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Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Book Review - Women in Ministry

I've promised a book review over here. I've been dragging my feet. You see, I promised to review books I read over 3 years ago. That was a thoughtless 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.

Cross posted at Calacirian

posted by Sonja Andrews at 8:00 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 2/08/2007 05:45:00 PM, Anonymous Rachel

    "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."

    Well said, Sonja! Thank you!

  • At 2/08/2007 07:13:00 PM, Blogger Beyond Words

    One of the best summaries I've ever read! Thank you Sonja.

    I am praying in the Spirit daily for the eyes of our hearts to be opened to the truth.

  • At 2/08/2007 07:30:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Thank you for doing this Sonja.

  • At 2/10/2007 09:37:00 PM, Blogger lisa

    A book I thought helpful on the subject was Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul by Andrew Perriman.

  • At 2/11/2007 04:03:00 PM, Blogger Uncomfortably Numb

    I was delighted to see this thread. I am teaching a class this session called Women in Church History, and I intend to begin the course with a theology for women in ministry. I am reading Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry by Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo (InterVarsity, 1995) and can scarcely put it down. I avoided this subject all through seminary to keep from having to engage in theological discussion other seminarians whom I still affectionately call neo-neanderthals. Now I find myself leading a class on the subject! Anyway, read it and thank God for people like Stanley and Denise.

  • At 2/13/2007 08:43:00 AM, Anonymous Rebecca

    The Grenz and Kjesbo book is uniformly excellent. (And so sad that Stan died a little while back.)

    It's funny. For me, as an ordained minister, the matter is completely settled. Yet I always run into men who want to debate it with me, as if I will change my mind when I hear their wisdom and repent of my sin of providing church leadership.

    I remember being in a seminary class (Systematic Theology III) taught by an extremely conservative prof. We had to write papers on various issues in the church. We had about eight topics to choose from. There were three of us women in the class. NONE of us chose "women in ministry." I mean, why bother, with a prof with that outlook? However, several of the male students did choose the subject. When we had to present our papers, we women had to listen to the men going on ad nauseum about how the church was being ruined by women in leadership, etc. We basically just sat there--really, there was no point in speaking up at all.

    But at lunch time, the three of us went out to a restaurant on our own, and what we basically said was that we were secure in our own decisions and interpretations of scripture, and the churches we were in supported us, and so, who really cares what these very conservative folks thought--they certainly were not ever going to change their stripes, and we'd never be darkening the doors of their churches!


  • At 2/14/2007 09:14:00 PM, Blogger Deb

    Yes, as someone who is in seminary now I can only say that some things don't change... One fellow student (male) asked me what made me "feel" I was called to the pastorate. I said it was not a "feeling" it was a "calling." I asked him the same question and he stammered... could not give me a definitive answer. I wonder sometimes...


  • At 2/15/2007 06:02:00 PM, Anonymous Angie

    I agree, good summary! I'll have to add some of these books to my ever growing list. I just recently found this blog and am excited about it!
    I am also a woman in Seminary, I actually go to the seminary that Stan Grenz started at and Denise Kjesbo goes to a church nearby. I am sorry to hear about your struggles as women in sem. That makes me feel blessed to have the support of many students I go with (though not all). Even the VP here will talk to male students that are out of line. There are men out there who support women in ministry, so that is my encouragement to you all!


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