Book Review … Women In Ministry

Filed under:being jesus, redemption, theology, women — posted by Sonja on February 7, 2007 @ 9:05 pm

I’ve promised a book review over at Emerging Women (I’ve cross-posted this there as well). I’ve been dragging my feet. You see, I promised to review books I read over 3 years ago. That was a somewhat overwhelming promise to make. Now I find myself having to re-skim them in order to write coherently about them. I also find that some of my basic assumptions have changed. In short, I thought this would be easy and no … now it’s not.

Then I realized, hey … this is my review. I get to make up the rules. What fun! So I’ve changed my own rules. I’m going to write a couple of collective reviews. I’m reviewing books that comprise some of the recent literature on women in ministry. So I decided to group them. Here’s the first group: Paul, Women & Wives by Craig S. Keener, What Paul Really Said About Women by John T. Bristow, Why Not Women? by Loren Cunningham and Ten Lies the Church Tells Women by J. Lee Grady.

This group of books is concerned (in the main) with arguing the point from a Biblical standpoint that the traditional exegesis of Paul is mis-guided. Each author does a great job of sussing out the different strands from the main texts that have been used over the centuries to subjugate women and keep them in a subordinate role to men in the church and until recently, in society as well.

As I was re-reading/skimming these books, I had a sudden insight. The traditional or heirarchical perspective is grounded in the notion that women were created in the subordinate position and that was further exacerbated by the Fall and resulting Curse (Genesis 2 and 3). People writing, arguing and living in this paradigm read the Old and New Testaments with a particular eye. This eye says that women are and always have been subordinate to men, beginning in the Beginning and up til now … it’s just the way “things” are.

People writing, arguing and living in an egalitarian paradigm read the Creation account and see something different. They see man and woman created equally, albeit somewhat differently. They go on to read particularly the Gospels and Epistles of Paul with a markedly different perspective. This perspective is one that looks at redemption of the original created order. If, in the beginning, God created Adam and Eve as equals, the Fall and resulting Curse, corrupted that. The egalitarian paradigm is grounded in the notion that the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ was sufficient to redeem the Fall. It is sufficient to return our relationships to the original created order; that is, that men and women are equal in form, status and function. The much maligned epistle accounts of St. Paul are read from the informing perspective of this paradigm.

These four books are prime examples of rethinking, rereading and re-learning what exactly the Apostle Paul meant in his instructions that women should be silent, not teach, not be put in positions of leadership over men, etc. Each book takes a methodical look at a variety of the primary proof texts (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 5:21-33, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, and 1 Timothy 2:8-15). Each takes a close look two or more of these texts and concludes that Paul has been misquoted, misunderstood and generally misused for just shy of two millenia. They are well written. I’d highly recommend any or all of them and one more which I don’t have in my possession as I borrowed it from the library, Good News For Women, by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. The main difference is in readability. “Ten Lies” was written with a broad audience in mind. It is an easy read, the logic easy to follow, and anyone with a highschool education can profit and learn from it. “What Paul Really Said” and “Why Not Women?” were written to a more sophisticated audience. One might find these books on the reading list for an undergraduate class in the 100 or 200 level. “Paul, Women & Wives” and “Good News For Women” are written as if intended to be texts for graduate level classes. You can pick and choose among them according to how intense you wish your study to become. To get a well-rounded picture, it’s probably best to read at least two.

While they all end up in a similar place (women are equal to men and have the rights and responsibilities of men to leadership in ministry), each heads out in a slightly different perspective, or perhaps it is that the goals of the respective authors are slightly different. This is in some cases reflective of the audience to which each book is projected. Loren Cunningham (founder of YWAM) writes his goal eloquently:

As I envision this, I see every little girl growing up knowing she is valued, knowing she is made in the image of God, and knowing that she can fulfill all the potential He has put within her. I see the Body of Christ recognizing leaders whom the Holy Spirit indicates, the ones whom He has gifted, anointed, and empowered without regard to race, color or gender. This generation will be one that simply asks, “Who is it that God wants?” … This new generation will not be bound by traditions hindering women from obeying God’s call the way my generation has. Instead they will take a fresh look at the Word of God, knowing that the Holy Spirit will never do anything that contradicts His Word. As this emerging generation studies the Bible free of cultural blinders, they will see that the Lord has always used both women and men to proclaim the Good News and to prophesy the Word of God to their generations. (p. 13-14)

John Bristow had too many questions and not enough answers. He describes the beginning of his quest in words that echo Albert Einstein, “I challenged an axiom.”

In a sense, I sought an answer to these questions about Paul’s teachings by challenging another axiom: that what we think Paul meant is really what Paul intended us to think.

I began with Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, in which he states that wives are to be subject to their husbands and that husbands are to be as a head to their wives. Now, Paul’s letters are in Greek. Theoretically, if I took our English translation of his words and translated them back into Greek, my words should be similar to Paul’s original words. But when I tried doing this, such was not the case, not at all! In reality, the words that Paul chose to use imply different ideas from those conveyed by the English words we use to translate his writings. (p. xi … preface)

Craig Keener takes a slightly different tack and describes the pinnacle of the argument (for me):

Equal treatment for women (or, indeed, for any people made in God’s image) is not, as some would argue, an agenda borrowed from the secular world. The subordination of women, on the contrary, is an idea practiced (often in brutal ways) by most non-Christian cultures in history. It could thus be easily argued that the subordination of women in Christian history was borrowed from the “secular world,” and that it tells us more about the societies in which those Christian rules were formulated than about God’s eternal purposes. As I hope this book will help to demonstrate, treating women as men’s equals was far closer to the spirit of Paul than making them subordinate. This is significant, since it is to Paul that the alleged repression of women in the New Testament is most often attributed. (p. 10)

It is Keener’s perspective that finally puts to rest the heirarchical notion that women are or ever needed to be subordinate to men. My observation has been (as a budding armchair anthropologist) that throughout time and across most cultural boundaries men have viewed women with suspicion and distrust. In many cultures, women remain in a subordinate position such that the rate of abortions for female fetuses is far higher in many Third World countries (7,999 female to 1 male in one hospital in India alone). Women and girls are a lightly held commodity.

Thus it is that I simply do not believe that the God who came and proclaimed as his mission to “set captives free,” would maintain captivity for fully half of the world’s population. The God who occupies the Alpha and the Omega of the entire universe does not create secondhand goods. He does not leave us in darkness or bound by the traditions of humans. He came to upset that apple cart. Do not believe anything different for one moment. And if you need further proof, read one of these books. And celebrate equality with your friends regardless of gender today.