Theology

Mark Driscoll’s Cinderella Story

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What he gets right and what he gets wrong.

Some mornings, I don’t need coffee to jolt me awake. Sometimes all it takes is a tweet.

The tweet that did it recently came from a friend who, with a simple “ahem,” forwarded a Mark Driscoll tweet to me. Driscoll was promoting his current sermon series (and eBook) on the Old Testament book of Ruth. Anyone who knows me or has read The Gospel of Ruth will understand why that tweet woke me up.

I live and breathe the book of Ruth.

Some days, I don’t need coffee to jolt me awake. Sometimes all it takes is a tweet. Click To Tweet

Naturally, my curiosity got the best of me, so I clicked on the link to see what Pastor Mark was up to. The link took me to a video from the series entitled, Ruth—Redeeming Romance.

With a title like that, I was not surprised to learn Driscoll views the book of Ruth as a romance between Boaz and Ruth and sees Boaz as the Kinsman Redeemer hero who rescues Ruth from her abysmal life as a single impoverished woman. Naturally, it also reinforces his views of manhood and womanhood.

Naturally, it also reinforces his views of manhood and womanhood. Click To Tweet

In the sermon, he categorizes Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz all as “singles” and uses the book of Ruth as a jumping off point to advise singles about dating and sexual purity and to coach single women to look for a man like Boaz whose qualifications pass muster—he “loves God and has a job.”

What did surprise me was his unabashed, effusive description of Ruth as a “Cinderella story.” At least on this point, I think Driscoll got it right. It’s also where he gets it wrong. The label “Cinderella” is an open admission that there’s a problem with this view.

Cinderella in the Bible?

According to a Cinderella hermeneutic, Ruth, a young, destitute, immigrant widow, catches the eye of the rich and powerful older Boaz as she is scavenging (or gleaning) in his field for leftover scraps of grain. Naomi, Ruth’s widowed mother-in-law, interprets his unexpected generosity towards Ruth as romantic interest. Nothing more comes of it until Naomi gives the hesitant lovers the nudge they need, offering Ruth what Driscoll considers very bad and morally questionable counsel.

She sends Ruth all dolled up, perfumed, and in her best clothes, to present herself to a sleeping Boaz at the threshing floor in the dead of night. Ruth proposes marriage, Boaz accepts, and the man who threatens to spoil it all walks away. Boaz purchases Naomi’s land, marries Ruth and before you know it, Ruth gives birth to a baby boy. At this, the spirits of a grief-stricken Naomi revive, and a “happily-ever-after” banner waves triumphantly over the ending.

The genealogy at the end delivers the startling news that this baby is the great grandfather of King David and, as we now know, the ancestor of King Jesus.

 

But Ruth isn’t Cinderella, and the Bible isn’t teaching fairytales. Click To Tweet

Abandoning Cinderella for a Better Love Story

Within the patriarchal culture, a woman’s chief contribution in life was to produce sons for her husband. Women in the Bible are desperate for sons. None of them are begging God for daughters. Under patriarchy, a woman’s value is gauged by counting her sons. Sons are essential for family survival. The fate the ancients feared most was for a man to die without a male heir to perpetuate the family for another generation.

So when a post-menopausal Naomi loses her husband and both her sons, she plummets from the status of an honored mother of two sons to a zero. Little wonder she describes herself as “empty.” Death destroyed her life’s work.

Far from a Cinderella story, the book of Ruth is a Job story. Naomi is a female Job. That changes the entire book and makes God the rightful focus of the story.

Like Job, Naomi loses everything, sees Yahweh as her adversary, voices bitterness of soul, and raises hard questions about God that her story engages. Naomi believes she has lost God’s love (hesed). Why would Yahweh love her?

Realistically, the “happily-ever-after” evaporates. Life goes on, but these kinds of losses reconfigure a person’s life. Sandy Hook and Gold Star parents will go to their graves in grief, no matter how many good things may happen to them. Don’t ask them to “Get over it.”

Don’t ask them to “Get over it.” Click To Tweet

God doesn’t speak to Naomi through a prophet, a voice from heaven, a thunderbolt, or a vision. God communicates his love to her through her immigrant daughter-in-law Ruth whose every action—from her vow, to her gleaning, to her proposal to Boaz, to the birth of the son she gives to Naomi—speaks hesed to Naomi’s empty soul.

Hesed is no ordinary kind of love. It is a loyal, self-giving, costly love that motivates a person to do voluntarily what no one has a right to expect or ask of them. It shows what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

God’s hesed is the bedrock of his people and it saturates the pages of scripture. Ruth’s hesed for Naomi proves to be contagious, as Boaz, his harvesters, and Bethlehem elders all join in the hesed epidemic that spreads through Bethlehem and restores Naomi’s hope in God.

Hesed is no ordinary kind of love. Click To Tweet

The Real Rescue

Perhaps the most surprising twist in the story is that Ruth isn’t being rescued. She’s the one launching the rescue, and the person being rescued is her deceased father-in-law, Elimelech. She initiates that rescue when her proposal to Boaz turns legal and she confronts him with two Mosaic Laws concerned with rescuing men. The Kinsman Redeemer Law requires the nearest relative to purchase a man’s land if he is forced to sell. The Levirate Law requires the blood brother of a man who dies without a male heir to marry his widow. The first son born to their union takes the place of the dead man on the family tree, including his inheritance.

Perhaps the most surprising twist in the story is that Ruth isn’t being rescued. Click To Tweet

Ruth’s proposal moves the discussion from the letter to the spirit of the law, as Jesus does generations later in his Sermon on the Mount. Boaz is neither the nearest relative nor Elimelech’s blood brother. He is beyond the letter of the law, but not its spirit.

Ruth isn’t seeking a husband for herself. She is battling for Naomi. In an act of unparalleled faith, barren Ruth volunteers to bear a son. Boaz is dumbfounded. He blesses and praises her for her hesed for Naomi, calls her a woman of valor, vowing that one way or another she will have her request (Ruth 3:10-13).

The Book of Ruth for Today

If Pastor Driscoll is truly concerned about bringing the message of the book of Ruth to a twenty-first century audience, abandoning the Cinderella motif would easily expand his sermon series to an ongoing exploration of the riches of this brief but utterly relevant book.

Who doesn’t need a powerful story of God’s relentless, unbreakable, fiercely stubborn love? In the current unleashing of toxicity in American culture, who of us, as followers of Jesus, doesn’t need to ponder soberly what our attitudes, words, and actions towards others convey about God’s love?

Who doesn’t need a powerful story of God's relentless, fiercely stubborn love? Click To Tweet

The book of Ruth surfaces issues currently running at epidemic levels in today’s world and presents a stunning display of the radical difference its makes to live as God’s child in this fallen world. The story includes refugees, an undocumented immigrant, and raises the issue of the plight of women and girls. It creates explosive combinations that burst out in gospel living: male and female, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, privileged and vulnerable, Jew and Gentile, and brings an eye-opening gospel perspective to every issue.

The book of Ruth is an open invitation for the church to engage these issues and more. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz become our teachers as they live out in radical self-giving ways what it means to live as God’s sons and daughters—his image bearers—in a fallen world.

That’s when we’ll discover just how much we lose when we settle for a Cinderella story.

Driscoll needs to realize that the Bible is not a Disney movie, but an earthshaking existential confrontation with the deepest issues of life in a fallen world and of the hope that is Jesus.


To learn more about the book of Ruth as a Job story, read The Gospel of Ruth—Loving God Enough to Break the Rules.

To recover powerful stories of men in the Bible who, like Boaz, have gotten lost in translation and deserve to be vindicated, read Malestrom—Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World

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22 responses to “Mark Driscoll’s Cinderella Story

  1. You have a lot of great and helpful truth about the book of Ruth in here, but I challenge you to rewrite this article on your own without publicly contrasting it against Mark Driscoll’s sermon. Why is that necessary? We don’t need to promote ourselves at the expense of others. My perspective is that he is doing his best to serve the Lord with faithfulness and goodness knows that one sermon can’t contain all truths, and I’m pretty sure that he knows that the Bible isn’t a Disney movie. 😛 I like and respect Mark Driscoll and I want believers to speak of each other honoring the person of Christ in the other believer.

    1. Carrie, The reason it is important to respond to the Cinderella interpretation and why Driscoll, with his large platform makes that imperative, is that the Cinderella interpretation sends the wrong message to women and the wrong message to men.

      It tells women they need a man to take care of them instead of pointing to Ruth’s example and telling us we have responsibility for what’s happening around us. I bought into the Cinderella interpretation for years and never will stop grieving the time and opportunities I wasted because I believed men are leaders and women are followers.

      Ruth was the women in the Bible who first taught me I am a leader. Not Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Priscilla, or Junia. Ruth! We’re all leaders. Leadership is inherent in being God’s image bearer. It means we have heavy responsibility to do what we can for others. That’s what Ruth did, and she is one of the last individuals in the Bible that anyone holding to the Cinderella view would think of as a leader.

      I want other women and girls to know her story–to know we have a calling–to know what’s happening in God’s world is our business, and we can make a difference. Ruth is addressing local family problems and calling Boaz to join her. Together along with Naomi, they changed the world and never knew it. So what can we do?

      It also sends the wrong message to men who fail to recognize their own responsibility to use their power and privilege, not for their own sakes, but for others. In Malestrom the chapter about Boaz–“The Power of Power”–shows how this powerful, privileged, very good man uses what he has sacrificially for others — even for a relative who is dead. Power is a gift that can be used for incredible good or for unspeakable evil. Yesterday’s news of the gassing of Syrian citizens and the horrifying images of frantic children gave us the day’s example of the power of evil.

      Definitions of masculinity (and Driscoll is complicit in this) allow men to think they need to be in charge, maintain authority over others, and their job is to take care of “their women,” when they should be calling their wives, daughters, and sisters to step up and benefitting from our full engagement in the problems and opportunities around us..

      Boaz benefits in multiple ways when Ruth challenges his thinking about Mosaic Law. She’s a foreigner and a brand new convert. Yet he is not diminished or feminized by listening to her. He becomes a better man and a stronger leader in gospel ways because he was willing to listen to her, learn, and change. He embodies the kind of gospel manhood Jesus came to restore. For my money, Boaz stands taller than any other man in the Old Testament.

      The point of my post is to fight for a deeper, stronger, gospel interpretation of the book of Ruth. Too much is at stake for all of us and God’s kingdom suffers setbacks if we remain silent.

      CCJ

  2. I don’t know Mark Driscoll, so I neither like nor dislike him. But he has a long record of seeking publicity, and as a public figure his utterances are fair game for comment, as here. CCJ’s critique is, in fact, exemplarily gentle, sticking to the main hermeneutical flaw in Driscoll’s sermon (and, indeed, one of the key hermeneutical flaws in his entire ministry). By showing us how badly his silly hermeneutic makes him miss the entire point of an entire book of the Bible, CCJ provides a helpful Christian service. Her own gently feminist hermeneutic then offers a positive alternative. All in all, a lovely article, which I have gladly tweeted.

    1. Whether or not another believer is a public figure, we are still not exempt from our call to honor each other. Romans tells us not to belittle another’s perspective, and says “who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” Mark has his own perspective. That’s ok.

      1. Carrie – How is your critique of CCJ honoring and CCJ’s critique of Mark not? How is CCJ’s critique belittling and yours honoring?

        To her own master CCJ stands or falls, yes?
        CCJ has her own perspective, yes?

        Carolyn – thanks so much for this perspective on Ruth. Absolutely love it! And appreciate your scholarship and leadership in the Church.

        1. Matt, my question is to CCJ directly instead of about her. I am not attempting to belittle her perspective but to question it, directly, to her. I am not attempting to dishonor her in any way, and I hope that she would not/does not feel that way from my comment. Yes, CCJ does stand or fall to her own master, and if we disagree, that’s ok! I don’t feel that honor excludes disagreement, but that disagreement can be done gracefully and with respect. That was my intent, but I hope she lets me know if it did not feel that way!

        2. I went back and looked over the article again. Actually, the only comment about Driscoll that felt dismissive to me was the Disney one. Other than that I don’t feel that this article was belittling. I think the term “belittling” was almost more in reference to John’s term “silly hermeneutic”.

        1. Thanks for your response, John!! I honestly appreciate you explaining your perspective to me. In response to your conclusions… I feel that Jesus was blunt and straight-forward, but the heart behind everything he said was genuine love for the person he was talking to. I don’t think that public disagreement is wrong and is in fact sometimes the appropriate thing, but whenever and wherever it is done, genuine love should underlie that communication and it should ooze through, and the spirit of Christ in that person should be honored by us. Even when Paul talks about handing someone over to satan, it’s not him throwing his hands up and saying, “well, to hell with you, then, you idiot”, it’s doing it in the hope of redemption. You’re right – Paul does name people. And sometimes he does feel cranky to me! 😀 And as to your other points, I feel that a lot of public criticism of other ministries and believers stems from a place of fear and not freedom. And it ends up in believers viciously attacking each other’s hearts and motives, and chewing the body up from the inside out, and distracting from our real mission, which is to partner with Jesus in bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. I agree with you – love is the greatest goal. The world will know we are the real deal through our unity and love. So I want to maximize the things that unite us and leave the rest as disputable matters, with the exception of someone claiming that there is another path to God except that which is through Jesus (which is actually what Paul was addressing with Peter). Again, I do not have a problem with public disagreement when it is done in a spirit of grace and respect, which indeed should be quite possible and the norm among believers, and gracious disagreement can be a great way to grow and consider issues from different angles!! Whatever we do must be done in good conscience and our consciences will come out to different places on the matter! 🙂 Be blessed and thank you again for your interaction!!

  3. One thing: nobody in that story is a refugee–all are economic or family-based immigrants. No undocumented immigrants because there were no laws in that regard. I did write a Mujerista perspective on this story of a woman and an immigrant–it’s a valid view of this story.

    Frankly, I don’t understand why Driscoll is preaching again after being discredited and ousted from his church in Seattle. Unfortunately, articles like these just give him more publicity and bring out his defenders.

    1. Naomi’s family became famine refugees in the first verse of the book. You are correct that there were no laws regulating immigration. But her migration across international borders still opens the door for the church to engage this contemporary issue.

      1. Believe it or not, according to “Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 Convention, a refugee is an individual who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence who is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group” (e.g. LGBTQ). That makes Naomi an economic immigrant. I know that seems impossible but people fleeing famines aren’t considered refugees. They should be, in my opinion.

        And I definitely use this story in immigration advocacy. As I did here: https://sojo.net/articles/national-hispanic-heritage-month-lets-celebrate-story-ruth

  4. Carolyn – I read Malestrom last year and it was one of my books of the year. Now I think I love you even more. I wrote a short (free) book on Ruth’s story, Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, arguing that Naomi was the secret hero of the book of Ruth, and that we should give her more time than simply as the ‘wrong woman’ in contrast to the ‘right woman’ of Ruth.

    Anyway – my other favourite book of the Bible is Job. But this was the first time that I’d seen them linked in that way before. Sometimes just one sentence is a jewel that stays with you. For me, from this piece, there were two such jewels – that the book of Ruth is a Job story, and that Ruth is the rescuer, not the rescued. LOVE. iT.

    I totally didn’t know you had written a book on Ruth but now I can’t wait to read it.

    Thanks so much for your teaching ministry.

    (And if anyone else wants a free 10k-word mini-book on Ruth, you can download it from tanyamarlow.com 🙂 ) <- cheeky and gratuitous plug

    1. Tanya, her book on Ruth is excellent! We read it in a book club and so many women were blessed by that reading & discussion. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s very good. When I preach on immigration, I use Carolyn’s comparison of Naomi to Job–both have lost everything–they just have different things to lose in their contexts.

      1. Yes! It’s so true. I love the affirmation of Naomi the book of Ruth. I think she should be patron saint of the grumpy – because she is bitter, but God sees her and blesses her. There’s such condemnation of Naomi for her loss, but I don’t see punishment from God in the arc of the narrative – I see tenderness and compassion for her

  5. Thank you, Carolyn!! 🙂 I really liked your response and the beautiful explanation of Ruth and Boaz. I love your perspective on leadership being part of the image we bear of God, and agree. And the dynamic of Ruth’s interaction with Boaz being faithful to that and walking in God-intended strength. I agree – Boaz is awesome!! That’s the feeling I’ve always gotten about him, that “he is not diminished or feminized by listening to her” and that idea wasn’t even on his radar!! I understand what you are saying about your view of Driscoll’s definition of masculinity. Interestingly enough, most of the Driscoll I have heard has been through hearing my husband listen to him years ago, and I found him humorous and engaging. I also appreciated that he was calling men to step up and not be passive. I never understood him owning that particular definition of masculinity, I think partially because despite my husband really liking him, that’s not the kind of relationship we have, but now recognize that is in fact his perspective. I do feel that his relationship with God is sincere and that he is striving to follow the Lord faithfully, but I hear your point on how that view can potentially leave women unempowered and feeling like a calling to lead that burns in their bones is rendered illegitimate. This is a helpful process to work through what honor looks like paired with corrective observations, and in retrospect, I am reconsidering that I think it’s probably ok to name Driscoll personally and point out areas of disagreement that you feel can lead to imbalance. However, I do hope that you can and do honor the Spirit in him that also lives in you and that you can give him freedom to disagree without invalidating or scorning his sincere attempts to live out his faith. (And to any who feel those attempts are not sincere but insincere, that’s what I feel we leave between him and the Lord and echo Paul in gratefulness that the gospel is preached, period, even out of insincere motive!) Thank you so much for taking the time to respond and for empowering women to live in the fullness of who God created them to be and I so appreciate you for contributing patiently to my own thought process in working out what faithfulness looks like!! 🙂 Have a wonderful day!

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