patristic period. The present work sets certain teachings of Jesus on the context of other (mostly Rabbinic) texts. Culbertson his well-qualified to write such a book. His knowledge of New Testament is comparable to that of many specialists in that area, while his familiarity with Rabbinic and other Jewish texts reflects two years of advance work at the Hebrew University, plus many summers of study in Israel. His Hebrew is fluent, and in the present work he has no need to rely on translations. For this reason Culbertson never limits his research to translated sources and reflects considerable familiarity with modern Hebrew literature on his subject. Even where translations of his sources do exist, he tends to provide his own somewhat free renderings, which he peppers with expressions like “bust your butt” (p. 306).

Culbertson’s interest in the parables extends back several years. I remember vividly hearing his paper, “Reclaiming the Matthean Vineyard Parables” (Encounter 49 [1988], pp. 257-283) and thinking that here was a model for interpreting the parables that really broke new ground. He pointed out then, as he does here in chapter 8, that since the time of Is. 5 the vineyard had been a standard metaphor for the people of Israel. For that reason, those who heard the parable of the Wicked Tenants in the Vineyard (Matt. 21:33-43) would have associated Israel with the vineyard itself rather than the wicked tenants. In a somewhat similar vein Culbertson treats Matthew 1:2-16; 7:1-5, 29; 9:14-17; 13:3-53; 17:24-27; 22:15-21; and 25:1-12 as illustrations of various problems of interpretation. To these treatments he adds four chapters of introduction and three appendices, one of which is a helpful discussion of “The Half-sheqel Offering in the Second Temple Period.” The book also includes indices of names, subjects, and references plus a fifty-four-page bibliography. The bibliography is not exhaustive and omits some well-known books (e.g., Pheme Perkins’ popular book, Hearing the Parables of Jesus; David Stern, Parable in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature; and articles, e.g., Raymond Brown, “Parable and Allegory Reconsidered,” Novum Testamentum 5 [1962], pp. 36-45).

In his interpretations Culbertson uses various categories of ancient texts. These include Greek and Latin classics, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and early Church writings; but the great bulk of his sources come from Rabbinic literature. Anyone who uses Rabbinic literature for interpreting the New Testament, however, must confront the problem that Rabbinic literature in the form that we have it represents a Judaism considerably later than the more temple-centered Judaism of Jesus and Paul. Culbertson tries to avoid this problem and other matters of higher criticism by addressing “Christian and Jewish texts as we have received them” (pp. ix-x). He would use what he calls “listener-response theory,” in which he would seek “the various messages of any given parable in its particulars” (p. 284) and how these particulars would have been remembered and adapted by various listeners. Listeners do not always remember only the plain sense (peshat) of a parable. Jesus’s hearers would tend to draw out various “metaphorical or homiletical” (p. 49) interpretations, while an inner circle would be expected to carry away a secret meaning (sod). Such an approach may well soften the importance of dating and other critical questions, but it does not do away with them. Some (although by no means all) of the material that Culbertson uses dates from the twelfth century and later; and while Rabbinic texts may reflect earlier traditions, even carefully preserved traditions can change in the course of a century, never mind a millennium.

Culbertson’s book is important and stimulating, but the non-specialist may find it difficult reading. In the first place Rabbinic sources generally pose special problems of understanding and evaluation for Christian readers. Secondly, he tends to prefer Hebrew words to their common English equivalents, e.g., mashal and nimshal for “parable” and “moral” respectively. There is good reason for this preference. The Hebrew terms lack much of the baggage we have tacked onto their English equivalents. Still such terms may pose a small problem for some readers. Thirdly, certain kinds of errata may cause difficulties. For example, there is an error in the transliteration table of Hebrew letters (p. xv); he confuses Howard Kee with Alistair Kee (p. 280); and he lists three kinds of coin found in Matt. 17:12-27 (p. 170), although these verses mention only two.

Others may not agree with every point of Culbertson’s interpretations, but anyone engaging in serious work on the parables needs to consult the book. For myself, his interpretation of the Wicked Tenants in the Vineyard seems quite convincing, but other interpretations gave me pause. It was difficult to understand why the women Nazhat and Naamah, are present in Matthew’s genealogy “by implication” (p. 235). Many other interpretations are suggestive, and perhaps correct, but will probably require further evaluation by most readers. One such interpretation ends up understanding Jesus’ saying about new wine in old wineskins (Matt. 9:17) as a caution to “his followers not to get drunk in innovation” (p. 281). The value of this book, however, does not depend on whether we can agree with all Culbertson’s interpretations. Rather its value lies in the fact that Culbertson has begun to open a whole new vista for interpreting the parables and sayings of Jesus.
John T. Townsend
Episcopal Divinity School
Cambridge, Massachusetts


Published in Theology Digest 43:3 (Fall, 1996), 263-264.

Philip Culbertson lectures in pastoral theology at St. John the Evangelist in Auckland, New Zealand. He has studied rabbinics under various teachers in Israel. In this book he compares NT and rabbinical texts as he examines a dozen parables and aphorisms in order to clarify the context in which they were heard. He discusses contextuality, multiplicity of simultaneous meanings, behavioral expectations, catenae of parables, unexpected literary forms, alterations in textual transmission, how a nimshal can change its meaning, and new possibilities from listener-response criticism.


Published in Critical Review of Books in Religion 9 (1996), for The Journal of Biblical Literature.

Philip L. Culbertson, a noted pastoral theologian with publications in both men’s issues (New Adam: The Future of Masculine Spirituality [Fortress, 1991], Counseling Men [Fortress, 1994]) and patristics (The Pastor: Readings from the Patristic Period [Fortress, 1990], with A. Shippee), has written over the period of nine years a book that investigates the parables of Jesus by employing a rigorous study of rabbinics. What prompted this study was the perceived failure of NT interpreters to consider seriously the contributions of rabbinics for parable interpretation.

There is a sea of books about the parables of Jesus, ranging from historio-critical to narrative approaches; yet Culbertson’s study is innovative in two ways: (1) he argues for a direct relationship between rabbinic parables and the parables of Jesus and (2) he employs listener-response theory to the parables under investigation. Culbertson attacks the methodological assumption, often found among Christian interpreters, that there is a universal message of the parables and that Jesus’ parables are somehow unique (e.g., J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus [London: SCM Press, 1972] 12). Moreover, Culbertson challenges the “christianizing” of the parables of Jesus, a Jewish teacher, and thereby builds upon two definitive works: D. Flusser, Die rabbinischen Gleichnisse und der Gleichniserzhler Jesus (Bern: Peter Lang, 1981) and B. Young, Jesus and His Jewish Parables (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1989).

Culbertson investigates a number of parables in Matthew’s Gospel to demonstrate that the study of rabbinics can indeed elucidate, if not at times correct, their conventional interpretation. By utilizing listener-response theory, Culbertson seeks to identify both the specific culture in which a story is told and the various meanings that can be heard within that story. What sets parables apart, then, is their identifiable cultural contexts and purposes.

The study contains nine chapters and three appendices. Chapter 1 grapples with the foundational issue of contextuality and includes a discussion of the bipartite structure of a parable: the body of the story, called the mashal, and the stated application or point, called the nimshal. For parable interpreters, the next distinction is paramount: the point of the parable is the story itself, or the mashal, and the nimshal (application) must be left up to each listener to determine. Thus, nimshalim may vary from culture to culture and from situation to situation, while the basic mashal remains the same. The point of any given parable, then, is the mashal, the narrative story itself. As Culbertson puts it, “a nimshal is the concretization of a listener’s emotional response to the mashal” (p. 14).

Parables, therefore, do not espouse pithy universal truths nor are they limited to specific timeless interpretations. Parables are dynamic stories unfolded in historical and cultural contexts. Thus, a mashal (story) is not necessarily connected to a specific nimshal (application).

Chapter 2 brings to the surface two interpretative concepts common to both Judaism and Christianity: (1) the multiplexity of scriptural texts (i.e., narratives can also be employed as parables) and (2) the intended esotericism of communication (i.e., the assumption that communication is not restricted to plain prose). Culbertson cites a famous rabbinic parable about individuals entering paradise, whose reactions are validated by certain scripture texts.

Chapter 3 analyzes a “lost” teaching of Jesus: a story about a rabbi who is brought before the civil tribunal for heresy because he accepted Temple donations from a whore, in direct violation of the Torah. The rabbi’s actions, however, were based on a discussion with one of Jesus’ disciples, who suggested the monies should not be wasted and could be used for purposes other than the Temple (e.g., to build a toilet for the high priest). The point here is to demonstrate that parables are halakhic midrash, not simply stories to be told; they evoke a behavioral expectation or response.

Chapter 4 examines the kingdom parables in Matthew 13, which have traditionally been investigated through the lens of redaction criticism (cf. J. Kingsbury, The Parables of Jesus in Matthew 13 [Richmond: John Knox, 1969]). Culbertson suggests that the literary device of catena, referred to in rabbinic literature as a “string of pearls,” is at work here. “‘To string pearls’ is to link verses from disparate parts of Scripture is such a manner as to argue a point that might not otherwise be obvious” (p. 102). He then examines five types of catena: (1) topical, (2) authenticating, (3) metaphorical, (4) forensic, and (5) parabolic, and concludes that the parables in Matthew 13 were strung together for a cumulative effect. Each parable builds an atmosphere of encouragement for those listeners who want to follow the kingdom principles of Jesus. The parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders in chapter 5 illustrates the pancultural adaptation of parables. Simply, meshalim [stories] appear in various forms in all cultures but are adapted in different ways to the specific culture.

Chapter 6 examines how historical and cultural conditions affected certain parables such as Matt 22:15-21 (Render unto Caesar) and Matt 17:24-27 (Coin in the Fish’s Mouth) and often render them with unexpected literary forms. Culbertson suggests, with rabbinic evidence, that the symbol of the fish points to humanity and its conditions (i.e., human behavior) and that the payment of the capitation tax (Matthew 17 and 22) suggests an idolatrous act, since coins symbolized icons of authority.

Chapter 7 addresses the question: How are parables affected by oral transmission? More specifically, what is perhaps lost in the transmission? Culbertson investigates Matt 7:1-5 (not considered a parable by most interpreters) and persuasively argues that a shift had occurred from a parable originally addressing the social ethic to a parable about the judicial system.

Chapter 8 recognizes that sometimes images presented in a mashal and its attached nimshal, or even nimshalim, can literally contradict each other. For example, the traditional (“Christian”) interpretation of Matt 21:33-43 has identified the wicked tenants in the vineyard with the Jews, who will ultimately be replaced by the Gentiles. Culbertson, by examining rabbinical parallels, concludes that the tenants are those who have turned their backs on Judaism, hence, non-Jews.

Finally, chapter 9 strips the parable of New Wine in Old Wineskins (Matt 9:14-17) of its Christian pretense using listener-response theory. The point of “the parable of the patches” is not new or old wine but the container (Jewish tradition) in which the wine is stored.

Three appendices conclude the book, each expounding an aspect of Culbertson’s methodology. Appendix 1 surveys the history of translation of Prov 25:11 (“A Word Fitly Spoken”) to show the difficulty of a phrase’s “plain meaning”; Appendix 2 offers a selection from Haim bar Bezalel’s Iggeret ha-Tiyyul to show the distinction of certain Hebrew literary devices; and Appendix 3 supplies background information on the half-sheqel offering.

Culbertson’s presentation is marked by erudition and clarity of prose. Although many would disagree with his lack of distinction between rabbinic parables and the parables of Jesus (do rabbinic parables reference the kingdom of God?), his arguments are nonetheless stimulating and his research exhibits a mastery of both Jewish and Christian primary and secondary sources. Culbertson can be faulted, however, for his lack of interaction with evangelical parable interpreters who have wrestled with the relationship of rabbinic parables and the parables of Jesus (cf. C. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990]; G. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral [InterVarsity, 1991]; and especially H. McArthur and R. Johnston, They Also Taught in Parables: Rabbinic Parables from the First Centuries of the Christian Era [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], who identify more than two dozen parables of Jesus that closely parallel rabbinic parables). Also striking is the absence of interaction with R. Gundry’s commentary on Matthew (Matthew: A Commentary on his Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994]).

In sum, Culbertson’s work is a fine piece of scholarship, which should receive a wide audience in the study of parable interpretation. His work voices the concern that to study the parables of Jesus seriously, one needs to consider the relationship between rabbinics and the NT.
Joseph B. Modica,
Eastern College,
St. Davids, PA 19087-3696

New Adam

Reviews of “New Adam: The Future Of Male Spirituality”

New Adam
 
Private Endorsement, at the request of Fortress Press

A hopeful, insightful, deeply biblical and spiritual book written by one who enjoys being male and who knows both the destructive perils of distorted masculinity and the gracious promises of “the New Adam.’ Philip Culbertson issues a persuasive invitation to feminist-sensitive men to explore a more honest, expressive, peaceful and celebratory masculinity.

James Nelson, Professor of Ethics
United Theological Seminary, Minneapolis


Book Newsletter, ed. Roderick Olson, No. 553, Summer 1992, pp. 1-2.

New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality, is a book that addresses important questions facing all men, but especially those men who seek a meaningful spiritual dimension in their lives. These questions include, “How can I relate appropriately and effectively to women?”, “Why is it often so difficult to feel close to other men?” and, “What blocks me from deepening my relationship with God?”

Woven out of the strands of several well-chosen biblical stories, the author’s own, sometimes painful personal experiences as a man and his understanding of the problems facing men and women in today’s world, Culbertson seeks to develop a sorely needed perspective on male spirituality. Emerging as the personification of this male spirituality is the author’s concept of a “New Adam.” This new Adam is not only a more open and caring male, but one who takes seriously and is willing to struggle with the new feminism and gender sensitivity that has emerged in women, the church, and our society over the past thirty years. He is also a man who has the courage to move toward greater independence and intimacy in his relationships with women, other men, and God.

Several parts of this book left a lasting impression. The chapters depicting current male problems such as father and son difficulties and friendship issues as reflected in the stories of David and Absalom, Abraham and Ishmael, and David and Jonathan were particularly evocative. Another chapter relating the author’s experience in a men’s support group along with his practical suggestions and guidelines for maintaining such a group is also quite helpful.

The book’s final chapter compares and contrasts the author’s perspective on male psychology and spirituality to some of Robert Bly’s current popular views. As a counter to Bly’s Iron John story, Culbertson develops his own interpretive myth (White Snake) and proceeds to explain new Adam principles from its content.

New Adam is an intriguing and provocative book that contains fresh insights into the issue of male spirituality and offers readers a new way to understand and relate to one’s self, others, and to God.

Joe Vaughn, Clinical Psychologist
New Hope Counseling Center, Rockford, Illinois


Sewanee Theological Review, Vol. 35, No. 4, Michaelmas 1992, pp. 419-421.

Philip Culbertson, known to many readers of the Sewanee Theological Review through his essays and reviews in this publication as well as through his years on the faculty of the School of Theology, University of the South, has written an immensely important and valuable book. It is presented by the author as a kind of companion piece to Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), and that it is. But it is much more, for Culbertson also provides in this small work a remarkable compendium of information, studies and insights on such varied topics as 1) contemporary psychological and psychiatric perspectives on male identity; 2) biblical narratives about male relationships that often come through as “texts of terror” for male readers; 3) perspectives drawn from Hellenistic, New Testament, rabbinic, and early Christian sources that illuminate male friendships as they existed and were understood in different cultures of the Mediterranean world; and 4) perceptive and suggestive proposals as to how male spirituality might be claimed and deepened today, especially within the Christian community.

The author uses well his talents as a pastoral theologian, translator and exegete of biblical and rabbinic texts, and sensitive advocate for human liberation – and especially male liberation. Without special pleading of any kind, with firm advocacy and support for the gains made by workers for female liberation and spirituality, and with no effort to assign blame to particular groups or institutions, Culbertson offers an eloquent, closely reasoned, and experientially tested set of steps that males might take to ease some of their pain and claim more of their male identity.

The retelling of the biblical stories of Abraham and Isaac, David and Absalom, and Jonathan and David well illustrate Culbertson’s ability to claim the biblical tradition afresh for our generation. The treatment of Jonathan and David seems to me the best, the most surefooted of the several studies, though the discussion of the “covenant” between the two would have benefited from greater attention to recent studies of the types of ancient near-eastern treaties/covenants. The Absalom-Amnon-Tamar-David story is immensely complex, and the author deals magnificently with many of its facts. Concentration upon the complex ties between David and Absalom keeps the analysis on track, but other features of this perhaps most powerful instance of the ancient narrator’s art necessarily get short shrift (note, for example, the place of Jerusalem in the narrative and how the story is retarded by the recording of incident after incident, as David slowly moves out of the city, into Wadi Kidron, and on towards the east; II Samuel 15:13-17:23).

The story of Jesus and his friends rightly reflects the limited knowledge available from our sources. The author provides a rich setting for this picture of Jesus, however, with brilliant summaries of male friendship in the Hellenic and Hellenistic worlds and in rabbinical Jewish circles. The Qumran community offers yet more material, and so do the documents of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha and the recent materials on Gnosticism. Culbertson telling enumerates the classical “Christian” virtues and qualities that are just the antithesis of those that males have instilled in them from earliest childhood, qualities that define the proper form of male leadership in western societies.

The author states his personal views clearly, but never without sympathy for the views of others. His own personal story is introduced from time to time to illuminate a point being made or to place the author in company with many readers. This feature of the book will make it all the more useful as a study book for groups dealing with male spirituality, within religious congregations and in other environments as well. The chapters that relate prayer and male spirituality to male sexuality (chapters seven and eight) give a clear set of talking points for group reflection and discussion. And the author never minimizes the difficulties or the fact that much can go wrong as men strive for the ability to share life and thought and experience and love.

One possible misreading might be cautioned against. In the author’s discussion of Greek understandings of love and friendship (pages 92-96), the point is rightly made that erotic feelings are a natural part of friendships between persons of the same sex. The feeling need not be acted upon genitally, however, in order that the depth of friendship, the love, be demonstrated. Sometimes the need for expression may lead to such overt intimacy, which the author does not explicitly reject or deem inappropriate. My one query is this: might it not be wise to consider that overt sexual acts, whether heterosexual or same-sex, add a distinctive dimension of intimacy? It is true that same-sex friendship that are like that of David and Jonathan are intended to endure, seek to avoid exploitation, and are by nature acts of mutuality. If the overt sexual act takes place in that context, then that rules out casual sexual engagements. Friendship is not made enduring and mutual through sexual encounter; the latter may flow out of a love that is intended to be mutual and enduring and non-exploitative. Our author makes the point; I only wish to underscore that it is not a matter of indifference whether a deep friendship between persons of the same sex does or does not lead to genital expression. Should it do so, then the love and friendship between the partners will have undergone a new dimension. It might have been worthwhile for Culbertson to have said a word about that, even at the risk of being accused of moralizing. Overt sexual acts are not only on a spectrum of sharings of life intimately; they have their own distinct shape and character, their own rituals and joys and dangers.

Rarely have I read a book from which I have learned as much as I have learned from the reading of this study of male spirituality and sexuality. That may be primarily due to my own ignorance. But surely, it is also in part due to the wisdom, the wide-ranging knowledge and perceptiveness, and the literary and pastoral talents of its author.

Walter Harrelson

Vanderbilt Divinity School


From Spiritual Life, Winter 1992, p. 250.

New Adam, with its explanation of male psychology, its encounters with five biblical “texts of terror” for men, its pioneering of new ways in men’s prayer and groups, enables men to come to terms with issues of justice, friendship, sexuality, and love in their lives. Culbertson’s book will help men to shape a new spirituality, to achieve a new integrity and to create a new identity.


From The Bible Today, January 1993, p. 54.

Subtitled “The Future of Male Spirituality,” this book seeks “ways to continue to claim all that is good about maleness and masculinity without perpetuating violence against women.” Culbertson seeks to help men catch up with the feminist movement so that men can appreciate women as equal in God’s image and find ways to supplant aggressive competitiveness as properly male. For help the author turns to the new Adam tradition and to the relationships of David and Absalom, David and Jonathan, and Jesus and his male companions. Culbertson searches the Bible for strong, loyal friendship between men, without concluding simplistically to physical erotic activity. An excellent bibliography concludes this well-balanced study.


From Theological Literature, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1993, pp. 8-10.

I had gone to Auckland not intending to purchase more than one book. I had a rough idea of what I wanted – something on the gospel of Mark which would help me prepare for a Presbytery seminar in November and a forthcoming lectionary year spent in the company of that gospel. The book duly selected and purchased – Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, edited by Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore [to be reviewed in the next Theo Lit] – I proceeded to honour my self-imposed ban with respect to further purchases. And then, after much inward resistance, I succumbed to a title on the sales table at the Assembly – New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality by Philip Culbertson. One reason I yielded temptation was due to the imagery available to me in so much of the worship. In this day and age I could not understand why there was so little inclusive language – nor could I understand much of the frankly erotic imagery in various choruses and hymns. I was rather puzzled also by the way in which this “love” and “sweet Jesus” language was so often tied to images of power and praise. Where it was all coming from – I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that it presented me with an acute liturgical and theological problem – and hence the title of Culbertson’s book caught my eye.

The author has lectured widely on men’s spirituality and psychology, as well as on issues in Jewish-Christian relations. An Episcopal priest, he is Professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. Culbertson will also tell us, in passing, in his introduction that he has gone through a divorce and that there are “holes” in his life, just as there are “holes” in mine and yours. He is writing then out of experience and knowledge of male psychology. To these he brings a good understanding of literary methods of biblical criticism. In this particular case there is no accident that the book is dedicated, in part, to Phyllis Trible “who taught me without knowing me.” The reference is to Trible’s work on “texts of terror” – a notion which Culbertson has imported into a male reading of the biblical text. It is also a reference which points towards his indebtedness to the work done by a number of feminist scholars and their legacy to men. Culbertson believes that men have to do a comparable job on the biblical narratives and themselves as Trible and other women have already done for their sex.

At times Culbertson will tell us about his Monday night men’s group. He will speak frankly of their difficulty, at times, in relating to one another about the deep things of life. The temptation to “water-bug” – to gloss over the surface of things in a ready-made kind of camaraderie – is always present. He will draw attention to the need for developing a “masculine agenda” and discuss the “masculine stumbling blocks” to prayer and spirituality. The idea of the “new Adam” will be distinguished from the “Old Adam.” “New Adam waits within, struggling to emerge, struggling to be born, but the labour is long and arduous. The first Adam of independence and technology is on his way to the second Adam in the fullness of interdependence and mutuality. A commitment to interdependence carries with it the promise of wholeness and the redemption of our broken masculine selves.” There is plenty of food for thought for men in the manner in which this Adam typology is used.

For me the real value of this book lay in a different direction. It was in the way in which Culbertson bids us notice the men in the biblical narratives and would have us dwell upon their relationships with one another; father-son, brother-brother, friend-associate, king-servant etc. In some ways Culbertson’s personal discoveries are precisely those: his. It was not always his conclusions – which were always illuminating – that were most helpful. It was the process of how to read a text a little differently, ask it alternative questions, and ponder upon where that reading might now go.

While sitting through the Assembly, I couldn’t help but feel that this book on New Adam was a God-send. It is true that it made me notice more some of the values being espoused and the politics being employed. But it also held out alternatives – and so it was an inspired purchase. The only misfortune was that I broke my earlier vow and bought the one copy on display!

Clive Pearson,

Christchurch


From New Theology Review, Vol. 6, No. 3, August 1993, pp. 104-105.

Philip Culbertson, an Episcopal priest who has taught pastoral theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, and now serves on the faculty of the Anglican Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand, proposes that the human male’s goal is to grow into the New Adam. This feat is possible only if men heed the challenge of contemporary feminism to achieve a relationship of colleagueship with women and, equally important, if men assist each other in male communities bonded by intimate friendship and commitment. The New Adam is the opposite of the archetypal frontiersman, the self-sufficient loner; it is an identity rooted in a conscious awareness of interdependence and mutual regard for all creation.

Culbertson uses scriptural narratives to illuminate the dangers and possibilities of a deeper spiritual development for men. The tales of David and Absalom, Abraham and Ishmael, David and Jonathan, and the example and sayings of Jesus to his male companions are presented as sources both for confronting the traditional masculine values that continue to damage and harm society and for offering alternative possibilities for relationships between men. Of particular emphasis is the call to fathers to be present to their sons and to all men to allow themselves the intimacy of a close friendship with another man.

The second part of the book addresses the area of prayer in men’s spiritual development, noting some of the obstacles that inhibit prayer life, such as men’s difficulty in being receptive, their resistance to not being in charge, their preference for doing over being, and the long centuries that have made maleness the norm both in imaging God and in approaching theology and the spiritual life. Culbertson writes that “the prayer of sensitive men must become one of spontaneity and surprise, without rules or expectations; if it concentrates on anything at all, then it must be on thanksgiving as opposed to self-serving petition” (p. 136).

Culbertson concludes his work on male spirituality by offering an alternative myth to Robert Bly’s Iron John. Because the author sees the story of Iron John as too much a call to rugged individualism and a way of life that is confrontative and cruel, lacking creativity, intellectual development, and virtue, he proposes as a substitute The White Snake, another Grimm tale. This story “emphasizes creativity, dignity, the value of a nurturing response, and the importance of being connected to those who share with us God’s good creation” (p. 161). The end result of male spiritual growth for Culbertson is a combination of softness, integrity, and passion.

Perhaps biblical scholars will be uneasy with the author’s readings of some of the Old Testament narratives, such as portraying David as another father who got lost in his work to his children’s detriment and Abraham as the ancient embodiment of the contemporary divorced father caught between two families. On one or two occasions I thought the author’s agenda was guiding his understanding of the biblical characters. Still, in this age of reader-response criticism, the perspective of men’s studies is able to provide insight and challenge.

I would also take issue with his facile dismissal of the value of a personal spiritual director as a “fad” and as counterproductive in comparison with group spiritual direction of men. Calling it a fad seems both naive and simplistic, not appreciating the role such spiritual direction has played in the lives of both men and women over the centuries.

I also wish the concluding chapter had not been so hurried. His alternate fairy tale could have benefited from a more in-depth exegesis. Yet Culbertson’s call for a renewed mankind (and here that word is used deliberately), a New Adam, that can only be birthed in a community, has much to recommend it.

James A. Wallace, C.SS.R.
Washington Theological Union


From Word & World, Vol. 13, No. 4, Fall 1993, pp. 434-36.

Philip Culbertson, Episcopal priest and professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of the South (Sewanee, Tennessee) has written an unblinkingly honest and genuinely hopeful book about men. Beginning with a sociological-psychological analysis of men’s problems, he quickly moves to a description of “the new Adam” in Hebrew scripture and rabbinic tradition: the possibility, realized only in community, of a profound change in personal character marked by spiritual discipline, a stronger sense of one’s social relationships, and connectedness to nature.

However, before he delineates the good news for men, he treats us to a series of chapters on the bad news. Following the cue of biblical scholar Phyllis Trible who has unpacked a series of Old Testament “texts of terror” for women, Culbertson does a corresponding job with three texts of terror for men. These three chapters are, indeed, sobering, for they throw “the harshest analytical light….upon the bankruptcy of many of our traditionally inherited male assumptions and definitions” (44). At the same time, these chapters are a wonderful treat of careful biblical exposition and extraordinarily fresh, insightful interpretation.

The story of King David and his son Absalom unmasks the emotional dysfunctionality of father-son relationships in which sons are consumed by the neglect, the emotional distance, and the authoritarianism of their fathers. In the relationship between Abraham and Ishmael we see the unintended victimization and alienation of a son by a father caught between two families and trying to cope with his own emotional paralysis. The story of Jonathan and David might seem to be more hopeful for men, offering as it does an example of emotionally vulnerable male-male friendship. However, there is a terror here, too, for it is also a tale of society’s misunderstanding, mistrusting, and fearing intimate bonding between sensitive men.

Culbertson’s hopefulness finds its biblical grounding in a chapter on Jesus’ friendship with men. Admitting that there is too little in Jesus’ recorded teachings on which to base a comprehensive philosophy of Christian friendship, the author nevertheless finds in his behavior two sources of guidance. One is the values that Jesus exhibited, such as compassion, integrity, flexibility, humility, cooperativeness, and dependence on a community of men. The other guideline is Jesus’ bravery in facing the new creation that God sets before humanity in spite of his awareness that fundamental human change is enormously difficult. (Tellingly, in this discussion of friendship Culbertson finds himself drawing on Aristotle and Emerson; there is precious little on friendship in our male-dominated theological tradition.)

The last third of the book is the author’s reflections on the problems and possibilities of new male spirituality. Playing out the connections between sexuality and spirituality (even when those connections are negative), Culbertson first identifies twelve “masculine stumbling blocks to prayer.” Most traditional (read “patriarchal male-shaped”) spiritual disciplines are based on individualistic models of achievement and ladders of success. Hence, they are not of great help to us men in shedding our acquired impediments to a richer spirituality such as our fear of the feminine, our emotional constipation, our emphasis on doing over being, our need to control spontaneity, and the distrust of our bodies. Culbertson hopes that in shedding our phallic linearity we might learn to pray “in circles,” exploring a far more communal spirituality than most men know. And for men seeking transformation from oppressive and oppressing gender roles, spiritual community now must be particularly formed with other men-sensitive men who dare to sing, tell their own stories, and sit together in silence.

The concluding chapter offers a marvelously insightful critique of Robert Bly’s masculinity model, “Iron John.” As an alternative fairy tale (also found in the Brothers Grimm), Culbertson suggests the tale of “The White Snake.” The snake itself symbolizes the paradoxical power of penile flaccidity, and the young servant in the story comes to terms with his relaxed identity as a spiritual person in the community of other persons and creatures.

In the burgeoning literature coming from “the men’s movement,” there is precious little that addresses the spirituality of Christian men. Culbertson’s book is a rich addition to a presently small handful of volumes. Admittedly, like many sermons, it is longer on sin than on salvation. He spends more time analyzing men’s problems than delineating the “hows” of our change. In fairness to the author, however, this may be simply where we presently are in the movement for men’s transformation. One of the legacies of masculinist language (the generic “mankind,” etc.) is that in taking the male human being as normative, we who are men have been long blinded to our distinctive experiences as men. In the past two decades since we have begun to develop some consciousness about this, we have focussed more on “what’s wrong with us?” than on “what are the dynamics of our change?”

Culbertson honestly acknowledges that presently we cannot see clearly what the new Adam will look like. But we do have some indication of the values that the new man will reflect, and he describes them well. Further-and this is a note Culbertson strikes repeatedly-we know that male transformation will happen only in community. While I would have hoped for more probing of the dynamics of men’s transformation, perhaps the author’s reticence is realistic.

I would have liked even more personal self-disclosure throughout the book than Culbertson chose to share. The passion with which he writes makes it obvious that this is a deeply personal book for him, though the direct revelations occur mainly in his introduction and in several remarkable pages on forming a men’s group. Admittedly, for most of us men-in-process, it is still easier to talk about personal vulnerability than to do it.

I also wish that the author had taken greater pains to include gay and bisexual men in his audience, and single heterosexual men as well. I do believe that his intent is inclusive. Happily, there is a virtual absence of homophobia exhibited in the book and, indeed, Culbertson gives a positive biblical grounding for affirming homosexual orientation. On the other hand, too frequently he seems to assume that his readers are all married heterosexuals, e.g. “A man may begin his journey to change by trying to undertand the woman to whom he is married….” (132). Had he more consciously included gay men in his focus, he might have grappled more directly with the anti-gay (as well as anti-woman) basis of so much contemporary masculinity.

But my caveats are few and my praise is manifold. Culbertson is masterful in his suggestive biblical interpretations. And he has both the grace and the pedagogical wisdom not to impose his own interpretation immediately upon the reader. I found myself led through the complexities of these several Hebrew stories in a way that compelled me to grapple with the texts myself, and only after that would I learn the author’s own conclusions.

The book is strongly pro-feminist in both tone and content. Culbertson knows that men need to do their own work in men-only groups. He knows that men’s spiritual development is not identical to that of women, precisely because of our gender role shaping, and possibly because of our sexual biology, too. But the critical lessons we men must learn from feminism are abundantly present in these pages.

Implicitly, without naming it, Culbertson leans strongly (appropriately so, in my judgment) toward social constructionism in his interpretation of masculinity. He is critical of Bly’s essentialism (the notion that there is an essential “Iron John” masculinity somehow buried in each male, an essence awaiting discovery). At the same time, he deals openly with the distinctiveness of male genital experience which is, indeed, important to our spirituality. Yet, he knows well that anatomy is not destiny, for the meanings we have given to our biological experience are susceptible to being transformed.

Culbertson is well-read in the current literature of the men’s movement, and he incorporates a vast number of insights from other authors. His scholarship demonstrates the communal commitment of which he speaks, and his bibliography of men’s studies resources is both impressive and useful. Furthermore, his eight pages on “Beginning a Men’s Group” are exceptionally wise as well as revealing about the process experienced in his own group. In this one brief section he has provided the most helpful guidance I have seen not only for fledgling men’s groups but also for groups long in existence.

This is a book written by a feminist-sensitive man who knows well the perils of distorted masculinity, and yet who enjoys being a male – especially one in the process of transformation. Philip Culbertson knows that the Hebrew text about Yahweh’s name is far too static when translated “I Am who I Am.” This author helps men to claim a more hopeful and dynamic translation for themselves as well as for God: “I am in the process of becoming what I will be for you tomorrow” (135).

James B. Nelson
United Theological Seminary
New Brighton, Minnesota


From Princeton Theological Bulletin, 1993, pp. 223-24.

If you are a male searching for guideposts along the way of manhood, but you find the “wild man” approach too primitive, then you may want to consider Philip Culbertson’s rendering of the “New Adam.” Suspicious that Robert Bly’s “Iron John” is more a product of gynophobia than a vision of deep masculinity, Culbertson describes instead a masculine spirituality that seeks a more sensitive self-understanding in light of feminist criticism.

Culbertson is calling for nothing less than a conversion. Most American males, he says, are entrapped by the principles of logical thinking, parallel structures, and evenhanded intellectualism; we are lonely-going through life without friends; we do not nurture, we dominate; we fear intimacy, fear women, fear men because we fear homosexuality, fear eros, fear feelings altogether. “The four marks of the traditional American male,” he summarizes, are “penis pride, rugged self-sacrificing independence, professional success and status, and a mixture of sexual activity with women and a frequently pathological homophobia.” The book spells out, in other words, the total depravity of man in detail, and several biblical “texts of terror” for men are explored to this end.

However, there is hope, Culbertson encourages, that within the community of sensitive men, we might find the support, friendship, and love necessary in the struggle towards a gentler, softer masculinity-one that treasures interrelationality and mutuality of loving care. He tells of his own experience in a men’s support and prayer group, along with the joys and disappointments of it, suggesting that other men might want to form their own group. Prayer is crucial to this new masculine spirituality, to be approached in community and spontaneity, and with an open heart rather than power-hungry demands.

As an alternative to the Iron John (Hans) fairy tale, Culbertson presents another of Grimms’ tales, “White Snake,” as a model for sensitive men. “The white snake symbolized the flaccid adult penis (flaccidity being the normal male condition) as opposed to the erect phallus.” When the main character of the story, a young servant man, “has come to terms with his relaxed and natural masculine identity as a spiritual person, he finds that he has been given a mature wisdom, which in turn empowers him to encounter and engage the powerful mysteries of creation.”

Despite the book’s promising subtitle, The Future of Male Spirituality (a terribly large claim), it can probably be more appreciated as social criticism. Even with the descriptions of “New Adam,” “White Snake,” prayer, and the support group, I believe the reader will find the book clear on sin and fuzzy on grace. I worry that the descriptions of “most American males” come close to insensitive stereotyping that kills off the infinite variety of experiences known to men. (I worry about this with Bly as well.) On the other hand, the impressive thing about Culbertson’s criticism is that it is by a man, about men, and such self-criticism is hardly easy.

In the end, as men sort out these various voices crying in the wilderness, we might do well not to pit the “wild man” against the “New Adam,” or define ourselves by one paradigmatic tale, whether “Iron John” or “White Snake.” Echoing Ecclesiastes, perhaps there is a time to be relaxed and a time to be wild, a time for our families and a time for work, a time for community and a time to be alone. Grace, then, would help us know that through the various rhythms and multiple dimensions of our lives-that shot through all of this-there could be something of the sacred.

Bradley Wigger
Oshkosh, WI


From New Testament Abstracts 37, Vol. 3, 1993, p. 454.

After explaining basic experiences of men and reflecting on the New Adam tradition, this volume considers some biblical accounts about relationships between men: David and Absalom (the child is the father of the man), Abraham and Ishmael (the sins of the fathers and an innocent generation), Jonathan and David (a love surpassing the love of women?), and Jesus and his male companions in light of the ancient ideals of friendship (friends, associates, and lovers). Then it deals with the following topics: masculine stumbling blocks to prayer, praying in circles, and the future of masculine spirituality. Culbertson is co-editor of The Pastor: Readings from the Patristic Period (1990).

The Pastor

Reviews of “The Pastor: Readings from the patristic period”

The PastorFrom the book cover

“These texts from the early pastoral tradition provide a stunning critical resource for ministry today.”
Thomas C. Oden,
Drew University

“Culbertson and Shippee have made an important contribution not only to students of the ancient church but also to those concerned with pastoral care in our time. They rightly argue that the writings of early Christians represent an important resource for the modern church precisely because of our historical distance from late antiquity. To see perennial human problems in a vastly different social setting is to find some new purchase on those problems as they appear to us today.”
Rowan A Greer,
Yale Divinity School

“This book is a welcome contribution to the literature on pastoral care as exercised by the early church. The editors have brought together an impressive collection of wisdom from a wide variety of ancient sources which reflects a perceptive understanding of human nature and the application of Christian truths to the human condition-and this long before the Enlightenment and the rise of psychotherapy. The texts also reveal the underside of the tensions between clergy and laity, clergy and hierarchy, men and women, ideals and realities. The book is a pioneering effort to introduce the earliest texts of pastoral care to English readers, and it fills a need which until now has been neglected. I recommend it to all who are interested in the care of souls and its classical roots.”
Carl A Volz,
Luther Northwestern Theo. Sem.


Library Journal (July 1990)

This is an excellent selection of texts from the second to the seventh centuries C.E. concerned with clergy role, training, methods of handling dissent, and temptations to abuse their office. The introductions clarify the relevance of continuing issues to contemporary discussions of ministry and ecclesiology. Highly recommended for seminary and academic libraries.


The Living Church (Nov. 4, 1990), p. 16.

Edited by the pastoral theology professor at the University of the South and a Yale doctoral candidate, this book brings us excerpts from letters, canons, and essays of the earliest centuries of the church (Ignatius of Antioch through Gregory the Great) which have pastoral applications today. Adds a much-needed dimension to the field of pastoral care, to wit, important texts from the tradition. A fascinating introduction traces the concept of “pastor” through history.
Travis du Priest,
Book Editor


National Catholic Reporter (Nov. 9, 1990)

Beginning in the second century with Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to Polycarp, and including others of the fathers and select canons (“The Dos and the Don’ts”), the editors work up John Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood” and select letters from Leo the Great, capped by Gregory the Great’s “The Book of Pastoral Rule.” This volume might be an excellent companion volume to Cyril Richardson’s classic Early Christian Fathers, which was faithful friend (or should have been) to a couple of generations of seminarians.


Union Theological Seminary Alumni News (December 1990)

A first-of-its-kind collection of pastoral wisdom from the early church. Serves as a valuable resource for modern pastoral practice, spotlighting the perennial nature and role of the pastor.


Theological Book Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, January 1991, p. 42.

In evaluating the work of a pastor today there has been an imbalance caused by a neglect of the tradition of the church. This is corrected by the present work, which is a most interesting collection of extracts from the patristic period bearing on the work and spirituality of the Christian minister. The sources include not only leading church figures but also relevant canons of church councils. This book is commended not only to students of the early church but generally to those involved in pastoral work.
Andrew Lenox Conyngham
St. Catharine’s, Cambridge, England


Second Century: A Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 8, No. 2, Summer 1991, pp. 124-125.

Patristic theology is primarily pastoral. Yet often the study of writings from the first six centuries of the church is pursued in ways that make the polemical, philosophical, and political aspects stand out. But if one reads around those texts that are profiled in these ways, the pastoral concerns will emerge. Even contemporary interests in social, economic, and deconstructionist approaches locate much of the data for their questions within or near texts that also can be looked at for the descriptions of shepherding the flock.

Thus it is likely that any who read ancient Christian literature will find this volume helpful. It is comprised primarily of selected English translations of patristic texts, ones that have been common property of the general public. Shippee at various junctures has either improved existing translations or provided some of his own, but freshness of English rendering is not the goal. That means, of course, that on occasion some nineteenth-century translations create a musty atmosphere, yet that does not weaken the presentation. Such mustiness avoids the ever-present danger of making these early pastors so up-to-date that they speak first to us and last to their own time.

The editors chose and organized their selections according to a three part grid: chronology, geography, and genre. Chronology is the constant, but there is enough attention to geography and genre that a rather full sweep of the topic is provided. Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, and North Africa are represented; letters, homilies, orations, canons, and worship/service books offer their fare. For all the strength of this volume, Palestine is strangely absent unless one places Pseudo-Clement there; the genre of liturgy also is represented only by sections from the Apostolic Constitutions.

The introduction is masterful. By employing a careful historical method and yet turning an eye to contemporary ministry, it “avoid[s] a rush to relevance” and provides a small but “thick description” of its subject. Its center and that of the entire book is “moral formation and reformation.” Both the aspects it unfolds and the principles it develops are well chosen and employed. Church leadership of the highest order was often found among those who had already served well within the church rather than among those who felt themselves to be individually called. Personal discipline and preaching were not sterling characteristics of early pastoral ministry. Sexism was frequent. In fact the rules forbidding various attitudes and practices reflect how strong various errors were.

Yet the central concern for pastoral care, for the spiritual formation of all Christians, particularly Christian leadership, is never out of focus. In an age when much modern psychology has little or no interest in the gospel or a life of virtue, in a time when such insights are treated as antithetical to modern freedom and wholeness, this book offers remarkable resources that show how people can grow to be all they can be. It does not sidestep the dark sides of Christian failure, but more importantly it presents the strengths of grace and the Christ-like life. No other volume known to me does that so well through the translated words of ancient leaders. Whatever historical surveys one finds helpful, they cannot replace this guide.

As the editors hoped, the individual readings are introduced well enough through short paragraphs, biblical citations, and explanatory notes that they can be read on their own. A remarkably thorough, up-to-date, and yet concise bibliography enhances the value of the volume. Indeed, the books listed are well employed throughout the work. A clear map along with indices of locations and scriptural and nonscriptural references allow this piece to be used in answering specific questions. A subject index, however, would also have been of assistance. Yet all readers will show poor judgment if they do not make their way through the entire volume. It is done with such competence and flair that specialists who are historians with no particular interest in ministry other than its being a feature of the early church will need to consult it. Those, however, who as believers and ministers are attempting to serve contemporary congregations will devour this book. No seminarian should be without it.
Frederick W. Norris
Emmanuel School of Religion, Tennessee


Sewanee Theological Review (December 1991)

When I taught a seminary course last year on the history of pastoral care in the early church, there was no adequate collection of primary texts that I could recommend to students. Thanks to Philip Culbertson and Arthur Shippee, there is such a book now–and a very fine one at that. Much more than a mere anthology, this volume offers a rich collection of texts from thirty different patristic sources, ranging chronologically from the beginning of the second century (Ignatius of Antioch) to the end of the sixth (Gregory the Great), and geographically from Aphrahat in East Syria to the Canons of the Council of Elvira in Southern Spain. In addition, we are given a two-part introduction to problems of historiography and pastoral identity, as well as a seven-page bibliography, indexes of scriptural and non-scriptural references, and even a map.

The selected texts are well chosen to illuminate the three areas of concern that the editors specify in the preface: 1) the formation of the ordained person’s character, 2) pastoral spirituality and its expression in Christian service, and 3) the early church’s absorption in worship and pastoral care. There is relatively little here that would tell the contemporary pastor how to deal with specific pastoral problems, since the editors resolutely refuse to see the early church as a “golden age” containing all the answers. Here they part company (rightly, in my view) with Thomas Oden and his Classical Pastoral Care Series, which tends to romanticize and homogenize the ancient Christian writers. Rather, Culbertson and Shippee insist that we let the questions emerge from the texts themselves, so that we might learn as much from the problems the early Christians faced as from the solutions they adopted for their time.

It is just here that I sense unresolved tension between the approaches of the two editors. Shippee, writing as a historian, urges us “to avoid a rush to relevance, but instead to gain a strong or significant irrelevance, since relevance and significance are not the same” (p. 3). When he considers the church then and now, it is the discontinuities that seem most salient to him. For Culbertson the pastoral theologian, however, it is the continuities that stand out: “Much of the material in this book has a ring of familiarity about it because we are facing the same issues, and making the same mistakes, in the church today as our pastoral forebears did some twelve to twenty centuries ago” (p. 12). Both points are well taken, and there is no law that coeditors must always agree. However, the reader might have been better served by a synthetic statement doing justice to both emphases than by an introduction with two halves so unequally yoked together.

But the heart of the volume is the ancient texts themselves in all their variety, and I would be remiss not to provide some hints of their contents. The historians, pastoral theologians, and pastors who read this book will learn from Origen that teachers in the church are like physicians, in that those who need their assistance most are often reluctant to seek them out (p. 40). They will hear Cyprian argue that a biblical text that speaks only of men includes women as well, since the two are one flesh (p. 55), and Athanasius strain to persuade a colleague to remain in the episcopacy, since someone has to be bishop even if no one wants the office very much (p. 69).

They will listen to ancient Christians struggle over financial support for clergy (p. 91), the frequency of eucharistic communion (p. 119), the presence of clergy at banquets (p. 145), the need for a bishop to be freed from administrative duties so as to have time for study (p. 152), and the proper Christian response to beggars on the street (p. 161). There are also lengthy extracts from John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood and Gregory the Great’s Book of Pastoral Rule, probably the two most influential treatises on the subject from the early church.

Although it is perhaps best suited to be a textbook in seminary courses, this volume would repay careful attention from a group of clergy colleagues who might meet to discuss one chapter at a time. It could also be used for individual study in conjunction with Carl Volz’s topical overview entitled Pastoral Life and Practice in the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990). As Philip Culbertson writes, “If we have no sense of identity [as pastors], whether the church’s historical identity or our own, then we are of little use to the lost and suffering who seek our pastoral care” (p. 12).
Arthur G. Holder
Professor of Pastoral Theology
Church Divinity School of the Pacific, CA


Theology Digest (Summer, 1991), p. 156

When Professor Culbertson, of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, could not find a suitable text for his
course on “Source Documents in Pastoral Care,” he teamed up with his friend, Arthur Shippee, to write one. From the
first six centuries they chose texts:

  1. that address how the character of a pastor is formed, and how it is kept on the right track in the midst of both worldly temptation and ecclesiastical strife;
  2. that address the way pastors nourish their personal spirituality and then act it out in Christian service; and
  3. that reveal the early church’s absorption in worship and pastoral care.

They have provided introductions and notes.


Monos (July 1991)

Our approach to pastoral ministry is challenged and invigorated by these texts from the early church. This is a valuable resource with texts from such people as Ignatius of Antioch, John Cassian, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great.


Review and Expositor (Fall, 1991)

Pastors can gain a wealth of insight into the character, personal spirituality, and duties of the pastoral office from this carefully selected collection of texts from the patristic period. Organized chronologically and geographically, selections demonstrate the rather broad range of expectations and perceptions attached to the office in different times and places. Clement and Origen of Alexandria, for instance, emphasized education; Tertullian and Cyprian of Carthage moral purity; Athanasius and the desert monks asceticism and contemplation.

The editors have supplied helpful introductions to the sources and and guidance to additional resources. Here and they they needed to qualify a few points: whether the Didache was written fifty years after Ignatius (many scholars date it before Ignatius), Tertullian’s reference to the “Pontifex Maximus” (surely not the high priest of the state cultus or the emperor as a note suggests), and whether Jerome was born as early as 331. Overall, however, the book offers reliable guidance, in some cases to little known materials on pastoral ministry. Bibliographical notes, maps identifying places referred to and indexes to scriptural and patristic writings augment the value of it for reference.
E. Glenn Hinson


Irish Biblical Studies 14, June 1992, pp. 150-51.

This work could hardly be more timely. It appears just as experienced observers detect a “sea change” in pastoral studies. It is realized that there has developed “a kind of amnesia about the Christian tradition which needs to be rectified.” The past generation of pastoral care has found its illumination in the Scriptures and the Human Sciences- “more reference to Jeremiah, John and Jung than to Jerome,” as our editors put it. The rich resources of the five centuries following the New Testament have been largely ignored.

Historians dipped into that formative period to trace how doctrines of the creeds were propounded and defended against threatening heresies. These were not just writers or theorists. Indeed, as our editors claim “if we were to examine their job descriptions, if we could peruse their time sheets, we would find something different: they spent most of their time being pastors.” They “did theology, as theology should be done then and now, in order to buid up the life of the people of God, as a community and as individuals, and that provides the secure basis for pastoral work.”

The study of these texts is made easy by a general introduction, followed by an introduction to each group of texts and authors, giving dates, locations,[here something is missing from the copy of the review sent to me].

The whole period, although removed by fifteen centuries and thousands of miles from our western, modern scene, is found to have a remarkable relevance and significance for us. We find many of the same reasons for joy and anger, the same elations and disappointments, the same rewards and struggle that face those exercising ministry now. Tradition is important because of that continuity of condition.

Only a few features as set out below may illustrate the point:

  • qualifications and suitability for office must be sifted with caution. Self-assured sense of inner calling needs proof and public support;
  • in the ongoing evolution of eccelsiastical structures and offices these fathers did not question the essential oneness of God’s people and their diversity in things non-essential; discipline in matters of family and sex were of much concern, but continence applied to more than sex; it was as important in matters of food, drink, and lifestyle;
  • reimbursing pastors had to be ensured and with it guarding against temptations to take financial advantage of their ability in high office to participate in lucrative business transactions;
  • those with more wealth had clearly stated obligations to the weak, poor and deprived;
  • secular and political forces had to be resisted, but on well thought out theological bases; as bishops and priests were often of higher social class and education they knew from experience how church and state might best relate to each other;
  • preaching ought to have more solid content and less dramatic form, with more variety; hearers should be educated for listening in order to understand;
  • the age-old problem of innocent suffering and the source of evil was tackled repeatedly, as was depression of spirit;
  • what may surprise readers is the “modern” flavour of such matters as confidentiality, non-judgmental attitudes, pastoral listening and treatment of the individual without generalizing, self-knowledge as the secret of growth and maturity, non-verbal communication and body language.

This selection of texts, comprehensive as it is, does not claim to be complete. It had to be subjective. However, it supplies all that is necessary to restore the balance of the “trialogue” of Scripture, Reason and Tradition. While one realizes that providing an index of subjects would have been a formidable undertaking, such a further tool for reference would have enhanced the value of this work. Not the least merit of this book is the light it sheds on how Scripture was interpreted and applied over the varying circumstances of such a long period of time. We must not turn to these pages for “proof texts,” any more than we ought to use the Bible that way. Yet like the Bible, this selection will prove its own interpreter and illuminate many areas of contemporary pastoral practice.
James R. Boyd


Book Newsletter, ed. Roderick Olson, No. 553, Summer 1992

The names Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Cyprian of Carthage, Augustine of Hippo, and Ambrose of Milan readily evoke memories of historical (often historic) theologial controversies. These Fathers of the church, however, were also pastors of churches.

The editors have culled from patristic writings these pastors’ personal convictions about the role of pastor. Culbertson and Shippee took up the project in response to their view that modern pastoral theology is in danger of becoming a “stepchild within the psychotherapeutic world.” The pastoral insights that emerge from the church Fathers are often relevant to present-day pastors; even when they are irrelevant, they can still be significant as well as interesting.

In the chapter on the Latin Triumvirate, for example, the editors raise the very practical question of whether the preaching of Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome presented the Christian life as an ideal so noble and so high that it had no practical impact upon the moral life of their contemporaries-surely a relevant issue for rigorist preachers of today. A lively work of history, the book lets readers know better some of the people upon whose shoulders today’s pastors stand.


Patristics, Vol. XXI, Nos. 1&2, December 1992

By the words of the editors, “rarely does the teaching of pastoral formation make direct reference to the fascinating history and tradition of the early church” (xi), we are given insight as to both the thesis and importance of this book. It appeals not only to scholars and students of church history-particularly those interested in reviewing the primary sources-but also, perhaps more importantly, to clergy, ministers, and spiritual counselors who are ever struggling in this world to perfect the art of pastoral care.

The editors have compiled a varied collection of wisdom from the ancient sources which represents the ecclesiastical problems as well as the major components in the process of clergy character formation. The ten chapters cover pastoral writings from the second to the mid-sixth century by such authors as Ignatius of Antioch, Clement, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Chrysostom and Leo the Great. There is also a selection of pastoral canons from several early church councils. Each text is excellently introduced by providing current articles and references on the author and period; and seven pages of bibliography as well as an index of scriptural and nonscriptural references grace the end of the book. The editors admittedly underwent an intellectual ascesis in choosing which authors and portions of texts to include, which resulted in a compilation which is varied, appeals to several modern issues (for example, the early understanding of women in the church), and by way of historical argument allows the reader to review the human condition in a vastly different social, cultural, and theological setting.

The thirty-seven extracts were chosen for different reasons: for example, Ignatius’ Letter to Polycarp, Origen’s Homilies and Cyprian’s Letters 11 and 67 address how the character of a pastor is formed and develops in the midst of temptation and strife; John Cassian’s The Gifts of God, Pseudo-Clement’s First Letter on Virginity, Ambrose’s On the Duties of the Clergy, and Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood refer to personal spirituality acted out in Christian service; and finally, The Apostolic Constitutions and Augustine’s Letter 213 reflect the early church pastor as one absorbed in worship which is the basis of pastoral care. In sum, this medley of texts not only reveals the vitality and comprehensiveness of early Christian pastoral life, affording the student of church history the insight that the Patristic era was not simply a period of doctrinal and theological dispute; but also permits the modern pastor to discover an almost lost, perceptive understanding of the human being and the human condition which modern psychotherapy and post-Enlightenment models have yet to discover.

The book is an outgrowth of Professor Culbertson’s course in the theory and practice of ministry at the seminary level. The inclusion of books and articles of reference pertaining to each ancient text makes the book a good sourcebook companion for most courses on pastoral care; thus it appeals to both teacher and student. Particularly appealing to this reviewer was the section Verba Seniorum (the Apophthegmata Patrum), as these texts highlight the fact that many of the same pastoral problems as well as the basic principles of pastoral formation found in the rich Syriac monastic tradition ran parallel with and were applied in the more worldly pastoral situations of such larger cities as Antioch, Carthage, Rome, or Constantinople.

There are a few minor issues I have concerning the book. Why wasn’t the Corpus Christianorum, Clavis Patris Graecorum included in the list of sources (as was the Series Latina). Most of the Greek writings are listed there. Secondly, the selected portions of the texts could lead the reader to misunderstand both the historical context as well as the message of the entire text. For example, the reader is given only chs. 1, 21-22 of Tertullian’s On Modesty (pp. 48-49), which highlight a conversation on the power to forgive sins. Without the rest of (or more of) this text, I believe, the reader can easily view Tertullian as being blatantly anti-institutional and anti-Rome. In other words, hopefully these extracts will challenge readers to research the fuller picture in regards to the pastoral situation at hand, and not deter them. To the editor’s credit, articles for such research are provided. Finally, the editors chose English translations from among several sources, some of which are in need of revision (such as the Ante-Nicene and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series). Even though Shippee did an admirable job of making the translations more inclusive-as well as translating several texts-nonetheless the extracts beckon updated translations. This, though, does little to detract from the great merit of this book. Perhaps this work will influence scholars to translate other Patristic texts on early church pastoral care, for example, the Paschal Epistles of St. Cyril of Alexandria.

In sum, The Pastor is a most welcome contribution to the literature on early church pastoral care. The uncovering of this pastoral element of the Patristic mind and consensus Patrum is most desperately needed both in the area of sources for study as well as an inspirational aid for those everyday women and men struggling as pastors in the various vineyards of the Lord.
Daniel Rogich
St. Mary’s Serbian Orthodox Church
Clairton, Pennsylvania


Church History (December, 1993), p. 588.

The editors use the word “pastor” in the general sense of one who served the Christian community rather than in the more defined sense of an ordained clergyperson, Lutheran pastor. They argue persuasively that modern pastoral theology is a combination of psychology and counseling which often ignores the lived, practiced experience of the church. However, they believe that modern Christians can benefit from the lived experience of the Fathers of the church, something with which few readers of the journal would disagree. The authors begin with the Apostolic Fathers and finish with Gregory the Great. Happily, they do not feel obligated to find obscure texts in order to look original; their collection mixes the familiar and unfamiliar, for example, John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood and Gregory’s Pastoral Rule along with selected conciliar canons.

The editors range widely; they include more than two dozen authors along with the conciliar texts. The selections from the Verba Seniorum include sayings of Syncletice, who, the editors explain, is “unfortunately this book’s only female author” (p. 68); they deserve credit for attempting to broaden the all-male scope of this book. I would personally be surprised if many “modern” seminary instructors took this book seriously in training their charges, but church historians will be grateful for this handy compendium of patristic readings on the notion and practice of pastoral work.
Joseph F. Kelly
John Carroll University
Cleveland, Ohio

Counseling Men

Reviews of “Counseling Men: A Caregiver’s Guide To Men In Crisis”

Counseling MenAd-copy:

Male social roles-both what is expected to men and what they expect of themselves-are changing. As a result, men are increasingly seeking to examine their confusion about vocational goals, family connections, and friendships – male turning points or crises.

But listening to men is not always easy for clergy and pastoral counselors. For example, in discussing their exhaustion, isolation, failure, and lack of power, men seem to overlook their powerfulness and privilege. Philip Culbertson, a noted scholar in pastoral theology and male spirituality, provides a helpful strategy for assisting men in moving feelings by means of discussion.

In Part One, viewing such men as “shamed” or “losing face,” Culbertson asserts, offers a threefold way of entering into conversation. The counselor needs to look at the person and observe how the male is covering up his fragile ego. Then, the counselor assists the man in talking toward his fears and losses.

Part Two discerns and addresses the typical presenting issues that men bring: employment and retirement, being parented and a parent, marriage and communication, and friendship and love. These issues provide the context and language for caregiving.

Part Three concludes with a pastoral theology of masculine spirituality and creating communities of men.

Philip L. Culbertson is Director of Pastoral Studies, College of St. John the Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand. He is the author of New Adam: The Future of Masculine Spirituality and coeditor with Arthur Shippee of The Pastor: Readings from the Patristic Period. ISBN 0-8006-2786-5.


A. D. News, Auckland, New Zealand

The phone rings; I am asked to read and review this book. I am intrigued; only that morning I had finished reading A Woman’s Work by Marianne Williamson. Is there a connection? I soon find it-it is liberation, the freeing of persons from the bondage of the gender expectations of a culture which is patriarchal and seemingly male-dominated. I write “seemingly” because Philip writes of the feelings of powerlessness of so many men. While both authors write from their experience as white, “middle-class” Americans (USA), I believe readers from most of the cultures represented in Aotearoa/New Zealand will resonate with ideas that are expressed. Both books have general interest, but I note that Philip does not aim his book towards counselees. Rather, Counseling Men….”focuses on the typical concerns that men raise and how ministers (male and female)-pastoral counselors, clergy, or commissioned laity-can fruitfully address these” (Foreword).

The ways “the typical concerns” are expressed are dealt with in Chapter 1 as counselors are encouraged to develop “Gender-Specific Listening Skills.” From his wide field of reading, indicated by the Bibliography, Philip draws freely to tune the reader into the language and worldview of men. It may be in part the way the quotations are type-set that cause me to experience them as interruptions. I was aware also that I valued so much the points Philip was making, e.g., “To secure healing, men need to find the courage to open their eyes to their inner landscape and their psychic surroundings, to force the resurrection of entire parts of themselves that have been denied or dead for years, to honor feelings as being as valuable as measurable external reality” (p. 14). When Philip uses examples from his own counseling experience, the reading seems to flow more freely.

With less quotations I read on with interest “Facing the Masculine Ego.” Then came four studies, each of which I found very helpful as I related what was written to my own experience, “Employment and Retirement,” “Being Parented, Being a Parent,” “Marriage and Communication” (there is a bold attempt to answer “Why do men get married?” p. 59ff), “Love and Friendship.” Reading the last chapter, “Masculine Spirituality,” which contains a section “To Ministers who offer Spiritual Direction,” caused me to want to read Philip’s earlier book, New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality.

I warmly commend the book to any involved in counseling. It is a small volume with valuable ideas. I like the way, at the end of each chapter, the section “What the Minister Has to Offer,” provides ready reference. I give a sample of the text of the end of chapter 1: “Counseling Men demands perceptive ministers who are committed to the transcendence of gender stereotypes and the liberation of both women and men from oppressions and manipulations that hold them back form living into the fullness and health of God’s love for the humbled and powerless”; and the concluding sentence of the book (the last section is entitled “Liberating Men: A Challenge”): “The challenge to the creative minister today is to play out the exciting new possibilities of gender-specific care giving.”

Douglas Kidd, A.D. News, New Zealand
June, 1994


The GTU Book Report

This new book, the latest in the Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling series, is also the most recent release of Philip Culbertson, author of New Adam: The Future of Masculine Spirituality. Meant to help pastor counsel me in these time of changing roles and identities, Culbertson addresses the following topics: Gender-specific listening skills; Facing the Masculine Ego; Employment and Retirement; Being Parented, Being a Parent; Marriage & Communication; Love and Friendship Needs; Masculine Spirituality. I expect this book will fill an important gap in the market!

Debra Farrington, July 8, 1994


From the Fortress Press review of New Books

As more and more attention is paid to the differences which exist between human beings, more and more books will inevitably be published, specializing in appropriate approaches to particular individuals. It’s no surprise therefore, that commensurate with an increased attention to gender issues in general, and to men’s issues in particular, that a book like Counseling Men would appear. This book is published in the Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series, co-edited by Howard W. Stone and Howard Clinebell.

Counseling Men briefly visits the issues of male/female communication and the male ego, and then helps the reader to look at a number of issues (employment, unemployment, marriage, family, and even friendship), particularly as a male in our culture typically confronts them. The special contribution that Culbertson makes to the discussion is his presentation of a variety of counseling theories. Though his editor writes that the book “aims to help concerned men achieve a clearer identity in the whirlwind of change that is occurring in family and relationship structures,” it seems actually to have been written more “as an important resource for those seeking to minister to men,” whether they be lay or ordained, male or female.

The approach to pastoral care is one by which middle class white American men learn to break away from old stereotypes with an eye to “the inbreaking of God’s realm and the free working of the Spirit in the Christian community….the freedom of the future.” This liberation comes as the bondage of old stereotypes and role models are named and new models are tried. For Culbertson, the two patron saints for men now in their forties, have been Vince Lombardi…”winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing;” and the Lone Ranger, “who always kept secret his true identity.” The difficulty of breaking away from those stereotypes is immense. While Culbertson is primarily objective in the presentation of his material, even his Lone Ranger mask slips, and his own personal issues surface: “we must individuate…if we are going to find peace with the men in our history” and “men who fear women-and I believe that, down deep, this includes almost every man.” These subjective, yet revealing insertions, seem to be out of place in an otherwise objective presentation.

Without citing the specific studies, Culbertson observes that “men cover more topics more quickly, and at less depth, in a given conversational period than do women…” That truism is reflected in this book. The 83 pages of text cover 109 subdivisions within 7 chapters! The middle five chapters have within them 8 divisions titled “What the Minister Has to Offer,” suggesting that perchance a male, wandering through a shopping mall, might drop in to visit a minister’s shop…and here’s what the minister may, or may not, have to offer.

Pastor Jim Gearhart
King of Glory Lutheran Church
Arvada, Colorado


From New Zealand Journal of Counselling, Vol. 16, No. 1, June 1994, pp. 39-40.

This book is notable because of the timeliness of its contents, and because the author is Director of Pastoral Studies, College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland. Its purpose is to “…open the way for men to discuss and discover their fears and losses with clergy, pastoral counselors, and lay caregivers” (back cover of book).

It commences with a discussion of gender-specific listening skills, common resistances, and specific process tasks for clergy involved in counseling men. This is followed by a consideration of major themes faced by males in the church, including their ego, the phenomenon of shame, and their fears. Then Culbertson devotes separate chapters to issues associated with employment (or its lack) and retirement; with being parented and parenting; with marriage and communication; and with love and friendship needs. The book concludes with a chapter on masculine spirituality.

In this slender volume Culbertson has packed a great deal of universally valuable information, drawing on therapeutic and research literature, on Western cultural history, and on his own experience as a pastoral counselor. While illustrations and references are North American, they are very relevant to New Zealanders as Culbertson describes problems created by conservative, stereotypical male attitudes and behaviors. Because of this emphasis, however, the book should not be seen to speak on behalf of all men in all circumstances.

Culbertson addresses church-based pastoral caregivers as his primary audience, and has frequent suggestions for them. At the same time the book’s challenge to male stereotypes, its holistic/spiritual perspective, and its constant reference to counseling implications are of great value to secular counselors and to members of the general public. Commendably, it offers alternative perspectives and constructive action suggestions throughout.

This is not a facile do-it-yourself manual, nor an integrated training program for counselors. It is an articulate and tightly-packed overview of the traditional male stereotype and the challenge that it poses to pastoral caregivers and counselors. As such, it speaks directly to many of the issues that exercise us in New Zealand today.

Johannes Everts
Senior Lecturer in Education
University of Auckland


From The Beacon Hill Books Reviewer, Sydney Australia, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1995.

There are very few books which pick up issues specifically related to men. It is not a large tome but contains a lot of sound and helpful suggestions. I was pleased with the way the author tried to refrain from generalizing to all men; he says: “some men,” “most men,” “if men,” “men who have….” Too many books when writing about men or women group everyone into the same category. Culbertson has endeavored to be sensitive to this issue.

His initial chapter raises a very important point for anyone who is going to counsel another, that is to be aware of our own feelings in relationship to the issue. We all come to counseling with particular feelings and ideas which have been part of growth and education. Culbertson suggests some questions for both male and female clergy to consider. Working through these questions could prevent either collusion or transference taking place. Although the author refers in his book to ministers I would not see it limited to ministers and is useful to anyone who is involved in counseling or pastoral care.

Each chapter has section headings which are helpful if you want to come back to a particular aspect. One such heading in each chapter is: “What the minister has to offer.” In this section there are practical suggestions based on either a case that has been referred to earlier or indeed suggest that the man may need therapy if he is willing and it is available. These sections show in practical ways how the skills and knowledge of the counselor can be of specific use in this situation.

The book covers a number of areas which may be the source of men who seek counseling such as “employment and retirement,” “shame which arises from a loss of self worth,” “man as father,” “marriage and communication,” love and friendship needs,” and “masculine spirituality.” Although the book refers to other methods of counseling and uses ideas from other writers, the author does not get bogged down with them and we are not left feeling helpless because we don’t know this particular system. There is a comprehensive bibliography if one needs to follow up on ideas.

As a woman who counsels men on occasions I found it a very helpful book and would recommend it to anyone who is involved in care or counseling. Please do not let the title of “counseling” make it seem beyond your gifts. It is a book well worth looking at.

Rev. Anna Catlin
Parkin-Wesley College
Adelaide, South Australia


From Critical Review of Books in Religion, 1995

This book by Philip Culbertson, Director of Pastoral Studies, College of St. John the Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand, appears in the Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series published by Fortress.

He takes as his point of departure the difficulty many ministers have in listening empathically to men. As he says, “Men are presumed to have power and privilege, yet confess…their exhaustion, isolation, failure, or lack of power.” (9) In order to help caregivers understand this apparent paradox and find ways of assisting men in their spiritual and psychological journeys, Culbertson develops a liberation model for working with men in counseling or other ministry settings. Rather than encouraging men toward psychological adjustment to an unjust, patriarchal social order, counselors working from this model help men discern the working of the Spirit toward the freedom of a more just future. In that movement, the author believes that men need support in breaking “the bonds of the powerful structures that unsettle and abuse them,” as well as in freeing themselves from “crippling stereotypes of masculinity.” (10) The goal, then, of nonsexist therapy “is to transcend gender-role expectations and their resulting oppression.” (18)

To help caregivers reach this goal, Culbertson begins with two chapters describing strategies for getting through some of the obstacles masculine socialization poses for therapeutic work. Chapter 1 offers tips on listening skills that help men recognize and articulate their feelings and overcome resistance to therapy. In Chapter 2, he explores ways of getting underneath men’s fears of shaming, losing, ambiguity, and dependency. In the following five chapters, he explores various issues that are particularly important in a ministry to men-employment and retirement (Chapter 3), familial responsibilities (Chapter 4), marriage and communication (Chapter 5), friendship with other men (Chapter 6), and spirituality (Chapter 7). To give a flavor of Culbertson’s analyses and prescriptions, I mention only a few examples from these chapters.

Culbertson’s use of family systems theory and attention to various expressions of men’s grief are promising in helping men deal with issues related to their family of origin. The treatment of the dynamics for men around intimacy and individuation is very perceptive. He explores why intimacy sometimes feels like a negation of autonomy and individuation sometimes feels like a negation of closeness. His suggestions about how to point men beyond these false alternatives are, alone, worth the price of the book. Finally, he describes spiritual disciplines (e.g. centering prayer and guided meditation) which counter some of the habits that stifle men’s spiritual lives.

The men to which the title refers are middle-strata, heterosexual, Euro-american men. Although Culbertson does not treat the many other dynamics that shape working and owning class men, gay and bisexual men, and men of other ethnic and racial groups, many of the issues he does address affect those men in one way or another. Therefore, caregivers working with those populations will find much that is useful. However, a little more discussion of the dynamics and effects of heterosexism and homophobia would have been useful.

For persons working with men in Culbertson’s target audience, this book is an extremely helpful primer. His liberation approach enables the counselor to help a man sort out ways in which he has been hurt and has hurt others by the coercive practices of sexist gender conditioning. This approach and the skills elucidated are invaluable in aiding men toward both intimacy and individuation, as well as toward social and personal well-being.

By covering so much of the waterfront in a fairly short book, Culbertson can only describe some of the most important dynamics and briefly sketch appropriate approaches to them. He does provide, however, in his references and bibliography rich resources for those who want to follow up on the topics he treats. For those interested in the theological framework of Culbertson’s approach, I recommend his New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Fortress, 1992). This is a very helpful book that deserves a wide reading not only by pastoral counselors, but also by pastors, Christian educators, and anyone else involved in ministry to men.

Stephen B. Boyd
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, NC 27109


From congregations, March-April 1996 (Washington, D.C. The Alban Institute), p. 22

This is an easy to read and thought-provoking book. It will appeal especially to pastors and men’s study groups. Culbertson points out that from the outside men look to be dominant, self-confident, and in control, but the reality is very different. The majority of men are cogs in an impersonal system, mortgaged to the hilt, and fearful of losing their jobs. Many men-and women-are caught in a destructive and abusive system. Culbertson describes his model of counseling as liberationist; counseling that liberates people from present tentative oppressive social structures to a new future of freedom.

Culbertson discusses gender-specific listening skills, facing the masculine ego, employment and retirement, being parented and being a parent, marriage and communication, love and friendship needs, and spirituality. I did not always agree with him, but I always found his position stimulating.

This is a solid work, especially helpful for those who work with or counsel men.

Rev. Gerald A. “Rusty” Butler
Eureka Presbyterian Church
Eureka, IL 61530


From Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 44, No. 2, November 1995, pp. 126-128

A recent experience accentuated the need for Culbertson’s book Counseling Men. In directing a Sharing Life Stories class in a parish, a 60 year old man offered serious resistance to any self-disclosure. Recently retired as CEO of a large corporation he epitomized “the crippling stereotypes of masculinity” which Culbertson attacks. However, when he agreed to remain in the group as a “listener,” he later shared his deep fear that he would outlive his wife, and be subject to old age loneliness and depression.

The author attempts to help concerned men achieve a clearer identity in the whirlwind of change that is occurring in family and relationship structures. He tries to help men move beyond the “mythic image of masculinity” which thrusts upon men the demand to “perform, pay and pursue,” and calls on the institutional church to formulate a male liberation theology for “disenfranchised men on the margins.”

Culbertson, Director of Pastoral Studies, College of St. John the Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand, is author of The New Adam: The Future of Masculine Spirituality (Fortress Press, 1991). This book, however, seeks to help clergy know how to minister to the modern man, and ends almost all his chapters with a helpful section, “What the Minister Has to Offer.”

Each chapter addresses some of the concerns facing the liberated man and how ministers-pastoral counselors, clergy, or commissioned laity-can address these needs. In chapter 1, gender-specific listening skills are discussed, so that the minister or counselor can tune into the language and worldview of men. One helpful task is for clergy to model those emotions which men are tempted to repress. Chapter 2 addresses the masculine ego, and ways that ministers can respond to it are suggested. The importance of work in men’s lives is the focus of Chapter 3, especially when a man loses his work through unemployment or retirement. Special concern is given to the sense of powerlessness that accompanies these life transitions. Culbertson offers concrete help to clergy/counselors who must help men deal with the feelings of being “no one” or as one retired banker expressed it, “I have gone from Who’s Who to Who’s He?”

Chapters 4 and 5 concern marriage and being a parent. Since one half of marriages still end in divorce, and most divorced men remarry in a short time, the author offers constructive help for preserving marriages and avoiding some of the pitfalls of divorced men who “rush back into marriage again to find a new mate who will solve their problems for them.”

Chapter 6 addresses friendships among men, while deploring the fact that the “majority of adult males do not have close friends.” Chapter 7 addresses masculine spirituality (opposed to muscular Christianity) and makes suggests about how this greatly ignored area can be developed.

The book, though short in size, offers immense contributions to those who need to understand contemporary men, and develop ways to help them with their issues. I concur with Culbertson’s statement that “the commission of the church has ever been to defend and renew the apostolic faith, but not to place it in a museum, or make it the darling of the conservative right, or use it as an escape from the painful realities of men’s and women’s daily living” (p. 92). For the church to cling to “the mythic image of masculinity” that makes men into “Iron Johns” from Mars, is to surrender to the Traditionalists and be oblivious to the changing world in which men find themselves.

One wishes that the author dealt in greater depth with some of the issues the book raises, viz. homosexuality, older men, masculine spirituality, and men’s groups. Although the author explicitly says he “neither advocates or justifies homosexual relationships between men” (p. 74) he seems to set aside the issue. Having been accused of writing “gay theology” by reviewers of his earlier book, he artfully dodges the issue which clergy must increasingly face in counseling situations.

Men are living longer in our society, which forces new issues for those who would minister to older men. Culbertson does hint at some of those issues when he discusses the retirement syndrome, where “the incidence of men who die within a year of retirement is disproportionately high.” Loss of income, structure for the day, purpose, and masculine identity are major issues for older men. More and more men are seeking new directions in their retirement years (see Richard L. Morgan, I Never Found That Rocking Chair, Upper Room Books, 1993). Retirement is seen as an opportunity, not a fate; an enrichment, not a diminishment; the beginning of a new phase of life.

If spirituality is seen not as a separate compartment of life but a deeper dimension beneath all experience, then the section on Masculine Spirituality needs to be expanded. Becoming a spiritual director or soul friend to men demands skills usually not found in traditional clergy. Beyond centering prayer, guided meditation and community building there needs to be the healing relationship that encourages men to talk to other men (or women) about their emerging identities and inner needs.

Community building deserves more than one page. The emergence of support groups for men (like Us Too Groups for men recovering from prostate cancer or Reminiscence Groups for Older Men) offers hope that men can gather to do more than “eat, meet, and go home.” Rather these groups can become microcosms of the early koinonia, where “they had all things in common.”

I heartily recommend Counseling Men not only for clergy and pastoral counselors who seek to minister to men, but to men themselves and women, too, who want to get back in touch with a creative vision of the new man in our society.

Richard L. Morgan, Ph.D.
Parish Associate/Older Adult Ministries
Lenoir, North Carolina


From Reality, April/May 1996, p. 37

Counseling Men is written with the intention of identifying issues that men face. The issues dealt with are Gender Specific Counseling Skills, Facing the Masculine Ego, Employment and Retirement, Being Parented, Being a Parent, Marriage and Communication, Love and Friendship Needs, and Masculine Spirituality.

The book is not intended to provide solutions to specific issues, but rather is an overview of typical concerns men face. As such it runs the risk of making generalizations that will be “spot-on” for some but miss the mark for others. With this proviso, Culbertson has outlined well how men communicate, what their concerns are, and how these concerns affect their relationships.

Culbertson notes that most men have been trained in their families of origin to suppress their feelings and emotions. Along with this can be an inability to notice bodily needs, such as rest or stress-reduction. In exploring the male ego, the author proposes that a key issue men face is the shame of seeing themselves as less than adequate in the roles of procreator, protector, and provider.

He proposes that many men find it difficult or uncomfortable to talk through their concerns, leaving them often feeling the burden of responsibilities coupled with great loneliness and self-doubt. This is compounded by an unwillingness in many cases to seek help. The book provides a backdrop to this of changes in gender roles in society that often bring confusion or threaten men’s understanding of themselves and their roles.

The book is painted with broad brush strokes, perhaps too broad! You will need to decide for yourself if there are greater or lesser extremes or variables associated with different cultures. Regardless, this thought-provoking book brings the reader up to date with some of the issues that men may be facing as they seek pastoral help.

Joyce Carswell


From Ad Clerum, The Anglican Diocese of Waiapu, New Zealand, August 1997

Do you find in many pastoral situations the women talk freely and its hard work to get much from the men?
One of the key issues today is the changing roles of men. Some men have sought to take on board the criticism leveled at them; while others have sought to re-group to perpetrate the dominant culture. It is good to find a book which deals with issues for men sensitively. I took some time getting into this book, but I am glad that I persevered. Philip Culbertson, a lecturer at St. John’s College, Auckland, feels that men also can benefit from a liberation model which focuses on community and the future.

The book is written to help counselors in their dealings with men. The author observes that women are far more likely to seek help, so getting men to talk is the topic of his first chapter, Gender Specific Listening Skills.

For men, conversation is more likely to be the transfer of information (I think… ) rather than the communication of feelings. He gives a few clues to help men talk about feelings.
Facing the Masculine Ego in chapter 2 deals with the nature of shame. The traditional males roles of procreation, protector and provider gives some rationale for masculine behavior and their dislike of being “feminine”. This logically leads to the third chapter on Employment and Retirement. Work gives men identity and takes up much of their waking hours. Culbertson deals with unemployment, job selection and moving from work to home.

The next three chapters deal with roles and relationships – father/son relationships in Being Parented, Being a Parent, marriage and family life in Marriage, and Communication and Love and Friendship needs.
The final chapter, Masculine Spirituality, confronts the question of humility in a performance oriented society. Muscular Christianity is challenged and I found support for my own thoughts that many of our environmental problems stem from an attitude of domination or conquest.

A brief review of a book that has much packed into its 90 odd pages. I feel that it is a book that I shall refer to from time to time. Opinion is well supported by research.
In the meantime, it challenges me in my own humanity and hopefully will be beneficial to others.

Caring for God’s People

Reviews of “Caring for God’s People: Counseling and Christian Wholeness”

Caring For God's PeopleBook Details

Author: Philip Culbertson
Publisher: Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2000
Pages: 384
ISBN: 0-8006-3187-0.
RRP: US$ 29.95

 

Table of Contents:

Introduction
Part One: The Theory
Family Systems Theory
Narrative Counseling Theory
Object Relations Theory and Intersubjective Narratives
Part Two: The Application
Premarital Counseling
Marriage Counseling
Divorce Counseling
Counseling Gays and Lesbians
Ministry with Those Who Mourn
Part Three: Staying Safe in Ministry
The Praxis of Pastoral Counseling
Pastoral Congruence and Ministry Supervision
Conclusion


Back Cover Endorsements

I heartily welcome this book-a readable and thorough overview of three distinct psychological approaches to engaging interaction with the common needs of congregational ministry. I’m impressed with the author’s thoroughness and pleased to see his interest in the healthy development of the person of the pastor, as well as his sensitivity to the issues of diversity.
Bonnie Miller-McLemore,
Vanderbilt Divinity School

Culbertson provides a wide variety of historical and contemporary material that is important for pastors, theological students, and laity to know and use in their pastoral care work. The book gives a cross-cultural perspective that is essential in offering a relevant ministry in the world today.
John Patton,
Columbia Theological Seminary

Thorough, innovative, and insightful, the application section covers the key aspects of pastoral care ministry with sensitivity. The chapters on premarital, marriage, and grief care offer comprehensive theory and strategies for excellent ministry, and the chapter on pastoral care and counseling with gay and lesbian persons speaks to the issues of justice without sacrificing the dimensions of care and counseling. I look forward to using these chapters in my own pastoral care classes.
Christie Neuger,
United Theological Seminary


Publisher’s Advertising

Culbertson has built his text around the ideal of Christian wholeness and maturity-a healthy interconnectedness of self-within-community. The heart of the book lies in its presentation of the three schools of counseling theory that Culbertson finds most helpful: family systems theory, narrative counseling theory, and object relations theory.

Each of these is explained in detail, and then applied to the most common and challenging of counseling situations: pre-marital counseling, marriage counseling, divorce counseling, counseling gay men and women, and grief counseling. Culbertson brings new sensitivities to the counseling scene-a more nuanced grasp of gender, a new sense of families, issues of sexual orientation, a strong sense of the relationship of emotions to spirituality, an empathic attitude, a pragmatic but professional mix of ancillary theories, and a sense of the relevance of the counselor’s own self-understanding.


Author’s Blurb (from amazon.com)

This book is culmination of fifteen years of teaching pastoral care to those training for ministry, as well as teaching “cultural issues” to those training to be psychotherapists. It is designed to serve practitioners in the fields of ministry, counseling, and psychotherapy as a refresher course and as an introduction to new developments in the field of pastoral psychotherapy. It is also designed to be a textbook for those being trained in “people skills.” Within the first months of its publication, it has already been adopted s a textbook in a dozen US seminaries and theological colleges. Introduction or refresher, “Caring” should be a valuable text for those devoted to the psychodynamics of interpersonal relationships.


From OC BOOKS, Dunedin, Catalog 13, March 2000, page 2

American priest Philip Culbertson is well-known in New Zealand circles – he teaches at St. John’s College. He has recently produced a new title called Caring for God’s People: Counselling and Christian Wholeness. The book looks to me to be very comprehensive, especially for anyone training in ministry (including lay people) and apart from saying that I found it very accessible and non “text-book-like,” I can’t do any better than quote the recommendations from readers on the back cover.


From The New Zealand Herald, 26-27 August, 2000, p. I-11.

Subtitled Counseling and Christian Wholeness, Caring for God’s People is promoted as a textbook on pastoral counseling for a new generation of professionals in ministry. It should not be viewed as an easy read, but rather as a resource tool. As soon as I began reading, however, I realized that this book is not primarily aimed at those of us in ministry in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Aucklander Philip Culbertson’s very American references to school grades and his American spelling indicate who the real audience is, even if some local examples are used.

Not surprisingly, Culbertson begins with a number of assumptions. For example, he has chosen family systems theory, narrative counseling theory and object relations theory as the three most useful approaches from the field of psychotherapy for those in ministry.

Of course, most ministers do trawl from a wide range of theories, so even if you do disagree with this view and are willing to grapple with the jargon, his analysis could add to any minister’s melting pot.

Another assumption Culbertson works from is his perception of ministry, which he defines as recognizing god through self-knowledge and then simply being among others to point where God is already present and at work.

Good ministry, according to Culbertson, is ultimately dependent upon the pastor’s people skills, people knowledge, and knowing what wholeness looks like.

As significant as these issues are, ministry must be more than this. What about our understanding of who God is and the skills in ministry that enable people to discover a closer relationship with God? What is Christian ministry without a living, active God?

And yet there are practical ideas and a great deal of useful information throughout the book, with the three theories fully outlined and then applied to the areas of pre-marital, marital and divorce counseling; counseling of gays and lesbians, ministry with those who mourn, and staying safe in ministry.

I finished the book feeling it was yet another very good counseling textbook. But the application of theory to Christian ministry seemed superficial, with a lack of real theological integration. Assumptions about theology are not clarified at the outset, as others are. Instead these must be pieced together as one reads. The emphasis on comprehending the “object God” as something we have created and the only other perception of God being labeled the “God Beyond” implies an inability to have a relationship with a real God who exists beyond our imaginings.

The emphasis on Christian maturity correlating with autonomy and independence goes against the strong argument for mature interdependence, as modeled on the nature of the Trinity.

Culbertson’s introduction promotes the need to delve into the dangerous place where Christian faith, psychotherapeutic theory, ecclesiology, missiology and justice issues intersect.

It seems to me that although this is a fine counseling text, Culbertson fails to find that elusive point of intersection.

Reviewed by the Rev. Nicola Watkin,
Kohimarama Presbyterian Church,
Auckland.


From World Pastoral Care Center, May 2000.

As time permits, this book will receive an extensive review. It has an important message for all engaged in the work of ministry. Not only does it refocus our thinking on matters of wholeness, but speaks clearly about what distinguishes ministry from other caregiving and counseling.

Part 1 covers various theories related to caregiving. Part 2 moves us beyond theory to practical matters that come to our awareness through people in need. Among the subjects discussed are premarital counseling, marriage counseling, divorce counseling, Gays and Lesbians, the bereaved. Part 3 covers “staying safe in ministry,” including the praxis of pastoral counseling, maintaining a supervisory relationships and matters for self care and adjustment.


From Anglical Theological Review, 2001.

In an era when the psychotherapeutic model of ministry has fallen into disfavor and insurance companies and judicatories are warning about the liabilities inherent in counseling ministries, the Rev. Dr. Philip Culbertson, an Episcopal priest who teaches at St. John’s Theological College in New Zealand, calls us forward to a vision of pastoral care and counseling which is rooted in solid psychological theory and grounded in sound ministry preparation and practices. Caring for God’s People is more than an excellent textbook for an introductory course in pastoral counseling. It offers readers both an accessible introduction to and a high-powered refresher course in resources for self-awareness; contemporary psychological theory; approaches to pastoral care throughout the life cycle; and the ongoing need for supervision and support in all kinds of ministry.

The volume is organized in three parts: “The Theory”; “The Application”; “Staying Safe in Ministry.” In “The Theory,” Culbertson presents an impressive overview of family systems theory, narrative counseling theory, and object relations theory. He believes that these three psychological perspectives are especially useful in contemporary pastoral care and counseling. His treatment of each synthesizes an amazing array of writers and theorists. The chapter on “Family Systems Theory” is concise and easily approachable. Indeed, it would be useful background reading for seminarians or clergy prior to tackling Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s Generation to Generation (New York, Guilford Press, 1985). An appendix to the chapter offers a practical introduction to the construction and interpretation of genograms.

“Narrative Counseling Theory” explores the concepts of story and family narrative within a Christian context. It has a marked resonance with currently popular narrative approaches to theology and ethics, such as have been explored by the late James William McClendon (Biography as Theology, Philadelphia, 1990), and to congregational studies such as that developed by James Hopewell (Congregation: Stories and Structures, Philadelphia, 1987).
The thirty-six page chapter on “Object Relations Theory and Intersubjective Narratives” is an extraordinarily lucid and concise summary of many of the leading themes and theorists in the field of object relations. Culbertson clearly recognizes that most clergy will not have the educational background to work with this material in a sustained way, but asserts nonetheless, that object relations theorists offer important windows into both the development of the self and the relationship of the self to God. The material on faith development is thought provoking and potentially very helpful to pastors and spiritual directors who may be exploring an individual’s concept of or relationship to God.

Part Two, “The Application,” includes chapters on “Premarital Counseling”; “Marriage Counseling”; “Divorce Counseling”; “Counseling Gays and Lesbians”; and “Ministry with Those Who Mourn.” Whether pastors are involved only in general crisis intervention and referral work or in fact expect to be engaged in some more sustained premarital, grief, or other counseling ministries, they will find each of these chapters very useful. All of this material is rooted in solid psychological theory and excellent recent pastoral resources are referenced throughout. Each chapter holds substantial potential as a resource for a variety of pastoral adult education initiatives. The chapter on “Counseling Gays and Lesbians” clearly enunciates the view that gay and lesbian persons should be able to expect the full pastoral care and support of the Church. It includes a very thoughtful theological reflection on the “coming out” process and many practical suggestions for counselors and spiritual directors.

The final section, “Staying Safe in Ministry,” is devoted to more general issues of practice in pastoral counseling. Culbertson lays out a schema of the types of pastoral counseling and offers clear advice for when to make referrals. The discussion of transference and countertransference issues is succinct and helpful.

Chapter Ten, “Pastoral Congruence and Ministry Supervision,” represents an able articulation of the need for every pastor to be aware of his or her own “woundedness” and the essential place of high caliber supervision in pastoral care in general, but most especially in ongoing counseling ministries.

Throughout the book, Culbertson makes an earnest effort to add a cross cultural dimension to his writing and pastoral illustrations, drawing particularly from his current experience with clergy and seminarians from Maori and South Pacific cultures. This reviewer hopes that a second edition of Caring for God’s People will pursue and develop this dimension more fully.

I have already used this book as a text in three seminary courses: in teaching fundamental concepts of pastoral care; in orienting spiritual directors to the need to make appropriate pastoral and psychological referrals; and in elucidating an accessible model for premarital and grief counseling in routine parish ministry. Philip Culbertson has provided such sound theoretical content and such splendid ministry models and bibliographical leads that Caring for God’s People: Counseling and Christian Wholeness also ought to be on the continuing education reading list of all who have been out of seminary for a while.

Professor William Doubleday
The General Theological Seminary
New York, New York